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Inside Politics

Oz, McCormick Deadlocked In Too-Close-To-Call PA Primary; Cliff-Hanger PA Primary May Hinge On Mail-In Ballots; McConnell Breathes Sign Of Relief At PA GOP Senate Primary Results; Fetterman Sweeps Pennsylvania As Questions Emerge About His Health; Trump- Endorsed Candidates Win GOP PA Gov, NC Senate Primary; Trump-Backed Election Denier Wins GOP Primary For PA Governor; Mastriano Rejects "Extreme" Label, Leans Into GOP Culture Wars; PA Dem Gov Nominee: GOP "Just Nominated A Dangerous Extremist". Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired May 18, 2022 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Hello, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing your busy news day with us. A Pennsylvania thriller, the biggest race the state's Republican Senate primary remains undecided, 16 hours after the polls closed. Plus, another big night for the big lie. A prominent election denier coast to the GOP nomination for Pennsylvania governor, but Donald Trump's blessing fails to save scandal magnet, Madison Cawthorn.

And new beyond awful details about the Buffalo shooter. He crowdsourced his attack plan and he wanted to livestream his racist massacre. Listen here to the emotions, still raw. A victims' relative says a chance decision cost her sister-in-law everything.


GLORIA ANDERSON, SISTER-IN-LAW AND BEST FRIEND OF PEARL YOUNG: I guess I got survivors, whatever they call it because I keep thinking she never came to the store to shop. She always went to the one out further. But where we were at the prep breakfast, she just - this is the kind of a person she was. She didn't want to ask me to drop her way out there and then have to come all the way back to where I live. So, she said, well on your way home, dropped me up at the tops on Jefferson. And little did I know less than five minutes after I dropped her, she was dead.


KING: Back to Buffalo and those harrowing new details in a moment. But we begin here with an election cliffhanger in a race that could well determine, which party controls the United States Senate after the midterm elections, so next year. The Republican Senate primary, look at the math, it is too close to call.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, you know him from TV. He's Donald Trump's preferred candidate. He's leading right now by 2463 votes, 31.3 percent. Dave McCormick, a former hedge fund manager who has a lot of team Trump on his campaign staff. He's in second place, 31.1 percent there, again 2400 votes. Kathy Barnette, the Maga candidate who was surging late. She is a distant third, but she's having an impact on the race. Look at how this has played out in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as they still count the votes.

Number one, McCormick showing surprising strength to many in these rural areas that were Trump country. Why? Let's just take a look at one of them. McCormick leading because the two candidates who say they were closest to Trump, ideologically and philosophically splitting the vote in these places. Dave McCormick winning out here in the second largest county in the state, Allegheny County. That's where he calls home now, with this margin helping him a lot.

When you look at it, one of the more fascinating dynamics is if you come east to where the people live, about 30 percent of the population is here, Philadelphia in the suburbs, a split in the suburbs. Dr. Oz carrying Bucks County. You move over Kathy Barnette, carrying neighboring Montgomery County. And then down here to Chester County, and into Delaware County, Dave McCormick running well.

So, a split in the suburbs where you have more population. The question now is, what is still to be counted? Well, Delaware County is one of the places where they're still counting votes. Allegheny is another, but one of the largest pool of undecided votes is right here in Lancaster County.

We have reporters on the ground across the state, following the new details. Our Jeff Zeleny is live for us in Philadelphia. But first, let's go to CNN's Athena Jones. She is the heart of the action right here in Lancaster, where Kathy Barnette leads in the current count, but Athena still votes being counted, important votes being counted.

Athena Jones: That's right, John. I mean, yesterday morning at 7am is when election officials discovered that there were about 22,000 misprinted mail-in ballots. These were ballots that were printed with the wrong code on the side, and so they couldn't be scanned. They discovered that at 7am. This is the room where this extra action has been taking place.

They are remarking ballots and teams of three, you have an observer, you have a writer, you have members of the parties and campaigns. We're here as well observing, just so that they can ensure integrity, veracity and transparency in this process.

We just got an update. They had about 15,000 ballots to still be remarked. They can be scanned as of this morning. They have managed to do redo about more than 2000. We want to get another update soon. But at leaves about 12,500 or so left to be rescanned.

They think at this point, now they have three times as many people working on this, as they did yesterday that they may be able to finish the process here in Lancaster County by tomorrow evening. So, we'll have to wait and see, they could even do about a day. They said they may go till 6pm or 7pm and stay late if they absolutely need to. But this is where the action is, John? KING: Fascinating. Athena Jones, grateful you're in the room as they count these votes as we watch this play out, a bit of a reminder there of what happened after the 2020 presidential election. Let's go to Philadelphia now, CNN's Jeff Zeleny. Jeff, just again, I'm just going to show our viewers quickly, the highlights 2463 votes, separating the candidates right now. So, you want to count every last vote, then there's the potential for a recount and more in this absolutely critical, could be the race that decides control of the Senate.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: John, it absolutely could it is the, you know, before this race began yesterday, it was the closely watched race in the country. Now it certainly is, but both paths at this hour still see a path to victory. And this is why there is a division between the mail-in ballots that came before Election Day and the voting on Election Day. Of course, all of these ballots count equally, but they are not counted necessarily at the same time.

So, the McCormick campaign, let's start there. They did had a stronger performance among early voting mail-in absentee balloting. It was a part of their strategy and it paid off last evening. So, that is a big share of some of the remaining vote. The Oz campaign had a stronger showing on Election Day, voters turned out to the polls.

Not surprisingly, of course, he was endorsed by the former president, who has long assailed early voting, even though it's perfectly legal. So, they are holding out hopes that the voting on Election Day can actually solidify their lead. They have a very narrowly down, but there are thousands and thousands of ballots still to be counted. So, we will see if this concludes by the end of the day, but both sides actually are settling in for a longer fight on this.

And we're talking about the count, now, John. We're not even discussing the recount, which we'll get into later. Of course, it's a figure of state law here. But for now, both sides see a path to victory, depending on which ballots they're looking at.

KING: We count the votes first, and then we see from there, A, what the lawyers say, B, what the Pennsylvania state election law say. Jeff Zeleny, grateful for your reporting live on the ground. Let's bring the conversation in the room with me to share their reporting and their insights. Jackie Kucinich of The Daily Beast, Toluse Olorunnipa, the Washington Post, Leigh Ann Caldwell, also at the Washington Post, Zolan Kanno-Youngs of The New York Times.

Lot to talk about. So, please jump in with your big observations and lessons from last night. A couple of things, I would say right off the top. The big lie one, more of a mixed verdict on Trump. Although, we do have a better sense of what a Trump endorsement is work. Democrats are nominating different kinds of candidates in some of these races. We'll talk about that.

But let's start with this race here because it could well determine control of the Senate, who will the Republicans nominee? One refreshing thing last night, the two leading candidates, Dave McCormick and Dr. Oz, they say something, I say refreshing. They say count the votes.


DAVE MCCORMICK, (R) PENNSYLVANIA SENATE CANDIDATE: We have tens of thousands of mail-in ballots that have not been counted, that are going to need to be counted beginning tomorrow. And so that unfortunately, we're not going to have resolution tonight.

DR. MEHMET OZ (R) PENNSYLVANIA SENATE CANDIDATE: So, we're not going to have a result tonight. When all the votes are tallied, I am confident we will win.


KING: That's the candidates. Just moments ago, Donald J. Trump on his social media platform, Truth Social, as it's called, Dr. Oz should declare victory. It makes it much harder for them to cheat with the ballots that they quote just happened to find. So, here he goes again.

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, POLITICAL INVESTIGATIONS & ENTERPRISE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes. This is the same playbook that we saw in 2020. President Trump came out and said, we did win this election, even though there were millions of ballots that had not been counted yet. And after those ballots were counted, and it was clear that he did not win. He said that the ballots being counted was a form of cheating. He's saying that that should happen again in Pennsylvania, and it is a playbook.

It's something that he and other Republicans are looking to try to do potentially in 2024. Obviously, we're going to have millions of votes, and a lot of them are going to come in and be counted after the day of the election. Sometimes that changes the result, it changes what happened on the day of the election.

There is a difference sometimes between the day of voting, votes in the mail-in votes or the votes that are counted from overseas and counted afterwards. So, in close elections, like we're seeing in Pennsylvania, it's very clear that there's an effort and emphasis on trying to show that it could be possible to game the system.

KING: And if he wants his way, he's not on the ballot there. Again, he endorsed Dr. Oz. So, his candidates on the ballot there. Pennsylvania would be a critical state, of course, if Trump wins again, as it was, he won in 2016. He lost it in 2020. But he wants to make this big lie. He wants to make distrust of institutions, a part of the Republican party's bread and butter.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And his candidate for Governor Mastriano actually, is that avatar, right? I mean, he has gone all in on the big lie, gave money to put people on buses, to go to stop the steel in Washington, D.C. So that he is literally the living and breathing candidate that Donald Trump wants to put out there.

Now Dr. Oz has expressed a little bit, has been more reticent to go all in on the big lie and seems to have hemmed and hawed when he has been asked about it. I think the fundamental interesting thing about the Senate Republican race there is because of the rise of Kathy Barnette, kind of in that last - in that last week.

It just showed kind of the softness of the support for us. And it really seems like this is at the end of the day is helped McCormick, and by siphoning off some of those Maga votes, for people who might not have really been all in there.

KING: And put their vote board back up for me if you could, just for one second. I just want to say, remember that number, Dr. Oz 31.3. Just remember the 31.3, we'll come back to that later in the show. That's the Trump endorsed candidate. Remember the 31 percent. Here in Washington, if you're the Republican establishment? Or are you the Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, are you breathing a sigh of relief today?


Because you believe that Kathy Barnette, McCormick believes the Republican says that she would have been almost a short loss in that race. They believe with either Oz or McCormick, they have a much better chance. In a state again, we have a 50-50 Senate right now, that is held by Republicans. It's the one place Democrats think with some confidence they can flip it, so McConnell is happy today.

ZOLAN KANNO-YOUNGS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Yes. You're breathing a sigh of relief. As you were saying, if you're McConnell, if your other so-called establishment Republicans. But look, this doesn't just show the late surge by Kathy Barnette, not is - doesn't just show vulnerability for Oz.

Also shows that, even while a Trump endorsement may have mixed results thus far, tapping into Trumpism, and tapping into the themes of Maga, as we say, does seem to still allow you to galvanize this electoral base up at this point.

We're talking about somebody that did tap into some of those themes of trying to stoke divisions through various means that did try as well, to talk about election fraud, as many other candidates did throughout these different races.

KING: So, let's close with a bit on the Democratic candidate here, John Fetterman, the lieutenant governor, who had wow, sweep, 67 of 67 counties, a sweep there. He was favored in the end. I don't know if anyone anticipated, a 67-county sweep. I want to get to the health questions about him in a minute.

But how does this guy who wears a hoodie? He's what six foot nine. He's an unorthodox candidate. He's tattooed. He looks different than most politicians. This in the Atlantic, from David Graham. His success comes in part because many voters are attracted to candidates more by vibes than by detailed policy platforms. Looking and sounding like a Yinzer roughneck is handy, when many of the voters you need to win do too. Look it up, folks. The Yinzer of Pittsburgh, a Trump. But he is a very different candidate, part of a pattern. We'll get to some of the others later in the program. But part of a pattern of Democrats going a little bit outside the box.

LEIGH ANN CALDWELL, EARLY 202 CO-AUTHOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes. Outside the box is exactly what Fetterman is, is compared to Conor Lamb, who was the more cautious, the more moderate Democrat who ran a more traditional campaign. And it didn't work for him. And so, what Fetterman was doing is, he was evoking the mood of Democratic voters at this stage. They're a little bit unhappy with the Democratic establishment. They also wanted to try something new. And it was evidenced not only in the Fetterman race, but we'll talk about it later but other races last night too.

KING: In the final weekend of the campaign, he had a stroke. And then he had quick surgery to install a defibrillator. His doctors thought - we've only heard from the campaign, the campaign says, he says, the doctor telling me is fine. We haven't heard from the doctors yet. How important is that transparency going forward? If the doctors come out, explain what happened and explain the state of play?

OLORUNNIPA: It is incredibly important. This is an unconventional candidate. Now, he's in a general election. He's going to have to win over a lot of suburban voters, a lot of voters that may not be comfortable with someone who wears a hoodie or wears shorts in the Senate.

And he may need to be able to show that, health is not one of the things that they need to worry about that. He's going to be healthy that he's going to be able to do a six-year term. And that's something that he has to be very transparent about, so that voters who are on the fence about him will be able to go over.

KANNO-YOUNGS: That race moving forward is also going to be a test for what a Biden endorsement also means. What support from the White House means as well, when it comes to Fetterman? You saw him issued that statement immediately yesterday. We have heard when the White House has said about things, they wish that they did differently in the first year, and what they want to do going forward is getting out into the country more and trying to support some of these local Democrats that are running for these elections.

So, that will also be a test to see where our president and where his support - what that means, especially with these low approval numbers that we've seen as well. And many people are frustrated with this White House and President Biden as well.

KING: Once again, Pennsylvania central, central to our national political debate. Up next, much more. Much more of the election night lessons and the emerging answer to this question. Just how much is Donald Trump's endorsement worth?



KING: A couple of moments ago, I asked you to remember this number. Dr. Mehmet Oz, Donald Trump's endorsed candidate in the Pennsylvania Republican Senate primary getting 31 percent of the vote. Why did I ask you remember that? Well, there are exceptions to every rule. But it is becoming a pattern. This is the Pennsylvania Senate Republican primary. Trump's candidate 31 percent. Let's go back a couple of weeks in time to the state of Ohio. Donald Trump's candidate J.D. Vance 32 percent of the vote in those Senate races. Let's switch again.

Now, let's look at some governor races on the Republican side. Trump had a candidate in Nebraska last week 29 percent, right around 30 percent again. Last night, Trump endorsed a candidate in the Idaho governor's race, she lost and she lost badly. But look, look, the lieutenant governor Janet Mills was his candidate 32 percent. Notice the pattern, it carries over as well, with some of Trump's endorsements in House races.

Let's move up to the House Republican map. Let's be mean on North Carolina last night. The president endorsed a candidate here in this race. Bo Hines, he was the winning candidate. Look at that, 32 percent. The president also made a late endorsement, asking voters to give Madison Cawthorn a second chance. Madison Cawthorn lost.

But look at the value of the Trump endorsement, 32 percent. You notice the pattern, Senate races, House races. Now, there are exceptions to every rule in the Senate Republican primary in North Carolina, Ted Budd who was the president's candidate, former president's candidate. He won big, Pennsylvania governor's race as well. What you did see last night, even when Trump didn't win huge, the candidates who had his backing made a point. Most of them are saying, thank you.


REP. TED BUDD, (R-NC): I want to thank President Donald J. Trump. When President Trump endorsed me last June, he said this, Mr. Ted, I'm endorsing you because you never wavered on America first policies.

DOUG MASTRIANO, PENNSYLVANIA GOVERNOR NOMINEE: We have a massive movement of people from the width and length of Pennsylvania, who don't always agree with us on all issues. In fact, many of them used to be Democrats.

DR. MEHMET OZ, (R) PENNSYLVANIA SENATE CANDIDATE: President Trump, after he endorsed me, he continued to lead into this race in Pennsylvania. God bless you, sir, for putting so much effort into this race.



KING: Mr. Mastriano and Mr. Budd there, two election deniers, two different degrees. But again, the big lie is winning, even when there are some questions about the effect. But am I wrong here? If you look, we have a long ways to go. We are just finishing May next week with Georgia, two races there, very personal to Donald Trump.

Then we have more primaries to come. But the early pattern in Nebraska, 30 percent, in Idaho, 32 percent, in Ohio, 32 percent, in Pennsylvania, 31 percent, 32 percent, 32 percent again. And Mastriano are the exceptions to the rule but that's a pattern.

KANNO-YOUNGS: Now that is a pattern right now. And we're starting to get a picture now of what specifically the endorsement will mean in terms of impact on these local races. As well as just - and this has been clear for a while, you could look to the House, you could look at Republicans and Congress for this too.

Just how so many of the Republicans still yearn for that endorsement and support of Trump, and if not for his endorsement, then to at least tap into the same sort of grievances in the country that he tapped into, when he was running as well and still in office and still to this day.

CALDWELL: Yes. And if it might not put you over the finish line, it definitely gets you a significant number of votes. It's interesting, because Republicans I've talked to over the years, they've always said, there's 30 percent of the Republican base that supports, the rabid supporters of the former president, and that has proven true today.

Now with Ted, there's also these are split elections, two, there was more than two candidates and most in these instances. And so, he doesn't consolidate the Republican base, but he does help candidates, especially the ones who might be struggling, like Dr. Oz at the very beginning of this.

KING: Right. So, there will be some who interpret that, and say, oh, well, Trump only gets you at least in most races, Trump only gets you a third. So well, that emboldened some Republicans. Well, then you look at the more-broader results though, that you know, even Dave McCormick right, not Trump's guy in the Pennsylvania Senate race, but again, embrace the big lie and move Trump's direction. We'll see here.

KUCINICH: And hired like a lot of Trump's deck (Ph).

KING: Hired like a lot of Trump's deck. Very smartly put this in the Philadelphia inquirer today. Still, even if Trump might not win decisively, Trumpism still dominated, almost every major candidate in both the Senate and gubernatorial race has tried to align themselves with Trump, whether they were a clean fit or not. And part of aligning yourself with Trump is sadly aligning yourself with the idea that our elections are rigged, and the system is broken.

OLORUNNIPA: Yes. And that will get you through a Republican primary, it remains to be seen how far that will take you when we get to a general election. When President Trump was not on the ballot in 2018. His party lost a lot of seats in 2020, when he tried to put forward this sort of idea that the election was rigged that did not win over a lot of voters. He lost the popular vote and the electoral college.

A number of these states do not have an electoral college, you have to win 50 plus one percent of the vote in a general election in order to win, and does Trumpism, does the big lie, win over some of those voters in the middle who may be flirting with the idea of thinking, you know, Biden is not for me, maybe I want an alternative. But I don't want someone who's going to lie about the election. I know when someone's going to be part of January 6. That's the question that remains to be seen.

CALDWELL: And that's something that actually worries, Republican establishment leadership. They want this election and a general election to be focused on President Biden, to be focused on inflation and the economy. And if these Republican candidates who are still stuck in the 2020 election and focused on the big lie, the Republican establishment worries that that is a loser.

KING: Right. Now the Republican establishment, it's a fascinating question, because if the Republican establishment was wrong about Donald Trump in 2016, where they said, there's no way. A person saying the, you know, offensive, controversial things he is saying there's no way he can win. But Pennsylvania in 2016 was one of the states he won by that much. He lost it in 2020 by a little bit more than he wanted back then.

So that's the question now for Doug Mastriano, who is a Christian who believes the United States is a Christian nation. Who less than a minute into his acceptance speech last night attacked a transgender, official formally serving the Pennsylvania government now serves in the Biden administration?

Listen to Doug Mastriano. Because there are a lot of Republicans who say, you can't sell this. Doug Mastriano says, Donald Trump won this state. Yes, I can.


MASTRIANO: 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 job for job requirements are gone. On day one CRT is over. On day one, you can only use the bathroom that your biology anatomy says.


KUCINICH: I mean, I think all you have to do is look at the RGA, the Republican Governors Association, their statement. It was pretty tepid, about his win and there was no commitment to supporting him one way or the other in terms of financially.

So, I think there are some nervousness that that will not, because in Pennsylvania, I mean there - yes, it is a state that trends red. But they've also shown that they'll reject candidates that go too far over overboard. So, we'll see what happens. I know that, you saw Democrats, they wanted Mastriano as the person to run against for the governorship.

[12:25:00] KING: Josh Shapiro, who is the Democratic candidate. The attorney general now actually spent money on ads, essentially pumping up Mastriano, so that he would get him. And we'll see how it plays out. Again, we'll see if that's the - that was the right calculation. But you mentioned the governors' association, the Republican Governors Association, is the one part of the party apparatus that is standing up to Trump.

Its leaders and its former leaders have gone to Georgia. Next week, we get to the races that we all believe are most personal for Trump. David produced his candidate for Georgia governor against Brian Kemp, the incumbent governor who refused to help Trump cheat. Jody Hice's Trump's candidate for secretary of state against Brad Raffensperger, the incumbent Republican who refused to help Trump cheat. So, we're going to see the big lie again, factoring next week.

CALDWELL: Yes. And I think that next week, a lot of people are watching these races for multiple reasons. But it seems like at this point, that candidates who did stick up to the Trump, that the Trump factor is going to be a big test here. You have Kemp, who's doing extremely well. There's, you know, reporters at The Washington Post.

They're talking to voters there and are saying that that Trump - the people were proud of Kemp and what he did in 2020. So, I think that if really the Trump factor and the big lie is going to be put to the test, it's going to be put to the test in Georgia, which is also at the center of this.

KING: Which is an important point, even as we just showed you those numbers would show the trend as of now. We're in the early chapters here with primary season and we'll see how it plays out as we move forward. Up next for us. A shift from politics to the new and chilling details about the Buffalo shooting suspects online activity. Right before shoppers were killed at a local grocery store. Live to Buffalo next.