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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Will Republicans Take Over the Senate?; Extremists Overwhelm U.S.-Backed Rebels, Andre Luck & Colts Dominate Giants

Aired November 04, 2014 - 05:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: polls opening in about an hour in some places. Voters set to cast ballots in the hard-fought mid term races that could drastically shake up the makeup of Congress. Republicans, they want control of the Senate. But races across the country, so many of them too close to call. Some candidates just neck and neck.

In the race could come down to the unlikely states in the country deciding it all. We will break it down for you.

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

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Christine Romans. It's Tuesday, November 4th. Election Day, 5:00 a.m. in the East.

Here we go -- Election Day 2014. This morning, the big prize is the U.S. Senate. Will the Republicans pick up the six seats they need to control the chamber? A lot of the polls giving Republicans reason to hope, but there are at least a half dozen races within the margin of error, essentially tied.

There's even a good chance that after Election Day, the Senate will hang in the balance. Runoffs leading to political overtime that could last until January.

The man who wants to be the next majority leader, Mitch McConnell, on the campaign trail for some last-minute work in Kentucky. Polls show him inching ahead of his Democratic opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes. Now, while McConnell expressed confidence he will win. Grimes barnstormed her state and compared herself to David fighting Goliath.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), KENTUCKY: We have a unique opportunity here with this 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: These candidates, they work very, very hard for a very long time here and put a lot on the line. One of the tightest and most unpredictable races in the country in Kansas. The Republican Senator Pat Roberts and independent Greg Orman virtually tied. Orman accusing his three-term opponent of spending too long in Washington, while Roberts links Orman to President Obama, even though Orman has refused to say which party he will vote 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.



ROMANS: New Hampshire, razor close margin there, where incumbent Democrat Jean Shaheen and former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown tied in the recent polls, although most prognosticators now saying this leans Democratic. In his return to the Senate for a different state, Brown tried to tie her to President Obama, just like many other Republicans in this election cycle. He has also run some ads highlighting threats for ISIS and Ebola.

BERMAN: Also too close to call. Colorado right now, a Quinnipiac poll released Monday shows that Democratic incumbent Mark Udall has picked up a few points against Republican challenger Cory Gardner. A lot of the polling the recent weeks has had Gardner ahead, including a poll last week by Quinnipiac which showed him up seven points. You see a different margin in the recent poll giving the Udall perhaps forces some hope, all of this within the margin of error. So, this race essentially tied in the purple of states.

ROMANS: All right. And then we go to Iowa, one of the tightest races of the country, so tight, even Taylor Swift is now an issue.

Republican Joni Ernst and Democrat Bruce Braley slugging it out for a Senate being vacated by the retiring incumbent, Tom Harkin. And then, Harkin injecting unintended controversy into the race over the weekend.

Our Pamela Brown is in Iowa this morning with more on that.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) 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 an outlier but 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. And she also said, just like Taylor Swift, who he campaigned her to, she's going to shake it off.

But 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 -- Christine and John.


BERMAN: All right. Our thanks to Pamela Brown in Iowa.

Let's go down south to Louisiana, a complicated race there. Why? If neither of the mainstream candidate, Mary Landrieu, the Democratic incumbent or Bill Cassidy, the Republican, if neither of them get more than 50 percent, it goes to a run off. There is a Tea Party candidate, Rob Maness, famous for running an ad with him wresting sort of an alligator. He could pull enough votes to send this race to overtime. The runoff would be in December.

Now, Cassidy is trying to tie Mary Landrieu to the national Democrats and President Obama.


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: To North Carolina now, where there is a tight race for the Senate seat. Democratic Senator Kay Hagan clinging to a two-point lead in recent polls. She and Republican challenger Thom Tillis have spent millions of dollars on TV advertising there. But in the latest weeks, 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.


BERMAN: Alaska, right now, a tight race there between the incumbent Democrat Mark Begich and Republican challenger Dan Sullivan. This is drawing so much money, that it is likely to break records for outside spending. An analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice pegs spending by groups unaffiliated by either campaign at $39 million. How many people live in Alaska?

ROMANS: Seven hundred thirty-five thousand people.

BERMAN: So, thinks about that -- $39 million for about 739,000 people. This makes this the sixth most expensive Senate campaign in history for outsider spending.

High stakes have drawn big names to campaign there. Look at Mitt Romney at a last-minute rally.


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.

(END VIDEO CLIP) 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: Drew Griffin, thank you.

While control of the U.S. Senate, that's the prize in the mid-term elections. Some of the closest are among the 36 governor races. Heading into Election Day, nearly a third of the races are too close to call. That, too, brought out the star power.

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

BERMAN: 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, Christie said Snyder has been transformational for Michigan. Now, Governor Christie chairs the Republican Governors Association.

He has been crisscrossing the country in campaign mode for candidates. Michigan was the sixteenth key state he has visited in just the last week.

ROMANS: 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 have seen Democratic candidates avoiding the president. Whether or not that is effective campaign strategy, we shall soon see.

ROMANS: I have a question about that, John Berman.


ROMANS: If the economy electing presidents, is it presidential popularity that matters in midterms?

BERMAN: If you look at the six-year of any two-term, they almost always lose seats, except in 1998 with Bill Clinton in another time, you know, a long time ago. It always happens that way. It's about the president's popularity.

ROMANS: All right. A minimum wage up for a vote right now. Voters in Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota, they are voting on a hike. Those states are typically red states and minimum wage is a Democratic priority, but the hikes are going to pass for the good for raising the minimum wage. Also, Illinois has a non-binding vote on the ballot.

Now, some cities are voting today. San Francisco already has a minimum wage of $10.46. The city is voting on a $15 an hour proposal. That is 142,000 people. Maybe 23 percent of the city's work force would receive a pay raise if it passes in San Francisco.

A few years ago, it was rare the CEO to endorse a higher minimum wage. But things are changing. The mood is changing on this and now some business leaders are for it.

Listen to the CEO of Starwood Hotels.


FRITS VAN PAASSCHEN, CEO, STARWOOD HOTELS AND RESORTS: It won't affect our business significantly. So many people work on our hotels are paid more than minimum wage. The reality is raising the minimum wage makes a lot of sense economically for people who are starting out in entry level jobs. I won't have an issue with it at all. ROMANS: You wouldn't have an issue.


ROMANS: Trend has really shifted on this, John. More and more business leaders are saying, look, with income inequality seemingly entrenched in the United States, raising the minimum wage puts money in people's pockets and they spend it.

So far, 26 states and D.C. have approved a minimum wage higher than the federal standard at $7.25.

You know, small business owners say, look, next year, we have to implement Obamacare for the first year. So, don't do this to us now. We can't do this now. So, it is still a big argument in business, but when you look at these polls in the states, the states are doing it.

BERMAN: Two years from now, they would say don't do this --

ROMANS: Maybe, maybe.

All right. Happening now. A tragic setbacks for the fight against ISIS in Syria. We are live with that story, next.


ROMANS: ISIS on a rampage in Iraq. It has been a bloodbath. More than 300 members of a Sunni tribe -- it's hard to watch -- slaughtered in recent days. Women and children among the dead. Many of these victims lined up in the village north of Ramadi and were gunned down publicly one by one.

The Obama's administration with a setback on strategy. Overwhelming the rebels near the border with Turkey. A lot going on this morning.

I want to bring in Nick Paton Walsh. He's live from Southern Turkey, to bring us up to speed on this.

Good morning, Nick.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christine, this development near the town in northwest Syria is not really going to change the war inside Syria, but it is bad news for the limited policy the U.S. is implemented so far in backing some moderate Syrian rebels.

Two groups, Hasan (ph) Movement and Syrian Revolutionary Front have been supplied by the U.S., some say having weapons, through U.S.'s Arab allies.

Now, the Nusra group, who are allies to al Qaeda, and considered terrorists by the United States are pretty much a dominant force in the area. But in the last week, they're moving against the Hassan Movements and Syrian Revolutionary Front. The moderate groups pushing them out of the towns they considered to be the strongholds. In fact, they even suggesting they have taken weapons from these

moderate groups. Now, that, of course, is very bad news for U.S. policy. The negotiations between still seem to be ongoing. It is not a done deal. And (INAUDIBLE) just changed hands a lot in this war.

But when the U.S. is looking to boost these moderate rebels and making them a plank of their ground forces and reclaiming territory from Nusra, they're heading with airstrike and from ISIS, too, to see them losing territory, perhaps 70 percent of their territory according to one, so quickly and so little come back is extraordinarily bad news for Washington -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Nick Paton Walsh, thanks for that this morning from Turkey. Thank you.

BERMAN: Homeland security officials are stepping up screenings of passengers flying to the United States with Western passports. They are concerned about the rising number of Europeans who have joined ISIS and Syria in Iraq. It may return to launch attacks. Intelligence officials say more than 3,000 Europeans have joined ISIS or other extremist groups since 2011.

Sports now. The Colts, they beat the Giants last night in Monday night football. We're just putting it euphemistically. They'd just annihilated them. You see Andrew Luck there. We'll have a lot of that.

Laura Rutledge in the "Bleacher Report" next.

ROMANS: When it comes to business travel, there are some cities that don't come cheap, 50,000 expense reports were analyzed to find out which U.S. business travel destinations are the most expensive. Expense management company Concur and financial web site The Street conducted the study. Taking into account the average spent on food, lodging, cabs, entertainment.

No shocker here: New York City landed on top of the list. You'll spend 470 bucks here, not including airfare, and not including car rental fees.

San Francisco came in second. The average is $166 on entertainment.

The outlier Santa Clara, California, a go-between for tech travelers headed to Silicon Valley.


BERMAN: Monday night football Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, I should say Colts' quarterback, he deserves to have it pronounced it correctly, why? Because he crushed the New York Giants last night.

Laura Rutledge has more now in the "Bleacher Report".

ROMANS: Hey, there.

LAURA RUTLEDGE, BLEACHER REPORT: Good morning. Yes, Andrew Luck and the Colts have the NFL's highest scoring offense

and the Giants, John, no answer all night. The Colts flexing their muscles literally. Third quarter, Luck finds T.Y. Hilton in the end zone who wrested the ball away for the defender for the touchdown.

Check it out, as all 5'9", 178 pounds TY Hilton rips it away from Dominic Rogers Cromartie (ph). Luck finished the game with four touchdowns, and Colts blow out the Giants, 40-24.

To baseball news, according to U.S. district court documents, Alex Rodriguez paid his cousin close to $1 million in exchange for his silence for performance enhancing drug use. "The New York Daily News first reported that the Yankee's third baseman paid Yuri Sucart, quote, "hash money", to keep silent about is role as Rodriguez's supplier of PEDS.

Sucart is currently facing charges in a criminal case for his alleged involving with the Biogenesis Clinic in Miami that was the center of baseball's doping scandal last year. A-Rod's 162-game suspension ended last week. He is still under contract with the Yankees.

The Joe Maddon era is officially under way in Chicago. The Cubs introduced Maddon in the bar called the cubbie bear. Madden already winning over cubs fans channeling a little Harry Carey.


JOE MADDON, NEW CUBS MANAGER: Where's the bartender? Bar keep? Anywhere? I got the drinks right now. OK. What do I got? Theo said I got one round. I thought about that. One round's on me, please.


RUTLEDGE: Now, don't worry. Maddon is not going to break the bank. He said a round meant a shot and a beer -- John and Christie.

BERMAN: I've got to say, to reporters, that's a lot.

ROMANS: Cubbie Bear is one of the classy places. Nice spot. Congratulations to him.

Laura Rutledge, thank you.

ROMANS: Election Day across the country. The fate of Congress up in the air. Republicans poised to take over control of the Senate, but this is not over for Democrats.

This is a big day, an important day. Several key races too close to call this morning. We're going to break it all down for you after the break.