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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Reince Priebus Talks to CNN from War Room; Analysts Discuss Voting in Close States; Balance Of Power; Louisiana Senate Race Going Into Overtime?

Aired November 04, 2014 - 16:30   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back to "THE LEAD" and our special coverage of Election Day in America. I'm Jake Tapper. While the rest of us wait for the polls to close, political insiders from both sides of the aisle have an ear pressed to the ground in the hopes that they will get an inkling of what tonight's outcome might be, especially in those really close races. CNN chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash has been hanging out in a Republican war room, as they call. She joins us life with more. And Dana, you have the chairman of the Republican National Committee with you there?

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I do. You know, we are behind the scenes inside where all of the people who have been tracking the information coming in are doing it real time. And as you said, I do have the chairman of the Republican National Committee here to explain in more detail what exactly we are seeing. First of all, thank you for letting us come into your vault here.

REINCE PRIEBUS, CHAIRMAN REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: You're the first person ever to film in the political department at the RNC in this sort of way. So it is --

BASH: Well, thank you.

PRIEBUS: It is a real exclusive.

BASH: Thank you. Thank you. We got that. Explain what everybody is doing here. You see everybody hard at work behind their computers, but what are they getting? What information do you need from them?

PRIEBUS: Well, I mean for a couple of years, we've been working on models and trying to figure out what types of people and what types of voters need to come into the box in order for us to be successful in a lot of these races around the country. So, what the folks behind us are doing is they are comparing and they are getting ready to compare what precincts are coming in, what voters are coming in and then comparing that outcome to the models that we've preprogrammed in each of those races. So that when we get earlier returns, we are looking at the right precincts in the right - at the right time to determine whether or not we're on track to make this thing work.

BASH: And how are you -- I mean I know that you haven't gotten returns yet, but just in terms of the getting out the vote operation, what your precinct, captains around the country? PRIEBUS: Well, you can tell that. I mean so at different points in

the day, 12:00, 2:00, 5:00, you can see how you're doing compared to your targets. So if your targets are not coming into the way that you think your models should, and that changes what people you're calling, what doors you're knocking and what your precinct captains are doing across the country.

BASH: Let me ask you a kind of a big picture question. You are poised, your party, to take control of the Senate, which would be certainly something that you would be very proud of as the chairman --

PRIEBUS: It will be historic, right.

BASH: As the chairman of the party. But I'm going to give you the but because that's what we do.


BASH: This is a pretty favorable year when you look at the map for the Senate. A lot of these races, the battlegrounds are in fairy red states, places where Barack Obama didn't even have a chance.


BASH: So should it even be this tough?

PRIEBUS: Well, I mean but we're going to win those ones. I mean so West Virginia, South Dakota, Montana, I don't think we've even mentioned those states in a year because, of course it's not going to be tough. We're going to win them. We're going to win in Arkansas. So the question I would agree with you, I think that we're really -- we're interested in winning where we should, but we're really also very much concerned about winning in Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire and North Carolina.

So, yes, we need to win purple states. We need to win purple states in a good environment with good candidates and I think a really good ground game that the RNC and others have put together.

BASH: One question about the party going forward after tonight. You in your autopsy said that --

PRIEBUS: -- growth and opportunity report --

BASH: Thank you.


BASH: But what went wrong in 2012, said, it is critical to obviously expand the party and doing so to get Latino voters in and to deal with immigration reform. If you have both houses of Congress, you've got to do it, right, if you want to win the White House back in 2016?

PRIEBUS: Well, I mean first of all, if you look at the growth and opportunity report, it talks about being a year-round party all the time and not a party that comes into communities, Hispanic, Black, Asian, anywhere four months ahead of time and thinking that we're going to pave the world. We're not. So, that's the big change. Getting our act together when it comes to digital and data operation.

BASH: Right. But when it comes to --

PRIEBUS: And that's the mechanic. And in regard to Hispanics, I mean it's also being in the community all the time. And as far as governing is concerned, the problem we've got now with this president is that he so much I think messed up the message on immigration by threatening an executive amnesty action that he's got the entire country unified against his plans on immigration. And so I think the first thing is, we're going to have to look at securing the border and making sure that we do that first and making sure people are comfortable at that border secure before we move on to major immigration reform plans.

BASH: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, thanks for having us for this first ever interview in here.

Jake, back to you.

TAPPER: All right, Dana Bash, thank you so much and thanks Mr. Priebus for us. Turning back to our political panel.

All of you guys have been in war rooms, but I just have to pick two. So, Alex Castellanos, Republican strategist, what are they worried about in that war room right now?

ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, what they didn't show us, Jake, was the big screen with the drone on it.


CASTELLANOS: That's going to drop - certain precincts.

TAPPER: You watch "The Homeland" too much.

CASTELLANOS: You're worried today about analysis for tonight. As I think the chairman said, being able to monitor your precincts. But frankly, it's too late to do anything. So, what can you change? Get the lawyers ready. They are close states tonight, North Carolina might be one. The jet and the lawyers need to be at the airport with a little bag packed ready to go. To the next few days will shape how this election is perceived. You're working on your messaging right now. You're trying to get your surrogates on message so that you not only win the messaging more this evening, you win it over the next few days. And that's what you are worried about.

TAPPER: And Paul Begala, you've been in Democratic war rooms.


TAPPER: I think I saw a movie.


TAPPER: About the war room. What are they worried about in Democratic war rooms right now?

BEGALA: The number. Have you hit your number? They are calling it - this is where --

TAPPER: Turnout, you mean?

BEGALA: Turnouts. Democrats are still in a frenzy right now because they still have -- and that because of technology, everybody is complaining about Barack Obama. He took old-fashion community organizing from the 19 century, wedded it to 21 century technology. So, now those little nerds can sit there on those little boxes, and they can know that, you know, Alexander Rottencrunch (ph) hasn't voted yet. Somebody, get out to the Rottencrunch household, knock on their door. Get them out, and - I mean everything now for them is vote, vote, vote. God gave me this forehead for a reason. And Democrats are now going to be the frenzy - and they can deploy troops. They can send their team out there to any neighborhood, any precinct, even to a house and get them to vote. It's the most exciting thing, I think. It's my favorite data --

CASTELLANOS: What hasn't been talking about this - what the Republican Party has done, is they work very hard to catch up. We'll find out how much tonight.

TAPPER: All right. You'll get --


TAPPER: To the --


BEGALA: They are the old friends of mine.

TAPPER: We'll check with you in a few minutes.

Are you a soothe sayer, Alan Nostradamus? Do you think you can in your borderline divine and mystical way predict what is going to happen tonight? Why don't you try your foretelling skills against the experts at That's p-i-v-i-t, where you can predict the odds of the GOP taking over the Senate and the outcomes of key individual races and earn points for all of your correct calls. Right now Republican's chances of winning control the Senate are up to 95 percent, according to the pivit - so, join in the fun.

Coming up on "THE LEAD," it's a seat Republicans have held since the Great Depression. Today they are in danger of losing it. Will an independent hold the key to the Senate? It could all come down to which side he votes with if he wins.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 36 senate seats are up for grabs on Election Day, but if midterm voting trends continue, the number of people voting in the most competitive races determining the fate of the U.S. Senate is pretty small. It's less than a tenth of the number of people who watched the last Super Bowl.



TAPPER: Welcome back to a special Election Day edition of "THE LEAD". I'm Jake Tapper. Republicans as you know, need to flip six seats in today's midterm election to take control of the U.S. Senate, but they also have to hang on to the seats they already have, including the seat in Kansas that have belonged to the GOP since FDR. And to the strange twist, Democrats have a shot at pulling off an upset here even though there's not a Democrat on that ballot. Let's bring in Tom Foreman who will explain this wild race to us. Tom?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, hi, Jake. We've been doing the math for weeks now. And this question off how can the Democrats hold on to the U.S. Senate? How can the Republicans take it? Look where we start. Remember, Republicans 45 seats there in red, we have 53 Democratic seats in blue, plus the two Independents who caucus with them. All of the models suggest we could come down to a very narrow race, almost 50/50.

And if that is the case, then you are absolutely right. Kansas, the sunflower state, could be a big deal. The reason is, the incumbent there, Pat Roberts, the Republican, is in the fight of his life to try to hold on to a seat against not a Democrat but an Independent Greg Orman. Now, the problem with Greg Orman, for purposes of figuring out who controls the Senate, is that Orman is so intensely, intent on being independent here that he won't say if he's going to caucus with and vote with the Republicans over here or if he might jump across the aisle and caucus with the Democrats over here. And that one wildcard, if this is as tight as it might be, Jake, could make it such that even if every other question is answered tonight, we may yet not know who will control the Senate when it comes back to town. Jake?

TAPPER: Fascinating, Tom Foreman, thank you so much. Orman as Tom noted refuses to say which party he would caucus with if elected to the Senate and it all came down to him.

But Vice President Joe Biden seems to suggest that he knows the answer. Here's what Biden said in a radio interview earlier today.


JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I think, you know, we have a chance of picking up, you know, an independent who will be with us in the state of Kansas.


TAPPER: Our Jim Sciutto is live in Overland Park, Kansas. Jim, did the vice president just let the cat out of the bag?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURIT CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'll tell you, Jake, the Orman campaign is reacting very strongly to this, dismissing it outright in fact and they have to because Senator Pat Roberts, the Republican has raised 34-year Hill veteran is robo calling using that very same clip of Vice President Joe Biden that you just played.

Here's the statement from the Orman campaign, from the Orman campaign manager, Jim Jonas. He says, "Greg has never spoken to the vice president in his life. Greg is an independent. He's not going to Washington to represent the Democrats or the Republicans. He's going to represent the people of Kansas."

To be fair, that has been his consistent position throughout generally translated as being that he will caucus with whoever is in the majority after all those votes are counted after today's race.

The other interesting thing in this race, Jake, is that here you have a race where an independent is not in the position to steal some votes from the Democratic or the Republican candidate, but he's in a position possibly to steal the very seat building off this frustration that you have among American voters along with dysfunction in Washington.

I managed to catch up with the candidate today as he cast his ballot. I asked him about this and here's what he had to say.


SCIUTTO: Why do you think you can make a difference if you win today?

GREG ORMAN (I), KANSAS SENATE CANDIDATE: Well, it's really the voters of Kansas who are going to make a difference. The voters of Kansas are going to send a really strong message to Washington with this election that you can't hide behind your party label.


SCIUTTO: Jake, when you get to the election math, no matter what happens tonight, it increases that magic number that the Republicans from 6 to 7 if Orman beats Roberts, no matter which party he chooses to caucus with. It brings up that Republican magic number from 6 to 7. So this is a race that both parties are watching very closely today.

TAPPER: All right. Jim Sciutto from the heartland of America, Kansas, thank you so much.

Let's bring back, CNN political commentator, Ana Navarro, a Republican, and Democratic strategist, Karen Finney. What do you think, Ana? Did Vice President Biden let the cat out of the bag or is he speaking -- is he getting ahead of the skis as President Obama once said about the vice president?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: How can Republicans not just love Joe Biden, the gift that keeps on giving? You know, late into Election Day. Look, he laid there what is at the crux of this entire race. Who is Greg Orman? And what is he going to do if he gets elected? He has been trying to be perceived as independent, but it's been kind of wink-wink. Yes, I'm not going to be with the Democrats. He's been getting help from Democrat operatives. He's been getting donations from Democrats.

It all feels like it's in cahoots and I think that's part of what is really hurting him in Kansas and what's going to give Roberts the victory today. He's been too cute trying to be all things to all people and not really picking a side.

TAPPER: Karen?

KAREN FINNEY, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Not, I think either side will take him at their caucus if that means they are going win. Let's be honest. There's another dynamic here I think it's interesting. You've got to split the Republican Party. Moderate Republicans are interested in coming out and voting against Governor Brownback.

They don't like how far he's taken the state. Those folks, do they vote for Orman or Pat Roberts? I think there's a potential for those folks to vote for Orman. So how those voters decide. They could decide this election.

TAPPER: You say moderate Republicans are going to vote against the incumbent Republican governor -- conservative, and has alienated a lot of moderates and that could help Orman.

NAVARRO: I wouldn't be surprised if there is a divided vote amongst Republicans today in Kansas.

FINNEY: I think you're going to see that.

TAPPER: Alex, you have said that you think that Republicans should have -- Republican senators should have said, we're not going to take Orman in our caucus, but the truth of the matter is, they don't want to say that because they might need him, right?

ALEX CASTELLANO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But the best way not to need him is to go ahead and polarize the race and make it R against D and the best way do that is to say, he's a D. He's running against a Republican. We're not going to take him. Do that early and I don't think they would have been in a position that they are in today.

TAPPER: Except Paul, I mean, I think that -- I don't know what he's going to do if it all comes down to him. I have no idea. But I think if Republicans win tonight and it's a Republican majority in the Senate, I think Orman will caucus with the Republicans. That's what he suggested he will do and that would be the best way to get re- elected in six years.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It will be. I think you're right. He could also say, this is the best way to deliver for my state, in Kansas. Yes, as you said, they haven't elected a Democrat in the Senate since 1930, 84 years. So yes, it would be a great way to deliver for your states. It would be a great way to deliver if he gives the Democrats their majority. They'd make him the chief justice of the Supreme Court.

CASTELLANO: If he loses tonight, it's not Orman. It's Washington. Been here too long, lived here too much, forgotten the folks back home, everybody -- Michael Brown is saying that any Republican, who is over 65 years old has to pledge to go home every weekend.

FINNEY: But that's a cautionary tale for a lot of guys. Pay attention to what the people in your district or state want or they will hold you accountable.

TAPPER: And Ana, one of the things that's been hurting Roberts is that he didn't even have a credible answer about where he lived, whether in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. or in Kansas itself.

NAVARRO: Which is incredible to me that there could be seasoned incumbent senators today after Richard Logart like Mary Landrieu who has got a little bed in her mom's basement and Pat Roberts who don't own a home or at least rent a studio. Pitch your tent somewhere, but call it your own.

I think from now on the NRSC and the DSCC should tell both -- anybody that gets elected, first thing you do is you get a lease, a house, you buy something, rent something, pitch a tent.

FINNEY: Going on a list.

TAPPER: Pitch a tent.

NAVARRO: Just own it, though. You know?

TAPPER: All right. I want to thank our entire political panel for being with us this hour. John King, Maggie Haberman, Paul Begala, Ana Navarro, Karen Finney, Alex Castellanos.

Coming up on THE LEAD, we'll go live to Louisiana where a potential run off could keep the outcome up in the air for weeks.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD in our special coverage of Election Day in America. I'm Jake Tapper. I don't know about you, but we here at CNN are gearing up for a long night at election night headquarters.

Wolf just ran to Costco to get some cases of Red Bull. Anderson is chilling cucumbers slices for the bags under our eyes. But it is possible we may not even know all the results of the elections by tomorrow morning.

That's because two key states will have a runoff if no candidate gets more 50 percent of the vote plus one. This seems most likely in Louisiana where our Suzanne Malveaux is right now. Suzanne, leave it so the Cajuns to make things extra spicy.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is spicy. We like it hot and spicy here, Jake. I had some coffee. I think that's going to continue throughout the night. It's going to be a long night I think, Jake.

I had a chance to catch up with Senator Landrieu earlier this morning and I asked her does she think she's going to get to that magic number, 50 percent plus one. She is confident she said yes. She can feel the energy in the crowds. But Jake, it's far from certain if you look at the polls.


MALVEAUX (voice-over): The voting may end tonight, but in a few states the real winners might not be clear until well after election night. Down here in the bayou, they have what's called a jungle primary where all nine Louisiana candidates are fighting to get more than 50 percent of the vote.

If no one does, we'll all have to wait until December when the top two candidates will face a runoff. Three-term Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu is leading, but taking nothing for granted.

Today still campaigning before casting her ballot with her grandson, Maddox. She is slightly ahead of her biggest challenger, Republican Congressman Bill Cassidy, but still shy of the 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff.

SEN. MARY LANDRIEU (D), LOUISIANA: We really feel that victory is in the air for us. It's been a hard-fought campaign, but it is not my hardest. That was the first race to the United States Senate where we only won by 5,788 votes.

MALVEAUX: Landrieu needs African-American voters, women, and 30 percent of whites to turn out today to get her over the top. She comes from a well-known political family, which Cassidy is using to make a case for a change. He is also painting Landrieu as a rubber stamp for the president.

(on camera): Do you believe what some of the analysts are saying, that this is more about the president and his record that that could be a drag on your race.

LANDRIEU: So there's a lot riding on this election. Let me say, the contrast between myself and my opponent could not be more different. He's trying to make this a national race and he's trying to hide from his own record but that is impossible.

MALVEAUX: In Georgia, another nail biter. Democrat Michelle Nunn, the daughter of former Senator Sam Nunn is neck and neck with Republican businessman, David Perdue. They too are fighting to get more than 50 percent of the vote today or face a runoff in January after the new Congress is expected to be sworn in.

And in Alaska, both Senate candidates could be in for a very long night. They are counting on native Alaskan voters from rural villages to determine who wins. Those ballots are counted by hand and delivered by planes and boats to the capital to be verified.

(END VIDEOTAPE) MALVEAUX: Boats and planes, Jake, we're not kidding here. Back to Louisiana, when I got that coffee this morning, I asked the waitress, are you paying attention to what is happening here at the election? She said absolutely. She's voting for Landrieu. It's really important for a young African-American woman. Asked the

cab driver the same question, the bell hop, they are all voting for Landrieu. This is in New Orleans where she has a lot of support and this is what she'll count on if she's going to make that number tonight. Jake, very likely it's going to be a very long one.

TAPPER: A real nail biter. Suzanne Malveaux in Louisiana, thank you so much. That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. CNN's Election Night in America starts now with "THE SITUATION ROOM."