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Voters Hit the Polls in High-Stakes Midterm Elections; Texas Voters Decide Between Cruz and O'Rourke in Heated Senate Race. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired November 6, 2018 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: -- east, voting has been underway for at least two hours and getting there early has not always guaranteed no waiting. Far from it.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Before any of the polls open today, more than 31 million of us had already voted, which is a staggering number for a midterm election. If you were not among them and you are eligible, time is short. Stakes could hardly be higher in this election. What happens today will determine whether Democrats put a check on the next two years of the Trump administration or whether Republicans will keep their political monopoly on power in Washington.

We've got this election very well covered as only CNN can beginning with our Gary Tuchman. He is watching an historic race for governor in the state of Georgia.

It's tight as can be there and allegations flying back and forth of misbehavior, of interference, Gary.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Which has resulted, Jim and Poppy, in a lot of enthusiasm for people to come out and vote. Behind me, a serpentine line looks more like a line for the Magic Kingdom, for a great ride, but this is the voting line. And we have had very bad weather here in Georgia. This DeKalb County, Georgia. But despite the bad weather, when the polls opened this morning at 7:00 a.m., there were more than 100 people waiting outside.

And you could see people have been waiting here at this point for up to an hour. I can tell you right now, we've been talking to some of the voters here who are -- who have decided to come out to vote. This lady right here. I talked to her a short time ago. Her name is Lindsay.

LINDSAY, GEORGIA VOTER: That's me.

TUCHMAN: Lindsay with a future voter named --

LINDSAY: James.

TUCHMAN: James. Lindsay, we have a very high profile governor's race here. OK. Abrams against Kemp, Republican and Democrat. Who are you voting for?

LINDSAY: Brian Kemp.

TUCHMAN: Brian Kemp. But let me ask you this question. Does the president of the United States, Donald Trump, have any influence on why you're voting for Kemp?

LINDSAY: No. No. I always vote conservative. I always vote for freedom so --

TUCHMAN: Freedom? OK.

LINDSAY: Yes.

TUCHMAN: This is a loyal Republican right here.

This one right here. Can I ask you a quick question? You don't have to tell me who you're voting for. I want to know, though. Has Donald Trump, the president of the United States, influenced you at all and determined how you're going to vote today?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

TUCHMAN: Yes. And now maybe I have some nerve and ask who you're voting for?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I decline to answer?

TUCHMAN: That's OK. This is America. You have to freedom not to answer. We try to be very careful not to upset people when we asked them who they voted for. Some people want to tell us, some people don't.

But as you said, Jim and Poppy, a very high profile governor's race here. Stacey Abrams, the Democrat, if she becomes governor, it's very close, she will become the first African-American woman in the history of the United States to be governor in the United States.

Jim, Poppy, back to you.

SCIUTTO: Can be in play.

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: I love these scenes here. There you go. There's Gary. There are folks voting in a gym, in a school gym. In my neighborhood, we vote in a church. This is a little slice of America. Happens every couple of years and it's always fascinating to watch.

Let's get right back to the battleground state of Virginia. That is where CNN correspondent Brian Todd is, Sterling, Virginia. Tell us what you're seeing there. A lot of bellwether races in that Eastern Time Zone tonight that we've been told to watch in the state of Virginia.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim. And this district is a crucial one. This is the tenth voting district in Virginia, the battle between incumbent Republican Barbara Comstock, just battling to hold on to her seat against the Democratic challenger Jennifer Wexton.

This is one of those suburban battlegrounds playing out throughout the United States that's really going to determine the fate of the balance of power in the House of Representatives. And it starts here in ground zero.

You talked about people voting in a gym and other places in school. Well, this is the cafeteria on a normal day here at Parkview High School in Sterling, Virginia. People are checking in here, giving a photo ID. Then they walk over here and cast their ballot on paper ballots. And -- then they put it through that scanner over there. And that's where the count runs in. And they of course tally that at the end of the day.

Right now just after 9:00 Eastern Time, that means they have about eight more hours to come out to the polls here. And, you know, we talk to people out here what drives them to the polls. It could be, you know, varied reasons for bringing people out. We do expect high, high turnout in these midterms from a passion for a certain candidate driving someone out, to a certain passion about Donald Trump, positive or negative, to a general feeling of angst about the political discourse throughout the station.

And that was kind of the feeling of one of the voters I talked to. Deborah Caesar. She's been a voter in this district for almost 40 years, and she's just kind of fed up with the political divide in this country. And that's why she came out to vote. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DEBORAH CAESAR, VOTER FROM LOUDON COUNTY, VIRGINIA: I'm hoping that people see what's going on and that they really take the time to come out and vote and to try to make the change that needs to be made. This fighting back and forth, these partisan actions and all the -- I just can't stand it. It makes me sick when I listen to it on television. It just makes me so angry I have to walk out the room.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: And Deborah Caesar told us there's basically no excuse for people not coming out on a day like today to cast their ballots and take part in this very, very crucial midterm.

And I can tell you, guys, that, you know, in a place like this, they make it very easy for you and they make it very conducive to people casting their ballots. We saw someone coming in, parking in a handicap space just a little bit ago. They brought a ballot out to her because she couldn't walk in.

[09:05:02] She cast her ballot, they brought it back in here. There is a station over here where people who are handicapped and maybe have hearing problems or vision problems can use a digital screen over there. They are making it very conducive for people who have certain challenges to vote and a lot of people are turning out today.

Poppy, back to you. HARLOW: That's great to hear. What a good story about them helping

that woman vote.

Brian Todd, thanks for being there. We know you'll be there all day.

Let's go to Florida now. Rosa Flores joins us in South Florida. A key state always, Rosa. But today two marquee races getting nationwide attention.

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are, Poppy. And if you take a look behind me, voting here at Hialeah is taking place at a fire station. And hear these numbers. 38 percent of all registered Floridians have already voted. 38 percent.

Now if you look at that breakdown, it really says a lot about the nail-biting races in the state of Florida because the breakdown by party looks like this. Take a look. Republicans 40.1 percent. Democrats 40.5 percent. Nail-biting, razor thin margins there. The rest are no party affiliation or other at 19.3 percent.

Now there are multiple races in the state of Florida with national implications. You've got the Senate that could tilt the balance of power, the governor's race, which a lot of the people around the country are looking at. It's a glimpse into 2020 as to how Florida could go either Republican or Democrat.

And then of course there are a couple of House races in this state that are red seats at the moment that are in Democrat strongholds. So a lot of hopes there for the Democrats to try to turn those seats.

And, Jim, I got to leave you with this because there is this overall misconception that most of the voters here in Florida are seniors. That's not the case. This year, 52 percent are millennials, GenX'ers or GenZ'ers -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: That -- that is quite a statistic. And you think in the wake of the Margaret Stoneman Douglas shooting, there was a big push to vote based off of that.

Rosa Flores, thanks very much.

On a day when millions of Americans will go to the polls, where is President Trump today?

CNN White House correspondent Abby Phillip joins us now live from the White House.

Abby, has the White House said how and when the president voted?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They have, Jim. The president voted by absentee ballot, according to Press Secretary Sarah Sanders. He and First Lady Melania Trump cast their ballots in that way. They're both residents of New York City. But today here at the White House President Trump is keeping a low profile. He has had an exhaustive few days, holding three rallies in just one day yesterday. Now today at the White House, on a rainy day in Washington, he is

staying at home, staying in the residence. And according to Sarah Sanders, he's going to be watching the returns in the residence with family and friends.

What we have also noted, as we often do on mornings like this, the president has not tweeted. He has not said anything about voting or otherwise. We will be standing by for that to change at any moment. But so far it's been a quiet day as voters head to the polls.

Now we have also learned from our sources that the president's aides have been preparing him for the likely possibility that Republicans will lose the House of Representatives. And we've already started to see that reflected in some of his remarks on the campaign trail as he has focused his attention on the Senate, focused his rhetoric on trying to get out Republican base voters to help those Republicans running in red states and even help Republicans running in red states where Democrats are in the incumbency.

But we're also hearing something interesting from President Trump. Just in the last day a change in tone perhaps as he was asked yesterday in an interview, what does he regret about the last two years. And here is what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Is there anything, as you look back at your first almost two years, that you regret? That you wish, on you, that you could just take back and re-do?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, there would be certain things. I'm not sure I want to reveal all of them. But I would say tone. I would like to have a much softer tone. I feel, to a certain extent, I have no choice. But maybe I do. And maybe I could have been softer from that standpoint.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIP: Well, not many people here really are holding their breath to see President Trump necessarily change his tone, but perhaps he's making a pivot to a life in Washington in which he does not have full control over the levers of the federal government -- Poppy.

HARLOW: OK. Abby, thank you.

I thought that was really interesting what the president just said. We'll talk about that with the panel in a moment, but take a look at these live pictures out of El Paso, Texas. There you have Beto O'Rourke, the Democratic candidate for Senate in the ruby red state of Texas, running against Ted Cruz, casting his ballot there. Looks like he might be with his family, Jim.

Look, this is a fascinating race, maybe the most expensive Senate race we've seen.

SCIUTTO: It is. Still in the polling at least Cruz with the lead. HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: But as we know, polls can be wrong. All you're going to know is the results.

HARLOW: Yes. We will watch.

SCIUTTO: And we're going to bring this to you as we have them.

HARLOW: You vote. We will watch throughout the day.

[09:10:03] SCIUTTO: We are on top of all the breaking news on this major midterm election day. Will closing arguments from either party close the deal with voters? Our experts will be standing by.

HARLOW: And it's not all about the candidates. Voters could bring legal marijuana to the Midwest. All of those referendum they're voting on ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCIUTTO: Welcome back. You're seeing, it looks like Beto O'Rourke has just voted there. We're going to be seeing a lot of this today. Candidates in races across the country casting their own votes. You know, a striking image across the country we've seen today.

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Just really long lines outside of polling places.

HARLOW: Early.

SCIUTTO: Never guaranteed during midterm elections but looks like folks are engaged.

Back with our panel now. We've got a lot of smart people. Scott Jennings, Joe Lockhart, Mary Katharine Ham and David Swerdlick.

Scott, big turnout. Is that good for Republicans?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Depends on where you are. There'll be some districts where I would love for there to be higher turnout. Take Montana for instance. A longer shot Senate race for the Republicans but there's a cap on how many people will vote Democrat there.

[09:15:00]

SCOTT JENNINGS, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT GEORGE WALKER BUSH & CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It depends on where you are. There will be some districts where I would love for there to be higher turnout. Take Montana for instance, a longer shot Senate race and for the Republicans. But there is a cap on how many people will vote Democrat there?

So the higher turnout is good, but there might be some suburban districts where you've got long lines of people who typically don't vote in the midterm, maybe they're younger voters, maybe they're women, maybe that's not so good. So I think it's really geographic dependant.

POPPY HARLOW, CO-HOST, NEWSROOM: Mary Katharine, to you, a senior Republican strategist last night told our colleague Jim Acosta, quote, "I think many of us would rather win without dehumanizing and fear- mongering. If the invaders in the caravan, final push that the president chose over the good economy in push works, what does it mean for your party? What does it mean for the Republican Party long-term?

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right, well, it depends, it's going to work some places and it's not going to work other places. And by the way I think he could have done the same amount of get out the vote impact --

HARLOW: Yes --

HAM: By just going to a place and doing his normal sort of entertaining schtick for --

HARLOW: You mean without saying that?

HAM: Yes, I think he could have boosted turnout just by that, gotten people excited, gotten out to the rally --

HARLOW: Right, the White House doesn't think that, right? Our reporters --

HAM: Yes --

HARLOW: And some in the White House think it actually was this push on invaders and the caravan --

HAM: I think he just wants to --

HARLOW: Would work --

HAM: Talk about that --

HARLOW: All right --

HAM: That he wants the drama and that he wants that message and that a sunny economic message is not as fun for him. I genuinely think that's what's going on. But in a place like for instance Virginia ten --

HARLOW: Yes --

HAM: Or Virginia seven where Brad is in a tough race, you're going to push those, particularly college-educated white suburban women who are sort of soft GOP to swing voters, you are -- it's seemingly perfectly calculated to push them into the arms of the other party.

SCIUTTO: Joe Lockhart, is it correct to see today to some degree as a referendum on that kind of message? That message of fear and division that the president has been sticking with over what could have been a very positive economic message?

JOE LOCKHART, FORMER CLINTON WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY & CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Sure, I mean, Trump has done everything he can to make it about him, and to make this about his vision of the country versus the Democrats' version of country and however demagogue he is on to Democrats vision.

So I think, you know, to a certain extent, if turnout matters, you know, it depends on where. But fully engaged and turnout across the border is good for Democrats because Donald Trump is sitting in the Cnn poll at 39 percent job approval. That's historically low for a president.

So if independents are getting out, and Democrats are getting out and Republicans are getting out, that's overall good for Democrats. I think Trump, though, is an old style politician. He is not thinking about this as how do I appeal to all the people. He is thinking about, how does it feel for me in the room?

And in the room, the -- and he feeds off it --

HARLOW: Yes --

LOCKHART: And the problem for Republicans is in the room represents only about 30 percent of the electorate --

SCIUTTO: You also see at that point, I remember folks, smart people making that very point in 2016 --

LOCKHART: I was just going to say that --

SCIUTTO: Saying you know, that message works at the rallies --

HARLOW: If not --

SCIUTTO: But it's not going to work at the polls.

LOCKHART: But for voters out there, and you know, it pains me to say this, Hillary Clinton is not on the ballot. And he does not have that foil this time which worked effectively for him. So I do think that there's 65 percent of the country that's pretty turned off by this and turned off particularly in the last ten days by some of the extreme rhetoric.

And you know, again, you say the White House people say that this is working for them. Why work in the White House? Why do you expect people at the White House say? My clause has got it all wrong?

HARLOW: OK --

LOCKHART: I mean --

HARLOW: Fair enough, we'll know a lot more 24 hours from now, less than that. David, to you, I am fascinated by that answer the president gave in that interview last night about, you know, would you have done anything differently in the past years? Which I think shows us what perhaps the next few years might look like for the president. He said, maybe a softer tone.

Is he tired?

DAVID SWERDICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: So --

HARLOW: Is this like a C-change moment?

DAVID: No, it's not a C-change moment. I believe the president was talking to Sinclair like a friendly conservative network.

HARLOW: Yes --

DAVID: He likes to get all the messages out there, at least, a little bit, Poppy, so that no matter what happens, he can say, well, I said I was going to soften my tone and then go right back out to a rally and give that red meat message.

Just going back to what Joe was talking about a second ago, President Trump is not on the ballot, but Trumpism is on the ballot and I think he thinks that until he is proven wrong, he went in 2016 with fear and division, until he's proven wrong, he's going to stick with that message.

SCIUTTO: I want to show you Scott Jennings, if I can, some pictures along the border of U.S. troops there. As you know, the president made a big deal about deploying thousands of troops along the border, it's 5,200 as of today, it's going to be 7,000 before this is all done.

There they are in body armor on the real ground, they're putting out concertina wire, barbed wire, the caravan remains hundreds of miles away. Is this the military being used to some degree to help with the president's political message?

JENNINGS: I don't think so, I mean, General Mattis said we don't do stunts, and I listen to everything General Mattis says. It's not unusual for a president to send troops to a border.

[09:20:00] It's happened numerous time -- I think people see these images --

SCIUTTO: More troops than we have deployed now in Iraq today in body armor with the caravan that the president is focused on is a national security threat still weeks away from --

JENNINGS: We've had troops deployed to the border with and without caravans. And they don't -- and they're not the front line --

(CROSSTALK)

They're not the front line.

SCIUTTO: If that -- are you concerned that, that is more a political message than actually a national -- serving a national security need?

JENNINGS: I think if the military goes down there and does their job, as ordered by the commander -in-chief and helps secure the border, that is not something that most Americans would think -- oh, this is just a stunt. Because look at the images, they know what they're doing, these people are backing up our border guards, it's a legitimate purpose and presidents in both parties have done it.

SCIUTTO: So you --

LOCKHART: It's you know, President Bush in I think 2001 or 2002 did it because then you had illegal immigration at probably 10 to 15 times the level. And I think there was a bipartisan consensus that it was appropriate. There is no bipartisan consensus.

There's -- I don't think there is a lot of serious thought that this is anything more than trying to elevate this as an issue over some of the -- over, you know, in this case healthcare for which I think the Democrats are winning, you know, in a very significant way in these districts and even state-wide.

So it is -- it's my view this is about politics, I think Mattis is in a tough spot, I think the stories about how he pushed back hard and said what they won't do -- all they're doing is going down there to support that there's no one that I haven't heard a single governor, Democrat or a Republican say, I don't think my national guard can handle it.

SCIUTTO: Yes --

LOCKHART: It's about politics.

HARLOW: Mary Katharine, the president says of Democrats, if we do -- if we don't do so well tomorrow, meaning today, they will put me on the ticket. If we do great tomorrow, they will say he had nothing to do with it. He was not on the ticket, regardless of how this thing shakes out, what does this mean for the Trump presidency in the next chapter, in the next two years?

HAM: Look, I think he put himself on the ticket? Like he said that he's on the ticket, and I actually think he's less on the ticket than others do for this reason. I think we saw in 2016 that there can be a lot of Trump sound and fury up here, and then people can run extremely different races in Ohio Senate for instance in 2016 than a Trump race.

And you see that out in America and all sorts of places where tax is actually -- are the number one advertised TV subject for many Republicans. They don't want to be talking about this. And the question is, can voters bifurcate, can they compartmentalize this and look at it and say, OK, well, good, economy is doing well, I'm doing OK and I don't mind my current congressman, so am I OK with making that bargain.

And I think a fair amount of them can --

HARLOW: Can they -- can a fair amount --

HAM: A fair amount of them can. The thing that's interesting to me, look, I think it's supposed to be a good night for Democrats and it will be --

HARLOW: Yes --

HAM: But I think it might be less of a wave because you see this Republican enthusiasm number that has --

SCIUTTO: Yes --

HAM: Not budged the way --

SCIUTTO: That was a great point, the Cnn poll --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: Because even though you had that wide, I think 13-point split on the Democratic ballot -- on the generic ballot for Democrats, the enthusiasm gap, it was tied at 68-64, I mean, basically, equal --

HARLOW: Right --

SCIUTTO: Enthusiasm which we have not seen, you know, up to this point. It's been a big advantage for Democrats in enthusiasm.

HARLOW: So David --

SWERDICK: Yes --

HARLOW: What races are you going to be looking at most tonight to tell you if Mary Katharine is spot on there?

SWERDICK: OK, I'm looking at the big races. One is the Senate races, the house races I think are harder to game out. But in Arizona, if Kyrsten Sinema wins, then I look at that race and I say, should Jeff Flake have gotten out? He would have had a tough road in his primary.

But if a Democrat could win in Arizona, couldn't he have hang on a little longer and been the lone Republican out there, saying, I'm not like Trump, I'm looking at Georgia at the governor's race. State Democrats have a lot invested in Stacey Abrams in a way that they don't -- they haven't invested in a lot of these other --

HARLOW: Yes --

SWERDICK: Candidates, and then finally, I am looking even it's cliche, I am looking at the Texas Senate race. Ted Cruz won in 2012, he was the upstart beating David Dewhurst, he is the Dewhurst now being stalked by a Democrat. I think Cruz is going to hold out and win it, but I also think this is propelling --

HARLOW: At what cost? How much money the party has --

SWERDICK: Right --

HARLOW: Poured into that state for this --

SWERDICK: This is propelling O'Rourke, I think into the -- HARLOW: Yes --

SWERDICK: Presidential race. He's raised between $75 and a $100 million, people like him, you have the clip of him out there.

HARLOW: Yes --

SWERDICK: You know, jeans, trucker hat, photogenic family, look for him to run soon.

SCIUTTO: Oh, we've seen a lot of races where a lot of money has thrown in, and at the end of the day, that doesn't matter tilt as much as --

HARLOW: Yes, they don't want it --

SCIUTTO: As people imagined, Scott, if you're looking at it, give us a bellwether race in your --

JENNINGS: Sure, I'll pick one house race, Kentucky six, this is taking place in Lexington, Kentucky --

SCIUTTO: From Kentucky --

JENNINGS: Yes --

HARLOW: Yes, there you go --

JENNINGS: But a couple of things, number one, very close. Number two, this is a district Trump won by 15 and now it's a tied race going into election day. Number three, this is -- both parties all in, Trump went for Andy Barr, the Republican, Joe Biden went for Amy McGrath; the Democrat. The big heavy hitters were there.

It's got urban population, it's got rural population, this ain't, and the polls close at 6'Oclock, so on election night --

[09:25:00] HARLOW: Interesting --

JENNINGS: Tonight, you're going to see early results, it's a --

HARLOW: Yes --

JENNINGS: Contested jump-shot for Democrats, if they knock it down, it could -- the rally could be on.

HARLOW: And big healthcare questions there as well --

JENNINGS: Absolutely --

HARLOW: How does that all play out --

JENNINGS: Big issue there --

SCIUTTO: A basketball metaphor, is there any basketball?

JENNINGS: Kentucky plays Duke -- Kentucky plays Duke tonight, so people are going to be flipping back and forth --

SCIUTTO: Now election --

JENNINGS: Kentucky --

(CROSSTALK)

HARLOW: Yes, thank you guys all --

SWERDICK: There's no good outcome in that game --

HARLOW: Very much.

(LAUGHTER)

We appreciate it as we have been talking about a lot in the last 10 minutes in Texas race, you just saw the Democratic candidate for Senate Beto O'Rourke voting, we'll talk more about this and all the races ahead, stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

END