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GOP Facing Uphill Battle In Crucial NH Senate Race; Putin Announces Martial Law In The Four Annexed Ukrainian Regions; Biden Doc "Year One: A Political Odyssey" Debuts Today On HBO & HBO Max. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired October 19, 2022 - 08:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: And a CNN exclusive. Legendary journalist Bob Woodward will be releasing eight hours of his raw interviews with Former President Trump in a new audio book that is coming out next week. We will play you some of those conversations.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking moments ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin announces martial law in territory that Russia has seized in Ukraine.

The climate crisis has already wrecked parts of the U.S. in the forms of hurricanes and wildfires. Now the Treasury Department is launching an assessment to see how extreme weather is affecting your wallet.

All right, economy and abortion, those are the issues that Democrats are focusing on this morning, trying to rally voters with less than three weeks to go before Election Day. President Biden will address U.S. concerns about rising gas prices. Today he is expected to announce the release of another 15 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve with the goal of preventing a new spike in prices at the pump.

KEILAR: And Republicans are driving hard on inflation. And there is actually some good news on that front. Millions of Americans could see a bump in their paychecks next year thanks to new inflation adjustments to the tax code. Early voting numbers suggesting turn-out in some parts of the country could be on pace to match 2018, a year that had exceptionally high participation for a midterm election. Of course, control of Congress hangs in the balance this year. Right now, the Senate is split 50-50. Democrats hold only a nine-seat advantage in the House. CNN's senior data reporter Harry Enten with us now on this. Harry, take us through this.

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICS WRITER AND ANALYST: So take a look where we are right now on this generic ballot. I think that this gives us a pretty good indication of where things have been going and where they are right now. So if the election were held today -- look, before Roe v. Wade was overturned -- or just after Roe v. Wade was overturned, the Republicans had a two-point advantage. But take a look here. We have got a tie, then Democrats take a one-point lead in the generic congressional ballot in September. But as Roe v. Wade goes into the rearview mirror, what do we see occurring? We see Republicans taking back that advantage on the generic ballot. So right now momentum does, in fact, seem to be with Republicans.

BERMAN: I think I'm supposed to be talking to you, Harry. What does this mean? If you're looking at this kind of a difference, or a spread in the generic ballot test, extrapolate that out.

ENTEN: Yes. So oftentimes we talk about this generic ballot and we're just expecting the viewer to understand what this actually means. So I basically converted this, basically the final generic balance to the estimated GOP seats won. And this is based on a model since 1946. And basically what we expect is that the range that we've been in, generally suggests that Republicans will get north of the 218 seats that they need for a majority, anywhere from basically 226 seats to 236 seats. That's the middle estimate, so obviously there's a margin of error associated with this. But generally speaking, it seems like Republicans are on the pathway that they need to be in order to retake the majority in the House of Representatives.

BERMAN: Take the temperature in the Senate now, Harry.

ENTEN: Yes, so, look, this is all about the road to 50 seats. Democrats likely need to win three or four of these within margin of error races. So these are within the margin of error. And what do we see. We that in Arizona they have a lead. In Pennsylvania they have a lead of four points. Georgia right now is the 50th seat. Raphael Warnock is up three points. But that is within of the margin of error.

And the other thing, I saw an interesting discussion on Twitter which I think illuminates a certain point. Although the Democrats are in the lead in these three seats right, there's basically, probabilistically, this is actually much closer to a about 50-50 chance, because some of these races may go one way and others of them may go the other, especially given the different parts of the country they're in. There may be a poling error in the southwest that works for the Republicans advantage. There may be a polling error in the northeast that works to the Democrats advantage. So really what you should take away from this is it's really a tight race right now.

BERMAN: You saw an interesting discussion on Twitter. That in an of itself, Harry, is an upset victory.


BERMAN: I want to talk, in these races they ask what's the most important issue in the voting right now. What are people saying?

ENTEN: Yes, part of the reason that I think we're seeing that Republicans have momentum is because there was this whole idea of Democrats wanting to run on abortion rights, Republicans wanting to run on the economy. If you look nationally, what's the most important issue? It's the economy and inflation. Arizona, key Senate race, what's the most important issue, economy and inflation. Georgia, the same. Nevada, the same. Pennsylvania, the same. It's the economy and the inflation that voters are overwhelmingly saying and across all these battleground states is the top issue. [08:05:02]

And I think that's why you're seeing Republicans closing that gap nationally or even overtaking the Democrats, at least in the generic congressional ballot.

BERMAN: These look pretty similar. Look at that.

ENTEN: I like it. It makes it easy for the viewer to understand.

BERMAN: On these issues that people say are the most important, who are voters saying they trust the most to handle them?

ENTEN: I think this basically tells the story, right. If you look on abortion rights, voters trust Democrats. But if you look on the economy and the inflation, who do you trust more? The Republican Party 54 percent, the Democratic Party, just 37 percent. This is why Republicans want to run on inflation and the economy. And this is why Republicans have been gaining in the polls. It is because this is the issue that voters trust Republicans more than Democrats on, John.

BERMAN: Harry Enten, thank you, as always, for helping us understand.

ENTEN: I try my best.

KEILAR: All right, let's get to Ukraine where breaking just moments ago we learned Russia President Vladimir Putin has announced martial law in the four annexed Ukrainian regions in the east. I want to bring in Nic Robertson. He is there. So Nic, Putin made these comments during what was a scheduled Security Council meeting last hour in Russia. Tell us what you're learning, what this is going to mean, and the very latest from where you are there in Kyiv.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: There had been rumors that Putin might have been on the verge of announcing martial law. Precisely what it means for the Ukrainian citizens who are living in that Russian-occupied territory of Ukraine isn't clear. And I say that advisedly because just yesterday, Dmitry Peskov, President Putin's own spokesman, said that Russia was still working out the laws, the economy, all the details of these annexed regions. So it's not entirely clear what martial law will mean.

Typically, of course, it means that the army will take control, that the civilians have no say, and we're already seeing an element or a vestige of that in Kherson in the south of the country where today Russian authorities controlling that Ukrainian town sent text messages to all the Ukrainian citizens living there, telling them that they needed to evacuate the town. It could be what Putin is announcing will be a legal enforcement of those sorts of evacuations, which, of course, potentially puts Ukrainian citizens in the position of being shipped out to mainland Russia and against their will. But this is something that was feared and worried about. Now it's a reality, but we have to understand the details of it just yet.

KEILAR: So we still have details to understand. Of course, this comes on the heels of sham referenda, right, these votes that were held that Vladimir Putin used to say these are essentially Russian territories in the east.

ENTEN: And the threat that went along with that after the sham referenda when the Duma, the state Duma in Russia rubberstamped the referenda and Putin rubberstamped their decision to annex these areas and make them part of Russia. This meant that Ukraine, if Ukraine tried to go after those territories, go after those territories, then Russia was legally entitled to use full force and the threat of nuclear escalation. That was how Russia had framed it. Again, precisely what this means now, it does seem to be just a further degradation to the living conditions of Ukrainians suffering under Russian rule in those parts of Ukraine.

KEILAR: Yes, and this is happening as the Ukrainians are making progress towards Kherson, obviously a key city there in the southeast. Nic, thank you so much for the breaking news. We appreciate it.

So in New Hampshire, Republicans are facing an uphill battle in the high stakes Senate race. But now traditional conservatives and Trump- aligned candidates are putting aside their differences to make up some ground. CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger takes a closer look.


GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: New Hampshire, home to the first presidential primaries and now home to a crucial Senate race, attracting voters with fiercely held views.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who doesn't want to make America great?

BORGER: That's the goal, of course, but watching Republicans try to unify this election season is like watching a bunch of arranged marriages. In New Hampshire, between a more conventional and successful incumbent governor with a Senate candidate calling for a new breed of party outsiders.

So what would you call yourself?

DON BOLDUC, (R) NEW HAMPSHIRE SENATE CANDIDATE: We're patriots, right. We're a new ilk of the Republican Party.

BORGER: That's retired Brigadier General Don Bolduc who served 10 tours in Afghanistan and narrowly won a packed primary as a border protecting and election denying conservative once opposed by the Republican establishment.


BOLDUC: The establishment has become the problem and people want a solution to that.

BORGER: So what exactly is the Republican problem?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're not audacious enough, they're not aggressive enough.

BILL BORDEAUX, NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTER: Trump was like a hand grenade thrown into the Republican Party. Love him or hate him, he definitely changed things up.

BORGER: Bolduc was not endorsed by Trump. He's an underdog in this race against former governor and one-term Senator, Democrat Maggie Hassan. She's talking a lot about abortion politics. He's talking a lot about the economy and immigration.

BOLDUC: Will you vote and support the southern border? Yes, baby.

BORGER: And he's getting a lot of money from a political action committee aligned with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, the ultimately insider and not a Bolduc favorite.

His PAC has given you $23 million.

BOLDUC: And thank you very much.

BORGER: And yet, he self-proclaimed change candidate seems unchanged.

BOLDUC: I want leadership to change in the United States.

BORGER: Leadership?

BOLDUC: I want it to change.

BORGER: Bolduc is among a large chorus of Republican rightwing warriors who now find themselves welcoming both money and newfound support from the very party poobahs they once dismissed.

BOLDUC: He's Chinese Communist sympathizer.

BORGER: That was about the popular Governor Chris Sununu seeking his fourth term who had no kinder words for Bolduc.

GOV. CHRIS SUNUNU, (R) NEW HAMPSHIRE: He's kind of a conspiracy theorist type candidate.

BORGER: But post primary, an embrace and a nod from the governor.

SUNUNU: He's an amazing individual with this background, this war hero background, that just wants to stand up and serve.

BORGER: And now needs to reach out beyond his conservative base.

BRIAN TODD, GOP STRATEGIST: New Hampshire is an ornery state. There are more independents than there are members of either party in New Hampshire. So as the independents go, so goes New Hampshire.

BORGER: And so a Bolduc switch on the legitimacy of the 2020 election from this --

BOLDUC: I signed a letter with 120 other generals and admirals saying that Trump won the election, and damn it, I stand by my list.

BORGER: To this.

So you believe the election was not stolen. BOLDUC: Not stolen, but irregularities and fraud.

BORGER: The state Republican Party chairman says it's all for the greater good.

STEPHEN STEPANEK, CHAIRMAN, NEW HAMPSHIRE REPUBLIC PARTY: If we are going to change the direction of this country, you have to support our entire Republican ticket, because if you don't, the Democrats win and the direction of the country doesn't change.

BORGER: Unity at all costs, not only in New Hampshire. Consider Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin's support for election denier Kari Lake.

GOV. GLENN YOUNGKIN, (R) VIRGINIA: The Republican Party has to be a party where we are not shunning people. What Arizona deserves is a Republican governor.

BORGER: Bolduc supporter Paul Grant hopes the harmony lasts.

PAUL GRANT, DON BOLDUC SUPPORTER: I think Republicans sometimes are amateur when it comes to politics. And by that I mean I don't agree with a lot of the policies or stances of the Democratic Party, but they play to win. They do. They stick together.

BORGER: There's just one small problem on the horizon.

TODD: It would be one thing to say the Republican Party is not just a big tent. It's a big tent with a bar fight.

BORGER: And it's not about to be last call any time soon.


KEILAR: Indeed. Let's bring in Gloria Borger and CNN senior political analyst John Avlon. As the kids would say on some of those quotes about Bolduc, how it started, how it's going. What a difference months make.

BORGER: Rigged election, not rigged election.

KEILAR: Yes, or even the perception of him by Sununu. It's just, what a flip.

BORGER: Total flip. But look at the state of New Hampshire. He has got to appeal to independent voters now. About a third of the voters in New Hampshire or more self-identify at independents. So he's trying to get them on board, and that's very difficult for a conservative Republican, which he is.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: But I think we sort of demean these words, "conservative," because "conspiracy theorist" and "conservative" didn't used to be synonymous. So this is the problem, right. A big tent, we'd say policy-wise these people are hardcore on, say, the border. That's a completely legitimate position. Saying that campaigning that the election is overturned or dealing with COVID conspiracies or whatever it may be is not, because you're not having a fact-based debate at that point.

So when Chris Sununu flips himself, that is about political convenience. He's the Republican nominee. But in New Hampshire where a plurality of registered voters are independents, Bolduc knows that not going to fly. He said so in a radio interview. So that accounts for the pivot. It doesn't change his core beliefs and why he is a very vulnerable candidate in a year where a Republican could easily -- Chris Sununu would be knocking off the Democratic incumbent.

BORGER: He would. And here is Don Bolduc accepting $23 million from a PAC associated, one might say led by Mitch McConnell, who he refuses to endorse as leader should he get elected. So he kind of has to stick with that, but says thank you very much about the money.


And I think this is going on all over the country. But Mitch McConnell is giving it to him because the big thing is they want to win control of the Senate.

As Glenn Youngkin says, they want to win control of the state houses --


BORGER: -- which is why today, he's out there campaigning for Kari Lake, an election denier.

KEILAR: We just had Governor Asa Hutchinson on who sometimes has some constructive criticism --


KEILAR: -- for members of his own party. He has really been critical, obviously, of former President Trump. And I asked him about the Georgia Senate race and Herschel Walker. And did he believe Herschel Walker's denials when it came to this story, that he had paid for an abortion by a former girlfriend of his and he basically said, you know, to take him at his word, or he's giving him the benefit of the doubt.

And it just struck me that some of these things, you know, years and years ago, would have been completely disqualifying for Republicans. And they certainly no longer are.

AVLON: That's right. Because the new litmus test, particularly three weeks out, because you're right, Asa Hutchinson typically would tell truth to power when he thought it was right. But three weeks out, why are you going to write off a Senate candidate and what's still a close race if you might possibly want to run for president? So what you have is politically driven, willful ignorance.

The idea that you give Herschel Walker the benefit of the doubt on this stuff at this point, ignores all the facts and all the evidence, but it is the current environment is causing people to put party over country and power over principle. That is the new marching orders.

BORGER: You have Senator Cotton and Senator Scott going to campaign with Herschel Walker. They're out there because they realize they can't lose this seat. They can't replace him at this point, right?

AVLON: Right.

BORGER: They can't replace him. So they're out there because the party -- this is the goal, they want control of the Senate and that is above all else. And so, they will stand by Herschel Walker, and there's no other choice for them right now they believe.

KEILAR: Gloria, they go to campaign with him and then have standing behind him --


KEILAR: -- while he's talking about a bowl getting lots of cows pregnant. I mean, they're standing behind him in the middle of this whole scandal. And I can't even imagine what they were thinking, as he was saying that --

BORGER: Who thought bubbles.

KEILAR: Who thought bubbles would have been amazing, but that is what they have to contend with when they put themselves out for these candidates.

BORGER: So you make up decision, don't you?


BORGER: You make that decision whether you're going to do that. Now, Scott runs the campaign committee. He's got a lot at stake here for himself personally.

KEILAR: Sure, he does.

KEILAR: Both of these guys want to be president, right? So they have to think of that.

AVLON: Yes, but look, when you're campaigning with a dumpster fire, you've got a fundamental problem, particularly when that thought bubble goes off. The fact is, they've gotten used to campaigning with dumpster fires, and they're willing to say that, you know what, Republicans say, look, what do you expect me to do? Endorse a Democrat?

Again, the idea that used to drive things, particularly when it comes to independence in election is thinking about the voting for the person, not the party. And now it's party above all else, even when the candidate you're backing is a conspiracy theorist, crackpot or someone who's manifestly incompetent.

BORGER: That's because -- one sec, that's because it's not the party. You know, it's the -- it's control. And so, it's not Herschel Walker. AVLON: No, that's right.

BORGER: It's just about controlling the Senate.

AVLON: The later out to the name. Of course.

KEILAR: I will leave it at this. When you campaign with a dumpster fire, at some point, you will be downwind. You know that.


KEILAR: Gloria Borger, John Avlon, thank you so much to both of you.

Ahead, CNN has exclusively obtained a copy of journalist Bob Woodward's audio book ahead of its October 25 release. We'll bring you some of those conversations next.

BERMAN: And this just in, Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced martial law in the four territories that Russia illegally annexed. The sham elections there. We're going to have much more on this ahead.



BERMAN: This just in, the Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced martial law, declared martial law in the four regions in Ukraine seized by Russia, the areas that Russia illegally annexed after sham elections. We're going to have a live report from Moscow in just a few minutes.

But joining us now, CNN Political and National Security Analyst David Sanger. Your reaction to this announcement from Vladimir Putin. And I do want to note, it includes the area of Kherson, where Russia today announced evacuations from a city that they acknowledged they're losing control over, yet at the same time, this political statement where Putin says he's declaring martial law.

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL & NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: You know, John, it's part of Putin's increasing desperation. It's also part of the whole strange nature of this law where he doubles of this war, where he doubles down on areas that he is increasingly not in control of. If you think about the escalation ladder that we're -- we've been looking at here right now, first, he declares a mobilization. Maybe they've got 300,000 people flowing. They certainly have numbers approaching that fleeing the country.

Then he's evacuating troops out of this area he can't hold, but declaring martial law in that region. And this is why so many in the administration are worried about the steady progress toward a possible nuclear detonation because he's running out of conventional options.

KEILAR: That's the question, right? What comes next? So when you're looking at these data points on this line, what could come next? What would -- would that signify a movement potentially towards some type of tactical nuclear weapon, and why would that be?

SANGER: He's got some steps beyond, Brianna, between now and then. First of all, nobody has seen his nuclear weapons in motion, at least as of last week. I think the U.S. would probably see it. They would almost certainly hear it, which is to say, hear the discussions and the radio intercepts around that.

The second thing he could go do is in moving those nuclear weapons or missiles that could carry them basically be sending a message, don't push me too far. And then there's a whole series of steps which we've talked about before that. He could take, you know, a demonstration test over the Black Sea and so forth.


I thought it was interesting that over the weekend, we heard Jake Sullivan, the President's National Security Adviser, say, we're not going to pay attention to distinctions here. A nuclear blast is a nuclear blast, no matter where you do it.

BERMAN: David, what should people be paying more attention to now? Because there are two things that are going on at the very same time, with Putin making this claim of martial law in these areas, or what we are hearing from the Russian commanders on the ground, that there are evacuations from Kherson, that the situation is tenuous. Why would the commanders be saying that very publicly on Russian state TV?

SANGER: It's pretty remarkable because they seem to be undercutting Putin, which is not usually a healthy thing to do, John. But at the same time, I think they've recognized at this point that there is only so much happy talk that the Russian people will take or understand. And that they're -- they know from the reports from their own family members, that this war is not going well.

And that's the big difference between now and a few months ago. A few months ago, if you were living in Moscow, you could ignore the war. Now you can't.

KEILAR: Now you can't. David, I do want to mention, you're actually -- you're producing a new documentary, which I know it's incredibly exciting moment here. This is for HBO, and it's about Biden "Year One: A Political Odyssey." Tell us about this.

SANGER: So this broadcast tonight on HBO, and is on HBO Max, after that. We spent about a year with the same team that did "The Perfect Weapon" documentary about the rise of cyber warfare to get inside the administration as they dealt with the challenges of cleaning up after the Trump era. And that was everything from COVID to January 6, to trying to get accustomed to an era in which we are in constant conflict with two nuclear superpowers, China and Russia.

KEILAR: Can't wait for it. It's going to be excellent, I'm sure, David.

SANGER: Thank you.

BERMAN: The HBO documentary film, "Year One" debuts today on HBO and HBO Max.

KEILAR: CNN has exclusively obtained a copy of journalist Bob Woodward's audio book ahead of its October 25 release, we will next.

BERMAN: The climate crisis hitting parts of the U.S. Hoard. We've seen these greater numbers and wildfires and now the Treasury Department is launching an assessment inspecting your wallet.