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Voters To Decide Kemp Vs. Perdue In GA GOP Primary; Pence: A Kemp Win Would Send A "Deafening Message All Across America"; Trump & Pence On Opposites Sides In Georgia Gov Primary; Today: Texas Dems Face Off In Primary Runoff Rematch; Rep. Cuellar Ad Slams Challenger's Stance On Immigration; Biden Returning To U.S. After Asia Trip. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired May 24, 2022 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Hello everybody. Welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing your day with us. The polls are open in five states. Several of the big races we're watching are in Georgia. Republicans there by tonight will tell us a ton about the value of the Trump brand.

Plus, family feuds for Democrats too, one House runoff in Texas is a progressive versus centrist rematch with a new Supreme Court twist. How will this new fight over abortion rights break among critical Latino voters. And President Biden will arrive home from a big Asia trip tonight. Justice were counting the votes. We're still early in this election season, through just 13 primaries as of tonight, but the president running short of time to change a sour midterm mood.


HERSCHEL WALKER (R) GEORGIA SENATE CANDIDATE: (Inaudible) people in Washington. They're supposed to be representing you. And they're not doing.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): In November, we're not just going to see a red wave, we're going to see a tsunami.

GOV. LARRY HOGAN (R) MARYLAND: I've been pushing to take the Republican Party in a completely different direction.

DAVID PERDUE (R) GEORGIA GOVERNOR CANDIDATE: That's why I got in here. I could not sit back and watch this train wreck happen.

STACEY ABRAMS (D) GEORGIA GOVERNOR CANDIDATE: My motto of one Georgia is not a gimmick. It is a guarantee.

BRAD RAFFENSPERGER (R) GEORGIA SECRETARY OF STATE: I'm really confident about my, you know, chances tomorrow. And because I stood on the truth.


KING: Let's begin the hour right there. Democracy at work as we speak. Polls open in five states Georgia, Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Minnesota, all holding primary or runoff elections. Two Trump grudge matches here in Georgia, they get the most attention, but the power of the Bush brand also being tested in a statewide Texas Republican runoff.

And we're going to get some very important clues about the shifting politics of abortion rights from a Democratic House run off in southwest Texas. Hope you'll stay with us throughout the day as we count the votes. Let's lay out a couple of these races right now.

This one here, this Georgia Republican primary for governor getting a ton of attention because Brian Kemp the incumbent wouldn't help Donald Trump cheat back in November 2020. So, Trump has convinced David Perdue, the former senator to run in this race. This is one of the big grudge matches here. One of them in Georgia.

If you move over to Senate races and you pop over to the state of Alabama, here's another one here. Katie Britt was the chief aide to the retiring Republican Senator. Richard Shelby, Mo Brooks had the Trump endorsement then he lost it. He's surging in late polls. Army veteran Mike Durant, another candidate in that race, the power of the Trump brand again, in a very red state here.

There are some others. I want to quickly just move over here to Texas, move up the map a little bit and bring up Texas right here. George P. Bush, son of Jeb running in a state where George W. was once governor, came in second in the primary to Ken Paxton, the incumbent, they have to have a runoff.

Now Texas law says, you have to get to 50, so they have a runoff. That's an important race to test out the Bush brand. And I just want to bring up one House race here in south-west Texas here. This is from the primary again. In Texas you need 50 percent to get to be on the ballot. So, they're running against each other.

Again, Henry Cuellar, the incumbent. Jessica Cisneros who once worked in his office, central versus progressive, very Latino district. Trump made inroads in this district back in 2020. Some lessons tonight about immigration and abortion right here. But let's return to those marquee races in Georgia. Our Jeff Zeleny is live for us right there. Jeff, Trump has big stakes here in the governor's race, in the secretary of state primary and more.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: John, he absolutely does. And it is that governor's race that really is the top ticket item here. It has been for several weeks. Now more than 800,000 people have already voted. The rest are voting today. I'm outside one of 255 polling locations across Fulton County, that's Metro Atlanta were part of it.

And there is all but a trickle of people voting but across the state, of course, more people are voting. But it is that Brian Kemp race, he is running to get one thing, more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a tune runoff. And John, he is doing that by not engaging his main opponent really who's Donald Trump. Ever since Governor Kemp certified the 2020 election, that grudge match has been underway, and it's been boiling.

This is the only primary where the former president has invested actual money, his money into the race, more than $2.5 million. That's not been enough to keep Mr. David Perdue on television in the final week of this race. So, what this is going to be is a sense of if Governor Kemp can simply do what many Republicans have not done, ignore Donald Trump.

In the final weeks of this race, he has not mentioned his name at all. At a rally last evening with Mike Pence, he was in town. Mr. Trump's name was not mentioned at all. Talking to voters here, they are viewing this race as a distinctive one, because there is a Republican incumbent governor up for reelection, and they want him to succeed as they look forward to a rematch likely with Stacey Abrams, the Democrat who's running unopposed in November. So, those are the stakes here.

But John, the Trump influence is felt up and down the ballot here in Georgia, from the lieutenant governor's race, the attorney general's race, the secretary of state's race, even the insurance commissioners' race. So, there is a Trump effect. No question. What we're keeping an eye on here is that secretary of state race.


Brad Raffensperger, of course, who received that phone call from other former president, asking him for more votes. He has a very tough race tonight against a Trump backed opponent. That is likely to go into a runoff in June, John?

KING: Will be counting the votes tonight, again Georgia, one of the many big states tonight in November and for the next five or 10 years of American political life. Georgia, we'll be right in the thick of it. Jeff Zeleny, glad you're there for us. With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Nia-Malika Henderson, CNN's Edward-Isaac Dovere, CNN's Melanie Zanona, and Marianna Sotomayor from the Washington Post. We could hire you, who would make that a lot easier, just kidding. Anytime, we'd be lucky to have you.

There's a lot to cover here. A ton of big dynamics. Let's start with the new, since we're in the new business. Stacey Abrams this morning, cleaning up something she said. So, let's do this in reverse sort of forced her. She gave a speech in which she said, responding to Governor Kemp that Georgia is the worst state. And then she went on to list a number of health metrics and disparity metrics.

And so, you get her point. But in the digital age, when you give that little snippet, Georgia is the worst state, it comes - it can come back to bite you. David Perdue took issue. We'll get to Purdue in a minute. This is Stacey Abrams this morning saying, well, should have done this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Republicans have had a field day with your comment about, this is the worst state to live in. Was that a mistake? STACEY ABRAMS, (D) GEORGIA GOVERNOR CANDIDATE: I had an elegant delivery of a statement that I will keep making and that is that Brian Kemp has a failed governor, who doesn't care about the people of Georgia.


KING: In elegant delivery, she says, it's important to watch her. She's going to be the nominee. She's not contested the Democratic primary, but those candidates too, everything you say is recorded. So, that's quick cleanup.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It is and it's something that she had to do because you'd never want to be running for the governor of a state and seen on camera disparaging that state, you know, that's going to be an ad, even though she was trying to clean it up there. Listen, she had a very good race in 2018. It was a good year for Democrats more generally. The margin was something like 60,000 votes or so, did very well. Bringing out a democratic coalition, this new sort of demographics down in Georgia.

We'll see if she can do it again. You don't see the same kind of attention on this race that you did in 2018. I think Oprah was down there, stumping for her at some point. And so, we'll see what she's able to do. The headwinds are against most Democrats, as we know because of all of the economic metrics. So, she had a stumble in this race, trying to clean it up. We'll see if it matters.

KING: A very key point about the different dynamics. 2018, a big Democratic year. This looks like a big Republican year. So, if you're the Democrat, you can't make mistakes. So quick cleanup. We'll see how it plays there. Another new thing was Mike Pence last night, he's campaigning for the incumbent governor, Brian Kemp. That's persona non grata number one or maybe number two.

If you take the secretary of state in Georgia to account for Donald J. Trump, who I think was Mike Pence's boss, not all that long ago, listen to the language of Mike Pence because this is interesting to watch. Pence has tried to say Donald Trump and I disagree about January 6, but we had a great administration. This to me is walking away a bit more.


MIKE PENCE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am here to support Brian Kemp in tomorrow's Republican primary. And I can honestly say, I was for Brian Kemp before it was cool. When you say yes to Governor Brian Kemp, tomorrow, you will send a deafening message all across America, that the Republican Party is the party of the future.


KING: That's Mitch McConnell's language, we're not Trump's party anymore, we're the party of the future. Mike Pence, there in my view taking another step away. Is that fair? MARIANNA SOTOMAYOR, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes. This is what it comes down to in Georgia has definitely become Mike Pence versus Trump and who they have endorsed. But if you've looked at who they have endorsed, it's not really surprising why they're backing those specific candidates.

In this case, of course, Pence is backing Brian Kemp, because you remember, on January 6, the days leading up to it, Trump was saying, you have the power to overturn the election results. And pence went out there and said, actually don't. The constitution doesn't allow me to do that. Brian Kemp has more or less made similar arguments that, hey, our elections have been fair. You see the opposite side. Trump, basically begging Purdue to get in the race for governor. And Purdue has very much followed that election lie that has become his campaign.

KING: And the election lie animates just about everything Donald Trump does. If you're a candidate, whether you're running for dog catcher or congress or governor or Senate, Trump wants to see your fealty on the big lie to endorse you, which is why again, as we focus on the later things, he called into a rally for Purdue last night. Listen to what he says about Kemp, but more importantly about Republican voters.


DONALD TRUMP, 45TH U.S. PRESIDENT (voiceover): David is the only candidate who can beat Stacey Abrams, because I don't believe Kemp can do it. He's got too many people in the Republican Party that will refuse to vote. They're just not going to go out after what they did to two senators and to a presidential election. What he did, should have been so different.



KING: He's added again. He's saying essentially that if Kemp wins, my people won't vote. Now the question is after the prep, does he do that? Does he do that through November? Most Georgia Republicans believe that Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff suffer in the Senate because Donald Trump was questioning the election process in Georgia. There he goes again.

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Yes. And a lot of Republicans blamed Donald Trump for losing two Senate seats, which then handed control of the entire Senate to Democrats and they're starting to get nervous that's going to happen again. I think the big question is, I don't think anyone thinks that Trump is actually going to get behind Kemp after he wins. But will he work to actively undermine him? He has said things like Stacey Abrams might be better as governor than their own Republican governor. So that is the concern among other.

KING: And so, help me with this one, in the sense that Georgia Republicans appear poised, will count the votes tonight to tell Donald Trump no, when it comes to getting rid of their governor because they've Republicans seem to like their governor. We'll see what happens in the secretary of state right. So, there will be Mike Pence pushing away. There will be some things tonight we can say, aha, the party is turning on Trump some, but just about everybody. Listen here, running for office, wants to hug him some.


TRUMP (voiceover): David Perdue is an outstanding man.



KING: We're still learning, and again at the end of tonight will be 13 of the 50 state primaries. So, we've got a lot to learn still, but Trump is still the most dominant force in the party. The question, I guess is still is it how dominant, what's the right word?

EDWARD-ISAAC DOVERE, CNN SENIOR REPORTER: It sounds like we can overstate the move away from Trump here, right. There is definitely moving away from the questions about the election on the one hand. On the other hand, it's not like there's any policy on anything where you see Republicans running in a different direction from Trump. And first of all, running at all, but certainly running and winning.

Brian Kemp is supported Donald Trump and support the agenda. If you take away the questions about what happened in the election in 2020, and whether Kemp should have tried to throw the election to Trump, there's no difference, right. And so, Donald Trump continues to define the party, whether or not they want Donald Trump to be the head of the party.

ZANONA: And Kemp hasn't criticized Trump, which I think is also very telling, but it could be a blueprint for other Republicans of how do you stand up to the election lies, while still embracing at least some of Trump's policy.

DOVERE: And you see on the Senate side too, Herschel Walker is likely to be if not the number one candidate the winner, he might go into a runoff, but he was a candidate that Mitch McConnell did not want to be in the Senate, but Donald Trump did and that's why he's in that race.

KING: So, we're learning as we go. I do think because Georgia is so personal to Trump. To your point will other Republicans take clues. Tonight's results will have a lot to say in that as we go forward. Up next, the stakes for the Democrats, including a Texas House runoff where immigration and abortion are centrists versus progressive dividing lines.




KING: In Texas today, a democratic family feud that could offer some very important midterm lessons. A House runoff in the state's 28th congressional district is a rematch between the incumbent Congressman Henry Cuellar and immigration attorney former Cuellar office assistant Jessica Cisneros. Cuellar has the backing of Democratic House leadership. You see that there on the left. And he is the more moderate candidate in this race. He's also one of the very few anti- abortion Democrats left in the Congress.

Cisneros, you see on the right backed by Senator Bernie Sanders, Senator Elizabeth Warren as well as House progressives, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, are great reporters are back to discuss immigration, abortion, progressives versus centrist. We talk a lot about the Republican races and the Trump factor. The Democrats have some interesting things to work out too.

ZANONA: Yes. This race could be a first early test of whether and how abortion is going to be a motivating factor for Democrats. But it's really interesting because Democratic leaders are still backing in Cuellar. He's the only anti-abortion Democrat in Congress. They say, it's because he's not the problem. He's not standing in the way of their ability to protect Roe v. Wade. But really the reason is because they're worried that if Cisneros wins, they're not going to be able to win in the general. And so, they haven't made abortion a litmus test quite yet, at least not when it's potentially jeopardizing their majority.

KING: So, let's listen. This is an ad from Cisneros, criticizing the incumbent. Again, the incumbent Cuellar is a conservative on abortion. He does not support abortion rights. We expect within days or weeks the Supreme Court to wipe out Roe v. Wade, if that legal decision holds up. (Inaudible) is saying he can't be our congressman.


JESSICA CISNEROS (D) TEXAS CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: It's just me having to be in Congressman wears office to find out that he was anti- labor, to find out that he was anti-choice, to find out that we had lobbyists after lobbyists after lobbyists go through his office and never really have host families that look like mine.


KING: But that's her talking about her time in the congressman's office. Let's move right now. This is the political ad on abortion.


KING: The interesting question for me in this particular district, you know, nationally, again, most Democrats are going to say, we believe this issue helps us. In that district, Cuellar want a walk in 2020. Biden won it by four or five points, as we saw increasingly Latino voters, mostly Latino men, but not inclusively moving Trump's way. Most that was on economic issues, but you have a culturally conservative Latino population too. Is it a no brainer or is it who knows?

[12:20:00] SOTOMAYOR: Yes. You know, I think a quote that, Cuellar actually gave one of my colleagues recently who's down there. What this means for The Democratic Party down there as he said, you know, I was born a Democrat, I will die a Democrat, but the Democratic Party is even moving away from me. And that's actually something Republicans point out often, even though they have made gains and are really making a play to try and win over Latino voters, not just in Texas, but we also saw similar things in South Florida.

They say privately, it really is the Democratic Party's move to the left that has a lot of these voters down there saying, wait, am I part of this party. And the interesting split, when I was down there was seeing younger voters. There are a number of younger voters now turning to the Republican Party and telling their parents, hey, you know what, the party actually represents our conservative family religious values.

We're also seeing a switch to a more progressive, that kind of explains Cisneros's point of view, that a lot of people are kind of done with this guy who's been representing them for 30 years, and they're kind of ready to see a new Democrat, bring something new to their community.

KING: Which means it's got a little bit of everything, which means it will teach us something right, because these are the issues. This is Democrat versus Democrat, but in the fall, these are the issues are going to play out in most places between Democrats or Republicans, including this district is right along the border, starts in San Antonio runs down to Laredo along the border. Immigration, of course, an issue. Here you have, listen, the more conservative incumbent, Cuellar, saying his liberal opponent is soft, she wants open borders.


KING: Yes. I say, democratic is run off. But this is a Democratic race. This is not----

HENDERSON: It's shocking. I mean because that seems like you would have that from a Republican. But you've seen this more and more from Democrats. It's like, well, you think about Maggie Hassan who's running up in New Hampshire, going down to the border, wanting to be strong on the border with so many Democrats not wanting to see Title 42 lifted as well.

This is such a fascinating race because it is a preview of what's going to happen in November. But it's also just a preview of what's going to happen beyond November, right? So, Nancy Pelosi and her folks in the leadership of the Democratic Party now in the House versus this new crowd of people like AOC, like Jayapal, who are of course voting for Cisneros down there.

This is going to be fascinating to see who comes out on the winning side, and also this Latino demographic, right? You think about a lot of Latino voters across the country being a bit more conservative. A lots of them are Catholic, but also increasingly Evangelical, and Pentecostal and apostolic, as well. So, you see some of those dynamics. And so, we'll see what happens with this race. What is the turnout like?

KING: The turnout part, because that's what makes it so complicated because voters are diverse in different parts of the country. There are different races in different of the country. So, you try to figure all this out which races are going to matter most. What is the math? So, can you turn on all your voters? Can you not lose voters on immigration or abortion or something? And how do you deal with all of these democratic midterm challenges issues?

Is Nancy Pelosi - does she want to stay? If she's the minority leader, will she only stay? If you have a baby formula shortage, you have record gas prices, you have the stock market, which is heading turbulence right now. We're still coming out of in the Coronavirus pandemic and all of the things that did the ripple effect of that.

The issue at the border, many say a crisis at the border and Title 42 still up in the air, the stall Democratic agenda. I mean, yes, so you're Democrats running in primaries and run offs. But just as you saw Stacey Abrams trying to clean up saying, I need to be near perfect, because that's the tough environment I'm running it.

DOVERE: But you know, it also notable in that Texas House race, who didn't weigh in of the Democratic leaders, Joe Biden. Joe Biden has endorsed two House races, both for the more moderate candidate versus the progressive candidate. One of those moderates one, one of those progressive seems to have lost in Oregon in last week's race.

He trying to figure out where the Democratic Party is going. You see the scramble, that's going on all these issues on abortion, immigration. It's not clear where he should be, even though this is an incumbent congressman, and generally, a president would support the incumbent congressman, but it's really complicated.

And where Joe Biden is on abortion in particular is a complicated issue for him, and to be with Cuellar who is the only Democrat left in the House, who is not for abortion rights, that's a tricky place for Biden to be and that's part of why he's not there.

KING: It happens, electricity happens.

DOVERE: Ideas coming out.

KING: Ideas coming. I like that. A quick break for us. When we come back, President Biden now heading home after a trip through Asia his off the cuff comments, sparking outrage from China. We'll go live. Our chief White House correspondent, she's in Tokyo. Next.




KING: President Biden is on his way back to Washington now for an Asia trip designed to strengthen alliances and to send a message to China. President's last meeting before coming home with the leaders from Japan, Australia and India, group also known as the quad. That that session the president called the war on Ukraine "not just a Europe issue, it's a global issue." India though has resisted breaking its ties with Russia.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins traveled with the President, of course, and she is still behind in Tokyo and joins us now live. Kaitlan, put this trip into context for us.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a massive trip for the president. Of course, his first trip to Asia since taking office, typically something he would have done a lot sooner on, but obviously he was delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But pointing to that meeting that he had today really puts it into sharp relief of what exactly was going on because all of these conversations that he's having with the prime minister of India, with the brand-new prime minister of Australia, with the prime minister of Japan. All are different now because of Russia's invasion of Ukraine and those remarks that the president made today saying that this is not just