Politics
12:23 pm
Wed February 6, 2013

Shifting Strategy: Narrowing Down The GOP Field

Originally published on Wed February 6, 2013 12:58 pm

Transcript

NEAL CONAN, HOST:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Brown sits this one out in the Bay State, Menendez says it ain't so, and Kerry steps in at State. It's Wednesday and time for a ...

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY: Big heels to fill...

CONAN: Edition of the political junkie.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDINGS)

PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.

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

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

SENATOR LLOYD BENTSEN: Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

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

SARAH PALIN: Lipstick.

GOVERNOR RICK PERRY: Oops.

PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: But I'm the decider.

(SOUNDBITE OF SCREAM)

CONAN: Every Wednesday, political junkie Ken Rudin joins us to review the week in politics. This week, the Massachusetts GOP looks for somebody to run for Senate, Tagg's not it and Weld won't, either. Jersey's Bob Menendez hopes to replace John Kerry as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee but faces some questions first.

Maybe Senate candidate Ashley Judd draws an attack ad in Kentucky. John Brennan heads to the Hill to face questions about drone strikes, waterboarding and his nomination to head the CIA. And we'll remember Ed Koch, who died on Friday.

In a bit, we'll focus on Karl Rove's new initiative to run ads in Republican primaries against Senate candidates he believes cannot get elected in a general election. Has he heard that Geraldo Rivera might run in New Jersey? And later in the program, the Soviet spies next door in a new TV series.

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

KEN RUDIN, BYLINE: Hi Neal. Well, you say that, you said Scott Brown said he will not run in the Massachusetts special Senate election, that's the one being given up by - that was given up by John Kerry. Now had he run and had he won, he would've served alongside Elizabeth Warren, who unseated him last year. So the question is: Name the most recent same-state senators who before serving together ran against each other.

CONAN: All right, if you think you know the answer to this week's trivia question, and that is the same-state senators who ran against each other before serving together in the United States Senate.

RUDIN: Most recent instance.

CONAN: Most recent instance, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Of course the winner gets the fabulous no-prize button and a free political junkie T-shirt. But as mentioned a couple of times now, Scott Brown not running. So who is?

RUDIN: Well, I mean, basically the Republican Party is left with nobody. I mean, even the names that they came up with in the event that Scott Brown would not run, like Tagg Romney, I like (unintelligible).

CONAN: Thank you.

RUDIN: That made no sense, though, the fact that - I mean, Mitt Romney just lost the state by 23 points. His son is not going to do much better. Bill Weld, the former governor, they were talking about him. The last time we saw him he was running for governor of New York, even though he's a former Massachusetts governor.

Anyway, they've come up with apparently two guys. There's a former Navy SEAL by the name of Gabriel Gomez, and there's a state rep by the name of Dan Winslow, who are completely unknown. First of all, they have to...

CONAN: Not completely unknown; you know them.

RUDIN: Well, actually I never heard of them until last week to be honest with you. And they need 10,000 signatures to be - come up with by February 27.

CONAN: Which means 15 because some are going to get challenged.

RUDIN: Yes, and the fact is, you know, where do you find Republicans - there are only nine Republicans in the state of Massachusetts.

(LAUGHTER)

RUDIN: So it's going to be difficult. But anyway, Massachusetts will go back to what it always has been, basically a battle for who will see the next Democrat in an open seat.

CONAN: So would you say that victory in the Democratic primary would be tantamount to election?

RUDIN: You do love that word, but the April 30 primary is between Steven Lynch and Ed Markey, two members of Congress, although Steven Lynch, of course neither one gives up his House seat because this is a special election. Steven Lynch of course is backed by labor, but he also opposes abortion rights, voted against Obamacare.

There is some ideological difference there, although right now the establishment and the polls seem to support Ed Markey.

CONAN: In the meantime, other Senate news, this is New Jersey. It's not Geraldo Rivera, it's Bob Menendez who - one of his big donors is facing investigation. We're not exactly sure what, but it looks like income tax evasion. And, well, now there are accusations that they, on trips to the Dominican Republic, hired prostitutes.

RUDIN: Well, that is according to the Daily Caller, which is a website, a conservative website, except more and more mainstream media outlets are talking about that. Right now all we know is that Menendez has reimbursed for these trips he took to the Dominican Republic with Salomon Melgen, who is his political donor, $58,000 he reimbursed as of January 4.

CONAN: A mere oversight, he says.

RUDIN: He says it's an oversight, and of course it came right after the Republicans filed a charge. Now of course Menendez was just re-elected in 2012. So this does not have electoral ramifications. But as you mentioned, he is going to be the next chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the one that John Kerry just gave up, and of course it puts the Democrats in a very difficult bind there if there is something to these allegations.

CONAN: Then there is Ashley Judd who might be running as a Democrat against - to face, should she get the nomination, to face Mitch McConnell in her native state of Kentucky. Interesting, this is all sort of speculative then the conservative superPAC American Crossroads launched an ad that, well, tears her to pieces.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: You know what this country really needs? An independent voice for Obama.

ASHLEY JUDD: I am committed to President Obama and Vice President Biden. I think he's a brilliant man. He is now able to flower more as the president I knew he could be.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: A leader who knows how to follow.

JUDD: I will go wherever the president wants me to go.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Someone who will never forget where she came from.

JUDD: And it just clicked. Tennessee is home. And it just clicked...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Kentucky...

JUDD: Is home.

(LAUGHTER)

CONAN: Does it give you some sort of validation when they go out of your way to do an attack ad before you even declare your candidacy?

RUDIN: Well, the problem of course is this ad could scare Ashley Judd out of the race, and then Mitch McConnell could face a real opponent. This is devastating. And of course, Ashley Judd's candidacy really didn't make that much sense in a state that's so completely rejected President Obama in 2012 and 2008. But it is funny, it is caustic, and it cost them - speaking of cost, it cost them $10,000 to make this.

All you've seen it is online, and yet more and more media outlets are picking it up. But it's kind of an indication of what she faces should she run against Mitch McConnell, whose numbers are not that great in Kentucky.

CONAN: In the meantime, back to deja vu all over again, the sequester deadline is looming, those across-the-board cuts automatically go into effect I think on March 1 unless Congress does something. Now the president says maybe we ought to punt it another few months down the road.

RUDIN: Well, what he's saying is that we have to come up with a deal with more spending cuts and tax increases. He won't use the word tax increases.

CONAN: Reforms.

RUDIN: Reforms, right. But the Republican Party knows what the word reforms means, and...

CONAN: In this context, yes.

RUDIN: Yes, and basically they said look, you know, we agreed to higher taxes during the debt ceiling debate, which we basically lost, and we're not going to do it again. So President Obama is scared to death, as many Democrats and Republicans are, of these drastic cuts. They're going to come into effect March 1 if nothing is done. And a lot of this will be put on the Pentagon, so there are a lot of Republicans who are not happy about that, as well.

But there are other Republicans who say look, if this is the only way we can have spending cuts in Washington, by this drastic sequester, so be it.

CONAN: Well, 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 most recent pair of same-state governors who once ran against each other before they served together in the United States Senate, 800-989-8255 if you think you know the answer. Email us, talk@npr.org. And we'll start with James(ph), James on the line with us from Boston.

JAMES: Oh, I'm sorry, I thought you said senators. It was Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand.

CONAN: We did say senators, and...

RUDIN: Yeah, but we need the senators who ran against each other before they served together. And of course Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand never ran against each other.

JAMES: OK, thanks.

CONAN: Thanks. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Jim(ph), Jim with us from Redding, Pennsylvania.

JIM: Yes, it's Senator Toomey and Senator Casey.

RUDIN: Well, Senator Toomey and Senator Casey never ran against each other. Toomey ran against Arlen Specter and lost the primary, and then he came back to succeed Specter when Specter lost in the Democratic primary. But Toomey and Casey never ran against each other. You may be thinking of Toomey's brother, Socka Toomey, which - if I use that joke one more time.

CONAN: One more time, yeah. Thank you, Jim. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Julian(ph), Julian with us from Phoenix.

JULIAN: Hi.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

JULIAN: I believe the answer is Senators Reid and Ensign in Nevada.

CONAN: That is a very good guess. John Ensign did lose to Harry Reid in 1998, and then they served together from 2001 until Ensign resigned. But that is not the most recent occurrence.

Oh, good one, silver medal, though, Julian.

RUDIN: That's a good guess.

JULIAN: All right, thank you.

CONAN: Thanks very much. Let's go to - this is John(ph), John with us from Chamberlain, South Dakota.

JOHN: Yes, good afternoon. I believe it's Senator Tim Johnson and Senator John Thune from the state of South Dakota.

RUDIN: That is also a very, very good guess. Tim Johnson beat John Thune, and then John Thune came back to the Senate when he beat Tom Daschle. But it's not the most recent, since...

CONAN: Well, we're getting very, very close, though. Let's see if we can go next to Jake(ph), and Jake's with us from Battle Creek, Michigan.

JAKE: Hey, good afternoon.

CONAN: Afternoon.

JAKE: Forgive me, I'm certain I'm mangling the names, but it is Senators Schatz and Horino from Hawaii?

RUDIN: Well, Schatz was the lieutenant governor, who never ran for the Senate before, and he never ran against Mazie Hirono.

JAKE: Ah.

CONAN: Nice try, though. Let's see if we can go to - this is Steve(ph), and Steve with us from Portland.

STEVE: Hi, I'd say it's Ron Wyden and Senator Smith from Oregon.

RUDIN: That's a very good guess, too, because Gordon Smith did lose to Ron Wyden and won the other Senate race. That was in 1996. We're looking for something even more recent.

CONAN: Even more recent than that, my wonder. Let's go to Len(ph), Len with us from Sand Springs in Oklahoma.

LEN: Claire McCaskill and Roy Blunt, Jr.

RUDIN: Claire McCaskill and Roy Blunt, Jr. never...

CONAN: That would be the state of Missouri.

RUDIN: Right, never ran against each other. And they did - she did run for governor and lose, but in the - she lost to I think Blunt's son, Matt Blunt, for governor but not Roy Blunt for the Senate.

CONAN: So a blood relative doesn't count.

RUDIN: I don't mean to be blunt.

CONAN: Len, thanks very much. Let's go to Daniel(ph), Daniel with us from Phoenix. This is a toughie.

DANIEL: Hi, I'm going to guess Ben Nelson and Chuck Hagel in Nebraska.

RUDIN: Well, that's another great guess. Ben Nelson did lose to Chuck Hagel then came into the Senate after 2000 but again not the recent occurrence.

DANIEL: All right, thanks, guys.

CONAN: Got some more people calling in to replace those calls we've just run through. But we've only got a minute left in the segment. In the meantime, President Obama is going to be going in April, we think, to Israel.

RUDIN: Yes, it's the first visit since he was elected president. Of course he was there as a candidate, and a lot of people are saying given the battles he's had with the Netanyahu government of Israel, a lot of people are wondering maybe there is some kind of movement in the peace talks, otherwise why would President Obama go there.

CONAN: Wait, we have another call. David(ph) on the line with us from Gillette, Wyoming.

RUDIN: Wait, wait, Gillette, Wyoming?

CONAN: Go ahead.

DAVID: Senator Inzy and Senator Barrasso?

RUDIN: Well, that's the correct answer.

CONAN: Ding, ding, ding.

RUDIN: And they're current senators. In 1996, John Barrasso lost to Mike Inzy in the Republican primary, and then he was appointed later to the Senate. They're still serving together. That is the most recent occurrence.

CONAN: All right, David, stay on hold, we'll collect your particulars and send you a free political junkie T-shirt and that fabulous no-prize button. Congratulations.

DAVID: Thank you.

RUDIN: A lot of good guesses.

CONAN: A lot of good guesses, though. In the meantime, we're going to be talking with political junkie Ken Rudin when we come back about the late mayor of New York, Ed Koch, and his storied political career. He also did a little acting, did a little of everything, Ed Koch did. 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. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. It's Wednesday, so you know what you're in for. Political junkie Ken Rudin is here with us. So what have you got for us this week, a ScuttleButton winner perhaps?

RUDIN: We do have a winner, the puzzle was, ironically, Super Bowl Sunday.

CONAN: Really? Who knew?

RUDIN: But Joe Galant(ph) of Rochester, New York, is the winner, and he gets the T-shirt and the button.

CONAN: And so is there a political junkie column up this week?

RUDIN: There is. It's all about the life and career of Ed Koch with a lot of great buttons from his career, when he started off as a district leader from Greenwich Village in the mid-'60s until his defeat for mayor in 1989.

CONAN: Well, since - if you want to see those, by the way, you can go to npr.org/junkie. Ed Koch of course died last Friday, and he famously loved to ask his constituents in New York...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED AUDIO)

ED KOCH: How am I doing?

CONAN: In an interview with Reason TV, he said he probably enjoyed campaigning more than most because he genuinely liked people and...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED AUDIO)

KOCH: I enjoy going out there and telling people what I've done.

CONAN: To his detractors, like those who didn't like how he handled the city's finances...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED AUDIO)

KOCH: What I said was, you know, if you all got together, you could throw me out, and if you do, I'll get a better job, and you won't get a better mayor.

CONAN: Ed Koch never lacked for confidence.

RUDIN: Well, you know something? I mean, - it's interesting, they did throw him out in 1989 when he was seeking a fourth term. But in 1981, when he won a second term, he won both the Democratic and Republican primaries. He was that well-liked. In 1985, he got, like, 78 percent of the vote in the general election.

I mean, he was really extremely popular until problems that were not existing in 1977 when he was first elected mayor, and that is increased racial disharmony, shall we say, the crack and AIDS epidemic, the homelessness. I mean, in 1977 the city finances were falling apart. Abe Beame was the mayor who was elected in 1973 as somebody who could do the job, but he didn't do the job. Remember the Ford to city: drop dead...

CONAN: That was Abe Beame's reign there.

RUDIN: Right, the finances were doing terrible. Governor Hugh Carey said that Abe Beame was very inept. He wanted his secretary of state by the name of Mario Cuomo to run for mayor. So everybody was running for mayor in 1977. Bella Abzug, Mario Cuomo, Abe Beame and this congressman from the east side of Manhattan.

CONAN: Upper East Side.

RUDIN: Ed Koch.

CONAN: Going back, though, you mentioned his time as a reformed Democrat in the Village.

RUDIN: Ultra-liberal, if you can still use those words.

CONAN: The group that finally ended the last vestige of Tammany Hall.

RUDIN: That's right. In 1963, Ed Koch was part of the group that defeated Carmine DeSapio. If you know anything about machine politics in New York, DeSapio's one of the leaders for good and for ill. I mean, he was a JFK guy, and Averell Harriman loved him and all that stuff. But he was the ultimate boss.

And Ed Koch, who was a reformer, who said look, this kind of organization is not the way to go it. So he parlayed his district leadership into a seat on the city council. And then in 1968, as a strong opponent of the Vietnam War, he was elected to Congress from the Silk Stocking District of Manhattan.

CONAN: John Lindsay's old district.

RUDIN: John Lindsay's old district, matter of fact the first Democrat in 34 years to win that seat. And he became a very liberal, if not irascible, Democrat in Congress. I mean, one of the strongest anti-Nixon guys for impeachment. Even I think on the day of Nixon's inauguration in 1969, he was pushing for Nixon's impeachment.

He was very, very liberal, and then something changed when he was elected mayor.

CONAN: He - the executive office did change him, but it did not quell his ambitions. He did, of course, run for higher office. You mentioned that Mario Cuomo guy. They faced off against each other in a race in the Democratic primary for the nomination to be governor of the state of New York.

RUDIN: And remember Cuomo and Koch always had bad relationships. In 1977, there were always questions about Koch's sexuality. There were posters all over New York that said vote for Cuomo, not the homo. I mean, Koch was livid about Cuomo's tactics. Cuomo said I had nothing to do with this, I don't know - but the relationship was just awful to the day that Koch died.

But anyway, Koch was elected overwhelming for mayor in 1981. He said why not be governor. And of course he criticized Upstate New Yorkers. He talked about the sterile life of Upstate New York. And Cuomo ran a very smart campaign.

CONAN: Well, he ran brilliantly as the secretary of state in New York. The secretary of state does stuff like assign barbers' licenses and - it's an almost nonexistent job. But Mario Cuomo from Queens had gone and visited I think every village and hamlet in the state of New York while he was Hugh Carey's secretary of state and familiarized himself with the upstate part of the job.

And I covered that campaign for NPR, and you would go to these obscure little places outside of Jamestown, and people would come up and shake hands. And I remember when you were here four years ago, Mario Cuomo, and it was just extraordinary.

RUDIN: And by 1982, he was already lieutenant governor. So the state knew him. And at the same time, folks in New York City didn't want Koch to leave, didn't want him to be governor. And so his numbers in New York City were not that good anyway. So Koch was expecting, you know, an...

CONAN: Unopposed.

RUDIN: Well basically a clear path to Albany, and he just never got there.

CONAN: Well, he was heavily favored to defeat Mario Cuomo, who really ran just a tremendous campaign. There was this great moment when, as you mentioned, Hugh Carey had been - was the sitting governor, had been, what, three-term governor of the state of New York, two-term governor of the state of New York, correction there from Ken very quietly.

Anyway, there had been this big controversy over PCBs in the water in Buffalo, and Hugh Carey had volunteered to drink the water, and then he nominated - then he supported Ed Koch in the primary and asked for his reaction, Mario Cuomo said I told Hugh not to drink those PCBs.

RUDIN: Well, and so - and then again after 1985 in Koch's fourth term, again there was a lot of racial problems in New York City, and he would - and African-Americans, the way he would talk to them, it just was - maybe he was charming in 1977, and it was brutally honest. By 1989, it almost got angry and caustic and bullying, a lot of people felt, and he lost to David Dinkins, who in 1989 became the first and only African-American mayor of New York City.

CONAN: And a gentlemanly campaigner himself.

RUDIN: Absolutely, of course he was turned down after one term by Rudy Giuliani. But, you know, but Koch's career, his recognition didn't disappear after 1989. He was a movie critic. He was a book reviewer. He had a talk show. And he just - as you know...

CONAN: He was a moving talk show.

RUDIN: Exactly, he was a walking talk show. He loved to talk. And he was talking until basically the day he died, on Friday.

CONAN: You mentioned a very liberal member of Congress, the reform Democrats in the West Village, increasingly conservative as he got older.

RUDIN: Absolutely, you know, he supported the death penalty. He talked about, you know, a lot of the excess spending that was - he always loved to chastise liberals. And I mean there were a lot of things to Ed Koch. One thing he was certainly was he was a character. He was colorful. He was the - he loved New York, and I guess for the longest, for most of his 12 years, New York City loved him.

CONAN: We skipped a couple of items in our earlier roundup of the week's news in politics. Another opening in - two more openings in - actually a nomination and one more opening in the president's Cabinet.

RUDIN: Right, well, first of all the new news is Sally Jewell, who is the CEO of this outdoor gear company REI, President Obama...

CONAN: Outdoor gear, you don't know what REI is?

RUDIN: It's that outdoor gear...

CONAN: Outdoor gear. It's a very - anyway, go ahead.

RUDIN: No, I've talked to the outdoor association, outdoor industry people, that is a very famous organization. But anyway, she's been nominated to be the new interior secretary, replacing Ken Salazar, who's going to leave at the end of March. She would be the first woman in the new - the second Obama Cabinet, first new woman named to the Cabinet.

And on Friday, Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced he was resigning by the end of the month. There's some talk that Christine Gregoire, the former governor of Washington, could replace Chu as energy secretary.

CONAN: After Mitt Romney's defeat and Democrat pickups in the Senate last November, Republicans seek to rebrand their image and reshape their party. On Monday, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal told Fox News that Republicans should shift their focus from taking the White House to honing the party's message.

GOVERNOR BOBBY JINDAL: Anybody on the Republican side even thinking or talking about running for president in 2016 I've said needs to get their head examined. And the reason I say that is we've lost two presidential elections in a row. We need to be winning the debate of ideas. Then we'll win elections.

CONAN: Karl Rove's superPAC, American Crossroads, is taking a different approach to try to win elections. They launched a new program this week called the Conservative Victory Project to defeat Republican candidates they think might lean too far to the right, people like Todd Akin or Richard Mourdock.

The project aims to promote Senate candidates whom they deem electable in a general election. Jonathon Collegio is the communications director for American Crossroads and joins us now from his office here in Washington. Nice to have you with us.

JOHN COLLEGIO: Hi, thanks for having me.

CONAN: And this new initiative has drawn a little fire from the Tea Party wing of the party.

COLLEGIO: Yeah, some folks have interpreted this as being a, you know, some kind of war on the Tea Party. But that's exactly not what it is. In fact American Crossroads over the last two election cycles has spent $30 million trying to help Tea Party candidates. And we've got some good ones in there, you know, Pat Toomey, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul. But we also had some duds.

And what we've determined after looking at the last couple of election cycles, both in our efforts and what we've done as well as what we've kind of done collectively is that we need to make sure that we're recruiting better candidates to run in these elections. Whether they're establishment, so-called establishment candidates or Tea Party candidates, we need folks who will do better in general elections.

CONAN: And how did you come to this decision? We've read in some news accounts that some of your contributors said, wait a minute, I was donating money that we spent on ads to support this idiot?

COLLEGIO: Well, you know, there's a concern. Take, for example, you know, Richard Mourdock in Indiana. American Crossroads I think spent something - somewhere in the neighborhood of $6 million supporting his candidacy, which was then scuttled because he was an undisciplined messenger. It had nothing to do with the message of being a Republican or being a conservative, and it had everything to do with the quality of messenger that we're putting forth with these candidates. And I think there was just a general sense that we need to be doing better with this, and that's why (unintelligible).

CONAN: Ken?

Jonathan, a lot of people are talking - we were talking about the Todd Akins and the Richard Mourdocks of the world and perhaps Christine O'Donnell in Delaware in 2010, but what about the Republicans that say but there are a lot of establishment Republicans, like Denny Rehberg and Rick Berg in North Dakota, Denny Rehberg in Montana, Tommy Thompson in Wisconsin, all certainly not conservatives, the far right of the party, and yet many of them should have won, and they lost as well.

COLLEGIO: We agree with that 100 percent. This is something that we believe is, you know, it's a tool that should be ideologically neutral. William F. Buckley, a long time ago, he was asked: Who do you vote for in a primary election? He said I will support the most conservative candidate who can win in a general election. And that's our kind of guiding principle here. We want to institutionalize that. And frankly it applies for - it applies to establishment candidates, the same as it does to Tea Party candidates. Maybe in a little bit different way.

There are a lot of establishment candidates who have never, for example, gone through a real race, and sometimes they'll have a history of not being able to raise money for their campaign. That's something we saw in a lot of the so-called establishment candidates this cycle, and it's something that we'll take into account when we make decisions based on our expenditures later this year.

RUDIN: One of the big races in 2014 is the Iowa Senate race, the one that Tom Harkin is giving up. The so-called establishment wing of the party is talking about Congressman Tom Latham, but not only do conservatives - Tea Party conservatives really like Steve King, there have been polls out lately that Steve King has a clear lead over Tom Latham. What does your group do given the fact...

CONAN: In the Republican primary.

RUDIN: In the Republican primary. What does your group do if a lot of people think that Latham will be a stronger candidate in the fall but the Republican electorate clearly prefers Steve King?

COLLEGIO: I think it's way too early because we don't - I mean we don't have any candidates announced there yet. We don't know if Mr. Latham is going to run. It appears that Steve King has expressed interest. And one thing about the Crossroads groups is that we have supported Congressman King in his House races in the past. But we really need to take a look at all the candidates here. It's just critical to vet everybody and make sure that we're getting the best candidates there possible.

CONAN: So this is going to be a real-time decision or a game-time decision?

COLLEGIO: Well, yeah. I mean (unintelligible) people are asking: What's your budget going to be? Well, it's difficult to determine what the budget is going to be because we have no idea what the primaries are going to look like. Once those landscapes kind of solidify and gel a little bit, we'll have a much better idea of exactly what kind of expenditures we're talking about getting involved.

CONAN: We're talking with Jonathan Collegio, communications director for American Crossroads, and you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Ken?

RUDIN: Jonathan, American Crossroads got a - shall we say a bad rap after 2012 when they spent a ton of money trying to go after Democrats. Now, this is clearly a Democratic year, but how does American Crossroads regain the good press that they seemed to have lost after 2012?

COLLEGIO: You know, that's a great question. We've assessed a lot of what we've done. We assessed, you know, a lot of what, you know, conservatives and Republicans did broadly. One of the things that really went underneath the radar with a lot of the media's reporting on 2012 was that Barack Obama had a real incredible advantage against Mitt Romney on the airwaves, which is kind of our sweet spot. You know, American Crossroads ran a lot of television advertisements.

But over the course of the campaign, Mitt Romney - I believe that Obama had more than twice as many television ads run than Mitt Romney. So, you know, on the one hand we did lose, but we do believe that our efforts did make the election considerably closer than it would have been otherwise. But yeah, there is a lot of work to do, and one of the conclusions that we came to after assessing all the activity from 2012, we said we need better candidates across the board in order to win these elections.

CONAN: Let's get a caller in on this. Keith is with us from Gainesville in Florida.

KEITH: I want to know how you plan to appeal to me and my friends who identify ourselves as socially liberal by most any standard but also identify as Republicans in a constitutional sense and in the sense of wanting less government involvement in people's everyday lives. How are you going to appeal to those of us who identify with much of the message but are certainly socially liberal?

COLLEGIO: That's a great question. I mean American Crossroads (unintelligible) are generally focused on your kind of more economic, fiscal-type issues. But it's illustrative of the fact that a candidate who has nothing to do with some other candidate can impact his race. What I mean by that is Todd Akin, you know, answering a theological question about rape and abortion ended up taking a lot of other candidates out there. And this is another reason why it's critically important to have candidates that are disciplined and on message and who know how to answer questions like that.

Quite honestly, I mean that was one of the issues with Richard Mourdock in Indiana, for example. He was - he had - when he got into that same trap, he had already answered the question, and then he went and riffed, and that was what got him into trouble. So again, I think a lot of it has to do with just raising the bar in terms of the quality of the candidates that are going to be running for high office.

CONAN: And just to follow up on that, so does that suggest - you say it's not ideological. The most conservative candidate can win in a lot of, for example, Northeastern states where Republicans are hard to find these days, at least elected Republicans. That's going to be somebody, well, pretty liberal, the Scott Brown type.

COLLEGIO: Yeah. I mean getting someone elected in, say, Idaho or Alabama is going to be very, very different than getting somebody elected in Delaware or New Jersey. And that's just a fact of life. And I think that that's a critical point that we need to communicate. That was really what the Buckley rule was all about. You go back to 2010 and you look at that race between Michael Castle and Christine O'Donnell, Castle being more moderate and O'Donnell not being moderate...

CONAN: And not a witch either...

(LAUGHTER)

COLLEGIO: You know, this is a case where, you know, Castle could have had a slam dunk in the general election and instead we elected somebody that had a past that wasn't even uncovered in the primary, and it ended up (unintelligible).

CONAN: Keith, thanks very much for the phone call. And we'd like to thank Jonathan Collegio for your time. Appreciate it.

COLLEGIO: Thank you so much for having me...

CONAN: Jonathan Collegio, communications director for American Crossroads, with us here from his office in Washington, D.C. Of course, Ken Rudin will be back with Political Junkie next Wednesday. Ken - and also you can go see his column and his ScuttleButton puzzle at npr.org/junkie. Laura Lee is the producer of the Political Junkie segment. Ken, as always, thanks very much.

RUDIN: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: When we come back, the Washington Post's Hank Stuever joins us to talk about how the characters we root for in television shows have changed since the 1980s. Let's just say being good isn't good for being liked. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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