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Interview With Texas Senator John Cornyn; Election Day

Aired November 04, 2014 - 15:00   ET



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-KY), 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.


SCOTT 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.

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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.


ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Good afternoon. I'm Erin Burnett.

Welcome to a special Election Day edition of NEWSROOM, down to the wire today, just hours away from our first poll results in what is shaping up to be an incredibly unpredictable Election Day.

At stake, there are 36 governorship, all 453 seats in the House of Representatives, and the big question tonight is who wins the Senate. There are 36 seats are up in the Senate for control of the chamber and therefore control of the entire U.S. Congress could very well swing to the Republicans.

The GOP needs to gain just six seats. Now, there are 10 key races that could decide it all. Our team is covering the key races and states throughout the day and tonight.

Miguel Marquez is in North Carolina. Nick Valencia is in Georgia, Kyung Lah in Kansas, and Joe Johns in Kentucky.

I want to begin there in Kentucky there with you, Joe.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is in the fight of his political life. If he wins, he could keep it all, keep his seat, majority leader in the Senate, but if he loses, wow, a huge personal loss and for the entire party.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, a little bit of a glitch here in Kentucky earlier this morning. Floyd County, the eastern part of the state, they weren't able to boot up some of the voting machines. But over the weekend, McConnell seemed to be running strong, pulling away from the Democrat.

There is a picture being that is being circulated on social media right now that sort of tells the story of the race. Senator McConnell voting in Louisville this morning, a man behind him giving the thumbs- down sign. In Louisville, where they were voting, in Lexington and Frankfort, that's seen as more of Democrat territory.

But out in the country, in the urban areas, that's where Senator McConnell is expected to have his strength. A lot of the voters I have talked to here have said they don't really like Senator McConnell, they don't seem him as particularly popular. Nonetheless, there is grudging admiration, if you will, that he has good political skills and gets the job done for Kentucky.

For Alison Grimes, who also voted here in Lexington, it's been an uphill climb all the way. They're hoping that they will see more new voters and people who have not come into the system before to try to push her closer to the victory. She's predicting that she will win a close race, but right now a lot of the polls suggest that's very much in doubt -- Erin, back to you.

BURNETT: All right, Joe Johns, thanks to you.

And joining me now is the second most powerful Republican in the Senate, Senator John Cornyn of Texas.

Senator, good to have you with us.

I want to start though with Vice President Joe Biden. I don't know if you heard, but earlier today, he said, look, the Democrats are going to hold the Senate. They're going to do it with 52 seats. He says that, in Kansas, the independent candidate Greg Orman is going to win and he's going to choose to go ahead and caucus with the Democrats. That how he gets to his 52. Is he right?

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: No, he's not. I think we will get an early indication tonight in New Hampshire, North Carolina and Georgia what's happening, how big the wave is.

If we pick up two or three of those seats, then I think it's going to be a big wave and a big night.

BURNETT: All right, so you're looking at -- and some of those obviously with the Eastern Time Zone, you're not waiting all the way until we get to the Alaska issue or even down South, so New Hampshire, North Carolina, Georgia.

You also of course are up for reelection tonight, Senator. The latest polling shows you not one of these tightly contested races. You're ahead 57 percent to 35 percent against your Democratic opponent.

If you win, you though stand to gain a great deal of power, if your prediction comes true, if you get the Senate, if you get those six seats in the Senate. You're now number two in terms of Republican power in the Senate. Will you run for majority whip if your party wins those six seats?

CORNYN: Well, I will. And I look forward to work with the new majority leader, Mitch McConnell, to change the Senate back to what it used to be, which was the world's greatest deliberative body, where Democrats and Republicans, people in majority, people in minority actually got a chance to offer good ideas and get votes on them in the Senate. That hasn't happened under Harry Reid.

And I think there's bipartisan disappointment, to put it mildly, with the way the Senate is being run, and we need new management. And I think there will be bipartisan accord when it comes to actually getting the Senate back to doing the country's business once again.

BURNETT: So, there's a couple things I want to ask you about that.

First of all, though, let me ask you about something. Ted Cruz is where I'm going here. But before I get specifically to Ted Cruz in terms of his leadership, he told "The Washington Post" this weekend that he would not pledge his support to Mitch McConnell for Republican leader.

Is that where you're going? If McConnell wins that race that we were just hearing about and the GOP wins the Senate, will you back McConnell?

CORNYN: I will.

Mitch McConnell has got the most experience. He's one of the sharpest minds. He's been a good leader for the Republican Conference in the Senate. And I think we need somebody who will return the Senate back to its traditions, where we actually are trying to solve problems and working on a bipartisan basis to put legislation on the president's desk.

As I said, that hadn't happened under Harry Reid. I think that will resolve a lot of people's concerns about the Senate and about Congress.

BURNETT: And those are the concerns people have. Maybe that's part of the reason people just basically ignored this election until the last minute, right? They're so disenfranchised with what has been happening in Washington, which brings me to someone like Ted Cruz, who has rallied a lot of people to his cause.

But when he speaks, it's about let's repeal health care, going down paths like that. That sets up a gridlock scenario. That doesn't set up passing major legislation and moving things forward. Is Ted Cruz somebody that is going to hurt the Republican Party, you get that power and then you can't pass anything because you have Ted Cruz there?

CORNYN: Our party is big enough for the whole spectrum of approaches we have from the right to the left. And what we need to do is actually to have a chance to vote. Nobody is guaranteed a right to win every vote, but you are given an opportunity to propose your ideas and get that vote.

I think health care, Obamacare has been a disaster for the American people. I believe it's more likely we will have a step-by-step approach to dismantling it and then replacing it with consumer- oriented, more cost-effective health care that won't interfere with the doctor-patient relationship.

That's what the American people want, and that's what our goal is to provide.

BURNETT: All right, we will see if you and Senator Cruz can work together on that one.

Thank you so much, Senator Cornyn.

CORNYN: Thank you, Erin.

BURNETT: And coming up, the North Carolina Senate race, the Democratic incumbent has gotten a last-minute push from President Obama. Is it too little too late? You just heard Senator Cornyn saying North Carolina, it's crucial, it matters. Big prediction coming up after this.

And we're counting the down to the first exit polls.

Stay with us.


BURNETT: It is Election Day in America. The battle for Senate control could come down to North Carolina, one of the most watched and expensive races in the country, which is saying something. This is the most expensive race in history. Democratic Senator Kay

Hagan is locked in a dead heat against the Republican Thom Tillis. And in the 11th hour, Hagan, who had distanced herself from President Obama, got some last-minute support from the president.


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 4.

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


BURNETT: Miguel Marquez is live in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Miguel, polls close at 7:30, meaning this race should give us one of the first glimpses into how things will go tonight. And you just heard Senator Cornyn say what he's looking at? North Carolina.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, and a lot of folks are looking at North Carolina. We should have a pretty good idea shortly after those polls close as to how this is going to go.

Look, despite all of that money spent in this race, the two candidates, if I may borrow a Southernism, it is tight as a tick here. So the difference may come on the margins basically. You have a libertarian candidate, Sean Haugh, who is running sort of a lackluster, bizarre, out-there sort of campaign, pizza -- former pizza man who wants to be a senator here.

He's not pulling a lot of votes, but he's pulling just enough possibly to make the difference. He's pulling about 4 percent, and the margin of difference between the top two candidates, Tillis and Hagan, has been about 2 percent all the way along.

From early voting, I can tell you that the unaffiliated voters are way up, about 84 percent from 2010 midterm election. Democrats are up about 23 percent. African-American voters -- and that's why you see the president coming out and making that pitch to African-American voters right now. They're seeing -- Democrats are clearly seeing some momentum here in North Carolina.

African-American voters, participation up 44 percent in early voting here, Republicans only up 4.8 percent participation in early voting here. So, those polls close at 7:30. Pretty quickly, we're going to have a big tranche of votes coming in around 7:30 with all those early and absentee voters.

And then we're going to start seeing those precincts report out. By 8:00, 8:30, we should have a pretty good sense of how North Carolina is going to go -- Erin.

BURNETT: And, of course, the nation will be watching for that. Could swing the balance for the entire Senate

All right, thanks very much to Miguel.

I want to bring in Mo Elleithee, communications director at the Democratic National Committee, and Sean Spicer, director at the Republican National Committee.

OK, great to have both of you on.

Mo, let me start with you. You just heard Miguel giving the latest there from North Carolina. Look, you have Senator Cornyn saying it. You have Paul Begala telling me last night North Carolina is a must- win for Democrats, Cornyn saying a must win for Republicans. It really could come down to this. Can Democrats pull a win off from there?


I think it is one of those races that is incredibly tight, has been incredibly tight for a long time . But we're seeing some really, really strong indications out of there. We put a lot into the ground game and into the early vote. And it's one of those states where I think it's really, really pulling off.

And I think Senator Hagan has been consistently ahead, narrowly so, but ahead. So, we feel pretty good. I think it's going to go well for us tonight, but it's going to be one of those that we're going to be watching I think fairly late.

BURNETT: All right.

And, Sean, the race in North Carolina could hinge on the African- American turnout. This has been crucial when you look at the state over the past two presidential elections. President Obama got 95 percent of the black vote in 2008, 96 percent in 2012.

Kay Hagan's campaign, look, they went heavy on this. They didn't use the president obviously until today, which could be a big issue. But otherwise they had 150 captains, as they call, owners of black small businesses to help register voters. Do you think that could be enough? Did Thom Tillis do enough to reach out to this crucial bloc of African-American voters?

SEAN SPICER, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Well, I think it's not just that particular bloc of voters. Right?

It's every voter. And I think Thom Tillis has been around that state. We have got a phenomenal ground game in North Carolina. I think we entered -- if you look at where we were in 2012, the last election, we came in with a huge deficit of early vote. We overcame that. Mitt Romney won North Carolina by 90,000 votes.

We feel a lot better where we are today than we did in 2012, so I'm pretty confident going into the night that we're going to pull out a victory there.

BURNETT: Mo, what about the question though about this radio ad? The president just -- just getting involved here at the last hour, right, for Kay Hagan.

Is it too late for that? I mean, obviously, when you look at the state, this state is a state where when you look at the African- American voter bloc, the president has a lot of influence and a lot of power. Did she wait too late to use him?

ELLEITHEE: No, I don't think so.

I think Senator Hagan has making a case on her own merits for a long time and been communicating pretty aggressively with the African- American community, as well as all communities, ever since this campaign began. Look, when you're a candidate running for office, you have got to make your own argument. Having the president come in as a closer at the very end I think helps a lot.

But she had to win these votes on her own. I think she is. I think she is running up strong numbers in the community. And I think that's going to pay off tonight.

BURNETT: Well, I got to give you credit. That's a good spin on why to not have the president come and campaign for you, best I have ever heard it.

ELLEITHEE: I don't think it's spin.

BURNETT: You make -- people have obviously been criticizing him or saying, look, he's not there because he's not that popular. But you make a really good case.

Each of you, I know it's not just North Carolina. There are other cases you're looking at. We all are aware this could go all the way into January if you have to deal with runoffs.

Mo, what's the next race that's the most important to you tonight?

ELLEITHEE: Look, there's obviously a lot that we're keeping an eye on. I think Georgia is a really interesting state.

This is a state that, demographically, has been shifting our way for some time. I think people thought it would be the next Virginia or next North Carolina within the next couple of cycles. It may be there now, where you have got very competitive Senate and governor race, both of which are too close to call, in a midterm year. I think Georgia is going to end up being a battleground state for quite some time.

We also have really interesting races in New Hampshire, really interesting race, we have talked about North Carolina, in Iowa, where the feel like the ground game has helped our candidates pull ahead.

BURNETT: Sean, your states? SPICER: Well, the first thing I would say with respect to Georgia is,

look, Saxby Chambliss was in a runoff six years ago. There's been eight runoffs in Georgia since 1990. We have won all of eight of them. So, I think we will be able to pull off a win tonight. But if we do go into a runoff, again, we have gone eight for eight since 1990.

The idea that this is somehow a phenomena that Georgia is a tight race is silly. Like I said, you can't have that many close runoffs statewide since 1990 and suddenly think there is this massive shift in Georgia. But I would agree that we're looking at Colorado and Iowa. Those are two purple states that we have got great candidates in, where we have invested a great amount on the ground and I feel very good going into election tonight.

BURNETT: All right, well, I'm curious to see how it's going to go when you both win North Carolina, because you both said you are. I don't know what we're going to do when everyone wins in North Carolina.


BURNETT: Thanks to both of you.

And coming up, Vice President Biden making a very bold prediction about one of the year's most closely watched races.

Plus, Scott Brown stunning Massachusetts in 2010 when he won that Senate seat. Could he be about to pull another upset in New Hampshire?


BURNETT: Here's where we stand right now.

We're less than two hours away from the first CNN exit polls. This is an historic election. It could grant Republicans control of the Senate. Vice President Joe Biden though just made a very bold prediction in one oft most closely watched Senate races in the country in Kansas.

Now, this is a really interesting race. There's an independent candidate, Greg Orman, in a statistical dead heat with a Republican incumbent, Pat Roberts. Here's the thing, though. Orman won't say which party he will caucus with. Here's what Biden told a Connecticut radio station today.


BIDEN: You know, we have a chance of picking up an independent who will be with us in the state of Kansas.


BURNETT: Be with us. That means caucusing with the Democrats. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest says the vice president is --

quote -- "braver than I am" to make a prediction about Democratic wins or losses tonight.

Kyung Lah is live in Overland Park, Kansas.

Kyung, obviously, the vice president, never one to shy away from being bold and doing things that others are not willing to do, but obviously this is a significant statement to say that they're going to have Kansas, that Greg Orman will win, that he will caucus with the Democrats. What are you hearing?

KYUNG LAH, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's a surprise to Greg Orman, because he's not saying which side he's going to caucus with. He's not saying he's going to align with the Republicans or the Democrats.

And that ambiguity, his independence is what is driving some of these people to come out here and vote. There is an energy behind the senatorial race, because the rise of the independent is something new to Kansas. People here in 2010 swung to the Tea Party.

Well, after electing a Republican governor, Sam Brownback, he's enacted some tax cuts, there have been some budget shortfalls. It's laid the groundwork for what we're seeing, a U.S. Senate race of a Republican, a deeply Washington Republican, Senator Pat Roberts, vs. the independent Greg Orman.

So, he's not saying. People are a little suspicious, Erin. I did speak to a voter who said she's not sure if she's going to vote for this guy because she doesn't know which way he's going to go. But he is saying is he's going to vote according to Kansas. He's going to caucus for Kansas, period -- Erin.

BURNETT: Well, we will see. And, obviously, wow, how fascinating that could be if he ends up being the most powerful person in American politics in many ways.

All right, Kyung Lah, thank you.

And coming up, two more key Senate races, New Hampshire too close to call. And Georgia, could it be headed for a runoff? Now, if there is a runoff in Georgia, everybody, you're looking at January before we know who's in charge in this country. And the Clintons have blanketed all the key races for Democratic candidates. President Obama though held back. Which strategy will pay off?


BURNETT: And welcome back to our 2014 election coverage here at CNN.

The stakes are high, voters casting ballots through the day today. The first exit polls close in just an hour-and-a-half, which is going to going offer the very first glimpse at the election that will determine the balance of power in Washington. Republicans need to gain six seats in the Senate. That's the math.

There are 10 key races that are up for grabs. Two of the major battleground states are New Hampshire and Georgia.

And I want to start with Brian Todd, who is in Manchester, New Hampshire, for us this afternoon.

Brian, the Democrat incumbent, Jeanne Shaheen, is facing Scott Brown. And obviously he's become a name many know around the country, because he won that Senate battle in Massachusetts.


BURNETT: Why has this race become a dead heat? Why is this such a must-keep for the Dems tonight?

TODD: It's a must-keep, Erin, because of what you just mentioned.

The Republicans only need six seats, net gain, to retake control of the Senate. Three of those are considered sure things. Three others are consider very likely. So, that leaves almost no margin for defeat anywhere else for the Democrats. And this is a place where the Democratic incumbent is vulnerable.

Jeanne Shaheen is in a virtual tie with Scott Brown going into today. Depending on what poll you look at, she's ahead by maybe two points. We looked at another poll. Scott Brown was ahead by two points. It is a razor-thin margin. And they need to keep this seat to have the best chance they can of retaining control of the Senate. This is a must-keep for the Democrats tonight. And it is razor-thin, Erin.

BURNETT: All right, thank you very much, Brian.