Return to Transcripts main page


Interview With Florida Governor Charlie Crist; Democrats Losing Support in West

Aired November 4, 2009 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And happening now: the best political team on television on these stories.

President Obama suits up for the 2010 campaign after getting a split decision from voters -- this hour, the battle ahead for Democrats against Republicans who are now feeling more empowered.

Sarah Palin stepped into an election battlefield, and it blew up in her face last night. I will ask the Florida governor, Charlie Crist, what he learned from the GOP debacle in Upstate New York and how it may apply to his bid for the United States Senate.

And it's been 30 years since Americans were held hostage by Iran. This hour, we hear from a former captive and get fresh reminders that the Iranian government still is a threat to the world.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

You can bet the president's advisers are crunching the election results right now and they're strategizing for 2010, no matter how much they downplay their losses. By now, you have probably seen the numbers, you have heard the spin. This hour, we will cut to the heart of it.

Even if the Democrats were not across-the-board losers last night, they certainly do have some serious problems.

Let's bring in our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian. He's got more.

Dan, what are they saying over there?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Wolf, these are races that President Obama invested in some time in, but the White House is saying that they don't believe these Democratic losses are a referendum on President Barack Obama. In fact, they're playing down the losses and playing up a victory in a congressional race, the only one that they believe really matters.


LOTHIAN (voice-over): Recovering from a bad election hangover, the president played up his own victory a year ago.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Election Day was a day of hope. It was a day of possibility.

LOTHIAN: Senior White House aides are spinning losses by New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine and Virginia gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds as local elections that -- quote -- "didn't involve the president." And they echo former Vice President Al Gore's assessment that the defeats will have no will lasting impact.

AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think there's a danger of reading too much into it. The off-years in New Jersey and Virginia often turn out to go opposite from the year before. And I -- I wouldn't read too much into it. Of course, if it have gone differently, I would have read a lot into it.



LOTHIAN: But downplaying the election results as local stands in contrast to the president's actions. He attended events for both candidates, even parachuting in the weekend before the election to campaign vigorously for Governor Corzine.

CROWD: Yes, we can! Yes, we can!

LOTHIAN: And in previous off-year elections, Democrats have played up gubernatorial victories. Take 2005. Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, then a congressman, said -- quote -- "Democratic wins across the board could have a positive impact on the party's 2006 recruiting efforts."

Now the White House and key Democrats are left touting two special election victories, one in California and the other in Upstate New York, where Bill Owens won in the 23rd Congressional District.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: It was a race where a Republican has held the seat since the Civil War. And we won that seat.

(END VIDEOTAPE) LOTHIAN: And, again, while the White House doesn't see a negative impact from last night's election, aides are talking about that victory in Upstate New York as a repudiation of the conservative candidate -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dan Lothian is over at the White House.


House Democrats have pretty much the same post-election line as the White House. They're talking about their victories in those two special congressional elections last night, rather than the party's losses in New Jersey and Virginia.

Our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, she's joining us from Capitol Hill.

As much as they would like to, you can't ignore what happened in Virginia and New Jersey, Dana.


And, listen, this coming Saturday, House Democrats are planning on voting on the president's top priority, the health care proposal. So the question that we asked a slew of congressional Democrats in vulnerable swing districts is, given last night's losses, will they now have pause before they vote yes on health care?


BASH (voice-over): Virginians in Democrat Gerry Connolly's district voted Republican on Tuesday, so how does the vulnerable first-term congressman read those foreboding results?

REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D), VIRGINIA: It renews a sense of concern among Democrats that our base needs to be energized. And the way you energize your base is delivering on the promises you made.

BASH: For Connolly, that means passing a health care bill, not abandoning it.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: So, in other words, putting the gun to your head and pulling the trigger is better for you than just walking off the plank. I don't quite get it.

BASH: House Republican Leader John Boehner argues GOP wins Thursday should lead conservative Democrats to vote no on health care.

BOEHNER: I think it sends a very loud message to Democrats who have been elected especially in the last two cycles in Republican districts that this is political death for them.

BASH: Pennsylvania Congressman Jason Altmire is one of those Democrats, a top Republican target for 2010. He's still undecided about health care.

REP. JASON ALTMIRE (D), PENNSYLVANIA: I have a district that's pretty much evenly divided.

BASH: Yet, Altmire dismisses the idea that Democratic defeats for governor in Virginia and New Jersey should be a political warning for him to oppose his party's health care bill.

ALTMIRE: If we fail to deliver health care reform, I do think that that's the worst-case scenario, politically.

BASH: But Altmire and several other endangered Democrats tell CNN they are worried about other voters messages, like, where are the jobs and why is Washington spending so much it doesn't have?

CONNOLLY: But we have got to make sure that we are deficit hawks when it comes to the agenda going forward.

BASH: And that independent voters are turning away from Democrats.

REP. HEATH SHULER (D), NORTH CAROLINA: It was those independent voters, those moderates, those independent voters that have been getting moderates like myself elected to office.


BASH: And exit polls from last night did show that there was a significant shift in independent voters towards the Republicans who ran in the elections this year. And I have got to tell you, Wolf, if there was any fear in the eyes of the slew of conservative Democrats from those swing districts that we talked to today, it was about that.

BLITZER: And, Dana, I heard you right at the top. The vote in the House floor on the health care bill will happen this Saturday?

BASH: That's right. That's what the House majority leader, Steny Hoyer, said, that they are going to go ahead with the vote on Saturday. As far as I know, they still don't have officially -- officially have the votes rounded up, but Democratic leaders clearly are confident they will get it by the time they vote on Saturday.

BLITZER: Two hundred and eighteen, that's the magic number for them.

All right, Dana, thanks very much.

Let's go back to Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Well, as you've been reporting all afternoon, the Democrats took a beating in New Jersey and Virginia yesterday, but far right got their clocks cleaned in that congressional race in Upstate New York.

In defeating conservative Doug Hoffman, Bill Owens becomes the first Democrat to represent Congressional District 23 since the Civil War. Hoffman was aggressively supported by a bunch of the right wing's loudest voices, including Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh.

They tried to make the race a symbol of how the Republican Party has strayed from its conservative values. Pressure from the right wing of the party helped push the Republican candidate right out of the race last week, because she simply wasn't Republican enough.

Some even saw this contest as a struggle for the soul of the GOP. At least the results don't suggest that Sarah Palin won that fight. Nevertheless, it seems like conservative activists are just warming up. They have got their eyes on a list of so-called RINOs, Republicans in name only, for the midterm elections next year, people like Florida's Republican governor, Charlie Crist, who is running for the Senate.

And some warn that Sarah Palin could be entering dangerous territory if she leads the movement against well-established figures like Crist. After all, Florida is often a key state in the presidential election.

And there's the issue of Palin's ability to control a group of activists once they get fired up. You could also make the argument that Sarah Palin entered dangerous territory when she left city hall in Wasilla.

Here's the question. What does it say that the likes of Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh failed to get their candidate elected in the New York congressional race? and unburden yourselves -- Wolf.


BLITZER: A lot of folks will, Jack. Thank you.

Be careful who you take a picture with. It can be used against you. This image being used against Florida Republican Governor Charlie Crist, as his political opponent links him to President Obama. Governor Crist is here. He will respond to that. We will have a good conversation.

Stand by.

And a nightmare now 30 years old. This was the scene in Iran when 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days. Today, new protests in Iran, even rage, not at the U.S., but at the Iranian government.


BLITZER: A picture can be worth a thousand words, as they say. Right now, one image is being used to spell out a whole story. It's being used against Florida's Republican governor, who now wants to become the next U.S. senator.

Governor Charlie Crist is joining us now from the capital, Tallahassee.

Gloria Borger, our senior political analyst, is joining me now in the questioning.

Governor, thanks for coming in.

GOV. CHARLIE CRIST (R), FLORIDA: It's a pleasure, Wolf.

Always good to be with you.

And you, too, Gloria.

Thank you.


BLITZER: All right, take a look at the picture. You know that you're familiar with the picture -- a picture of you and President Obama, when you supported the economic stimulus package. And the caption reads, "Get the Picture?" Marco Rubio has put that on his Web site. He's trying to embarrass you at a sensitive time.

CRIST: Well, I think it's important to understand where we were at that time. That was back in February, less than a month after the president was sworn into office, the first time he visits our state. And I was pragmatic, I think, about what we needed to do. Everybody knew the bill was going to pass. You know, I, like all other Republican governors, utilized that money for the benefit of the people in my state. And that's what a pragmatic conservative does -- a CEO, if you will, of a state does that.

And -- and I think it's important to understand that you need to fight for jobs, you need to fight for the economy, do what you think is right for the people.

Now, fast forward to today. We're in a whole different scenario...

BLITZER: But let me...

CRIST: ...and a different situation.

BLITZER: Let me just...

CRIST: And unfortunately...

BLITZER: Let me interrupt for a second, Governor. For a second, do you have any regrets about endorsing the economic stimulus package?

CRIST: Well, I didn't endorse it. I -- you know, I didn't even have a vote on the darned thing. But I understood that it was going to pass and I wanted to be able to utilize it for the benefit of my fellow Floridians.

Let me give you just one example of the difference that made. We would have had to let go of over 20,000 schoolteachers in Florida if we hadn't had that support. And, frankly, I kind of look at it like Florida taxpayers' dollars coming back to the state to benefit them.

You know, I used to work for a great U.S. senator named Connie Mack, a true fiscal conservative, as am I. And he always, you know, would stress to us on the staff, let's make sure we get Florida's fear share.

BORGER: Governor...

CRIST: We've go to fight for Florida first. That's all we did here.

BORGER: Governor, you have the support of Senator John McCain in this race. And it's likely -- a lot of people say that former Alaska governor, Sarah Palin, is going to come out and support your opponent in the primary.

Will Sarah Palin make any difference in the state of Florida? CRIST: Well, I think every person makes a difference. I mean that's the -- the beauty of America. Everybody has an opportunity to speak their voice and to try to make a difference that they think...

BORGER: But how influential...

CRIST: best for...

BORGER: How...

CRIST: ...the future of our country.

BORGER: How influential will she be in a Republican primary in your state, if she opposes you?

CRIST: Well, it's hard to say. I mean nobody knows for sure. I mean, I hope that the endorsement of Senator Connie Mack, the endorsement of the former Republican Party chairman of our state, Al Cardenas, you know, the endorsement of people that really understand and -- and realize Charlie Crist is a true fiscal conservative.

You know, unfortunately, the president thinks that everything we need to do for every problem that comes along is spend more money and that's just wrong.

Frankly, enough is enough. And I know that the people understand that. And I understand it. And I understand it because I'm the grandson of a Greek immigrant who came to this country with nothing, really taught me the value of a dollar, because his first job in America, in Altoona, Pennsylvania, was shining shoes for a living for $5 a month...

BLITZER: What was the lesson...

CRIST: that teaches you what conservatism is about when it comes to the value of a dollar...

BLITZER: What was the...

CRIST: ...and spending money wisely.

BLITZER: What was the lesson, Governor, that you learned from the elections this week, in New Jersey and Virginia, but maybe even more so, what happened in Upstate New York?

CRIST: Well, I think it's -- listen, it's a -- it was a great night for Republicans. And -- and my wonderful congratulations go out, again, to governor-elect Christie, governor-elect McDonnell. These are great men who ran great races and represent what the people want. They understand that they want less spending, less taxing, less government, more freedom. And -- and pragmatic leadership that fights for the people every single day, just like we do here in the Sunshine State.

That's my job. I understand it and I get it. And I know who I work for. And the people want less government in their lives. BORGER: But -- but, Governor, in Upstate New York, which Wolf was referring to, the Republican Party got split right down the middle and handed the seat to a Democrat.

Could that happen in the state of Florida?

CRIST: Well, I certainly don't hope so.

BORGER: Well...

CRIST: As a Republican running for the U.S. Senate, I want to make sure that a Republican wins and I hope that it's me.

You know, I don't know if we can really tell exactly what that race meant. I mean that was kind of a funky situation, to put it mildly. And I think that, you know, it will take a little time to analyze what happened there. But what did happen there is, unfortunately, a Democrat won in a district that's been represented by a Republican for over 150 years.

BORGER: Right.

CRIST: The good news is, from last night, these two gubernatorial candidates ran great campaigns, articulated what the people want, what -- what is important to them. And it's jobs, jobs, jobs...

BLITZER: Here...

CRIST: ...making sure that we're fighting for a better economy and lower taxes.

BLITZER: You were with the president on the economic stimulus package.

What about health care reform?

CRIST: I'm not with him there, either.

Listen, why would we take over 18 percent of the economy and have government run it?

What has government run and run well?

Not very many things. So it's clear to me that what we need to do is have more private sector influence involved in this, make sure that the people have choices, that the consumer gets more power and authority. And that's what we've done here in Florida with the Cover Florida Health Care Plan.

BLITZER: Well, you said...

CRIST: No government mandates, no tax dollars.

BLITZER: But you say the government doesn't do anything well.

What about Medicare?

A lot of the seniors in Florida, they rely on Medicare. They seem to like it a lot.

CRIST: Well, there's no question that they do, Wolf. I mean I understand the population of my state and I'm in touch with them. But I also understand that people don't want government to continue to grow at the pace that the president wants it to, that Nancy Pelosi wants to. It's just wrong. They made that abundantly clear last night. And anybody who doesn't understand that wasn't watching.

BLITZER: Charlie Crist is the governor of Florida and he's running for the Senate.

Good luck, Governor.

Thanks very much for coming in.

BORGER: Thank you.

CRIST: Thank you, Wolf.

Thanks, Gloria.


CRIST: Good to be with you.

BLITZER: We've invited Marco Rubio, his challenger, the speaker of the Florida Senate, to come in and he's -- he's going to be joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM on Friday. We'll get his perspective, as well.

Just over a year ago, Democrats held their convention in Colorado, and President Obama gained ground in the far West, but, as we approach next year's midterm elections, Democrats may find that winning Colorado will mean conquering some very tough terrain.


BLITZER: The best political team on television is standing by.


BLITZER: The Democrats' vulnerabilities on the East Coast were laid bare last night, but are their prospects even worse out West? We're going to get a reality check from Denver, where the president was crowned as his party's nominee. Our Jessica Yellin is standing by.

And Americans taken hostage by Iran on this day three decades ago. We're going to hear from a former captive about the nightmare then and the nightmares Iran still causes the U.S. right now.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Despite President Obama's impressive victories in several Western states last year, Democrats are now seeing support in the region softening.

Our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is joining us now.

Jessica, are Democrats worried?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you remember when President Obama's resounding victory in the West and in Colorado made Democrats think they could win the West and turn it blue? Well, now more than nine months into the presidency, they're learning, it's not so easy.


YELLIN (voice-over): The West, with its strong independent streak and growing population, is open to reign in politics. President Obama gave Democrats here new hope by sweeping several Western states.

OBAMA: Colorado, the time for change has come.

YELLIN: But has that change come and gone?

WILLIAM CHALOUPKA, COLORADO STATE UNIVERSITY: It's not as though people are lining up at the Republican Party headquarters. It's just that the bloom is off.

YELLIN: According to CNN polling, the West now gives President Obama his lowest approval rating, and it's only the region the Democratic Party scores below 50 percent.

(on camera): In the West, the game is all about independents. Here in Colorado, there are more unaffiliated voters than there are Democrats or Republicans, and many of those independents have been put off by the president's deficit spending and by the political brawling in Washington.

(voice-over): At a Democratic gathering in Colorado, they're anticipating fierce midterm fights.

SEN. MARK UDALL (D), COLORADO: The West is an independent-minded place. It was never going to be easy. Colorado has, I believe, always been a purple state.

YELLIN: Newly appointed Senator Michael Bennett faces a primary challenge from the left and a brutal contest if he makes it to the general.

Is it your sense that the president helps or hurts out here right now?

SEN. MICHAEL BENNETT (D), COLORADO: I think people are still very willing to give the president the benefit of the doubt. What we have to do is be able to prove that we're taking a pragmatic, independent, You know, relatively nonpartisan approach to the work That we're trying to deal with in Washington.

YELLIN: A sentiment echoed by this small-business owner at a campaign house party.

HOLLY BIGGERS, RESIDENT OF COLORADO: I think the majority of us are kind of middle-of-the-road people. And we decide what's best for us at the time, and then we vote that way.

YELLIN: Which means the fight to win the West is on.

CHALOUPKA: The Republicans are mobilized, too. They have been stung. And so they -- they -- they want to get -- they want this -- this blue period to be as short as possible.


YELLIN: Now, Wolf, privately, Colorado Democrats conceded to me that they believe they will probably lose some seats in next year's midterm elections. How many they lose they say hinges on the state of the economy come election time -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jessica, what are some of the races in doubt for the Democrats?

YELLIN: OK. Let's look at two states that the president carried and is hoping to hold for the Democrats.

First of all, in Colorado, there's incumbent Governor Bill Ritter, a Democrat. He faces a tough fight for reelection. And then Senator Michael Bennett, who was appointed to his seat, not that well- known statewide -- he was interviewed in my piece -- he faces a tough primary challenge and a tough fight to the general if he makes it.

Then, of course, there is Nevada. Harry Reid, the majority leader in the U.S. Senate, he faces a very tough -- a tough election for his seat.

So it's a really rough environment for incumbents. And one of the reasons, Wolf -- look at this number, unemployment. Here in Colorado, OK, 7 percent below the national average, but still bad if you're living there. And then in Nevada, 13.3 percent. It's all about the economy.

BLITZER: Yes, 13 percent very worrisome to Harry Reid. He doesn't want to wind up like Tom Daschle, who was once the Senate majority leader, only to be defeated in his bid for reelection.

Jessica, thank you.

Let's go to Iran right now, where anti-government protesters are vowing to continue demonstrating despite violent crackdowns. Protests today were timed to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.

Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd.

He's taking a look at some parallels between Iran in the late 1970s and what's going on today -- Brian, what are you seeing?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, there's certainly a mistrust between the two countries that hasn't budged much over 30 years. And on their face, scenes from the streets of Tehran also seem caught in a time warp.


TODD: (voice-over): They want now pretty much what they wanted then.


TODD: Shouts of "Death to the Dictator!" from reformists in Iran. They want to replace what they view as a repressive, unbending Islamic regime. Thirty years ago, it was the ailing rigid Shah who was the target and a popular movement of young revolutionaries forced out. Later that year, they jumped the barriers of the American embassy in Tehran -- the start of a 444 day hostage ordeal that's come to define relations between the two countries.

John Limbert was a young political officer at the embassy. He thought it would be a short-lived standoff, until he got a care package from home a month later.

JOHN LIMBERT, FORMER HOSTAGE: In it were some books to read. And the books were things like "War and Peace" and "Brothers Karamazov" and "Middle March."

TODD: (on camera): Settle in.

LIMBERT: That's right -- average length, about 1,200 pages.

TODD: (voice-over): But for the 52 Americans held, it was mostly a grim odyssey.

Bruce Langen was the highest ranking diplomat taken hostage.

(on camera): What was your worst moment during those 444 days, a particular interrogation?

BRUCE LANGEN, FORMER HOSTAGE: The worst moment for me during those 444 days was when I learned immediately of the failure of the rescue mission, not because I wanted to get out. I never believed in a rescue mission. I didn't think it was feasible. But I mourned that day. I literally mourned. I practically cried that eight men died.

TODD: (voice-over): One of the masterminds of the embassy takeover told CNN, after a while, both sides made efforts to try to get the hostages released.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "AMANPOUR") EBRAHIM ASGHARZAEH, ORGANIZER OF U.S. EMBASSY TAKEOVER: Our hands were tied at that stage. But the solution needed to be such that no country would be seen as the loser.


TODD: The protagonists in that drama 30 years ago say that's a political equation that hasn't changed much since.

(on camera): Are the two countries kind of stuck in that moment?

LIMBERT: They are. And the hostage taking -- the seizure of the embassy, like other events -- today still casts a shadow. And somehow, we have to get over -- we have to move beyond these events -- not forget about them necessarily or not apologize for them. That really isn't important, but put them in their proper place.


TODD: Limbert and Bruce Langen told us that the hostility, the mutual suspicion on both sides are preventing the two nations from identifying their own interests to each other and moving forward. For instance, it has carried over to the standoff over Iran's nuclear program. Limbert and Langen say it all stems from that moment 30 years ago today -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's an interesting phenomenon, those who were involved in taking over the U.S. Embassy 30 years ago, where are they now?

And I know you're looking at that, as well, Brian.

TODD: It's a very interesting story. Of course, the most obvious one, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He was a leader of the student movement that organized the takeover. Several hostages believe he was actually one of their interrogators. And they point to a photo from 1979 of a man who resembles Ahmadinejad. There's the photo right there.

But he has always denied that. And U.S. officials have said it's unclear whether he was at the embassy at any point.

Then there is the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameini. This week, he posted on his Web site footage of him visiting the hostage scene back in 1979. But at least two revolutionary student leaders from 1979 ended up in custody recently, after the June election and the reform protests, Mossain Mir Damadi (ph) and Sayid Hajari (ph). And so the revolution didn't turn out so well for them.

BLITZER: You'll be interested, Brian, one of the ringleaders mentioned in your report, he's going to be a guest of Christiane Amanpour on her show Sunday afternoon, 2:00 p.m. Eastern. I think our viewers will be interested in that.

Brian Todd reporting for us.

Independents flocking to the GOP, as voters say their top concern at the polls was the economy.

What does it all mean for President Obama?

Coming up, I'll ask the best political team on television.


BLITZER: Republicans win the governor's office in Virginia and New Jersey.

What does it mean for President Obama?

Let's ask the best political team on television.

Joining us, our CNN senior political analyst, Gloria Borger; Republican consultant and CNN political contributor, Alex Castellanos; Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons; and Clarence Page of the "Chicago Tribune".

Guys, thanks to all of you for coming in.

Look at this. In our CNN exit polls that we got -- collected yesterday when people were going to vote in New Jersey and in Virginia, we asked Independents who they were voting for.

In New Jersey, 60 percent said they were voting for the Republican, Christie; 30 percent for Corzine.

In Virginia, 33 percent went for the Democrat, Deed -- Deeds; 66 percent went for the Republican winner, McDonnell.

The -- the Democrats really lost out on the Independents yesterday.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. And given the fact that that's the only growing self-identified political group in this country right now, that's a problem for the Republican Party. I think -- I mean for the Democratic Party.

I think, you know, in the 2008 election, Independents favored President Obama by eight points.

Where has that gone?

It's evaporated. And I know the White House says, don't read too much into this. But when you look at a state like New Jersey, which is deep, royal blue, I think you have to read something into it.

BLITZER: What -- well, why did those Democrats fail to get the Independents, Jamal?

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I think if you -- you really have to take each one of these elections one by one, because they really are not the same election.

If you look at what happened in Virginia, Creigh Deeds -- a lot of Democrats talk about the kind of campaign that he ran. They weren't really thrilled with the campaign that he ran.

The same thing is true -- Corzine has had a tough time in New Jersey for a long time. To try to read this into what will happen in the future, I think, is stepping a little bit too far.

In 2002, Democrats lost -- we won these two elections -- in 2001, we won these two elections. In 2002, we came back and we lost in those midterm elections. So they're not necessarily going to be the predictor that everyone is making them out to be.


ALEX CASTELLANOS, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: It's not healthy for Democrats to be thinking that way, I think. Look, the economy is a national issue. Everybody needs jobs and growth. And -- and the only thing we've seen President Obama grow is debt and spending.

And so guess what?

Independents -- this is all fiscal to them. They'd rather have jobs and growth (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: And the polls...


BLITZER: The exit polls...


BLITZER: Clarence, the exit polls backed -- back up this point. We asked, in Virginia and New Jersey, what were the most important issues, as you went in to vote. The economy, number one, 47 percent in Virginia, 32 percent; number one, the economy in New Jersey.

There were other issues, but it's still the economy, stupid. Now, I'm not saying you're stupid.



PAGE: I remember history, too, indeed. But, you know, Alex makes -- does make a very good point in that I think Democrats certainly have to view this election as a possible preview of next year's election, the midterm, that you get an older turnout when you're between presidential elections -- a more conservative turnout. And the fact that these -- these Independent voters this time, they're -- they're skewed older. They're not as psyched up as they were last year, when you had the charisma of Barack Obama. I was watching that HBO movie at the same time the other -- as the returns were coming in. I was saying, ah, remember a year ago, how excited everybody was about the election.

BLITZER: Yes. PAGE: This time, it was a real snoozer. And people who were excited were those who feel like they're paying too many taxes and the economy is not going well and the government is too much in debt...

BORGER: And, you know, the...


PAGE: And they...


PAGE: And they aren't yet seeing what the Obama administration is spending the money on.

BORGER: But...

PAGE: When the jobs come in, they're -- that will help them a lot.

BORGER: The White House thinks, though, that if -- if Barack Obama is on the ballot, that you will get the enthusiasm back, you will get those Independent voters...


BLITZER: That will happen in 2012.


BORGER: That doesn't help...


BORGER: That doesn't help the folks in -- in 2010, because he's not on the ballot.

CASTELLANOS: Here's an interesting thing in Virginia. Bob McDonnell carried young voters under 35...

BLITZER: He was the Republican winner.


CASTELLANOS: 10 points; the Republican in Virginia by 10 points.


CASTELLANOS: Barack Obama...


CASTELLANOS: Barack Obama owned those voters lock, stock and video games last election.



Because it's their jobs we're talking about.


BLITZER: Because, Jamal, here's the -- the nightmare for the Democrats. And you remember this. You're old enough to remember. Bill Clinton is elected president in '92. In '93, there is the gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and in Virginia. Christie Todd Whitman wins in New Jersey, the Republican; George Allen wins in Virginia, the Republican.

What happens in the

midterm elections in '94?

The Democrats lose the majority in the House and the Senate.

SIMMONS: That's the alternative scenario. And, frankly, there are a lot of Democrats who talk about this. They're a little bit worried because there are so many factors that are the same. And I wrote a column about this in Politico a couple of weeks ago.

There is a -- there's a real concern, especially among the moderates, which are a lot of the places I did my pol -- my politics are from Georgia and Nevada and places like that. They're real concerned about the -- about the moderates about the spending. On this, Alex is right, the spending is in trouble. I mean you don't have jobs, on one hand, and spending on the other. It's like they're being squeezed in between the two.

So the president is going to have to do something, I think, on spending next year. But Democrats, I think, recognize that.

BLITZER: All right. Guys, stand by.


BLITZER: Hold your fire. We're going to continue this conversation.

Lots more coming up, including a discussion of gay rights. Many gay rights supporters were stunned yesterday when voters in Maine repealed the law allowing same-sex marriage.

How will this change future campaigns on this divisive issue?

The best political team on television will weigh in.


BLITZER: Gay rights activists hoped Maine would be different. They were wrong. The state voted yesterday to repeal a law allowing same-sex marriage. It's an issue that's now failed all 31 times that it's been on the ballot across the country.

Let's get back to the best political team in the country -- Gloria, as you know, Iowa, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Connecticut -- they allow same-sex marriage. Thirty-one other states, they've defeated legislation -- or they've defeated bills that would have allowed same-sex marriage. And now Maine joins that rank. It's a significant setback to gay rights advocates and a lot of other folks who wanted to see it pass.

BORGER: It is. And when you think about President Obama, though, this is his position. He does not support gay marriage. It's been a position he's been very consistent on, much to the dismay of lots of folks within his own party.

He's good on some other issues that gays and lesbians support. He says he's going to fix don't ask/don't tell. But it's very interesting when you look at those numbers, because the president seems to be in tune with -- with the voters in most states.

CASTELLANOS: Well, this is not a time that either party, frankly, wants to tackle this issue. The Republicans just won the center by uniting it on -- on economic issues. The last thing they want to do is split it by talking about, you know, a divisive social issue like this. And Independents are split on it. Democrats don't want to do it either.


Because President Obama wants to win the center back. He doesn't want to polarize there either.

BORGER: Right.

CASTELLANOS: So this is just not fertile ground right now. I think. You're going to see this issue kind of fade back into the wood work over the next few days.

BLITZER: What do you think -- well, let me ask Jamal.

What will this do to the president, who's thinking about seeking legislation to end the don't ask/don't tell ban, allowing gays to serve openly in the military, to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act?

He -- he wants to do that.

What, if anything, will this vote in Maine do to that -- that agenda?

SIMMONS: You know, we've had seven or eight years now of gays and lesbians serving in the military valiantly and some dying, some getting awards. I think Americans are willing to say we shouldn't be discriminating against people because of their sexual orientation.

But to say that you don't want to discriminate against people is very different than saying that you're ready to have gay marriage. I think the president recognizes that. I think -- I talked to some gay activists today around this issue. The one case they'll make is they've got to do a better job at selling voters on this issue, because when you lose 31 times, it says something about where you are politically...

BLITZER: Because they...


BLITZER: ...they lost in California, too...


BLITZER: you remember. They lost in Maine. They -- they've lost in a lot...

PAGE: They lost in California on the same day that Barack Obama became president. But, you know, they're in California, gay activists were saying they should have worked harder in the black and Hispanic communities. They thought they were going to come on -- come around automatically. No -- no vote is automatic.


PAGE: But, you know, Wolf...

SIMMONS: ...Hispanics and -- and, really, in Maine to worry about this time. So they can't blame it on the blacks and Hispanics this time.

PAGE: You know what surprised me in Maine was how close the vote was. You know, the polling on gay marriage has been swinging in favor of gay marriage over the last (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: The last poll that we did, which -- our CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll last May...


BLITZER: Yes -- last May, do gays and lesbians have a Constitutional right to get married?

That was the question. Forty-five percent said yes, 54 percent said no.

PAGE: Right. But it's been moving in the -- in the direction of yes over the last decade at a much faster pace than I was expecting. I'll just say...


PAGE: That vote in Maine was close. It's going to pass. So it's just a question of when it's going to happen.

CASTELLANOS: But this is an issue that divides Republicans and Democrats. A lot of Republicans think, look, the biggest problem in the world isn't that too many people want to get married. A lot of Democrats don't want to take this up now because they don't want to see their party pull what they think looks like farther to the left.

BORGER: Right.

CASTELLANOS: This is just not a fertile time for this, to divide the country on social issues, when the big issues are what -- economy and jobs.

BORGER: Yes, I mean, I think the public is clearly more concerned about the economy right now than -- than anything else. But it is an issue that could divide Republicans and Congressional seats, as we saw in Upstate New York, where you have...

CASTELLANOS: And -- yes, but that's (INAUDIBLE), though.

BORGER: ...the purists versus the big tent folks.

SIMMONS: Well, you know, Wolf, it's -- today, obviously, we know it's the anniversary of the Barack Obama election a year ago. The one advice I've heard the most in the last 24 hours -- I spent late night at a -- a watch party for the new HBO movie. And the one thing you hear the most is we've got to -- the president has got to get back to a bigger vision about his presidency. He's got to find a way to unite Democrats and Independents back to a vision about American competitiveness and making the country better.

And right now, we've been having a lot of smaller conversations about passing policy agenda items. And so what people really want to hear is something that really takes us back to a moment of big change. And I think a lot of the Independents want to hear that, also.

BLITZER: I think they might need you at the White House...


BLITZER: ...if you want to go back and work there. You worked in the Clinton White House. Maybe...

SIMMONS: I was hanging out with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: They might -- they might need your help. You might get that from -- Brown might be calling you pretty soon, Jamal.

Thanks, guys, very much for coming in.

On our Political Ticker, it was billed as the hottest political ticket in history. Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush reportedly were set to share the -- share the stage at Radio City Music Hall in February, with VIP tickets going for as much as $1,200 -- $1,250. But now we've gotten word that the event has been canceled because the promoter over-hyped it. Sources tell CNN it was never supposed to be a heated face-off, just a discussion without fireworks.

In California, Carly Fiorina made her U.S. Senate bid official today with an announcement in a conservative Orange County. The former Hewlett-Packard CEO intends to win the GOP nomination and take on Democratic incumbent senator, Barbara Boxer, in 2010. Fiorina, though having a thin political resume, is considered a formidable challenger to Boxer. She gained national attention as an economic adviser in John McCain last year. She has deep pockets. Her H.P. severance package is valued in the tens of millions of dollars.

Sarah Palin may be going rogue, but will she go to a bookstore near you?

We're learning where she'll promote her new book. She will go to what you might call red cities, like Cincinnati and Roanoke, Virginia.

But guess where Palin is not slated to go?

Big cities in blue states, such as L.A. A spokeswoman for the publisher says Palin wants to be, "unconventional."

Michelle Obama is going to new lengths to promote her vegetable garden. She's set to host an episode of "Iron Chef America" on the Food Network. Food Network stars will be able to take anything they want from the garden for their recipes. The chefs will face-off against Bobby Flay and White House chef, Chris Comerford, preparing dishes that showcase the -- the garden ingredients. The episode airs in January. And a lot of people (INAUDIBLE) on that show.

Remember, for the latest political news anytime, you can always check out And we have a new way for you to follow -- it's not so new anymore -- what's going on in THE SITUATION ROOM. I've been on there for several weeks -- Twitter. You can get my Tweets at -- wolfblitzercnn all one word.

Let's go to Lou to see what's coming up at the top of the hour -- Lou.

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": You had the name of that chef and not me, Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, it's not easy pronouncing those names, Lou.

DOBBS: Yes. People think we've got an easy job, right, Wolf?


DOBBS: Thanks a lot.

Coming up at the top of the hour, the White House trying to brush off those dramatic election losses, a Republican one-two punch in key races for governor -- Independents concerned about the economy and jobs overwhelming shunning the Democrats they were supporting just a year ago.

And Democrats feeling the election day sting turn their attention back to the health care debate. Nancy Pelosi's 10 year, $1.2 trillion House bill might be voted on in just a matter of days. Republicans say that's no way to run a Congress. Also, bailed out banks that took billions of taxpayer dollars now repaying the taxpayers by dramatically raising credit card interest rates and for no reason.

In some cases, those rise -- those raises in interest rates 100 percent or more.

Why is the government letting them do it?

Also, our expert political panel will analyze all of the election results and tell you what it all means.

Join us for all of that and more at the top of the hour -- and, Wolf, back to you.

And I'm glad I don't have to pronounce much right now.

BLITZER: We both are working the Tweet network, Lou.

Thanks very much.

Jack Cafferty coming up next.


BLITZER: Let's go right to Jack for The Cafferty File -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour -- what does it say that the likes of Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh failed to get their conservative candidate elected in that New York Congressional race up there in C.D. Number 23?

Pat says: "Who cares? They are patriots in name only. These blowhards would sell their family to Al Qaeda if they could make a buck for themselves. They are and have always been in it for the money and the power. They don't give a damn about the people of the country. It's just a big chess game to them."

C. writes: "It doesn't say anything about Palin, but it does say a lot about you, Jack. Calling people like us the far right shows your agenda. We are average working people who are tired of growing government intrusion into our daily lives. By the way, why do you always read so many more of the leftist comments than you do the ones from conservatives?"

Jeff in Connecticut: "Absolutely no one knew who Hoffman was two weeks ago and yet he came very close to win. That's amazing. This was a victory in spirit for conservatives."

Thom in Michigan says: "It confirms Americans are not the complete idiots I thought we were for listening to talking heads and giving any credence to their rantings. It confirms once and for all they are mere entertainers to those who listen and are simply boors who do not care how they make a buck unless it benefits them financially. The real losers are the sponsors who waste their money paying for their garbage shows day in and day out. Pala -- Palin, Limbaugh and Beck are merely clowns. In the circus of life, they are there for the laughs."

Ed writes: "Mr. Hoffman believes in smaller government, less taxes, strong defense and individuals liberty and the Democrats call that extreme. I think the Democrats are the ones out of touch."

Simpson in Atlanta writes: "If folks would open their eyes and deal with reality, it would say the same thing it said in the last election -- the fringe loves the fringe. But elections are won from the middle."

And Shawn says: "It tells me that Palin, Limbaugh and Beck are more wind than sail."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at CNN/caffertyfile. We post a bunch of them every day -- Mr. Blitzer.

BLITZER: I was surprised how close it was in Mayor Bloomberg's reelection. There was supposed to be a blowout and it -- it was relatively close.

CAFFERTY: A hundred million dollars of his own money and he won by 50,000 votes. I don't know if that's a very good return on investment. And he's a pretty good businessman.

BLITZER: And he did get -- he did win and a win is a win.

Jack, see you tomorrow.

CAFFERTY: All right. Good night.

BLITZER: Thank you.

And to our viewers, thanks very much for joining us.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou.