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1:03 pm
Wed September 12, 2012

The Turns Ahead On The Campaign Trail

Transcript

NEAL CONAN, HOST:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan at NPR West today. We'll bring you the latest on Libya and Egypt later this hour, after the death of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in an attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and an attack on the U.S. embassy in Cairo, where a mob took down the American flag.

We will begin, as we always do on Wednesdays, with the Political Junkie. Given the news, we'll dispense with the usually hilarity in this first segment. Later, we'll step back and look at where the presidential race stands now with our regulars, former congressman and Romney advisor Vin Weber and Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg.

The events yesterday in North Africa immediately got swept up into partisan politics. While news from Benghazi was just beginning to emerge, Mitt Romney criticized a statement issued by the U.S. embassy in Cairo, where the assault on the U.S. embassy there was thought to be motivated by a bigoted film on YouTube that ridicules the prophet Muhammad.

In part, the statement condemned, quote, efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims. Romney called that disgraceful, and this morning he charged that the administration and the president had sent mixed signals.

MITT ROMNEY: We join together in the condemnation of the attacks on American embassies and the loss of American life and join in the sympathy for these people. But it's also important for me, just as it was for the White House last night, by the way, to say that the statements were inappropriate and in my - in my view a, a disgraceful statement on the part of our administration to apologize for American values.

CONAN: The White House Press Office said it was shocked that Governor Romney would launch a political assault in such a sensitive moment, that one death was what was being reported at the time. This morning, President Obama made no mention of Romney's charge as he mourned four American dead, including the ambassador to Libya, and vowed there will be will be justice.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for.

CONAN: Political junkie joins us, as usual, from Studio 3A. Hey, Ken.

KEN RUDIN, BYLINE: Hi, Neal.

CONAN: And an incident like this, it seems to me, presents both an opportunity and a risk for the challenger, Mitt Romney.

RUDIN: Well, it always does. And we've seen that many times with foreign policy crises, especially close to an election. We've seen - we've debated how a challenger needed to respond. We saw it with Ronald Reagan in 1980 with the hostages. We saw it with the Republicans in 1962 with the Cuban missile crisis. So we've seen this before.

But look, Mitt Romney has been - without making any excuses or any apologies for Mitt Romney, Mitt Romney has been under a lot of pressure from the angry wing of the Republican Party saying he's got to take it to President Obama, he's got to be tougher, he's got to show the nation where he stands. And as the Republican nominee for president, certainly he had to - he has to have some kind of response to this.

But having said that, this just seems to be extremely intemperate, extremely, I guess, maybe just felt that he had to say something. But to play politics and to not wait until we learned more of what happened with the tragedy in North Africa, it just seems like, at least at this state, seems likely to be a terrible tactical mistake.

CONAN: The Republican candidate has been seen as trailing in foreign policy. The Obama, most polls show President Obama with a big lead on national security and his ability to handle foreign affairs. And Mitt Romney's advantage is on the economy, if he has one, and by talking about this at all, doesn't he take his eye off the ball?

RUDIN: Well, no. I mean, first of all, you could say that Mitt Romney's expertise is in economic affairs, and it is in business, and he should only to stick to that. I don't think that's the strategy, the right strategy to take. But having said that, it is kind of ironic that President Obama, who had absolutely no foreign policy experience until he was elected president in 2008, suddenly has the foreign policy card.

Look, there's a lot of things to criticize about President Obama, and Republicans have been doing it. Just a day or so ago, President Obama made a clear statement that he would not meet with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu when he came to the U.N., and a lot of Republicans jumped on him for that.

So there's a lot of things to criticize, but as I say, in the middle of the crisis, one would have thought that maybe a few hours of further reflection might have been the right way to go.

CONAN: I'm not sure that statement on the meeting with Netanyahu is correct. The White House says that was not what happened, and they talked on the phone for an hour last night. Anyway, moving on, this crisis gives the president of the United States the chance to step out of the role as Democratic candidate and be the president of the United States.

RUDIN: Yes, and, you know, with 55 days to go before the election, it's hard to feel that anything that's going on between - among President Obama and Mitt Romney is not political. But having said that, you notice that President Obama did not respond to the Romney criticism. He did not talk about how this plays out in the big scheme of things.

And look, I'm sure he got a lot of advice, and I think it's correct advice, that I think the near universal feeling is that Romney made the mistake and for Obama to stay away from it was the right tactic.

CONAN: We'll have more on this later as it affects the campaign when we talk with Vin Weber and Anna Greenberg in a few minutes. But Ken, getting back to other political news, actual votes yesterday.

RUDIN: Well, again, it's tough to talk about politics in a terrible day like this, but if we go back to the primaries, and the primaries, a lot of people say well, wait a second, I thought we already have, you know, Mitt Romney and President Obama. But there are primaries for Congress, for governor, senator, state legislatures, and that's still going on.

There were three primaries yesterday: New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Delaware. The interesting news in New Hampshire, of course, we have Republican and Democratic nominees for governor there. John Lynch is leaving after eight years as the new governor, but it's interesting, the Democrats have nominated two women for the House seats in New Hampshire, for the two House seats.

And if the two Democratic women win, it's a possibility although not a probability, if they do it'll be the first time in history a state has an entirely female congressional delegation, because both senators in New Hampshire are women, Kelly Ayotte and Jeanee Shaheen. So that would be interesting.

In Rhode Island, David Cicilline, the former mayor of Providence, won re-nomination. He's in a tough battle. He kind of left Providence in kind of like a kind of bad shape. So that's the big issue for him. Republicans don't usually do well in a state like Rhode Island, it's three to one Democratic. But the Republicans do have a shot there.

No news in Delaware to report, although Tom Carper is running for another - Senator Tom Carper is running for another term there. And I think there's only one more primary left other - on Thursday, tomorrow, New York state has its primary, and the reason they're having it tomorrow is because they wanted to move the date from 9/11.

One thing also to mention, last week was the Massachusetts primary. And while there were no big headlines no big news, it's interesting Joe Kennedy, I think, the third - who's the grandson of Robert Kennedy - won the nomination for Barney Frank's House seat. And so all the talk about there's no longer a Kennedy in Congress, it looks like we'll have a Kennedy in Congress starting January.

CONAN: And the Democratic mayor of the city of Trenton, the capital in New Jersey, finds himself in charges today, federal charges.

RUDIN: Yeah, it's very unusual, because New Jersey mayors are not known for going to prison.

(LAUGHTER)

RUDIN: Actually, 17 New Jersey governors have gone to prison in the last decade. Tony Mack has been accused of corruption charges, taking bribes, and he sullies the fine reputation of The Garden State, of which I am a former resident.

CONAN: Me, too, so yeah. Everybody's secretly from Jersey, that's my belief.

RUDIN: What exit?

(LAUGHTER)

CONAN: One. In the meantime, there's some news in Connecticut, where the Republican candidate is surprisingly competitive.

RUDIN: Well, the latest Quinnipiac poll shows that Linda McMahon, the former wrestling executive, is within three points of Congressman Chris Murphy. There was some controversy over whether Chris Murphy defaulted on a rental - paid his rent on time or things like that, kind of silly stuff.

Now, we could say well, sure it'll be close because Linda McMahon has a hundred gazillion dollars at her advantage, but she had that money two years ago. She spent $50 million in the fight for Chris Dodd's Senate seat, and she lost handily, badly, to Richard Blumenthal. So - but Linda McMahon is running a very close campaign, within two or three points. Quinnipiac has her up.

I'd be shocked if she wins, but she does have the lead, and stranger things have happened this year. So that's a strange seat that we didn't expect to be competitive, and it certainly is competitive this year.

CONAN: And maybe another surprise in Indiana.

RUDIN: Well, you know, Republicans were warned about this. Dick Lugar, of course, ran unopposed a few terms ago, and he was going to sweep to victory this time, too, but the Tea Party and the conservatives felt he was too, you know, too busy working with Democrats and too cuddly with President Obama. He lost to Richard Mourdock in the May primary, and now Joe Donnelly, a congressman there, is running very, very competitively.

I think the Republicans still have an edge there. A lot of money is going to go into Indiana. President - Mitt Romney should win Indiana pretty decisively, even though Obama carried it four years ago, but it's much closer than the Republicans would like.

CONAN: And two Republican Senate candidates who may be in trouble, first Heather Wilson in New Mexico.

RUDIN: Well, a new poll shows that Democrat Martin Heinrich, congressman, is pulling away. Perhaps that's part of the Hispanic trend to voting Democrats, and away from Heather Wilson. And the National Republican Senatorial Committee announced that they're, kind of, pulling out of the state, they're not giving the money that she needs. Of course if the race is close, they'll come back with money, but right now Martin Heinrich the Democrat have maybe a five, six point lead. This is the Senate seat that Democrat Jeff Bingaman is giving up.

But the Republicans thought this would be a competitive, possible takeover. It doesn't look like it's happening. Although, a new poll in Wisconsin shows Tommy Thompson up four or five points in that race. So maybe that could be a Republican pickup.

CONAN: And then to the state of Missouri, where Claire McCaskill is struggling to hold on to her seat, well, at least until the Republican candidate stepped in it.

RUDIN: Well, he did step in it, and it does not look like he's going to step out of it because of course there was a September 25 deadline for Todd Akin, he's the one who said that rape doesn't often result in pregnancy, doesn't usually result in pregnancy. Todd Akin has been disavowed by almost every Republican.

John Cornyn and the NRSC said they're pulling out all their millions of dollars that were scheduled to be spent against McCaskill, who was thought to be very, very vulnerable. And Todd Akin says look, you know, God and my faith is keeping me in this race. And if that's the case, then I think God and faith is more important than John Cornyn and the NRSC. So I don't think that Akin is going to go out of the race anytime soon.

But it's interesting: Democrats insist that the race is very, very close because they want Akin to stay in. And Republicans are saying that McCaskill has opened up a big lead because they want Akin out of the race.

CONAN: And we should also mention the Democratic congressional candidate in Maryland, Wendy Rosen, in the First CD there, that's the eastern shore and parts of Annapolis, she's now withdrawn from the race, though her name will still be on the ballot, after it emerged she may have voted, not just in Maryland but in Florida, too.

RUDIN: Vote early, and vote often, exactly. Yeah, she's not from Chicago, but it's an embarrassment for the Democrats in a potentially winnable seat.

CONAN: We're talking with political junkie Ken Rudin. Up next, our favorite political pundits, Vin Weber and Anna Greenberg, join us. After the conventions, where do the campaigns go from here? If you're in one of the battleground states, and if you live in them, you know you're there because you're seeing a whole lot of ads, how's the campaign playing out where you live? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. And stay with us because we'll have an update from Libya and Egypt later in this program. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Culver City, California, today. Later this hour, we'll talk with NPR's Cairo bureau chief with the latest on the attack that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in Libya.

Right now, though, we're continuing our conversation with political junkie Ken Rudin, as we do every Wednesday. If you want to see his column and the latest ScuttleButton puzzle, go to npr.org/junkie.

With party conventions behind them now, both candidates for president now find themselves in a new stage of this campaign with less than two months to go. So where do they stand now? Where do we go from here, and what do the candidates need to do to win?

We want to hear from those of you in battleground states. How is this new phase of the campaign playing out where you live? 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org. I'm Neal Conan at NPR West, but it's a packed house back in Studio 3A in Washington. Anna Greenberg is there. She's a Democratic campaign consultant and senior vice president of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner. And Vin Weber is a former Republican congressman from Minnesota, Republican political strategist, an advisor to Mitt Romney and a partner at Mercury Public Affairs. Nice to have you all with us today.

ANNA GREENBERG: Thank you.

VIN WEBER: Great to be with you. What are you doing out there, fleeing to the West Coast?

CONAN: Absolutely, getting ready to flee is precisely it.

(LAUGHTER)

CONAN: Vin, we have to begin with the political nature of the exchange - well, it's not been an exchange - of Mitt Romney's remarks on the attack on the embassy in Libya.

WEBER: Well, I have three reactions to this. First of all, I'm really sad. I didn't know the ambassador or his people, but I do know friends that knew them quite well. And these were extraordinary people. And it makes me extra - any loss of life is sad; this is particularly sad.

Second of all, I'm really outraged at the reaction of the Muslim world to what, in our culture, is a fairly obscure offense. I mean, this guy's not any - this nutty, bigoted pastor is not any kind of spokesman for America.

But I have to say when it gets to the Romney reaction, I'm puzzled and astounded in a way. We've had our embassy stormed in Egypt. We've had our diplomats killed in Libya. We've had our ally, Israel, publicly telling us they don't understand our policy in Iran, and maybe we're moving closer to war. And what's the big question? Mitt Romney's - the timing of Mitt Romney's press release.

Nobody's going to ask what's happening to our policy in the Middle East? You know, I get that people think he should have waited a few hours before he said anything. But we're seeing the unraveling of Middle East policy in a very serious way. You can add to the examples I just gave, Syria, where nothing is going well.

And we ought to be talking at least somewhat about what's happening in terms of Middle East policy.

CONAN: Anna Greenberg, my impression is if the Republicans would like to talk foreign policy, the Democrats would be thrilled.

GREENBERG: Absolutely. I mean, first of all, this is good ground for the president. He's very well-respected on foreign policy, in part because of bin Laden, but of, you know, pulling out of Iraq and winding down in Afghanistan. But moreover, it's not a discussion about what is the issue of the day, internally, which is the economy.

So it is a distraction, I think, for the Romney campaign to be in this back-and-forth. I would disagree a little bit with Vin, that it's sort of insignificant and why are we talking about the political side of this. It's not just the timing, which was before, you know, everybody knew what exactly had happened. It was the content.

You know, there was a statement out of the embassy in Cairo that said that we shouldn't, you know, foment anti-Islamic sentiment in the United States. That seems like an absolutely reasonable thing to say, and a suggestion that that condemnation was an assault on American values, which last time I checked was about, you know, freedom of religion and tolerance, I think that's as much of the problem of what - and particularly of what the chair of the RNC said, that it is the timing issue.

CONAN: Let's move on to where the campaign stands now. We don't know how this will affect the polls, if it will at all, but coming out of the conventions, Vin, it seemed that President Obama was getting at least a bit of a bounce.

WEBER: Yeah, I think there's not much doubt about that. I think the Republicans had a good convention, but the Democrats had a great convention. And the timing of the conventions clearly was helpful to the Democrats. I think - and hindsight is always 20/20 - we always want to go late as we can so the Republicans were right up against the Democratic convention.

I think in hindsight, they might have been better to do their convention earlier, to have a little bit of time between their convention, which was actually a pretty good convention, but was cut off by the Democratic convention, which began almost immediately afterwards.

And so the president's got a bounce, but it's not a huge bounce. I think the basic dynamics of the race are about what they were before. The president has a modest, modest lead. He's probably below 50 percent, which means that he's still vulnerable. And the underlying dynamics in the race create a lot of issues against him, pessimism about the economy, pessimism about the direction of the country.

And the Romney campaign is well-equipped to fight the last 50-some days.

CONAN: Anna, the impression, again, you get is a lot of people have made up their minds already, that we're talking about a very small number of undecideds in a very small number of states.

GREENBERG: It's true. I mean, the number of people that we're actually trying to persuade to vote one way or another is quite small and has been for a long time. In many ways, the dynamics of this election have been locked in, you know, in 2009 throughout the health care debate. And you saw what happened in 2010 and then the reaction to that. But there hasn't been a lot of movement, really, over the last three years.

That being said, one of the gaps that has opened up over time, and it started during the Republican primaries, was a favorability gap. And Obama is much better liked than Romney for lots of different reasons. And what happened, I think, with the Republican convention, I actually thought it was a disaster for them, and obviously some of it is, you know, nature, and you can't control nature and the hurricane.

CONAN: Oh, you mean the hurricane.

GREENBERG: The hurricanes. But there wasn't a consistent message. You had, you know, keynote speakers, you know, mostly talking about themselves and not Romney. You know, what the Democratic convention did so well was make the case for Obama and the case against Clinton - I'm sorry, against Romney. And they were - and Clinton was a big part of that.

And they were consistent in doing it every night. And it all built upon one another, and so you had sort of a very unified message coming out of the Democratic convention. You didn't have that in the Republican convention. I think what has happened with the statement that Romney made today and the RNC chair reinforces the sense of kind of chaos, flailing around on the Romney side, and also reinforces the likeability gap.

I really do think this is an important gap, and it's not just about one is nicer than the other, you'd rather have a beer. It's people think that the president empathizes with people and understands their problems in a way that Romney does not. So I think the Republican convention was a disaster, and it reinforced, I think, dynamics around which candidate people basically liked better and really crystallized the choice that the Democrats are trying to present and created confusion about the choice that Republicans are trying to present.

WEBER: You know, I don't disagree on the likeability point, but I still have to say the Democratic convention may have reinforced that the president is likeable. It did not change preconceptions that the country's headed on the wrong track, the economy's in the toilet, and the president is not a good steward of the nation's economy.

And I have to believe at the end of the day, that's going to drive the selection more than likeability or some other airy concept. It matters, but it doesn't matter as much when we're in trouble, as we are now. We got a bad jobs report last week. The labor market is weakening. The economy is weakening. And Romney has been building a campaign based on the economy since day one.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: Yeah, I was going to say the same thing. I mean, when you think of bounces out of the convention, Michael Dukakis left Atlanta in 1988 with a 17-point lead, and he wound up losing 40 out of 50 states. So the bounce out of the convention is just limited, and as Vin pointed out, the day after the Democrats left Charlotte, came that awful jobs report.

And I guess - but again, the numbers in Ohio don't look especially promising for Romney. It's a state he must win. Of course, we always say no Republican has ever been elected president without carrying Ohio, and he seems to be losing a couple of points in the last couple of days. And obviously all the - now the next thing everybody's watching is October 3rd, which will be the first of three debates.

GREENBERG: But can I just add one thing here because I think it's important? There's a really interesting op-ed in the New York Times today that talks about the fact that the problem that Romney and Ryan have is that a lot of people still believe that the economic mess really is founded in the Bush administration.

And its' not to say that Obama is out there with a message saying, it's all Bush's fault, give me more time, but since that's the narrative, or that's the framework that people bring to this, I think it's much harder for Romney and Ryan to make the case that Obama is solely responsible, and this is a referendum on his economy.

The other thing I would say is that it is true that, in my polling, I'm seeing movement away from saying the economy's getting better and more people saying it's worse or the same. But when you look at underneath the numbers, who it is that's moving, it tends to be strong Republicans. And Romney's already getting 92 percent of them.

So when most of the movement towards the economy's doing worse is coming from people who are already Romney voters, it gives Romney a limited - a very limited bump.

WEBER: Well, that tells us where the debate on the economy is going to go, from our standpoint, in the next couple months. The argument about who caused the economic problems has pretty well been won by the president: George Bush and the Republicans get the blame for that. But as Anna just pointed out, and maybe it's more Republicans, there's no sense that this president is moving us in a better direction.

You know, I listened to Mayor Villaraigosa opening the convention, and - it was an interview, not at the convention, but in an interview - and they asked him what the convention was all about. And he said: We have to keep marching down this road. I think if you drive home that particular metaphor to voters, that's pretty scary because they are pessimistic, they think we're on the wrong track, and the main message out of the Democrats is we've got to keep going right where we're going.

CONAN: Let's get some callers in on the conversation. We want to hear from those of you in battleground states, you know who you are, 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org. And we'll start with Amy(ph) and Amy - I hung up on her. No, I put her on hold by mistake. Amy's on the line with us from Milwaukee.

AMY: Hi, thank you for taking my call. I'm in political hell up here.

(LAUGHTER)

AMY: We - there's, you know, obviously, we had a very contentious recall election up here in Wisconsin, and - it's the tension - I told your producer - is so palpable in this state that it's - you can hardly drop your kids off in school and look people in the eye out of fear that a political topic will be brought up. I had to run a fundraiser on Friday, and I had to announce that there will be no political conversation...

(LAUGHTER)

AMY: ...because it's that tense, and it's very divisive on both sides. My neighborhood has always been one that has, you know, political signs up in their front yards. You don't see any of those out of fear of - I don't know - having your yard trashed. I mean, it's really very, very bad, and then, of course, with Ryan being chosen for the V.P., it got lots of people, you know, pumped up, and then they got - on both sides, good and bad. So it's just not going to end up here. It's crazy.

CONAN: Anna, what are you seeing out of Wisconsin?

GREENBERG: Well, I think Amy is right. It is crazy there and the recall - I mean, it's not just the recall. You had, you know, what happened at the capitol and the protests leading into the recall. So, you know, poor people in Wisconsin have had a big political fight for now a very, you know, long time, really since the beginning of 2011. And you've got, you know, in addition to the presidential, with both campaigns increasing their ad buy in the state, you also have a highly competitive Senate race, which has the potential to be quite inflammatory. Notice the recent apology by Tommy Thompson there. So I don't think you're going to get any relief soon...

(LAUGHTER)

GREENBERG: ...because I'll tell you this, the day after the election, they're going to start trying to figure out how to beat Walker in 2014. So...

AMY: Yeah.

GREENBERG: ...I give you my sympathies.

WEBER: This is not new from the state that gave us Fighting Bob La Follette on the far left and Tail Gunner Joe McCarthy on the far right.

(LAUGHTER)

AMY: Yeah.

WEBER: Wisconsin has had strong strains of politics for a long time.

RUDIN: Could I just say something? I mean, to me, this - as a political junkie, this is political heaven...

(LAUGHTER)

RUDIN: ...not political hell. I mean, I'm loving every second of this. But, you know, one thing, Wisconsin, four years ago, Obama won it handily, like 12 points. But remember, in 2000 and 2004, George W. Bush lost it by less than a percentage point. So Wisconsin has an ability for one of those rare pickups that Romney has got to have if he has any chance of winning of the White House.

CONAN: We're talking with Political Junkie Ken Rudin as we do every Wednesday. He's there in Studio 3A in Washington, along with Anna Greenberg, who's a Democratic pollster, and Vin Weber, a former Republican congressman and now an adviser to Mitt Romney. And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And Maria is on the line with us from Chapel Hill in North Carolina.

MARIA: Hi. I guess, this would be purgatory.

(LAUGHTER)

MARIA: I wanted to share that the convention has energized a lot of us. We were glad to have it in Charlotte, although terribly disappointed that the big stadium was not used. I still have my ticket but didn't get to go because of the storm. So we had some weather interference as well. But, for me as a Latina, I had not been excited about this election. And when President Obama changed some of the rules, decided to allow undocumented youth, you know, the dreamers to stay, I started getting excited. But the convention was so inspiring for me to see the difference of who was up there at the podium, the people who spoke that I have been volunteering ferociously...

(LAUGHTER)

MARIA: ...and I think we - maybe it's not making a huge difference across the whole United States. But I tell you it's making a difference for a critical number of voters in North Carolina. The Latino voters put President Obama over the top here, and we are excited.

CONAN: Anna Greenberg, a lot of people thought North Carolina out of reach this time around. Is that still the perception?

GREENBERG: Well, I still think it's very hard for lots of reasons, but I think that I don't think it's out of reach, but I still think it's hard. And I think that the president's campaign will contest it to the very end. So I think it will be close. There's a huge potential turnout among, you know, minority voters in the state that potentially can put him over the edge. I did see something around a story around fewer requests for absentee ballots in the state which - or early voting, which would suggest that there might be a problem there.

But one I thing I want to follow up on it's clear that one of the important things that came out of the convention was enthusiasm among Democrats. There had been an enthusiasm gap, was really big in 2010 and has really taken a while to kind of get Democrats excited about this election and, you know, a lot of places where it actually matters. You know, there's some places where, you know, you easily win or lose; other places, which are really close, where the enthusiasm gap matters. And most of the polls now, including Gallup, are showing there's no enthusiasm gap. And so the convention served that purpose as well, I think.

CONAN: Thanks very much, Maria.

MARIA: Thank you.

CONAN: And, Vin Weber, we had Howard Dean on this program last week.

WEBER: A good friend of mine.

CONAN: And he guaranteed that the - that President Obama would carry Virginia.

WEBER: Well, I've talked to Howard about that. He's been saying that for a long time. He completely buys into the theory that the only dynamic that matters in Virginia is the movement of Northern Virginia toward the Democratic Party. And clearly, that has made Virginia a more Democratic state than it used to be. But I don't think - I think that Howard overstates that. In the rest of the state, President Obama is almost sure to underperform what he did four years ago when he carried Virginia. So Virginia looks to me both in the Senate race and the presidential race like a very definite tossup, maybe the closest race in the country.

RUDIN: Neal, one thing to add, though, of course, and we always - we've talked about this subject before, but Virgil Goode, the former congressman who's on the ballot of the Constitution Party nominee. He doesn't have to get many votes. I mean, Ralph Nader only got 1.6 percent in Florida in 2000, but it was enough. Many Democrats say it caused Al Gore the state. So it remains to be seen if Virgil Goode could be Mitt Romney's Ralph Nader.

CONAN: We will reconvene with Vin Weber and Anna Greenberg before Election Day. But I want to ask you right now both: If you had to keep your eye on one or two states where you think this is going to be decided, what would they be? Anna?

GREENBERG: Well, it's hard to not say Ohio.

(LAUGHTER)

WEBER: Right. Right, right, right, right.

GREENBERG: I think you should check out Iowa. I think it's a state that Obama won pretty easily. It's pretty close, but I think that they - it's an indicator of generally how he's going to do in rural parts of the country, and I think that it's - he'll win it, but I think it'll be a good race to - a good state to watch.

WEBER: And since everybody says Ohio and Virginia, I'll also say other states. But I'll say Wisconsin, Iowa and Colorado. I think Colorado is an important state to watch, tells us something about the Hispanic vote, tells us something therefore about what's happening in the Mountain West.

CONAN: Vin Weber, who's a partner at Mercury Public Affairs, adviser to Mitt Romney's campaign, former Republican representative from Minnesota, thanks as always for your time.

GREENBERG: Thank you. Nice to be here.

WEBER: Thank you.

CONAN: And, Anna Greenberg, you also heard there.

(LAUGHTER)

CONAN: She's - before I even got to say that she's a senior vice president and principal at Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and a Democratic political campaign consultant. Ken Rudin, we'll see you back at Washington next week.

RUDIN: Thanks. I was going to say thank you for Anna too.

(LAUGHTER)

CONAN: It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Culver City, California. Stay with us. When we come back, an update on Libya and Egypt. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

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