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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Key Florida Races; Midterm Election Outlook. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired November 5, 2018 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:03]

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, but you see these numbers do have a direct correlation. I think that's why people are keyed in on these right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: OK. And so when the polls start closing and the votes start coming in, what are you going to be looking at, which House races?

MATTINGLY: Let's talk about the things that are actually important. And that's when people actually start voting.

TAPPER: Yes.

MATTINGLY: I think there's a couple barometers that I'm paying attention to early on in the night.

And the first goes right now down here, Kentucky's 6th District right here. When you look at this, this is a race Andy Barr won by 21-plus points back in 2016. This shouldn't technically be a close race, except for Amy McGrath is a top-tier Democratic candidate, raised millions of dollars, had the type of bio, as a retired fighter pilot, that Democrats seized on.

This is one of the first races we will start seeing returns on earlier in the night. Pay attention to this as a sign of what might be coming later.

I want to move over a little bit into Virginia. Now, there's some clear up -- there's one clear pickup in Virginia, but there's another race that I'm keen on. We talk about tossup races here.

This is Virginia's 7th District. Dave Brat won this district by 16 points back in 2016. This shouldn't be considered a very close district going into the night, and yet it is. Democrats acknowledge this is a reach for them. But, Jake, if this starts going down, you're talking about suburbs, particularly in the Richmond area, this could mean a very, very big night for Democrats.

And there was another one that I want to key on as well. And that's New Jersey's 3rd District. This is Tom MacArthur's district. And if you recognize this name, it's because he was the moderate Republican who served as a key dealmaker in the House effort to repeal and replace Obamacare. He's another one, won his district very handily in 2016. He is now in a very hard-fought race, white-collar district, a lot of retirees in this district. If this race starts going Democrat, you know it's not just a majority-making night, Jake. It might be a very big majority- making night.

TAPPER: OK, some key races to watch.

Phil Mattingly, thanks so much.

Let's talk about it with my experts.

I want to start with the Democrats or the left-leaners on the panel here. And my question is pretty simple. Do you trust the polls? Do you have faith in the polls?

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No. I was here near tears in 2016. And so, no, we don't trust the polls at all, because if you would have asked any of us, based on polls and all the data we had, Hillary Clinton would be president of the United States and it would be -- we would have the Senate and the House would be in a different state.

So, no, we don't trust the polls. But what I do trust, though, is the quality of candidate that we have.

TAPPER: Democrats.

SELLERS: Democrats, from Aftab Pureval to Andy Kim in the districts that we were just discussing.

You go all the way down to Arkansas and the congressional districts down there with Clarke Tucker. And you have mayors like Frank Scott, you have Andrew Gillum, you have all of these amazing and outstanding candidates from the mayoral races all the way up, which are giving us a chance and giving that energy.

And so when you look at a Frank Scott running for mayor or you're looking at an Andrew Gillum running for governor, they're going to pull other candidates along with them.

TAPPER: Do you trust the polls?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN COMMENTATOR: No, I don't.

But well, how -- here's the thing. It's true the national polls were essentially right with Hillary Clinton.

TAPPER: Right. The national -- Hillary Clinton won by almost three million votes.

POWERS: But the state polls were very misleading and I think more misleading than normal.

There's always a couple states that are tough to poll. But I feel like in the past, I was always able to look at the polls and get a very good sense of what was going to happen. There would be a surprise here and there.

But that's also -- the question is, the presidential was such a unique situation with him losing the popular vote and winning the Electoral College. It's not quite the same dynamic. So, maybe I'm a little more inclined here, but I have a lot of caution.

And I also do -- I'm wondering even with the polls, it's not just that Democrats -- I mean, that the Republicans could end up holding the House or something that nobody is expecting. It's also, are the Democrats being sort of underpolled? Is there more support for them than we think?

TAPPER: One of the big questions about 2016, and I think holds true today in 2018, which is, does Trump underpoll?

Are there people who support President Trump, but don't want to admit it to a pollster or maybe don't have much more than disdain for a pollster?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, and maybe they're not answering the phone.

This project that "The New York Times"' Upshot is doing, which has been really interesting, these live polls in all these districts. Look at the number of people they're having to call to get 400 or 500 responses, 25,000, 30,000, 35,000 calls to get 400 people to answer the phone and answer a poll?

I think, also, there are going to be people in the Republican and Democratic parties that never vote in midterms that show up in this thing. So how would you know who to poll? So although I think the national samples are easier to get right, the lower the jurisdiction, the fewer people in a jurisdiction, it's much, much harder to get something that you could hang your hat on.

TAPPER: So do you trust the polls? Do you think that the Democrats are likely going to have a good night?

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I think history says that they should have a good night. I think it may be slightly less good, and the only reason I'm thinking that is that this Republican enthusiasm number, and, again, this relies on trusting the polls.

But the Republican enthusiasm number hasn't dipped as much as one would expect, if you sort of watched and listened to the conventional wisdom alone. Now, that doesn't mean that Democrats aren't really, really excited. They are.

But Republicans have been closer to parity the entire time than one would expect if you were just kind of casually paying attention. I do think that that matters in a midterm election. So they may come out more than we expect.

SELLERS: And one of the things I don't think pollsters are getting ready are millennials and Generation Z voters., because we have been pathetic when it comes to voting in midterms, to your point.

[16:35:03]

TAPPER: You're a millennial.

SELLERS: I'm a millennial. Aren't you a millennial?

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: That's sweet. That's sweet.

(LAUGHTER)

SELLERS: You have about 18 to 29 is coming out in these record- breaking numbers. Over 2.4 million have already voted to date, and it was 800,000 total in 2014.

You have my age group, my peers, who are coming out. But, again, we're coming out because of candidates. And I just think the polls -- I have never, ever been polled. In the last 16 of years, of me being voting age of this society, I have never, ever, been polled.

I have also never had a landline. I do know they call cell phones sometimes. But I have never been polled. I don't know any of my friends that have been polled. And so I know that you're missing some of that energy. Where it breaks, I have no idea.

HAM: I would just like to say some of my best friends are pollsters.

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: Is that right?

No, we all -- we love pollsters.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: But let's talk about actual votes for a second, because early and absentee turnouts, so these are actual votes, this is not just polls -- has been high, compared to this point of Obama's first term.

As of this morning, more than 31 million votes have been cast for tomorrow's election. In 2014, Obama's second midterm, it was at 19.3 million. Is President Trump, do you think, Scott, is he the biggest driver of this, both for and against?

JENNINGS: Yes.

Everybody is always worried about low voter turnout in America. Who knew that all we needed was Donald Trump to fix American democracy? Everybody wants to vote. Everybody wants to vote. And so, yes, I mean, I think there's a lot of Republicans that want to turn out and make sure he can push his agenda.

And I think there are Democrats who have been waiting to vote since the polls closed November 2016.

TAPPER: Yes.

JENNINGS: So I think we're going to see a record turnout for the midterm. The early vote analysis shows it. And you know what? Good for America. The more we vote, the better off we are.

TAPPER: Absolutely.

I want to look at one other thing, which is the gender breakdown, the CNN poll conducted by SSRS. Likely voters' choice for Congress, women choose Democrats 62 percent to 35 percent. Men, it's 48 percent to 49 percent. Now, again, this is a poll, and if you believe it, great. If you don't, great.

But if this is true, that's rough parity with men on the generic ballot. And that would suggest that Democrats will have a good night, if you believe this poll.

POWERS: Exactly. That's the problem. I mean, so, yes, that's true.

And I think it goes without saying that if he starts -- as the polls are saying, he's cratering white suburban educated women. If that's true, then that would say the Republicans are in trouble.

TAPPER: Everyone, stick around.

It's got everything. It has a key Senate race, a governor's race, some important House races. I'm trying to do Stephan.

Do you know which state is home to the most campaign ad spending? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:42:09]

TAPPER: And we're back with our politics lead.

And a note of sympathy for our brothers and sisters in Florida today, where their television airwaves are bombarded with nastiness amidst competitive House races and Senate and gubernatorial races locked in dead heats.

And it doesn't matter if you're watching CNN or the news or soap operas or your favorite crime drama. If you turn on a TV in Florida, this is what you get.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR: In the swamp of Tallahassee, he's a legend.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rick Scott.

NARRATOR: Bill Nelson, Washington Democrats' old reliable puppet.

NARRATOR: Rick Scott, another shady millionaire who doesn't look out for you.

NARRATOR: Career politician Bill Nelson doesn't think the rules apply to him.

NARRATOR: Question: How did Rick Scott get rich? Answer: Ripping off Medicare.

NARRATOR: Forty-six years in politics, but Nelson has never worked a real job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Man, I need some Purell.

And that's just a few of the ads running in the state Senate race, just the Senate race. When you combine the House races and the governor's race, just the House and Senate, ad spending in Florida is nearly double the spending in any other state this election cycle, topping out at nearly $137 million, according to media analysis group CMAG.

CNN's Ryan Nobles is live for us in beautiful downtown Tallahassee.

And, Ryan, you have been talking to voters. How sick are they of the nonstop, almost always negative ads?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake, there's no doubt that voters in Florida are ready for this election to be over.

In fact, at lunch this afternoon at a deli near the state capitol, the main topic of conversation here was college football, not politics. But despite all of that fatigue, you do get the sense that voters here in Florida are ready for their voices to be heard in this crucial election.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NOBLES (voice-over): Battleground Florida, two high-profile races with historic implications. Polls show a Democratic edge in both races, but still up for grabs.

The Democrat nominee for governor, Andrew Gillum, the current mayor of Tallahassee, has the opportunity to become Florida's first African- American governor and the first Democrat since the late '90s.

ANDREW GILLUM (D), FLORIDA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: We gave voters something to actually get out there and support, not just by tearing people down and dividing us based off of superficial differences.

NOBLES: His opponent, Ron DeSantis, is hoping to keep the GOP gubernatorial winning streak alive, pumping his support from President Trump and hammering Gillum over an FBI investigation into Tallahassee city government.

REP. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: He's getting his pockets lined. He's getting illegal gifts that he shouldn't have had. NOBLES: The stakes are just as high in the race for U.S. Senate. The

current governor, Rick Scott, offers the chance to flip the seat into Republican hands. He has spent millions on ads, tagging the Democratic incumbent, Bill Nelson, as out of touch.

NARRATOR: Forty years later, a lot of things change, but Bill Nelson is still in Washington.

NOBLES: Nelson has countered by arguing Scott has used the governor's mansion to pad his financial portfolio ahead of the interests of Floridians.

SEN. BILL NELSON (D), FLORIDA: Newspapers of this state have said that he is a walking conflict of interest.

NOBLES: More money has been spent on Florida than in any state in America. Nearly one $137 million in over 175,000 T.V. spots just on the federal races tracked by Kantar Media CMAG. Florida voters have been inundated with a barrage of negative ads. Ads that accuse Gillum of being corrupt--

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is Andrew Gilliam caught up in corruption?

NOBLES: And hammer DeSantis for opposing a requirement for insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He'd let insurance companies deny them coverage.

NOBLES: The candidates have now retreated to their base and the polarizing national figures who support them. DeSantis and Scott campaigning twice with President Trump.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He runs one of the worst, one of the biggest problem cities anywhere in the country. He's not doing the job. You don't want to have him running Florida.

And Gillum and Nelson welcoming President Obama to a big rally and Democratic vote-rich South Florida.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let me tell you something. Republicans can't hear you boo but they can hear vote.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NOBLES: And the best indicator that we have of just how high the level of enthusiasm here in Florida is the early vote totals and so far they are big, outpacing the numbers in the last Midterm of 2014. More than six million Floridians have already cast their ballots. Traditionally Republicans have been better at getting out the early vote, but as of this morning, 25,000 more Democrats than Republicans have already voted in this election. Jake?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right, Ryan Nobles in Tallahassee, thanks so much. Let's talk about the Senate with my panel what Senate races or you can pick one, Senate race that you're keeping an eye on?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, there's two critical ones for Republicans.

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Can't do it.

JENNINGS: Arizona and Nevada I'll stick with Arizona and someone else can take Nevada. If Republicans win either one, it locks out the Democrats. I think the polling strength in Arizona for the Republicans hasn't been as good as Nevada. But the early vote analysis according to the Republicans on the ground there is much better than it is in Nevada. Governor Ducey, the Republican is running strong. He's going to win big. And I'm told his organization is cranking for McSally.

Also, the Republicans believe there may be some cannibalization of high propensity voters going on for the Democrats and so they think they have more voters left to turn out on Election Day. So I'll say advantage, slight advantage Republicans in Arizona because if they win that one, it would make it very hard for the Democrats to peel away the majority.

TAPPER: That's an open seat. It's the -- Jeff Flake is retiring. What are you looking at Kirsten?

POWERS: I'm looking at McCaskill, Claire McCaskill of Missouri because honestly, I think it's kind of a miracle that she's where she is. And it's a -- it's a dead heat right now. This is extremely red state, a state that Trump won. He won 57 percent in the state. He's popular there and she's still keeping a pretty good candidate in check. And so it's not like last time where she ran against Todd Akin who had made the comments about legitimate rape. She has a real serious candidate to run against who Trump is supporting.

So I think if she manages to pull this out, it's going to send the message that Democrats are probably going to have a good night.

TAPPER: And how is she -- how is she managed to do it? Because you're right, I mean, this is a state Obama won never, and she's a Democrat and she's --

POWERS: Well, so -- she's a great politician for one thing, and I think that you know, she's distanced herself a little bit from what she calls the crazy Democrats. She specifically was talking about people who are you know, interrupting people's dinners and screaming at them so I think she's willing to play to the crowd for sure. But on the issues, she's been hitting him on ObamaCare and health care because he was you know, he was part of the lawsuit against ObamaCare and he's been hitting her on Kavanaugh.

So it will be interesting to see which of those issues you know, end up being the ones that make a difference.

TAPPER: Well, what do you -- what are you looking at?

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I'm going to take Florida because it's our karmic destiny to Groundhog Day there electorally every time. It's because it's big and it's diverse and it is a microcosm of the United States and our politics. By the way, the fact that college football is the number one topic of discussion in that state makes me think better in Florida than I have for quite some time.

TAPPER: You'll know it's great.

HAM: Go Dogs! But this is a really expensive race. It's a very close race. Florida man versus Florida man and I think he -- Nelson has Gillum to thank on the governor's race side because uncharacteristically the Senate race has sort of taken a backseat to it and Democrats are excited. And as you saw in those early numbers for early vote, not only that but in the primaries, you saw a huge uptick in Democratic voters.

So in many places, Democrats have been taking that enthusiasm and actually really turning it into votes and you're seeing that in real ways. It doesn't mean Republicans will necessarily lose but that's what I'm watching early --

TAPPER: Rick Scott has never lost an election. He's run twice for governor and won both times.

HAM: And he's a competent governor in people because of this most recent storm. His numbers are fairly good in dealing with that so that obviously matters. And I would say there may have been a shift in this race because a couple weeks ago Nelson was saying why is he out there -- why is he not campaigning which I thought was a real losing message when the guys dealing with a really serious hurricane. But I think the race has shifted since then maybe in Nelson's favor.

[16:50:11] TAPPER: You think -- you think Nelson has the edge.

HAM: I didn't -- I don't know if he has the edge but I think it's shifted a little bit back that way.

TAPPER: What are you keeping an eye on?

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Indiana, because I think most Democrats are looking at Indiana and Missouri, and if we're able to win both of those, then the wave is real. If we win one, then I think that we can have a good night. Joe Donnelly is running a hyper- local race as we will call it. Scott will say he is running away from the national --

JENNINGS: Build the wall, extend the Trump tax cuts, I mean, hey --

SELLERS: And I think the President helped out by going to Gary, Indiana because you have to --

TAPPER: President Obama.

SELLERS: President -- the President helped out by going to Gary, Indiana because you have to make sure that those voters in Gary turnout, in Indianapolis turnout, those African-American and diverse voters. You only asked for one but I'm also say that a lot of Democrats are watching New Jersey because it's a race that should not be closed but it's very close, and that is one of the races where Democrats are playing on defense the entire time because we have the weakest candidate that we've had in recent history running for a United States Senator.

TAPPER: Menendez who had some legal troubles but he was -- he was a hung jury I believe is what happened with the -- Let's go back to Missouri for one second because President Trump has gone there. It's his second step -- stop in Missouri in five days. He's going there again tonight. Take a listen to what Claire McCaskill just told CNN about President Trump's visit and the effect it might have on the election.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI: I do think that it swings both ways the President coming here. There are a lot of President Trump supporters that President Trump can motivate but there's also a lot of people that have been here motivates folks that want to vote for me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: What I love about election season is when you hear people really just holding in their real feelings just to be as diplomatic as possible. I think we saw -- we saw something -- no, just yesterday when I asked Stacey Abrams who's running for governor of Georgia about some of the more controversial let's say, things that have been said and she going right for those suburban white women, those educated college-educated white women was you know held back on her criticism. And I think -- which was smart. I'm not criticizing. That's smart. You want to appeal to the voters you need and that's Claire McCaskill doing the same thing.

POWERS: Yes. I mean, she's a great -- she's a great candidate and I think Scott said this earlier though, I mean, Donald Trump is the ultimate GOTV for the -- for the Democrats.

TAPPER: Get Out To Vote, yes.

POWERS: And so she's right. There are some people who it will you know, he has a lot of influence over his base supporters but he also has a lot of influence over Democratic voters who really don't like him.

SELLERS: Well, not only are voters are turning out, but I think one of the other things that were highlighting is a ton of voter suppression in this country. And you look at the things that are going on in Georgia, you look at all the issues that people are having in Florida, you actually had souls to the polls where especially in a lot of Black churches you, leave Church and you go directly to the polls but you look in North Carolina where they took where they strip that away, you look in other Southern states where they took that away.

So there's a lot of voter suppression going on in the country. I think it's been highlighted and this is just an amazing night for individuals because tomorrow night these people will have new titles many of them. You can have a black governor in Georgia and Florida, you can have a new congressman in New Jersey etcetera so this is an exciting time.

TAPPER: OK. Thanks, everyone. I really appreciate it. Finally, tragedy in our "NATIONAL LEAD." At a time when our nation might feel more divided than it has in decades, an inspirational message of unity from a man who lived a life in service and gave his life for his country.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MAYOR BRENT TAYLOR, NORTH OGDEN, UTAH: I pledge allegiance to the flag.

TAPPER: He began each city council meeting with a pledge to his country. And North Ogden, Utah's mayor Brent Taylor, he meant it. Taylor served for more than a decade in the Army National Guard including two deployments to Iraq and one to Afghanistan. It was a career he proudly noted while running for mayor of the small town of roughly 19,000 in 2013.

TAYLOR: I learned a lot about leadership during that time and how to make decisions under pressure, how to be a leader, how to earn respect of those that you lead.

TAPPER: In January, Brent Taylor stepped up again.

TAYLOR: Right now there's a need for my experience and skills to serve in our nation's long lasting war in Afghanistan.

TAPPER: The 39-year-old was mere months away from returning home when he was killed Saturday in Kabul. The Pentagon says his death was the result of an apparent insider attack involving small arms fire.

JON CALL, ADMINISTRATOR, NORTH OGDEN, UTAH: It was a shock and it still is.

TAPPER: North Ogden administrator, John Call, considered him as close as family.

CALL: It just doesn't seem real.

TAPPER: Taylor had enlisted in the army just three days after getting engaged to his wife, Jenny, who came with him to the recruiting office.

TAYLOR: Military service involves the entire family and my family is very proud to be a military family.

TAPPER: In the years that followed, Brent and Jenny welcomed seven children Megan, Lincoln, Alex, Jacob, Ellie, Jonathan, and young Caroline, just 11 months old.

[16:55:04] CALL: I've been really inspired by the way his family has handled this. It's obviously heartbreaking but the family has no regrets that he was doing what he loved, serving a country he loved, and working with people that he loved and cared about in Afghanistan. TAPPER: Taylor's family is not alone in their grief. In a letter to Jenny Taylor, Afghan pilot, Abdul Rahman Rahmani asks her to tell her children "that their father was a loving, caring, and compassionate man whose life was not just meaningful, it was inspirational. He died on our soil, but he died for the success of freedom and democracy in both of our countries. Even in death, Taylor's service to country continues. His final Facebook post implores Americans to exercise the freedoms he died fighting for. "I hope everyone back home exercises their precious right to vote, he posted. We have far more as Americans that unites us than divides us. United we stand, divided we fall. God bless America."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Everybody vote. Coming up, one Democratic Senator who is up for re-election in this pivotal Midterm. That's ahead. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, all about Trump. On election eve, our new polls show 70 percent voters say they're casting ballots to send a message to President Trump. With thousands of local state national seats at stake, is this Midterm Election a referendum on the President?