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Today: Ohio Voters Decide Proxy Fight For Abortion Rights; Poll: 36 Percent Approve Of Overturning Roe v. Wade; 2024 GOP Hopefuls Divided Over Abortion. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired August 08, 2023 - 12:00   ET




DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Today on Inside Politics, Ohio sends a signal to the nation. Voters there will decide on a ballot measure with big implications for women and for 2024, as brand new CNN poll numbers show a second straight summer of deep discontent with the Supreme Court's decision to wipe out Roe. Plus, the reset ripples all the way to the top, Ron DeSantis replaces his campaign manager. Will the third shakeup in less than a month be a charm and tell it to their heart? Republicans say an impeachment inquiry is the only one and the only way to move forward versus Joe Biden. New CNN reporting pins down when House Republicans plan to do that. I'm Dana Bash. Let's go behind the headlines and inside politics.

Up first, a special election test that will tell us a lot about 2024 and just how much abortion rights will motivate voters. Today, Ohio goes to the polls. Read issue one and it may seem like a mundane question about constitutional math. But, if you read between the lines, it is very clearly about abortion. Republicans want to make it harder to rewrite the state's Constitution which would make it easier to sideline attempts at expanding abortion access. The off your August fight is anything but small time, attracting big money and big attention from national groups and already big turnout from voters.

Let's get straight to Ohio where CNN's Jeff Zeleny is. So, Jeff, explain what's going on there and explain the stakes.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dana, polling places like the one behind me here in Columbus are open across the state. They're about at the halfway mark of voting today. And this is a very rare special election in August, as you said, and this is why Republican leaders of Ohio scheduled this election to change the rules for what it takes to change the state's Constitution, to simply vote on if it would take a 60 percent supermajority of the public to change the state's Constitution from the current 50 percent. For a century, it has taken 50 percent of the vote to change the state's Constitution. At issue here is abortion rights. A separate issue in November is going to be on the ballot then to try and enshrine abortion rights into the state's Constitution.

Well, before that, Republican leaders here want to make it more difficult to get that passed. They were trying to schedule this critic say during August during a bit of a sleeper election month when many people are on vacation or not paying attention. It has turned to anything but that. Tens of millions of dollars have been spent. Television ads are full of this topic here in conversation. And the voters we're talking to this morning say that they were not caught off guard by this. In fact, it has drawn so much attention. Take a listen to one.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The evidence is that the reason why they got put on the ballot this summer was for the abortion vote. But, when you look at the other things that are coming along, whether or not the minimum wage, or other things that the legislature is not taking up, or taking up in a manner that people aren't happy with, it's worth -- it's aimed at preventing them.


ZELENY: So, this is a bit of a revolt, if you will, against the state legislature. The citizen initiative petition, an age old time to have the citizens have their voice and say. And you heard the voter they were talking about. This is more than about abortion. The minimum wage is also going to be a potential constitutional amendment coming up next. That is also driving much of this conversation. But, abortion is first and foremost the topic here, Dana. So, we will see when the polls close tonight what this specific issue does, but again, regardless, that abortion rights issue will still be on the ballot in November. So, one year after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the states now get the say on abortion, and this is one small example of that happening here in Ohio.

BASH: Right.


BASH: And just to reiterate your great reporting, it will be on the ballot in November. The question is, what threshold does it have to meet in order to --

ZELENY: Exactly.

BASH: -- get to the point?

ZELENSY: What does it take to win?

BASH: Exactly. Jeff, thank you so much, really interesting to see what's going to happen there in Ohio today.

Now, here we have brand new CNN polling about abortion rights and how it could play in the 2024 election. As you see, CNN's Political Director David Chalian is here. So, David, what is the top line about what this poll tells?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Right. So, this is a national poll, not just looking at Ohio, where you just saw Jeff. But, it's telling us a pretty consistent story over the last year, Dana. Take a look. [12:05:00]

CHALIAN: A year ago, when Dobbs came into place and Roe was overturned, you had 63 percent who were not in favor of overturning the court decision. 37 percent actually approved of that Dobbs decision that overturned Roe. It's about the same now. So, you're talking about nearly two thirds of Americans in this poll who are opposed to what the Supreme Court did last year. And I just want you to look at some key demographics that we looked at in this poll. There is only one number here that is north of 50 percent. That's among Republicans. 68 percent approve of the Dobbs decision. Every other group is down below 50 percent, men 44 percent approve, older voters 45 and up 41 percent, white non-college educated voters at 42 percent. But, again, that doesn't get to majority status. Only Republicans robustly support the move.

BASH: That's so interesting, and it's also fascinating to see how consistent the polling is, especially on that first number.

One of the big debates inside the Republican primary contest is whether or not to support state bans on abortion, or to make it a national ban. What did our poll show on that?

CHALIAN: This was a pretty interesting finding. And for the outside interest groups on the sort of anti-abortion rights or pro-life movement, you're going to see some success here that they've had till a year ago. This is just among those. You're just among those who approve of Dobbs, approve of overturning Roe. 20 percent of those Dobbs approvers were in favor of people pushing for a national ban back in July. That's grown now. Now, 34 percent of the voters who approve of Dobbs, Republicans, Conservatives, pro-life groups, 34 percent now say push for a nationwide restriction. It's still not the majority position, but outside groups like Susan B. Anthony List or what have you, they're having an impact here seeing the base more interested in hearing those Republican politicians push for a national ban.

On the flip side, where Democrats take strength not only in the overall opposition to Dobbs, the potency of this issue, Dana, is staying here. We asked, OK, would you only vote for a candidate who shares your view on abortion? So, four years ago, in the midst of a Democratic race, you see what the numbers were here, a year ago, it was only 26 percent overall who said they must share their position on abortion to get their vote. That's now up to 29 percent. Look how that's grown as a litmus test for Democrats from a year ago, 29 percent to 35 percent. Among independents, it's grown from 25 percent to 28 percent. And even among Republicans, it stayed consistent. But, this is an issue growing in potency even a year out, not shrinking.

BASH: So interesting. Of course, we have a lot more to talk about with you and others, David. But, first, let's just talk about or listen to what the candidates who are on the trail had been saying about abortion.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, 45TH U.S. PRESIDENT: I am looking at a solution that's going to work. Very complex issue for the country. You wouldn't even be having a discussion if you weren't able to get rid of Roe v. Wade.

MIKE PENCE, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: Every Republican candidate for President should support a ban on abortion before 15 weeks as a minimum nationwide standard.

NIKKI HALEY, FORMER GOVERNOR OF CALIFORNIA: I don't judge anyone for being pro-choice, any more than I want them to judge me for being pro- life,

RON DESANTIS, GOVERNOR, FLORIDA: She signed a great heartbeat bill today. We were able to do that in Florida. We had a lot of opposition to that.

SEN. TIM SCOTT (R-SC): I would start the conversation with a limit of 15 weeks, and then try my best to win the hearts and minds of the American people to get any -- eating more conservative.


BASH: Here to share their insights, CNN's Jeremy Diamond, Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report, and of course, David Chalian is now here at the table. Good to see you all.

Amy, I'm curious your thoughts on the findings of the national mood when it comes to abortion?

AMY WALTER, PUBLISHER & EDITOR IN CHIEF, THE COOK POLITICAL REPORT: Well, David stole as usual because he is so smart. The thing that I really wanted to hone in on which was the difference between 2019 and now, just the intensity of the issue, especially among Democrats, and those people who describe themselves as liberal, versus people who are Republicans, or describe themselves as conservative. And what David pointed out was that among, and you could see it on that chart, is that the issue for Democrats has become much more potent than it was in 2019 before the Dobbs decision. It's been basically the same for Republicans. So, they're not more engaged on this issue than they were pre-Dobbs.

And among liberals, this is much more of a big issue for them, supporting someone only who supports abortion rights versus conservatives. Back in 2019, conservatives and Liberals, they were basically equally concerned about this as an issue. Now, liberals much more concerned about it. So, it is pretty clear that this issue, number one, as your poll pointed out, it's not going away. It's not getting easier for Republicans to talk about either, but for Democrats, it is still a motivating issue for their base.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And I think that's interesting, because there was a question after Roe v. Wade of how long was this kind of momentum in democratic politics going to last in terms of abortion being a motivating issue? And clearly, it still has a lot of staying power.


DIAMOND: I think that this vote that's going to happen in Ohio is obviously going to be a good test, because polling is one thing, but when you see it actually reflected in the votes, it's another. But, it's certainly good news for one person in the White House, because even as they ramp up the kind of economic messaging, they are still very much counting on abortion and other social issues to be motivating issues for their coalition's heading into the 2024 presidential.

CHALIAN: And Dana, I would just argue that you see it play out in how the Republican candidates have been dancing with this issue. Ron DeSantis, perfect example. Here is somebody running in a Republican primary, courting the right wing evangelical base, signs a six-week ban in his state of Florida. How does he sign it? Oh, at night with no cameras there, puts out a photo because it's like somehow he doesn't want to completely own it. So, he'll lean into it in certain groups. But then, when pressed about what he would do as President in a national federal position, it's been a little murkier about, oh, let the state's decide here.

So, you see how Nikki Haley, how Tim Scott, even Donald Trump has suggested that this issue is not easy for Republicans to run on, because the weird public opinion on this is pretty overwhelming. And so, you watch them try to navigate it.

BASH: And yet, you hear there are the outside groups like the Susan B. Anthony Group, and I'm going to talk to Bob Vander Plaats, who is a influential evangelical conservative in Iowa. They argue that the reason why Republicans didn't do as well in the midterm elections with this issue is because they ran away from it. They didn't have a clear, firm position and stated ideology on it. Does this poll bear that out?

WALTER: I think there are two different ways to think about this. One is the issue of abortion sitting out there by itself in a vacuum, which of course never happens --

BASH: Right.

WALTER: -- but we can pretend it. But now, you marry abortion and Donald Trump. You marry -- think about what we're talking about in 2022. Kind of at the same time, the January 6 hearings, and abortion. And when I talked to, after the election last year, Republicans and Democratic strategists on the issue of abortion, what it kept coming back to was rights, freedoms being taken away. It wasn't so much about, do you believe in 12 weeks, six weeks? We talk about it in medical terms.

That's not how voters were perceiving it. They were perceiving as it is part of the same trend that we're seeing, whether it's the Capitol was being attacked, whether it is the Supreme Court coming out and taking away something we had for 50 years. They hear about a judge who says you can't have contraception -- or after -- not contraception, but the morning after pill, it kind of falls into that same category. So, you can't disentangle that now, especially if Trump is your standard bearer. DIAMOND: And that's what was really interesting, that freedom narrative is something that we saw in Biden's campaign --

BASH: Yep.

DIAMOND: -- or the election launch video --

BASH: Yep.

DIAMOND: -- right? They are taking all of these issues together, whether it is book bans or tax on transgender rights, or taking away abortion rights, and they're putting it all under this narrative of freedom, which is really interesting given that freedom is --

BASH: Yes.

DIAMOND: -- typically something you associate --

BASH: Right.

DIAMOND: -- more with the Republican brand and their --

BASH: They're trying to appropriate it, to use a very modern term.

I just want to quickly circle back to what Jeff Zeleny was reporting on when we started the show about what's going on in Ohio today, because it just want to sort of remind people, it is maybe a bit confusing, but there is going to be a referendum on the ballot in November. And the question is going to be, what the threshold is? They want to see if it's going to get -- should get to 60 percent or not. Let's look back at some of the other referenda, Kansas and Michigan, 59 percent, 57 percent. There is a reason why they're trying to make it a 60 percent vote threshold. And when I say, I say Republicans who don't want this question to be on the ballot.

CHALIAN: Right. Do you think Republicans in Ohio will bear those results? They didn't pick 60 percent --

BASH: Yes.

CHALIAN: -- randomly, right? So, yes, raising it to 60 percent, it shows you is a much higher burden for those who support in enshrining abortion rights in the Ohio Constitution, which is why the folks on that side, on the pro-abortion rights side, have made this special election in August, which Republicans also hoped, hey, a special election in August, maybe nobody will know what's really happening. Only our folks may show up. They made it about the abortion issue, not about some rule change, but really about abortion rights.

BASH: OK. Everybody standby, because coming up, we're going to talk about a campaign in crisis, the biggest shake up yet for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. We will give you the new information after a quick break.




BASH: The never ending Ron DeSantis reload claims another casualty. Generra Peck, the campaign manager, is now going to be pushed to the side. James Uthmeier, the Florida Governor's Chief of Staff in Tallahassee, the new boss has a reputation. He is going to be the new campaign manager. He has a reputation as an enforcer. And his installation as chief officer comes after six months -- excuse me, months of syncing polls, and second guessing about how the campaign is spending its money and the candidate's time. That change at the top was first reported by the messenger. Let's talk about it here. David Chalian, your thoughts.

CHALIAN: Well, we've been watching now a slow burn here for four weeks of a campaign reboot. So, first of all, getting the campaign reset seems to be going as well as the campaign itself here for the DeSantis team. I don't know why it is taking this long. If you're making the decision, OK, things are not going well. We have to shed a third of our staff. They made that decision. We're way over spending money. That needs to get into control.

Our polls are slipping. Our donors are starting to really complain to us. This has been happening for weeks and now you invite yet another round of questions, because now you're switching the person at the top.


CHALIAN: So, I don't think this is a role model for any campaign to have a four-week process to actually say, hey, we know it's not working. We're turning the corner. We're putting a new thing in place.

WALTER: I just keep going back to, you know what? A campaign is a reflection of the candidate. You can change a lot on the campaign. But, it's the candidate that seems to be the big issue here. Now, is he going to act differently? Is he going to implement a new strategy because there is a new person on top? Is he going to suddenly become a different kind of candidate? I have doubts about that.

But, fundamentally, the challenge that he has is that nothing that he has done thus far has worked, the message of I'm the candidate who is the more reasonable Trump or I'm the winnable Trump candidate.

BASH: Right.

WALTER: Trump without the drama. Oh, go ahead.

BASH: No, no, no.

WALTER: So, he tried to be that candidate. Then he is the woke candidate trying to take that lane.

CHALIAN: The anti-woke.

WALTER: And the anti-woke. Sorry, the anti-woke candidate trying to take that lane. And now it's the -- well, Trump really didn't finish what he started. I know how to finish what he started. So, we've had three messages. But, the messenger himself is the bigger challenge, I think.

BASH: Funny you say that, because he doesn't necessarily agree with that. I just want to remind everybody what he said on Fox at the end of July.


DESANTIS: I'm not a political operative. I'm not a campaign professional. You set out the vision, and you execute on it. And if it's not being executed, you just make the course correction (ph).


DIAMOND: Yes. And what was interesting also is that, going to that point, is both his prior campaign manager and this new campaign manager he has chosen, neither of them have ever run a presidential campaign. And that's significant in and of itself. I think the only silver lining here is that he is choosing to do this in August, and not just before the Iowa caucuses.

BASH: Yes. Yes.

DIAMOND: So, at least, he is getting out ahead of it, even if it took four weeks to do this reset. But, I agree with Amy. I mean, I think at the end of the day, the question is, is Ron DeSantis the right candidate more so than then the organizational issues that his campaign has been having?

BASH: The question that you asked about whether or not anybody who is kind of at the top knows how to run a campaign, is a good one. The other larger question which we were talking about during the break is the Super PAC versus the campaign. I know this maybe sounds in the weeds. But, first of all, this is Inside Politics. That's what we do. But, it's really interesting and very important. There are two points. One is I just want to mention that a guy named David Polyansky, who is a longtime Iowa operative, he is going to the campaign, and I believe is deputy campaign manager. So, he is somebody who has experience, maybe on a state level, but certainly on an operative level. He came from the Super PAC, or is coming from the Super PAC.

CHALIAN: Right. And the law was set up, right, to make sure that there was no coordination between Super PAC and campaign. Super PACs were these outside groups that can raise money differently than a campaign in much larger sums. And what we've seen in presidential politics, since their invention, has been largely about advertising, television ads, and that's where the Super PAC money usually puts itself. What we see here with the DeSantis campaign is a reliance on an outside group with which you cannot coordinate, unlike we've really seen in modern presidential politics. They are in charge of the field operation.

This will be the third consecutive weekend that Ron DeSantis goes out to do a bus tour throughout the State of Iowa. Who sponsors that bus tour? The Super PAC, not the campaign. So, again, maybe perhaps one of the complications that the campaign is having is that so much operationally has been farmed out to the Super PAC, and they're not -- they can't be on daily conference calls and the like. And so, perhaps that also has to do with the growing pains of the campaign operator.

BASH: The reason why so much has been farmed out to the Super PAC is because a Super PAC can raise unlimited funds. A campaign has hard money or has limits. And the campaign is running out of money because they burned through their cash faster than maybe they should have. The Super PAC is the one that has the money. That's the reason.

CHALIAN: Without a doubt.

WALTER: There is that. And from all the reporting that's out there, the DeSantis team, and by team I mean Ron DeSantis and Casey DeSantis, his wife, are very, very insular. And there are very few people who've been able to break into that. To your point, you're exactly right, not national operatives who have run campaigns before certainly, but even beyond that. I think it is a very, very small circle of people with whom he --

DIAMOND: Trusting is more important.

WALTER: -- trusts, there we go. Trusts takes advice from. The Super PAC can do whatever it wants, and they will go according to what they believe based on the work they've done on past campaigns, should work.


WALTER: That doesn't -- you've got to be on the same page at some point.

BASH: How lucky am I that I get to spend time talking to you guys? Really. So, I learned so much from you. Thank you so much.

Another whirlwind day of legal developments in several cases surrounding Donald Trump. Soon, he is expected to speak at a rally in New Hampshire. We're going to take you there next.