NPR Story
12:00 pm
Wed April 4, 2012

A Look At Wisconsin's Political Battle

Transcript

NEAL CONAN, HOST:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington. Romney racks up three more, the president picks a fight, and Sarah Palin offers vice presidential advice. It's Wednesday, and time for a...

SARAH PALIN: Go rogue and shake it up.

CONAN: ...edition of the Political Junkie.

PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.

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

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

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

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

PALIN: Lipstick.

GOVERNOR RICK PERRY: Oops.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: But I'm the decider.

(SOUNDBITE OF SCREAM)

CONAN: Every Wednesday, Political Junkie Ken Rudin joins us to recap the week in politics. Mitt's march to 1,144 continues through Maryland, D.C., and Wisconsin. The president doubles down against the Republican House and activist judges. Even though Rick Santorum just heard the second-half whistle, the general election is unofficially upon us, and veteran Senator Orrin Hatch might just survive to see November.

In a few minutes, the real political fight in the Badger State, the effort to recall Governor Scott Walker. And later in the program, a son flies off to war, a father wants answers from Washington. But first, Political Junkie Ken Rudin joins us, as usual, here in Studio 3A. And as usual, we begin with a trivia question. Hey, Ken.

KEN RUDIN, BYLINE: Hi, Neal. Well, you know, everything about sports has to do with politics.

CONAN: Of course.

RUDIN: Yesterday, Baylor won the NCAA women's basketball national championship.

CONAN: Forty and 0, right?

RUDIN: They were 40 and 0, undefeated. And so going politically, there are 17 women currently serving in the U.S. Senate. Name one who is undefeated in her career. And by the way, this would exclude Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, because she's only run once. So it doesn't include that.

CONAN: So even if the other races were for alderman or whatever, somebody who's undefeated?

RUDIN: Alderperson. Yeah. Yeah.

CONAN: Alderperson, OK. 800-989-8255. Email: talk@npr if you think you know the answer to this week's trivia question, female members of the United States Senate undefeated in their political careers. And the winner, of course, gets a fabulous Political Junkie no-prize T-shirt. Ken, actual votes yesterday in Washington, D.C., in Maryland, the Free State and the Badger State.

RUDIN: That's exactly right. And you just - you earlier quoted Rick Santorum saying this only halftime. In a sense, it is about halftime, because Mitt Romney has a little more than half of the 1,144 needed. But it's really the two-minute warning of the fourth quarter, because it's hard to imagine anything stopping Mitt Romney from getting the nomination.

Sweeping the three states yesterday, there were like 98 delegates at stake, and he won about 75 of them. Rick Santorum, once upon a time, not too long ago, had a lead in Wisconsin, didn't lose by a lot, but he lost. And again second place is nice if - but, you know, not if you want to be the nominee.

CONAN: And it was John McCain who described today Rick Santorum as Mr. Irrelevant. In the meantime, Santorum, yesterday not in Wisconsin - where he had, as you mentioned, hoped to do better - but in his home state of Pennsylvania.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

RICK SANTORUM: And so I ask you over the next three weeks, this isn't halftime, no marching bands. We're hitting the field. The clock starts tonight.

CONAN: And everybody says Pennsylvania is do or die, but to 1,144, no.

RUDIN: No, that's - I mean, so many states have been do or die for Rick Santorum. He has to win this, otherwise he's finished. And, of course, he's looking at the numbers, but ignoring the numbers. And the next primaries are not until three weeks from yesterday, April 24th, and Pennsylvania is one of them. But, of course, other states on that day are New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Rhode Island. And it looks Romney is very heavily favored in those, as well. So...

CONAN: And he looks down the road and says, wait a minute. May is better for me. I can win Texas, too.

RUDIN: Yeah. But, you know, you've got to get - I mean, this is so long - the numbers are so unfavorable for Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, of course, that you could talk about May 29th in Texas all you want. You can talk about Arkansas that's coming in May, as well. But, you know, you lose in Pennsylvania - look, the justification for Santorum - our role is not to ask him to leave the race, but he keeps losing, and, you know, the road to 1,144 is not - I don't see how Santorum gets there.

CONAN: In the meantime, you mentioned the others still in the race, Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich. Their math is even more formidable, and they are still - at least technically - in the race.

RUDIN: Well, Newt Gingrich, of course, no longer thinks he's going to be the nominee, but he does say that he's not dropping out before Tampa, before the convention in late August, and, you know, lots of luck with that. But I don't know what he does. Republicans certainly don't know what that accomplishes, other than giving the Democrats and President Obama more ammunition.

CONAN: And in the meantime, it looks as if the two likely nominees - I think it was President Obama, not merely the likely nominee.

RUDIN: Right, exactly. It was official as of yesterday: President Obama is officially - or at least he got enough delegates - to become the de facto Democratic nominee for president. It was a shocker. He beat Randall Terry.

CONAN: Boy, that's - yeah, in any case, he took clear aim at the person he presumes will be the Republican nominee - the presumptive nominee, I guess at this point - and that's Mitt Romney. This is an ad issued by the president's re-election campaign.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL ADVERTISEMENT)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Under President Obama, domestic oil production's at an eight-year high. So why is big oil attacking him? Because he's fighting to end their tax breaks. He's raising mileage standards and doubling renewable energy. In all these fights, Mitt Romney stood with big oil.

CONAN: And that's going to be a meme of this campaign.

RUDIN: Oh, absolutely, because the Romney theme and the Republican theme from the beginning has been the fact that gasoline is approaching, if not already surpassed, $4 a gallon. And President Obama is trying to give the other side, the administration side, of his energy policy.

CONAN: In the meantime, we have some people on the line. We're going to talk more later, by the way, about the president's attack on the United States Supreme Court as activist judges - interesting turn of phrase. We'll go through some of the history of that. But 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 female members of the United States Senate who are undefeated in their political careers.

RUDIN: Not including Kelly Ayotte. She only ran once.

CONAN: Not including Kelly Ayotte. 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. And we'll start with Brad, Brad with us from San Antonio.

BRAD: Is it Senator Murray from Washington State?

CONAN: Patty Murray, the lady in tennis shoes.

RUDIN: And that is one of the correct answers.

CONAN: Ding, ding, ding.

RUDIN: There are several women in the Senate who have never lost, and Patty Murray is one of them.

CONAN: So stay on the line, Brad. We'll collect your particulars. We're going to give away two Political Junkie no-prize T-shirts this week. But that's one of them, gone right on the first call. Brad, congratulations.

RUDIN: He's overwhelmed.

CONAN: He's overwhelmed. He's speechless. Anyway, we'll put him on hold. Let's see if we can get someone else. This is Ken, Ken with us from Lincoln, Delaware.

KEN: Hi. Great show, you guys.

CONAN: Thanks. Who's your guess?

KEN: Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland.

CONAN: Barbara Mikulski of Maryland.

RUDIN: Well, when Barbara Mikulski first ran for the Senate in 1974, she lost to Mac Mathias. So before she was elected to the House, she lost a Senate race.

CONAN: Not a perfect record, but a very long record, nonetheless. But Ken, thanks very much for the try.

RUDIN: You're welcome.

KEN: You're welcome, thanks.

CONAN: All right, bye. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Steve, Steve with us from Paradise, California. Nice place, I bet.

STEVE: Yes, it is.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

STEVE: Dianne Feinstein.

RUDIN: Well, actually, Dianne Feinstein lost several times. She ran for mayor of San Francisco at least - she lost twice for mayor of San Francisco. She also ran for governor of California in 1990 and lost to Pete Wilson.

CONAN: Nice try. Thanks very much.

STEVE: All right.

CONAN: Let's try - this is Debbie, Debbie with us from St. Louis.

DEBBIE: Claire McCaskill.

RUDIN: Well, Claire McCaskill ran...

CONAN: Until - anyway.

RUDIN: Well, she's in big trouble in November. Careful, careful, careful. But she also ran for governor in 2004, lost - won the Democratic primary, but lost in November. She was the Democratic nominee for governor in 2004 and lost.

CONAN: Debbie, thanks for the call.

DEBBIE: Thanks.

CONAN: And let's see if we can go next to - this is Tom, Tom with us from Esko in Minnesota.

TOM: Hi. My guess is my senator, Amy Klobuchar.

RUDIN: And that is a correct answer, as well.

CONAN: Ding, ding, ding.

RUDIN: The other undefeated female members of the Senate: Olympia Snowe, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kay Hagan, and that's it. And Patty Murray.

CONAN: And Patty Murray, we mentioned earlier.

RUDIN: Everybody else has lost a race.

CONAN: Well, congratulations, Tom, and stay on hold. We'll collect your particulars, and again, in promise - in return for a promise of a digital picture of yourself wearing a Political Junkie no-prize T-shirt we can post on our wall of shame, we will send you said T-shirt, congratulations.

TOM: Thank you very much.

CONAN: All right. Well, we've got that out of the way. In the meantime, as we move along, there was a fascinating moment where Sarah Palin, the critic of the lamestream media, appears this week as a guest host on the "Today" program and was asked on that show, I think by Matt Lauer, to offer some advice to the Republicans who are going to have to pick a vice presidential nominee.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HANNITY")

PALIN: Don't necessarily play it safe and do just what the GOP establishment expects them to do, and that is to get somebody kind of just going along to get along, not willing to go rogue and shake it up.

CONAN: Go rogue and shake it up, worth saying twice.

RUDIN: I think she actually said that on the Hannity show, but yes, she is hosting the "Today" show...

CONAN: Excuse me. That's right. Yes, yes.

RUDIN: Co-hosting the "Today" show, whereas Katie Couric is on "Good Morning America." And it was interesting that Sarah Palin showed up...

CONAN: Palin one, Couric nothing.

RUDIN: ...with a bunch of newspapers, because, you know, she always reads newspapers. It was very clever. But she did talk about Allen West, the congressman - the African-American congressman from Florida.

CONAN: And a guest on this program.

RUDIN: That's right. He's been a guest on this program - as a possible nominee. But I know Sarah Palin feels very strongly about VP nominees being vetted strongly, so...

CONAN: Absolutely, yes.

RUDIN: So that would be a very interesting choice.

CONAN: In the meantime, we also have news from Washington State, where Governor Christine Gregoire set a special election for a congressional race there.

RUDIN: Right. That's the one that Jay Inslee is giving up - has already given up to run for governor. There will be a special primary in September. The regular election - the special election for the last two months of the term will be on November...

CONAN: Wow, boy, that's going to be - why - I know they have to have these things, but, I mean, it's two months, and you have to run again?

RUDIN: And it's expensive, exactly right. But there will also be regular general election battles, and there's two other vacant seats, Donald Payne of New Jersey, who passed away, and Gabrielle Giffords, Gabby Giffords of Arizona who gave up her seat, as well.

CONAN: And there is also news of the Senate race in Utah, where the incumbent, the longtime incumbent Orrin Hatch, looks like he has taken the advice, the lesson from his former colleagues' experience.

RUDIN: Right. Robert Bennett, the Republican from Utah, was not conservative enough two years ago. He not only didn't get the nomination at the convention, but he finished third in Utah. If you've got to get 60 percent of the state convention, which is coming up on April 21st, if Hatch gets 60 percent, he's automatically the nominee. If he gets under 60 percent, he goes into a primary. But he's in much better shape than Bob Bennett was two years ago.

CONAN: But he was getting challenged from the right, from Tea Party candidates.

RUDIN: He does have two conservative opponents, Tea Party-backed opponents, and we'll see what happens at the April 21st convention.

CONAN: So it looks like he's certainly got much better shape than Senator Bennett.

RUDIN: Absolutely. There's a poll taken for the Hatch campaign, so there's a little asterisk there, but again, he looks like he's in very strong shape.

CONAN: Well, when we come back, we're going to focus on Wisconsin, where political divisions are somewhat unusually front and center. Wisconsin voters, we want to hear from you. What has resulted in so much division in your state? Give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. We'll be back in a minute. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan. It's Wednesday, which means political junkie Ken Rudin is with us. And Ken, I understand there are whole bunch of regular ScuttleButton players who hate you.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RUDIN: Well, that's always the case but especially this year because on Sunday, I said I was unable to do a ScuttleButton on Monday, so I had to do it on Sunday. Only one person figured out it was an April Fool's joke. I put up four buttons that made absolutely no sense, although Jim Hopp of San Carlos, California, said: I think this is an April Fool's joke. Everybody else was cursing me, words you can't even say on the radio.

CONAN: On the rad - wow, how about that. In the meantime, you did put up another one on Monday.

RUDIN: I did, there's a new one. But last week, there was also a winner. The winner is Jenny Trapp of Wilmington, North Carolina, and the answer was - there was a love button, a Vernon Jolly For Congress, and a Shirley Chisholm button, and when you add them all up, you get "Laverne & Shirley."

CONAN: "Laverne & Shirley," and Jenny Trapp won that one.

Well, she will get a political junkie no-prize T-shirt. In the meantime, if you'd like to try to solve this week's ScuttleButton puzzle...

RUDIN: The real one.

CONAN: Or, if you'd care to read Ken's weekly column, go to npr.org/junkie, and you can find them there. In the meantime, let's turn to Wisconsin. Just because the Badger state held its presidential primary yesterday does not mean the political fight ends there. In fact, it's really just beginning.

While the state's likely to be in play in the presidential election, the recall election of Governor Scott Walker has captivated the state, and the lieutenant governor and a number of state senators will also be on a ballot in June. The governor's numbers show him about even with whoever his opponent may be. News reports detail how pro- and anti-Walker yard signs dot entire streets.

A state senator opted to resign instead of face a recall. The long and short of it, normally moderate and politically mild-mannered Wisconsin is politically toxic this year. We want to hear from voters in Wisconsin. How did your state get to this point? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Joining us now from studios at Wisconsin Public Radio, where he covers state politics, is Shawn Johnson. Nice to have you back with us on political junkie.

SHAWN JOHNSON: Hi, and glad to be here.

CONAN: And did the recall in some respects overshadow yesterday's primary?

JOHNSON: I would say yesterday's primary sort of snuck up on us in a way. There's been so much focus on the recall, you know, this year and really for the better part of a year that we had a very abbreviated campaign for president over the past week, and we're going to pivot very quickly now.

CONAN: And as I understand it, you cannot go anywhere in the state of Wisconsin without a yard sign either pro- or anti-Walker.

JOHNSON: No. I mean, especially in the most-Democratic and most-Republican areas in the state. You know, in Madison, for example, where I'm speaking now, you find a lot of recall Walker bumper stickers, yard signs, what have you. They've been out for many months, you know, going back about a year. If you go to the more Republican areas of the state, even a week ago when you had this presidential race coming up, you didn't see Rick Santorum or Mitt Romney signs in people's yards as much as you did Stand With Walker signs. And so it's the election that everybody's really focused on right now.

CONAN: And looking at some of the exit polls from yesterday's primary election, Republicans overwhelmingly support Scott Walker and for the numbers in the opinion polls to be even, that means Democrats are just as virulently on the other side.

JOHNSON: Yeah, and having seen some analyses of how he compares to other governors, he's usually referred to as the most polarizing governor in the country right now and that his supporters love him, adamantly love him, and his opponents, you know, want him thrown out of office two years before his term's up.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: Well, except that there's a little wrinkle now that there is more than one Democrat running. Kathleen Falk, who is the former Dane County executive who was backed by most of the labor unions; now Tom Barrett, the mayor of Milwaukee, the guy who lost to Walker in 2010, he jumped in the race, too. And the Democrats could have a tough fight on their hands.

JOHNSON: They could definitely. And it's going to be a short fight, though, because we have a Democratic primary for governor coming up on May 8th. And so that's why - well, you have some other Democrats jumping into the race - our secretary of state Doug La Follette, a state Senator Kathleen Vinehout - it's really Falk and Barrett who are getting the attention right now because they've run statewide before, and they're going to need that statewide name recognition in order to let voters know who they are in just a month.

After that primary is over on May 8th, they then have less than a month before the general election on June 5th. So it's going to be a very intense couple months here.

RUDIN: Do we - I was just going to say, do we think there could be bad blood? Because obviously the unions seem to be on one side in that Democratic battle, but all the polls seem to indicate that Barrett, the mayor of Milwaukee, is the favorite for the Democrats.

JOHNSON: The unions came out very quickly in favor of Falk, and it's partly - it's largely because she made the most unequivocal promise to them about what she would do with collective bargaining in terms of how she'd restore it. She said she would put it in the next state budget and that she would veto any budget that did not include collective bargaining.

So, you know, if the Republican legislature, if there is a Republican legislature next year, were to send her a budget that did not have these union bargaining rights for public employees, she would veto it. Tom Barrett hasn't taken that pledge. He, like the other Democrats, have said he favors collective bargaining for public workers. He wants to work to get it back there. But he hasn't been as adamant about how he will do it as Kathleen Falk has.

And so the unions are very strongly behind her. And it's not just a situation where they're lending them their - lending her their endorsement on paper, they are funding a third-party group that's running ads on her behalf. So this is definitely an active campaign here for the next month in the primary.

CONAN: And as mentioned, there are other races open in the recall election. Is there competition there, too?

JOHNSON: Yes, there's a race for lieutenant governor, and - which is pretty striking because in Wisconsin, the lieutenant governor basically has one duty, and that is she becomes governor if the governor steps down or moves on for any reason. And that's it. There's really no staff in the lieutenant governor's office to speak of, no other official duties, and yet recall organizers were able to get roughly, you know, 800,000 signatures to recall Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, who has supported the governor's agenda.

There's also - you know, for all the attention that our nine state Senate recall elections got last summer, we've got four state Senate recall elections that are sort of flying under the radar this year with everything that's happening with the governor. And, you know, those are - three of the four at least are going to be likely very competitive.

These were seats that the Republican incumbents won in the Republican wave of 2010. They were previously held by Democrats. And so with the Senate now actually split right down the middle, 16-16, Democrats might have a chance to pick up the State Senate.

CONAN: Let's get some callers in on the conversation, 800-989-8255. We want to hear from those of you in Wisconsin. How did this situation in a normally politically moderate state get so polarized? 800-989-8255. We'll start with Danny, Danny with us from Wasau.

DANNY: Hi, Neal, thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

DANNY: A couple things, I guess. I'm 27, so I've been voting, you know, for as long as I've been able to. But I won't get into I guess my opinion on Scott Walker or not. But I will say that the question that he raised by his actions, meaning should the budget be balanced based on the workers, or based on those who are high-income earners? And what that's done is that's a very - it is by the nature of it is a polarizing question itself, and it's turned families, friends and neighbors against one another.

But it's interesting to me because it's nothing extremely new in Wisconsin. If you look at the labor history that we've had in this state, it's not exactly been the cleanest or most nurturing. It's been a pretty bloody battle from, you know, the few incidences that we've had in our history.

CONAN: Shawn Johnson, you mentioned earlier that there was, of course, the highly controversial legislation to prohibit bargaining rights for government employees with the exception of police and fire, and that was polarizing, and refusal to close that budget gap, as Danny suggested - and of course this is a Democratic position - by raising taxes on the richest.

JOHNSON: Yeah, and that is the issue that drove this recall. That's when the talk began. And, you know, the governor had - did have tax cuts, not as many as he wanted, but definitely had tax cuts in his previous budget, and so that was something that, you know, he was able to prioritize.

As far as, you know, the collective bargaining issue in this campaign, he's talking about it a lot in his ads. He's not talking about it in the terms that the Democrats are. I mean, he's not speaking of it in terms of I took away union bargaining rights. He's referring to the reforms he passed and how they, you know, helped local governments save money.

So that's sort of how the collective bargaining issue is being framed by him in this campaign.

CONAN: Danny, I expect you're planning to vote?

DANNY: Absolutely.

CONAN: All right, well, thanks very much for the call, appreciate it.

DANNY: Thank you guys for the discussion.

CONAN: Email from Chris(ph) in Eu Claire, Wisconsin: I am a Democrat. I think the recall is foolish. The Republicans will do the same thing next time a Democrat is governor. It will only make elections continue in perpetuity. The proper way to remove an elected official is to vote him or her out on election day. I plan to vote against the recall, even though I strongly disagree with Walker. I wonder, Shawn Johnson, how prevalent that opinion is?

JOHNSON: Yeah. I don't know how prevalent it is among Democrats. There is that idea thrown out that we've - we're going down a pretty slippery slope here, that you know, with recalls last year, recalls again this year, it's just never going to stop. You know, in the past, I think you would said that the number of signatures that it takes to recall a governor is, you know, is its own limit on the recall process. You need, you know, in this case you needed 540,000 signatures to recall, you know, Governor Walker, to force an election.

It took some anger and some definite mobilization, some definite organization to get those signatures. But Democrats did blow pass that number and turned in 900,000 valid signatures. It's certainly a possibility that could happen for a future governor. We do know that it's a - it may be happening to a couple more state senators later this year for stances they took against some mining legislation in Wisconsin. They might be facing recalls in yet another round coming up.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: You know, I mean, I kind of sympathize with the caller, because remember in 2003 in California, it was the Republicans who loved the thought of recalling Governor Gray Davis. The Democrats opposed it. And now with a Republican governor, the turn - the tables have turned. So I kind of think you can have recalls every year if this becomes the pattern.

CONAN: And I wonder, Shawn Johnson, just quickly, why do you think things have become so polarized in Wisconsin?

JOHNSON: I don't know. You used the word toxic in your introduction, and I would say that's absolutely accurate. And it's gone from a situation where, you know, not only do people sort of have their opinions about the governor, whether they're strongly for or against – you know, it's a situation where in Wisconsin a lot of people think that the other side is just - it's just a shamed that they're doing what they're doing or how can they believe what they believe, you know, just sort of - people are just sort of incredulous at, you know, at people who don't share their beliefs about this governor right now.

You know, he's really shaken things up in that sense, for sure, and it's been referred to by some of the Democratic candidates as civil war that he started. And, you know, it's a little hyperbole there. But at the same time, you know exactly what they're talking about when you live in Wisconsin.

CONAN: Let's see if we get one more caller in. This is Bill, and Bill is on the line with us from Milwaukee.

BILL: Yes.

CONAN: Hi, Bill. Go ahead, please.

BILL: I just have a question as to why - I'm with the governor on this. And, you know, people look at the public sector, and they don't want to give an inch on what they're getting. And I look at it at a place like New Jersey, where if we start raising taxes on the wealthy, they're just going to leave. They're going to leave. They're going to take their dollars with them. And we're just going to be in a bigger hole.

CONAN: So why do you think it's gotten - this is an argument that can be had without resort to recall elections that's gone on in other states. Why do you think it's gotten so bad in Wisconsin, Bill?

BILL: I just think it's gotten so bad because, like I said, the public sector doesn't want to give an inch. They've been given so much, and they're just used to it. And, you know, the moment you want to take a dollar away from them, just to help the greater good of the state, they don't want to give in. They want everybody else to just foot the bill for them and keep it just as it is.

CONAN: All right, Bill.

BILL: And I think that's what's drawing a wedge between everyone.

CONAN: Bill, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it. Of course you hear different analyses of that from the other side. But in any case, Shawn Johnson, we will I'm sure we'll be speaking with you again as we come up to the run-up of the recall election (unintelligible)...

JOHNSON: All right. Thanks, Neal.

CONAN: Shawn Johnson, state government reporter for Wisconsin Public Radio. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And we know that President Obama is very fond of basketball, a game that sometimes in a gym involves a little one on one. Unusually, he's gone one on nine - this time taking on the United States Supreme Court.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Ultimately I'm confident that the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.

CONAN: And Ken Rudin, that caused some eyebrows to raise. The president of the United States seemingly questioning the ability of the Supreme Court to overturn a law, going back to Marbury vs. Madison. That's been around for a long time.

RUDIN: Yes. But Obama's rhetoric about the court is not new. We, of course, the Democrats have been talking about that since Bush vs. Gore in 2000. President Obama in the 2010 State of the Union message criticized the court for its Citizens United decision and that famous scene of Samuel Alito shaking his head, mouthing the word no. So it's funny. We always heard Republicans for the longest time attacking the courts, activist judges. Bush did it. Nixon did it. But now it's the Democrats more and more who are taking on the court.

CONAN: And is this wise politics?

RUDIN: Well, you know, you need somebody to run against. And obviously if half the country feels that this is - look, if the court rules against your side, if it's a conservative majority...

CONAN: But this is the health care law, his signature achievement.

RUDIN: That's true. And obviously look - make him look pretty bad if he's - as a former constitutional law professor, to see the Supreme Court throw out...

CONAN: (Unintelligible) four votes on his side.

RUDIN: Right. He will have four votes. But obviously every time there's a five-to-four decision, if it's five on that side and you're on the four side, you know that it's an ideological court. It's a partisan court. And it becomes an issue in November.

CONAN: We're going to have to see how that pans out. In the meantime, we forgot one primary race. In the state of Maryland, the 6th Congressional District sharply redrawn by the Democratic legislature in Annapolis, and interesting races on both sides of that.

RUDIN: Right. They did it - the Democrats did everything they can to defeat Roscoe Bartlett. He's 85 years old, one of the senior members of the Congress in age on the Republican side. And there was a very interesting primary between Rob Garagiola, who was the establishment pick - Governor Martin O'Malley, Steny Hoyer, everybody backed him. But Bill Clinton backed John Delaney. He's a multimillionaire businessman, made his first run. He won the primary pretty easily, and the Democrats think they have a shot at picking up that seat.

CONAN: And Bartlett had some competition on his side and managed to survive challenges from the right.

RUDIN: Yeah. A lot of people didn't think he would run again, but he showed them.

CONAN: And there was - he showed them. There was also a race of sorts for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate.

RUDIN: Well, Ben Cardin running for a second term. Remember, six years ago he beat Michael Steele. Ben Cardin won the Democratic nomination for a second term. The Republican nominee is a guy named Daniel Bongino, a former Secret Service agent. Ben Cardin looks safe in November.

CONAN: Bongino may have to take a bullet for - well, anyway...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RUDIN: Oh, no, no, no.

CONAN: No, no, no. Well, the Secret Service agent part. Oh, come on. You would have said that.

RUDIN: No, I wouldn't.

CONAN: Yeah. You would.

RUDIN: No.

CONAN: Well, he might - he wouldn't(ph) have said it again next Wednesday when he returns for another edition of the Political Junkie. Ken Rudin, thanks very much.

RUDIN: Thanks, Neal. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

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