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Voters Now at the Polls in 49 States for Midterms; Florida Governors' Race Being Closely Watched; Suburban Voters Key to Dem's Hopes of Capturing House; Heated Races for House in Virginia; Races to Watch; Tight Georgia Gubernatorial Race as Both Sides Accuse the Other of Dirty Tricks; Candidates Could Make History in Several States. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired November 6, 2018 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: America, you are on the clock. After months of hype, rhetoric, robocalls, door knocks and everything in between, midterm Election Day is finally here. Polls are now open in 49 states. Alaska opening just moments ago. Next hour, Hawaii becomes the final state to start voting. And the stakes could not be higher, 36 governors' races are up for grabs, 35 Senate seats, and all 435 House seats are on the ballot. More than 33 million Americans have already cast early votes.

And all of this comes with a huge price tag. The Center for Responsive Politics said this midterm will be the most expensive in history, projecting more than $5 billion will have been spent before it's all over.

So, is this all a referendum on President Trump? And if it is, what will Americans say today? Put the guessing game, put your crystal ball away. It's time for the actual votes.

CNN reporters are on the ground for us, tracking all the biggest races in the country.

Let's start in Florida, home to two of the most contentious races. Rosa Flores is in Hialeah, Florida.

Rosa, what are you seeing on the ground there?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kate, good morning. Slow and steady. That's what we're seeing here in Hialeah, Florida. Take a look over my shoulder. You can see some of these lines are slow but steady here in Florida.

Now, there are multiple Florida races that are being watched across the country. One of those, of course, the governors' race between Ron DeSantis and Andrew Gillum.

Our cameras were rolling when Ron DeSantis voted this morning in St. John's County.

They were also rolling when Andrew Gillum went to vote this morning in Tallahassee. And then he made these remarks. Take a listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDREW GILLUM, (D), FLORIDA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: Us winning tonight, I think, will send a message to Mr. Trump and Mr. DeSantis as well that the politics of hatred and of division, of separation, that they have come to an end. At least in this election that's what we're going to show. That people are going out and voting for something and not against. And by voting for something, we're returning the politics of decency and what's right and what's common between all of us. We'll worry about history later, but today, we're working to win.


FLORES: Now, the governors' race is locked in a dead heat. And if early voting numbers are any indication of what this race is going to be like, it will be nail biting. Take a look at these updated numbers from the Florida secretary of state. More than five million people have already voted. And if you break down those numbers from party, here's the breakdown. The Republicans that are registered that have already voted, 40.1 percent, Democrats, 40.5 percent. The rest, 19.4 percent, are no party affiliation or other.

So, Kate, when you look at those razor-thin margins, that's why Florida is either famous or infamous for these razor-thin margins, and that's how people win these elections. Let's not forget in 2016, Trump took Florida by about 1 percent -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: And also worth noting, of course, this is also the day when candidates get to bring out the most important people in their lives, their absolutely adorable children. Andrew Gillum's child there, and also Ron DeSantis walking in, we saw a video of that. Perfect. A little highlight on this day.

Rosa, thanks so much.

Democrats begin this Election Day with high hopes. They need to gain a net gain of 23 seats to take control of the House. And the prime battlegrounds to gain those seats, the suburbs.

CNN's senior political analyst, Mark Preston, has been watching this all campaign long and is going to break it down for us.

Mark, all 435 seats all up for grabs. What are you seeing?

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Kate, as you said, for Democrats, the focus right now for them is on the House of Representatives. We currently stand at 193 Democrats in the House of Representatives. You need 218.

Let's put a little odds making into this. This is where we're going to start the night based on our projections and forecasting upon incumbency and open seats and what have you in polling. This is where Democrats stand. They're only 11 seats away based upon these numbers right now. That in itself is very good for Democrats heading into tomorrow, Kate. As we talk specifically about this, we have to talk about specific

races. When we do so, let's look at two very different races that are very much in common. Let's head down to New Jersey right now. We have Tom McCarthy, an incumbent. He represents an area in New Jersey that is considered the most conservative part of the state, yet he's in danger of losing. Why? Because he supported the federal tax bill that actually can hurt a lot of folks in New Jersey based upon their income. That's one. And also, he voted to repeal Obamacare, a very big issue in that race. At the same time, look where he rests, over in here, Kate. We're talking about the Philadelphia suburbs. We've talked about major metro suburbs. Even though he's in Jersey, Philadelphia right to the west.

[11:04:57] But let's head down to the south. When we head down south to a state where you don't see a whole lot of yellow, look in the state of Texas, a little bit. Let's go down here, down into Houston, and when we get down into Houston, look at this race right down here. That's the Crenshaw race. Let's go next to it. Lizzy Fletcher, she's a Democrat challenging the nine-term incumbent, John Culberson. Very nasty race. The argument on this one right now, Kate, is over health care. And if Lizzy Fletcher is able to win, if she's able to beat Culberson, that's going to help them. When I say them, the Democrats, take back the majority, but it really does come down to all of this. It really comes down to the suburbs.

When we talk about the suburbs, look at this last graphic here. When you look at the gender gap in our latest poll right now between women and men, Democrats and Republicans, look at this right here. That is the suburban vote that we have been talking about so much, 62 percent of women say they're going to vote for Democrats, only 35 percent of Republicans women say they're going to vote for Republicans. That's scary if you're a Republican today -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Great to see you, Mark. Thank you.

Let's go to one of those suburban battlegrounds Mark is talking about, northern Virginia. Republican Congresswoman Barbara Comstock is fighting to hold on to her seat. Political watchers on both sides of the aisle say she's in real danger, facing Democrat Jennifer Wexton at this point.

CNN's Brian Todd is at a polling station in Sterling, Virginia.

Brian, what are you seeing there?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, you guys talked about people bringing their families to the voting places in Florida and elsewhere. People bringing their families here to this voting place. This is 2-and-a-half-year-old Keegan coming here with her grandmother and her mom to vote. Look how cute she is. We have a gentleman back here bringing his 10-month-old son, Max. Max is in the yellow hoodie behind the voting station there with his dad voting. A lot of people bringing family members, kids, elderly members of their family. A lot of handicapped people have come in here. They're making it easy for handicapped people to vote in this precinct. You mentioned the hot race here in this battleground. This is the

Virginia tenth district, Northern Virginia with a very affluent suburban base. The suburban battleground that really is going to be key for Democrats if they're going to take back the House of Representatives. Jennifer Wexton is the real challenger, challenging Republican

incumbent, Barbara Comstock. Republicans have held the seat in this district for almost 40 years. Wexton is mounting a very serious challenge to Comstock here. A very close race. Just yesterday, President Obama stopped in this district to stump for both Jennifer Wexton and for incumbent Democratic Senator Tim Kaine. So again, a very hot and heavy battle ground here in northern Virginia.

And we're told, Kate, that the turnout is absolutely popping. We just got an influx of new voters coming in here to check in and vote over here. But we just talked to an official, an election official here in Loudoun County. He said they had roughly 50,000 voters just cast ballots just this morning, as of 10:00 a.m. Eastern time. He says that's way up from the midterms of 2014.

So you get an idea, these battlegrounds are absolutely crucial, especially in these House races -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Great to see you, Brian. Thank you so much.

Joining me to talk about the races to watch, CNN political analyst, congressional reporter at "Politico," Rachael Bade, former adviser to four presidents, now CNN's senior political analyst, David Gergen, and CNN senior political analyst, Ron Brownstein.

Great to see you guys.

So, races to watch.


BOLDUAN: The races to watch, we could do this for the entire hour. But narrowing in, if we go off Comstock is one thing.


BOLDUAN: There's another race everyone is watching in Virginia, which is Virginia seventh, the congressional district. Dave Brat facing a big challenge from his Democratic challenger, Abigail Spanberger. Why is everyone watching this one?

BROWNSTEIN: We know the epicenter of Republican vulnerability are the white-collar suburbs outside of the south. Brat will measure how far the blast radius extends. Comstock is one thing. Democrats have to win that race. They expect to win that race. And it will be a big surprise if they don't.

Brat is something else. Brat, like Brian Fitzpatrick, in Philadelphia, are Republicans who are in a stronger position but are subject to the same current that we are seeing. And that current is the pullback from, and it's ordinarily Republican-leaning suburbs, among college-educated voters, who are thriving in this economy. And that's really important. These are the voters who are doing the absolutely best. The most likely to have a 401K going up. Yet, they're making a judgment about the president, on his values, his behavior, the way he talks about race, the way he talks about women. And they are essentially taking that out on Republicans. If Brat goes, I think there will be a lot of nervous Republicans as we move west through the night.

BOLDUAN: It's also a fascinating turn of events, Rachael, for someone who beat the Republican leader, Eric Cantor, four years ago.

[11:09:53] RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, just four years ago. Totally shocked Washington, when out of nowhere, this Tea Party candidates takes out the majority leader. This is a district that has been in Republican hands for more than a century. I think the last time they elected a Democrat was in the '60s, the early '60s. This shouldn't even be on the map.

And it's interesting. I have been following this race closely. Brat has been talking out of both sides of his mouth here. He has campaign ads in the district touting bipartisan bills that he has sponsored, which is so bizarre for me, because when I talked to him in the hallway, he's always talking about red-meat issues. Freedom Caucus member, super conservative. Ads about puppies, saving puppies. Things both sides of the aisle love. But then you listen to things he says in private fund-raisers, which I have heard recordings of, and he's praising the president. Talking about how he goes on FOX News and mimics Jim Jordan, who is one of the president's number-one defenders. And goes out against the Mueller investigation. Tries to undercut that all the time. So I mean, it's just a really interesting race to watch. If Abigail Spanberger can pull this off, you're right, Democrats are probably going to experience a big wave tonight.

BOLDUAN: David, do you think there's at all -- I want to know what races you're watching in the House right now, but do you think there's by chance too much focus on the suburbs?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. There's a danger here. Look, one of the things I love about Election Day is the control of the narrative moved from commentary and is now in the laps of the gods, the voters. And we have to shut up for a while.

BOLDUAN: Yes. We won't shut up, but --


GERGEN: We have to step back. Let the spotlight fall. I think at this point, there's so many conflicting signals. I think Democrats have reason for cautious optimism. I don't think it ought to go beyond that, but there are some contradictory signs that are giving Republicans a run.

BROWNSTEIN: It's a tale of two Americas.

GERGEN: Yes. BROWNSTEIN: One thing that's really striking is, if you look at the 2010 and 2014 midterms, Democrats ran about seven points better with college-educated whites than non-college whites, who have become the base of the Republican Party. In 2016, in the House, Democrats ran about 13 points better. In the CNN poll, the NBC/"Wall Street Journal" and the ABC/"Washington Post," Democrats, all of these polls, running 20 points better among college whites than non-college whites. An unprecedented gap. What that means is you have a lot of vulnerability for Republicans in the suburbs. Much less vulnerability for Republicans in blue-collar districts that are further away from the metro centers. And Democrats are essentially trying to build a majority on half of the playing field.


BROWNSTEIN: They can do that. But there may be idiosyncratic Republican

BOLDUAN: Is that -- is that what Kentucky six is about?

BROWNSTEIN: Kentucky six is again, one of these measures of how far beyond the epicenter --


BOLDUAN: Right, because --

BROWNSTEIN: Kentucky six is indicative of a number of districts that Republicans drew in redistricting that combine suburban areas with more rural areas. Start in Lexington and it goes out. You see that in Seattle and Washington eight, in North Carolina, with the Charlotte seat, North Carolina nine, where you have suburban areas moving very much away from the Republicans and rural areas where Trump is still very strong along the lines we just discussed. And this will be a big test of which of them are more enthused. Conor Lamb's victory in Pennsylvania was exactly that kind of district as well.

BOLDUAN: Go ahead.

GERGEN: I was going to say a couple things. First of all, I want to spotlight another group. I think there are two groups really interesting in this election. If the Democrats win, this is going to be by far and away a huge breakthrough for women. We had the number of women running that set records, the number of women who are donating, the women of --


BOLDUAN: Democrats could take back the House with just women winning seats.

GERGEN: Yes. And the number of women in the House itself may go well over 100 by the end of the night, which would be a real breakthrough, from my point of view.

But the other group I want to mention, as folks know, I have been very engaged in the cycle, in trying to help veterans, young veterans get elected.

BOLDUAN: Republic and Democrat.

GERGEN: Democrats and Republicans. I'm involved with a super PAC that is called With Honor. And we have about 40 young veterans who have been endorsed and supported in one way or another on both sides of the aisle. And there are three of them I would like to mention briefly, all of whom are underdogs, who have now worked their way into tight races.


GERGEN: In southern Minnesota, Dan Feehan, a former student of mine. And we're close friends. And he's doing really well there. Amy McGrath in Kentucky, who captured the nation's imagination. And North Carolina, a young man named Dan McCready, a first-class candidate in a tough, tough district.

But what we're trying to do is build what I think the country needs is a more of a center again. And these veterans are going to form a group who will work across the aisle with each other. They're pledging to do that.

BOLDUAN: Seeing veterans serve, continue to serve in this way is one of the most important things we can see.


BOLDUAN: Rachael, talk to me about the Senate. When I talk to everybody before the show, Missouri is the place everyone is keeping an eye on. Why Missouri? Does it all come down to Claire McCaskill here?

BADE: Yes, Claire McCaskill is a fighter. I remember one of my colleagues was out following her on the campaign trail. She had this big R.V. and she was driving around the state. At one point, they were talking. There was a bug on her shoulder. She flicked it off, flung it across the room, stomped on it.


[11:15:09] My colleague said, this is Claire McCaskill, very much so.


BOLDUAN: Not entirely sure what that shows, but continue.

BADE: She's a fighter. So this is a state that President Donald Trump won by 20 points, and she's a top target for the Republicans.

But again, her opponent, Josh Hawley, he has been party to this lawsuit where a lot of state attorneys general are trying to get rid of Obamacare. This has been a big problem for him because it allowed McCaskill to say, you're trying to get rid of protections for pre- existing conditions. A top talking point for Democrats in the Senate and House, and it's working. But, again, we'll have to see because Hawley is saying, Claire McCaskill is part of the left, she's a progressive. She retorted by going on TV -- remember that ad just a week ago -- saying, I'm not a crazy Democrat. There were some Democrats in her state that were not happy about that. But we'll have to see if they give her the leeway to distance herself from them to win.

BOLDUAN: Real quick, what do you think is more important to kind of the direction the country is headed? Is it the Indiana Senate race or Arizona Senate race?

BROWNSTEIN: They're equally reflective. In the sense that Indiana shows, like Missouri, like North Dakota, like many rural districts, how Trump is strengthening the GOP in places that are predominantly white, heavy blue collar, largely big rural populations, mostly religiously traditional. And those benefits have been clear in 2016. I mean, that's what was on the ledger. In 2018, the costs of the trade that Trump is imposing on the party are going to be more apparent. In the House, it's going to be the potential for a suburban annihilation, really, for Republicans from coast to coast. In the Senate, it means trading those blue-collar interior states, potentially, for losses in the fast-growing diverse sunbelt states where Democrats are probably favored to win Nevada, toss-up in Arizona, and Texas may be on the pathway if they don't get there tonight. And that is, as I said, the costs of the trade. The benefits have been there for Trump, but the costs of it, I think -- and the question I have is whether tomorrow morning, if, in fact, they lose these suburban places not only in the obvious places but in Atlanta and Dallas and Houston, is there anyone in the Republican Party who gets up and says maybe the cost of this is too high?





BADE: I'm already talking to House Republican members who are saying, OK, if our losses are greater than 30, if they're 40, if they're 50, are we going to call for new leadership? They're talking about their own leadership.


BADE: No. They're not talking about the president.


BADE: There's Republicans who are going to say the reason we didn't keep the House is because we didn't hug the president enough.


BOLDUAN: That is exactly -- that is exactly what I feel like we're going to hear from folks. Thanks, guys. Really appreciate it. Great to see you guys.

Coming up for us, voters in Georgia hitting the polls as Democratic candidate, Stacey Abrams, fights to become the nation's first female African-American governor, and as both sides accuse each other of dirty tricks. We're live in Atlanta.

Plus, it's the most expensive Senate race ever. Can Ted Cruz keep his seat in Texas or will the Democrat Beto O'Rourke surprise anyone? Stay with us.


[11:22:27] BOLDUAN: History could be made in a lot of different ways today. This is certainly what Stacey Abrams is trying to do in Georgia. The Democratic candidate for governor is trying to become the nation's first African-American woman governor. She's in a tight race with Republican Brian Kemp, who is also the state's secretary of state, and in charge of the state's elections. It's one of the most contentious and has become one of the most dramatic races in the country, dominated by abuse of voter suppression, abuse of power, and even allegations of hacking into the state's voter system.

CNN's Nick Valencia is joining me from Atlanta with a look at this.

Nick, what are you seeing on the ground today?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're seeing an incredible amount of enthusiasm from the voters. When we got here this morning, Kate, just after 8:00 a.m., the line stretched around the corner. Then the rain settled in. It poured on us for a good 10 minutes and fizzled out the line, cutting the line in half. Now it seems that voters, perhaps, because it's lunch time or maybe some of the voters who left earlier, are starting to come back. About an hour wait here at this in-town neighborhood Morningside location.

It was earlier that I talked to the polling manager inside. She said she worked here for 20 years and has never seen this kind of turnout, not even in presidential elections. Perhaps some of that is attributed to first-time voters. I spoke to one earlier this morning, and she says she's not alone.


UNIDENTIFIED FIRST-TIME GEORGIA VOTER: I have never voted before. This is my first time. And I just felt like it was my year to come out and vote and do my duty.

I'm 24 years old. And I feel like a lot of my friends also have not really partaken voting, but this year, it's been different. Kind of actually been talking about it, texting about it, and making sure that we're registered and kind of keeping each other accountable.


VALENCIA: The governor's race here is being closely watched. And it is a very contentious one here. The key for both Stacey Abrams, the Democrat, and Brian Kemp, the Republican, in the gubernatorial race, is turnout as well as the Trump effect. We saw Brian Kemp very recently in Macon rally with the president. We have also seen Stacey Abrams attach herself to some national political leaders, like former President Barack Obama as well as celebrities out canvassing for her door to door. People like Michael B. Jordan as well as Will Ferrell.

For her, the key is women votes. She's leading in the polls with women overall, but she's lagging behind in white women voters. That is being led in the polls right now by Brian Kemp. And for Kemp, I think one of the keys as well is going to be winning some of these metro Atlanta suburbs that President Trump lost and Hillary Clinton won. Suburbs that were historically and have been historically conservative, but at least for this election, could be up for grabs -- Kate?

[11:25:05] BOLDUAN: Thank you so much, Nick. Great to see you and great to hear from voters.

Abrams is far from the only candidate who could make history today. In just the governors' races alone, we could see the nation's first openly gay man be elected, the first transgender American to be elected governor, the first Native-American governor. And five states could elect a woman governor for the first time in history.

Ron Brownstein is back with me. Also with me now, former RNC official, Mike Shields. He is also working with the campaign arm for the House Republicans this cycle, the NRCC. And former national press secretary for Bernie Sanders' 2016 presidential campaign, Symone Sanders.

Great to see you guys.


BOLDUAN: Mike, looking at the governors' races, Republicans control two-thirds of the governors' mansions in the United States, 36 are up. Beyond Washington, how this shakes out in terms of governorships, what will that tell us about the direction of the country?

SHIELDS: Well, the same -- it will be part of the whole election narrative. And this is an election where Republicans came in, they had two big challenges. They had to turn out their base and they have a challenge with Independent voters, particularly women. I think the base part of that challenge has been met. It remains to be seen how we do with independents and with women voters, especially educated women in the suburbs. But the high turnout we're seeing, high early vote turnout, high turnout today is both parties, I think. One of those critical things Republicans had to do is turn out their base, and it appears, from everything we're seeing, that has happened.

BROWNSTEIN: Can I ask you a question, Mike? Isn't it possible, that the way Donald Trump chose to solve the first problem of increasing base turnout, exacerbated the second problem?

SHIELD: It could have, but that problem had already existed so it's hard for me -- Democrats were already super, super motivated. We saw that in all the special elections. Georgia is a great example. I did Karen Handel's race, as a client of mine in the Georgia special. The state-wide race is similar to that special election, which is, if Independents are breaking against you and every single Democrat alive shows up to vote, then you have to get more Republicans that are there. Are they interested enough to show up? There are more Republicans in the state of Georgia. If they show up and vote, we're going to win. So that base motivation thing really matters to counteract a lot of things we're talking about.

BOLDUAN: Many of the governorships up this cycle are important in 2020. That can't go without being said, right, you have Ohio, Wisconsin, Florida.


BOLDUAN: OK, all of them.

SANDERS: Michigan.

BOLDUAN: What could today mean then beyond the -- you know, tomorrow, when we start -- because let's be honest, what happens tomorrow, it's the beginning of the presidential election. What does it mean for 2020?

SANDERS: Look, I think it means -- I think we have to look at who turned out to vote and what these coalitions look like.


SANDERS: Particularly, when you look at Wisconsin or Michigan, and even Georgia and Florida, it's really important to see -- there will be a lot of new and unlikely voters, folks that usually do not vote in a midterm election year. Those are people that I think Democrats and Republicans, but mainly, I think Democrats who have done a lot of work turning out the new and unlikely voters, will be focused on going into 2019 for primaries and again in 2020. I was just in Wisconsin two weekends ago. I have been everywhere. But I was in Racine County with Randy Bryce and the lieutenant governor candidate and Tony Evers. The energy is crazy. They're running very pointed, paid canvassing operations. They're turning folks out. That's what it's going to take to win these governors' races.

BOLDUAN: Getting to kind of the closing argument bit, I you just look at how the president's closing argument last night, I mean, broad strokes about what he talked about last night. Be afraid of voter fraud. Be concerned about invasion of immigrants. And be concerned about left-wing Socialists. There have been -- we know there was a lot of internal debate about what the message should be. Phone calls from Paul Ryan to Donald Trump asking him to cut it out. If Donald Trump's message wins out, as we're discussing, if that message wins out and we see a red wall, what does that mean for the next -- what does that mean for the next two years?

SHIELDS: We're in a polarized country. That's the politics we're in. Both parties now speak to their bases. Barack Obama spent a lot of time speaking more to his base in the 2012 re-election than he did to Independent voters.


SHIELDS: That's where we are. One thing I have to caveat is both parties use fear. Democrats are trying to scare women voters on pre- existing condition coverage, saying Republicans are going to take that away from you. That's a fear message.

SANDERS: Oh, yes, they did. They voted to do so.

SHIELD: But point is --


BROWNSTEIN: They did vote to allow insurers to charge --


SHIELDS: Every one of these competitive -- every one of these competitive candidates say they're not going to vote for it. It was obviously --


BROWNSTEIN: They voted for it.


BROWNSTEIN: They did vote for it.

SHIELDS: All right. Here's my point.

BROWNSTEIN: They all voted

SHIELDS: I know that.

BROWNSTEIN: -- to repeal the protections in the ACA.

SHIELDS: This is why I'm bringing it up. Because there's a narrative that Republicans are using fear. Democrats use fear. Democrats every cycle say they're going to cut Medicare --


SHIELDS: -- trying to scare seniors -


[11:30:01] BROWNSTEIN: He held a ceremony in the Rose Garden celebrating them voting to do precisely that. Your client, Karen Handel, voted to do that.