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CAMPBELL BROWN

Primary Tuesday

Aired May 18, 2010 - 20:00   ET

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


CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: We have got breaking news tonight on the elections across the nation. Polls just closing or they are about to close in Pennsylvania, Arkansas and Kentucky. More primaries took place today than on any day so far this year. And they could give us a real snapshot of what to expect in November, show us the depth of voters' anger, the strength of the Tea Party, and the potential peril that may be facing incumbent lawmakers of both parties.

Tonight, the best political team in television is out in the battlefields.

Candy Crowley is at Specter headquarters in Philadelphia. Jessica Yellin is with Rand Paul in Bowling Green, Kentucky. And Dana Bash is at Blanche Lincoln's headquarters in Little Rock.

But we are going to start tonight with Wolf Blitzer, who is watching the returns for us. He will be watching them all night.

Wolf, what do we have so far? Where do things stand right now?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, in Kentucky, we have projected a winner in Kentucky. Let's show our viewers what is going on.

Rand Paul, he is an eye surgeon, an ophthalmologist, the son of Congressman Ron Paul, the Republican congressman from Texas. He will be the Republican Senate candidate going forward in November. Look at this, with 37 percent of the vote now in, he's got a sizable lead, 59 percent to 37 percent over Trey Grayson. He was the establishment candidate, the secretary of state of Kentucky.

Grayson, unfortunately for him, couldn't even be -- isn't even carrying his own home county, Boone County in Kentucky, right now.

Let's take a look on the Democratic side. It's a little bit closer with 37 percent of the precincts in. Jack Conway, he is the attorney general of Kentucky. He is ahead of Dan Mongiardo, the lieutenant governor, 51 percent to 37 percent -- 37 percent of the vote is in, but we have not been able to project a winner here, but Conway clearly ahead with more than a third of the vote now in.

Two other contests we're watching very closely, of course, in Pennsylvania, the polls have now closed in Pennsylvania, the Democratic Senate primary. Arlen Specter, he is running for his political life right now. He is being challenged by Joe Sestak, the Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania. The results will be coming in shortly, Campbell, and we will be watching that. And we will also be watching very closely what is happening in Arkansas, Blanche Lincoln, the incumbent Democratic senator in Arkansas, facing a stiff challenge from Mark -- from Bill Halter, the lieutenant governor of Arkansas, Bill Halter challenging her from the left. So, we will see what is going to happen in Arkansas.

So, all these races coming up, Campbell, so we will be watching them very, very closely.

BROWN: All right, Wolf.

And, as we mentioned before, we have crews stationed at all the key battlegrounds. Chief political correspondent Candy Crowley is at Arlen Specter's campaign headquarters in Philadelphia. And national political correspondent Jessica Yellin is with Rand Paul, the Rand Paul campaign in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

Jessica, let me start with you here.

Rand Paul had a big win tonight over the Republican establishment candidate. Is he the new face of the Tea Party here?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: For the moment, Campbell, yes, he is. He is the first state-wide elected -- statewide official -- statewide candidate to win as a Tea Party person.

And he firmly identifies with the movement. He came from the movement. And when I spoke to voters here, supporters of Rand Paul, at this gathering, they said that his victory should send a clear message to the Republican Party that the Tea Party is here to stay, that it's a real force.

And one person said it's time to blow up the party. Their message is essentially -- one person said, we have to be less like Democrats, meaning, we have to spend less.

There is a very clear and strong sense among those gathered here that this is more than a local race. It's a national message to the party that it's time to change,. And if it's ironic that the Tea Party candidate is having his victory celebration at a country club, it's lost on these folks. They're nothing but smiles tonight, Campbell.

BROWN: All right, Jessica. Of course, the challenge for him is going to be the general election and whether he will attract enough moderates.

But let me go to Candy now.

Polls have had Sestak and Specter neck and neck. You've been in Pennsylvania all day, I know. Specter has held this seat in Pennsylvania for almost 30 years, or has been in politics in Pennsylvania for 30 years. If he loses the primary, what is the take- home message to Washington here?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a bit of a complicated one in Pennsylvania, because there were two things that Arlen Specter was fighting against. One was the anti- incumbent move, the anti-Washington mood.

He has been there for 30 years. That's a lot of time to have to try and shake off for voters who are sick and tired of what they see going on in Washington. But the other thing -- and this may really be what hurt Specter the most -- that is that, up until about a year ago, he was a Republican.

And when you are talking about a closed primary -- that is, only Democrats could vote today in the Democratic primary. So, these are the hard-core Democrats. If you show up for a primary in a midterm, you are a constant voter. Those are the people that are, if you will, the most Democratic, the most assuredly Democratic votes.

And here is a man who changed parties just a year ago, and they have known him for 30 years as a Republican. Ed Rendell, the governor, who supported Specter, along with a host of other officials, including the president, who supported Specter, Ed Rendell said, look, it's a tough sell when you're associated with Bush.

And that's exactly what Joe Sestak, who is opposing Specter, did, is that he pulled out old video of Specter being endorsed by George Bush in one of his last campaigns, with Bush singing the praises of Specter. You associate someone with George Bush at this point, one of his supporters said, and it just really is kind of like the kiss of death to Democrats.

So they just -- the Democrats just probably could not move themselves. There were many of them. Now, look, the votes are still coming in. But I can tell you that, around Senator Specter, folks are pretty down. They don't think they got enough votes coming out of Philadelphia, where they really needed a big turnout to kind of overcome what might happen elsewhere. So, this is a campaign that is not feeling that great about what they might see tonight.

BROWN: All right, Candy Crowley for us tonight, and Jessica Yellin, who was joining us earlier.

Everybody, stand by. We are just getting started.

Coming up, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, who Candy just mentioned, is here, helping us handicap what may be the most closely watched race of the evening.

And an energized Tea Party flexing its muscles with a big win tonight in the Kentucky Senate race, their guy, Rand Paul, now the Republican candidate. We have the best political team on television. Don't go anywhere.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: If outsiders win big in tonight's elections, the reason may be found in your wallet, the economy remaining issue number one.

Anger and fear that the country is not going in the right direction or not doing so fast enough would be a likely, if not the driving force in shaking up the Senate. And many in the Tea Party movement point to runaway government spending as their biggest motivation to get involved.

And tonight the movement logs a big win in Kentucky. Tea Party candidate Rand Paul has won the Republican Senate primary there.

And with me right now is CNN senior political analyst Gloria Borger, Mark Halperin, whose stories can be read right now, we should mention, at TIME.com. And also here tonight is CNN contributor and Republican strategist Mary Matalin, CNN contributor and DailyBeast.com senior political columnist -- that's a mouthful -- John Avlon, and CNN political contributor and Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, who is joining us tonight from Washington.

And, Mary, let me start with you and get your response to Rand Paul's victory and what that means for the general election, what it means more I think for the party in general.

MARY MATALIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, what it means is that he is emblematic of constitutionalism, if you will, where you cited a lot of things that are the conventional wisdom, and they're all -- that doesn't make them untrue. But there is something deeper and more reflective going on out there, which is that people are running around with their Constitutions.

And because of his -- the identification with his father or a year of working it hard, that's really what that version of the Tea Party represents. It wasn't anti-establishment so much there as, this is the message.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure it was.

MATALIN: It's the role of government.

BORGER: You don't think it was anti-establishment that his opponent was endorsed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Vice President Dick Cheney, and, you know, members of the Republican establishment convinced his opponent to run because they didn't like Rand Paul?

MATALIN: From that perspective, it's anti-establishment.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: All right, Mary, so, which is it?

MATALIN: Well, that's a very easy thing to say that the message we're going to take from tonight is anti-establishment.

If you're a member of the establishment, and you're not for expansive government or statism or any of those things that were the essence of the Tea Party rising in the first place, you will be fine. So, it's just not just anti-establishment. It's bigger than that.

(CROSSTALK)

MATALIN: And if we came -- if we come away saying that's what that race was about, because Mitch McConnell in particular has not been offensive to these constitutionalists or Tea Party people. He has held the line in the Senate pretty well through this....

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: But here is the...

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: Go ahead, Donna. Jump in here.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: This was Mr. McConnell's hand-picked candidate in a state that he represents the United States Senate.

There is an internal civil war taking place, a revolt in the Republican Party. We saw it down in Florida with Charlie Crist. We have seen it before. It's going on right now in Arizona with John McCain, and now in Kentucky. This was a revolt against the establishment in Washington.

BROWN: But Mitch McConnell does seem to be reading the writing on the wall, I guess if you could put it that way. He is like holding this rally now, I read, to try to unify the Tea Party with the more establishment side of the party.

(CROSSTALK)

MARK HALPERIN, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, "TIME": He has for several weeks known that this was the likely outcome. And he has sent messages for several weeks that he will work with Rand Paul.

In Rand Paul's base message, his core message, less government, return to the fundamentals of the Constitution, that is a great message for the Republican Party. And I think the press overstates the extent that that is a different message than Mitch McConnell and other Republicans would like to run on.

Mitch McConnell has repudiated tonight. He doesn't care. He just wants to win the seat. And Rand Paul I think is probably a stronger candidate, just as the president doesn't care that Arlen Specter might lose, as long as he keeps the seat.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: Right.

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: But something else is going on here, too, which is that we're seeing the beginning, oddly enough, of the Ron Paul dynasty.

He won the CPAC straw poll. This is a guy who had been an enormous intellectual leader of the grassroots conservative movement right now. And there's been an open question as to, who is going to succeed him, who is going to take that message forward? Well, now it appears it just might be his son in Kentucky.

MATALIN: This is just a slight tweak on that, the difference between conventional conservatives and libertarians, which is was what CPAC was overrun by. I'm not saying that in a negative way.

And that is a strain of conservatism, and an important one. You have said it much more eloquently about what was happening in that thing. But I want to speak to Donna's point, the revolt in the Republican Party. As we look at the other states that are going on tonight, there are very big -- you can call it revolts, whatever -- there are two distinct Democratic parties, always have been.

And what is going on tonight is, Obama's bitter clingers are going to show up in these races in Arkansas and Pennsylvania and...

(CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: But, Mary, this is a battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party. That's what is taking place in Kentucky. That's what is taking place in Florida, Colorado, Arizona.

The Republican Party is trying to come out of the wilderness. And I guess what tonight signals is that Rand Paul and the Tea Party movement is ready to take control.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Donna, you have got the same -- you have got the same argument that is going on in the Democratic Party right now in the state of Arkansas, right?

Blanche Lincoln's a middle-of-the-road candidate. She is being attacked by the left, and she is being attacked by the right of the party. So, it's really in both parties, you have folks on either side and centrists saying, what is going on in Washington?

BROWN: All right. Hold that thought, because we're going to get to the Democrats in a minute.

And I just want to mention, too, that Rand Paul is expected to speak within the hour, and we're going bring you that live when it happens.

Stay with us, the results coming in fast. The polls have now closed in two key states, Kentucky and Pennsylvania. Ed Rendell, Pennsylvania's big-time governor, will give us the lay of the land in that key state.

Much more of our special election coverage -- coming up right ahead. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD)

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (D), PENNSYLVANIA: My change in party will enable me to be reelected.

NARRATOR: For 45 years, Arlen Specter has been a Republican politician.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Arlen Specter is the right man for the United States Senate. I can count on this man. See, that's important. He is a firm ally.

NARRATOR: But now:

SPECTER: My change in party will enable me to be reelected.

NARRATOR: Arlen Specter switched parties to save one job -- his, not yours.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: Arlen Specter crucified by his challenger in that campaign commercial for switching parties in the run-up to tonight's primary.

But that is not the only Pennsylvania race where the "throw the bums out" thinking could be in play. There is a special election to replace the late Democratic Congressman John Murtha, who had served for more than 35 years.

A GOP businessman is taking on a Murtha staffer in that race. If the seat does go Republican after all this time, it would be considered big trouble for the Democratic Party.

And let me bring in right now one of the major players on the political scene tonight in Pennsylvania, and nationwide, frankly, the state's Democratic governor, Ed Rendell, joining us right now.

Governor Rendell, a large turnout in Philadelphia for your candidate here, Arlen Specter, was needed to win. Do you think you got it?

GOV. ED RENDELL (D), PENNSYLVANIA: No, we didn't get a large turnout. But the turnout around the state was depressed by pretty bad weather.

The good news, Campbell, was, in the east, the last three hours, 5:00 through 8:00, the rain stopped, and I think we had a rush to the polls. But we don't have a large turnout, but there wasn't a large turnout in any place in the state. so, it remains to be seen what is going to happen.

BROWN: So, explain to -- your thinking here, why you backed Arlen Specter, who had been a Republican for 44 years of his career, and a Democrat for just over one, over the Democratic Congressman Joe Sestak?

RENDELL: Well, first of all, Arlen Specter, during his 29 years as a Republican senator, never asked anybody whether they were Democrat or Republican or independent. He helped every area of Pennsylvania.

When I was mayor of the city, Campbell, for eight years, when I was mayor of the city, he helped us in every single way possible, even though he never got more than 30 percent of the vote in Philadelphia. He delivered for this state in unprecedented ways. That's number one.

Number two, he saved the economy of this country by casting the deciding vote for stimulus. It was a courageous vote. He knew exactly the trouble he was getting into in his party. And then Democratic Barack Obama, Democrat Joe Biden, Democrat Ed Rendell, Democrat Mike Nutter, we all asked him to become a Democrat.

BROWN: You told Politico, I know, that robo-calls, radio ads, through those methods, Democrats in your state would know that President Obama wanted Senator Specter to win. But, if that's the case, why do you think the president and the vice president didn't come and campaign for him?

RENDELL: Well, maybe because their last-minute appearances in New Jersey and Virginia and Massachusetts didn't do much good.

But the TV ad he did for Arlen Specter, where he ends up by saying, "I love Arlen Specter," Campbell, I ran 14 times in my career. Nobody who endorsed ever said, "I love Ed Rendell." It's a very impactful ad.

(LAUGHTER)

RENDELL: And let me tell you, there isn't a Democrat in this state who went to the polls who didn't know that Barack Obama wanted Arlen Specter elected.

BROWN: All right, fair point there.

You said that, in this race, Senator Specter is a lightning rod, frankly, for all of the anti-incumbent feeling out there. We have talked about that tonight. But do you think that feeling is also becoming not just anti-incumbent, but more anti-Democratic?

RENDELL: No, not at all.

In fact, if you saw the latest nationwide poll, it's now 45-40 generic Democratic Congress over Republican Congress. And I think that's an indication that it isn't anti-Democrat. It's anti- incumbent. And you saw what happened to Senator Bennett. If you had told me in January that Senator Bennett was not even going to be allowed to run in his own primary, I would have said, that's nuts. That's nuts.

It's anti-incumbent. It's not anti-Democrat. And, by the way, in the Critz district, Campbell, that district voted for Senator McCain in the presidential election. So, even though it's Democratic registration, it's Republican performance. But I think Critz is going to win there, too.

BROWN: So, bigger picture, finally, let me ask you, do you think that the Democratic political establishment here, that the White House in particular, has a strategy to win in November, or at least avoid getting completely thumped?

RENDELL: Sure. I think that strategy has to be to drive the economy in any way possible.

I think one of the reasons you saw those generic numbers for Congress switch a little bit, move towards the Democrats, is we have had two fairly good employment months. Now, we have got a long way to go. But if the economy keeps improving, I think we're going to surprise a lot of people. I'm not saying we're going to gain seats, but I don't think our losses are going to be nearly as much as everyone is predicting.

BROWN: Governor Rendell, appreciate your time tonight. Thank you so much.

RENDELL: Thanks, Campbell.

BROWN: And we are still waiting on results out of Pennsylvania, standing by, as the numbers continue to come in tonight.

Also coming up, incumbents, beware. As we have been talking about, a lot of anger out there -- will anyone really be safe this coming November? We will talk about that when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: As we put together tonight's special election coverage, it was not lost on us that, while only four states are holding primaries today, the results can matter across the country flat-out to November.

Even Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner agree. Incumbents across the land are nervous. Just in the last few days, a Democratic congressman lost his own primary in West Virginia, and a Republican senator, Bob Bennett, was bounced at the state GOP convention in Utah.

Tonight, as we just spoke with -- to Governor Ed Rendell about, Arlen Specter will see if his gamble, defecting to the Democratic Party, will keep him around for a sixth term.

And, in Arkansas, two-term Democrat Blanche Lincoln faces an insurgency right now from the left.

So, back with me now to talk about all this, especially this focus on incumbents, Gloria Borger, Mark Halperin, Mary Matalin, John Avlon, and Donna Brazile.

And, Mark, let me ask a more big-picture question to start, because there is always this attempt to nationalize elections like this. Are we being fair in that, or is this a case where more local issues really are at play than we're giving credit to?

HALPERIN: No, there are some -- there are definitely some lessons tonight, particularly in this Pennsylvania House race that we haven't talked about yet.

The reality is, most incumbents, the vast majority of incumbents are going to win in November. That's just the reality. This is not going to be a year -- there is never a year where every incumbent loses or the majority of incumbents lose.

What is interesting to me about that question is how you save yourself if you're an incumbent. Arlen Specter, when he switched parties, famously said, "I'm doing this to save my job."

In the last 48 hours, as I think his staff has probably read some things that have been written on blogs and by journalists, realizes, you know what, he should be talking about the voters. And he's been talking about what he has done to help voters.

I think, even if you're not for big government, even if you're a Republican incumbent who is for small government, if you talk about what you have done to earn your job, I think incumbents can save themselves. I don't think the mood is so overwhelming.

The problem is if you're out of touch with what voters want and you're not addressing their concerns.

BROWN: Donna Brazile, Specter, clearly, there is this anti- incumbent mood around the country, to some extent. Is he going to be a victim of that or is it other issues?

BRAZILE: You know, it was always an uphill climb for Senator Specter when he switched parties last spring.

And while Democrats clearly supported his support for the stimulus bill, Senator Specter had to travel around the state as a Democrat. He had to convince Democratic voters that he was the real deal, that he was trying to save their jobs, that he was trying to help the president with his agenda.

So, this was always an uphill fight for Senator -- Senator Specter. But I agree with Mark. I do believe that, if incumbents can go back and tell voters what they have done to help them in this recession, and what they're trying to do to bring back jobs and the economy, I think incumbents will do very well across the country this year.

BROWN: Is that the takeaway, that -- to address this anger?

BORGER: Yes, absolutely.

But I think, with Arlen Specter, I mean, he is the wrong candidate at the wrong time. Here, you have a five-term incumbent who changes parties to become a Democratic in a year that is going to probably be pretty bad for Democrats. And he is seen as an opportunist. And this plays into the whole anti-Washington theme. It's not so much anti-incumbent. It's anti-Washington, where I live, and why don't you folks get anything done, and why aren't you fixing the economy, and why aren't you making my life any better, and why do you just bicker all the time and do nothing? That's not right. That's not left. That's your folks, independents, right?

(LAUGHTER)

AVLON: Yes. That's independents in the center. That's right.

But one thing we are seeing in these primaries, if you're talking about a close partisan primary, and that calculus is part of the reason why Arlen Specter left. Probably he couldn't beat Pat Toomey this time. Only narrowly beat him last time. He was with President Bush's endorsement.

It's that, you know, we see both parties have embraced this rash of rhino hunting and dino hunting this year. You know, they're chasing out what they call Republicans in name only and Democrats in name only. And Arlen Specter has the added degree of difficulty of being actually fairly a Democratic name only. A swing senator for a swing state might be working in a different year, but this year exactly this time.

CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Mary?

MARY MATALIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think they're in rhino- dino. Ed Rendell, and we do love Rendell. I don't know why he says (INAUDIBLE). We love him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We love him.

MATALIN: He said something very telling which was that Specter cast that very difficult deciding vote for stimulus. The stimulus passage was the beginning of the softening of support for Obama, which -- and he came in with unparalleled support. And that softening of support hardened by the end of the summer, and Specter became emblematic of that in a way that Rand Paul became emblematic of the tea party. But face it, we (INAUDIBLE) Obama saying I love Arlen Specter and Bush saying I love -- voters are just like, I've had it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right.

MATALIN: -- for all of those reasons. That is icky. You have two competing spots from two presidents saying the same thing about you.

BROWN: But let me -- we haven't talked much about this race but then in Arkansas you mentioned how he may ultimately be a victim of his vote on the stimulus. But Blanche Lincoln, we're looking at this race in Arkansas who's getting so much heat because she didn't support the public option during the health care debate. How many victims not necessarily in this cycle, but longer term are there going to be of the health care debate and decisions that were made relating to that?

MATALIN: I think the Obama people made a strategic decision. They took -- they said if they didn't pass it, it would be worse than passing it. And once they pass it, everybody will forget about it. It's only hardened the intensity. The opposition has only hardened. What can actually be done is still an amorphous thing. But a race in Arkansas goes back to what we were speaking of earlier is this war, Donna, in the Democratic Party. But these fissures are very deep. They always have been there and that will have more profound impact.

The tea party people are just rejuvenating old-time conservatism. The Democratic Party is showing their Trotskyism (ph).

BROWN: All right, guys, stand by. We're going to take another quick break. But coming up, we're going to talk a little bit about the Obama effect here. Is the president really helping, or is he in some ways hurting his party in tonight's high-stake races? That right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Tonight's breaking news, the elections that could set the national political agenda. The voters' choices in a handful of states matter to all of us, including President Obama. The backlash threatening incumbents could also deliver a blow to moderates, sending Congress running for the extremes left and right, and spelling a whole new level of gridlock.

Polls in Arkansas closed just a few minutes ago. We want to go right now to Wolf Blitzer for the early numbers there, as well as from Pennsylvania and Kentucky. Wolf, what have you got?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Very early numbers in Pennsylvania. Let's start first of all in Pennsylvania, the Democratic Senate primary.

Arlen Specter and Joe Sestak, they're in a battle right now. The early numbers coming in very, very preliminary. So we're not ready to even report on that yet. We have reported that Rand Paul is the winner of the Kentucky Republican Senate primary, beating Trey Grayson rather decisively, 60 percent of the vote officially now. Win 60 percent for Rand Paul, the son of Ron Paul, the Republican congressman from Texas. And Grayson 36 percent. Rand Paul a favorite of the tea party movement.

On the Democratic side in Kentucky, a closer contest. Sixty percent of the precincts in.

Jack Conway, the Kentucky attorney general, he is ahead 48 percent to Dan Mongiardo, the Kentucky lieutenant governor, with 40 percent. We have not yet been able to project a winner there. We are watching what's happening in Arkansas right now. Blanche Lincoln, she is the Democratic incumbent running for a third term, facing Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter. He's challenging her from the left. The polls have just closed in Arkansas, Campbell. So we'll watch that closely. There's a lot of -- lot of results still to come in tonight.

BROWN: Indeed, Wolf. We'll be checking back in with you, of course. And Dana Bash is at Senator Lincoln's campaign headquarters in Little Rock. And, Dana, as Wolf said the polls just closed in Arkansas. This has been another feisty race. Both candidates trying to prove they are the anti-Washington candidate here. Who do you think was better able to drive the message home?

DANA BASH, CNN SR. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, I think initially it seems to have been the opponent, the Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter, because he genuinely is outside. He is not in Washington. He is here in Arkansas. And it's very interesting, because yes, he was challenging Blanche Lincoln from the left officially, because he is within the Democratic primary. But he was very much trying to be the outside candidate. But at the very end, I think the Lincoln campaign got it, and she got it more. And so she was talking up the whole idea of her yes being a senator, but not really being one of them. She's really a mom. She's really a daughter. She's really a wife and she's really an Arkansan. And that was really what she drove home hard at the end, and that she's trying to fight Wall Street and fight the institutions from Washington.

It seems as though just in the anecdotal discussions that I have with some voters, that seem to have penetrated at the end. Will it be the point that gets her over 50 percent to avoid a runoff in a couple of weeks? Who knows?

BROWN: And, Dana, I know you talked to a lot of the voters today. Just give us a general sense of what you were hearing from folks today.

BASH: You know, very interesting. Some of what we heard here, Campbell, we could have probably heard from voters anywhere in the country in these times and that is you know what? Senator Lincoln, some of them said, she's a nice person. We understand that she's trying to do the best job that she can, but we're just done with Washington and we want a change. And that she's the best way that we can, you know, register that vote.

Now other people, though, have said that some of what she is trying to express to them, which is that she is an incumbent and she is seniority and experience and don't throw her out because you'll be hurt by that, that actually seems to have resonated with other voters that I talked to. It really is a classic incumbent message that you've heard on the campaign trail, I've heard on the campaign trail. In most years, it works because people say oh, we don't like Congress, but we're OK with our senator or congressman. This year it's a lot more dicey because the anger is so stark out there. So it's been very interesting to hear what candidates have been saying, what we've been hearing across the country. Really from voters themselves as they've been going to the polls today.

BROWN: All right, Dana bash for us tonight. Dana, thanks.

Coming up, President Obama talking up the economy today, but he was relatively quiet on the actual campaign trail. But why was he a no-show? And how will the president's record play out at the ballot box? We'll talk about that when we come back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know it's still tough. I know a lot of times the future still feels uncertain. And I'm not going to stand here and pretend that things are back to normal or even close to where they need to be.

I read too many letters each night from people who are hurting, who are still out of work. So I know things are still tough out there. But I will tell you one thing. It's people like you, people in towns like Youngstown all across America that I'm thinking about every single day when I go to the Oval Office.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: President Obama not on the ballot, but still very much on the minds of voters tonight. He was not out stumping for Democrats in Kentucky, Pennsylvania or Arkansas. But the president was in economically hard-hit Ohio today, pushing for jobs in an area where there are few to be had. And with the economic picture still a big question mark, will President Obama's coattails help or hurt in this election?

With me now once again: CNN's senior political analyst Gloria Borger; Mark Halperin, senior analyst for "Time" magazine; CNN contributor and Republican strategist Mary Matalin; and CNN contributor, dailybeast.com, senior political columnist, John Avlon; and CNN political contributor and Democratic strategist Donna Brazile as well.

Mark, what is tonight going to say about President Obama about his political strength right now.

MARK HALPERIN, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Well, the race that Gloria and I both mentioned is Pennsylvania race is Tim Burns is the Republican nominee there, right? It's an open seat. And I went on his Web site today and I looked around. It is very hard to find the name of President Obama on his Web site. It is not featured prominently.

You think back to 1994 when the Republicans had their great year picking up a lot of House seats. Bill Clinton was the issue in the swing districts. This is the ultimate swing district. It's the only district in the country that John Kerry won and then John McCain won. And yet the Republican candidate there is not emphasizing trying to link the Democrat with Barack Obama. To me that suggests the president's position is not as weak as some of the commentary.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: But is linking it to Nancy Pelosi, right?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sure, there you go.

BORGER: Right? Exactly, because --

HALPERIN: But again --

BORGER: I spoke with somebody who's running the race for the Republicans or among those who said Nancy Pelosi tests pretty well in this district. And you know, this district as you say --

HALPERIN: As a negative.

BORGER: As a negative. That's what I mean, yes, from their point of view.

This is really important, this district, because there is no incumbent. It's a real race between a Democrat and a Republican. And you're going to see who wins. And if the Republicans think that they can win, say, more than 50 seats in the House, they ought to be able to win this congressional district.

HALPERIN: They got to win.

BORGER: It's very conservative, you know, pro-life, pro-gun, working class. It was inhabited by --

MATALIN: This is what Obama calls the bitter clingers, right?

BORGER: Right. Well, yes, that was --

HALPERIN: But why isn't that quote right on the page?

BORGER: Yes.

BROWN: All right, guys, stand by for one second. We've got a live picture here. This is Rand Paul who is stepping up to the podium right now. You saw I believe that was his father in the shot just a moment ago. Ron Paul who is out of frame right now, but he is about to make a statement. Let's listen for a second.

RAND PAUL (R), GOP SENATE PRIMARY WINNER: What a great night. I couldn't do anything and do any of this without my best friend and confidante, my wife Kelly.

(APPLAUSE)

I'd like to introduce my boys, Robert and Duncan, who made phone calls and also went door to door and actually gave introductions and speeches, and my son William, who put up hundreds of signs for me.

(APPLAUSE)

For teaching me to respect the constitution, for teaching me individual responsibility as well as what individual freedom is about, for raising me and I hope doing a great job at learning what is right and what is wrong, I want to thank my parents, Carol and Ron Paul.

(APPLAUSE)

And I want to thank my brothers and sisters and their kids for being here today. And I would introduce all of them, but I might make a mistake. I'd like to thank my staff and all the volunteers, Ryan, Andy, Jesse, Matt, Kristen, Spencer, David Adams, and all the others who have help me. It's been a marvelous ride. We've been a year into this. But tonight is a great victory, and I thank you all.

(APPLAUSE)

I have a message, a message from the tea party. A message that is loud and clear and does not mince words. We have come to take our government back.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

We've come to take our government back from the special interests who think that the federal government is their own personal ATM. From the politicians who bring us oversized fake checks emblazoned with their signature as if it was their money to give. Washington is horribly broken. I think we stand on a precipice. We are encountering a day of reckoning, and this movement, this tea party movement is a message to Washington that we're unhappy and that we want things done differently.

(APPLAUSE)

The tea party movement is huge. The mandate of our victory tonight is huge. What you have done and what we are doing can transform America. I think -- I think America's greatness hinges on us doing something to save the country. The tea party movement is about saving the country from a mountain of debt that is devouring our country and I think could lead to chaos.

We now have a president, though, who apologizes for America's greatness. We have a president who went to Copenhagen and appeared with Robert Mugabe, Hugo Chavez and others, Evo Morales to apologize for the industrial revolution. They say, these dictators, these petty dictators say that to stop climate change, it's about ending capitalism. They are explicit. And the president by attending Copenhagen gives credibility and credence to these folks, and he should not go. America is a great country.

BROWN: You were listening right there to Rand Paul who is, of course, won down in Kentucky, the Republican Senate primary. A statement from Mitch McConnell just released a few minutes ago saying Dr. Paul ran an outstanding campaign which clearly struck a chord with Kentucky voters. I congratulate him on an impressive victory. Now Kentucky Republicans will unite in standing against the overreaching policies of the Obama administration. We're spiraling further into unsustainable debt and Kentucky needs Rand Paul in the U.S. Senate because he will work every day to stop this crippling agenda.

The Republican tea party merging perhaps. We'll talk more about that. Stand by. After the break, we're going to take a quick break. We'll be back with a lot more right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: OK. We've got a few more numbers for you. We're going to turn to Wolf right now for the very latest on the returns tonight. Wolf, what have you got?

BLITZER: Well, we're just getting the first numbers in from Pennsylvania, Campbell. So let me walk up.

Arlen Specter facing a stiff, stiff challenge. The Republican- turned-Democrat. Here he is. Right now, two percent of the precincts have actually reported. Specter with 65 percent. Joe Sestak, the Democratic congressman with 35 percent. But this is very, very early.

There's another interesting race in Pennsylvania we're watching right now. It's not a primary. This is a special election between a Democrat and a Republican to fill the seat of the late John Murtha. And Mark Critz is the Democratic candidate. Tim Burns, the Republican candidate.

Mark Critz worked for Murtha for many, many years. Burns is a businessman. Scott Brown came in to campaign for him. This is a special election. Whoever wins that will be the next congressman from the 12th district in Pennsylvania.

On the Kentucky front, we know that Rand Paul has been elected. He gets the Republican nomination. So he'll be the Republican candidate going forward in Kentucky. He beats Trey Grayson rather decisively, an impressive win. We'll be watching all of these numbers, Campbell, as the night goes on. Arkansas and a lot more.

BROWN: All right, Wolf Blitzer for us tonight with those latest numbers. We're going to take a final quick break. When we come back, we're going to talk about what all this may mean for the midterms come November. Back in a second.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: So final thoughts from our panel tonight about the kind of message that this election may send to incumbents, to challengers gearing up for the midterms in November. Gloria, what do you think?

BORGER: I think that Washington has been put on notice. And I also think that when you look at the mid-term elections, though, it's going to be about Barack Obama. It's going to be about his policies. It's going to be nationalized. And that should scare every single incumbent in Washington in a sense, because they're going to be held accountable.

BROWN: Mark?

HALPERIN: I disagree a little bit listening to that Rand Paul speech. A lot of these challengers who are going to win a lot of these outsiders are inexperienced candidates like Rand Paul. He was great at the beginning of the speech. He focused on the economy, government spending out of control, going to Washington to change it. Then when he started talking about dictators and going to international conferences, I think he veers off message. And the Democrats are hoping particularly that a lot of these inexperienced candidates veer off message so they can be defined and defeated. MATALIN: He was sitting in a room with primary voters, primary conservatives, constitutional conservatives.

HALPERIN: But on television talking to general election voters --

MATALIN: I take your point. But he'll be a disciplined candidate.

Look, New Jersey, Virginia, Massachusetts, West Virginia. Tonight is just more of this continuum. And that's the trajectory. It hardened some months ago and it's going to go all the way to the midterms.

AVLON: But I think you're going to see some folks try to say, oh, this doesn't affect my people. It doesn't affect conservatives. It doesn't affect liberals.

Look, this is an anti-incumbent message. It is an anti- Washington tonight. We saw Rand Paul tonight ride the tea party wave, knocking off the Republican establishment-picked candidate. That is a big deal. And no one should be getting false comfort from tonight's results if their name is attached to Washington.

BROWN: Donna Brazile?

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Democrats have six months to sell their product to the voters, to give them a clear choice, and to remind voters that they got them out of this mess with the recession. If you want to go back to the first six years of the Bush administration, then vote for Rand Paul.

BROWN: And you said it's going to be about Obama.

BORGER: It is.

BROWN: Do you think he's going to be out there in a much bigger way?

BORGER: I think he will be. But there are lots of Democrats I talked to who say stop with the big agenda already. Let's get back to the economy. Let's start talking about jobs, which is what you saw the president doing today. Let's focus on the gains we've made as Donna was talking about. And Democrats say just narrow cast it so we can tell a good story.

BRAZILE: Thank you.

BROWN: Mary --

MATALIN: The problem is they don't have a good story.

BROWN: I'll give you the last word.

MATALIN: There's particularly no hire when the president was. Unemployment exceeds the national average. They don't have a story to tell.

BROWN: All right.

MATALIN: Keep telling that story, Donna.

BRAZILE: Yes.

BROWN: All right, guys. We got to end it there. Many thanks to everybody. Great having you guys here.

That does it for us. "LARRY KING LIVE" starts right now.