Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

Candidates Race to Close the Deal with Voters; Candidates Distancing Themselves from Obama; Voting on Hot Button Issues Helps Voter Turnout

Aired November 04, 2014 - 10:00   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, I'm Carol Costello, thank you so much for joining me. The polls open and the 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 ten states from Alaska to New Hampshire to North Carolina and the prize, nothing short of the balance of power in Washington.

Republicans may be on the verge of capturing the Senate, solidifying control of Congress, and dooming President Obama to a lame duck for his final two years. CNN correspondent's analysts and guests are here to walk us through today's races. Let's begin our coverage in Washington with our chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash. Good morning.

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. Well, Republicans are feeling cautiously optimistic. Democrats are feeling jittery and as we speak volunteers are making last-minute phone calls trying to convince voters that Washington certainly may just be dysfunctional, but it's an important thing to vote today.


BASH: Ground troops from both parties.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You got it? Next house. 2154.

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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 intense 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?

(END VIDEO CLIP) 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 1,200 people who are 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 called a failed strategy, an almost singular focus on women's issues.

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), SENATORIAL CANDIDATE, IOWA: She introduced the constitutional amendment in the Iowa senate to ban all abortions.

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

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

BASH: But watch their strikingly similar closing ads.

ERNST: More government, more spending, more taxing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: More than 30 years later, it still has ...

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: 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.

TAYLOR SWIFT (singing): Shake it off.


BASH: Though Republicans are feeling good about their chances for taking control of the Senate, it is not a sure thing. There are a handful of Senate races that are still too close to call, Carol, from North Carolina to Kansas, even to Alaska, the balance of power in Washington and the tenor of the president's last two years in office are still very much in flux.

COSTELLO: All right. Dana Bash reporting live from Washington. I know you have a long night ahead of you. Thanks so much for being with me this morning. As Dana said, it could come down to just a handful of votes. The most expensive Senate race ever has a razor- thin margin. Democratic Senator Kay Hagan is fighting to hold on to her seat against Thom Tillis and this morning, and this morning Hagan is getting some last-minute help from President Obama.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Voting is easy. To stand with me, President Obama, and take responsibility of moving North Carolina forward by voting for Kay Hagan on November 4.

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


COSTELLO: Miguel Marquez is in Winston-Salem this morning. Good morning.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning there, Carol. This is exactly where that last-minute camp that those - that those dollars are being spent in that - this Senate race. We see a Thom Tillis person out here selling t-shirts, actually. We're at the Brown Douglas Recreation Center. All of this campaigning done for what's happening inside this building. This is where the voting is actually happening. There's been a line here since 6:30 this morning. The polls close here at 7:30. So this is one of the first races that we'll find out about. There's been a line most of the day here. Folks check in here and then they vote over on this side of the room. I can tell you that at $108 million plus, this has been the most expensive Senate race ever and it's gotten both candidates to almost a statistical tie.

Kay Hagan leading Tillis just a bit in many of the polls along the way. We have a first look at some of the numbers coming out of here as well, participation of the unaffiliated voters way up in early voting, up 43.4 percent. Democratic voters are up 23.4 percent. Republican voters, interestingly enough, are up only 4.8 percent. And perhaps that's why President Obama has now weighed in here at the last minute with that radio ad. African-American voter participation up a staggering 44.7 percent statewide. So that gives you an idea as to why they're chasing African-American voters right now, urging them to get out. They see a surge here at the end, they think, and they think it might put Hagan over the top. Carol

COSTELLO: We'll have to see. Miguel Marquez reporting live from North Carolina this morning.

Republicans are hoping to take away a Senate seat in New Hampshire where Scott Brown has been tying incumbent Jeanne Shaheen to President Obama's policies and Shaheen has labelled Brown as an outsider. This front - the front page of this morning's "Union Leader" said New Hampshire voters could tip the scales in Senate. We'll see. CNN's Brian Todd is at a polling station in Manchester. He joins us now. Good morning.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol, that's right. This is a razor-thin vote here in New Hampshire for the Senate. It's a virtual dead heat depending on what poll you're looking at, Jeanne Shaheen might be ahead by two points, other polls have Scott Brown ahead by only two points and, of course, that's well within the margin for error so this is a razor thin vote going in. Republicans seeing this as a great chance to pick off a Democratic Senate seat. You talked about how Scott Brown is tying Jeanne Shaheen to President Obama.

He has wasted absolutely no opportunities during this campaign to tie her to President Obama who is incredibly unpopular in this state. His approval numbers are in the 30 percentage points here and he at every turn Scott Brown has tied her to President Obama saying that both Jeanne Shaheen and President Obama have left the country vulnerable to the Ebola virus, to terrorism. He's talked about ISIS in the campaign. Now, countering that, Jeanne Shaheen has painted Scott Brown as an outsider. Remember, he held a Senate seat in Massachusetts for two years before losing that seat in 2012, he has a vacation home here in New Hampshire.

He's only lived here in New Hampshire for a little less than a year full time so she has taken every opportunity to paint Scott Brown as an outsider. They're both very good campaigners, both very good fundraisers and that's where we are right now. They are in a virtual dead heat coming into today. So voter turnout is key. And we're getting some pretty good numbers here at this busy voting station in Manchester. And this is old school, Carol, you come in, you sign in here, you get your poker chip to verify it, then you come and get your paper ballot, you take it over there to those booths, you fill it in, then you put in a tabulator.

Here's another thing. In these boxes over here, these post office boxes, about 350 or so absentee ballots that just came in. There's no early voting in this state, but there is absentee voting. And one thing that's crucial here, Carol, is the independent or undeclared voter. According to the secretary of state's office, almost half of all registered voters in the state are undeclared. Both Scott Brown and Jeanne Shaheen have gone after those voters with a real fever here and they're hoping to sway those voters to their side. Heavy turnout, we are told, might favor Jeanne Shaheen slightly, but again, this is going to be really razor thin going into tonight, Carol.

COSTELLO: All right, Brian Todd, reporting live from Manchester, New Hampshire this morning.

Still to come in the "NEWSROOM", some Democratic candidates are distancing themselves from the president. Are they being too cautious or is it wise considering his low approval ratings and what history has to say about the midterm and the president's party? We'll talk about that next. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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 suggest there is 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.



MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Martin Savidge in Gwinnett County, Georgia, we are just north of Atlanta. And in the long parade of potential political victories for Republicans that could regain them control of the Senate, this race, Michelle Nunn specifically could be that one rain cloud on that parade. As a Democrat in a red state she's done really well, raised a lot of money and she's kept the race very, very close.

Part of that could be the familiarity of her family name, Nunn, Sam Nunn is her dad, he was a four-term senator from Georgia and a highly regarded one at that. There has been early voting and, in fact, almost a million Georgians are reported to have cast their ballots. The demographic breakdown of that would seem to favor her opponent, that's David Perdue. So she needs a heavy turnout today. The main arguments in this race, there is no incumbent. Both candidates are new to politics.

I suppose that Michelle Nunn would say she's the head of a charitable organization, looks out for people. David Perdue has been a very successful businessman. She's turned that as a negative against him arguing that well, he's only going to look out for rich people like himself. However, David Perdue has turned around and said, look, if you like President Barack Obama, you're going to love Michelle Nunn in a red state like Georgia. Let me tell you, that's not a ringing endorsement for her. There is a third party candidate. You have to get 50 percent of the vote here. Many people believe today, well, it's just for fun and that the real runoff will have to be in January. Carol?

COSTELLO: Martin Savidge reporting live from Atlanta today.

On this crucial Election Day, President Obama is keeping a low profile. With his approval rating at just 45 percent in the latest CNN/ORC poll, many Democratic candidates are trying to keep their distance from the president. The president has even been heckled by immigration supporters who want him to take a stronger stance. Here's how he addressed one supporter in particular.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Hold on, young lady. Hold on a second. Hold on. Hold on. Hold on. You're a dreamer and I gave you relief administratively and we're going to work on the next one, the Republicans are blocking immigration reform, that's one more reason why we need a Democratic Senate.


OBAMA: So I support you. I'm with you.


OBAMA: I'm with you. I'm with you. I'm with you. And you need to go protest the Republicans.


OBAMA: Because I'm not the one blocking it.


COSTELLO: OK. So let's talk about the president's role or lack thereof in these midterm elections. I'm joined now by former ambassador and former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, an Obama supporter. Welcome, sir.


COSTELLO: What happened to the great communicator of 2008?

RICHARDSON: You know, Carol, historically in midterm elections, off- year elections, presidents are not as strong as they have been and this president, I believe, has done a good job but he's been a victim of the Ebola crisis, explosions in the Middle East, the dysfunction in Washington. So voters kind of blame the person at the top. Now, I think Democrats have made a mistake in not embracing the president when it comes to the motivation of their own base.

The first rule of politics, I've been a candidate, I've elected official, I run in state, local, national elections, is you motivate your base and when you distance yourself from the president who is the strongest with the base that needs to turn out, young voters, progressives, African-Americans, Hispanics, I think you're making a mistake and I dread what a lot of Democrats are doing, distancing themselves, you know, from the president, from his policies, from an economy that, for instance, has been improving. Unemployment is down, six months of economic growth you see some very positive signs, deficit down, but Democrats aren't talking about it. I think it's been a classic mistake.

COSTELLO: No, they're not talking about President Obama's more positive accomplishments in office. You know, a political risk management firm had a theory. It told the "Washington Post" this "Bush is a leader who didn't like to think while Obama is a thinker who doesn't like to lead." Is there something to that?

RICHARDSON: Well, I think the president has his own style, but at the same time, the party, the Democratic Party needs to be pushing a positive agenda. I've never seen voters so sour, so negative in this election. They're not voting for Republicans; they're not voting for Democrats. They're voting against the status quo that they're very unhappy about. And neither party has put forth a positive vision. The Republicans down with President Obama and his policies.

Democrats distancing themselves from the president, but not proposing what we would do in a positive way -- an improving economy, more emphasis on education. Look internationally, I think this has been a big factor. The explosions in the Middle East. You can't blame the president for it. But you can say that with the ISIS issue he's assembled a coalition of over 60 countries, it's an international effort, we're getting out of Iraq and Afghanistan, we're putting our resources back home. So it's a very complicated election. I've never seen anything like it. And I think voters are not voting for any party in particular.

COSTELLO: No, they're not. Because - but because, as you said, there are things for Mr. Obama to brag about. And the examples are gas prices down below $3 a gallon for the first time in years. We have the lowest national unemployment rate in six years, the stock market is at record highs. 10 million are now enrolled in Obamacare. But those things are certainly overshadowed by the anxiety that voters feel about ISIS and Ebola. Fear is a powerful motivator and it is the president's job to calm those anxieties and isn't that a reason that Republicans have managed to use fear so successfully in these midterm elections?

RICHARDSON: Well, Carol, I think what you're going to see, if there is a Republican victory -- I think it's going to be a deadlock in the Senate and the governors, I think it will also be a wash. But what Republicans are going to recognize is maybe they have short term gains this year, in this election, 2014, but in the presidential election in two years, they're going to be doomed by their negative efforts on immigration, against minorities, Hispanics, against women. Maybe it's a short-term gain today, but long term they're going to be in trouble in a national election because their base, their Tea Party base is so narrow.

COSTELLO: All right, Ambassador Bill Richardson, thank you for your insight as usual. We appreciate it.

RICHARDSON: Thank you, Carol.

COSTELLO: And I want to talk about these very same things with the Republican Haley Barbour. That's coming up in just a few minutes in "THE NEWSROOM." Also coming up, from marijuana to minimum wage, hot- button issues on the ballots in several states. We'll talk about that, too, coming up.


COSTELLO: Beyond today's races, voters are also making decisions on hot button ballot issues in a number of states. The initiatives include recreational and medical marijuana use, minimum wage and gun control. CNN's Evan Perez is in Washington. Good morning.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. Weed is on the ballot in Alaska, in Oregon, and here in the District of Columbia, the nation's capital, where voters are going to decide whether to make recreational pot legal. In Florida, they're voting on whether to allow medicinal marijuana. Now, the question in Florida is whether it will reach the threshold of 60 percent, which is what's required for a ballot initiative to take effect there. Polling initially showed that people were in favor of it, but Sheldon Adelson, the Republican donor, has been pouring money against marijuana in that state so the polls have turned a little bit on that.

Now, turning to minimum wage, as you know, Carol, the Republican Party here in Washington has opposed any raising of the minimum wage that President Obama has been in favor of. So it's interesting that in four conservative states, Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota, it looks like the electorate there is very much in favor of raising the minimum wage. Also on the ballot in San Francisco and a couple of other locations around the country where they're talking about even higher minimum wage laws. And then finally on the issue of guns. Washington State, where there was a recent high school shooting, Carol, the voters there are trying to decide whether to expand gun -- background checks for gun purchases, even in private sales and at gun shows.

That's, again, another hot button issue around the country in light of this recent shooting. It looks like the electorate there, the voters there, are very much in favor of tightening the rules on buying guns, Carol.

COSTELLO: Interesting. Evan Perez, many thanks to you. I appreciate it.

Still to come in the "NEWSROOM", if you've heard some of the campaign ads it begs the question whether fear is driving some voters to the poll this Election Day. A look at the politics of anxiety next.


COSTELLO: Good morning, I'm Carol Costello.