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

When Is It Time To End A Political Run?


This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. The president finds another open mic in a foreign capital. It's still early, but the Etch-a-Sketch clearly the toy of this campaign season. And Santorum's spooky TV ad. It's Wednesday and time for a...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Welcome to Obamaville...

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?

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

SENATOR LLOYD BENTSON: Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

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

SARAH PALIN: Lipstick.


PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: But I'm the decider.


CONAN: Every Wednesday, political junkie Ken Rudin joins us to recap the week in politics. The high court sounds skeptical on health care, Santorum wins Louisiana but loses his cool. Newt downsizes his staff, again, while Mitt laughs it up on Leno. Primaries next week take the candidates to Maryland and Wisconsin, but will they matter?

Polls show Bob Kerrey down in his Nebraska Senate race, and veteran incumbent Richard Lugar catches question on residency. In a few moments, we'll speak with Mike Huckabee's 2008 campaign manager, Chip Saltsman, about coaching a losing candidate. And later in the program, what's life really like in the cockpit?

But first, political junkie Ken Rudin joins us as usual here in Studio 3A. As usual, we begin with a trivia question. Hey, Ken.

KEN RUDIN, BYLINE: Hi, Neal. Well, last week, Barbara Mikulski broke the record. Her combined years in the House and Senate made her the longest-serving woman in congressional history. Mikulski is a Democrat from Maryland.

CONAN: To put it shortly.

RUDIN: To put it shortly, very good. Which Republican woman who served in both the House - ready for - here we go again.

CONAN: Conditionals.

RUDIN: Exactly. Which Republican woman who served in both the House and Senate holds the record for her party for the most combined years in Congress?

CONAN: So if you think you know the answer to this week's trivia question, the Republican female which holds the - who holds the combined record for length of service in Congress, had to serve in both the House and the Senate, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Emailtalk@npr.org.

In the meantime, Ken, we begin...

RUDIN: Can I just tell you this - I once, about a week ago I had a dream that I could not come up with a trivia question, and I was searching everywhere. Really.


CONAN: Really? And you came up with this?


CONAN: In the meantime, actual votes.

RUDIN: Well, we do. The most recent one, of course, was Saturday in Louisiana, and Rick Santorum won big. You know, every time we say that this race is over, and it may be, and we'll talk about that too, but right before - a week before that it, it was big wins in Puerto Rico and in Illinois for Mitt Romney. And then comes Saturday in Louisiana, and Rick Santorum wins big.

He gets 49 percent, just about half the vote, Mitt Romney way back with 27 percent, Newt Gingrich 16 percent and Ron Paul with six percent. But when you talk about the delegates, of the 46 delegates that Louisiana has, only 20 were at stake on primary night, and Santorum got 10, and Romney got five. So for all that big headline of a big win, it's not a big delegate grab for him.

CONAN: Mitt Romney, according to NPR's delegate count, is not quite yet to 50 percent, but we're talking now about campaigns where Ron Paul is saying don't count me out and Newt Gingrich is whittling down his staff.

RUDIN: Well, Newt Gingrich has this new convention strategy. He's only won, of all the contests so far, he's only won two, and that's South Carolina and his home state of Georgia, and Georgia came on Super Tuesday, so nothing since then. He's well in third place, low third place, for delegates.

But he's laid off, you know, he announced yesterday, Politico reported it, that he laid off a third of his staff. He got rid of his campaign manager. He's cut back on his travel schedule, and he says the real key - well, if we can keep Mitt Romney from 1,144 delegates after the primaries are over, then those two months from mid-June to mid-August will be very crucial, and the delegates, the uncommitted delegates, hopefully in Gingrich's point of view will turn to him.

CONAN: And in the meantime, the next primaries to come up don't look particularly favorable for either Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich. Those are in Maryland and Wisconsin, though Santorum is certainly giving Wisconsin a shot.

RUDIN: Yes, don't forget District of Columbia also on April 3. But yeah, Wisconsin, while Mitt Romney is actually running around the country now trying to raise money, Santorum has been in Wisconsin, you know, campaigning and stuff for the April 3 primary. Obviously his hope is Wisconsin because after that, it's a three-week lapse until the primaries of April 24, and that's New York, Pennsylvania and a lot of the Northeast states.

CONAN: In the meantime, there are political implications to this week's hearings at the Supreme Court, three days of oral arguments on various issues related to the constitutionality of President Obama's signature legislative achievement, the health care overhaul.

RUDIN: Exactly, and if you listen to the arguments, especially yesterday, and you heard some clearly skeptical questions from not only Chief Justice John Roberts but from swing Justice - and everybody talks about him as the key vote - Anthony Kennedy – now, just because they ask harsh questions doesn't necessarily mean that they're going to vote to strip or to get rid of the health care bill.

So we're not making predictions here yet, but obviously it's very fascinating what's going to happen in November, and somehow my gut tells me that if they overturn health care, that might even help the Democrats. It sounds kind of convoluted, but because the Republicans may say, well, we won and that's it, and the Democrats may be energized.

But if they keep it, then perhaps maybe the Republicans will say - or the anti health care folks will be energized, and that could draw them to the polls in November. Who knows, but predicting what's going to happen with the Supreme Court from the questions yesterday was...

CONAN: Dangerous business.

RUDIN: Is dangerous.

CONAN: In the meantime, we have some people on the line who think they know the answer to this week's trivia question, and again...

RUDIN: What was that again?

CONAN: If you combined service in the House and Senate, and you must, the female Republican with the longest record of congressional service, combined congressional service.

RUDIN: Who served in the House and Senate.

CONAN: 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. And John's(ph) on the line with us from Little Rock.

JOHN: How are you?

CONAN: I'm well, thank you.

JOHN: Good. Was it Margaret Chase Smith maybe?

CONAN: The senator from Maine.

RUDIN: Well, Margaret Chase Smith is a very, very good guess, matter of fact such a good guess that she is in second place. She served in the House from 1940 until 1948, and then she was - I'm not reading this, by the way...


RUDIN: And then she was elected to the Senate.

CONAN: But you're squinting anyway.

RUDIN: I am because I'm trying to think. And then she was elected to the Senate from '48 until she lost in '72. So she is in second place.

CONAN: John, nice try.

JOHN: Thanks so much.

CONAN: Let's see if we can go next to - this is Albert, Albert with us from Lake - I can't quite read that - oh, Lake Havasu.

ALBERT: Lake Havasu.

CONAN: Yeah, there you go, in Arizona.

ALBERT: Yeah, my guess is Jeannette Rankin.

CONAN: Of Montana.

RUDIN: Boy, that would be a Butte. Well, actually - I'm sorry - but Jeannette Rankin, very famous of course for having voted against World War I and World War II. She never served in the Senate. She ran for the Senate, lost the primary. Matter of fact, I think she lost to Mike Mansfield, but she never served in the Senate.

CONAN: Nice call, though, Albert. And let's go next to - this is Phil, Phil with us from Wichita.

PHIL: Hi, I was wondering, I think it's Kay Bailey Hutchison from Texas.

RUDIN: Well, Kay Bailey Hutchison, who is still in the Senate, she is retiring this year, she has served 19 years in the Senate but never served in the House, even though she ran for the House, lost a primary, never served in the House.

CONAN: Thanks very much. Let's go next to Bob, Bob calling us from Sacramento.

BOB: Olympia Snowe.

CONAN: Another senator from Maine.

RUDIN: Well, Olympia Snowe is the current senator from Maine who is also retiring, and she is the correct answer.

CONAN: Ding, ding, ding.

RUDIN: She has served 16 years in the House, and she's currently finishing her 17th year in the Senate, or her 18th year in the Senate. So she's already broken the record held by the late Margaret Chase Smith for the Republicans.

CONAN: Two Maines in a row. Bob - the top two were both from Maine.

RUDIN: I remember the Maine.

CONAN: Congratulations, Bob. For the correct answer you will receive a fabulous political junkie no-prize T-shirt in exchange for your promise of a digital picture of yourself that we can post on our hall of shame.

BOB: Finally, I got it. (Technical difficulties) Patsy Mink is a correct answer. That was before you give away t-shirts.


RUDIN: And Patsy Mink never served in the Senate.

CONAN: No, that was another trivia question.

RUDIN: Oh, right.

CONAN: So he finally scored his T-shirt - before we got them printed up. Hold on, Bob, and we'll collect your particulars, and again, congratulations. In the meantime, one of those campaign perennials, open microphones - candidates, presidents, ought to beware.

RUDIN: Now, we're not sure how much of a gaffe it is, but the Republicans certainly see it as a gaffe, and it may very well be. This is - President Obama is in South Korea. He's talking to Russian President Medvedev.

CONAN: Medvedev.

RUDIN: Medvedev. And he's saying that, look, cut me a little slack on arms policy because after the election I'll have more flexibility.

CONAN: And this is in fact what he was caught on camera saying.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility.

CONAN: This is my last election. After this election I'll have more flexibility. Predicting a victory there. But in the meantime, he made something more light of it when he came up the next day.


OBAMA: Well, first of all, are the mics on?


CONAN: And nice to make a joke, and he said: Wait a minute, of course everybody knows these are delicate issues. They just had an election in Russia. They have one president going out, another one coming in. We're in an election here. You're here, we're not going to be negotiating strategic missile defense in this election year.

RUDIN: Right, in fairness to the president, he did say, and everybody agrees, that nothing is going to get done in Congress, nothing's going to pass Congress, certainly on missile defense, in the seven months we have until the election.

Republicans are saying, however, that this is President Obama saying one thing and perhaps after he gets re-elected maybe moving in dangerous foreign policy, which is what John McCain said. So there's two different sides of it, but of course an open mic is always dangerous, as many candidates have learned.

CONAN: And then not Mitt Romney but one of his campaign advisor's Etch-a-Sketch moment. This seems to, well, confirm a lot of fears some conservatives have that the new conservative is going to switch back to moderate positions if he gets the nomination.

RUDIN: Yeah, I mean I'm not a fan of this kind of story because there's so much else that's out there. But the reason it has legs is because - and this is his aide, Eric Fehrnstrom, who said that Mitt Romney could be like an Etch-a-Sketch. This validates, in some people's minds, the view that Mitt Romney doesn't have ideological anchors, he's not a true conservative, and it's a hubbub that has really, you know, made conservatives very - more - they are obviously pushing this as one of the problems with Ken Rudin - one of the problems with the Mitt Romney campaign.

CONAN: In the meantime...

RUDIN: English as a second language.

CONAN: English as a second language. In the meantime, we have Mitt Romney himself going on the Jay Leno show, "The Tonight Show," and he's asked, interestingly, some questions about potential vice presidential candidates. Chris Christie - one word, indomitable. Paul Ryan, creative. Nikki Haley, energetic.


OBAMA: Donald Trump.




Rick Santorum.

ROMNEY: Press secretary.

OBAMA: Press secretary.


RUDIN: The funny thing is, Rick Santorum said the other day that he would not turn down an offer for vice president from Mitt Romney. I predict it's not going to happen. Other news in the Romney campaign - former President George H.W. Bush officially endorses him tomorrow in Houston.

CONAN: We're talking with political junkie Ken Rudin, as we do every Wednesday. When we come back, as time and cash begin to run short in the campaign for the GOP nomination, we'll talk about coaching losing candidates. Stay with us. 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 Ken Rudin is with us as usual, and Ken, did we get a winner to last week's ScuttleButton puzzle?

RUDIN: Well, since you asked, do you remember Ann Selzer, who was the pollster for the Des Moines Register who was on our show?

CONAN: I do, yes, very kind to join us.

RUDIN: Well, she, coincidentally, Ann Selzer of West Des Moines, Iowa, she is the winner, and the puzzle last week was - I had a Tin Man button from "The Wizard of Oz." I also had a pay button. It was a Peyton Manning - he's that quarterback who made the news. But Ann Selzer is the winner.

CONAN: Well congratulations, Ann Selzer, and we're ashamed that you're participating in such a disreputable enterprise. You can find the latest ScuttleButton and Ken's political junkie column at npr.org/junkie.

In the meantime, the race to 1,144 slogs on, that's the number of delegates needed to lock up the GOP nomination. Given the math, it's growing more and more difficult for anyone but Mitt Romney to reach the magic number. Dare we bring back the term inevitable? But it's a tough decision for any candidate to call it quits. It means you admit defeat and face the question what's next.

Hillary Clinton bowed out only to go on to become secretary of State. Ronald Reagan quit in 1976 and won the presidency four years later. But where's Bill Bradley or Alan Keyes? Who's the best failed candidate? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. And the email is talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Chip Saltsman will nominate - well, I think we know who Chip Saltsman will nominate. He joins us by phone from Tennessee. He was the campaign manager for Mike Huckabee's 2008 presidential campaign. Nice to have you back on TALK OF THE NATION.

CHIP SALTSMAN: Always a pleasure, and yeah, I think you know who my nomination is going to be for this one.

CONAN: Yeah, a guy who ended up with his own TV show.

SALTSMAN: His own TV show and starting his radio show in a couple weeks, and so I'm going to go with Mike Huckabee as my vote. I'm going to shock all you all.

CONAN: OK, in the meantime, this moment in the campaign, you look at the math, you're the campaign manager, you're supposed to do such things, and you begin to say: You know, it's just not going to happen.

SALTSMAN: Yeah, this is the toughest part of any campaign, not even - you know, if you're running a city council race or a state rep race or the race for presidency. Obviously the numbers are a little bit bigger if you're running across the country.

You always have to have an eye on how do I close this thing down because none of these candidates really like the idea of being - not only do they lose, but then they may have a couple of million dollars in debt, which we've seen time and time again.

And so if you don't get control of this early and always know what is it going to cost me to shut down after this date, in the Huckabee campaign, I mean, to be honest, we knew exactly what it was going to cost us to shut down the day after the Iowa straw poll in case we didn't do well. We knew what it was going to cost us to shut down the day after the Iowa caucuses if we didn't do well.

And so you always have to have an eye on that. It's not a pleasant conversation. It's not one that you want to be going to the candidate and say OK, now I know we are going to win, but just in case we don't...


SALTSMAN: These are things that we have to do. But it's very important for a campaign to know how to shut down properly because it's a big, expensive operation that has grown really quick over a short amount of time. And a lot of time, these campaigns don't even know what assets they have on the ground in all the states.

CONAN: That's a good point. These are quickly thrown together organizations, and you're talking, though, about the internal dynamic. Is there also an external dynamic? Does - do people call and say you've got to go tell the candidate it's time to pull the plug?

SALTSMAN: Yeah, there is that. And, you know, you get one shot, I think, to exit the race gracefully. And, you know, you kind of set your parameters that this is - you know, if Mitt Romney gets 1,144, I'm out of the race, or, you know, I'm out of money, I'm out of the race. That's always a good little judge to characterize.

But look, people call all the time, I'm pretty sure a month after we entered the race, people were calling us to get out. So you usually don't worry about when other people are saying it's time to get out, it's time to get out. The candidate's got to make that decision. It's incredibly personal.

These candidates have been working now for a year, a year and three months, non-stop, no sleep, staying in $29 hotels across the country and raising money. It's very personal, but you have to help them along with that decision if you think that's the right thing to do.


RUDIN: Chip, when George - the first George Bush, George Bush Sr. was running for president in 1980, he won the Michigan primary in May, in the middle of May against Ronald Reagan, who clearly had an overwhelming majority, at least an overwhelming lead among delegates, and a week later, he was out of the race.

When does - I mean, I can understand the pressure on Newt Gingrich, who has only won two races, but if you're Rick Santorum, and you're looking, and you say well, I'm still winning, I'm winning in Louisiana, I'm winning in the South, I'm winning in Kansas, I'm winning the caucuses, even though the numbers, the delegate numbers don't help him, but if he's still running and winning, what's the argument for him getting out?

SALTSMAN: Well, you know, as somebody that stayed in the race four years ago until John McCain got 1,144, I'm not going to call on anybody to get out. If they've got their race, and they've got a pathway to the nomination, I'm going to support them.

Look, Mitt Romney's got win, what - depending on what math and delegates use, somewhere around 45 percent of the delegates.

RUDIN: Remaining delegates.

SALTSMAN: Remaining delegates left to win the nomination. I think Rick Santorum's hill, obviously a little steeper. He's got to win about 75 or 80 percent, depending on what you math you use. It could be as low as 70.

CONAN: And Newt Gingrich is staring at K2.

SALTSMAN: Exactly. I mean, he - without oxygen. And so he's got a real challenge. And I think the challenge now is how do these people want to be known for these campaigns. Newt Gingrich says he's taking it to the convention and hopes that it's an open convention and him be some kind of consensus candidate.

Rick Santorum still thinks he's got a pathway to get to 1,144. I think he can make a case for that. Now, the case gets harder every single day, and the question is how much money is he raising, what kind of support is he getting out there.

You know, we always talk about the next slate of states is so vitally important to the process. You know, we have April 3 coming up, where there's three winner-take-all states. If you do the math out, if Mitt Romney takes all these three winner-take-all states, then maybe K2 becomes Rick Santorum's mountain.

And then we move to April 24, where Pennsylvania is on the board, and I think we're going to see - that will be kind of, I think, Rick Santorum's moment. If he does decide to get out, he can get out after his home state and be - this is important to our country to beat Barack Obama, I want to bring the party together, that is if he loses his home state and some other states along the way.

CONAN: We've asked callers to give us a call and tell us who is the best failed presidential candidate, 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org. Let's start with Reed(ph), and Reed's with us from Burlington in North Carolina.

REED: Hello, Neal, I'd like to go back a little further than some of your callers probably will. I'd like to suggest perhaps Salmon P. Chase, who was a political opponent of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 but ended up chief justice of the Supreme Court appointed by Lincoln.

CONAN: And served in his Cabinet before that, part of the Team of Rivals.

REED: As secretary of treasury along - along, I'd like to say along with another political opponent of Lincoln, William Seward, who was secretary of state. Lincoln liked to keep his enemies close to him.

CONAN: Yes of course, and William Seward ended up buying us an icebox in Alaska.

REED: He certainly did.


CONAN: Thanks very much, Reed.

REED: Thank you.

CONAN: Let's go next to - this is Bob(ph), Bob with us from Boulder, Colorado.

BOB: Yes, hi, Neal, how are you doing today?

CONAN: Good, thanks.

BOB: I'd like to suggest Jimmy Carter the second time around. I think that by losing the election, he has become a fairly effective diplomat, sometimes with, sometimes without portfolio. The work of the Carter Center I think has been very successful in areas of election reform internationally, and...

CONAN: You usually think of Jimmy Carter in the ex-presidents category, not in the failed candidates category. So I'm not sure - he's had a remarkably successful career, no question about that, post-presidency, but ex-presidents, I think, rather than failed candidate.

BOB: Either way, he's been both.

CONAN: All right, even Ken couldn't get that into a trivia question.

RUDIN: Let me ask Chip a question: You also, when you ran in 2008, you also were running against a guy named Ron Paul, who is still running. Ron Paul was asked I think last night on CNN when is he going to get out, and the question actually was when will you have the decency to get out, and Ron Paul says that's a ridiculous question.

And, you know, Ron Paul knows he's not going to get the nominee, but there's no real reason for him to get out, either, is there?

SALTSMAN: No, and I mean, when you look at kind of the scope and breadth of Dr. Paul's supporters, they are very passionate about their guy. They like to talk about the issues of liberty and the Constitution, and Dr. Paul kind of frames those as well as anybody.

And so I think he uses this more as a running for president as a platform to talk about the issues that are important to him and his supporters. And I'll be honest with you. I mean, one of the things that I think we did four years ago when it was just left between John McCain and Mike Huckabee, we did not spend our time, energy and resources bashing John McCain.

We went - we spent our time, effort and resources talking about Mike Huckabee and the issues that were important to him to try to build support. I think Dr. Paul does that in a way, too. He's not attacking Mitt Romney, or I guess he's not attacking anybody right now. He is talking about the issues that are important and passionate to him and his supporters.

I think that adds a little excitement to some of these primaries and gets his supporters out to vote, and hopefully we can keep them in November.

CONAN: He's not attacking anybody anymore. He sure did earlier in the campaign.

SALTSMAN: Everybody at some point in this race has attacked somebody else.

CONAN: That's quite true. But is there a point where the campaign, even if the campaign is technically still alive, where the candidate or the campaign manager tells the candidate, you know, we've got to start thinking about what happens after this campaign, where you're going to go next and how you're going to be received by the party?

SALTSMAN: Yea, I think that's absolutely right. And Dr. Paul now has a different dynamic - and with his son being in an elected office as United States Senator from Kentucky - and how does a campaign like this if it goes on too long, how does it affect his son who might have some ambitions of his own down the line?

CONAN: We have Veronica on the line. Veronica with another nominee for best failed candidate. She's calling from Baton Rouge.

VERONICA: Hi. I think it's Al Gore. He not only helped bring climate control into the national conversation, he won a Nobel Prize and an Oscar for it.

CONAN: And an Oscar - climate change, I think, is what you met but...

VERONICA: Yes. Climate change.

CONAN: Indeed, that's a rare double - to win the Nobel Prize and an Oscar. That's a great nominee, Veronica. Appreciate it. Beyond your parochial interests in this, Chip Saltsman, can you think of somebody else you might nominate?

SALTSMAN: Well, you know, the nomination of Al Gore, I was state party chairman in Tennessee in 2000 and ran the campaign to beat Al Gore in his home state that gave the presidency to George Bush. I'm very happy he's a nominee...


SALTSMAN: ...which is very good. You know, there's a whole list of folks that that you can use. I mean, you think of failed presidential candidates. You can almost put Bob Dole in that list, too, who ran several times and lost. And literally, that last time he lost, he had a whole new commercial persona after he lost that last campaign for president. I would put him up as a nominee.


RUDIN: The only problem I have my Bob Dole - and I'm thinking, yes, he was, you know, beloved and commercial success, but he did have a moment in the 1988 campaign with the first George Bush say - telling him to stop lying about my record. He was a bitter guy, whereas your candidate, Mike Huckabee, when he left in 2008, he didn't sound bitter. He almost sounded like, well, I gave it my best shot, and that's it.

SALTSMAN: Well, that's true. And I think he, you know, Senator Dole was able to rehab his reputation after the fact on a lot of these things after he lost that last race for president. And I agree with you. Governor Huckabee was a happy warrior when he got in the race. And a year and a half later and having millions of dollars spent to beat him up, and - as that goes on - and was a happy warrior when he left. And I had dinner with him Sunday night, and he still is a happy warrior.

CONAN: I was just going to ask how long after a campaign is it OK to meet, maybe have dinner and start telling jokes about do you remember the time?


SALTSMAN: Well, we started that about a week after the campaign. And we continued it up - and we continue it every day. We still talk on a regular basis. I had dinner with Governor Huckabee and his wife, Sunday, at their house. And he cooked. And it was my birthday. And they gave me a birthday cake and sang happy birthday. And we probably told a few campaign stories.

CONAN: Well, Ken?

RUDIN: I'm just thinking. Eugene McCarthy when he lost to Hubert Humphrey in '68, he never really, truly recovered from it. He was, you know, of course, he ran against Bobby Kennedy, who was killed in the middle of the campaign. But years later, decades later even, I remember talking to Gene McCarthy. He was still bitter of how he was treated in 1968. So that lasted decades with McCarthy.

SALTSMAN: And, you know, we might throw in Barry Goldwater, too, because even though he lost, he started a conservative movement that lasts till today.

CONAN: And got re-elected to the Senate. I remember those bumper stickers - Senator Goldwater, doesn't that sound good?


CONAN: Chip Saltsman, thanks very much for your time today. Appreciate it.

SALTSMAN: Always a pleasure. Thank you, guys.

CONAN: Chip Saltsman served as chief of staff for Tennessee Republican - is the chief of staff for Tennessee Republican Congressman Chuck Fleischmann and former campaign manager for Mike Huckabee. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And Ken, a couple of items we didn't get around to earlier. And there are a couple of notes on Senate races. In Nebraska, Bob Kerrey, the former senator and former president of NYU, coming back for a Senate race there - doesn't look so good in the polls, at least not right now.

RUDIN: Right. Not the former president of NYU but the New School, yes.

CONAN: New School (unintelligible).

RUDIN: But I mean he's coming back to - he hasn't run for the Senate since 1994 when he won his last term. He's been out of office since then, running the New School, living in Greenwich Village, should I say. And I point that out is because when he comes back to - when he's now trying to come back to Nebraska to succeed Ben Nelson, his numbers are looking terrible and saying, wait a second, this guy is even more liberal than Ben Nelson, and he may not be the guy for Nebraska in 2012. His numbers don't look good.

CONAN: Talking about coming back and establishing residency. Dick Lugar seems to have a problem because his residency is the Residence Inn.

RUDIN: Well, you know, something - I mean, he just found out that he has to repay the Senate $4,500 because he charged them in hotel visits when he goes back to Indiana. He doesn't have a residence in Indiana, having served in the Senate since '77. He - this is one of the things that could be very troubling for him as he comes into this May primary with a conservative opponent, because he doesn't live in the state, and that seemed to - seem to - reflected in the polls.

CONAN: And we're starting to get some polling numbers on the recall race in Wisconsin. Of course, the governor there in a lot of trouble.

RUDIN: Well, yes. I mean, of course, we knew he would be in trouble, you know, a lot of labor money being dispensed to defeat him in the recall, which will be June 5th. But first, there is a May 8th Democratic primary. There are at least two, probably going to be four, Democrats running and, you know, including Tom Barrett, the mayor of Milwaukee, who Walker beat four years ago - or two years ago, I should say. But the point is, is that every - in every polling matchup, it's very, very close between Walker and the Democrats. Some of the Democrats who don't even, you know, are not well-known statewide, yet it's very, very close. There's going to be a lot of money and a lot of interest in this recall.

CONAN: And a real bellwether for the general election to come in November. In the meantime, the tragedy, the death of Trayvon Martin in Florida, has become another of those issues that get polarized. The president said, last week, if I had a son, he would look like Trayvon and extended his condolences to the family. Those remarks were then attacked by some Republican presidential candidates.

RUDIN: Yes. And some of the Republicans were talking about President Obama trying to inject race into the story, and that was kind of an unfortunate situation, because this is not what it should be - it should not be about race. It's about just - maybe it's racial profiling is what the issue is. But there was an incident on the House floor today. Bobby Rush, the Congressman from Chicago, took off his suit jacket, had a sweatshirt underneath, put on a hood and put on sunglasses, saying, in solidarity, I'm wearing this hoodie along - for, you know, for Mr. Martin. And he was gaveled out of order and out of the...

CONAN: There's a rule in the House against wearing hats.

RUDIN: Wearing hats. And that apparently violated that rule, but it was a really - but for a minute there, you could see the guy in the chair, and Bobby Rush just trying to talk over each other. It was a pretty interesting moment this morning on the House floor.

CONAN: Ken Rudin with us as he is every Wednesday here in Studio 3A. Political Junkie will be back next week. Ken, thanks very much.

RUDIN: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: When we come back, we're going to be talking about an incident that happened in the air yesterday, a scary moment, and it raises the question: what happens behind the locked door to the cockpit? What are relations there like? How do you begin to ask questions when somebody begins to behave erratically? Commercial pilots, aircrew, 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.

KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.