LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
Among the Republicans heading for Tampa this week - weather permitting, of course - is Chuck Grassley, the senior senator from Iowa. He's held that office since 1981. We spoke with him Friday, before event organizers delayed the kickoff for the Republican National Convention, and asked him how he thinks Republicans are feeling about the election.
SENATOR CHUCK GRASSLEY: Well, I think the party's mood is similar to the nation as a whole. I think everybody has seen the longest recovery since the Great Depression, and our party is very enthused about having an opportunity to turn this country around. So, the next 70 or 80 days are pretty important in the history of our country. That's what we feel as Republicans.
WERTHEIMER: How about the Paul Ryan pick for VP? Mr. Romney's choice has, among other things, brought Medicare back to the top of the list of major issues. Is that a good thing? A bad thing?
GRASSLEY: Very definitely a good thing, because without a lot of public discussion of, a lot of education about it, we'll never get the country in a position where Congress have the guts to handle these politically sensitive issues.
WERTHEIMER: Like cutting Medicare or changing Social Security in some important way?
GRASSLEY: Yeah, not cutting Medicare. The issue is preserving Medicare. I could take your word C-U-T and relate it to a lot of people that come to my town meetings. They would say just leave my Medicare alone. Then that gives me an opportunity to say to them we can just leave your Medicare alone but there wouldn't be any Medicare after 2024. Well, then that gets them thinking. So, it's a good omen that there's a guy by the name of Ryan on the ticket and it's a pretty good omen that he's not afraid to discuss these very important issues because something as integral to American social life as Medicare has to be maintained.
WERTHEIMER: Well, now, a lot of Republican leaders are hoping, though, that this convention could be a turning point, because this race has been practically neck and neck. Do you think that just the glamour of the convention can work in a close race?
GRASSLEY: When this country is in the condition that it's in - and that's not just an Obama problem; it's gotten much, much worse under Obama - but it's a problem of decades. And this has to be turned around and this better be a turning point for our country.
WERTHEIMER: Do you think that Governor Romney has really done enough to reassure seniors, to reassure women, to reach out for groups that the Republican Party is having some current difficulties with?
GRASSLEY: I don't know whether the problem is based upon being a woman or a man, but most of it is two things. One, they don't know a lot about him; and number two, he's still suffering from being beat up by eight other Republicans that were running for president for 12 months before he ever sewed it up.
WERTHEIMER: Let me just completely change the subject and ask you is there something that's sort of especially nice about a convention for a senator, maybe something that you always look forward to? That was kind of a long pause.
GRASSLEY: The answer is no. I do it because I am a senior leader in my political party in my state and I do it more out of duty than for anything I like about it. And often when Thursday night comes and I look back four days I wonder why did I come here. And I ask that question after every convention but I still go back, because I have a duty to the people of Iowa - and particularly in my case being a Republican senator - to the Republicans of Iowa to do what I can to elect the president and other Republican leaders.
WERTHEIMER: Chuck Grassley is the senior senator from Iowa. Thank you.
GRASSLEY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.