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Hochul, Zeldin To Debate For Only Time Tuesday Night; Murkowski, Peltola Buck Parties To Endorse Each Other In Alaska; Samuel Alito Assured Ted Kennedy In 2005 Of Respect For Roe; Liberal Democrats Withdraw Letter To Biden That Urged Him To Rethink Ukraine Strategy. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired October 25, 2022 - 12:30   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: To Georgia now and it's tough Senate race. The Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock says Republican Herschel Walker may be a football legend, but isn't Senator Warnock says up to the policy challenges of being a United States Senator.

Walker for his part, though, says inflation is punishing Georgia families and Senator Warnock shares the blame for supporting Biden spending policies. Warnock launched a new ad that accuses Walker of hypocrisy and abortion, but he tends to shy away from those character questions at his campaign events. CNN's Eva McKend there following this race for us in Atlanta. Eva, tell us more.

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Well, John, Walker is in Dawsonville law Senator Warnock making his case to voters a little later in Savannah. What we have noticed, as you've mentioned, is that the argument that Warnock, his campaign making on the airwaves, these personal attacks that call up the many allegations against Walker, that is not what you're going to hear him stay -- say when he is speaking directly to voters.

When he is asked about this, he sort of shifts the conversation back to policy concerns. And I think the big test is, is this going to work for him at a time when voters are craving authenticity? Will they ask well, why is Warnock so comfortable making one argument on TV and a different argument in person.

That being said, if he does pivot his strategy, it would be sort of out of character. You know, he makes this argument that being a pastor is so sort of so intrinsic to his work in the Senate. He talks a lot about health care, health care the dominating theme that he lands on out on the campaign trail. When he's asked about the economy, he steers the conversation back to his work to lower the cost of insulin.

Meanwhile, Walker spending a lot of time trying to tie Warnock to President Biden, blaming them both for the state of the economy. John.

KING: Eva McKend live for us in Atlanta. Eva, thank you. And now to New York. Yes. New York. Reliably blue state where things look suddenly tougher for the Democrats, including the incumbent governor, the incumbent Kathy Hochul, facing Republican Lee Zeldin on the debate stage tonight.

It is a big moment the rankings of several New York congressional races have also tilted in Republican favor in recent days for the same reasons. The governor's race is now viewed as more competitive voter anxiety over inflation and a constant Republican focus on crime.

The New York Times headline racist suddenly too close for Democrats comfort. Zeldin has a real shot says the New York Post and from CNN Athena Jones crime concerns, take center stage. Athena joins us now live with more. Athena, a big debate some people might be surprised but New York is competitive too.

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I wasn't able to hear your question, John. But if we're talking about setting the stage for this race, this, as you said is closer than expected. Several recent polls have showed the race tightening in recent days.

The Quinnipiac poll put the put Hochul just four points ahead. One from Siena College put their race at 11 points. So that's still a double digit lead but that lead has shrunk by about six points from September to October.

And so Zeldin who is someone who had wanted to have multiple debates he's going to settle for this one so scheduled debate before Election Day and before early voting starts on Saturday. Zeldin believes he has a real chance here. He has been hitting Governor Hochul on crime and public safety.

And this is an issue that we know resonates very much with voters with New York voters, the Quinnipiac poll -- the Quinnipiac poll, so the 28 percent of New York voters said crime and public safety was the most urgent issue. So Zeldin is doing something that is responding to the voters on the ground.

He's also following in the footsteps of Republicans all across the country who have been trying to tie Democrats to crime and argue that they are soft on crime. We should note that New York has not elected a Republican to statewide office since 2002. That was Governor George Pataki's reelection.

He was first elected in 1994. And he was the first Republican governor in the state since 1975. So this is a very blue state. It's a big deal with the race is as close as it is. We'll have to see how he performed tonight. And what happens on election day, John.

KING: A big deal indeed and a big night as well. Athena Jones, grateful for that reporting as well. Up next for us. Not all races follow the national script. Alaska's Republican senator backs a Democrat and we'll also explain why Republicans are suddenly rushing in money to Ruby Red Oklahoma.


[12:38:55] KING: Take a look now at a few races that are outside the traditional lines, to Alaska first. The Republican senator there Lisa Murkowski says her first choice for a House seat is a Democrat. Mary Peltola won, you might remember a special election this summer. She's in a rematch now against a very famous Republican, Sarah Palin. Our great reporters are back to discuss.

So Lisa Murkowski, the Republican senator, who's in a reelection battle of her own right now decides I'm going to back the Democrat not the Republican in this race. And here's how she did it. This quote is great.

Asked if she would rank Peltola first they have rank choice voting in Alaska on her ballot next month and Alaska's new ranked-choice voting system, Murkowski paused. After a full 18 seconds she said yes, I am. She then mumbled, I'm going to get in so much trouble.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, listen, she's not going to get in trouble in Alaska. Right. She may get in trouble elsewhere among her Republican friends in DC but this is a smart thing for Murkowski to do.

Peltola is a native Alaskan. She has been able to really rally that community as has Murkowski, right I. mean, part of her right in victory in 2010 was because of the Native community there really rallying behind her.


So this is smart politics for Murkowski to do this. Politics makes for strange bedfellows, particularly in Alaska, which is a state that has all sorts of idiosyncratic -- idiosyncrasies. And we're seeing that I think play out in this race.

KING: To that point, Leigh Ann Caldwell of The Washington Post, who's often here at this table, writes this, Murkowski and Peltola are running as abortion rights moderates who are independent minded consensus builders focused on Alaska's needs, including juggling the impact of climate change, and the state's economic reliance on oil, not the partisan and culture wars playing out in the lower 48. Kind of makes me want to go to Alaska.

MARGARET TALEV, MANAGING DIRECTOR, AXIOS: I mean part of the culture wars are alive and well everywhere. But Murkowski is brand --


TALEV: -- or core brand more than almost anybody else in American politics is independent. She's like, you don't want to nominate me, I'll run as an independent, and then you can elect me.

KING: She want to write in campaign.


KING: So anyone who starts to question or political judges, she lost her primary, won a writing campaign.

TALEV: So this is a way to get people across the aisle to vote for you. And by the way, whoever in Washington was going to be mad at her for the independent brand is already mad at her. So yes, I think this is strategic as well as from the heart.

ZOLAN KANNO-YOUNGS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: It shows a little bit, you saying as well, that people that were going to be mad at her, they're already giving her, shows a little bit as well about the themes of the Republican Party right now as well.

You know, Lisa Murkowski has branched off and disagreed as well when it comes to certain policy decisions that are now mainstream in the GOP. She's a moderate dawn when it comes to something like abortion as well. And she hasn't been charged to criticize Donald Trump who still holds a grip on the Republican Party.

KING: She listens and she wants to solve problems, which somehow to some people will become bad things in politics. She listens and she won't, if not agree or disagree with on any issue, she listens and she wants to solve problems. Used to be a good thing.

Let's move on to Oklahoma. You have a Republican governor up for reelection. Oklahoma. Pretty red, right? Pretty red. Let's listen to a little bit first, there you see the matchup right there Joy Hofmeister versus Governor Kevin Stitt. Let's listen to a little bit of their recent debate.


GOV. KEVIN STITT (R) OKLAHOMA: My opponent, she joined Joe Biden's party, when she couldn't see a path forward for herself as a Republican. We simply can't go backwards and we know what will happen if we put Biden's party back in charge.

JOY HOFMEISTER (D) OKLAHOMA GOVERNOR CANDIDATE: He reads off national scripts. I don't I'm an independent thinker. I don't care what someone else has written or stands for. I am standing for the people of this state. I'm on one team, team Oklahoma.


KING: The governor noting her party's which used to be Republican. The Republican Governors Association, we talked earlier about the Senate Leadership Fund rushing money into the Pennsylvania Senate race. The Republican Governors Association, just made a seven figure ad buy in Oklahoma. Again, you know, we believe it's a midterm year, you look for national trends every now and then you get surprised what's going on there.

HENDERSON: Yes. Listen, and we have seen this from other candidates challenging Republican incumbents essentially saying, Listen, you are captive to MAGA, you are captive to Donald Trump. Obviously, she was a Republican decided to switch over to be a Democrat. It's a competitive voice. Again, this is a state where Native Americans also will have a say in some sway, as well in this race. KANNO-YOUNGS: No, absolutely. I mean, you saw her as well mentioned there something that relates to our previous subject, too, when talking about the Alaska race. She tries to appeal to the fact that she says I'm for independence, trying to play that middle ground.

Also in a way trying to appeal to those who may not be sick of the political system in the same way that somebody who supports Donald Trump may be but sick of the polarized state of politics at this point and is looking for somebody to solve problem.

TALEV: I think in order for this to work, you have to have your own constituency that crosses party lines before you try this approach. I think it works better in governor's races and statewide races and it doesn't center races although Murkowski may be the exception. And the Native American theme is a really interesting to see.

KING: The fast pace I'm going to watch again count your votes two weeks from tonight. Interesting to watch the predictable races but also maybe a few unpredictable is out there. Up next for us, a new look at a liberal icon, a new book says Justice Samuel Alito promised Ted Kennedy he would respect the Roe v Wade decision as precedent and that book also details the senators efforts to cover up the tragedy of Chappaquiddick.



KING: A new look at Senator Edward Kennedy's life finds evidence of a big contradiction with today consequences. The late senator's diary details what Senator Kennedy took as a promise from Judge Samuel Alito, to respect the precedent of the Roe v. Wade abortion rights ruling.

The diary details conversations with Alito back when he was nominated for the Supreme Court in 2005. When asked about abortion rights, Senator Kennedy records Alito as vowing to quote, adhere to precedent saying, quote, I believe in a right to privacy and calling the matter quote settled.

Of course, fast forward 16 years it was Justice Alito, who wrote the decision erosive -- erasing Roe v Wade this summer and ending its guarantee to abortion rights, a federal guarantee.

The revelation comes from this new book you see it right there "Ted Kennedy: A Life." It includes never before seen excerpts from the senators own diary. The author John Farrell joins us now. John, it's great to see you.

Let's continue first on this theme because it is so important in the present day consequences. We now live in the Dobbs America not the Roe v. Wade America. Abortion is state by state. Senator Kennedy on the Judiciary Committee such a player in the day. You wrote a piece about your book in the New York Times yesterday about Kennedy asking him because Alito had written in the Reagan administration a memo where he said I oppose Roe. [12:50:05]

Judge Alito assured Mr. Kennedy he should not put too much stock in the memo. He had been seeking a promotion and wrote that he thought is what his bosses wanted to hear. I was a younger person, Judge Alito said. I've matured a lot. A, the consequences of this, but just B, what you learn going through this fascinating diary.

JOHN FARRELL, AUTHOR AND BIOGRAPHER: Well, as you know, John, Ted Kennedy had been one of the leaders in the battle to defeat Robert Bork back during the Reagan years when Bork was nominated to the Supreme Court.

And the lesson that the Republican Party came away from was that we can't have our nominees going up there and doing intellectual combat with the members of the Senate because we sound too heartless and we sound like we're going to do a whole bunch of stuff that the American people don't want.

So we're going to have them go up there and in a succession of Republican nominees went up there, and they all said things like, I will respect precedent, I honor what's happened before there's a judicial theory called starry decisis, which means that we don't go back and wreck 50-year old judicial decisions.

And so when he was in this private conversation with Ted Kennedy, Judge Alito said things like I respect precedent, I believe I'm going to adhere to that. I'd have constitutional responsibilities. All things that sort of give the inclination that he would be at least a neutral person on something like Roe v. Wade. And of course, he was not. He wrote the decision that overturned it.

KING: Of course he was not. It's fascinating. So many books have been written about the Senator, that it is remarkable the reporting you've done to find so many new details, including about one of the great tragedies in Senator Kennedy's life, the accident Chappaquiddick that killed Mary Jo Kopechne, many believed cost Ted Kennedy the presidency.

You got access to the senator's diary, but you also got access to other diaries as well, including Arthur Schlesinger, who was a very close essentially a member of the Kennedy family. He was so close to so many of the families and adviser to President Kennedy.

In this diary, Jean thinks that, Kennedy meaning Teddy, panicked, that he hoped he could find some way to cover it all up, that Schlesinger told his diary. What else did you learn about Chappaquiddick?

FARRELL: First of all, that he really was panicked, but he was also possibly suffering the effects of a concussion from the car accident. He was in this sort of dream world of Magical Thinking where he hoped that he would see Mary Jo Kopechne me walking down the road that she had gotten out of the car, the same way that he had.

But in the end, he made a very cold decision that even his mother, Rose Kennedy faulted him for, which was to go to Edgartown, get dressed, go down to a hotel lobby in the middle of the morning and then have breakfast with friends on the balcony, and make it seem that he had not been there.

And finally two of his aides and friends came to him and said you can't do this. You have to go report the crime, and that was what he had told. Jean Kennedy Smith, his sister. So the first time we have this tale confirmed out of the senators own mouth.

KING: You also have inherited fits with this about his role in the family here. There are people who can mess up in life and not get caught. Ted Kennedy's father Joseph told him, you're not one of them.

FARRELL: Now the whole book is basically it's almost a Shakespearean tragedy about the youngest son, the kid, the clown, that jester, who never expected to have to shoulder the burdens of the crown.

And through an incredible series of events, the three older brothers all suffer violent deaths. And here's Teddy unprepared, ignored for large sections of his childhood, and now he's the one who has to carry the burden, carry the mantle forward.

KING: John Farrell, it is fascinating work about a fascinating man, really appreciate your time today, sir.

FARRELL: My pleasure.

KING: Pleasure (INAUDIBLE). Ahead for us, some new details about a massive backtrack from the Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal.



KING: Topping our political radar today, a full scale retreat. The Progressive Caucus now hitting unsend on that letter sent to the White House yesterday recommending big changes in Biden administration Ukraine policy. A statement out from the Democratic Chairwoman Pramila Jayapal confirms a letter was drafted months ago and it blames her staff for releasing the letter quote without vetting.

The UK officially has a new prime minister. Rishi Sunak formally appointed by King Charles III today, the two shook hands at Buckingham Palace before Sunak made his first speech as Prime Minister pledging to fix what he called unintentional mistakes, well intentioned mistake by his predecessor.

The White House says it will continue to work to bring home the basketball star Brittney Griner. They called today's hearing in a Russian courtroom a sham. A Russian court upheld her nine-year prison sentence nearly three months after Griner was convicted of smuggling cannabis oil into Russia.

And an important interview today for the January 6 committee, a source telling CNN the panel is scheduled to meet with Hope Hicks. She's the former communications director for President Trump. Hicks has met with the committee previously but her interview this go round will be transcribed.

Hicks, of course, a longtime Trump aide. She served on his campaigns and inside the White House.


Sad news today the former Defense Secretary Ash Carter has died after suffering a cardiac event. Carter served under President Obama from 2015 to 2017 He survived by his wife and two children. Ash Carter was 68 years old.

Thanks for your time today in Inside Politics. We'll see you tomorrow. Ana Cabrera picks up our coverage right now.