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PA Secretary Of State: Decision On Republican Senate Recount Likely By Next Tuesday; 2020 Election Denier Wins Republican Nomination For PA Governor; NATO Official: War Momentum Has Shifted In Favor Of Ukraine; Russia Targeting New Howitzers U.S. Gave To Ukraine. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired May 18, 2022 - 15:00   ET


MATT EGAN, CNN REPORTER: Since the Black Monday in 1987 ...


EGAN: ... which is pretty amazing. Wal-Mart also sounded the alarm on inflation just yesterday. Wal-Mart had its worst day since 1987. One market strategist told me that the one-two punch of Target and Wal- Mart triggered what she called a freak out moment for investors, just worried about corporate profitability. So I think if you put all this together, it speaks to a lot of uncertainty right now about the economy.

BLACKWELL: Matt Egan with the good news and the bad news, thank you very much.

Top of a brand new hour on CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Victor Blackwell, thank you for staying with me.

One of the most consequential races of the primaries still too close to call, celebrity Dr. Mehmet Oz and Dave McCormick are likely headed for a recount. But the Pennsylvania Secretary of State says that decision won't come until next Tuesday and the winner will face John Fetterman, who won the Democratic nomination from his hospital bed after pacemaker surgery.

And that Pennsylvania race and others have been largely seen as a referendum on former President Trump, but whether or not his influence has a hold on the Republican Party still very much up for debate. Let's go to North Carolina now. Trump endorsed the incumbent in the 11th congressional district, but to no avail. There will not be a second term for Madison Cawthorn.

In the Pennsylvania governor's race, though, a Trump endorsement brought State Senator Doug Mastriano a win, although he was ahead in polls there before the Trump endorsement. CNN Political Director David Chalian joins me now. So let's start on the Pennsylvania GOP Senate primary. Let's talk about the outstanding votes first, David?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes. Well take a look at where we are. This is about a 2,400 vote race. That's how many votes Mehmet Oz has ahead of David McCormick in this race, Victor. So where are we looking? One key place here is in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. We know that there are potentially thousands of votes out. You see 87 percent of the estimated vote is in. So that's a big chunk of vote that still is going to come in but will it be a place that either candidate, specifically McCormick, who's in second place, can he make up ground?

The two candidates; McCormick and Oz almost splitting evenly in this county with what is already in. The other place to look for that the Oz folks are looking at is here in Philadelphia. It's at 94 percent reporting, so there's some more votes to get here. They feel good that that could maybe pad Oz's lead. But obviously, as you noted, Victor, this is only point 2 percent difference and the law in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is that if a race is within a margin of half a percentage point or less, it triggers an automatic recount. So this is going to take days before we have final resolution to this race, most likely, Victor.

BLACKWELL: All right. Take us back to North Carolina and what happened there.

CHALIAN: Sure. So in the Senate race, Donald Trump-backed Congressman Ted Budd. Look, an overwhelming victory for Budd in this Republican primary for the Senate. This is because Richard Burr is retiring and the seat is open, 58.6 percent to 24.6 percent against Pat McCrory, a former Republican Governor in North Carolina and once seen as a conservative star not so in the Republican primary last night.

And then there is that House race in North Carolina out here in the West, in the Asheville area. That's where Madison Cawthorn after scandal and controversy, after scandal and controversy ended up losing his congressional primary, losing his seat in Congress now to Chuck Edwards, 33.4 percent to 31.9 percent. Here's one where Donald Trump came up on the wrong side in his endorsement scorecard.

BLACKWELL: David, is it fair to suggest or even considering how mixed the bag is that this is a referendum what we watched Tuesday on Trump's staying power?

CHALIAN: Listen, I think there are two ways to think about this, Victor. Donald Trump certainly is keeping score and we can show you now sort of thus far in the month of May what is his track record of candidates he endorsed versus those he didn't endorse and it's a mixed bag. You see there, JD Vance, Alex Mooney in West Virginia, Ted Budd I just mentioned, Doug Mastriano you mentioned, the Republican candidate for governor of Pennsylvania, all had Trump's backing.

He lost some, Charles Herbster in Nebraska, Madison Cawthorn in North Carolina and Janice McGeachin, the lieutenant governor in Idaho who was running against the governor in Idaho in a primary and she lost yesterday. But that's just one way to look at it and Trump would use that as a credential to Republican elected officials or grassroots voters.

But I think the larger way to look at Trump's sway in the GOP is that all these candidates with or without his backing, whether they came in first or second, are running in his image, in a party that is animated by the things Trump has set forth as to what the party should be about. So this is a Republican Party largely in Donald Trump's image.


You didn't see any Republican candidates across the country in the primaries yesterday sort of running as a Mitt Romney Republican.

BLACKWELL: Yes David Chalian, thank you very much.

Let's get more now on the Pennsylvania count. David mentioned Lancaster County there. Our Athena Jones is there now. You've got an update for us, what do you hearing?

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Victor. So as of yesterday morning at 7 am, they discovered 22,000 ballots that needed to be - that were misprinted, needed to be remarked so that they can be fed into the scanners and scan to tabulate the vote. As of this morning, they started out with about 15,000 ballots that needed to remarket and do this whole process on.

They've made about halfway through that. The latest stuff that we got - we just got a few minutes ago, 7,400 of those ballots have been remarked and scanned into machines and counted through these three person teams that are working together in this process.

As for the precincts, Lancaster County is a pretty large county. There are about 240 voting precincts. Last night, they were able to count about or yesterday about 60. They've done a hundred more today. There are about 80 remaining. Some of those are big precincts, but the folks here told me that they believe that it's very much possible that they could finish this by tomorrow, but certainly by Friday here in this county.

We've even been told that folks are expected to stay here till 6 or 7, but may say later if it looks like they're getting really, really close to the end. And, of course, as I mentioned, there are three person teams remarking these ballots. There are also observers from both political parties, Democrats, Republicans, and any campaign who wants to have observers here, including the Oz campaign and the McCormick campaign have people watching this process.

And we're talking about this race, both McCormick and Oz believe they have a path to victory. The Oz campaign looking at Philadelphia and eastern parts of the state. And McCormick's campaign hoping to see him surge with absentee ballots that are remain to be counted. These, of course, are absentee ballots, mail-in ballots.

And so we're watching closely. This is, of course, only one area of the state, but - and it looks like the margin couldn't have been close and causing a recount, but at least here they're making real swift progress and very, very important for them, they say, to focus on accuracy and transparency, Victor.

BLACKWELL: Yes. And as we heard from the Secretary of State there, any recount call will be made on Tuesday at the earliest. Athena Jones for us in Lancaster County, thank you very much.

Let's discuss now with CNN Political Commentator Ana Navarro and CNN Political Analyst Ronald Brownstein. Welcome to you both.

Anna, let me start with you. Your big take away from the primary races last night?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I don't think there's one takeaway, right, because there's really something for anybody. There's some where Trump won, there's some where Trump lost. But I will tell you the - probably the big takeaway is that if you are a moderate, kind of centrist middle of the roader in either party, you are having a very hard time in these primary races. Because what we saw on the Democratic side in places like Oregon, with Schrader who had been endorsed by President Biden and was the moderate with Connor Lamb, who had every Democratic establishment endorsement you can think of in Pennsylvania and was supposed to be this tailor made candidate for Pennsylvania. And they both got shellacked yesterday by progressive candidates.

And on the Republican side, you have McCormick who is the establishment candidate duking it out for his life. If he wins, he owes it to Kathy Barnette, who siphoned votes off of Mehmet Oz. If Mehmet Oz wins, he owes it to Donald Trump. So what I saw was on both sides of the aisle, moderates are getting squeezed out of primaries.

BLACKWELL: Ron, let's turn to the Republican primary for governor in Pennsylvania, the nominee Doug Mastriano. That wasn't even close, though. I mean, yes, the second and third candidates they probably split the moderate vote. But for Republicans in the state who say that he is too extreme, he's too far out to win, general. How do you win the primary by such a large margin?

RONALD BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's the changing composition of the Republican electorate. I mean, that second place candidate Lou Barletta, ostensibly for saying that - the more moderate alternative he came to notice as a hard line and anti- immigrant policies both as a mayor in Pennsylvania later as a member of Congress was one of the first Republican members of Congress to endorse Donald Trump.

I mean, you see the evolution of the Republican electorate in these races and I'm very much with David Chalian. I mean, the issue isn't so much who Donald Trump endorsed the issue is who endorsed Donald Trump. I mean, you saw all of the major candidates so far and all the Republican primaries running in the Trump mold and in part they are doing that because Trump has changed the basis of the Republican electorate. It's a process that began before him but has accelerated under him. It's moved away from white collar, suburban, more culturally moderate economically conservative voters toward more rural blue collar religiously devout voters.


And Mastriano, certainly, identifies to a ominous extent with themes of Christian nationalism. And so the problem that the forces in Republican Party are critical of Trump's directions face is that Trump isn't - is kind of self perpetuating and that the voters are most uneasy about it or less likely to participate and the electoral basis for an alternative approach is eroding in the Republican Party, as we are seeing in these primaries.

BLACKWELL: Ana, let's listen to the Republican nominee for governor of Pennsylvania, Doug Mastriano here.


DOUG MASTRIANO, (R) PROJECTED PA GUBERNATORIAL NOMINEE: They like to call people who stand on the Constitution far right and extreme, I repudiate that. That is crap. That is absolutely not true. On day one, any jobs or job requirements are gone. On day one, CRT is over. On day one, you can only use the bathroom that your biology anatomy says.


BLACKWELL: Ana, the polls show people care about gas prices, food prices, inflation, the economy, why is that his message? I mean, I know he's speaking to his people, but this is the turns towards the general now.

NAVARRO: Because I think that's who he is. I think because he's being authentic as to the right-wing nutcase that he is. He sounds like a commentator on Fox News, not like somebody wanting to be governor of a state that until now has been pretty purple. So I think he was sticking to his points that won him the primary and it is what he's going to run on: CRT, culture wars, manufactured grievances and things that he thinks get his base out. It was one of the looniest, wackiest acceptance speeches I've ever heard in years of listening to acceptance speeches all over this country.

BLACKWELL: Ron, let me ask you, you look closely at the numbers here and I want to focus on North Carolina, Ohio, you've got a new piece in The Atlantic focusing on the shifting demographics and the shifting political affiliations in some of these areas and how that could impact the balance of power in the Senate. Tell us what you know.

BROWNSTEIN: Right. As what we were discussing, I mean, there are two separate issues. The first is the balance of power inside the Republican Party. I mean, if you look at these primaries last night in Pennsylvania, Republicans in the southeast populist part of the state Philadelphia and the four surrounding counties cast about 1/5 of the total primary votes, that's down from about 1/3 in the 1990s and the balance has shifted in the party toward the more blue collar, and more populous areas both around Pittsburgh but also in the middle of the state, the T, as they call it, in Pennsylvania.

And what that does is it shifts the balance of power in Republican primaries from more moderate voters, more moderate candidates to candidates who can appeal to that blue collar populism, particularly with the kind of culture war issues that you were just talking about, Mastriano.

Same thing happened in Ohio when JD Vance wins the three biggest, most populous counties in the States, Franklin, Cuyahoga and Hamilton which are Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati, they cast a smaller share of the primary vote than they used to and the same thing in North Carolina. So you see the basis of the Republican electorate shifting in a way

that makes it harder for candidates to win who aren't appealing to those Trumpian issues of kind of racial and ethnic nationalism and sense of agreement over culture. Now, in the general election, this is a different trade.

I mean, essentially, Republicans are trading suburban votes for rural votes and that has allowed Democrats to tip a number of states in 2020, but the question is whether Democrats can hold those suburban voters at a moment when, as you know, a lot of people are concerned about inflation and whether they can make any inroads at all and to those towering Republican advantages in the non urban areas.

That is what John Fetterman, the Democratic nominee in Pennsylvania, is betting on that he can cut down those margins slightly and it's going to be an important test case for Democrats to see really if there's any way to reverse the cultural hold, the Trumpism is kind of squeezing on those rural voters.

BLACKWELL: Ana, let me get your reaction to this, we've heard from the former president on the Oz-McCormick race and he says, "Listen, Dr. Oz should just declare victory. It makes it much harder for them to cheat with the ballots that they just happen to find." We've seen this show and we've seen where it goes. What do you think about what he's suggesting?

NAVARRO: I think it's a really bad sequel, right? I mean, it's really such a broken record from Donald Trump, but there - one of the things that I saw yesterday which I was surprised about is that Madison Cawthorn actually admitted defeat and conceded the race early on.


And from Trump it's always the same, the same grievance. If you lose, it's because the election is rigged, it's because somebody cheated, it's because you actually did lose - win, but they are taking it away from you. Well, that's not the case and we are seeing that his broken record song is not working.

That being said, I couldn't believe that after everything we've gone through since January 6th, after all of the challenges, I couldn't believe that there were ballots in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, that were misprinted. I mean, those things really should not be happening at this stage of the game.

And Victor, I've got to say, you know, I've got a message for Madison Cawthorn, bye, Felicia. It is it is so good to know that there is at least - that the bar may be low, but that there is a bar and that after so many scandals, after accusing his colleagues of orgies, after sexually explicit videos, after being arrested at the airport, it is so good to know that even though it was only by about 1,300 votes, this guy is out because he really does not belong in Congress.

BLACKWELL: Bye, Felicia, was not on my bingo card for the show today, but there it is. We got ...

NAVARRO: Victor. Victor. Victor. Victor.


NAVARRO: Give me a moment of personal privilege. I want to - I saw you getting emotional the other day when covering the Tops mass shooting and I want to thank you for that. Because I think it is so important that we don't get numb to this, that we continue being sad and then heartbroken and outraged and angry by this endemic, this epidemic of gun violence and mass shootings and racially motivated crimes and killings that are going on in America. So thank you for showing your humanity and showing just what we're all feeling. I thought that was really - I know, it was hard for you and I - you were crying for me too.

BLACKWELL: Ana, thank you very much for saying that. My question is what do we do to stop or prevent the next one. Ana Navarro, Ronald Brownstein, we appreciate the conversation.

NAVARRO: For starter, we call them out.

BLACKWELL: Thank you very much. Thank you, too.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: All right. Let's turn into Ukraine now. A NATO military official says the momentum has significantly shifted in Ukraine's favor, but the stalemate on the battlefield with Russia could last weeks.

And in a key courtroom today, a Russian soldier pleaded guilty in the first war crimes trial since the invasion began.



BLACKWELL: The U.S. flag is flying once again to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. It was raised about an hour and a half ago to mark the official resumption of operations at the U.S. Embassy. NATO officials tell CNN that momentum in the war is shifting to Ukraine's favor but it predict neither side will make significant gains in the coming weeks.

Right now, Russia is aggressively targeting the east trying to overtake the Donetsk region. Now, in Luhansk, Russian forces have swarmed the area with helicopters in an attempt to encircle the town which it merely controls. Ukrainian fighters protecting areas, they still do control, blew up a bridge to block Russian advances.

And meantime, the first war crimes, the trials there began today in Kyiv for a Russian soldier charged with murder but shortly after it began it was postponed. CNN is Melissa Bell is outside Kyiv courthouse. Why was the day changed? Why was it pushed back?

MELISSA BELL, CNN PARIS CORRESPONDENT: There were simply too many journalists in the courtroom, Victor. That's what prevented this first day where we were hearing from Victor Shishimarin, a 21-year-old Russian soldier who's accused of war crimes up from hearing more, so we have to wait until tomorrow. It's been postponed for the time being.

Victor Shishimarin is accused by the prosecution and the big news of today what we managed to hear so far is that he's pleading guilty. He's accused of having killed an unarmed civilian on the fourth day of the war. What happened is that his convoy was attacked, he and several other soldiers escaped in a stolen car, saw the civilian and Victor Shishimarin is accused - Vadim Shishimarin is accused of having shot him.

Now what we discovered today as well is that one of the other soldiers traveling in the car with him is also going to be testifying, although we'll have to wait until tomorrow to hear what his testimony is. And that is significant because it isn't simply one Ukrainian prisoner of war from the Russian side that we're going to be hearing from, but a Russian prisoner of war - a second Russian prisoner of war as well.

And remember that this is happening, of course, in the context of the freeing over the course, the evacuation of the course of the last 24 hours of those Azovstal fighters from the Mariupol defense. You'll remember that these are the fighters that were holed up in the Azovstal steel plant that have been crucial in trying to defend the city of Mariupol and whose evacuation meant that potentially, the city felt entirely to the Russian side.

What we've been hearing from the Russian side today and in particular from the leader of the Donetsk People's Republic, where there's nearly 1,000 evacuated Azovstal fighters currently are is that it is possible that they are now put on trial. It isn't simply going to be the prisoner swap that we had expected. A huge disappointment on Ukrainian side, but it adds a whole other layer of complication to the trial currently going on here in Kyiv, Victor.

BLACKWELL: Melissa Bell for us there in the capital, thank you.

The Russian Defense Ministry claims that it hit U.S.-provided howitzers in Ukraine.


Now, this military equipment was struck in the Donbas region. Right now it's not clear if any of the weapons were damaged in the attack. Let's talk now about the significance though with me now CNN Military Analyst, Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling.

General, welcome back. And we just got some video in from the Russian Foreign Ministry they say of attacking those howitzers. These are the long range weapons. First, obviously bad news as it relates to resources for the Ukrainians. But this strategy, we were talking last week or the week before about hitting the infrastructure moving the weapons, not the weapons themselves. What do you see is the significance of this attack?

MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: We're talking about a counter artillery fight, Victor. We've mentioned this before, it's now happening. The Russians have a film allegedly of a couple of M777s being struck. I would expect that, truthfully, this is a back and forth and what we see is the grounds just like you're showing in those pictures are area fire weapons by the Russians. They are not hitting precisely on the gun system.

And in fact, what I would also say is the Russian gun systems are normally self-propelled. What I mean by that is, they are on a trailer, a track vehicle, the crew is inside a compartment firing the guns, these guns that you're seeing, the one you're pointing at right now is a towed piece of artillery. They are more difficult to hit, the crew isn't always nearby or inside of the vehicle because there is no vehicle. So yes, there's going to be these kind of counter fire operations, but truthfully, I think the M777 that Ukrainian artillery piece has the upper hand in this fight.

BLACKWELL: Generally, let's talk about the fight in the east over the Donetsk region here in the Donbas. We learned from military leaders in that region, they say that the shelling has been day and night nonstop. But as it relates to actual Russian advances, there haven't been many and in fact, they were going in one direction and because they took so many losses, veered off into another. What do you see of the significance of this attempt, but another failure from Russia?

HERTLING: Yes. I think what we're seeing is the attempt to move forces as you just said, Victor, and it's not only in the Donetsk region, it's also in the Luhansk region all along the front in the Donbas. And what we have repeatedly seen and intelligence reports are saying this, is that the Russian attacks, their offensive maneuvers are not well-planned or well-executed.

The precision weapons that the Ukrainians now have on their side are targeting those convoys, those maneuvers, which aren't very, truthfully, very dramatic in the way they are attacking. It's not a true maneuver warfare where normally you have artillery strike first, you have air cover, you have - obscure your move and suppress the enemy, that's not happening.

What the Russians are doing are just moving around the battlefield. They're not maneuvering, they're just moving, which means they're not firing very well. I think Ukraine, again, I'll say this, that Ukraine has the advantage because they are targeting the systems with some very good intelligence, some overhead platforms and they are bringing precision weapons to bear on those Russian forces.

BLACKWELL: Gen. Mark Hertling always good to have your perspective. Thank you.

HERTLING: Thank you, Victor.

BLACKWELL: Well, days after the racist mass shooting in Buffalo, New York's Governor just announced a new domestic terrorism unit to address the rise in homegrown extremism. Next, I talk with a reformed white supremacist about the growing threat.