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"And the Democrats are actually gaining female voters, is that right?"

"Yes, they have gained women, but over the past 30 years what was significant was the loss of white males. It used to be that the Democratic Party was clearly the majority party. Now it is, at best, just competitive with the Republican Party, which is 87% white males. It has suffered bigger losses than it has had gains."

"It's anecdotal," I say, "but a good many Republican women have confided that they would never vote for anybody, from no matter which party, who opposed abortion. Their attitude is that there is just no going back to those days. Is that a visible pattern at all in the acquisition of female voters by the Democrats?"

"Yeah, among suburban voters, especially well-educated and working suburban women in many areas of the country. And when you look at the whole west coast, Democrats have made huge gains there, and a lot of it has to do with both abortion and the other social issues, the whole opposition to the religious right, the support of sexual privacy, and in some cases even support of gay rights."

"Is there something basically wrong with the Democratic Party, something inherently askew?"

"The Democrats are split on issues of trade, and the party is dominated by a well-educated, very socially liberal elite that holds a lot of values not shared by its lower-working-class and poorer constituents, who are 60% of the party. All of those factors make it vulnerable to attack. I'm now working on the issue of what the Democrats need to do to get past this. I think the Democratic Party's success in the western states was a potentially significant signal that there are new ways of approaching issues with a combination of libertarian principles and support for the rights of all individuals, including women, gays, and everybody, as opposed to the emphasis on group rights. But, again, it's a very tentative start."

"When Pat Buchanan worked as an aide to Nixon, he seemed to articulate an absolute state of war between Republicans and Democrats. Is it accelerating; is it at a point now that it's almost uncontrollable?"

"I don't know, but the Republicans have pushed the boundaries fairly consistently. The goal of winning supersedes a lot of ethical boundaries. In the last election you saw that in Tennessee with some of the ads used against Harold Ford. This was just after the Republican Party leadership had apologized for using racial issues to win in the past, and then they proceeded once again to use racial issues to win."

"Do you have any concerns or fears about voting machines and the possibility of tampering with them?"

"Yeah, clearly there seem to be problems. In the last election, in Florida, apparently there was an 18,000-vote undercount in Sarasota. Something is going on. Whether it is under the control of some political agent, that I don't know."

"Are politicians dumber than ordinary humans?"

I elicit no laugh. Tom Edsall is thinking about it. "They're probably less introspective," he says, "less self-reflective."

"Who is going to win the next presidential election?"

"I wish I knew."

"If it's Hillary versus McCain?" I prompt.

"If I had to put my money on somebody, I'd say McCain. I think John McCain."

Basic Books, 2006, 320 pages, $26

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