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Trump, Top Dems Rally for Votes in Last-Minute Midterm Rush; Georgia Launches Probe of State's Democratic Party Days Before Election; Florida Race for Governor Down to the Wire; Interview with J.D. Scholten; Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired November 5, 2018 - 10:00   ET

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


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[10:00:56] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good Monday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto. Poppy Harlow just on assignment.

On this midterm election eve, a brand-new CNN poll shows a clear preference among likely voters for control of the next Congress. On the so-called generic ballot asking which party should be in charge of the legislative branch, 55 percent say Democrats, 42 percent say Republicans. That's a 13 point spread there. Seven in 10 likely voters say that their votes reflect their views of President Trump, who is not on any ballot but who tells supporters to pretend that he is.

President Trump's job approval rating, 39 percent in our poll. The lowest of any president facing his first midterms in well over 60 years.

We will have live reporters this hour on the hottest races, biggest stories as well, beginning with Rebecca Berg in Missouri where the president will show up tonight for his third rally of the day. Close Senate race there now.

Rebecca, what are you seeing on the ground?

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: That's right, Jim. Well, the president clearly understands how high the stakes are here in Missouri for control of the Senate. I'm at a get out the vote event this morning with Josh Hawley and top Missouri Republicans in Springfield, Missouri, clear across the state from where the president will be tonight in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.

And Josh Hawley describes the race here as the firewall for the U.S. Senate. Could decide power, whether Republicans have it or whether Democrats have it. So the president understands that coming back to Missouri for the second time in a week to try to rally the Republican base here.

The big wild card in this race, will Republicans turn out to support Josh Hawley? This is a state that has trended very Republican over the past few years. And Claire McCaskill is fighting those political headwinds. But in our polling, she has been hanging on. The race is neck and neck heading into Election Day. She could defy history once again. In 2012, of course, she was the top Republican target, and she went up against Congressman Todd Akin, who famously talked about legitimate rape and his campaign crashed and burned after that.

But Claire McCaskill looking to defy the odds once again. The closing message for McCaskill is that she is not one of those crazy Democrats. That's what we heard from her in a radio ad with her campaign. Josh Hawley saying she is one of those crazy Democrats. Here's some literature for the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee picturing Claire McCaskill with Hillary Clinton.

Hawley mentioned Hillary Clinton in his closing stump speech as well, saying that Claire McCaskill is just like Hillary -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Rebecca Berg in those Republican races that can be radioactive. Thanks very much.

Joining me now to talk about these elections and what they mean for this president, for the Congress, Susan Page, David Gergen, Symone Sanders, and Rob Astorino.

David, I'm going to start with you just because you've seen a couple elections through the years and worked for both Republican and Democrat. So you had a pretty big spread on the generic ballot. You have 13 points, you get low president's approval down, back into the 30s.

As you look at this race, what does that say to you?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It says to me that there's been a shift in the last couple of weeks. I think this is starting to break toward the Democrats. The president had a lot of momentum coming out of the Kavanaugh hearings. Good economy and all the rest, but I think this week of violence with the pipe bombs and then the shootings and then top that off with the whole caravan, you know, stunt, which I think has become -- being seen now as a stunt, suggests that this could be a real shift, you know, a dramatic shift.

It could really bring in the House and even change the odds on the Senate. So I was quite surprised by the poll if I must tell you.

SCIUTTO: Susan Page, the one figure in there that was tighter in a positive, you might say, for Republicans, is the enthusiasm gap. Because Democrats had a pretty wide enthusiasm gap. The latest numbers we had, I think it was 68 percent of Democratic voters view the race -- you know, their vote enthusiastically, 64 percent. So pretty much tied there.

Does that make things look a little better for Republicans as voters go to the polls tomorrow?

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, USA TODAY: You know, really as we say always, the depends on turnout.

[10:05:04] Turnout depends on enthusiasm. So that is a very good sign for Republicans. There are two good signs for Republicans. One is the economy. The economic numbers that came out at the end of last week were excellent. The unemployment at historic lows. Wages starting to go up. So you'd think this would be an election fought on that ground. It has not been fought on that landscape because of president's own desire to talk more about immigration.

But yes, there are some signs here that Republicans could some heart in, although it is true that this generic ballot, one thing we look at closely, and presidential approval, which we know is tied to how the White House -- how the party in power fares in a midterm election, those are just disquieting for this White House.

SCIUTTO: So, Rob, CNN political commentator, also member of the 2020 Trump re-election advisory council. Why isn't the president just screaming economic numbers from the rooftop at every moment given those figures and instead going for this message of the barbarians at the gate, in effect?

ROB ASTORINO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, there's a couple of things. First of all, the economy is terrific. And I think most people realize that. And that plays to his strength, and I think he should be leading with that in everything he does.

SCIUTTO: But he's not.

ASTORINO: He's not, and I think that's a mistake. He is mentioning it, but then he swiftly turns to immigration. Health care is a big Achilles heel right now for Republicans. Immigration is a positive for Republican voters. And so I think if he's going to talk about immigration, I think he's got to tone it down a little bit, but I think it helps with the base to bring out Republicans. In all the polls, Republicans are really concerned about immigration. And it's amazing how the things --

SCIUTTO: It shows up in the CNN polling as well.

ASTORINO: Yes. And it went from the images of a caravan, which I think unnerved a lot of people, to his mistake. I don't think he should have said this, turning to birthright. That changed the whole dynamic.

SCIUTTO: Going too far?

ASTORINO: Well, it just changed the topic and the images from a caravan which was appealing to, not just Republicans, but also moderates and the suburban voters and then it switched to birthright, and I think that ended that conversation.

SCIUTTO: Symone, your response.

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I think that, actually, Republicans who are on the ballot this fall, tomorrow, would much rather be talking about the economy, and they wouldn't like to talk about health care. Frankly, Democrats have been beating the drum on health care across the country. From Wisconsin to Missouri and everywhere in between. And I think that's what's going to yield Democrats wins on Tuesday.

Now I think the president's talking points about immigration and trying to scare people to the polls is not going to work. It's not going to work. And I think it's sad that in the closing days of this election, that's the linchpin, that's what he wants to talk about.

ASTORINO: Well, it's not just him. Democrats in states like Missouri and North Dakota and Indiana, they're talking about it.

SANDERS: But they're being forced to talk about it.

ASTORINO: No, they're talking about --

SCIUTTO: Well, it's a different message, though, to be clear.

ASTORINO: But they're talking about it.

SCIUTTO: They're talking about immigration and border security. They're not portraying, you know, these sort of barbarian hordes at the gate, rapists, and talking about deploying soldiers. I mean, there's a difference in the way they're talking about it.

ASTORINO: But they are talking about immigration.

SCIUTTO: David.

GERGEN: The president has a penchant for scaring people because that makes people anxious, and it also makes them accept and embrace strongmen. You know, somebody who can bring order out of this, but the economic numbers gave him a chance to make a different message, and that is I am going to make the world more secure for you, I'm going to make the world safer for you. We got more jobs, we got a lot all those things.

And I think he had a shot of bringing in a lot of independents and maybe even some suburban women, college-educated women. But instead, he decided to play to the fear and not to the hope. And I think that's pinned him in to a smaller base to try to get votes from.

SCIUTTO: Susan, it's an election of contrasts, right, in the numbers because another thing from the CNN poll is that a majority of Americans thinks things are going pretty well. 54 percent say the country is going very or fairly well versus 45 percent who say pretty or very badly. That plus the economic numbers typically would spell a pretty good situation for the incumbent party going to election, and yet you have this reversed.

PAGE: You know, it's really a disconnect that we haven't seen before where the economy is going well, and we don't have an instant foreign policy crisis. We have some foreign policy challenges, but we're not on the verge of some terrible war. And yet people think the country is headed in the wrong direction. And that reflects, I think, the rhetoric on the president's part that has been divisive and I think even I think that has had the effect of making Americans worried about the direction of our democracy.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

PAGE: Even if they think the economy is going pretty well.

SCIUTTO: Well, it'd be interesting to see. First of all, there's a lot that can happen between now and tomorrow.

(LAUGHTER)

SCIUTTO: Interesting to see if the political tactics change after that. Listen. Thanks to all of you. We got through a lot there. And please stay with us because we have more to talk about.

Georgia secretary of state and candidate for governor launching an investigation, he says, into the state Democratic Party right before the election. Now his Democratic opponent, Stacey Abrams, calling that investigation a witch hunt.

Plus, the president says that his focus is on the Senate and the 35 seats at stake there. Do Democrats have any chance of grabbing the majority from Republicans there?

[10:10:01] A deep dive on those Senate races. That's just ahead.

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SCIUTTO: Election eve in the state of Georgia brings yet another controversy focused on the process simply of holding elections. The Republican secretary of state, who also happens to be the Republican candidate for governor, is claiming that state Democrats tried to hack a voter registration Web site.

CNN's Kaylee Hartung is in Atlanta.

Kaylee, is there any evidence of the Democratic -- state Democrats trying to hack this election?

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, there's not, Jim. But we can explain to you what led the secretary of state's office to open up this investigation. It was a series of e-mail communications they received that looked to them like two Democratic operatives discussing a plan to try to attack vulnerabilities within the state's voter registration database and it also included the computer programming script to do so.

[10:15:11] But as it turns out, there was an e-mail that preceded those that the secretary of state's office didn't initially get. And that was an e-mail from a concerned citizen who reached out to the state's voter protection hotline that is run by the Democratic Party, to make them aware of these vulnerabilities that he sort of stumbled upon when he was checking out the status of his own voter registration information.

So the Democrats have denied any association with discovering or attempting to take advantage of what they say are vulnerabilities in the system, and Stacey Abrams responded this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STACEY ABRAMS (D), GEORGIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: It's a witch hunt that was created by someone who is abusing his power. Friday Brian Kemp was notified that there was yet another flaw in the election security system twice before he has accidentally released the information of six million Georgians. This was about to happen again. Instead of owning up to it, taking responsibility and seeking a way to fix the flaw, he instead decided to blame Democrats because he does that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARTUNG: Both candidates using this as an opportunity to rile up their polarized bases. We need to delineate any communications coming from Brian Kemp as to whether they're from his office as secretary of state or from his campaign. The rhetoric we're hearing from his campaign much more aggressive as he says these power hungry radicals should be held accountable for their criminal behavior -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Though no evidence of criminal behavior.

Kaylee Hartung, thanks very much.

Now to the key battleground state of Florida where one of the biggest races for governor in the country down to the wire now. The latest poll shows the Democrat with a very slight edge there. You see four points. Gillum over DeSantis.

Ryan Nobles is following this matchup from Tallahassee. Tell us what you're seeing in the final hours there, Ryan?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, right now Democrats are hopeful that this could be a historic night for them on many fronts. First, keep this in mind, a Democrat has not been the governor of Florida since 1999. And their candidate, Andrew Gillum, who has a slight edge in the polls right now, would be the state's first African-American governor. So Democrats are very excited about that possibility.

But Republicans by no means have given up this fight, and President Trump himself has become personally invested in this race. He's been to Florida on two different occasions and he's tweeted several times in support of the Republican candidate, Ron DeSantis, even as late as this morning saying, quote, "If Andrew Gillum did the same job in Florida that he's done in Tallahassee as mayor, the state will be a crime ridden, overtaxed mess. Ron DeSantis will be a great governor. Vote."

No doubt DeSantis running arm-in-arm with President Trump as we get closer to the polls being closed here in Florida -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And will that pay off? Of course, the other big race in Florida for Senate. Three-term Democratic Senator Bill Nelson trying to keep that seat from the state's governor, Rick Scott. Tell us what's happening there. NOBLES: Well, this is a race that could play a big role in

determining who controls the Senate at the end of election night. It's much different than the governor's race, Jim, where you have two relatively newcomers on the governor side. These are two established candidates in Florida. Rick Scott, the current governor, he's been described by Nelson as benefitting financially personally from his time as governor. While on the other side Rick Scott has accused Bill Nelson of being out of touch and in office too long and not the change that Florida needs.

There's a good chance here tonight, maybe not a good chance, Jim, but the possibility that voters could split the ticket here and send a Republican or Democrat to the governor's mansion and then do opposite in the Senate race. That's one of the things that we're going to be keeping an eye on here tonight or tomorrow night in Florida.

SCIUTTO: Lots of races to watch. Ryan Nobles in Florida, thanks very much.

Panel back with me now. Let's start on that Georgia race because you already have this strange dynamic here of the -- and it's not the first time it's happened to have a secretary of state run for state office, and typically the secretary of state oversees the races. But here you have one, and I want to ask you, Rob, as you look at this.

It sounds like what happened here is that a whistleblower, not a whistleblower, a concerned citizen, you know, said hey, there may be some vulnerabilities in the system. Democrats got wind of it, now they're accused by the Republican candidate that they were trying to hack the system. Is that a fair representation of what happened there?

ASTORINO: Well, I think what you said at first is right. Secretary of states have run in the past.

SCIUTTO: Happened before.

ASTORINO: They have stayed in office and they've run. So this is not unique.

SCIUTTO: The question then is, do you abuse that position?

ASTORINO: No. I hope he's not, but look, the FBI has been alerted and Homeland Security. So we'll find out in the days afterwards whether or not there's any realism to this or not, but I do think that in these days of hacking, and these machines are easy to hack, we've seen it internationally, we've seen it within, that you've got to take it very seriously. And so you have to be alerted.

SANDERS: Well, agreed, but Brian Kemp is the current secretary of state. In 2016, he was one of the only secretary of states in the country to refuse help from the Department of Homeland Security to shore up the election system in Georgia. And so if there are vulnerabilities in the system, it falls on Brian Kemp.

[10:20:03] So I think it's laughable for him try to pass this off on the Democrats. This is clearly a failure of him to do his job. And while, yes, secretaries of state do run for office all the time while they are still secretaries of state. What has happened in Georgia I think is unique because there have been so many questions and so many issues surrounding access to the polls. There have been accusations and lawsuits about voter suppression efforts spearheaded by the secretary of state's office, which is why this is --

SCIUTTO: And he lost a case in court.

SANDERS: He lost, yes.

SCIUTTO: Regarding matching of signatures, which was read as a form of voter suppression.

GERGEN: Let's not hide the fact that this is racially tinged race. Race has been hanging over this right from the beginning. There's now a robocall apparently in Georgia, you know, telling voters that Stacey Abrams is the poor man's Aunt Jemima. If that's not racially charged, I don't know what is. So the fact that other secretaries of state have held office and also run at the same time overseeing the process is true. But it's still wrong. It's still a clear conflict of interest.

And the problem we have now with Mr. Kemp, maybe otherwise a good candidate, but in all sorts of ways he's been trying to manipulate the system and make sure votes don't count, and by the way, mostly African-American votes. You put those two things together and it's pretty explosive.

SCIUTTO: Rob, what's your response?

ASTORINO: Well, first of all, one cautionary note --

(CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: Again it comes down to how you exercise that power.

ASTORINO: Yes, and I think that's disgusting that robocall. And -- but you know what, that happens everywhere and one cautionary note. One cautionary --

GERGEN: It does not happen everywhere.

ASTORINO: Please, I've had it against me in elections where people have said completely false things. And here's the one thing I was going to bring up, David. The one cautionary tale is you don't know who is actually doing these kind of calls. Sometimes the actual side that would gain from it does it or somebody as a surrogate does it.

SANDERS: Democrats in Georgia --

ASTORINO: I'm just saying be very careful with this.

SANDERS: Democrats are not running racist robocalls accusing Stacey Abrams of being a poor man's Aunt Jemima.

ASTORINO: It happened --

SANDERS: No, that is not happening.

ASTORINO: All I'm saying is --

SANDERS: That is offensive and ridiculous.

ASTORINO: -- we've got to be very, very careful with anonymous calls.

SANDERS: Look, Brian Kemp, it clearly feels like he's about to lose this race and he is doing -- he will do anything and everything he can in my opinion to steal this election. So the best way to stamp that out is for people to vote. So for folks in Georgia that don't like what they're seeing, I hope they go to the polls on Tuesday and I hope they elect Stacey Abrams.

SCIUTTO: Susan Page, if I can ask you, because this goes to the overall tenor of the race in a number of fronts. According to the CNN poll, 74 percent of respondents believe today's political rhetoric is encouraging violence. You talk about race in the Georgia election. You talk about the president's comments regarding various races around the country. Does this come back to the president setting the tone here? And are Republicans as well by not standing up to that, do they bear responsibility for that tone?

PAGE: I think much of this election tone has been set by the president. I think the president has set the tone of our politics since he was elected two years ago. And I also think it's one of the most distressing things we can see in terms of just the cost to our country.

There was a Georgetown University poll that came out that said a third of Democrats and third of Republicans said members of the other party never had the interest of the country at heart. That goes to kind of the fundamental democratic bargain, which is that, I'm going to run, you're going to run. Sometimes I'm going to win, sometimes you're going to win, and that is the way the system works and I accept that you have -- you may have different political views but you have the interest of the country at heart. The degree to which that has been eroded I think is a very serious thing for the United States.

SCIUTTO: We see it -- you see it from conversations over the dinner table at home.

ASTORINO: I just want to push back a little bit on that the tone is always and only at the top. I remember walking out of the New York Hilton around 4:00 a.m. after Trump won, and there were the most vile protests, signs with the most vile things. And it's been that way since election night on the left. And you've seen it in rallies and protests and Antifa and all those other things. So I would say we're a mess as a country right now, but it's not one person that's to blame.

SANDERS: Well, I'm just going to say, you know, no one -- look, only one party has been kids in cages.

ASTORINO: Come on, that's right. It started with Obama. So --

SANDERS: The president is the person at the top who is talking -- who is using this inflammatory rhetoric to scare people to the polls. And Republicans across the country are underscoring with that.

SCIUTTO: Listen, way to get your opinion across. Go to the polls.

ASTORINO: That's right.

SCIUTTO: Make your decision there. Listen, thanks to all of you.

ASTORINO: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: A lot to discuss today, Susan Page, David Gergen, Symone Sanders, Rob Astorino.

Coming up, Republican Congressman Steve King facing something that he's not used to in that seat. That's a tight race.

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[10:29:16] SCIUTTO: This morning, the race for a House seat in Iowa is tightening. This as Republican congressman there, Steve King, faces fallout over his recent bigoted remarks and retweets of Nazi sympathizers. Right now, according to a recent "New York Times" poll, King still holding a 5 percent lead over his Democratic challenger. That is noteworthy given that this district Trump won by 27 points, 27 percent over Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Joining me now is King's Democratic challenger, J.D. Scholten.

J.D., thanks for taking the time. I just want to note to our viewers that we did reach out in terms of equal time to Steve King by e-mail to join us today and have not received an answer. But let's start with you. You're aware of Congressman King's rhetoric, his history of re-tweeting Nazi sympathizers. Yet you are still losing in this district here. Explain how that's possible.

J.D. SCHOLTEN (D), IOWA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: Well, it's complicated and there's not one thing about it.