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At This Hour

Political Bad Boys on Ballots; North Carolina Race Watched Closely; Joni Ernst Compared to Taylor Swift; Republicans Face a Blue Wall; Races Could Change Washington Agenda

Aired November 04, 2014 - 11:30   ET



MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: In 30 minutes' time, the polls open in Hawaii, which makes you lucky because you get to participate in democracy, and you're in Hawaii.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hawaii has not sent a Republican to the Senate since 1970. But @THISHOUR, we do have our eye on so many races that are so close.

One of the states that everybody is watching very, very closely is North Carolina. Democratic Senator Kay Hagan and her Republican challenger, Thom Tillis, they have been running neck in neck for months and their battle has been very, very expensive. One of the most expensive Senate races ever. The candidates have spent more than $100 million.

PEREIRA: Roughly the salary of Miguel Marquez who finds himself in Winston-Salem. I joke.


Miguel, you've been getting a look at early numbers on voter turnout. What are you learning on the ground there?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: For all that money that was spent in this election, it looks like they've -- the two candidates are neck in neck so it hasn't made a huge difference. Long lines across the state, the state reporting part of the reason is they used to have a Republican or Democrat only option. Now voters have to go through every option, including lots of different referendums as well, so they have to go through the entire ballot so that may be accounting for the long lines here.

The other big thing at play here the unbelievable number of advertisements is female voters have been in play here. That bit in green, those are voters in the counties. Every single county in this state has more female voters than male voters. That's why they're going after them so big. We're in Forsythe County here. I want to take you to a polling station to see the magic of democracy where it's happening here.

Hello. How are you? We expect things are going to be very busy here today. This is where

they are ling up to get into the voting booths here and this particular place has been busy since 6:30 when it opened. Polls across the state close at 7:30 p.m. And we suspect that by 10:00 eastern, we will have a good idea of who wins that Senate race here.

I can tell you that the numbers so far that the unaffiliated voters, way up, 44 percent more participating this time. Democratic voters are up as well, 23.4 percent. Republicans about 4.8 percent of participation. So it's not clear how this is going to break. It will come down to those unaffiliated voters. And you can see they're lining up here to check in and they vote on the other side of the room. All happening in North Carolina.

BERMAN: Miguel Marquez, in North Carolina. We're lucky cameras were allowed in voting places down there. The rules are state by state. They're not allowed in, in every state. Cameras followed Miguel Marquez until it could follow him no longer.

PEREIRA: It's encouraging people are going.

So this might sound like the lead up to a joke but it's not. What do a felon, an adulterer, an alleged fraudster and a guy accused of sexual harassment have in common? Well, they all want to be United States Congressmen.

BERMAN: And all of them -- all of them -- might have a shot of getting elected today.

Our Chris Frates tells us about these candidates.


CHRIS FRATES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The candidates may be a better fit for a soap opera than a ballot. There's the House candidate from California accused of sexually harassing a campaign staffer. And the New York Congressman federally indicted on tax fraud. Then there's the duo from the bayou, the kissing Congressman and an ex-governor turned ex-con.

DAVID WASSERMAN, U.S. HOUSE EDITOR, COOK POLITICAL REPORT: 2014 is a great year for bad boys of Congress. It's unusual in the sense that we've rarely seen this many members who are in trouble, personally or legally, with strong chances to win reelections.


FRATES: After serving almost nine years in prison after an extortion conviction, Edwin Edwards is back in Louisiana. He was elected to four terms as a Democratic governor using such colorful campaign slogans as "vote for the crook, it's important."

EDWARDS: My God is not finished with me.

FRATES: But this time around he has a tougher race as a Democrat running in a district Romney won 2-1 in the 2012 presidential race.

Also in Louisiana, Vance McAllister, better known as the kissing Congressman. After getting caught on tape making out with his scheduler, McAllister dropped his re-election bid, only to jump back into the race a few months later with his wife by his side.

UNIDENTIFIED WIFE OF VANCE MCALLISTER: I'm blessed to have a husband who owns up to his mistakes.

FRATES: In California, Candidate Carl DeMaio faces serious charges of sexual harassment as first reported by CNN.

TODD BOSNICH, FORMER CAMPAIGN STAFFER: He reached over into my lap and grab mid-crotch and I flipped out.

FRATES: DeMaio denies the allegations, saying his accuser broke into his campaign office after he was fired, though no charges were filed. Even after weeks of bad headlines, DeMaio's race is neck in neck.

CARL DEMAIO, CALIFORNIA CANDIDATE: We're going to fight tooth and nail until I'm exonerated?

Michael Grimm, who is set to fight charges next month that include person rirks, obstruction of justice and tax evasion, is polling slightly ahead of his opponent. Despite a serious lack of interpersonal skills.


REP. MICHAEL GRIMM (D), NEW YORK: Let me be clear to you, you ever do that to me again I'll throw you off this (EXPLETIVE DELETED) balcony.

FRATES: Despite that, he won Giuliani's endorsement.

Political experts say increased partisanship means that candidates' baggage often means less than whether they have a "D" or "R" after their name.

WASSERMAN: As long as you're wearing the right color Jersey, it doesn't matter if you'll be wearing a jump suit in a couple of months, you still have a shot at winning your seat in Congress.

FRATES: Chris Frates, CNN, Washington.


BERMAN: I will break you in half like a boy.

PEREIRA: Was that to me?

BERMAN: Ah, democracy. Democracy. GO out and vote.

PEREIRA: Taylor Swift is apparently a key player in Iowa's Senate race after retiring Senator Tom Harkin compared the young song writer to the Republican state Senator trying to fill his job. Was this sexism? Dirty politics? Does it even matter to the folks in the Hawkeye State that are casting their votes today?


PEREIRA: Iowa is generally thought of -- Iowa is generally thought of as a bellwether presidential race. But today it's one of 10 states that can be whether or not it swings control to the GOP.

BERMAN: Joining us is Jennifer Jacobs, chief political reporter for the "Des Moines Register."

Jennifer, a long-time listener, first-time caller, I'm a big fan of your works. Thanks so much for being with us.

I should say y our paper made a big splash this weekend. The "Register" poll came out showing Joni Ernst with a seven-point lead. That was bigger than people had seen and a bigger, larger than we have seen since in recent polling. You've been out there to these rallies. Where do you think the race stands right now?

JENNIFER JACOBS, CHIEF POLITICAL REPORTER, DES MOINES REGISTER: We trust our "Des Moines Register" Iowa poll. There's no doubt. Our pollster polls Iowa better than anyone else. If she says this race is not tied, we believe her people have doubted and in the past to their own peril. So even if this race isn't a seven-point affair, I don't think it's tied I think it's going to be Joni Ernst.

PEREIRA: Interesting. Very interesting. From the outside -- you'll forgive us -- it seems as though the last 24 hours in Iowa have been all about the Taylor Swift fuss. Because you are such an insider and you have your hand on the pulse of what's going on there, does this feel like it will have any impact whatsoever there today?

Oh, did we loser? I think we might have --


BERMAN: I think we may have lost --

JACOBS: I can hear you again. Did you ask me a question?



I was saying there's been a lot made about this Tom Harkin comment likening Ernst to Taylor Swift. It probably seems frivolous to even bring up but I'm just curious if you think on the ground there it will have any effect at all.

JACOBS: It may not have an effect on voter turnout but it certainly has people talking. It's been all over the local television stations and the national cable shows so people are talking. They're trying to decide was it sexist? Not sexist? What was he talking about? Even if it's not a voter turnout mechanism. It's interrupted the Democratic candidate in this race and it's interrupted Bruce Braley's closing message. BERMAN: Got in the way of the closing argument in the Braley


Besides Taylor Swift, we've heard about castrating hogs and chickens in this campaign and I've heard a lot from national Democrats saying that all this circus of the race in Iowa has obscured policy positions here and that Joni Ernst's conservative positions haven't been highlighted by the Braley campaign as much as they could have or should have been.

JACOBS: Joni Ernst has been promoting issues -- she stands pretty much opposite of President Obama. She talks about wanting to really balance the federal budget. She talks about wanting to repeal Obamacare and replace it with something else. Those are the issues that she says are her focus and she's been talking about on the campaign trail.

PEREIRA: Well, certainly a lot of eyes will be on Iowa.

We appreciate you joining us. You got a busy day ahead of you. Thanks so much for joining us, and I know that John appreciates it as well.

BERMAN: Thanks so much.

JACOBS: You're welcome.

BERMAN: So we're talking about control of the Senate here. Republicans could win control, Democrats could lose. The question is, what does it mean going forward? What does it mean for 2016? Democrats have had a real advantage in presidential elections because of the map, because of demographics. Does what happens today change any of that? Stay with us.


PEREIRA: So even if this day turns out as well for Republicans, as they hope, the question is, what does it mean for them going forward? Have they helped the Republican brand? Have they improved their chances to take over the White House? The problem might be for them the so-called blue wall. Look at this map. 18 states and the District of Columbia voted Democratic in six straight elections, presidential elections. If you do the math, that's 242 electoral votes for the president. Just 28 shy of the 270 needed to win the White House.

BERMAN: So they might have an advantage with the map and they've also benefited from shifting demographics over the last several years.

We're joined by Dana Milbank, our favorite columnist in for "The Washington Post."

Dana, thank you so much for being with us. I'm picking favorites

The question is -- DANA MILBANK, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: You guys are my

favorite, too. If I were Tom Harkin I'd compare you to Taylor Swift, you're just rock stars.

PEREIRA: Thank you. Thank you.

BERMAN: Sexist.


BERMAN: I will say this, whatever happens tomorrow, the question is does it change the electoral math for the Republican Party going forward facing 2016? Facing a presidential year? Does it change the demographic issues they've been facing?

MILBANK: Nothing that happens tomorrow in and of itself changes 2016. You've got to remember, this isn't a national election, it hasn't been run on national issues and the battlegrounds are almost entirely red states. A few purple states but almost entirely red states where vulnerable Democrats swept in in 2008 with Obama are now in trouble.

So it doesn't change the overall problem the Republicans have in the long term, in terms of appealing to young voters, appealing to minorities particularly Latinos. They've sort of got a demographic time bomb ticking underneath them. And that's going to cause them trouble in 2016 and even more down the road. Now, if they win tonight, as many people expect them to, well, that gives them an opportunity to recast the party a bit, but it takes a lot to move the demographic situation.

PEREIRA: So that ticking time bomb of the demographic bomb that's underneath them, talk about tomorrow. Say this is theirs tomorrow, what's the smart move in terms of that strategy for the next two years?

MILBANK: Here's the thing, as best I can tell, what we're facing right now, assuming a Republican takeover of the Senate is a vacuum. House speaker John Boehner on Instagram sent out a photograph of a lawn mower, mowing the lawns yesterday. Is that the Republican agenda right now? You've got Ted Cruz all ready to lead this all-out revolt against Obama, towards abolishing the IRS, repealing Obamacare, causing all sorts of trouble and mayhem for the president. And you have more sensible Republicans like Rob Portman saying, let's work together on energy, legislation, on tax reform.

And in the middle of all this, you have the potential Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, saying that he's not even going to tell anybody what his agenda is. So you can sense a lot of pushing and pulling to sort of fill that vacuum coming up. Republicans have been very unified in that they don't like this Obama fellow. But now assuming they're in charge, they're going to have to come together with a cohesive agenda. That's a difficult thing to do.

BERMAN: What about Rand Paul? He's had a lot of people talking for a long time now. He's trying to run in a different alley altogether. He's said recently, quote, "The GOP brand sucks." You wrote a column about this recently. What do you think? Do you think Rand Paul can appeal to younger voters?

MILBANK: I think he's probably the Republicans' best chance of doing that right now. He's gone through an extraordinary transformation, particularly if you think about his father who was a gadfly libertarian. But entering more of the mainstream on foreign policy, campaigning for moderate Republicans right now. He's suggesting a relevantly modest agenda for the Republican Party right now. Being a real party player. He's clearly getting ready for 2016.

There was a poll out last week from Harvard suggesting that young voters, and particularly Hispanic young voters, have turned away from Obama after being with him in such huge numbers in 2008 and 2012. That's an opening for a guy who is trying to appeal to young voters and to minorities for the Republican Party. Rand Paul has a lot of quirky sides to him. It doesn't mean we're looking at a Rand Paul presidency. But at least he might be able to put the vote of the youth in play.

PEREIRA: We only have a couple of seconds left. I want to know what your best guess is for the headline tomorrow for "The Post."

MILBANK: The headline will be written at about 2:00 a.m. I'd say it's going to be a Republican night.

BERMAN: I hope you have a catchier headline than just that.



MILBANK: Well, I've got a few hours to work on it, guys. Come on.

PEREIRA: You do. No pressure.

BERMAN: Dana Milbank, thank you so much for being with us. We appreciate it.

PEREIRA: Good to have you with us. Thank you.

MILBANK: Thanks a lot.

PEREIRA: Today races across the country could determine the agenda in Washington. Will Republicans win the keys to the Senate or will Democrats maintain control? And what does it all mean for you? Stay with us.


BERMAN: With so many races, so much drama, so much at stake, we all need help keeping track of it tonight.

PEREIRA: That is where our handy-dandy Peter Hamby comes in. We rhymed that. That is sick.

He's watching the most important races. Not going to get a lot of sleep. But he's young and he can take it. Mr. Hamby, give us an election guide for tonight.

PETER HAMBY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Thanks, Michaela. I appreciate that rhyme. That was pretty sick.


HAMBY: It's going to be a long night but Democrats are looking to hold the line. And early in the night is where that is going to be tested. At 7:30, North Carolina comes in. That's going to be a state I'm watching because Democrats are hopeful that their GEO-TV operation, their field operation is good enough to put them over the edge. Republicans and Democrats are both very nervous about this race. But it hasn't broken open for some Republicans like in other races out there. So Democrats are feeling OK about that. We'll see earlier in the night if they're able to hold Kay Hagan's Senate seat.

And then at 8:00, New Hampshire comes in. There would be a cherry on top for Republicans if Scott Brown can beat Jeanne Shaheen up in New Hampshire. Democrats think they have it. Most polling has that race about two points. It's going to be a good night probably for Republicans if Scott Brown can pull it out there. But it's not going to be decisive when it comes to control of the Senate.

Later in the night is when we get into the much more competitive races that could tilt the balance. At 9:00, we have Kansas where Pat Roberts is on the ballot against Independent Greg Orman. Republicans are very anxious about this race. Pat Roberts could very well lose tonight. They will be counting votes very late there. That's at 9: 00.

And then 10:00 would be a big win for Republicans if -- I know you were talking to Jennifer Jacobs about this race earlier -- if Republicans can beat Bruce Braley, if Joni Ernst can win there. Democrats, Republicans, no one is willing to say this one is totally off the table. In the field, Democrats have a culture of getting out the vote a lot more manpower than Republicans. But Joni Ernst does have a lot of momentum in that race. And this is a state that's trended blue for the last decade. And this is also the state that launched Barack Obama to national fame. His approval rating there is now dismal. There would be a big symbolic win for Republicans as well.

BERMAN: Peter, we have about 35 seconds left. I know tonight you will own the Internet on You're going to have a whole bunch of insiders giving a buzzy take on the election. What is sort of the inside word right now in 15 seconds or less?

HAMBY: The inside word -- I just got off the phone with a couple of people about this -- is that we're going to run off season, both December and January in Georgia and Louisiana. No one is 100 percent confident that Republicans are going to win the Senate. Don't let anybody tell you that. We're not going to find that out until the votes are counted tonight.

PEREIRA: Makes it all the more exciting for all of us. Peter Hamby, thank you so much.

If you have questions for peter, you can tweet him at #hambycast. He's going to be on at 8:00 eastern on the real-life Hambycast, well worth watching.

PEREIRA: Boy, what a busy day. Stay with CNN for the latest. Our special election coverage starts at 5:00 p.m.

That's it for us.

BERMAN: "LEGAL VIEW" with Ashley Banfield starts right now.