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Oz, McCormick Deadlocked in Pennsylvania GOP Senate Race; Election Denier Wins GOP Nomination for Pennsylvania Governor; Madison Cawthorn Loses Reelection Bid in Primary. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired May 18, 2022 - 06:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good morning to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. It is Wednesday, May 18. I'm John Berman. Brianna is off. Our chief White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins, is here.



BERMAN: Special live election coverage. The most closely-watched race of primary night is still going back and forth this morning. In my hand, brand-new votes just in in the Pennsylvania Senate Republican primary, where right now only a razor-thin margin separates the Trump- backed TV Dr. Mehmet Oz and former hedge fund CEO David McCormick. Their positions on the leaderboard changing by the minute, with thousands of votes still left to be counted.

As of this moment this race would certainly trigger an automatic recount.

In the governor's race in Pennsylvania, the Trump-backed candidate, Doug Mastriano, has won the Republican nomination. Mastriano is Pennsylvania's leading far-right figure, who has championed efforts to overturn the 2020 election results.

He will face Democrat Josh Shapiro, the state's attorney general. Shapiro is the first nonincumbent to run unopposed in a Democratic gubernatorial primary since 1930.

COLLINS: John Fetterman, meanwhile, easily won the Democratic Senate primary in Pennsylvania. No drama there, though he might be the first candidate to do so from a hospital bed. He's out of surgery this morning after suffering a stroke and receiving a pacemaker just hours before the polls closed yesterday. We'll hear from his wife in just a bit.

Meanwhile, North Carolina first-term c=Congressman Madison Cawthorn has now conceded after he lost the primary to state Senator Chuck Edwards. It's a major rebuke of someone who was once seen as a rising star in the GOP but whose political career saw scandal after scandal from salacious photos to claims about orgies that put him on the outs of his own party. Donald Trump had pleaded with voters to give Cawthorn a second chance,

but they chose a different path.

Meanwhile, in Idaho, Republican Governor Brad Little beat back a challenge from his own lieutenant governor, Janice McGeachin. McGeachin's tirades against COVID restrictions in the state had won her the endorsement of the former president. In Pennsylvania, former hedge fund CEO David McCormick and celebrity surgeon Mehmet Oz are both expressing confidence to their supporters last night about their chances, though they were pretty careful in their language.



We can see the path ahead. We can see victory ahead.

DR. MEHMET OZ (R), PENNSYLVANIA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: When all the votes are tallied, I am confident we will win. We are making a ferocious charge, but when it's this close what else could you expect? Everything about this campaign has been tight.


BERMAN: All right. Everything about this campaign has been tight.

Joining me now is CNN Politics reporter and editor at large, Chris Cillizza.

Chris, let me just remind people --


BERMAN: -- where we are right now: 2,578 votes separate the two candidates, leading candidates, 94 percent reporting at this moment.

And we're getting new votes in. It's 6:03 a.m. And we just got a new batch of ballots in that I want to give you right now to give you a sense of just how close this race is right now.

OK. This is Chester County. Overall, you can see Dave McCormick has a slight edge here over Mehmet Oz. Kathy Barnett there in third. These are the new votes. David McCormick picked up 48 votes there. Kathy Barnette picked up 60 votes there, and Mehmet Oz picked up 35 votes.

You look at this and say, Oh, that's not many votes, but, look, McCormick closed the gap by ten votes and there's just not that much separating the two candidates right now.

CILLIZZA: I mean, I think two things. One, seems likely we're headed to a recount here. Anything under a half a percentage point difference between Oz and McCormick in the overall total is going to trigger that. I think we're headed there. Another thing, you'd rather be ahead than behind, always. Mehmet Oz is

ahead by 2,000 votes. You'd rather be ahead by 2,000 votes than behind by 2,000 votes.

People always say it's a really tight margin. It is a tight margin. One thing to remember, though. Dave McCormick would have to get 2001- ish -- I'm estimating -- votes, and Mehmet Oz would have to get zero. So it's always important to remember that.

The other thing I do want to note when we look statewide in Pennsylvania, national Republicans are going to be pretty happy here. They'll live with either of these two guys as the nominee. They're fine with -- oh, sorry, I just touched Mehmet Oz. They'll live with either Mehmet Oz or Dave McCormick as the nominee.

Kathy Barnette, unvetted, no real fundraising ability, there were real concerns about that.

Let's -- can we jump to the governor's race? Yes, OK. Yes, we thought that Mastriano was going to win. Right? It was a very weak field. The fact that Lou Barletta, a guy who represented -- mayor of Hazleton, Pennsylvania, represented that area in Congress, as you see he did pretty well in the area that he used to represent.

But we should not gloss over the fact that Doug Mastriano is the nominee here. This is a guy who was a leading, as you said in the open, a leading election conspiracy theorist, a guy who aggressively sought to overturn the results in Pennsylvania, one of the swingiest states in the country.

And, remember, a guy who, if he is the governor, appoints the secretary of state who counts -- oversees the counting of the votes. This is someone who is a fringe candidate five years ago, ten years ago. This is not a serious candidate for governor five or ten years ago in the Republican Party. Now he's more than half a million votes; easily the nominee.

BERMAN: Winning big. Winning big.

CILLIZZA: That's a big story going into the fall.

BERMAN: Also I want to show you something interesting here.


BERMAN: I wish I could reset this right now. You touched something that --

CILLIZZA: Oh, dear.

BERMAN: -- that caused a problem. In any case, let's look. You can look and see the counties Doug Mastriano won here in the Senate race -- the governor's race. He was backed by Donald Trump.

If you go to the Senate race here, Mehmet Oz is the Trump-backed candidate. You can see, he has not won all the same counties -- CILLIZZA: No.

BERMAN: -- as Doug Mastriano. So the Trump endorsement here didn't do quite as much.

Just one other thing as people try to figure out where we are right now. I want to show, there's 94 percent reporting, but there's still a number of counties, right, that have 90 percent or less right now. These are the counties with 90 percent or less. There's thousands of votes --

CILLIZZA: Thousands.

BERMAN: -- still out there. A lot might be mail-in ballots, which -- which, ironically, Doug McCormick, a guy who, you know, has tried to win Donald Trump's endorsements, now McCormick saying mail-in ballots are great; they're going to help me win.

CILLIZZA: And again, look at this margin. You know, we're not talking about 20,000, 30,000 votes, We're talking about -- I was not a math major in college we are talking about 2,000-ish votes.

Can we jump one more? I just want to go to North Carolina, if we can, to the North Carolina Senate race. Because we overlooked this a little bit. But, look, the truth of the matter is Ted Budd is a third-term Congressman from North Carolina. This is not someone who anybody had on their radar screen.

Everyone thought Pat McCrory, the former governor of the state, was likely to be the nominee a year ago. What changed? Donald Trump. He endorsed Ted Budd sort of out of the blue. We thought Lara Trump, his daughter-in-law, might run. She said she's not running. He endorses Ted Budd the same day.

Ted Budd wins. Give Donald Trump his due. Mastriano, yes, a win, a Trump candidate. Ted Budd a win.

But as Kaitlan mentioned earlier, North Carolina 11 if we have that, you know, Madison Cawthorn, he loses, despite the fact that Donald Trump comes out and endorses him. In Idaho, Janice McGeachin, who is a Trump-endorsed candidate, winds up losing.

So Donald Trump isn't a panacea. We saw that in Nebraska. Charles Herbster lost with a Trump endorsement. He's not going to solve your problem. Madison Cawthorn had a lot of problems that were not solvable by Donald Trump saying, Hey, let's give him a second chance.

So a mixed bag for Trump, but Trump is still the story here, and I think it's true in the Senate race in Pennsylvania. It's definitely true in the governor's race in Pennsylvania. It's true in the Senate race in North Carolina.

So you know, Donald Trump remains the big talking point here, but very much a mixed bag for him.

BERMAN: Chris Cillizza, great to have you this morning. CILLIZZA: I love it. I'm done. I'm going to keep my hands away.

BERMAN: We're going to go back to Kaitlan, and you can touch it.

COLLINS: No wall over here, we should be good to go.

To talk about all this as this race is still deadlocked when it comes to the Republican nomination in Pennsylvania, is the former Republican Philadelphia city commissioner, Al Schmidt.

Al Schmidt, thank you so much for joining us this morning. And I wonder just what your take is as we are seeing a race that is so close, too close to call right now, as we are still waiting on more ballots to come in when it comes to Dave McCormick and Mehmet Oz in this Senate primary.

AL SCHMIDT (R), FORMER PHILADELPHIA CITY COMMISSIONER: That's right. It's really just a handful of votes separating the two. And in some counties, it's interesting to see Oz won the county in terms of election day voting, but McCormick won the county in terms of mail-in ballot voting.

So most of the votes at this point from election day itself would have -- would have been counted. They would have already been in the system. There would still be some outstanding. But it's really the mail-in ballots that still have yet to be counted in a lot of counties.

COLLINS: And what do you read into that? That Dave McCormick has done better when it comes to the mail-in ballots?

SCHMIDT: You know, I mean, I think that bodes well for him. It's difficult to make any prediction, because you don't know how voters vote until you open those ballots and count them. But I think it's going to be extremely competitive.

And having run elections in Philadelphia for more than ten years, I can't -- I certainly can't remember an election of this -- of this level of importance that's this close at this point.

BERMAN: Hey, Al, you were attacked and threatened, physically threatened, for standing up for the integrity of the 2020 election in Pennsylvania right now. You -- you know, your life was threatened.

How does it feel to you this morning that the Republican nominee, the party that you were a part of, has just nominated Doug Mastriano, who worked so hard to undermine the election results in that state?

SCHMIDT: I think it's important to recognize that Mastriano is not sort of your garden variety 2020 election denier. In the Pennsylvania state Senate, his approach to sort of pursuing his own audit was so reckless that other Republicans, other pro-Trump Republicans, removed him from his leadership position in the Senate so he could not sort of launch his own -- his only thing that would make the Cyber Ninja audit seem professional by comparison. COLLINS: And that's a big question here, I think, that I wonder how

Republicans are feeling this morning, because if he does win the governorship, that is a very powerful position when it comes to elections. And he picks -- he appoints the secretary of state who runs the elections. He's vowed to decertify the 2020 result.

And when Trump endorsed him, he did so late in the game, but he said he was doing so because of his fight to overturn the election results in 2020.

SCHMIDT: That secretary of state position, whether it's in Pennsylvania or Michigan or Georgia or wherever, is just so incredibly important right now. It used to be fairly obscure, but now it's front and center.

If we have a secretary of state of Pennsylvania who is unwilling to certify the election results from the county, then that is a really terrible scenario to be in.

And I've heard a lot of people say, you know, Mastriano is just so far out there he really has no chance. But I've heard a lot of people say, including some of the same people, that about Donald Trump in 2016. A lot of people didn't take that seriously. I think it's very important that this race be taken seriously.

BERMAN: Just to put a fine point on it, so people understand, had Mastriano been governor in 2020, what would have happened to the Pennsylvania election results?

SCHMIDT: So -- and we know from the investigation of the January 6th Committee that there was this concerted effort to try to prevent our voters' votes from being counted; to send an alternate kind of counterfeit slate of -- of electors to -- to the Capitol for certification; or to try to prevent certification of our voters' votes.

So that was a very real thing, and it came -- it came dangerously close. And with a secretary of state, if one is appointed by Mastriano, who I assume is going to reflect, you know, his view of elections, then it's a real departure for our -- for our commonwealth.

It has a long history of electing very responsible, very moderate Republicans and Democrats, whether it was Thornburg or Ridge or Arlen Specter or you name it. This is something quite different.

COLLINS: So Al, what's your advice to Republicans this fall on how they should vote?

SCHMIDT: Well, I can't really give other Republicans sort of political advice. I would just hope that they would, you know, pay attention to this and not just assess candidates by whether you agree with them on one issue or another, but most importantly, to take a look at what their approach is to democracy and their approach is to elections; and whether they lose elections, that they accept defeat and they don't try to destabilize or delegitimize election results just because they don't like them. COLLINS: Al Schmidt, thank you for joining us this morning.

SCHMIDT: Thank you.

COLLINS: We'll have more on all the takeaways from last night, including the evolution of Democratic candidates and what it means for who can get elected in November.

Plus, we have what and who exactly is bringing a violent right-wing conspiracy theory to the mainstream.

BERMAN: And a new warning that North Korea is preparing a missile test as President Biden gets ready to visit Asia. This is CNN's special live coverage.



BERMAN: No longer election night. It's election morning, and the votes are still coming in. We just had new votes to tabulate from Pennsylvania, the high-stakes Republican primary there in the Senate race. Mehmet Oz, the TV doctor, who has the backing of Donald Trump, he is ahead but by a razor-thin margin, just 2,500 votes.

This is an automatic recount territory, over former hedge fund CEO Dave McCormick. Kathy Barnette, who had been surging of late, back in third place now.

Joining us, former Republican member of Congress, Joe Walsh; and CNN political analyst April Ryan.

Joe, wow. This is close in Pennsylvania right now if you look at those results. Still thousands of votes left to be counted. Is there a lesson here?

JOE WALSH, FORMER REPUBLICAN MEMBER OF CONGRESS: I don't want to be a Debbie Downer and ruin all of the drama, John and Kaitlan, but to me, this is just an affirmation of Donald Trump owns this party. Whoever wins this primary is a big Trump supporter.

I think we get also breathless on, oh my gosh, did Trump's endorsement matter? Trump's endorsing a candidate who loves Trump. The candidate Trump doesn't endorse is a candidate who loves Trump. That's still the same. No matter who wins this race, it's going to be a Trump- worshipping candidate.

COLLINS: That's a good point of who he actually endorses and whether or not -- it's not like the other person is disavowing Trump or often divorced from his positions.

And I do think a trend that we're seeing emerge from last night is that these Republican candidates who embraced denying the election results or just not admitting that Biden did win accurately and fairly, they seem to be the ones who were reaping the rewards in the races last night. I'm thinking of Ted Budd, Doug Mastriano. They are the ones who have been pretty successful.

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, but I'm still looking at North Carolina and Cawthorn. How about that?


BERMAN: Well, let's put that up so we can see. Madison Cawthorn, member of Congress from North Carolina, had all kinds of scandals.


RYAN: You talk about drama. That was drama to the height. You know, Donald Trump supported him, and what happened? The people of North Carolina said, No, we're not going to do this again.

So I think that we are watching a moment where you still have a strong Donald Trump, even though his poll numbers have dropped significantly. People still stand on -- there are a lot of people, particularly Pennsylvanians, who are Republicans, who are looking at this race.

They're standing on what he stood on, that the election was -- was wrongfully given to Joe Biden, in their minds.

But then you have someone like Cawthorn, who throws out the lies like Donald Trump did, just talks off the cuff, and he loses, even with the backing.

So we have to look at this moment as a moment where people are wanting change. They want things fixed.

We have a pendulum that's going back and forth on so many different issues, from abortion, with Mastriano, he is definitely a pro-lifer. He doesn't want abortion for any exception of incest or rape. And he was also out there on January 6.

But then you have people like Cawthorn. I mean, this Trump thing is not as solid, I think, as you want to believe.

BERMAN: Let's talk about Pennsylvania, the Democratic race there for Senate. John Fetterman, lieutenant governor, he had a stroke, and he just had a pacemaker put in. His health issue aside, he's a different cat, Joe.


BERMAN: Explain to me how John Fetterman might be someone that some Democrats want to see as the type of nominee they have and some might not.

WALSH: I'm not a Democrat, but he's exactly what Democrats need, especially, John, I talk to a lot of people in the middle who don't like either party. One thing I hear over and over again is, I want a Democrat who will fight. I want a Democrat who will tear his shirt off and get down into the ring with Trump and these other crazy Republicans and fight. That's kind of the guy Fetterman is. And I think that Democrats have a

real problem with working-class voters. He should be able to address that.

COLLINS: And I wonder, April, what this says to you, as someone who covers the White House, as is it a test of Biden's influence? Because -- or the way Biden ran? Because he ran as this centrist who could work with Republicans --

RYAN: Right.

COLLINS: -- achieve bipartisanship, get things done. And I do think when you hear from people who voted for Fetterman, it's that they didn't want that. They wanted someone who is ready to go toe to toe with Republicans.

RYAN: If you're looking at both parties, there is extremes on both sides. People don't want moderates. People don't want centrists. They want what they want, and it seems to be on the fringe now.

But here's the problem for the Democrats, they have to change the message. They have to see wins.

I talked to the House majority whip, the most powerful black man in Washington, D.C., James Clyburn, this week. He said, there is a new message. It's about the people. It's about the personal issues. They're taking politics personal again, in this moment of Donald Trump, in this moment of looking for wins for Joe Biden.

BERMAN: If we can go back to Madison Cawthorn for a second there, Joe, because there is an aspect of this, I think you'd like to latch onto. He did have the backing of Trump. Trump said, what, he deserved another term?

COLLINS: He didn't fully endorse him, but he said he deserved a second chance.

WALSH: Yes, yes.

BERMAN: OK, but the other aspect of this is everyone else, it seems, in the Republican Party lined up against him. So if you look at this, does this show what can happen if Republicans, elected major Republicans, get together and say, You know what? This guy's not right. If they wanted to do this for a different Republican, a Marjorie Taylor Greene, does this show that can be effective?

WALSH: I don't think so. I think Cawthorn had such unique problems. The guy was about 15 years old. Every week there was another scandal. Kaitlan, he basically stopped going home and doing his job as Congressman. He closed down his offices. This was a unique case.

And, again, I'll push back against April a little bit. Trump's going to win almost all of his endorsed candidates when this is all done. The focus shouldn't be on who Trump endorsed, because the candidates he doesn't endorse are -- and who win are Trump-worshipping candidates. RYAN: Well, why shouldn't it be about being Trump-endorsed? He was the

former, most previous last president, and he was at that time, the head of the party. And in some instances, some would think he's still the head of the party. So why would you say it's not about who Trump endorsed?

WALSH: Because oftentimes, the candidates he doesn't endorse are even Trumpier than the ones he does endorse.

BERMAN: Kathy Barnette.

WALSH: Kathy Barnett. Josh Mandel back in Ohio was Trumpy. I mean --

COLLINS: Well, Kathy Barnette made the point when she was campaigning and did not get his endorsement, she said Trump didn't create the base. The base created Trump.


COLLINS: And that's what brought him there.

RYAN: But are you surprised that she did not get the endorsement of Donald Trump? Come on.

BERMAN: What are you saying?

RYAN: I'm not surprised. And you know why? He's had a problem with strong women, whether it's in his party or not. You know, going from Omarosa, who was in his party, to people outside of the party: Maxine Waters, Congresswoman Frederica Wilson.


You've had problems. You're not a minority, but he has a problem with women and --

WALSH: I agree with that. Trump is also an idiot, and I don't think there's any science to these endorsements.

RYAN: Exactly.

BERMAN: Joe Walsh, April Ryan, thank you.

WALSH: Thank you.

RYAN: Thank you.

BERMAN: Appreciate you being here.

We're getting new details this morning about the attack in Buffalo, the mass shooting there. New details about the shooter's alleged online activity from right before the attack began.

COLLINS: We also have new details on what U.S. intelligence is revealing about a possible North Korean missile test ahead of President Biden's visit to neighboring South Korea that's happening this week.