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Politics of Ebola "Fear Mongering"; Tightest Senate Race; Potential 2016 Candidates on the 2014 Trail

Aired October 26, 2014 - 08:30   ET


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Not on tape, let's get it right.

Good morning. We're nine days to the midterm election and control of the senate hinges on eight or nine senate races; that or get this, dead heats entering the final week.

Let's take a look at a couple. Up in New Hampshire Jeanne Shaheen is the Democratic incumbent, former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown the Republican challenger, he's is trying to be close strong with a focus of Ebola.


SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D), NEW HAMPSHIRE: What we don't need is people fear mongering about this issue. We don't need people who don't have medical expertise trying to get people concerned about what we've got to do to respond.

SEN. SCOTT BROWN (R), MASSACHUSETTS: She calls it fear mongering. I call it rational fear as well as the citizens of New Hampshire and this country have a rational fear that this is real.


KING: Another big race out here in Iowa, Joni Ernst is the Republican candidate and Bruce Braley is the Democrat. Remember back in the primary she had a TV ad provocative about castrating hogs on the form as a child well she's closing back on that farm.


JOANIE ERNST (R), IOWA SENATE CANDIDATE: It's a mess, dirty, noisy, and it stinks. Not this lot. I'm talking about the one in Washington. Too many typical politicians hogging, wasting, and full- up --


KING: Whenever your politics that ad is worth a laugh.

And in North Carolina a big race here, Democrat Kay Hagan trying to hold on to this seat, the Republican Tom Tillis has closing Hillary Clinton on the trail to help the Democrats stressing gender politics.


particularly to every single woman you know because women's rights are like the canary in the mine. You don't protect women's rights here at home and around the world, everybody's rights are at risk. And there is a concerted effort right now to turn that clock back.


KING: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS, I'm John king. Thanks for sharing your Sunday morning.

And with us to share their reporting and their insights the Atlantic, Molly Ball, Politico's Manu Raju, Juana Summers of NPR and Robert Costa of "The Washington Post".

Now President Obama will be busy, very busy on the campaign trail this week, just not in any of these states that matter in this year's biggest battle, that's for control of the United States senate. But the President is very much the issue in almost of these senate battlegrounds; he's handling of the Ebola scare now front and center.

And Manu Raju, let's start with you, Scott Brown is doing this in New Hampshire because he thinks it works for Tom Tillis in North Carolina. Is this across the country or just an isolated race?

MANU RAJU, POLITICO: It's across the country. What the Republicans are trying to do is nationalize this election. they believe that the way the President's numbers are sinking in these key states the way, the gender gap is sinking because of the President's numbers -- that's going to turn control of the senate and maybe one or two points in their direction in some of these key races and they can bring their base out to the polls.

And you look at the polls nationally, there really is no issue that is driving this electorate the way 2010 did with Obamacare, and 2006 with Iraq. But what it looks like Obama could be the biggest issue come Election Day. And if that's the case then the Republicans can win back the senate.

KING: And does it matter that you have several governors and a couple of Democrats among them the governor of New York, the governor of Illinois, saying what the federal government is doing isn't strong enough. We have to have tougher quarantines or tougher travel restrictions. Does that undermine the President?

MOLLY BALL, THE ATLANTIC: Absolutely. I mean I think Manu is right that there's not a single issue but there is a sense of amorphous fear, right there is a sense that the country is at risk and that things are out of control and this is the argument that you're hearing from these Republicans who are bringing up Ebola they are saying that the federal government has been too little too late in its response, that it's been reactive and that the President has not taken the threat seriously enough.

So when you have Democratic governors seeming to back up that argument by saying we've got to do something because we don't feel we can trust the White House and the CDC that only helped that argument makes people more afraid and makes people feel yet more on top of all of these other crises right that things are spiraling out of control.

KING: And as the week close the President tried to show look don't worry, don't be over anxious about this, by inviting the nurse who was released from the NIH Hospital to the White House for a hug. We can show you the President, the President gives the hug to the nurse, the question is he embraces this nurse, she's Ebola free now -- Juana. Are Democrats going to embrace the President's approach to this or is the safest thing in the last week to be away?

JUANA SUMMERS, NPR: Yes I think this was really interesting because Democrats are also bringing this up on the trail admittedly not as much as Republicans. You know what they're saying. They're tying this to the start of you know Republican cost-cutting has led the CDC, has led government agencies not to be as prepared. And I've heard from Democratic sources they're actually planning to process this in the next couple of days that they think Ebola and the politicization that we're seeing right now is an issue they might be able to win on. I'm not particularly convinced that's true but it will be interesting to see just how they approach it.

KING: Interesting to see going to the final week. Let's also turn to the President's role. He is going to be traveling, he's going to be Robert mostly in blue states, he's going to be out at the governor's race in Wisconsin, the governor's race in Maine, not in any of these key senate battlegrounds, not in Arkansas, not in Iowa and not in New Hampshire. But he is trying to turn out the vote and that could be critical.

I want you to listen here this is the President on the radio in Georgia. A fascinating senate race here in Georgia Michelle Nunn, the son of the former Senator Sam Nunn no one thought a Democrat could be in contention in Georgia late but guess what? She is.

Here's the President trying to help.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If Michelle Nunn wins, that means that Democrats keep control of the senate, and that means that we can keep on doing some good work.


KING: The question is, Robert, does that help or does it hurt? Can Republicans say see, he's admitting that Michelle Nunn is a vote for Obama?

ROBERT COSTA, THE WASHINGTON POST: Michelle Nunn has run a pretty good campaign for the Democrats. The demographics in Georgia are changing and if African-Americans turn out in strong numbers in Atlanta and in the suburbs there I think you could see Nunn sneak through David Perdue the Republican has run a pretty sloppy campaign near the end talking too much about outsourcing, it seems almost like a Mitt Romney candidate. And what you see with the President right now is Republicans were

supposed to have a wave at this moment but it seems to be just a tie. And so the President strategically is going to some of the states where African-American turnout could be a big help. And I think Republicans are hurt by not having a governing agenda. Where is the contract for America this year, where is the pledge to America, they're coasting in a sense hoping to ride a wave. But I haven't seen that wave start to develop and there's no real policy ideas coming out of the right.

RAJU: And as far as the African-American vote is concerned the challenge for Democrats they need those African-American voters to come out in Georgia, Louisiana and Arkansas, but at the same time those are the voters that typically like the President, typically like the President's policies but white voters poll stay white -- particularly white male voters do not like the President in some of those battle ground states. So his role in those states is really a difficult balancing act for Democrats to deal with.

KING: And you heard the President on the radio there, watch that in the week ahead. Does he do that more in Georgia, does he do that in North Carolina, does he do it in Louisiana, the states where the -- Arkansas, the states where the African-American vote does matter?

Look at this as well, here's the Georgia Democratic Party, this is a mailer from the Georgia Democratic Party essentially saying you know tying the events in Ferguson to the senate elections. Saying you need to send Democrats to the United State Senate so you don't get another Ferguson. Now some Republicans complained Juana, that one went a bit too far.

SUMMERS: And it's important to note this is not the only state (inaudible) local report. There was a never flyer in Maryland. I was speaking to members of Congressional Black Caucus recently, they are making the argument that they have to paint this election in dire consequence if you want to see African-American voters turn out across the map especially in those key states that are tying it to the events in Ferguson, to Trayvon Martin in the past and also to the idea that if senate control is lost that could lead to impeachment for Barack Obama for the President. They're taking it that far trying to make this just as important and critical (inaudible) mentally for black voters as a presidential year election.

KING: Turn out, turn out, turn out -- what are we looking at the wild cards going into this final week? You're going back out to Colorado, that's a state where I think that to me is sort of a metaphor state that if the Democrats lose that one it tells me they're going to lose because you do have an Obama coalition, you have a good organization. If the Democrats lose a close one there and we usually wait, we have so many close races, eight or nine in the margin of error. But history does say when most of them break late most of them do tend to break for one party.

BALL: They break in the same direction. Well I think the fact that we are talking right now about Colorado, Iowa, and New Hampshire tells you how bad things are for Democrats because those are all states Obama won. New Hampshire especially they did not think was going to be a real race and now it is very close although I think Shaheen is still pretty consistently ahead.

And so the Democrats are on the defensive in these blue states. Democrats hope that right now we'd still be talking about how close things were in Arkansas and Alaska and Louisiana and those are states where they look like pretty strong underdogs.

So you know some of the late wild cards I think haven't panned out. I'm not as convinced that there's a real race in South Dakota as we thought a week or two ago that seems to have fizzled. Kansas is still very, very tight and that remains a big wild card but you know the real wild cards are these blue states where Democrats did not think they would have to spend as much time and money.

KING: Right. I agree with you on South Dakota. Georgia we just talked about, so that's the race no one thought would be on the table heading into the final week and Manu, you have done some reporting on this and then Robert I want to bring you in.

And I picked up in the middle of the week some jitters out of Kentucky. There was a big question when the Democrats went back in with money were they just doing that to keep the donors happy? With the liberals telling us just saying you can't pull your money out of Kentucky because we hate Mitch McConnell so you got to spend money even if you're going to lose. Was it just that war? I did sense in the middle of the week a little bit of jitters in the Republican community that maybe that one was tight.

RAJU: It's partly to satisfy the donors and partly because McConnell is very unpopular in Kentucky and you really never know what's going to happen on Election Day. This could be an anti- incumbent year, not just an anti-Democratic year, that's why you're seeing a lot of Republican governors too in tough races, maybe McConnell as a 30-year veteran could see the end of his career come Election Day if they don't get their voters out to the polls.

Now McConnell is consistently ahead but narrowly. And there was one poll out last week that had him up only by one point but there are other polls that have him up mid-single digits. Republicans believe they can win in a conservative state in a Republican year but you never know, given this electorate and given the fact that you have a long-term incumbent on the ballot.

KING: Just natural jitters from the Republicans, because the stakes are so high or legitimate jitters that they may lose a couple of their red states and therefore lose their chances?

COSTA: I think it's legitimate jitters. I think Kentucky is a key example. All year we've heard about the McConnell machine -- the vaunted McConnell machine is going to turn out Republican votes. But McConnell's negative numbers in Kentucky have been so hard and so high for so long that it's been very hard for him to really get beyond his negative profile in the state.

I think Kansas is another upset opportunity. Pat Roberts, we keep hearing he's revamped his campaign, he's a stronger candidate. But he's still Pat Roberts. He doesn't have much of an organization and he hasn't had much popularity in the state over the past year.

KING: The Orman people can take. Robert Costa just wrote a great ad, "Pat Roberts is still Pat Roberts" -- right.

Everybody sit tight.

Up next Elizabeth Warren and Hillary Clinton both in demand as Democrats look to gin up turnout in the big races but are they allies or maybe competitors?

First though Michelle Obama takes this week's "Politicians Say the Darnedest Things" with a confession about getting some big names wrong.


MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: No, I got it wrong. Couple of times, but I sort of laughed at myself because I thought well people should follow me home because talk to Malia and Sasha, I never call them the right names. It's like who are you? I call Barack "Bo". It never works out really well.



KING: Welcome back. You know, if you have a big 2014 race in your state you're not only getting bombarded by all those TV ads, odds are you're also getting an early 2016 preview -- the big names in both parties in high demand. Look at the past week just among Democrats: Vice President Biden, Hillary Clinton, Senator Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota, Bernie Sanders from Vermont and Elizabeth Warren all out on the campaign trail. Sure, trying to help themselves but at the moment looking at 24 (ph). On the Republican side plenty of travel as well. Look at all these stamps on the luggage here: Paul Ryan, Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee -- again all out there to help 2014 candidates maybe also to help themselves.

Now Molly Ball I start with you and Elizabeth Warren. Lot of people think is she maneuvering to run in 2016? Listen here -- she talked to our Gloria Borger and this seems pretty clear.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I am not running for president.

I am not running for president.

I am not running for president.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Got it? You got it, right? "I am not running for

president" -- pretty clear, end of discussion. File that one away, except, Molly Ball, here's what she said, the same Elizabeth Warren to "People" magazine. "I don't think so. If there's any lesson I learned in the last five years, it's don't be so sure what lies ahead. There are amazing doors that could be opened."

Ding, ding, ding, ding.

BALL: Well look, she keeps saying it and we have to -- she keeps saying she's not. And even in that quote she's saying the earth could cave in and something weird could happen, the zombie apocalypse could come and I'm the only one left -- right. So we have to leave that door open.

But I think she's been pretty clear about that she's not running at this point. There are a lot of people who want her to run, a lot of enthusiasm for her in the Democratic base, but at this point, you know, Hillary Clinton has the overwhelming support of the overwhelming amount of Democrats. And I know we want a Democratic primary, I personally would love to have something to cover that is not a sort of boring slog and a coronation.

But at this point she doesn't look like she wants to do it. She doesn't look -- it doesn't look like there's a space for her to do it. There are some people who want it but there isn't this giant void --

KING: So then Juana Summers, why is it they're at the same event in Massachusetts and Elizabeth Warren is on the stage, and then Hillary Clinton is on the stage. Martha Coakley is the Democratic candidate for governor there who finds herself surprising to many Democrats yet again in a very close race at end of the line here. Why isn't there a photo of Elizabeth Warren and Hillary Clinton together? You see Elizabeth Warren with a candidate. You see Hillary Clinton with a candidate. Why not?

SUMMERS: You know, I am not in the business of making ads for politics. I don't know much about their personal issues but I'm not going to say they particularly have a lot of warm and fuzzy feelings for one another.

KING: Not a lot of warm and fuzzy feeling --

SUMMERS: But I do think -- I do agree with Molly (inaudible) I think there's a lot of enthusiasm for Elizabeth Warren if she ran she would be very welcome for a lot of people who are not in the Hillary camp. It will be interesting to see if they're at more events together down the road. Perhaps you can get that photo op with them.

KING: Yes, perhaps. Perhaps. And as Hillary Clinton is on the trail, she's not having photo ops with Elizabeth Warren. She is testing an economic message. Listen to her here on the campaign trail talking about how her husband's economic record, her support while she was in the senate for raising the minimum wage, she says government does have a role in boosting your paycheck.


CLINTON: My husband gave working families a raise in the 1990s. I voted to raise the minimum wage and guess what -- millions of jobs were created. Don't let anybody tell you that you know, it's corporations and businesses that create jobs.


KING: A little reminiscent there of Mitt Romney saying corporations are people, too, Robert Costa. Her staff tried to clean that up afterwards saying what she meant was the tax breaks, constant tax breaks for businesses and companies don't create jobs. The government can work the levers. But it's interesting as we begin to get a snapshot of how she's going to make her economic case.

COSTA: It doesn't matter that Elizabeth Warren is not running because Hillary Clinton clearly feels the heat from the progressive left. She's talking to Elizabeth Warren's base right now. She sees the Massachusetts senator as a potential threat. And I think she realizes that she has to move left and it has to start now.

KING: Give her no space.

RAJU: Yes, and you know, it's because the Democratic Party is moving this sort of populist economic message that direction they've been moving since the last several years under Obama. And Hillary, of course, has been mostly a centrist. Her husband sort of tried to position himself as a centrist Democrat. So she has to show herself as sensitive to those concerns within the party who believe that the President and believe her politics are not in line with that more progressive populist economic message.

BALL: And this is what Elizabeth Warren really wants if you take her comments at face value. She wants Democrats talking about these things. She loves it when she sees Hillary up there bashing the banks the way she does. And so as long as that point of view is being represented in the primary I don't think Warren feels like she needs to get in.

KING: She'll just stay in the senate, maybe dream of being Treasury Secretary. We'll see how that one plays out.

Another 2016 candidate who I think had a most interesting week is the New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. He was out there everywhere. Last night in Iowa he was slamming President Obama's leadership on Ebola and other issues. And listen to him here, Molly mentioned she doesn't want to see a coronation. Well, on the Republican side there will be no coronation in 2016. And imagine Chris Christie standing on a stage with Ted Cruz, with Marco Rubio and with Rand Paul, looking to them and saying sorry, been there, done that.


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I am convinced that the next President of the United States is going to be a governor, and it needs to be. We have had the experiment of a legislator who has never run anything, getting on-the-job training in the White House. It has not been pretty.


KING: Can he sell that to Republican voters essentially, you know, Cruz and Rubio and Paul to a degree or ahead of Christie when it comes to the grassroots but can he make the case that we tried a freshman senator for eight years.

COSTA: Did you hear Rand Paul's immediate response? Have you thought about Jimmy Carter? That was what Rand Paul said when he heard Chris Christie's comment.

I think Christie know he has a problem in a place like Iowa. He's trying to make a gubernatorial argument. And look, I just went to a football game in Camden with Christie. This guy for all his problems with the bridge is still a political talent. You saw it at Branstad's birthday party. I think he can come back. We're seeing it now.

RAJU: And that's going to be the big hurdle for those three senators to clear, to prove that they can actually govern and run a government. That's something that of course you're hearing the criticism come out very early and they're going to have to show that look, you know, the Washington experience could be that being a long time governor is not necessary to be president.

KING: Nine days of fun here then we move quickly to 2016. And to your point Molly, if she doesn't have a good challenger maybe we can invite Hillary Clinton to the Republican debates in 2016.

Everybody sit tight. Up next our great reporters share some reporting nuggets including the inevitable winners in the year with so many close races -- that would be the lawyers.


KING: Let's go around the INSIDE POLITICS table, ask our great reporters to help get you out ahead of the curve on the big political news to come. Molly Ball.

BALL: I was just out in Iowa reporting on the senate race there. And you know, Election Day isn't Election Day in a lot of these states. Iowa has one of the longest early voting periods started in September and it's traditionally been a strength for the Democrats in 2012. Even in 2010 when they were getting blown out, Democrats had tens of thousands more early votes just in terms of which party returned more ballots.

And the Republicans, this past week for the first time in history, Republicans returned more early votes than Democrats in Iowa. This is a big danger sign. Now Democrats are saying oh, those are just those people who would have voted on Election Day anyway. But if past trends are anything like this year and the past two elections, Republicans have had 9 percentage points have won Election Day by its 9 percentage points. So for them to also be leading in the early vote is a big trouble

sign for Democrats. We're seeing that in some of these other states that also have early voting. It's something I'll be looking at in the week ahead to see where we're going on Election Day.

KING: Watch that to the last minute, Molly. Thanks. Manu.

RAJU: With so many races so close, both sides are already laying the groundwork for extended recount battles in some of these close states. I mean they look at what happened in 2008 in Minnesota when Al Franken and Norm Coleman went for months and ended up Al Franken won after a court battle.

Here in Washington, both the party committees are already talking to lawyers on the ground. They're already planning to send people into those close states like potentially Alaska or Colorado or Iowa. If they go down to the wire to have people ready to fight because this is an Election Day that could last for potentially months.

KING: So the greatest winners of all, the lawyers. Manu, thanks. Juana.

SUMMERS: I'll be spending the next week or so taking a look at how gender is going to play a role in the 2014 election. I saw this really interesting poll that shows that most women as a trend from last month actually now prefer a Republican-controlled house to a Democratic-controlled house. I'll be watching that trend in close states like in Colorado, where certainly reproductive choice issues and women have been a battleground; in Iowa, of course, also looking to see whether or not Republicans are actually able to close the diversity gap in the house. And I think that that will be a very important story as we're moving ahead to look forward to 2016 as well.

KING: Looking forward to 2016 and on election night this year. Robert.

COSTA: Most of the 2016 Republican presidential contenders are not on the ballot this year, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, but one is, Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin. And his race has suddenly become one of the hottest contests in the country. This week you're going to see President Obama go to Milwaukee. Democrats really think they have an opportunity there if they can get the turnout in the state's biggest city to put a Democrat, Mary Burke over the top and take out one of the top candidates for the GOP in the next cycle.

KING: Love that race -- the marquee governor's race in the country.

I'll close with this. Most of the attention understandably is on those the big senate races but it's also worth watching in the final week some key final spending decisions in house races. Republicans start with 233; Democrats are trying to keep them under 240. Democrats think there's a slight chance they could pick up a Republican-held seat in Colorado and they're feeling better about protecting two Democratic held seats in New Hampshire that are still competitive into the final stretch.

Republicans trying to get over 240, closer to 250, now spending late in Massachusetts, in the sixth congressional district down in Florida and the 26th, yes, the senate gets most of the attention but some fun house chess to play as well.

That's it for INSIDE POLITICS. Again thanks for sharing your Sunday morning. We'll see you soon.

"STATE OF THE UNION" with Candy Crowley starts right now.