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Inside Politics

Dems Battling History, Math As Midterms Close; Cortez Masto, Laxalt Locked In Battle For Nevada Senate; Fetterman, Oz Neck-And-Neck In Pivotal Pennsylvania; Walker, Warnock In Dead Heat For Georgia Senate Seat; Swing State Voters Highlight Inflation As Central Midterm Issue; Biden's Closing Campaign Message: "Democracy Is At Risk"; President's Party Loses Avg Of 31 House Seats In 1st Midterm; McCarthy: If GOP Wins House, Bill To Control Border Imminent. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired November 07, 2022 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Hello, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing your day with us, and welcome to election week. Tomorrow, we color in the midterm map, control of congress is at stake. Plus, critical races for governor and more. Today, the final appeals.


DR. MEHMET OZ, (R) PENNSYLVANIA SENATE NOMINEE: Kitchen table issues, everyone in Pennsylvania is worried about.

LT. GOV. JOHN FETTERMAN, (D) PENNSYLVANIA SENATE NOMINEE: Dr. Oz, you know, of his immense wealth with 10 gigantic mansions has never like personally experienced that.

HERSCHEL WALKER, (D) GEORGIA SENATE NOMINEE: Right now, I will ever want to know, don't let that door hit you in the face. Either you walk out into people or that, look you got to do is time for you to go.

BARACK OBAMA, 44TH U.S. PRESIDENT: True, and facts, and logic, and reason and basic decency are on the ballot.


KING: Plus, an important CNN exclusive. An interview with the man in line to replace Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House. Kevin McCarthy outlining the House Republican agenda.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY, (R) MINORITY LEADER: I think the first thing you'll see is a bill to control the border. First thing we're going to do is make sure an economy that's strong.


KING: And Donald Trump reminds McCarthy and every other Republican who's on first in the GOP. Trump stops in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida in the final days made clear, he sees the midterm close as his 2024 opening act.


DONALD TRUMP, 45TH U.S. PRESIDENT: We're winning big, big, big in the Republican Party for the nomination like nobody's ever seen before. Let's say there it is Trump at 71, Ron DeSantis is at 10 percent, Mike Pence at seven, oh, Mike's doing better than I thought.


KING: Up first for us, election eve and a crossroads for the country and for the Biden presidency, already, 41 million ballots cast across 47 states. The final count will determine which party controls the House, which party controls the Senate, also which party controls the governor's office, including and a half dozen key 2024 battleground states, which view of the 2020 vote count and future election counts. Well, that also carries the day up and down the midterm ballot.

Presidents Biden's approval rating is historically low. Inflation is running near historic highs. To keep power in Congress, Democrats simply need to turn history on its head. Republicans are confident that won't happen. They are confident, you want big change.

Let's look at just some of the stakes. As I do, so let me just flip back. It's most important for the Republicans as they believe they will take power in the House of Representatives. Let's bring up the map and take a look at it right now. We have identified 435 races in all, many of them likely to go Democrat or Republican based on the lines, but 82 competitive races we have identified with our friends at inside elections.

Guess what, in more than 50 of those, Democrats are on defense. So, Democrats back on their heels in an election year where we already have Republicans favored in 216. House races it takes 218 to get the majority. So, Democrats need to defy history, defy that math. Turn some of these light red blue, if it's going to happen. Right now, Republicans poised when it comes to the House of Representatives, but we count the votes tomorrow.

Then you look over at the Senate battle for control. And this one here, the Democrats can't lose anything. This is the current Senate 50-50. Only a Democratic majority because the vice president breaks the tie. Look at the map right now. Republicans want to hold Pennsylvania. Democrats hope to pick it up. There are some Democratic targets, they hope in North Carolina, they hope in Ohio, they hope in Wisconsin, but midterm history says those would be heavy lifts.

What a Republican's think? Republicans think they have a shot in several including, in New Hampshire, in Georgia, out in Arizona, out in Nevada. There are some Republicans thinking they could even have hopes in Washington state or in Colorado. But without a doubt, without a doubt, it is advantage Republicans. If you look at the data and its advances Republicans. If you look at history, Democrats now though trying to define that map. Let's bring up this map. As we now go back out. CNN spread across this country, tracking all the big races that will decide which party ends up in power come January. Let's go to Nevada first, CNN's Gary Tuchman. Gary is there - Gary, a key race for Senate, could be the decisive race, a key race for governor, a battle for secretary of state involving an election denier. You are in one of the great midterm laboratories.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John. And here in this tourism, gambling and show business mecca, there is a very high-profile race about to get the limelight. It is the U.S. Senate race between Democratic incumbent Senator Catherine Cortez Masto and a Republican former Attorney General of the state Adam Laxalt.

Senator Catherine Cortez Masto is seen as very vulnerable in this stage. She's the first Latina to ever be in the U.S. Senate. Adam Laxalt ran for governor four years ago. He lost also in 2020. He joined a lawsuit to challenge the election results that year. Here in Nevada, Joe Biden won here by more than 33,000 votes and after he did that, Donald Trump endorsed him.

What I can tell you about Senator Cortez Masto is she's had some high profile, help two presidents who have been here. Yesterday, Bill Clinton campaign with her here in Las Vegas and also in the suburb of Henderson. Four days before that, Barack Obama was campaigning with her.

Adam Laxalt, he is the grandson of the late Paul Laxalt. He passed away four years ago at the age of 96. He was a U.S. Senator from Nevada. He was very close friends with Ronald Reagan, while he was president, a very different time and era in American politics. John?


KING: It certainly was. Gary, it certainly was. Gary Tuchman is out here in Nevada. That Senate race gold because it's a tossup. Let's come all the way to the east. Pennsylvania gold because it is a tossup at well, currently held by Republican the incumbents not running. CNN's Jessica Dean live for us there. Jess?

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, yes. We've got ourselves an open seat here. And Democrats really hope this is the one they can flip, where they can go on offense in this year, of course, Republicans hoping very much that they can keep this one in their column, $146 million in ads between Labor Day and tomorrow. It's the most expensive Senate race in the country. And that's why they really think a lot of it hinges here.

We have closing messages from the Democrat John Fetterman, who's really pitching himself as a man of the people. He suffered a stroke back in May. He said, he's gotten knocked down. He can get back up. He's really attacking his opponent, Republican Mehmet Oz for being a phony, saying that he is just doing whatever he can to get power for his partner.

Oz is really striking this tone as an independent, really trying to sell himself as an independent voice, a moderate. He's going after the swing votes here. This is a very, very purple state, as you well know, John, from the map and it can swing in both directions. They both are trying to get any edge they possibly can. And that could very well come from those independent voters or voters who are willing to vote for either party and those are the messages that we're hearing in these closing dates. John?

KING: Jessica Dean for us live in Pennsylvania. Thanks to Gary Tuchman as well, and to all our correspondents and their teams out on the road in these final days. Let's bring the conversation in the room. With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Dana Bash, CNN's Manu Raju, NPR's Ayesha Rascoe, and Leigh Ann Caldwell of The Washington Post.

We're in the final day. So, I'm not going to over pull this conversation. We'll show a little bit of data, but let's let people vote and get to it. But historic midterm election season, let's start where Pennsylvania, where Jessica Dean is right there.

That is the seat Democrats want to pick up. They believe when they look at the map, they look at recent history. That's one they can pick up and they need it as an insurance policy in case they lose anywhere else to keep the 50-50 Senate tie. Dr. Oz wins the Republican nomination because of the Trump endorsements. But listen to him in the final days, trying to reach for the middle.


DR. OZ: You're going to ask those 10 people this very simple question. Are you happy with where America is headed? You can ask them this question, right? And when you ask it, you will be open to what their responses are. If they say no, and 70 percent of people are going to say no, right? Then tell them, I'm the candidate for change.


KING: The last part there, it's interesting. He does not have a Democratic incumbent there. He does has lieutenant governor, but trying to capture the environment where, if you look at that data, most of it says people are inclined for change.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. If you're angry, you can use my name on the ticket to take it out on Joe Biden and the Democrats. That's a pretty salient closing pitch to an electorate that is incredibly anxious, incredibly angry about how their lives are right now. There are some voters who are all feel all those things, but don't feel that they want to take it out on the Democrats. But if you look at the polls, and if you just actually talk to human beings out in these states, you absolutely sense that.

KING: Yes. And so, back to the opponent, the Democratic opponent, there's Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman. Who has made his case against Dr. Oz, saying he's really from New Jersey. He's not from Pennsylvania. He's only here because Trump wants him here. But listen to this closing edge. It shows me a little bit of sign that Fetterman is nervous, where he's not just criticizing us. He's trying to tie him to the gubernatorial candidate.


LT. GOV. FETTERMAN: Dr. Oz wants to try to portray himself now a moderate. There's no moderate - no moderate. If you're willing to share a stage with somebody like Doug Mastriano.


KING: Fetterman hoping that the Democratic candidate wins for governor, this will be a key test in several states. The voters pick a governor - candidate for governor, do they stick with that party when they vote for Senate?

AYESHA RASCOE, NPR HOST, "WEEKEND EDITION SUNDAY" AND "UP FIRST": Well, and that's the hope, right? I mean, you're looking at this very polarized environment, you couldn't have two more different candidates between us and Fetterman. And what they've tried to do is like paint Oz, you know, this has been a very nasty race. Say Oz, he's out of touch. He's this rich guy coming in, and Fetterman is a man of the people.

But when you look at this, this country is so polarized. A lot of times right now, people are not voting for the candidate. They are voting for the party. And I think that's the real question that's going to come down to so many of these races is like, is it - does the candidate really matter these days? Or is it really about, I just want the Democrats to win, or I just want the Republicans to win.

KING: That's an interesting point, because let's go to Georgia now. Again, another key Senate race could be decided in the counter begins tomorrow could go to a runoff in December, if nobody gets 50 plus one. Herschel Walker understanding, he wants to motivate Republican voters. And to Dana's point he says, Joe Biden is the problem.



WALKER: You heard the president the biggest threat to democracy is a vote for somebody in the Republican Party. Is it crazy? The biggest threat to democracy, hey, I'm here, I'm in the White House, isn't not?


KING: The Democratic candidate there is the incumbent Raphael Warnock, seeking his first full term. He says this isn't about Biden, it's about you.


SEN. RAPHAEL WARNOCK, (D) GEORGIA: The question is who's going to stand up for ordinary people? And I think I've demonstrated my commitment to doing that by capping the cost of insulin for folks on Medicaid, for folks who are on Medicare, by capping the cost of prescription drugs, and by giving Medicare the ability to negotiate the price of prescription drugs.


KING: That race I view is sort of the biggest test of how tribal or our politics, or people just stuck in the DE & ER (Ph) and they won't budge despite candidate quality.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And that clip you just showed is really exemplifies what's happening in Georgia and in so many races around the country. Republicans seeking to nationalize this race. They get about Joe Biden, not making it about the candidate per se, not making it about some of the things that they've been saying on the campaign trail.

Herschel Walker's case, one of the stumbles that he had throughout this campaign season, make it an anti Joe Biden vote, because that's this, obviously see that's where the polling is going and seeing voter frustration with Joe Biden. This is a conservative leaning state, despite the democratic successes there in 2020. That is their hope.

And that's one fear that Democrats have, if Georgia were - the election were two months ago, they would feel much better about their situation than they do right now. A lot of Democrats I talked to are hoping that they can just get to the runoff or worried about the way this has turned in recent days and runoff would be in December (Ph)

KING: In Georgia, if you look at the national environment, the Democrats are trying to break through, whether it's Senator Warnock. They're saying, hey, there's prescription drug health coming, whether it's hey, Trump is coming back, or hey, Republicans would touch social security or Medicare if they get power. The challenge is, can Democrats break through this? These are swing voters that you talk to as you go across the country. This is the COVID pandemic, then inflation, voters are tired and they're tired of paying a lot of money. Listen?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I drive a truck and it does not get very good gas mileage. And I actually had to quit my last job because I couldn't afford to drive all the way out there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where is the price of gasoline where it is today? You can't just overlook that issue.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Those have gone up 20 to 30 percent. Growers locally in the farms and not carrying things they did last year, because people don't have the money.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the inflation, they say it's eight percent, but if you're in the construction industry, it's like 30 percent.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Food is high, gas is high, rent is high.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Put that there for reason, voters get the last word and the challenge for Democrats is fighting through understandable voter anxiety coast to coast.

LEIGH ANN CALDWELL, EARLY 202 CO-AUTHOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, Democrats tend to not do as well, midterm elections, and especially midterm elections where the party is in power. So those are two things they are obviously fighting against. And then like we heard from these voters, you have the national economic environment that is very difficult for a lot of these voters and the voters that Democrats need to turn out.

My democratic sources and Republican sources too, say that the Democratic Senate candidates especially are running phenomenal campaigns. The Republican candidates, perhaps they're not as good of quality of candidates, but the Democrats are doing such a good job. But can they still be win on election day in this very difficult environment?

KING: You're running into a tough headwind. We'll continue to talk about it throughout the hour. Ahead up next, President Biden's midterm flows and his post-election planning. A prediction from the president, the Democrats will keep both the House and the Senate, but the realization his presidency and Washington would very well be at a turning point.




KING: President Biden closes his midterm campaigning tonight in a safe zone, promoting the Democratic ticket in Maryland. This final week dominated by blue state stops. You see them there in New York, Illinois, New Mexico, California. Pennsylvania was the big battleground exception. Plus, Florida, where let's be honest, fundraising was the biggest focus down there. First midterms are historically tough. And this one ends with a lot of Democratic debate about whether the president and his team made the right messaging choices.


JOE BIDEN, 46TH U.S. PRESIDENT: These election deniers, there are only two outcomes for any election. Either they win, or they were cheated. We all know in our bones that our democracies at risk.


KING: Our great reporters back around the table. There is this debate about this. Should the president be economy, economy, economy, mix it up? How do they view this at the Biden White House when they're having open criticism from members of their own party?

RASCOE: Well, I mean, I think they look at it as this is a moment where you can say and I'm going to say it one last time, democracy was on the ballot or is on the ballot. I mean, look, it is true. This country is in a serious moment. You know, we have to say that you have Republicans, and it is Republicans who are, you know, showing that they may not accept the results of an election. That is a big deal. That is not a partisan statement. That is a democratic statement.

But there is a question of whether that is a message that can really get through to someone who's just trying to pay their bills and just trying to, you know, take care of their kids. When you tell them the fate of democracy is in their hands, they may feel overwhelmed.

RAJU: Yes. I mean, for low information, voters in particular, they may just say, here this is, you know, people - politicians being over the top exaggerating about the issue when they're really concerned about gas prices, the economy, etc. I think we will look back at this election and look at the way the Democrats message this. I mean, it was a very abortion heavy election. They've focused hard on abortion rights in the aftermath of the roe decision striking down 50 years of precedent. But did they go too heavy in that issue?

So, they have transitioned to more of an economic argument. And this morning, I talked to one Democratic senator is not on the ballot, Ben Cardin of Maryland. He told me that - he said that it's been quote very hard for us to win the argument about the economy, amid all these concerns over inflation, the like, and that's going to be a debate going forward.


BASH: One thing that I have been told when I've asked the question about why democracy is a closing message by people at the White House? What they've said to me is, two things. One is that they have come to believe that this is kind of a singular message that that a president should give somebody who's not on the ballot this year. But also, that - it's also a political strategy that low turnout Democrats or part of what they call the Biden coalition, who did vote for him and go out in 2020 might not be enthused, because the economy and lots of other issues this year can be encouraged to come out with that kind of message.

KING: So, here's a question to put on the table. We won't know the real answer till Thursday, Friday, maybe a couple of weeks from now, as they finish counting mail in ballots, couple states with rank choice voting. But it's possible the Democrats have historically "good night" and still lose power here in Washington. Here's the historical averages. Going back to Ronald Reagan's first midterm.

The averages since 1982, the first midterm for president, he lose 31 House seats and two Senate seats. It is possible, you talk to some Republicans who say, you know, some of them think 2025 in terms of gains in the House. One or two when it comes to the Senate. We could be here a week from now. And by history standards, the Democrats perform "well", and yet that will change because the margins are so close. 50-50 Senate, five seat majority in the House, Biden can't afford to lose anything really. CALDWELL: No, he can't. But one thing that I'm really going to be watching and that's really - that could be the story of the night is that Democrats don't do well in blue states. The states that there's already a Democratic governor, there's already democratic control. And they do, do better in these red states, Republican states.

And my sources are telling me they are concerned because the abortion issue that is not resonating as much in states where the right to abortion is not currently restricted. And that's why the economic issue is overpowering in some of these blue states, whereas red states it is resonating a bit more with democratic and independent voters.

KING: Fascinating point as you count the votes because so many of the competitive House districts and obviously all the statewide races settled tend to be in the suburbs, where abortion would help you if people were afraid about it. We'll continue the conversation. Next, a very important CNN exclusive. One-on-one with Kevin McCarthy, the man who could be the next Speaker of the House.




KING: Now to a CNN exclusive. The House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy poised to become Speaker of the House if Republicans win control. Talking about his priorities. In a wide-ranging interview, McCarthy said House Republicans would move aggressively to secure the border and to address inflation. He promises aggressive oversight and investigations, but listen, chooses his words quite carefully. When it comes to a possible impeachment of President Biden.


REP. MCCARTHY: You know, what's on the table accountability. We will hold the rule of law. And we won't play politics with this. We'll never use impeachment for political purposes. It doesn't mean if something rises to the occasion, we would not be used at any other time.


KING: CNN's Melanie Zanona sat down with McCarthy on the campaign trail in Texas, she joins us now. Melanie, tell us more?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Well, clearly what McCarthy is doing here, as he trying to put some meat on the bones. Republicans have spent all cycle long, hammering Democrats over crime, inflation and border. And so, I asked him. If you're speaker, what are your specific plans to address these issues? And in some instances, it was very broad and vague like making America more energy independent, cutting back on government spending.

But in other cases, he did point to some specific things like providing more grants for police officers and reinstituting the controversial remain in Mexico policy in which migrants were forced to stay in Mexico, while their immigration proceedings are processed in the United States. Here's a little bit more about what McCarthy said of his plans to secure the border.


REP. MCCARTHY: Well, there's a number of things that extend Mexico, you have to right off the bat. First thing you'll see is a bill to control the border first, you've got to get control over the border, and almost two million people just this year alone coming across. But in-part that hasn't been written about when I came here more than a year and a half ago. So, the first time it really got mentioned, the people were catching on the terrorist, watch list. You know, there's been 98 people on the terrorist watches. It's very difficult to get on that. And we caught them coming across the border just this year.


ZANONA: Now, we should note that border patrol releases public data about how many people who were encountered at the border were on the terrorist watch list. This is also not something that is unique to the Biden administration. And just because someone is on the terrorist watch list, does not make them a terrorist. But clearly Republicans feel like this is an important part of their closing message, as evidenced by the fact that Kevin McCarthy chose to rally here on the closing stretch of the midterms, John?

KING: Geography matters in politics. In politics, Melanie Zanona fantastic interview would very much appreciate it. Let's bring the conversation back in the room. And if you listen to Kevin McCarthy there, he's talking as if the Republicans control the House. They control Washington. We will do this. We will just, we will do this. We don't know how the Senate is going to turn out. Even if Mitch McConnell is the leader in the Senate. He will have differences that might be the most fascinating story in Washington, Senate Republicans versus House Republicans.

And then there's a Democratic president for two years, if we do have some form of divided government. But listen to this part about the question for me really is how long of a leash, the speaker McCarthy if that is the case have, when the Democrats kicked Marjorie Taylor Greene off the committees, Kevin McCarthy says, she'll be back.