Previewing Three 2012 Senate Races To Watch

Jan 18, 2012
Originally published on January 18, 2012 2:09 pm

Transcript

JOHN DONVAN, HOST:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm John Donvan in Washington. Huntsman hangs up his cleats, Wisconsin Dems step up to the plate, and Newt Gingrich swings for the fences in South Carolina. It is Wednesday and time for a...

NEWT GINGRICH: Paychecks versus food stamps...

DONVAN: 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 BENTSEN: Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

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

SARAH PALIN: Lipstick.

GOVERNOR RICK PERRY: Oops.

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

(SOUNDBITE OF SCREAM)

DONVAN: Every Wednesday, political junkie joins us to recap the week in politics, and it has been a week in politics. Jon Huntsman's ticket to ride doesn't take him far enough, and the remaining five candidates trade barbs in South Carolina, which has another debate coming up tomorrow and then an all-important primary on Saturday.

Rick Santorum nabs the endorsement of evangelicals; Newt Gingrich gets Sarah Palin's endorsement, sort of; Democrats in the Badger State get a million signatures to start the recall of Governor Scott Walker. One more California Republican, Jerry Lewis, announces he is retiring, and the DNC says that three days is plenty long enough for its convention, and the fourth day is gone.

In a few moments, we're going to hear from reporters in Montana, Virginia and Massachusetts about those highly watched Senate races in those states, and later on in the program, the documentary that played a role in freeing the West Memphis Three.

But first we begin, as we always do, with a trivia question from Ken Rudin. Ken?

KEN RUDIN, BYLINE: John, this day will obviously make or break your career, I'm convinced of it.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

DONVAN: So am I.

RUDIN: OK, Political Junkie trivia question, it may be a little wonky, but why not? We're focusing on the battle for the Senate later today in the program. There are 33 Senate seats up with nine incumbents retiring. That leaves 24 senators on the ballot running for another term.

Of those 24, who's the only one who was appointed to the Senate to succeed a deceased senator?

DONVAN: Oh, that's a piece of cake.

RUDIN: Right.

DONVAN: But I'm just not going to share the answer that I have.

RUDIN: Because you already have a T-shirt.

DONVAN: Sure. If you think you know the answer, our number is 800-989-8255. And our email is talk@npr.org. And the winner does get that fabulous no-prize T-shirt in exchange for a promise from you to send us a photo of your wearing it for our Wall of Shame.

RUDIN: John, could I just repeat the question one more time because...

DONVAN: Absolutely.

RUDIN: Of all the senators who are running for re-election this year, there's only one who was appointed to the Senate to replace a deceased senator. Who was that person? That's all, just to repeat it.

DONVAN: OK. So let's get to the week, Ken. So Jon Huntsman announced his candidacy, he talked about it, running on the moral high road, but time passed, and what happened?

RUDIN: Well, you know, he talked about, you know, after a third-place finish in New Hampshire, he talked about getting a ticket to ride. I think he had the wrong Beatles song. I think the song was I don't want to spoil the party, so I'll go. I think, you know, Jon Huntsman based everything on New Hampshire. He bypassed Iowa, didn't have anything going there, wanted to make a big splash.

And for all, you know, for all his appeal to the media and to many Democrats - of course this was a Republican primary contest - and he just didn't get the leverage he needed.

DONVAN: Did that strategy ever make sense?

RUDIN: It did in a different Republican Party, if the Republican Party were as perhaps as moderate as it was maybe even in 1980. You think of 1980 with Ronald Reagan. But Ronald Reagan had, you know, George H.W. Bush, Howard Baker, people who were kind of moderate, you know, centrist Republicans.

The party is much further to the right even than it was four years ago, and Jon Huntsman really didn't stand a chance. There's some talk about him looking at 2016, but unless the party changes by - from now till then, I don't see where he gets traction.

DONVAN: Well, he didn't bow out silently. He actually - he endorsed Mitt Romney, but if you listen to the way he did it - well, let's listen to the way he did it and then analyze that.

JON HUNTSMAN: I believe it is now time for our party to unite around the candidate best equipped to defeat Barack Obama. Despite our differences and the space between us on some of the issues, I believe that candidate is Governor Mitt Romney.

DONVAN: All right, and the question I have is how warm an embrace does that feel like to you?

RUDIN: Well, it's not, and we've seen that before. We remember the famous thing of Ted Kennedy coming up to the floor on Madison Square Garden in 1980 to hug Jimmy Carter. It was the most awkward hug in history. And, you know, you always see endorsements. When Hillary Clinton endorsed Barack Obama, it was somewhat warm, but there were a lot of bitterness among the supporters.

Look, you know, he spent most of the campaign trashing Mitt Romney. It's hard to suddenly make him his best friend. But I think under the circumstances, he did as well as he could.

DONVAN: We had one last debate before South Carolina. Your take on that debate?

RUDIN: Well, two things. First of all, Mitt Romney didn't make any of the fumbles that everybody's watching to see if it will happen, if his stature as frontrunner will be endangered, and it wasn't. But again, the reason Newt Gingrich was on a rise in October-November, I thought, was because of strong debate performances, and I thought he gave another good performance again. Of course, his rise was stopped in Iowa thanks to negative ads, you know, put out by pro-Romney PACs.

But Gingrich, you know, I think, you know, he gave a good, coherent argument about why he should be the guy. And we talked earlier - in the billboard you mentioned that evangelicals are rallying behind or attempting to rally around Santorum.

But I still think that, you know, Gingrich is not going away anytime soon, and he's certainly not going away before Saturday's South Carolina primary. And I think that the best thing that could happen to Mitt Romney once again is that the conservative vote will be split among more than one alternative.

DONVAN: All right, let's repeat the trivia question.

RUDIN: I can't possibly.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RUDIN: OK, of the 24 senators who are running on the ballot in 2012, there is only one who was appointed to the Senate to replace a deceased incumbent. Who was it?

DONVAN: All right, we're going to ask Scott(ph) in Bristol, Indiana. Scott, your suggestion?

SCOTT: I think it's Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

RUDIN: Well, that's a good guess because Robert Byrd of West Virginia did die in office, but somebody else was appointed to that seat. Joe Manchin actually appointed that appointee, and then when that appointee's term was over, Joe Manchin ran in the special election. So it wasn't Joe Manchin.

DONVAN: All right, Rob(ph) in...

RUDIN: Good guess.

DONVAN: Rob in San Antonio, Texas, your guess or your correct answer, perhaps?

ROB: Is it Claire McCaskill of Missouri?

RUDIN: No, Claire McCaskill in 2006, she defeated Jim Talent. So she was not appointed to the Senate.

DONVAN: Do you respect the guess?

RUDIN: Well, not as much as the first guess.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

DONVAN: All right. Let's try one more, Pat(ph) in Fayetteville, are you there?

PAT: Hi, is it Scott Brown?

RUDIN: Scott Brown is another good guess. Ted Kennedy, his predecessor, did die, but the Democrats in Massachusetts changed the law. They did not allow an appointment to be made, and so Scott Brown defeated Martha Coakley in a special election.

DONVAN: All right, thanks for trying, Pat. You were just talking about Santorum and having the support of the evangelicals, but it's interesting, he's taking a new line of attack on Mitt Romney that has to do with Romney's support for essentially rehabilitating convicted felons, which is something that Santorum himself has something of a track record of establishing and wanting to bring that (unintelligible).

RUDIN: And we did see that come up in the Myrtle Beach debate on Monday, and Santorum was standing there saying that you don't support this at all, and obviously that was one of the biggest arguments between Santorum and Romney on the debate night.

DONVAN: Well, I want to take a listen to an ad that Santorum has put out that I believe touches on this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ADVERTISEMENT)

UNDENTIFIED MAN: Obama supported the Wall Street bailouts. So did Romney. Obama gave us radical Obamacare that was based on Romneycare. Obama's a liberal on social issues. Romney once bragged he's even more liberal than Ted Kennedy on social issues. Why would we ever vote for someone who's just like Obama when we can unite around Rick Santorum and beat Obama?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RICK SANTORUM: I'm Rick Santorum, and I approve this message.

DONVAN: Well, that doesn't actually go to the issue of the rehabilitating felons, but certainly the scary deep-voice guy was in there.

RUDIN: And I did have tears listening it. I did have tears. Well, you know, that's the conservatives' argument against Mitt Romney: Which Mitt Romney are we seeing, a conservative who - and if you listen to the debates, Mitt Romney is very conservative - or do you go back to 1994, when he ran against Ted Kennedy or 2002 when he ran for the governorship of Massachusetts, when he took obviously much more liberal positions running in Massachusetts than he is now.

DONVAN: Let's go back to the trivia contest because we have another contestant who wants to make a try at it, and it's Vincent(ph) in Flint, Michigan. Hi, Vincent.

VINCENT: Yeah, hi, is it is Jean Carnahan?

RUDIN: Well, Jean Carnahan was appointed to the Senate, but she's no longer in the Senate. She was beaten by the aforementioned Jim Talent in 2002.

VINCENT: All right, thank you.

DONVAN: All right. This one may be too tough. I'm going to try one more, Clayton(ph) in Laramie, Wyoming. Hi, Clayton, you there?

CLAYTON: Yes, I am.

DONVAN: What's your guess?

CLAYTON: My guess would be John Barrasso of Wyoming.

RUDIN: Well, John, once you said Laramie, Wyoming, you knew - I knew that was the right answer. That is the correct answer. John Barrasso was appointed in 2007 after Craig Thomas died in office.

DONVAN: Congratulations, Clayton.

CLAYTON: Thank you.

DONVAN: You win the T-shirt, and you are obliged to send us a photo of you wearing it.

CLAYTON: Excellent, I will do that.

DONVAN: Are you going to keep up your end of the bargain?

CLAYTON: I sure will.

DONVAN: All right, thanks very much, congratulations to you. These are pretty tough questions.

RUDIN: They are, but it's a lot of fun - the fun part of it is I love the wrong guesses because, I mean, Scott Brown made sense because there was - Ted Kennedy died. And Joe Manchin made sense because Robert Byrd died.

DONVAN: Well, that's why I was asking you if you respect the guesses because some of them - they're very smart guesses.

RUDIN: Oh, they are, and I think it's a very smart audience, and I think it's even smarter, believe it or not, when Neal Conan is away. I think you bring out smarter people calling in. This is a personal feeling.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

DONVAN: I planted all those people all across the nation.

RUDIN: I mean, Neal is a good guy and everything, I like him, but still I think you're smarter.

DONVAN: So I want to talk about Sarah Palin's - we had something of a not warm embrace of Mitt Romney by Jon Huntsman. Sarah Palin put in a word for Newt Gingrich, but again the question is: Just how much love was there?

PALIN: If I had to vote in South Carolina, in order to keep this thing going, I'd vote for Newt, and I would want this to continue: more debates, more vetting of candidates because we know the mistake made in our country four years ago with having a candidate that was not vetted.

DONVAN: Wow.

RUDIN: Well, there are two things I love about this. First of all, she said basically if I had to vote in South Carolina, if you twisted my arm, I would vote for Newt Gingrich. That doesn't sound like an endorsement to me. I mean, it sounds like she says look, I don't want this to be over yet. And there are a lot of conservatives who don't want this to be over. They want this - and a lot of political junkies don't want it to be over, either. They want it to go on and see how the candidates do.

But the most interesting thing I thought was when she said we know - what did she say? More vetting of candidates because we know the mistake made in our country four years ago was having a candidate that was not vetted. Now, obviously she's talking about Barack Obama, but there may be a lot of people who might say that same thing was said about Sarah Palin, who perhaps the McCain people did not vet her enough as a potential future president.

DONVAN: Very, very, very, very briefly, let's talk about the Democratic convention going from four days down to three. Good move?

RUDIN: It's an interesting move. Look, nothing happens at the conventions. They don't even pick vice presidents there anymore. It makes sense, and I think that'll be the wave of the future.

DONVAN: It doesn't break your heart.

RUDIN: It does, but this is not about me, John.

DONVAN: OK, well, we're going to shift our focus when we come back from the break to Senate races underway around the country. And we want to know what's going on in your state in the Senate races. Our number is 800-989-8255. Or send us an email, talk@npr.org. We will be back in a minute. I'm John Donvan, this is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DONVAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm John Donvan sitting in for Neal Conan with Ken Rudin, our political junkie who hands out those tough questions, and you get some amazingly smart answers back. But the question is: Was today one of the smarter days?

RUDIN: Well, I love the fact that Wikipedia was down because I hate the fact that - when I try to come up with the questions each week, I try to come up with ones that cannot easily be found on Wikipedia, and yet there are those people who still go to that source.

DONVAN: You think they're going to that source and not just pulling it out of their brains?

RUDIN: I would like that. I would like to think that.

DONVAN: OK, Senate Democrats are now holding a razor-slim margin in the Senate, they've got 51 seats. There are two independents. The balance of power, well, ultimately is going to be decided by very, very tight races in just a handful of states.

We have races in 33 states, from ones that are already projected as safely Democratic like California, to those that are solidly in the Republican camp like Texas. We're going to be talking now Mike Dennison, who is in Montana, about the race there. And Mike, you're a reporter from Montana Lee Newspapers State Bureau there. It's very nice of you to come on TALK OF THE NATION. And talk to us about your race. And we're interested in also getting your take on the Obama factor. How does it play out there?

MIKE DENNISON: You know, that's an interesting question about the Obama factor. We just heard this week about Obama possibly saying no to the Keystone XL pipeline going through Montana and the rest of the country. John Tester, the Democrat here, all the Democrats in the state, all leading politicians are for the pipeline. So I'm sure that Dennis Rehberg, the Republican, is going to say: Look, here's your guy, Obama, making the wrong decision for all of us who want oil jobs in Montana, and Tester's been supporting him all the time.

This is a theme that we're going to hear throughout the entire campaign, and we've been hearing it already, that Representative Rehberg and the Republicans trying to tie Tester to Obama, saying that he supports Obama the vast majority of the time in votes in Congress.

RUDIN: Mike, Ken Rudin here. Obviously President Obama did not carry Montana, he's not going to carry Montana in 2012. What was the influence of Obama in the race even before the pipeline decision?

DENNISON: It was about the same as we had discussed. Obama in most recent independent polls we've had in Montana, there's only been a couple in the last several months, but they've shown Obama's approval rating in Montana I believe in the high 30s, which as you know is not very good.

So I don't think you're going to see Obama campaigning in the state like he did four years ago, and when we talk to Tester about it and say, so, do you want Barack Obama to come and campaign for you, he kind of deflects the question and says I'm going to run my own campaign, and the president gets to do what he wants to do, and we'll leave it at that.

I think that any Democrat in Montana who's running statewide is going to try to distance himself from the president just because he's not very popular here right now.

DONVAN: Your candidates, Mike, are well-known to the population. Is there anybody left, do you think, that's really undecided at this point?

DENNISON: Yes, there is. It's not very many people in Montana. A poll that our organization did about 11 months ago showed I believe about 90 to 91 percent of the people had decided one way or the other, and it was basically even, leaving about 10 percent undecided. We think the 10 to 15 percent are undecided. In Montana, that's about 100,000 people tops. So both campaigns are going to be spending, you know, millions of dollars trying to influence those 100,000 people or so.

DONVAN: Amazing, amazing. All right, Mike Dennison, thanks for joining us. You are with Montana Lee Newspapers, and you were joining us from a studio in Helena. Thanks very much for your time today.

DENNISON: Glad to be here.

DONVAN: We want to move on in our journey across the nation to Virginia, and Anita Kumar is a reporter for The Washington Post and is joining us from a station in Richmond, Virginia. Anita, thanks for joining TALK OF THE NATION.

ANITA KUMAR: Thanks for having me.

DONVAN: So President Obama carried Virginia in 2008. And it's the first time, Ken, that a Democrat carried Virginia since when?

RUDIN: Lyndon Johnson, '64.

DONVAN: All right, so basically forever. So Anita, what's the Obama factor there?

KUMAR: Well, it's playing huge here. I'm not sure what the factor is going to be. But George Allen, who is the Republican, the likely Republican nominee, is really talking about President Obama and talking about his policies and stimulus, and he's really trying to paint the likely Democratic nominee, Tim Kaine, as someone who's hand-in-hand with President Obama.

Tim Kaine, as you probably remember, was the Democratic National Committee chairman.

DONVAN: Ken Rudin?

RUDIN: Now, of course, both candidates are very well-known, both are former governors, and it's going to be a dirty - it's probably going to be an ugly campaign, as well. I guess the question is, you know, who has the momentum and who has - obviously President Obama is not the - does not have the popularity as he had four years ago.

KUMAR: He doesn't, but he's not in those Montana numbers. I think in Virginia it's been about in the 40s. So he's down a bit. During the November legislative races here, you saw a lot of - or some Democrats kind of shy away from him, not want to talk about him too much, about whether they would support him this year.

But Tim Kaine has not done that all. He's appeared with him in Virginia. He has not shied away from his policy. He still talks about them.

RUDIN: Yeah, we saw a big Republican victory in 2009. Bob McDonnell won the governorship. They won all the statewide stuff. Republicans made big gains in 2010. The landscape, the political landscape is different in Virginia than it was four years ago, as well.

KUMAR: It's totally different. I mean, Virginia is a purple state. It's, you know, everybody, both sides talk about how it's a purple state. But it's definitely on a red swing right now. The congressional delegation is primarily Republicans, as you mentioned, the governor, who's very popular now right now, the lieutenant governor, the attorney general, obviously all Republican.

Of course, the place where we have Democrats is the two U.S. Senate seats are both occupied by Democrats right now.

DONVAN: All right, Anita Kumar, thanks very much for joining us from Richmond, Virginia. You write for The Washington Post and blog for The Washington Post. Thanks for joining us.

KUMAR: Thanks for having me.

DONVAN: We're asking you also, our listeners, to share with us your insights on the senatorial races in your states. There are 33 up this time, that's a lot. And there's a lot in the balance. And actually we have some calls backed up already. I want to bring in David from Wyndham, Connecticut. David, what's going on in your state?

DAVID: Hi, thanks for taking my call. We've got Democrat Chris Murphy, Congressman Chris Murphy is the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for Senate facing former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz and Speaker of the Connecticut House of Representatives Chris Dodd. And I think Chris Murphy will take the nomination easily because he's got the best name recognition and the best-run campaign from what I've seen.

And he'll more than likely face Linda McMahon, who ran in 2008, excuse me, 2010, and she was already sending out mailers in September, October of last year. And she spent about $52 million running against Dick Blumenthal in 2010. So I think it's going to be a contested race, and I just want to see what Ken has to say about that, and I'll take the answer off the air.

DONVAN: Thank you.

RUDIN: Yeah, I think the Democrats do have the advantage going into the seat. This is a seat that Joe Lieberman is giving up. But I wonder: Given the fact that Linda McMahon lost so overwhelmingly in a big Republican year in 2010, what are the chances of Chris Shays making a - he's a former Republican congressman - making a bid for the nomination in the Republican primary? Or does Linda McMahon just have too much money for him?

DONVAN: Glen Johnson is politics editor at Boston Globe, and he is covering the Senate race there between Elizabeth Warren and Senator Scott Brown. Scott Brown obviously the candidate who really upset the apple cart when he got Ted Kennedy's seat as a Republican. Glen, what's the state of the race now?

GLEN JOHNSON: Well, Scott Brown's going to formally announce his re-election campaign tomorrow, which is the two-year anniversary of his victory in the Massachusetts Senate special election. And Elizabeth Warren announced her candidacy back in the fall. And so while she still nominally faces a primary challenge, pretty much the battle will be joined tomorrow.

DONVAN: And how does the Obama factor play in there?

JOHNSON: It's interesting, you know, a lot of Elizabeth Warren's popularity has stemmed from her sort of smash-mouth brand of anti-Wall Street politics, and there's a lot of people on the left who feel that the president should have been more confrontational with Republicans and stood up for what they see as liberal or progressive ideals. And in Elizabeth Warren, they see a lot of embodiment in what they're looking for,

And interestingly, when the president went out to Kansas last month and basically kicked off his own re-election campaign with a speech very much directed at the middle class, he used a lot of the same rhetoric and focus.

And so if anything, there's a unity, or a unison there between the two of them. And I think that the Democrats here especially are counting on not just the energy from her campaign but the interest in seeing him re-elected, generating the kind of turnout that will knock Scott Brown out after just two years.

DONVAN: What do you think of that, Ken?

RUDIN: Glen, Scott Brown obviously has to walk a tightrope. He can't go too conservative in a state like Massachusetts, but at the same time, you can't vote too much to the center or the left because you'll alienate the conservatives, who will, you know, vote.

And Scott Brown seems to be trying to make the case that I am a true independent. I am, you know, independent from the Republicans. But, I mean, it's going to be a tough battle for him in a state like Massachusetts. I assume, though, Mitt Romney as the Republican nominee, if that happens, could only help Scott Brown, yes?

JOHNSON: Sure, and I think that, you know, Brown has definitely tried to thread a needle here the whole way through. You know, I think there could be a difference in six years as a full-term senator as opposed to two years facing the specter of a special, you know, of another re-election campaign, like he is right now.

JOHNSON: But, in general, he's tried to, you know, vote with the Democrats. When it works, he's broken ranks with Mitch McConnell and the Republicans when he's had to. But, you know, you can't also underestimate just, too, that he has a very strong force of personality, and that people here in Massachusetts identify with a lot of what he, you know, depicts, that, you know, he's - offers some Republican balance in an all-Democratic delegation, that he's got this kind of every-man image about him, especially in contrast with Elizabeth Warren.

And so there's just a deep reservoir of support for him here, too. So this will be a pretty good race, regardless of what happens at the top of the ticket, because these two are articulate, well-financed candidates coming from a definite point of political view.

RUDIN: Glen, Massachusetts is one of those few states that has never elected a woman to the governorship...

JOHNSON: Right.

RUDIN: ...or to the Senate seat. Is that an aberration, or is there something to that?

JOHNSON: It's an irony.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

JOHNSON: You know, this state prides itself on its progressive brand of politics, even though it's had Republican governors for 16 of the last, I guess, 20 years. But, you know, the highest we've ever had - we have Niki Tsongas right now as a congresswoman, and she, I think, is the third female from the state to serve in Congress. Mitt Romney's lieutenant governor, Kerry Healey, ran for governor against Deval Patrick and lost. And I think in a lot of the state, especially the more liberal areas, they see Elizabeth Warren as sort of like a Hillary Clinton figure: somebody that they feel has the credentials to definitely serve in that high office and also to bring stature to the state by being such a prominent national figure.

DONVAN: Glen Johnson, I want to thank you very much for joining us on TALK OF THE NATION.

JOHNSON: Always.

DONVAN: Glen Johnson is politics editor at the Boston Globe, and was joining us from Boston. We were talking about a number of times now - in the last few minutes, we talked about this Obama factor that, in some states, he's toxic, and in some states, he's the guy you want campaigning for you. I'm very interested, though, Ken, how does that conversation go or not go when you're a Democrat and you don't want the president doing you the favor of campaigning for you? Have do you say no to the president, or how do you communicate to the president that right now he's a liability?

RUDIN: Well, first of all, we'll see who's a liability when it comes time for the general election campaign, who's in better shape, the Republicans or the Democrats. But like, for example, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, that's a state that seems to be turning more and more red. It seems more and more - I mean, at the peak of President Obama's popularity in 2008, McCain still won Missouri. So Claire McCaskill also has to decide whether she wants to bring President Obama in there or not.

It's a question that I think the White House is very aware - look, just like with George Bush and all the previous presidents, where the president will help, they'll send him, and obviously Massachusetts would be a big help.

DONVAN: So a president does not take it personally?

RUDIN: Oh, it's not personal. It's all about politics, and I think I'm sure Claire McCaskill and President Obama have had that conversation.

DONVAN: All right. Let's bring in Randy from Elkhart, Indiana.

RANDY: Hi.

DONVAN: Hi, Randy. Can you give me just one minute, Randy? I have something I need to say as official bit of business. I just need to tell all of our listeners that you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. Randy, go ahead.

RANDY: OK. We've got an interesting race here because Richard Lugar has been a senator since about a little bit after they stopped teaching alchemy in high school science. He's getting a challenge in the primary.

DONVAN: And what's your take on that? Are you a Lugar supporter?

RANDY: Yes, I am.

DONVAN: So you're concerned?

RANDY: Not too much. I think he's got enough support to overcome a challenger in the primary. And in Indiana, this time, I think whoever wins the Republican primary is going to be our next senator.

DONVAN: Ken, does Randy need to be concerned for Dick Lugar?

RUDIN: Well, a little bit, yes. I mean - and the fact that Richard Murdoch, who was a state treasurer, he's gotten a ton of endorsements from county committee members and county committee - county Republican chairmen around the country. The fact that Dick Lugar has somehow been portrayed as a liberal is really astounding to me, but he is - I mean, the conservative argument is that Lugar is President Obama's favorite Republican senator. And in some ways, Dick Lugar is somebody who, you know, has committed the heresy of talk - of reaching across party lines.

A lot of Republicans don't like to hear that, but Lugar's been very effective. First elected in 1976, you know, he's almost like a god there. But again, there are a lot of conservatives who feel that he's, one, he's been - he's served long enough, and two, he's too accommodating with the Democrats. I still think he holds on, but it's something to watch in the primary.

DONVAN: Randy, thank you for your call. And now we're going to go to Lou in Orlando, Florida. Lou, you're on the air.

LOU: Hey. I'm just wondering what your take is on the race here, Bill Nelson and there's about three to four - maybe more now - Republican challengers. Although Connie Mack, the fourth, is the leading contender. I just - I'm worried. I'm a progressive. I don't think Bill Nelson's progressive enough. That's my take against him over the years. However, I will gladly take Bill Nelson over a Rick Scott type, who we have as a governor now. And going on about Rick Scott, we had a minor - not as bad as Wisconsin, because the Republican State Senate didn't go for the jugular to try to - I guess, I don't want to say make unions illegal, but I forgot what they did in Wisconsin. But they definitely will make it so you couldn't organize, you know, at the state level for labor, you know, state workers.

DONVAN: OK.

LOU: And police and fire were always immune. And labor, a lot of times, they would vote Republican. They got pension heads and pay cuts and a lot of...

DONVAN: Lou, let me jump in, because I think we see where you're going, and I just want to give Ken a chance to respond as we wrap up. Thanks for your call, Lou.

RUDIN: Yeah. I'm sorry to cut you short. Two things: first of all, next week, next Wednesday, we're bringing the Political Junkie segment and TALK OF THE NATION to Orlando, Florida. Two, Bill Nelson does have a problem. Connie Mack is probably the most powerful, popular Republican, but there is a lot of - there are a lot of Republicans running for that seat. So it's, obviously, something to watch. And three, we didn't mention the Wisconsin recall election.

DONVAN: I was about to ask you.

RUDIN: I was just going to say that was a tremendous thing. The Democrats needed 548,000 signatures to put Scott Walker's name on a recall for this spring...

DONVAN: So it's going to happen?

RUDIN: ...and they got a million signatures, and it's going to be something. And just as the conservatives and the right were energized in 2010, it looks like the left and the labor unions may be energized certainly in Wisconsin in the spring of 2012.

DONVAN: All right, Ken, thanks so much for being here. This has been The Political Junkie, and it will be on the road, as you just said, in Orlando next week for a preview of the Florida primary. Join him and Neal Conan for that.

RUDIN: Who? Who?

DONVAN: Neal Conan...

RUDIN: Oh.

DONVAN: ...the real guy. After a short break, "Paradise Lost," filmmaker Joe Berlinger's telling of the story of the West Memphis Three, the series of documentaries. He and one of the three, Jason Baldwin, will join us when we return. Stay with us. I'm John Donvan. This is TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.