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Alabama Election Night Exit Polls. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired December 12, 2017 - 17:00   ET


TAPPER: That's it for "THE LEAD." I'm Jake Tapper. CNN's special coverage of the Alabama Senate race starts right now, and I will see you later in the broadcast.

[17:00:15] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. This is a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm Wolf Blitzer with live coverage of the U.S. Senate special election in Alabama. And we're counting down until the first results in a very high-profile race that's been dominated by sexual abuse allegations and has stoked division within the Republican Party. The outcome will be a game-changer no matter who wins, Democrat Doug Jones or Republican Roy Moore.

Moore, who rode to the polls on horseback today, is hoping to keep a crucial Senate seat in Republican hands, but his candidacy has been clouded by multiple allegations of past sexual abuse and assault involving teenage girls, including one woman who says he molested her when she was only 14.

The president has raised the stakes and added to the controversy by embracing Moore and his denials of wrongdoing, endorsing him in these, the final days of the campaign.

If Moore wins, he could face a bitter backlash in the U.S. Senate, where some Republicans say they believe Moore's accusers and have called for an ethics investigation. If Doug Jones wins, he'll be the first Democrat elected to the U.S. Senate from Alabama in a quarter century. That's an uphill climb in a ruby red state, even with the scandal surrounding his opponent.

The decision Alabama voters will make tonight will have national consequences, setting the stage for next year's crucial midterm election. We have our correspondents standing by at the headquarters for both the Republican and Democratic candidates.

Let's go live to CNN's Kaitlan Collins. She's over at Roy Moore headquarters in Montgomery. Kaitlan, what are you hearing from the Moore campaign?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, so far a lot of confidence. The Moore campaign is privately telling associates that their internal numbers are showing a high turnout among rural white voters. Now that's a key demographic that Roy Moore will need to secure if he's going to win this race against Doug Jones.

And the internal numbers for the Moore campaign are also showing a much higher turnout in general than what the secretary of state's office predicted, which was somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 to 25 percent.

Now these numbers also show, according to someone who has been briefed on them that turnout is also high in cities like Birmingham, an area that's predicted to go for Democrat Doug Jones in this race. But we're told for right now that the Moore campaign is confident that these numbers will come out in the wash and that high turnout in cities like that will be countered by high turnout among rural white voters. So right now, Wolf, a lot of confidence among the Moore campaign here in Montgomery.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens. Kaitlan, stand by. We'll get back to you.

I want to go over to Alex Marquardt. He's over at Doug Jones' campaign. He's watching all of this, as well. What are you hearing from the Doug Jones campaign, Alex?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, a lot of confidence over here, too. They like where they are. They like what they're seeing. They're seeing high turnout across the board in counties that they have been targeting, counties they have not been targeting.

I'm told by a senior member of the campaign that, in some of the precincts, as early as 10 a.m. this morning, they saw turnout almost as high as 50 percent. That just gives you a sense of how energized many of Alabama's voters are.

Now the thinking goes that a high turnout does favor Doug Jones, that there are more votes for him for the taking, that Roy Moore has a bit of a ceiling. But this -- the -- we're also hearing from the Jones campaign that they are seeing high turnout not just among millennials, who will be a key group, but also among African-Americans, who will be absolutely crucial if Jones is to stand a chance of winning this race.

Now they're also saying that it is hard to believe that, given what they are seeing right now in terms of the turnout, that they will not hit 100 percent of their targets -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Alex Marquardt over at the Doug Jones campaign.

Let's go over to John King. He's taking a closer look at the state. We're going to be learning a lot more about Alabama in the course of tonight. What would it take, for example, for these candidates, respective candidates to win?

KING: A little after 8 p.m., we'll start to fill in the map. And one key point to make right off the top, No. 1, what's the percentage of write-ins? Do a lot of Republicans write in somebody else? Does the winning -- bar for winning go below 50 percent? That would help Doug Jones, the Democrat.

No. 2, let's just start with this. You just heard it from Alex and Kaitlan. This is a ruby-red Republican state. This is a very steep hill for Doug Jones. Yes, the allegations against Roy Moore have put him in contention. But look at this. This is just the presidential election last year, Donald Trump, 63 percent of the vote.

Let's go back to 2012, Mitt Romney, 61 percent of the vote. Even though African-American turnout up for the African-American president seeking re-election. This is a Republican red -- ruby-red state.

But let's take a look. What would Doug Jones have to do to win? Let's remind people of this. This is the last time Roy Moore ran for state supreme court chief justice, 2012. He only got 52 percent. Just to remind you, in a presidential year, Mitt Romney gets 61, Roy Moore only gets 52. So he has a history of underperforming. There are moderate suburban Republicans who even before these allegations don't like these conservative views on some of those issues. So there is an opportunity for Doug Jones.

[17:05:13] How does he have to do that? No. 1, in Montgomery, has to run it up. You see this is the Democrat who ran against Roy Moore. Then 71 percent. Doug Jones needs to do that. It's not so much the percentage, Wolf; it's the turnout. What are the numbers? The Democratic base, particularly African-Americans, do they come out in big numbers? Doug Jones needs that. He needs it there. He also needs it up here in Jefferson County, Birmingham. A very large piece of the state right there. The Democratic base. Young people, college-educated, particularly African-Americans have to turn out in high numbers for Doug Jones to have a prayer.

Even that wouldn't be enough. Then he's going to have to do something else. Look at the race with Bob Vance. Down here in Mobile, actually went Democratic. That's why the president was down here in Pensacola, Florida, speaking to the Mobile media market, Pensacola-Mobile media market, trying to get Republicans to stick with Roy Moore in this race.

Let's watch. If this is blue tonight, late into the night, Doug Jones has a chance.

Also up here, Madison County, up here in Huntsville area. Again, look at this. Bob Vance won it in the chief justice race in 2012 at a time Mitt Romney was winning it quite handily in the presidential race. So Roy Moore has been vulnerable, but let's look back. That's how Doug Jones would have to do it. African-American turnout way up. Suburban Republicans outside here, Shelby County, outside of Birmingham, suburban Republicans saying, " I can't vote for Roy Moore" and coming over to the Democratic side.

For Roy Moore, here's what we're going to look at. I want to go back to this race down here. Look down here in the southeast corner of the state. Houston County, down here. You see 64 percent. Right here, this is where you have the Christian conservative rural base of the Republican Party in Alabama. Down here in the southeast corner, up here across the northern stretch of the state. Again, are the margins like this for Roy Moore? If so, he's off to a decent start, but not the margins tonight, because we're going to look who's actually coming out to vote. The raw math. Is turnout up? Is he winning these counties big because people are coming to vote for him or is the turnout down? If the turnout in these rural counties is lower, then Doug Jones has a chance, as long as he can flip that and have the turnout high, especially in Birmingham, Montgomery, Selma and so on.

BLITZER: It's going to be fascinating to see how this unfolds in the coming hours. And we're going to be talking a lot in the course of these hours. John, thanks very much.

The first exit polls are coming in, giving us an idea of what's on voters' minds as they cast their ballots in Alabama.

Let go to our political director David Chalian. What are you seeing David?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, Wolf, these are our first clues of what people were thinking about those allegations against Roy Moore that rocked this race in the final month of the race.

We asked people if they thought those allegations were true or false. Take a look at what Alabama voters said today. A pretty split electorate. You've got about 49 percent saying the allegations are true, 45 percent saying false. But look at how it splits when you measure the intensity of how people feel about that. Twenty-six percent say definitely the allegations are true. Compare that to those that say definitely false at the bottom there, 16 percent.

So the passion argument is on the side of people who think the allegations against Roy Moore are true, but you see a divided electorate over whether or not those allegations are true or false. How about how important of a factor was it in deciding on your vote? Fifty-five percent of Alabama voters today say it was not an important factor in their vote decision. Forty percent, four in ten voters today, say it is an important factor in the vote decision.

And then take a look at this, Wolf. We asked people what best describes why they're voting for who they're voting for today. Nearly two-thirds of Alabama voters, 65 percent, are voting because they strongly favor their guy guy in this race. Twenty-one percent are doing it with support for their guy with some reservations. Only 12 percent are sort of holding their nose and voting because they dislike the other guy.

So when you see two-thirds of the voters today are saying, "I'm strongly with my guy," this is what we were saying at the end of the race. Each candidate was looking to turn out their fervent supporters, the base voters, and it looks like that is what this electorate is charged with right now. A polarized electorate out there in support of their candidate.

BLITZER: Yes, we're just beginning to go through those exit poll numbers. More of them coming up. David Chalian, stick around.

Anderson, this is going to be a very, very fascinating night.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. I mean, one of the most extraordinary nights in recent American politics, certainly. Let's talk about it with the panel.

It's interesting looking at those -- those exit polls, because even people who felt that the abuse allegations were big in how they were going to vote, it doesn't necessarily mean they're going to vote against Roy Moore. Some people may actually be coming out because they believe so strongly that these are not real allegations and that this is something done by the "Washington Post" or Mitch McConnell or, you know, the whole range of people that Roy Moore has accused.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, we've got to be careful. That data is still very, very early. But I've got to tell you what. That seems pretty favorable towards Roy Moore, just at this time. If you look at this really early data at this point.

Also, the fact that 12 percent cast their votes as a protest vote, you have to think that protest vote would be against Roy Moore. That doesn't seem to be very high, given the intensity of the allegations against Roy Moore.

COOPER: Rebecca.

[17:10:14] REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, absolutely. I mean, one interesting thing to me, Anderson, is that 50 percent, roughly, of people did not believe these allegations, either slightly or very strongly did not believe these allegations.

It shows what Roy Moore was trying to do was, you know, mission accomplished. He was trying to plant a seed of doubt for his voters, turn out Republicans, at least give them a reason to say, OK, I can doubt these allegations enough to get to the polls to support this candidate who I would have supported otherwise. These exit polls suggest that their campaign did accomplish that. They were able to plant that seed of doubt. You have to look at the president as well. He endorsed Roy Moore in spite of these allegations, suggested made these women weren't being truthful. That plays into these results.

BLITZER: J.D., one of the things that the Roy Moore campaign has been pushing these are allegations from outsiders who are coming in here and telling Alabamans how to vote. And that's something that, obviously, a lot of people in the state of Alabama would not like.

J.D. VANCE: Yes, so one of the interesting data points is that more people actually believe the allegations, slightly more believe the allegations than disbelieve the allegations. Which means that if Roy Moore has a chance, there's a large volume of people who believed the allegations but still voted for Roy Moore. Which suggests to me that they're single-issue abortion voters, that -- that they're protesting, effectively, the way that the media ganged up against Roy Moore.

But it is interesting that at least a few percent of the electorate effectively is believing all of these sexual assault allegations against Roy Moore but is still voting for him. That's necessarily going to be the case if Roy Moore ends up pulling out this race.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, and the other thing when it comes to what the president was saying when he was going in there. He was talking about the larger Republican agenda and talking about moving his agenda through the Congress and how Roy Moore will be a better vessel to facilitate that than Doug Jones. And I think Roy Moore would be benefitting from that message. Because it does take away from his issues and his troubles, and it broadens the -- we're talking about conservative justices. We're talking about abortion. And I think that those voters would be in favor of Moore and aren't going to vote for a Democrat, no matter who he is.

COOPER: Yes, Paul, I mean, the stakes could not be higher for Republicans tonight, certainly.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Can you believe it that we're talking about a dead heat race in Alabama? It is crazy. It's just remarkable.

If, in fact -- actually, either way, the Republicans are in a bind. They really lost when Roy Moore became their nominee. That's why even President Trump, lots of leading Republicans -- the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell -- they opposed Moore in the primary, because they didn't want to be in this box.

If Roy Moore wins, he's a walking negative ad for the Democratic Party. Every day, believe me, at the Democratic headquarters, they'll just run tape of C-SPAN. And every Republican who shakes his hand on the Senate floor, slaps his back. Bam, they're going to attack him. He's going to be just a walking, talking negative ad.

Now, if he loses, good God, then you have a Democratic senator from Alabama. We haven't had one in 25 years. And he switched parties and quit, went to the Republicans. Dick Shelby.

COOPER: Nina Turner, the fact that the Moore campaign, that Moore basically has been off the campaign trail for a week, it does -- it either shows confidence or a desire to keep him from being out there and make a mistake like his wife did last night, talking about, you know, she has a -- you know, she likes Jews. She has a Jewish lawyer.

NINA TURNER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Right. I mean, definitely, they're being shrewd in how they're operating here to drive down his negatives. And you know, having the president prop him up in the way -- I mean, the Republican Party -- not all, but the Republican Party itself has said, you know, an alleged pedophile is better than a Democrat. Period.

And so the sense of honor and dignity is out the door just for a policy agenda for the president. He has made that very clear.

COOPER: We've got to take a quick break. We'll have more from our panel coming up. Despise the sex abuse allegations against Roy Moore, deep divisions within his own party. President Trump, as you know, has thrown support behind the Alabama Republican. We'll check in at the White House about that.


[17:18:16] BLITZER: This is a live picture coming in from Montgomery, Alabama. You're looking at Roy Moore headquarters as voters cast ballots in the polarizing U.S. Senate election. Right now we're getting new information from early exit polls, showing

us what's on the minds of the voters. Let's go to back to our political director David Chalian. What are you learning?

CHALIAN: Wolf, digging into these numbers, we asked Alabama voters today how they feel about the Trump factor. Take a look at this. The president's approval rating in Alabama today among the electorate, among people going to the polls, evenly split: 48 percent approve, 48 percent disapprove. You would expect his approval rating to be higher in Alabama than it is nationally. But look at that, an even split electorate in the state of Alabama over Donald Trump's handling of his job. Surprising numbers.

And then take a look at we asked people, is Donald Trump a reason in your vote today? Did he factor into it? Well, nearly half you see at the bottom there, 48 percent say President Trump not a factor in their votes, but among those who said the president was a factor in their votes, it's one of the reasons they went into the booth and cast their ballot, it favors in support of President Trump. Twenty-nine percent said they went to go cast their ballot in support of the president. Twenty percent of Alabama voters today said they consider Trump a factor, and it was to cast a vote in opposition to him.

BLITZER: David, thank you.

We're also getting new insight into President Trump's take on the vote tonight. Let's go live to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. Jim, what are you learning?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Two sources close to the White House told me today they believe President Trump will be, quote, "wounded" if Roy Moore loses tonight. Yes, one of these sources said 0-2 in ruby-red Alabama, in the word of that source, referring to the president's initial backing of the incumbent senator Luther Strange before throwing his support behind the man who beat Strange, Roy Moore. It's a critical time for the president, as you know, to get behind Moore as the 2018 midterms are drawing closer.

According to the same source I spoke with earlier today, the president is heavily invested in Moore as he sees the allegations against the Alabama Republican as being similar to the accusations directed against him during the 2016 campaign.

[17:20:15] Now, this source described the White House as, quote, "all- in" on Moore, despite some reservations initially about the president backing an accused child molester. Not to mention the press secretary, Sarah Sanders, saying repeatedly that the White House is troubled by these allegations.

But Wolf, there is a sense among sources close to this White House that the president is taking a very big gamble as the midterms are looming next year. They are worried he's going with the wrong horse, you might say tonight, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We'll see what happens. Jim Acosta, thanks very much.

Anderson, over to you.

COOPER: Yes. Thanks very much.

Jack Kingston, you actually campaigned for Luther Strange. How big a problem for Republicans is it if Moore does, in fact, win?

JACK KINGSTON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: He is a wild card, because he does really, when he says, "I don't like the establishment," he means everybody. He's a -- probably in Washington, D.C.

COOPER: He may not vote along with President Trump on everything.

KINGSTON: I actually asked an elected official today in Alabama how hard would he be on -- how much opposition will he give McConnell? And he said as long as McConnell's in office, probably the whole time.

And so I think he is definitely a wild card. But I think that's part of his lore, and that's why his fan base is so loyal. And that's why I think the rural voters in particular will show out, rain, snow or whatever.

COOPER: Ana Navarro, the sheer list of people that the Roy Moore campaign or Roy Moore himself have blamed or cited as part of a conspiracy: Mitch McConnell, mainstream Republicans, the DNC, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, in their words radical homosexuals, transgender groups and criminals, and the "Washington Post."

BEGALA: George Soros.

TURNER: Mainstream media.

COOPER: Mainstream -- well, yes, lynch mob media is actually their term. But it is an extraordinary coalition from, you know, Republicans to Democrats to liberals to all sorts of groups.

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Look, it's obviously a strategy. It's us against them type of thing, right? Look, I'm the victim. We're the -- we're the little people here in Alabama, and these elitists on the coast, they want to tell us what to do. They want to tell us how to vote. They want to rule our lives.

The irony of this is that the guy who's going down there and telling them what to do is Steve Bannon, who is just as elitist and schlepping around in a private plane and more elitist than most of these people that you just named. And he is manipulating, and he is making it an "us against them" thing. He's also doing that within the Republican Party. Sometimes I think this guy is some sort of double agent sent out there to destroy the party.

This race has laid bare for all of America to see the great rifts and divisions within this party. We're seeing it within Alabama. We're seeing it here in Washington, where the RNC and the White House are on one side. The National Republican Senatorial Committee is on another. Where we see it where, you know, the senator from Alabama, Richard Shelby, who is a conservative -- this man is no elitist liberal moderate Republican -- is saying, "I can't vote for Roy Moore."

So it's -- I think it's been a very painful process for the Republican Party.

COOPER: Well, also, it was interesting Steve Bannon taking a shot, you know, none too veiled at Ivanka Trump last night.

KUCINICH: Right. It seems like he has -- he can do that. Maybe because he's friends with the president. I don't know. But I feel like if anyone else took a shot at her, there would be Twitter hell to pay, at least. But I mean, maybe there is a private call. Who knows? But it is unusual for a slight like that to go unanswered.

COOPER: Yes. Steve Bannon, for those who didn't know, was paraphrasing something Ivanka Trump said about Roy Moore: there was a special place in hell...

KUCINICH: Which the president purportedly wasn't happy with. The president wasn't happy that his daughter kind of got out front when he hadn't had time to respond to this. So there is a little bit of internal Trump family drama there.

NAVARRO: When Nordstrom stopped selling her shoes, there was hell to pay from Trump on Twitter against Nordstrom. Here, you've got Steve Bannon basically saying there's a special place in hell for Ivanka Trump, and nothing happened.

COOPER: J.D. Vance, you see a difference among evangelicals, obviously not a monolithic group, but sort of an age difference in terms of how they view Roy Moore and the allegations against him.

VANCE: Yes. One of the things I've seen in talking to different evangelical groups is that young evangelicals tend to believe the allegations against Roy Moore and, in some cases, see the church supporting Roy Moore, see local pastors supporting Roy Moore as a bit of a betrayal of the core tenets of the faith. And that's obviously not true among older evangelicals, who tend to see, like Ana said, this is an "us against them" sort of thing.

So they see this primarily as a cultural war, older evangelicals. Whereas younger evangelicals definitely are a little bit more split and a little bit concerned about the fact that supporting Roy Moore does discredit the church a little bit, does discredit the church in the eyes of folks who may be attracted to it but are now turned off. And I think that fact is something that will continue to play out. You'll see a bit of a generational divide between evangelicals young and old, as the party continues to deal with what may very well be a Senator Roy Moore.

KINGSTON: But also, coming from the evangelical area, I can tell you there's another pushback, is that God uses imperfect vessels. David in the Bible or Saul, who turned into St. Paul in the Bible. God always uses imperfect vessels.

[17:25:09] And I think under the doctrine of forgiveness, a lot of people are saying, you know what? This happened a long time ago. He's a different guy now.

BEGALA: And he hasn't asked to forgiveness. I'm sorry. He's not King David and he's not Saul of Tarsus. He's Judge Roy Moore, who's accused of child molestation and who has not repented, brother.

KINGSTON: I have said...


BEGALA: You've got to come to the Lord and repent.

KINGSTON: In the very important issue of abortion, he's pro-life. And that makes a big, big difference to these voters.

COOPER: All right. We're going to take another break. Been a quarter of a century since Alabama elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate. With a scandal swirling about his opponent, what would it actually take for Democrat Doug Jones to break that streak tonight? More of our special coverage, coming up.


BLITZER: We've got live pictures of Montgomery, Alabama. We're back with our breaking news, the coverage of the U.S. Senate election in Alabama. We're counting down to the first results.

[17:30:36] Joining us now, Mayor Randall Woodfin of Birmingham, Alabama. He's a first-term Democrat. He won a run-off election just two months ago. He earlier served as Hillary Clinton's state campaign director.

Mayor, thanks so much for joining us.


BLITZER: All right. You just became the mayor of Birmingham, as I said. The vote there will be critical, certainly, to the outcome of tonight. What did you see at the polls today?

WOODFIN: We're encouraged by the turnout so far. I'll tell you with 2 1/2 hours left, there's still time for voters in the Birmingham area to vote, and honestly, I believe the turnout here will be higher among our youth vote, as well as our African-American community.

BLITZER: As you know, the Doug Jones campaign brought in several national, very prominent African-American politicians to campaign this weekend for him, including a robocall from former President Obama himself. Do you believe that was effective in mobilizing African- American voters or was it, as some in your party fear, too little, too late?

WOODFIN: No, I think this entire election, because it's a special election, everything we're doing is centered around turnout. And I think everything Doug Jones has done up until today, with 2 1/2 hours remaining on the polls to close, there is still time to make sure we maximize our turnout. And I think tonight should be a good night for us.

BLITZER: NBA legend Charles Barkley, he campaigned for Doug Jones last night. He said Alabamans have got to stop looking like idiots. He's a native son of Alabama, as you know. Do you agree with him that Alabamans will look like idiots if Roy Moore is elected tonight?

WOODFIN: I think Sir Charles is in a unique space to speak his mind very differently from the majority of us. As an elected official who represents people, what I can tell you, Alabamians have something to say. We are decent people. I do believe Roy Moore represents a threat to integrity and decency, not just for Alabama but for our country.

And that's why I'm supporting and voting for Doug Jones as well as many other Birminghamians I know and other Alabamians across the state. I think we'll do the right thing tonight.

BLITZER: Some Democrats here on CNN have been saying that tonight is actually a win-win for their party. Either Doug Jones wins or they get to make Roy Moore the bogeyman of the -- for Republican politics. Is that how you see it?

WOODFIN: No, how I see it is, if decency and integrity are under attack as it relates to those elected officials who represent us, Doug Jones presents an amazing opportunity to bring servant leadership to our U.S. Capitol.

I think we have to be in a space of not just being anti-another candidate, but pro our candidate. And I'm glad to be pro-Doug Jones. What he represents, not only for Alabamians but how we move our country forward in fighting for what's right in our country, Doug Jones is the guy, the guy to do it.

BLITZER: Mayor Randal Woodfin, congratulations on your win as mayor. Thanks so much for joining us.

WOODFIN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: Yes Wolf. Back now with the panel. Did Democrats, particularly national Democrats, take this race seriously enough early enough?

PRESTON: Yes. And I think they took it seriously enough to say, "Let us not go near that state at all, because if we go into that state, we're really going to screw things up."

Up to the point where you saw Doug Jones, the Democrat yesterday, basically feigning ignorance on whether Barack Obama had cut a robocall for him. And then we find out later in the day that Joe Biden did.

Now, those robocalls are very important and very well could help Doug Jones win. You have Barack Obama trying to get out the African- American and the younger voters. But Joe Biden kind of came out of nowhere. And the unions are very big in Alabama. Trial lawyers are very big in Alabama. These are folks that have longstanding relationships with Joe Biden. So the Biden phone call, I think, has been underestimated up until this point. We'll see if it actually works.

KUCINICH: Biden is the one who's been encouraging him to run for Senate. So Biden has kind of been a secret hand, cheerleader behind this whole candidacy.

COOPER: You made the point that I think it was a couple of days ago, you made the point that Doug Jones really doesn't have much of a profile over the last -- couple of years.

KINGSTON: He really doesn't, in my opinion. By the way, I just want to say Roy Moore is pro-trial bar, ironically. Complex guy. So he does cut into that...

PRESTON: That's an understatement, Jack, that he's a complex guy.

[17:35:00] KINGSTON: He cuts into that.

But, you know, I think because the Democrats did not run a top-tier candidate and then Jones made the mistake of not developing and not defining Moore. I think he went under the assumption that Moore is the Ten Commandments guy. Everybody knows him. He's well-vetted. And he never exploited some of the more wacky statements Moore has made over the years, and I think a seasoned candidate would have done that.

COOPER: Should I just point out, the video we're showing, this is Roy Moore and his wife arriving to vote. Roy Moore on his horse, Sassy. Which it wasn't until today, I think, that anyone knew his horse was named Sassy. Which I don't know. For some reason I just found an interesting name for.

NAVARRO: It's incredibly for him to show up on a horse, because his views are from back in an era where there weren't motorized vehicles.

COOPER: But it is interesting to the extent to which this candidate has been off the campaign trail for the past week. I mean, is that a sign of confidence or is it just a sign of trying to keep him hidden so he doesn't make a mistake?

BERG: Both.

TURNER: Out of sight, out of mind.

KUCINICH: It remains to be seen whether...

BERG: Part of it is that his campaign can safely assume that in Alabama, you're going to get, by default, a percentage of the Republican vote and most of the vote in the state. And so their bet here is that by staying out of the limelight, by not having to answer these questions, they could at least stay away from controversy.

One other interesting bit of data from our exit polling here was that roughly nine in ten of Moore's supporters believed that the allegations against him were false. So he didn't need to be out there for his people necessarily defending himself. They planted those seeds of doubt. Got out of the way. It was for Jones to really try to make up that ground.

TURNER: And it's like out of sight, hopefully the bad stuff is out of mind is the kind of strategy that -- that they're running.

And then Congressman, to say that the Democrats didn't run a top-tier candidate, but is Roy Moore a top-tier candidate for the Republicans? We can't get into comparing top-tier.

KINGSTON: Well, Luther Strange didn't...

BEGALA: Doug Jones is a top-tier candidate, very much. He was a target they wanted. He has been a U.S. attorney. The thing he is most famous for is getting justice for those -- excuse me, those little girls murdered, 16th Street at Athens Church in Birmingham. He, after decades, prosecuted the Ku Klux Klan, brought them to justice, and avenged the deaths of those girls. That's a top-tier man. That's a top-tier candidate.

KINGSTON: But Paul, if you were running the campaign, you would have made sure everybody in Alabama knew that, and you would have made sure that in Alabama...

BEGALA: They did.

KINGSTON: They did not know.

When the sex misconduct came out, remember, it was late stage. He should have already developed his case against Moore by then. It should have been the icing on the cake.

BEGALA: He had. It's a -- it's a pretty Republican state.

KINGSTON: it's his whole race is the sexual...

BEGALA: That's not true. That's not not true. If you look at what Doug Jones has been running on, he's been -- yes, he's been referring somewhat to the fact that Judge Moore is credibly accused of child molestation. It's kind of a big deal. But he has also been very true to his background as law enforcement and the guy who took on the Ku Klux Klan in Alabama.

VANCE: I think the perception that a lot of folks have that I share is that the Democrats really did make a mistake by not making a more affirmative case for Doug Jones. You look at the exit poll data. It says 60 percent of the people were really excited about their

candidate. I have a hard time believing most of the people excited about their candidate are voting for Doug Jones, simply because, at least from an outsider's perspective, the entire campaign was about Roy Moore. It was about what Roy Moore did wrong, about the sexual assault allegations.

That may be able -- that may enable the Democrats to eke out a victory here, but I'd be surprised if they don't look back and say, "We should have made more of an affirmative case for Doug Jones."

NAVARRO: In some way it's a, you know, miniature replay of the presidential election in 2016.

TURNER: And it goes back to what even Mayor Woodfin just said, is that you've got to be for something and not just against.

COOPER: Polls still open there in Alabama. Closing in about two hours and 21 minutes. The question, of course, what's motivating voters as they cast their ballots. We have new information coming in from the exit polls. We'll show you those ahead.


[17:43:41] BLITZER: This is a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM on this election night in Alabama.

So what's driving voters as they cast their ballots in the important and very divisive U.S. Senate race? We have more information coming in from our exit polls. David Chalian, our political director, is back with us.

What else are you learning, David?

CHALIAN: Wolf, as we've been saying for the last few days, it's not just overall turnout that matters. It's the composite of the electorate that matters. And so we're learning more information about the breakdown of the electorate.

Take a look at this breakdown by race. Sixty-five percent of today's voters are white, 30 percent are black, 2 percent Latino. Now look at that African-American number. We've been talking about it a lot. That matches sort of the record high turnout we saw in Barack Obama's elections in 2008 and 2012. These numbers are preliminarily. They may change throughout the night. But these early exit poll numbers show there is a really big African-American turnout today in Alabama, and we'll see if that holds as real votes come in after polls close.

We also took a look at party affiliation. And take a look at this. Thirty-seven percent of today's voters are Democrats; 43 percent are Republicans; 20 percent are independents. That is a Democratic electorate that looks kind of like we've seen in 2008 in Alabama.

And then, of course, the born-again evangelical factor. Forty-three percent of today's Alabama voters are, indeed, born again or evangelical Christians; 57 percent are not. That's a little less than what we saw last year in the presidential election in 2012, when it was 47 percent evangelical. And abortion has been a huge issue because the candidates differ dramatically on this. Forty percent of Alabama voters today say it should be legal in some or all cases. Fifty-four percent, a clear majority, say abortion should be illegal. The Roy Moore position, in some or all cases.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, David, standby. We're going to get back to you with more exit poll numbers. John King is still with us. Map this out for us. The state of Alabama, evangelical Christians,

African-American votes, all these are very, very critical.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And if those numbers David just gave you hold up -- African-American turnout spiking, evangelical turnout lower than the presidential election -- then Doug Jones will be in play. Emphasis on if they hold up.

Let me show you what I'm talking about here. Let's look at the state of Alabama, and let's focus first on the African-American population.

The deeper the shading, the higher the population. So you see significant African-American populations up here in Huntsville, in Birmingham area and over in Tuscaloosa, Selma, Montgomery, down here in Mobile.

This is absolutely critical for Doug Jones. We saw the increased Democratic turnout in New Jersey and Virginia. Blue state New Jersey, purple to lean. Blue state Virginia.

Can the Democrats copy that, emulate that, get that increased Democratic intensity, especially among African-Americans in ruby red Alabama?

It is the only big stepping stone. Doug Jones absolutely has to have that as his first stepping stone.

It's not enough but if he gets that -- this electorate is 30 percent African-American, he is presumably getting more than 90 percent of those votes -- then he's on a path to be competitive because look at the pockets of it here. It is the absolute critical base vote for the Democrats.

Now, let's flip the table a little bit. Let's take this off the board and clean this up. Here is Roy Moore's traditional base.

Let's come down here to evangelical voters. So let me shrink this down so you can see it. Again, the deeper the intensity, the higher the population.

This band up here in the state, this corner down here in the southeast part of the state, absolutely critical for Roy Moore. They must turn out at a high percentage, in high numbers.

And he must dominate the vote because to offset, you assume Doug Jones is going to win like Democrats in the urban areas. This rural area is absolutely critical.

I want to go back to that 2012 race. This is the last time in the race for state Supreme Court chief justice. Again, underperformed Mitt Romney in a presidential year, struggles in the closed in suburbs. These evangelical voters across the belt in the north and down in the southeast corner coming out in big numbers.

That was absolutely critical to Roy Moore, but look how close Bob Vance came. See the blue areas? That's where Doug Jones has to perform tonight. He has to beat that number, at least match that number.

The one thing I will say, Wolf, will 48 be enough to win this race? Will there be enough write-ins to drop the finish down, if you will? That's another factor we'll watch.

BLITZER: Yes. We're watching it very closely. Fascinating numbers coming in from those exit polls.

So what would potentially a Doug Jones victory mean? Much more on that as we get ready for the results to come in from Alabama.


[17:52:39] BLITZER: Even though Republican Roy Moore's candidacy has been clouded by lots of controversies, Democrat Doug Jones has faced very tough odds in a very red state. So what happens if Jones pulls off a win tonight?

CNN's Tom Foreman has been looking into that. What are you finding out?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, look at how razor-thin the advantage is for Republicans in the Senate. They hold 52 seats here, shown here in red. The Democrats and their allies, 48 seats.

This is why the President is so concerned about this election because he knows that if Roy Moore can win, it makes a big difference to their ability to maybe get something done.

And they've struggled with major legislation anyway, but if this seat jumps over here, and Doug Jones gets it instead, it becomes a Democratic seat, that could imperil various plans from the White House for different types of border control, budgets, entitlements, and more.

Because by our assessment, at least a dozen times this year, the Republicans needed every single vote they could muster, or they would have failed.

For example, controversial Education Secretary Betsy DeVos would not have been confirmed if they had had one fewer Republican vote. Several other nominees would not have been confirmed without Vice President Mike Pence coming in to cast the deciding vote.

Beyond that, remember the dramatic moment when John McCain cast a vote against ObamaCare repeal and that changed everything? That vote would not have even happened because, procedurally, the measure would have died before it even reached that point.

There was another measure to make it possible for the state to strip funding away from Planned Parenthood. That would not have happened with one fewer Republican votes out there.

And another measure that allowed them to block making it easier for people to sue banks and credit card companies -- Republicans didn't want that -- they would have failed, Wolf, if they didn't have every Republican vote.

BLITZER: Tom, when all this started, did Republicans have any idea they might lose this seat?

FOREMAN: No. I mean, this seemed like a sure thing. Look, Jeff Sessions left to become the U.S. Attorney General. When he left, the Governor of Alabama appointed a reliable Republican, Luther Strange, to fill in in the interim.

And they all assumed that he would then become the nominee for the special election and he would win, but he get -- got busted out in the primary by Roy Moore. Then all these allegations came along.

And here's another reason that they didn't think they would lose. Remember, Alabama has not elected a Democratic senator since back in the 1990s. That was Richard Shelby, who has since turned into a Republican, so they really didn't see this coming in any way.

[17:55:09] And an important note in all of this, Wolf. Again, if they do not hold on to that seat, if they lose one more, remember, that means one fewer seat that the Democrats have to defend in next year's elections.

BLITZER: Tom Foreman reporting for us. Thanks, Tom.

As the President casts his lot with Roy Moore, he's also waging an ugly new battle against a Democratic senator over the sexual misconduct allegations he's facing. That's coming up.