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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Polling Models Forecast GOP Senate Takeover; Extremists Overwhelm U.S.-backed Rebels

Aired November 04, 2014 - 04:30   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: We are just hours, really minutes away in some places, before voters finally get to decide who controls Congress for the next two years. Late polling shows Republicans with a good shot to take control of the Senate, but Democrats not backing down. So many of the races way too close to call this morning. A heated midterm election that could be a nailbiter not just to the very end but past the very end -- overtime that could last until January. We will break down the races and last minute pushes, and states that could decide the whole ball game.

Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Christine Romans. Thirty minutes past the hour. And let me tell you -- this is why elections matter, because they are so close. They are so close, every vote counts today.

Election Day 2014. Here we go. And this big prize this morning is the U.S. Senate. Will the Republicans pick up the six seats they need to control the chamber?

A lot of the late polls give them reason to hope. But there are at least a half dozen races within a margin of error essentially tied. There's even a good chance that even after the Election Day, the Senate will hang on the balance with runoffs will lead to political overtime that could last until January.

The man who wants to be the next Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, on the trail for last-minute campaigning in Kentucky. Polls show him inching ahead of the Democratic opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes.

While McConnell attended one event and expressed confidence he will win. Grimes barn-stormed the state and compared herself to David fighting Goliath.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), KENTUCKY: We have a unique opportunity here with the extraordinary partner of mine in the Senate to be an enormously influential position, not only for our state, but for the country. We could have, for the second time in our history, the majority leader of the Senate setting the agenda for America and taking us in a new direction.

ALISON LUNDERGAN GRIMES (D), KENTUCKY SENATE CANDIDATE: You know that after 30 years, three decades of Mitch McConnell, we deserve better. We're coming down the home stretch. Let me tell you, this strong independent Kentucky woman, I got kick still left in me. I'm not giving up.


BERMAN: They really fight for the last second. One of the tightest of the most unpredictable races, Kansas. The Republican incumbent Pat Roberts and independent Greg Orman virtually tied in the latest polls. Orman accuses his three-term opponent of spending too much time in Washington, and too long there.

While Roberts links Orman to President Obama, even though Orman has refused to say which party that he will caucus with if elected.


GREG ORGMAN (I), KANSAS SENATE CANDIDATE: We feel really confident that the voters of Kansas are going to take this historic opportunity to send a message to Washington, that you can't just go and there hide behind your party label. You actually have to roll up your sleeves, go to work and get things done for the people of Kansas.

SEN. PAT ROBERTS (R), KANSAS: We're going to win this race and we're going to win it because people know the difference. It is so much more than about me. It's about getting a Republican majority in the United States Senate and saying whoa to the Obama agenda.


BERMAN: Whoa, saying whoa.

ROMANS: Let's say whoa in New Hampshire, where razor close margin where incumbent Democrat Jean Shaheen and former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown more or less tied in the most recent polls, although most prognosticators say this still leans Democratic.

In his campaign to return to the Senate, Brown has tried to tie her to President Obama. Just like many other Republicans this election cycle. He's also run ads highlights the threats from ISIS and Ebola.

BERMAN: Also too close to call, the Senate race in Colorado. A Quinnipiac poll released Monday shows the Democratic incumbent Mark Udall perhaps making a last minute surge against Republican challenger Cory Gardner. Gardner has really been ahead in most of the polls over the last several weeks.

Last week, this Quinnipiac poll had Gardner up by seven points, on Monday, he was also ahead by two with the polls with the poll's 3 1/2 margin of error. That puts it awfully, awfully close. This one too worth watching to the very, very end.

ROMANS: One of the tightest races in the country is Iowa. So tight, Taylor Swift has come up as an issue. Republican Joni Ernst and Democrat Bruce Braley slugging it out for a Senate being vacated by retiring incumbent, Tom Harkin. Harkin interjecting unintended controversy over the weekend.

CNN's Pamela Brown is in Iowa with more on that.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John and Christine, the stakes are high for the race in Iowa because whoever wins today could tip the balance of power in the Senate. It's been a very tight race, extremely competitive, neck and neck. It remains a toss up.

In fact, a record number of Iowans have voted early this year, more than 400,000. The Democrats have had a steady advantage, but not as much as they would like. At least check, they were up around 7,000. But to put it in perspective, in 2010 midterms, they had tripled that lead over the Republicans.

It's important for them with the early voting numbers because Republicans typically have more votes on Election Day.

When talking to both camps, it is very clear that they're confident each side is going to win, that their candidate is going to cross the finish line as a winner. The polls have consistently showed them close except for one this past Saturday. It was a bombshell from "The Des Moines Register", showing the Republican candidate Joni Ernst up seven points over her contender, Bruce Braley, the Democrat in this race.

The Democrats looked at the polls. Republicans say that gave the momentum they need heading into the Election Today.

Also some controversy has been brewing with Senator Tom Harkin, the Democrat who is vacating the Iowa Senate seat, and Joni Ernst. Take a listen to this.


SEN. TOM HARKIN (D), IOWA: You know in this Senate race, I have been watching some of the ads. There is this sort of sense that there is so much. Joni Ernst, she is really attractive. And she sounds nice. Well, I got to thinking about that. I don't care if she is as good- looking as Taylor Swift or as nice as Mr. Rogers. If she votes like Michele Bachmann, she's wrong for the state of Iowa.


BROWN: So, in response to those comments from Tom Harkin, Joni Ernst said she was offended. If she were a man, he would never have said that. Just like Taylor Swift, she's going to shake it off. Bottom line here, you can feel the intensity heat up between the two camps on this Election Day. It's going to be a nail biter -- John and Christine.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BERMAN: All right. Our thanks to Pamela Brown in Iowa.

Louisiana right now, very complicated to keep track down there. Why? Because it Mary Landrieu or Bill Cassidy don't get above 50 percent, it goes to a runoff.

There is a Tea Party candidate. Rob Maness enough votes from the leading candidates that this really could go into overtime. It would be decided in a December runoff. Cassidy right now doing his best to highlight the national implications of the race and Landrieu trying to keep the focus local.


REP. BILL CASSIDY (R), LOUISIANA: Louisiana may determine which party controls the United States Senate.

SEN. MARY LANDRIEU (D), LOUISIANA: This is about who is going to be the senator leading Louisiana for the next six years.


ROMANS: All right. To North Carolina now. Neck and neck race for the Senate seat there. Democratic Senator Kay Hagan clinging to a 2- point lead in recent polls. She and the Republican challenger Thom Tillis, they have spent tens of millions of dollars on TV advertising. But in the last few days of the campaign, they have been emphasizing their ground game.


SEN. KAY HAGAN (D), NORTH CAROLINA: I've got 100 locations across North Carolina right now, with 10,000 volunteers hitting the pavement and knocking on doors, reminding people the difference in this race and the importance of exercising our constitutional right to vote.


ROMANS: She has sort of distanced herself a bit from the president in this election. But, overnight, he is doing a radio ad for her.

BERMAN: Radio ad up now in North Carolina for Kay Hagan.

ROMANS: But no, they're focusing in on the tide that want the people to support the president to get out for Kay Hagan this morning.

BERMAN: It's very hard to track radio ads also, so you may not know where the president's radio as he's going up around the country.

Going to Alaska right now, a very tight race between incumbent Democrat Mark Begich and the Republican Dan Sullivan. This race is drawing so much money from both sides, that it is likely to break records for outside spending.

And analysis by the Brennan Center, pegged spending by groups unaffiliated with either campaign, at $39 million so far. That's practically $1 million for every voter in the state of Alaska. No, I'm making that up. The state has a small population. This makes it the sixth most expensive Senate campaign in history for outsider spending.

The high stakes have drawn big names to the candidates. Mitt Romney made his pitch on Monday.


MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This state matters. It makes a big deal for people here in Alaska and people frankly all over this country because of the impact of what happens in this Senate race.


BERMAN: CNN's Drew Griffin is in Anchorage this morning with more on this race.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT REPORTER: John and Christine, good morning from a cold but at least clear Anchorage, Alaska. The big race, of course, here is the U.S. Senate race. The Senate race between the Democratic incumbent Mark Begich and his Republican challenger Dan Sullivan.

And right now, this appears to be the Republican Sullivan's race to lose. He is up in most of the polls. Turnout shows that it should be favorable to his position. And we expect that this race will be decided, there's not going to be runoff. The question is when.

The polls close here in Alaska at 8:00 local time which is midnight back on the East Coast. They won't be counting the ballots until 1:00 a.m. So, it's going to be a very, very long day of voting and very long, long night of waiting while the nation waits to see if this is one of those pivotal Senate races that could flip the Senate.

The big issue here also in Alaska is the governor. It looks like the incumbent governor is in trouble. He was facing a big challenge from an independent but Republican leaning challenger.

Also, we have two ballot measures. One would raise the minimum wage up $2 over the next two years. That seems like it's headed for passage and a much tighter race over whether or not Alaska should allow recreational use of marijuana.

All that to be decided today. A very long, cold, but clear day in most of Alaska.

Back to you, guys.


ROMANS: The ballot measures are interesting in Alaska and elsewhere. All right. While control of the U.S. Senate is the big prize in the midterm, some of the closest are among 36 governor races. Heading into Election Day, nearly one-third of the races considered too close to call. That, too, brought out the star power.

In Florida, Democratic challenger Charlie Crist, who used to be a Republican, is in a dead heat with incumbent Republican Governor Rick Scott. Crist brought Bill Clinton on the final day of campaigning. The former president appearing with Crist at a rally in Orlando Monday night.

BERMAN: You've got to check out the schedule that Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton have had been keeping the last month. It is crazy. They have been everywhere.

Also everywhere, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in Connecticut and Michigan on Monday to support Republican governor candidates in those races. At a rally for Michigan's incumbent, Rick Snyder, Governor Christie Snyder has been transformational for Michigan. Christie chairs the Republican Governors Association. He has been crossing the country in campaign mode for candidates. There may be something in it for him as well.

ROMANS: The Cook Political Report says there are more incumbent governors in a toss up.

BERMAN: Anytime before.

ROMANS: Really interesting.

BERMAN: Chris Christie, by the way, the 16th state he visited so far.

ROMANS: Sixteenth.

In Maryland, First Lady Michelle Obama giving lieutenant governor Anthony Brown's campaign a last-minute boost against his Republican rival Larry Hogan. At a rally in Baltimore, Mrs. Obama praised Brown for his work on education. She said the governor's race is close, she told Brown supporters take nothing for granted.

BERMAN: And as this critical midterm election unfolds today, President Obama is expected to be at home. The president has no public events on his schedule. The sagging approval rating both nationally and key states has seen Democratic candidates avoiding the president. Whether or not that is effective campaign strategy, we shall see.

ROMANS: All right. Voters have contributed $6 billion this campaign cycle, $6 billion. More than a quarter of that comes from the tiniest slice of the population, about 30 people, you may recognize the biggest donors. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg gave $2.2 million. Hedge fund manager Paul Singer gave $5.3 million to Republicans. Then George Soros gave $2.5 million to Democrats. And $78 million went to 63 percent of Republican candidates. They are backing Republicans, Wall Street is.

Time for an early start of your money.

U.S. stock futures up slightly, very close to records. Oil prices are falling, 77 bucks a barrel right now. That's the lowest in four years.

Forty-three minutes past the hour. ISIS terrorists slaughtering hundreds. They're stepping up mass executions as U.S. airstrikes slow.

We are live with what is happening right now, next.


ROMANS: ISIS on the rampage in Iraq. It has been a bloodbath. More than 300 members of a Sunni tribe slaughtered in recent days, women and children among the dead. Many of these victims lined up in the village north of Ramadi and then gunned down publicly one by one.

The Obama administration's Syria strategy suffering a setback. Extremist fighters overwhelming U.S.-backed rebels near the border with Turkey.

I want to bring in Nick Paton Walsh. He is live for us from southern Turkey this morning, bringing us up to speed on all these developments.

Good morning, Nick.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christine, what you are referring to is two key moderate Syrian rebel groups that have the movement in the revolutionary front. Now, the U.S. aid to them is minor. They are not big players in the Syrian civil war. But they were basically that one hope that the U.S. policy had here. They build their mark on them, and suddenly, they would, the hope was, be able to take on the extremists.

But what's happened after the airstrikes that hit one of the al Qaeda affiliates in Syria, the Nusra front, considered a terror organization by the U.S., Nusra have move against these moderates in the past week, pushed them out of town as they consider to be the strongholds and even claiming to seize the weaponry which many say are supplied by the U.S. or U.S. allies. So, a key moment here certainly, big undermining problem for the U.S. policy here. And it shows how radicals are sweeping to power across the entirety of this war.

You mentioned the rising death toll from Iraq, 300 killed. I should point out, we're talking potentially, according to Iraqi officials, about six women and nine children amongst those dead as well. These massacres ISIS perpetrated is just another sign of how extraordinary, grotesquely radical this violence here in Iraq has become -- Christine.

ROMANS: The theme nature of that barbarism is just shocking, is shocking every time.

Nick Paton Walsh, thank you. BERMAN: Forty-eight minutes after the hour.

Did Ferguson officials restrict air space over the town to stop the press from covering the Michael Brown shooting protests? Police go on the record about these accusations, next.


BERMAN: Administration officials speaking out against a controversial no-fly zone put in place over Ferguson, Missouri. The ban was imposed on the city for nearly two weeks in August. It restricted news helicopters from covering the violent protests there in the wake of Michael Brown's death. "The Associated Press" obtained tapes which you hear the police working with the FAA to keep the media away.

Something that is not sitting well with Attorney General Eric Holder.


ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Transparency I think is always a good thing. And the American people need to understand what happened for instance or what is happening in Ferguson. Anything that would artificially inhibit the ability of news gatherers to do what they do is something that needs to be avoided.


BERMAN: St. Louis County police chief said the safety restrictions were prompted by reports of gunfire. He also said the conversations on the tape were, quote, "out of context".

ROMANS: It could be another day or two before the power is back for more than 100,000 people in Maine. A surprised early season snow brought down trees and power lines. As much as two feet fell in some areas, prompting Maine's governor to declare a state of emergency. Spokesman for Central Maine Power says the electricity may be out in polling places on Tuesday. Election officials are ready to improvise with generators and portable heaters where necessary. It happened in Sandy. Remember?

BERMAN: It sure did.

ROMANS: All right. Pot is already legal in Colorado and Washington. That could spread to more states after today. We get an early start on your money next.


ROMANS: Let's get an early start on your money this election day. U.S. stock futures higher, still very close to records. A bit of a retreat yesterday, but very close to records.

Wall Street has put its money behind Republicans this mid term. We could see stocks climb if Republicans do well today. That's one of the theories out there. Oil prices are falling this morning. Crude oil is $77 a barrel. Look at that chart. That's the lowest in four years. Oil prices down

about 30 percent from summer highs.

Marijuana may become legal in a few more places today. Voters in Alaska, Oregon, and D.C. deciding whether to legalize recreational marijuana. It looks like those measures have a pretty good chance of passing. In Florida, medical marijuana is up for a vote.

If most of this -- get a yes votes, it could build momentum for legalization.

Should millionaires pay extra taxes? It's a question voters in Illinois will answer today. It is a non binding vote. It measures public support for additional 3 percent tax on income over $1 million. In theory, that revenue would go to fund schools. The state's finances are in bad shape. Income tax rate will fall in January.

But some say the non binding vote is a ploy to get Democrats to the polls to help out there. Interesting.

BERMAN: All right. EARLY START continues on this election day right now.