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Tightening Races In Key Battleground States With 33 Days To Go; Economy & Inflation The Dominant Issue For AZ & NV Voters; Midterm Political Climate Favors GOP In 2 Key Battleground States; No Clear Leader In AZ & NV Secretary Of State Races; Lt Gov: Georgia Republicans "Rattled" By Herschel Walker Allegations; Walker Denies Knowing Woman Who Claims He Paid For Her Abortion; She Says He's The Father Of Another Child; House GOP Aims To Impeach DHS Chief Instead Of Biden. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired October 06, 2022 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Hello, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing your day with us. Right now, we released brand new CNN poll numbers showing remarkably close midterm contest in two critical battleground states, Arizona and Nevada.

Plus, unfathomable, simply unfathomable forum in Thailand, an attacker uses a gun and a knife to murder at least 24 children while they sleep. And another new claim against Herschel Walker. The woman who told The Daily Beast, Walker paid her to have an abortion. Now says, she is also the mother of one of Walker's children. The Georgia Republican Senate nominee says it's a lie, a smear.


HERSCHEL WALKER, (R) GA SENATE NOMINEE: I'll say the same thing I've said, that, you know, I know this is untrue. I know isn't true. And they keep telling me things like that and it's totally, totally untrue. I know nothing about any woman having an abortion. And they can keep coming at me like that. And they're doing it because they want to distract people, I know that.


KING: Back to that story in a moment, but we begin the hour with new numbers, remarkable new numbers that speak volumes about how competitive key races are with just a little more than a month ago in this incredibly consequential midterm campaign. Arizona and Nevada, both have Democratic senators fighting for re-election. Both battleground western states also have big races for governor and for secretary of state. To call them close, all of them is an understatement.

Let's walk through the numbers. Let's start with the Arizona Senate campaign. Mark Kelly is the Democratic incumbent. This is the biggest lead you're going to see as we walk through these polls, he's at 51 percent. The Republican Blake Masters is at 45 percent. Just outside the margin of error. So, you can say Mark Kelly is ahead, but it's very narrow and very competitive. He's a Democratic incumbent, remember that.

The governor's race in Arizona, no incumbent here but the Democrat Katie Hobbs running against the Republican Kari Lake. Kari Lake at 46 percent, Katie Hobbs at 49 percent. The Democrats call that elite if you will, but there's no clear leader here because that is a statistical tie within the poll's margin of error, remarkably close in the race for Arizona governor.

Similarly, when we move over to Nevada, look at the margins. Catherine Cortez Masto is the Democratic incumbent here again. Just like the Arizona race, this is critical. It's a 50-50 Senate. The Democratic incumbents need to hang on, but she trails 48 percent to 46 percent. If you look at the raw numbers among likely voters in Nevada, that's no clear leader.

Again, within the poll's margin of error, a statistical tie in this Nevada Senate race and the Nevada governor's race. The Democratic incumbent there, Steve Sisolak. The numbers are exactly the same, 48 percent for the Republican, 46 percent for the Democratic incumbent in Nevada. Sheriff Joe Lombardo is the Republican candidate. Again, he's ahead 48 percent, 46 percent, statistically, that's a dead heat, another dead heat in the Nevada governor's race.

So, what is driving this midterm climate? Well, in a midterm campaign, a president's first midterm campaign, his approval rating is generally the north star and President Biden is underwater in both of these states. 41 percent in Arizona, 41 percent in Nevada approve of Joe Biden's performance. But look, nearly six in 10 likely voters in each of these states disapproves of the president's performance. Another warning sign for Democrats as we get into the final month. Just look at this.

What is the top issue among likely voters, those likely to turn out 33 days from now? Look at this. The economy and inflation overwhelmingly 39 percent of Arizona's voters say it's number. 44 percent of voters in Nevada say the economy and inflation number one, dwarfing abortion or voting rights, dwarfing abortion and voting rights, perhaps issues that would play in the Democrats favors. This is a troubling sign for Democrats heading into the final month.

Let's get some perspective now. With me to share their reporting and their insights, NPR's Claudia Grisales, Seung Min Kim of the Associated Press, Zolan Kanno-Youngs of The New York Times, and our CNN political director David Chalian. David remarkably close races. But if you look into the bones, troubling signs for Democrats.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: There's no doubt about it, John. And just where you ended there, I think it's critical that overwhelming sense that the economy and inflation is the dominant issue. This is what jumps out to me at this poll. All the other issues are just not even in the same ballpark in terms of importance to voters.

[12:05:00] But when you couple that, with the overall perception that voters just think the economy clear majorities in the states, think the economy is getting worse in their states. You noted Joe Biden being underwater. This is why, especially in Nevada, why Republicans see real opportunity there. You went through the Senate and the governor's race they're showing how close those contests are, and why Republicans see real opportunity.

They're also like critical house contests in Nevada. So, Republicans have sort of set their sights on that state. And you see why they had some sense of hope there, that that may be a state that they turn around to their favor, given this environment,

KING: Right. And again, I just want to dig deeper and I'm going to start right here. I'm mean, it's just 33 days out now. Economy inflation, by far, by far, you look at the abortion issue, you look at the voting rights issues, like election integrity issues, critical races, when it comes to governor, secretary of state we'll dig deeper to those races. But that's a gap that favors the Republicans without a doubt.

And to David's point, if you look at it more closely here, Claudia, are things getting better or things getting worse? Only 6 percent of likely voters in Arizona say, things are getting better. Only 15 percent in Nevada, say things are getting better. You have 63 percent in Arizona, nearly six and 10 in Nevada saying, things are getting worse. That if you just took the names out, forget who's on the ballot. That's a change election right there. That is a recipe of voters who are anxious, when voters are anxious, they want change.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, NPR: Right, exactly. And we're getting closer and closer to election day. And yes, that anxiety is peeking as we're seeing in terms of these numbers. And that's not good news for Democrats who are facing a lot of drags, heading into election day. And so, this is going to be a big worry for them, especially in these nail biter races that we're looking at,

KING: Let me be a little contrarian. If you just read the bones, Biden's approval rating, views on the economy, you would think the Democrats are getting blown out. That they are competitive tells you something, I don't know what it is, but it tells you something.

ZOLAN KANNO-YOUNGS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Right, right. And this is, I mean, Democrats this summer would have pointed to the road decision in the effort to galvanize a wide coalition of voters, younger voters as well. Off that decision in the changing momentum, they would have pointed as well to falling gas prices in some states as well, when it came to that change in momentum.

But these numbers cut against that enthusiasm that we saw this summer from Democrats and the White House. It does show just how overpowering issues like the economy and inflation also issues that, to be quite honest, the White House does have little tools that they can actually use to address something like inflation as well. While that may be true, voters tend to place blame on the person who's in power at the time. That's just the reality.

SEUNG MIN KIM, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: What I thought was so interesting in the poll, too, is talking about the motivation and enthusiasm of voters in those two states because the narrative for several weeks, months since the Dobbs decision has been, Democrats are the enthusiastic motivated party. But in these polls in Arizona and Nevada, it's Republicans who have the double-digit enthusiasm leap over the Democrats. And that is certainly fueled by economy and the inflation issues that we're seeing.

KING: And you make perhaps the most salient points in the sense that right after the Dobbs decision in July and August, there's no doubt. There's no doubt the external energy, the external enthusiasm favor, the Democrats. It looks like, its clearly evidence, in this polls that that has shifted, we've seen in some other states as well.

If you look at registered voters, Democrats do better. When you then look at likely voters, Republicans do better on every question, on every horse race question, on every issue question. When you go from registered to likely because David, they have more enthusiasm.

CHALIAN: Exactly. That is the enthusiasm factor playing out that we see. Now, if you look at the people who just say abortion is their most important issue, you see that democratic enthusiasm around that issue. There just aren't enough of them right now to have them up and the whole sort of environment that these races are taking place.

And you said, John, well, why is it then that Dems are, sort of blowing this out of the water if all this energy, well, that Republicans aren't the reason, John. Is that if you look at the favorability of these candidates, this gets to Mitch McConnell's point about candidate quality.

Blake Masters in our poll, his unfavorables are much higher than Mark Kelly's unfavorables. So that's what gives Kelly that slight edge. Why is Catherine Cortez Masto perhaps the most vulnerable incumbent Democrat in the country? Why is she still in this race? Well, because Adam Laxalt favorable are not sort of sky high. He also has higher unfavorables not quite as dramatic as in Arizona. I think that is what's keeping Democrats alive in these contests that otherwise the economy would just wipe them away.

KING: Right. And they have the resources as well. It tells you when the races are so competitive that 33 days out resources matter. Debates will matter if these candidates are on the debate stage. But again, if you look at the underlying direction, you make a key point about what has changed from right after the Dobbs decision. Are you better off or worse off?

If the Republicans - if the question is if Republicans win control of the Congress in Arizona and in Nevada, by a decent margin that just disappeared on me. There that's what happens with technology every now, and then there you go right there. In both Arizona and Nevada, voters by a decent margin, by 11 points in Nevada, by seven points in Arizona think they would be better off if Republicans ran the Congress. Again, that's a change dynamic that the Democrats somehow have to try to grab and bend in 30 days.


GRISALES: Right. It's interesting how Democrats were able to squeeze through the inflation Reduction Act. This was a big win for Democrats, but that's faded quickly. What they're seeing more often on a daily basis is how much is my guest costing today, more than it did a few days ago, a few months ago what have you and how much more am I paying for my groceries? That is the daily reminder. Well, big legislation like that takes time to make its way.

KANNO-YOUNGS: That's the key also. A lot of the legislation, while Democrats were celebrating the bills that were passed this summer, whether it's infrastructure from last year or inflation Reduction Act to this year, it takes time. And in the meantime, voters, including in these two pivotal states are feeling the immediate impacts of these issues.

Just one thing too on Nevada, especially, I do think it also sort of calls to question this thing that Democrats have come to rely on for quite a while this assumption that you could rely on a transient base of changing demographics in the state.

Look, the economy and inflation are also very much resonating with working class voters as well as Latino voters in that state. Our colleagues as well followed grassroots campaigns as they were going around and talking to those groceries.

KIM: And two more quick points on Nevada. First of all, Nevada has the second highest gas prices in the nation, second only to California. It has been consistently the case, and also Nevada is the one Senate race where there wasn't this big family feud in the Republican Party over the nominee. And I don't think it's a coincidence that that is where Republicans feel the most optimistic about their chances.

KING: I want to get one more point in, which is, these races are critical to the midterm climate. These are also two of the battleground states that are going to be very important in the next presidential election. I want to show you the two secretary of state races. This is Arizona. Adrian Fontes is the Democrat, Mark Finchem is the Republican. The Republican is leading. Again, no clear leader there. It's within this statistically that's a tie. When you see the Republican on top 49 percent-45 percent.

Let's move to Nevada. Cisco Aguilar against Jim Marchant 46 percent-43 percent, again, a statistical tie. Both of those Republican candidates Marchant and Finchem are election deniers. Marchant has said he would not have certified the Nevada for the routes for Joe Biden. If he was the secretary of state four years ago, Finchem has said Joe Biden lost Arizona, neither of those things - Joe Biden won them both. That is a giant. Voters have a big decision to make here, about election integrity, about who you want kept counting the ballots in your state. And their states just happened to be giant, when it comes to presidents.

CHALIAN: Yes. And if the results on election night are like those numbers in the poll, you're going to have these two election deniers overseeing the election process in these battleground states. We asked folks about sort of how they think their vote will be handled and stuff. And you see there's more concern among Republicans that somehow it won't be a fair count, let's say, then you see that among Democrats or independents, so that obviously their election denialism is has traction inside the Republican Party.

KING: It's in the bloodstream. It's in the bloodstream of the Republican Party. More to discuss about these polling in the days ahead. But next for us, a new twist and another big marquee midterm contest. New accusations against the Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker and a new denial.




KING: Herschel Walker this morning denying another blockbuster new claim, that he also has a child with a woman who says Walker paid her to have an abortion back in 2009. That unnamed accuser now telling The Daily Beast this, "maybe there are just so many of us that he truly doesn't remember.

But then again, if he really forgot about it, that says something, too." Again, that the anonymous accuser to The Daily Beast. Earlier today, speaking to Hugh Hewitt on the radio, Walker making his most complete and most substantive response to both accusations.


WALKER: Well, I've already been forgiven. And if I've all been forgiven, why in the world would I not be forgiven of something like that? If that had happened, I would have said it. Cause there's nothing to be ashamed of there. You know, people have done that. But I know nothing about it, and if I knew about it, I would be honest and talk about it. But I know nothing about that.


KING: CNN Eva McKend joins our conversation, essentially saying there that if it had happened, he had been forgiven meeting between him and God. And he would just say, it happened. And he says, it didn't.

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Yes. This is, I think we're going to continue to hear this, it's going to be more of the same in the coming days. He's leaning heavily on his faith in rebutting this. And he also said, no one has ever told me, sometimes it's hard to understand what he's saying during this interview. But he said, no one has ever told me on I paid for an abortion.

So, it seems to me that he's leaving an opening to say, well, if I gave this woman money, I didn't know that she was going to go on to use it for an abortion. He also characterized all of this as a distraction. You know, in an ordinary political environment, John, I think this drip, drip, drip of information would be devastating. But we are not an ordinary political times. And we are seeing the full weight of the Republican establishment still rally against him, rally for him as we learn more.

KING: There's one exception and let's just be clear. Geoff Duncan is Lieutenant Governor of Florida. He's an anti-Trumper. He believes the Republican Party needs to abandon Trump and abandoned people like Herschel Walker. But listen to Geoff Duncan here. He knows the state well. He's elected statewide. Of course, he says there are some Republicans who are rattled.


LT. GOV. GEOFF DUNCAN (R) GEORGIA: Even the most-staunch Republicans I think are rattled at the continued flow of information. The weight of that baggage is starting to feel a little closer to unbearable at this point. Herschel Walker won the primary because he scored a bunch of touchdowns back in the 80s. And he was Donald Trump's friend. And now we've moved forward several months on the calendar and that's no longer a recipe to win.


KING: The question is, is Lieutenant Governor Duncan right, because Eva is exactly right, that we do not live in normal time. When the access Hollywood tapes came out, everybody said Donald Trump is done. Donald Trump went on to serve as president of the United States. That's one of the things that people in Georgia are saying, people close to Walker are saying that just deny this. Keep your head down, plow forward. It's a good environment for Republicans, we'll be OK.

But to Lieutenant Governor Duncan's point, it doesn't take much. In a competitive race, if a small percentage of people in the suburbs who maybe were going to vote for Walker, even if they disagree with him, he says he's anti-abortion, hey, I can't do it. Or if a small percentage of Christian conservatives say, I can't do it, and they just don't vote. They don't have to vote for the Democrat. They just don't vote. It doesn't take much.


KIM: It really doesn't take much. And I don't think those two are contradictory in terms of whether this impacts the race at the end of the day and whether Republicans are rattled. Republicans are certainly rattled, especially the ones I've talked to, they are wondering what else are we going to hear? We still have more than four weeks out from election day.

But I think some of the calculations that Republicans have made, particularly in standing by Herschel Walker is one that you mentioned that, when there are allegations, you deny them. It is too late clearly to replace them on the ballot, stick by your candidate, or else get punished by your base voters.

But also, that, if you were going to be a voter who's going to vote on this issue, on abortion, and maybe issues of character, maybe you weren't going to be a Herschel Walker voter anyway, so maybe it doesn't hurt at the end of the day, but it is. We are all, you know, obviously watching what else we're going to see from this race.

KANNO-YOUNGS: It's not the first time that a family dispute has come up, but this is more than a family dispute. I mean, you also have a candidate whose son has gone on publicly, to not just undercut this image of a family man who has these family values, but also alleging also abuse as well towards him and his mother. And remember, Herschel Walker's son, Christian Walker, being also a conservative as well in the party too and alleging that hypocrisy.

So, it is, I think we can all say this is more extraordinary than other disputes that have come about in the past year, especially when it comes to allegations undermining the image you're putting forward as a candidate thus far.

KING: And the hypocrisy is an interesting question in the sense that we do live in these incredibly volatile times that anyone who tells you they know how something's going to play out. I would have some pause. We'll just watch and see what the voters do. But you have the 23-year-old son, his own son says, and he says that we told him at the beginning of the campaign, be upfront about all this stuff and deal with it. And he refused to do.

So, that's what the son says, now you have this, this woman who says number one, he paid her to have an abortion back in 2009. Number two, she says he also is the father of her child. She says he didn't accept responsibility for the kid, we did have together. And now he isn't accepting responsibility for the one that we didn't have. That says so much about how he views the role of women in childbirth versus his own. And now he wants to take that choice away from other women and couples entirely.

The last part, they're getting to Herschel Walker's position in the campaign is that he is anti-abortion, no exceptions, not for rate, not for incest, not for life of mother. The question is, when you take that public position, and then you have an accusation like this, which he denies, does it convince enough voters? You know, it's hypocrisy or just enough of a character cloud that I can't do this?

GRISALES: Yes. That's going to be the big test for Georgia is what does this do in the end with these new developments, and again, we have to see what could be coming next. And having this very vocal comments from his son, very powerful, heartbreaking comments from him talking about that he's hearing we're going to lose Georgia from conservatives and other concerns. And in saying don't lie, don't lie. I mean, those are really striking messages. So, it remains to be seen in this state, whether it's going to make a difference, however, because it is unusual times and it's hard to say.

MCKEND: What we've seen though, from Republican voters is a level of discipline, at least in the recent past in which they have tunnel vision and are really laser focused on getting their policy priorities over the finish line. And if that means supporting an unsavory candidate, you know, so be it. They're more concerned about how Herschel Walker would vote in the Senate on abortion, then maybe the past actions he engaged in the alleged action.

KING: And the initial reaction of the money was we're going to continue to support Herschel Walker, both a super PAC, close to Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, other outside the National Republican Senatorial Committee says the money is going. Here's my question, though, we just went through the tight race in Arizona. We just went through the tight race in Nevada. There are tight Senate races in Pennsylvania, in Wisconsin, in North Carolina.

How long do Republicans take to look at the data to see is there a bleeding of support away from Herschel Walker? And if so, resources are finite. Do you take that money and move it somewhere else? So today, they're all in. When will we answer the question? Are they really all in?

KIM: I think, I mean, they've already had to go in in places where they I'm sure they wish they wouldn't have had to spend like in the Ohio Senate race. I think as long as the race stays very close in the margin of error that McConnell super PAC, other allied Republican organizations will still be invested in it, but we'll have to see the numbers.

KANNO-YOUNGS: I think history shows at this point that in recent history, and just from conversations I've had as well. The Republican Party as it stands the funding machine behind it, tend to stick with their candidates, even through some of these controversies.

KING: I'll just add this wrinkle as we go. This is about November 8, but if no candidate in Georgia gets 50 percent plus one, then the two top candidates have a runoff in December. So, this could go on for a month past election day, if you will. Up next for us. Some brand-new CNN reporting on the Republican wish list, if they win the House majority in November. It includes a possible impeachment. Yes, it does. We'll tell you who and why. Next?




KING: We're bringing some new CNN reporting now on House Republicans and their post-election priority. Some lawmakers telling CNN, if they win the majority in next month's midterms, they could quickly launch an impeachment effort, not against President Biden they say, but instead the cabinet secretary in charge of the southern border. That would be the Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. He is according to this reporting the GOPs number one target.

Our chief congressional correspondent Manu Raju joins our conversation. I just want to put up here, why would you impeach Secretary Mayorkas? Some say, he has failed to maintain operational control of the border, make that argument, is that impeachable.