NEAL CONAN, HOST:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. After a six-year run for president, Mitt Romney wins a White House lunch. Still one congressional seat undecided, and Harry Reid wants more from his optimistic but vague Republican counterparts. It's Wednesday and time for a...
SENATOR HARRY REID: Happy talk...
CONAN: Edition of the political junkie.
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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 BUSH: But I'm the decider.
(SOUNDBITE OF SCREAM)
CONAN: Every Wednesday, political junkie Ken Rudin joins us to recap the week in politics. With just over a month to the deadline for a tax and spending deal, Grover Norquist guns down Republican revenue trial balloons, while Democrats take Social Security off the table. Susan Rice suffers a couple of tough days on Capitol Hill. Chris Christie signs on for another run in Jersey. Bill Bolling bows out in Virginia, and we have a date for the special election to fill Jesse Jackson Jr.'s seat.
In a few minutes, Ralph Reed joins us to argue that yes, Republicans need to rethink and rebrand but not on social issues. And later in the hour, former Congressman Rick Nolan returns to the Hill after more than 30 years. But first, political junkie Ken Rudin joins us here in Studio 3A. And we begin, as usual, with a trivia question. Hey, Ken.
KEN RUDIN, BYLINE: Hi Neal. Well, you talked about Rick Nolan. Of course when he was first elected to Congress, he was part of that Watergate class of 1974, then of course he returned after he retired in 1980, came back 32 years later. But of that Watergate class of 1974, five of them have actually run for president. And the trivia question is: Of those five, which two won presidential primaries?
CONAN: So if you think you know the answer to this week's trivia question.
RUDIN: Which was what again?
CONAN: Of the Watergate baby class, which two ran for president and won primaries? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, email@example.com. Of course the winner gets a free political junkie T-shirt and the fabulous no-prize button. And, well, Ken, you know you can get those T-shirts at the NPR shop?
RUDIN: You can, but you can't get those buttons. In other words, these aren't the kind of gifts that President Obama gave out to his (unintelligible), no.
CONAN: Absolutely not, not even the 47 percent that it turned out Mitt Romney won.
CONAN: Anyway, as we get to the "fiscal cliff" conversation, we're getting to some electoral aspects of this, as Grover Norquist reminded everybody that there are consequences for people who go back on their pledges.
RUDIN: Well, you know, the Republican Party seems to be in this bind, although more and more of them are starting to say wait a second, this should not be the pledge that we should be taking, and the pledge of course is to promise not to vote to...
CONAN: Ever, any circumstances, under any...
CONAN: No matter, no men, no way, no how.
RUDIN: Right, to raise taxes, and for the most part, most Republicans for the longest time did sign that pledge. It was sacrosanct. They would never, you know, diverge from that. And yet there seems to be some breaking, breaking of the ranks: Tom Coburn, Saxby Chambliss, Peter King the congressman from New York. A handful, not a lot of them, but a bunch of them, but at the same time Grover Norquist will remind you that if you break your pledge on taxes, well, just remember what happened to George H.W. Bush in 1992.
CONAN: And it was Tom Cole, the congressman from Oklahoma, good friend of the speaker's, who suggested hey, let's agree, first thing let's agree to extend the tax cuts for the middle class, and we'll make the rest of the deal later.
RUDIN: Right, the $250,000 or less, and then we'll worry about the other stuff later, which is - he's the only Republican...
CONAN: The sound you heard was John Boehner hitting the rotunda.
RUDIN: Well, you know something, John Boehner for the longest time, in the first Obama term, was trying to work out some kind of a deal, and he was pushed back by the more conservative members of his caucus, which is probably almost everybody then, who said that no, even though we're - you know, even though the Democrats are offering us $10 in spending cuts for $1 in revenue or higher taxes, the Republicans turned it down, and Boehner got defeated on that, as well.
CONAN: And then we saw in the primaries, which of you Republican presidential candidates would take $1 in raised tax revenue for $10 in cuts, and everybody said no.
RUDIN: That's exactly right, but some - but Cole and some other Republicans are saying well, if elections do have consequences, let's look at the results of 2012, and maybe we have to give to get.
CONAN: And in the meantime we've had some movement on the Susan Rice not-yet nomination to be secretary of state. She was up on Capitol Hill yesterday to talk with three of her principal detractors: John McCain, of course the presidential candidate for the Republicans four years ago; Kelly Ayotte; and there was also Lindsey Graham, the senator from South Carolina. After the meeting, John McCain said he was more troubled than ever, and, well, he seemed to have a chorus.
SENATOR KELLY AYOTTE: I'm more troubled today...
SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: I'm more disturbed now than I was before.
CONAN: And now she's up talking with the senator from Maine, a moderate Republican, who says, well, I may not block it, but I need more information.
RUDIN: Well, it's not been a good - first of all, President Obama has not nominated anybody to succeed Hillary Clinton because as far as I know, Hillary Clinton is still secretary of state. But the assumption is Susan Rice is making these rounds of Capitol Hill in the event that she will be Obama's choice.
Now we did see long-term opposition, you know, opposition from Lindsey Graham, Kelly Ayotte and John McCain, but Susan Collins today said she still was not satisfied with a lot of the answers, and this stems from what Susan Rice said on television talk shows after the September 11th attacks on Benghazi, Libya, that caused the death of four Americans.
And a lot of people, a lot of Republicans felt, that Susan Rice was playing politics about this. So it's one thing for conservatives to say there's no way I'm going to let the Rice nomination go through, but Susan Collins does vote with Democrats more often than most Republicans, and the fact that she's still not sold on this is a bad sign for Susan Rice.
CONAN: And suggests that maybe Republicans could round up 40 votes to block the nomination through the filibuster rule.
RUDIN: Right, and of course, you know, basic - right now, the - right now in the new Senate, the Democrats will have 55 senators, including two independents. So their thinking is that if they could only just rustle up five Republicans, they'll get the filibuster-proof majority.
CONAN: But the filibuster rule itself is up for discussion.
RUDIN: That's exactly right, and this is - you know, you talk about World War III in the Senate, you could have that. Harry Reid is saying he may offer a change in the Senate rules that could change the filibuster rules just by a simple majority to change the ways, you know...
CONAN: You could still filibuster the final vote on the bill, but you'd have to stand up and talk, just like Jimmy Stewart did.
RUDIN: In "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." And also you could not filibuster something - just you can't block something from even having a debate. Well, Mitch McConnell said this would hurt relationships between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, as if those relationships were doing so well.
CONAN: Doing so well, and interesting both of them were on the opposite side of the issue when McConnell was in the majority in 2005, and Harry Reid was in the minority.
RUDIN: That will always happen, exactly.
CONAN: Interesting. We have some people on the line who think they know the answer to this week's trivia question, and that is the class of congressmen elected in 1974, the so-called Watergate babies, five would run for president. Two of them won presidential primaries. Who are they? 800-989-8255. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. And let's see if we can go to - this is David(ph), David with us from Duluth.
CONAN: Go ahead.
DAVID: I'm going to say Gary Hart and Christopher Dodd.
RUDIN: Well, Christopher Dodd is not a bad guess, but Christopher Dodd never won a primary, and Gary Hart, who did win a primary...
CONAN: Though he moved to Iowa.
RUDIN: Yes, right, and - of course Gary Hart wasn't elected to the - well, he was elected - oh, we're talking about the House Watergate caucus of 1974. Gary Hart of course was elected to the Senate in '74.
CONAN: All right, but good try.
DAVID: Thank you.
CONAN: All right, let's see if we can go next to - this is Doug(ph) and Doug with us from Rochester, Minnesota.
CONAN: Hi, you're on the air, Doug, what's your guess?
DOUG: Dick Gephardt and Al Gore.
RUDIN: Dick Gephardt was actually elected to Congress in 1986. He was elected after certain - 1984. And the other person was?
CONAN: Al Gore.
RUDIN: Al Gore, who was elected to Congress in 1976. He was not part of the '74 class.
DOUG: OK, thanks.
CONAN: Thank you very much. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Al(ph), and Al's on the line with us from - where are you in Wisconsin?
AL: Abrams, Wisconsin.
CONAN: Abrams, Wisconsin. Go ahead, please.
AL: Far northeast. Well, I just listened a little closer, and I misunderstood the question.
CONAN: Ah, well, I'm sorry to hear that.
RUDIN: It's so hard for people to...
AL: You wanted House people, and I was going to give you some senators, so I apologize for taking up your time.
CONAN: We'll move on, then, thanks very much.
CONAN: All right, thank you. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Bobby(ph), and Bobby's on the line with us from Bala Cynwyd in Pennsylvania.
BOBBY: Yes, Van Johnson and Spencer Tracey, "State of the Union."
CONAN: That's a very good guess, but...
RUDIN: It's rare that we'll be caught speechless.
CONAN: None of them ever were.
RUDIN: No, no.
CONAN: Thanks very much. Let's see if we can go now to Steven(ph), and Steven's with us from Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
STEVEN: I have Paul Simon and Paul Tsongas.
CONAN: A two-Paul solution here.
RUDIN: A lot of people are a-Paul-ed from my question, but that is the correct answer.
CONAN: Ding, ding, ding.
RUDIN: Paul Simon ran for president and won the Illinois primary in 1988, and of course Paul Tsongas won the New Hampshire primary in 1992 against Bill Clinton.
STEVEN: I love it.
CONAN: Congratulations, Steven, we're going to put you on hold, and we'll collect your particulars and send you off a political junkie T-shirt and of course that swell political junkie no-prize button that only winners get.
CONAN: The swell button, yes, in exchange for a promise for a digital picture of yourself wearing said same shirt and button for our Wall of Shame.
STEVEN: OK, thank you.
CONAN: All right.
RUDIN: Just for the record, the other three who ran for president from that class: Chris Dodd, Tom Harkin and Larry Presler, you remember President Presler.
CONAN: I do remember President Presler.
RUDIN: But none of those three managed to win a primary.
CONAN: So some news about upcoming election years. Early news for the Senate in West Virginia, where a Republican congresswoman says she's prepared to take on Jay Rockefeller should Mr. Rockefeller decide to run again.
RUDIN: Well, you know, there are some questions about what Rockefeller wants to do. He's 75 years old. He's served five terms. But the announcement by Shelley Moore Capito, she's the daughter of former West Virginia Governor Archmore. And this is very interesting because she's always been very cautious. Republicans have been begging her to run for the Senate for the longest time.
She announced she will run, and we'll see whether Rockefeller runs or not. But almost immediately there's been - there was conservative opposition to her from the Club for Growth, for example, who said that she's not nearly conservative enough, she's too mainstream, too establishment, and she wouldn't be any different than the Democrats in the Senate, so...
CONAN: In New Jersey, the wildly popular in New Jersey Chris Christie says he plans to run again for governor, that coming up next year.
RUDIN: Yeah, and, you know, we talked about this before. Given all the horrific damage of Hurricane Sandy, it did wonders politically for Chris Christie. His numbers, he has 77 percent approval rating in a new Fairleigh Dickinson poll, and the question is whether Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, will challenge him.
I mean, we don't know how long these high numbers will last for Christie, but right now he's the most popular guy in the state.
CONAN: Not necessarily in the Republican caucus of the Republican Governors Association, but - and in Virginia Bill Bolling says, the lieutenant governor, says he will not run. That appears to clear the way for the attorney general.
RUDIN: That's right, that's Ken Cuccinelli, and this is good news for the conservatives. Bolling wouldn't have beaten Cuccinelli in a convention. And it looks like the Democratic nominee will be Terry McAuliffe.
CONAN: And in the meantime, we have a date for the special election for the Jesse Jackson seat?
RUDIN: It is, it is February 26, and of course there are a lot of candidates, a lot of African-American candidates, in that race. And of course that could open up the election too for a white candidate.
CONAN: After a short break, Ralph Reed, founder and chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, joins us. Republicans, we want to hear from you. What issues in your party platform need to change? 800-989-8255. Email us, email@example.com. Stay with us, political junkie on TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan. Political junkie Ken Rudin is with us, as he is every Wednesday, and let us dispel the rumor that he was among the seven naked protestors outside Speaker Boehner's office yesterday. The picture looked just like you, Ken. But was there a ScuttleButton winner last week?
RUDIN: Once again I'm speechless. Yes there was. There were three buttons in the puzzle. There was a Bill Brock button from Tennessee. There was an Earl Coe for governor button from Washington state. And there was a Beat Bama button from LSU. So of course when you add Brock, Coe, Bama, you get that guy who was elected to the Senate from Illinois in 2004.
CONAN: Whatever became of him?
RUDIN: Well, I don't know. I have no idea. But anyway, the winner was Chuck Lennis(ph) of Bonita, California.
CONAN: In a recent opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, conservative Christian leader Ralph Reed said that as the Republican Party assesses its future, they should not blame social conservatives for recent losses. Republicans, we want to hear from you. What issues in your party platform need to change? Give us a call, our phone number is 800-989-8255. Email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ralph Reed is in a meeting, and he'll get to us in a couple of minutes. In the meantime, Ken, would you like to be a fly on the wall in the White House private dining room tomorrow for lunch?
RUDIN: Well, you know, we'll see what gifts Mitt Romney gets, but there's a private lunch between Mitt Romney and President Obama in the White House private dining room. President Obama said on his election night, on November 6, that he would love to have - I don't know if he'd like to have Mitt Romney for lunch, he certainly had him for lunch in the election, exactly.
But they're meeting together for the first time actually since their last debate.
CONAN: And so this is - as you mentioned, he wanted to hear his ideas, which he said were interesting particularly on business even, you'll remember at one point President Obama floated the idea of a secretary for business to incorporate several different federal offices, streamline them he said, and some people have suggested he might want to nominate Mitt Romney.
RUDIN: Well, you know, I wonder, and I wonder if the Republicans would vote to confirm him. It's funny how as the president is embracing him, it seems like the Republicans want nothing to do with him, starting with the gifts comment, of course, the post-election stuff. But I've never seen an election so quickly where a party is so willing to just let's say - OK, the election's over, let's look to the future, and let's not even talk about our standard-bearer of the past.
CONAN: And one other item, this is looking ahead to four years from now, as you - in the run-up to the elections, one of the big events of the summertime is always the Iowa straw poll, maybe not next time.
RUDIN: Well, you know, Governor Terry Branstad said look, it's time to get rid of it. This is the thing that happens in advance, almost a year in advance of the Iowa caucuses. And a lot of times it doesn't reflect on who's going to - who has the best organization, who's even going to win the caucuses. But a lot of people, including National Review this week, in addition to Governor Branstad, said it's time. It's an outmoded thing. It's a fundraising gimmick. Time for it to go.
CONAN: Ralph Reed, CEO of Century Strategies, chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition. We mentioned he wrote a column in the Wall Street Journal that urged the GOP to continue its embrace of conservative values on social issues, and he joins us now by smartphone from his office in Duluth, Georgia. And Ralph Reed, nice to have you back on the program.
RALPH REED: Good to be with you, Neal.
CONAN: And in your piece you pointed to statistics about voters who are pro-life and argue this is the place for the GOP to stand its ground.
REED: Well, I think if you look at the election results for the Republicans, as you're sort of sifting through the wreckage of losing, you know, single women two to one, losing the youth vote 60 to 38, losing Hispanics by one of the largest margins, maybe the largest margin, since that vote became consequential in American politics in the 1970s, and I could go on and on. One of the few silver linings in this electorate for Republicans is that conservative voters of faith turned out, turned out in record numbers and voted overwhelmingly for the party's candidates, including Mitt Romney. Just to hit the high points, according to a survey by Public Opinion Strategies on election night, this is talking to actual voters, people who self-identified as conservative Christians constituted 29 percent of the electorate. That's almost one out of every three voters, and they broke 80 to 19 percent for Mitt Romney.
They were - in fact, they - Mitt Romney, who's as you know a lifelong Mormon, actually got more evangelical votes than George W. Bush did in 2004. Now clearly the Republican Party needs to reach out to Hispanics, to young voters, to women, to Asians and African-Americans. The electorate is becoming less white, it's becoming more diverse, it's becoming increasingly female. So I certainly have always favored building more bridges to those voters.
The data just simply does not support the fact that the way you do that is by forsaking your stands that you hold now for the sanctity of life and marriage and strengthening families.
CONAN: And some would question: How do you reach out to single women without changing a position on abortion, to Hispanics without changing your position on immigration, and to young people without changing your position on gay marriage?
REED: Well, first of all, if you look at the data, and again I'm citing the same survey by Public Opinion Strategies, single women, 45 percent of them voted based on jobs and the economy. Only eight percent voted on abortion, and less than one percent voted on contraception. So it's just simply not true that the Republican Party is losing these voters because of their values stances.
Now, you're going to lose a chunk of them. I'm not arguing that the Republican Party is going to get a majority of the single female vote. But you don't need to get 32 percent. Anything north of 40 percent in that electorate will do well. With Hispanic voters, I point out in my column that 37 percent of Hispanics self-identify as conservative Christians. Twenty-two percent are evangelicals.
But when the Republican Party is delivering a message towards these voters of, you know, build the fence, build the wall, secure the border, and that's it, and they're not putting forth a comprehensive, inclusive vision of the country that includes Latinos, you can't blame that on social conservatives.
CONAN: OK, Ken?
RUDIN: Ralph, two things. First of all, on the issue of gay marriage, we always talked about for the longest time that whenever it was before the voters, voters would reject same-sex marriage. Yet this time we saw voters in several states, three states, approve it. And two, I don't think anybody's talking about getting rid of - the Republicans getting rid of their pro-life choice, but when you have a Todd Akin, when you have Richard Mourdock who talks about rape and abortion and God in such a sense that it just mystifies people, is it - it's not about abortion so much as just about the kind of candidates the Republican Party is coming up with.
REED: Well, I would certainly agree with that. I mean, these are deeply emotional, personal issues, and they have to be expressed, frankly whether you're pro-life or pro-choice, in ways that are respectful of the views of others and of ways that - you know, my advice to candidates is look, express your view, express it in the most personal way that you can.
So for example in my case, I would say - I'm not running, but if I were running I would say: I was born six weeks premature at a time when that was very touch and go, and for that reason, you know, the sanctity of life in the womb has always been very important to me.
A candidate might be able to talk about looking at the sonogram of their unborn child. But keep it personal, and then always say: Even though this is my personal view, and it's strongly held, I understand that there are people of good will who have come down in a different place.
And so candidate performance can be devastating in this area, and, you know, with regard to the marriage issue, I mean if you look at the passage of the amendments in Maryland, Maine and Washington state, these were deeply blue states in which those marriage initiatives narrowly passed. And in every case, and I don't have the data right in front of me, but it was roughly 51, 52, 53 percent passage in every one of those states, the average margin of victory for those marriage - same-sex marriage initiatives was 12 to 15 points less than Obama's vote.
So that means that about one out of every five Obama voters was for traditional marriage, and that's my point, that the marriage position outperformed Romney in a deep blue state.
CONAN: Let's get a caller in on the conversation. Ralph Reed is with us, 800-989-8255. Email email@example.com. What parties - what planks, if any, does the Republican Party need to change in its platform? And we'll go to Brian(ph), and he's on the line with us from Portland, Oregon.
BRIAN: Hi there. And thank you for taking my call. I very, very strongly agree with the Republican platform on social issues. Those are very important to me. The one issue that goes the opposite direction completely for me is the environmental. I would very much like to see the Republicans take more of a Democratic look on energy independence. Although drilling for oil is important for industry in certain parts, I'd like to see us take that a lot more seriously, and I'd be pleased with my own party if we stayed very strong on the same conservative social issues but yet had a stronger stance on the environment.
CONAN: Brian, are you speaking specifically about global warming?
BRIAN: Yeah. Global warming but especially energy independence.
CONAN: All right. That was an issue, I have to say, that Governor Romney pressed pretty hard during the campaign, Ralph Reed, but on the environment, there are a lot of people who came to see the Republican Party as anti-science, in that it denied climate science.
REED: Yeah. And, you know, we - there's a division, as you know, in the faith community on this issue. There are some who are more on the liberal side of the evangelical world who believe in what they call creation care, that God created the Earth, that we have an obligation to be a steward of it, and they are persuaded of the scientific evidence on climate change. We do not fall into that category. We do believe that we have an obligation to be stewards of the environment, that we should keep the air clean, that we should keep the water pure and that we need to make sure that we're not in any way damaging this wonderful gift that we've been given of creation.
But when we look at the evidence and we've looked at it very extensively, the problem is that there are periods in meteorological history where the Earth has warmed and other times when it has cooled, and that has not corresponded as exactly with the level of carbon dioxide in the air as the advocates of climate change would believe.
CONAN: And you're aware that 99 percent of scientists disagree with you?
REED: I am aware of that, and, you know, I'm just saying that we've made a judgment that when you look at something like climate change, you need to look at the unintended consequences. Let me just give you one example. I support the idea of having a greater level of ethanol in our fuel, but right now, we're diverting between 33 and 45 percent of the entire corn crop of the United States. The entire domestic production of corn is being diverted to ethanol production because of a federal government mandate.
As a result, for middle-class and lower-income families in the United States but even more devastatingly for even poorer people all over the world, the cost of food staples, both wheat and corn, have skyrocketed. And the result is that you have Christian charitable and relief organizations around the world that are having a hard time feeding the hungry because the cost of a box of cereal now is $5 or $6.
CONAN: And again, some might say that's because of droughts which are cause of - anyway, Ralph Reed is with us...
REED: Well, it was happening before the drought.
CONAN: Oh, it didn't help, but Ralph Reed is with us on The Political Junkie this week. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Ken?
RUDIN: Ralph, in your column, you don't really seem to put much blame on Mitt Romney and his candidacy. I saw - I read a lot of conservatives. After the November 6 results, they said that he - Romney was too moderate. He was too establishment. He betrayed conservatives. What's your view on that?
REED: Well, my view is that I think Romney himself would say that, you know, he had some really good days at the office, like the first debate, and I think he had some not-so-good days at the office, like the 47 percent video. And, you know, it's really easy after an election to be - to form a circular firing squad and put the candidate in the middle, and everybody gets to play the blame game. But I will just tell you this: With regard to this vote that I'm talking about, the faithful Catholic vote and the evangelical vote, Romney was a great candidate.
I mean, he went to Liberty University and not only gave a commencement address but he gave a very good speech in which he talked about the relationship between these values and his vision for the country. In early October when his schedule was very busy, he landed in Asheville, North Carolina and visited with Billy Graham, something that I think it would have been wise for Obama to do as well, which he did not do. He appeared in a lot of candidate forums of faith-based organizations.
He did - particularly given the deep theological differences between Romney and these voters, he did extraordinarily well. And whatever else you think of him as a candidate, there's no question he over-performed among these voters.
CONAN: Let's get a call in from Katie(ph). Katie with us from Wiltshire County in New Jersey. Katie, you there?
CONAN: Hi. You're on the air, Katie.
AMY: Oh, my goodness. I'm sorry. I think you just happened to get my name wrong, which is why I didn't answer, but that's OK.
CONAN: I apologize.
AMY: It's all right. I think the gay marriage issue is one of the reasons that I didn't vote with the party in this - in the last election.
CONAN: And in particular that you think this is - why do you think Republicans would change their position on this given the history, Katie? I'm sorry. Your name obviously isn't Katie.
AMY: Amy(ph). Because there are so many churches that are changing their stance now and becoming more inclusive and if the basis for the conservative objection to gay marriage is founded in religious belief, then the fact that so many Christians and other faiths are now accepting this and rolling with it and becoming more inclusive, maybe we need to go with that. Gays and lesbians pay taxes and raise families, and I think they should be accorded the same rights as everyone else.
CONAN: Ralph Reed, this is not going to go away, this issue.
REED: No. I don't think it's going to away, but I think the reality is that if you look at, you know, how this has been litigated whether it's in state legislative chambers or before the voters, even in deeply blue states, they've only had three initiatives that passed, every one of them very narrowly. On...
CONAN: The last three, though.
REED: On, by the way, the best day they're going to have in the office, which is an Obama landslide. On the other hand, there have been 32 states, including blue states, that have passed initiatives defining marriage as between a man and a woman, and the average margin of victory in those initiatives is 57 percent. Here would be the case that I would make. I would say that on an issue that is this evenly divided - on the exit poll, the network exit poll on Election Day, for example, it was I think 49 percent for same-sex marriage, 46 percent for the traditional definition of marriage. That's as close to a jump ball as you can get in an election.
And my argument would be if we're that evenly divided, I don't think that we should redefine the most time-honored and foundation cultural institution in our society. If same-sex couples and others who want to be together want rights and privileges, that is often done under civil unions or civil arrangements or contractual arrangements without changing the definition of marriage.
CONAN: Ralph Reed, thanks as always for your time. We appreciate it.
REED: Yes, Neal. Thank you very much.
CONAN: Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, with us by smartphone from his office in Duluth, Georgia. Stay with us. This is NPR News.
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CONAN: In a few minutes, we're going to talk with Rick Nolan who was last elected to the Senate - to the House of Representatives back in 1978. But in the meantime, Ken, we talked earlier today about Jay Rockefeller, the senator from - Democratic senator from West Virginia and speculation that he may retire rather than run in 2016 and - well, 2014. That's - that would be in two years' time. And there is speculation on any number of other senators who may decline to run for office again.
RUDIN: There are. First of all, I should say that the Republicans say this will be the year...
RUDIN: ...where they win the majority because 20 of the 33 seats are held by the Democrats, but, of course, they had similar numbers in 2012 and they - and that...
CONAN: And similar predictions.
RUDIN: And similar predictions and they actually lost seats. But anyway, there's also talk about Tom Harkin. He's 73 years old. He's been elected - he's been in the Senate since 1985. Carl Levin who was elected - first elected in '78. Carl Levin is getting up there in age, and there's some question about whether Carl Levin will run again. Tim Johnson, South Dakota, not only has a likelihood of a very strong Republican opponent, a former governor, but he always has questions about his health.
He suffered a stroke-like event not too long ago, and his health has always been a question. And there's also Frank Lautenberg, who is the oldest member of the Senate. Again, I'm not trying to play a game of ageism, but Lautenberg actually came out of retirement a bunch of terms ago to rescue the party from Robert Torricelli. There's some question whether Lautenberg will run again, but the Republicans, you know, haven't elected a senator there, as you well remember, since 1972.
And there's also a question of Thad Cochran. He's a senator from Mississippi. But whether he runs or not, the Republicans will keep that seat.
CONAN: And you'd think New Jersey would stay in the hands of the Democrats too.
RUDIN: Yeah. New Jersey, they don't have - obviously, a lot of the money, of course, will be on Chris Christie in next year's gubernatorial race, but again, the Republicans are always hopeful about winning a Senate seat in New Jersey, and they don't. They just don't manage to do it.
CONAN: It's one of the states where they seem to hit a ceiling - a little like Pennsylvania. It was interesting to go back and look at the results as more and more votes have been carefully tabulated after the November 6th election and look at the state of Pennsylvania which turned out to be pretty close, closer than Colorado, for example.
RUDIN: True. But at the same time at least in Pennsylvania, you know, you had Arlen Specter, nominally a Republican, and you had Rick Santorum and John Heinz. You always had Republican senators there. But New Jersey, Clifford Clase(ph)?
RUDIN: Clifford Case was the last one, and he was a very liberal Republican who got beaten in the '78 primary.
CONAN: And as we look ahead, there are any number of, well, state races next year. We've mentioned New Jersey and Virginia. They are always bellwethers, except when they're not. That's the eternal wisdom. Last time, though, it was Chris Christie and Bob McDonnell who got elected governor in both those states and seemed to set the tide for what happened a year afterwards in the congressional races.
RUDIN: And both those states, especially Virginia, have a history of voting for governor whoever the party who's not in the White House. So when the Republicans are in the White House, Democrats usually win the gubernatorial contest in Virginia. When there's a Democrat in the White House, as there was with Barack Obama, you had Bob McDonnell in Virginia and Chris Christie of New Jersey. Sometimes they vote the opposite of who's in the White House.
CONAN: And it will be interesting, in both cases you could have heavyweight contests. In New Jersey, Chris Christie, as we mentioned, riding that post-Sandy surge of popularity. That's not likely to last, that he gets over 70 percent in the opinion poll ratings; nobody does for very long. But the mayor of Newark, Cory Booker - before Sandy, the polls had them pretty even if Booker decides to get into the race.
RUDIN: Right. And there's a new poll this week, I think by Eagleton at Rutgers, that shows Christie 20 points over Cory Booker. And now there's a rumor that maybe Cory Booker, because of the great Christie numbers, may be looking at the Lautenberg Senate seat. We have still a couple of months to go before we see exactly what Cory Booker is going to decide.
CONAN: And in Virginia, if the Democrats wanted one of those two big Republican candidates, Bill Bolling, the lieutenant governor, or the - Cuccinelli, the attorney general, if they wanted one of those, they would've picked Mr. Cuccinelli.
RUDIN: Oh, absolutely. And both sides - both the Democrats think that Ken Cuccinelli is too extreme to win. Both the Republicans are convinced that Terry McAuliffe is too partisan to win, and this will be a very nasty, ugly race, which is so unusual in politics.
CONAN: It is, yeah, especially when Terry McAuliffe's involved.
RUDIN: Well, both of them. Cuccinelli, of course, you know, not the most favorite guy among Democrats anywhere, let alone in Virginia.
CONAN: He was the attorney general, if you remember, who led the fight against Obamacare.
RUDIN: That's exactly right. And Bill Bolling thought it was - was thought to have a stronger campaign - a stronger opportunity to win statewide. But with the Republicans switching to a convention system in Virginia, that always helps conservatives, and that's the reason Bolling announced today that he would not run for governor, and it'll be Cuccinelli's nomination.
CONAN: And it's interesting, as we see Virginia switching to a convention nomination, are parties - as they look at the primary result - saying: We've gotten some candidates who we could not really support that well and didn't help us in the general election. Primaries are not always as positive as we think. Are parties moving more towards saying, wait a minute, maybe the Republican - the conventions ought to nominate the candidates?
RUDIN: Well, the conservatives certainly believe that in Virginia. And, of course, there have been a lot of Republicans in Virginia who said, look, if I'm going to run, if I have a chance of becoming - running statewide, I'd rather take my chances at a primary when everybody and not just a certain ideological bent will decide a nominee. But if they can have it as a convention in Virginia, conservatives benefit. And that's why Cuccinelli will be the Republican nominee.
CONAN: And we had a fiasco a couple of years ago in the New York State Senate when a - well, it was divided down the middle. Democrats were defecting. It was unclear who had the majority. We seem to be right back to square one.
RUDIN: Well, we talk about the state Senate there, and historically, the Republicans have always held the state Senate, except for 2009 and 2010. And what happened this time is that we don't know who won the state Senate. There is still two races that had not been called. But now, about four Democrats are saying that they're going to try to work out a coalition agreement with the Republicans to make it a less partisan legislature. And, of course, a lot of the loyal Democrats are furious about this.
But, again, the carnival in New York continues. There may be a complete shared responsibility for the state Senate, because that's the only power Republicans have in New York. They don't have the assembly. They certainly don't have the governorship, and they're not likely to have either of those in a long time - for a long time.
CONAN: How did that happen after a year of redistricting with the Democrats, at least nominally, in control of the legislature?
RUDIN: Well they - actually, there was a deal, because the Republicans had the control of the state Senate. So the Republicans said, look, I'll let you have your assembly districts...
CONAN: You'll get to redraw the assembly districts.
RUDIN: And you let us do the state Senate. And, of course, one of the reasons why both parties took a hit in the congressional redistricting in New York - Kathy Hochul lost, as well as some Republicans lost - is because the Republican control of the state Senate gave the GOP a voice at the table, which they wouldn't have had otherwise. That's why Republicans are so desperate to hold on to the state Senate in New York. They may be willing to have this party-sharing agreement with these four rebel Democrats.
CONAN: And Kathy Holchul's loss, this was a celebrated victory for the Democrats when she won. She seemed to lose with little fanfare.
RUDIN: Well, look, she had no business running to begin with. There were a lot of problems with the Republican Party, either with candidates, the issues, stuff like that. So Kathy Hochul did win a special election that was widely heralded by the Democrats. But, again, it turned - the district turned to its normal Republican voting patterns last November - this November.
CONAN: Interesting that we now see a record number of states where the governor and the state legislature - control of the state legislatures are all in the hands of one party or another. The majority of those are Republican-controlled, but Democrats have control, as well, especially if you figure in New York, but maybe we can't figure in New York. But this is a more divided country on that level than we've seen in many, many years.
RUDIN: In decades, absolutely. And what - basically, when one party has total control of the political process in the state, Democrat or Republican, they can ram stuff through the legislature, ram things into law. And, again, if you don't like the lack of compromise in this country, this is not a good sign for the future of politics.
CONAN: Now, we're thinking we're getting in touch with Rick Nolan. He was first elected to the House of Representatives. When he was first elected to the House of Representatives, a gallon of gasoline cost 55 cents. A stamp, first-class stamp, went for a dime. Roman Polanski's "Chinatown" dominated the box office. Barbra Streisand's "The Way We Were" ruled the airwaves, and Archie Griffin won his first Heisman Award.
RUDIN: The Kansas City Royals won the American League Championship. Jimmy Carter was president. Tip O'Neill - wait. Paul Ryan was 10 years old. Actually, he's still 10 years old. But...
RUDIN: No. I mean, it's a long time ago. So I figured, if we can wait 32 - if we had to wait 32 years for Rick Nolan to come back to Congress, maybe we could wait a little longer.
CONAN: Well, after three times on the Hill, Nolan retired to his native Minnesota. He was reelected to the House this year, and returns to a Congress that looks a little bit different from the one he left in the early 1980s. We're trying to get Congressman-elect Nolan on the phone with us. He has been called the veteran freshman, the once-and-future congressman. And he is with us now from his office on Capitol - well, are you in your office, congressman?
REPRESENTATIVE-ELECT RICK NOLAN: You know, I just went through the office selection process, and because I get to keep my seniority, why, I was able to select my office this afternoon, just a couple of minutes ago. And the other 85 new members of the Congress have to wait till Friday. So, one of the benefits of having been here before.
CONAN: Oh, so you get a window.
NOLAN: I got a window. I could see the Capitol from here, and close to the world's shortest little railroad that runs from the Rayburn Office Building to the Capitol. So I got a good pick.
RUDIN: Congressman, when you were still in Congress, Rayburn was still speaker, correct?
NOLAN: Yeah. We came here in a horse and buggy. No, Carl Albert and Tip O'Neill are the speakers I had the good fortune to serve with.
CONAN: And I gather there was a vote in the House of Representatives today, a rare moment of bipartisan comity when former Speaker Pelosi and Speaker Boehner sponsored a bill to name a federal building for Tip O'Neill.
NOLAN: Well, absolutely. And that doesn't happen very often in the current Congress.
CONAN: What has changed? You've returned to Capitol Hill after more than 30 years. It's been a while.
NOLAN: You know, a couple of things. One is I kind of surprised myself. I feel like a first grader in school. I couldn't be more excited and more positive and optimistic about the prospects. But having said that, I'm mindful of some pretty dramatic changes that have taken place. When I was first elected, we worked 48 out of 52 weeks. And the current Congress, I think, worked 32 out of 52 weeks. They come into session at 2 o'clock - at 6 o'clock on Tuesday afternoon, and they're usually out of here by Wednesday or Thursday at the latest.
And that has changed. The Congress doesn't put in the hours in committee and the work that they used to do. And the other thing that's changed is that the tremendous amount of money that's going into politics and the toxic effect that is has. Members are expected to spend 30 hours a week raising money, and we never did any of that. That was time we spent in committees working with one another, getting to know one another, reaching agreements, collaborating, compromising. And so the saying that you hear around, everybody's campaigning and nobody's governing, is, like, literally true, and it's not good. It's toxic, and it needs to change.
CONAN: We're speaking with Representative-elect Rick Nolan from his new office on Capitol Hill. You're listening to Political Junkie on TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. Ken?
RUDIN: Congressman-elect, you talk about how Congress has changed. How has Rick Nolan changed?
NOLAN: Well, you know, I tell you what: I - when I served earlier in life, I served well and honorably and effectively, and I'm proud of that. But I tell you what: After having spent the last 30 years in my life in business, growing my business, raising my family back home, domestic, international business and volunteer community service, I feel better prepared today than at any point in my life. And maybe that's, in part, why I feel so excited, enthusiastic about the prospects for making a difference.
NOLAN: And then I...
CONAN: I was just going to ask: Why, after all this time, did you decide to run again?
NOLAN: Well, you know, the fact is, you know, the deficits, the joblessness, the growing inequalities, the endless wars, I mean, they really are a serious threat to our future. And we're kind of at a tipping point. Things need to change. And this country's been so good to me and to my generation. I just felt compelled to step up and see if I could make a difference.
RUDIN: When you were here last time, of course, the Democrats were in control. They had the majority. The thought of a Republican majority was unheard of. Now, it's a Republican majority. How does that change for you, dealing with - trying to get legislation through?
NOLAN: Well, years ago, I served in a minority when I was in our Minnesota State House. And believe me, it's quite different serving in a minority than it is in the majority. So that's going to be a challenge. The thing that does excite me is that meeting with all these 80-some new members, Republican and Democrats, they all got the same message in the election contest here this year, and that is, is that people are tired and fed up with gridlock.
And I think anybody that doesn't show a willingness to collaborate, cooperate, compromise, do what's necessary to solve problems, get things done, is going to be in trouble. And I think they all got that message. So I think there's a better opportunity for compromise and getting things done than what has existed here these last several years.
CONAN: Every two years after congressional elections, there's an orientation period when the new members of the House of Representatives are shown the ropes. You, I guess, attended. Did anything surprise you?
NOLAN: Yeah. The regulations governing the behavior of members of Congress are just overwhelming. And, you know, for example, someone can buy you a hotdog if you're standing up. But if you sit down at a table, it's a dinner and it's illegal, or you have to report it. If somebody gives you a baseball cap or a T-shirt and it's worth $9.99 or less, you can say thank you and take it. If it's $10 or more, why, you can't. And so, you know, just going fishing with a neighbor presents a problem.
God forbid, you know, someone should go to a movie with somebody, and they would pick up your movie ticket. So you just got to be extraordinarily careful, and quite frankly, you just can't let anybody do anything for you. And maybe that's a good thing. I'm not sure. But it sure is different from years ago.
CONAN: Was there any advice about not tweeting pictures of yourself?
NOLAN: You know, I've been thinking at some point, maybe about the time I'd like to write a book. It would be a humorous one, and the title of it would be "Bonehead Losers." And it will be about, you know, people that decided to - bright people, in many cases, or seemingly, you know, decide to text a picture of their private parts to people around the country. No, God willing, those days are past, and people will learn from these terrible lessons, but in all too many cases, they don't seem to.
And so I've had this theory over the years, every Congress has about a half a dozen members that get themselves into trouble. And, in many respects, they're like the annual ritual reforms, or offerings to the reform gods. And everybody beats their breast and says it'll never happen again. But at the end of the day, members of Congress represent the American people, and they're human, like the American people. And they unfortunately make some very bad decisions and terrible mistakes and - but things move on, and the country's going to be just fine in spite of all that.
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CONAN: Rick Nolan, thank you very much for your time today. Best of luck in your first new - I don't know how to describe this term of - as a member of Congress, but we appreciate it.
NOLAN: Oh, it's kind of like deja vu all over again, as Yogi would have said.
CONAN: Rick Nolan, the once-and-future congressman from the state of Minnesota. Political Junkie Ken Rudin will be back with us next Wednesday, as he is every Wednesday, with the Political Junkie. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.