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Inside Politics

Trump Endorsement Could Be Key For MT Senate Race; 2024 Senate Races Could Be Favorable For GOP; Biden Faces Battleground Challenges In Re-Election Race. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired December 24, 2023 - 11:30   ET


REP. MATT ROSENDALE, (R) MONTANA: I will never discuss my conversations with the president with any media.



MANU RAJU, CNN ANCHOR: I mean, this is a fascinating race. The primary is so significant here. Just so viewers understand that the dynamic here in the United States, there are 23 Democratic seats that they are defending. That includes a Purple State like Arizona. That's where Kyrsten Sinema serves. She caucuses with Democrats. 11 GOP seats are being defended, but there are seven seats currently held by Democrats in purple, swing-ish states, as well as three in Trump states, states that Trump won, and really only two pickup opportunities, Florida and Texas.

So Democrats are trying to hold on to all these seats. If they lose Montana, that could be the end of the majority. And that's why Republicans are fearful of this primary. I talked to Senator John Thune, who is number two Senate Republican, about the prospects of Matt Rosendale impacting this primary and potentially their chance of picking up the seat.


RAJU: Do you worry that Rosendale could put the seat at risk?

SEN. JOHN THUNE, (R) SOUTH DAKOTA: Well, I mean, I think it changes the dynamic for sure in Montana, but like I said, I think he's very well positioned to win both primary and general. And he's done a really effective job so far in moving numbers out there. So we'll see what happens. You can't, you know, you can't control these things. The voters make those decisions, but we feel like we're in a good spot there.


RAJU: It seems like Rosendale is running in this race. He's made all the steps that he will. What kind of impacts are they going to have in the fight for the Senate?

AMY WALTER, COOK POLITICAL REPORT PUBLISHER & EDITOR-IN-CHIEF: So I think the way to look at the fight for the Senate is Montana is very critical, as you said, it's one of the just handful of red states that Democrats have to defend. But there are seven that they have to defend. And right now with West Virginia basically off the table, that means the Senate right now is 50-50. And if Donald Trump wins the presidency, the Senate is already in Republican hands.

So the map is more than Montana. It's that Democrats need to go seven for seven. Montana looks the easiest because it's red, and Ohio is the next because it's red. But easy for Republicans, I'm sorry. Easiest to knock, for Republicans to knock off because those are red. But even if you say, OK, well, let's say, Tester holds on, Democrats still have to be able to hold on to Ohio and Arizona and Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and Nevada and what groups go down.

RAJU: Yeah. It's really tough. And so part of the democratic strategy is the DSCC Chairman, Gary Peters, who told me that this is -- they're fine with competitive primaries. They need primaries to go their way. In other words, Republicans would nominate candidates that they believe are unelectable in the general election. And what's been fascinating is the maneuvering around Trump. He backed a lot of candidates who were weak in the last cycle in the midterms, the Democrats held onto the Senate.

This time they're trying to align themselves with Donald Trump. So the Trump loyalty factor means a lot for Republican leaders like Steve Daines, who is the Chairman of the Republican Senatorial Committee.

I asked him about the timing of Rosendale's endorsement. This is what Steve Daines told me. He said, "Well, Tim Sheehy endorsed President Trump in April. It's a pretty late endorsement for Matt Rosendale. This time, he sees the inevitable that President Trump will be the nominee. I like Matt Rosendale. I hope he stays in the House -- excuse me, and builds seniority." It was interesting, I mean, Rosendale was in Mar-a-Lago and he did a fundraiser there. He shook hands with Trump. He tweeted about that image. I mean, Trump is still such a heavy presence in these primaries.

JOHN BRESNAHAN, PUNCHBOWL NEWS CO-FOUNDER: Oh, he's going to be the nominee. You're likely to be the Republican nominee. So yeah, I think your -- Amy's point is great. I think in this particular race, it's so interesting because Montana is such a small state Tester -- John Tester, Democratic incumbent is popular and could win that race.

I think Ohio is much more difficult because that will be, you know, be lots of ads there and they don't vote the voters there as good as Sherrod Brown is, a candidate. It's harder for him to carry Ohio. I think this is going to be a race. And Democrats can win one of these seats, I think it's because Tester can do it on his personality. If you watch the ads, he's running, you know, I'm still the farmer from --

RAJU: He got the brand.

BRESNAHAN: Yeah, exactly. I mean, that's where -- I mean, I think it's much more difficult in Ohio. I think Arizona is a huge problem for them also holding on to that seat. And as Amy said, I mean, you know, West Virginia is gone.

RAJU: Yeah.

BRESNAHAN: It's off the map. The Manchin gone. It's just as -- is, you know, the again, there's a primary there, but it's going to be Republican. It's going to win that.

RAJU: And Democrats won't admit it to you even if they -- they -- they want Matt Rosenfeld to be a hundred dollars. You know, Tester told me --


RAJU: Yeah, I was just about to say that.

BRESNAHAN: For the right.

RAJU: Exactly. And, you know because John Tester told me it doesn't matter -- and it doesn't matter who the candidate is that I'll face. Now, there is a super PAC, a mysterious super PAC, called the Last Best Place PAC. It's spent 1.6 million dollars going after Sheehy so far, in this, you know, pretty early in this race.



RAJU: In his -- the President said, a small state in terms of media markets, that is a significant amount of money. These are some of the ads that have been spent here. I asked the Senate Majority PAC, which is tied to Chuck Schumer, whether they were involved with this effort. They declined to comment. The NRSC, the Republican Senatorial Committee Chair Spokesman, told me that it's clearly run by Chuck Schumer's allies, but it's clearly a sign that Democrats recognize that they could need to either make it easier for Rosendale to get in the race or go after the guy they're concerned about very early.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Sure. I mean, a lot of Democrats have long played in Republican primaries. That's how you affect the outcomes. And a lot of veteran Democrats now have houses in Montana. That is a very interesting state from Rahm Emanuel to others. Anyway, I'm not saying he's behind this, but one thing that is different about Trump this time, he went to Montana in 2018 to try and get Matt Rosendale elected several times, and they lost. So he's more experienced coming into this. He's not endorsing some random candidates anymore. So that's a different dynamic here.

But look --

RAJU: Much more careful this cycle?

ZELENY: Without a doubt, because he is now sort of seeing how some of these elections go. But John Tester won in 2018 when there was not a presidential race on the ballot. The top of the ticket is going to make a big difference here. Boy, we cannot say enough how difficult it is for Democrats facing this Senate. RAJU: Yeah.

ZELENY: It's a tough map.

RAJU: And just as you mentioned, these are the Senate candidates that Donald Trump has endorsed this cycle. Not many, unlike last cycle, he stayed out of some of them. And in those races, really, only Ohio was the one that was contested primary. The Republican Central Committee has stayed out of that primary. So that is not in odds with the GOP leaders. The one in West Virginia is in line with GOP leaders. But there is also the battle for the House. The Republicans clearly favored in the Senate. The question is going to be the House Democrats, it's the narrow majority, they seem to be favored.

But there are these questions about redrawing lines in districts. That is such a huge issue. Yes, it's in the leads. Yes, it is something that plays out. It's hard to see, but it has such a significant impact. And just look at the states in which these issues, these district lines could be redrawn because of court battles or because of courts have ordered them to go ahead and do so.

There are 13 states that in which, in 2024, where they'll have to redraw these lines. And that could absolutely impact, which party is in power come 2025. So significant. And you cover this so closely. Who is at the advantage here when it comes to these redistricting battles?

WALTER: You know, at the end of the day, it may just be a wash because Republicans have a significant advantage in North Carolina, which is it was a political redraw, and it's going to net Republicans three, maybe four seats. Democrats may get another shot at New York and be able to get some seats there. And then you've got the courts coming in, in places like Louisiana, maybe Florida and definitely Alabama. So at the end of the day, maybe it's one seat for one side or one seat for the other side. But when you have a majority of five seats --

RAJU: Yes.

WALTER: -- every one of these matters.

RAJU: It's so interesting. So few seats are at play.


RAJU: You would think with so many; 435 seats would be a lot more. They really aren't. So we'll see, such a huge year ahead.

All right, coming up, I'll talk to David Axelrod on how Biden -- he may be able to overcome his battleground state struggles. And why is a lawmaker on Capitol Hills? Why is he teed off at one of the world's best golfers?



RAJU: Joining me now is David Axelrod, a CNN Senior Political Commentator, of course, the Chief Strategist for the 2008 and 2012 Obama campaigns. President Biden, though, has struggled to rebuild the coalition to propel the to victory in 2020.

So we're going to discuss the warning signs that Biden is facing in some of these key battleground states that he narrowly won in 2020. David, just to remind our viewers about where Joe Biden versus Donald Trump came down just four years ago.

Let's talk Michigan, how narrow it was in Michigan and look at Wisconsin. Just the tightest --


RAJU: Razor thin, Pennsylvania, the same, 50% to 48.8, 49% for the former president and as well in Nevada here, 50 to 47. You mentioned also Arizona, such a tight race there. So, what does Joe Biden have to do to deal with the coalition of voters? I mean, a state like Michigan, for instance, you have a combination of the progressive voters, the Muslim voters angry about the way he handled the Israeli Hamas war. How does he rebuild that same coalition?

AXELROD: Yeah, look, as you say, these are warning signs in the early polling. Young people who he went overwhelmingly running about even African-American voters. He won them by 75% last time. Now, he's leading by 50% Hispanic voters. And then you have nuances like this in Michigan, where there's a large Arab American population in the area around each room.

RAJU: Yeah, right around here, around Dearborn -- right.

AXELROD: And lot of disquiet about the President's strong support for Israel in the -- in the current war so that adds a nuance. But in the main, he needs to not only win back some of those he's lost but a lot of this has to do with motivation. Even if he gets the numbers up among say African-American voters in Detroit. He also has to get the turnout. So enthusiasm is important in these marginal races that can make a difference.

RAJU: Yeah. And look, this is -- you mentioned enthusiasm. Wisconsin is a perfect example of that. Here's Wisconsin, Madison, home of a great university, the University of Wisconsin, my alma mater, of course, and --


AXELROD: Do they claim you? I think that --

RAJU: They -- I claim them as well. And Milwaukee, huge liberal populations, a central part of the state. A little bit more of a swing area in western Wisconsin.

AXELROD: Well, I think that a little bit more rural. A lot depends on the suburban vote in Milwaukee and a lot depends on turnout in the city of Milwaukee. And those are two things that you got to watch. And the other element you talk about, Madison, this is where the third- party candidates become a concern. You know, back in 2016, Donald Trump won Wisconsin. And part of the

reason he won it was because Jill Stein, who's running again now on the Green party line, was running then and got more votes than the margin between Trump and Hillary Clinton. And a lot of it came from Madison, where progressives voted for her.

Now, she's back. Cornel West, the progressive African-American, former Harvard professor, is running as an independent. Robert Kennedy Jr., kind of a wild card, you know, right wing populist in some ways, but very aggressive supporter of climate action. So these are challenges for --

RAJU: Should the Biden team address those third-party candidates, head on or should they just ignore it?

AXELROD: No, I don't think that they can -- well, I think they should discourage them for one thing. There's still this open question about the no labels party, and we don't know who that candidate would be. My view generally is that third party candidates are more helpful to Trump than Biden because Trump has a high floor and a low ceiling. And anything that lowers that threshold that you need to win, I think favors Trump.

RAJU: And look, another part of the coalition, Hispanic voters, you're seeing the real concern. Hispanic voters, look at Nevada.


RAJU: I mean, this is such a key part of the state. Two key parts of the state, Las Vegas, Reno, they need to carry those two, really, the rest of the state is a pretty Republican state. But the problem is the Hispanic voters in a state like Nevada, Arizona, too, that's been a problem for Joe Biden. How does he turn that around?

AXELROD: Well, you've seen recent polling in Nevada and, you know, Trump has been done well in a couple of early polls were almost a year out. So, you know, you have to sort of set those aside. But the reason is that is the Hispanic vote. And just generally nationally, Biden got 65% of that vote in 2020, and he's running just a few points ahead of Trump. So solving that problem is a big part of the equation. And it's going to be very important in the state of Nevada. Only six electoral votes, but in a marginal race, that can be the difference.

RAJU: And look, a tight race also could happen in Georgia. Georgia, of course, has seen a demographic shift in there. But still, black voters are very significant for Joe Biden. And you look at the exit polls from 2020, where Joe Biden did very well with black voters, and then overall, you look at his favorability among African American voters, it's significantly worse. Why do you think that is?

AXELROD: I think a lot of it is among younger black men, have become disenchanted, don't feel like enough has been done to follow up on commitments to the community. I think there's disaffection because more wasn't done on voting rights. There are a series of issues. So again here, it's a matter of not just recapturing some of that vote, but also mobilization and turnout is going to be very important. And, you know, the thing that's working in Biden's favor is that this -- he is not losing among sort of white voters. His working-class white vote is about what it was four years ago. He does pretty well with older voters, but the young and particularly young African Americans, in this case younger Hispanic voters and so on. A problem for him.

RAJU: Yeah. And a problem, if they sit out the election, not necessarily vote for Trump, but they sit out, that's going to be a problem.

AXELROD: Remember, this was, well, famously Trump knew exactly the number of votes that he lost in this state, and it was under 12,000 votes.

RAJU: Yeah.

AXELROD: So, you know, small changes in turnout can have enormously important impact.

RAJU: And you would know firsthand. Thank you, David Axelrod, for joining us.

Next, more on INSIDE POLITICS Sunday. Stay tuned.



RAJU: Congress has a long history of investigating America's sports, from steroids and baseball to the NFL and concussions. And now pro golf. When the PTA Tour said this summer it would merge with Saudi owned live golf, it shocked the golf world and angered some on Capitol Hill. The Chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Investigation, Senator Richard Blumenthal, announced hearings and subpoenaed lives, Saudi backers investigating what he calls an attempted Saudi takeover of sports in an attempt to whitewash their image.


SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL, (D) CONNECTICUT: It's about much more than sports. It is a uniquely American interest and institution that potentially is going to be betrayed and exploited by the Saudis to sportswash their image, cover up their human rights abuses and other kinds of wrongdoing, and create an image that is totally incorrect and inaccurate. And I think that American institutions and interests are at stake here.


RAJU: And this month, another shocker. One of the world's elite golfers and Masters Champion, Jon Rahm, said he would join the Saudi Run Tour. And after previously calling the merger a, quote, "betrayal from management."


RAJU: What do you think that when you saw the Masters Champion and one of the best golfers in the world, Jon Rahm, who had said that this merger between PGA and live was a betrayal. Later, just days ago, sign on with the LIV Golf.


BLUMENTHAL: There have been a lot of reversals. That's what money does sometimes.


RAJU: And here's what Blumenthal told me about the PGA Tour Commissioner, who was once a furious LIV Golf critic himself.


BLUMENTHAL: As much as Jon Rahm did 180 degrees turn, Jay Monahan's turn was even more dramatic.

RAJU: Do you think that he needs to come up here and testify in Monahan?

BLUMENTHAL: I'd like to see Jay Monahan potentially come here to testify.


RAJU: The Senator says the investigation is now taking a broader look at Saudi Arabia's attempt to influence Americans. That's it for INSIDE POLITICS Sunday.

Up next, "STATE OF THE UNION" with Jake Tapper and Dana Bash. Thanks again for sharing your Sunday morning with us. Merry Christmas, and we'll see you next time.