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Primaries to Reveal America's Political Pulse


This is DAY TO DAY. Hot, hot, hot. I'm Madeleine Brand.


I'm Alex Chadwick. Isn't this a family show?

BRAND: Yeah, it is. Alex it is, but coming up we're taking about a g-rated book about working in a restaurant. It's a hot restaurant, both metaphorically and physically.

CHADWICK: A (unintelligible) who cannot serve out his term because he's in jail. He's the bribery convicted Republican from San Diego, fondly termed the Dukester, Randy “Duke” Cunningham. NPR political editor Ken Rudin is here with us, because, Ken, there's a lot of interest in this seat. It's not just a congressional seat anymore, is it? It's kind of like a metaphor for the political season.

KEN RUDIN reporting:

Exactly. It is hot, hot, hot. It's the race that everybody's talking about, given the fact - given the drop in President Bush's numbers - given that there's wide unpopularity with the Republican Congress, and given the fact that a lot of people think that the Democrats are going to make large gains in November, this is really the first test case. It's between Francine Busby, a Democrat who ran against Duke Cunningham two years and lost overwhelmingly, and Brian Bilbray, the Republican.

CHADWICK: And one more thing here, Ken. This is in San Diego. This is a very Republican district, and it's on the border. So, immigration, corruption - a lot of themes that people think are going to play out in the fall, they're right here in this race.

RUDIN: Alex, you're absolutely right. You do have both national issues here, immigration and corruption. Immigration, a very interesting thing. Brian Bilbray was supposed to have a campaign visit last week from Senator John McCain, but Bilbray opposes McCain's more liberal, shall we say, views towards immigration. Bilbray supports the harder hardline views taken by the House, which passed it.

So, there's already a split in the Republican Party over immigration. And you have the problem of corruption as well, which is the specter of Duke Cunningham spending eight years in prison for bribery charges.

BRAND: And then Ken, so you have this very Republican district, but I understand that the two sides - the Democrat and the Republican - are polling equally.

RUDIN: Well, see that's it. you know, I talked earlier about this being a test case, but yes, it's a big Republican District. President Bush won it overwhelmingly both times he ran. Duke Cunningham won it by twenty points two years ago, but the polls show it even. Now, if that's true, then both sides are going to be watching this for a possible foretelling, foreshadowing of what may happen in the national elections in November.

BRAND: And Ken, if the Republican wins, if Bilbray wins, what does that mean?

RUDIN: Well, certainly, Republicans will breathe a sigh of relief. Democrats will say, well, they should have won because it's a Republican district, but the fact that is that the polls showed close - the fact is that there's so much national attention on a seat that should be a Republican give me, it portends for a very tight battle for control of Congress in November.

CHADWICK: Okay, listen, there's another race we want to take a quick look at, anyway: a former governor of Alabama seeking a comeback tomorrow. What's the story in this race?

RUDIN: Well, ostensibly, all we're talking about is Donald Siegelman , a Democrat who was ousted as governor of Alabama four years ago. He is running to recapture his seat. There is only one problem. He's on trial for racketeering charges. So he's spending half the day in trial in court trying to defend his good name, and the other part out campaigning to win his seat back.

Now, he has a tough primary tomorrow against Lucy Baxley, she's the Lieutenant Governor. She's trying to be the first female governor of Alabama since Lurleen Wallace forty years ago. But it's interesting the balancing act that Siegelman's trying to make between running for governor and defending his honor in court.

CHADWICK: In political history, is there any precedent for this? Someone actually running for office while they're on trial for racketeering charges?

RUDIN: Well, actually, yeah. Eugene V. Debs, as you well remember, ran for president in the 1920s, while he was in prison. So, you know, it's happened before. But the polls show that given the fact that the Democrats are trying so hard to paint the Republicans as the party of corruption - given the fact that you have Donald Siegelman on trial, given the fact that you have William Jefferson soon to be indicted, we think, in Louisiana - given the fact that you have other things going on with Alan Mollohan, a congressman from West Virginia accused of some misappropriating funds. We have Harry Reid, the specter of Harry Reid taking free boxing tickets.

CHADWICK: And there's another story on the Republican side of that race in Alabama.

RUDIN: Well, there once had thought to be a close Republican primary - Bob Riley is the incumbent governor. He got in some trouble shortly after he was elected when he called for new taxes. Roy Moore, the former Supreme Court Justice of Alabama, who tried to have public displays of the Ten Commandments -one of his commandments, by the way, was thou shall vote for Roy Moore in Tuesday's Republican primary for governor - but Moore has actually faded from the race and Bob Riley, who beat Siegelman four years ago, is likely to win the primary.

CHADWICK: NPR political editor Ken Rudin with a political roundup. Thanks, Ken.

RUDIN: Thanks, Alex. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Madeleine Brand
Madeleine Brand is the host of NPR’s newest and fastest-growing daily show, Day to Day. She conducts interviews with newsmakers (Iraqi politicians, US senators), entertainment figures (Bernardo Bertolluci, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Ricky Gervais), and the everyday people affected by the news (an autoworker laid off at GM, a mother whose son was killed in Iraq).
Alex Chadwick
For more than 30 years, Alex Chadwick has been bringing the world to NPR listeners as an NPR News producer, program host and currently senior correspondent. He's reported from every continent except Antarctica.
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