© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Rules Change May Pave Way To Brokered Convention


This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Romney recovers in Puerto Rico, and romps in Illinois. House Republicans draw a line. Santorum wants a do-over, maybe in Louisiana. It's Wednesday and time for a...

RICK SANTORUM: Saddle up...

CONAN: ...edition of the Political Junkie .

PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.

VICE PRESIDENT WALTER MONDALE: When I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of that ad: Where's the beef?

SEN. BARRY GOLDWATER: Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.

SEN. LLOYD BENTSEN: Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON: You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore.

SARAH PALIN: Lipstick.


PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: But I'm the decider.


CONAN: Every Wednesday, Political Junkie Ken Rudin joins us to recap the week in politics. Down-ticket incumbents battled incumbents in the land of Lincoln. The House GOP re-ups for a battle over budget and tax cuts. Senator Orrin Hatch survives a Utah caucus. A Wisconsin state senator ducks a recall. In Arizona, Ron Barber will run to keep Gabby Giffords' seat, and Gary Ackerman will step aside in New York. And Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski becomes the longest-serving woman in congressional history.

In a few minutes, former Republican chairman Mike Duncan on the long road to Tampa and maybe - just possibly, not out of the question entirely - a brokered convention. Later in the program, Brian Lamb, who steps down from the top spot at C-SPAN after 34 years. First, Political Junkie Ken Rudin joins us here in Studio 3A. And we begin, as we always do, with a trivia question. Hey, Ken.

KEN RUDIN, BYLINE: Hi, Neal. Are you aware that we have a standing-room-only bunch of people watching this broadcast?

CONAN: I am, yeah. As soon as they realize it's you - well, anyway.

RUDIN: OK. Trivia question. OK, well, if Mitt Romney is to become the Republican nominee for president, he will do so with having served just four years in elective office, right, the four years...

CONAN: His one term as governor.

RUDIN: As governor of Massachusetts, right. OK, now here's the very convoluted trivia question.

CONAN: Be careful.

RUDIN: I am. Of all the major-party presidential nominees of the past who have previously served in elective office - OK? - who is the last one to have fewer years in office than Romney, at the time of his nomination?

CONAN: So wait a minute, so...

RUDIN: It's a two-hour show...

CONAN: ...just to explain the question. So if you think you know the answer to this week's trivia question - and that is, the person who has previously served in elective office, who would have fewer years in elective office...

RUDIN: When he was named - when he became the nominee...

CONAN: ...became the nominee...

RUDIN: ...of a major party...

CONAN: ...of a major party, then Mitt Romney would if he were to win the nomination. In other words, Ulysses S. Grant would not count because he had never been in elective office.

RUDIN: That's correct, and where was he buried?

CONAN: In Grant's Tomb. Anyway - in New York. Anyway, so give us a call if you think you know the answer, 800-989-8255.

RUDIN: What's the question again?


CONAN: Email us, talk@npr.org. And of course the winner, if they can figure out the question, wins a fabulous Political Junkie no-prize T-shirt. In the meantime, Ken, actual votes when we can, and, well, two places actual votes. So we begin in Puerto Rico, where over the weekend Mitt Romney won all 20 delegates.

RUDIN: Yes, it was a big showing. He got 83 percent of the vote. Of course, Rick Santorum going down to Puerto Rico and suggesting that the people learn to speak - that they should speak English as a regular language if they want to become a state - that didn't seem, to me, to be the smartest thing to do. But Romney had the endorsements, had the money. Of course, he always had...

CONAN: A lot of people questioning whether Santorum should have spent any time or money in Puerto Rico.

RUDIN: Well, yes, and I was just about to say, and the fact that Romney had the money and the endorsements, he always has the money and endorsements; sometimes he wins big, sometimes he doesn't. But he certainly won big in Puerto Rico, and that gave him some momentum into yesterday's primary in Illinois.

CONAN: And the seven-to-one spending advantage in Illinois did not hurt, either.

RUDIN: No, but he's had these spending opportunities, you know, advantages in Ohio, in Michigan, both of which were very, very close. So to say that he won because he spent, you know, a lot more money than Santorum, there's some truth to that, but that doesn't always pan out. It certainly panned out in Illinois. He got 47 percent of the vote. He beat Santorum by 12 percentage points.

Even more importantly, he got far more delegates than Santorum on the way to 1,144.

CONAN: Well, OK, before Puerto Rico, we were looking at a couple of Santorum victories. Romney appeared on the ropes. We were talking about a brokered convention. All of a sudden - more on this later, but all of a sudden Romney seems to be on the road to recovery. He's trying to reclaim the I-word, inevitability. But we have Louisiana coming up.

RUDIN: Right, exactly, how's bayou? No, but I mean look, Mitt Romney is the nominee, definitely, certainly - of course until Saturday, when Rick Santorum could very well win Louisiana. And then we have the doubts about Romney all over again.

But big news today was that Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor who was always mentioned as a dream candidate, should there be a brokered...

CONAN: Brokered convention - my favorite two words in the English language.

RUDIN: Yeah, lots of luck with that. But Jeb Bush said look, enough is enough, you know. We've had 34 contests so far; the party should come together and unite behind Mitt Romney.

CONAN: In the meantime, House Republicans led by Paul Ryan, the Budget Committee chairman who - well, took a line in the sand, I guess, about a year ago when he outlined a budget plan that called for deep cuts in Medicare and Medicaid - so-called mandates - and big tax cuts for the wealthy; and he then got the House Republican leadership to sign on again yesterday for another, more defined version that's going to clarify the battle, come November, as one over this Republican budget plan.

RUDIN: Yeah, I'm not convinced - I don't really know - I'm not convinced that this is a smart move, politically. Obviously, this has come - a month to go before the presidential election, when the House could theoretically shut down again - because what Paul Ryan did with these tax benefits for the wealthy, for the cuts in Medicare and Medicaid, food stamps, welfare eligibility, things like that, is that it basically reneges on the debt-ceiling agreement that both sides made last summer.

So this is really opening up the can of worms all over again. Republicans are girding for a fight. But the White House says look, you know, this is unfair. We'll welcome this fight. Either way, it will be a fight.

CONAN: It will be a fight, either way. It'll be fight on the floor in Congress coming up this fall, and then in November - well, all through the campaign. This is going to define the difference between the two parties. And it was Mitt Romney running to endorse the plan. Interestingly, so did Newt Gingrich. No word of right-wing social engineering this time around.

RUDIN: Right, exactly. I think Newt Gingrich may have learned his lesson. But Newt Gingrich, I mean just one more thing about Newt Gingrich - here we go again. We keep counting him out at the - he has to win this or he's finished; we're back to Louisiana again. If he doesn't win in Louisiana, look, he just got $5.5 million more from Sheldon Adelman(ph).

CONAN: I think it's Adelman(ph).

RUDIN: Adelman(ph), and I don't know where he's going to get any more money. He finished fourth place in Illinois, behind Ron Paul. And you know, Newt Gingrich kept saying, we can't have a nominee who keeps finishing in third - talking about Romney in Mississippi and Alabama. Well, you know, he finished fourth in Illinois. I don't see a brokered convention - which of course, is not going to happen - but I don't see a brokered convention...

CONAN: Oh boy, do we hope so. Anyway, we have some people on the line who think they know the answer to this week's trivia question - which is, again: Should Mitt Romney win, he will have been the nominee with only four years in elective office. Prior to Mitt Romney - should he be the nominee - who would be the last major-party candidate to have served in elective office, to have fewer years in office...


CONAN: ...than Mitt Romney would have if he is - anyway, 800-989-8255.

RUDIN: You deserve a T-shirt for that.

CONAN: Email talk@npr.org. And let's see if we can go first to - this is Tim, and Tim's on the line with us from Florence, Massachusetts.

TIM: Hi, I'm going to guess Woodrow Wilson.

CONAN: Ooh, I like the historical depth.

RUDIN: Well, Woodrow Wilson was a - I think a one-term governor of New Jersey, but the more important point is that he is not the most recent.


CONAN: All right, very good, Tim, thanks very much for the answer. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Lynn(ph), and Lynn's with us from Jacksonville.

LYNN: Hi, my educated guess is President Obama. He stepped down from his senatorial seat in Illinois.

RUDIN: That's absolutely true; he did serve only three and a half years in the Senate. But he did serve seven years in the Illinois State Senate. So that's 10 years in elective office, which is more than Romney's four years.

CONAN: Nice try, Lynn. Good one, though.

LYNN: Thank you.

CONAN: Let's see if we can go next to - this is Jim, Jim's with us from Nashville.

JIM: Jimmy Carter.

CONAN: Jimmy.

RUDIN: Well, that's a very similar kind of guess - only four years as governor of Georgia, but he also served four years in the Georgia State Senate before he was elected governor, and four plus four is - um, sev - eight years, eight years in elective office.


CONAN: Arithmetic is not our strong suit here on the Political Junkie. Jim, thanks very much for the call. Let's go to Paul(ph), Paul with us from Dewitt in New York.

PAUL: Abraham Lincoln did the two-year term in the House, and I don't think he had any other elected office.

RUDIN: Well, he certainly ran for the Senate and lost to Stephen Douglas.

CONAN: And those debates were really long.

RUDIN: I know, especially on C-SPAN. But I'm looking for something much more recent - well, more recent, I should say.

CONAN: Thanks very much, Paul. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Deborah(ph), Deborah with us from Chanhassen in Minnesota.

DEBORAH: Oh, I'm feeling really good about my guess.

CONAN: Go ahead.

DEBORAH: Dwight D. Eisenhower.

RUDIN: Well, it's a great guess, but if you heard Neal say the reason, like, why Eisenhower or Ulysses S. Grant don't qualify.

CONAN: Or George Washington, for that matter. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: George Washington did serve in elective office prior to becoming president. He was elected to Virginia's House of Burgesses in 1758.]

RUDIN: Because they never served in office. This is people who have served in office, elective office, but for fewer years than Romney's. Eisenhower - yeah, it wasn't Ike or Tina.



RUDIN: If I use that joke one more time...

CONAN: Let's go to Michael(ph), Michael with us from San Antonio.

MICHAEL: Yes, George W. Bush.

RUDIN: Well, George W. Bush was elected, twice, governor of Texas. He served four - full four years, and then served two years before he was nominated. So there's six years right there.


CONAN: Thanks very much. In the meantime - we'll get some more people up who think they know the answer to this week's trivia question; boy, I'm not going to repeat it, either - we have some news on Congress. And that is, New York has finalized its redistricting map. This is coming in state by state by state. New York is the latest to come in with the final map.

RUDIN: One of the last states, right, absolutely. We've talked about - last week - Bob Turner, his seat was carved up by the legislature. He's going to run against Kirsten Gillibrand for the Senate. Maurice Hinchey, a Democrat from upstate New York who is retiring, his district is gone. But there are a lot of incumbents, especially upstate New York, who are really, in new territory and could have tough times.

CONAN: Bob Turner's going to have competition, though, in the race for the Republican ticket, and maybe could have a split with the conservative vote in the fall.

RUDIN: Exactly. The conservative party seems to be uniting behind Wendy Long, who is a conservative activist. And again, not that Gillibrand should be in any trouble anyway, but it makes Turner, if he's the Republican nominee, his task much more difficult.

CONAN: In the meantime, Gary Ackerman announced his plans to retire. It was - I think - 2001 when NPR's Pam Fessler was doing a profile of Gary Ackerman, talking about how his district was being redesigned in that year.


PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: The district starts in Queens, he says, then goes into Nassau County.

REP. GARY ACKERMAN: And takes in Great Neck and Sands Point and King's Point, and keeps going along the water's edge in the Long Island Sound until it turns north a little bit, and goes into the Long Island Sound. And then it moves through the water quite a bit. Then it comes up in Oyster Bay.


RUDIN: I love that piece. I love that piece.

CONAN: Gary Ackerman had quite a sense of humor.

RUDIN: August 2001 - that's when that piece was done.

CONAN: And he will - is it because his district has been redrawn again?

RUDIN: Well, he's being challenged - he loses Long Island; it's all Queens. He is getting challenged from some state legislature - legislator, but he's been in the Congress since 1983. He says it's just time to go.

CONAN: And we should note again, Barbara Mikulski, the senator from Maryland, is now the longest-serving woman in Congress. And by the way, Interstate 70 still doesn't go to the water, in the state of Maryland. Congratulations to Senator Mikulski. Stay with us. NPR's Political Junkie Ken Rudin will return after a short break, and we're going to be talking about the purpose of primaries. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.


CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan. It's Wednesday, Political Junkie day. Ken Rudin is with us, as always. And Ken, we have a ScuttleButton winner to announce?

RUDIN: We absolutely do. In the puzzle, the most recent puzzle, I had two Wesley Clark buttons, and so that was part of "Last Train To Clarksville," in honor of Davy Jones, in memory of Davy Jones.

CONAN: The passing of Jones, yeah.

RUDIN: The passing of Davy Jones. And Cindy Musaveradge(ph) of Newbern, North Carolina, was the winner.

CONAN: And we do not have a trivia question contest winner this week.

RUDIN: Well, we don't; it's a shame because it's a good one. But anyway, somebody who has served fewer - what? what?

CONAN: Wait a minute; there's an update.

RUDIN: Somebody's jumping up and down. Oh, my God.

CONAN: All right, never mind. We will have an announcement in just a moment. Stand by, everybody. Can we have a drum roll, please?

RUDIN: Or an egg roll? I'm starving.

CONAN: OK, so we're going to have - an email winner just came in, I think, on the trivia question just before the deadline, and here's the answer being rushed into the studio.

RUDIN: I love live radio.

CONAN: Live radio, you can't beat it. The answer is from Erin Noble(ph) in Salt Lake City. She says Stevenson.

RUDIN: No, that's incorrect - no, that is correct; less than four years as governor when he was nominated for president in 1952.

CONAN: Ding, ding, ding, Adlai Stevenson, the man with a hole in his shoe. All right, she will get a Political Junkie no-prize T-shirt in exchange for her promise of a digital picture of herself wearing it, that we can post on our Wall of Shame. Let's see, you can find the latest ScuttleButton, and Ken's Political Junkie column, at npr.org/junkie.

In Illinois last night, after Mitt Romney's win, the former governor of Massachusetts refocused his energy and took aim at the president and November.

MITT ROMNEY: It's time to say these words - this word: Enough. We've had enough.

CONAN: Mitt Romney would like to put his Republican rivals aside and - well, he's adding up the delegates. By NPR's count, he has 275 delegates more than Rick Santorum, his closest rival, on the way to the magic number of 1,144 needed to capture the nomination. But unlike the 2008 race, states now appropriate most delegates by congressional districts. It's no longer winner-take-all, at least not in most states.

The Republican National Committee changed those rules, and it's possible that nobody will reach the magic number, and we'll see - ding, ding, ding - a brokered convention. The campaign is longer under the new rules. Late-voting states get more clout, but some critics say it's a waste of time and money, and weakens the candidate leading up to the general election.

What's the point of a primary campaign? Is it to coronate the most - strongest candidate and pick a winner, or is it to encourage everybody to run and pick amongst the field? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Joining us from his home in Kentucky is Mike Duncan, former chairman of the RNC, current chair of American Crossroads, and nice to have you on TALK OF THE NATION.

MIKE DUNCAN: Ken, Neal, good to be with you. I consider myself a political junkie.

CONAN: Well, thanks very much for being with us. Did you know that the answer was Adlai - never mind.

DUNCAN: No, I just got in on the last of it. I thought it was Eisenhower. I didn't hear the entire...

CONAN: Oh, no, it had to - well, never mind. Never mind. It was too convoluted to go back over.

RUDIN: Neal, you have 20 minutes. Can't you describe...

CONAN: Describe...anyway, are these new rules for the primaries working out the way you had hoped?

DUNCAN: Well, let me, to answer your first question, the purpose of a primary is to nominate someone who's going to be elected in the general election. So that's where I started. And frankly, I opposed the rules change in 2008 because I believe that we first should do no harm.

And when you have an open seat, the way we were going to in 2008, and then when we lost it, certainly when the RNC considered it in mid-term, the fact that the Democrats had an incumbent, I wanted to have a shorter process because I understand that message, money and management equal momentum, and you've got to have as much time as you can to build that momentum, to heal the party and to get ready for the fall campaign.


RUDIN: Mike, but the argument was, of course, in 2008, John McCain wrapped up the nomination very, very early while the nation was captivated by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. And the Republicans got no boost, or no coverage, for so many months. And so the goal was, of course, to make it more interesting in 2012.

DUNCAN: But that doesn't mean we should always fight the last battle. What happened in 2008 - and John McCain got the nomination; I believe it was the first or second week of March, after Super Tuesday II, that he was able to claim the nomination. That's when Huckabee withdrew. He came over to the RNC; we had a great meeting that day. We made resources available to him during this interregnum period between having a presumptive nominee and a real nominee. So that's not that far off from where we are today.

CONAN: Is this process, though, at this point, do you think there is a possibility - by the AP's count, Mitt Romney has just about half the delegates he's going to need. He - is he going to wrap up this nomination before Tampa?

DUNCAN: I think it's likely that we will have a nominee. It's unlikely that we will have a brokered convention. And I believe, as I said previously, that momentum will play a role, and you'll start to see that happen as we get further into the process.

CONAN: And that speaks to the strength of an organization - fundraising, and having full slates on every congressional district. Those kinds of qualities are going to add up over time.

DUNCAN: Absolutely. I was part of the 2000 Bush campaign from the very beginning, and I had five states I was the chairman of, and we knew what the rules were in those five states. We understood how to get delegates on the ballot. We understood how to get the nominee on the ballot. We knew who the county chairmen were in most of the states.

You have to run a national campaign. And that's one of the reasons that having run once before gives someone an advantage - because they start with that body of knowledge, and their organization starts with that body of knowledge.

RUDIN: Mike, you talk about how running a national campaign - and of course, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are running national campaigns. But when you think of the South, and you think of the South as the strongest region for the Republican Party, Mitt Romney doesn't seem to fare very well there.

DUNCAN: He has not done well thus far in the South, but I would also add to your list that Ron Paul is running a national campaign. But he is faring - Mitt Romney is faring well with the delegates in the South because with the new rules, with the proportionality now, he is picking up a substantial number of delegates in the Southern states.

CONAN: Email question, and this from Deb(ph) in Ohio: Does this prolonged primary process hamper Romney's vetting of vice presidential candidates, especially if he doesn't get enough delegates till the convention? I doubt she would even consider it, but it would boost Romney's candidacy if he would add Condoleezza Rice as VP to the ticket.

DUNCAN: Well, I don't think it will because if the campaign is as good as I think it is, they will have a process in place that - a certain time, would kick in and start vetting. I was part of that process in 2000. I remember sending in a notebook with several hundred names of Republicans who had been elected officials, or were currently elected officials, to a guy named Cheney.

And in the beginning of my memo, I said: Of course, you have removed yourself from this process.


DUNCAN: So I think any good campaign already has a process that's ready to go, and can do it in a very timely manner.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get some callers in on the conversation, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. And we'll go with Isaac(ph), Isaac with us from Camden in South Carolina.

ISAAC: Hey, how's it going?

CONAN: Not too bad.

ISAAC: Love the show, man, pretty interesting topic. I've got to say that this is one of the first times I've ever voted in a primary. I'm 26 and have kind of always just really not seen what, you know, I guess, the benefits of the primary are. But this being the first one I've actually paid attention to, it's been neat to see just, you know, what every one of the candidates is doing. And it's almost as if you're bringing out all the guns to see who you're going to bring to the big fight, you know.

CONAN: So you appreciate the drawn-out process; gives you a chance to take a look at everybody?

ISAAC: Yeah. At the same time, too, though, it shows you just how intricate this whole system is. You know, I had no idea it was so, you know, complex - with all the different states going and then like, things like Super Tuesday and like, South Carolina. We were the third state to vote, and I didn't realize like, how big that was, you know.

CONAN: Who'd you end up voting for, Isaac?

ISAAC: I was a Ron Paul guy in the primary, but I'm actually going to vote for Barack again this year.

CONAN: All right, well, thanks very much for the phone call, appreciate it. And be careful, the more you follow this, you may end up being a political junkie like the rest of us.

ISAAC: Sounds great, man.

CONAN: Thanks very much. And that's an idea, Mike Duncan, that this encourages people to stay in the race. It comes, also, with the same time you have the funding change as a result of the Citizens United decision, that can keep a candidate like Newt Gingrich in the field. Ordinarily, his campaign would've run out of money some months ago.

DUNCAN: Well, that's true, to some extent. But keep in mind that the money that goes to a third-party organization, or a superPAC, can't pay the day-to-day bills of the campaign. They can't pay for the travel. They can't pay for the staff expenses. So they can do advertising, but they can't do the infrastructure of the staff. So it will have some effect, but it's not a total effect.


RUDIN: Mike, some people say that the battle in 1976 between Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford, going all the way into the convention, hurt the party and really didn't help it unite in time to beat Jimmy Carter. Do you see any problem with the mood of the party right now vis-a-vis the likelihood of Mitt Romney as the nominee?

DUNCAN: Well, I was a delegate in 1976 and served on the rules committee, and was very much a part of that whole process. And it was a very energizing process, all the way from the contest about, did you have to name your vice president before you were nominated - Reagan had said that he was going to have Schweiker, and there was a rules fight to make Ford say he was going to nominate someone; they thought that would tip the convention - all the way up to the final moment of the convention, when Reagan came down on Ford's invitation and made this great speech that you knew was setting him up for the next time.

We did have a chance in winning in 1976, even with all the distractions that were going on. Gerald Ford made a couple of campaign mistakes. Obviously, the reference to Poland and where it was located, was one of those. In Dick Cheney's new book, he talks about the '76 campaign. And if you're a political junkie, that's one of the chapters that you should look at.

CONAN: The other example that people give was the extended fight between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama four years ago, and that didn't seem to hurt the Democrats.

DUNCAN: It didn't. And a prolonged - there's a difference between a good vetting and a good process, where the primary plays out and you understand who your candidate is; and a prolonged knockdown, drag-out process. And I think that's the balance that we're trying to strike. I've been involved in this for a long time and know a little bit about the history of conventions versus primaries going back to 1832, when conventions came into play, and in 1856 for the Republicans. And the first primaries were in 1910. By 1912, we had 12 states. Then in 1968, after the Democrats had their tumult in Chicago...

CONAN: Debacle is the word we usually use.

DUNCAN: Well, I remember Daley very well, and watching what was going on in the streets in Chicago. But they appointed the McGovern Commission that tried to change their rules. And they have quotas, and they have all these primaries. And a lot of us believed that that was leading toward a national primary. And we rejected that on the Republican side. We didn't do the quotas, and we said look, states' rights; and states need to be able to develop their own system.

And as parties mature, particularly as we were getting stronger in the South, we needed to have different rules for different parts of the country. So most of us believe that a national primary for the Republicans and the Democrats would not be the right thing to do; that you do get benefit from having something of a vetting process. The argument is, how long does the vetting process go on?

CONAN: Let's get Richard on the line. Richard with us from Caldwell in Idaho.

RICHARD: Hello. How are you guys doing?

CONAN: Very well. Thanks.

RICHARD: Thank you very much for taking my call.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

RICHARD: Well, I think these primaries are really, faith for the American people because it gives us the best opportunity to get to know the candidates really well. A short primary, the American people don't have a really good sense of who these candidates are, except in the very regional bases where these candidates come from.

CONAN: And Mike Duncan, that - for states that vote late, I don't remember the last time the Texas primary weighed in, in a presidential year.

RUDIN: That's in '76, right?

DUNCAN: In '76 and perhaps in 1980. I'd have to look and see where they were in 1980. But there is an advantage in letting all the states play out. But there's also an advantage in the calendar and making sure that you have enough time, from the time that you get your presumptive nominee until you get your nominee in the general election, to raise the substantial amount of money that you have to have - and Barack Obama has changed that by taking public financing the last time - and to have a chance to heal the party.

Those are the two things. The calendar has been such a big part of this because - one of my principles in being for or against changes in party rules has to do with this timing. I don't want to see us having the formal primary process in the year before the presidential election. And that's what is just about to happen because New Hampshire, the secretary of state there has the ability to move that around. So I believe that we do have a process that's long enough.

It started in - this year, early in the year. And even though we didn't have votes until - I mean, started last year, early in the year - even though we didn't have votes until early this year, I think that vetting was really good. Go back and look at - historically, there have been a lot of candidates over the years who've put their toes in the water - or formed committees; they've raised money. And then they've decided that they didn't have what it took to run the national campaign, and got out. So I believe that we have a pretty good, balanced process right now that's almost self-correcting.

CONAN: Mike Duncan, thanks very much for your time. Appreciate it.

DUNCAN: Neal and Ken, it's good to be with you.

CONAN: Mike Duncan, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, now chairman of American Crossroads. And of course, you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And Ken, a couple of items we didn't get to earlier: a couple of interesting congressional elections yesterday in Illinois.

RUDIN: That's right. The big one, of course, was - the Democrats control the redistricting in Illinois completely, one of the few states that Democrats do control all the, you know, the mechanics of it. And in the 16th Congressional District, they lumped two Republican incumbents together - Don Manzullo, who was first elected in 1992; Adam Kinzinger, a freshman - and they both knocked - both ran against each other. Kinzinger, with the backing of Eric Cantor and some of the leadership, defeated Manzullo. So he'll keep the seat Republican, but the Republicans do lose an incumbent.

CONAN: They lose an incumbent, but Kinzinger is almost guaranteed to win. I don't think anybody is running against him.

RUDIN: Absolutely. But they do lose one Republican, and that will be Manzullo not coming back. And the other one to watch, of course, was in the 2nd Congressional District in Chicago. Jesse Jackson Jr., who was under some ethics investigation about wanting Barack Obama's Senate seat, and what he did with Rod Blagojevich to get it, he fended off - easily fended off a challenge by Debbie Halvorson, a former one-term member of Congress.

CONAN: There was some other interesting results in Illinois as well, as you look for a former candidate and former member of the Veterans Administration, Tammy Duckworth, now looking for election to the Congress.

RUDIN: Exactly. This is another district that the Democrats drew to elect a Democrat. Joe Walsh is the nominee - is the Republican incumbent. But Tammy Duckworth won the primary in the new 8th Congressional District. And I guess - who knows - but she could be favored to come to Congress in that district.

CONAN: And we should point out, again, in Gabby Giffords' seat in Arizona, Ron Barber, her former aide, one of the people who was injured in the shooting incident - of course, she has decided to step down from her seat in Congress; Ron Barber replaced her - in the meantime, he has now decided to run again in November.

RUDIN: Right. He was already going to run - always going to run in the special election in June. And a lot of other Democrats said that's fine, but we're going to run for the full term in November. Now, he says he's going to run for both the special election and the full term in November. And that may not make a lot - all the Democrats very happy. It's still a very tight, closely divided district.

CONAN: Ken Rudin, thanks very much.

RUDIN: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: Ken Rudin will be back next Wednesday for another edition of the Political Junkie. You can check out his latest ScuttleButton puzzle, and the Political Junkie column, at npr.org/junkie. And coming up, the C-SPAN founder Brian Lamb - 11 days before his retirement as CEO, after 34 years at the helm of C-SPAN. How has C-SPAN changed politics, journalism and your viewing habits? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: March 21, 2012 at 11:00 PM CDT
We said that George Washington had never held elective office prior to being president, but he was actually elected to Virginia's House of Burgesses in 1758.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.