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'Game Change': The Stories Behind Campaign '08


This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Rebecca Roberts in Washington. Neal Conan is away.

There is a lot of political gossip in a new book by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann: infighting in the Edwards family, Hillary Clinton's hubris and her husband's liabilities, Sarah Palin unable to say Joe Biden's last name and Senator Harry Reid's now-infamous remark about Barack Obama. It's Wednesday, time for a "Game Change" edition of the Political Junkie.

President RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.

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

Former Senator BARRY GOLDWATER (Republican, Arizona): Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.

Former Senator LLOYD BENTSEN (Democrat, Texas): Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

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

Former Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska): Lipstick.

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

(Soundbite of scream)

ROBERTS: Every Wednesday, NPR political editor Ken Rudin joins us to talk about politics. We've got the Senate race in Massachusetts being closer than anyone expected, former Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford, Jr., may run for Senate again, but this time in New York. Sarah Palin is joining the Fox News payroll. President Obama plans to address House Democrats and Republicans. And a group of Wall Street executives is on Capitol Hill.

Later, John Heilemann, co-author of "Game Change," will join us. We'll have an update on the earthquake in Haiti, and we'll read from your letters. But first, as usual, we begin with a trivia question. Political junkie Ken Rudin joins us here in Studio 3A. Hey, Ken.

KEN RUDIN: Hi, Rebecca. What a week, what a day, what a week. Here's a convoluted political trivia question. Okay, Harold Ford, Jr., who ran for the Senate from Tennessee back in 2006, as you say, seriously considering running against Kirsten Gillibrand in New York this year. In the past, there have been statewide elected officials from one state who later for statewide office in another state. Name the last Democrat and the Republican to do that.

ROBERTS: So if you think you know the last Democrat and Republican elected in one state who later ran for statewide office in another state, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Or email us, talk@npr.org.

So let's run through a couple of these surprising races, starting with Massachusetts, which is a much closer race than anyone expected it to be. Everyone thought it was a walk-away for the Democrat to replace Senator Kennedy.

RUDIN: Right. Well, Martha Coakley won the primary, the Democratic primary, back on December 8th and basically has slept since then. She has not aggressively campaigned for the seat. A lot of people said she was a slam dunk. No Republican has won a Senate seat in Massachusetts since 1972. But the Republican, Scott Brown, has been very energetic. His backers are energized. The tea-party people are very active in Massachusetts, and only in the last second, it seems like, the Democrats realize that they have a real race on their hands.

Now of course, if Scott Brown does win, and I don't think he does, the election is six days away, January 19, but if he does win, obviously it's good news for Republicans in November, nervous signs for the Democrats, but also he becomes the 41st Republican in the Senate, and if that's the case, then the Democrats no longer have the 60 votes they need to pass health care, for example.

RUDIN: Now, it would be very interesting to see how long they keep Scott Brown, should he win, from being sworn in because Paul Kirk, who's the appointee after Ted Kennedy died, Paul Kirk says he's voting for it whether or not Scott Brown wins.

There was a Boston Globe poll last Sunday that showed Coakley up by 15 points. There's a Rasmussen poll that some people, some Democrats, they question the methodology, but they have - that poll is out today, has Coakley up by two points. Three points go to this independent candidate by the name of Joe Kennedy, no relation, and he's a libertarian, not a liberal, but it's certainly no relation to the Kennedy family. But it's just wild in Massachusetts and something the Democrats never thought would happen.

ROBERTS: Well, when Massachusetts has elected a Republican statewide, it's someone like Mitt Romney, who is not from the far right of the Republican Party. What do you know about the politics of this candidate?

RUDIN: Well, Scott Brown is pretty conservative. He's voted against certain abortion - he's voted in favor of abortion restrictions in some legislation in the past, but he is trying to sell himself as more of a moderate Republican than his record in the state Senate would indicate.

He's talking about new leadership, and he's talking about it in general terms like that. He says that of course he would support abortion rights. He is suddenly sounding more pro-choice than he really is. But in a sense, he's just a fresh face, now not that Martha Coakley's been around forever.

She was elected state attorney general only in 2006, just four years ago. So she's not, you know, like Ted Kennedy, who had been in the Senate for 47 years, but she's just not inspiring voters. I mean, she's a woman. There are women's groups out to do everything they can for her. She's just not running an inspired campaign. Still, I think the demographics in Massachusetts have to portend a Coakley victory, but you know, we've seen stranger things happen.

ROBERTS: Well, do you think her lack of effort since the primary explains most of why this is so close, or is something else going on?

RUDIN: Well, there is a general anti-Democratic mood. I don't know if you'll see it in Massachusetts as much. I do know that Governor Duvall Patrick is also in some kind of trouble in the state seeking a second term, but also the fact that I think she's just not as good a candidate as Democrats had hoped. She won the Democratic primary pretty convincingly.

Scott Brown, of course, is running a much better campaign than many thought. But the DSCC, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, is now running negative ads in Massachusetts against Scott Brown, which makes you think they're a little more nervous than they would be. President Obama will not campaign in Massachusetts, but Bill Clinton will be campaigning on behalf of Martha Coakley on Friday.

ROBERTS: So moving on to New York, Harold Ford, Jr., former congressman from Tennessee from an old Memphis political family, is considering a Senate run in New York.

RUDIN: Which is very strange because New York never elects carpetbaggers.

ROBERTS: No, never.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: Unless we're talking about Hillary Clinton�

ROBERTS: It would be unprecedented�

RUDIN: �and Bobby Kennedy and Jim Buckley. No, but look, Harold Ford, Jr., moved to New York right after he lost his 2006 Senate race in Tennessee. He works for what was then Merrill Lynch, now I guess Bank of America as a vice chairman. He's - and you know, he's a good campaigner, an attractive candidate. Or to quote Joe Biden, he's attractive and smart and clean. But more importantly, he has some pretty conservative views.

He has called himself pro-life when he was running for the Senate in Tennessee. He has voted against same-sex marriage. And the Kirsten Gillibrand people say that, you know, this guy is not fit for New York state, which is interesting because when Kirsten Gillibrand was in the House - now she's a senator, having been appointed to replace Hillary Clinton - but when she was in the House, she also voted, you know, on certain issues, like on guns, which were popular in upstate New York but not popular statewide. So she also has an old record that she has to distance herself from.

ROBERTS: And what are Democratic Party leaders in New York making of this potential fight?

RUDIN: They do not want Harold Ford in this race, and the White House has made it clear. Robert Gibbs, the press secretary to the White House, the White House press secretary, said this week there was no question about where the White House stood on that.

ROBERTS: We have that tape. Let's listen.

Unidentified Man #1: Robert, it looks like Harold Ford is very serious about jumping into the Senate race in New York. What's the White House's position on having a candidate like Harold Ford run for that Senate seat?

Mr. ROBERT GIBBS (White House Press Secretary): Look, I think the White House is quite happy with the leadership and the representation of Senator Gillibrand in New York, and as many are in the DSCC. We're supporting her re-election. Thanks, guys.

Unidentified Man #2: How would you handicap the chances of Rahm and Senator Schumer to clear the field this time around?

Mr. GIBBS: Stay tuned.

ROBERTS: That's White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs in a briefing yesterday.

RUDIN: There were a bunch of congressman, members of Congress from New York, who wanted to run against Gillibrand because of course she was appointed by who is now a very unpopular governor, David Paterson. And Schumer and the White House just pushed them out. They said no, we want to clear the field for Gillibrand.

Now, of course, the Republican Party, you know, you would think that a fight in the Democratic Party could help the GOP gain a seat. There is really no Republican candidate worth anything in this race. There's a guy named Bruce Blakeman, who ran for something once upon a time and lost badly.

So it's not a question of what the Republicans can do through this seat in November, but the Democrats really want it to be Gillibrand, and they are very angry at Ford. Ford says look, I'm not going to be, you know, pushed over by these bullies. You know, I'm not going to be a rubber stamp for Harry Reid. He's almost sounding like a Republican in the fact that he's standing up to Schumer, the White House and Reid, and it's really weird to hear those kind of words coming from a Democrat.

ROBERTS: I want to get some trivia answers in, but I quickly want to ask, you talked about a potential Republican pickup in Massachusetts, but of course, there is an election coming up in the fall that is another chance for Republican pickups, and last week, you talked about two Senate retirements in North Dakota and Connecticut. Any update on those?

RUDIN: The update, this week in North Dakota, John Hoeven, as expected, the very popular, three-term Republican governor, has announced his candidacy. That is the one Senate seat that looks like almost assuredly will go from D to R in November. Hoeven is very popular. The Democratic, likely Democratic, candidate was Congressman Earl Pomeroy, who has since announced he will not run. The Democrats still don't have a candidate there.

But good news for the Democrats in Connecticut: Chris Dodd was in big trouble. The state attorney general, Richard Blumenthal, will be the Democratic nominee and probably will keep the seat for the Democrats in that state.

ROBERTS: We have a couple of potential responses to the trivia question here. This is - we're asking for the last Democrat and Republican elected in one state who later ran for statewide office in another state. Let's hear from George(ph) in Tallahassee. George, what's your answer to the trivia question?

GEORGE (Caller): My answers would be Alan Keyes in Illinois, who ran against Obama, and I think it was Endicott Peabody in New Hampshire, the Democrat.

RUDIN: Well, first of all, Endicott Peabody is the correct answer, and I never thought anybody would get that answer. But Endicott Peabody was a former governor of Massachusetts who ran for the Senate in 1986 in New Hampshire, and of course, everybody knows Endicott Peabody was named after three cities in Massachusetts - Endicott, Peabody and Marblehead - that's an old joke.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: But anyway, but Alan Keyes is not the correct answer because I'm looking for somebody who had been elected statewide.

ROBERTS: To anything, ever.

RUDIN: And Alan Keyes was never elected to anything, although he did move to Illinois to run against some guy named Barack Obama in 2004.

ROBERTS: Well, George, since you got Endicott Peabody...

RUDIN: That was a hard one.

ROBERTS: Congratulations on that one. I'm going to put you on hold and see if anybody can get the Republican answer correct. Let's see if Casey(ph) in Green Bay, Wisconsin, knows the answer. Hey, Casey.

CASEY (Caller): (Unintelligible), how are you doing?

ROBERTS: Good, what's your answer?

CASEY: Well, I'm glad Mr. Peabody's name came up because I had the wrong. So I will go with Mr. Peabody as the Democrat, and then the Republican has to be the illustrious - oh, I almost forgot his name - Arnold Schwarzenegger because he came from a foreign country and got elected to the California governorship.

RUDIN: Yes, but the question was: Who had been - I needed a statewide elected official from one state who ran for statewide official in another state. and Schwarzenegger was never elected before he came to California.

ROBERTS: Let's try Al(ph) in Nashville, Tennessee. Al, do you know the answer to the Republican part of this question?

AL (Caller): I think I do. I think it was one of our United States senators here from Tennessee, Bill Brock. He was elected, I think, in 1970 and served. He lost election for a second term. And then he later moved to Maryland, and he ran for the United States Senate for Maryland. I think he lost that election.

RUDIN: And that is the correct answer. Bill Brock lost - beat some guy named Albert Gore, Sr., in 1970, lost in Tennessee, came back to Maryland and lost in 1994.

ROBERTS: Well, another Al from Nashville will get the prize there, and coming up, we are going to talk a little bit more about the 2008 election. It's coming back to haunt us in the form of a book, "Game Change." We'll talk with one of the co-authors.

And we're taking your calls at 800-989-8255. And Ken Rudin stays with us for the rest of the Political Junkie segment. I'm Rebecca Roberts. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

ROBERTS: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Rebecca Roberts in Washington. It's Political Junkie day. We've got Ken Rudin with us. And a new book about the 2008 presidential campaign came out this week. It's based on 300 interviews, and it's called "Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin and the Race of a Lifetime."

Some of the stories in it have already caused a stir, most notably Harry Reid's comment in 2008 that then-candidate Barack Obama showed promise in part because he is, quote, "light-skinned with no Negro dialect unless he wanted to have one." There's also descriptions of Sarah Palin struggling to understand the differences between North Korea and South Korea.

In just a minute, we'll speak with one of the authors of "Game Change," John Heilemann, but if you have questions for him about the 2008 campaign or about the book, we want to hear from you. Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. Our email address is talk@npr.org. And you can join the conversation at our Web site. Go to npr.org and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

John Heilemann is a national political correspondent and columnist for New York magazine and the co-author, with Mark Halperin of "Game Change." He joins us now from a studio in New York City. John Heilemann, it's good to have you back on TALK OF THE NATION.

Mr. John Heilemann (Correspondent, Columnist, New York Magazine; Co-author, "Game Change"): It's great to be back.

ROBERTS: So did you expect the furor over some of the comments in this book, and did you pick the right comments to have potential furor?

Mr. HEILEMANN: Well, it certainly has been surprising in the sense that I don't think you - we were pretty confident that we'd written a really good book, and we hoped we had, at least. And we also thought that there were some things that were newsworthy in the book. I don't think that you can predict this kind of a firestorm any more than you can predict where lightning will strike.

You know, the Harry Reid comments that you mentioned have obviously gotten a lot of attention. We think that they - whatever you think of them and the controversy around them, they've kind of obscured the larger story about Harry Reid, the more-newsworthy story, which is his role in secretly urging Senator Obama to run for president while maintaining his public neutrality throughout the Democratic race. And he was a very important figure in - among a number of senators and a large number of members of the Democratic establishment who urged Senator Obama when he was only 18 months in office to take on Hillary Clinton.

That's a pretty big story in the grand arc of history, and that's one of the most important stories in the book. And I think that this piece of news has slightly distracted from that news, but we welcome all attention, I suppose.

ROBERTS: Well, also, you know, the larger narrative of the book is the transformation of Barack Obama from candidate into president-elect.


ROBERTS: How would you chart that change?

Mr. HEILEMANN: Well, you know, it's an extraordinary - it's one piece of the book. I mean, the book covers the entire 2008 election, and you know, part of the reason why we sat down to write it in the first place was that, as we say and as the subtitle indicates, you know, we thought it was the race of a lifetime, and there were so many pieces of it that were historic.

I don't think we'll ever see an election like this in our lifetimes again, where you have the election of the first African-American president, the first female - plausible female candidate for president in Hillary Clinton, the rise of Sarah Palin, which has obviously led to a whole movement in the Republican Party that's kind of transforming the Republican Party. Those are all big pieces. You also had John McCain, who in any normal year would have been a figure of kind of - would have been a facile, kind of celebrity figure and the most interesting person in the race, and in this campaign, he was the fourth-or fifth-most-interesting person in the race.

But as you point out, the arc of Obama, the unknown Barack Obama, coming to the Senate and getting it into his head that he can win against the formidable frontrunner, Hillary Clinton, how he did that and how the two of them end up on the same side at the end of the book is obviously probably the overarching, single-most kind of historically important narrative in the entire book.

ROBERTS: Ken Rudin?

RUDIN: John, what I found so fascinating about this book is that: one, before I opened it, I figured look, here we go again. We know everything that happened. Some guy named Obama won. We know the other people lost, and that would be the end of it. And yet I could not - I still haven't been able to put this book down. I also want to say it's really well-written, and it's a great book.

What I found most fascinating, not only watching the Obama think, the way the Obama people thought about whether he could actually run and win, but to watch what Hillary Clinton had to go through, knowing the vulnerabilities, knowing the problems with Bill Clinton and yet how she so carefully tried to make herself the inevitable candidate and watch it fall apart on her face.

Mr. HEILEMANN: Yeah, Ken, very nice of you to say that the book is readable, and we certainly tried to make it that way.

We were, you know, stunned, I think, throughout the reporting of the book. And as one of you mentioned earlier, you know, we did a lot of reporting on the book, you know, 300 interviews with more than 200 sources, and Mark and I had both covered the campaign. We covered it pretty carefully. And I think we thought we knew - we didn't think there were that many secrets to be unearthed. We didn't think there was that much - we hoped we could find out new things, but we were shocked, day in and day out throughout the reporting, how far, how much stuff we didn't know, how much stuff we could bring to light that was the back, behind-the-scenes story of this campaign that we - that was new to us.

And I would say that in that context, you know, the stories inside the Clinton world, we penetrated into the Clintons' world in a way I think very few authors ever have before. And the story that you tell there, again another historic theme of this book, is, you know, the down - the fall of the House of Clinton. They had been the dominant family in American politics for the past generation, and how Hillary Clinton missed her opportunity in 2004.

One of the big pieces of news in the book that's also been ignored a little bit is how close she came to running, Hillary did, in 2004. We argue in the book that she - it was probably a better chance for her than in 2008, and in some ways, by not running in 2004, she opened the door to Barack Obama. She opened the door to John Kerry getting the nomination, who then named Obama his keynote speaker in 2004. How she then decides, having not run in 2004, that 2008 will be her year and goes through, as you said, all of the vulnerabilities, fights them all off, fends off the concerns about her husband, fends off all of those problems, manages to put herself in this - what seems to be an unassailable frontrunner's position and then manages to see it all snatched away by this most unlikely challenger in the person of Barack Obama.

RUDIN: And the other thing I saw that really stayed with me and struck me was even though most people don't even think about John and Elizabeth Edwards anymore, and Democrats would rather not think about John and Elizabeth Edwards, the public perception and the campaign perception of Elizabeth Edwards was just startling to read.

Mr. HEILEMANN: I think that's true. I mean, again, Mark and I were sort of stunned when we started talking to people in the Edwards' circle, of John Edwards's circle and Elizabeth Edwards's circle. They all kind of had a universal, unanimous view, which was that in the case of Elizabeth Edwards, there was no person for whom the gap between public perception and private reality was greater.

I would say, you know, the Edwardses are - I'm still surprised by what a resonant - what resonant figures they both are. You know, last - in December, just last month, the Wall Street Journal did a poll that showed that John Edwards was the most disappointing public figure in American life in 2009, that he had beaten Tiger Woods for that honor, that dubious distinction, by two to one, which tells you that even though he never really - and he ended up not coming close to the White House. Even a year and a half later, after much of the story about him was known, people are still intensely interested in the Edwardses. And I think we were able to show, especially in him, that he is kind of the - he's like an exaggerated version of all the qualities that lead someone to run for president in the first place.

I mean, there's a lot of ego, a lot of vanity, a lot of hubris, a certain amount of neediness, a certain amount of delusion in every presidential candidate, and John Edwards was all of those things times 10, to the point of self-destructiveness. And so I think in some ways, his story is an archetypal story, and in the book, in "Game Change," we take you very deep inside and show you all of those qualities at a very, very profoundly human level.

ROBERTS: I want to take a call, actually. This is Paulie(ph) in Wilmington, North Carolina. Paulie(ph), welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

PAULIE (Caller): Hey. I just don't - you know, I saw you on TV describing a really personal moment where Elizabeth Edwards had a meltdown, and I just thought: Exactly where were your sources for that? I assume you and your co-author didn't witness it personally, and I just - you described it compassionately, but it just seems like an incredibly intense, private moment that I question how accurate your retelling of it could be.

Mr. HEILEMANN: What scene are you referring to?

PAULIE: Where she apparently has a meltdown and tears at her blouse and cries out that this is me or...

Mr. HEILEMANN: There were - where she says look at me. Yeah, there were - that was not a moment where John and Elizabeth Edwards were alone, and in fact, they were accompanied at that moment by several aides who all witnessed the moment. It was actually in a public parking lot in the Raleigh - in the private aviation terminal at Raleigh-Durham. So I can attest for you that we had that for multiple sources, all of whom saw the same thing and told us the same story. And as I say, it was not actually a moment - a private moment or a moment just between the two members of the couple.

ROBERTS: Well, that brings up a question of your sourcing philosophy because one of the reasons the book is readable is that it reads as a narrative, and you say, you know, a character thought something, or they realized something, rather than direct quotes. Can you tell us what your sourcing philosophy was here and why there's not, say, footnotes or a bibliography?

Mr. HEILEMANN: Right, well, we say in the book, you know, like a couple of things. We talk - we felt that we - this is not an unusual technique, and you could look at it from people like Bob Woodward to - in the politics - to people in business like Andrew Ross Sorkin, who just wrote this great book "Too Big to Fail," you know, constructing nonfiction narrative, especially from a point of - an omniscient point of view - trying to write like a novel, many people do the same thing that we did, which was to offer - to do all of our interviews on deep background with our sources and to offer our sources anonymity.

We still maintain the highest levels of sourcing so we would still - unless it was something that someone directly told us about themselves. If somebody said to us, I said the following, we took their word for that. We didn't need to get a second source for that. But if someone said, I thought the following, we also - we attributed that to them as state of mind. But in terms of other factual stuff and overheard conversations, we would always look for multiple sources.

We had known all these sources for a very long time. Mark and I have covered politics for a long time, so we had, in most cases, had long-term relationships with the sources that we are talking to. We were able to judge their veracity and we're able to - we knew where - what the axes were that they had to grind if they had them to grind. We knew where their weak spots were, and we were scrupulous about trying to make sure that we included nothing in the book that was even in dispute.

If there was something that happened in a scene where there was fundamental disagreement about it in the scene, we just didn't write it. We wrote things that where there was fundamental agreement among multiple sources about the things that happened, or where it was only one person attesting to something that they thought or felt, in which case we could rely on them as the single source.

ROBERTS: Although, of course, keeping your sources anonymous and on deep background allows for, for instance, Sarah Palin the other night said, well, of course I know the difference between North Korea and South Korea - that just didn't happen. And if you don't have a named source, it allows someone now to say, it didn't happen that way. What's your reaction to that?

Mr. HEILEMANN: It's true. And - I mean, I - Sarah Palin took issue with a number of things on television the other night. All I can say is that in that -in the case of Sarah Palin is that we, again, what kind of like the Clintons, I think we penetrated into Sarah Palin's world in a way that very few others have. We were - we spoke to - as you probably know, there were warring camps to the McCain campaign. There were people who were very sympathetic to Sarah Palin. There are people who also are very - who were very critical of Sarah Palin. We spoke to all of them.

And on every single story of a factual nature of the conduct that we're talking about here, things that were gaps in her knowledge, we had confirmations on those stories from people who were in both camps - people who were critics and people who were sympathetic. And so I understand why she feels the need to deny those stories, because they're embarrassing, but we're very comfortable with them and feel that they are - we stand by them 100 percent.

ROBERTS: I want to get another caller in here. This is Josiah(ph) in Cheshire, Connecticut. Josiah, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

JOSIAH (Caller): Hi. Thank you for taking my call.


JOSIAH: I'm glad to hear you discussing the larger themes of the book because my question was less about the contents of the book than the response among the commentariate to the revelations. And I was wondering if both the author and your commentators could discuss why there's been so much more discussion of Senator Reid's infelicitous phrasing of something when he was saying, I think the country is ready for Barack Obama than about something like Sarah Palin thinking that Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11. These seem to me to be - I don't really understand why we're having the conversations that we're having and we're not having some of the other conversations coming out of this book.

ROBERTS: Josiah, thanks for your call. The book is "Game Change" and the author is John Heilemann. He is a co-author with Mark Halperin.

And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

John Heilemann, let's give you a chance to respond to that. Have you been frustrated with what has been pulled out and gotten attention this week?

Mr. HEILEMANN: Well, it's hard to complain about anything that gives...

ROBERTS: It does seem churlish, yeah.

Mr. HEILEMANN: Well, it's so hard in this world - I mean, look - I mean, selling books is - getting people to read - I mean, we think of our book as a really serious piece of work. We've taken this election very seriously and we think we've produced something that will inform future historians - I mean, there is stuff in the book that I think if we hadn't gotten it on to the page it would have been lost to history because memories falter and people forget key details and key scenes.

We've tried to - we talked to people immediately after these events took place, in the nomination fights in the summer of 2008. Once they were over, we talk to people about that. And then when the general election was over in November of 2008, we started our research on that, so peoples' memories are fresh. And we've got stuff in the book that I think would have been otherwise lost.

You know, you're trying to do a serious thing when you do a book like this. And to get people's attention, to get people to pay attention and to go and buy the book, you can't really complain. It's a hard thing to do, and so you can't complain when people pay attention to it. We're really grateful that people are paying attention to it.

I would say that much of the commentary about the book in the last few days has been driven by some of these news revelations - and some of them are very interesting. But many people who are commenting on the book have not read the book. And the book has been very hard to find this week because it's been - it sold very well. And many of the people who were commenting have - they have a perception of what the book is like based on the little tiny pieces of news they've read. And I urge people to actually read the book because it is - not that much of the stuff - I'm not backing away from any of the news in the book, but I am saying that it is a kind of a sweeping narrative of the campaign.

And I think that people before they render judgment on the nature of the book should get the book and read the book, and then come to some conclusions. And I think they'll find it's a very rich and interesting narrative beyond the specific news nuggets that some people have focused on in the first 72 hours.

RUDIN: Two - several quick things. First of all, when I knew about the Harry Reid quote and what I read in the book - I mean, looking in the book, it seems so unintrusive and unimportant. It just seemed like a thing - you wonder why a Senate majority leader would say the word - the name Negro in 21st century to a reporter, no less. But that's another thing. And I think it has resulted in a valid question on whether there's a double standard. Of course, both sides disagree on it. But in the scheme of things, I thought it was very odd that they would focus on the Harry Reid quote because obviously, as we've talked about in the last couple of minutes, there's so much more things here that I never knew existed in that campaign.

Mr. HEILEMANN: And as I said before, you know, I mean, Harry Reid's part of a really important story in the book. It's certainly the case that the word is an anachronistic word and we understand, Mark and I both understand, why it would strike - why it strikes some people as problematic. But you're 100 percent right in the sense that we think it's unfortunate that the focus on it has taken away some of the focus on the much bigger, I think, and a more historically important story, which is the role that Harry Reid played in getting Obama into the race. And I can't overstate how important it was.

I mean, Barack Obama had been in the Senate for 18 months. Harry Reid calls him to his office and says: you should run. And Obama can't really believe it. And he goes back to his Senate office and goes back to Chicago and tells people: the Senate majority leader wants me to run for president. And for...

ROBERTS: And we have to leave it there. John Heilemann, co-author of "Game Change," joined us from our studio in New York. Thank you so much.

Mr. HEILEMANN: Thank you.

ROBERTS: Coming up, even more with Political Junkie Ken Rudin, plus your letters and the cartoon controversy on the NPR Web site. That's all coming up.

I'm Rebecca Roberts. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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ROBERTS: Right now we're talking to the Political Junkie, Ken Rudin. And Ken, there are few things we didn't get to before. Let's start with the First National Tea Party Convention.

RUDIN: Well, that is coming up and there's some question about whether this is good news for the Republican Party or a bad news for the Republican Party. There are many people in the Tea Party movement who feel that both parties are wrong and should be revamped and we should start afresh, almost what Ross Perot was talking about in 1992, different ideology, but again, the same non-Democratic, non-Republican kind of theme. So it's coming up and I think everybody is just bracing to see what effect they have in November 2010 and beyond.

ROBERTS: And what's your best guess?

RUDIN: I don't know. I mean, exactly that. Some people say that the more influence the Tea Party has in the Republican Party, the more conservative it makes the party and the less inclusive or the less reason for more moderates and centrists to be part of. But they're - but if you're talking about enthusiasm for politics in 2010, right now it seems - at least as of this moment - right now it seems to be on the right end with these Tea Party people.

ROBERTS: When we talk about potential conservative challenges - we're seeing it certainly in Charlie Crist's race in Florida - how was the candidate recruitment on that effort going? Is there are a farm team?

RUDIN: Well, there is. You know, there are actually - there was an article in the paper just the other day talking about because of this conservative excitement and enthusiasm there are more and more people willing to run -people without political backgrounds, people who just did not spend their entire life in politics, but people who just - you know, activists and some people - you know, you always get these - led us to the New York Daily News signed Fed Up, you know, that would be the letter to the editor.

And a lot of people are fed up and we'll see if it results in political growing. But, you know, something to worry about, because Charlie Crist, who once upon a time was a very popular governor of Florida, last week - I don't know how much time we need to spend on straw polls, but in Pinellas County, which is St. Petersburg, which is where Charlie Crist is from, which four years ago when they - when Charlie Crist ran for governor, he was unanimously backed by the straw poll. He lost two to one to Marco Rubio, his conservative opponent for the Senate race, in his own county.

So even though there are four million Republicans in Florida and there are hundreds of thousands of Republicans in Pinellas County, the fact is that Marco Rubio got the headlines in winning the straw poll and a lot moderates are nervous and a lot of conservatives are excited.

ROBERTS: We are talking politics with NPR's Ken Rudin. You can join us at 800-989-8255. Or send us email: talk@npr.org.

Before we completely leave the teabag convention, Sarah Palin is the keynote speaker.

RUDIN: Tea Party Convention.

ROBERTS: What did I call it?

RUDIN: Something else.


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ROBERTS: Tea Party Convention. Excuse me. We will have more on that particular gaffe coming up in our letter segment. But what does Sarah Palin gain by being part of this?

RUDIN: Well, are we talking about the Tea Party Convention or we talking about Fox News? I mean, obviously, joining Fox News, she becomes fairer and more balanced, and I think that's always a good thing. But also, the fact is that - you know, there are some people who are not convinced that she is looking at 2012, although her contract with Fox News does run out in 2012. This is a movement - part of the Republican Party that just likes her. They like everything she says, even if they're told that the facts don't line up and even though they know she's inaccurate at some things.

She speaks from the gut, she speaks from the heart. And a lot of these conservatives just feel that she is the real deal. So, I mean - look, a year ago - six months ago, President Obama was far more popular. The Republicans were in disarray. The Republicans were criticized as the party of Cheney, Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh, and the Republicans were on their way out. Now there're these some kind of ascendancy. It's fluid, it moves around a lot. But right now, that movement of the Republican Party, that wing of the Republican Party, seems to be doing well.

ROBERTS: Couple of quick check-ins on some other races. Gubernatorial in Colorado, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper getting in there?

RUDIN: Yes, he announced this week.

ROBERTS: Any excuse to say Hickenlooper on the air, I'm for it.

RUDIN: Well, I know your first question is, is he related to former Iowa senator Bourke B. Hickenlooper.

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RUDIN: And, yes, there is a relation. A lot of people ask me that. He has announced this week. Bill Ritter is the Democratic governor who surprised everybody last week by saying he wouldn't run again. Hickenlooper is very popular but he's very liberal. And Republicans insist that he can't win statewide. Democrats think they have the best candidate in Hickenlooper.

ROBERTS: New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu there.

RUDIN: Well, Mitch Landrieu is, of course, the brother of...

ROBERTS: Mary Landrieu.

RUDIN: ...Mary Landrieu, the senator, and the son of the last white mayor of New Orleans, Moon Landrieu. And I mentioned white because, as always, the issue of race is always apparent in New Orleans. The leading African-American candidate - I'm sorry - dropped out of the race in January 2nd, which makes it look like that there will be a white mayor elected in New Orleans.

And the reason, again, that's a big deal because, of course, since Katrina, African-American political power in the city has really diminished tremendously. And even though the business establishment was always white-controlled in New Orleans, blacks knew that they had at least the mayor, Ray Nagin, of course. His term limited after eight years. They've had black mayors for the last 32 years. And if this is a white mayor, this is a real sea change in New Orleans politics.

ROBERTS: And Ray Nagin, of course, was reelected post-Katrina, but it was this sort of funny circumstance where the election ended up being on the day of Barack Obama's general election and people call him accidental.

RUDIN: Yes. But also, you know, he - actually, the guy he beat four years ago was Mitch Landrieu, and there are conservative whites who would rather vote for Ray Nagin than vote for a Landrieu. They just never liked Mitch Landrieu. Landrieu's run twice for mayor, lost both times. This time may be his charm.

ROBERTS: And on a national level, President Obama is going to address a Republican retreat. What's that about?

RUDIN: I don't know. Tell me about that. What is that?

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ROBERTS: He's also going to...

RUDIN: Surprise question from Rebecca.

ROBERTS: I'm sorry. I didn't mean to stump you. Let me give you something else that we can chew over here. Health care, latest on health care.

RUDIN: Well, that I could talk about. Everybody talks about that the real problem is that the House has to concede to the Senate because the Senate has, you know, 60 votes. But the House is not - the House Democrats are not united also because the Senate version, of course, doesn't include the public option, has less restrictions on abortion, and has a tax on benefits. And the House does not have any of those things. So for all the Harry Reid saying, look, you know, you really should concede to what we are doing because we have a tougher road to hoe, Charlie Rangel and the Democrats in the House say, look, we have tough problems too, on abortion, on taxes and things like that. And they may not have the 218 votes to pass it, but it looks like there won't be a vote until February.

ROBERTS: Well, that - you could see this coming, right? I mean, ever since the two houses passed their own versions. The reconciliation was always going to be an issue. Why is there still so much space between them?

RUDIN: Well, because 64 Democrats in the House, for example, voted for the Stupak amendment, which is restricting abortion, and of course - progressive Democrats or pro-choice Democrats say that if that's in there, we'll walk. And if the pro-lifers say, well, if it's gone, we'll walk. So the Democrats have to worry.

You know, once upon a time, we talked about this conference committee which would have Democrats and Republicans. Now it's just - look, Democrats have this huge majority in the House and Senate, and yet they still can't get this health care passed. And if they don't, they risk doing what the Clintons did in 1994, by not passing it in 1994, it helped Republicans pick up major seats in Congress.

ROBERTS: Ken Rudin, NPR's political editor and our Political Junkie, joined us here in Studio 3A as he does every Wednesday. You can read his blog and download his podcast at npr.org/junkie.

Thanks, Ken.

RUDIN: No more surprise questions, okay, Rebecca?

ROBERTS: I promise.

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ROBERTS: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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