Return to Transcripts main page

STATE OF THE UNION WITH JOHN KING

Sound of Sunday

Aired January 24, 2010 - 11:00   ET

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


KING: And I am John King, and this is STATE OF THE UNION.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING (voice-over): It's 11:00 a.m. Eastern, time for STATE OF THE UNION: SOUND OF SUNDAY.

Ten government officials, politicians and analysts have had their say.

The White House press secretary and the president's top political adviser.

Key Republicans and Democrats in the Senate.

We've watched the Sunday shows so you don't have to.

We'll break it all down with Bill Bennett and Donna Brazile, two key pollsters involved in Tuesday's game-changing Massachusetts race, and the best political team on television.

KING: "State of the Union" "Sound of Sunday" for January 24th.

The White House this Sunday says creating jobs will be the big focus of the president's State of the Union address later this week. Top adviser David Axelrod defends last year's big stimulus plan but says it's clear from the big Republican upset in the Massachusetts Senate race that voters there and across the country believe it didn't do enough.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AXELROD: The Recovery Act the president passed has created more than -- or saved more than 2 million jobs, but, against 7 million, you know, that -- that is -- it is cold comfort to those who still are looking.

And so we have a big problem. And believe me, the president is working on that day and night. And you'll hear in the State of the Union his -- some of his ideas about additional steps that we can take to help create and stir hiring around the country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Another top White House aide says, yes, voters are angry about the economy and partisanship in Washington but press secretary Robert Gibbs says Republicans are exaggerating the Massachusetts message.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY ROBERT GIBBS: If Republicans want to assume that the outcome of what happened in Massachusetts is a big endorsement of their policies, when 40 percent are enthusiastic about them and 58 percent are angry about them, then I hope they misread that election as badly as anybody could.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: But Republicans say it's the Obama White House that doesn't get the message voters are sending.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JIM DEMINT, R-S.C.: What happened in Massachusetts is just part of an American awakening. We saw it in Virginia, in New Jersey. We see it all over the country in tea parties, in town halls. People are alarmed and angry about the spending, the debt, the government takeovers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: What next? The White House says it's eager to see if Republicans are willing to work more with the president. But the Senate's top Republican says the burden lies with the president and his fellow Democrats.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-KY., SENATE MINORITY LEADER: You look at the first year of this administration, we haven't made much progress. You know, we passed a deficit, a budget that doubles the national debt in five years and triples it in 10; tried to pass energy taxes; tried to pass health care taxes.

I -- what I hope we're going to hear from the president next Wednesday night is an indication that he'd like to go in -- in a different direction. And as I've said all year, if he wants to meet us in the middle of the political spectrum, we'll be there to help.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: As you can see, we've been watching all the other Sunday shows so maybe you don't have to.

Joining me now in Washington, CNN political contributor and host of "Morning in America" Bill Bennett and Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor Donna Brazile.

Welcome. Let's start with a simple question. And to the party that lost in Massachusetts first, what is the message? BRAZILE: John, we lost a very important seat, a very important vote. But I don't believe Democrats lost the resolve to continue to fight hard for the American people, to restore this economy, to keep the country safe and secure, and, yes, to find common-sense solutions to work with Republicans on helping to reform our health care system.

This is not a defeat that should cause Democrats to become demoralized or to begin to fail in their pledge to change the country. This is an opportunity. I think it's a gift. It's an early gift for the Democrats.

KING: It's a gift?

BRAZILE: Yes, it's a gift. Look...

KING: Losing a seat Ted Kennedy held for 46 years is a gift?

BRAZILE: It's a disappointment. It hurts like hell. I can't tell you how much it hurts. But it's a gift if we learn the lessons to get back to the basics to deliver for the American people the change we promised them in 2008.

BENNETT: Well, maybe we can find more under the tree if that's the gift we want to keep on giving.

(LAUGHTER)

Look, here's The Washington Post. Don't believe me, all the polls. "Dissatisfaction with the direction of the country, antipathy toward federal government activism and opposition to the Democrats' health care proposals drove the upset election." That's front page of The Washington Post," from several polls.

But there was some other things, too. Interestingly, I think, in the internal polls, Brown stressed a lot his unhappiness with the way the administration was conducting the war on terror, the civilian trials and so on. That got a lot of response.

But the president and the Democrats have been saying, you know, lobbyist, interest-group Republicans. The people spoke. The people of blue-on-blue Massachusetts spoke, and it could not have been clearer.

KING: Well, let's deal with that point. You mentioned Senator Brown, State Senator Brown, now Senator-elect, United States Senator- elect Brown, did stress the war on terrorism.

I want to play for our viewers -- give the control room a second to get it ready, because we were going to do this a bit later in the program -- on election night, when he was celebrating, he said to the people of Massachusetts and to the whole country watching that he believed his message on that front, on how to handle people taken into custody, suspected of terrorism -- the thought the voters of Massachusetts were sending a message. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SENATOR-ELECT SCOTT BROWN, R-MASS.: The message we need to send in dealing with terrorists, our tax dollars -- our tax dollars should pay for weapons to stop them and not lawyers to defend them.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Donna, if you ask anyone involved in this race -- and we're going to have the two key pollsters involved joining us in a few minutes -- they say that that was part of it, the Christmas Day attempted bombing on that jetliner, the underwear bomber, if you will, that Martha Coakley, the Democratic candidate, supported the administration's approach, which was to have him put into federal custody on a track to eventually be tried in federal court.

Do Democrats need to rethink that message, given the power of that appeal?

BRAZILE: Well, let me just say that President Obama is following in the same footsteps as George W. Bush and trying many of these suspected terrorists in federal courts. There's no question that we all would like to see these terrorists brought to justice. We want to see Al Qaida destroyed and dismantled. But at the same time, we understand that our federal courts are acting swiftly to bring these criminals, these terrorists, these evil -- I can go on and on, but I haven't been to church yet, so I don't want to get my mouth so dirty that I have to confess later. But we want to bring them to justice.

I think what happened, John -- and pollsters will tell you; they know the pulse better than I do -- there's no question that voters are impatient; they are concerned; they are deeply worried about the state of our economy, but they're also worried about the state of our national politics, where they see us in Washington, D.C. fight each and every day, not finding common-sense solution.

I think the president, on Wednesday night, should tell the voters and the country, not just in the state of Massachusetts, that he's ready once again to reach out to the Republicans, but if they are going to continue to obstruct his agenda and obstruct the change that the people voted for, then, you know what, Democrats will continue to carry this ball.

KING: When President Bush was in the White House, in the days after 9/11, when we would occasionally hear or see Osama bin Laden on videotapes and audiotapes, it was a hard discussion to have, but politically -- it was a major policy challenge for this country -- but, politically, in the early days, especially after 9/11, it, quote/unquote, "benefited" President Bush because it was a reminder that the terrorists were still out there.

There was a new audiotape this morning, bin Laden saying that he was responsible, that the Christmas bomber was acting on his behalf.

I asked David Axelrod a bit earlier this morning, A, had the administration verified that was the voice of Osama bin Laden, and what did it make of the tape?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AXELROD: Assuming that it is him, the -- his message contains the same hollow justifications for the mass slaughter of innocents that we've heard before. And the irony is, in the name of Islam, he's killed more Muslims than people from any other religion. He's a murderer. And we're going to continue to be on the offense against bin Laden, against Al Qaida, to protect the American people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: In the context, one year into this administration, Bill Bennett, when we hear the voice of Osama bin Laden, which we haven't much, of note, how do we think it plays?

BENNETT: Well, I mean, obviously, it unites the American people against him. But the question is, are we doing enough?

And you had the embarrassment this week. The embarrassment in Massachusetts covered up -- for Democrats, covered up a serious policy embarrassment in this area.

You had three representatives for this administration, Dennis Blair, Mr. Leiter and Secretary Napolitano, unready...

KING: All on the front line...

(CROSSTALK)

BENNETT: ... all on the front lines, saying they were not called; they were not informed about this interrogation of the Christmas Day bomber.

The worst thing to come down the pike was the Pentagon report on Fort Hood, on Major Hasan, which, in 80 pages, never mentions Islam, radical Islam, call it what you want.

This guy has business cards saying "Soldier of Allah," when he is shooting the people, says, "Allahu Akbar," and we cannot mention the word "Muslim" or "Islam" because of political correctness. That's what giving people a sense of loss of confidence. That's what Brown, Senator Brown was talking about, and he's absolutely right.

KING: We're going to talk more about the Massachusetts race and the implications, but I want to get -- before we go to a break, I just want to get each of your thoughts on this.

In this past week, Air America, which was the left-leaning talk radio network, went off the air. It filed for bankruptcy, said it couldn't keep in operations.

Donna Brazile, I want your sense -- you know, when you travel -- we've talked on this program a lot about, you know, Rush or Bill or what conservatives are saying on the radio.

Is this a problem for the left, in that the right just dominates?

I was in a cab in New York City the other day. The cab driver said he was a Democrat, spends 12, 14, 16 hours a day in that car. He says the only people he can listen to are people he disagrees with. Does the left have a problem here?

BRAZILE: You know, John, the truth is that this is another loss for Americans who like to hear both sides. And Air America really provided some important coverage over the last couple of years and gave us a lot of great spokespeople. And some of them are now on TV, and one is in the United States Senate.

So it's a loss, but I do believe that liberals and progressives will find other channels and other ways to get their information. And of course, the Internet, that great tool that my ex-boss inspired the creation of, will also give us something to shout about in the future.

KING: Well, you're a partisan, but be fair here, as a guy who is on the radio and a guy who launched his show I think the same day or the same week as Air America six years ago, what did they do wrong?

BENNETT: The very same day. We're now going to about 3.75 million. And that's at 6:00 in the morning. I don't know. I listen to a lot of liberal talk radio. They're a little humorless, they're a little superior. They don't listen as well as they should. Maybe there's a lesson here. That's my opinion. Now we have got conservatives who do nothing but talk and blather too.

But I think when you listen to the people, you do better. I don't know. I would welcome some good liberal talk radio. Some fun. It has got to be engaging, though, it has got to be fun. You can't just lecture people.

KING: All right. We're going to take a quick break here. And when we come back, we're going to do some listening too. And joining us will be Celinda Lake, the Democratic pollster in Massachusetts and for many races across this country for years; and Neil Newhouse, he was the Republican pollster behind the Brown campaign, he also has a busy midterm election year. They will join us for some more talk and some more listening. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back with Bill Bennett and Donna Brazile. Also joining us, Democratic pollster Celinda Lake and Republican pollster Neil Newhouse. They are old friends, but they are also important this week because of their role in the Massachusetts Senate race.

And I want to get to the message you think the voters of Massachusetts were sending the country, if you think they were, and I think both of you think the answer to that question is yes.

In the context of this, Valerie Jarrett, a top adviser to the president of the United States, was out this morning, and she was essentially asked, will the president recalibrate, will he move to the center, will he go piecemeal on health care? And she says this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VALERIE JARRETT, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISER: So nothing has changed about the president's approach. I think the question to be asked and what we learned from the Massachusetts victory is that people are sick and tired of Washington not delivering for them. And so the question is really, will the Republican Party become -- be willing to come and work with us?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Celinda, I read a memo you wrote about the campaign. You think the message goes beyond that, don't you? That it just the Republicans -- should the president just sit in the White House and say the Republicans should work with me or should he do something else?

CELINDA LAKE, POLLSTER FOR COAKLEY CAMPAIGN: Well, I think Valerie is right. I think that Scott Brown, aided with a wonderful pollster, took our message and won with our message of change. And we had better seize it back. But we have to deliver on that change. It has been a year, which is twice the patience that the American public usually has.

We need to produce on jobs. We need to pass health care reform. And we need to pass Wall Street financial reform. We have got to set the tone for change. Hopefully we'll have Republicans join us, but if we don't, we've got to get it passed.

KING: To the point that the people of Massachusetts, especially the independent voters, were disgusted with the way Washington looks. They thought, you know, I voted for that guy, Obama, he promised to change it, and he didn't. What is the burden now, Neil? That election is over. Yes, Republicans feel a wind at their back going into November, but between now and then, what is the challenge for Republicans?

NEIL NEWHOUSE, POLLSTER FOR BROWN CAMPAIGN: Well, first, I mean, set the landscape here. I mean, this should not have been a big surprise for the Democrats. I mean, we saw warning signs as far back as last June that this political environment was changing. It's changing pretty dramatically. In Virginia, in New Jersey, we -- you know, we won both of those races, Republicans did.

And what is really interesting is that Democrats in those races ran about 12 and 13 points behind where Obama ran in 2008. And you look at the data for Massachusetts, Martha Coakley ran 15 points behind.

You know, there is -- it shouldn't have been a big surprise. Everybody is talking about this as the big kind of eye-opening game- changer, that was -- you know, they should have realized that back in September. And there is a -- Americans are frustrated, are angry. They see so much money leaving Washington and they're not getting any of it. KING: Well, I want to continue the conversation, but I want to bring in the voice of somebody who I think, and a lot of people doubted this back at the beginning of the Obama administration, has been perhaps the most consistent and disciplined politician in Washington. This is the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, assessing the president's first year.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MCCONNELL: You sum up the first year, what this administration has done best, is rattle the markets, advocate tax increases, and run up deficits. That's not a very comforting message to business people looking at trying to expand employment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: He's not a rhetorical dynamo, but Mitch McConnell has been pretty disciplined in keeping the Republicans together, has he not? I know you're a Democrat, but as somebody who has to organize, he get points?

BRAZILE: For being an obstructionist? Absolutely. For not giving the American people any alternatives? When President Obama took the oath of office, we were hemorrhaging 20,000 jobs a day. Now no one is satisfied with 85 -- losing 85,000 jobs and now -- in the past month. But the truth is, s that the president inherited an economy that was on the brink. And with the policies that he has put forward, this economy is now moving along.

I agree that the president needs to go back to the basics. He needs to go back to the campaigning mode, not the campaign itself, but he promised the American people change. He promised to bring us together, to heal this country, and to move us forward.

And what we have seen from the Republicans is no agenda, no alternative. Yes, you benefited from a political environment that is anti-incumbent. It is bad out there. But I do believe at the end of the day that the Republicans need to put up. We need to vet the Republican policies once they put them forward. And they need to be held accountable for those policies. They had a free pass in 2009.

NEWHOUSE: You sound exactly like (INAUDIBLE) did the last four years when Republicans had miserable years where we were trying to defend George Bush's policies and Democrats were beating the pants off our guys in race after race after race. This is -- it's not politics you're doing wrong, it's policy.

BENNETT: Yes, this is -- look, you can say the Republicans need to put up. Sure, let's go make a deal. Let's make a deal on health care. We Republicans favor health care. But not this policy. Look, two things about Barack Obama, promised to be a transformational presidency. If do you that, you had better transform.

Could he transform? They have the White House -- anybody notice what the advantage is in the House of Representatives? Seventy-eight people advantage, 19 now in the Senate, and they can't get it done. Why can't they get it done? Because they're weighted down by the policy, the policy, according to the American people.

The more they looked at the policy, the more they said no, this is not what we want, a government takeover. They want health care reform. They don't want this health care reform.

LAKE: They have no idea what's in this health care reform, I mean... BENNETT: Sure they do.

LAKE: No, they don't.

BENNETT: Oh, they absolutely. No, in Massachusetts, when we tested the health care reform bill, you're absolutely right, it was split. When they looked at the health care reform bill, the Massachusetts plan itself, which is very similar to the national plan, 68 percent in favor.

LAKE: When we tested the specifics of pre-existing conditions and solving Medicare and closing the donut hole, one of the best attacks against Scott Brown and one of the best defenses for Martha Coakley. Our problem is we need to pass these policies. The critique of the president is not that he's done too much. The critique of the president is that he's done too little. Democrats need to pass these policies.

BENNETT: He's done too little, but when the issues came to the floor, the more discussion there was of health care on a national level, the more the public was disenchanted with this provision or that provision or any provision.

BRAZILE: We lost a message war.

KING: This side of the table is going to be leaving us in a minute so I want to stay on this side of the table. These guys are going to stay with us, but you guys are going to be leaving after this so I want to ask you each a question.

BRAZILE: You're getting rid of us?

KING: To Bill first. Ronald Reagan went through this in his first year in office. And in the age of midterms, Republicans lost seats but not as badly as many people thought. His message to the people was stay the course. Can President Obama -- should President Obama use that same message or does he have to say go to the middle?

BENNETT: Well I think he needs to go to the middle if he wants to have success. But if he wants to give more success to my party and conservatives, he can just keeping hanging out on the left corner. Look, it was a disappointment to me how far left he went. When he was elected, I didn't say like some other talk show hosts, I hope he fails. I said I hope he succeeds and I hope he has moderate and sensible policies. The night of the election on CNN, I said but he better be careful, he better not push too far to the left. James Carville said that we're not going to take advice from Republicans tonight. Fair enough, but look at what's happened.

BRAZILE: He's not been on my corner. He's not been on my corner because he's kept the Bush tax cuts in tact. That's $4 trillion of the deficit. He kept the TARP program. He kept the bailout program. He kept two expensive wars. That's not sitting on the left. That's governing with pragmatism, something the Republicans fail to get is that this president has kept in place many of those policies.

BENNETT: Do you want him further left?

BRAZILE: That's a false choice -- $1.3 trillion of that deficit that you're complaining -- look, if he governs as a pragmatist and somebody who understands the reality of what we're facing -- we got two expensive wars, a guy hell bent on killing all of us, bin Laden, and we have an economy on the brink. And so what are we supposed to do, sit here and wait for the Republicans to regain power?

NEWHOUSE: We disagree on many things here. But there's one thing we do agree on, right? Go Saints!

BRAZILE: Go Saints.

KING: On that bipartisan note, we're going to take a quick break. Two Saints in the family. Are you a Colts fan?

BENNETT: Jets.

KING: A Jets fan. A Saints fan. All right. We have three Saints and one Jets. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back with Celinda Lake and Neil Newhouse and joining our panel, senior political analyst Gloria Borger and senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash and in Boston, our senior political analyst and former presidential adviser David Gergen. Welcome all.

Let's break down some of the race in Massachusetts. David will join us from Boston there, you see him. He moderated one of the debates. One of the things that was striking to me and that many up there say helped Scott Brown if not change the tone of the campaign, at least bring a lot of money, was an ad that started with a guy named Jack Kennedy in black and white, a Democrat who went on to become a president for Massachusetts and ended up with a Senate candidate Republican Scott Brown first in black and white and then color. Let's peek.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN F. KENNEDY, FORMER PRESIDENT: Billions of dollars this bill will place in the hands of the consumer and our business man will have both immediate and permanent benefits to our economy.

SCOTT BROWN, SENATOR-ELECT, MASSACHUSETTS: Every dollar released from taxation that is spent or invested will help create a new job and a new salary.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Celinda, the ads against Scott Brown were saying he would take you back to Bush-Cheney. His answer was I've never met those guys. If I want to take you back anywhere, I want to take you back to the tax-cutting policies of a Democrat you like. What happened up there? LAKE: Well, we had a very unique outsider candidate. Most Republicans in 2010 won't be able to run on that. Most of them have met Bush-Cheney and most of them have voted for the Bush-Cheney policies.

KING: Why use it if he had it? Was it just a bad campaign?

LAKE: Well, I think, you know, nine days out it was really, really important to try -- once the race had been nationalized, it was really important to try to draw a distinction between the failed policies of the Republicans and the policies that we're trying to bring about change. But the point is you can't have that argument articulated from Massachusetts. You have to have that argument articulated from Washington. And the most important thing and the opportunity for Democrats is in the next five months, we have to pass economic policies that deliver more for Main Street than they do for Wall Street.

KING: If you can't beat a Republican in Massachusetts, tied to Bush and Cheney, can you beat a Republican in Colorado or Mississippi or Arkansas or Tennessee?

NEWHOUSE: They used the same thing in Virginia and New Jersey and they're beating a dead horse. It's just not working. If anything, what happened in Massachusetts was Scott was perceived to be the independent candidate, the one that wasn't pulling any kind of party line. And Martha Coakley was perceived to be in one voter's words, Obama's yes person, yes man if she goes to Washington. There were anywhere between 55 and 65 percent of voters we talked to, and we track this every single day, believe that Scott was an independent Republican who will vote outside of party pressures in Washington.

DANA BASH, CNN SR. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I have a question. So you obviously work with the pollster. There's a memo circulating saying there was no poll done on the Massachusetts race from the Democrats perspective from mid-December until the second week in January and that perhaps it was the campaign that just wasn't focused on the important things like figuring out where the electorate is and how they needed to change the message. Is that true and if it is true, why?

LAKE: Well, it is true that we didn't have polling from when we did baseline poll until mid-January. It's not true that the campaign wasn't focused, but the campaign had no money. And there are lots of people that can be blamed for that including national establishment institutions in D.C. that weren't giving her money, that were turning her down. And I think that --

BASH: Did they know when they turning her down, did they know that polling wasn't being done?

LAKE: Yes, they did. KING: Did anyone go to the White House? The biggest national Democratic institution in Washington right now, I know the senatorial committee oversees those races, but the biggest national Democratic institution in Washington, D.C., would be called the president of the United States. Did anybody go to his operation and say, you know, we need money and we're not getting it?

LAKE: Yes. And people went to the committees and said we need money and we're not getting it.

BASH: What was the answer?

LAKE: You don't need it.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Let me ask you. You knew that you were running ahead. You knew you were one point up at one point and you were trying to keep it really quiet.

NEWHOUSE: Oh, my gosh.

(LAUGHTER)

I mean, senatorial committee deserves a ton of credit from our side of the aisle. They did a phenomenal job.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

NEWHOUSE: Well, they kept it secret. And we took a look in mid- December. We were down by 13, but among voters most interested in the race, either down by two or down by four. Then we went back in the field, you know, and we started daily conference calls on New Year's Eve, every single day except for, like, New Year's Day. You know, every single day, we did that.

And then, on January 4 or 5, that Monday or Tuesday after people came back to work, we went in the field and did a survey, and we were six points down. And we never came out of the field. We kept track of it every single night.

KING: Let me bring David into the conversation. Because, David, you're up there, obviously, at Harvard, teaching. And you moderated a key debate.

There's been a big debate in Washington. Was it the health care bill? Was it disaffection on the economy? Was it independents who think Washington's this poison, partisan place? Was it the very effective turn, after Christmas Day, on terrorism that Scott Brown pulled against Martha Coakley?

Is it all of the above?

GERGEN: Well, I -- I think that Scott Brown really started getting traction in mid-December. In think, in part, that JFK ad; also, another ad on, you know, riding around in a truck. Both of those made him -- the JFK ad, you have to say, was both gutsy because it invoked the Kennedy memory, you know, when running for the seat that Ted Kennedy had occupied, and it also showed that he was more of a moderate. I thought it was smart.

But he started getting traction. And you could feel that here in Massachusetts. I don't think you had to be a rocket scientist to begin to sense that things were moving; the tea party activists were starting to -- to gear up; there was a lot starting to happen.

And she seemed to be, just, sort of, totally vacant. I mean, she went on vacation. She wasn't there. There was a sense that you heard among Democratic voters, where is she and why isn't she asking for my vote; why isn't she showing up at tea stations and asking for a vote?

So I think this thing started moving in -- in December. And by January, early January, when Rasmussen -- there was -- obvious to the public that things were starting to break.

But I think he then -- he had a compelling debate performance. I must say I was -- I was impressed with him. He was fast on his feet. I asked him what seemed like an innocent question and he turned it right back on me, bam, said this isn't the Kennedy's seat; this is the people's seat. That was smart. I give him credit for that.

So he -- and i think, after that, it was almost impossible to stop him because he clearly had a momentum going into the last five or six days.

(CROSSTALK)

GERGEN: And, you know, Washington Democrats, by the weekend before, thought it was over.

KING: I want to bring the conversation back to the room. And respond to whatever you want there, but I want to also add, as part of the conversation, that one of the interesting things, if you look at what happened, is an AFL-CIO poll, conducted by Peter Hart, another Democratic pollster, how union households voted: Scott Brown, 49 percent; Martha Coakley,46 percent.

I mean, if that holds up in other states this year...

LAKE: No, that won't hold up in other states. The reason for that result -- and Scott Brown ran a magnificent campaign -- the nice thing is we don't have to run again. We don't get to run against Scott Brown everywhere. We get to run against the Republicans in Washington...

(LAUGHTER)

... whose ratings are worse than ours. So it's a whole different ball game in November.

But in terms of the union households, we have a health care package that taxes so-called Cadillac plans. Scott Brown communicated that to union members. That provision has to come out of the health care plan or we will be losing union members across the country.

KING: So the health care plan should be recalculated based on what helps you in the election, not on what pays for health care reform?

LAKE: It's a terrible policy. People -- they're going to health care reform to get their costs down, not to see their costs increase. And if workers negotiate lower salaries to get a decent health care plan, they shouldn't be taxed for that.

BORGER: Neil Newhouse, what was the proximate cause, though, of, you know, -- we keep debating, was this because she didn't run a great race or was this because of Barack Obama's policies?

You have been looking at the numbers. When did your numbers start showing that your candidate could win?

Some folks say it's because of the backroom deals on health care. What was it?

NEWHOUSE: Well, I mean, first of all, the factors -- I mean, it's perfect storm. I mean, in terms of the political environment, Obama's unpopularity, and the unpopularity of his health care plan.

BORGER: But there was a point...

(CROSSTALK)

NEWHOUSE: Well, the one -- the turning point in this campaign -- and David actually -- David was there -- was the debate. There was 24 hours around the debate, which was the debate and then the subsequent decision by Martha Coakley to go ultra-negative against Scott Brown.

(CROSSTALK)

NEWHOUSE: Yes, the Monday before the...

BORGER: So it wasn't Washington?

NEWHOUSE: Well, no, that was -- yes, that was all background, but this -- this was the turning point in the race that -- that really made the difference.

And we were behind at that point. Two days later, we were eight points up. And Martha Coakley was in a position from which I don't think she could ever recover. She -- 56 percent of the voters believed that she was running a negative campaign.

Look, David Gergen -- David's got to understand this is -- he does -- this is the most political state in the country. And these people -- beyond, you know, the Red Sox and the Patriots, politics is the blood sport here.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: And they're both at home, right now, sadly. (LAUGHTER)

NEWHOUSE: Forty-eight percent of voters in the state said they watched the debate. This is unbelievable.

KING: That is stunning.

NEWHOUSE: And they believed that -- that Scott won it by a 56 percent to 17 percent marginal. Even Martha Coakley voters believed that Scott won the debate.

LAKE: It's also a special election. We ought to understand the uniqueness of the electorate, but I think one lesson for Democrats is -- and we saw it in New Jersey and Virginia -- our base is not turning out. Angry independents are turning out at higher rates than Democrats are.

KING: We want to talk more about that. We have to make a little money, here so we stay in business. We're going to take a quick break. When we come back, we'll talk about, looking forward, what this means. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back to continue our conversation. Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, Republican pollster Neil Newhouse, fresh from the Massachusetts race. Gloria Borger with us here; Dana Bash with us here, and David Gergen with us in Boston.

David, I want to go to you on this point. Right before the break, we were discussing, what does this mean going forward?

And Celinda was talking about how Democrats aren't coming out. They're not motivated now like they were in '06 and '08.

Here's how Charlie Cook put it in the Cook Report this past Saturday.

"Any Democrat with a pulse ought to be extremely alarmed by now. The same wave of independent voters that swept away the GOP's majorities in the House and Senate in 2006 could do the same to Democrats, at least in the House, this November. Those most likely to turn out, Republicans hold a huge 15-point lead, 50 percent to 35 percent."

So, David Gergen, looking forward -- this is January, not November. If the Democratic base is demoralized and the Republicans are energized, how do you change it between now and then if you're President Obama?

GERGEN: Well, that's the very, very big question that the president's going to face at the State of the Union. I think that's why this is one of the most important State of the Unions we've seen in a long time.

Let's go back to Massachusetts. The intensity level was on the side of Scott Brown. In that debate, he was not only winsome as a personality, not only turned that question of the Kennedy seat but he gave -- he articulated all the dissatisfaction and the anger that a lot of people in Massachusetts, especially independents, felt.

And, as you know, John, he put his finger on the terrorism issue in ways that really were effective, especially on the question of where people were going to be tried.

GERGEN: So the Democrats, if they're going to get -- regain the intensity factor, have got to address this dissatisfaction, not just the quality of the candidate, but address the dissatisfaction. And that starts with jobs. It starts with the deficits. And you have got to get back there.

Yes, they could pass health care. But if they think they're going to pass health care with lots of new spending and lots of deficits that are going to scare the heck out of people, and if the country is opposed to this big health care bill, if they think that's the way they're going to to get back on track, I think they're misreading the message from the country.

I think it has to be jobs and deficits and not a long laundry list of 25 different things that they want to continue fighting for in this next year. They have got to focus and get some things that people say he's addressing my needs and he's going to change it. And he has got to get some things done in Washington that change things on the ground where people live.

KING: Let's talk mostly about the challenge in the State of the Union, but to David's point about terrorism, Celinda, if I'm a candidate, and you're advising me, and I'm running for Senate somewhere. And I say, you know, I'm torn on this one.

Am I for closing Gitmo? Do I think if the Christmas bomber or somebody like that, if they're taken into custody, should they be tried in the federal courts or should they be put in the military -- the tougher military system, you would tell me to say what?

LAKE: Well, we have actually done quite a bit of polling on this. And what we found is that the public really does not have a lot of knowledge about these issues. What's important here is the tone. Be tough with terrorism. And there's no particular partisan advantage here on terrorism. People think that Obama has been pretty tough on terrorism, too.

So the issue is to be tough,.to be resolute in keeping the country safe, and people aren't second-guessing military courts, federal courts. You have got a number of governors who said we think there will be swift justice here, we want to put these people in prison where -- maximum security prisons where no one has ever escaped. So it's the toughness question, I think, much more than the policy (ph).

(CROSSTALK) KING: Neil, before you come in, I think I'm going to ask the control room if we have it. Scott Brown, in celebrating his election on Tuesday night, mostly did focus on jobs and political disaffection. But he had a line about terrorism, and if we have it, I want to play it.

We don't have it. What he said was -- sorry about that, what he said was: "I think our tax dollars should be spent on weapons to defeat them, not lawyers to defend them." I assume, Neil Newhouse, you have faxed that out to your clients all around the country.

NEWHOUSE: Not yet, but that dovetails really well with the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll which showed that suspected terrorists should not have the same rights as citizens by like a three to one margin. It tested through the roof in our polling for Massachusetts. Eric Fehrnstrom I give a ton of credit, ran this campaign. He urged me to...

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Former reporter for this newspaper, The Boston Herald, went on to be a consultant.

NEWHOUSE: Urged me to put this on the tracking. And I'm like, I don't know. You know, we did, it went through the roof. And it came -- you know what, it didn't just test well. Once Scott Brown said it, it came back in the verbatim as what people were saying in our daily polling, that that's a key difference between Martha Coakley and Scott Brown.

BORGER: This was part of the Senate Republicans game plan. I talked to Senator Mitch McConnell sort of around Christmas time. And I said, so what do you think you accomplished as Republicans this year ? And he said two things, one is, we got the public to believe that health care reform isn't working, and secondly, we turned them around on Guantanamo.

We turned them around on this issue of whether you should close Guantanamo and how you should treat prisoners. And then the Christmas bomber happened -- or would-be bomber occurred. And I don't know if your polls showed any difference after he was taken into custody or not, but that...

(CROSSTALK)

NEWHOUSE: It just -- it showed a greater intensity.

(CROSSTALK)

LAKE: But you know, the other thing about this issue is, when you have experts, for example, when you cite that Powell and Gates and Petraeus and a number of these other experts do not agree with this policy, that completely turns the public around too. The public is not in a position to second-guess the details of this policy.

KING: Let me come back to the jobs question, David noted, because it is the defining issue between now and November. Dana, you walk the halls of Capitol Hill every day and the Democratic majority is, to say the least, nervous at the moment.

What are they looking for from this president or are they looking for more than one thing and that's part of the problem? The left might want something different than the center.

BASH: Right. Absolutely. That is a big part of the problem. You know, we've been talking about this for months, be careful what you wish for. They have a very large majority and there are different people who want different things.

But I think just if we can, to ask you about health care, you mentioned there was a Hart survey and said that actually 59 percent of people who voted for Brown, they did not cite health care as one of their top issues.

So we -- just in beat that cover of Capitol Hill, they are all learning the lesson from Massachusetts as -- many of them, as, you know, we have got to change the way we're doing health care, but it wasn't necessarily the substance of the bill that they're doing.

I mean, what lesson should Democrats take from Massachusetts going forward on health care? Because they certainly are trying to figure it out.

(CROSSTALK)

LAKE: ... one is you cannot work on something and not pass it for a whole year when you're in the majority. We need to get it done. And we need to get something done that actually delivers for average people. And right now the right and the Republicans have been far more successful in defining what that health care reform bill is than the Democrats have been.

BASH: So should they shrink it down and just do a couple of things?

LAKE: I think -- no, I think because you can't really make it work, you cannot get people's prices down and you cannot get coverage security unless you pass something substantial.

BORGER: What do you do?

LAKE: You pass something substantial and then you go out and sell it. We have to understand that we have paid a huge price for the president not having a plan out there that we could say, go look at this plan. Go Google it. If you find abortion in there, let us know.

KING: So was it a mistake for him to defer and let Congress take so much time?

LAKE: It certainly was a political and message mistake, whether it was a policy mistake, I don't know. But it was a huge message and political mistake.

NEWHOUSE: But if the lesson the Democrats...

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Come on in, David. GERGEN: I just want to get this straight on the polling. You know, The Washington Post poll has something different about the health care message out of Massachusetts. It said eight in 10 Brown voters oppose the health care plan in Massachusetts. That among all voters, it was opposed 48-43. It doesn't seem to me you can't read those numbers and come away feeling that health care -- and health care was the number one issue cited by voters that you can come away feeling that Massachusetts voters didn't send a message about the health care plan.

LAKE: Except, David...

GERGEN: I don't understand how to read that into that.

LAKE: Except, David, when you ask the specifics of the health care plan, like preexisting conditions, making Medicare solvent, dealing with the doughnut hole, then people would flip their position. I mean, what -- people have no idea.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: ... vote against it.

LAKE: That motivated his base. But health care motivates our base too.

NEWHOUSE: If the Democrats believe that all they need to do now is do a better job of communicating their plans, then they are really looking at a devastating November election.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Very quick time-out. I need to call time-out. One more quick break so that we have about 20 seconds when we come back for a very quick lightning round.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Back for our lightning round and to David Gergen first. One sentence, David, the message of the moment.

GERGEN: To President Obama, focus on only a few things, get to the middle and take charge.

LAKE: Pass the change we promised and we'll win in November. Start with jobs and health care.

NEWHOUSE: Independents changed the way Washington is working and I'm going to put a yard sign right now in my yard for Scott Brown so that other politicians remember that.

BORGER: You can't ask for big government when the trust in government right now in this country is lower than it was during Watergate.

BASH: If they want things different in Washington, and if they walk the halls of Congress like I did, they would see that the voters are right. Things really haven't changed just in terms of the way things work in Washington. It's pretty much the same and if they want to change it, they're going to have to listen to the voters.

KING: David Gergen, Gloria Borger, Dana Bash, Neil Newhouse, Celinda Lake, thanks for coming, we should do this again. This was a lot of fun, everybody. Make sure now the next step in this conversation is the president's State of the Union Wednesday night. Watch it right here with us on CNN.

And up next our conversation at Mike's City Diner in Boston about what we've just been talking about, the big message for Massachusetts in its Senate race. You want to listen to this, you might be surprised.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: If you've shared a Sunday with us before, you know I like to find a good diner to fuel up and to talk politics. Now we learned quite a bit being home back in my home state of Massachusetts this week. So take a closer look at what puts Republican Scott Brown over the top and we'll put that win into context. Let's remember Massachusetts. Senator Ted Kennedy held the seat Republican Brown just won for nearly 47 years. The last time Massachusetts sent a republican to the United States Senate was back in 1972. And in 2008, just 14 months ago, President Obama, then candidate Obama carried Massachusetts by more than 26 points, 62 percent to 36 percent.

So, how did a Republican sweep the victory? Well, we wanted to see just what happened. His biggest boost, Scott Brown's boost came from Independent voters. But what was most stunning to me was the dour mood among Democrats at Mike City's Diner. It's in Boston's blue collar South End. Breakfast with three Democrats, three Obama voters whose hunger for change has not been satisfied.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Anyone at this table vote for Scott Brown in this election? One, why?

VICTORIA VIGNA, WAITRESS: Honestly, I think that he's really what the people need. And I am a democrat and to say I voted Republican was, I was like, oh, my god, I'm voting Republican. But, honestly, I think I chose the right person for the job.

KING: How did a Republican win in a state that President Obama carried by 26 points just 14 months ago?

AL PERRY, RETIRED HEALTH CARE EXECUTIVE: Well, to me, it's pretty clear that people are disappointed in the change that we were all expecting to see with a Democratic president, Democratic- controlled Congress and what we see is just more fighting and nothing getting done, seemingly.

CANDICE BROOKS, MARKETING EXECUTIVE: I literally stood over the ballot and I was like, almost Scott Brown, I was almost there. I really was on the fence.

KING: Is there, and if the answer is yes, what do you see it being, a national message in this vote?

BROOKS: I think there's a misconception about Massachusetts. I think that the reason why Ted Kennedy was so successful in this state is that he straddled both parties. He had this unbelievable ability to reach across party lines and get things done. And I think that there are more independents in this state than people realize.

KING: But to his point about Obama made promises on the economy, he made promises on the health care and made promises on a whole list of issues but sort of the fundamental promise was I'll change Washington. We're going to be post-partisan. We're going to get along. We're going to be grown-ups. It's not going to be so poisonous. Does it look any different a year later?

BROOKS: No.

KING: are people any happier about the economy than they were at the end of 2008 or are they more agitated and anxious about the economy?

VIGNA: I think people are more agitated and anxious and a lot of people's attitude is what has really changed? Really? And there's a lot of people that are not working. In the last like six months, it has been very, very hard to make money because people just aren't spending like they were.

KING: So, what should he do now and what should the national democrats do now? Should they be defiant and say it's one race, forget about it and keep going on health care, keep going with their priorities, or should the president take a message and say at least Independent voters say they wanted a Republican in Massachusetts, maybe I should move to the middle. Maybe I should focus on the deficit and on jobs and scale back and maybe do a more --

PERRY: Maybe they need to reevaluate what is important to people and I think, I think this polarization, which has gotten worse and worse and worse over the years, as much as Obama, maybe Congress needs to step back and say what do the American people really want here? And are we serving them? Are we simply here to gain power for our own party? And that is what it seems to me.

When the Republicans, you know, I just have to look at which party is worse. I'm not fond of either one now. I used to be a Republican, now I'm a Democrat, now I'm going to become an Independent and I can understand why tea party people are so upset because nobody is being served by either party in Washington, I think.

VIGNA: I mean, I'm a Democrat, but I just voted for a Republican for Senate and I did it because in my heart and in my gut, that told me that I'm doing the right thing.

BROOKS: The system, in a way, righted itself. I'm not upset about, even though I voted for her, I'm not upset that she lost because I think that, I think that we need change and to use an overused statement and, you know, maybe he has something to bring to the table.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Evidence there at Mike's City Diner in Boston, a great meal and a lot of evidence the Democrats have a lot of rebuilding to do, even in Massachusetts. I'm John King and this is "State of the Union."