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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Election Day Arrives; CNN America's Choice 2014

Aired November 04, 2014 - 16:00   ET



NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: CNN is now saying that we will pick up a net of 50 seats in the House.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: Today, we have made history.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: It's clear tonight who the winners really are. And that's the American people.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: Let's come together. We know what the issues are. Let's solve them.

BOEHNER: We will never let you down. God bless you and God bless our country.



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Bush called his midterm defeat a thumping. Obama called his last one a shellacking.

What exciting and folksy gerund are we all going to witness this evening?

I'm Jake Tapper. And this is THE LEAD, Election Day in America.


ANNOUNCER: Right now, an election showdown with big consequences for the commander in chief.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm not on the ballot this fall. But make no mistake, these policies are on the ballot.

ANNOUNCER: Republicans are fighting to take back control of the U.S. Senate and the president's agenda is on the line.

MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're all battling against the establishment of the -- Barack Obama and the Democratic Party.

ANNOUNCER: It's a day of bitter matchups.

BRUCE BRALEY (D), IOWA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: She's called President Obama a dictator.

JONI ERNST (R), IOWA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: Obamacare. This is his Washington record.

SCOTT BROWN (R), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: I'm nobody's yes-man, nobody's rubber stamp.

SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D), NEW HAMPSHIRE: We don't need to import a senator who will export American jobs.

ANNOUNCER: And the night will be a nail-biter.

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: The only thing that counts are those votes.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN's coverage of Election Day in America, the fight for Congress, the battles for governor, and the issues that Americans care about most.


SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: It's time to stand and fight like your country's future depends on it.

ANNOUNCER: The people are choosing, the world is watching, and anything is possible until the last vote.


TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We're coming to you live from CNN's election headquarters on Election Day 2014.

Take a look at the big clock on your screen and you can see we're less than an hour away from the release of the first round of exit polling, which could give us at least some indication of how things might play out tonight. It would take only a six-state swing, just six states for Republicans to seize control of the U.S. Senate and ultimately control both houses of Congress.

And it looks like this could be a long and tense election night. So much is on the line, jobs, taxes, war and peace.

Joining us for the next hour with insight on everything, our CNN chief national correspondent John King, CNN digital political reporter Peter Hamby and Politico senior writer with Politico Maggie Haberman, along with an all-you-can-consume buffet of election night wit and wisdom from our team of political analysts.

And we have the best political team in TV on the ground in states with key matchups.

Let's bring with CNN senior political correspondent Brianna Keilar. She's in Louisville, Kentucky, where many predict incumbent Mitch McConnell is not only poised to reclaim his seat. He might even something of a promotion, Brianna.


And that is what is really at stake here, Jake. Mitch McConnell has said going into the homestretch that victory is in the air. And he has reason to be pretty comfortable in that belief, polls showing him up by several points.

That said, his opponent, Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Democratic secretary of state here in Kentucky, selling a much more positive outlook than polls would indicated on -- out and about today promising a surprise and saying that voter turnout is higher than expected, something that would favor Democrats, that is, if it's high enough.

But it would be a huge upset if she were to unseat Mitch McConnell, who is hoping to go from being the Senate minority leader to the Senate majority leader. And I will tell you this, Jake. Mitch McConnell has prepared those perfunctory two speeches, the victory speech and the concession speech. And today it was not the concession speech that he was editing and finalizing.

TAPPER: All right, Brianna in Kentucky.

Now let's go to CNN's Pamela Brown in Des Moines, Iowa.

Pamela, Iowa's Senate race may be the first in history to be associated with both castration of hogs and Taylor Swift. But beyond those distractions, it's very obvious that what happens in Iowa this evening is going to be pivotal.


The stakes are very high, Jake, because of course this is the first Senate seat open in Iowa in four decades. Whoever wins could tip the balance of power in the Senate. Talking to both campaigns today, the word you keep hearing is anxious. This has been a fiercely competitive race between the two candidates, Democrat Bruce Braley and Republican Joni Ernst.

And that is what both camps are feeling, that the nerves are up today. They feel like they have done all that they can, a last-minute push to the finish line today. It's broken records across the board for a midterm in Iowa with the amount of money spent on this race, the volunteers and even early voting; 100,000 more Iowans voted early this year than last midterm.

So, that really gives you a sense. Right now, both candidates spending their days very differently. Joni Ernst just wrapped up a 24-hour bus tour. She's now at home with her family. Bruce Braley at Iowa State University pushing for last-minute votes. It's sure to be a nail-biter -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Pamela Brown in Des Moines, Iowa.

Now let's go to Manchester, New Hampshire, where we find White House correspondent Michelle Kosinski.

Michelle, the incumbent Senator, Democrat Jeanne Shaheen, is fighting off Scott Brown, former senator from Massachusetts. In 2010, he pulled off a huge upset, when he became the senator there. And he's hoping he can do it again.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right, exactly, but then he lost the following round. Now he's back and he's in New Hampshire.

And this could be extremely close. I mean, you look at the most recent polls. Some show Scott Brown narrowly trailing Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen. At least one of them shows them leading by one percentage point.

At the very least, he's been able to close the gap. And that's extraordinary. This is the first office he's ever run for in this state. What does that tell you? Well, like many races, this is one of those it's something of a referendum on the president's policies. Scott Brown isn't running a campaign based on what all Jeanne Shaheen has done wrong.

She's quite popular in this state. He's running based on her voting record, calling her a rubber stamp for the president. Well, she's calling him a carpetbagger, just moved to New Hampshire, can't seem to make up his mind about what he wants to run for or where he wants to run. Because of all of this excitement, we could see record voter turnout here in New Hampshire -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, a hard-fought race in the Granite State. Michelle Kosinski, Brianna Keilar, Pamela Brown, thank you so much.

Coming up on THE LEAD: What's an election night without a little nail-biting? A handful of races could be decided in the final minutes. We will look at candidates closing the gaps in the homestretch, and it's not just balance of the power in the Senate at stake -- how the race for governor in two key states could have major implications for 2016 -- back after this.


TAPPER (voice-over): Meet Charlie Crist. He used to be a Republican governor. Then he hugged President Obama back in 2009. Then Marco Rubio ran against him in a Republican Senate primary. Crist knew he was going to lose. He decided to run as an independent. He lost. Then he became a Democrat and tried to help President Obama get reelected.

Are you keeping up with all this? Now Crist wants his old job back. So Charlie Crist, the Democrat, is running again in the state he used to govern as a Republican.



TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD and our special coverage of Election Day in America. I'm Jake Tapper.

Do not be surprised if a few Senate races become election night cliffhangers, with polls showing a dead heat in states such as Iowa and North Carolina. You could well wake up tomorrow morning and still not know the outcomes of those races.

CNN chief national correspondent John King is over at the magic wall.

John, I'm reminded that, in 2008, Al Franken won the Senate race in Minnesota by 312 votes. Could any of these races be close?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. You and I might still be here when people wake up tomorrow morning.

Look, this is the state to play, nearly 30-plus Senate races across the country. These are the ones we're watching closely. We know pretty much how most of them are going to go. And I'm going to take three of these right off the map and say that even Democrats concede Montana, South Dakota, West Virginia likely to be Republican pickups.

But how many of these are close? I was just talking to some folks out in Colorado. Remember, Michael Bennet did not claim victory in 2010 until the next day. That race went all night. They think, because of the turnout operation -- Cory Gardner, the Republican, has been ahead in the polls. Just talked to some Democrats on the ground.

They say we're not going to know the answer tonight. We will see how that one plays out. So, we will watch in Colorado. This North Carolina race, Democrat Kay Hagan, this one a bellwether too. If she loses, Republicans are in for a great night. She's been a good candidate. Just talk to people there, Democrats are worried about African-American turnout. Republicans are worried out in the rural areas they're not meeting their targets.

I think we're going to go very late on this one. It's been a nail- biter. I will just give you one more. And that is the state of New Hampshire. Jeanne Shaheen has been ahead all along in this race. In the final weekend, even Democrats concede he's got much closer. We're waiting to see, a lot of independents at play here. It's an 8:00 poll closing. This is a good bellwether. If Scott Brown wins in New Hampshire, the Democrats will be in the crouch.

TAPPER: Do we have any clues as to what's going to happen this evening in some of these close races?

KING: I think you go by -- just by the poll closings, number one.

You look at early poll closings are going to here. In Kentucky, you have got a 7:00 poll closing. Some polls even close at 6:00. In Georgia, you have got a 7:00 poll closing. Number one, can Mitch McConnell hold his job? As Brianna just noted, Republicans are confident there. But let's watch.

Mitch McConnell always has close races. We will get a sense of African-American turnout in Louisville and Lexington. Are African- Americans turning out, even though the Democratic candidate, not just in Kentucky, other states as well, pushed the president away?

Then into the state of Georgia, Jake, you mentioned we might not know some of the results tonight. Well, we might not know some of the results until December if there's a Louisiana runoff, January if there's a Georgia runoff. These two early states will give us a sense of, A, who is turning and who is not, potentially how long we might have to wait to know which party controls the Senate.

TAPPER: All right, John King, thank you so much.

Let's bring in our political panel.

I will just have one question for each one of you.

Democratic strategist Paul Begala, a lot of Democrats are going to be looking closely at New Hampshire, as John said, because if Jeanne Shaheen, the Democrat, goes down, then that's likely the sign of a wave. These races tend to happen. They all tend -- people tend to break in all one way. Is that the race that you're going to be keeping an eye on early on?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: New Hampshire and then North Carolina, another Eastern Seaboard state, where there are incumbent Democrats who, by my lights, have done everything right. They have run great campaigns. And if they go down, it's going to be a terrible night for my party.

TAPPER: Republican strategist Ana Navarro, I have heard some Republicans in town described tonight as a potential sugar high for Republicans. It might be a great night, but then, in two years, a lot of these Republicans are going to lose their seats because the demographics are bad again in 2016.

Presumably -- I guess we don't know what the turnout is going to be, but Republicans anticipating that women and minorities and young people that might not vote today will vote in 2016.

Do you agree? Do you think the Republicans still have a demographic issue for the next election?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I'm glad you asked about getting high. Sugar high or over high. Given that it's on the ballot in my state of Florida.


NAVARRO: And Charlie Crist, which I'm going to need to get high.

But, look, Jake, who cares? You know, the bottom line is, we're in a short-term question right now, two years. We'll take these two years and I think there's lessons to be learned. I think if Republicans do win big tonight, they can't say -- and, you know, the lesson to be learned is not, oh, we won because we stuck to the base. And I think a national race is different than a midterm race and we cannot equate both.

So, there's work to be done on the national front.

TAPPER: Fair enough.

Democratic strategist Karen Finney, I want to ask you, according to the latest "Wall Street Journal" poll, two-thirds of the American people think that Obama, the president, needs to change direction. I understand that this is a race by race, all politics is local. But isn't this, to a degree a referendum on President Obama's policies?

KAREN FINNEY, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: You know, if it were a referendum on Obama's policies, then why have you seen so many Republicans sort of moderating their positions on key issues like personhood, like the minimum wage, where they've tried to be a little more moderate?

And look, I think it was a mistake for the Democrats that ran away from the president. There's nothing to be ashamed of when you're talking about raising minimum wage or when you're talking about, you know, expanding Medicaid. And I think they took the bait and too many of them I think may fall for it.

TAPPER: Alex, you're laughing.

ALEX CASTELLANOS, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: Oh, I think it's not too late for them to hug Barack Obama. Do it before the polls close.

No, the country -- there's a sense that the country is not governable and that things are out of control. Democrats have had six years to be tested in governance and it looks like it's failing.

So, yes, it's not -- by the way, it's not just Obama. It's the Democrats who embraced hi and supported Obamacare.


CASTELLANOS: So, but -- you know, one of the things we've seen, after tonight, we'll have two different kinds of elections. We'll have elections that do well when Barack Obama runs and we'll have elections, quite possibly, that when Obama is not on the ballot, where Democrat -- just the Democrat policy is on the ballot and they don't do so well.

What does that mean for 2016? Barack Obama is kind of a unicorn. He's a rare political animal. We don't see --


TAPPER: We're going to come back to that. We have to take a break. We have to take a break. We'll check back in a few minutes.

CABRERA: But that unicorn story sounded like it had potential.

TAPPER: All right. Settle down.

Democrats, we're going to talk about governors with Peter Hamby and Maggie Haberman. Democrats are nervous about what might happen tonight regarding the Senate. But, of course, there are some potential bright spots for the party in some key governor races.

It's neck-and-neck in Florida. Governor Rick Scott facing a tough challenge from now of Democrat Charlie Crist. I moderated the debate between them, and the dislike is palpable. Wisconsin governor's race is also considered one of the closest in the country. We're going to talk about Haberman and Hamby about this in just a second, after this.


TAPPER: Good news, bad news for Democrats.

Good news for Democrats in North Carolina if they can get African- Americans voters to the polls in large numbers, like they did in 2008, they stand a good chance of clinching what's been a neck-and-neck Senate race.

Bad news, they haven't been able to replicate that success since 2008, including presidential 2012.

CNN's Rene Marsh is live from Greensboro, North Carolina.

Rene, after months of keeping President Obama at arm's length, Senator Kay Hagan finally released an ad with him today. Take a listen.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: North Carolina, we need to send a message to this election. If you want to make a difference, here is your chance, vote for Democrats and Senator Kay Hagan on November 4th.


TAPPER: What do you think? Too little too late?

RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Jake, the benefit of a radio ad is that you essentially get to pick your audience and clearly in that ad, she's playing to the group of voters who support President Obama and it's also the group of voters who she desperately needs to show up at the polls today, mainly African-American voters.

Will it work? We simply don't know. It's a little too early to tell. We'll get a better picture in another three hours or so when the polls start to close and those results start coming in.

But she's really had a delicate dance here. She's had to distance herself from the president but at the same time, she's trying to appeal to the Obama coalition, the minority voters, the young voters who put her and the president in office in 2008. She's been depending on a coalition of progressive voters here in North Carolina. We're at one of those rallies yesterday. We know her challenger. He's taking the route where he is focusing on the Republicans and making sure they make it out -- Jake.

TAPPER: Rene Marsh in Greensboro, North Carolina -- thank you so much. There are 36 governor races on the ballots today. Two of them are

attracting a lot of national attention because they could have huge implications for the presidential election in 2016.

Let's bring in my buddies Maggie Haberman and Peter Hamby to talk about the races in Florida and Wisconsin.

Starting with Wisconsin -- Maggie.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Scott Walker has been in a very tough re-election battle against Mary Burke, who has run better than a lot of Republicans had expected. This is the first really tough race he's had. He won his first race, and then he had a recall race. This has given the sort of aura of inevitability and invisibility around him. This has been difficult.

You know, you talk to people, donors especially, can Scott Walker run? Will he run? And how damage will he be? And they basically say, well, if he wins, he's not that damaged. If he loses, obviously, he's not running for president in 2016.

But you saw him recently take a swipe at the RGA chairman, Chris Christie --

TAPPER: The Republican Governors Association?

HABERMAN: Yes, Republican Governors Association chairman, Chris Christie, a potential rival in 2016. That, to me, is the drama coming out of this race, is how much does Scott Walker try to suggest still that he could have had more help, even if he wins. And does he raise questions for donors with Chris Christie?

PETER HAMBY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: I'm also hearing that over the summer, Walker told the RGA, I actually don't need that much help. I'm going to be good, speaking of that aura of invincibility.


HAMBY: And then just last week when he got in this dust-up over Christie, you know, people sort of attributed that to him being a little nervous about, a little flustered, not used to this sort of thing. I'm told that he's actually really in the weeds, micromanaging his ads down to the script. I'm sure staffers love that.

HABERMAN: It doesn't really.

HAMBY: Polls have seemed to tip a little bit of his direction the last few days, but it's still totally a jump ball at this point.

HABERMAN: I think he probably will win when you talk to both sides. They think he will win privately. But, yes, look, he exposed last week, as you said, some nerves about this. Running for president is a very nervous enterprise. And so, looking like you're getting nervous in the closing stages of a race, not so great.

TAPPER: And, Peter, quickly if you would, what's the significance of Florida. I guess both parties would love to have control over that important battleground state in 2016, as we saw in 2000, having Jeb Bush there as governor, certainly was a help to President Bush.

HAMBY: That's right. And Charlie Crist, when he was governor the last time, endorsed John McCain, right before that big presidential primary, even though others said he told them.

HABERMAN: That's Rudy Giuliani. Let's never forget that.

HAMBY: Rudy Giuliani, Romney, whoever.

This is total jump ball as well. Republicans are real nervous, though, especially because Democrats have really cut in to early vote margins. Last time in early vote, Democrats lost by 12. So what's left is high propensity voters. And Democrats, they are going after them hard today.

Look, Rick Scott spent, what, almost $100 million on this race and he could lose. And, you know, speaking of the RGA, Rick Scott is one of those guys that they are thinking of having run the RGA next year. So, that would be one option off the table there.

TAPPER: And the dislike that they have, when I moderated the debate between Charlie Crist and Rick Scott, they legitimately do not like each other.

HAMBY: That was a no fan debate, right?

TAPPER: That was a no fan debate, 61 degrees.

Stick around, guys. We're going to keep talking to you.

Coming up on the league, ever wish you could eavesdrop on one of those war rooms where all the political strategists are plotting various forms of chicanery and mischief. We'll take you inside one. I'll talk to some former war room generals about what really goes on inside those legion of doom

Plus, do you know about the jungle primary they are throwing on the bayou? Do you even know what a jungle primary is? Well, we'll explain it to you and take you there Big Easy style and explain how what happens today in Louisiana could impact everything tonight.


TAPPER: Control of the U.S. Senate, that's the big prize on Election Day. Democrats have control now but Republicans are poised to gain some seats and a look at historical trends suggests there's something of a midterm curse for the president's party. The president's party has lost Senate seats in 40 of the last 43 midterm elections since 1842.