Politics
11:35 am
Wed May 23, 2012

VP Contenders: Pawlenty And Martinez

Transcript

NEAL CONAN, HOST:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Pop quiz, Ken: Name the primary opponent who got 42 percent of the vote against President Obama in Kentucky yesterday.

KEN RUDIN, BYLINE: That would be Mr. Wolf.

CONAN: No, that would be uncommitted.

RUDIN: Oh, uncommitted.

CONAN: Uncommitted would be the...

RUDIN: Oh, I should be committed.

CONAN: You should be committed.

RUDIN: I'm sorry.

CONAN: In which state with Dennis Kucinich run for Congress this year?

RUDIN: None.

CONAN: And which African-American big-city Democratic mayor found himself in a Romney ad this week?

RUDIN: That would be Cory Booker.

CONAN: It's Wednesday and time for a...

MAYOR CORY BOOKER: Nauseating...

CONAN: Edition of the political junkie.

PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.

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

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

SENATOR LLOYD 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. And Mayor Booker's remarks rankled the White House, but the president's strategist shrugged off his poor showing in not just Kentucky but Arkansas yesterday.

RUDIN: Arkansas, that was the Mr. Wolf.

CONAN: That was the Mr. Wolf. Arizona demands a copy of the president's birth certificate, Ron Paul supporters take over the Minnesota GOP, the prosecutor who bagged Rod Blagojevich and Scooter Libby elects to leave office, and Romney releases his first broadcast ad.

In a few minutes, we'll continue to vet some possible GOP running mates, and later in the program, the cult of couch surfers. 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.

RUDIN: And you said this is a nauseating edition of the political junkie, unlike the other ones. OK, well, Ken Bennett, the Arizona secretary of state, had said that he's not convinced the President Obama was born in the U.S., and thus there was some talk whether he would be allowed - the president would be allowed on the ballot in Arizona or not.

CONAN: Interestingly, he issued a statement today saying he's now gotten the (unintelligible) certificate, and he's perfectly happy.

RUDIN: He's now satisfied, right. Whether he had the power to exclude a president from the ballot is one thing, but that led to this question, I don't know how it led to this question, but...

CONAN: Talk about nauseating.

RUDIN: The last time a president was - the last time a president failed to finish first or second on a ballot, what was the last - so in other words what was the last state where an incumbent president finished third in the general election?

CONAN: In the general election. So if you think you know the answer to this week's trivia question, if you think you know the question to this week's trivia question...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: Give us a call. The question is if you know the state where the last incumbent president finished not first or second but third in a general election, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org. And of course the winner gets a million shares of Facebook stock or a political junkie T-shirt, whichever arrives at your door first.

RUDIN: Or more valuable.

CONAN: In the meantime, as we begin, as we always do when we can, with actual votes, Ken.

RUDIN: Well, of course nobody was supposed to be talking about the Democratic nomination for president because President Obama has it wrapped up, and he has had it wrapped up for some time now. But again, we are talking about two states where the president is not going to be competitive in November, and that was Kentucky and Arkansas.

But it's still worth saying these are Democratic primaries. In Kentucky, as you said, President Obama was the only Democrat on the ballot, and yet 42 percent of the Democrats in Kentucky voted for uncommitted. In Arkansas, there's a guy named John Wolf who's a Tennessee attorney. He got 42 percent, also 42 percent, against President Obama in the primary, although by the way I should tell you that the state party says Wolf will not be entitled to any delegates, interestingly enough. So much for democracy.

But anyway, two weeks, Keith Judd, the imprisoned Texas felon...

CONAN: Texas felon.

RUDIN: Right, got 41 percent against the president in West Virginia. Is this an embarrassment for the president? Yes. Does it portend doom? No, because he was probably going to win these - obviously lose these states anyway. But again, among Democrats, there are significant numbers in my opinion.

CONAN: Well, we're talking about real votes, and the delegate count for Mitt Romney now just about 100 short of the magic number that we were so focused on, what, about a month ago.

RUDIN: Yes, that's true, and there's no question that he will be nominated on the first ballot in Tampa in the convention, but there is still the spectacle of Ron Paul supporters packing state conventions even in states - well, I was going to say even in states where he didn't win. Ron Paul didn't win any state, didn't win a primary, didn't win a caucus state anywhere, and yet...

CONAN: I guess Maine is debatable.

RUDIN: Well, he came very, very close. He came very, very close. And I remember the Maine. But I mean, like in Minnesota last weekend, of all...

CONAN: The ship be sinking.

RUDIN: Yes, of all the - like I said, he got 12 of the 15 at-large delegates that were at stake at the state convention. He now has 32 of Minnesota's 40 delegates to the convention. So he is not going to be the nominee, but I don't think issue is about 2012. It may be about taking over state parties in advance of perhaps 2016, when perhaps another Mr. Paul may be interested in running.

CONAN: And maybe rewriting the party platform, as those parties are now doing in their various states.

RUDIN: Yeah, and Newt Gingrich is very nervous about that. He's warning the Republicans not to ignore what the Paul people are up to, treat them with respect but don't let them walk all over you.

CONAN: In the meantime, there was the Cory Booker incident. This is of course the mayor of Newark, seen as one of Barack Obama's great allies, indeed a supporter of the president, but went on "Meet the Press" last week and said that the president's ad where he had former workers at a plant that closed, went bankrupt after it was taken over by Bain Capital, described Bain and by extension Mitt Romney as a vampire.

And then he conflated that with a Republican ad that never aired, indeed it was never made, died aborning, but it was going to bring the president's spiritual advisor, Jeremiah Wright, back into play, and he described both those as nauseating. Well, after he found himself the subject of a political ad where he was featured in an ad for Romney, Mayor Booker went on MSNBC and told Rachel Maddow he didn't mean exactly that.

(SOUNDBITE OF TELEVISION PROGRAM)

BOOKER: Especially after hearing the president's remarks on this issue, where he was not condemning all of private equity, he was not condemning any particular firms, he was focusing in on a guy who was bragging about his job creation record. To me, I think that's fair game.

CONAN: So this is the president who was at the NATO summit, and he says this is not a distraction, of course forced to answer a question about domestic politics and fire from his own party when he says it's not a distraction at a NATO summit.

RUDIN: Well, look, we've been talking about religion all year long. Why not talk about Bain and Abel(ph), you know, the - wait, Neal, why are you making that face?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RUDIN: But anyway, the thing is that look, in fairness, Mitt Romney is talking about his stewardship as a Bain Capital businessperson who understands business. That is a big crux behind his candidacy. President Obama says this is fair game. But at the same time, Cory Booker made a point and said look, you know, there are a lot of - you know, Wall Street contributed heavily to President Obama...

CONAN: And to Cory Booker for that matter.

RUDIN: Right, well, it's very true. A lot of people in Newark are very reliable, relying on Bain Capital, things like that, to build up that poor city in New Jersey. But the point is that there are some Democrats who think that yes, go after Romney's record, but don't make it so - if we're talking about hope and looking for the future, this is not a campaign of hope.

CONAN: Well, the president, as we heard in the billboard to the program, said this is going to be what the campaign is about. He explained at the NATO summit press conference that his attack was not against venture capital, which he says there are many people who do good things, but that if this is what Mr. Romney is saying is his calling card, then it's not on the president's resume.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: His main calling card for why he thinks he should be president is his business experience. Yeah, he's not going out there touting his experience in Massachusetts. He's saying I'm a business guy, and I know how to fix it, and this is his business. And when you're president, as opposed to the head of a private equity firm, then you - your job is not simply to maximize profits. Your job is to figure out how everybody in the country has a fair shot.

CONAN: In the meantime, we have some people on the line who think they know the answer to this week's trivia, question, which is - I remember it's the state where an incumbent president last finished third or worse in the general election, 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org. We'll start with Andrew(ph), Andrew with us from Minneapolis.

ANDREW: Hi, is it Texas?

RUDIN: Well, no, it's not Texas. I think we kind of asked this question kind of backwards because what candidates are you thinking of?

ANDREW: I was thinking George H.W. Bush.

RUDIN: No, George H.W. Bush carried Texas...

CONAN: His home state.

RUDIN: Right, well, it's one of his home states - both in 1988 and 1992. He won the state both times.

CONAN: Thanks, Andrew. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Greg(ph) and Greg with us from Des Moines.

GREG: Hi, I believe in 1992, Bill Clinton finished third to H.W. Bush and Perot.

RUDIN: Well, it's true that in Utah, Bill Clinton did finish third to Bush and Perot, but Bill Clinton was not the incumbent president in 1992. He was the challenger.

CONAN: Challenger. So nice try, Greg. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Ken(ph) and Ken with us from Berea in Ohio.

KEN: Yeah, hi. I'm guessing it was Alaska.

RUDIN: You know, it's interesting, Alaska, libertarian candidates do very well there, third-party candidates do very well there, but no incumbent president has ever finished below second in Alaska.

KEN: Really? I thought Nixon got bumped out of - well, maybe not third.

RUDIN: No, no, matter of fact - no, no, not third.

KEN: OK.

CONAN: Thanks, Ken. let's see if we can go next to - this is Sheldon(ph), Sheldon with us from Philadelphia.

SHELDON: Good afternoon, I believe it's Maine in '92.

RUDIN: Maine is the correct answer.

CONAN: Ding, ding, ding.

RUDIN: George H.W. Bush, the same guy we talked about before, he finished third behind Ross Perot, 316 votes behind Ross Perot. Interesting, Maine is where Kennebunkport, and I love to say the name Kenny, but Bush finished third in Maine in 1992. That is the correct answer.

CONAN: Congratulations, Sheldon. Stay on the line, and we'll collect your particulars and send you a political junkie no-prize T-shirt in exchange for your promise of a digital picture of yourself wearing it to be posted on our wall of shame.

SHELDON: It'll be my pleasure, thank you.

CONAN: Thank you, let's see, we hit the hold button, there we go. In the meantime, there is an interesting lawsuit, Ken, that has been filed asking the federal court to change the rules of the United States Senate.

RUDIN: Well, Common Cause and several members of the House are saying that the - look, everybody seems to be frustrated at the lack of action, lack of accomplishments in the Senate, and they blame Republican filibustering, just as many Republicans blamed Democratic filibustering for holding up Bush nominees.

CONAN: The fact is any important issue now requires at least 60 votes.

RUDIN: Sixty votes, right, and Common Cause is arguing that that is unconstitutional. Of course I think it's Article 1, Section 5 of the Constitution that says the Senate may make - you know, each body can decide how to bring up its own rules. And so in that case, it's not unconstitutional. But there is still a lot of people who say what's going on has got to be changed.

Harry Reid, who has always defended the filibuster, of course when he was in the minority...

CONAN: Of course.

RUDIN: Is now talking about having it changed.

CONAN: He may change his mind if he's in the minority after November.

RUDIN: Which could happen.

CONAN: We'll talk more with Ken Rudin, the political junkie, in a moment, and we'll vet the veeps, this week former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and current New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez. Republicans, what are the plusses and minuses of your pick for running mate? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan. It's Political Junkie day. Ken Rudin is with us, as always. Ken, your fans on Twitter, screaming, where is the ScuttleButton?

RUDIN: The fan on Twitter, yes. Well, the new ScuttleButton is up, but last week's ScuttleButton, we do have a winner for that. The buttons were, there was a Menachem Begin-Anwar Sadat button. There was a Let Us Continue, Young Citizens for Johnson button. And there was an Al D'Amato button. So if you add Menachem Begin, Let Us Continue and Al D'Amato, you have Begin, Let Us and D'Amato.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RUDIN: Yeah, well, anyway, Joan Walker of Bloomington, Indiana was the winner. She writes...

CONAN: Without embarrassment...

RUDIN: Well, she does say: Thank you so much for all your great political coverage and questionable humor.

CONAN: There, she's got it all in one phrase there. You'll find the latest ScuttleButton puzzle, along with Ken's column and Political Junkie podcast at npr.org/junkie. Ken, a milestone with that podcast.

RUDIN: We had the 300th episode, and I would like to thank the producers and editors for keeping both myself and Ron Elving out of court by fixing it each week.

CONAN: It's now about three months until the GOP convention in Tampa. Mitt Romney effectively wrapped up the nomination and now faces a choice for running mate. From time to time we've vetted veep candidates. Today, former Minnesota governor and recent presidential candidate himself Tim Pawlenty and current New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez.

We'd like to hear from Republicans. Call and tell us the plusses and minuses of your choice for running mate, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. First up, Tim Pawlenty. John Rash is an editorial writer and columnist for the Star Tribune, a professor of mass media and politics at the University of Minnesota. He joins us from the studios of Minnesota Public Radio in St. Paul. Thanks very much for coming in.

JOHN RASH: Thank you for having me.

CONAN: And as a Republican candidate himself for president, Tim Pawlenty failed to create what they call traction.

RASH: Indeed he did. And he dropped out right after the Iowa caucuses, after seemingly thinking that because Iowa, of course, is just this south of Minnesota, because he had eight solid years of being governor of the state of Minnesota, that he would get more traction down in Iowa. But that traction was derailed partly due to a fellow Minnesotan, Representative Michelle Bachmann.

CONAN: And so he pulled out, little realizing that everybody who finished down the ballot in that Iowa caucus ended up leading the race at one point or another. But the fact is - I think except for Ron Paul. But the fact of the matter is, Tim Pawlenty quickly came out and endorsed Mitt Romney, so could be seen as an early and important endorser.

RASH: He certainly could, although you make the excellent point that had he stayed in, he probably would have had his shot to be the anti-Romney candidate, because as you mention, nearly all of them eventually had that role. And he could have been a plausible one, and certainly if Senator Santorum had the staying power that he had during the campaign, I think that Governor Pawlenty could have given Governor Romney a run for his money as well. But alas, for his sake, he did drop out, and as you mentioned, he did quickly endorse Governor Romney and has been a staunch surrogate for him ever since.

CONAN: And did he say anything notably terrible about Mitt Romney in those early days that could come back to haunt his vice presidential chances, saying that he's, for example, the last person the Republicans would want to nominate for that particular job?

RASH: No, and indeed it's perhaps what he didn't say, a punch that he pulled that defined his campaign to some degree. He had been on national television the day before the first really key New Hampshire debate, and he had referred to the president's healthcare plan as Obamneycare, referencing of course the president as well as Governor Romney.

And he was given the opportunity in the debate, tossed a softball to see if he wanted to repeat the charge. He didn't during the debate, quite notably, and so I think that not only is there not a trail that would be used for if he were the eventual vice presidential candidate but that perhaps at minimum, you know, made him safe for Governor Romney.

But it also means that the traditional attack dog role that some vice presidential candidates have taken in elections past does not seem to be a role that would suit Governor Pawlenty.

CONAN: Oh, he might come up with a phrase like Obidencare if that comes up in the debate with the Democratic - Ken?

RUDIN: Well, John, you just took the words out of my mouth, talking about if he can't be an attack dog during the primaries, when everybody seemed to be an attack dog running against Mitt Romney, how do you do that in the fall. What was his record like in Minnesota? I know we always talk about whether a vice presidential running mate helps him win the state, but he was never overwhelmingly popular in Minnesota, was he? He seemed to always win by narrow margins.

RASH: He did win by narrow margins, but that indeed was quite an accomplishment in a state that's been traditionally blue, has voted for a Democratic presidential candidate ever since 1976. And for his eight years, at least four of them he had both the state Senate and state House in Democratic hands, and then they were split during four other years during Governor Pawlenty's tenure.

You know, he can plausibly say that he did not directly raise taxes, he balanced budgets, and he bent the cost curve of state government, although, you know, his questionable methodology of doing so became a campaign issue. It certainly was with Democrats here, and there were multiple budget crises that the entire state had to work through.

But in terms of fiscal discipline, he certainly wouldn't have a record that would upset anyone who's in the Republican Party and one that would be in keeping with the type of theme that Governor Romney is moving forward in the national campaign.

RUDIN: Does picking Pawlenty excite the base?

RASH: I don't necessarily think it excites the base, but he does pass the vice presidential Hippocratic oath. He's - you know, first do no harm. And while no individual and certainly no politician is gaffe-proof, he's gaffe-resistant. And anyone who has heard him speak throughout the years, and being a member of the editorial board, I've spoken to him individually, as well as in editorial board meetings, you know, he is quite competent and credible.

He's quick on his feet. He's extemporaneously wonky and yet can clearly get an idea across. So he is a very talented politician, and often the knock against him on a national basis is that he doesn't excite the base. But it's when he tries to that I think he became a less appealing candidate. If he's just himself, and if he talks about the issues in the calm and cool way that he initially used when he was elected governor of Minnesota, that's actually where I think he's strongest.

CONAN: Get some callers in on the conversation. Republicans, give us the plusses and minuses of your pick for Mitt Romney's running mate, 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org. Sam is on the line from Houston.

SAM: Hey, I'm a first-time, you know, this will be my first time to vote, and I just think that Tim Pawlenty is the perfect candidate because he's really - you know, he's salt of the earth. He's the comforting kind of Republican that is just perfect for - because Mitt Romney, he's kind of, you know, he's this - people are unsure of him still.

They don't feel confident with him, and Tim Pawlenty is the perfect reassurance that Mitt Romney is one of us, he's a real Republican. I think that would be great for him.

CONAN: And first time voting because you turned 18 since the last election?

SAM: Yeah, I just turned 18, so...

CONAN: Welcome to the polling booth, Sam.

SAM: Thank you very much.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call. So there's one endorsement, John Rash, for Tim Pawlenty.

RASH: Well, indeed, Sam brings up an interesting point in that Governor Pawlenty is from a working class suburb of south St. Paul. I believe he was the first in his family to go to college. And he brings a very different personal narrative to a ticket than Governor Romney does. And you know, a lot of the charges that Governor Romney is less accessible to the average voter could potentially be balanced by Tim Pawlenty.

CONAN: So his version of being born in Scranton. So - and finally, has he performed the ritual of denying any interest in the job?

RASH: He has, as recently as, I think, last week at the University of Minnesota - he did the same ritual that nearly every potential vice presidential candidate, you know, has, although I certainly don't think his days in politics are numbered if he isn't picked by Governor Romney to be his running mate. And if Governor Romney were to become President Romney, it wouldn't surprise me if he turned to Governor Pawlenty as a potential person in the Cabinet.

And then there's a big United States Senate race here in 2014 against Senator Franken, and that might be a race that he would turn his eyes to as well.

CONAN: Well, John Rash, thanks very much for your time today, appreciate it.

RASH: Thank you for having me.

CONAN: John Rash, editorial writer and columnist for the Star Tribune, professor of mass media and politics at the University of Minnesota, with us from the studios of Minnesota Public Radio in St. Paul. Let's get another caller in. This is Stan, Stan with us from Alameda in California.

STAN: Hello?

CONAN: Hi, Stan, you're on the air, go ahead.

STAN: Oh, hi, Neal. Yes, I wanted to suggest Lisa Murkowski as a vice presidential candidate, so that Mitt Romney could show that he's not just playing to the base and that he is interested in women as well.

CONAN: Lisa Murkowski, of course, beat back - well, she ran as a Republican write-in candidate in her last election, running against the Republican - the person who won the Republican primary. So this might be a little tricky, Ken.

RUDIN: Well, yes, but even more tricky, there's another woman in Alaska who can't stand Lisa Murkowski. Her name is Sarah Palin, of course, and it may be very interesting to hear what Sarah Palin may have to say on Fox News and Facebook and Twitter if it's Lisa Murkowski.

CONAN: Stan, thanks very much for the nomination though.

STAN: OK, thank you.

CONAN: We turn now to Steve Terrell, the capital reporter for the Santa Fe New Mexican. He joins us by phone from the state capitol in Santa Fe to talk about another woman who might end up as the second slot on the Republican ballot, and that's the governor there in New Mexico. Nice to speak with you, Steve.

STEVE TERRELL: Oh, nice to talk to you.

CONAN: Susana Martinez, relatively new to electoral politics, what's her background?

TERRELL: Well, she has said many, many times that she would not accept the nomination, and I don't think anybody here in New Mexico really think she's - it's going to happen anyway and...

CONAN: So she's gone beyond the normal if nominated I will not serve...

TERRELL: Right.

CONAN: ...if elected - yeah.

TERRELL: Yeah. She has a sister who she cares for who's developmentally disabled, actually lives down in Las Cruces. And she made it clear she doesn't want to leave the state, doesn't want to move her sister to Washington, D.C. So even if, you know, she - and there's no reason to doubt her sincerity on that.

CONAN: She's also part of that developing New Mexico tradition of being a very unpopular governor.

TERRELL: Unpopular, no. She's still polling very high here.

CONAN: Oh, forgive me, I'm wrong then.

TERRELL: Yeah, yeah. She's a - I'm looking at a PPP poll done in April, and she had a 54 percent approval rating, and I think Rasmussen even had her higher. She's pretty popular here.

CONAN: And she recently also criticized the likely nominee on his position on immigration.

TERRELL: Yeah. The joke around here is she self-deported herself from the vice presidential list but - yeah. I honestly don't think she's trying to get the nomination, and I'd be very surprised if she did.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: Yeah. No, I think you're right regarding the care of her sister. Her father also has Alzheimer's. I think she's very sincere. I mean, we always hear people - Joe Biden said it. He said: I promise you. I'm not going to accept the vice presidential running mate. John...

TERRELL: Offered the day before.

RUDIN: Exactly. John Edwards said the same thing over and over again. So we've heard this a million times. But on paper, though, she is Latino. She is a woman. She comes from a swing state. All three things are things that Mitt Romney sorely needs for November.

TERRELL: Yeah. You know, those are the three things that are going for her, and that's for sure.

RUDIN: You know, she also, by the way, her grandparents were illegal immigrants. That might be tough...

TERRELL: Well, there's been some research on that, and her grandfather, they - actually, they found some papers recently about them, maybe three weeks ago, something like that. There's a story out that old Mr. Martinez was indeed legal here.

RUDIN: Oh, he was.

TERRELL: We can all rest easy on that.

CONAN: Right. Well, thanks very much for your time, Steve Terrell.

TERRELL: All right. Thank you.

CONAN: Steve Terrell, a Capitol reporter for the Santa Fe New Mexican, with us by phone from the state Capitol in Santa Fe. Political junkie Ken Rudin is with us as he is every Wednesday. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And here's some more nominees. This from Casey(ph): I'm a voting young Republican in Florida. I believe picking Jeb Bush - still popular in Florida, competent in foreign-domestic affairs, a bright conservative mind - would be great for Governor Romney.

RUDIN: Yeah. Well, you know, I mean, Jeb Bush has said, first of all, that he's not going to take it. He is touting Marco Rubio as a possible running mate. The feeling I think some Republicans is that it may be too soon for Bush on the ticket. It's still...

CONAN: Another Bush on the ticket.

RUDIN: Exactly. It's still a four-letter word that you don't want to talk about too soon. But he is one of the bright - big thinkers in the Republican Party, and a lot of people think that Bush absolutely has a national future in front of him.

CONAN: Let's go next to Chris(ph). Chris on the line from Detroit.

CHRIS: Hey. How are you guys doing?

CONAN: Good, thanks.

CHRIS: Good, good. OK, I got a wildcard to throw in there. I will admit it's unlikely, but I think Rand Paul would be one of the best picks for Mitt Romney...

CONAN: The freshman senator from Kentucky.

CHRIS: Absolutely. And obviously son of Ron Paul. I think he'd secure up a couple of Ron Paul votes, maybe not everyone, but kind of give him the conservative vote as well. And again, he's a young senator, so he doesn't have a huge background you can go pick at as well.

CONAN: Well, he'd get the ophthalmological vote.

CHRIS: What's that?

CONAN: Never mind. I was just making a bad joke. Ken? That's your - normally your province.

RUDIN: Well, you know, Chris has a good point. I mean, Rand Paul - first of all, I don't think Romney will do that. I think there's still too much suspicion from the establishment Republicans and the Ron Paul Republicans together in the same tent. But watch Rand Paul, watch what he does because just as his father, as a leader, as an unlikely leader for the disaffected Republicans around the country, Rand Paul could be a big factor should Romney - look, whether he wins or loses in 2016, watch Rand Paul.

CONAN: Thanks for the call, Chris.

CHRIS: Welcome. Thank you, guys.

CONAN: All right. Let's see - we go one more caller. John(ph). John with us from Ironwood in Michigan.

JOHN: Yeah. I think one of two wildcard picks. I think Nikki Haley would bring a lot. Romney struggled in the Southern primaries. She's a, you know, Tea Party favorite. Early to endorse Romney even, you know, when some of the more conservative people were in the race. So I think she could shore up some of the Tea Party, energize the base a little bit, maybe help with the women's vote...

CONAN: That Nikki Haley endorsement did not do Governor Romney a lot of good in South Carolina.

JOHN: No. But, you know, throughout the rest of the South, I think it could. My personal pick would be Mitch Daniels. I wish he would have run for president. You know, originally being a Hoosier, I'm a big fan of Mitch Daniels, swing state, I think he could be key for Romney in the election come November.

CONAN: Well, you say swing state, I don't think anybody is counting Indiana and South Carolina as anything but solid Republican states.

RUDIN: No. But in fairness, four years ago, Barack Obama won Indiana, so stranger things have happened.

JOHN: It's heated right now in Indiana too with the right-to-work issue going through. So I think it might still be more in play than a lot of people expect.

CONAN: All right. John, thanks very much for the phone call. Appreciate it.

JOHN: All right. Thank you.

CONAN: And, Ken, one item we did not get to earlier in the program and that is that Mitt Romney released his first broadcast ad on Friday which, well, we've talked about the negative ad the president released earlier. This one takes a more upbeat or at least positive point of view.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Day one, President Romney immediately approves the Keystone pipeline, creating thousands of jobs that Obama blocked. President Romney introduces tax cuts and reforms that reward job creators, not punish them. President Romney issues order to begin replacing Obamacare with commonsense health care reform. That's what a Romney presidency will be like.

MITT ROMNEY: I'm Mitt Romney, and I approve this message.

CONAN: Economy, economy, economy, economy.

RUDIN: Yeah. First of all, we shouldn't leave the message that President Obama is running a negative campaign, and Mitt Romney is running a positive campaign. This just so happened to be a positive, in some sense, of an ad. But the race is very, very close. I think more and more Republicans are seeing that it's very close. The latest Washington Post-ABC poll had it within three points. They're dead even on the economy. I think all these vice presidential running mates who say absolutely not may be having second thoughts because Romney is very, very close. And in these swing states, if he could win the Indiana-Ohios, Pennsylvania-Floridas, it's certainly going to be tough in November.

CONAN: Second thoughts about the second slot on the ballot. OK.

RUDIN: Yeah.

CONAN: Ken, thanks very much. Ken Rudin will join us again next Wednesday, as he usually does, political junkie Ken Rudin. Again, you can go npr.org/junkie and look at that ScuttleButton puzzle and the podcast.

RUDIN: And the podcast and "The Political Junkie" column.

CONAN: All right. Stay with us. When we come back, we're going to be talking about the art of the couch-surfer. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

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