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CNN CAPITAL GANG

America Votes 2002: Capital Gang Election Edition

Aired November 5, 2002 - 15:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANNOUNCER: From CNN: "America Votes 2002."
Election Day, November 5, 2002: On Capitol Hill, all 435 seats in the House and 34 of the 100 Senate seats are at stake, decisions on 36 governor's races, an election that could change the power in Congress and set the stage for the 2004 race for the White House.

CNN is all across the country at key races, from Florida to New Jersey, Minnesota to California.

Now, live from CNN election headquarters, here's Judy Woodruff.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you for joining me, as we kick off CNN's coverage of this exciting election night 2002.

All over America, people are voting. We are only four hours away from the first poll closing. And, you know, from these nail-biter Senate races to the elimination of chad, this could be a night full of surprises.

We've got CNN reporters covering this story all across the nation.

Let's start in Minnesota, where CNN's Anderson Cooper is -- Anderson.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Judy, this unexpected, unprecedented race between Walter Mondale and Norm Coleman has energized voters across Minnesota. Anecdotal reports from precincts this morning say that voter turnout is high, both candidates not taking any chances. Norm Coleman worked all night long, greeted supporters this morning, urged them to get out the vote. Walter Mondale did the same thing in a union hall here in St. Paul.

Polls close here in about six hours. And it's up to the voters to decide -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: And now to South Dakota, where, literally, the Senate, hanging in the balance, could be determined by none other than the influence of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, campaigning for his Senate colleague.

There we find CNN's Jonathan Karl -- Jon?

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Judy, the stakes are especially high here in South Dakota for Tom Daschle. He's been crisscrossing the state for the past several days with the Democratic incumbent, Tim Johnson, making the case that a vote for Johnson is a vote to preserve South Dakota's clout in the U.S. Senate. But Republican John Thune has had some powerful friends, too, two visits from the president in the last week.

WOODRUFF: And now let's move quickly to Florida, where the most closely fought and closely watched governor's race in the country is being borne out tonight.

Let's go to CNN's Miami bureau chief, John Zarrella.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN MIAMI BUREAU CHIEF: Judy, well, the governor's race certainly the capper here. It appears that incumbent Jeb Bush may have himself a big enough lead that he can retain his seat, the first Republican governor in Florida to be reelected.

The big story, though, in Florida today is that no news is good news. No problems in Miami-Dade County or in Broward County, two of the biggest trouble spots during the 2000 presidential election and during the September primary. So, again, everything is going smoothly here in Florida. That's a surprise, a nice one.

WOODRUFF: And now to Missouri, another state that could tip the balance of power in the Senate.

CNN's Carol Lin is in St. Louis.

CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: You bet, Judy, an extremely tight race here between Republican Jim Talent and Democrat Jean Carnahan. Both candidates voting early today, Jim Talent predicting victory, also showing a lead in one local poll.

But Jean Carnahan predicting at her voting poll in Rolla, Missouri, that she's going to have a Missouri surprise. They do have polling judges out to try to prevent some of the irregularities from the 2000 race. So far, the only problem we've heard about is a power outage in tiny Maries County in Central Missouri, where they had to bring out the candles and the flashlights, but, so far, turnout looking pretty good -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, make sure you stay with us for all of CNN's coverage throughout this election night. As we track the polls on this Election Day, our reporters, analysts, editors, writers and producers will all be working into the wee hours to bring you the latest returns.

You can see how busy it is here at CNN headquarters in Atlanta. We're all planning to stay up late. We know you're going to be staying up late.

And with us, none other than Bob Novak, in charge of our CAPITAL GANG.

All right, Bob, what surprises are you looking for tonight? ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Well, I just want to see how the golden oldie, Fritz Mondale, does. This is the year of the senior citizen, isn't it, for politics? But will he rise or fall?

WOODRUFF: All right, I'm going to turn it over to you and the CAPITAL GANG. It's all yours.

NOVAK: Thanks, Judy.

Welcome to CAPITAL GANG's Election Day special. I'm Robert Novak at CNN election headquarters in Atlanta. In Washington: Mark Shields, Al Hunt, Kate O'Beirne, and Margaret Carlson.

President Bush spent the five days before the election in nonstop barnstorming in 15 states, urging the Republican faithful to get out their vote.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Don't be afraid of talking to Democrats. There are some discerning Democrats who know the difference between lousy government and good government. And they want good government.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: The highest-ranking Democrat in the federal government, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, was in his home state of South Dakota campaigning for his colleague, Senator Tim Johnson.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TIM JOHNSON (D), SOUTH DAKOTA: I just try to be a Johnson Democrat. And that's what I am. I'm a Johnson South Dakotan. And I'm proud of the many things that Tom and I have done together. We have worked together. We occasionally had differences of opinion, but not too often.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: Mark, is this election a referendum on George W. Bush?

MARK SHIELDS, CO-HOST: Bob, first of all, let me just get one thing straight. I've never heard you talk about Jesse Helms as a senior citizen or Strom Thurmond as a senior citizen, both of whom, of course, are older than either Fritz Mondale or Frank Lautenberg.

But let's get this straight. It's not a referendum in the voters' mints. Half the voters, Bob, say that they consider their vote a referendum on President Bush. But let's be very frank about it. In the post-election analysis, of course it will be seen as a referendum on the president, as it is on every president in office. And the White House is hoping it will be a very positive referendum.

NOVAK: Kate, the president was in Minnesota for this race, which has now become a tremendously important race. Do you think the outcome of Minnesota is kind of a judgment by the Minnesotans on George W. Bush? Or is it on the senior citizen, as I call him, Fritz Mondale?

KATE O'BEIRNE, "NATIONAL REVIEW": I think the Minnesota race, Bob, is a Coleman-Mondale race, with some Wellstone thrown into the mix.

It's a state that George Bush barely lost in 2000. But I think that's more a local race, as opposed to South Dakota, where the president has campaigned so often, although I don't see that as a Daschle South Dakota race, as a Daschle-Bush race. I see that as a Daschle-Trent Lott race.

What the people of South Dakota are deciding is, should the majority leader of the Senate be from South Dakota or from Mississippi? And if it weren't for that factor, I think, if the Democrats had a safe majority in the Senate, there's no question John Thune would safely win. I still think he'll pull it off, but I do think that they want their own favorite son to be majority leader. And that's really the issue in that race.

NOVAK: Al Hunt, what do you think? Do you think that George W. Bush has really risked a lot of prestige on his barnstorming around the country?

AL HUNT, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": No, I don't. I think that's what every president does.

I think the instant analysis will be, no matter which way it goes, it was a referendum on Bush. It's nonsense; 82' was not a referendum on Ronald Reagan. It was a referendum on the economy; '94 was not a referendum on Bill Clinton. It was a referendum on the Democratic stewardship of the Congress. This is just something for overpaid pundits to talk about on election night, Bob.

And I don't think this will be any referendum on George Bush. If the Republicans do well, he'll be very happy. It will help him next year. If they don't do as well, the Democrats will do better next year. But that has nothing to do with a referendum on George Bush.

NOVAK: Margaret?

MARGARET CARLSON, "TIME": Well, Bob, I agree with what Al said, except on the overpaid part of the pundit thing.

(LAUGHTER)

CARLSON: On South Dakota, the voters are fairly nuanced in saying that they don't want -- if they vote for Johnson, they don't want the majority leader to be from Mississippi. And that is partly due to Tom Daschle spending almost as much time with Johnson as Bush has spent with his brother in Florida.

And drought relief is an issue in South Dakota. And if you want to bring drought relief, which Bush couldn't do, Johnson has made a good point of: He and Daschle could bring that to South Dakota. And this is why I think Daschle's going to -- or Daschle -- not Daschle is going to win in South Dakota, but Johnson is going to win in South Dakota.

O'BEIRNE: Bob, beyond the individual races I mentioned, I guess I disagree with my fellow panelists. I do think the overall elections this year are going to be a referendum, to an extent, on George Bush.

If the Republicans do not suffer, as they typically do in a president's first midterm election, significant losses, that clearly is owing to the efforts and popularity of George Bush. Look, there's a weak economy. The historic trends favor Democrats. Despite his popularity, George Bush, the wrong-track numbers, many polls show the majority of the public thinking that the country is on the wrong track. That should spell a really good day for the Democrats and big Republican losses.

If that winds up not being the case, I think George Bush deserves much of the credit.

(CROSSTALK)

HUNT: My dear friend, Kate, that's just -- first of all, it's historically not true. This idea of a terrible drubbing in the first off-year election just doesn't happen.

O'BEIRNE: In the House, it is.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BEIRNE: They have not picked up in 100 years.

HUNT: Wait a second. It happened in 1994. Jack Kennedy lost four or five House seats. Jack Kennedy gained a Senate seat. Richard Nixon gained a Senate seat in 1970. Ronald Reagan gained a Senate seat in 1982. And so this idea of huge House heats is just not...

NOVAK: Al, I've seen you write that in your column. And I finally looked at the figures today. And, usually, the president in power does take a drubbing in the House seats. It's almost every midterm election.

But I want to ask Mark something.

HUNT: Bob, I'll give you the figures later, because you're wrong.

NOVAK: Well, look in the CNN book. It's right there.

Mark, I want to ask you, wasn't it a fact that, in 1994, President Clinton's first midterm election, every place he went, the Democratic polls went down; every place that the President Bush goes, the Republican polls go up? Isn't that a fact?

SHIELDS: No, it isn't, Bob. It was certainly true in 1994, but it's not true. Quite frankly, the president has not made a perceptible difference in states where he's gone in. And in House race after House race, that has been the case. The candidate gets a little catnip on the day of the visit because the president gets covered live.

But I do think there was one thing important that Kate made, the question that it is referendum in South Dakota between Trent Lott and Tom Daschle. If that's the case, Trent Lott was missing in action. I mean, he didn't show up. It was strictly George W. Bush there. And I think that's the case. I think that's a real test.

NOVAK: We'll talk about that more presently, because the gang of five will be back with a look at the Republican drive to win back the Senate.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We urge all people across this country to vote.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: President Bush trying to boost voter turnout after he and the first lady cast their votes this morning in Crawford, Texas.

Here in CNN's election headquarters in Atlanta, and with our live reporters fanned out across the country, this is your place to be.

And this special election CAPITAL GANG is back in just a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOVAK: Welcome back to CNN's election headquarters and a special election edition of the CAPITAL GANG.

A unique debate Monday morning, less than 24 hours before the polls opened, marked the return to elective politics after two decades for former Vice President Walter Mondale, opposing Republican Norm Coleman in Minnesota for the U.S. Senate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WALTER MONDALE (D), MINNESOTA SENATE CANDIDATE: It's not the fluff of what kind of word you say...

(APPLAUSE)

MONDALE: And, Norm, we know you. We've seen you. We've seen you shift around. We know about all this. And now you're in this location. And you have to take responsibility for the position you're taking.

NORM COLEMAN (R), MINNESOTA SENATE CANDIDATE: You don't grow jobs, you don't grow the economy, by raising taxes. The vice president thought that in 1984. He was wrong. He proposes now again what he calls rolling back some of the tax cut. That's raising taxes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: Kate, what are the real chances for a Republican Senate?

O'BEIRNE: Bob, I think slim.

It must be said that there was commentary months ago that maybe President Bush would rather Tom Daschle's Democrats hold the Senate, because then he'll have an excuse as to why his domestic agenda is stalled. I think he made it pretty clear during election season that he would rather a Republican Senate passing his initiatives than an opportunity to blame the Democrats for blocking them, because he really campaigned all-out.

I suppose he cares more about some Senate races than others, given that he was so active in recruiting a couple of these Senate candidates, like John Thune in South Dakota and Norm Coleman in Minnesota. But he clearly wants to win the Senate. I think there's only a slim chance. The Republicans could pick up three, maybe Missouri, I think Minnesota, South Dakota. But they could lose three, Bob: Arkansas, New Hampshire, Colorado.

That would leave, of course, a status quo Senate and all eyes would turn to a late runoff election in Louisiana.

NOVAK: What do you think, Mark?

SHIELDS: On the Senate outcome, Bob?

NOVAK: Yes.

SHIELDS: I think the Democrats are going to hold the Senate. I think they're going to increase their margin in the Senate. But I certainly don't think you can criticize the president for taking anything off his fastball. He's made the effort.

The one race that most Republicans are conceding is the loss of the Senate seat in Arkansas. And, on the last day of the campaign, George W. Bush went to Arkansas. So he certainly made the effort.

CARLSON: And, Bob, there's diminishing returns, in that there was a very light turnout at the Arkansas event that Bush showed up at. I don't think he helped Hutchinson, but I don't think he helped himself, in that the Bush magic seemed to be dwindling and he wasn't going to be able to tow Hutchinson across the line.

HUNT: You know, Robert, I would stick with my Saturday night predictions that the Democrats are lucky to pick up one seat. But I think the Republican chances are a little bit better than Kate said. I wouldn't say slim. I would say higher than slim. I think there are at least a half-dozen races that are totally even today. And I think it just depends on whether there's any late break and who turns out. One of the things, you look at these races, and it's not just the old thing of: "Who is going to get more votes? They win." But it's who turns out. Let me give you one example. If the black turnout in Georgia is 19 or 20 percent, the Republicans win. If the black turnout in Georgia is 22 or 23 percent, the Democrats win. Now, I don't know who has a good enough crystal ball to know what that black turnout will be today.

NOVAK: Al, how did it end up in Georgia that this is a contested race? This was supposed to be a perfectly safe race for Max Cleland. I think you would have said that a month ago, wouldn't you?

HUNT: I would have. And we also would have said North Carolina was perfectly safe for Elizabeth Dole. And that has turned out to be a contested race. That's what happens with races sometimes. They become contested when they're not supposed to be.

SHIELDS: And New Hampshire, Bob, I think I read your report on it. You paid the ultimate compliment to Jeanne Shaheen, calling her Betty Crocker with a blackjack, which I thought was probably a little rhetorical overkill. But she's just run a lot better campaign than John Sununu.

CARLSON: And speaking of rhetorical overkill, the senior citizen, Fritz Mondale, performed well in the debate yesterday. He showed that he's not an old geezer, out of touch with Minnesota voters.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BEIRNE: He wants to raise taxes again. He made that clear. And that didn't work for him in '84 and hopefully it won't work for him in 2002. I think, in Georgia, Congressman Saxby Chambliss did a pretty good job of defining Max Cleland as a non-Zell Miller.

The very popular Zell Miller really is an ally of George Bush on the agenda. Max Cleland picks and chooses. And I think Saxby Chambliss did a pretty good job to make himself competitive by defining Max Cleland as too liberal for Georgia. So I do think he has an outside chance for that.

NOVAK: Let me say that appreciation of the Minnesota debate was in the eye of the beholder. I think Fritz Mondale, my old friend, changed himself from just an old man to a mean old man in that debate.

SHIELDS: I couldn't disagree with you more, Bobby.

NOVAK: I said it's in the eye of the beholder.

Next on CAPITAL GANG: Can the Democrats win back the House?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOVAK: Welcome back to CNN's election headquarters and our special election edition of the CAPITAL GANG. Democrats can win control of the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time in five elections by winning a net gain of only six seats. Few forecasts, however, envision that achievement.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TERRY MCAULIFFE, DNC CHAIRMAN: Our candidates in the House are doing very well. We only need six seats. We're knocking off incumbents all over the country.

MARC RACICOT, RNC CHAIRMAN: I believe in my heart -- and we're working hard to make certain that this comes true -- that we can hold on to the majority in the House of Representatives.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: Al, is there even an outside chance for the Democrats winning back the House?

HUNT: Bob, there's about as much chance as there is of Robert D. Novak moderating the CAPITAL GANG. This is just something that's out of the question.

(LAUGHTER)

HUNT: I think it's very, very unlikely, Mr. Moderator.

I think, No. 1, they had a couple places where they had lousy candidates. They got a couple bad breaks and the wrong candidate, the least popular candidate won the primary. And they didn't, really, have a coherent, overall message this year. But, of course, the biggest scam, bipartisan scam, is that redistricting meant that 90 percent of the races weren't even competitive to begin with. And that's a pox on both houses.

NOVAK: Kate?

O'BEIRNE: I think that's so true.

Out of 435 House seats, as of today, there are about 10, only 10 real toss-ups. And that really goes to the incumbent protection racket both parties take part in. For the Democrats to take the House, they'd have to take all 10 of those toss-ups. And they would have to take another three seats that are leaning Republican, leaning meaning a Republican is up by eight points. I don't think they can do it.

And if they don't, and if the Republicans pick up a couple of seats, as I think they will, it's a historic achievement. It hasn't been done in 100 years by a president in the first midterm election.

NOVAK: Mark, I think, however, all this talk about, "You can't pick up all those seats," you'll remember, it was just about six weeks ago, seven weeks ago, when the Democrats were talking about picking up 20 seats or more. You know that. You talked to them and I talked to them. They were very excited about it, both Enron and the bum economy.

SHIELDS: Yes, I think it's a little more than six weeks ago, Bob. I think Enron in the summer, I don't think there's any question that Democrats really felt the Republicans were very much on the defensive. Of course, that was before we went to war with Iraq, Bob, you'll recall. That was in the summer doldrums, when the economy was where it is and remains today.

That's one of the reasons, in my judgment -- I think Al put his finger on this whole election -- to a considerable degree, in redistricting the congressional seats, they took the politics out of politics. My hats off to the Republicans in Michigan, the Republicans in Pennsylvania and the Democrats in Maryland, who at least tried to scramble the board a little bit and didn't pretend that incumbents ought to just have 70 percent reelect districts.

NOVAK: But the lead editorial in "The Wall Street Journal" this morning says that blaming redistricting for a poor performance by the Democrats is just missing the issue that the Democrats must have been bad on the issues.

Margaret, they didn't run a very good campaign for the House, did they?

O'BEIRNE: No, they didn't.

SHIELDS: Well, I think -- oh, I'm sorry. Margaret, excuse me. Pardon me, Margaret.

CARLSON: Mark, Margaret? You know, we're a lot alike.

(LAUGHTER)

CARLSON: Well, in the incumbent seats where there's been redistricting, mostly Democrats and mostly Republicans are winning those seats. The only one I know where it's a contest and it's probably going to be a Democrat is in my hometown in Pennsylvania, where Tim Holden is probably going to win.

But where you have Nancy Johnson going against Maloney, Johnson is virtually unbeatable. And on the issues, you have a point. In August, all issues kind of were diminished by war in Iraq. And George Bush's honeymoon and whatever coattails he had were extended longer by a honeymoon of fear, which is, if we're going to be in war, we wanted the commander in chief. And if you want the commander in chief, you tilt Republican.

(CROSSTALK)

HUNT: Let me pick up on the war thing for a second, Bob, because I was in a half-dozen states. And what really was stunning was how, when you talked to voters, the war almost never came up. Politicians almost never raised the issue.

But I think that everyone is right, that what happened with Iraq in the last half of September and the first part of October, in football parlance, it froze the linebackers. It stopped the Democrats from talking about health care and the economy and issues that help them.

NOVAK: That will have to be the last word. We have to take a break.

And when we come back, we will have an election update from our headquarters in Atlanta and the second half of this CAPITAL GANG election special.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: I'm Judy Woodruff with CNN's continuing coverage of Election Day 2002. The CAPITAL GANG will be right back. But right now, we want to take a look at what's at stake in four states: New Jersey, New Hampshire, Louisiana and Texas. And where better to start than the lone star state home of President Bush. CNN's Suzanne Malveaux is in Austin.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is where John Cornyn hopes it will be a victory speech he'll be a making. But Judy, it is still neck and neck at this time. It would be a big embarrassment for President Bush if Republicans lost here. They've held on to that Senate seat for more than 40 years.

John Cornyn, the state's attorney general, being endorsed by the president. His opponent, Ron Kirk, the former Dallas mayor, if he won, would become the first African-American senator from Texas. Judy, look for voter turnout, specifically minority voters to determine the outcome of the election.

WOODRUFF: And now to Louisiana, where there are four Senate candidates running for the same seat. CNN's Arthel Neville in New Orleans.

ARTHEL NEVILLE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. Judy, well here, weather, bad weather, rain, heavy rain and a tornado warning forced the secretary of state to predict a lower voter turnout than expected. However, looks like the voters here in Louisiana are, in fact, making it to the polls. And, in fact, turnout might be higher than expected.

In the meantime, it's certainly not raining on the candidates' parades. They've been out all day shaking hands and trying to get the people to the polls. And of course national eyes are on Louisiana because the Senate race may not be decided at the end of this election day. In order to maintain her seat, Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu must garner at least 50 percent of the votes, or there will be a runoff next month -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: And now to New Hampshire, where the sitting Senator, Bob Smith, lost in the primary. Let's find out what happened after that. CNN's Bill Delaney is in Bedford.

BILL DELANEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, I am in Bedford. And in this hall, Republican Congressman John Sununu will either declare victory or concede defeat sometime this evening or, more likely, well after midnight in his very close race with Democratic Governor Jeanne Shaheen. Record turnout anticipated here.

It's a possibility, election officials telling us, at least 60 percent of voters here in New Hampshire are taking part in this election. Key to who wins and who doesn't, independent voters. They're more than a third of voters now in New Hampshire. How they cut will make the difference here.

Also, outgoing Republican Senator, as you mentioned, Judy, Bob Smith, he is the wildcard. If as many as two percent of disgruntled Republicans write him in, angry that John Sununu defeated him in the primary, that could be the difference here that throws this election to the Democrats and loses a Republican seat -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: And now, we're moving a little bit south to New Jersey, where Democrats are counting on former Senator Frank Lautenberg to keep the Senate seat warm. CNN's Debbie Feyerick is in New Brunswick.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, counting on him they are for Frank Lautenberg. This has been his shortest campaign ever, 35 days and an overall cost of about $12 million. And from the day he replaced his fellow Democrat, political archrival Bob Torricelli, Frank Lautenberg has never looked back.

He has been leading in the polls. That, of course, a big disappointment to the Republican challenger, Doug Forrester, who saw his own lead disappear when Torricelli dropped out. Both Forrester and Lautenberg taking it easy this afternoon. They're preparing their speeches and waiting to see when the election results come in -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right. We're going to be keeping a close eye on that one and all the races we've been talking about this afternoon. In fact, there are several races that I'm tracking on CNN.com. And you can find it for yourself. Click on your scorecard there that you'll see to view my favorites and then you can make your own list and watch it as it updates automatically.

Also, if you've already voted, we'd like to know what it was like. So e-mail what happened to you at your polling place. Mail it to insidepolitics@cnn.com. We're back in just a moment with a special edition of Bob Novak and the CAPITAL GANG. That's right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOVAK: CNN reporters are watching this Election Day unfold and bringing you the latest developments from CNN's election headquarters here in Atlanta and from coast to coast. CNN's prime time coverage begins at 6:00 PM Eastern, 3:00 PM Pacific. And this special edition of the CAPITAL GANG will be back in 90 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOVAK: Welcome back to the second half of the Election Day special of CAPITAL GANG. I'm Robert Novak at CNN's election headquarters in Atlanta with Al Hunt, Mark Shields, Kate O'Beirne, and Margaret Carlson. Republicans are in danger of losing long-held governorships in important states: Michigan, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. But the most closely watched governor's race is in Florida, where Republican Governor Jeb Bush is challenged by Democratic trial lawyer Bill McBride.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. JEB BUSH (R), FLORIDA: Bill McBride doesn't understand that. The one thing I know for sure is if he's elected, your taxes are going to go up and our economy will be hurt.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL MCBRIDE (D), FLORIDA GOVERNOR CANDIDATE: Our economy has not been as good as it was in 1998. When Jeb Bush was elected governor we had a lower unemployment rate. Now the unemployment rate is higher than it's been. We've lost ground on every single meaningful category measuring public schools.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: A net gain of six governors by the Democrats would end the Republican majority of state executives. Margaret, why the Democratic apparent edge in the governors' races?

CARLSON: Bob, Republicans are defending so many more seats, 23, than Democrats who have only 11 to defend. And the states are -- the governors of the states are like the canaries in the mine. They're the first to go, because the deficits in the states are high and services are being cut and taxes are going to have to be raised. So now it's coming over to Democratic hands.

The one that will buck the trend probably is Florida, in that Bush has been there, I think, an even dozen times now to tow Jeb across the line from a very strong challenger, Bill McBride, who beat Janet Reno, who Jeb Bush would have liked to have been running against. And in California, you have a very bad candidate in Gray Davis, but a very weak challenger in Bill Simon. So Gray Davis will hold on.

NOVAK: Al, do you agree with Margaret, that the reason that Jeb Bush looks like he's going to survive and perhaps comfortably is his brother's pulling him across the line?

HUNT: That, plus all the money that he's spent. But Bob, going to the overall point, I think the good news is Democrats will pick up five or six seats, they will have a majority. They will have a majority of the most popular states for the first time in a while. And they'll elect a couple new starts like Jennifer Granholm (ph) in Michigan.

The bad news for Democrats is right away people say, boy that Granholm is terrific, she's going to be a running mate. But she's constitutionally not permitted because she was born in Canada.

And the other bad news, to pick up on what Margaret just said, is it's a terrible venue to be successful in today, because there will be nothing but problems ahead. Forty-five states this year face budgetary short falls, 16 have to raise taxes, 10 others had to raise fees, another 26 had to cut spending. And I don't think it's going to get any better next year.

NOVAK: Would you say, Kate, that these elections are just completely non-ideological? There's no ideology involved in them at all?

O'BEIRNE: No, I think there's some ideology. I do think the Republicans, as has been said, are on the short end of the cycle with so many more seats to defend. Republicans will point out that not a single incumbent Republican governor looks like he's going to lose. They'll be reelected in New York, in Florida and in Texas.

It does look like a couple of Democrats could get knocked off -- incumbent governors -- in South Carolina and Alabama. But clearly, the Democrats will pick up on that number, maybe four or five of the governorships. And, you know, not nearly as well as the Republicans did when they picked up 10 in 1994, but the Democrats really should be running more of these states, given that public's so evenly divided. I suppose it should be reflected in the fact that Democrats control half the governorships which they haven't for the past several years.

NOVAK: Mark, how is it possible that it looks as though Congressman Bob Ehrlich, a Republican in Maryland, such a Democrat state, haven't elected a Republican since, may I say it, Spiro Agnew, such a new such a long time ago? How is it possible that Ehrlich seems to be running ahead of Bobby Kennedy's oldest child, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend in Maryland?

SHIELDS: Well I think, Bob, one of the first and iron rules of politics is that the most difficult assignment for any candidate is to run to succeed an unpopular incumbent executive of your own party, especially in this case, where your name is tied to that incumbent, and that, of course, is Paris Glendening, the Democratic governor of Maryland, who twice won in just breathers (ph). I mean, I don't think Maryland is as Democratic as it was when it was one of the six states Jimmy Carter carried against Ronald Reagan.

But I do want to say one thing. If we hadn't had Iraq, the governors' races you're seeing now would be the national race to a considerable degree, because governors are paying the price. Governors are the ones who are on the front line. If you're a governor of Michigan, you're a governor of Illinois, you're a governor of Pennsylvania, and you got those problems that Margaret and Al outlined with the deficit and the crunch on services, you don't have the option of invading Michigan.

You don't have the option of invading Indiana and taking people's minds off of their problems at home. And that's the drawback about being a governor. NOVAK: Can I make a comment that maybe Maryland indicates that the bloom is off the Kennedy rose, that another Kennedy grandchild or another Kennedy nephew got beat in a primary there, Mark Shriver. That maybe the voters of America have had enough Kennedys for a while?

O'BEIRNE: Bob, the oldest Kennedy cousin is clearly in trouble in an overwhelmingly Democratic state. This morning when I voted in Virginia at my local high school, Ethel Kennedy was on her way in as I was on my way out, and I bet she wished she was registered in Maryland, because her daughter is going to need every single vote to pull this off in what should be a safe Democratic seat.

NOVAK: We're out of time, Kate. We're going to have to take a break.

And when we come back, the issues of election 2002. The war with terrorism, the state of the economy, next on the CAPITAL GANG election special.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOVAK: Welcome back to CNN's election headquarters in Atlanta and a special election edition of the CAPITAL GANG.

In the midterm campaign, Republicans have stressed the war against terrorism, homeland security and permanent tax cuts. Democrats have campaigned on Social Security protection, prescription drugs and the economy. Mark, have any of these issues stuck?

SHIELDS: Well, I think the economy, Bob, and terrorism are the two big issues. There's no question about it. The problem is the Democrats do not have, as has been pointed out, a consistent, coherent, compelling national message on the economy and, therefore, I think it's cost them a sense that they were better on the economy as the out party usually is.

And those voters for whom terrorism and potential war with Iraq is a major issue, and that comes to second on the list, they overwhelmingly support the president and support Republicans. So I'd say that the Democrats failed to get traction on the other issues you mentioned and for whatever reason.

You can blame them, blame events, blame the lack of message. But, I mean, on prescription drugs, on patients' bill of rights, and so forth, the Democrats did not break through.

NOVAK: But Kate, wouldn't you also say that the Republicans really kind of played it safe on their issues? On Social Security reform, on tax cuts, on cutting the size of government? Every campaign, it looks like the Republicans were pulling their punches as well.

O'BEIRNE: Well Bob, there was certainly a paucity of small government Republicans on the campaign trail. But I frankly have been surprised, given the potency of the Social Security issue, that Republican candidates have not run away from private accounts. I would have predicted more of them would have because they're so spooked by the issue.

But in Senate race after Senate race, Thune and Sununu have all stuck with private accounts. Elizabeth Dole in North Carolina. The only one who seems to have ducked off on the issue is Forrester in New Jersey.

NOVAK: And he's getting beat badly.

O'BEIRNE: He's not going to win anyway. And about 220 House members have stuck with not privatization, the government still runs it, but private accounts. I think that really is a remarkable adherence to that issue in a tightly contested season.

NOVAK: Al, the CNN-"TIME" poll that came out this week said that the American people thought that the Republicans had a more coherent economic message than the Democrats. Do you agree with that?

HUNT: No, I don't agree with that. I don't think either one of them had a coherent message. I also disagree with Kate. I think in state after state, district after district, Republicans have run away from Social Security.

She mentioned few. John Thune, by the way, has run away from it. I was out in South Dakota, asked him about it, and he basically did duck it. House members, like Pickering (ph) in Mississippi said 9/11 had changed his view on privatization.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That leaves 220.

HUNT: I'm not exactly sure why, but member after member. And Democrats are running away from the tax cut issue. There's a mad dash to the center. Either that or just to kind of fudge over differences and I think, Bob, you go to your central point. If Republicans basically believe in decreasing the size of government, there weren't very many who campaigned on that. And if Democrats basically believe in expanding the size of the government, there weren't very many that campaigned on that.

NOVAK: Margaret?

CARLSON: I think everyone ran a safe campaign, you know, bolstered by negative advertising. There was almost nobody coming out and saying, you know, I believe the tax cut is wrong and I want it postponed or repealed. I don't think anybody said that, other than Wellstone.

On Social Security, Republicans did run away. In fact, there was a memo saying don't use the word privatize. And Dole, when I was in North Carolina, was from 19 percent to two percent investing funds in private accounts, because she found that that really was not a good issue for her in that state.

So on -- nobody really came out and defined what they were for. They defined more what they were against.

NOVAK: Maybe one of the reasons that the American people seem very uninterested in this election, and they aren't, is that neither party is willing to stand up to what it really believes in. Particularly, the Democrats, I think are even worse than the Republicans on that score.

Next, your CAPITAL GANG unveils its choices for the most unusual, unusual events of the 2002 campaign.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOVAK: Welcome back to CNN's election headquarters and our special election edition of the CAPITAL GANG.

The 2002 campaign had its share, more than its share of unusual moments. Your CAPITAL GANG took a look back. So let's go around the horn with the picks, starting with Al Hunt.

HUNT: Bob, just as Fritz Mondale and Norm Coleman were going to square off in a critical, unprecedented election eve debate, Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura, suffering from a deathly political disease; namely, wanting more attention, decided that he was going to appoint, at that very hour, an interim senator to replace Paul Wellstone. It was tacky, it was arrogant, and it was a mark of a failed man and politician.

NOVAK: Margaret Carlson?

CARLSON: Bob, not to take away from the likely Senator Pryor in Arkansas beating Tim Hutchinson, the newly married Tim Hutchinson, but it seems a little late for the delicate sensibilities of Arkansas voters to be offended by marital infidelity.

NOVAK: OK. That it is unusual for Arkansas. Kate O'Beirne?

O'BEIRNE: Well, when Democratic lawyers in Minnesota went to court to try to overturn the state election law to permit new absentee ballots, we spotted a most unwelcome trend. That was the third time in two years Democrats got a state court to overturn election laws they find inconvenient.

We didn't know in Florida in 2000 this was the beginning of a trend. And of course they did it in Jersey, replacing Torricelli. I suppose it was only a matter of time before the party of trial lawyers would use lawyers to win in courtrooms what they can't win in the voting booth.

NOVAK: Mark Shields?

SHIELDS: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to Republicans the party of Supreme Court judges who use Supreme Court judges to win the presidency. But Bob, I think, you know, George W. Bush ran an admiral campaign in 2000, absolutely free of any even subtle reference in any way to racism. Yet, in this election of 2002, we've seen in Baltimore already ugly leaflets distributed in urban neighborhoods telling people they couldn't vote if they had outstanding parking tickets or their rent wasn't paid.

I mean, that is the ugliest of racism, and it's un-American and it's most unwelcome in our country. I thought we were behind it.

O'BEIRNE: They could have been distributed by Democrats, for all we know.

SHIELDS: If you think they were distributed by Democrats, I have some lakefront property in Arkansas I'd like to sell you.

NOVAK: We don't really know, Mark. The most unusual thing I thought was in New Jersey, where Bob Torricelli was going to lose the Democratic seat, maybe lose the United States Senate, and he dropped out because he was losing, was replaced by Frank Lautenberg, who obviously is going to win.

The concept of the relief pitcher, the substitute quarterback in politics. That is unusual. And that also wraps up our CAPITAL GANG election special. But we'll be back late tonight, midnight and after 1:00, when the returns are in. CNN's continuous coverage of campaign 2002 continues with "INSIDE POLITICS" and Judy Woodruff -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: The Election Day edition of "INSIDE POLITICS" is next. We'll have live reports from more than a half a dozen states and the latest on all the tight races. Updates from the polling places, the new equipment, the new procedures and any reported problems from Florida and beyond.

Plus, I'll talk with the two national party chairs. We'll get their thoughts at the end of this long campaign. "INSIDE POLITICS" just moments away.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com



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