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Polls Tighten Many Races Too Close to Call; Georgia Senate Race; President Endorses Kay Hagan in NC; Will Race Relations Play Key Role in Midterms?

Aired November 04, 2014 - 09:00   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: That's right. That was a touching story. Thanks so much. You have a great day.

NEWSROOM starts now.


ANNOUNCER: Right now, a heated fight for political power with one top prize. Control of the United States Senate.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Republicans in Congress love to say no.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MINORITY LEADER: There's nothing I would like better than for him to have a bad night November the 4th.

ANNOUNCER: All across America, voters are getting a say about the anger and gridlock in Washington.


SCOT BROWN (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: The Obama administration is maxed out. It's worn down.

ANNOUNCER: Will this election be about him. Or them.

THOM TILLIS (R), NORTH CAROLINA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: But I won't be a rubber stamp for Barack Obama and Harry Reid.

MICHELLE NUNN (D), GEORGIA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: We're ready for new leadership.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN's coverage of Election Day in America. The fight for Congress. The battles for governor. And the warm-up for 2016.

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT: Reports of the demise of the Democratic Party are premature.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: We are going to retire Harry Reid as majority leader.

ANNOUNCER: The polls are open. The nation is choosing and anything is possible until the last vote.


COSTELLO: And good morning, everyone. I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for joining me.

The polls open and candidates race to close the deal with voters. As campaigns now enter their final hours, the newest polls have tightened and many of the races are simply too close to call.

The battle for the Senate is being fought in 10 states from Alaska to New Hampshire to North Carolina. Republicans may -- may be on the verge of capturing it, solidifying control of Congress and dooming President Obama to a lame duck for his final two years.

We have full coverage. So let's begin with our chief congressional Dana Bash.


DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Ground troops from both parties.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Got it. Next house. 2154.

BASH: With high-tech apps looking for every last possible voter behind every door.

MCCONNELL: Victory is in the air. We're going to bring it home tomorrow night.

BASH: As candidates launch their closing arguments in nearly a dozen in 10 Senate races. For Republicans it's all about President Obama and distrust of government.

Here in Georgia.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you trust President Obama and the Washington politicians to deal with the problems we face?

BASH: Democrats who understand voter disgust with Washington are trying to keep it local. And personal. Like Senator Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire.

SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D), NEW HAMPSHIRE: It's the 1200 people who were in their homes because we worked with them when they were being foreclosed on.

BASH: Some Democrats in trouble are attempting a last minute course correction.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What it takes to be successful as a mountain climber --

BASH: Colorado's Mark Udall is finally talking up his own appeal. After what even some Democrats call a failed strategy and almost singular focus on women's injuries.

SEN. MARK UDALL (D), COLORADO: My opponent Congressman Gardner led a crusade that would make birth control illegal.

BASH: In Iowa, Democrat Bruce Braley said the same about his GOP opponent.

BRUCE BRALEY (D), IOWA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: She introduced a constitutional amendment in the Iowa Senate to ban all abortions.

BASH: Republican Joni Ernst called Braley part of the --

JONI ERNST (R), IOWA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: The big Washington, D.C. bureaucracy.

BASH: But watch their strikingly similar closing ads.

ERNST: More government, more spending, more taxing.

BRALEY: More than 30 years later, it's still health --

BASH: Appealing to undecided independents as they look to fill the seat of retiring Democratic Senator Tom Harkin who went very off- script.

SEN. TOM HARKIN (D), IOWA: I hear so much about Joni Ernst. She is really attractive. And she sounds nice. I don't care if she's as good looking as Taylor Swift.

BASH: Ernst was offended but also joked like Taylor Swift she would shake it off.


BASH: Now Republicans this morning are feeling confident that they make -- sorry to keep the metaphor going -- shake it off, or shake it up actually in Washington. Change control of the Senate. Democrats are feeling jittery, Carol. But it's not a done deal. Republicans, of course, will need six seats, a net gain to take control of the Senate. There are a lot of races from North Carolina where there's an incumbent Democrat to Kansas where there's an incumbent Republican that are too close to call. Never mind Louisiana and Georgia, which could go up into runoffs -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Wow. Could be an interesting night.

Dana Bash, thanks so much.

Georgia is one of the states that could be in for a long night with one of the closest Senate races of the election. As Republican David Perdue and Democrat Michelle Nunn battle for the open seat. But this race could easily be headed to a runoff election to be held early next year.

Martin Savidge live in Atlanta to tell us more.

Good morning.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good morning, Carol. You're absolutely right. This could be a vote today that takes well, almost two months to do and the reason we say that is because state law in Georgia is that a candidate must get 50 percent of the vote. And there's a third party candidate that is running in this particular case so it's possible that candidate could can siphon off just enough between David Perdue and Michelle Nunn, that we end up, as you say, with that runoff which is slated for January 6th.

Let's not walk down that road just yet. Let's talk about today.

Michelle Nunn, she is the Democrat here, and she's done surprisingly well in this very red state. Part of that could be the family name. Nunn, Sam Nunn, her dad, he served four terms as the senator from Georgia. Highly regarded, highly respected, but he was a moderate to some say conservative Democrat.

David Perdue is the challenger here. He's a wealthy businessman. Done very well. In fact, Michelle Nunn has used that against him saying, you know, he's only going to look out for the wealthy. David Perdue has turned around and used her connections against her, saying, well, if you liked President Obama, you're going to love Michelle Nunn. And as I say in this conservative state that's hardly a ringing endorsement for her -- Carol.

COSTELLO: All right. Martin Savidge, reporting live from Atlanta this morning, thank you.

Just up I-85 in North Carolina, the most expensive Senate race could come down to a handful of votes. As Democratic Senator Kay Hagan fights to hold on to her seat against Thom Tillis. She holds a razor thin lead and is getting some last minute help from the president.

Rene Marsh is in Greensboro this morning.

Good morning.

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION AND GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. It's been expensive all right here in North Carolina. We are talking about more than a hundred million dollars and it just got a little bit more expensive. We'll tell you why in a second, but we have on one side Democratic incumbent Senator Kay Hagan, on the other side Republican State House Speaker Thom Tillis.

This race got a little bit more expensive because now we have a radio ad from the president endorsing Hagan. Interesting move considering Hagan has distanced herself from the president this entire campaign. We saw her campaigning with two Clintons but not with the president. But we're now seeing a last minute strategy change.

Take a listen to the ad.


OBAMA: Voting is easy. So stand with me, President Obama, and take responsibility in moving North Carolina forward by voting for Kay Hagan on November 4th.

SEN. KAY HAGAN (D), NORTH CAROLINA: I'm Kay Hagan, candidate for U.S. Senate, and I approve this message.


MARSH: All right. So there you heard it there. The president endorsing Kay Hagan. The question is, why now? I mean, it's pretty late in the game to introduce the president at this point and I spoke with one Democratic operative who said, look, the Republicans have made a liability of President Obama this entire campaign and now the Democrats feel that it's the right time to use the president to their benefit.

Kind of spin the message a bit. And that's why we're seeing what we're seeing here with this ad. I mean, the bottom line is there is still a segment of voters who still support the president. And it just so happens that's the segment of voters Kay Hagan desperately needs to show up at the polls today.

We're talking about the African-American voters, the young voters. She needs them to come out, so that's what we're seeing there with the ad.

Also in the mix of this race, pretty interesting. We have a pizza delivery man. He's a third party candidate. A Libertarian by the name of Sean Haugh. And it could very well be at the end of the night, Carol, that this pizza delivery man determines the balance of power in Washington, D.C.

I spoke with the Republicans yesterday, who believe that he has the ability to possibly steal some of the votes or siphon off some of the votes from the Republican in the race. So we'll have to wait and see. Voting underway, but before the polls even opened here today, more than a third of people already casted their ballots with early voting. So record number of early voters this time around -- Carol.

COSTELLO: All right, Rene Marsh, many thanks. Reporting live from North Carolina.

This morning, you heard Renee say it, the African-American vote is very important to Democrats but is it too late? And is the Democratic Party asking too much? Because keep in mind amongst African-Americans the unemployment rate is at -- more than 11 percent. We'll talk about that next.


COSTELLO: The Justice Department will be on alert this Election Day, sending election monitors to 18 states in an effort to watch for discrimination against minority and elderly voters. And it is minority voters, specifically African-American voters, that Democrats hope will give them a boost at the polls.

Critics say their tactics in some cases invoking the death of Trayvon Martin are divisive. Supporters say it's about making sure voters are aware of issues.

CNN's Joe Johns has more for you.


JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With the their weapon in President Obama mostly sidelined, some Democrats went for the heart strings in a desperate bid to get blacks in southern states to the polls.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He made it harder for communities of color to vote.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Invoking the death of tenager Trayvon Martin in Florida as a reason to vote in North Carolina. A radio ad generated by majority leader Harry Reid's super PAC dedicated to maintaining Democratic control of the Senate, hit the Republican candidate for supporting the kind of controversial state statute made infamous in the martin case. Putting race at the center of the Senate race.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tillis even said led the effort to pass the "Stand Your Ground" laws that caused the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

Johns: North Carolina Republicans responded with a tough radio ad of their own. Calling out the Democrats.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You heard this race hustling Kay Hagan ad paying for mike Harry Reid. Super PAC.

JOHNS: There's more in Georgia, flyers encouraging African-Americans to vote invoked images from Ferguson, Missouri, where another young black man Michael Brown was shot to death by a police officer.

Republican Tara Wall sees it as an attempt to inflame voters.

TARA WALL, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Race is a very real issue for us as black people. We should be able to talk about it. I think it's disappointing when you have Democrats who take the issue of race and use it to incite without any fact or basis.

JOHNS (on camera): Democrats deny these tactics are about inciting racial anger. They say it's about localizing the election, making voters to think less about the federal races and more about the judges, prosecutors and others who actually allocate justice.

(voice-over): Atlanta City councilman Kwanza Hall said it's valid to talk about in the midterms.

KWANZA HALL, ATLANTA CITY COUNCILMAN: I would not use these in a campaign if it were my personal campaign, but I would want to make sure we have dialogue and that we bring all parties to the table."

JOHNS: Still, dialogue over race is tricky. Louisiana Incumbent Democrat Mary Landrieu got hit with tough criticism after she said this in an interview with NBC about the South and the president. SEN. MARY LANDRIEU (D), LOUISIANA: The South has not always been the friendliest place for African Americans. It's been a difficult time for the president to present himself in a very positive light as a leader."

JOHNS: The question is whether racial appeals, especially advertising, could backfire. Revving up black voters, who polls show still overwhelmingly support the president, while turning off white voters the same polls show do not.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Generally, these appeals are very targeted. They are flyers or mail in predominantly African-American neighborhoods, or radio ads on predominately African American radio. So, it's sort of slicing and dicing the electorate."

JOHNS: Its tough choices for Democrats, and only hours before we'll know whether they pulled the right strings to get one of the most critical voting blocks to the polls in a tough election cycle.

Joe Johns, CNN, Lexington, Kentucky.


COSTELLO: All right. Let's talk about this. L.Z. Granderson is a CNN commentator, and Crystal Wright, we have an editor and blogger of conservative

Welcome to both of you.



COSTELLO: Crystal, everybody uses emotion to get voters to the polls. It's effective, we know that. So, I'll ask you -- is this strategy right, ethical?

WRIGHT: I don't think it's ethical, but it isn't it interesting, Carol, that Democrats are resorting to really base racial politicking and they're not talking about opportunity and jobs for black Americans, the prosperity message. And the reason why they're doing this is because in the south, in Georgia, Louisiana -- I'm sorry, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina and Arkansas, Democrats -- black voters make up over 50 percent of Democrat voters, OK?

There's -- that's the base that's critical to the Democrats holding on to the seats. They're lying to black voters to get them to the polls, I don't think it will work because black Americans after voting for Obama two times overwhelmingly 95 percent of blacks now are asking themselves a question, we're not better off, and unemployment is almost twice the national average.

And I don't -- they're not going to come to the polls. Historically, during midterms, black Americans aren't going to come to the polls and I think when you look at a race like Maryland where the Republican Governor Larry Hogan is actually going to the black communities asking for the black vote, he has a black woman in one of the ads that said the very thing I just said, she said, we haven't felt prosperity under the Democrat Governor O'Malley or President Obama.

So, I think there's a -- I think not everybody is acting like Larry Hogan is and asking for the black vote, but I think the black vote is not going to -- you know, the turnout is going to be very low and the race-baiting is just insulting. I think black Americans are disgusted by it. The message is different for black than it is for white voters.

COSTELLO: The DNC, the Democratic National Committee, is using a different tactic. But it goes along with the whole strategy. It put an ad in black newspapers with get his back in large letters and a picture of President Obama.

It goes on to say, Republicans have made it clear they want our president to fail. If you don't vote on November 4th, they win.

That's not exactly subtle. But is that a reason to vote Democratic?

GRANDERSON: Well, first of all, there's a couple of things we need to correct that Crystal said. I don't know where she got this 90 percent number she mentioned of African-Americans not approving of President Obama, I haven't seen that poll --

COSTELLO: Eighty-five percent approved --


WRIGHT: I said they voted for the president -- over 90 percent of black voters voted for the president, both times, L.Z., that's what I said. So let's --

GRANDERSON: So I wanted to make sure that was clear.

WRIGHT: Yes, no problem. Yes.

GRANDERSON: Here's the thing, in 2008, a record number of African- Americans showed up to the polls. In 2010, the states controlled by the Republicans started to enact the rules to try to limit the black vote. That we know.

In 2012, another record number of black people showed up and following that, they continued to try to have ways to suppress the black vote. So, obviously, it's not just the Democrats who are concerned or have their eye on the black vote. It's also Republicans.

Now, I don't think that race-baiting ads are effective. I think what's effective is looking at what President Obama actually has done and fighting for him and his policies and not trying to incite race to get people to the polls.

There are a lot of positive things. Gas prices are down, unemployment is down. The fact that Democrats have run from him is more than an indictment of them than it is of President Obama's policies. I think what you're seeing right now is a shifting of tactics because

they have realized they have been -- they being the Democrats that distancing themselves from President Obama hasn't worked. Now, they're trying something different at the 11th hour.

I'm ashamed of the cowardly Democrats who have run away from President Obama this far, and I'm even more assumed that now they're turning to the tactics to try to get black people to vote for them.

WRIGHT: I think, Carol, L.Z. raises an important point. The voter ID law.

I want to give you an example in Georgia. In Georgia, in 2007, when they -- after they implemented their voter ID law, black voter registration has increased each year since then and now it's equal to white voters.

In 2012, L.Z., I think you mentioned that -- maybe you didn't mention this, but more blacks participated in the 2012 presidential election than whites. I mean, you had historic numbers for the first time in history, black numbers outweighed white voters.

So, this notion and the lies that are people or your Democrat brothers running for Senate, are telling black Americans, oh, Alison Grimes is saying that Republicans are blocking the ballot, that is just true.

GRANDERSON: Oh, that's true.

WRIGHT: All the evidence shows that the voter ID voters are implemented in Georgia, why is more black voters voting?

GRANDERSON: Because of the direct response to the GOP actively trying to suppress the vote.

WRIGHT: It doesn't prevent minorities like you and me from voting. I think that --

GRANDERSON: Crystal, when you design a law that specifically is target Souls in the Polls in Florida, because you know --


COSTELLO: Wait, let L.Z. finish.

GRANDERSON: You know that African-Americans have been participating for decades, you know that they were ineffective during the Gore/Bush debacle, you didn't you didn't address it, you didn't address Souls to the Polls until the black man was voted president, we know it's more than just a coincidence. It is a direct response -- it is in direct response to the historic number of the voting.

WRIGHT: OK. But let's talk facts. In 2007, that was --

GRANDERSON: I did talk facts.

WRIGHT: Georgia passed their voter ID law in 2007 before Barack Obama became the first black president. That's -- let's not insult black Americans by telling us that we're too stupid to know how to go to the polls and vote for the right person.

COSTELLO: All right. I wish -- I wish I could go on.


GRANDERSON: You try to act as if Barack Obama doesn't appear until 2008.

WRIGHT: He wasn't running until president until --

GRANDERSON: And Hillary Clinton is not running now. Stop it, Crystal, you're ridiculous.

COSTELLO: I have to stop it there. I'm sorry. Thanks to both of you for a very feisty debate this morning. I appreciate it.

We'll be back in a minute.


COSTELLO: Everybody is talking about the Republicans taking control of both houses of Congress. If they do, and that's a big if at the moment -- does history show it will be better for the country? After all, in 1994, Republicans controlled both houses and managed to work with Democrat Bill Clinton. Although it wasn't exactly all lines and roses, there was Whitewater, Monica Lewinsky and impeachment eventually.

Let's talk about with this with Julian Zelizer. He's a presidential historian at Princeton University.

Welcome, sir.


COSTELLO: Thanks for being here.

So, Julian, if Republicans gained control of the Senate, how will this be different historically?

ZELIZER: Well, we're in a more polarized era than we were in the 1990s, so my guess is divided government will not bring both parties to the center. And my guess is that a Republican Senate or Republican Congress would probably be more obstructionist and more difficult for the Democratic president to deal with as we get closer to the election. So, polarization has intensified and it will make things that much harder in the era of divided government.

COSTELLO: Are you talking about the Tea Party?

ZELIZER: Yes, I'm talking about the impact of the Tea Party since 2010 within the GOP, and how that's changed some of the strategy of the Republicans. COSTELLO: You know, I just been trying to think of, is there an

issue, you think that Republicans will focus on if they take control of the Senate? You know, despite splits within the Republican Party? Is there one issue to put on the table right away and then get the cooperation of President Obama to get this -- to get him to sign it into law?

ZELIZER: Well, I think they're going to go back to the question of the budget. I think this is something Republicans have been very comfortable dealing with, meaning spending cuts and tax cuts. And I think they might try to push the president back toward some negotiations over a quote/unquote grand bargain over the budget, to test whether President Obama is willing to deal with them and willing to anger many Democrats in a kind of deal they have been hoping to avoid.

So, my guess is the budget is the issue they're going to put on the table, if we have a Republican Congress after tonight.

COSTELLO: Well, let's talk about President Obama and if he's likely to work with the Republican Senate and the Republican House. Do you think he will? Because I guess he doesn't have to.

ZELIZER: I think he's going to be a little nervous about doing that. I mean, the record for him, in his opinion, has been he offers things to the Republicans, he's offered to compromise. And like Lucy and Charlie Brown, they take the ball away right when he's about to kick it.

So my guess is he's going to be more interested in using executive power to deal with issues like immigration, to deal with issues like climate change and very reluctant, if the GOP puts something on the table, to start negotiating or to try to get a deal.

COSTELLO: Understand. Julian Zelizer, thanks for your insight. I appreciate it.

I'm back in a minute.