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Voters Turning Up in Record Numbers for Early Voting in Georgia; Pennsylvania Senate Candidates Democrat John Fetterman and Republican Mehmet Oz Have Only Debate; New York Incumbent Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul and Republican Challenger Representative Lee Zeldin Have Only Debate; Respiratory Viruses Surging, Pediatric Hospitals Nearing Capacity. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired October 26, 2022 - 08:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: But the two candidates went toe-to-toe on the issues. They were hitting each other on abortion and fracking, both of which are major issues in Pennsylvania.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN ANCHOR: And then in New York, Governor Kathy Hochul and her Republican challenger Lee Zeldin, they sparred on crime, which has been a major concern for New York voters in their only scheduled debate. Hochul once led Zeldin by double digits in the polls, but the race has now tightened in the final weeks of the campaign. And even before the debates, millions of people across the country had already cast their ballots for the midterm elections. Early voting now under way in 40 states. Turnout set to be on pace for the record set in the 2018 midterms. In Georgia a million preelection ballots have been cast.

Let's bring in CNN's Eva McKend who is live at a polling place in Atlanta, Georgia. Eva, what are you seeing?

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Well, a common answer from voters when you ask them why they are turning out early is because they want to take advantage of the opportunity. They don't want work to maybe get in the way on Election Day. And so they are exercising their right early.

Now, record turnout, there's been record turnout daily since early voting began last week. Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger says that this illustrates that Georgia has among the best election systems in the country. But his Democratic opponent still says that voter suppression is alive and well in Georgia, taking issue with the state's voting law. Take a listen.


BRAD RAFFENSPERGER, (R) GEORGIA SECRETARY OF STATE: I would put our election system, I would put our Georgia election system and our vote experience up against any other state in the union. We're seeing record turnout. And I anticipate we'll continue to see midterm records broken. BEE NGUYEN, (D) GEORGIA SECRETARY OF STATE CANDIDATE: Just this last

week, a student went down to the Morehouse voting precinct, and when she got there, they said your voting eligibility has been challenged. They did not give her a reason why. And they said, you can vote by provisional ballot. And she said I'm not comfortable voting by provisional ballot, and why am I being challenged? She said she felt disenfranchised because she was disenfranchised.


MCKEND: Now, a fake ballot was detected in a scanner box last week in Spalding County, but election officials here are saying this is an isolated incident that all in all, so far things seem to be running pretty smoothly. As I've been out on the campaign trail the last few weeks, or the last week, I've heard both Democrats and Republicans urging their voters to get out and vote early. Democrats, though, putting a little more urgency to this, saying that November 8th may be too late.

MARQUARDT: All right, Eva McKend, in Atlanta, Georgia, thank you for the report.

KEILAR: Pennsylvania Senate candidates Mehmet Oz and John Fetterman squaring off in their first and what will be their only debate. This is a race that is shaping up to be one of the most consequential in the country, one that could determine control of the Senate. Fetterman acknowledging early on the stroke that he suffered back in May, addressing what he called, quote, the elephant in the room, and letting the audience know that he might miss some words, he might mash a couple together with the closed captioning system that he was using.


LT. GOV. JOHN FETTERMAN, (D) PENNSYLVANIA SENATE CANDIDATE: And let's also talk about the elephant in the room. I had a stroke. He's never let me forget that. And I might miss some words during this debate, mush two words together. But it knocked me down, but I'm going to keep coming back up. And this campaign is all about, to me is about fighting for everyone in Pennsylvania that ever got knocked down, that needs to get back up, and fighting for all forgotten communities all across Pennsylvania that also got knocked down, that needs to keep get back up.


KEILAR: All right, let's discuss now with Dr. Kevin Sheth. He is the director of the Center for Brain and Mind Health at Yale University. Dr. Sheth, thank you so much for being with us. And look, obviously, this is a really contentious debate over the health of John Fetterman. On one side, you have his critics who are saying this shows he's totally unfit to be able to do this job. There is a question, though, can he do what he needs to do in the Senate to serve the people of Pennsylvania? I think that is really what it comes down to. So what are you seeing as you watch this?

DR. KEVIN SHETH, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR BRAIN AND MIND HEALTH AT YALE UNIVERSITY: Well, first of all, thanks for having me this morning. I will tell you, first off, having a stroke is a very serious thing, of course. It's a cause of disability in the U.S. What to me is quite remarkable is that even just a few months after his stroke, while he clearly is working through some challenges with speech and language, he's actually able to hold his own in a debate and go toe to toe on a number of topics and answer some questions. So I think that that's actually quite remarkable and shows what the brain is capable of.


MARQUARDT: Doctor, you heard Fetterman in that clip saying that Dr. Oz has never let him forget about the stroke, but it is understandable that Pennsylvania voters, particularly after that debate last night, may want to know more. If you were a Pennsylvania voter, and certainly as a doctor, what more transparency do you want, what more answers do you want from the Fetterman medical team?

SHETH: Well, I think, first of all, I think it's understandable, I would say, that voters want to know about the health of their candidates, but just to put this in broader context, there have been candidates and actually elected officials who have continued to serve their term after a number of different kinds of neurological injuries including stroke. So I'll leave it to you and to others to decide what should be appropriate to disclose and not to disclose. But in some ways, just participating in a debate and being on stage is a way of disclosing and being transparent what he is and not able to do.

KEILAR: So, I think some people, when they're listening to him, they're going to hear what he said last night, and they'll compare it to what it would have sounded like before the stroke. So if he says something like "keep get back get up" where he would have said "keep getting back up," he said at the beginning "good night" which is clearly what you say in closing. Maybe he meant to say good evening, or that's certainly what would have been more appropriate. Those kinds of mistakes, what does that signal to you? Is that alarming to you? Does it say anything about cognition?

SHETH: In some ways it does not, actually. So I would distinguish between speech and language challenges and actual cognition or thinking. And one does not necessarily translate into the other. So, I think the fact that he's willing to get up -- some of this is glass half full and glass half empty. I would say the glass half full part is that actually it was remarkable that in a very pressured public setting he was able to go for a significant period of time and answer a lot of questions. In some ways, that's quite remarkable.

Having slight missteps in some missteps in some of his words, of course, that probably is attributable to the recovery process following the stroke, but in some ways, he's been very transparent by actually showing people what he can and cannot do. And I don't think it necessarily reflects his underlying cognition regarding that. We just don't know in some ways.

KEILAR: We're not brain doctors, so it certainly helps to have one this morning. Dr. Sheth, thank you.

SHETH: Thank you.

KEILAR: And joining us now to discuss the Pennsylvania debate, we have editor-in-chief at the "Pennsylvania Capital-Star" John Micek and political reporter at "The Philadelphia Inquirer" Julia Terruso. John, to you first. Look, that's the medical side of things, and certainly there's still some outstanding questions. Dr. Sheth does not treat John Fetterman. But what about the political side of things here? What are you hearing? And is this the thing that really is occupying most voters concerns coming out of this debate?

JOHN MICEK, EDITOR IN CHIEF, "PENNSYLVANIA CAPITAL-STAR": Yes, I'm not a neurologist, so would not presume to speak to Lieutenant Governor Fetterman's mental fitness. A debate like that is not a natural setting for John Fetterman under the best of circumstances. The rapid fire format, 30-second answers, 60-second answers really forces a candidate to think on his or her feet. And the fact that he was able to respond as well as he did and in depth as he did, speaks to the extent of his recovery. But if you look at the polling, while voters may be considering Lieutenant Governor Fetterman's fitness, pardon me, issues like the economy, issues like crime, issues like abortion rights I think loom far larger.

MARQUARDT: One of the more halting moments when John Fetterman had last night was when he was asked about fracking. Let's take a listen to that bite.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're saying tonight that you support fracking, that you've always supported fracking. But there is that 2018 interview that you said, quote, "I don't support fracking at all." So, how do you square the two?

LT. GOV. JOHN FETTERMAN, (D) PENNSYLVANIA SENATE CANDIDATE: I do support fracking. And I don't -- I don't -- I support fracking. And I stand. And I do support fracking.


MARQUARDT: Julia, when you hear that, what were you focusing on there, the delivery, or some of the perhaps uncertainty over the substance of the question?

JULIA TERRUSO, POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER": Yes. I think an interesting part of that exchange is both Oz and Fetterman were actually presented with a more anti-fracking stance and then their more pro-fracking stance now. And I think you just saw the two of them, Oz, who has much more TV experience and is much more comfortable in that environment, answer it better.


Fetterman obviously struggling to answer the seeming change of position on fracking. And I think, as John said, we heard that Fetterman was going to -- that this was going to be a challenge for him. We saw tell last night. The question kind of becomes, what's the impact on voters? I've talked to folks who say they don't think this debate necessarily won Fetterman new supporters, but did it lose him any? Did it gain Oz many? That's a clip that I think we'll see circulated. We're already seeing it circulated by Republicans. And then, Democrats are going to circulate one of Oz's answers on abortion.

KEILAR: Well, yes, and let's play that answer on abortion.


MEHMET OZ, (R) PENNSYLVANIA SENATE CANDIDATE: I don't want the federal government involved with that at all. I want women, doctors, local political leaders, letting the democracy that's always allowed our nation to thrive to put the best ideas forward so states can decide for themselves.

I am not going to support federal rules that block the ability of states to do what they wish to do. The abortion decision should be left up to states.

I've been very clear on my desire as a physician not to interfere with how states decide.


KEILAR: He's sort of talking, Julia, that it should be left up to -- he thinks a woman and her doctor but also local politicians, which leads Democrats to ask, well, who else gets to go in the room? And they really want to really drive that home against Mehmet Oz. How is that playing this morning?

TERRUSO: Well, we've already heard that the Fetterman campaign plans to make that an ad. I think we're going to talk a lot about Fetterman's delivery throughout the night, and we're going to talk a lot about that one moment for Oz. And that seems to be how things are kind of breaking down on partisan lines in terms of how we're hearing people talk about the debate the next day. But we know abortion is a huge issue for Democrats. Yes.

MARQUARDT: Sorry, go ahead. Finish your thought.

TERRUSO: Oh, I think, you know, Democrats know that abortion is a hugely motivating issue, and so, Fetterman's campaign is seizing on that comment by Oz and the local politician part of it.

MARQUARDT: This race has been compared, in some way, to the race in Georgia between Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker in that Republicans there and Democrats in Pennsylvania may just be looking at this as a vote for that single vote in the Senate. John, do you think that's fair? Is that what Republican and Democrats in Pennsylvania are voting for?

MICEK: Yes. I think overall this is a hugely determinative race. We know that Pennsylvania is one of a handful of Senate seats that can determine control of the Senate in the next Congress. Democrats, certainly, are being motivated to a large extent by the issue of abortion rights. I've seen polling that says they are motivated by the economy as well. Republicans are doubling down on crime. You saw Mehmet Oz come after John Fetterman on that pretty hard last night. So I think each side, for lack of a better term, has their motivating issues, and each will vote accordingly.

KEILAR: John and Julia, it will come down to voters in Pennsylvania. So we certainly thank you for your per perspective this morning, appreciate it.

MICEK: Thank you.

MARQUARDT: New York Governor Kathy Hochul and Republican Congressman Lee Zeldin, they faced off in their first and only debate as well, offering a series of tense exchanges, especially when it came to the issue of crime which is the number one issue for New York voters. Take a listen.


GOV. KATHY HOCHUL, (D) NEW YORK: There is no crime-fighting plan if it doesn't include guns, illegal guns. We've lost another child and a teacher yesterday in St. Louis, because people will not support what I was able to get done here in New York, and that is a ban on assault weapons for teenagers. You can't even do that.

REP. LEE ZELDIN, (R-NY): Kathy Hochul believes that the only crimes that are being committed are these crimes with guns. And yet you have people who are afraid of being pushed in front of oncoming subway cars. They're being stabbed, beaten to death on the street with hammers. We need to be talking about all of these other crimes.


MARQUARDT: Joining me now is CNN chief law enforcement and intelligence analyst John Miller. John, of course, you are also a former senior member of the NYPD, so you know of what you speak when it comes to this debate. As was noted, crimes in New York are on the rise. How much does a governor's political position affect the crime rates in the city?

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Well, it can affect it a lot. Kathy Hochul is talking about stronger gun control laws and assault weapons. But the vast majority of New York state and especially New York City's crime is committed with handguns. So the issue there is, are people really going to jail?


And I think, you know, I think what we learned from the candidates last night is, you know, Kathy Hochul wants President Biden to run again. She's pro-choice. She's looking for stronger gun control laws.

Lee Zeldin told us he likes Donald Trump. He is pro-gun rights and pro-choice, or, rather, anti-abortion. So, they played the type.

But crime is the thing that kept creeping back into this. And the core of it was, two things. One, the Zeldin camp saying he would reverse the complex criminal justice reform laws that a lot of people blame for the rise in crime in New York state. And, two, his promise to fire the Manhattan district attorney who has come up with his own criminal justice policies about what to prosecute and whatnot.

MARQUARDT: So, who do you feel made the more compelling case in terms of tactics to bring down crime in New York?

MILLER: Well, Kathy Hochul was spending her crime time during the debate defending what she's done so far, that she fixed the criminal justice reform laws. Although when she went to her own Democratic Senate and assembly, they only passed about a tenth of what she asked for in terms of rollbacks.

Lee Zeldin was swinging away the entire time about issues about violent crime, shootings and murders might be going down, other crimes were ramp pants. Burglary, robbery, nobody was going to jail. And he was able to punctuate that with the fact that he was attacked on the campaign trail. That there was a gang shooting in front of his house while his children were home.

So for a candidate who started way behind, who has closed that gap to the point that it's very close now, what you see here is for New York voters, even though there are many issues on the table, crime has become a real driver.

MARQUARDT: All right. Well, this is a very, very tight race. And as you note, crime is a real driver. In fact, the most important issue to New York voters.

John Miller, we're thankful and luck have to have your expertise. Appreciate it.

Now, a progressive House leader abruptly withdrawing a letter that pushed the Biden administration to pursue diplomacy in Russia's war with Ukraine.

And a Supreme Court justice calling the leak of his drafted opinion overturning roe v. Wade, a grave betrayal that put the lives of his fellow justices at risk.

KEILAR: And children's hospitals are overwhelmed. What parents need to know about the respiratory virus that is the rise, ahead.



MARQUARDT: Pediatric hospitals all across the country are running out of beds as respiratory illnesses overwhelm them. We've been hearing about the surge of RSV cases and now, in other parts of the country, the flu is also bearing down.

CNN's Jacqueline Howard is at the children's health care of Atlanta where they're seeing these viral threats in real-time.

Jacqueline, what are you hearing?


It's interesting. Here at children's healthcare of Atlanta, just last week, most of the respiratory illnesses seen in the hospital were due to RSV. But I just spoke to infectious disease physician, Dr. Andi Shane, and she says that now, most cases are due to flu. They're seeing an uptick and this shift in what illnesses are presenting here at the hospital.

And this trend in the southeast, when you see a certain trend in Republicans tore illnesses they can often predict what we might see in the Northeast four to six weeks later. So this shift from RSV to flu is getting a shift and it might be a predictor of what could happen in the next few weeks up north.

And as for cases here at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, Dr. Shane did emphasize, that many hospitalized by flu are not completely vaccinated and same with those with COVID-19. Have a listen.


DR. ANDI SHANE, DIVISION OF CHIEF OF PEDIATRIC INFECTIOUS DISEASES, CHILDREN'S HEALTHCARE OF ATLANTA: Among the children that we've been seeing with COVID and influenza that are requiring hospitalization, 95 percent have not been fully vaccinated.


HOWARD: So, here at children's health care of Atlanta, they told me the message is flu before boo. Meaning get your flu vaccination before Halloween. That's the guidance from this hospital. That's also what we're hearing from health officials across the country -- Alex.

MARQUARDT: All right. Jacqueline Howard in Atlanta. Thank you very much for that report.

Now, let's head up to the northeast as Jacqueline was saying. Joining me now is Dr. Rishi Lulla. He's the chief of pediatric and hematology and oncology at Hasbro children's hospital in Rhode Island which is experiencing its own increased RSV cases.

Doctor, first off, what is the situation like at your hospital? We're seeing this disturbing trend nationwide now?


Yes, indeed. We are overwhelmed, just like many of our colleague hospitals in the region. We've seen a slow and steady increase in the rise of number of patients who require hospitalization.

MARQUARDT: And you can put that in numbers for us? How many cases have you seen?

LULLA: Well, if you just look at RSV alone, our cases looking back just a month have doubled from September to October, we have doubled number of new cases. And to help put that in context for what's happening now, about 75 percent of the patients in our intensive care unit who require invasive respiratory support have RSV.

And if you look on the floors, the general inpatient floors, we have about 50 percent of patients who are admitted are for RSV infections.

MARQUARDT: You say September and October have doubled. Can you put this into perspective, compared to past years, and why this makes this year more troubling?

LULLA: Yeah. It's a great question. In the past, we've experienced respiratory surges in the way we're experiencing now. However, they typically start much later in the year, December, January and February. So we're seeing an earlier peak in the respiratory season. As you alluded to in the prior story, we have the forthcoming anticipation of increasing COVID-19, as well as influenza.

So, our entire peak has been shifted earlier. There's a lot of uncertainty how long the peak is going to last, so it's hard to predict based on prior years what this year is going to look like.


MARQUARDT: So, what does it mean for hospitals like yours, in terms of staffing when you have all of these cases?

LULLA: Well, I will tell you, we're extremely overwhelmed our capacity is 125 percent to 150 percent of which we should be on most days. And as you alluded to, we're also experiencing staffing shortages as it relates to nurses and respiratory therapists and critical care nurses.

And so, as a system, we're doing the best we can to try to use the resources that we have, expand where we have capacity to expand, and serve the most vulnerable kids of our region.

MARQUARDT: And, of course, we're not just talking about RSV. We've been talking about the needs for people to get their flu shots, COVID shots.

LULLA: Yeah.

MARQUARDT: You really have all three coming together in a way that kind of feels like a perfect storm?

LULLA: Yeah, I think I echo what you say, it really is a perfect storm, and it puts the onus on children's hospitals like ours to do a couple things. First of all, we're working to increase our staffing where that's possible, aggressively recruiting to fill open positions to get the support where we need it. And we're doing everything we can to really expand access in the ambulatory sitting. So, limit the number of patients to be seen in the emergency department.

And very critically, for our region particularly, especially given that our catchment area ahs grown over the last few months, we're getting patients who need respiratory support all the way from Puerto Rico to Maine. What we're doing is working closely with our regional children's hospital collaborators, to make sure that the sickest kids get the care that they need in real time.

MARQUARDT: All right. Well, Dr. Rishi Lulla, thank you so much for everything you do. Wishing you and your team and your entire hospital all the best in the days and weeks ahead.

LULLA: Thank you so much.

MARQUARDT: Now, clashes on the debate stage last night over abortion, crime and inflation. So, how are candidates getting the final messages out with under two weeks to go until election day? We'll have a "Reality Check", next.

KEILAR: And President Biden directing the DNC to supply major cash in the last few days before the midterms. We'll speak to Democratic Senator Chris Coons, next.