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AMERICAN MORNING

N.Y. Democrats in Trouble; The "Fire Pelosi" Tour; Democrats in a Ditch?; Space Shuttle Discovery's Final Launch

Aired November 1, 2010 - 07:00   ET

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


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Good Monday morning to you. It's November 1st, beginning of a brand new month, just a day away from the midterm elections now. I'm John Roberts.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Kiran Chetry. Glad you're with us. Here's a look at the top stories right now.

We start in Yemen where officials are promising tighter security in place at all of its airports following the plot to send mail bombs to the U.S. that originated in Yemen. The near catastrophe is raising concerns about cargo on U.S. found passenger flights. Homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, is working that part of the story.

ROBERTS: America votes in just 24 hours. And polls show Democrats could be in for a drabbing, but National Republican Committee chairman, Michael Steele says, it'll still be a GOP victory even if Democrats hold on to the House. We'll ask him why he's playing down expectations when he joins us live at the bottom of the hour.

CHETRY: There's also a new poll showing Democrats are in big trouble tomorrow. Did President Obama's weekend campaign blitz do enough to save some key seats with just a day to go? We're going to talk to the man whose job it is to keep the Democrats in power, at least in the House of Representatives.

ROBERTS: By this time tomorrow, the American people will be doing the talking -- one more day before the midterm elections. And by the looks of it, the Democrats are in some serious trouble.

CHETRY: According to a new CNN opinion research corporation poll, 51 percent of you believe Democrats will lose power in Congress tomorrow, only 63 percent believe they'll hold on to it. In the Senate, 37 of the 100 seats are up for grabs, 18 of those seats belong to Republicans, 19 to Democrats.

President Obama is stumping in Ohio. He was trying to catch lightning in a bottle like he did in 2008.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I want you to remember this. Don't let anybody tell you this fight isn't worth it. Don't let anybody tell you you're not making a difference.

Because of you, somewhere in Ohio there's a small business owner who kept their doors open in the depths of recession. Because of you, there are nearly 100,000 brave men and women who are no longer at war in Iraq, because of you.

(APPLAUSE)

So don't let them tell you that change isn't possible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: "The Best Political Team on Television" is covering every angle for you this morning. Reports ahead from Jim Acosta, Carol Costello, our chief national correspondent John King, and senior Congressional correspondent Dana Bash.

Let's begin with Jim Acosta, though. He's live with the latest CNN polling. And quite a shocker when it comes to approval ratings for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, that's right, John. This may be the lead story of all the poll numbers that came out from our CNN polling unit over the weekend. This is a shocking un- favorability number for Nancy Pelosi.

Take a look at this -- opinion of house speaker Nancy Pelosi, 53 percent unfavorable, 26 percent favorable. Why is this important? Because these days you're seeing the chairman of the RNC Michael Steele going all over the country wearing "Fire Pelosi t-shirts." Many of the ads running on these hotly contested races for the House all over the country show candidates side-by-side, Democratic candidates side-by-side with Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, saying candidate x would essentially be a rubber stamp for Nancy Pelosi.

So Republicans have personalized these midterm elections, made it very much about the speaker of the House. And that is having an effect on Speaker Pelosi.

Traditionally the last couple of speakers who have lost their jobs, Denny Hastert and Newt Gingrich have essentially left the political scene after losing their jobs. And Nancy Pelosi will obviously win her House race out in San Francisco, but she will lose this -- the job as speaker, of course, if the Republicans take charge.

So it'll be all eyes on Nancy Pelosi to determine what she's going to do if this avalanche does occur on Tuesday.

ROBERTS: Jim, there's so many ways to skin a cat when it comes to polling. You could have registered Democrats, registered Republicans, registered voters. We've got new polls on likely voters, those people who may be inclined to really get out to the polls tomorrow. What do those numbers tell us?

ACOSTA: These are titanic-like poll numbers right now for the Republicans. It's pretty extraordinary when you look at the advantage for Republicans right now over Democrats.

Among likely voters, 52 percent of Americans prefer the Republican candidate -- this is the generic ballot with no name mentioned -- 42 percent for the Democratic candidate. Those are 1994- style polling numbers for the Republicans. These are the numbers they'd like to see heading into the election.

What is behind these numbers? If you get into the weeds of this latest poll from CNN, independents are breaking towards the Republicans. The economy is the top issue for Americans right now. Health care reform, that big divisive issue that the Democrats spent a lot of capital on, ranks nowhere near the top when it comes to issues that concern Americans.

So all the polling numbers, all the data leaning in the Republican direction heading into Tuesday, John.

ROBERTS: Now, of course, these are all national numbers. And with the exception of the Senate, the other races are pretty much local. So how does that translate? Is it just sort of a general mood of the country?

ACOSTA: It is the general mood of the country. And honestly, if you look at President Obama's favorability numbers, he is still holding steady. His numbers have not moved terrible much in the last six months or so.

So this is really a referendum on the Democrats at this point, the Democratic Party and members of Congress. And while it is something that you have to look at sort of race-by-race and state-by- state, overall across the country there's just deep dissatisfaction with the Democratic Party right now, and that is translating into a tidal wave-like election for Republicans at this point.

All of that could be wrong and the Democrats are saying there's still time to pull it out, but it is looking grim at this point.

ROBERTS: Jim Acosta this morning. Jim, thanks.

Ahead this hour at ten minutes after, Congressman Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, he heads the committee responsible for getting Democrats elected to Congress. And then at 30 minutes after the hour, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele will join us and we'll have a chance to ask him about the crazy race in Alaska.

CHETRY: It'll be interesting to get both of their takes. They don't want to play things up and don't want to throw the towel in. There's a day to go and people have to vote.

Ell, to a CNN security watch now. The Yemeni government says that there are new, tighter measurements now in place at all airports in the country. Officials say that every piece of cargo and luggage will now go through extensive searching.

ROBERTS: Yemen is responding to the plot to send two mail bombs to the United States. And this morning we're learning that at least one of the explosive devices may have traveled on passenger planes. Investigators believe both packages bear the mark of Al Qaeda bomb maker Ibrahim Hassan al-Seri.

CHETRY: Yes, he's believed to be the same person who designed the failed underwear bomb that was found last Christmas on a flight to the U.S.

Well, the mail bomb plot reveal some potentially deadly gaps in the screening of air cargo, and the terror scare is raising concerns about the security of cargo on all the U.S.-bound flights. Our Homeland Security Correspondent Jeanne Meserve is live for us in London this morning. This exposed vulnerability, clearly it was caught in time. But the question is, are there more like this out there?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, they are looking at packages from Yemen, sort of backtracking on things to see if there's any additional threat at this point in time.

But they're trying to look forward here. The most recent number we have for screening of inbound cargo is that about 60 percent of it coming to the U.S. is green, which means about 40 percent of it is not.

Administration officials are acknowledging the need to do more in the wake of the bomb plot, but it's a tough problem, and experts say we're never going to be able to eliminate the threat 100 percent of the time.

Some of the problematic issues -- shipments come from all over the world. So any security regime requires international cooperation. And it is not always easy to get buy-in from other countries. Shipments move from country to country and plane to plane, creating opportunities for tampering. Cargo is sometimes in big pallets or in containers, making screening difficult.

Technology has its limitations even when it can be used. X-rays, for instance, wouldn't have detected these PETN bombs. The TSA says incoming flights have to provide cargo manifests prior to arrival in the U.S. And 100 percent of identified high-risk cargo on passenger planes is being screened.

TSA administrator John Pistol also says all cargo flying to the U.S. on passenger or cargo planes is held to TSA standards that include specific requirements covering how facilities and cargo is accessed, the vetting of personnel with access to cargo, employee training and cargo screening procedures.

But this is a far cry from 100 percent screening of the cargo, and administration officials recognize that this system has to be tightened up. Not just in Yemen, but all around the world. It will be a very difficult and very expensive proposition, Kiran.

CHETRY: Absolutely. And the thing that stuck out to me in all of this, even when they were aware of it, it took British officials hours to find what they were talking about. So it just seems you're looking for a needle in a haystack here.

MESERVE: That's right. In this specific incident had very good intelligence, and that's what led them to the device. But it does point out the short comings of the current screening capabilities.

Now, there is a bipartisan cry erupting from members of Congress to close this gap. Among those saying something must be done, the ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PETE KING, (R) NEW YORK: No, I'm not satisfied. The question is, how do we correct it? That's what we have to do. I think we've got to get Congress and the administration and industry itself to sit down and find ways to make cargo planes more secure. They'll probably never be as secure as passenger planes, but we do have to improve the security.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MESERVE: And Democrat Ed Markey of Massachusetts is already pledging to introduce legislation to require 100 percent of screening of all cargo on all cargo planes.

CHETRY: Jeanne Meserve for us on our terror watch this morning, thanks so much.

ROBERTS: Also new this morning, another deadly suspected U.S. drone strike in Pakistan. Intelligence officials in the area say the strike killed five people in northwestern Pakistan, a region where Al Qaeda and Taliban militants are known to be hiding.

CHETRY: And another powerful eruption from Indonesia, this volcano. Thousands of people living in relief camps, they had returned to their homes, hoping to check on their homes to see what was left as well as farm animals. At least 31 people have been killed but the volcano in the past week.

(WEATHER BREAK)

ROBERTS: An Ohio congressman makes a quick exit during a rally with former president Bill Clinton. Was it something the former president did? Find out.

CHETRY: Also, there's a new poll showing Democrats are in big trouble tomorrow. Did President Obama's weekend campaigning blitz do anything to help save some key seats? We'll talk to the man whose job it is to keep them in power about the last-minute push for votes. It's 12 minutes past the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Fifteen minutes past the hour. Welcome back to the "Most Politics in the Morning" now.

Just 24 hours to go before the polls start opening. And there was a new "USA Today"/Gallup poll out this morning showing that Democrats are in trouble, frankly. Fifty-five percent of likely voters say they'll be going Republican, just 40 percent say they'll be voting Democrat tomorrow.

That's the widest margin in this poll since the Democrats had the advantage after Watergate.

Joining us now is Congressman Chris Van Hollen,. He's the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. It's his job to make sure that Democrats stay in power.

Thanks for joining us this morning, Congressman.

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D), MARYLAND: Good morning.

CHETRY: I know that the polls aren't pleasant to read if you have the job that you have. But what's your best assessment right now of how things are going to go tomorrow?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, the polls are bouncing around and you have the ABC/"Washington Post' poll, you had the CNN poll, you obviously have the Gallup poll.

Look, 36 hours from now we'll know. What I believe is that the voters are going to surprise all of these Washington pollsters when they go out. And I think there's early evidence of that fact especially in the early vote.

The early vote has come in in many congressional districts much higher for Democrats than all these pundits were predicting, which is a clear sign that Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters aren't coming after the polls.

The other factor is, large pools of undecided's voters, I mean, all of these pollsters and pundits are telling people how they're going to vote when, in fact, all the data indicates that people are taking a very close look at the candidates. They're doing what we would hope voters would do.

And when they look at the Republican candidates, they're finding that they are way out on the far right. And they're having big second thoughts about this Republican notion that people are just going to run out and vote against the Democrats.

CHETRY: You mentioned some of the other polls. I mean the CNN poll, Rothenberg, the Cook Political Report, all of them showing similar outcome. So I'm curious by what measure do you think that Democrats do actually hold on to power, specifically in the House?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, again, if you go district by district and you look at the early vote numbers, you look at the polling, I'm confident at the end of the day we will have a majority in the House. I think all these pollsters are going to be surprised.

Look, we have this obsession here in the United States about trying to predict what's going to happen 36 hours from now. Let's let the voters vote.

What I can say is that we had a special election in Pennsylvania. It was an open seat, Jack Murtha's open seat, all the pollsters, all the pundits said the Republicans are going to win. At the end of the day, a Democrat won in that district.

The same was true in a number of the other special elections that we've had for Congress. So let the voters decide. Because what they're doing is, again, they're taking a close look at some of these Republican candidates and they don't like what they see. They've been endorsed in many cases by, you know, folks on the very, very far right.

Their agenda would be one that's not mainstream. It's not an effort to try and solve the problems facing the country. It's more an ideological purity test. And so -- a lot of -- a lot of these voters are saying we don't want to go there. In fact, one of the major differences that's not that talked about in all of these polls is that while voters aren't thrilled with the Democrats, compared to 1994, they really don't like the Republicans as alternative.

CHETRY: Yes, but this is the interesting thing. You have a point. I mean when we do the polling, it shows a wide dissatisfaction just among incumbents in general.

VAN HOLLEN: Yes.

CHETRY: But the interesting thing from John Avalon, who's our independent analyst, as you said, that part of it is that when you talk about what the biggest concern is, usually independent voters, which right now seems to be breaking 2 to 1 for the GOP, is because they stand with them more on the pocketbook issues, the employment issues, and maybe they don't feel the same way on social conservative issues.

But right now you have independents saying they're very concerned about the direction of this country.

What is the role of Congress right now to show we're still on the right track? We have a plan to help with this 9.6 percent unemployment and many other woes people are out there facing?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, as you know the Congress just recently passed the Small Business Lending bill, which has already begun to provide greater credit throughout the economy.

The fact is we have seen nine consecutive months of positive private sector job growth. If you flash back 22 months, the night before President Obama was sworn in, we were losing 700,000 jobs in this country.

I think the American people are realistic. They know you can't have a miracle turnaround. They know things don't happen overnight. All of us are frustrated with the pace of recovery.

But independent voters, if you asked them if they want to go back to the economic policies that got us into this mess --

CHETRY: Right.

VAN HOLLEN: And they favored a lot of these big special interests like the big Wall Street banks and others, they don't want to go there. And yet --

CHETRY: Yes, but Congressman, if you look at our latest numbers, it's about has the president paid enough attention to the country's most important problems, 56 percent of the people asked say no.

How much of the Democrats' struggles can be traced back to this sense that perhaps the president really hasn't done enough to fix the economy?

VAN HOLLEN: No, I think that what can -- what you can trace the unrest to is the fact that we do continue to have high unemployment. But then the question voters have is what I think any of us would have is, where do we go from here? And the question is do you want to continue along a path that has helped bring us out of the ditch where we are on a path toward a recovery?

Or do you want to go back to a set of policies that created the mess? And if you look at what Republicans are offering, it is nothing new. It is simply a rehash of the same agenda that created the mess to begin with.

And so when independent voters are making up their minds, they're weighing all of those factors. And look, we're going to know the answer to all of these questions in 36 hours.

CHETRY: Exactly.

VAN HOLLEN: I believe -- I believe that the pundits are going to be proven wrong by the American people.

CHETRY: All right. Well, we'll see what happens. I know you have a busy few days ahead of you, as well. Thanks for spending time with us this morning.

VAN HOLLEN: It's good to be with you this morning.

CHETRY: Congressman Chris Van Hollen from Maryland. Appreciate it -- John.

ROBERTS: Coming up on AMERICAN MORNING, Republicans seem poised to regain control of the House in tomorrow's midterm election. Chris Van Hollen's prognostications aside.

New York, it turns out, is a major battleground in the GOP effort to win a majority. Dana Bash is looking at that for us this morning. It's coming up at 22 minutes after the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Welcome back. It's 24 minutes past the hour right now. We want to show you some stories that got us talking this morning in the newsroom.

This is certainly considered an October surprise, I guess you could say. Ohio Congressman John Boccieri was at a rally with former President Bill Clinton when suddenly he got a very important phone call. And he had to put the campaign on hold and get the heck to the hospital. Here's why.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT: His wife's having a baby? He has to leave? The baby is now being born. Tell him good-bye.

You know what? We have both sets of parents here, the grandparents. You'd be amazed how many times I take a picture with a very pregnant woman and she immediately gives birth like that.

I would like some credit for your fifth grandchild being born into the world.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: Now I didn't know where he was going with that. I thought he was going to say they have both sets of grandparents in the audience, big congratulations.

(LAUGHTER)

CHETRY: Anyway, there's the adorable baby. That's Emma Nancy, born a few hours later. The couple's fifth child. Everyone is doing fine. Including the former president.

(LAUGHTER)

ROBERTS: Including President Clinton.

CHETRY: He's fine this morning.

ROBERTS: He's doing all right. Goodness.

The White House was all decked out for Halloween. The president, the first lady took a break from the campaign trail to answer the door for trick-or-treaters. They invited children from military families and several local schools. They got a box of White House M&Ms, a sweet dough butter cookie from the presidential pastry chef. Those are really good by the way. And dried fruit. Anyone want to trade?

And in New York City thousands came up for the big Greenwich Village Halloween parade. Some of the craziest and most creative costumes you'll ever see.

CHETRY: Oh, yes, and synchronized dancing. I mean -- wow.

ROBERTS: Did you see the Halloween episode of "Modern Family?"

(LAUGHTER)

CHETRY: No.

ROBERTS: It's -- I watched it on Sunday morning just right after I'd taken a sip of coffee. It nearly went all over the house.

CHETRY: I got to check it out on (INAUDIBLE).

ROBERTS: It was very funny.

CHETRY: Well, if polls are right, Republicans are in for some sweeping gains tomorrow when America votes.

So why is Michael Steele, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, playing down some of the expectations on the eve of elections? We're going to ask him when he joins us live next.

Twenty-six minutes past the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Twenty-nine minutes past the hour. It's the final day before the midterm elections, and Democrats will be doing all they can to rally the faithful to get them out to the polls and head off what could be a Republican tidal wave.

ROBERTS: One place that you might think Democrats would feel secure is in the state of New York, but our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash taking a closer look at that says well, maybe not so fast.

Good morning.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. Well, you know, New York is reliable, at least it's known as a reliably blue state in the way it votes.

ROBERTS: Sure.

BASH: And right now the 29 House seats in New York, only two are held by Republicans. But there were a lot more not too long ago, and Republicans are working hard to bring some back tomorrow.

In fact, this state is a major battleground for the GOP in their quest to win the House majority.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): Democratic Congressman John Hall knows all about election year waves. Four years ago he rode one into office, unseating a Republican in this suburban New York district. Now he's fighting a GOP tide.

REP. JOHN HALL (D), NEW YORK: People are not happy because we're not out of the recession yet. And my answer to that is, we shouldn't give the keys to the car back to the people who drove us into the ditch.

BASH: Hall is neck-and-neck with a political novice, an ophthalmologist who preaches Republican doctrine.

NAN HEYWORTH (R), NEW YORK CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: We are becoming, we, as citizens are becoming the servants of our government. They are taking far too much.

BASH: This Westchester congressional district is one of half a dozen Democratic House seats in New York Republicans are trying to snatch. A huge number in one state, and crucial to a GOP House takeover.

(on camera): Can the Republicans win the majority without winning these six seats?

JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, REPUBLICAN POLLSTER: I think it's possible. But this makes it extremely probable.

BASH (voice-over): The Republicans are poised to pick up former Congressman Eric Massa's seat after he resigned amid sexual harassment charges. Democratic Congressman Scott Murphy represents a conservative district in upstate New York. So does Michael Arcuri, they are prime GOP targets as is Bill Owens who took his seat from Republicans in a special election last year.

Democrat (INAUDIBLE) is a freshman who has gotten help from Bill Clinton, but like others in too close to call races is being bombarded by GOP outside groups. Back in suburban New York, the candidates are duking it out on health care. Democrat John Hall eagerly defends it.

HALL: It's a good bill in most respects and I don't apologize for it.

BASH (on camera): You are one of the few Democrats who I've talked to, who I've even heard this election year who is not afraid to campaign on health care.

HALL: Well, that's why people elected me.

BASH (voice-over): His opponent called repealing it her top priority.

HEYWORTH: It would take away choice and control. It would (INAUDIBLE) innovation. It's really not what Americans deserve or desire from their health care.

BASH: Hall isn't a lifelong politician either. He was in rock 'n' roll. And hopes his '70s hit "Still The One" is what voters say to him.

HALL: We're still having fun and you're still the one.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHETRY: He was a singer?

BASH: He was a singer. He was the lead singer. He was the lead singer. And he is a Democrat. But Republicans hope that they get his seat and they hope that they actually believe they're going to get half a dozen. They actually say if there's a big Republican sweep, they could get more. But John and Kiran, there's one big Republican concern in this state and that is Carl Paladino. He's at the top of the ticket, he is not faring well to say the least and they are worried -

ROBERTS: Could he be dragging everyone else?

BASH: They're worried about that. They're very worried that he could drag down otherwise formidable candidates for the House.

CHETRY: That's interesting. That's so - that's such a cool connection. I love that song. So good for him.

BASH: Yes. That former ABC theme song, back in the '70s.

A long time ago.

CHETRY: My parents danced to it, in one of their wedding anniversaries.

Thanks, Dana.

Well, it's 32 minutes past the hour right now. We take a look at our top stories.

Aviation officials in Yemen say they're promising tightening security with every airport with every piece of luggage and cargo searched. This is after that plot to send mail bombs to the U.S., the terror scare raising some concerns about cargo on U.S.-bound passenger flights.

ROBERTS: The suspect in the 2002 kidnapping of Utah teen Elizabeth Smart goes on trial today. Brian David Mitchell is accused of snatching Smart at knife point from her family's home in Salt Lake City. He faces federal charges of kidnapping and transporting a minor across state lines.

CHETRY: For the first time in history, Brazil has a female president, Dilma Rousseff, has been declared the winner of a run-off election. She's a former left-wing guerilla fighter during Brazil's military dictatorship rule in the 1960s, who says that her priorities will be to wipe out poverty and to fight for gender equality.

ROBERTS: Well, our next guest has a lot at stake today. He's been on a bus tour for more than a month and a half. It's called the "Fire Pelosi Tour." Michael Steele is the chairman of the Republican National Committee. The bus tour just wrapped up and now he's looking forward to the voting tomorrow. He's joining us from Washington this morning.

Chairman Steele, good to see you this morning.

MICHAEL STEELE, CHAIRMAN, RNC: Good to see you.

ROBERTS: Let me ask you for a prediction, how do you think tomorrow's going to go?

STEELE: I think it's going to go very well. And I think that the Republican leadership across the country is going to emerge in a lot of races that people don't even expect right now. There are going to be a number of surprises in races that folks haven't paid attention to. We've looked at a lot of top line races, but at the Republican National Committee, we've actually drilled down a little bit further and looked at not just congressional races, but legislative races where their state houses that could turn and flip to the Republican column and certainly governorships, as well.

So I think it's going to be a very good night for the GOP and we're looking forward to it. A lot of hard work went into it.

ROBERTS: How good of a night is it going to be for you? A week ago on "Meet the Press" you said that you expected an unprecedented wave for the Republicans. However, yesterday, on "State of the Union," you told our Candy Crowley, "well, let's get to 39." Are you (INAUDIBLE) expectations so that you can exceed them or do you think that maybe things -

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE: No, no, no - not at all. I think, you know, from my perspective, it's a matter of recognizing what the reality is. You've got to get to 39 first. I mean, my response to Candy was the folks are saying, "oh, 70, 80, 90 seats, let's get to 39 first." That's the wave. That's the first part of the wave that we're going to see.

And then from there you can build on to a governing majority for the House. Then there's also the Senate, you know. Whether that's seven, eight, or maybe 10 seats. So my whole point was a lot of folks were throwing a lot of big numbers around. You know, my goal in talking to our team out in the field is let's get our folks to the 39 because that's the momentum point you really want to go for and then you can continue to build from there.

ROBERTS: All right. Yes. How far past 39 do you think you'll go? And then the second part of that question is, how do you get to 10 in the Senate?

STEELE: Well, let's see. Well, I don't know how far beyond 39 we'll go. You know, that's going to be left up to the voters tomorrow. The Senate, again, has always been a tougher road for us simply by virtue of the numbers that we have in play there and the number of seats we have up versus the Democrats. But I still feel, you know, that we're looking at least a seven or eight-seat night. Again, there could be some surprises particularly as you head further west.

ROBERTS: Sure.

STEELE: But we'll see. I'm not sure right now where we are in the latest counts. When I leave here and get that briefing, so - but I feel good about what we've done so far and I think we're going to be more than prepared to move into a good evening.

ROBERTS: If you could go back and do it again and I know you can, would you have tried to convince the Tea Party to go a different direction in Delaware? STEELE: No, I mean, look, again, people totally misunderstand what this is about. This is an organic movement by people. You can't tell them what to do or what not to do. You can't tell them who to support or who not to support. That is anti-American when you think about it. Oh, you have to support this candidate versus that candidate. That was the visceral reaction that a lot of citizens had around the country.

We remember New York 23, the (INAUDIBLE) race, for example, where a small group of political operatives decided who the nominee was going to be. But people want a greater control on the outcomes of these elections and they're going to do that tomorrow. And we've been very grateful to have the partnership and support of Tea Party activists around the country and we'll see that played out tomorrow night.

ROBERTS: OK. Apply that to Alaska. Because ABC is reporting that Republican leadership is not very happy with Joe Miller, thinks that he might have lost the race, and there may be some move to try to throw support behind the write-in candidacy of Lisa Murkowski.

STEELE: Well, I'm very happy with Joe Miller, he's our nominee of the party, and the Republican National Committee supports our nominee. There's no effort to throw any support anywhere else but behind him. So I don't know who these Republican leaders are, but they need to be focused on winning the election, not trying to gerrymander the outcome. That again is what frustrates the American people and particularly Republicans within the party with establishment types who think they know more than the people about who they want to lead them.

ROBERTS: There's another little interesting piece of intrigue that pops up in "Politico" today. Mike Allen and Jim Vandehei, two of the best political writers in this country have said that the Republican leadership may be trying to orchestrate "Stop Palin" campaigns, thinking that if she becomes the next nominee for president in 2012, that could give Barack Obama a second term. Would you be happy with Sarah Palin being the nominee for the Republican Party in 2012?

STEELE: If she goes through the process and the Republican primary voters vote for her, absolutely, I'd be happy. Why wouldn't I be? And again, another point here, you know, these Republican leaders who don't put their names in print but make comments in shadows need to shut up. We're focused on winning elections tomorrow night. We're not focused on 2012.

Let's have that conversation on Wednesday or Thursday. But I need every Republican in the country whether they're in the shadows or not to focus on making sure we have a majority by the end of the evening tomorrow in the House and preferably the Senate, as well. We need to take governorships and state legislatures if we're going to move this country off of a course of wealth redistribution versus wealth creation and prosperity.

So you know, let's stop the Washington inside games. No one cares about that. No one's talking about that, except for the people who sit around in circles and talk amongst themselves. Get out here, get out to this building at the RNC, help us make phone calls, help us dial into districts around the country so we can turn out our vote. That's what these folks should be doing right now, not focusing on Sarah Palin. Sarah Palin is the focus of Sarah Palin. She's focused on winning elections and seats tomorrow night.

ROBERTS: Tough talk from Michael Steele this morning. Michael Steele, thanks so much for joining us.

STEELE: Thank you.

ROBERTS: Wow.

CHETRY: All fired up.

ROBERTS: Shut up.

CHETRY: Exactly.

ROBERTS: OK.

CHETRY: Well, the busiest shuttle in history cleared for its final liftoff. More on space shuttle Discovery's final mission. What caused the two-day delay. We're going the to get a live report after a quick break.

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CHETRY: It's 44 minutes past the hour right now. Space shuttle Discovery, it's the busiest shuttle in history and on track for the final launch on Wednesday. NASA says THAT engineers had to fix two minor gas leaks on the bird which delayed the final mission for two days.

ROBERTS: We're also getting very close to astronaut Cady Coleman's big day. We've watched her get ready for life on the space station for the past year and John Zarrella has the latest chapter for us now and joins us live from Miami. Good morning, John.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John, Kiran. About six weeks to go before Cady's lift off at the international space station. And you know when you're going away for a long period of time, your family may like to throw you a good-bye party, a send-off party. That's exactly what Katie's family did. And since we're kind of sort of, part of the family, we got an invite too.

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ZARRELLA (voice-over): A family walk. There are so many in astronaut Cady Coleman's family, it's not often they get together in one place or under one roof.

CARI HOPKINS, CADY'S SISTER: We wanted to all be together before Katie left and we knew we couldn't go to Russia to see her launch, unfortunately, so we thought this is the best way to do it. ZARRELLA: So with just six weeks until her launch, they rented a house in rural Ohio, sleeps 20, they needed every bed. The famous family pie, gone before we got there.

CADY COLEMAN, NASA ASTRONAUT: This is grasshopper pie. This is like a family tradition at Thanksgiving.

ZARRELLA: Now, I wouldn't say they're skeletons, but it turns out there are things we didn't know about Cady until the party and her roast.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And she loved one thing, and that thing was (INAUDIBLE) it turns out.

ZARRELLA: Hopefully she grew out of it. There's no beer on the space station.

HOPKINS: Can I tell you, we had to share a room when we were young. That I'm still here to talk about it is really a miracle. My side of the room, incredibly perfect.

ZARRELLA (on camera): Spotless.

HOPKINS: Cady's side -- not so much.

ZARRELLA: She said your side of the room was always messy.

COLEMAN: So?

HOPKINS: That's her rebuttal. Hello.

ZARRELLA: This is a PhD and her rebuttal is, "So?"

ANNIE DODY, CADY'S MOTHER: I'm very proud of her.

COLEMAN: Are you worried?

DODY: No, no.

COLEMAN: That's good.

DODY: We've always said that what will be, will be.

MACAIRE HOPKINS, CADY'S NIECE: It takes a lot of, I don't know, intelligence and bravery to go up in space.

ZARRELLA (voice-over): But being absentminded, apparently that's OK.

C. HOPKINS: We're just really glad there's not keys to the space shuttle because she'd misplace them.

ZARRELLA: The family insists they're not competitive, maybe the spirited pumpkin carving contest was the exception. Baby Calvin playing the role of the great pumpkin.

So this was it, time for the family photo. Yes, that would be me.

(on camera): You guys are really dysfunctional, you know that?

ZARRELLA: But clearly, happy together.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZARRELLA: What a cute baby she was. Now Cady takes off to the for the International Space Station about six weeks from now. The 15th, 16th of December. She leaves for Russia sometime this week. And boy, aren't they talented? Those pumpkins? I could never carve a pumpkin like that -- John, Kiran.

CHETRY: A nice family. And it's nice to know how much support she has as she's getting ready to do this.

John, great piece. Thanks so much.

ZARRELLA: Yes.

CHETRY: Well, Republicans could be on the verge of taking back the house, but still fall a few seats short in the Senate. Does the Tea Party have any regrets about that? We'll ask the chairwoman of the Tea Party Express, Amy Kremer, still ahead.

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ROBERTS: Once Election Day is over the president's health care reform package is a hot topic. It could mean -- listen to this -- free birth control for women. And the debate is already raging. Both sides of the argument just ahead.

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ROBERTS: Fifty-six minutes after the hour. New this morning, the debate is beginning over free birth control for women. A panel of expert advising the White House is set to meet in two weeks time. They're going to hear arguments about whether contraception and family planning constitute preventive medicine under the president's new health care reforms. Many public health officials and doctors believe it is, while the Catholic Church and many conservative groups disagree.

CHETRY: International flights could soon be subject to the same rules concerning tarmac delays that now cover domestic flights. Transportation Department is considering extending the rules which allow passengers to get off of flights within the U.S. after a three- hour delay. Passenger groups say it's needed to protect travelers on lengthy international flights.

And after 84 years the end of the road for Pontiac. GM's agreement with Pontiac dealers ended yesterday. The brand's days have been numbered since GM's restructuring last year.

CHETRY: We're going to take a quick break. Your top stories coming your way in just two minutes.

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