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Right Now: Biden Heads To Florida For Closing Midterm Pitch; CNN: Beasley Is "Sleeper Insurance Policy" For Dems Keeping Sen; Victims' Families Face Parkland Shooter Before Sentencing. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired November 01, 2022 - 12:30   ET




JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Right now, President Biden on his way to Florida where he will warn giving Republicans more power would put Social Security and Medicare at risk. Our CNN White House team reporting team Biden is under no illusions. This visit to Florida will boost Charlie Crist in the governor's race there or Val Demings in her Senate campaign. But the hope at the White House is that it helps some in Florida and elsewhere.

Also important to note, there are two fundraisers on the President's schedule in Florida. He may not be welcome in many of the key battleground states, but his ability to raise money is a giant help for Democrats in the midterm campaign year that is shattering spending records.

Our great reporters back at the table with us. It is interesting that, you know, the North Star of the first midterm election is always the President. His approval rating is underwater. He's not being asked -- Barack Obama's in Arizona -- I mean, in Nevada today, he's going to Arizona later. Biden's not being asked to go to those places.

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Biden's closing night arguments are going to be in Maryland, right, which is the democratic state. But two things. Biden also has his eye on 2024. And in Florida, Biden actually has an audience that can be very responsive to part of his message and the Democrats message. It may not be enough to save things for Charlie Christ, or for Val Demings, but the health care argument is especially salient in the state, with so many older Americans.

And Democrats work to pass legislation to try to overtime make prescription drugs cheaper, allow negotiations. That's a very potentially strong argument for Democrats. It's been a little bit lost in a year where we're talking about the price of gas or inflation or COVID malaise or all this kind of stuff. But the truth of the matter is healthcare is what won it for Democrats the last two cycles and now in the very last week, they're going back to it.

KING: And it's ironic, if you can put the map back up. You know, President Obama, former President Obama is more in demand in the big battleground states. You see that he'll, you know, be in Wisconsin -- he was in Wisconsin, he's in Nevada today. He'll be in Arizona. There's Georgia on his schedule as well.


President Biden see New Mexico and California, the final week, New York, those are pretty blue states and then you see Maryland, as you noted, a blue state there. The irony is in 2010, and Obama's first midterm, it was Biden, who was more welcome out on the trail and not the President because Biden could go to the blue-collar Democratic districts.

This is what White House team great reporting. "Biden has told fellow Democrats he respects their political intuition when it comes to their own races and has joked publicly, he would campaign for or against his preferred candidates, whichever will help the most. But he's grown frustrated at coverage suggesting he's a political albatross."

I think all presidents do. And the fundraising part helps enormously but, you know, presidents have egos and pride. And when they get told, you know, please, no, it hurts.

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes, they have egos, pride, and they also have reelection campaigns to think about. Biden is not necessarily Democrats top choice for running in 2024. So he's looking at 2022. He's, according to people who have talked to him, he's watching very closely to see who's inviting him, who's endorsing him early, who's talking about wanting him and supporting his policies and standing up for the Biden agenda and all of the things that he's passed legislatively, even though he's not personally popular.

So he's looking very closely to see where he can be effective as well as whether or not Democrats want him on the campaign trail in 2022 as a bit of a proxy as to whether they want him as their nominee in 2024.

KING: And if you do look -- look, if you look at the unemployment rate, you would think in normal times, any president, but this is a Democratic president who could just say voters, hey, look at that. That's the unemployment rate during my tenure. How many jobs have been added since Joe Biden became president? 10 million jobs.

You would think he'd be on the campaign trail saying, this is good. The problem is inflation, it masks all that. And you just look at gas prices a year ago, gas prices at their peak, gas prices today down from the peak, but still up from a year ago. That's why it's complicated for the President. If you could just do jobs and unemployment, Democrats would be bragging, but.

KASIE HUNT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: But, and if you put a graph of his approval rating next to a graphic gas prices, I mean, it's amazing how closely those two lines track. I mean, it's really in some cases, just that simple. And the challenge for the administration all along has been to try to tout their accomplishments while also acknowledging the pain that people are feeling. And I know when I talk to Republicans, they feel that it's been good for them that the White House hasn't in their view always gotten it right. And that that's what they're hearing from voters that the White House doesn't seem to understand how tough things are. I mean, the economy it's a very weird thing right now. And I think that's part of what's unsettling for voters and for all of us, to have an unemployment rate so low, inflation so high, the housing market so uncertain, people's 401(k)s don't look as good as they did before and nobody seems to know exactly how this plays out. That's a tough place to be when you're trying to pitch people on reupping the policy.

KING: I think you just hit the key word, you hit the key word unsettled after the COVID pandemic and now with this roller coaster, what should I believe about the economy. You believe one thing this day, the next day there's something else and people are unsettled. And unsettled suggests they will vote for change which is the hard dynamic for the Democrats.

Up next, more from the campaign trail. There's some brand-new CNN reporting from North Carolina. The Senate race there is remarkably close. Democrats hoping, hoping to spring a midterm upset.



KING: North Carolina is on our watch list for this final campaign week. And that says something. Remember, Barack Obama carried the state in 2008 because of historic African American turnout. But Democrats tried and failed in 2012, in 2016 and in the 2020 presidential races. This year, the Democratic Senate candidate Cheri Beasley is in a very close race against Republican Ted Budd.

Now Republicans point to those last three presidential cycles and they bet Democrats will again be disappointed in the end. CNN's Isaac Dovere just took a close look at the race. His report includes this. "Democrats have spent the past few months side-eyeing Beasley, a former State Supreme Court Chief Justice, as their sleeper insurance policy for holding the evenly divided Senate."

Isaac is with us now to join the conversation. Sleeper insurance policy because Democrats are worried they may lose one or more of their own, their current seats and so they have to look at these states where Republicans now hold them and hope for one or two.

EDWARD-ISAAC DOVERE, CNN SENIOR REPORTER: Yes, I would say they're very worried that they might lose, especially in Nevada and thinking about how you do the math and to get to 50 so that Kamala Harris would be 50 plus one. And North Carolina is the state like as you said, it's -- since 2008, it seemed to be almost there for Democrats.

And each time it's fallen short, including of course in the Senate race in 2020 when the Democratic candidate then had a big scandal, an extra mile an affair, but he ended up pulling down Joe Biden and Biden thought that he might win North Carolina too. He lost by close margin. Now when -- talking to people on the ground in North Carolina, what they say is Democrats are like maybe we can do this, maybe but they also talk about how it's sort of managing their heartbreak ahead of time and thinking it's just going to be so hard given that it keeps coming up just short for them.

KING: Keeps coming up just short. If you look at the most recent poll, it's 44-44. So you think, OK, this is a race and play. And again, Republicans say the state will go back to its DNA, its DNA is still red. We will eke this one out.

Interesting though, look at this Cheri Beasley ad, your nationally, you know, inflation hurts Democrats. She's trying to make the case. She's a former State Supreme Court Chief Justice. She is not of Washington. Ted Budd is a Republican congressman. Sometimes congressmen have problems especially their first time they try to run statewide. She says blame him.


CHERI BEASLEY, CANDIDATE FOR U.S. SENATOR: Costs are too high. Wages aren't keeping up. You can't afford necessary prescription drugs and you have to make tough choices every day. And Washington politicians like Congressman Ted Budd aren't listening.


KING: That's an interesting approach. Can you flip the national narrative which is blame Democrats and say that guy is in Washington, blame him too?


OLORUNNIPA: Right. She is a political figure because he's a judge but she's not a politician. She's not someone who's worked in Washington. So she can point to Washington and say, if you want change, even though I'm the Democrat in this race, vote for me and not for the person who's been in Congress, who's been a career politician.

And so that is a message that she's pushing. She also has the opportunity to say, I'm a judge, and all of these crime attacks that are going against Democrats don't work against me, because I've put people behind bars for crime. And so she is a unique candidate that the Democrats have. It is a difficult state for Democrats that has been for the last decade plus, but it's an interesting place where they may have a chance.

TALEV: I think in all these races that we've been talking about, today, there's this question of, if you're just a voter, if you're outside of Washington spending your lunch program watching this and you're thinking, well, why should I even vote? Everything seems like it's already baked in, like this is a prime example of one of the races where it's not baked in.

And it could go either way. And whichever party you're in, or whatever your affiliation is, whether you vote actually matters. It's also a case where Budd is part of this group of there's a few of these Republican Senate nominees who, their own weaknesses of candidate gives the Democrats a chance that might not have had and I think this is an example of that.

KING: And it's one of the states, when you look at the map, you make a key point, right, where we could wind back to take 14 years. America is not ready to elect a black president. Donald Trump will never be president. Joe Biden is going to get knocked out the Democratic primary.

So beware of the smart people in Washington. Beware of the smart people in Washington, right? So you look at this race. You have North Carolina, a Republican health seat right now. The incumbents not running again. You have Pennsylvania, a Republican health seat, the incumbents are not running again. You have Ohio, another Republican health seat, the incumbents are not running again.

You have Wisconsin, a Republican health seat with the incumbent is running. You have four races currently held by Republicans that are incredibly close heading into the final week, which brings you the, you know, yes, all the data may say one thing, but we're going to count votes a week from now and we might be surprised somewhere.

HUNT: Yes, we sure might be. The one thing I would say about North Carolina that I think is a challenge is that it really is more than -- and I would put Nevada in the same category -- they're kind of generic ballot tests Senate races. They don't necessarily have candidates that really stand out. There's no John Fetterman or even Ron Johnson, right, where people have strong opinions about certain people that are going to affect things.

They are very much going to be dictated by the national mood. And I think that's why it's a little bit of a pipe dream for Democrats in North Carolina to be hoping for this just because if the environments moving for them, I think it's going to move North Carolina before it may move another race like Pennsylvania for example.

KING: She's been outspent -- I think the Democratic Republican spending in the final month as she's being asked by about $11 million, if it's 51-49 Democrats will going to regret that.

DOVERE: Indeed. And the one -- one of the spaces where as you were mentioning, Obama going around campaigning, he is not going to campaign in North Carolina.

KING: So we'll watch this one after. This quick programming note on election night, join us, be here one week from today. Our special coverage starts Tuesday November 8 at 4:00 p.m. Eastern. Trust me, we'll walk through what's happening in your state, your county and all around the country.

Ahead for us, heart breaking. A mother's pain. An emotional day in court as victims' families and survivors face the Parkland shooting gunman.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TERESA ROBINOWITZ, ALYSSA ALHADEFF'S GRANDMOTHER: I'm too old to see without your life sentence. But I hope your ever breathing moment here on Earth is miserable.




KING: Right now in Florida, painful heartbreaking testimony as victims and parents from the Parkland High School shooting come face to face with Nikolas Cruz. This is day one of the sentencing hearing. The families speaking directly to the man found guilty of killing their loved ones.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You are a revolting entity. I can't even call you human as you are not. The death penalty would have been a cakewalk compared to the demons you'll face going forward. You've not earned any mercy. May every second of your rot in existence be faced with the images of each person you've slaughtered.


KING: CNN's Carlos Suarez live for us outside the courthouse in Broward County, Florida. Carlos, tell us more.

CARLOS SUAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, it has been an incredibly difficult day out here. One by one, the family of the victims and the survivors all told Nikolas Cruz that he should have been sentenced to death. They said that they hope that his death in prison will be one that includes a great deal of suffering and that he shouldn't have had any mercy shown to him by this juror, rather.

Alaina Petty's sister, Meghan, she was one of the more emotional moments of this entire day. She called Cruz a, quote, monster who didn't deserve any mercy. Over a dozen family members have addressed the court this morning. The judge has set aside the entire day to day as well as tomorrow to hear from every single one of these folks.

The families of all of the victims, they took a great deal of exception with the defense's argument that Cruz should not be killed because he is mentally ill. It's an argument that at least one juror decided was enough to spare his life.

Here now is Alaina Petty's sister, Meghan.


MEGHAN PETTY, SISTER OF ALAINA PETTY: But what we've been told here is that 17 lives are worth nothing if you can make enough excuses for your actions. He has gotten everything he's wanted in this case, and we are left with nothing and a slap in the face to top it off.


SUAREZ: And in one of the more emotional moments of this morning, aside from some of the testimony directly to Cruz, was Joaquin Oliver's mother. She went after the defense attorneys. She said that karma was going to play a role in their lives having decided to offer up this kind of defense.


Cruz, he was in court and he stared at every single one of these speakers. He did not react in court. The court itself is going to come back this afternoon. We're going to hear from several more family members. And then tomorrow, the judge will formally sentence Cruz to life in prison without parole. John?

KING: Carlos Suarez for us at the courthouse. Carlos, thank you.

And as we go, I just want to remind you, never forget these 17 faces, 17 faces, their lives snuffed out on a horrific day, February 2018. Thanks for your time today.

Abby Phillip picks up our coverage after a quick break.