Politics
1:00 pm
Wed October 19, 2011

What's Next For The Republican Pack

Transcript

NEAL CONAN, host: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Fight night in Vegas, the president breaks it down nice and easy, and Herman Cain's electrifying proposal on immigration. It's Wednesday and time for a...

HERMAN CAIN: That's a joke...

CONAN: Edition of the Political Junkie.

RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.

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

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

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

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

SARAH PALIN: Lipstick.

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. A Republican round-robin in another televised debate with the first primary maybe as soon as December. Perry supporter and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal looks to cruise to re-election on Saturday. Scott Walker, his counterpart in Wisconsin, faces a recall effort.

President Obama campaigns through the battleground states of Virginia and North Carolina, official business of course. In a few minutes, we'll speak with Republican strategist Mike Murphy as the nomination process moves into a new phase, and later in the program what the blind can teach us about urban design.

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

KEN RUDIN: Hi, Neal. I see that Herman Cain is telling jokes. I think he should understand that politics is a serious business. We don't...

CONAN: Kid around, absolutely not.

RUDIN: There you go. Okay, Mitt Romney...

CONAN: Getting down to serious business...

RUDIN: Yes, exactly. Mitt Romney and Rick Perry went - really went after each other last night at the debate, making it highly unlikely the two of them will be on the same ticket together in 2012. That's the excuse for this trivia question. When was the last time a presidential ticket was made up either - OK, presidential ticket was made up of two governors or former governors?

CONAN: All right, if you think you know the answer - major parties?

RUDIN: Doesn't matter.

CONAN: All right. If you think you know the answer, the last time a presidential ticket was made up of governors or former governors, president and vice president.

RUDIN: Or a combination, right.

CONAN: Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Of course, the winner gets a fabulous Political Junkie no-prize T-shirt. And, well, prizes available last night, prize fights in Vegas.

RUDIN: Yeah, I heard there was a zoo - some animals escaped from a zoo. There was a zoo onstage last night in Las Vegas. It was seven of the former eight presidential candidates - Jon Huntsman boycotted it and we'll talk about why he did that later. But it was pretty pugnacious. It was pretty personal. As a matter of fact, in the past, in previous debates, they were talking about issues, such as illegal immigration or health care reform, things like that.

Instead, this was - a lot of it was personal, and it was about character, and it was really - you see the animosity is clearly there among the candidates.

CONAN: And particularly, between Rick Perry and Mitt Romney. Here's a clip of - after Perry needles Mitt Romney for allegedly hiring illegal immigrants to work at his house.

MITT ROMNEY: I don't think I've ever hired an illegal in my life. And so I'm afraid - I'm looking forward to finding your facts on that, because that just doesn't...

Governor RICK PERRY: I'll tell what you the facts are, (unintelligible).

ROMNEY: Rick again, Rick, I'm speaking. I'm speaking. I'm speaking.

PERRY: Your newspaper - it's time for you tell the truth.

ROMNEY: You get 30 seconds. This is the way the rules work here is that I get 60 seconds, and then you get 30 seconds to respond, right?

PERRY: And they want to hear you say that you knew you had illegals working...

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

ROMNEY: Are you just going to keep talking, or are you going to let me finish with what I have to say? Look, Rick, (unintelligible). What a tough couple of debates for Rick. And I understand that, and so you're going to get testy.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

CONAN: Are you just going to keep talking, Ken?

RUDIN: It sounds like an NPR staff meeting.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RUDIN: You know what's remarkable is up to now, Mitt Romney's really had his way with the debates. Matter of fact, in the last debate, when he had a chance to address one of his rivals, he could have taken on Rick Perry. He basically ignored him. He went and gave a softball question to Michele Bachmann. He was just so confident and calm.

It was not a confident and calm Mitt Romney last night. I still think he accorded himself well, but the issue about hiring illegal immigrants in a landscaping firm, I mean, that issue came up in 2008, and I think he had the same answer last night as he had back in 2008.

CONAN: And it was Rick Perry who was bitterly criticized for his lackluster performances in the previous debates, and last night, maybe he didn't win it, but showed a pulse.

RUDIN: Well, he did show a pulse, and basically the polls showed that he needed to show a pulse, given the fact that Herman Cain became, suddenly, the new alternative to Mitt Romney. In the latest polls, Herman Cain is either leading or in a close second place in nearly every poll. And of course I think that's why all the candidates went after the 9-9-9 tax and economic plan last night in the beginning of the debate.

They spent the first 20 minutes trying to explain that the numbers did not add up.

CONAN: And we're going to hear more numbers, I think, Tuesday, when it is Governor Perry's chance to present his economic plan. He's apparently going to call for a flat tax of his own, not the 9-9-9, no it's going to be completely different, but we'll hear the numbers next Tuesday.

In the meantime, other candidates needed to throw the long ball to see if they could make an impression last night, and get back in the contest.

RUDIN: Yes, and I think - I guess the person I'm thinking of most would be Rick Santorum because he seemed to go - be the most aggressive in that. He certainly went after Mitt Romney the most, mostly over the fact that the predecessor for Obamacare was Romneycare, that President Obama got his health care overhaul scheme from Mitt Romney when he was governor of Massachusetts. And of course, as Romney has done in many debates, he tried to, at least, tell the difference, explain the difference between the two systems.

CONAN: And there was - well, we keep looking at these numbers. There are new polls out today that show Herman Cain not going away, still, now leading the polls in the states of South Carolina and Florida.

RUDIN: Yes, and of course everybody will tell you that whoever has won South Carolina since that primary was first instituted in 1980 has gone on to win the Republican nomination, but I will still argue that there's more critical ink and stories written about Herman Cain's plan. The fact is that many lower - the burden, the tax burden, would be on far more lower- and middle-income taxpayers. And then the rich would get a break.

And some people say, well, that's Republican philosophy, but I think Herman Cain did it to an extreme. And whenever he's questioned on that, he says you're wrong, or you're incorrect, or go to my website. And ultimately, that's not going to work.

CONAN: There was one candidate who called last night for a Lincoln-Douglas-style debate when we get to the general election. Newt Gingrich said I'm the only candidate up here who can debate Barack Obama on all of the policy issues without notes for eight hours at a time.

And he also made a point that, well, hearkened back to Ronald Reagan.

NEWT GINGRICH: Maximizing bickering is probably not the road to the White House.

CONAN: The bomb thrower Newt Gingrich emerges as the grown-up in the Republican Party.

RUDIN: Well, except the fact that Newt's bombs have always been against the Democrats and the opposition, whereas, I mean, of course, Anderson Cooper wanted to - that's what you have to do when you're running a debate. You want to see where the conflict is. And of course, there are a lot of Republicans sitting back home arguing that the real winner of last night's debate was President Obama.

CONAN: And in the meantime, immigration, as we heard, was a big issue in the debate last night, but it was also a big issue in Iowa, where Herman Cain spoke over the weekend, and made this remarkable claim about what he would do in the event he is elected president.

CAIN: Well, when I'm in charge of defense, we're going to have a fence. It's going to be 20 feet high. It's going to have barbed wire on the top. It's going to be electrocuted - electrified.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

CAIN: And there's going to be a sign on the other side that says it will kill you. Warning.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CAIN: Mr. Cain, that's insensitive. No, it's insensitive for them to be killing our citizens, killing our border agents. That's what's insensitive, and that mess has to stop.

CONAN: Herman Cain later said, that's a joke. He wrote that off. It didn't sound like one.

RUDIN: Yeah, that was pretty funny stuff. The thought of anybody - any Latino sitting and listening to that debate, I mean, Mitt Romney tried to make it an attempt, saying that legal immigration is the greatest thing for the country. But if you're a Latino sitting back home and listening to that debate, that was pretty harsh stuff, and Herman Cain - there are a lot of things he has to backtrack on, and that was one of them. It was pretty remarkable.

He also said that he wouldn't trade - he would trade an American held in - by al-Qaida, for all the prisoners that are held in Guantanamo. And he said he never said it, but he did say that, and he had to apologize for that, as well.

CONAN: In the meantime, we have some people on the line who think they know the answer to this week's trivia question, and that is the last time a presidential ticket was composed of - vice president and president - of current or former governors, 800-989-8255. Email is talk@npr.org. Paul's(ph) on the line calling from Panama City.

PAUL: Hey, Mr. Conan, good to speak to you again.

CONAN: Thank you.

PAUL: I had a guess, but I'm not sure about it. So I'm going to go with Nixon-Agnew.

RUDIN: Well, Spiro Agnew was the governor of Maryland when Nixon picked him in 1968, but Nixon was never governor, although he did run for governor.

CONAN: But you're not going to have Nixon to kick around anymore.

RUDIN: As governor, anyway.

PAUL: (Unintelligible).

CONAN: Thanks very much, Paul. Let's see if we can go next to - this is James(ph), James calling from Tampa.

JAMES: Yes, I'm guessing it's Governors Clinton and Al Gore.

RUDIN: Well, there was Governor Clinton, he was the governor of Arkansas, but there was never a Governor Al Gore. Al Gore was congressman and senator from Tennessee.

CONAN: Nice try, though. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Joe(ph) and Joe calling from Anchorage.

JOE: I think it was in '72, with McGovern and Humphrey.

RUDIN: Well, actually the ticket in '72 was - on the Democratic side was originally George McGovern and Thomas Eagleton, and then it became George McGovern and Sargent Shriver. But out of those three people, none of whom served as governor.

CONAN: Nice try, Joe, thanks for the call. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Richard(ph), Richard with us from Gainesville, another caller from Florida.

RICHARD: Dewey-Warren, 1948.

RUDIN: Dewey-Warren is the correct answer.

CONAN: Ding, ding, ding.

RUDIN: Thomas Dewey was the governor of New York. Earl Warren, later Supreme Court chief justice, was the governor of California.

RICHARD: Governor of California.

CONAN: Yes, indeed. Well, congratulations, Richard, and hang on the line. We will collect your particulars, and we will mail you off a political junkie no-prize T-shirt in exchange for your promise of a digital picture of yourself wearing it so we can post that on our wall of shame.

RICHARD: Great. Thank you.

CONAN: All right, stay with us. In the meantime, Ken, do we have a ScuttleButton winner to send a T-shirt to?

RUDIN: Yes, we do. We actually do. There's a new ScuttleButton puzzle up today, but last week's puzzle had a button, the buttons of two Kennedy brothers. There was a Carol Moseley Braun button, there was another button, and the answer of course was "Bob, Carol, Ted and Alice."

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RUDIN: Yes, of course. And anyway, the winner, Melissa Carlson(ph) of Overland Park, Kansas.

CONAN: Overland Park, Kansas. So she will be getting a political junkie no-prize T-shirt, as well. Just before the break, we do need to know - we've been talking a lot about Republicans - the Democratic presidential candidate was out campaigning this week. He said it was official business, but he was in North Carolina and southern Virginia, campaigning for his jobs bill.

President BARACK OBAMA: What we're going to do is we're going to break up my jobs bill. Maybe they just couldn't understand the whole thing all at once.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: So we're going to break it up into bite-sized pieces.

CONAN: At $447 billion, it did not get through the United States Senate. Any better chances in bite-sized pieces?

RUDIN: Well probably not, but of course it's good to note that Virginia and North Carolina were two states that he won, unexpectedly, in 2008. Democrats usually don't win those states, and obviously he's trying to win them again in 2012.

CONAN: It could be a long-shot in both of those states. We'll have to see what happens there. We're talking with political junkie Ken Rudin. Up next, last night's debate is done; actual votes come in the next 11 weeks. It's time to focus on the next phase of the campaign. We'll talk with Republican strategist Mike Murphy about the fallout from the latest primary schedule shuffle and who's likely to pull ahead from the pack. So stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Fight night in Vegas, the president breaks it down nice and easy, and Herman Cain's electrifying proposal on immigration. It's Wednesday and time for a...

CAIN: That's a joke...

CONAN: Edition of the Political Junkie.

REAGAN: There you go again.

MONDALE: When I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of that add: Where's the beef?

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

BENTSON: Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

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

PALIN: Lipstick.

BUSH: But I'm the decider.

(SOUNDBITE OF SCREAM)

CONAN: Every Wednesday, political junkie Ken Rudin joins us to recap the week in politics. A Republican round-robin in another televised debate with the first primary maybe as soon as December. Perry supporter and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal looks to cruise to re-election on Saturday. Scott Walker, his counterpart in Wisconsin, faces a recall effort.

President Obama campaigns through the battleground states of Virginia and North Carolina, official business of course. In a few minutes, we'll speak with Republican strategist Mike Murphy as the nomination process moves into a new phase, and later in the program what the blind can teach us about urban design.

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

RUDIN: Hi, Neal. I see that Herman Cain is telling jokes. I think he should understand that politics is a serious business. We don't...

CONAN: Kid around, absolutely not.

RUDIN: There you go. Okay, Mitt Romney...

CONAN: Getting down to serious business...

RUDIN: Yes, exactly. Mitt Romney and Rick Perry went - really went after each other last night at the debate, making it highly unlikely the two of them will be on the same ticket together in 2012. That's the excuse for this trivia question. When was the last time a presidential ticket was made up either - okay, presidential ticket was made up of two governors or former governors?

CONAN: All right, if you think you know the answer - major parties?

RUDIN: Doesn't matter.

CONAN: All right. If you think you know the answer, the last time a presidential ticket was made up of governors or former governors, president and vice president.

RUDIN: Or a combination, right.

CONAN: Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Of course, the winner gets a fabulous Political Junkie no-prize T-shirt. And, well, prizes available last night, prize fights in Vegas.

RUDIN: Yeah, I heard there was a zoo - some animals escaped from a zoo. There was a zoo onstage last night in Las Vegas. It was seven of the former eight presidential candidates, Jon Huntsman boycotted it and we'll talk about why he did that later. But it was pretty pugnacious. It was pretty personal. As a matter of fact, in the past, in previous debates, they were talking about issues, such as illegal immigration or health care reform, things like that.

Instead, this was - a lot of it was personal, and it was about character, and it was really - you see the animosity is clearly there among the candidates.

CONAN: And particularly between Rick Perry and Mitt Romney. Here's a clip of - after Perry needles Mitt Romney for allegedly hiring illegal immigrants to work at his house.

ROMNEY: I don't think I've ever hired an illegal in my life. And so I'm - I'm looking forward to finding your facts on that because that just doesn't...

PERRY: I'll tell what you the facts are, (unintelligible).

ROMNEY: Rick again, Rick, I'm speaking. I'm speaking. I'm speaking.

PERRY: Your newspaper - it's time for you tell the truth.

ROMNEY: You get 30 seconds. This is the way the rules work here is that I get 60 seconds, and then you get 30 seconds to respond, right?

PERRY: And they want to hear you say that you knew you had illegals working...

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

ROMNEY: Are you just going to keep talking, or are you going to let me finish with what I have to say? Look, Rick, (unintelligible). What a tough couple of debates for Rick. And I understand that, and so you're going to get testy.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

CONAN: Are you just going to keep talking, Ken?

RUDIN: It sounds like an NPR staff meeting.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RUDIN: You know what's remarkable is up to now, Mitt Romney's really had his way with the debates. Matter of fact, in the last debate, when he had a chance to address one of his rivals, he could have taken on Rick Perry. He basically ignored him. He went and gave a softball question to Michele Bachmann. He was just so confident and calm.

It was not a confident, calm Mitt Romney last night. I still think he accorded himself well, but the issue about hiring illegal immigrants in a landscaping firm, I mean, that issue came up in 2008, and I think he had the same answer last night as he had back in 2008.

CONAN: And it was Rick Perry who was bitterly criticized for his lackluster performances in the previous debates, and last night, maybe he didn't win it but showed a pulse.

RUDIN: Well, he did show a pulse, and basically the polls showed that he needed to show a pulse given the fact that Herman Cain became suddenly the new alternative to Mitt Romney. In the latest polls, Herman Cain is either leading or in a close second place in nearly every poll. And of course I think that's why all the candidates went after the 9-9-9 tax and economic plan last night in the beginning of the debate.

They spent the first 20 minutes trying to explain that the numbers did not add up.

CONAN: And we're going to hear more numbers I think Tuesday, when it is Governor Perry's chance to present his economic plan. He's apparently going to call for a flat tax of his own, not the 9-9-9, no it's going to be completely different, but we'll hear the numbers next Tuesday.

In the meantime, other candidates needed to throw the long ball to see if they could make an impression last night and get back in the contest.

RUDIN: Yes, and I think - I guess the person I'm thinking of most would be Rick Santorum because he seemed to go - be the most aggressive in that. He certainly went after Mitt Romney the most, mostly over the fact that the predecessor for Obamacare was Romneycare, that President Obama got his health care overhaul scheme from Mitt Romney when he was governor of Massachusetts. And of course as Romney has done in many debates, he tried to, at least, tell the difference, explain the difference between the two systems.

CONAN: And there was - well, we keep looking at these numbers. There are new polls out today that show Herman Cain not going away, still now leading the polls in the states of South Carolina and Florida.

RUDIN: Yes, and of course everybody will tell you that whoever has won South Carolina since that primary was first instituted in 1980 has gone on to win the Republican nomination, but I will still argue that there's more critical ink and stories written about Herman Cain's plan. The fact is that many lower - the burden, the tax burden, would be on far more lower- and middle-income taxpayers. And then the rich would get a break.

And some people say, well, that's Republican philosophy, but I think Herman Cain did it to an extreme, and whenever he's questioned on that, he says you're wrong, or you're incorrect, or go to my website. And ultimately, that's not going to work.

CONAN: There was one candidate who called last night for a Lincoln-Douglas-style debate when we get to the general election. Newt Gingrich said I'm the only candidate up here who can debate Barack Obama on all of the policy issues without notes for eight hours at a time.

And he also made a point that, well, hearkened back to Ronald Reagan. Former Representative

GINGRICH: Maximizing bickering is probably not the road to the White House.

CONAN: The bomb thrower Newt Gingrich emerges as the grown-up in the Republican Party.

RUDIN: Well, except the fact that Newt's bombs have always been against the Democrats in the opposition, whereas, I mean, of course Anderson Cooper wanted to - that's what you have to do when you're running a debate. You want to see where the conflict is. And of course, there are a lot of Republicans back home arguing that the real winner of last night's debate was President Obama.

CONAN: And in the meantime, immigration, as we heard, was a big issue in the debate last night, but it was also a big issue in Iowa, where Herman Cain spoke over the weekend and made this remarkable claim about what he would do in the event he is elected president.

CAIN: Well, when I'm in charge of defense, we're going to have a fence. It's going to be 20 feet high. It's going to have barbed wire on the top. It's going to be electrified.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

CAIN: And there's going to be a sign on the other side that says it will kill you, (unintelligible).

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CAIN: Mr. Cain, that's insensitive. No, it's insensitive for them to be killing our citizens, killing our border agents. That's what's insensitive, and that mess has to stop.

CONAN: Herman Cain later said that's a joke. He wrote that off. It didn't sound like one.

RUDIN: Yeah, that was pretty funny stuff. The thought of anybody - any Latino sitting and listening to that debate, I mean, Mitt Romney tried to make it an attempt saying that legal immigration is the greatest thing for the country. But if you're a Latino sitting back home and listening to that debate, that was pretty harsh stuff, and Herman Cain - there are a lot of things he has to backtrack on, and that was one of them. It was pretty remarkable.

He also said that he wouldn't trade - he would trade an American held by al-Qaeda for all the prisoners that are held in Guantanamo, and he said he never said it, but he did say that, and he had to apologize for that, as well.

CONAN: In the meantime, we have some people on the line who think they know the answer to this week's trivia question, and that is the last time a presidential ticket was composed of - vice president and president - of current or former governors, 800-989-8255. Email is talk@npr.org. Paul's(ph) on the line calling from Panama City.

PAUL: Hey, Mr. Conan, good to speak to you again.

CONAN: Thank you.

PAUL: I had a guess, but I'm not sure about it. So I'm going to go with Nixon-Agnew.

RUDIN: Well, Spiro Agnew was the governor of Maryland when Nixon picked him in 1968, but Nixon was never governor, although he did governor.

CONAN: But you're not going to have Nixon to kick around anymore.

RUDIN: As governor, anyway.

PAUL: (Unintelligible).

CONAN: Thanks very much, Paul. Let's see if we can go next to - this is James(ph), James calling from Tampa.

JAMES: Yes, I'm guessing it's Governors Clinton and Al Gore.

RUDIN: Well, there was Governor Clinton, he was the governor of Arkansas, but there was never a Governor Al Gore. Al Gore was congressman and senator from Tennessee.

CONAN: Nice try, though. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Joe(ph) and Joe calling from Anchorage.

JOE: (Unintelligible), McGovern and Humphrey.

RUDIN: Well, actually the ticket in '72 was - on the Democratic side was originally George McGovern and Thomas Eagleton, and then it became George McGovern and Sargent Shriver. But out of those three people, none of whom served as governor.

CONAN: Nice try, Joe, thanks for the call. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Richard(ph), Richard with us from Gainesville, another caller from Florida.

RICHARD: Dewey-Warren, 1948.

RUDIN: Dewey-Warren is the correct answer.

CONAN: Ding, ding, ding.

RUDIN: Thomas Dewey was the governor of New York. Earl Warren, later Supreme Court chief justice, was the governor of California.

RICHARD: Governor of California.

CONAN: Yes, indeed. Well, congratulations, Richard, and hang on the line. We will collect your particulars, and we will mail you off a political junkie no-prize T-shirt in exchange for your promise of a digital picture of yourself wearing it so we can post that on our wall of shame.

RICHARD: Great.

CONAN: All right, stay with us. In the meantime, Ken, do we have a ScuttleButton winner to send a T-shirt to?

RUDIN: Yes, we do. We actually do. There's a new ScuttleButton puzzle up today, but last week's puzzle had a button, the buttons of two Kennedy brothers. There was a Carol Moseley Braun button, another button, and the answer of course was Bob, Carol, Ted and Alice.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RUDIN: Yes, of course. And anyway, the winner, Melissa Carlson(ph) of Overland Park, Kansas.

CONAN: Overland Park, Kansas. So she will be getting a political junkie no-prize T-shirt, as well. Just before the break, we do need to know, we've been talking a lot about Republicans. The Democratic presidential candidate was out campaigning this week. He said it was official business, but he was in North Carolina and southern Virginia campaigning for his jobs bill.

OBAMA: What we're going to do is we're going to break up my jobs bill. Maybe they just couldn't understand the whole thing all at once.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: So we're going to break it up into bite-sized pieces.

CONAN: At $447 billion, it did not get through the United States Senate. Any better chances in bite-sized pieces?

RUDIN: Well probably not, but of course it's good to note that Virginia and North Carolina were two states that he won unexpectedly in 2008. Democrats usually don't win those states, and obviously he's trying to win them again in 2012.

CONAN: It could be a long-shot in both of those states. We'll have to see what happens there. We're talking with political junkie Ken Rudin. Up next, last night's debate is done; actual votes come in the next 11 weeks. It's time to focus on the next phase of the campaign. We'll talk with Republican strategist Mike Murphy about the fallout from the latest primary schedule shuffle and who's likely to pull ahead from the pack. So 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. Ken Rudin, our political junkie, is back. After five GOP debates in the past six weeks, he's going to have to find something else to do in the evenings. Apparently, there's this baseball tournament that begins tonight.

The next debate is nearly a month off. You can still find Ken's latest columns and that devious ScuttleButton puzzle at npr.org/junkie. For the campaigns themselves, it is time to shift into the ground game, and the clock is ticking.

Thanks to the shake-up of the long-sacrosanct primary calendar, actual votes now may come as early in December. More on that in a second. Mike Murphy have been watching all of this unfold from the sidelines, for now. He's a veteran Republican strategist who advised Senator John McCain in 2000 and joins us now from his home in Los Angeles. Nice to have you back on TALK OF THE NATION.

MIKE MURPHY: It's great to be back, gentlemen, great to join you.

CONAN: And if the past six weeks and those five debates were Round One, who's on top?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MURPHY: Well, I'm going down to the debate Methadone clinic today, as a fellow junkie, to kind of separate from the debate game, which is important, but it's not the voter game yet. I think it's - and I've been predicting this for a while - it wants to be a two-person race between Romney and Perry, with Herman Cain as kind of the third place some voters are going now. We don't know if they're going to stick there.

But we're really going to move into the voter contact period now. The ads are about to start in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida - the early important primaries that now look like they're all going to be in January, but as you said there's some questions about the calendar that still are not resolved.

And in some ways, I think the primary electorate we have this year is interested in Rick Perry. In other ways, I think Romney has the performance skills, experience, and establishment backing that makes him very formidable and historically probably the frontrunner. So I think we're going to have a real race between those two.

CONAN: Some of the Perry people say the debate phase was not their strong suit, never was, never was going to be. But now that we've got some time off before the next debate, they have a lot of money, they retail contact with the voters. Those things, and organizational strength, and those things are going to play to Perry's strengths.

MURPHY: Yeah, they look at the presidential primaries like big-state, statewide guys, which makes sense. That's what they have done in Texas. They've been good at it. They beat Kay Bailey Hutchison in the primary for the governor's race in 2010 from behind.

And in that school of political theory, practical politics, ads are everything" paid media, direct mail. Other stuff doesn't count as much. However, in presidential primaries, you can't underestimate the value of the tremendous media coverage you get, and that's where Perry, I think, has been sloppy.

Debates are not everything, but they're not unimportant, particularly to opinion-makers and people you want to give money. He's got his $15 million war chest now. It's probably really about $12 million because every campaign plays a little accounting game with cash versus bills they keep in a desk drawer. The question is can he keep raising money if, in these debates, he looks like he can't hold his own with Barack Obama in the general election.

Donor elites like candidates who perform well in debates because they look like winners, do well on their feet. So one of the questions for Perry is how much money can he raise going forward. I think Romney has some advantages there.

But Perry is a good - has a good kind of tone ear for the Republican primary. He's got some trained advantages on the calendar, which is very important, I think, an item that's being missed a little. And so I think it's going to be a big between both of them.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: Yeah, I mean, everything that Mike said, I was nodding my head yes. I wasn't falling asleep. I was nodding my head in agreement, especially the fact that we're not going to have a debate for another month or so. And as you say, Mitt Romney has really, has shone, has shined – has shurned(ph) - during these debates. But of course, if you have paid media, and you have paid attack ads, nobody's a more ferocious campaigner than Rick Perry.

MURPHY: Right, and the paid ads can define the press coverage for a while. Whatever fight you pick with your television ads, the media kid of parrots that and goes off and asks the candidate about oh, you had that debate for a while.

But I have to say the one that struck me about these debates is, Perry's the only candidate I've seen who's gotten worse. You know, normally they start bad and get better. He got worse and worse and worse, and I think improved a little bit last night, though his tone became something that might be an issue, as well.

So he just - he struggles with the unscripted, non-advertising part of the campaign, but again, you can always get better, and the media is quick to forgive and realign the race if they sense improvement.

RUDIN: And even if George W. Bush was not that effective against John McCain in 2000, at least Bush had the party establishment, whatever that means, behind him. Perry certainly doesn't have that this time.

MURPHY: Right, he had a little of it at the beginning, but then I think he - his problem is with the party establishment, as opposed to the primary voters, really care about is winning and losing. And Perry does not look like a general election winner. Now, if he wins the Iowa caucus, if Romney does not engage him there, he'll start to rebuild his image, and he'll get a momentum factor, which I think could be very dangerous for Romney.

I think the biggest strategic call now that we're in the voter contact part of the campaign is does Mitt Romney jump into Iowa and try to stop him there, or does he hold up in fortress New Hampshire and run the risk of letting Perry get some real momentum.

CONAN: And that, as you say, is risky. If he does invest in Iowa and does not do as well as he'd hoped, then, well, he stands to lose a lot.

MURPHY: Yeah, you go to Iowa, and you get beat bad, you lose. You get beat close, I think it makes your New Hampshire win, which is a primary, better terrain for Romney, the composition of it, worth something. So although it's tough to go engage in Iowa, what's really tough is to have a guy like Perry come out of Iowa with momentum. So I'm not sure what Plan B for the Romney campaign is.

And I think people quickly forget one bit of the math last time. They all remember Romney lost. I know Romney remembers Romney lost. Romney got about 31,000 votes in the caucus out of 120,000. Huckabee got about 41,000, but McCain got 15,000, and Fred Thompson got 16,000. Rudy Giuliani didn't really compete there, got about four.

So there's 30,000 to 35,000 kind of regular Republican votes out there, not all of them, but a big hunk of them, which is why a lot of people around Terry Brandstad, the governor of Iowa, think Romney could actually prevail in the caucus.

So I'm not - it's a tough chore, but, you know, getting nominated is a tough chore, and I'm not sure what Plan B would be for Romney. I'm kind of curious what other route they could take, other than a risky move into Iowa that could play huge rewards.

CONAN: And we did see John McCain lose in Iowa both in 2000 and 2008 only to go on and win New Hampshire both times, as well.

MURPHY: Right, right. I just - I think Romney might have special South Carolina problems that McCain didn't have after New Hampshire. And Romney has, you know, the benefit of a lot of strength in New Hampshire. That's the burden of high expectations. I think if Perry wins Iowa without a Romney contest, goes into New Hampshire and gets beat by six points, the headlines might be Texan does better than expected in New Hampshire.

And then you go on to South Carolina, which you're really, if you're Romney, you don't want that to be the tiebreaker.

CONAN: Well, we're talking about that schedule as if it's the actual schedule. Ken, at last word, New Hampshire is still threatening to hold their ballot as soon as early December.

RUDIN: Well, here's the thing. Iowa, first of all, the news of the week is Iowa announced that they will have their caucuses on January 3rd. Earlier, or last week, Nevada announced they will have their caucuses on January 14th. That puts New Hampshire in an awkward position because they have to have theirs a full week before the next succeeding contest.

So anyway, there's a contest. So right now, New Hampshire is threatening to have their primary in December, but the Nevada Republican Party is meeting, they have a meeting this Saturday, and my guess is they're going knuckle under the pressure. They're talking about - all the candidates are talking about boycotting their caucuses. I suspect that Nevada will move their date to at least - back to at least January 17th, if not even further back, allowing New Hampshire to come in January 8th and everybody - January 10th, and everybody will be happy.

MURPHY: Yeah, I couldn't agree more. Ken's always right about these process things, as a true wizard at this part of it. And I agree because what you've got going on now with these three states is like a naval battle between the British Navy in the '40s, the American Navy and the Belgian Navy.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MURPHY: And Nevada's Belgium. And they're going to get shoved because they just don't have the heavyweight power to compete with New Hampshire and Iowa.

CONAN: That is why Jon Huntsman, by the way, was not in Nevada last night. He's put all of his bets on New Hampshire. And the Union Leader, the big newspapers there, said where's Mitt Romney. He ought not be in Nevada, either. He should be here in New Hampshire. And, well, I don't know if we're going to endorse him. But we're going to have to see what comes out of that.

MURPHY: Yeah, that process game in New Hampshire is important, but it's not vital. Back in my old days with Lamar Alexander, we got into that about Delaware, which was the Nevada of the '96 cycle. And, you know, you can score a little bit of easy heat and everything. But Huntsman's problem is somehow they've spent $4 million with a guy who looks good on paper, at least in New Hampshire, but they've never been able to run a TV spot to make him famous enough.

So now the question is do they have money to really compete. If he does find some money in a superPAC or somehow, I think he could get a little traction in New Hampshire. But he's running out of time.

CONAN: I think Delaware was the Swiss Navy in this - in your analogy. Anyway, let's see if we can get a caller on the line, 800-989-8255. Tom(ph) is on the line from Norfolk in Virginia.

TOM: Yeah, I had a question about a lot of the - what we're hearing, recently, is about the budget and the deficit and all that. And I've heard a lot of, you know, about the 9-9-9 plan, the numbers not matching up and how we're not sure about some other plans. But I haven't heard any opinions on Ron Paul's plan that he mentioned the other day. And I'd like to get Ken's view on that, specifically. I mean, is that possible? Are his numbers adding up?

CONAN: Well, it's cut a trillion dollars from the federal budget immediately, eliminate five government departments and a lot of other things, which is one of the things that makes it difficult for Ron Paul to get more than a small fraction - well not necessarily a small fraction - but a fraction of the Republican primary vote.

And I wanted to ask you - Ken is not noted as an economist, a process master, yes, but Mike Murphy, what is it that somebody like a Ron Paul or a Michele Bachmann, or for that matter, Herman Cain, who's currently leading the polls, what can they do to sustain that or break into the top tier?

MURPHY: Well, I think, you know, Paul is a niche candidate with an intense niche of supporters, which means he's a catalyst in the early state to other people, particularly in Iowa, where I think he could do 10 percent of the caucus vote, maybe even a little more. But as - for the realism of his plan, he basically has to make a deal with space aliens to come down and elect 400 Ron Pauls to Congress to get anything like that done. Cain is a little different, and Bachmann, again, is another catalyst in Iowa.

I think she may have a little bit of a comeback if Romney starts beating the hell out of Perry with negative ads. There's going to be a room for some movement, conservatives who don't like Romney to go anywhere, and they're going to be looking at Bachmann again, and I think at Cain. Cain, I give a little more credit to on policy. The 999 plan is, at first glance, popular because it's simplistic. But the idea behind it is actually fairly sophisticated, which is to widen the tax base into some sort of national sales tax, which a lot of other Western democracies do.

So I think - although I doubt Cain will get nominated. I think he peaked at that debate, and it's now a downhill slope for him. I'm guessing. The voters get to decide. I do think the idea, as a country in the fiscal crisis we look at, looks at tough spending cuts and potentially revenue going forward. The idea of widening the tax base into some other kind of tax vehicle like that and the lower corporate - and taxes on capital gains is going to be an interesting idea that'll be part of the tax debate in 2012. So Cain may have some legacy here.

CONAN: And we already mentioned that Rick Perry's coming out, apparently, with a flat-tax proposal next week.

MURPHY: Right. The problem with the flat-tax proposal, Steve Forbes learned, is in a practical primary, it's great at first glance. Then people get out their calculators, and they start figuring out what about my mortgage deduction? You know, what is it for people under $75,000? And there are a lot of those in the Iowa caucus who vote. Is that actually a net tax increase for me? The second look at these super-attractive tax plans often gets a little bumpy, particularly in Iowa, where people, you know, if they're in the farm industry or whatever, they're - parts of the tax code, they're very popular.

CONAN: We're talking with Mike Murphy, a GOP media consultant, a principal of Revolution Agency, a political consulting firm, a senior strategist for John McCain back in 2000, joining us from his home in Los Angeles. Of course, Political Junkie Ken Rudin is with us, as he is every Wednesday. And you can go to npr.org/junkie to read his column and look at that devious ScuttleButton puzzle if you'd like. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, coming to you from NPR News. Ken?

RUDIN: Mike, there seemed to be a lot of people who are going - or at least filled - they've gotten over the charm of Herman Cain, and they're going over the numbers saying this doesn't work, that doesn't work, this doesn't make sense. But the people who like Herman Cain, the people who get on their feet when he gives his great oratory, the people who really, really like the charisma, are they listening to the people who are just tearing apart his programs? Or does it matter to them?

MURPHY: You know, I don't think his - I think some of his new voters are listening, and I think that's why we're going to see him start to decline in national polls now. These national polls are so overrated early. They're kind of noise meters, in some way, so what's going on in the political discussion rather than voter intent. But Cain's got kind of a base of support, but it's not enough to win the caucus, and it's not enough to win the New Hampshire primary. And the question is: Can he take all the attention he's getting and take it to the next step?

And what I saw last night was he was kind of dug in and defensive and not briefed up to some issues. So he's going to squander his opportunity, is my guess. Again, we'll see. He'll hang on (unintelligible) vote on charisma, though, no doubt about it. So it'll be, you know, it'll be Perry and Romney on the A-list, and I think on the B-list, you're going to have a combination of Santorum, who's running a pretty pure campaign of social conservatives. There's some votes there. Cain on charisma. And still, I think Bachmann will kind of go up and down a little bit, kind of depending on how Perry does.

RUDIN: And the difference this year, of course, is that in the early primaries and caucuses, they're - proportionally, it's not winner-take-all. It's proportional. So Ron Paul and all the others you just mentioned can survive, at least for a couple of months.

MURPHY: Yeah, for some reason, the Republicans all got high and decided to ape the Democratic system, where we give you delegates for 11th place. We used to be the mean social Darwinists, it's all, winner-take-all. Though, you know, as you know, a lot of the early - it's pre-April, a lot of those are winner by congressional district. So it's kind of like partially proportional. Some are more than others. So I don't think it would have quite the effect the Dems do, but it will, to the extent as an impact, it could lengthen the process, absolutely, which is a very un-Republican way, historically, to do it. We tend to do the winner-take-all, and we change that to be a bit more proportional. It'll be fascinating to see how that plays out.

CONAN: Let's get Keith on the line, Keith with us from Gainesville.

KEITH: Hi. I want to hear more about the importance of Florida's primary. We hear so much about New Hampshire and Iowa, and I am a Floridian, and like to hear more about the importance of our primary in selecting a candidate. If he loses New Hampshire - I'm a Romney supporter - or - and or Iowa, Florida's still in there and, I think, important.

CONAN: Florida's pretty early and pretty big, Mike Murphy.

MURPHY: It's huge. And it's interesting, because it's the one early state that's also a mega state and also a super critical - some would argue the most critical - general election state. So I'll even make a prediction. I think those sneaky guys over at the Obama campaign, when Perry and Romney start running paid negative ads, and Perry has already started calling TV stations for pricing in Florida, they may slip in a little superPAC money into that negative ad mix to work on Romney for the general election. They'd be happy, I think, with Perry. So Florida's going to be ground central. If I could come back in life as anything, it would be the owner of a television station in Orlando...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MURPHY: ...because that is ground double-zero, along with Tampa Bay. The one thing I think candidates have to be careful of - and I'd be curious what Ken thinks - you can't underestimate the momentum effect. I remember old Reubin Askew, a great governor of Florida, ran for president, nothing happened, you know, in the early states for him. He had to drop out of the race before his home state primary, because there was nothing left. So when you try to build these fortresses - and John Connally, Al Gore in '88 in the Democratic primaries in the South - and you don't do well early, the sandcastle can get washed away.

So I think whoever wins kind of has momentum coming out of the early primaries will have some advantage in Florida, combined with who has the most money, because unlike the other primaries, Florida is so large, money's even more important there, because it costs so much to advertise. That's where, if Mitt Romney's going to write a $5 million check out of his piggybank, I bet it'll be in Florida to try to jump to a money advantage over Perry after they both spend all their early money. So...

CONAN: And we'll give Ken...

MURPHY: ...I believe - I'm still old school, even with the proportional primaries. I think whoever wins the Florida primary will wake up the next day not inevitable, but close to the - being really in the driver seat toward the nomination.

CONAN: Mike Murphy, thanks very much for your time. We appreciate it.

MURPHY: Thank you. It was fun to be with you guys. Talk to you soon.

CONAN: We'll call again. Mike Murphy, joining us from Los Angeles. He's a principal with Revolution Agency. And thanks again for joining us. Ken, before we go away, Bobby Jindal looks like he is set for an historic election on Saturday - re-election as governor in Louisiana, and a recall election process now beginning in Wisconsin.

RUDIN: Right. The Bobby Jindal thing is historic given the fact that the Democratic Party, for the first time in its history, has not put up a candidate. There were nine others on the ballot. Jindal looks like he's going to go a smashing victory. They begin recall petitions against Scott Walker on November 15th.

CONAN: And that election would be in the spring. Coming up, what we can learn about making our cities more livable for the blind. So stay with us for that. Ken, we'll see you again next Wednesday.

RUDIN: OK, Neal.

CONAN: NPR News. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.