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CROSSFIRE

New Details On NBA Charges Against Sterling; What Messages Are Voters Sending At Primaries?

Aired May 20, 2014 - 18:28   ET

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


VAN JONES, CNN CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. I'm Van Jones on the left.

S.E. CUPP, CNN CO-HOST: I'm S.E. Cupp on the right.

In the CROSSFIRE tonight, a pair of top strategists from both parties.

Today's primaries really aren't what Democrats are hoping they'll be: a battle between moderate Republicans and the Tear Party. What they are is the beginning of a two-year referendum on President Obama and the Democrats' agenda. Tonight and over the course of 2014, we'll learn if Democrats will pay a price for Obamacare, a muddled economic agenda, and out-of-control government bureaucracy. So take notes, Hillary: You're going to get a glimpse of the issues you'll run on and away from in 2016.

JONES: Here we go. First of all, we actually agree on something. It is not a fight between moderate Republicans --

CUPP: Good.

JONES: -- and Tea Party Republicans, because there are no moderate Republicans. The Tea Party has taken over the entire Republican Party. We can talk about that tonight.

Before we get into it and bring in our guests, the first votes are starting to come in tonight. Let's go back to Wolf and get the latest results -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Thanks very much. This is the most important night so far in the midterm election year. Voters in six states across all the continental U.S. time zones, they are having their say tonight.

Tonight's results will be our clearest indication yet about whether a huge Republican wave is sweeping toward Washington or whether Democrats can cling on and control the Senate this year and the White House in 2016.

Here in Washington, I'm joined by our chief national correspondent, John King. He's over at the Magic Wall. But let's begin our coverage right now, chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash. She's in Kentucky, one of the biggest political dramas playing out tonight. Dana, when Mitch McConnell predicted he would, quote, "crush" the Tea party tonight, was he speaking more broadly, just in an individual race? What's the latest there?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He was speaking about his individual race, but it goes a lot deeper than that. It is personal for him and it is, obviously, about the broader idea of control of the Senate.

He -- and I've watched him, covering him for the last four years -- has been kicking himself is probably putting it mildly, the way that he has regretted the fact that in 2010 and in 2012 he felt that they lost the ability to take control of the Senate, because there were challenges from the right against some of his colleagues, some of his friends, and some of the candidates he backed. And then some of those conservatives who won, went on to lose in the general election, and that robbed him of the ability to be a majority leader.

He has worked very hard over the past many months, spent a lot of money, and did some things that -- that maybe some may raise eyebrows at to make sure that he beat back his own Republican challenger so that that would make it -- make him go forward and not only win this re-election, but he hopes be the majority leader in November.

BLITZER: All right. Dana, stand by. We're going to get back to you. The results are going to be coming in starting very, very soon. Let's bring in John King. He's here over at the Magic Wall, taking a closer look. This is a big night in politics.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's a big night, because it's the first big primary night of a very big midterm election year, Wolf. Thirty-six Senate seats in play. Sixteen we're watching right now. Let's say first and foremost, most everybody, even Democrats privately concede Republicans are likely to keep the House. So the Senate is the big battleground.

Again, 36 races in play. Republicans need a plus six, a net gain of six to take control of the Senate. What you see highlighted here are the 16 races we at CNN now view as very competitive or potentially competitive, and this gives it away.

If they're highlighted in blue, the borders of a state -- you see Oregon, you see Montana, we come across you see a Michigan race, you see an Iowa race, Louisiana, Arkansas, New Hampshire -- if you see them highlighted in blue, that means it's a Democratic incumbent right now. Highlighted in red, Kentucky and Georgia, a Republican incumbent. That tells you pretty much everything you need to know about who's on defense. Democrats are defending these 14 states. Republicans defending only two.

In the primaries tonight, we talk about these states that are up. There's a key Senate primary out here in Oregon. There's a Tea Party House establishment race here in Idaho, but these are the two big ones. You mentioned Kentucky and Georgia tonight. These are two seats Democrats think they have at least a slight chance to take, so it matters who the Republican candidates are.

To the race you were talking about with Dana, obviously, Mitch McConnell. He's a five-term senator. He wants to be the Republican majority leader if they get that plus six. To do that, first he has to defeat Matt Bevin tonight. By all accounts, he will. We'll let the votes come in, but everybody down there, even the Bevin campaign, concedes McConnell is well ahead.

If that happens, what would happen then? Then he would have a race against the Democratic secretary of state, Alison Grimes. She's from a famous political family. The most recent polls show it to be a dead heat. So this race will, even if McConnell survives tonight, will be a target through November.

I just want to switch walls to show you, McConnell's last race, he got 53 percent against a businessman who spent a lot of his own money on this race. That's back in 2008. This is why Mitch McConnell thinks, for all the talk of a close race, it won't be so close in November.

Midterm elections are about the president. This is Barack Obama 2012. Kentucky carried only four counties. What you will hear from Mitch McConnell if he wins tonight is that this election in November is as much about Obama as it is about Alison Grimes. That will be the challenge going forward.

But on this big night, let's see first if he can crush his Tea Party challenger. We'll watch the margin in that race, and we're learn how much healing he has to do internally in the Republican Party.

BLITZER: Turnout in a midterm election year, that's a huge issue we're going to have to see, assuming he wins tonight, McConnell; the turnout for Democrats, how enthusiastic they are in November and the turnout for Republicans, especially if the Tea Party loses tonight. Will they go out there and really turn out for Mitch McConnell?

KING: An excellent point. And even though Kentucky's a big Democratic target, it's not exactly a place you expect President Obama to be welcomed, because he fared so poorly.

BLITZER: We're waiting for the -- we're waiting for the first results. Let's go back to S.E. and Van. They're in the CROSSFIRE.

JONES: Thanks Wolf. We'll going to get back to you again in a little bit.

But right now in the CROSSFIRE, we've got Democratic strategist Brad Woodhouse. He is the president of American Bridge. We also have Republican strategist David Bossie, president of Citizens United.

Let's start with you. The media's got this 100 percent wrong, right? This is not moderates versus Tea Party. The Tea Party has taken over the entire Republican Party, don't you agree?

DAVID BOSSIE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, Van, really it is -- I know you -- I know you -- look, the conservative movement's been around a long time, since Barry Goldwater. The Tea Party movement is nothing more than that as an outgrowth. It truly is. When I was a youngster, I would have been called a Tea Partier back when I was a young man.

JONES: But the Tea Party has a specific brand, and it's terrible. It's 29 percent --

BOSSIE: It's branded by folks like you.

JONES: Well, I didn't make up the name "Tea Party." I think you guys did that. And 29 percent favorability is not very good.

Isn't it bad now that even your moderate Republicans, so-called, have adopted this Tea Party extremism on every issue? Don't you think that's terrible for the Republican Party?

BRAD WOODHOUSE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, look, let me agree with you. All of this is -- all of this is well and good. We all got to spend a lot of time on various political topics, but these primaries are a side show. As you said, the Tea Party has taken over the Republican Party. I mean, what Republican incumbents learned from 2010 and 2012 is that they better run and govern like the Tea Party.

BOSSIE: Like the conservatives that they are --

WOODHOUSE: I'll give you -- I'll give you three quick examples. Mitch McConnell hid under a desk while Ted Cruz shut the government down. Eric Cantor will not cross the Tea Party caucus in the House to put immigration reform on the floor, even though it would help the Republican Party in the long-term. And in 2011, John Boehner turned over his cojones to the Tea Party, and he's never gotten them back.

CUPP: I know Democrats really want to make this about an inter-party fight between the Republicans and the Tea Party, because 2014 is not going to be pretty for you guys, I have to say.

You thought that banging on about raising the minimum wage was going to be this magic elixir. It has not been delivering the enthusiasm you've wanted. And today "The New York times" points out that Obama's core constituencies are hurting the most in Obama's economy. These are the people Obama and Democrats need to turn out.

So he's not only failing Democrats at the kitchen table, but he's failing you guys at the polls. I mean, how frustrated are you guys?

WOODHOUSE: Well, first of all, I'm not frustrated. I think, you know, the president has put forward an agenda. It's the Tea Party that has stopped the agenda.

CUPP: No, no, no.

BOSSIE: The American people disagree with the agenda.

CUPP: Let me stop you there, because we've talked about the Tea Party. I want you to talk about Democrats. Democrats are complaining that President Obama has not adequately conditioned the environment to run on an economic platform that works. WOODHOUSE: Well, I'm with Democrats all the time and I haven't heard that complaint. I think the president has put forward a plan.

But, look, this is a midterm election and we've all worked on it or covered them.

CUPP: Yes.

WOODHOUSE: These come down to candidates and races in states.

BOSSIE: And turnout.

WOODHOUSE: Every race is going to be different. Every candidate is going to treat that race different.

VAN JONES, CO-HOST: You disagree?

BOSSIE: Not at all. What it is, is it's about turnout, it's about excitement of the base. So if our Tea Party base, if the conservative movement is excited to turn out in November to vote against Barack Obama's candidates, we welcome Barack Obama in every race across this country.

WOODHOUSE: Well, look, if you want to make this --

BOSSIE: We want to make a referendum on Barack Obama.

WOODHOUSE: This is what the Republicans have --

BOSSIE: On Obamacare.

WOODHOUSE: What the Republicans have done, they co-opted the Tea Party, allowed the Koch to take over the party to fund, the Koch brothers.

BOSSIE: We love this argument. We embrace this. Yu guys --

WOODHOUSE: Koch brothers will spend more to elect --

(CROSSTALK)

WOODHOUSE: The Koch brothers will spend more to elect Republicans than the NRSC and NRCC combined.

BOSSIE: Class warfare, race warfare, it's your first salvo --

CUPP: You don't think it's a mistake to go after Tea Partiers and Koch Republicans instead of delivering your own economic message?

WOODHOUSE: You talk about somebody that didn't have a message, I mean --

JONES: Hold on, folks, we're going to come back because first -- first results of the night are coming in. And Brad (ph) wants to hear about it. But, first, we want you at home to weigh in on today's "Fireback" question, have Tea Party candidates made the Republican Party stronger or weaker? We want you in on this. Reply stronger or weaker using #crossfire. We're going to give you those results when we get back.

And the very latest from Wolf in just a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JONES: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE, and CNN's coverage of America's choice. And even though it's May, happy Halloween because the Tea Party's dragging Republicans so far to the right, that it's scaring me. It's scaring me.

WOODHOUSE: The orange tie.

BOSSIE: Hence the orange tie.

JONES: Before we can continue our debate, first, let's get the latest results from the primaries from Wolf Blitzer.

Go ahead, Wolf.

BLITZER: You guys are having way too much fun over there, Van, S.E.

Voters at a half a dozen states from coast to coast, they are picking candidates for this fall's election. We're getting our first results coming in very early from Kentucky. Take a look, 1 percent of the vote is in. Mitch McConnell as expected, he is doing well, 61 percent of the vote to 35 percent for the Tea Party favorite, Matt Bevin. For almost 5,000 votes for Mitch McConnell alone. It just went up 6,600 to 3,200 for Matt Bevin.

At the top of the hours, the polls will also close in Georgia, where the scramble for an open U.S. Senate seat is attracting nationwide attention.

Let's go back to John King at the magic wall.

Kentucky is one thing. Georgia is another important state today.

KING: A more crowded Republican primary in the state of Georgia. You see some of the candidates here, because of that, we're likely to get a runoff between the top two.

Earlier in the year, Wolf, Democrats were just hoping and hoping and hoping that Congressman Phil Gingrey or Congressman Paul Broun would win this nomination because they believe, the Democrats do, that these congressmen are so far to the right that they could win this red state in the general election.

At the moment, it looks like the two people who make the runoff will be businessman David Perdue and Congressman Jack Kingston, to make a point. There are no liberal or moderate Republicans on this screen. These are all conservatives. But David Perdue is a mainstream. Jack Kingston has the endorsement of the Chamber of Commerce. One person to watch tonight, Karen Handel, she's been running third in the polls, backed by Sarah Palin, some other Tea Party support. If she could get into the runoff, it would change the dynamic.

At the moment, it looks like these two candidates and again the establishment is OK with either one. They would face up against Michelle Nunn. The name seemed familiar? Her dad Sam Nunn was the Democratic senator for Georgia for quite some time. She will be the Democratic candidate.

Again, Democrats believe they have a chance here. But she has not run statewide before. She is new as a candidate for public office. And just in the past week, she's made two statements that you might call, Wolf, unforced errors.

Let's listen to. We'll talk about it on the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHELLE NUNN (D), GEORGIA SENATE CANDIDATE: We need accountability. We need to make sure there is congressional oversight of this issue. I defer to the president's judgment about the leadership that will be necessary to ensure that accountability.

REPORTER: Would you have voted for the Affordable Care Act?

NUNN: So, at the time that the Affordable Healthcare Act was passed, I was working for Points of Light. I wish we had more people who tried to architect a bipartisan legislation.

REPORTER: Is that a yes or no?

NUNN: So, you know, I think it's impossible to look back retrospectively and what would you have done when you were there?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Great question there on the last by Kasie Hunt of NBC News.

Look, if you're running for office in 2014, you're Democratic candidate, you have to have a yes or no answer. Would you have voted for Obamacare? Then, you can add to it. She didn't have one there. That first sound bite was in a debate. It was about whether Eric Shinseki should stay on at Department of Veterans Affairs.

Georgia has a big military tradition, a lot of veterans, a lot of military bases, deferring to the president in state where he is very unpopular, not the right thing for a candidate to do.

So, Michelle Nunn making a couple of unforced errors makes Republicans more confident they'll keep Georgia no matter what happens.

BLITZER: If Karen Handel gets the nomination two women would be the candidates for senator. Saxby Chambliss giving up his Senate seat in Georgia.

All right. John, thank you very much.

Stay with us throughout the night. We'll get all the latest results.

Let's get back into the CROSSFIRE right now with Van and S.E.

JONES: Thanks, Wolf.

So, we're back with Democratic strategist Brad Woodhouse and with Republican strategist David Bossie.

Now, back to you. S.E., the last block, was talking about how maybe we were ahead of the curve on minimum wage. You guys on Obamacare, you keep banging the drum on that. Let me ask you a question. Let me ask you a question.

BOSSIE: I think you know why we do.

JONES: No, let me ask you a question. You've got Bill McIntyre (ph), who the pollster for John McCain. He says in the general election going for full repeal is actually a loser.

Aren't you guys in danger of overshooting on Obamacare, overshooting on Benghazi and being like '98 and blowing it because you're out of touch with the American people?

BOSSIE: No. I think that's a great buildup. But, no, we're going run against Obamacare and run against Barack Obama. That is what --

JONES: Are you going to call --

BOSSIE: That's going to be the difference in this election cycle. And we're welcoming it.

JONES: One question. Are you going to call for full repeal? You have a Republican pulse for saying full repeal is a loser. People want to fix it, not repeal it. Are you going to call for full repeal?

BOSSIE: You have candidates like Nunn all across the country who are going to run from Barack Obama and can't answer a simple question whether they would vote for his signature, his landmark legislation, Obamacare. He is going to cripple them. He is an anchor around their necks.

JONES: One more time. Are you for full repeal or not? Because you know that full repeal is a loser, and you guys are way out of place.

BOSSIE: We're happy to fully repeal, and we're happy to fix where it needs to be fixed. Look, destroying --

JONES: That wasn't an answer.

BOSSIE: -- destroying health care for 300 million Americans by giving it to 7 million Americans is a losing effort on your part.

CUPP: Brad, clearly, the problem for Democrats isn't that Republicans are going to run too hard against Obamacare. It's as David pointed out and as we heard from John King that your candidates don't even know how to talk about it. I mean, Michelle Nunn is one. We heard Natalie Tenet of West Virginia also was not able to answer whether or not she'd vote for it. Alison Grimes in Kentucky couldn't say whether she thought Obamacare should be delayed or not.

Isn't that your real problem, that there is a confusing mixed message from Democrats on whether Obamacare is a net positive or a net negative?

WOODHOUSE: No, I don't think that's the problem. I think the problem for Republicans and the problem for the Tea Party is that Obamacare has worked. The problem for them is 8 million people signed up.

CUPP: We're not confused about Obamacare.

WOODHOUSE: Well, you know, the problem for them is they're not going to be able to do as McIntyre said is that this full repeal is going to overshoot the runway. This Benghazi investigation is going to overshoot the runway.

CUPP: Brad, I know. That's not what I asked, though. What I asked was -- isn't this going to be a problem when your candidates don't know how to talk about Obamacare and it's only may of 2014?

WOODHOUSE: I would say this, S.E., it's only May of 2014.

CUPP: Oh, so they're going get better at it. OK.

BOSSIE: You've got six months.

WOODHOUSE: Every day, the experience with Obamacare is improving. The statistics are improving.

CUPP: Yes, but they seemed really convincing. Yes.

BOOSIE: They're getting worse. More people are having higher premiums. More people are losing --

WOODHOUSE: I don't want to have --

BOSSIE: Wait a minute, more people --

(CROSSTALK)

WOODHOUSE: That's not true.

BOSSIE: More premiums have gone up. People are losing their health care. You all know it. But you just won't be honest about it. You will not be honest about it.

Yes, I know, 300 million people disagree.

JONES: Hold on, hold on.

CUPP: It's a big night. It's a big night.

JONES: It's a big night. We're passionate. I get that.

But let's stay with these races. You want to talk about Obamacare?

BOSSIE: Sure.

JONES: What about this Medicaid blockade where you've got Republican governors refusing to let people who were too poor for Obamacare, too rich for Medicaid, see doctors. And you've got now Republicans who are running for office who are afraid to even touch the issue because they know that this is going to be a local issue.

And when you localize Obamacare in places like Kentucky, when you localize Obamacare in places like Arkansas, you guys lose. What about this Medicaid blockade?

BOSSIE: Let's have Barack Obama go to Kentucky and make that exact argument. We welcome him.

(CROSSTALK)

BOSSIE: I would love for him to stand next to his candidate, OK, Grimes, and I would love for him and his candidate to articulate why that would be good for Kentuckians. And that will never happen.

WOODHOUSE: You're losing on health care policy here because it has been good for Kentucky.

BOSSIE: No. Let's see what the people -- let's see what the voters of Kentucky say.

JONES: It's been popular?

WOODHOUSE: They've expanded Medicaid there. Where they haven't expanded Medicaid, Republican governors are in trouble. Rick Scott in Florida, Tom Corbett in Pennsylvania, they're in trouble in part because they haven't taken the Medicaid problems.

BOSSIE: It's so popular --

WOODHOUSE: And they're leaving -- here is the other thing, David. Forget the politics here. They're just leaving millions of people without health care. How do you feel about that?

CUPP: OK.

BOSSIE: You guys go right to it. You can't help yourself. The world is going to come to an end. Obamacare fixed it. Obamacare created as many problems as it fixed.

CUPP: OK, we got to go, guys.

Let's check back on our "Fireback" results. Have Tea Party candidates made the Republican Party stronger or weaker? Right now, 19 percent of you say stronger, 81 percent say weaker. What do you guys think of the results real quick? In a word?

JONES: Boom!

WOODHOUSE: Weaker.

CUPP: Weaker? Stronger I'm imagining.

BOSSIE: That poll results are based on who is watching CNN. That's what it is.

JONES: But seriously. The Tea Party that has very bad name recognition right now, do you think when you have Boehner saying if you vote for the Tea Party, you're voting for public debt, does it hurt you in the general election? Yes or no?

BOSSIE: No.

CUPP: But isn't this a mistake, Van? I mean, you're laying all of this on the Tea Party when the Republicans dominate in 2014?

BOSSIE: You're going have to come back here and thank the Tea Party for the victories.

(CROSSTALK)

JONES: I want to thank you and you right now, Brad Woodhouse and David Bossie.

The debate will continue online at CNN.com/crossfire, as well as on Facebook and Twitter. From the left, I'm Van Jones.

CUPP: From the right, I'm S.E. Cupp.

Stay with CNN and CNN.com for election updates throughout the night. And join us tomorrow for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.