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INSIDE POLITICS

Vulnerable Races to Watch in Battle for the House; White House Sticks by Saudis Despite Journalist's Murder; Trump Tweets "Game of Thrones" Style Teaser for Iran Sanctions; Dems' and GOP's Closing Argument with Four Days to Go; Suburban NJ Female Voters Weigh In on Trump. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired November 2, 2018 - 12:30   ET

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


[12:30:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: That's one place we'll look.

Let's stay in the neighborhood, let's move over here. You come over to Kansas. Check Manu's expense accounts. He's been out here at Kansas' second race. Republican -- no Republican incumbent here.

This one of the races where a Republican incumbent retires creates a Democratic opportunity. Paul Davis versus Steve Watkins. For Democrats to win here in Kansas, that tells you, you've a big blue movement going on.

One more we want to look at down here, everyone's been focused on the Texas Senate race, but there are at least two House seats down in Texas the Democrats hope they can pick up. Let me stretch out the map a little bit. Texas is big. Let's go right in here.

She's fighting me. Look at that. Come back in, boom. John Culberson, the Republican incumbent in a very safe Republican district so why is he in a 50-50 race? Because this is a very difficult environment for Republicans even in Texas. Ask the president, he says, we'll keep the Senate, I think we can keep the House, the president says, but he acknowledges it's complicated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'll be touching down at a number of places over the next five days. But I think we're doing very well in the Senate and I think we're doing very well in the House. The only problem is with the House, it's so many people.

I'd like to stop for every one of them but there are so many people. Well, history says that whoever president -- whoever the president may be, it trends the other way. It certainly does seem that way, but nobody has ever been president that has the greatest economy in the history of our country. This is the greatest economy in the history of our country. These are the greatest unemployment and employment numbers in the history of our country.

Nobody has ever had that to campaign with so I do.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: He makes a fair point. Nobody has ever had that or at least not maybe since Lyndon Johnson to campaign with. And yet, by all accounts, he is about to face a shellacking when it comes to the House, right?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Because the Senate map is a Trump map, the House map is not a Trump map. It's -- you know, that's why he is focusing on ensuring that disaster doesn't really strike the Republican Party and they lose both chambers on Tuesday. We don't expect that to happen at this point so possibly they can add a seat or maybe two to the Senate side. But the House is so difficult for all the reasons we have been discussing. That's why he is not focusing on the House going into some of these suburban districts where they need to hold these seats that Republican sit in that Hillary Clinton won. In particular, the two dozen or so.

If they are there, Trump were to go rally those guys, but those guys, that's not helpful that's why he's poking on something.

JONATHAN MARTIN, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: There's one observation, not to contradict Manu and I could be out on a limb here. But if you think back to 2006, another House-focused cycle where Democrats won Congress back. It wasn't until the very end that the Senate really came online. And Democrats won in Montana with Jon Tester and with Jim Webb in Virginia.

Look, I think it's unlikely that the Democrats take back the House but I don't think it's impossible that you can see -- I'm sorry, the Senate. Thank you. But I don't think it's impossible that you could see a split Senate after Tuesday. If the Democrats win Arizona and Nevada, flip those two seats and they only lose --

RAJU: In North Dakota.

MARTIN: Yes, North Dakota for example, then it's possible. Now that would mean having to hold Missouri, Montana, Florida, Indiana which are pretty tough states, but not impossible, especially if the last few weeks or the last few days I should say does start showing up in the polling and this close starts hurting Republicans.

KING: Right. A traditional midterms, they break late -- they break one way. The question is, is this a traditional midterm top to bottom or is this the split election many Republicans see which the House and the Senate? We will know -- we'll know in five days at least the lawyers will probably be recounting in some of these more than that.

I want to go through some of these races. One of the things, not universally, but one of the things the Democrats have done is found good candidates this year that fit their place. Amy McGrath again as I mentioned, a fighter pilot running in a Republican district. The president went there, he has not been to too many House races but he did go into Kentucky trying to rally the base.

Amy McGrath response on T.V. saying, trust me.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) AMY MCGRATH (D), KENTUCKY CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: I'm Amy McGrath, and it probably won't surprise you to hear that I don't always agree with the president, but he was elected under our constitution that I risked my to protect. I will never obstruct government or put party over country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: And as always, a fighter jet in the background. May we all have one of those?

JULIE PACE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Jonathan brought out 2006 and this is another comparison to that cycle. Democrats have good candidates. They have high quality candidates and what you've seen from Democratic leadership is really an effort to let those candidates run the way they need to run in their districts. Even though the national narrative about Democrats is the party has moved to the left, and how the energy might be pushing the presidential field in 2020 to take more far left positions.

In these races, if they're going to win, it's going to be on the backs of people like Amy McGrath who is running a Kentucky race, right? That race could not be run in any other place than where she is running right now.

KING: And I'll go to the Kansas race he went it because this is a nationalized climate. You do have candidates saying, don't get me caught up in the national climate, I'm from here.

[12:35:02] Like in Kansas where you have a Democrat who says I will represent Kansas and not that lady in Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A booming economy or the radical policies of a liberal mob. That's our choice. Paul Davis, Nancy Pelosi and the liberal mo. They are wrong for Kansas.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And independent voice, a proven bipartisan legislator. Paul Davis.

PAUL DAVIS (D), KANSAS CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: We have a dysfunctional Congress. The place is broken. And when something is broken, it needs new leadership. I will not support Nancy Pelosi.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Yes. And I asked him thaht, is there is any way you support Nancy Pelosi on the floor if there -- does that mean you're going to vote for the Republican on the floor. He said there's no circumstances that I will do that.

Now the question is --

KING: Save that tape. RAJU: Exactly. The question is, you know, is it effective, the Pelosi attacks tied to this candidate. In this particular district, the Republicans are telling me when they're knocking on doors, maybe about 25 percent of voters are so are actually suggesting that they're concerned that Pelosi could be speaker. So it's not driving issue in that race necessarily. Is it a base motivator? Yes.

KING: Trying to keep a tiny sleeve of independents and Republican- leaning to come over the Democratic. You got to keep those guys (INAUDIBLE).

RAJU: Exactly. So a whole bunch of other issues could ultimately turn that race and other ones like it.

KING: You write today about Texas being down there.

MARTIN: Yes.

KING: Again, you have two Texas incumbents who should be shoo-ins, right? It's Texas, they're Republican districts and yet, Sessions and Culberson have every reason to be worried.

MARTIN: Well -- and it speaks to the larger realignment that sort of shaping up here in America. The politics where a lot of these big cities and the (INAUDIBLE) suburbs that are the most affluent and folks who have been to Dallas and Houston know what I'm talking about, right? There's valet parking everywhere, and there's -- there is a tradition there of kind of Bush and Ford won moderate conservatives. That's the Republican Party that they like, right?

KING: Not in your face conservatives.

MARTIN: Correct. And by the way, they were Democrats until about 50 years ago but now they're Republicans but they're Bush Republicans. And the idea of this a racially divisive language is a (INAUDIBLE) to them in those kinds of districts. And all of a sudden you got these incumbents who have never really had a race who are suddenly facing an avalanche of money and some really tough contenders.

KING: It's going to be a fascinating few days and again, Tuesday night as well. But before we get to Tuesday, this reminder for our viewers. CNN's special report tonight. Our Kyung Lah goes to the frontlines of what is a huge issue in the country now, the war on voting rights.

"Democracy in Peril"? It's right here, 11 p.m. Eastern. You don't want to miss it. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:42:00] KING: Topping our political radar today, the White House appears to be standing by Saudi Arabia. That, despite the international outcry over the brutal murder of a U.S.-based journalist. Multiple U.S. and diplomatic sources telling CNN the White House actually seized an opening here to use some leverage against Saudi Arabia to deal with the conflict in Yemen. CNN's White House Correspondent Abby Phillip has more from the White House. Abby, what are sources telling you?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi John.

Well, a month after Jamal Khashoggi first disappeared into that consulate and was brutally murdered, we are now learning from officials that the White House is unlikely to step back from its support of the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. Now, this is coming after we learned so much more about what might have happened to Khashoggi and the Saudis have not taken official responsibility for it. But the United States is concerned about several things.

First of all, they're concerned about destabilizing Saudi Arabia which they still view as a key ally especially in their efforts to isolate Iran. But the United States despite their private acknowledgements that the crown prince likely knew about the plot to kill Khashoggi is also using this as leverage to try to bring the war in Yemen that has led to famine to a quicker end. Now they think that they can use this more likely in that scenario than they are to isolate Saudi Arabia, isolate Mohammed bin Salman.

All of this though is happening as Khashoggi's fiancee is writing in the Washington Post calling on the administration to do more. It is unlikely according to our sources though that they will step back from their support of the Saudi regime as a result of all of this.

John?

KING: Abby Phillip, live at the White House. A very important story in that region.

And here's another one. Get this. President Trump just a short time ago tweeting this, "Game of Thrones" style teaser for sanctions on Iran. Sanctions are coming, the president says over that image. That happens on Monday of course.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says eight countries will get away from the looming energy-related sanctions that the administration is putting back on Iran. And the European Union, not on the list. The E.U. of course has staunchly opposed the president's decision to walk away from the 2005 -- 2015, excuse me, nuclear agreement with Iran. It's not yet clear who does get a pass but Secretary Pompeo says, it was a selective process.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: Not only did we decide to grant many fewer exemptions, but we demanded much more serious concessions from these jurisdictions before agreeing to allow them to temporarily continue to import Iranian crude oil.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: When we get the list, it will be a big debate. Some members of Congress don't want any exemptions at all. They want the administration to be tougher but what has been interesting here to see the feuding anonymous sources between the national security adviser John Bolton and the State Department in recent days? John Bolton apparently doesn't think they're being tough enough.

PACE: Right. So what we heard from officials on the exemptions is that it will go to U.S. allies, potentially Japan, Italy, India. Basically they're arguing that these countries want to comply but they just weren't able to do it in time for this announcement. But there is a group of hardliners on this issue and John Bolton is really at the forefront of this who says no exemptions for no one, not even a U.S. ally.

[12:45:09] That group obviously didn't win out in this debate, but those are loud voices in President Trump's ear on this issue for sure.

KING: You talked earlier about how he likes things to be about him. That tweet. The president in a suit, sanctions are coming. Have you ever seen U.S. foreign policy conducted that way?

RAJU: By tweet? No. By that? Certainly not.

MARTIN: You know, (INAUDIBLE) like WW Lee (ph) meets "Game of Thrones." You know, (INAUDIBLE) actually (INAUDIBLE). Now, come on. Are you kidding me?

Of course it's totally novel. I mean -- you know, I mean that -- but this is -- the thing is that, it's not a conventional politician or president and it's much more about selling the brand and the brand is Trump. Foreign policy, domestic policy, politics. It doesn't matter what it is, man.

KING: The brand is Trump.

Up next for us, smart people at the table. Look at some closing midterm messages and whether they're working.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:50:13] KING: Four days out, the president claims midterm momentum. But wait, Nancy Pelosi says she is certain Democrats will retake the House. Can both of them be right? That's a good place to start.

We have the hosts of the Pollster podcast with us. Democrat Margie Omero, Republican Kristen Soltis Anderson. Can they both be right?

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST AND POLLSTER: Well, in the House, Democrats are certainly on track for -- it's quite likely that they're going to pick up the chamber. That's what matters. And so when Nancy Pelosi says she feels like things are good, she has every reason to believe they will be.

On the other hand, if you are the president, hanging onto the Senate means that you'll be able to still get appointments and such. So, if you're President Trump (INAUDIBLE) keeping the Senate is important and things still look pretty good for Republicans on that front. KING: And -- so we have the American electorate. Here we go into the election. NBC-Wall Street Journal number, who do you trust in the economy? Republicans by 15 points. Who do you trust on healthcare? Democrats by 18 points. So you have a split, a conflict if you will on two issues critically important to everybody. Whatever your party label. How do you litigate that?

MARGIE OMERO, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: Well, you see Democrats across the country no matter what kind of race they are running in, whether it's for Senate, House, governor are talking about the things that -- the issues, talking about healthcare, even talking about the economy, talking about job creation, talking about education. These were the issues that people care about. You hear a lot of Democrats talking about it.

You could see Republicans talking more about the economy. You don't always see them talking about the economy. I think that's where some of the tension is coming from. But in terms of what voters say is important to them, that is actually very clear.

KING: And so, I have been doing this a while and you would think a Friday before an election after months of job growth, 250,000 new jobs, the unemployment rate stays 3.7 percent. Finally, after years of sluggishness, some proof that wages, not as fast as workers would like but wages are starting to go up. And yet, you look at these numbers, this is from the NPR-Marist poll, GOP's call it a problem with college educated women. Trump, 38 approved, 63 percent disapproved.

So, will -- is this the problem for the president that you have a bunch of suburban Republican women who happen to live in the places that will decide who wins the House of representatives for the most part, who just can't give the president credit where they might want to because they just don't like him.

ANDERSON: Well -- and this is what's been so I think surprising and astonishing about the strategy that it seems the president has been deploying, which is to go really hard on immigration. Really using --

KING: And rally them more.

ANDERSON: -- using rhetoric that's going to fire up the base, but the president's base was already fired up. I mean, post-Kavanaugh, you've seen a lot of these enthusiasm gaps close. And so the idea that Republicans needed to fire up their base more I think was really misguided at the expense of potentially turning off some of those voters who maybe they like the tax bill, maybe they generally like Republican policies. But they just can't give a stamp of approval to a president who they feel is not conducting him presidentially.

OMERO: And one other thing too about women and the economy, there was a really interesting analysis in the New York Times in the past week about how women don't feel as positive about the economy as men. And that's not just explains by party differences between the genders because even among Democrats, women feel a little bit more pessimistic than. Even among Republicans, women feel a little bit more pessimistic than men. So there's something where women in addition to feeling very much at odds with Donald Trump.

A majority of Americans feel Trump doesn't respect women. That's a pretty astonishing number. They also feel a little bit less positive about the economy.

KING: Looking around the corner, is that what it is? That things might be OK today, they're little doubtful about where we are going here.

I'm always struck, I try to go to focus groups whenever you can, or watch focus groups whenever you can. Our Alisyn Camerota has been doing her own, talking to suburban women. Sometimes, you just watch the faces, it's not even what they say, it's the reaction when you mentioned Trump's name or mentioned something about it.

Listen to this group right. She tries to -- this is in New Jersey, suburban women who again, couple House districts in New Jersey Democrats want.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRAN FURTADO, NEW JERSEY DEMOCRAT: The words that are out there every day are just eating at me. And the only way for me to fight that, little me right now, is to vote against what he stands for or who is standing behind him.

CINDY RUGGIERO, NEW JERSEY REPUBLICAN: I think actions speak louder than words. You know, Trump comes from New York, he's a New Yorker and we all know New Yorkers are a little more brash and they come -- they say what's on their mind. That's New York -- that's the New York attitude.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: You see the divide there and that, you know, a more hardcore Republican, again lives near New York and New Jersey. They are kind like I expect (INAUDIBLE) in away where others just have a hard time again, it's his tone and how he conducts himself. It's not what he does. Is that fair?

OMERO: Yes. I mean, that one from New Jersey that seems very familiar. And I have done dozens of focus groups and that's very familiar.

[12:55:02] Women and voters feel that the tone from the president, that really reflects a national problem.

KING: Can he fix it in four days? I think the answer is?

ANDERSON: Most likely, there's -- I don't think -- I think this election is pretty --

KING: Pretty baked in?

ANDERSON: It's pretty baked in at this point.

KING: Yes, four more days to go. Nothing is baked in. I get your point about turnout.

Now, thanks for joining us today in the INSIDE POLITICS. Hope to see you back here Sunday morning, 8 a.m. Eastern. Busy week ahead.

Don't go anywhere. Wolf starts right now.

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