NEAL CONAN, HOST:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington. The president's putts pass the Tiger test, the Senate sex scandal that stayed secret for 30 years and Erskine Bowles reduces sequestration to three little words. It's Wednesday and time for a...
ERSKINE BOWLES: Stupid, stupid, stupid...
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 review the week in politics. This week, the sequestration version of the Washington blame game blossoms, the news of a congressman's daughter and a senator's son, Mark Sanford begs the public's forgiveness, Jesse Jackson Jr. pleads guilty, a scarred Chuck Hagel is set for a confirmation vote next week, and two senators set off speculation as they decline to run again.
In a bit, we'll focus on the Democrats' strategy to win the House in 2014 with Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman Steve Israel, and later in the program politics in Chicago, which elects Jesse Jackson Jr.'s replacement on Tuesday.
But first, Political Junkie Ken Rudin joins us, as usual, here in Studio 3A. And as usual, we begin with a trivia question. Hey Ken.
KEN RUDIN, BYLINE: Neal, this is the first time it's the stupid, stupid, stupid edition of the Political Junkie?
CONAN: I think so, the very first time.
RUDIN: I'm just curious. OK, well, the outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is a former member of the House. His nominated successor, Chuck Hagel, served two terms in the Senate. The trivia question is: Who was the last defense secretary elected to public office but not to the House or Senate?
CONAN: If you think you know the answer to this week's trivia question, the last secretary of defense elected to public office but who did not serve in either the U.S. Senate or the House of Representatives, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. Of course, the winner gets a free Political Junkie T-shirt and a fabulous no-prize button.
So sequester on the horizon, Ken.
RUDIN: Well, we're coming up close. It's March 1st, and the fun part is that Congress is out this week.
CONAN: Yeah, so getting a lot done this week.
RUDIN: So this is really, really obviously on their minds and a major thing. And, of course, we always talk about Henny Penny, the sky is falling, until there's a last-minute deal. But right now nobody's talking about a late-minute deal, last-minute deal. Everybody's talking about: Who should we blame? Is it the Democrats' fault? Is it Obama's fault? Is it the Republicans' fault?
But nobody's getting anything done. So as it turns out, if everything goes the way it's going the way it's going right now, March 1st, it will be the beginning of these just huge cuts in the Pentagon, in domestic spending and things like that. And some Republicans, and I think some Democrats say look, let it happen, and, you know, finally maybe Washington will wake up to the, you know, to the things that need to be done.
CONAN: And at least, still, they'll be saving some - that cut money. But this - the fiscal cliff was the metaphor we all learned to love to hate. Now it's the meat cleaver.
RUDIN: Right, right, you know, I loved him on "Leave it to Beaver," that was one of the family members there. But it was just - I mean, this is exactly what everybody...
CONAN: That was their first album, "Meet the Cleavers."
RUDIN: "Soul on Ice," I think it was. But it was the kind of thing that we keep seeing over and over again in Washington, that everybody says oh no, this is really, this time it's really going to be terrible. And then ultimately somebody says, well, how about we can push it off for six months. And I bet you that happens.
CONAN: All right, then speaking of things that happen all the time in Washington, here's something that never happened before, a filibuster on a secretary of defense, the aforementioned Chuck Hagel.
RUDIN: Well, of course, the Republicans will tell you it's not a filibuster, but it is a filibuster, of course.
CONAN: If it walks like a filibuster...
RUDIN: Exactly. And they tried to get 60 votes. And they only failed by one. It was - the vote was 58 to 40, but of course Harry Reid switched votes so he could have a revote. Two Republicans who have been fighting Chuck Hagel all along, Lindsey Graham and John McCain, both of whom of course supported the delay in the Hagel vote, said over the weekend...
CONAN: They supported Tom DeLay, too.
RUDIN: They did, and where is he now? They said - they both say that OK, we had our fun, we're no longer going to hold up the nomination. And when the Senate vote comes back - when the Senate comes back to vote on February 26th, everybody knows that this non-filibuster filibuster will be over, and Hagel will get confirmed.
CONAN: We expect, more or less, on party lines with one exception, and that is a senator from Nebraska.
RUDIN: Well, two exceptions, right. I mean, the only Republicans so far who have come out in favor of him of course is Thad Cochran of Mississippi and Mike Johanns, the Republican senator from Nebraska, where - the same state where Chuck Hagel happened to - once been a Republican senator.
But anyway, the news of the day was, of course, on Monday, Mike Johanns surprised everybody and said he would not run for a second term. He says he wants to spend more time with General Petraeus' family - no, he didn't say that. But he just said that, you know, he doesn't want to run again. And everybody was shocked, and you just wonder if part of the frustration with what's going on with Chuck Hagel was part of his decision-making.
Of course he was also a member of the Gang of Eight working on deficit reduction that went nowhere. So Mike Johanns has talked about frustration in the past, and perhaps that's one of the reasons. But not running for second term when there was no Democrat on the horizon to challenge him was a surprise.
CONAN: And so the scramble is off to find somebody who might replace him on the Republican side, it's a very red state, occasionally they do elect a Democrat, but a very red state. So you'd have to think that would stay in Republican hands.
Also a switch in New Jersey, Frank Lautenberg, the oldest member of the United States Senate, everyone thought he would probably decide not to run again. Well, then the mayor of Newark sort of got out of line, at least according to Frank Lautenberg, and there was talk that maybe he would run again.
RUDIN: That's exactly right. I mean, last week Lautenberg did announce that he would not run. You say he is the oldest. He is 89 years old, the oldest member of the Senate, also the last remaining World War II veteran in the U.S. Senate. He probably would've loved to have gone out on his own. He resented the fact that Cory Booker had the temerity - the mayor of Newark - who's 43 years old, half his age, had the temerity to criticize Lautenberg and basically say I'm running whether Lautenberg's running or not.
Lautenberg has stepped down. I assume that most of his loyalists, his supporters, Lautenberg's loyalists, will support Frank Pallone, he's the 62-year-old member of Congress from the Jersey Shore. But right now, Cory Booker looks like - I mean, he always talks about his 1.3 million tweet followers, far more than you and I have, I think.
CONAN: I think just one or two.
RUDIN: But anyway, so it's going to be an interesting - just like Nebraska looks like a solid Republican seat, the Republicans don't look like they have a chance at all in New Jersey not having elected a Republican senator there since 1972.
CONAN: And the Democrat who may have had the best chance to replace Tom Harkin said he's not going to run.
RUDIN: Well, if you're talking about Tom Vilsack, the former governor, yes he said no. But of course it seems like the Democrats have united behind Bruce Braley, he's a congressman from the east, east part of Iowa. It looks like the Republicans, though, may get involved in a very tough ideological battle between the establishment backing one candidate and the conservatives backing Steve King. Tom Latham is the establishment guy, Steve King the Tea Party favorite. Republicans could be involved in a very big slugfest for that Iowa seat.
CONAN: In the meantime, we have some people on the line who think they know the answer to this week's trivia question, that is the last secretary of defense to have been an elected official, but not a federally elected...
RUDIN: Not in the House or Senate.
CONAN: 800-989-8255, email email@example.com. And we'll start with Julia(ph), Julia on the line with us from San Antonio.
JULIA: Yeah, I think it's Gates.
CONAN: Bob Gates, who spraddled(ph), straddled also, the terms of George W. Bush and President Obama.
RUDIN: Yes, and you know his brother Water. No, Bob Gates actually never ran for public office.
JULIA: Oh, thank you.
CONAN: Thanks very much, longtime CIA employee and then later - anyway, Mark(ph) is on the line, Mark with us from Reno.
MARK: How about McNamara?
RUDIN: Robert McNamara, whose middle name is Strange, I don't know if everybody knows that, but Robert McNamara also never ran for public office. He was, of course, the defense secretary under Kennedy and Johnson.
CONAN: And ran Ford before that.
RUDIN: That's right.
CONAN: All right, thanks very much, Mark.
MARK: Thank you.
CONAN: Let's see if we can go next to - this is Peter(ph), Peter with us from Lansdowne in Pennsylvania.
PETER: Yes, is it Donald Regan?
RUDIN: Donald Regan, who was - well actually, Donald Regan was never secretary of defense.
PETER: He was treasury.
RUDIN: He was chief of staff, and he was treasury secretary, also never ran for office. He was Reagan's - in the Reagan administration.
CONAN: And he wanted to buy a vowel, but anyway, let's go next to Marty, and Marty with us from Kailua-Kona in Hawaii.
MARTY: I'm going to try Caspar Weinberger.
RUDIN: That is the correct answer.
CONAN: Ding, ding, ding.
RUDIN: Caspar the Friendly Weinberger was secretary of defense...
CONAN: Cap the Knife as he was known.
RUDIN: Yes, Cap the Knife because of the budget cuts.
CONAN: Wait a minute, we have two winners, this is an email from Nan Walsh(ph), she also got Cap Weinberger.
RUDIN: But let's not forget Marty, he's hanging on here. OK, but anyway, he was a California state assemblyman in the 1950s and then ran for attorney general and then became involved in the Reagan campaigns. But Caspar Weinberger is the correct answer.
CONAN: So Marty, stay on the line, and we will collect your particulars and send you off a Political Junkie T-shirt, and of course the fabulous no-prize Political Junkie button, and that's in return for a promise to send us a digital picture of yourself wearing same so we can post it on our wall of shame.
CONAN: All right, congratulations.
RUDIN: Don't you think that wearing that shirt in Hawaii makes Hawaii even more beautiful of a state?
CONAN: Even more attractive, yeah in fact I'm going to be visiting him not too far down the road. Anyway...
RUDIN: Bring me, bring me. Pick me. Pick me.
CONAN: There is - speaking of Donald Regan and the Reagan administration, the biggest sex scandal of the Reagan administration erupted today.
RUDIN: Of the Reagan administration.
CONAN: Yes, this is Pete Domenici.
RUDIN: This was a shocker. I mean, it turned out that Pete Domenici, who is 80 years old, he left the Senate, didn't run for re-election to his seventh term in 2008, he disclosed that he - 30 years ago, he fathered a son with Michelle Laxalt, who is the daughter of former senator, Nevada Senator Paul Laxalt.
Talk - I mean, what's ironic, and of course they kept this quiet for all these years, obviously for obvious reasons, the reason both Domenici and Michelle Laxalt came forward is apparently somebody was going to run with the story. Pete Domenici was always known as Saint Pete when he was senator from New Mexico - always, you know, everybody loved him, very, very popular.
There was - it was - I don't know what it means, but it certainly is shocking. There is a city in New Mexico called Truth or Consequences, and I have a feeling that plays into this. But it's a really surprising thing.
CONAN: This after - during the State of the Union, there was - Congressman Cohen was found to be tweeting a very attractive young lady, to the consternation of many, and then it turned out she was his daughter from a relationship that...
RUDIN: This is Steve Cohen of Memphis, and yes, this is very strange. Again, nothing wrong with it, but at least - I don't think he's ever been married, and he just acknowledged it for the first time. It was pretty - apparently he only found out about his daughter a few years ago. I can't believe Political Junkie has sunk to these levels, but maybe it makes sense.
CONAN: All right, a little bit later in the program, we're going to be talking about Chicago politics, but Jesse Jackson Jr. pleaded guilty today, his political career officially ended, and his wife's, as well.
RUDIN: Well, she pleads guilty, I think, during this show. Jesse Jackson Jr. pled guilty earlier today. It was the end of a career, and poor Illinois' Second Congressional District, the third consecutive member from that district to go down either in disgrace or embarrassment.
But he - $750,000 of campaign funds that he used for his own personal - and this is while he was under investigation for the Blagojevich Senate seat, and the fact that he did this for years and years, and it was pretty remarkable.
CONAN: Ken, stay with us, I know you will. After a short break, we'll be back with Congressman Steve Israel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to talk strategy 2014. Stay with us. It's Wednesday, the Political Junkie day, and it's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. It's Wednesday, Ken's day as we call it around here. Politcal Junkie Ken Rudin is with us, as he is every week. And Ken, ScuttleButton winner this week?
RUDIN: There was absolutely. It was a lot of buttons. There were six buttons in last week's puzzle. There was a Will Wilson from Texas, Hugh Carey from New York, Abe Beam from New York, a Scrabble button that said I've got the word, George Allen from Virginia and Jim Miller from Virginia. So when you add them all up, you have: Will you be my Valentine?
Yes, well, anyway, Steven Hammentree(ph) of Traverse City, Michigan, is the winner.
CONAN: All right, he will get a free Political Junkie T-shirt and of course the fabulous no-prize button. One more thing, oh, there's a new ScuttleButton puzzle up and a column?
RUDIN: There absolutely is, and the new column is about the Johanns surprise.
CONAN: And you can see those at npr.org/junkie. One more thing, we made a mistake during the junkie segment last week on Facebook. Phil Santamaria(ph) noted when speaking about the GOP responses to the State of the Union Address, the show played a clip from Senator Rand Paul's response on behalf of the Tea Party. Instead, the audio clip concerning the president's gun control plan was from his father, former Representative Ron Paul on the Fox Business Network. Good catch, we got it wrong.
RUDIN: Well, I'm appalled.
CONAN: Just a few months out from the 2012 election, both parties are already devising strategies and raising money for the 2014 races. Representative Steve Israel is the current chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the organization that hopes to get Democrats elected to the House and hopes to get the House of Representatives to change hands in 2014. He joins us by phone from Palm Beach in Florida. Good to have you with us today.
REPRESENTATIVE STEVE ISRAEL: It's great to be with you. How are you?
CONAN: And if you live in a swing district, we want to hear from you. What could make it switch parties either way come 2014? 800-989-8255. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. And Steve Israel, the last election you gained more than a million votes, more than a million votes, more that Republicans voted for - in the House races. You still couldn't control the House of Representatives.
Traditionally in midterm elections the president's party loses seats. So how do you plan to retake the House come 2014?
ISRAEL: Well, actually, this past election we had a much better night than anybody anticipated. We elected 49 Democrats, new Democrats. We picked up a net of eight seats. We beat 16 Republicans, which is what the Republicans were saying they would do to us. In fact it was an inversion of that. And so we had a good night. Now we've got to do better.
We need 17 seats to take the majority. We have four quick things that are going for us at this point. Number one, we have competitive districts. We need 17 seats. Right now we'll have about 52 in play and counting. Number two, we're running against an historically unpopular Republican Congress. There was a poll done two weeks ago that Republicans in Congress are now less popular than root canals, colonoscopies and head lice.
I mean can you imagine a pollster listening to somebody saying if the choice were between House Republicans and a colonoscopy, I'll go with the colonoscopy? Third, we are on very strong financial footing. We out-raised the Republicans in the House this past month, 6.1 million to 4.4 million. The president is all in. He's going to help us.
And finally, and most importantly, our priorities are in synch with America's middle class. I mean these Republicans are waging wars against each other. They're involved in a civil war. They're involved in these makeovers and fake-overs. Meanwhile, we're focused on the middle class. We're now running against a Republican Congress that is willing to risk 700,000 layoffs to protect tax loopholes for a few special interests.
CONAN: This is the sequester you're...
ISRAEL: That is the defining issue in the upcoming campaign, and we're going to hold them accountable.
CONAN: All right, they call it, of course, Obama's sequester, but that's another issue. And to be fair, yes, the Republicans in Congress are very unpopular. So, frankly, are the Democrats.
ISRAEL: Well, there's no question that Congress is unpopular as a whole. But people are smart enough to realize who's in charge, who's passing legislation to benefit the special interests, even if it's going to cost jobs in the middle class, who is it that's blocking a vote on the Violence Against Women Act, who is it that's blocking votes to help middle-class families of four to send their kids to college.
With leadership and with the majority comes responsibility and accountability, and we're holding them responsible and accountable.
RUDIN: Congressman, you made all these charges, this case, prior to the 2012 presidential election, when as you say the Democrats picked up only a net of eight seats, maybe more than most people thought, but you picked up eight seats. What changes in 2014, except we no longer have President Obama topping the Democratic ticket?
ISRAEL: Well, that's actually an important change. In 2012, we were running House elections in the midst of a presidential election, very difficult to break through, as you know, Ken, in that kind of environment, where you have a presidential election that is so massive and so defining.
We don't have that. 2012 was a referendum on President Obama versus Governor Romney. 2014 will be a referendum on Tea Party extremists in the House of Representatives. That's number one. Number two, we didn't really have much help from the president, nor should he have really helped us. He had his own re-election to care about.
What is significantly different this time is that the president has made a very - a massive commitment to help elect House Democrats because he wants to move forward and not obstruction. And the third thing that helps us is to a certain extent the Republicans were correct in saying that redistricting fortified them. But now redistricting will begin to swing the other way.
There are still two states that will be redistricted: Florida and Texas. And in both cases we believe that as a result of the demographics, redistricting will favor us, hurt Republicans, and so the redistricting that they crowed about in 2012 will now work against them in 2014. That's just three significant changes in the environment.
RUDIN: Congressman, you know the history of the so-called six-year itch; in the sixth year of a presidential term they always lose seats. Of course they didn't with Bill Clinton. But you need 17 seats to take, you know, take over a majority. Do you think you can do it in the sixth year of a Democratic presidency?
ISRAEL: Yes, we can. I'm not prepared to - you know, on this day, at this time to promise you that we're going to win the 17 seats. I will promise you that we have an aggressive, proactive plan that if executed can get us to 17 seats. About a year from now I'll be in a better position to close in on exactly how many seats we forecast winning.
But on this six-year itch, it is one of the most overrated myths in recent politics. It is true that for a good part of American history there was a six-year itch. But you know, politics is so different now, and technologies are so different, and communications are so different that presidential history doesn't really have much bearing on today's environment.
So in fact Bill Clinton, while, you know, he was elected in 1992 - in 1994 he actually picked - he picked up seats and then actually he...
RUDIN: In '94 they lost the House.
ISRAEL: That's right, they lost the House in '94, but then he picked up seats in the sixth year. President Bush had a six-year itch, but he gained seats in his first midterm. So the fact of the matter is that if you take a look at recent history, there's not necessarily a six-year itch. What there is is this: A two-term president loses seats in one midterm and gains seats in another midterm.
President Obama, he lost seats in his first midterm, and now we believe that we can pick up seats in his second midterm.
CONAN: Well, this is not your list, but this is a list put out by the House Majority PAC, which is supporting Democratic House candidates. They've named 10 Republican targets. I wonder if you would agree with them: Michele Bachmann of Minnesota?
ISRAEL: Yeah, well, I'll tell you, Michele Bachmann had a very, very close election. You know, she was so focused on her own career and fell so far out of touch with her own constituents that she just narrowly won that race, and I think she's going to have a similarly very close experience. We think that we can defeat her in 2014.
CONAN: Mike Coffman in Colorado?
ISRAEL: Mike Coffman represents - he's a Tea Party Republican. He's one of the original birthers who represents a Democratic-leaning district in Colorado. Our candidate in 2012, Joe Miklosi, fell a little short. We now have a candidate, Andrew Romanoff, an extraordinary candidate who ran statewide in Colorado before.
He's announced. He's going to run a very robust campaign. That's going to be one of the most significant races in the country in 2014. We think we beat Coffman.
CONAN: Gary Miller in California?
ISRAEL: Gary G. Miller is an anomaly - again, a Tea Party Republican who represents a district that I believe is about a 53 to 54 percent Democratic-performing district. And we're very high on Pete Aguilar, the mayor of Redlands, who is considering running. If he runs, I think Gary G. Miller, just because that district is a Democratic-leaning district, Gary G. Miller is probably one of the most endangered and vulnerable Republicans in Congress.
CONAN: Here's an email from Danielle(ph): I live in New York 24. We had a Republican for years, then Dan Maffei won in 2008, a Tea Party Republican won in 2010, Maffei won again in 2012. Turnout is the key to Democratic victory in this district, which includes mostly liberal Syracuse and more conservative suburbs. Would you agree with that analysis?
ISRAEL: Well, I totally agree. An air war never wins an election. You win it on the ground. The president showed that an exquisite and precise ground game wins elections. I'm very happy that one of the first conversations that I had with the president on election night after he had accepted victory in Chicago, he called leader Pelosi and me to tell us that he was all in in 2014.
And shortly after that, he sent up some of his aides, and they told us that all of that data, which is so critical, and all of that targeting we will be given access to. That's going to be hugely important. And your email correspondent is right: It's probably what won the election in the Syracuse area for Dan Maffei and defeated Tea Party Republican Ann Marie Buerkle.
CONAN: Let's get a caller in on the conversation. Justin(ph) is on the line from St. Louis.
JUSTIN: Thank you so much. First time calling in and rang and got right on. Wonderful show.
CONAN: Thank you.
JUSTIN: I really as a conservative Christian father of a 5-year-old and married, suburbs, gun owner, I couldn't see myself voting for a Republican right now if my life dependent on it. Basically, my analogy on politics right now is you run into a house that's on fire and you - because you hear a baby crying and you see the baby in the basinet, and the father and mother of the child are in the kitchen arguing over whose turn is it to take the trash out, it's like, you know, I don't know if I have time to slap both the parents, but I'm definitely getting the baby, getting out of the house.
You know, if I said I don't like the CEO or the president of my company, so I'm not going to do my job for five years, six years, whatever, I wouldn't have a job. And so I think they're just - somebody needs to just compromise, and that's what it comes down to. We need to work together. Otherwise, the baby is going to die, and the house is going to burn down, you know?
CONAN: Justin, thanks very much for the most extended metaphor we've heard on the program for quite some time, but thanks very much for the conversation.
ISRAEL: But Justin is absolutely right. You know, it may sound strange coming from the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. But, you know what, guys, you know what America needs right now? It needs a Republican Party again. A Republican Party that is willing to compromise, a Republican Party that understands that they're not going to have it their way all the time. We have this thing coming up, you know, sequestration. Not every American knows what that means.
But the fact of the matter is that on March 1st, there will be another fiscal cliff. The government will go through these savage cutbacks. Seven hundred thousand people will lose their jobs. And it doesn't have to be that way. I don't care whether you're a Democrat or a Republican. You want people in Congress who are willing not to blame each other for how sequestration was conceived, but what you're going to do to stop it. And House Democrats have put forth compromise after compromise after compromise.
What we need is Republicans in Congress who are willing to negotiate with us rather than saying we will risk 700,000 jobs unless we get everything our way. That's not good politics, and it's not good policy. We need a Congress that is willing to compromise again.
CONAN: Steve Israel is the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Also with us, it's Wednesday, of course, is Ken Rudin, our Political Junkie. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Ken?
RUDIN: Congressman, of course, you're talking about the Republicans who won't necessarily want to compromise with Democrats. You also know that they also have the so-called the Tea Party challenges back home that if you talk to Democrats, you risk getting hit with a primary from the right back home. So, of course, they have that balancing act as well. But let me ask you one thing. For the longest time that we always talk about how these guys always get re-elected and everything - nothing changes, and everybody gets re-elected.
Then we saw in 2006 and 2008, Democrats, you know, got huge gains. Nancy Pelosi became the speaker, great dissatisfaction with the Republican Party. Two years later, the exact opposite happened, and there was great dissatisfaction with the Democratic Party. What - how do you - what do you do to keep the ship from going back and forth so drastically, so radically every two years?
ISRAEL: That's a great question. I think what you have to do is continue two things. Number one, you've got to continue to advocate policies that are resonant with middle-class Americans. You're not - we're not going to win the majority by shifting too far to the left or too far to the right. We're going to win the majority by making sense to independent voters, mostly in suburban districts and ex-urban districts throughout the country. And so we're going to continue to advocate those policies.
The second thing you have to do is to continue to offer a basic and fundamental choice. You know, silence doesn't win elections, and so we've got to be very aggressive in our messaging to voters that this is a referendum between kind of a Tea Party extremism and, you know, moderate sensibilities that Democrats offer. If we do those two things, I think we attract those voters that we need to win who don't necessarily wake up every morning thinking about left or right but wake up every morning thinking about forward.
If we have a message and a ground game that resonates with those voters who are thinking about moving the country forward, we can withstand any national environment, and we can go ahead and pick up those 17 seats.
CONAN: We'll let you go in just a second. But before 2014, of course, you've got a couple of races coming up very quickly, one of them next week. I would think you would expect that the district that's up in Illinois would stay in Democratic hands. The one in South Carolina would stay in Republican hands.
ISRAEL: Well, I'll tell you the one in Illinois I'm very comfortable, very confident. I'll sign an affidavit now that we'll keep that seat. That's Jesse Jackson's former seat. And the one in South Carolina could get interesting. I mean you've got some bizarre concentration of candidates, including the former governor who had some very significant issues when he was governor. And that one could get interesting. I'm not ready to concede that one, although I am ready to declare victory in Illinois.
CONAN: All right. Congressman, thank you very much for your time. We appreciate it.
ISRAEL: Thanks, guys.
CONAN: Of course, we'll have the Republican campaign - Congressional Campaign Committee chair on as well to explain why just exactly the opposite is going to happen. But Steve Israel joining us from Florida. Ken, a couple of things we did not get to that race - we're going to be talking more about the Jesse Jackson Jr. race. But in South Carolina, Mark Sanford is winning over some supporters.
RUDIN: Well, there are a lot of conservatives who you think that because of a pro-family views and things like that and family values, Mark Sanford would not be the kind of candidate they would endorse, but there are a lot - a bunch of people - Erick Erickson of Red State - I think National Review has also come up and said that, look, he was a very conservative advocate when he was in Congress. He was a very conservative governor. And whatever his failure as a human being, as a father, which he acknowledged - has acknowledged, said he deserves another shot in Congress. So you're going to have a run-off, you're going to have a primary, not a run-off, but there are a lot of conservatives coming out in favor of Mark Sanford.
CONAN: And there's a clip of tape we just have to play. This is in an online chat this week. Vice President Joe Biden explaining that some guns are easier to control than others.
VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: You don't need AR-15. It's harder to aim. It's harder to use. And, in fact, you don't need 30 rounds to protect yourself. Buy a shotgun. Buy a shotgun.
CONAN: As he told his wife, Jill, to do.
RUDIN: Yeah. Yes. I think that was a - that explains the marriage. But anybody...
RUDIN: The thought of Joe Biden, who's in charge of this group, basically to come out with a sensible solution to gun violence, to advocate buying a shotgun, of course, it sounds like we're taking it out of context. But it was a bizarre piece of tape they listened to.
CONAN: You've got to love the vice president.
CONAN: Stay with us. When we come back from a short break, we're going to be talking with Don Rose about Chicago politics, not just the Jesse Jackson Jr. seat, which Steve Israel already has claimed victory for, but who will claim it. Stay with us. We're going to be talking about, well, maybe an upcoming Senate race that might be interesting should Dick Durbin decides to step aside. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan.
Political Junkie Ken Rudin is with us. And, Ken, Jesse Jackson Jr., once the promising, young congressman from Chicago entered a guilty plea in a Washington, D.C., courtroom this morning. He acknowledged he misused campaign funds for political purses - personal purposes. Prosecutors said he bought expensive clothing, watches and trips with the campaign funds. Jackson's attorney, Reid Weingarten, said the former politician's criminal problems stemmed from his medical conditions.
REID WEINGARTEN: I will answer a question that I received many times, and it's a question about he's doing. It turns out that Jesse has serious health issues. Many of you know about them. We're going to talk about them extensively with the court. And those health issues are directly related to his present predicament. That's not an excuse. That's just a fact.
CONAN: Jackson's departure from the House vacated the seat for Illinois' 2nd District. A special election will be held this Tuesday. Joining us now by phone is long-time Chicago political analyst, Don Rose. And it's good to have you with us today.
DON ROSE: Good to be here.
CONAN: And this is a tragedy.
ROSE: This is sad, tragic, just not enough words to express despair over such a - this event happening to such a promising young man from a prominent family and a socially conscious family. It's just heart-rending.
CONAN: Do you have any explanation for it?
ROSE: Well, what can I say? I think this really requires a psychoanalyst and not a political analyst. But my view is that somewhere along the line, Jesse and, perhaps with his wife, pilfered a little bit of money out of their campaign fund and got away with it. And I suspect he felt some guilt and apprehension over this. Somewhere around 2004, this very healthy, athletic guy, who's got a gym that would be the envy of any Bally club, blew up to 300 pounds. Now, that's, you know, again, I'm not a psychoanalyst, but that's neurotic eating. And I think all of this was playing into what was going on. The combination of guilt, fear and - probably triggering whatever bipolar issues were latent in the young man.
RUDIN: Don, you talk about, first of all, a little bit of money. It was $750,000. A lot of people are saying they don't remember any member of Congress...
CONAN: I think you meant to say, it started with...
RUDIN: Started with that, yes. But...
ROSE: Started with - I suspect it started with a small amount. Of course, I know it's three quarters of a million dollars, and it's inexcusable. And most of the kinds of things he purchased were, you know, ludicrous, particularly ludicrous since he represents a district that has a very substantial poverty constituency there.
RUDIN: You talk about a tremendous tragedy for Jackson. It's also a tremendous tragedy for the voters of the 2nd Congressional District because prior to Jesse Jackson Jr., you had Mel Reynolds, who went to prison for having sex with an underage girl. Before that, you had Gus Savage, who's racial outburst were embarrassing around the country. It's really embarrassing or tragic for the 2nd Congressional District.
CONAN: Who do you think is going to be representing that district after Tuesday's vote?
ROSE: Well, it looks, right now, pretty much as if Robin Kelly, a three-time state representative and a former candidate for state treasurer, has the lead and her biggest competition in the African-American community just dropped out because - probably under pressure of some of these anti-gun and anti-NRA commercials that were linked to her - that linked her to the NRA. And Robin had a narrow lead over Deborah Halvorson, a former congresswoman and the only white in the district. And with Hutchinson dropping out, I would guess that most of those votes are going to go to Kelly. I will be quite surprised if Kelly is not the winner, if not with an absolutely majority with 16 people in the race, but certainly with a good plurality.
RUDIN: Don, we're talking about the NRA and guns. In a district that is so racked by gun violence, it's interesting to me, at least, that you have so many people like Toi Hutchinson, like Debbie Halvorson - although she comes from the suburban part of the district - but that they both have A ratings with the NRA, and they're very strongly backed by gun rights organizations. It's unusual, in my mind, in this kind of a district to have such a strong NRA presence.
ROSE: It's an anomaly. It - first of all, it's because Halvorson represented a different kind of district, and probably a much more gun-friendly district, a much more semi-rural district. And Hutchinson was her aid, and Hutchinson succeeded Halvorson in the Senate. And my guess is she took the lead on some of those - I'm - let me back up. Halvorson was previously in the state Senate, then she went to Congress. And her aide Hutchinson succeeded her and, I think, picked up on some of those other votes that Halvorson had been making. That's the only possible way I can figure out an African-American legislator had been so lauded by the NRA. None of the rest of the candidates, Republican or Democrat, have anywhere near that kind of record.
CONAN: What happened to create the new second district? Obviously, the state of Illinois lost population, so they had to contract somewhere. But how did the decision get made by the Democratically controlled legislature to merge those two districts?
ROSE: Well, they saw a district that would still be represented by an African-American, by Jesse Jackson. They very carefully remapped - I think many would say gerrymandered - all of the districts in the state. And among the things they were sure to do was retain three black districts. This was the least-black of the three black districts that were created. But because Jesse Jackson, Jr. had crossover appeal, they knew that this would be a pretty solid Democratic district.
RUDIN: There's also talk about - I mean, switching gears for one, quick second, is there's some talk about Dick Durbin, the veteran senator from Illinois, not running for re-election in 2014. What are you hearing about that?
ROSE: We hear that back-and-forth. I take that with a grain of salt. I think Dick is - got a lot to do in that Senate. He's enjoying the position he's in. You know, he's basically second in command in the Senate. And barring something we don't know about such as illness or whatever, I suspect we're going to see Dick running again. He's, you know, he's a shoo-in.
RUDIN: Because we were hoping that if he would resign, then Governor Quinn could sell the Senate seat to the highest bidder.
ROSE: Not Pat Quinn.
ROSE: Let's - we've had a lot of lousy governors. Pat Quinn's problems don't run in the direction of selling seats. He's got administrative problems galore, but corruption is not one of them.
CONAN: As you look at the state of Illinois, this was once a state that was in play. This was a swing state. This was a state that elected Republicans, as well. What happened to make it one of the bluer states in the country?
ROSE: It was largely demographics in Chicago and surrounding areas, and even parts of central and southern Illinois. We saw a very large increase in the African-American population. And simultaneously - particularly in the suburbs and some downstate areas - the Republicans moved so far to the right on the social issues that there was a significant, steady defection, particularly among women, and so that even the Cook County suburbs, which were once solidly Republican - 60, 70 percent back in the '60s - Cook County suburbs are today solidly Democratic, as are some of what we call the collar counties around Illinois - around Chicago.
RUDIN: And if Governor Quinn is in trouble next year for re-election, apparently this could be in the Democratic primary. Is that what it looks like to you?
ROSE: Yes. Yes. It's a solid Democratic state, and it would take some special circumstance. The only reason we lost that Senate race to a Republican, Mark Kirk, was that there were a string of ethics issues attached to his opponent, Mr. Giannoulias, and that was just enough to make the difference. Pat Quinn squeezed by in that Republican year, and Kirk just squeezed by Giannoulias. Had there not been those ethics questions around Giannoulias, had the reform candidate David Hoffman won that primary, he would be sitting in the Senate right now.
CONAN: There is, of course, a political star who emerged from the Democratic Party in the state of Illinois, who's currently serving his second term in the White House. Do you see anybody on that horizon there in Illinois, a rising star?
ROSE: Not quite of that magnitude. There are a lot of young people looking in that direction. There's a fellow named Will Burns, an African-American state legislator - I'm sorry. He's now - he was a state legislator. He's now an alderman. He might be considered in that vein. And, of course, Lisa Madigan, who is the incumbent attorney general, is absolutely golden for whatever office she chooses to run for, whether it's governor, senator, whatever. She is clearly the star of Illinois politics.
RUDIN: And what do you make of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's tenure so far with the gun violence and the gun deaths in Chicago, perhaps, coming close to record-breaking numbers? Does Rahm Emanuel - is he held responsible, or should he be doing something differently?
ROSE: I have a perspective on that issue that is not necessarily adhered to by many. I think the police deployment issue and the failure to put more police on the street and the failure to give community policing training is largely responsible here. And they would claim it's an economic issue and they're doing a lot of juggling, moving people from - moving sworn personnel from administrative-type jobs out on the street. But they're still doing this without the proper training in community policing.
And I think this has been one of Emanuel's great failures. And police Superintendent McCarthy, who I think - I'm still hopeful about, may get onto this. If not, we're going to see the rise, although, far from record levels. We're still at only about 50 or 60 percent of where the numbers where in the '90s. It's just this startling rise over the last two or three years that makes it look historically bad.
CONAN: Don Rose, thanks very much for your time today. Appreciate it.
ROSE: My pleasure.
CONAN: Don Rose, an independent political consultant, long-time Chicago political analyst. He joined us by phone from Chicago. And Ken Rudin will be back with us next Wednesday. Ken, thanks very much.
RUDIN: Thank you, Neal.
CONAN: And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.