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Iowa Senate Seat; Kansas Senate Seat; North Carolina Race; Georgia Race; Ferguson Shooting Political; Medical Marijuana in Florida

Aired November 04, 2014 - 14:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Right now, it's America's choice. Will Republicans win the keys to the Senate?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have to fix a few big things.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It will not happen unless we gain control of the Senate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Or will Democrats stay in charge?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Who's going to fight for you? That's what it boils down to.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president's record is an issue in some of the hottest contests.

TOM COTTON (R), ARKANSAS SENATE CANDIDATE: We need a senator who will stand up to Barack Obama.

MARK PRYOR (D), ARKANSAS SENATE CANDIDATE: That's the biggest bunch of hogwash I've ever heard in my life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the Senate's top Republican has a lot to win or lose.

SEN. HARRY REID (D), MAJORITY LEADER: The races across the country are about Barack Obama's agenda.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Barack Obama is not on the ballot. I am.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN's coverage of "Election Day in America," the fight for Congress, the battles for governor and the warmup for 2016.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I need you to do this. Your country needs you to do this.

HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: We're in the home stretch. It all comes down to who's going to show up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The polls are open. The nation is choosing. And anything is possible until the last vote.


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: And away we go. Hi there. I'm Brook Baldwin.

The time is now. Three dozen governors in U.S. Senate seats all up for grabs. Plus, of course, every seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. But all eyes on the Senate this hour where Republicans, you know they're eager to change the balance of power in Washington, right? Take a look at the numbers and the colors behind me of the 36 Senate seats being decided, ten are incredibly close. And if just six seats switch from Democrat to Republican, the GOP will have total control on Capitol Hill.

Four race today especially compelling, you have Iowa, Kansas, North Carolina and Georgia. They could ensure or prevent a Republican Senate takeover and dictate how the government gets things done or not in the final two years of Barack Obama's presidency. We will take you there in just a couple of moments.

But this was the president's last campaign. And what happens today will go a long way toward deciding what he can accomplish in his final two years in office. Plus, big, big issues to talk about today on the ballot nationwide. You have marijuana, minimum wage, gun rights. When will we know the winners and the losers? Listen, it could be tonight. It could be tomorrow. Or if we have recounts or runoffs, folks, weeks from now.

No matter what, CNN will be there. We have correspondents across the country. Stephanie Elam standing by for us in Iowa, Kyung Lah is in Kansas, Miguel Marquez is live for us in North Carolina, and Nick Valencia in Georgia.

Stephanie Elam, I'm starting with you at a polling place in Altoona, Iowa. The Senate showdown between Republican Joni Ernst and Democrat Bruce Braley has been called one of the most competitive in the nation. The political ads alone we could focus on, Stephanie. Let's begin with hogs, I guess, in your state. What are voters seeing there?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's definitely different than you might see anywhere else, Brooke. You're talking about Joni Ernst. And she's talking about her skills that she learned on the farm and what she thinks will help her in Washington. Take a listen.


JONI ERNST: I'm Joni Ernst. I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm. So when I get to Washington, I'll know how to cut pork.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Joni Ernst, mother, soldier, conservative.


ELAM: And you take a listen to what she said there, said she wants to make them squeal when he gets to Washington, but her campaign has had a lot of momentum during this election period and because of that some think she may actually pull out this win for the GOP today, Brooke.

BALDWIN: So we know, Stephanie, that this seat is open because Democrat Tom Harkin is retiring and he had some comments about Joni Ernst and Taylor Swift the other day. Tell me about that.

ELAM: That's right. And Ernest, you know, she's a - she's a veteran. She has been in office. She's a state senator as well. But he managed to put her, Mr. Rogers and Michele Bachmann all in the same comment. Take a listen.


SEN. TOM HARKIN (D), IOWA: (INAUDIBLE) Joni Ernst, she is really attractive. She's -- and she sounds nice. Well I got to thinking about that. I don't care if she's as good looking as Taylor Swift, or as nice as Mr. Rogers, but if she votes like Michele Bachmann, she's wrong for the state of Iowa.


ELAM: And he later apologized to those comments. Joni Ernst saying if her name was John Ernst, this commentary would never have been said in the first place. But some are pointing to the missteps by the Democrat that have actually led to the fact that they think this may become a win here for the Republicans today, Brooke.

BALDWIN: That is Iowa. We're keeping a close eye on Iowa. Stephanie Elam, thank you for that.

Let's stay in the Midwest, let's head to Kansas, where the Democrat's best hope of unseating a Republican Senate incumbent this cycle may be in really what is this reliably state where there is no Democrat nominee. CNN's Kyung Lah is standing by for us live in Kansas.

Tell me what those candidates are up to today, Kyung.

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, let's just show you what they're doing. There are actually pictures that they've both tweeted out. Senator Pat Roberts, the Republican, the incumbent, the one who's ben in Congress for decades, he is on the phone, trying to get people out to vote. He needs people to show up.

Who else needs them to show up is his challenger, the independent, Greg Orman. He's actually working the shoe leather, going door to door in Topeka, Kansas, trying to get people to come out. Participation, Brooke, is going to be key. They need the numbers on both sides in order to try to winning. And it is a nail biter. The candidates know it, Brooke.

BALDWIN: You talk about participation. I don't see a soul behind you, Kyung. How has participation been thus far on this Tuesday?

LAH: That's because I'm showing you the white board. This is where you vote. BALDWIN: OK.

LAH: But look over here. And right now, I mean, we are in a bit of a lull. You see a couple of people here. This is a voting machine state. But we've actually seen a steady stream of people check in at the desks and then moving over to vote. And what the election people here, the election commissioner here tells us is that because these races are so close -- because honestly no one here knows who is going to win, whether it's going to be the independent or the Republican, it is an intense competition. Here's what he told us.


BRIAN NEWBY, JOHNSON CO., KANSAS ELECTION COMMISSIONER: When you have intense races, and these all have to be considered intense because they're so close, you're going to have people who are really eager to make sure their vote counts, which is, of course, what we're all about here.


LAH: So advanced voting is going to be key. We do expect, Brooke, those numbers to come in early. About 30 percent of this county we should know shortly after the polls close.


BALDWIN: All right, Kyung Lah live in Kansas. Kyung, thank you.

You know, we talked about the president. Not a real presence on the campaign trail in large part because of his low approval rating, 45 percent in October. And, you know, I heard elsewhere today that his approval rating is dropping for the record. That's incorrect. He is back where he started in January after dipping to a low of 42 percent in July. These numbers are from CNN and ORC. And at this late date, the president is suddenly making his presence known in a Senate race in the deep south.

So with that, Miguel Marquez, I'm coming to you, live in Winston Salem, North Carolina. What are you seeing there?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, amazingly enough, after candidate after candidate was running away from the president, the tide seems to be turning and probably because the early voting numbers are showing a very sizeable participation by the African-American community here. Here's the radio ad that the president cut for Senator Hagan.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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. (END VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUEZ: Now, we're seeing about 44.7 increase in the participation of African-Americans from 2010 to this year, this midterm election. But unaffiliated voters are also up enormously, 43.3 percent increase in participation for them. Democrats are up about 23.3. Republicans, interestingly enough, only up in participation about 4.8 percent. So it will be very, very interesting. The sense is, is that there might be some Democrat momentum here. We will see. Polls close here at 7:30 p.m. and they'll start reporting those numbers out by 8:00, 8:30, perhaps 9:00 p.m. We'll have a very good idea of which way this one's going to go.

BALDWIN: That could be one of the first glances we get to see tonight. As you mentioned, polls closing at 7:30 Eastern. Miguel Marquez in North Carolina for us.

And in the state of Georgia, staying in the south here, you know, the elections aren't just about political parties but political families. Relatives of well-known politicians in heated races there. You have Jimmy Carter's grandson, Jason Carter, up for governor, against Republican incumbent Nathan Deal. But the race for Senate is much, much tighter. Michelle Nunn, the daughter of long-time U.S. Senator Sam Nunn, up against another heavyweight name, Perdue, as in David Perdue, the cousin of popular former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue.

So, Nick Valencia, let's go to you live in Lawrenceville, Georgia. We know Georgia's a solid Republican state. How much of a shot does Michelle Nunn really have?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, a likely scenario that people in Georgia (INAUDIBLE) for is a runoff. What's contributing to that is the libertarian candidate in this Senate race, Amanda Swafford, that's taking votes away from the Republican candidate David Perdue. Also what's making Democratic candidate Michelle Nunn competitive is the rise of registered minority voters across the state of Georgia. But the magic number in all of this, Brooke, is this 50 percent plus one vote threshold that each candidate has to reach or a candidate has to reach in order to avoid a January 6th runoff.

Also contributing into this is early voting. I spoke earlier to Georgia's secretary of state office and they said that early voting is up from the last midterm election in 2010. It's up 20 percent. What we don't know at this point is what party has benefitted from that. Accord to the secretary of state's office, they don't register by party. But every indication at this point is that it's going to be a very tight race between Michelle Nunn and David Perdue.


BALDWIN: You mentioned those minority voters, Nick Valencia, thank you so much. Let's talk about that because in Georgia we know Democrats are telling voter to go to the poll to, quote, "prevent another Ferguson." That is a quote from one of these leaflets being passed out here in Georgia and a number of other states. Is it fair politics? Is it race baiting? We're going to have that discussion coming up. Also ahead, it is staggering, the amount of campaigning the Clintons

have done compared to the president, oh, President Obama. Did it set up, perhaps, a harbinger of things to come, come 2016?

And, pot, minimum wage, guns, hear which states are deciding America's most controversial issues. Stick with me on this election Tuesday. You're watching CNN's special live coverage.


BALDWIN: You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

You know, it's a cause and effect we see every single election season, candidates under pressure running seriously over the top political ads, from Ebola, to ISIS, to, quote, "getting high." It seems nothing is off limits.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Get Haugh, get high. Legalize it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: More weed, less war. Vote Sean Haugh.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Get Haugh, get high. Vote Sean Haugh.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: While ISIS terrorists threaten to cross our border and kill Americans, my opponents falsely attacks me to hid her failed record on illegal immigration. Here's the truth.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Latisha Van de Putte opposed putting National Guard troops on the border.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Trott profited from human misery as tens of thousands of Michiganers were evicted from their homes. People like 101 year old Mr. Hollis (ph), thrown out of her home of 50 years and left on the street.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Less government.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our budget has been slashed (ph) since 2003. Responding to an emerging infectious disease threat, this is particularly damaging.





UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The right cross was the sequestration.


BALDWIN: Oh, campaign season. But critics say when tactic used by Democrats crosses a line, even the ads you just saw don't cross. Political activists are using the police shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. In Georgia, in fact, the Democrat Party has sent out cards saying to voters, vote blue, quote, "if you want to prevent another Ferguson" in their future.

And similar messages are coming from this organization that developed itself out of the wake of Hurricane Katrina. It's called "The St. Louis Post Dispatch" paper says the group used flyers with -- you see these two African-American kids holding the sign where they're saying, "don't shoot," "enough." This is being handed out as leaflets in seven different states. You have Illinois, Michigan, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Arkansas and Louisiana.

So I have an entire panel to weigh in here and I'm really curious to get everyone's thoughts. CNN political commentators Donna Brazile and Ross Douthat, and "Inside Politics" contributor David Maraniss.

So welcome to all of you.

And, Donna, since you are sitting next to me, I'm going to pick on you first. With the Ferguson flyers, the real question is, is this fair politics or is this race baiting?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Now, look, this is the - this is the cover of "Business Week." We all forget that in August of 2014 we had a conversation about what happened in Ferguson. This conversation didn't just happen in cable television. It happened in living rooms across the country, not only in African-American households, but households across the globe. There's no reason why we should not be able to talk about what's at stake, including guns. That's on the ballot in certain states. Of course, raising the minimum wage. But Ferguson -

BALDWIN: But with Ferguson specifically, using that storyline, using that tragedy?

BRAZILE: Using the image - using that tragedy to point out that this is an election day where you can, you know, vote for governor, or you can vote for sheriff in certain places across the country. We're focused here on, you know, who will control the United States Senate. It's important to tell people, especially voters across the country, that you will also vote for attorney general in your state, you will vote for people who will appoint sheriffs and deputies. So, yes, it is - it is very relevant and it's very important because it's very important to African-Americans and other voters across the country. BALDWIN: That is precisely the point. Obviously the's executive director pointing out that these people are helping, you know, put police officers in charge, which is a huge question in Ferguson.


BALDWIN: But the RNC communications director, Sean Spicer, said this. "What happened in Ferguson is a tragedy but it was not one that was caused by Republicans or Democrats."

Ross, jump in.

ROSS DOUTHAT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think what you're seeing here from the Democrats is sort of a - part of a larger reversal where Democrats feel themselves to be losing on economic issues, losing on foreign policy and so they are relying the way Republicans traditionally have on cultural appeals, on race -- in this case, race and crime and police brutality. And it's sort of similar to the way Mark Udall has campaigned in Colorado where he is basically - you know, every sentence he's uttered has been a noun, a verb and Cory Gardner's going to take away your condoms. So, you know, I think that there's - there are parallels here where the Democratic understanding of their situation is that they aren't going to win this election on the economy, on foreign policy, certainly not on President Obama's job performance, so they're doing -- they're looking for effectively cultural wedge issues to mobilize their own base, in this case African-Americans. I think the question is not is this --

BRAZILE: Ross, I disagree, but we don't have enough time to discuss it.

DOUTHAT: Well, but is it - is it -

BRAZILE: I disagree.

DOUTHAT: I think - well, I would just say to Donna, I mean, the question here for me is not, does this cross the line? This is politics. I don't - you know, I don't have a problem with Democrats making this appeals. But what are Democrats campaigning on specifically that is relevant to Ferguson? Ferguson is a story of the over militarization of police departments basically. That's the reason it became a national story. Is the Democratic Party running on an anti-militarization of police departments campaign in this election? Because if there isn't substance behind it, then it does just seems cynical to me.

BALDWIN: Do you want to respond to that now, Donna, then I want to hear David's (ph) voice.

BRAZILE: Yes. No, no, there's a lot of questions. There's violence in the community. There's guns in the community. There's not just crime but there's also jobs. Democrats are campaigning on all of those issues and this is what Democrats talk to voters about. Unfortunately, Ross, as you know, in the kind of narrowly tailored media culture we have today, you don't hear all of those conversations. I hear them because I campaign all over the country.

BALDWIN: But what about Republicans? David, this is what I wanted to ask of you because I know we've seen Rand Paul. Rand Paul went to Ferguson. But what -- what kind of outreach to minority specifically has the Republican Party really taken on this election cycle?

DAVID MARANISS, AUTHOR, "BARACK OBAMA: THE STORY": Well, the Republicans basically are running on fear. As to those types of advertisements, I mean I think that gun control is a serious issue, police brutality is a serious issue. That particular ad didn't address that at all. And when you look at the history of this country, you'll find as many Democrats in control during periods of really terrible racial tension in cities as Republicans. So the issues are deeper than that. And that's the problem of this whole election, most of the issues are much deeper than the discussions.

BALDWIN: It's just --

DOUTHAT: Well, isn't that -- isn't this true of every election though? I mean, you know, it --

MARANISS: It is to a certain extent.

DOUTHAT: And I would just - I would just (INAUDIBLE) --

MARANISS: It's more true of this one than many.


BALDWIN: Go ahead, Ross, I want to hear from you.

DOUTHAT: Well, just to defend both the Democrats and the Republicans in a sense, I mean, yes, --


DOUTHAT: People are running on fear in a sense. But, you know, in those - but fear is a powerful motivator in politics. And, you know, in a context where our foreign policy debates are about terrorism and, you know, the Islamic state in the Middle East and Vladimir Putin and where our domestic debates are about the economic future of our country, I don't think motivating people based on their anxieties is in any way un-American. It's part of a grand and important tradition in American politics.

MARANISS: The problem is, is the fear that transcends the election and goes into the governing. And when you govern in fear, it's a mess.

BALDWIN: What about, David, I just want to end with you because I really wanted to ask about Tim Scott. I mean could be the first elected -- he was appointed -- could be the first elected African- American senator. What about all this impact on him?

BRAZILE: Since reconstruction.

MARANISS: Well, that - BALDWIN: In the south. In the south.

DOUTHAT: Since reconstruction.


MARANISS: I mean, I don't think that's any different than Clarence Thomas. I mean race is one important factor in how you judge people but - and, of course, the country is changing and will continue to change on racial issues. But I don't know that Tim Scott representing anything larger than a conservative Republican who happens to be black.

BALDWIN: OK. Donna Brazile, David Maraniss, Ross Douthat, thank you all very, very much. I appreciate it.

DOUTHAT: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Just ahead, liberal hero Jon Stewart says Hillary Clinton is a little too hawkish for him. The comedian just sat down with CNN with a blunt take on today's elections. We'll have Christiane Amanpour to talk about that, coming up.

Also, hear why marijuana could be the game changer in the race for Florida's governor, a race that has gotten incredibly personal. Stay with me.


BALDWIN: I know we're talking so much about these races and the future of many of these candidates obviously on the line today. But as America decides on its leaders, it will also decide on some heated ballot debates. Let me just roll through some of these for you beginning with minimum wage, right? So minimum wage is up for a vote in several states that lean Republican. The federal minimum wage has held at $7.25 since 2009. But you have states like you see like Alaska and Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota could join 12 other states and Washington, D.C., in raising the state minimums. In addition, Illinois is posing a non-binding referendum on the minimum wage.

The next thing, this is something we alluded to in that last segment. This won't play nice with me. Gun control. Gun control where in Washington state there are two dueling measures. Initiative 594 would expand background checks to cover gun sales online and at gun shows, while the other initiative, that's Initiative 591, would prevent background checks on firearm purchases unless required by a national standard. It would also bar the government from confiscating your guns without due process.

And marijuana. Chance to follow in the footsteps of pot pioneer states Washington and Colorado, voters in Alaska and Oregon will be deciding whether to legalize recreational use of marijuana. While, in Washington, D.C., here, they will deciding whether to repeal certain procession penalties and allow limited cultivation. Florida will also decide if medical marijuana should be legal. So the question for Florida right now, will pot help propel Democrat

Charlie Crist back into the role of governor. Crist and his Republican rival, current governor Rick Scott, they are locked in this dead heat, but Democrats are hoping an amendment to legalize medical marijuana will help drive Democrat leaning groups to the polls. CNN's Alina Machado is live for us at the Charlie Crist headquarters in St. Petersburg.

And, Alina, I mean, specifically with this medical marijuana amendment, is that bringing voters out to the polls today?

ALINA MACHADO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, that's the big question of the day. It really is too soon to tell what kind of an impact if any that medical marijuana initiative is having on voter turnout. But we do know that early voting and absentee ballots are up from 2010 from the last midterm election. More than 3.1 million votes have already been cast. More than half of those votes have come from registered Republicans.

And when it comes to the governor's race, a race that is so tight, that is so hotly contested, every vote matters, every vote counts. Surveys of potential voters ahead of Election Day, ahead of today suggests that Democrat Charlie Crist and also incumbent Governor Rick Scott, a Republican, also are tied. Crist and Scott are virtually tied. And those polls also show that most voters have an unfavorable opinion of both candidates.