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The Town Hall Debate's Best Moments And Memes


This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Binders full of women, Benghazi blame and ancient history now, there was a vice presidential debate last week. It's Wednesday and time for a...

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Bunch of malarkey...

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 BENTSEN: Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

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

SARAH PALIN: Lipstick.


PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: But I'm the decider.


CONAN: Every Wednesday, political junkie Ken Rudin joins us to recap the week in politics. Last night's debate could have been illustrated with comic book sound effects: biff, pow, sock. The Hofstra smackdown saw a peppier president, put his rival on his heels for several rounds, but Romney landed a few roundhouse rights as well, while moderator Candy Crowley struggled at times to get the candidates back to their corners.

And who remembers that just last week the number twos, Ryan and Biden, faced off in Kentucky? Jess Jackson, Jr., reportedly has a federal investigation to add to his troubles, and five-term senator Arlen Specter passed away on Sunday. Political junkie Ken Rudin joins us here in Studio 3A. And we begin, as usual, with a trivia question. Hey, Ken.

KEN RUDIN, BYLINE: Hi, Neal. Well, as you may know, I just returned from four or five days in Arizona, where as you also know I have acquired a sense of Yuma.


RUDIN: Yes, if I say that joke one more time. OK, the trivia question is Arlen Specter, as you say, who died on Sunday, he began his political career as a Democrat. He switched to the Republicans, and then he switched back to the Democrats in 2009. Who was the last senator to switch parties twice while he was in the Senate?

CONAN: If you think you know the answer to this week's trivia question, the last United States senator to switch parties twice while in the Senate, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, The winner gets that fabulous political junkie T-shirt and the brand new no-prize button. Ken, we're going to focus on last night's debate in a few minutes and spend most of this hour talking about it, but for right now, boy, I can't remember a more - almost a physical exchange.

RUDIN: Yes, it was feisty, and I guess President Obama read the reviews of his first debate two weeks ago, where he basically either mailed it in or didn't respond as heartily enough as some Democrats would have liked. He was certainly much more tempered than he was last night. And maybe he gave more than he got yesterday.

To me a lot of it was I know you are, but what am I, that kind of, you know...

CONAN: Schoolyard.

RUDIN: Exactly, but - and to make undecided voters change their minds, I don't know. Did it make any candidate more likeable? Probably not, but again, you know, Obama had a case to make that he failed to make two weeks ago, and I guess in the view of many people he made the case.

CONAN: And one of the things he also wanted to do was rev up his own base, and there he probably succeeded.

RUDIN: He did absolutely, and a lot of things - I mean, there were so many talks, you know, two weeks ago, how could you not mention the 47 percent, how could you not mention Bain Capital. Well, the mentions were made last - and I'm not saying that Romney did poorly last night, he didn't at all. It's just that we saw a new Barack Obama.

CONAN: In the meantime, of course there was that vice presidential debate last week. Boy, these things go so quickly. It's - anyway, Vice President Biden said the plan proposed by Republican nominee Paul Ryan was mathematically impossible, this is the $5- to $7 trillion, and anyway, Ryan disagreed and cited previous examples.


PAUL RYAN: It's been done before, it's (unintelligible) we're proposing.

BIDEN: It has never been done before.

RYAN: It's been done a couple of times actually.

BIDEN: It has never been done before.

RYAN: Jack Kennedy lowered tax rates, increased growth. Ronald Reagan...

BIDEN: Oh now you're Jack Kennedy.

RYAN: Ronald Reagan....

CONAN: Now you're Jack Kennedy.

RUDIN: Well, you know, I mean, look, Biden was cutesy. I never knew Biden - I didn't know that Biden had that many teeth. I mean, I never saw so many teeth in my life. He - look, Biden made a lot of good points when he was on target, on the mark, he was very effective. But a lot of it was, to me, condescending, almost rude, diminished - you know, he tried to diminish his rival, obviously.

It just, a lot of it was character. But the Jack Kennedy remark had nothing to do with - look, obviously it's a reference to Lloyd Bentsen and Dan Quayle, but...

CONAN: You get it, I get it, I'm not sure too many other people got it.

RUDIN: Exactly, the audience did appreciate it.

CONAN: And anyway, the topic of that 47 percent, the infamous tape revealed by Mother Jones, that video came up last week, as well. We're going to be talking about it as it came up last night. But Republican candidate Paul Ryan said Vice President Biden ought to be a little more understanding.


RYAN: And with respect to that quote, I think the vice president very well knows that sometimes the words don't come out of your mouth the right way.


BIDEN: But I always say what I mean.

CONAN: Nice smile there from Joe Biden, as well. And interesting, some people are saying a preview of 2016.

RUDIN: Well, that's, you know, there's something to be said about that. I guess Joe Biden will be - he's 69. He'll be like 73 in 2016, and Paul Ryan will be I guess old enough to vote in 2016.


RUDIN: And so it'll be a tremendous contrast. Look, it's something to watch, but I think - I don't think the vice presidential debate moved the numbers, the polls, anywhere. But clearly the vice president knew that the president wasn't up to his game in the previous week's debate. Biden certainly was up with his.

CONAN: We have some people on the line who think they know the answer to this week's trivia question, and that is the last member of the United States Senate to switch parties twice while in the United States Senate, 800-989-8255. Email is We'll start with Gary(ph), Gary on the line with us from Omaha.

GARY: Yes, hi, how are you?

CONAN: Good, thanks.

GARY: Love your show, you guys.

CONAN: Thank you.

GARY: I'm probably wrong on this but Richard Shelby comes to mind when you said that.

CONAN: The senator from Alabama.

RUDIN: Richard Shelby did switch parties. He was elected to the Senate in 1986 as a Democrat. He did switch parties right around the time of the '94 election when the Republicans took over, but that was only a one-party switch.

GARY: One party, OK.

CONAN: We need a two-party switch. Gary, thanks very much. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Martin(ph), excuse me, Martin is with us from Arlington, Massachusetts.

MARTIN: Hi, shooting from the hip here, Strom Thurmond.

CONAN: Strom Thurmond.

RUDIN: Strom Thurmond also elected - elected president - no, Trent Lott wanted him elected president. But Strom Thurmond elected to the Senate in '54. He switched parties in 1964 from Democrat to Republican, but again it was only a one-party switch.

MARTIN: Dixiecrat.

CONAN: Dixiecrat Party.

RUDIN: Well, he did - yes, but when he was a Dixiecrat in 1948, he was not a member of the Senate yet, he was a governor of South Carolina.

CONAN: Ooh, but Martin, nice try.

MARTIN: Thanks.

CONAN: Thanks very much. Let's go to Bob(ph), Bob with us from Sacramento.

BOB: Yeah, I'll go with Ben Nighthorse Campbell from Colorado.

RUDIN: Ben Nighthorse Campbell is very similar to Richard Shelby of Alabama, a Democrat who became a Republican while in the Senate but again only that one switch.

BOB: OK, thanks.

CONAN: Thanks, Bob. Let's go to - this is Scott(ph), Scott with us from Moffett, Colorado.

SCOTT: Hi, how about Joe Lieberman?

CONAN: Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.

RUDIN: Well, and he did switch parties. He was a Democrat, and when he lost the primary in 2006 to Ned Lamont, he became an independent but again only that one switch.

SCOTT: OK, thanks.

CONAN: Thanks very much. And let's go to Will(ph), Will with us from Berkeley in California.

WILL: Hey guys, my guess is Robert Smith of New Hampshire.

RUDIN: Robert Smith is the correct answer.

CONAN: Ding, ding, ding.

RUDIN: In July of 1999, he was running for president, everybody remembers the famous President Smith.

CONAN: Of course.

RUDIN: Exactly. He switched to an independent, and then when John Chafee died, chairman of the committee, Bob Smith switched back to the Republican Party after switching to the independent, became a Republican again so he could be the chairman of his committee. So Bob Smith not only switched parties twice, it was in the same year.

CONAN: Will, thanks very much for the call, we're going to put you on hold and collect your particulars. We'll be sending out that fabulous political junkie T-shirt and the spectacular new no-prize button.

WILL: All right, makes up for the A's losing in the playoffs a bit.

CONAN: I guess it does.

RUDIN: By the way, we are not talking about baseball.

CONAN: Not today. All right, so Will, thanks very much. And congratulations. In the meantime, there is Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., who's been ill with mental problems these last several months. He's not campaigned at all, and now a federal investigation.

RUDIN: Yes, it's apparently over a misuse of campaign funds. This is the allegation. You know, Jackson once upon a time had such a bright future. He was one of the leading potential candidates for - to succeed Barack Obama in the Senate. Of course his apparent conversations or his staff's apparent conversations with then-Governor Rod Blagojevich certainly hurt his campaign.

But look, Jesse Jackson, the election's in 20 days. Nobody's going to beat him in this district, but there are a lot of ugly things being whispered about Jackson, about this investigation. And it's going to be something to watch. He won't lose on November 6, but we don't know how long he'll be in Congress.

CONAN: Early voting is underway in several states, and according to some counts more Democrats, they don't know which way they vote, but according to their registration, more Democrats are voting than Republicans.

RUDIN: That's correct. That's been historic, and one - big good news for the Democrats as well in the state of Ohio when the U.S. Supreme Court said that they could - the state of Ohio was attempting to stop early voting the weekend before the election, and the court said no, keep it going through. And also the state wanted to have early voting just for military members, and the court said no, no, you can't make an exception for them, everybody should have that opportunity.

CONAN: And will either side gain an advantage or disadvantage from the endorsements in the past couple of days, Honey Boo Boo for the incumbent, President Obama, and Ross Perot for Mitt Romney.

RUDIN: Well, I think in all the years we've been doing the show, Neal, this is the first time you called me Honey Boo Boo, at least on the air.


CONAN: On the air.

RUDIN: Well, Honey Boo Boo, the seven-year-old political expert was on the Jimmy Kimmel show, and he pressured her over and over again, who are you going to support, and she finally came out to - she endorsed Marack Obama(ph). So I think Marack Obama could be elected, that's a possibility.

And Ross Perot endorsed Romney the other day. He said that we can't afford four more years of Obama because of the debt and the military and all those issues.

CONAN: Well, maybe Honey Boo Boo will show up at the Million Puppet March to support Big Bird and PBS on November 4. In the meantime, there's some less happy news to report. We're going to be talking about Arlen Specter in just a minute, but we have to remember a couple of other people who passed away this week, political players of the past, Sam Gibbons.

RUDIN: Sam Gibbons, the longtime congressman from Florida, Democrat, briefly chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. He was a fighter, big battler, and, you know, he left Congress on his own a couple years ago, and he died over the weekend.

And John Durkin, the senator, the former one-term senator from New Hampshire who, if you remember anything about 1974, he lost the election by 355 votes. He demanded a recount, and then he wound up winning by 10. Then his Republican opponent demanded another recount, and he wound up - and Durkin lost by two.

And then it was in the courts for the longest time until they had a special election the following September. This is of course in the middle of Watergate, and John Durkin won pretty handily.

CONAN: Arlen Specter, well, won pretty handily several times in the state of Pennsylvania, five times elected to the United States Senate and, well, longtime chairman or ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee...

RUDIN: Senate.

CONAN: Senate Judiciary Committee and a prominent feature in so many Supreme Court confirmation hearings.

RUDIN: Absolutely, we remember the Bork hearings, of course when he grilled Anita Hall(ph), Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas hearings. And it's interesting, you know, he - he was a perennial loser for so many times, lost for mayor, for district attorney, for governor and senator before he was elected in 1980. He was a character, and he died Sunday at the age of 82.

CONAN: And one of the - well, now a vanishing species, a moderate.


SENATOR ARLEN SPECTER: It is sort of an occupational hazard of mine to be stuck in the middle, and I will support my party when I can, but if it's a matter of conscience, I may have to disagree.

CONAN: And whichever party happened to be in at the time that would have applied to.

RUDIN: He was the Arlen Specter Party.

CONAN: Political junkie Ken Rudin is with us. Up next, call and tell us what moment will you remember from last night's town hall debate, but get a pencil to write down separate phone numbers we're using this time. Stay with us. This is NPR News.


CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan. It's Political Junkie day. Ken Rudin is with us, as he is every Wednesday. Ken, of course, still awaiting his own endorsement from Honey Boo Boo. Ken, you mentioned earlier your great sense of Yuma, the last few days in Arizona, some interesting times.

RUDIN: Yes, this is thanks to Arizona Public Media and the University of Arizona in Tucson. It was - but the most amazing thing of all, I flew in on Friday night, immediately went to Sandra Day O'Connor's house for cocktails and spent the next day, all day Saturday, on a pink Jeep tour of Sedona with Sandra Day O'Connor.

CONAN: And how's she doing?

RUDIN: She's amazing. She's funny. She's combative. She's uncensored, completely uncensored, and every time she booed one of my jokes, I told her, well, once again you voted with the majority.


RUDIN: But she was wonderful. She's absolu...

CONAN: You didn't try that sense of Yuma thing on her?

RUDIN: Well, yeah, I kind of did, yeah.

CONAN: Oh. well, anyway. So she'll not be invited back. Anyway, there's a pretty interesting Senate race there, some say.

RUDIN: There is. That's the one that Jon Kyl is leaving after three terms. The Republican is Jeff Flake, the Republican conservative, I think there are about six terms, and Richard Carmona, who has a great resume, former - well, a Vietnam veteran, former U.S. surgeon general under President Bush. And it's got very, very nasty.

The Republicans - the Democrats for the longest time have talked about the Republican war on women, and there seems to be some indication that Flake is hurting with female voters. Flake is up recently with an ad from Carmona's former boss when he was surgeon general saying that he has this terrible anger problem, that he doesn't work well with women, and that basically has taken over the Senate race.

Democrats haven't elected a senator there since 1988, Dennis DeConcini, but the race is very, very close, and that's one of the races definitely to watch on election night.

CONAN: Well, while Ken was lounging around in sunny Arizona, President Obama and Mitt Romney clearly were busy training for last night's debate. Both landed several punches. Both claimed victory after the closing bell. Call and tell us: What moment will you remember from last night's town hall debate?

We've split our phone lines today, so get a pencil everybody. If you're leaning Republican, call 800-344-3893. Again, Republicans 800-344-3893. If you're leaning Democratic, call 800-344-3864. Again, Democrats call us at 800-344-3864. I'll repeat those again in just a minute, but...

RUDIN: And if you're supporting Honey Boo Boo, you call? You don't call.

CONAN: Call for help. Anyway, Ken, as you looked at last night's debate, clearly the president waited, what, about 15 seconds before trying to throw his first punch.

RUDIN: Not only that, he also made a point of saying that you're wrong, you're wrong, and you're wrong. And I think a lot of the times, a lot of the complaints I heard about Obama in the debate two weeks ago was that Romney made some statements that either may have been factually challenged or seemed to be diverting from what Romney had said in the past, and Obama didn't comment on it. So there were a lot of - it was obviously a concerted effort to make a point of saying that either Romney was wrong on the facts or - and it was interesting.

It was no longer about what the next four years would be like under Obama or even what the previous four years were like under Obama. It was really, according to the president, it was really a referendum on Mitt Romney.

CONAN: And one of the things that they sparred about, and it was sparring, and this was supposed to be - we kept hearing, well, this doesn't go over in a town-hall-style debate, you don't want to be too aggressive. They were both pretty aggressive.

RUDIN: They were in their face, absolutely.

CONAN: And you'll hear this moment, this is on a question about immigration, the candidates managed to turn the responses to debate over pensions.

MITT ROMNEY: Any investments I have over the last eight years have been managed by a blind trust, and I understand they do include investments outside the United States, including in Chinese companies. Mr. President, have you looked at your pension? Have you looked at your pension?

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I've got to say...

ROMNEY: Mr. President, have you looked at your pension?

OBAMA: You know, I don't look at my pension. It's not as big as yours, so it doesn't take as long.


ROMNEY: Let me give you some advice...

OBAMA: I don't check it that often.

ROMNEY: Let me give you some advice: Look at your pension. You also have investments in Chinese companies. You also have investments outside the United States. You also have investments to a Caymans trust.

All right, (unintelligible)...

CANDY CROWLEY: And we're way off-topic here, Governor Romney.

ROMNEY: We're a little off-topic here, come on.

CROWLEY: We are completely off immigration...

OBAMA: Come on, I thought we were talking about immigration.

ROMNEY: I came back to what you spoke about before.

OBAMA: I want to make sure that...

CROWLEY: Quickly, Mr. President, if I could have you sit down, Governor Romney, thank you.

CONAN: If we're both off one day, they could sub on this program.

RUDIN: The World Wrestling Entertainment. Well, first of all, Romney attempted to do what he did very effectively against Newt Gingrich during a Republican debate. Newt Gingrich was peppering Romney about his investments in Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, and Romney said, well, it just so happens you have it, too.

So Romney, who's been accused - criticized for his Chinese investments, he probably knew that President Obama had investments in China, in companies, as well, but Obama clearly had the laugh line that will stick with us.

CONAN: It's one of those lines, clearly this had been a rehearsed, planned attack by Mitt Romney, sort of undermined, then, by the Obama joke.

RUDIN: Absolutely.

CONAN: And so that happens an awful lot. Again, we want to hear from Republicans, those who are leaning Republican, and those leaning Democratic. Independents fall into one of those categories, we suspect, after all this time. Republican number is 800-344-3893, the Democratic number 800-344-3864. And let's see if we can get a caller on the line, and we'll start with Jean(ph), Jean with us from Lakeland in Florida. Jean, are you there?

JEAN: Yes, yes I am.

CONAN: Hi, you're on the air, and you're on the Republican line.

JEAN: I am.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

JEAN: Well, I just am a strong supporter of Romney, and I think he did a great job last night.

CONAN: And what point in particular are you going to remember?

JEAN: The student who was wondering whether he was going to have a job.

CONAN: That was a cut of tape we played earlier in the program, in the introduction to the show, where he said it's a shame that - just paraphrasing Mr. Romney's response, a shame that over half of those graduating from college can't get a college-level job.

JEAN: Absolutely.

CONAN: And what did you - what meaning did that have for you?

JEAN: Well, when you invest that much of your time and money and bettering yourself with a good education, you need to be able to go out and put it to good work.

CONAN: Jean, thanks very much for the phone call, appreciate it.

JEAN: All right.

CONAN: And let's see if we can go to the Democratic line, and this is David, and David's calling us Birmingham.

DAVID: Yes, hello, how are you today?

CONAN: I'm well, thank you.

DAVID: Great. Well, I'd like to say that Mr. Obama showed heartfelt compassion last night for the illegal immigrant population that is here, that is struggling, that have come here, always come here since the founding of our nation to make themselves better people, to have more opportunity to build our nation up. And to me, the Republican Party has absolutely thrown the United States' moral superiority and compassion towards less fortunate right out the back window of our nation.

CONAN: And what did you think of Mr. Romney's response that the president had promised to put this - introduce a bill on immigration reform in his first year and did not do it for the first four years?

DAVID: Well, we had more pressing issues, and he knew it. And Mr. Obama, when he tried to do it, the Republicans would not work with him.

CONAN: All right, David, thanks very much for the call.

DAVID: Thank you.

CONAN: And let's see if we can go next to - this is William on the Republican line in Columbia, South Carolina.

WILLIAM: Hi, Tom, how are you?

CONAN: I'm Neal, but go ahead.

WILLIAM: Neal, excuse me. I listen to too many of y'all's shows.


CONAN: That's all right, that's allowed.

WILLIAM: I found myself favoring Mr. Romney.

CONAN: And in which particular moment did you think he made an effective point?

WILLIAM: Well, I think it's more for me more a sort of an absorption of his whole demeanor, his whole point of view and his whole life experience. I finally have it dawning on me that Mr. Obama's record over the past four years really has not been very productive. And I get the impression from Mr. Romney that, you know, he has been a problem solver, and I think that he would tackle each of these issues because he has a life history of having done so.

You know, Mr. Obama, it came clear to me, has probably never created a job in his life. I don't mean he hasn't been in charge of people, but Mr. Romney has spent a lifetime creating opportunity.

CONAN: And William, you might be referring to the moment where there was an African-American who got up, Ken, in the audience and asked President Obama with some measure of disappointment about what he'd done the last four years, and the president recited a series of promises that he'd thought that he'd kept.

And it was a moment, I think one of the most effective moments for Mitt Romney when he came back with this:

ROMNEY: I think you know that these last four years haven't been so good, as the president just described, and that you don't feel like you're confident that the next four years are going to be much better either. I can tell you if that you were to elect President Obama, you know what you're going to get. You're going to get a repeat of the last four years. We just can't afford four more years like the last four years.

CONAN: And Ken, that recital of the record of the last four years, I think he did it a couple of different times, and I think every single time it was effective.

RUDIN: I think it was, too. At one point, when he was talking about energy policy, he said that if President Obama's energy policy is working, why is gas over four dollars a gallon? With all his rhetoric, with all his great speeches and everything, if the economy was doing so well, why are so many - 23 million people out and looking for work? Why are countless millions stopped looking for work? Why has unemployment been over 8 percent for much of his term? Now, of course, we know that the president will say that he inherited a mess, and he did inherit a mess. But, again, if you look at the last four years on people hoping to find jobs and finding them, Romney has a strong case to make.

CONAN: Again, we're not using our regular line - phone line today. We're splitting lines. We want to hear from those leaning Republican at 800-344-3893. Those leaning Democratic, 800-344-3864. And let's see if we can go back to the Democratic line, and this is Katherine(ph) on the line with us from Miami. Katherine, are you there?

KATHERINE: Yes, I am. I thought that you already recorded me. I'm sorry.

CONAN: No, no.

KATHERINE: My favorite - can you hear me?

CONAN: Yeah.

KATHERINE: OK. My favorite moment was when Romney was standing there giving the evil eye to Barack Obama, and he accused him of not talking about terrorism...


KATHERINE: ...(unintelligible).


KATHERINE: And I loved it when Obama looked at him and stared right back at him and just said softly proceed.

CONAN: Well, we have that clip of tape. This is moderator Candy Crowley doing some on-the-spot fact-checking after Mitt Romney asked President Obama about his remarks following the attack in Benghazi that killed the American ambassador and three other Americans.


ROMNEY: I want to make sure we get that for the record because it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror.

OBAMA: Get the transcript.

CROWLEY: It - he did in fact, sir. So let me - let me - call it an act of terrorism in the Rose Garden, used the word.

OBAMA: Can you say that a little louder, Candy?

CROWLEY: He did call it an act of terror. It did as well take - it did as well take two weeks or so for the whole idea of there being a riot out there about this tape to come out. You are correct about that.

ROMNEY: This...

CONAN: And I think Candy Crowley said afterwards on the whole Romney was right. There were different stories coming out from the administration. I don't think people are going to remember that, Ken. I think they're going to remember that first check the transcript and could you say that louder.

RUDIN: Yeah. I think that's why a lot of Republicans are furious with Candy Crowley for her to be fact-checking in the middle of the debate which you don't see too often. But the fact is, first of all, this was probably President Obama's weakest - the lack - the least strong argument he had of the government's preparedness before the attack at Benghazi. And the questioner - the original questioner was saying, why did you reject more assistance, more security for the U.S. compound at Benghazi?

And Romney thought he had a winning argument because the truth is the administration did spend 14 days with a confusing and often conflicting message about what actually happened. They were talking for the longest time about the reaction to the anti-Islam/Prophet Muhammad video, and that's what really caused it. And eventually, they came around to saying, yes, it is actually an act of terrorism. But when Romney said that you didn't say anything for 14 days and it turned out that the next day President Obama did talk about an act of terror, it really seemed to stop Romney in his tracks.

CONAN: Political Junkie Ken Rudin with us, as he is every Wednesday. You can check out his ScuttleButton puzzle and his column at And in the meantime, we're talking politics as usual on TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Here's an email. This is - the moment I'll remember from last night's debate is President Obama saying that some manufacturing jobs have gone overseas and are not coming back to the United States. Unfortunately, the debate format and modern campaigning don't lend themselves to answers that are detailed and thoughtful.

The fact is trends in the United States' economy involved factors that won't be resolved by just tax cuts or threats to sanction China. It was refreshing to hear the president give a cold hard fact that the people and politicians of this country have to face and deal with. And the emailer may be right, but, boy, this did not help John McCain four years ago when he said that in Michigan.

RUDIN: No. That's absolutely true. And now, for all the talk about punishing China and labeling China as a currency manipulator, a lot of people feel that if China responds with some kind of a tariff war or retribution, it will hurt the U.S. economy. So, you know, China is a great punching bag, but the facts remain, just like the facts remain about jobs being exported, not coming back. The fact remain that maybe, you know, making China a trade enemy may not be the best thing for the U.S. economy.

CONAN: Let's go back to - this is the Republican line, and Joseph is on the line with us from Kansas City.

JOSEPH: Hi. Thank you for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

JOSEPH: I think one of the problems that many Republicans have had is having a hard time feeling the love for Governor Romney, not seeing the personal side, but one of the things I was struck with was when President Obama was asked a question by an African-American gentleman who started off by saying I voted for you last time and now I'm having trouble, President Obama immediately just went into the answer and didn't even say thank you for your vote. Whereas I think we saw a much more - I got the impression - a much more genuine concern for the people there by Governor Romney. I think that we need more of those stories. Some of those are coming out, but he hasn't done a very good job of selling himself. And I think that's - some of that came out last night.

CONAN: It's interesting, Ken, we're told that the difficulties with trying to be aggressive in a town hall meeting is exactly what Joseph is talking about.

RUDIN: Yeah, exactly. And we have seen a more human side of Mitt Romney from - certainly from the debate two weeks ago, somewhat so last night as well. But I think what turned off a lot of voters about Mitt Romney is that his seeming peevishness about whether President Obama spoke was violating the rules. He's a stickler for rules and a stickler for time limits. There is a warm side to Mitt Romney, and we've seen it before, but sometimes, when he goes off on I'm sorry, this is my turn, wait your turn, it just seems kind of like off-putting.

CONAN: Joseph, did you mind his little tiffs with the moderator, Candy Crowley?

JOSEPH: I mean, I thought it was kind of juvenile from both directions when they were fighting about that stuff. I mean, that's not what we're there to watch. But in general, I enjoyed the opportunity to hear them respond, and I could have done without the arguing with the moderator.

RUDIN: Yeah. As for all the arguments about - for President Obama saying that Mitt Romney is getting too much time, as it turned out that when you looked at the final transcript, Obama got four minutes and some odd seconds more than Mitt Romney. And that should determine the next president of the United States.

CONAN: Joseph, thanks very much for the call.

JOSEPH: Thank you.

CONAN: And it's interesting. You're hearing some conservatives today, A, you're right, complaining about the moderator and, B, saying this was on Long Island in New York, this was a left-leaning group of undecided voters.

RUDIN: Well, they're also complaining that why did the Romney campaign agreed to have the final debate on foreign policy when the economy and the prospect of future jobs, that should be the real issue, except for Libya and maybe Syria and other things. But foreign policy is thought to be a strain for Obama, and yet next week's - next Monday's debate in Boca Raton will be on foreign policy, and that could play into Obama's strength.

CONAN: And it's clearly not an area where Mitt Romney is at his most comfortable as we saw last night on Libya and as we saw on his tour of foreign capitals this past summer.

RUDIN: That's right, London and Israel. You're absolutely right.

CONAN: We're not done with Ken Rudin yet or last night's presidential debate. The candidates took shots at each other for well over 90 minutes. The least we can do is go one more round. In a moment, NPR's social media guru Andy Carvin joins us with some of the moments that lit up Twitter, Facebook and other sites, binders full of women among others. Call and tell us what moment will you remember from last night's town hall debate. Republicans, 800-344-3893. If you're a Democrat, call 800-344-3864. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.


CONAN: Right now, Ken Rudin, our political junkie, is with us. We'll get to more of your calls about last night's presidential debate in just a moment. One of the moments that's taken on a life of its own, particularly on social media, came as Governor Romney described the process he went through as governor to recruit women into his Cabinet.


ROMNEY: I went through a number of women's groups and said, can you help us find folks? And they brought us whole binders full of women.

CONAN: Joining us now, NPR social media guru Andy Carvin, among the people behind The Back Channel, NPR's online debate behind the debate. The site follows what's happening on social media during the presidential debate. He joins us now by smartphone from Burtonsville in Maryland. Andy, nice to have you back.

ANDY CARVIN, BYLINE: Thanks for having me, Neal.

CONAN: And how long did it take binders full of women to light up on Twitter?

CARVIN: Probably about 30 seconds. As soon as he said it, I saw a number of people posting the phrase with a lot of question marks associated with it. Then the jokes started coming. And probably within a few minutes after that, a number of Twitter accounts popped up. You now have a Facebook group called Romney Binders Full of Women that is just a couple hundred people shy of 300,000 fans. It's actually kind of amazing how this took off as a social media phenomenon last night.

CONAN: And at the top of The Back Channel page today, a photo of Hugh Hefner that's making the rounds with the caption, binders full of women? Sure. I've got hundreds of them.


CARVIN: Exactly. People really got into it. And whether it was writing pithy tweets or coming up with photos with captions on them, there was certainly no shortage of humor last night when it came to that particular phrase.

CONAN: Any other moments that particularly attracted a lot of attention?

CARVIN: Well, at the very beginning of the debate, there was a young man named Jeremy who asked the first question, and he was a college student. And a number of people picked up on him because he seemed a little nervous, though he certainly did his best to ask his question. Several people commented that they thought that they had attended his Bar Mitzvah not too long ago. When another young woman came up to ask her question, people started making jokes about setting them up for a date. And so that lasted probably for the first 20 minutes of the debate. But by the time binders full of women kicked into high gear, it was really no turning back.

CONAN: And is much of the content humor and sometimes snarky humor?

CARVIN: Well, it's definitely largely humor, but you'll also see things mixed into people's humor. So when the debate was wrapping up, I saw a number of tweets that would say things. Really thrilled how this debate went. Thanks for completely ignoring the issue of drones. And so there was a lot of dark humor involved in how people responded to the debate. I think Twitter, Facebook and all these other social media tools give people the opportunity not only to laugh and commiserate with each other but also to vent about their politics. And whether that comes out through humor or through anger, you see it in spades during any of these debates.

CONAN: And how was this debate treated differently on social media sites than the previous presidential debate two weeks ago?

CARVIN: Well, I think, this time, because President Obama handled himself somewhat better than he did the last time around, there was less focus on the politics of him stumbling and, I think, more of an emphasis simply on the potential humor that could come out of the debate. So people were paying very careful attention to what each of the candidates were saying. There was a lot of humor just about the feistiness of it, with people saying things like, OK boys, settle down. One person said on Twitter, this is the worst rap concert ever.


CARVIN: And so I think the fact that it was a bit of an even debate allowed people to discuss the issues more and discuss the feistiness more.

CONAN: And is there - if you watched on CNN, for example, there's that little - they have a panel of independent who were watching there, tracking, and you see the lines go up and down as each of the candidates speaks. Is there any way to use social media response in, kind of, the same way - to gage how each person is doing, minute to minute.

CARVIN: Well, it's interesting you ask that because actually, four years ago, during the last presidential cycle here at NPR, we set up a little system where people could send in tweets with the candidate's name and a number, plus a description of what was being discussed. And we were able to process that in real time. So it was, essentially, a form of Twitter-base dial testing. I don't know if anyone has tried doing that this time around. But certainly, if you pay attention to the tone of people's tweets, the types of humor that's coming through, I think it wouldn't be too difficult for someone to make an effort to process the terms people are using in order to get a sense of that sentiment.


RUDIN: Andy, did you get a sense that Twitter is use more by Democrats than the Republicans or vice versa, or more by liberals or conservatives? Any unscientific finding you've found?

CARVIN: Four years ago, Twitter was pretty dominated by the left. There was, certainly, a lag that seemed to exist at that point of time. But things have changed dramatically since then, I think. Republicans and conservatives in general have made a very concerted effort over the last four years to develop their presence on Twitter. And I think you could even argue that, sometimes, their presence is stronger than those on the left. And so when it comes to presidential debates or other types of political events, I'd say, on the whole, Twitter seems to be split pretty evenly. But, of course, it's the tweets that are the funniest or the most scathing that get re-tweeted. So depending on who's making the comments and how successful they were, it can sometimes skew the appearance of one side being stronger than the other.

CONAN: Andy Carvin, thanks very much.

CARVIN: Thanks for having me.

CONAN: NPR senior strategist for social media, Andy Carvin, joined us by smartphone from Burtonsville, Maryland. And if you'd like to follow us on Twitter, you can follow us @totn. In the meantime, we want to hear what you took away from the debate last night, Republicans, 800-344-3893. Democrats call 800-344-3864. And let's see if we can go back to the phones. This is the Democratic line. Sam's on the line with us from St. Louis.

SAM: Yeah. The question I have is on gasoline prices. I keep hearing, like, everybody from Newt Gingrich to Romney saying, well, you know, two dollar gasoline price has been bad and how under the Obama gas prices have really more than doubled. We all know that it's controlled by oil markets and by other political events and all of that. And I don't really know how they can really separate pricing from what the oil markets and corporate events...

CONAN: It's interesting, Ken, you mentioned that earlier as one of the - Mr. Romney's telling points. But I think Sam is right. The president responded, well, it was tipped when I took office because the economy was in free fall. We're about to go into the deepest recession in modern memory. And, of course, demand for gasoline was very low.

RUDIN: And so, therefore, because the economy is doing so much better, four dollars a gallon. I mean, Sam is right in the fact that the administration may not have much control over it, but that hasn't stopped the Democrats and the Republicans from making political hay out of it. Remember in 2006, when the Republicans controlled everything, I remember all the Democrats running around, pointing at gasoline prices signs, saying that President Bush is responsible for those high prices. So if the Democrats can play the games and the Republican can play the game as well.

CARVIN: We had $4.25 gas prices under President Bush so.

RUDIN: And, you know, and both - and the Democrats were not happy about that either, just as the Republicans are not happy about the gas prices now.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Sam. Interesting on that point. There was a fact dispute over the amount of oil and gas that's being produced and - particularly on federal lands. And one of those answers were both right and wrong. It was, you know, it was fact-checked everywhere. And, yes, the amount of gas being produced on federal lands is lower. But A, that's part of the fallout from the BP oil spill, and B, yes, the number of leases are up.

RUDIN: Right. It is also a discrepancy about - regarding natural gas and oil and coal and things like that. They each had - they each were supplied with numbers. And sometimes, they just conflicted with each other.

CONAN: Here's an email from Jenny in Tucson, Ken's favorite town. My favorite moment was when President Obama reminded listeners about the Lilly Ledbetter Act. Prior to this, Romney completely lost me when he said he wanted to give women more flexibility in the workplace as a solution to the inequity in pay. As a single woman with no children, comments like that make me feel he doesn't consider women who choose not to have children when he thinks about women, as if only women who are married with children mattered. How offensive and small-minded. Mr. Obama speaks about women and the issues that really matter, equal rights.

RUDIN: See, I think that just as Libya, I thought, was Obama's weakest point, at least as far as the situation, I think...

CONAN: It was a vulnerability he managed...

RUDIN: The vulnerability, I think...

CONAN: ...Romney got strong point on that.

Exactly. And Romney's greatest vulnerability, especially, seems to be among women. And when President Obama came on and talked about pay equality and the Lilly Ledbetter Act and Planned Parenthood, it seemed to put him in a stronger position with women than it did with Romney.

And Mr. Romney has been hitting on energy all along. And last night, he made a particular point about questioning the president's backing of oil, gas and coal in what proved to be a heated exchange.


ROMNEY: I don't think anyone really believes that you're a person who's going to be pushing for oil and gas and coal. You'll get your chance in a moment. I'm still speaking.

OBAMA: Well, Governor, if you're asking me a question, I'm going to answer it.

ROMNEY: My - and the answer is, I don't believe people think that's the case because I - I'm - that wasn't a question.


CONAN: And shortly thereafter, the president did get his chance and came back with - well, he'd clearly been prepping as well.


OBAMA: Governor, when you were governor of Massachusetts, you stood in front of a coal plant and pointed at it and said, this plant kills, and took great pride in shutting it down. And now, suddenly, you're a big champion of coal. So what I've tried to do is be consistent.

CONAN: And again, well, they can go back and forth on that, and they did, over several issues. We're talking with our Political Junkie, Ken Rudin. 800-98 - excuse me. That's the wrong number. That's the regular number. We're not using that in this particular segment. Republicans, call 800-344-3893. Democrats, 800-344-3864. And every Wednesday, you listen to the Political Junkie on NPR News. And let's see if we can go next to the Republican line. And Dean is on the line with us from Modesto, California.

DEAN: Thanks, Neal, for having me on. I love your show.

CONAN: Thank you.

DEAN: I'm a lifelong Republican. I voted Republican my whole life. I did vote for Ross Perot, but I was younger and, you know, not so smart back then.


DEAN: But my point being, I thought in the first debate, I was really surprised how poorly President Obama did. I was actually kind of shocked. I knew he'd come back a lot stronger this time. I thought he did well. If I had to give to one or the other, I have to say that President Obama did slightly better than Romney. I would like to say, though, I thought it was little skewed as far as the moderator went. I thought she gave President Obama a few more chances, you know, kind of, come back and dispute what Romney had said and just - I heard early on you talked about him getting a little more time.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

DEAN: I thought it was a little unfair. And maybe some of the questions, I thought, were maybe more toward - it would help President Obama a little bit more than possibly...

CONAN: What question would you have liked to have heard from the audience that you didn't?

DEAN: Well, you know, like some of the - maybe major expenses that he spent on green energy, you know, and all the money that was wasted on some of that stuff (unintelligible).

CONAN: Solyndra, and then a battery company went belly-up yesterday.

DEAN: Right, right. Exactly. Some of that stuff, and just his - first of all, his two years - first two years with the - control of the House and the Senate and getting actually nothing done.

CONAN: Health care reform was nothing?

DEAN: Well, I'm against that.

CONAN: I know, but it's not nothing.

DEAN: Well then, but it's one big thing, and I don't believe that all over the country likes it. I like some of the stuff that's in it, don't get me wrong. As a college student that's on my wife's medical plan. I like that. I like the pre-existing stuff. I like that. But there's a bunch of stuff on there, like, that you're forced to do it. And then there's going to be the $2,500 tax or penalty or whatever you want to call it, that's coming down the pipe if...

CONAN: If you don't want buy insurance, yes.

DEAN: Right, exactly. And some people just can't buy it. Some people won't be able to afford it. And then where are going to be - what's going to be the mechanism that's going to make those people...

CONAN: Well, let's not debate health care reform in this venue but...

DEAN: Right, right. But you were the one who brought it up.

RUDIN: And so you did.

CONAN: But...

DEAN: That's one of my points that I'm making. And so health care, yeah, that's one thing. But there's so many other things he could have done that he didn't do in the first two years. And then the last two years, obviously, he couldn't get anything done because the Republicans were doing battle with him. I understand that.

CONAN: All right.

DEAN: But my point was, some of the questions were pretty weak, and I thought the moderator kind of leaned a little bit toward Obama. And I know it's really hard to find somebody that's completely unbiased. But I felt, if anything, last night, that that was one of the issues.

CONAN: All right. Ken, if both sides sign off on the moderators...

RUDIN: Yeah. I saw a lot of conservative anger, not only at Candy Crowley, but some of the questions seemed to be Democratic skewed. I think Dean makes a good point there in that regard. There was one question, how do you defer - Governor Romney, how do you defer from President Bush, who I fear that you might emulate when you come into office? And while he gave some kind of an answer, I thought Obama gave a great response.

Well, I'll tell you how he - how much defer because he's opposed to Planned Parenthood and President Bush wasn't. He's opposed to making Medicare as a voucher program. President Bush wasn't so...

CONAN: Immigration reform, President Bush was for that, and he's against that.

RUDIN: That's right. Although Romney came back saying, we - if you were for immigration reform, where is your program?

CONAN: Interesting, also, that the candidates were asked right at the end of the debate, a question about, you know, what's the biggest misrepresentation of yourself? And it was by - again, the coin flip. Mr. Romney went first to answer the first question by that coin flip. Mr. Obama got to go last at the end of the program, after more than 90 minutes. So this is - first, Mitt Romney talking about misperceptions and how they exist.


ROMNEY: I think the president's campaign has tried to characterize me as someone who's very different than who I am. I care about 100 percent of the American people. I want 100 percent of the American people to have a bright and prosperous future. I care about our kids.

CONAN: And that 100 percent was...

RUDIN: A clear reference.

CONAN: ...and what Mr. Romney came with after the famous video came out of 47 percent, where he described them as people not only who don't pay income tax, which is true, but then people who are - well, don't take responsibility for their own lives. And that 100 percent just created an opening for President Obama to say this and knowing that he will not get a reply.


OBAMA: But I also believe that when he said behind closed doors that 47 percent of the country considers themselves victims, who refuse personal responsibility, think about who he was talking about.

CONAN: And then he rattled them off, you know, veterans, people fighting our wars, people on Social Security, and a very effective line, I thought. And again, Mr. Romney had no chance to respond.

RUDIN: You know, I'm not sure that President Obama really answered most of the questions that were asked off him. He went more in a litany of what's wrong with Mitt Romney. But ending the debate with reminding voters of the 47 percent comment, which he failed to do in the first debate, may have a very lasting effect, at least all the way until next Monday.

CONAN: At least all the way until next Monday when there's a foreign policy debate. And, of course, we'll be mentioning that next week when Ken Rudin returns with another edition of the Political Junkie. Ken, as always, thanks very much for your time.

RUDIN: Bye, Honey Boo Boo.


CONAN: It is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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