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CNN LARRY KING LIVE

Significance of Off Year Elections

Aired November 3, 2009 - 21:00   ET

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


LARRY KING, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening on this off-year election night. The polls have just closed in New York State. The Republicans have swept Virginia. The New Jersey's governor's race is tight.

First, before we meet our panel, let's go to Wolf Blitzer with the latest results -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Larry.

Thanks very much.

Let me update our viewers here in the United States and around the world.

We'll do New Jersey right now. The polls closed in New Jersey one hour ago and we're not able to project a winner in New Jersey yet.

But look at this -- with 18 percent of the precincts in, the Republican challenger, Christie, with 52 percent of the vote; Jon Corzine, the Democrat incumbent, 42 percent of the vote; Chris Daggett, he's the Independent, third party candidate, 6 percent of the vote. Less than 20 percent of the precincts in.

If you take a look at the State of New Jersey, you see, though, where those votes are coming. If we can get that up there -- maybe we can't. No, here it is.

You see that the red are Republican and the blue is Democrat. You see still a lot of areas in Northern New Jersey that haven't come in yet. So I suspect this will get closer than it is right now. But we are not yet ready to project a winner.

In Virginia, we have projected a winner and it's a clean sweep for the Republicans. Bob McDonnell, the Republican attorney general, he becomes the next governor of Virginia, beating Creigh Deeds. Eighty-one percent of the precincts are in. It's 60-40 percent. It looks very impressive for the Republicans. They go on to win the attorney general's slot, as well as the lieutenant governor's slot in Virginia. The lieutenant governor will be Bill Bolling, the attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, a clean sweep for the Republicans.

In New York City, there's a race -- the polls have just closed in New York State. The incumbent, Michael Bloomberg, the Independent candidate, running for a third term against the Democrat Bill Thompson. We have not been able to project the winner of that yet. The polls have literally just closed. Another important race we're watching in New York State, a special Congressional election in the 23rd district. Dede Scozzafava has dropped out. She was the official Republican candidate. It's now a two man race between Democrat Bill Owens and conservative Doug Hoffman. We're watching this to see what trends they will show, Larry, for the country.

So lots still unfolding. We have a lot of results still coming in. There are some other important mayor races out there. We'll -- we'll update you with all of it during the course of the next hour -- Larry.

L. KING: Thanks, Wolf, right atop the scene.

Let's meet our panel and kick things off with our various panels throughout the hour. We'll get right to the latest with John King, the anchor of CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION" and CNN's chief national correspondent.

We're also joined by Tavis Smiley, the host of "Tavis Smiley" on PBS, "The Tavis Smiley Show" on PRI and author of "Accountable: Making America As Good As Its Promise."

We'll be joined shortly by David Gergen, CNN's senior political analyst.

We've seen all the maps -- John.

Any -- anything definitive here in Virginia other than the Republican sweep?

Does it have a national bearing?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Democrats will look at it closely, Larry, for any lessons they need to learn heading into next year's midterm elections. And Republicans, of course, will look at it to see what they should learn to try to maximize on the win here and carry it over.

Let me just show you a few things. This is 2008.

Remember all this blue?

Barack Obama was the first Democrat to win Virginia since 1964.

I'm going to show you just a couple of things.

Here's the Washington suburbs.

Remember the blue?

That's Barack Obama. That's where most of the people live.

Look here in Central Virginia. Remember this blue. And look down here, as well. You see some blue down here and some blue down here. Now, what I'm going to do is I'm going to turn this off. Remember this again. Inside the circles are blue. Now we're going to switch to this election, the election for governor we're going through right now and look at all the red. This is the Republican candidate winning in places that Barack Obama won last year and in some of these places, Larry, by significant margins.

So what do you read from that?

Is it a rejection of President Obama?

Of course not.

But is it proof that the president was not able to create his coalition again in Virginia this year as he was last year?

Democrats will look at that.

Does it prove Republicans did better with African-Americans?

At least a little bit. And they did much better tonight, Larry, in Virginia among Independent voters than last year.

So it's a state race. It's for governor. But it's very close to Washington, D.C. We know the economy was a big issue and people are not happy. When people are not happy about the economy, they hurt the party in power. It's the president's party -- not the president, but the president's party -- that has the most at risk in next year's midterm elections.

So is this a big national message?

No, but it is a national lesson.

L. KING: Tavis Smiley, is this a question of is it the economy, stupid?

TAVIS SMILEY, HOST, "TAVIS SMILEY": It is the economy. I think John is right about the fact, obviously, that Virginia is very close to D.C., but in terms of voting patterns, Virginia could not be any different than D.C.

What Virginia says to me tonight, Larry, is very simply a return to business as usual. What Barack Obama did in Virginia last year was out of the ordinary -- terribly extraordinary and we celebrated that last year. But tonight just says that we've returned to business as usual. I don't think anybody in the country expected that this race was going to be any different -- that is for governor -- in the State of Virginia.

Too -- too early to call, as we said, in -- in New Jersey. If Jon Corzine wins in New Jersey, if he can pull this out, it says the president obviously went there and did some good for him. But if Jon Corzine doesn't pull this out tonight in New Jersey -- he was already in trouble before Barack Obama went to campaign for him, so you can't blame that on the president. You and I were discussing during the break a moment ago that in every midterm election, every off-year election -- you know, 2010. Everybody is talking tonight, what does this mean for 2010?

The party that's in power in the White House always loses seats in that midterm election. So in 2010, if history bears itself out, Republicans are going to pick up seats in 2010 because it happens all the time. The last time it didn't happen, 1998, Bill Clinton facing impeachment, interestingly, was able to pick up Democratic seats in '98.

But we expect that the other party is going to pick up next year. Tonight, I don't think, means anything as -- in terms of a national referendum.

L. KING: John, is Jersey the big story of the night, in your opinion?

J. KING: Well, certainly, Larry, if Governor Corzine can hold on there, the Democrats will claim victory. And I'll go up to the New Jersey map just to show you what we do know so far. Not much, as you can see.

You sees some of this filling in right now. Christie, the Republican candidate, ahead with 50; Corzine at 42. But we also know from our exit polls, we believe it's a closer race than that. And Bergen County here, Larry; Essex County, where Newark is; Camden County, just to the east of Philadelphia; there's a lot of population center there. So we're waiting for a lot of results here.

You have an incumbent Democratic governor. We know that most people in the state are unhappy with him, unhappy with the economy. If there is some way that Corzine can hold on tonight, Democrats will call that a moral victory. If he does hold on, many will look to see if it has anything to do with the Independent candidacy.

But this was a pretty ugly race. And -- and remember, the Democrats have been ascendant in New Jersey. President Obama carried New Jersey. Usually, you see the race here, 57 to 42 in New Jersey last year. They've had a Democratic governor. No Republican has won statewide in New Jersey since 1997.

But certainly, no matter how they get there, if the Democrats can re-elect their Democratic governor...

L. KING: All right...

J. KING: ...they would love to be able to claim that moral victory in New Jersey.

L. KING: But, Tavis, didn't the president invest a lot in New Jersey, more than in Virginia?

SMILEY: He did. He invested a great deal there and we're going to see how it works -- how it turns out. Back to your earlier question, though, about the economy, that's what this really boils down to. The president has been aggressive. Democrats have been aggressive trying to turn the economy around. For my money, they've spent too focus, too much time on Wall Street, as I've said many times, not on Main Street and not on the side streets.

This is going to come down to jobs. And if they can't this economy around and show some signs of that for everyday people, not Wall Street, between now and next year, it's going to be tough for Democrats.

L. KING: As we go to break, we'll tell you that John and Tavis and Wolf will all be coming back with us later.

We're going to meet the outgoing governor of Virginia in just a moment.

By the way, there's a big election in Maine concerning Proposition 1. That's gay marriage. And if our staff -- crack staff back in Washington will check on it for us, we'll give the result of that as it comes in.

Back with Governor Tim Kaine, the Democrat, and Michael Steele, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

L. KING: You're watching a special election night edition of LARRY KING LIVE.

We'll talk with the governor of Virginia in just a moment.

Let's get a quick grasp of the situation from our senior political analyst, David Gergen -- David, what's your read so far?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Well, Larry, this is a big win for Republicans in Virginia, because they not only won the governor's race, but they won all the statewide races and it looks like they're going to pick up several seats in the House. I don't think that you can read long-term significance into next year, necessarily.

Two things. One, it tells us -- it's not a referendum on President Obama, but the winds are changing. They're blowing in a different direction from where they've blown in the past.

And, Larry, very importantly, it may have a real impact on how some moderate Democrats vote in the House of Representatives on health care reform in coming weeks. Just today, Senator Harry Reid signaled that health care may be put off until early next year. And if that's so and if Republicans have a good night tonight (INAUDIBLE) there in New Jersey, that could give real pause to some moderate Democrats on just how far they're going to go on health care reform.

So there are -- these are significant elections that move -- that have consequences beyond the state in which the voters vote. L. KING: Was health care an issue in Virginia at all?

GERGEN: It was not a serious issue, but certainly the fact that the pro-Obama -- the Democratic -- the Democrats had a strong wind at their back in 2006 and in 2008 nationwide. And, you know, for a -- they -- they've won pretty consistently in Virginia recently. And to lose Virginia this decisively means that winds are blowing the other way. And you have to be careful, especially -- I think, as much as anything, jobs and taxes drove the -- in terms of issues.

But health care is in the mix. And a lot of the anti -- the energy that's coming from the conservative base of the Republican Party is coming over questions like health care and too much government. And it's a push-back that's coming.

L. KING: Tim Kaine...

GERGEN: So what you've got is Republicans are very energized. And -- and it's the Democrats -- Tim Kaine energized people when he ran. Creigh Deeds was unable to do that, because the environment was different for Mr. Deeds this time out.

L. KING: With us now, by the way, is Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee, former lieutenant governor of Maryland. I know you've issued a statement already. You're very excited about tonight.

Do you have any advances on New Jersey for us?

MICHAEL STEELE, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL CHAIRMAN, FORMER LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR, MARYLAND: Well, the -- the numbers are just starting to come in New Jersey. And it looks like it's going to be one of those nights, like I figured it would be, that's going to be close. But we'll see.

I feel really good about it, Larry. I think that we're in a good position tonight to -- to do something unprecedented here, particularly given the conventional wisdom that New Jersey couldn't be cracked. But I think Chris Christie may have a formula for us to win tonight.

L. KING: Is this, in your opinion, any referendum on the president?

STEELE: No, I don't think it's so much a referendum on the president. I think -- I agree with David. I think that it represents or it certainly reflects a -- a sea change, a wind -- a different direction for the wind to blow here. I think, to a certain extent, it is, you know, an opportunity to sort of re-evaluate the direction the president wants to take the country on a number of these issues.

What I saw played out on the ground here in Virginia is a convergence of some of those national issues with local issues -- you know, the cost of health care and the impact on transportation projects; you know, the cost of spending all this money and creating all this debt on funding education. So people are beginning to make this connection here at the state and local levels. And I think that Bob McDonnell was able to tap into that; Chris Christie the same in New Jersey. And the people responded.

So we'll see. We've seen the results in Virginia. We'll see what happens in a few hours in -- in New Jersey.

L. KING: Thank you, Michael.

We'll be checking back with you.

When we come back, Jesse Ventura, the former governor of Minnesota, will join us; along the James Carville and Ben Stein.

Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

L. KING: There's a popular Democrat in Virginia tonight. It's the outgoing governor. He's Tim Kaine. He's also chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

A simple question, Tim -- what happened?

GOV. TIM KAINE (D), VIRGINIA, CHAIRMAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Well, Larry, it was tough. You know, the party that wins the White House, for the last 24 years, has lost both the New Jersey and Virginia governorships the next year.

And we are disappointed in Virginia. It was a rematch race. Our candidate, Creigh Deeds, had run four years ago against Bob McDonnell and lost. We knew he was the underdog. We've been putting a lot of underdogs up and winning a lot of races in Virginia. It just didn't work out this time.

But we are very excited about the way things are going in New Jersey. We hope we're going to be able to announce that we -- we've broken that 24 year record by actually picking up a race. But obviously, we're not going to know for a little while.

And we're also watching very carefully the New York 23 race, because we think the schism between the Republican Party, between the moderates and the conservatives, which is such a key feature there, and was also a feature in the New Jersey race, is a story that's going to continue to play out over the next months.

L. KING: Will where does Tim Kaine go from here?

KAINE: Well, the president arm twisted me a year ago, Larry, to be the chairman of the Democratic Party. And so that will be my job, basically supporting this popular president.

Exit polls in both New Jersey and Virginia today showed the president is more popular today than he was a year ago when he was elected. In Virginia, he's -- his approval rating is at 57 percent of the registered voters, which is very strong. And so my job as chairman of the Democratic Party, going forward, is doing all I can to help this president succeed and help great Democrats who work with the president get elected.

We are, again, really excited about seeing what happens in New Jersey and New York 23. The Republican trend would have been that they would have won all of these races, based upon the last 24 years experience. But we're hoping to break that string tonight.

L. KING: Why do you think, despite his popularity, as you pointed out, he wasn't able to pull through for the Democratic candidate in your state?

KAINE: Well, the -- the president came twice to Virginia and he campaigned very vigorously for Senator Deeds. Again, he has a 57 percent approval rating. And that did energize folks.

But I think we recognized going into this, since Creigh had run against Bob McDonnell four years ago and lost -- it was a narrow loss, but he did lose -- he started after the primary with an empty bank account in June running against a statewide officeholder who had had four years to build up statewide name recognition.

So, you know, Creigh was the underdog candidate. Now, we're used to running underdogs and winning, Larry. I know that you know when I got into the governor's office four years ago, we had two Republican senators. We've got two Democrats now. We had a Congressional delegation that was 8-3 Republican. It's 6-5 Democratic now.

We've been winning a lot of races, but not every underdog wins. And Creigh ran a -- you know, just a -- a very solid race. He's a great public servant. But at the end of the day, he couldn't make this rematch work against Bob McDonnell.

L. KING: Thanks, Governor.

Always good seeing you, we'll be calling on you again.

Governor Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virginia and chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

Jesse Ventura, James Carville and Ben Stein are next.

Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

L. KING: By the way, there will be two editions of LARRY KING LIVE tonight -- another one at midnight live.

Joining us now, Jesse Ventura, the former Independent and Reform Party governor of Minnesota. His new TV show, "Conspiracy Theory," will premiere on December 2nd on truTV. You can get a sneak peek at it by going to our Web site, CNN.com/larryking.

Also joining us, James Carville, the CNN political contributor and Democratic strategist, and Ben Stein, the economist and former presidential speechwriter. Ben is a columnist with "Fortune" magazine.

Already, Jesse, what's your read on tonight?

Is this a national implications here in Virginia?

JESSE VENTURA, FORMER GOVERNOR, MINNESOTA: Well, no. I just think it's the pendulum swinging around between the Democrats and the Republicans. You know, the thing I find most interesting is the lemming mentality of America and how they can be sold -- the fact that the economy is bad now and it's President Obama's fault.

Excuse me, it's George Bush's fault. You've usually got to go back two to three to four years and now you're reaping the results of that time.

L. KING: But Obama remains popular. It's just this candidate didn't win.

VENTURA: Right. And -- and you -- you understand that that can certainly happen. Again, the pendulum swings both ways.

Again, for me, the other interesting thing is like what David Gergen talked about, how this could cause Democrats to back off from health care and all this because of fear of losing. Well, you notice Democrats and Republicans, it's not about standing for what they believe in, it's about what do I have to do to win or lose, you know...

L. KING: You haven't changed, have you, Jesse?

VENTURA: No.

L. KING: No, you haven't.

VENTURA: And these guys hold their finger up to the proverbial wind to see which way it's blowing so that then they can decide where they're going to sit politically.

L. KING: Mr. Carville, do you seen any national implications so far in the Virginia results?

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, it's a very significant thing. Governor Kaine, who's a great guy, by the way. He taught my class when I taught at a community college. He said 57 percent of registered voters had a favorable opinion of -- of President Obama. If you look at -- of the people that voted, that number is going to be considerably lower. And therein lies the Democratic problem tonight. It is that the drop-off voters -- this electorate in Virginia was a lot older and a lot whiter than the 2008 electorate. And that's why -- one of the reasons that -- the main reason that Deeds got -- got beat so badly. And in -- if we can -- in 2010, if we can't bring some of these people back in the fold, we're going to have another bad election night.

L. KING: Ben Stein, do you see this as an indication, as James does?

BEN STEIN, ECONOMIST, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL SPEECHWRITER, COLUMNIST, "FORTUNE": I see it -- it has enormous racial content and enormous demographic content. Mr. Obama is an incredibly charismatic campaigner. He brought out the black vote like nobody else ever has in Virginia. That's why he won so big. He brought out the young people's vote. He brought out the government bureaucrats vote. Nobody can do that but him.

And may I say, the economy is not that bad in Virginia. Virginia is a very strong state economically compared to the rest of the country. It's just that Obama has the charisma and the present Democratic candidate for governor does not have the charisma. They need Obama's charisma to win and without it, I think the Republicans are going to have a field day.

L. KING: So you do not see Virginia as a national referendum on Obama?

STEIN: I see it as what it says is Obama is the key to the Democratic Party's future. He's got the charisma and turn out the black vote. He's got the charisma to turn out the college student vote. He's got the charisma to turn out the urban elites or self- selecting elites vote. The other people do not.

It's all up to Obama. If he can get those people to turn out, he can create another Democratic tidal wave. He can even do what Bush did in -- in an off-year election and can -- and sometimes win more seats for the incumbent president. But without Obama, the Democrats are, it seems to me, foundering.

L. KING: But he couldn't do it in Virginia, Jesse.

STEIN: But he...

(CROSSTALK)

STEIN: ...because he was not on the ballot.

(CROSSTALK)

STEIN: He was not on the ballot. He was not on the ballot.

L. KING: So he can't transfer (INAUDIBLE)?

VENTURA: You know what's interesting...

STEIN: I don't think so.

VENTURA: You know, everything Ben talked about is exac -- is exactly what I did in Minnesota. Ben -- I thought Ben was talking about me for a moment.

L. KING: What did you do in Minnesota?

STEIN: (INAUDIBLE) always thought you... VENTURA: Well, I...

(CROSSTALK)

VENTURA: I got the young -- I got -- I got people out to vote. I got older (INAUDIBLE). There were...

L. KING: But it was you on -- they were voting for you.

VENTURA: There was 15 percent higher turnout the year I ran, in '98, because tons of people who normally didn't vote came out and voted. And that's how I won.

L. KING: We'll take a break.

We'll be right back.

We've got an exclusive blog from BET's Jeff Johnson on the future of black politics. It's a great read. Check it out, CNN.com/larryking.

Midterm elections just a year away.

Does tonight give us any indication about that?

We'll ask our experts, when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

L. KING: We're back.

James, will -- will this have any affect on the health care bill at all?

CARVILLE: Possibly. I mean, look, politicians, they read the election returns. And -- and that goes -- let's wait and see what happens in New Jersey. We're getting slightly ahead of ourselves here.

But if -- if you assume if Corzine loses, then you could -- you could -- that could cause Democrats to get very skittish about voting on some of these things between now and 2000 -- the election of 2010.

You know, if Corzine wins, then there's the -- the takeaway will be, well, the Republicans had a good night, but they kind of split the big governor races, the first time in 24 years any party has won either Virginia or New Jersey. So there's a pretty good bend in the interpretation riding on the outcome of the New Jersey race here.

L. KING: Ben, what do you think?

STEIN: I don't think this election is about issues at all. I think the last election and this election is about the charisma of the candidates. Mr. Obama had unimaginable charisma with African American voters. He had unimaginable charisma with young voters. The president and Democrats in Virginia did not have that. Does Mr. Corzine have it in New Jersey? He is a fine guy. He is the only person I've ever heard of from Goldman Sachs who does seem like a fine guy, frankly. That's just my humble opinion. But does he have the kind of charisma that Mr. Obama has? I don't think so. He's a fine man, but he doesn't have charisma. We shall see. It's not about issues. It's about personal charisma.

L. KING: Jesse, you think we're going to be up late with New Jersey?

VENTURA: Why is it that the election results have such a bearing on how other Democrats will vote on health care? Why don't they stand up for what they believe, instead of holding their finger touch the proverbial winds, and stand for what they believe in. That's the whole problem. Democrats are spineless. They don't know what they believe in.

(CROSS TALK)

L. KING: Can you answer that question? First, James, frankly, is Jesse right? Do they hold their finger up to the wind?

CARVILLE: I don't know. I know a lot of Democrats that don't hold their finger up to the wind, a lot of them are pretty courageous people. But look, you're right, some of them are politicians and some of them look at the last election. That's hardly anything new in American politics. It's hardly something that's unique to the Democratic party.

But if you ask me does an election result have an effect on the way that people behave, elected officials behave after the election? Of course it does. It would be wrong -- I couldn't tell your viewers that there's not some correlation between election results and the behavior of office holders. There is.

VENTURA: They're career politicians, Larry. They make a career out of it. Therefore, they have to behave that way.

L. KING: Ben, you're a Republican. Is your party in a fight now between -- based on that upstate New York Congressional race -- between the conservatives and the moderates?

STEIN: No, I think the conservatives have won. I don't think it's in a fight. The fight's over. That woman -- I can't even pronounce her name -- she was chosen by a small group of party insiders who are not in touch with the party faithful. She shouldn't have been there in the first place. The fact that she withdrew and then endorsed a Democrat, as opposed to a conservative, is shocking. It shows they made a wildly incorrect choice in choosing here.

I don't know what the future is for the Republican party. I hope it's a good one. I hope they find some leaders. I hope they find some good candidates, which they have not done so far. But the key to everything is Mr. Obama. He is a campaigner like we have not seen in this country since John F. Kennedy. He is astounding campaigner. If he in it, if he's on the ballot, everything goes one way. If he is not on the ballot, it is a whole different story.

(CROSS TALK)

L. KING: Ben is making it seem like 2012 is a foregone conclusion.

STEIN: If he's on the ballot, I think it is.

CARVILLE: I'm pretty sure he'll be on the ballot.

STEIN: He may decided he wants to retire and play basketball.

CARVILLE: The one thing -- I guess, Ben, you're not looking for the Republicans to recruit out of Goldman Sachs, are you?

STEIN: Boy, I hope not. I sure hope not.

(CROSS TALK)

L. KING: You seem to look back, and look at both of these parties with askance look.

VENTURA: To me, Larry -- and I have said it before, and I know I'll get a laugh out of this. But I wish they would pass a law where all Democrats and Republicans had to wear Nascar racing suits, because if you look at the Nascar drivers, it tells who their sponsors are. And if they do that, we could then become informed voters, because we would know who owns them.

Let's move forward with some law making like that for a change.

L. KING: More election details coming up, including gay marriage in Maine, and the New York City mayor's race, and New York Congressional district 23. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

L. KING: Wolf Blitzer, I got a two-minute hold here. And I got time restrictions. Can you give us an update on the elections in New York?

BLITZER: I'll give you the latest that we have, Larry. No exit polls in the New York City mayoral race or the 23rd district. But what we know right now in New York City, the incumbent mayor, Michael Bloomberg, running for the third term, with five first of the predicts reporting, he's at 54 percent, Bill Thompson, the Democratic candidate, 43 percent. What, about, 50,000 votes have been counted so far.

In New York, the Congressional district -- the 23rd Congressional District -- she's still on the ballot. That's why you see some numbers up there, one percent of the vote in Dede Scozzafava. But she took her name off. She was the official Republican candidate. Right now, Bill Owens, the Democratic candidate, slightly ahead. But it's very, very early right now, 51-45. Only a few hundred votes have been counted so far. So we'll stay on top of it, Larry, and give you all the latest as soon as we get it. But very early in the ballot counting in New York State.

L. KING: One other quick thing, Wolf, any report yet on the ballot issue in Maine on gay marriage?

BLITZER: No, we don't have a report of that yet. But we'll work on it. A lot of people are going to be looking closely to see how they vote.

L. KING: Thank you, Wolf. Wolf Blitzer, who's on the scene and will be until all the results are in. Back with Jesse Ventura, James Carville and Ben Stein.

How much hinges on Jersey, Jesse, do you think?

VENTURA: I don't think that much. Let's remember something, I can't figure out why we're even having elections this year.

L. KING: Because there are governor races.

VENTURA: Well, to me, why not have them in the even years. They do this so they get small voter turnout. That's why they have these weird elections in the odd years.

L. KING: James, why do we have odd year elections?

CARVILLE: We have off year elections in Louisiana. Mississippi has off year elections, as does Kentucky. There are three other state. The elections there will be in like 2011. It's because the state Constitution calls for it. We have always had -- as long as I can remember, we've had off year elections in Louisiana. We like our politics down in Louisiana. We like to spread things out a bit. We don't want to have it all at the same time.

VENTURA: Costs a lot more money.

CARVILLE: You know --

VENTURA: It also costs a lot more money to have these off year elections.

(CROSS TALK)

CARVILLE: We have to take that up with the constitution in these various states. People -- states have the rights to set their election days whenever they want to.

L. KING: James, Jesse will change the Constitution.

CARVILLE: That's it, he'll get it done.

VENTURA: No, he won't, because Jesse tried to do that in Minnesota, and when you're not a career politician, you don't have enough time to change the Constitution. Now if you get yourself elected for 40 years, then you do have the time to do it.

L. KING: Would you estimate that this is a low turnout everywhere tonight, Ben?

STEIN: I don't know. But you just asked about New Jersey, Larry; I think the Republicans have already won in New Jersey. Let's remember, New Jersey is an overwhelmingly Democratic state. Mr. Corzine is a fantastically wealthy guy, and has spent an enormous amount on this election. Yet the Republicans are giving him a run for his money, a very close run for his money. Just the fact that that is happening is a shocking show of the lack of Democratic strength without Obama on the ticket.

CARVILLE: Let me remind people, Oklahoma and Wyoming have Democratic governors. Sometimes these things are decided -- I think Ben is right, New Jersey is an overwhelming Democratic state. Hasn't always been that way. In 1988, it was a Republican state.

VENTURA: Larry, let's remember too that money doesn't always get you elected. I only raised 300,000 dollars in the state of Minnesota and I won the election, because I happened to run on ideas instead of money.

L. KING: Quick question; Afghanistan, increase the troops or leave?

VENTURA: Get out of there. We shouldn't be in either of these wars. Get out of both of them.

L. KING: Thanks very much. We'll be hearing lots more from people. By the way, we'll be back again at Midnight tonight, with a live edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Two shows tonight. And as we mentioned, for a sneak peek at Jesse Ventura's upcoming True TV show "Conspiracy Theory," check out our website, CNN.com/LarryKing.

John King is standing by at the magic wall. Tavis Smiley is around. So is Candy Crowley. Don't go away.

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L. KING: We're back with John King, our CNN's host of "STATE OF THE UNION," Tavis Smiley, the host of his own show on PBS, and Candy Crowley, CNN's senior political correspondent.

We have been asking about Maine, John. Before you give us a quick update on New Jersey, any word on the Maine election on gay marriage?

J. KING: We should, Larry, have some soon results from the Associated Press. CNN is not getting a direct feed of those results. It's a county by county counting system. But we do know the Associated Press and local Maine outlets are trying to get those results. As soon as we get some numbers we trust, we'll get them to you.

L. KING: What about Jersey? J. KING: Let's take a look at Jersey. I'll bring it up on the map right now. We're waiting for the results, of course. But you see the map is beginning to fill in. This is with 53 percent of the vote, a little more than half of the vote in. The Republican candidate Chris Christie leading right now. The Democratic incumbent, Jon Corzine, at 45 percent, and the independent, Chris Daggett, running at about five percent.

But you notice in the middle here, these are pretty populated areas here. So still a ways to go here in the counting. Our exit polls suggested this would be a very close race.

I'm just going to pop up Bergen Country just to take a look. This is one of the largest counties in the state, largest counties in terms of registered voters. And we have got about 80 percent of the vote in there. That's telling. We look down here at Essex County, is where you find Newark, and you see Governor Corzine running there with about 67 percent of the vote. That's a decent margin in a strong Democratic area. He would probably like that number up a little bit.

We will watch this one. We knew this would be a very close race. One of the key questions in the end will be did the independent make a difference. Did he split the vote or did he get more of one other candidates' votes? Interesting to watch and it's starting to fill in.

L. KING: Thanks, John. Candy Crowley, anything surprising you so far?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I didn't think New Jersey -- even though all the polls showed it, New Jersey is such a Democratic state that I thought, despite all the problems they have with Jon Corzine, he would probably pull it through, particularly because there was a third party candidate in there that tended to pull from the Republican candidate, Christie.

So, yes, I'm surprised. As John pointed out, there are a number of areas that one would think might go ahead and favor Corzine that haven't -- we don't actually have the results in, at least the full results in. He may yet, Corzine -- obviously, that race is still too close to call. But it's very interesting to me that Corzine is having such a tough time of it. Again, even though the polls showed us that would probably be the case, it's just such a Democratic state. I think the statement in New Jersey, if a Republican wins, is a lot louder to me than a statement in Virginia.

L. KING: Tavis, anything surprising you at this minute?

SMILEY: Not at this point. Virginia we discussed earlier tonight. It went exactly as I think most of us thought it was going to go. Everybody predicted this New Jersey governor's race was going to be tight. So no surprise at this point.

KING: As we go to break, the projected winner of the Virginia governors race, Republican Bob McDonnell is speaking. We'll be right back. BOB MCDONNELL, VIRGINIA GOVERNOR ELECT: -- the heart broken family that have sacrificed their loved ones during the global war on terror, and was inspired by --

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

L. KING: Tomorrow night, by the way, an incredible one on one interview with music superstar Mariah Carey. She's got a new marriage, a new movie, a new album. Everyone wants to know, what about a new child.

Plus, shocking claims of past abuse she reveals exclusively to us. That's tomorrow night on LARRY KING LIVE.

Quick assessments here, folks. John's got to leave us at the end of this segment. So John, you go first. Your assessment of Obama's first year, the puzzlement of non-productivity but popularity?

J. KING: I think there's no question that people are frustrated with the state of the economy, a national unemployment rate that could hit 10 percent as early as this Friday. I think some Democrats are wondering -- one of the big questions tonight -- let me reframe it this way -- who has the intensity? Democrats had it overwhelmingly last year. You remember that.

Well, the Republicans have it now, in part because Democrats are saying, hey, big majorities in the House and the Senate; why is it taking so long on health care? They probably will get a bill by the end of the year. Many of them don't like the fact the president might send more troops to Afghanistan. People are in a bad mood about the economy.

It's hard to get the younger voters and the African-Americans out in these off year elections. So the Republicans have the energy right now. Can you project tonight on to next year? Can you project tonight on to the president of the United States? Absolutely not.

But can you see some lessons tonight and some warning signs for the Democrats tonight? Absolutely.

L. KING: That's John King. Candy Crowley, give us your assessment of this, for want of a better term, puzzling first year.

CROWLEY: I think, first of all, it is a testament to how much people like this president, that he is able to sustain really, in our latest poll, a very healthy 54 percent approval rating, while when you ask people about specific issues, about Medicare, about the economy, about Afghanistan, about Iran, he pulls under 50 percent for his approval rating for handling of those issues.

So it is a testament to how much they like the man, how they view him as presidential. And I think also what you're seeing in terms of the agenda is that it's been tough to get health care through. And what this sort of delay, at least so far as the White House sees it, has done is put all of the other things on the agenda, certainly for this year -- it's not going to happen. And next year, a political year, they become questionable.

So certainly the delay in health care, I think, has hurt overall his agenda.

L. KING: Tavis Smiley, what's your assessment of this year?

SMILEY: At the risk of sounding like Jesse Jackson, I think, Larry, he's been aggressive but not progressive. He's been awfully aggressive. Let's face it, this guy -- the president, that is -- has had perhaps the most difficult job in the world right about now. Nobody expected, even Barack Obama himself, that when he took office, things would be as bad as they are. And every week, it seemed, in the few few months of his presidency, stuff just kept happening.

So he has a tough job. But I think he's been aggressive, but not progressive enough. There are a lot of people in this country I think concerned now about why he's so slow on Don't Ask, Don't Tell. He's been slow on immigration. He's been slow on jobs.

It's all about jobs. There's no conversation this country about poverty. And so there is some real, I think, angst starting to build here. There's no doubt about the fact that he's terribly charismatic. We're a nation that gets turned on by charisma, the kind that he possesses. But it's ultimately going to not be about the symbolism of this victory, but about the substance of the victory. There is work to be done.

L. KING: John King leaves us after this segment. John, we're all media folk. Has he overdone media?

J. KING: It's so hard to answer that question, Larry, because of the new age we're in. If you compare him to past presidents, this president is out there a lot more active. But if ask you this White House that question, they will say he's the best messenger they have. He's absolutely the best messenger they have.

And they're also doing things -- he's the first president to call on a blogger at the White House. They do a lot of Latino media and niche media. He has turned his radio address into an Internet address and it's on video. So our business is changing. You know this very well. You have lived it for quite a long time over your storied career. And this president has decided this is the way they're going to do it.

Now if they stumble and fall, will people say it's because he's overexposed? Maybe. But they believe he's the best communicator, by far, in the administration, and that he is the best messenger to be out there. You see it off and on in the health care debate. But he's their lead guy and he's going to carry the ball, without a doubt.

L. KING: John is leaving us. He'll be working with Anderson Cooper, keeping you up to date. Back us with later as well. We'll be back with Tavis Smiley and Candy Crowley right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) L. KING: We have a lot more results coming, of course, through the night. We'll be back with you, as we said, at Midnight. Couple other quick things. Candy, is he going to get a health bill this year?

CROWLEY: I would have answered differently this morning. But now we have the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid saying it may go over to next year, because they're having trouble getting the budget numbers out of the CBO, et cetera. So I had someone say to me a couple weeks ago, don't make any plans for New Year's Eve. So I haven't. And that's proved to be pretty prescient. I think it will take a while.

It may not happen. There's a chance.

L. KING: What about the line, Tavis, that goes "money is not the only thing, health is three percent?" Why can't we ever get this done?

SMILEY: Two things. One, to Candy's point of a moment ago, I think the longer this goes, the more difficult it gets for this president to get this passed. The reason why he was so aggressive early on in this White House administration is because he knew that his popularity was high. As we were discussing in the last segment, the longer this goes, the more angst about the economy. The unemployment numbers aren't turning around fast enough for the weak working class, especially for those impoverished. The longer this goes, the more difficult it will be to get passed.

It's to his advantage to get this done this year. This was not good news from Harry Reid today. That is point number one.

Point number two, though, is -- I'm, quite frankly, to your joke about money, sick of hearing this. Whenever we want to find the money to do anything we want to do in this country, namely two wars that are being fought around the world, Larry, we find the money. When we want to do something, we find the money. And we can do a health care conversation about making sure that every American has access to a basic, fundamental level of health care. And all of a sudden, the question is how are we going to pay for this? Nobody asked that question about Iraq and Afghanistan.

I think it's just troubling for me that when it comes to every day people, we got to wrestle with this question: how are we going to pay for this? That's nonsense.

L. KING: Does Obama frustrate his opponents, Candy, the way Clinton used to?

CROWLEY: Yes, and I think for, in some ways, much of the same reason. Simply because it really his opponents -- Republican opponents believe that the country is to the right of the president, and that the president, by the shear power of his personality and his charm -- and he's a great politician and he is just so smart -- that he has the whole package in terms of being a politician. And he is able to sell, in some cases, unpopular policies or policies that are kind of iffy, just by the strength of his own popularity and his own approval rating.

Let me make you a bet, the Democrats understand very well that they will pay a very big price if they don't get health care passed. They've got a Democratic House, a Democratic Senate and a Democrat in the White House. They don't do it by, you know, next year in 2010, they will lose big at the polls. They know that. That's why you'll get something.

L. KING: Well said. Tavis, will heads roll if they don't?

SMILEY: They should.

L. KING: They deserve to?

SMILEY: Absolutely. The Democrats, candidate Obama on down if, said to us that the major issue this year, if they got elected, would be health care. They say public option. They say tax on the wind fall profits of insurers. They said a bunch of things we know are not going to happen now. But at the very least, you don't get health care reform through, you have reneged on the promise you made to the American people. Their heads ought to roll.

L. KING: All right. Candy Crowley, thanks so much. As always, on top the scene. There isn't a better political correspondent in the business. And Tavis, it's always great having you. You should make more trips here.

SMILEY: Pleasure is always mine.

L. KING: You're a welcomed guest.

SMILEY: Thank you, Larry.

L. KING: John King, Tavis Smiley, Candy Crowley, all of our guests earlier. We'll be back at midnight Eastern, 9:00 Pacific. By the way, among the guests, Jesse Ventura's coming back because he still ticked. Don't forget, back live at Midnight Eastern with all the latest results. They all should be in by then.

But, first, we have a special two-hour election night edition of "AC 360" with Anderson Cooper. And it starts right now.