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Have The Media Already Decided The GOP Race? And Can The Dems Lose NY 09?

There's another Republican debate being held Monday night, this one in Tampa, Fla., sponsored by CNN and the Tea Party Express. And if what happened after last Wednesday's event is any indication, we're in for another round of Perry vs. Romney analyses.

The story line is irresistible: Rick Perry, the gunslinger from Texas, belatedly joins the race and in the process elbows Michele Bachmann out of the spotlight (and Tea Party hearts) to make it a two-way contest with Mitt Romney, the erstwhile-but-shaky — and now former — frontrunner.

And so we breathlessly await tonight's debate. Will Perry back down from his controversial comments about Social Security, in which he called it a "Ponzi scheme?" How will Romney explain why his version of health care, passed while he was governor of Massachusetts, is not the same as the hated (by conservatives) Obama plan? And oh, will Galileo make an endorsement?

Unless you watched last week's debate on television, you might not know that there were other candidates on the stage. Six others, in fact: Bachmann, Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman, Herman Cain and Rick Santorum. The odds are against any of them winning the GOP nomination. But if we decide in advance that it's only a Perry vs. Romney story, then the others will never get their message across. And the voters will never have a say in the matter.

Not long ago, most presidential candidates lasted well into the primary and caucus season.  No longer.
/ Ken Rudin collection
Ken Rudin collection
Not long ago, most presidential candidates lasted well into the primary and caucus season. No longer.

It's not just the fault of a lazy or fickle media. Polls show Rick & Mitt as far and away the leading contenders for the right to take on President Obama next year. But with some five months to go before the voters begin to weigh in, things can change. A candidate could tumble and another could emerge.

But it won't happen if we ignore the rest of the pack. It's bad enough how quickly the campaigns of many White House wannabes can end; both Joe Biden and Chris Dodd, for example, were out of the 2008 Democratic race the night of the Iowa caucuses. But at least they made it to Iowa. Tim Pawlenty made it only to this year's Iowa straw poll.

There is a lesson to be learned here. In 1972, George McGovern was well back in the pack, in sixth place, getting 3% — three percent! — of the potential vote, in a January Gallup poll. McGovern, of course, went on to win the 1972 Democratic nomination by appealing to voters in the primaries. It's only September. It would be nice if at the least we listened to what all the candidates were saying before we write them off.

From Weiner To Loser? The Democrats seem to be really in danger of losing Tuesday's special election in New York's 9th congressional district, the one held by Anthony Weiner until he twittered it away in June by sending out lewd photos of himself. There are a lot of factors at play here, notably the numerous missteps by the Democratic candidate, state Assemblyman David Weprin, and the declining popularity of President Obama, especially with the district's Jewish voters regarding the administration's policy towards Israel.

The GOP has taken its lumps in recent special House elections, notably in upstate New York, losing seats they too have held for decades. But a victory here by the Republican candidate, Bob Turner, would be a real eye-opener, especially as Obama is gearing up for his re-election campaign and already is hearing grumblings from many in his party base. Democrats have a 3-1 advantage over Republicans in the 9th district, but Obama only won it with 55% of the vote in 2008 — his weakest showing of any NYC district other than the one centered on Staten Island. Obama himself may be a leading reason why Weprin could lose on Tuesday; former Mayor Ed Koch, a Democrat, bolted the party to endorse Turner, blaming what he claims is Obama's wrongheaded position on getting Israel to the Mideast peace table. (Weprin, for the record, is an Orthodox Jew.) Weprin has also hurt his cause among conservative Jews with his endorsement of same-sex marriage. He also misstated the size of the national debt (he thought it was $4 trillion instead of $14 trillion) and received poor reviews for pulling out of a debate in the wake of Hurricane Irene.

Some Democrats may shrug and say no matter what happens, this district is likely to disappear as a result of the 2012 redistricting plans, where everyone expects a seat from New York City and one from upstate to be eliminated (the state loses two seats in the new reapportionment). But it's one thing to see a Democratic candidate run away from Obama in a district in, say, Oklahoma or South Carolina. It is stunning to see it happen in a district centered in Brooklyn and Queens.

That's not to say the Democratic establishment has given up on the seat. They are pouring in tons of resources from the national party and labor unions. And they are hoping the popularity of Gov. Andrew Cuomo will make up for the defection of Koch.

Since 1923, the district has been represented by Democrats Celler, Holtzman, Schumer and Weiner.
/ Ken Rudin collection
Ken Rudin collection
Since 1923, the district has been represented by Democrats Celler, Holtzman, Schumer and Weiner.

History. At first glance it seems inconceivable that the Dems could lose a seat they've comfortably held since 1923. But the district's lines are not what they used to be. Once centered in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, its boundaries became half Brooklyn and half Queens in the late 1990s, and for the past decade or so the Queens portion comprised two-thirds of it. But its occupants have been Democrats for nearly 90 years. Emanuel Celler (D) defeated freshman Rep. Lester Volk (R) in 1922 and held it for a remarkable 50 years, until he was defeated in the 1972 primary by Elizabeth Holtzman. Holtzman gave up the seat in 1980 to run for the Senate and was succeeded by Charles Schumer. In 1998, Schumer was elected to the Senate and the House seat was won by Weiner, who had already made one bid to become mayor of NYC and was all but planning another run, in 2013, when he was forced to resign in disgrace in June.

Trivia. Had Celler, who was 84 at the time and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, won his '72 contest with Holtzman — he lost by only some 600 votes — he, not Peter Rodino, would have led the committee during the Nixon impeachment hearings.

Also on Tuesday. Voters in Nevada's 2nd congressional district — basically the entire state outside of Las Vegas and its suburbs — go to the polls to select a successor to Dean Heller (R), who was appointed in April to fill the Senate seat vacated by John Ensign (R). Mark Amodei, a former state senator and state GOP chair, is favored over state Treasurer Kate Marshall(D). The seat, first created by redistricting in 1982, has never elected a Democrat. (Previous GOP incumbents: Barbara Vucanovich, from 1983 until 1996; Jim Gibbons, from 1997 to 2006; and Heller, from 2007 until he went to the Senate. In that 2006 contest to succeed Gibbons, who left to run for governor, Heller edged out Sharron Angle in the GOP primary by just 421 votes.)

Ten Years After.There was a telling photograph over the weekend of former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton sitting together at a ceremony in Shanksville, Pa., dedicated to the memory of the passengers and crew of Flight 93 who died on Sept. 11, 2001. The crash of Flight 93 is one of the many "what ifs" of history; had those on board not heroically taken action against the hijackers, action that resulted in the loss of their own lives, there is the likelihood that what happened at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon could well have been repeated at the Capitol, or perhaps the White House.

The photograph of Bush and Clinton was in many ways a reminder of how far we've come, and fallen, since that tragic and unimaginable horror of ten years ago. Once, there was talk of unity and a common purpose. That seems like an eternity ago. Partisanship is not the problem; politics is about partisanship, about different visions to handle the country's affairs. But there is a lack of civility that has changed the culture of Washington and politics and that shows no sign of abating. It doesn't have to be personal and it doesn't have to be ugly, but it's become that. The answer is not simply Democrats and Republicans sitting next to each other during a presidential address to Congress. It's about them talking to each other. And respecting each other.

Political Updates.I will post periodic political updates during the week on Twitter. You can follow me at .

Political Junkie on the road. I will be in Springfield, Ill., Sept. 12 and 13 for events in conjunction with member station WUIS. And I'll be in Baton Rouge, La., the following week (Sept. 19-20) for events with member station WRKF.

In Memoriam. Charles Gubser, a California Republican who served in the House from 1953 until his retirement 22 years later, died Aug. 20 at 95. He decided not to seek a 12th term in 1974 and his seat was won by Democrat Norm Mineta ... David Bitner, 62, who announced last week he was stepping down as Florida state GOP chair because of health issues, on Sept. 8 ... Nora Bredes,60, an anti-nuclear power activist in the 1980s who was the Democratic nominee for Congress against Rep. Mike Forbes (R) in New York's 1st congressional district in 1996, on Aug. 18 ... Frank Jackman, 79, the former D.C. bureau chief for the New York Daily New swho covered numerous national political conventions as well as the resignation of President Nixon, on Aug. 12.

Political Junkie segment on Talk of the Nation.Each Wednesday at 2 p.m. ET, the Political Junkie segment appears on Talk of the Nation (NPR's call-in program), where you can, sometimes, hear interesting conversation, useless trivia questions, and sparkling jokes.

And Don't Forget ScuttleButton. ScuttleButton, America's favorite waste-of-time button puzzle, can be found in this spot every Wednesday. A randomly-selected winner will be announced each week during the Political Junkie segment on NPR's Talk of the Nation. It's not too late to enter last week's contest. Not only is there incredible joy in deciphering the answer, but the winner gets a TOTN t-shirt!

And speaking of TOTN ... congratulations to Neal Conan, who began hosting the program on Sept. 10, 2001 — ten years ago — and one day before our lives changed forever.

Podcast.There is also a new episode of our weekly podcast, " It's All Politics," every Thursday. It's hosted by my partner-in-crime, Ron Elving, and me. Latest episode: After the Simi Valley GOP debate, Galileo congratulates Rick Perry for his fine execution. You can listen to it here.


Sept. 12 —GOP debate, Tampa (CNN/Tea Party Express).

Sept. 13 —Special congressional races in NV 02 (to succeed Dean Heller, R) and NY 09 (to succeed Anthony Weiner, D).

Sept. 22 —GOP debate, Orlando (Fox).

Sept. 24 —Fla. GOP straw poll (at Orlando convention).

Mailing list. To receive a weekly email alert about the new column and ScuttleButton puzzle, contact me at

******* Don't Forget: If you are sending in a question to be used in this column, please include your city and state. *********

/ Ken Rudin collection
Ken Rudin collection

This day in political history:In a speech that causes an international uproar, Secretary of Commerce Henry Wallace denounces America's "get tough with Russia" policy, criticizing President Truman's foreign policy as well as the Marshall Plan and British "imperialism" in the Near East. He also calls on the United Nations to take control the world's atomic bombs. The speech infuriates Truman, who eight days later will ask for and receive Wallace's resignation. Wallace will then challenge Truman in the 1948 election, running as the Progressive Party candidate, but he receives just 2.4% of the national vote (Sept. 12, 1946).

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