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Alabama Secretary of State: Turnout May Be Higher Than Expected. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired December 12, 2017 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:20]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're back with a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM, live coverage of the U.S. Senate special election in Alabama.

I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting.

Voters, they have another two hours to cast ballots in this high- stakes race that's being closely watched across the country. Democrat Doug Jones is battling against Republican Roy Moore for a seat that normally would have been a sure bet for the GOP.

But as many Americans know by now, Moore has been accused by multiple women of sexual abuse when they were teenagers and he was in his early 30s. Moore defiantly denies those allegations.

And President Trump seems eager to believe him. After opposing Moore in the primary, the president endorsed him late in the campaign, widening the split in the party over Moore's candidacy.

In the Senate, many Republicans are distancing themselves from Moore. Some are condemning him outright. Even Alabama's senior Republican senator says he did not vote for Moore. Doug Jones is trying to capitalize on all of this in hopes of becoming the first Democrat elected to the U.S. Senate in Alabama in 25 years.

Tonight's vote will certainly help set the tone for 2018 and the crucial midterm battle for control of Congress.

So we're getting a closer look at our exit polls, showing what's on voters' minds as they cast their ballots in this Alabama special Senate election.

Let's go to CNN's political director, David Chalian.

What are you seeing, David?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Wolf, you said the stakes couldn't be higher.

And part of that is the makeup of the Senate. Of course, if Democrats win tonight, they will be only two seats away in 2018 from a Democratic majority. So we asked voters in Alabama, would you like to see a Democratic Party in control of the Senate or a Republican Party in control?

Fifty-one percent, a slim majority, of a little bit today say they would like to see the GOP maintain majority control in the United States Senate -- 43 percent, more than four in 10 Alabama voters, say they would like to see Democrats in control of the party.

And then, of course, we asked about Mitch McConnell, who has clearly been an issue in this race in the primary and in the general. He is not well thought of in Alabama. He's got a 14 percent favorable rating among Alabama voters today in these early exit polls; 69 percent of Alabama voters have an unfavorable view of Mitch McConnell, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, David, thanks very much.

John King is over here with me at the magic wall.

We're going to be learning a lot about this state over the next several hours.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right, we're going to learn about Alabama, and then a conversation will begin, how does this affect 2018?

Remember, big Democratic wins in New Jersey, a blue state, but big Democratic wins in Pennsylvania. Big Democratic wins in Virginia, more of a purple swing state. That has Democrats thinking, is there an anti-Trump wave out there? If the Democrats can win Alabama tonight, they will think, yes, there's a giant anti-Trump, anti- Republican wave.

Let's look at the math. Here's where we stand going into the vote, 52-48, the narrow Republican Senate majority. Let's just take a peek at next year. These 10 blue states -- Alabama's highlighted here. That seat's up tonight.

These 10 blue states highlighted, these are 10 Democratic incumbents up next year in states Donald Trump won. The Republican hopes of either expanding their majority or at least, in an anti-Trump year, offsetting some losses is to take out some of these Democrats. These Democrats, though, none of them felt compelled to vote for the tax cut bill, for example.

They feel increasingly confident that they can win reelection, that next year will be a Democratic year. So, here's one way to look at it. Let's say the five Democrats where the president won only by single digits in their state. Let's put them back in there. Then the battlefield gets a little more favorable for Democrats.

Let's say, and this is speculative, but let's say there is an anti- Trump wave, there is a pro-Democratic wave, Democrats have the intensity, and all 10 of those Democrats hold. This is where the math gets interesting. I know this is a hypothetical, and we're out there, but this is why Alabama matters.

Look at this race right there, right? -- 51-48 in this scenario here. Let's bring into this some Republican incumbents, open seat here in Tennessee, open seat here in Arizona, an embattled Republican incumbent in Nevada. Democrats think if it's a big Democratic wave year, maybe, just maybe.

And that's where Alabama comes into play. Let's say for the sake of argument that Doug Jones wins this race tonight, puts the seat in Democratic hands, gives Democrats so much optimism heading into 2018.

We would have to come up to Minnesota. Amy Klobuchar, let's say she holds reelection here, and then the Al Franken's seat -- this will not be Al Franken as the candidate -- he is supposed to resign and be gone. But let's assume the Democrat holds that seat in Minnesota.

Then this is the Democratic dream scenario. They win Alabama tonight and they get into a situation where open seat in Tennessee with a strong Democratic candidate, open seat in Arizona with a strong Democratic candidate, and the candidate in Nevada, it's possible, possible.

This is early. I don't want to get the car too far out in front of the horse here, but this is why Democrats look at Alabama tonight and say, if we can win there, change one seat, it makes the math so much -- number one, it makes the math better for them in 2018, because they will have one more seat.

[18:05:01]

But, number two, the intensity, the optimism, the confidence will help with candidate recruitment, help with fund-raising.

So, tonight, let's not get too ahead, but remember Scott Brown won the Teddy Kennedy seat in Massachusetts? Republicans had the big sweep to take Senate control the next year. Democrats are hoping to flip the table.

BLITZER: Yes, the Democrats need 51. The Republicans need 50, because Mike Pence is the president of the Senate. He can break a tie in favor of the Republicans.

KING: And we may be having that conversation next October and November.

BLITZER: Sounds like that's very, very possible -- Anderson, over to you.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, thanks very much.

Back now with the panel.

Mark Preston, do we know how good or limited the Democratic turnout effort is on the ground in Alabama?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: It's been very clandestine about what they have been doing.

What we do know, though, in the last couple of days, and certainly in the last couple of hours today, is that we have learned that super PACs have gone in very quiet, you know, as to what they were doing, but they have spent millions and millions of dollars to work alongside the Jones campaign, not directly with the Jones campaign.

I think what we will see in Alabama tonight -- although it will be interesting to see how this works out, but I do think that the key to victory, and we saw this in the exit polls, is the African-American vote. And when we see the number as high as 30 percent, the early numbers coming in right now, I think that is a very good sign for Doug Jones.

I have got to tell you, coming in, though, I didn't think their turnout operation was going to be that strong with the African- American community. Perhaps it was and we just missed it.

COOPER: I don't know where exactly those exit polls were done. That may also determine, you know, how it's...

PRESTON: Yes. And it's still very early.

COOPER: It could be done in urban areas. It could be done in some of the bigger cities.

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.

And one pollster was actually cautioning me that exit polls tend to underrate the rural areas. It's harder to pull exit polls, so you might have underrepresented rural vote in these exit polls that show the African-American vote at 30 percent.

But even if you have the African-American at 25, 26, 27 percent, that was a best-case scenario for the Jones campaign and Democrats going into tonight. But if we're talking about turnout, however, one of the big challenges for Democrats coming into today was more of a systemic thing.

They hadn't been in Alabama for many, many years. They didn't have that on-the-ground organization that Republicans had, the Republican Party had in Alabama. So did they have updated voter contacts? Did they have people to actually do the work on the ground? That's a big question.

COOPER: Jackie Kucinich, the Washington bureau chief of The Daily Beast, Mark Preston made the point earlier that it was maybe smart of national Democratic groups not to come into Alabama early, because that might have alienated a lot of people.

JACKIE KUCINICH, THE DAILY BEAST: Absolutely, but you did see some national Democrats toeing in at the end.

You saw Cory Booker there. You saw former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick there. You saw -- well, Charles Barkley, obviously, is a native, so he has a little bit more claim down there. But you did see some of them creeping in at the end.

But you're right. Overall, they kept their distance, because they knew if they were able to make him into Doug Jones -- Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer into this national candidate, that would scare away maybe some of these educated white voters from the suburbs, who couldn't stomach voting for Moore and they were looking at Doug Jones. Perhaps it would alienate some of them.

COOPER: J.D. Vance, author of "Hillbilly Elegy," it's interesting that you have the idea -- Ana said that the Moore campaign was sort of stoking this us-vs.-them idea.

And yet you do have Bannon, who's not from Alabama, coming in several times, campaigning hard. Even one of the spokespeople, I think her name was Janet Turner, for Roy Moore is from Ohio.

J.D. VANCE, AUTHOR, "HILLBILLY ELEGY: A MEMOIR OF A FAMILY AND CULTURE IN CRISIS": Sure.

Yes, so I think it shows that the us vs. them is more about cultural affiliation and identification, and not necessarily about where you're from. Obviously, the most obvious example of this is the president himself, who's a New York billionaire, but really did find a lot of 2cultural affinity with a lot of these working-class white voters, who saw him as their instrument to go and attack the elites.

And I think if Roy Moore is able to pull out this election tonight, the story we will be telling ourselves that Roy Moore, in the same way that Donald Trump was, was the instrument for a lot of people. Even though they didn't necessarily like him, even though they weren't exactly enthusiastic about his candidacy, he sent a message to people they didn't like.

COOPER: Paul, what are you seeing in this exit polling?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: This number that you guys were talking about a minute ago.

If the composition of the electorate today is 35 percent African- American -- and I'm not going to believe it until I see it. It's just too high. The Jones campaign has been modeling at 25 percent African- American. The Monmouth poll, which I think is a pretty good,e had it at 28 and a dead heat.

But there is more of an effort here in the African-American community than we have had in Alabama in a very, very long time. There is -- in fact, I checked. There's an Alabama Democratic Conference guy named Jack Reed (ph) in Montgomery runs. There's a New South Coalition that state Senator Hank Sanders runs.

They have been fully supported, for once, by the Democratic Party, because Doug Jones has been able to raise a whole bunch of money. And that has made an enormous difference. And I think people who are betting on low turnout in the African-American community, because Democrats haven't run a campaign there in so long, I think they're going to be surprised.

NINA TURNER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I think we should bet on high turnout. The African-American voter, there is a still historic significance to

this, especially in Birmingham, Alabama, in particular. But I do agree that the Democrats running, ignoring Alabama for so long.

[18:10:03]

I mean, I was just there with Mayor Woodfin before he was Mayor Woodfin, door-knocking side by side with him. It is very important, even if Mr. Jones wins, for the Democrats not to celebrate so much, because this will be more about anti-Moore than it is pro-Democrats.

And to knock and drag -- the African-American community now has the burden. And I want the African-American community to come out. I want them to vote for Mr. Jones.

But going forward, I want the Democratic Party to understand this, that it is not always enough to always knock and drag the African- American community and lay the burden on our community to deliver for Democrats time and time again.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: But, Nina, you were actually on the ground door-knocking.

TURNER: Yes.

COOPER: What was the reaction you got?

TURNER: As a progressive now, a Berniecrat, because let's understand, even though Mayor Woodfin worked for Secretary Clinton, it was the progressive...

COOPER: But did you sense enthusiasm from people whose doors you knocked on?

TURNER: Yes, but Randall Woodfin was that. He is a son of Birmingham, Alabama. Yes, people were excited. And he grew his base. He didn't just grow them at the last minute.

He had relationship. And that is really what the Democratic Party -- when I was there...

COOPER: Does Doug Jones have that?

TURNER: I'm not sure. And I'm not blaming -- I want to be clear. I'm not blaming the Democratic -- the fact that the Democrats have not invested in Alabama.

I mean, you look at a red state and you ignore the people who are Democrats, who are progressives. I hear it all the time. But what I'm saying is that the party itself has to start to build relationships and not ignore a red state just because it's red.

It's ruby red because Democrats have neglected it all this time.

BEGALA: And this time, our Democrat has the most impeccable pro-civil rights record that you can imagine.

TURNER: He does.

BEGALA: Having gone after the Klan. I can't talk about that enough.

(CROSSTALK)

JACK KINGSTON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But, along with that, he's pro-gun control. He's pro-choice.

BEGALA: He's anti-Klan.

(CROSSTALK)

KINGSTON: And he's against the religious liberties and all the stuff that culturally -- but I want to say something that is actually going -- you're going to approve of.

Since 2015, 800,000 new people have been registered to vote in Alabama; 25 percent of that is African-American. Alabama today is in the top five states of automobile manufacturers. It is a lot more of an international state than people give it credit for, because they often think, well, this is Alabama, it hasn't changed much.

It's changed tremendously in the last five years. I'm not trying to give you some hope.

(CROSSTALK)

ANA NAVARRO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think what's been really interesting in this entire process is, on the Republican side, you have had an all-out civil war for the world to see.

The Democrats have been strategically quiet and hands-off from this race. I bet you that, tomorrow, the Democrats are going to be very loud and very proud, either if Doug Jones wins or if Doug Jones loses. You're going to hear Democrats say a lot about this race tomorrow.

COOPER: Let's take another quick break.

More on the election coming up.

We're getting breaking news on the North Korea crisis as well, a new reversal by the Trump administration on U.S. policy towards North Korea. We will explain ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:17:41]

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We have breaking news on the North Korea crisis.

Let's go straight to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

What's the latest, Jim?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: A bit of a policy update on North Korea from the Trump administration, Wolf.

It's pretty significant here. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told folks earlier today at the Atlantic Council here in Washington that the Trump administration is ready to sit down for talks with North Korea without preconditions.

That's a pretty important development, because, earlier, the secretary of state had said that the U.S. was open to talks with North Korea if they were ready to talk about getting rid of their nuclear weapons program. That is no longer the case. Secretary Tillerson said that they can talk about the weather, they can talk about the shape of the table for negotiations.

Here's how he put it earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We're ready to talk anytime they'd like to talk. But they have to come to the table, and they have to come to the table with a view that they do want to make a different choice.

In the meantime, our military preparedness is strong. Because of the situation, the president has ordered our military planners to have a full range of contingencies available. And they are ready. As I have told people many times, I will continue our diplomatic efforts until the first bomb drops.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Now, the question has to be raised, Wolf, based on Tillerson's comments today, whether he is aligned with President Trump on this announcement.

Keep in mind, back in October, the president said that Secretary Tillerson was -- quote -- "wasting his time" trying to negotiate with North Korea. And just today, he described the North Korean regime as a -- quote -- "vile dictatorship."

And so the president is still using some pretty heated rhetoric when it comes to North Korea. But make no mistake, that is a pretty significant development, if the secretary of state is saying that the U.S. is ready to sit down for talks with North Korea.

As you know, they have been making some significant advances in their nuclear weapons program in recent weeks, and that has gotten the attention of this administration. They want to sit down and talk now, a big development based on what we heard earlier from this administration, Wolf.

BLITZER: A very big development, especially if the White House backs up the secretary of state, which they haven't necessarily done in the past. We will get reaction from the White House, I'm sure, fairly soon.

Jim, thanks very much -- Anderson, over to you.

COOPER: Yes, Wolf, back now with the panel.

[18:20:01]

Mark Preston, I think the point that Wolf just made and that Jim made is an important one, if the White House actually backs this up. Normally, in an administration, if the secretary of state made an announcement like that, you would think, oh, well, that's U.S. policy. I'm not sure if that is U.S. policy.

PRESTON: Yes, you know, that is the unpredictability of Donald Trump.

And, you know, coming into office, people said this unpredictability was a good thing, because it kind of kept people off their game a little bit. But I do think that, assuming that this is true and President Trump is willing to back it up, it is going to cool things down a little bit.

Things are getting really, really red hot, in some ways, white hot at this point. We're talking about preemptive strikes on North Korea, which would then lead to war, which would then lead to possibly the end of the DMZ and North Korean soldiers invading South Korea, killing millions of people.

Look, the unpredictability -- we think Trump is unpredictable. Kim Jong-un is pretty damned unpredictable. This might actually be a good thing going into the end of the year to try to restart talks.

COOPER: It is a reversal. If it is, in fact, policy, it is a reversal of years of U.S. policy.

BEGALA: Yes, but it would be a recognition of reality.

You know, General James Clapper, longtime director of national intelligence, has been saying for almost a year now that we have to accept the reality and we have to talk to the North Koreans. And that was absolute apostasy in both Republican and Democratic White Houses.

COOPER: Right. In past administrations, they insisted on having multiple parties, multiple countries, not direct U.S...

BEGALA: And the precondition had to be, they had to give up their nuclear program.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: One at a time.

BEGALA: The question of whether the president will undermine him, I think, is what is most frightening.

I went back, happened today, and I watched an interview Donald Trump gave in 1999. He was talking about war with North Korea then. So, this has been something on his mind for quite a long time. I really do hope that the secretary is in command here.

COOPER: Congressman.

KINGSTON: I just want to say, philosophically, Paul, I know you remember very well, in the 2007 debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, Barack Obama said, we should meet with Cuba and North Korea without preconditions. And it was a firestorm...

BEGALA: Right.

KINGSTON: ... in both parties.

And then candidate Trump said something similar to it this summer. And I remember looking this up and I thought, you know, I think Obama was right about it, because, on foreign policy, if you're right and you believe you're right, what do you have to lose by sitting down?

NAVARRO: Folks, though, let's not forget that the guy making the statement is an embattled secretary of state, who got -- who had been reported as saying, calling his boss, the president of the United States, a moron, and who a lot of people expect not to be there much longer, much past January.

So how much stock does he have?

COOPER: Well, that's been one of the criticisms of him and the concerns is that the secretary of state does not necessarily have the ear and the confidence of the president, which is something any secretary of state absolutely needs.

If they're meeting with foreign leaders, that foreign leader has to know that they are speaking for the president.

PRESTON: It would be very surprising to me, and other people want to jump in, it would be very surprising to me that, if Donald Trump himself didn't green-light this in some way, shape, or form, that the chief of staff didn't do it.

COOPER: We have got to take a quick break.

Will there be an effort to expel Roy Moore from the Senate if he wins tonight? We will take a closer look at that when our special election coverage continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:27:47]

BLITZER: Looking at live pictures coming in from Montgomery, the Alabama capital.

The final push to get out the vote in the U.S. Senate special election now under way.

Right now, we're getting new information from our exit polls. David Chalian is back with us.

What else are you seeing, David?

CHALIAN: Well, we asked voters today, Wolf, what they thought of these candidates, favorable opinion or unfavorable opinion.

Take a look at this. Roy Moore, a majority of today's electorate, 55 percent of Alabama voters, say they have an unfavorable opinion of Roy Moore. Only 42 percent have a favorable opinion.

One caveat here, remember, on the day Donald Trump was elected president, 60 percent of American voters had an unfavorable opinion of him.

Let's look at how people think of Doug Jones in the electorate today, even split, 49 percent of voters today favorable; 49 percent have an unfavorable view of Doug Jones.

We also asked if the candidates share their values. Here's what voters told us. For Roy Moore, 46 percent of Alabama voters said, yes, Roy Moore shares my values; 49 percent said no. That's a pretty even split, despite all the allegations against him. And then we asked the same about Doug Jones and we get a similar result, Wolf; 49 percent said, yes, Doug Jones shares their values; 48 percent say no -- a pretty even split in the electorate there as well.

BLITZER: Very interesting exit polls numbers, indeed. Thank you very much, David.

Multiple sources are now telling CNN that the Senate Republican -- their plan to meet -- they plan to meet tomorrow to discuss what they will do if, if Roy Moore wins the Alabama Senate race.

Let's get some more from our congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly.

Phil, what are you learning?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's certainly a level of trepidation tonight, Wolf, as Republican leaders and a lot of their top staffers are keeping a very close eye on this race, with one thing that they're willing to acknowledge.

They don't know what's going to happen next. You mentioned that meeting, tomorrow morning, at 10:00 a.m., the entire Senate Republican Conference trying to figure out what happens should Roy Moore win.

Now, many of the Republicans in the conference have made very clear their strong positions against Roy Moore. Part of the reason they did that, to get him out of the race. That clearly didn't work. Now they're at a moment of, now what?

As one Republican aide told me earlier today, there's no clear-cut answer to what they're supposed to do next. Part of the reason they will meet is to decide whether or not Roy Moore, if he's elected, will be a member of the Republican Conference. There's no sure thing whether or not the Republican senators will vote to either allow that happen or to keep him out altogether.

And, Wolf, you need to keep in mind, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has worked very hard to try and dissuade Roy Moore from staying in this position right now, he absolutely is willing to go through with his threat to refer this to a Senate Ethics Committee.

But there are real questions as to whether or not that will do anything at all, let alone lead to expulsion in the interim here. So the big question right now for Republican senators if Roy Moore should win, is will he be a member of the Republican conference? And if so, how far are they willing to go and pursue the Ethics Committee process? And will that eventually lead to some type of expulsion or some type of reprimand?

Wolf, right now one aide put it to me rather simply. It's not easy, it's not clean. There is simply no easy answer right now should Roy Moore win tonight, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, a very good point, indeed. Phil Mattingly, thank you.

So what are the chances that Senate Republicans would move to expel Roy Moore? And how difficult would that be? CNN's Tom Foreman is joining me once again with a closer look -- Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the stakes are incredibly high here for Republicans and Democrats, too. Look at the balance of power in this chamber. Fifty-two Republican votes, 48 for the Democrats and their allies.

Republicans didn't think this was even going to be an issue. When Jeff Sessions left to become -- became the U.S. attorney general, they put in Luther Strange as the interim. They thought that he would win in the special election. He got bumped out in the primary, and now they have Roy Moore. And all of these allegations which he denies.

But look at what Phil was talking about here. Look at all of the different people on the Republican side who have either criticized or raised questions about these allegations against him. And some of the details here. Here's Alaska's Dan Sullivan says, "If these sickening claims are true, Mr. Moore should step aside." Nevada's Dean Heller says, "Roy Moore should do what's best for the conservatives of Alabama and step aside." North Carolina's Richard Burr: "If any aspect of the story is true, he should withdraw." West Virginia's Shelley Moore-Capito: "If the allegations are true, Roy Moore should immediately step aside." And Colorado's Cory Gardner: "Roy Moore will never have the support of the senatorial committee. We won't support him," Wolf.

That's what Phil's talking about. A lot of Republicans have already created a very chilly atmosphere for this man.

BLITZER: Certainly have. Could the Senate actually, Tom, refuse to seat him amid all of this controversy? Or is it actually possible for him to be ejected?

FOREMAN: Now it's down to the rules. Under the rules, they must seat him, if he is legally elected. They have to swear him in.

They could immediately launch an effort to investigate him and vote to throw him out. Perfectly legal. It would take two-thirds of this chamber voting to throw him out, Wolf. And this is an exceedingly rare thing. It happened back in the Civil War, when more than a dozen Democratic senators were thrown out for supporting the Confederacy. It has not successfully happened since then, even though they've tried it many times, most recently with Bob Packwood and John Ensign. They both stepped aside before the investigation was done and the process was complete.

But here's the really important part to bear in mind. If he wins and if he is seated and if they throw him out, all that happens is the governor of Alabama then appoints another interim senator, again, probably a Republican. They call another special election, and there's not one law that says Roy Moore can't step in and run again -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Pretty amazing stuff. All right, thanks very much, Tom Foreman.

Anderson, over to you.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, Wolf, thanks very much.

You know, one of the things that -- because there was so much focus on Roy Moore on the sexual abuse and sexual assault allegations, a lot of his more controversial positions did not get as much attention. I just want to put on the board some of the things that Roy Moore has previously said.

He say 9/11 may have happened because the U.S. turned away from God, by promoting things like same-sex marriage. He said Muslim-Americans shouldn't serve in Congress. He said that Keith Ellison, who's a Muslim American, should not be allowed to use the Koran to swear to the Constitution. He said Obama wasn't born in the U.S. What he calls homosexual conduct, which is actually gay and lesbian people expressing affection and love for each other, that should be illegal. He compared homosexuality to bestiality. And he talked about getting rid of -- or acknowledge the idea of getting rid of amendments after the 10th Amendment would, quote, "eliminate many problems."

It's also interesting, because both in an interview I did with his -- one of his spokeswomen, I tried to get her to acknowledge whether or not he still believes these positions. She refused or was unable to, unwilling to. Jake Tapper just did that, as well with the Roy Moore spokesman, Ted Crockett. And one of the things he was trying to pin Ted Crockett down on is does Roy Moore still believe that Muslim- Americans should not be allowed to serve in Congress? The explanation from Ted Crockett was, because it would mean not swearing on the Bible, that person cannot get into Congress, which is not correct. Here's that exchange.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TED CROCKETT, SPOKESMAN FOR ROY MOORE: He alleges that a Muslim cannot do that, ethically, swearing on the Bible.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: You don't actually have to swear on a Christian Bible. You can swear on anything, really. I don't know if you knew that. You can swear on a Jewish Bible.

CROCKETT: Oh, no, I swore on the Bible. I've done it three times.

TAPPER: I'm sure you have. I'm sure you've picked a Bible, but the law is not that you have to swear on a Christian Bible. That is not the law.

You don't know that? All right. Ted Crockett...

CROCKETT: I don't know -- I know that Donald Trump did it when he -- when we made him president.

TAPPER: Because he's Christian and he picked it. That's what he wanted to -- that's what he wanted to swear in on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BEGALA: Good lord.

COOPER: That's what you call TV gold.

BEGALA: He looked like a slot machine at one of Trump's casinos that hit bar apple. Just like not connected, man.

COOPER: But it is interesting, I mean, the extent to which Roy Moore's spokespeople, just in this last week, cannot answer basic questions about what his positions on these really extreme...

TURNER: They probably feel the same.

KINGSTON: But on the other hand, just speaking politically, I saw the interview with you and the woman, and I think she actually stayed on message. Because you -- you tried to pin her down, and she kept saying, "I don't know, I don't know, I don't know." And that is an answer, and that is a tactic in politics.

NAVARRO: Charitable.

KINGSTON: And I think it's another version of Roy Moore being gone the last couple of weeks. Just kind of stay out, say as little as possible.

Because the fact that she said, "I don't know," you can't use a sound bite against her.

But where you could have used a sound bite, and when I say you, I mean the opposition, is that Mr. Jones should have been using these statements all along. And that's why I'm saying he's a second-tier candidate with a second-tier campaign, because if not, he would have developed this and when the sexual misconduct came along, it would have been icing on the cake.

COOPER: I will point out, you are the only person I've heard from who thought she did well in that interview.

KINGSTON: I'm telling you, if you think about it...

COOPER: All right.

NAVARRO: I was listening to it on my car radio. I didn't know who you were interviewing. I did know she sounded insane. You know, it was just absolutely crazy.

KINGSTON: But you can't use the sound bite. That's all I'm saying.

NAVARRO: Listen, but...

BEGALA: I thought she was terrific, but I have a different -- I think we should just run on...

NAVARRO: When you listen to the things that he has said, you know, and you've missed the things like saying that some of his favorite days in America were back when slavery was still legal.

COOPER: That was more recently.

NAVARRO: And we can go on and on. You wonder why they don't let him out in public?

TURNER: Right.

BEGALA: But a judge who says -- think about this, who says, he said -- he gave the interview to the 12-year-old girl. She said, "What would make a good senator?"

He said, "Fidelity to the Constitution." But this is a Constitution,, though, that he wants truncated down to just the first ten amendments. Probably just a second...

COOPER: Let me.

NAVARRO: Well, we can ask the 12-year-old's mom if he can date her.

BEGALA: If there were no amendments after ten, obviously, we'd still have slavery. African-Americans could not vote. Women could not vote. Young people could not vote. We'd have no equal rights under the law. It's appalling, if that's his view of what the Constitution ought to be.

TURNER: He should have never gotten this far, you know, bottom line. The Republican Party should have stopped him way before he got to this level.

NAVARRO: Nina, to their credit -- to their credit, they tried. Remember that.

TURNER: But he's been allowed to fester. And now that he is running for a U.S. Senate seat, oh, my God, this is...

NAVARRO: I actually -- I don't agree with you on that. Look, this is a guy who's been impeached by, you know, by the jurists...

(CROSSTALK)

NAVARRO: Well, he keeps -- he keeps popping up.

TURNER: He's the gift that keeps on giving.

NAVARRO: And you know, you can't control people who run or not run. But the Republican Party has the, you know, leadership in Washington. Many Republicans have taken a very courageous and morally, you know -- moral direction when it comes to...

TURNER: And I'll give you that, but then they reversed it. Some.

NAVARRO: Not everybody.

COOPER: Let me go -- let me go over here.

NAVARRO: I think you've got Mitch McConnell.

TURNER: Some reversed.

NAVARRO: I think you've got to give Cory Gardner a lot of credit for sticking to their guns, even when the RNC and Trump...

COOPER: J.D. Vance, you know, it's easy to, you know, point out the controversial statements he's made, but when you look at some of those exit polls in terms of sharing people in Alabama say that Roy -- they share the same values as Roy Moore, it's 49 percent, I think it was.

J.D. VANCE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, a lot of people don't know that he said those things, right? So when it's -- the question is, does he share my values, the question that they hear in their mind is, is he a Republican? And the answer, of course, is yes.

So I don't think a lot of Alabama voters look and say, oh, we should repeal the 11th, 12th, 13th, and 14th amendments. I think they just look at Roy Moore as a Republican, which is -- in some ways suggests that the Republican strategy to keep him off the campaign trail, to keep some of those controversial statements outside of the public airwaves was actually pretty wise, because he's not an especially popular candidate by himself. Their entire strategy has basically been, let the Republican Party's brand carry him to victory in a very Republican state.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: But think of the issue that he kind of came into the political foray on. It was the Ten Commandments. He wanted to hang the Ten Commandments in his courtroom. And they had him take it down.

That is something that really sprung him into the national consciousness, and he has wrapped himself into that. So if you just know, "Roy Moore, Ten Commandments judge," that is something that could appeal to people.

[18:40:08] COOPER: Sorry, we've got to take a quick break. Tonight, the president in a new feud as he sits on pins and needles over the Alabama election results. Or perhaps he's not. Maybe he's sitting somewhere else. Much more on our special coverage, ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In Alabama tonight, the Roy Moore and Doug Jones campaigns have been working urgently to get out the vote with turnout critical to tonight's Senate election.

We're joined now by Alabama's secretary of state, John Merrill.

Secretary, thanks for joining us.

And let's quickly talk about turnout. Earlier you predicted maybe 25 percent of the electorate would show up and vote. Based on what you've seen so far, is that accurate?

JOHN MERRILL (R), ALABAMA SECRETARY OF STATE: Wolf, we still feel comfortable about that particular rate and we think that that's going to end up being the number. It could be a little bit higher. We've seen some numbers that have been a little bit higher in certain aspects of voting throughout the state, than in other areas. But some areas have underperformed.

BLITZER: Is turnout unusually high or low in any specific part of the state? Do you want to give us some details?

MERRILL: Well, one of the things that we're seeing in the Jefferson County, Birmingham area, we're seeing larger numbers than usual. We're also seeing higher numbers in the Madison County area, in the Huntsville area. And then in Baldwin County and Mobile, our numbers tend to be a little bit higher, as well.

So, that's been very, very interesting to observe those numbers. Tuscaloosa County, it was the same way.

BLITZER: As you know, some Republicans, including the senior senator from Alabama, Richard Shelby, they are encouraging people to write in a candidate other than to actually vote for Roy Moore. Can you tell us yet how many write-ins you're seeing, let's say, percentage wise?

MERRILL: Well, Wolf, it's difficult to say right now, because we won't actually get those results until all of those are finalized and they're turned in at the central location there at each county see throughout Alabama later on tonight.

BLITZER: What about the absentee ballots? Have you started counting those yet? And what are you seeing there?

MERRILL: Yes, sir. Wolf, a lot of those absentee ballots have already been counted and they've already been recorded, but they will not be posted until 7:00 p.m. and those will be the first returns that come in in each one of the 67 counties.

So, if people are viewing at home and checking out our Website at Alabamavotes.gov, they'll able to see those results first as people enter those results.

BLITZER: Is the absentee vote higher than usual based on what you've seen so far? -

MERRILL: Oh, yes sir. Yes, sir.

Wolf, one of the things we is a uh I saw in Tuscaloosa County alone, they had 200 plus votes in the runoff, they had more than 1,200 votes in the general election.

So that was six times what we had seen in the two previous examples. And you see that occurring all around the state. However, some of the smaller rural counties, you might see a smaller number. I had one county introduced to me earlier this week, that there were 44 people that voted in the runoff, and they had already had more than 100 that voted in the general election.

BLITZER: Very interesting. As you know, we saw Roy Moore, the Republican candidate arrive to cast his vote. And we're showing our viewers the video now, on horseback.

Was that wildest thing that happened at voting booths across Alabama today, or something wilder?

MERRILL: Well, Wolf, as you know, that's Judge Moore's style, is he always rides Sassy in to cast his vote there in Gallant, where he and Ms. Kayla live. And I know that's a tradition that they enjoy and I know the media has enjoyed capturing that as well.

BLITZER: Sassy is the name of his horse.

John Merrill, the secretary of state of Alabama, thanks for joining us.

MERRILL: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, President Trump making insinuations about a high profile women in the U.S. Senate. That story as we get closer and closer to the first results in the Alabama Senate race.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back to election night in Alabama.

As the allegations of sexual abuse and assault against Roy Moore have dominated the Alabama Senate race, the accusations of past sexual misconduct against President Trump are back in the spotlight. Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has joined several colleagues in calling for his resignation.

That prompted a tweet from the president saying, quote: Lightweight Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a total flunky for Chuck Schumer and someone who would come to my office begging for campaign contributions not so long ago and would do anything for them is now in the ring fighting against Trump. Very disloyal to Bill and crooked, used. Gillibrand responded on Twitter, you cannot silence me or the millions

of women who have gotten off the sidelines to speak about the unfitness and shame you have brought to the Oval Office.

Let's go back to the panel.

Ana Navarro, how do you interpret what the president said?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, I think it's one more sexist, misogynistic, outrageous, inappropriate statement by Twitter, from Donald Trump. It is -- Donald Trump was, you know, a shameful misogynist when he was in the private sector, before being a candidate. He was a shameful misogynist while being a candidate. He's a shameful misogynist as president.

COOPER: I do want to point out, the White House says that there's nothing sexist in the tweet.

[18:55:01] And that it's -- people have their minds in the gutter.

NAVARRO: It's interesting that there were a number of Democratic senators who joined her in this letter. It's interesting that the one person he went after is Kirsten Gillibrand. It's interesting that her -- it's been one of her high profile issues, has been sexual harassment, fighting these things for years.

So, you know, look, Donald Trump has no credibility when it comes to this. We all remember the things he said to Megyn Kelly. We all remember the things he said to Mika Brzezinski. We all remember his words on the tape that "Access Hollywood" tape.

If anybody should be quiet on this, it should be Donald Trump, and the sheer dissonance, the sheer dissonance of this happening while this nation is gripped by this national conversation about sexual harassment, you've got chefs stepping away. You've got news people, you've got producers and Donald Trump gets into the middle of this and goes after Kirsten Gillibrand?

It's outrageous. It's one more episode of him being unpresidential.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And him being him.

JACK KINGSTON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And keep in mind, keep in mind, I don't think there's anything sexist about it at all.

NAVARRO: Oh, for the love of God.

KINGSTON: Absolutely not.

(CROSSTALK)

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: How did you take it when he said she would do anything for campaign donations?

KINGSTON: Let me finish. That has nothing to do with sex, by the way. But -- BEGALA: How did you know?

KINGSTON: November 17th, "New York Times" has an article saying people, places, and things, Trump has offended by Twitter. And none of those people are claiming, oh, it's sexist, and none of the businesses have closed down and none have felt -- they felt attacked, you know, but that's what he does. He's tough on Twitter.

COOPER: Wait a minute. What about the Megyn Kelly comment, which many people did interpret in a sexist way?

KINGSTON: Well, I'm -- I think that was an unfortunate comment, but I'm saying on the Gillibrand thing, it's not sexist. He's just pushing back. Remember, this is a woman who owes her whole political career to bill Clinton, and she said he should have resigned.

COOPER: Does it matter if a guy thinks it's not sexist if the person who is being attacked feels it's sexist, isn't that something people should listen to?

KINGSTON: I think you hurt victims of real sexism when everybody claims it's sexist because they're offended.

NINA TURNER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But the president thrives in this environment. I mean, when we get pulled into this, he's playing to his base, and they're happy he's doing this, unfortunately, most of them. And then for the senator, her fighting back, she has nothing to lose right there, so it's good that she's fighting back.

But the president feeds off this. I mean, he is at his best when we are totally distracted from the issues that we need to focus on in terms of saving this country. He's the antithesis. I mean, he's being him. We shouldn't be surprised, which is ridiculous.

(CROSSTALK)

NAVARRO: I think Donald Trump has been the engine for a lot of this, these changes, for this watershed moment in America. A lot of women who were sexually harassed, a lot of women who could identify with that saw Donald Trump get elected and got real mad. Instead of feeling defeated, they got together, they got mad.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Somebody says, somebody will do anything, meaning anything, sex is one of those things.

NAVARRO: Parentheses.

(CROSSTALK)

KINGSTON: I would not interpret it that way. I want to say this --

BEGALA: How would you interpret it?

KINGSTON: I just want to say this, the good senator is not crying about this. This is great publicity for her. She's on Internet right now, raising thousands and thousands of dollars on it.

NAVARRO: That does not make it less wrong.

KINGSTON: This is a political theater.

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It doesn't make it right. I think when we say that Donald Trump has tweeted this or tweeted that, we're actually trivializing and saying, oh, we're tweeting it. We should say Donald Trump has said. Donald Trump has stated. Because by saying it's in social media, we kind of act like it's teenagers kind of going back and forth.

This is president of the United States. Leader of the free world, commander-in-chief of all of our troops, and he acts this way, and that's not acceptable.

COOPER: Also, Paul, again, the parentheses is like an aside, like, oh, you know, she'll do anything.

BEGALA: Well, I'm told Donald Trump before he was president donated some $8,000 to congresswoman and then Senator Gillibrand. If it's anything, what does he claim she did for him? Right? Maybe favored, maybe votes. There's no allegation that she ever did anything.

So, in his case, plainly, I think even Mr. Trump would say, well, she didn't do anything for me. I was just playing a game.

TURNER: It's dog whistle.

BEGALA: But he's plainly -- why didn't he attack Bernie Sanders who said the same thing at Kirsten Gillibrand? Why didn't he attack Jeff Merkley who said the same thing as Kirsten Gillibrand? By the way, why did he call Senator Warren a slur against Native Americans? He ran against a woman.

NAVARRO: Frederica Wilson.

BEGALA: She got 3 million more votes than him and it seems to rankle him. So, he seems to have a problem with strong women.

COOPER: Do you see -- I mean, Ana, do you see that, that a lot of his targets are women or African-Americans or people he views as other?

NAVARRO: Absolutely. Listen, no hold on, you're not named Ana.

KINGSTON: My daughter is.

NAVARRO: OK, your daughter is not here.

Look, I can tell you that my African-American friends feel that he goes after African-Americans. The Hispanics see what he did with Arpaio, feels he goes after Hispanics and women absolutely feel he targets them. We saw it with Frederica Wilson, we saw it with Gillibrand, we see it over and over again. It's a pattern of behavior.

COOPER: OK. We got to take a break.

Stay with us. Erin Burnett picks up our election night coverage, next.