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Track for Hurricane Florence; Last Good Day to Evacuate; Potential Flooding with .Florence; Mayor of Oak Island Speaks About the Storm; Cruz Ad Attacks O'Rourke. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired September 12, 2018 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:20] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

We begin the hour with the breaking news of the dire threat of Hurricane Florence. North and South Carolina steeling themselves for a direct hit. The National Weather Service calling this, quote, a storm of a lifetime for the region.

Here's the governor of North Carolina.


GOV. ROY COOPER (D), NORTH CAROLINA: The time to prepare is almost over. This morning's forecast shows the storm is only hours away. North Carolina, my message is clear, disaster is at the doorstep and it's coming in.


KING: On the doorstep, as the governor puts it, and waiting. The latest forecast indicates Florence will slow down, delaying a hit on the coast. But in the meantime, this is the problem, it will linger and churn just off the coastline, potentially pounding coastal communities with feet -- feet of rain before it makes landfall.

To give you a sense of how big this storm is, take a look at this imagery from the government's meteorologists. Compare the size of Florence to the size of the Carolinas. The sheer scale and power of this storm has local and state officials pleading with coastal residents to listen, flee to higher ground, safer areas. One coastal official telling CNN, if you won't leave, then please quickly pass along information for your next of kin. Officials say this storm not like other storms.


JEFF BYARD, FEMA OFFICE OF RESPONSE AND RECOVERY: I want to hammer that importance home, this is not going to be a glancing blow. This is not going to be a tropical storms. This is not going to be, you know, one of those storms that hit and move out -- out to sea. This is going to be, you know, a Mike Tyson punch to the Carolina coast. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Our CNN team covering this hurricane from every possible angle.

Let's begin with our meteorologist Chad Myers at the Weather Center.

Chad, the forecast has been changing. What's the latest?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes. The European model and the GFS, the American model, last night decided on the same thing, the Europeans and the Americans agreed for a change. This storm now will turn to the left as it approaches the coast, and that's the problem that puts Myrtle Beach in play, that puts Wilmington really in play, and maybe even down toward Charleston.

Here it is right now. It's 130 miles per hour. The hurricane hunter, just from flying through it and they found 127. So, close enough.

Now I'm going to take you to the next 48 hours, because it's exactly as we expected for today. But then, when it gets here, very close to the coast, there's a blocking high on the other side that says, not so fast. You're not going anywhere. You're actually going to go down to the south. It's going to lose some power down to a cat three, but certainly that's going to be enough to churn the atmosphere, churn the water and still make surge for a longer period of time. And obviously that rainfall you talked about, significant rainfall. Some could pick up still 20 or 30 inches.

So here's how it happens. Here's our hurricane right there. What we're steering it with now is this high, pushing it that direction. Well, all of a sudden, by Friday, there's another high right there saying, not so fast. You're not going to go any farther than that.

So now we're going to push you ahead to what happens Saturday and Sunday. You would think, oh, there's a little -- there's a glitch there. You can get up through here. You can go to the north. No, because by then another high is here, blocking it this way, blocking it this way, and blocking it this way. No police for it to go except right where it is. And that's what's going to make all the rainfall for hours and hours and hours, John.

KING: Oh, hours and hours. Heed the warnings, please.

Chad, keep in touch throughout the hour and, of course, everyone should be keeping watch with Chad and his colleagues in the days ahead.

Let's go straight out now to the coastline of South Carolina. CNN's Nick Valencia live in Conway, South Carolina, where I would assume most people agree that sunshine is deceptive, Nick. FEMA officials say today's the last good day, pack up, get out, evacuate. Are people listening?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, the time to evacuate is now, if you haven't evacuated already. We're about 20 miles inland from Myrtle Beach. This road is the main

highway, Highway 501, that leaves out of Myrtle Beach. We're about 20 miles inland, in Conway, South Carolina. Both of these lanes, all four of these lanes, I should say, going in one direction, and that is out of Myrtle Beach, out of an area that is expected to be especially hard hit. Eventually these two waves will lead up with Interstate 95.

Part of the issue that the Myrtle Beach mayor was very concerned about is that there's no main interstate out of Myrtle Beach. It's not connected to a main interstate. So really these are the only ways out of Myrtle Beach.

One of the other things that the mayor is really worried about, really all local officials here are worried about, is people that are staying behind. They are in the process right now currently evacuating the hospitals, the emergency room, nursing homes during -- on the coast part of the Carolinas because, you know, those people are in danger. And what they're telling people that are deciding to stick around is that first responders aren't going to be around to help you out.

[12:05:14] It was earlier that I talked to the city administrator here in Conway. They are not in an evacuation area, but they are planning on trying to assist those that do stay behind. He says they are in a flood area and they're very concerned about this area flooding. They say there's not really much that they can do to prepare for it. Just knowing that this area has flooded in years past. He said that this is not just any other hurricane. This could be the worst hurricane that ever hit South Carolina.


KING: Nick Valencia, appreciate that reporting. Keep in touch as well.

The flooding concerns even growing when you look at the track presented by Chad Myers there.

Florence's track shifting toward the south. The big worry now for much of North Carolina is crippling rain, as much perhaps as 40 inches of it.

CNN's Kaylee Hartung is in Carolina Beach, North Carolina.

Kaylee, how are officials preparing for potentially widespread flooding that could come with Florence?

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, John, here on Carolina Beach, it is one of those barrier islands under a mandatory evacuation order, 8:00 p.m. the deadline for people to get off this island or stay for the long haul.

I have met people here today, plenty of them, who say they're headed out of town. Some who have even come to the island from off of it. One couple who lived here for 10 years said they just wanted to say good- bye to the beach.

But I just found a couple, Casey and Nickya, who live here, not too far from this beach, and say you guys are going to ride it out?


HARTUNG: Despite all of the warnings. Why make this choice?

DODSON: Honestly, I'm not even worried at all. We got all the windows boarded up and we've got water -- plenty of water, plenty of food, and, I mean, we're just really not worried. We've got a sturdy house and it's just faith in God that we're going to be here when it's all over. That's pretty much that.

HARTUNG: But you all are new to this area -- as Nickya chases after Brigs (ph), your son, and makes sure he doesn't run into this dangerous water.

You all are new to this area. Do you have any experience with the types of conditions that are being described as coming to this island, life threatening storm surge and life threatening flooding and hurricane force winds?

DODSON: Honestly, no. But I'm just one of those people that's not afraid of stuff like that. I mean the most that can happen is your windows are going to get busted out, or you're roof's going to rip off or you're going to get flooded. But we're not in a flood zone. So I'm not worried about it being flooded. I'm not worried about the windows being broken. And, I don't know, we're going to lose power, but we've got plenty of flashlights and stuff like that. So we're just going to bunker down and see what happens.

HARTUNG: Nickya, I don't want you to take that watchful eye off of your son, but you all are going to have five people, including your child, Brigs, with you. How do you describe the sense of responsibility you feel in a situation that officials say is truly life threatening?

NICKYA RIVERA, PLANNING TO RIDE OUT STORM: At this point it is life threatening. But the storm's still, you know, a day or so out. I've been watching the news diligently. They're thinking it might be going west, south, it could drop down to a category two. We were basically (INAUDIBLE) the decision to stay or go. If we leave, it could be weeks, a month until you can come back and check on your home. I mean that's -- that in itself is scary to be away from your home for that long.

So we boarded up the house, like my husband said, boarded up the house. We have plenty of water. We have plenty of food. We're all just going to, you know, stick in it together and hope for the best. Like our neighbors are staying. We got our generators. So I feel actually more comforted being in our home, it's brick, you know, the roof is hurricane proof, with our neighbors beside us. You know, we know where the bomb shelters are. We know where the, you know, hurricane shelters are. Then being out on the road, you know, with possible flooded out roads, or not being able to get gas. So that's a little bit more concerning to me at this point than, you know, just bunkering down and, you know, being at home where we know where we can go, you know, if we have to. HARTUNG: Well, Nickya, Casey, you guys be as stay as you can staying

on this island. You will have officials knocking on your door at 8:00 p.m. tonight as they ask for contact information, John, for next of kin to anyone who's making the choice to stay here.

KING: Appreciate that reporting, Kaylee. I certainly hope that their faith is justified in this case. Keep in touch with them as this plays out.

Kaylee Hartung, thanks so much again. We'll check back with you.

Joining me on the phone now, the mayor of Oak Island, North Carolina, Cin Brochure.

Mayor, I want to just start by, if you were able to listen to that conversation, what do you say to people in your community who have the same answer, we're going to board up our house, we're going to stay, we're not going to leave and get cut off from our home, we're going to ride this out, what do you say to them?

MAYOR CIN BROCHURE, OAK ISLAND, NORTH CAROLINA (via telephone): I'm going to stick with what we stood by when we made the mandatory evacuation declaration on Tuesday morning. I encouraged my people that are still on Oak Island to leave the barrier island for their safety and for the safety of others, including our staff and our emergency services. This is a monster storm for Oak Island. We've never had -- have never experienced a hurricane of this -- that is of this predicted magnitude and headed straight for us. If you -- if you see where the predictions coming in, we are ground zero between Georgetown and Wilmington. You can't get more serious and I'm hoping everyone takes it seriously. And I do encourage you, if you're going to leave, to leave now. Now is the time, as the governor said.

[12:10:22] KING: And you mentioned the governor. As you know, you've been through this, you live in the area, sometimes the storm isn't as big as people say. Sometimes it is. But some people say, oh, I don't believe it, I'm going to ride it out. The governor says, this storm is like nothing you've ever seen.

Your community devastated back in 1954 by Hazel. I assume that is part of the lore of your community. Are you worried that this could be worse?

BROCHURE: Of course I'm worried that this could be worse. I mean I've been following it as closely as we can as far as elected officials. We probably have a little bit more in depth information than most people. I'm also a member of the North Carolina Joint Underwriter's Board, which is your last (ph) insurance that insures all of these properties. So I am concerned. We are serious about our declaration of mandatory leaving. We're not going to come and put you out. That's your personal choice. And many have made that choice to stay.

We'll ask -- and I will make the suggestion to the people in Oak Island and anybody in this situation, check around you. If you have neighbors, get in contact, get phone numbers, be a team if you're staying. I'm not encouraging it. But if you are, it's nice to know that you have people around you that are all watching after each other.

Yes, I am concerned and I don't know -- at this point I don't know what direction or anyone can't tell us where to send you. So I would advise everyone to just keep their eye on the news, keep checking our website. We post things as we get them coming in, John.

KING: And, madam mayor, your projections talk about perhaps 20 inches of rain. What would that do? What's the worst-case scenario for Oak Island if you get 20 inches of rain or more?

BROCHURE: Wow, that's a -- that's a -- of course you've got the storm surge coming in. People could be stuck for -- where they can't get out. And if you're on a -- if you're not up on stilts, like a lot of us are, you're taking a chance of your house being flooded and putting your life in danger.

KING: One of the big questions, as a storm like this approaches, one of the big questions every time is, a, what do you need, how's the supply chain, and, b, what's the communication between local, state and federal officials? Any hiccups so far or do you feel confident at least in the preparations, in the communications, emergency preparedness, things are going well?

BROCHURE: Things are going well. Our state and our county officials have kept us updated on a two meeting a day basis. We have two more meetings today with them. And we feel very comfortable that we're all working in unison.

And I have a confidence that we'll be OK. But I do not want to let people think that we have our guard down. We do not. We are on high alert right now from the predictions of what's going to happen in the next two days.

KING: Appreciate your time, mayor, at this busy time. Please keep in touch with our team. If there's anything we can do to help, get the word out, and as anything changing, conditions change, please keep in touch with us over the next few days and we wish you the best, certainly.

Mayor Cin Brochure, appreciate the time today.

We should note, as this story develops, the Environmental Protection Agency monitoring about nine hazardous waste sites in Hurricane Florence's path. They're concerned the strong winds, massive storm surge could possible release toxic chemicals from these super fund (ph) sites. The EPA spokesman telling CNN, staff members in the regions are conducting, right now, response planning. Last year, at least 13 toxic waste sites were damaged after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas.

Up next for us, we'll keep an eye on Florence, but also Mitch McConnell's bare knuckle description of the fight his party is right now in trying to keep its Senate majority.


[12:18:08] KING: Welcome back.

Back to our coverage of Hurricane Florence in just a moment. But there's some big, interesting political news today as well, including from the Senate majority leader, this.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: On the Senate side, I'll just list you a bunch of races that are dead even, Arizona, Nevada, Tennessee, Montana, North Dakota, Missouri, Indiana, West Virginia and Florida. All of them too close to call and every one of them like a knife fight in an alley. I mean just a brawl in every one of those places. I hope when the smoke clears that we'll still have a majority in the Senate.


KING: Too close to call? A knife fight in an alley? What is the majority leader talking about? What is he so worried about?

Let's go back in time, starting with this. Here's where we stand now. Here's where we stand.

CNN, if you take all of the seats that are solid, likely and lean. So the seats that are solid Republican, likely Republican and lean Republican in the Senate, we have 49. Solid Dem, likely Dem, lean Dem, 45. So a fight for control of the Senate.

It wasn't all that long ago this map so favors Republicans when you look on the Democrats on defense in states the president won. It wasn't all that long ago Republicans thought even in a midterm year they might -- might be able to gain seats, gain seats. There were some areas from some Republicans that they could get as high as 55, protect their Republican seats in Tennessee, Arizona and Nevada. Protect those, pick up a couple of these Democratic seats. Florida, pick that up. Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota. Republicans, just week and a month or two ago thought maybe 55 was high, but they could get to 53 or 54, that this could actually be on the Senate side a game year for them.

So what is Mitch McConnell worried about? He's worried. He sees the president's approval rating and he's worried about something like this. What if there is a blue wave? What if Tennessee goes blue, Florida stays blue, Nevada, Arizona. What if West Virginia stays blue. How if -- what if Heidi Heitkamp comes back out here? John Tester holds on here?

[12:20:10] Possible that Democrats actually could come out of this with a majority. And none of that scenario just outlined by Mitch McConnell discusses Texas, which is in the news a lot these days. Ted Cruz somehow, in a very close race, in a red state, against Beto O'Rourke, could that flip as well. The polls are very close. What would that do to the math if that flipped?

Here's Ted Cruz in a new ad. He understands he's in trouble, trying to rally the Republican base by channeling the president. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nothing more American, liberal Hollywood was thrilled, but do Texans agree?

TIM LEE, VETERAN: Whoever believed that we would have issues about whether you're going to stand during the national anthem or not?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tim Lee, a Texan, served in Vietnam. On March 8th, 1971, he stepped on a land mine.

LEE: I gave two legs to this country. I'm not able to stand. But I sure expect you to stand for me when that national anthem is being played.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In November, where will you stand?


KING: It's a powerful ad. And it tells you a couple of things. It tells you that Republicans, like Ted Cruz, believe this will help turn out their base. It also tells you he knows he's in trouble.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes. Yes. And he knows he might not be the best person for his own message. I mean he's not on that ad. He's using, you know, kind of the cultural war that Trump has stirred up to some great effect, and a galvanizing effect certainly for his base. So he's not in that ad.

I'm still skeptical about Texas, but I think all of those other races that Mitch McConnell mentioned there are surprisingly close. They're all tied, as he said.

KING: Right. And the fear is -- the fear is -- and in Texas, I agree with you, we'll see if Beto O'Rourke can deliver. But, down ballot, Democrats feel great --


KING: Because they think they finally have a competitive race at the state-wide level, therefore Democrats have a reason to come out and vote.

But if you -- this is -- let's -- you can complicate this by going state by state through the dynamics of each race, or you can simplify this. This is what's at play here. The president of the United States, in our latest poll, was at 37 percent approval among registered voters, 37 percent. And 57 percent disapprove. That is what Mitch McConnell is looking at. If the president is under 40, especially if he's approaching 35, then all Republicans candidates are essentially being asked to put on cinder block boots and swim.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No question. And I mean just look where the president is traveling. It's all red states. I mean I think between now and election day, he'll probably go to Fargo several more times, but he's not been to Florida yet since the governor's primary. Rick Scott does not want him there.

The reality here is that what Senator McConnell is trying to do is sound the alarm, no question at all, to donors, to voters, to activists, to others. Say, hey, hey, hey --

KING: And I would add -- I would add, to the president. I would add, to the president.


KING: When I called the White House and say, stop tweeting this, or stop talking about that, I need you to listen.

ZELENY: No question. Because as of now -- I mean it has become like baked in that the House is in deep peril for Republicans. Something pretty dramatic would have to happen probably for Democrats to blow this. You know, but the Senate, it's widely assumed across Washington, and in the White House, that Republicans will control this. So I think that's what Senator McConnell is trying to do.

But, you know, it's -- a lot can happen in a couple of months here. So, you know, the mood is on the side of Democrats. But I'm skeptical as well with Nia.

KING: A knife fight in an alley?

HENDERSON: I think it's a knife fight in a phone booth. I think that's the correct phrase. But, anyway.

JONATHAN MARTIN, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": No, I think just a lot of these states are margin of error races right now. There's just not a lot of Senate campaigns that seem to be put away in terms of the competitive race that we all have been talking about for a while.

The challenge Democrats have though is that if they can't win in North Dakota, and she does seem to be down right now, Senator Heitkamp, it just gets a lot harder for them to get back the majority because they've basically got to run the table in every other red state that they have. And those are places like Missouri and Indiana, which went overwhelmingly for President Trump.

KING: Right. And that's why McConnell is sounding this alarm because he knows, if you have a president at 37, if you're Rick Scott in Florida, if you're Mike Brown in Indiana, you need to be up plus four or five on Election Day. You can't be up plus one or two. You can't count on a narrow lead because if the president's at 37, guess what, Democrats are going to gain on Election Day because of the intensity gap and the enthusiasm gap. You need a cushion.

Add into this, Rachael, look at this NBC/Marist poll, choice for Congress by region. Number one, they have the Democrats stretching out their lead into double-digit leads, which all the polls have shown recently. Number two, they show a 13 point swing in the Midwest. Remember when we started the cycle, Republicans said, we might be able to gain Senate seats. Republicans started the cycle thinking maybe we can get one of those -- we can get Indiana. They thought that was almost a lock.

MARTIN: Ohio, Wisconsin.

KING: Ohio, Wisconsin, maybe even pick up one of the two Minnesota seats. Republicans had this dream. You look at these numbers, and forget about it.

RACHAEL BADE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "POLITICO": Yes. I mean, and it all comes back again to the president's approval number. I remember hearing from Republicans over and over again on Capitol Hill that as long as they could keep the president in about 40 percent approval rating, they're going to be OK. But he's dipped below, not just in one or two polls, but in all the polls. He's in the 30s. And so they're looking at that. And that's a big problem for them.

[12:25:07] The House, we're hearing right now, Republicans -- top Republicans say that they think the House is gone, and the Senate, the rhetoric has totally shifted from being on the offensive to being on the defensive. Not just in Texas, but places like Tennessee, where Marsha Blackburn should be a shoe in, in theory, but Phil Bredesen right now is up in the polls and could very well take that seat. A red seat.

KING: Right. If you're a Democrat, in a dead heat or down one or two on election day, you've got a chance to win because of the underlying dynamic (INAUDIBLE), which you made a key point, will the president go. "Politico" talks about Rick Scott in Florida, is starting to inch away from the president. George W. Bush going to raise money for Rick Scott in Florida. George W. Bush raising money for Will Hurd in Texas. George W. Bush getting back into the race. An embrace from Republicans to a Bush and a step back quietly from Trump? Is that what we're seeing?

ZELENY: A place where Bush wasn't wanted. I mean President Bush was not wanted in the 2010 midterm elections.

MARTIN: (INAUDIBLE), right. Right. '06.

ZELENY: He was not the heart and soul of the Republican Party. Well, certainly '06. You know, but even after he left the office.


ZELENY: But, we'll see about this. The reality is, President Bush is doing fundraising, which is much need.


KING: Right.

ZELENY: It's not like he's out there on the stump, because he still is not necessarily the mood of this. And that might drive the president -- the current president crazy to see President Bush try to come in --

MARTIN: Well, if you had Obama and Bush in public -- like, hey, what about me? KING: Right.

BADE: Especially with Rick Scott, because Rick Scott in Florida is obviously a top ally of the president. And the fact that he invited George W. Bush, the president's sworn enemy, instead of Trump himself to help him, that is an insult, and that is salt in the wounds for the president.

HENDERSON: Yes. And nothing has made Bush look better than Donald Trump. I mean he went out of office, Bush, in the 30s or so. But people have seen this presidency and all of a sudden in the rear view mirror Bush is starting to look pretty good.

But people who are inching away are the Republican Party and this president are independents, right? I mean we've often focused on Trump's base because that's where his focus is. But if you look at the shifts, all of this has to do with those independents really starting to look skeptically at this president.

MARTIN: But to drill back on Florida, though, I think Democrats have a problem there because they're going to have to spend a ton of money to save Bill Nelson because Scott can self-fund his campaign. Nelson has had great luck in the past running a fantastic -- in Democratic cycles. This appears to be a pretty good one as well. But he's not faced a self-funder like Rick Scott.

KING: Right.

MARTIN: And Nelson is -- kind of like an old school Florida kind of moderate. He's not a hard core progressive and he's running with someone, Andrew Gillam, who's much to the left than he is and I think that's going to create challenges for Democrats.

KING: Right, the big challenge. The hope for Nelson is an opportunity that Gillam brings out voters who click Nelson, maybe not love Nelson, but they certainly don't like Scott.

MARTIN: Correct.

KING: Again, fascinating 54 days to come. We'll try to keep in touch with it every day.

Back, though, when we come back, as Hurricane Florence churns toward the East Coast, people trying to get away from the monster storm in cars, busses, even ferries. We'll take you back to the scene just ahead.