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Poll: Inflation Is Top Issue For PA Voters; Hurricane Ian Takes Aim To Florida; CNN: U.S. Watching Sham Referendums Closely, Preparing To Act. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired September 27, 2022 - 12:30   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: This is one of our clues about Donald Trump 2016. Donald Trump beats Hillary Clinton by a little more than three points there, goes on to win this county, wins the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, goes on to win the White House. Obama had carried this county twice, only -- one of 25 counties in the entire country, twice for Obama, then for Trump, and then for Joe Biden.

So why does it matter in 2022? Well, it's a bellwether. And if you pull out now and look at the current house of representatives here, it's not only a bellwether in the important race for governor of Pennsylvania, in the critical race for Senate in Pennsylvania. But if you come into the House races here, there are two House districts. You see these two House districts in blue.

There is the seventh district right here. So there's an eighth, seventh district here, Susan Wild, then you come over to the eighth district, Matt Cartwright, two Democrats. This is 2020. Matt Cartwright just wins two years ago. And you move over to the next district here. Susan Wild just wins two years ago.

That's a presidential year when the Democrat carried the state. In a midterm election year, you would think both of them are in trouble. Both right now in toss up races, some prognosticators, lean them Republican, others say tossup. We visited with Susan Wild while she was here campaigning. She says if I can win, and my neighbor Matt Cartwright can win, that will change everything.


REP. SUSAN WILD (D-PA): I don't know that this, this is going to be a wave year for anybody. But I think that if you see on election night that Matt Cartwright and I have held our seats, that you are going to see that the Democrats hold on to their majority in the House. By how much? I don't know. But these are truly two of the most pivotal races in the entire country.


KING: Our great reporters back with us. Many Democrats think she's a bit overly optimistic about the idea of the Democrats keeping the House. But those whose district will be critical, A, if she's right. If Democrats can defy history, win all those battleground districts or most of them and keep the House but even beyond who gets control, how big is the margin for Republicans will be decided by how if Republicans win the House by how she does, how Matt Cartwright does.

KASIE HUNT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Right. And that's going to give us a lot of information about how governing is going to go in Washington at parties. And it's interesting, my parents actually lived in Northampton County for many years. And it is kind of an interesting, you know, amalgamation of forces at play in that area. I mean it's not western Pennsylvania, which is kind of your more like, classic rust belt area, although there's some of that.

There are people that commute to New York City who live there. I think there's a confluence of issues and things in Pennsylvania in particular, that could also affect this, including the fact that the gubernatorial nominee is not doing terribly well, Doug Mastriano, as of right now, he's an election denier. Fetterman seems to be running a relatively strong campaign as a Democrat in that state.

And then there's the wild card of abortion. I think some of the behavior -- some of the voters in that area are going to behave a little bit more like suburban voters, which may say that, hey, more women are going to come out to vote and they're going to vote for Democrats. So I think there are a lot of questions swirling, big picture, they are going to matter a lot. I am with you. I'm a little skeptical that if those two districts go, that means the house also goes for Democrats. I still struggle to see a world where that happens at all. But I guess we'll see.

KING: But if you hold a boat, if you can hold them both, it tells you something. Well -- the end, we'll get to the end. But you make a key point about one of the challenges in the final six weeks is who decides what -- who can convince voters what's most important. If you watch on television, Susan Wild thinks this year is different. She thinks she can have bipartisan appeal and she certainly thinks that the abortion issue helps her. If you watch her Republican opponent she says no, this is going to be a traditional midterm year. Susan Wild is in the party of Biden and Pelosi, therefore vote her out.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Biden and Pelosi's economic policies are hurting us. Susan Wild is with them. Lisa Scheller is with us. Lisa Scheller is an outsider and successful businesswoman. She gets results.

WILD: You know me. I'm part of a proud tradition from our community of being moderate and bipartisan. While Lisa was lying about shipping jobs to China, I've been working to get things done.


KING: In these fascinating competitive races, this is a new statewide poll from Marist but just think about, you know, this is a swing district that generally reflects the state. What's the top issue right now? Inflation. So Republicans would say, aha, you know, that's good for us. But then look at what comes next, preserving democracy and abortion, immigration and health care below that, preserving democracy and abortion, the Democrats think, OK, if we can convince a lot of voters that should be issue number one, we're in play.

MARIANNA SOTOMAYOR, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Oh, yes. I mean, I actually was in the district, spent a couple of days there back in April and May of this year. And even then, before we saw the, you know, the draft of the Roe v. Wade possibly being overturned, and of course, that decision, you have some women, they're already telling me, you know, outside of a Wawa that abortion is already an issue that I am tracking.

And you know, people asking me, what is -- what are some of the districts that may turn out the election, right, like, what is this going to define the majority of the House? And this is one where I usually say because, you know, you have Republicans who are now independents, because they don't like Trump.

They were already not liking Oz, even before the primary. You have some Democrats or independents who don't like how leftist the Democratic Party has become. So it really is an interesting district where a lot of these factors are going to come to play but I do think that abortion is going to play there as well as --


KING: And so I showed you how close it was between Biden and Trump. Biden won the county by less than one percentage point. So it's careful if you're a local business person, we visited Becky's drive. And Becky's driving has been there for 76 years. It has been in the same family for 76 years. We visited the drive in on a Friday night.

It's a crisp fall night, which reminds you, number one, the screens are about to go dark until spring, number two of the election is around the corner. Listen to one of the owners who runs it now. He's in the snack bar. He's flipping burgers. He's more hotdogs on the griddle. He says around here we know the county's 50-50, we're very careful when it comes to talking politics.


DEAN DEPPE, BECKY'S DRIVE-IN OWNER: We don't know what to disengage half of our customer base. Things that I'm sure, you know, are pretty heated opinions. So we didn't want to, you know, try to do our best to try to appease both sides.


KING: That's Dean Deppe there being a smart businessman. Things are pretty heated. I just want to show you this county. You think of a competitive county, you think, oh, well, all the neighborhoods are the same and they're all competitive. That's not the way the county plays out, which is why it's so fascinating. You see here, this is Easton, Pennsylvania over here. It's blue. Why? Because the county is predominantly white. But Easton is diverse, 67 percent white, you have a black population and Latino population. And that helps the Democrats.

And you come over here to Bethlehem. Not only is Bethlehem diverse, it's the largest 75,000 people placed in the county, but it has a much higher rate of college education, which is a huge deal, you know, deal maker for the Democrats, if you will, but look up here. That's Trump country. Most of these small borrowers are over 90 percent White.

We went to one, Pen Argyl. We met the local barber, John Cuono. He's been in the same spot since he retired from the Navy 59 years ago, 59 years ago. He's a registered Democrat voted for Trump twice. Does he believe everything about Trump, listen to this.


JOHN CUONO, BARBER: I look at it this way. He got caught. But how many other presidents did the same thing and didn't get caught?

KING: Are you have the view that it's all BS, or that some of its true or all of its true?

CUONO: Well, some of it got to be true. I mean, the FBI knows how to do a job without checking in knowing your stories are right.

KING: A lot of people who sit in that chair, think the election was stolen?

CUONO: Some say that he was and some say he wasn't, so I don't know.


KING: I bring that up. Because when you drive through this area, and I believe we have some of the pictures, especially in that northern belt of the district, the 2020 election is not over. There are a lot of signs, a lot of banners, a lot of them very critical of Joe Biden, the President of the United States, a lot of them using language or learning to language that you wouldn't think your parents would want you talking about any President agree or disagree. But you had -- there's a Trump but you always wonder what are the Trump voters going to do?

He says he's open to voting for Trump again, even though he thinks that of course, there's something to these investigations. He just thinks all politicians are crooked. Therefore, there you see some of the signs.

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Right. Obviously, this has been shaping up to be the epicenter of the political universe for the midterms. But it also has implications for 2024. And keep in mind if Doug Mastriano, the Republican nominee for governor wins, he gets to appoint the Secretary of State who's going to oversee the next election process. So that's on the ballot as well, not just abortion, but also democracy.

And the thing about Pennsylvania is, it is a very -- it's a swing state, true and true. But what works in one part of the state might not work in another part of the state. I think James Carville once described Pennsylvania as Pittsburgh and Philadelphia with Alabama in between. So it is a, you know, a true battle ground. HUNT: -- know, I mean, the quip is that it's called Pennsyltucky. It's not necessarily a positive. You know, I'm not saying that's how I think of it, but that's how people talk about the area that are around those two cities. And you know, Easton in the area you show there's also a college in eastern Pennsylvania that contributes to what's going on with that. But you know, I thought what you're, you're -- the man at the diner said was so interesting, and I think this is, you know, one of the biggest problems we face today.

And the question is, are those voters who are just so turned off by our system, and by the fact that like, they can't talk to their neighbors anymore about politics, are they going to show up? And if they show up, who are they going to vote for?

KING: Right. Even the barber, you visit small town America, that's where you go as a political reporter, you go to the barber shop, John Cuono --

HUNT: I love seeing you out there.

KING: John Cuono, he's been doing this for as long as I've been alive, and he says he doesn't talk politics as much with people in the chair because it starts fights and he's he called it a downer. He called it a downer.

HUNT: It is.

KING: It is. Sadly, it is we should be able to have conversations even if we disagree. Not a bad thing.

Up next Russia, stages sham votes in Ukraine and says the early results are overwhelming. So just what is Vladimir Putin's next move?



KING: We'll take you straight to the White House briefing room, the FEMA Administrator talking about preparations for Hurricane Ian.

DEANNE CRISWELL, FEMA ADMINISTRATOR: -- that you stay vigilant.

And so my message to those who may be watching at home, get ready, and do not underestimate the potential that this storm can bring. Know where you are going to get your information. Listen to your local officials and heed their advice, they are trying to keep you safe. Have a plan to communicate with your family.

Finally, FEMA and our partners are here. We are ready, and we are focused on meeting the needs of those that we are charged to serve. But we need the help of everyone that we are charged, that everyone at home to be as prepared as they can be. I am confident that we have the right team in place as we work this emergency response to Hurricane Ian. And together, we have the capability to meet whatever threats may come our way.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you. And thank you, Director Criswell. You briefly mentioned Puerto Rico. There are still 750,000 customers without power in Puerto Rico. And you authorized, just in June, $600 million, I believe, for -- in equipment for rebuilding the power grid there. There was something like $10 billion approved back in 2020. What's the status of the efforts to try to rebuild Puerto Rico's power grid? And had any of that taken place before this latest storm hit?

CRISWELL: Yes, I was just in Puerto Rico maybe about three weeks ago checking on the recovery from Hurricane Maria. And what I saw when I was there is one cohesive team between the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the federal family that has been really focused on all of the recovery efforts, but primarily the power restoration.

When we were there just last week checking on the impacts from Hurricane Fiona, what I saw there is they were putting power back as quickly as they could. But I think the important piece and what really stood out to me is what I saw them as they were repairing the downed power poles, they were bringing back more resilient, they were putting them back with more resilient poles to withstand future impacts, like we saw from Hurricane Fiona.

We are committed to continuing to work with the governor of Puerto Rico in his efforts to make sure that we can rebuild this grid in a way that's actually going to be more resilient for future impacts.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How long do you think it'll take to rebuild the grid?

CRISWELL: I think that we have done a lot of work in making sure that we've taken the time right now to do the plans or the commonwealth has, to do the plans to make sure that as they are rebuilding it, it's going to be more resilient.

I think that the time, we'll get back to you on what the timeframe is, but it takes time, right? Recovery never is fast as anybody wants it to be, but we will continue to work with them and expedite anything that we can to speed up that recovery.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Has the administration or will the administration waive the Jones Act that would allow for a diesel-carrying ship to dock there in Puerto Rico to help provide necessary provisions of diesel oil to those there?

CRISWELL: Yes, we are committed to doing everything that we can within our legal authority to support the people of Puerto Rico. And we know that the Jones Act waiver is one of those things. We have a legal obligation to ensure that each waiver request meets the legal requirements of Congress. And so any final determination on that will be made by the Secretary of Homeland Security.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Given the pressure we've heard from the Puerto Ricans and the governor in that territory right now, what timeframe should they anticipate that decision should be made, given the urgent need for that oil? CRISWELL: I know that they are actively working on that approval process, or that consideration, right now. And so I don't have a timeframe for you right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. And just a curiosity, I know we've asked before, you spoke to several mayors down there. One of the mayors said that one of the primary concerns was complacency. I'm curious, the President spoke to big leaders. First question to you is about complacency. The second is, you've spoken to the governor of the state, why hasn't the President yet? Or is there a scheduled call for the two men to speak, obviously, as they're the preeminent leaders of the country and of that state?

CRISWELL: I do have concerns about complacency. We're talking about impacts in a part of Florida that hasn't seen a major direct impact in nearly 100 years. There's also parts of Florida where there's a lot of new residents that have never experienced this type of threat.


So my message to them is still, take this very seriously. Listen to your local officials. And those Floridians that have been through this before, help your neighbors that may have not had to go through this. Heeding the advice of your local officials is the most important.

And as far as the conversation, the President directed me to contact the governor early on, before we even did the declaration, I did that. My regional administrator is with the governor right now, making sure that we're understanding what the needs are. And our focus is on the current life safety needs that need to be met.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you describe just the level of communication with state officials, and have there been any -- anything unusual or any challenges with that? How would you describe it?

CRISWELL: Yes, I think the communication that we have had with the state officials has been excellent. My regional administrator out of Region 4, Gracia Szczech, she is in Florida. She got there yesterday.

She has been embedded at the state EOC, working with the state emergency management director one-on-one to make sure we're understanding what their needs are. And she's traveling with the governor to a few areas today to make sure we're understanding what those needs.

We've had a long relationship with Florida. We've -- our Region 4 has had a great partnership with all of the emergency management team there. They've done a lot of work with the different municipalities and the counties. And I think the relationship is very strong.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is there anything different about this preparation compared to how FEMA normally prepares for hurricanes that approach landfall? Is there anything particular about the strength of this storm or where it's going to land that has changed how you prepare for it? CRISWELL: I don't know if I would say it's changed how we prepare for it. I would say, under this administration, the President has given me very clear direction that we are going to lean in and we are not going to wait to provide assistance. And that's exactly what we're doing for this one. That's what we have done for the previous hurricanes that we experienced last year, as well.

We understand that this is going to have some significant impacts. And we want to make sure that we have the right resources in place ahead of time to be able to respond immediately when it's safe to do so.

KING: Deanne Criswell there the FEMA Administrator talking to reporters in the White House briefing room talking most recently about preparations in Florida as Hurricane Ian charts a path right now to hit the west coast of Florida potentially around South of the Tampa, St. Pete area. She says she has been in touch with the governor of Florida. She has a team on the ground in Florida. And that the administration is doing everything it can to help.

She also took a couple of questions about the impact of the recent Hurricane Fiona on Puerto Rico saying the administration remains committed to doing all it can to help the people of Puerto Rico as well. We will continue to track the briefing at the White House. Obviously our weather team is on top of Ian as it approaches Florida. We'll take a quick break, we'll be right back.



KING: Russian state news agency now reporting results from the sham referenda and four Ukrainian regions. It claims the state T.V. does, that 97 percent of the votes counted have been cast in favor of joining the Russian Federation. In just the last hour, the NATO Secretary General condemning these votes saying they're quote, a blatant violation of international law. And the Biden White House says the United States will quote, never recognize the territory as quote anything other than part of Ukraine.

Let's get some insights from the former Deputy Director of National Intelligence Beth Sanner. Beth this is a propaganda play by Putin. But it's a propaganda play that affects the conversation in the region, including the question of what is Putin's next move, and he's back on his heels? Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

BETH SANNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think it's overall a bad thing. I mean, you know, in the end, I think and there will be an end, it may take some time. I do think that the events over the past couple of weeks actually are really bad for not only Russia, but for Putin. And I think the likelihood that this is going to end badly for Putin personally have -- has just skyrocketed. But in the short term, it's bad.

KING: Well, what do you mean by that, in the sense of someone who had access to the most sensitive U.S. intelligence, there's always been this question, you know, Putin is acting outside of U.S. interests, but most people viewed him as a sane person, a rational person, a tactical and a strategic person. You see these referenda, you'd -- we all have seen what's happened on the battlefield in the last couple of weeks, remarkable Ukrainian progress.

And now you have these breathtaking pictures of Russians fleeing, Russians lining up at the Georgia border. Russia is not lining up at the border with Finland to get out because Vladimir Putin says if you are a, you know, a healthy male in Russia, you are going to be conscripted into the military. What does that tell you? Look at those pictures.

SANNER: It tells us that Putin has made the second biggest blunder of this war in this mobilization, the first being the decision to go to war. So now he's in this conundrum where this mobilization is not going to produce a change in the battlefield. And I just added up some numbers on the back of an envelope, and I add up at least 230,000 Russian men fleeing over the past week, and he has a goal of 300,000 to be conscripted. There aren't a lot left and sending people into battle with zero or one day of training isn't going to make a difference.

And so that leads us inevitably to a place where, you know, he cannot win on the battlefield. And I think it's really a matter of what does losing look like and that's very, very hard to predict.

KING: And so if you're the United States government having a conversation with the Ukrainian government, what now in the sense that Vladimir Putin says if you don't recognize these areas, as parts of Russia, I could use nuclear weapons, that's been pretty plain language. So does the United States with Ukrainians need to proceed carefully, gently, or do they say no way and test it?


SANNER: I think that we keep going steadily to exactly where we are now, hold a coalition together and keep moving forward. Because what this threat is right now is a threat. It is a bluff. It is attempted blackmail. I do think that there is a slightly higher risk that he might go forward with nuclear weapons.

But I think that there are basically three reasons he won't. One being that it probably won't work, it could actually crystallize Western resolve, it could lead to a massive uprising in Russia in terms of maybe even the military turning on him, and he would definitely lose allies like China and neutrals like India to break that 77-year taboo against using nuclear weapons, it would have a huge cost. So, you know, well, let's wait and see. But right now, I think we need to calm ourselves and steady our nerves and keep going.

KING: Beth Sanner, thank you so much for your insights with this important moment. Thank you for your time today in Inside Politics. We'll see you back here tomorrow for the special coverage of January 6th hearings. Ana Cabrera picks up our coverage after a quick break.