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INSIDE POLITICS

CNN Poll: Dems Have Plus 10 Advantage With Likely Voters; State Officials Worry About Nuclear Plant in Storm's Path; Florence To Hit Coast With Heavy Rain, Storm Surges. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired September 13, 2018 - 12:30   ET

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


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[12:31:27] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Live pictures here in Buxton, North Carolina. Hurricane Florence is beginning to introduce herself to the Carolinas Coast. We're going to keep an eye on the hurricane throughout the hours and throughout the next few days. Stay here at CNN.

A quick detour to politics now. A brand-new poll out today as we approach 50 days to the midterm elections to show it is increasingly likely the Democrats will take control of the House. What are the numbers to back that up? This.

The first time we are using likely voters in our CNN polling. A 10- point advantage for the Democrats when voters are asked which party you want to run Congress, which party will you vote for come November. Fifty-two 52 to 42. The Democrats with a 10-point edge among likely voters. Likely voters tend to move Republicans away.

Not in this poll. A 10-point edge for the Democrats here. If this is the case on Election Day, the math tells you, Democrats will take back the House.

Let's look at how this is played out over time. There was a narrowing of this gap in the spring time. But now you see as we get closer to the election and some times in these midterm elections, they break. This is a sign of a break toward the Democrats as we approach Election Day.

Again, 52 to 40 right here among registered voters. If that holds up, the Democrats will retake the House. The question is, how does that national environment affect some of these key Senate races. Is the Senate also in play?

Well, look at this new Fox News polls out in some of the most hotly contested Senate races. All of them, dead heat essentially statistically. Meaning, yes, Republicans could pick up a seat or two, but yes, it is within the realm of possibility the Democrats take back the Senate.

Let's go through them quickly. Arizona, a state the president carried big, the Democratic candidate ahead. That's within the margin of error. Statistically, that's a dead heat but the Democrat with a chance in actually a small lead in Arizona.

In Missouri, Republicans thought they would get Democrat Claire McCaskill, the incumbent still in trouble but a in a statistical dead heat in a Democratic climate heading toward Election Day.

Indiana, the Republican on top by two points over the Democratic incumbent but again, statistically, that's a tie heading into the final stretch.

Tennessee, Trump won it huge. Marsha Blackburn, the Republican ahead, the former governor Phil Bredesen right behind her. Again statistically, a dead heat.

North Dakota, same story. Representative Kevin Cramer, he's on top, Heidi Heitkamp, the Democratic incumbent, but again, essentially within the margin of error. These were states the president carried big. The environment for Republicans not as bad in these Trump states as it is nationally, but not as good as Republicans thought it would be just a few months ago which puts the Senate in play for the Democrats.

Now we come back to this number. If this holds up, the House is gone for Republicans, although listen to Speaker Paul Ryan. He says, we're going to try to change this in the closing days.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: We had a rally good record to run on. Look at the phenomenal ideas that we have put into place and they're making a big difference in people's lives. And also look at how far left the Democrats are going. They want to abolish ICE, they want to socialize medicine, they want to repeal all the economic policies that had made this economy great.

So I think we've got a fantastic contrast to run on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That's the speaker's point. The issue is, they do believe if they could cut through the noise, they could talk about the economy, they could try to push Democrats to the left on abolishing ICE and take away the tax cuts. Problem is the noise comes from the Republican president. That's who they have been unable to breakthrough.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's interesting that this morning House Republican conference was meeting and talking about staying on message, talking about the economy, talking about the tax bill. And as they were meeting, the tweet came out about -- the excerpt tweet came out about Puerto Rico. It's the reality of their every day.

Also, I think the interesting element is when you look across kind of the spectrum on the Democratic side from the Senate to the House and these were two very, very different races right now. [12:35:01] Democrats are mostly campaigning on healthcare and they feel like they're winning on that message right now. The biggest -- I think the most interesting thing element obviously is, if you look at the top line economy and the fact that the numbers on the generic look like they are given the economy and looks like it is. It's obviously, a significant problem here.

But, no matter what the Speaker says, no matter what Republican leadership says, no matter what the campaign committee say, they have to deal with pay a president tweeting things like he tweeted this morning, every single day.

KING: And a midterm election is always and the first midterm election more than always a referendum on the president and his performance. Not just what he does but how he does it. That's the problem for Republicans, the how he does it part.

Here we go, we asked in our poll, are you more likely to vote for a candidate for Congress who opposes Trump or supports Trump? Fifty- four percent say more likely to vote for a candidate who opposes Trump. That is a head wind for every Republican candidate no matter what their record is and no matter what they think they can sell at home. That's their problem.

MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: And the problem for Speaker Ryan is that time is running out. I mean, you know, politicians always have to deal with the fact that there's only a limited amount of time before the election and if things happen -- I mean, frankly, natural disasters like the hurricane that we're going through, you know, politicians know if things like that come up, they can divert the public's attention for, you know, a periods of time. What they don't usually have to deal with is hurricane Trump, right? The president of the United States being the one who is diverting attention from their message.

And so Paul Ryan may, you know, hope to shift the conversation but he doesn't have a lot of time to do it.

KING: And in the Senate conversation as we now have a conversation we didn't think we'd be having a couple of months ago. The Senate is in play, period. Now, will the Democrats win up in these close races to get over the top and take the majority? I don't know. But it's within their reach now, and if you go through some of the states, I just showed you the Fox News horserace polls in five of them. Look at the president's approval rating in these states.

Again, these were states he carried by whopping numbers in the presidential election. The president is above water, meaning, you see 56 to 39, and Tennessee is above water but he won Tennessee by 26 points. So his approval -- he's still above water, but if you're the Democratic candidate, you thought you had essentially a 26-point hill coming into the race, now you're looking at it and say, OK, it's 16 or 17, but that's better than 26. And you go through all of those states where, yes, the president is still quote unquote strong in some of these states, but he's not as strong as Republicans said hoped he would be. MARY KATHARINE HAM, SENIOR WRITER, THE FEDERALIST: Yes. I mean, I think Ryan is right that perhaps the two greatest allies Republicans have are the economy and Democratic overreached. But Trump is lined up on the opposite side of the ball from them often. By sort of throwing off the whole narrative which it is not something that usually they have to deal with.

And if you look at some of these numbers, like the double-digit generic ballot in 2006, another time Republicans took a shellacking, it went to double-digits in October not in August or September, right? So you're looking at something that might get set in stone a little earlier and even in fact get worse leading up to the polls. You see enthusiasm in primaries where -- even in places where Republicans are more reliable primary voters, Democrats are matching or outdoing it. And I think that's partly because this is a different game now.

Trump changed the game and people can't take for granted that this will look like 2006 or 2010 by the indicators. And so a lot of Democrat operatives are not actually taking it for granted as Hillary did a bit, as we noticed. And so they're on the ground and they're making sure folks get out. And that -- I think that might be the difference maker in some of these.

KING: And it's fascinating to watch. If there is a Democratic enthusiasm gap, if there is even in these red states for the president still above water, if you're the Republican candidate you cannot be up plus one or plus two in Election Day. You need to be up plus five or plus six to cushion yourself against the Democratic bounce. That's why those polls are so important, and that's why the Senate, yes, is part of our conversation for the next 50 days.

Up next, so back to Hurricane Florence. Dire predictions of 13-foot stomp surge -- storm surge. How bad is that? We're going show you.

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[12:42:48] KING: Welcome back. More live pictures here. You see them right there. You see those waves. You can see the winds as well.

The outer bands of Hurricane Florence are already raking the Carolina Coast. Expected to come ashore with storm surges of up to 13 feet. Thirteen feet. The National Weather Service is already issuing surge warnings.

CNN's Jennifer Gray is live at the CNN Weather Center. Jennifer, help us understand when they say 13-feet storm surge. Take us through that.

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, when you hear the word storm surge, it's not going to be this wall of water that pushes in all at once. It's going to be this continuous rise, a swell of water that's going to come in. And because this storm is going to sit there, it is going too to lift through several high tide cycles and it is going to be coming in to this -- along this coast for more than 24 hours, if you can believe it. So two feet of rise, not that much. Once you get into four feet, that's when it starts to get inside your home. As it continues to rise, 12-plus feet -- that's when it can start to get into the second level of your home and even take your home off of the foundation.

And John, this is where we've seen people get in so much trouble when they start to get into their attics and then the water gets up into that level and they can't get out of their home and they get trapped. So that's what the fear for people that did not leave during the storm.

So nine to 13 feet. We're going to see along the southern portion of the North Carolina Coast and then six to nine across that mid-section. That water is going to be pushing in, backfilling those rivers. They're going to overfill their banks, it's going to cause a lot of flooding and it is going to fill people's homes quickly, John. It's going to start in the next couple of hours.

KING: Jennifer Gray, appreciate that fantastic context. And again, folks, if you're watching, you think it's a two now not a four, I'm OK, look at demonstrations like that. Please, if you can still get out, get out. Jennifer, thank you so much.

A big fear among North Carolina officials today, an aging nuclear power plant could be breached by the storm. CNN's Brian Todd, outside that plant. It's about 15 miles outside of Wilmington.

Brian, how big are the concerns here?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is a concern, John. This is the power plant you're talking about. This is the Brunswick nuclear power plant in Southport just behind me. You see that long blue structure, the two larger blue structures coming out on the top of that, those are the reactor buildings. This place was built in the 1970s, it has the same design as the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan which of course suffered those catastrophic meltdowns after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami out there.

[12:45:09] So there is concern about the structure and the integrity of this plant but officials here are telling us you shouldn't be concerned because number one, Fukushima was right along the shoreline, this place is four miles inland, it is 20 feet above main sea level. It's not really even that near the Cape Fear River. It's about two to three miles from the Cape Fear River. All there is as far as water near this place is an intake canal. Plus they say they've erected steel flood barriers to protect the flooding and they're very confident that they can withstand this storm which is going to be tenth hurricane that has passed by here since the 1970s.

But -- that's the word from officials. What I want to do is introduce you to a gentleman who used to work at this plant for 30 years. Arnie Hegler was an operations manager for the reactors here.

So Arnie, take us inside. Number one, are you worried about flooding here, and number two, how do they prepare inside there for this? ARNIE HEGLER, FORMER REACTOR OPERATOR, BRUNSWICK NUCLEAR POWER PLANT: I'm not worried about flooding here. They have plenty of pumps to get rid of the water that comes in. And also, they've got some modifications they've done since Fukushima to bring in engine-driven pumping facilities to help with that.

And also the staff trains continuously on this type of event. The nuclear operating people have usually about once every five weeks they're in a training cycle and they train emergency procedures to help them get ready for any emergency. And also probably every six to 12 months they will have an exercise that involves the entire county with them also responding with us to help protect the public.

TODD: All right, well, thank you, Arnie. Thank you for talking to us, thank you for taking us inside the plant there.

There you have it, John. A lot of preparation in place here. They are confident this place can withstand the storm.

KING: Brian Todd, appreciate that. The old Boy Scout model, they'll be prepared. Brian, appreciate your reporting as you move around the endangered area there.

Up next for us here, we continue to keep an eye on Florence as it approaches the Carolinas' coast. And a new report that Paul Manafort might want a plea deal from the special counsel.

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[12:50:51] KING: Topping our political radar today. There is a court hearing scheduled tomorrow but the Washington Post reports President Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort is trying to work out a possible plea deal with the special counsel Robert Mueller. Manfort, you might remember, already been convicted on a handful of federal charges and faces a second trial later this month. President Trump's attorney, Rudy Giuliani tells Politico there's, quote, no fear about Manafort flipping on the president.

Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee setting a vote for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. That vote, one week from today, next Thursday. But this morning, a big partisan (INAUDIBLE) over thousands of written questions for the president's pick. Republicans accused Democrats of abusing the practice by submitting nearly 1,300 follow-up questions for Judge Kavanaugh. Democrats said his answers on abortion, his personal debts, and executive power are lacking. And the Democrats say it only adds to their doubts about his views and his honesty with the Senate.

Senator John McCain's family denouncing a new ad that uses old footage of the late senator. The National Republican Congressional Committee is airing this ad in Arizona's second district that features 2016 footage of Senator McCain talking straight to the camera about his then opponent, Ann Kirkpatrick. The McCain family spokesperson released a statement saying, quote, it is unfortunate the senator's image is being weaponized this election season. The NRCC defense the ad saying it speaks for itself. It's primary day in New York today at the state level. Actress Cynthia Nixon is trying to oust the incumbent Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo. It's the latest and certainly among the most visible examples of progressive challengers taking on establishment Democrats. The poll though released this week show Governor Cuomo leading Nixon by more than 40 points.

Up next for us, a view from the ground with a veteran storm chaser as Florence closes in on the Carolina Coast.

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[12:57:12] KING: Seeing live pictures there. That's about 23 miles off the coast of North Carolina. You see that flag whipping in the wind. You hear those winds and you see the waves. We continue to track Hurricane Florence as it closes in now on the Carolina Coast.

Although officials say the storm is now down to a Category 2, it's still -- they still warn a potentially catastrophic storm surge from winds -- wind and rainfall. For an idea of what to expect from the storm, we're joined now by Brett Adair, he's a field meteorologist who spent years chasing extreme weather as extensive experience covering hurricanes and tropical storms.

So Brett, this is where you start to put the projections to the test. I can see the conditions where you are. Last night, you're looking at models, you're looking at predictions. Based on your experience now that you're beginning to feel Florence, what do you expect?

BRETT ADAIR, WEATHERNATION FIELD METEOROLOGIST: Well, John, Florence is now about a 115 miles to the east-southeast of our location. We are here in between Surf City and North Topsail Beach toward the Anson County Beach access number two. And it looks like Florence is beginning to slow up just a little bit based on what I'm seeing on radar. And we really expect the same thing even though you see in a slight weakening of the winds, you're seeing those winds expand. It's gotten really gusty here, taking gusts over a tropical storm on the outer banks and we expect that to continue.

We've also seeing some storm surge issues as well on Island Drive this afternoon. And we expect that to get worse as we go into the evening.

KING: And so Brett, officials are warning it could be up to 13 feet of storm surge in some parts, including about where you are right now. Take us through what that means in the low-lying areas like that.

ADAIR: Really what that means, John, is where I'm standing right now will be under water later. We're going to get out of here soon after we do this shot because the weather is definitely going to get worse and that's the problem. The water, the wind, the rain, the inland flooding, they're all huge threats with this system and you really can't run from the water. So if this system continues to move toward the coastline and it slows down even more, on top of that extreme storm surge potential, those flooding rains are going to create big, big problems from the coastline as well inland. KING: And you hear some historical comparisons to 50 years ago. You still have people comparing this to last year in Harvey because of the water. What's your take?

ADAIR: Well, we were in Harvey last year in Texas and the storm surge element really wasn't as big of a deal in Harvey as the inland flooding and extreme wind damage that took (INAUDIBLE). So this could be all of the above. Even though the winds are a little bit weaker, you could deal with a longer period of hurricane forced winds because the swath is so wide and this storm is so large. That is a big difference as well.

You could fit two or three of Hurricane Harvey inside the size of Florence as it stands now.

KING: OK, Brett, appreciate it. Please stay safe.

Thanks for joining us here today. Our coverage continues right now with Anderson Cooper and Chris Cuomo.