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At This Hour

Crucial Midterm Elections Today; The Waiting Game on Election Day; Interview with Fmr. Gov. Tim Pawlenty

Aired November 04, 2014 - 11:00   ET




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right now, it's America's choice. Will Republicans win the keys to the senate?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have to fix a few big things. It will not happen unless we gain control of the senate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Or will Democrats stay in charge?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Who's going to fight for you? That's what it boils down to.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president's record is an issue in some of the hottest contests.

REP. TOM COTTON (R), ARKANSAS SENATE CANDIDATE: We need a senator who will stand up to Barack Obama.

SEN. MARK PRYOR (D), ARKANSAS: That's the biggest bunch of hogwash I've ever heard in my life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the senate's top Republican has a lot to win or lose.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), KENTUCKY: The races across the country are about Barack Obama's agenda.

ALISON LUNDERGAN GRIMES (D), KENTUCKY SENATE CANDIDATE: Barack Obama is not on the ballot, I am.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN's coverage of election day in America. The fight for congress, the battles for governor, and the warm-up for 2016.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I need you do this. Your country needs you to do this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're in the home stretch. It all comes down to who's going to show up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The polls are open. The nation is choosing. And anything is possible in the last vote.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN CO-ANCHOR: Big election music! Good morning, I'm John Berman.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN CO-ANCHOR: I can feel the vibrations coming off this man. I'm Michaela Pereira. It is election day.

We want to say good morning, Alaska. We want to say hello because we've got a picture coming in from the last frontier where the polls just opened. It's still dark there.

Could this state, where there was $39 million in outside spending, could this tip the balance in the Senate? We'll have to wait until at least 1:00 a.m. Eastern to find out. That's when the last polls will close there.

BERMAN: The Republicans need six seats to take over the Senate. There are about ten races in the country are so, so close @THISHOUR, any one could be decisive.

Will it be Iowa, where sometimes it is seen the campaign has been dominated by castrated hogs and Taylor Swift? Will it be Kansas, a state with an independent candidate who hasn't even said whether he will caucus with Republicans or Democrats?

PEREIRA: Will it be Colorado, a purple state that President Obama won twice but Republicans are hoping to turn? Will it be Georgia? Maybe, but even if it is, it might come down to a runoff on -- mark your calendars -- January 6.

Why does it all matter? Energy, immigration, possible Supreme Court nominations, the entire political agenda for the next two years hangs in the balance and, to some extent, the legacy of President Obama.

BERMAN: And on top of that all, it sets the table for the next presidential race in 2016. Welcome to the big league, folks.

CNN is everywhere this morning. Our Athena Jones is at the White House, Stephanie Elam in Iowa. Joe Johns is in Kentucky.

And, Joe, we're going to start with you where they're not just picking a senator today, they may very well be picking the next Senate majority leader.

PEREIRA: Incumbent Mitch McConnell, the current minority leader, says victory is in the chair while his challenger on the Democratic side, Alison Lundergan Grimes, is predicting an upset.

Joe, this race has huge national implications.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It certainly does. We're outside Maxwell Elementary School in Lexington, Kentucky, which is the home sate of the man who is likely to become the next majority leader. That is, of course, if Republicans take the senate. That would be Senator Mitch McConnell.

Of course, he still has to get by Alison Lundergan Grimes, who's run a very good race, but the polls have shown McConnell pulling away in the last day.

So the next question is if he becomes a majority leader, what he's going to do? Probably top on his agenda is energy reform. He'd like to have a vote on the Keystone XL pipeline, but the question of course is whether he can get the president of the United States to sign off on that. Environmentalists have been opposed.

Beyond that, a number of other issues, including fast-track trade authority for the White House.

The big question, of course, is what they're going to try to do with ObamaCare because the man whose name is on that is still in the White House.

John and Michaela, back to you.

PEREIRA: All right, John, we'll -- or, Joe, we'll leave you there in Kentucky. We'll head to Iowa where Stephanie Elam is watching a tight, tight race for the Senate's first open Senate seat in some four decades. Iowa could send its first-ever woman to the senate, Republican state senator Joni Ernst facing off against four-term Democratic Congressman Bruce Braley.

BERMAN: Not just first woman in the Senate, they've never sent a woman to Washington or elected one governor. It's one of only two states to do that. The polls there have been open for three hours.

Stephanie Elam is in Altoona. Stephanie, tell us everything.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Everything? You want to know everything, John? This is what I will tell you, John and Michaela, that here in Altoona we have seen people coming in here to this polling place pretty steadily.

We actually saw when they first got here they said that there were 20 people in line ready to vote, and there's one good thing helping get people out here to vote -- the weather. This Californian is happy to tell you that it feels really darned nice here. So because of that they're expecting a lot of people to come out here.

This Senate race is an extremely tight one. It's going to go down to the wire here between Braley and also Ernst as well. This is the candidate who touted her castration of hogs as a reason why she'll be able to go to Washington and cut the pork. So it will be interesting to see if she turns this around.

This was an election they thought was going to go to Braley early on, but it looks like it may be changing. But it will come down to the wire, guys.

BERMAN: All right, Stephanie Elam in Iowa, that could be one of the closest races in the country. Let's turn now to the White House. Athena Jones is there. Athena, I'm going to ask you a loaded question today. What's the president up to?

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's probably no surprise, John, that he's spending this day behind closed doors, not out on the campaign trail.

Folks around here are well aware of the fact that these Democrats in tight races have not exactly been clamoring to have the president out campaigning with them, out by their sides.

So today he has a meeting with the IMF. He's meeting with his national security and public health teams to talk about Ebola. What he's not doing is going out and speaking for other candidates.

But I will tell you that he did -- I believe that he did do a radio ad for North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan. She's in a tough race there to try to keep her Senate seat, so her campaign released an ad with the president touting his support for Kay Hagan in the hopes of bringing out the Democratic voters that they need to come to the polls and vote for Kay Hagan.

So, he's doing radio ads but not out in front on this campaign day, this election day. John, Michaela?

BERMAN: All right, Athena Jones at the White House, Stephanie Elam in Iowa, Joe Johns in Kentucky, thank you all so much.

Remember, everyone, get out to vote today. After you've voted, watch CNN for the election results. Our special coverage begins at 5:00 tonight Eastern time.

PEREIRA: So we've heard about what the president is not doing today. We know that his approval rating, meanwhile, is down. This midterm could determine how the country truly views his policy.

What the president needs to do to shake things up and regain support, we'll take a look at that, ahead @THISHOUR.

BERMAN: Plus, what do a felon, an adulterer, and an alleged fraudster all have in common? They all want to be U.S. congressmen. Sounds perfect, the political bad boys who want your vote.

You're watching CNN's special election coverage.


PEREIRA: You've seen the lawn signs, the debates, all those negative ads on TV. Now, election day is finally here. Right now, voters in almost every state are casting their ballots

We see a shot there from New Hampshire. Moments ago, the polls opened in Alaska, one of ten states where the midterms will determine the balance of power in the U.S. Senate and which party gets to set the agenda in Washington.

So, what is the scuttlebutt if you will, John, right now inside the Beltway.

BERMAN: I will, by the way. Let's bring in Doug Heye, who served as chief of staff to Eric Cantor, and we're joined here by CNN political commentator, progressive activist Sally Kohn.

Now, Doug, you are an insider, and I mean that in the nicest way.


BERMAN: Election day is a weird day; let's be honest. When you work in politics, when you cover politics, there's nothing to do during the day.

HEYE: Especially if you're the press flak. There's nothing to do. You might as well go see a movie.

BERMAN: You sit around being nervous. But still we work the phones, we find out what we can. I'm sure you've been on the phone. What's the buzz? What are people feeling right now.

HEYE: I look at -- I know Miguel Marquez is in my hometown right now of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. That's the state I really think is going to determine what the final numbers will be for the United States Senate.

And I'll tell you, I've worked three Senate races in that state, fortunately won all three, but I have no idea who's going to win this race. Thom Tillis has shown pretty good numbers on the early voting, but Kay Hagan, she hasn't been down in any polls, so this will be neck in neck.

This is a turnout election in North Carolina, and I know both campaigns are trying to drive their people to the polls. And obviously we've seen a new ad in North Carolina this morning with President Obama.

PEREIRA: I want to stay on this topic of polls with you, Sally, because these midterms are the first elections to be held since the Supreme Court struck down parts of the Voting Rights Act last year. We also know that Eric Holder is sending monitors to several states.

Do you think voter access is going to be an issue? Are you sensing that?

SALLY KOHN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I do. And I think this is a disturbing thing, and this is a test election for that, and I think we have a lot to worry about going forward.

The sad reality is that Republicans have manufactured this myth of voter fraud. You're more likely to be struck by lightning than commit voter fraud in America. They've used to justify making it harder for certain groups of people to vote, groups who, oh, happen to most often vote Democratic.

And, look, the Republicans unfortunately know that their unpopular agenda doesn't fly with the American people when all the American people vote. And so one of their best strategies apparently is to try and suppress voters. And that's pretty dangerous and dark and sad stuff.

BERMAN: Doug, do you sense Republicans are having a hard time turning out their own people to vote today?

HEYE: No, I don't think so. Every time we've talked over the past few weeks we've talked about a map that's gotten bigger and bigger for Republicans.

As one example, Maryland's gubernatorial race, Larry Hogan is now a tossup against Anthony Brown in Maryland. That's something that nobody might have expected three or four weeks ago.

But every day we look there's another Republican candidate who's either locked down their race, like Joni Ernst in Iowa or Cory Gardner in Colorado --

KOHN: Whoa! Locked down?

BERMAN: On behalf of CNN, let me say that I do not believe that those are locked down just yet.

HEYE: I'm telling you, those have been put to bed. Joni Ernst is going to win, Cory Gardner is going to win. Absolutely.

KOHN: Look, here's the thing. I'm happy to buy my friend Doug a beer should she happen to prevail tonight, but let's wait and see.

The great thing about elections is it actually doesn't matter what any of us say. The people have to get out, they have to vote. Hopefully we can all encourage that to happen.

But there's another funny phenomenon in the race which is it's not just the Republicans realize that when everyone votes they lose, but when the American people know what Republicans stand for they tend to not support them.

So you're seeing really interesting long-term trends. In Alaska the Republican there for senate has supported -- come out to support the minimum-wage ballot measure in that state after initially opposing it. In Iowa, Joni Ernst -- who Doug just spoke about -- initially supported the anti-abortion measures there and now is backing away from that.

So part of the Republican strategy is to try to moderate those extremist views that have been scaring voters.

PEREIRA: I've got to move on, but I feel like I have to give you a chance to respond to that, Doug.

HEYE: Well, look, I think our candidates are out there talking about what they're going to do for their estates. And certainly, again, the math, every time we look at it, another state pops up that's competitive for Republicans. Another state that maybe we thought six months ago wasn't going to be competitive for Republicans is. Thom Tillis is neck and neck in this race against Kay Hagan, and

despite the help that Kay Hagan is getting from President Obama at the last minute, and "The Charlotte Observer" over the last couple of days, hiding some scandalous stories about her, Thom Tillis can win tonight. We're certainly seeing Scott Brown neck and neck with Jeanne Shaheen that maybe we didn't think was going to happen six months ago. We're seeing polls move in Republicans' direction in every state. And that's just the reality right now.

BERMAN: Sally Kohn, Doug Heye, thank you so much for being with us. You know, they say it's over today, but it might not be over today.

PEREIRA: Good point.

BERMAN: It may get into overtime, which means you guys can come and fight like again tomorrow and the next day and the next day.

PEREIRA: Again. Please do.

HEYE: I have to go vote now.

BERMAN: Congratulations to you.

KOHN: Go vote, everybody. Thank you.

BERMAN: Stay with CNN. Our special election coverage starts tonight at 5:00 and it will be outstanding.

As we say, today is the day. Will this country see a wave of change or will it continue to move in the same direction? We're going to talk to a man who thought he might be finishing his first term in the White House right now. Governor Tim Pawlenty, we're going to ask him what he thinks the Republican party should do if it wins the Senate and what today's election tells us about 2016. That's ahead.


BERMAN: We could be on the verge of a completely different Washington. We don't know which way it will go, but it is possible that the president might soon face a Congress completely controlled by Republicans.

PEREIRA: Vice President Joe Biden says the White House will be open to compromise, not that they'll have much choice.


JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think we have to be more direct and clear about exactly what it is we're looking to do. And look, we're ready to compromise. I think they're going to be inclined because the message from the people, and I'm getting it all over the country, is they are tiring of Washington not being able to do anything.

(END VIDEO CLIP) PEREIRA: Let's discuss all of this with Tim Pawlenty, former Minnesota Governor and Republican presidential candidate. Good morning to you, Governor, thanks so much for joining us.

TIM PAWLENTY (R), FMR. GOVERNOR OF MINNESOTA: Good morning, good to be with you.

PEREIRA: So we hear the vice president saying that the White House is open to compromise. If you could, what would you advise Republicans in Congress to do if they take control?

PAWLENTY: Well, do a couple things. First of all, don't overplay your hand, because when you have power of an institution, complete power, there's a tendency to overreach. Do things that are bold, do things that are needed, optimistic, growth oriented, and there's a lot of those to pick from, but try to work with the president. Because the country wants to see things get done, not just have more gridlock. So there's a real opportunity, and I think if you look at issues like corporate tax reform, Keystone Pipeline, reinforcing the border, there are many issues like that where common ground could be found that would be helpful to the Republican agenda, and I think the president would like to get some things done in his final two years in office.

BERMAN: So that's advice for Republicans. I'm going to ask you to do something you probably don't get a big chance to do, which is give some advice to Democrats here. Do you think they could have, or should have, done anything differently in this campaign? You know, there's a discussion, should President Obama have been out there more? Should these candidates have run away from him as hard and fast as they did? What do you think?

PAWLENTY: Well I think this election, if it goes like we think it's going to go tonight, which is a good Republican year, and there's certainly optimism in the air amongst Conservatives and Republicans today nationally, but I think it's going to reflect a few things. No. 1, it's going to reflect a referendum on the direction and policies of President Obama. There's just no way of getting around that. No. 2, it's going to reflect the fact that Republicans recruited and nominated better candidates this time. This is a higher quality group of candidates. We don't have quite the number of goofballs that we had in some of the last races, that helps. And then lastly, it also needs to be said, in fairness, that many of these races, not all of them, but many of these races are being played out on home turf for Republicans. In other words, we're not in hostile environments.

BERMAN: The RNC is calling you right now, Governor, with the goofball reference there.

PEREIRA: You know, you talked about the good feeling in the air for Republicans, so let's just run with that thought process for a second and let's say Republicans win tomorrow and Mitch McConnell becomes Senate Majority Leader. How does he handle those like Ted Cruz, who don't necessarily have compromise at the top of their priority list?

PAWLENTY: Well, I think if I were giving the incoming Majority Leader, assuming he gets to that point, I hope that he does, focus on those things that are both good for the conservative movement and the Republican party in the nation, that the president can also sign. So let's talk about what those are. I think the president has signaled some openness to tax reform. It may not be the whole loaf that Republicans want, but a half a loaf there would be terrific. And maybe there's some adjustments that can be made to Obamacare and should be made to Obamacare. Maybe he'd be willing to look at the Keystone Pipeline under certain circumstances. S, those are things that I think have broad support in the American public, are not offensive to the president, and would also advance the Republican cause and message. So there's a win-win to be had.

BERMAN: We're talking a lot about the Senate, because the Senate hangs in the balance, but there are a lot of really, really tight governor's races around the country right now. You, sir, are a former governor. Which races do you have your eye on?

PAWLENTY: There are some races that are closer than I think people expected. Again, this is a year that looks to be a pretty good Republican year, if not a big wave, at least a medium size wave rolling across the country. That race in Florida is closer than people realize, and Governor Scott and Charlie Crist, former governor, in a very tight race. In Michigan, of course, Governor Snyder is in a tighter race than many people imagine. I think both the Republican governors are going to win. But those are much tighter races than expected. And importantly, in big mega states that are going to be very important in 2016.

PEREIRA: Well, let's talk about 2016. What are your thoughts on all of that and how do you feel Republicans are lining themselves up for 2016?

PAWLENTY: Well, I think the short version, Michaela, is this. Hillary Clinton is likely to be the Democratic nominee and she's going to be formidable, no question about it. On the Republican side, the field is going to be big like it was last time, but there's going to be more candidates who I think are more credible and more resourced than last time. And so the idea that there's going to be one preeminent candidate who separates from the pack early, I don't think that's going to be the case. And lastly, I would say two years is an eternity in politics, and anybody who comes into your studio and tells you they know for sure what's going to happen in 2016 is full of bologna.

BERMAN: So last time around you supported yourself first, but then you ultimately supported Mitt Romney. There's a lot of talk about Mitt Romney. Will he or won't he? Would you advise him to run again?

PAWLENTY: I would. And again, I haven't decided who I would support, but I would say this, the country is going to be looking for somebody who's qualified for the job, experienced, and resonates on certain issues. And with respect to Governor Romney, he was right on a lot of stuff that people are looking back on and now saying, we've got a little buyers' remorse. And he is somebody who clearly is an adult in the room, has executive experience, executive cadence, he can cast a vision, run an enterprise, lead, manage, communicate. Those are all skills that you need to be if you're going to be the chief executive of this country and the leader of the free world. And I think after the last six years people are looking at it saying, you know, maybe we have buyers' remorse relative to Mitt Romney. I think he could get nominated and potentially get elected.

PEREIRA: Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, I'm sure you have a busy day watching the races and such today and the results. Thank you so much for making time to join us today.

PAWLENTY: Thanks, John and Michaela, happy to be with you.

PEREIRA: Ahead @THISHOUR. All right, a kissing Congressman, a guy accused of sexual harassment, and a former convict. This may sound like a list of soap opera characters. Those, though, are politicians on ballots across the nation. They'll all have a shot at getting elected. We'll explore this next.