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CNN Live Event/Special

America's Choice 2023; Voting Underway In Last Elections Before 2024 Primaries; Control Of Virginia's State Legislature Up For Grabs. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired November 07, 2023 - 18:00   ET




ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Right now, voters are casting ballots in key races across the country and giving us an early read on what they're thinking as the nation is heading into an unprecedented presidential election year that could test American democracy as it's never been tested before.

This is CNN's coverage of America's Choice 2023. I'm Erin Burnett.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And I'm Jake Tapper. We are about to get the first results of the night, possible clues about the political trends in 2024 and the potentially historic and divisive rematch between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump.

Polling places just closed in the eastern half of Kentucky. The commonwealth has one of two governor's races tonight, new measure of the Democrat's strengths and weaknesses on Republican turf. Popular Democratic Governor Andy Beshear is fighting to keep his job in Kentucky, where President Biden is very unpopular. Beshear is facing a strong challenge from Republican Attorney General

Daniel Cameron, who is aiming to be Kentucky's first black governor.

And in Mississippi, Democrat Brandon Presley, Presley, that's right, a second cousin of Elvis, he's facing off against Republican Governor Tate Reeves. Presley is running an unusually competitive race in a state that has had GOP governors for 20 years.

Now, Virginia has one of the most consequential battles tonight. Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin is hoping his party will win full control of the Virginia legislature for the first time in a decade. And that would open the door to passing his conservative education agenda and new abortion restrictions in the commonwealth, which trends blue in presidential elections.

In red-leaning Ohio, we're watching a very significant test of that abortion issue and its potential impact in 2024. Ohioans are deciding whether to guarantee access to an abortion in the state's Constitution. And that vote could continue or end an unbroken series of ballot victories for abortion rights supporters ever since Roe v. Wade was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. Also tonight, we're going to release an exclusive new CNN poll on the 2024 presidential race with just two months to go before the leadoff Republican contest in Iowa.

There is so much more ahead as more polling places close and as we stand by for the first results from parts of Kentucky, where voting just ended.

But right now, let's go to Eva McKend at Governor Beshear's headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky. Eva, what's the thinking inside the Beshear camp right now?

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Well, Jake, we know that the governor is currently in Frankfurt at the governor's mansion, watching at least some of the returns with his family.

What I can say is that Democrats feel cautiously optimistic going into tonight. They feel confident in the strategy that the governor has employed, and that really has been straying away from partisanship. He has overseen natural disasters in the states, tragedies, the pandemic. And all the while, he's really branded himself as part of Team Kentucky and says that Kentuckians many policy issues they can agree on.

But Republicans here have always said that the math is always going to be challenging for Beshear in this ruby red state. We know that Jefferson County will be an important county to watch. In 2019, Beshear did very well there, capturing it by over 100,000 votes, only to do well again tonight if he's going to pull off this victory in this red state. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Eva McKend in Louisville, Kentucky.

Let's go to Kyung Lah in Columbus, Ohio. She's tracking the state's abortion rights ballot measure. Kyung, has there been last minute campaigning on this issue?

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's still happening. As we are speaking, Jake, there's 90 minutes left on the clock and both sides of this issue. It is known here as issue one, say that they are continuing to make the call, say, hit those undecideds, to still try to persuade to the very, very last minute and to get people to the polls because the polls don't close until 7:30.

I'm hearing that from both sides. They believe that it is going to be the defining issue of '23 leading into '24. What they are expecting here, I am at a pro issue one event. And what they expect is that as those first returns start to come in tonight, it will be favorable for them, favorable for the abortion choice rights group, on enshrining those abortion rights into the state Constitution.


But what they're really cautioning people about is that it's those early votes that come in first that are counted and those tend to lean to the Democrats. And so as the night goes on, those numbers are going to start to shift as other parts of the state come in. And the question will be, quote, where do we land?

That is what we are hearing from one of the activists here at this event. They are encouraged by the turnout, though, Jake. The question is where is that turnout, who are those voters and will it be for the groups that are supporting issue one, and a real trust of this Democratic theory on abortion.

TAPPER: All right. Kyung Lah in Columbus, Ohio, we'll come back to you a lot of times throughout the night. Thanks so much.

And I am at the magic wall right now with who else but John King, John, we're expecting a lot of very tight races tonight. What are you going to keep your eye out for?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Let's start by looking at -- we have our very first votes. We have our very first votes in in the Kentucky governor's race, and as Kyung just noted, it's early in the night. What matters is later tonight. But we'll count them all as they come in.

The incumbent Democrat, Andy Beshear, with the very narrow 12-vote early lead in just this one county out here. But what are we looking for tonight? Whether it's the abortion initiative in Ohio, whether it's the legislative races in Virginia, whether it's this race right here in Kentucky, the suburbs, and can abortion right forces continue their momentum?

If they do, then Democrats perform well in the suburbs, or that ballot initiative will perform well in the suburbs, and they come out on top. If not, Virginia, you mentioned, Governor Youngkin trying to sell a compromise, 15 weeks with exceptions for rape, incest, life of mother. He thinks that's a way to not maybe win the suburbs, but to compete more strongly in the suburbs. Donald Trump, the Republican Party, collapsed in the suburbs under Trump. Youngkin thinks he has a way back.

So, we're going to start here. These are the first votes. As you noted, this is a Democratic incumbent running in a very red state. Here's the test. Is the Beshear brand stronger than the Biden drag? Because Biden is so unpopular in this state.

So, let's look at this map. Look at when Donald Trump ran for president in Kentucky. This was not close. This is a red, red, red state, right? Look at the margin here. But look up here, and look over here and look out here, right? Just watch that. Lexington County -- this is Jefferson County, where Louisville is, Fayette County, where Lexington is. 25 percent of the population lives there. That's where your African-American Democratic base is. Beshear has to run it up there.

But when he won in 2019, Jake, look at that. See the blue? See all that blue in places Trump won? Andy Beshear, as Eva was noting, runs as a guy from Kentucky, as a centrist Democrat, as one of you, as your governor, his dad was governor. The family has a brand there that has been able to survive big Republican tides. Can he do it tonight when the president of the United States is so unpopular? If he does, see those suburbs? That's Cincinnati, the Northern Ohio suburbs out here, the further out. But he also competes in rural areas. This is one of the few Democrats, the Kansas governor would be another, one who compete in the rural areas right here as you watch him come out.

So now let's come back and let's come live. Let me clear this out. We have some early votes in Mississippi as well. But let's pull this back out and take a look. That's 2019. Let's come up here. Make sure we look at the right map. See, we're starting to fill him in. Daniel Cameron now has the lead. It was 112 for Andy Beshear. Now it's 773 for the Attorney General, Mr. Cameron. But, again, very early on, population centers are where you see the big cities. But this is why election nights are great.

We start to get the votes. We count them. And this part of the state, the polls are still open. It's divided by the Eastern and Central Time zone. So, we got a long way to go, but we're starting to get votes.

TAPPER: And Beshear is -- for those who are not familiar, he's the son, as you noted, of a former very popular Democratic governor who is close with Mitch McConnell, the very powerful Republican Senate leader. Andy Beshear also who casts himself as I'm the guy that makes the trains run on time. I'm the guy who gets disaster relief after we're hit by tornadoes. I'm not a culture warrior. I'm just a good governance governor.

KING: Pragmatic, centrist Democrat. We got through COVID together. I get you through natural disasters. You know me. You know my family. You know I care most about Kentucky.

Running against this is -- Mitch McConnell has a great relationship with Andy Beshear, has a great relationship with his father. But this is a former McConnell staffer. This is a McConnell protege, Daniel Cameron. He would be, as you noted, the first black governor of Kentucky. He'd also be the first elected black governor in the United States.

Mitch McConnell views him as the potential face of a post-Trump Republican Party. And yet, because this state is so Trumpy, what is Daniel Cameron touting in his ads? Trump's endorsement. And so he's the future in some ways, but his success in this election could be tied to Trump as well, promoting the endorsements.

TAPPER: First elected black Republican governor.

KING: Republican governor.

TAPPER: Yes, yes, absolutely. Dana Bash?

DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Thanks, Jake and John. Look, this is a night that we are going to be looking at with all of the states and the districts inside of Virginia to see where the electorate is right now, one year out from 2024. We've been looking at polls. We have been talking to voters and listening to focus groups. But this is really going to be a moment where the voters are going to give us some breadcrumbs about what they want and what they don't want.


ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST: Yes, and as these off-year elections often are, they try to really distill some of the political chaos. And I think probably this year feels even more chaotic than in many past years because of all of the different factors that are coming into play. It's the economy, it's abortion, it's the unpopularity of the incumbent. It's the unpopularity of the leader of the other party, the Republican Party, Donald Trump.

But I do think that it is interesting that now for the second cycle in a row, we are seeing abortion playing such a central role in some of these key states in places where you would not expect it, basically in the south. And the fact that that is the case in and of itself, I think, tells you a lot about how unsettled this electorate is, how this is not where this issue seems to have always been, where Republicans have felt like they could run on it pretty safely and not had to worry about electoral consequences. That's really changed. So, we'll see how that goes.

But Biden is on the ballot in these states, Trump is on the ballot in these states as well, Trumpism. And those are all of the themes that are going to carry us into the next year. I think it might give us some clarity. But as we all often do, we just have to caution, there's still a long way between now and even next year. So, these breadcrumbs might lead us to next November, but a lot of things could happen that could disrupt that path.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN HOST: But they definitely will. Well, that's why, I mean, I love Election Day, because we've been looking at the polls, we've been talking to voters, but when you actually get to see what they decide, that really is the most revealing and can give you a snapshot.

It's not a prediction for what's going to happen next year. At this point, before the 2020 election, COVID had not even happened yet. So, you truly have no idea.

But it is interesting to see, is abortion politics still fueling voters the way that we've seen it happen, since after the Supreme Court overturned Roe versus Wade. I mean, in Ohio, it will be fascinating there. We just spoke to the governor of Ohio. He's a Republican. He's urging Republican voters, all voters, to not vote for that issue that would enshrine abortion rights in Ohio's Constitution.

But in our early exit polls, and they're early, it is still seeing voters who have, you know, a lot of anger, at least women voters, when it comes to the issue of abortion.

BASH: And in Virginia, the governor who's not on the ballot, Glenn Youngkin, is trying to get Republican control over the legislature by taking the abortion issue on head-on in a way that we haven't seen Republicans do, certainly didn't in the midterms.

KASIE HUNT, CNN HOST: Well, I mean, what's going on with Glenn Youngkin in Virginia is, frankly, what I'm obsessed with tonight. I mean, it's the storyline that I feel like has got the most engagement kind of across the board on all the issues. Obviously, in Ohio, abortion is critical as well.

But is Glenn Youngkin giving Republicans a roadmap to run in places, you know, where people don't like Donald Trump? Can he succeed in doing that? Can he be out front? Can Republicans run on abortion? He's giving them a potential roadmap. It's unclear to me whether or not voters are going to go for it.

But, you know, I will say the one thing, I've been talking to sources this morning, and the most interesting feedback I've sort of started to get, especially from Democrats, is that they are picking up that the electorate is just, one person used the word torched in an email to me, right? They are over it. They are exhausted. They are like, everything is weighing down on people, whether it's the war in the Middle East, whether it's inflation, whether it's all of that, they're just exhausted.

BASH: And usually that means bad news for an incumbent or the incumbent party, but it's so mixed up right now because of where the parties are in these various, let's just focus on today, in these various states.

PHILLIP: But we've seen that exhaustion before. We saw it in 2020, we saw it in 2022, where in our exit polls going into both of those cycles, voters told us they didn't like either party, they didn't like either incumbent, they were dissatisfied with the direction of their political leaders, and yet that was not necessarily predictive of voters voting in any one way or another.

So, it's an important feature these days, especially of the electorate, but how that will land is, I think, still very unclear.

HUNT: Abortion is very emotional, right? And that's a key test here. Is that emotion still there?

BASH: A lot to talk about and we have all night to do it as we see the votes come in.

HUNT: We have better company, Dana.

BASH: Back out to Jake.

BURNETT: At any moment, we expect more votes to drop in the high stakes Kentucky governor's race, and we're counting down to our first possible chance to make projections tonight. There is much more ahead on CNN's special coverage of America's Choice 2023.


[18:18:31] TAPPER: Welcome back. And I have a key race alert for you from the commonwealth of Kentucky. If you look, the votes are coming in from the eastern part of Kentucky and Attorney General Daniel Cameron, the Republican, who is challenging the incumbent Democrat. Daniel Cameron is 814 votes ahead. He is 57.2 percent of the vote. The incumbent Democratic governor, Andy Beshear, has 42.7 percent of the vote.

We don't even know what percentage of the vote this is going to represent because the polls are still open in the western part of the state. This is just a little bit of the vote in, just a little shaving of it. But this is the vote that we have in as of right now.

Let's go to Mississippi now, another governor's race where a Democrat named Presley is hoping to shake up the governor's race and unseat the Republican governor there, Tate Reeves.

Dianne Gallagher is covering all the action. She is in Jackson, Mississippi. And, Dianne, the king, Elvis, is he actually playing any sort of role in this race?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I can tell you that the Democratic candidate, Brandon Presley, has not shied away from mentioning his very famous second cousin. But what they say they're paying attention to more is exactly what you see here in Jackson right now. These lines that are sort of snaking around the New Jerusalem Baptist Church polling place that we're in at the moment.


And part of that is because for the first time since 1890, voting for governor in Mississippi will be determined only by the popular vote. They amended the state Constitution to reform the way that all statewide officials, including governors, are elected under the old system candidates had to win a majority of the popular vote and a majority of statehouse districts.

Now, voting rights groups as well as Democrats have long said that that old process will -- that it diluted black voters and Mississippi has the highest percentage of black residents in the nation.

Now, look, Presley says that he has a diverse Coalition of supporters that range from the Tennessee border all the way to the gulf shores. But I will tell you, Jake, that Democrats are watching here in Jackson, as well as the Delta area, very closely, saying they feel like black turnout could give them an indicator of whether or not the Democrat could potentially pull off an upset.

TAPPER: All right. Dianne Gallagher in Jackson, Mississippi, thanks so much.

We're getting some new exit poll information out of Ohio right now. And this is obviously a bellwether looking ahead to the 2024 election. David Chalian has those numbers. David?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Jake, as you know, Ohio has been leaning red of late in presidential politics, but we took this opportunity in our exit poll to get a sense of those showing up to vote in Ohio today what they think about President Biden and Donald Trump.

President Biden's approval rating in the Buckeye State, 41 percent of the voters today participating in this election, those who also voted earlier represented in this exit poll, 41 percent approve, 57 percent disapprove. That's about what Biden's average is nationally.

Then we asked folks, should Joe Biden be running for president? Look at these results. Nearly three quarters of voters in Ohio today say, no, Joe Biden should not be running for re-election. Only 26 percent of Ohio voters say he should.

Donald Trump is not popular either, but his numbers are a bit better than the president's, 64 percent, nearly two-thirds of Ohio voters to say, Trump should not be running for president. About a third say, he should. Clearly, this is not a matchup Ohioans are looking for.

And when it comes to the issue of abortion, again, these early exit polls do indicate we asked whether or not abortion should be legal in all cases. Most cases, look at the top two figures there, Jake, if you add up 33 percent and 29 percent, more than six in ten voters in Ohio today say abortion should be legal in most or all cases. That is a robust turnout of the pro-abortion rights movement, which as you know, abortion rights very much on the ballot there in Ohio, Jake.

TAPPER: Yep, absolutely. David Chalian, thank you so much.

Let me throw it to Erin Burnett in New York. Erin?

BURNETT: All right, Jake. And, you know, looking at these exit polls, Audie, I think one thing interesting. You see a shift, not just that people care about this issue. But if you look at Ohio, right, as David was just saying, you add up people who think it should be legal, abortion should be legal in some or most cases, 62 percent. That was 51 percent in the year 2020.

So, you've seen actually a real and definitive shift in the electorate just in the past few years.

AUDIE CORNISH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think one of the things people should sort of keep an eye on over the next couple of months is how have both Democrats and Republicans altered their messages around abortion rights in the aftermath of the midterm elections.

In the case of the Ohio ballot, it specifically mentions not just abortion but about contraceptives, about other decisions related to a woman's body. And I think framed around the issue of would you want all these rights taken away and also abortion, it's a very different question and could explain some of the numbers we're seeing. But it's one of the things I'm keeping on the rest of the night.

BURNETT: And fascinating, David, because when you look at it, it's very clear where voters stand on this issue. And in Ohio, it's not that you're looking through this issue to get a lens on how people voted on a candidate, right? These are the issues that are actually on the ballot tonight, Abortion.

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Listen, Audie nail that, right? It's how it's being talked about, right? So, Republicans blew it in 2020, in the past, instead of saying, would you would you vote to codify Roe versus Wade, right? That's how it should have been presented, right? Because if you'd say where you vote to codify Roe versus Wade, people would say, well, sure, we'd do that, right? That's not how it was presented, right?

You know, Republicans went and said, this is the state's rights issue. Let's states do it. And then as soon as that happened, they said, wait, we don't want -- we want to take it away from the states. We want a federal ban. And --

CORNISH: Or the state, they said, we want a little more.

URBAN: We want more and more and more, we want to ban it. So, Republicans got burned last time. And now they're trying to walk it back a little bit. You see Glenn Youngkin messaging a little differently, right? We'll see how it works tonight.

But Audie said, you know, she nailed it, Democrats are onto something. You're going to see they're going to keep expanding that beachhead, right, on this issue. And we'll see if it continues to be salient tonight.

ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And, listen, this was largely a hypothetical debate the issue around life and abortion rights when Roe was the law of the land. That fundamentally changed under Dobbs.

And you've seen how positions have -- I have not seen a policy position move so rapidly on the right, the most pro-life, consistently pro-life Republican members now saying they would support 15 weeks, when it used to be we want to throw a Roe on the ass sheep of history.


That is because they are hearing from voters.

Ohio was a red state. You know, Trump won at 53 to Joe Biden 45.

BURNETT: Right. It used be like you can get to the White House on Ohio but it became a red state.

GRIFFIN: It's very much a red state but this is an -- these exit polls mark kind of the national polling, which is about 69 percent of Americans favor some access to abortion.

BURNETT: All right. So, David, if you look through it, though, and you say, okay, look, through abortion and is it a penumbra, as one would say, if you're going to look at abortion -- I'm just looking at --

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: (INAUDIBLE) something back from back in the days with these fancy words.

URBAN: Your leather-bound books.

BURNETT: Trying to see what it is what we can see through this.


BURNETT: Interesting in these same exit polls, you know, you see people -- they -- should Biden be running in 2024 in Ohio, 72 percent no, should Trump be running, 64 percent no.


BURNETT: So, there's great dissatisfaction with both, in fact, more for Biden, if you look at it in this exit poll, even as the view on abortion itself is very clear.

AXELROD: Yes. Well, I think people are separating the question. We'll see how it plays out in 2024. But, you know, we've had 40 -- I think 40 elections this year of different sorts around the country. In 38 of the 40, Democratic turnout was way elevated and I think this has a lot to do with it.

And you see it playing out tonight not just in Ohio but Andy Beshear's race has largely been attacking Cameron on abortion. And to Audie's point, you see his response has been to try and shift the discussion to parental consent. And you see Republicans doing that. They're searching for a way to fight back. But it is a powerful engine right now for Democratic turnout.

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No. I mean, look, basically, what you're seeing is abortion is the car the Republicans are the dogs that caught the car, now they're getting backed over, just keep backing over them backing over them backing over them because they went too far.

And I think the only thing I think that's interesting tonight is that you do have something that's the equivalent of a woolly mammoth or a dodo bird, which is a pro-choice Democrat in Mississippi, Presley, the cool guy, versus a crook in Mississippi. And actually in that state, somebody who's a pro-choice person may actually elevate themselves. But across the board, I think the Republicans went too far.

KATE BEDINGFIELD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, and I think this is actually also an issue that opens up. It gives a little bit of a message opening for Democrats on other issues, too. Because what you've seen as a Democratic message about Republicans taking away your rights, taking away your freedoms, that's really resonated. We see in this polling people feel threatened specifically on abortion.

But that also opens up credibility on other issues. And so especially as Democrats are grappling with Joe Biden's lack of popularity in Ohio, for example, this gives them an opening to say, this is not just about reproductive health. This is also about a broader agenda to take away your rights.

And so I think as Democrats are looking for ways to expand this beyond just abortion, that's one way to do it. BURNETT: Yes, it could be used as an issue that could help Biden, where obviously, when you look at these approval numbers and people wanting him to run, obviously struggling.

All right, all staying with us through the night, and all of you, please stay with us, because we are getting closer to the end of all voting in both Kentucky and Virginia. We've got some new results coming in.

And Dana going to be speaking live with the Virginia governor, Glenn Youngkin, about the Republicans fight for control of the General Assembly, and, of course, the ongoing speculation about his a political future.

We'll be back in a moment.



TAPPER: And we're back with our live coverage of America's Choice 2023. And you're looking at live pictures of folks voting in Mississippi where a heated governor's race is unfolding.

But now let's go to the battle for control of the legislature in the commonwealth of Virginia. Jessica Dean is following that. She's in Richmond. Jessica, what is the Republican's strategy as they try to flip Democratic seats?

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, it's three-pronged and, Jake, some of it might surprise people based on what we've heard from former President Donald Trump and other Republicans. I spoke to a source close to the Youngkin operation, and they said they've really applied three key things here. Number one, aggressively encourage early voting and vote by mail. That's what's different than a lot of Republicans over the last several years. Travel into deep blue parts of the state and also just keep Youngkin on a very consistent message.

And that has been what they've tried to do again and again as they seek to flip the Senate, the state Senate here, which is currently held by Democrats.

Now, I'm where the Democrats are going to gather tonight. Of course, they are hoping to do the opposite. But Youngkin and his team have really put a tremendous amount of resources, Jake, and expanding early voting for Republicans, and encouraging early voting and vote by mail for Republicans. So, we'll see if that actually works to their benefit here.

Democrats, of course, have a large advantage because their voters have been used to doing that, and he wants to obviously push an abortion ban that would be 15 weeks with the exception for life of the mother, incest and rape. And that's something that Senate Democrats foiled for him that says, part of his agenda that he'd like to get through. Jake?

TAPPER: All right. Jessica Dean, thanks so much. Dana? BASH: Thanks, Jake.

And now, let's hear directly from the Virginian governor about what's at stake tonight, Governor Glenn Youngkin. Thank you so much for being here. You are not on the ballot. You are hoping, though, as Jessica was reporting, that you can win tonight so that you have a Republican- controlled legislature across the board.


How are -- you've been out campaigning a lot. How are you feeling about what's happening on the ground?

GOV. GLENN YOUNGKIN (R-VA): Well, Dana, first of all, thank you for having me, and I feel great. And it's based on the fact that I think we've had a great campaign by so many of our great candidates. And it really reflects a great 22 months in the commonwealth of Virginia. We've delivered on every promise that we made.

And today, we see Virginia at the top of job growth, number three in the nation over the last 22 months when we started out in the bottom third of job growth, 230,000 more Virginians working today than when we started. We've delivered $5 billion of tax relief during this time period and we promised Virginians we'd go to work to get the cost of living down in Virginia.

And that's a track record that I think Virginians are going to the polls today. And I invite them to hopefully extend our license to lead, help us keep our house, and flip our Senate so that we can do even more.

BASH: So, you mentioned a lot of economic issues. One of the other issues that you have been and your allies have been pushing hard is the issue of abortion.

And one of the most fascinating things about your strategy, Governor, has been the way that you are taking what a lot of Republicans in the midterms ran away from the issue of abortion and trying to address it in a way that a lot of strong anti-abortion groups were hoping.

For example, as you talked about, I know, today, saying that it is a 15-week limit, not using the word ban, and, of course, with exceptions after 15 weeks. Is your hope that not only that helps in Virginia, but that you're providing a roadmap for other Republicans?

YOUNGKIN: Dana, abortion is one of the toughest issues in Virginia, and it's one of the toughest issues around the country. And as we presented our strategy and what we will absolutely deliver for Virginians, we wanted to be really clear that I support a bill to protect life at 15 weeks when a baby feels pain, at a time when exceptions can be made in the case of rape and incest and the mother's life is at risk.

And I think this is a really important point because where the other side has been is to extend abortion all the way up through and including birth, paid for with taxpayer money. And so that was way too extreme for Virginians. And I think it was really important for folks to understand that this is a choice between no limits and reasonable limits.

And across Virginia, while I know abortion is an important topic, the number one topic that I hear over and over again is how the Biden economy is making life so difficult. Nearly 60 percent of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, inflation is stealing their hard earned money. They're worried about jobs. And that's why I do believe that if we can come to a common place on abortion, we, of course, can bring to Virginians a reduced cost of living, tax relief, great jobs, excellence in education, safe communities, and that's what people want.

BASH: Yes. And I just want to say that you mentioned that a lot of Democrats want abortion up until birth, even in Virginia, yes, there are, it allows right now -- the current law allows for doctors to consult for very, very limited situations.

But I want to turn to what this might mean for next year, for 2024. Donald Trump, he is still far and away the leader in the Republican primary. He endorsed you for governor back in 2021. Are you ready to return the favor, endorse him?

YOUNGKIN: Well, of course, we are laser-focused on 2023. And, Dana, I'd say that I think there's still about 20 or 25 minutes left for Virginians to come out and vote, and I'd encourage them, please come out and vote and make your voice heard. Send me a team into Richmond that can work with me, not fight against me. We can get a lot done.

BASH: And after the polls close, are you going to endorse?

YOUNGKIN: And, Dana, after polls close, I'm not going to endorse anyone. I think that voters should choose who the nominee is, and then, of course, I will support the Republican nominee.

BASH: Are you going to get in at all, any chance in 2024?

YOUNGKIN: Dana, I've been asked this so much, so many times over the course of the last year. I'm humbled by it. I'm focused on Virginia. We've got a lot of work to do. And I think tonight we're going to demonstrate that the work that we've been doing has been not only appreciated by Virginians but they're willing to give us our majority back in our House and help us flip the Senate so we can do even more.

This is so important for Virginians, and I think it's important for the nation to demonstrate that we, in fact, can take a state that just 24 months ago was completely controlled by Democrats. And with common sense policies, we can turn the direction and take it from falling behind to leading. And that's one of the most important things I think we can demonstrate today and going forward.

BASH: Thank you, Governor, I didn't hear a no there. Didn't hear a yes, but didn't hear a no. Governor, thank you so much. I appreciate your time tonight.

[18:40:00] Jake?

TAPPER: Thanks, Dana. And as the governor noted, we are just a few minutes away. We're closing in on the first votes from Virginia where polling places are closing at the top of the hour.

We're also getting closer to unveiling CNN's new 2024 presidential poll and what it reveals about a potential Biden-Trump rematch. It's all coming up as voters are casting ballots across the nation. Stay with us.


TAPPER: Welcome back. We have a key race alert for you now in the Kentucky governor's race. If you look, Attorney General Daniel Cameron, a Republican, is 814 votes ahead. He leads right now with 3 percent of the vote in. He's at 51 percent. The incumbent Democratic governor, Andy Beshear, is at 49 percent. A lot of votes still to be counted. In fact, a lot of polls are still open there.

Let's walk over to the magic wall, where we can talk to John King about some of the results coming in from Kentucky as well as what he's seeing in the great state of Ohio.



KING: So, let's start with Kentucky. You made the key point. It's 3 percent of the estimated vote. So we got a long way to go in the count.

TAPPER: Yeah, a lot of counties.

KING: And this part of the state, the Central Time zone, part of Kentucky, is still voting for another, oh, 15, 16 minutes. But we love to count votes.

And so you have a very close race so far. We expect a very competitive race here throughout the night. Not much to make of what we see so far, except that the votes are starting to come in. I say that because if you look here, Jefferson County, where Louisville is, Fayette County, where Frankfort is, then you start moving over here, Paducah, Owensboro, Bowling Green, about 25 percent of the state population lives in Jefferson and Fayette right there.

So there's no votes in from the biggest population centers. If you look at the other dots on the map, that gets you over 30 percent of the population. So we have a long way to go here. But what are we watching for?

Number one, you know, here and here is where the governor, the Democrat, Andy Beshear, the incumbent, needs to run it up. Those are your African-American base, your Democratic party, the close in suburbs that have become so Democratic. He asks where he needs to run it up. But Andy Beshear, family brand -- we talked about this earlier, family name very well known in the state, has a unique brand. Can he overcome the Biden drag? We'll see that in the suburbs as it plays out. You mentioned Ohio. Polls closed there at the top of the hour. It's a ballot initiative on the map there.

So, obviously, it's an empty map right now. Here's the question you know, should the Ohio constitution have a constitutional right to abortion right? And so what are we going to look for? Remember, Kansas sent the first shock wave here after the Dobbs decision.

Ruby red Kansas said, whoa, Supreme Court went too far. A lot of Republicans said Supreme Court went too far. Republicans looking to ban abortion, you're going too far. That's what Kansas said.

Will another red state say that? If you look at the 2020 results here, the presidential race, you know, Donald Trump won this state by eight points. It is a red state, pockets of blue. You see them around Cleveland. But here's what I'm looking for. Oops, sorry about that. You go to come to Lake County, right? A more conservative suburb outside north of Cleveland, up along the lake.

Some of the suburbs here around Toledo. And the more exurban areas as you move out that Donald Trump carried. That's what we want to watch tonight. You know, in the Democratic blue areas, the abortion rights forces are going to win. The question is, as we saw in Kansas, as we saw in Michigan, do more conservative Republican suburbs and exurbs say no, Supreme Court, you went too far down?

Dana was just talking about the implications of this in Virginia. A lot -- we'll get a lot of clues tonight about voters in a blue state presidential level. But a Republican governor of Virginia, in a very red state here in Ohio are Republicans, especially Republicans in the suburbs and the exurbs saying, whoa, that went too far.

TAPPER: Yeah, we've seen six states go in the abortion rights direction in since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. And three of them are Republican. We've seen Kentucky, we've seen Kansas and we've seen Montana, all go in that direction.

Straight ahead, critical round of poll closings. We are standing by for results when all voting ends in the commonwealths of Kentucky and Virginia. Tonight's contests are teeing up the 2024 election as we're about to release CNN's exclusive new poll on President Biden, former President Trump and the 2024 presidential race.

First, we're going to squeeze in this quick break. Stay with us.



TAPPER: And we have another key race for you alert in the commonwealth of Kentucky, looking at the governor's race there, and Andy Beshear, the incumbent Democratic governor has pulled ahead as the votes have come in. He is now almost 20,000 votes ahead.

Governor Beshear has 58.2 percent of the vote. The Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron has 41 percent, 41.8 percent of the vote. That's what 8 percent of the estimated vote in, still a lot of votes to count.

We're standing by for the last polling places to close in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

Voting is also about to end in Virginia, where we are following a very consequential battle. GOP Governor Glenn Youngkin and his party are hoping that Republicans can win full control of the Virginia general assembly, the House of Delegates. That would clear the way for Youngkin to advance his conservative education agenda as well as his proposed restoring actions on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Virginia's off year elections are often seen as bellwethers of bigger presidential battles ahead.

As we close in on the end of voting in Kentucky and Virginia in this year, let's check back in with Eva McKend, who is covering the governor's race in Kentucky. She's in Louisville.

Eva, what are you hearing from Democrats about what is driving their votes.

MCKEND: Yeah, Jake, what has been remarkable to see is abortion really served as a base motivator for Democrats here in Kentucky. We met voters that are really fired up about this issue. And it's not that these Democratic voters in places like Fayette and Jefferson County wouldn't have already been inclined to support Democratic Governor Andy Beshear.

It's that this really got them to pay attention to this off year election. And that is so vital at a time when only about half of the state's registered voters are expected to participate. That is why we saw Governor Beshear center this so much. He has this searing ad that played featuring a young woman who is the victim of sexual assault as a way to illustrate that Republicans, many of them in this state, including historically Daniel Cameron, do not accept exceptions for rape and incest. And that is actually the current law here.

So we've seen this become a hugely galvanized rising issue for Democrats here. We have to see now by how much and if this is going to be the issue that brings the governor over the edge here, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Eva McKend in Louisville, Kentucky, thanks so much.

Let's go to Ohio now where we find Kyung Lah. Big abortion rights, referendum on the ballot there.

And, Kyung, what are activists on both sides of this issue expecting this evening?


LAH: What they are expecting this evening is that it is going to be very, very close. That's what I've heard from both sides, that they expect that the early initial returns because the early vote will be counted first. And it tends to favor Democrats that it will favor the pro-Issue 1 advocates, enshrining abortion rights into the constitution.

But as the night wears on, it will be a question of whether that lead can hold. That will be the big question. If it does, what we are hearing from the Issue 1 advocates, the pro-abortion forces, what they are saying is that there will have been one message that will be tested here in Ohio and will have rung true. It is that the government needs to stay out of the personal lives of voters. That was the message that they pushed all along.

They are very aware this is a Republican controlled state, that they need Republicans and independents, libertarians to come out and support this measure. If they are successful, that is the message that will win here -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Kyung Lah in Columbus, Ohio, thanks so much.

And I'm back here at the magic wall with John King.

And, John, we saw Governor Beshear, the Democratic incumbent, jump ahead as the votes came in. Where did this new batch of votes come from?

KING: And it went from a very close race to what is a healthy lead right now with only 10 percent of the vote. So everybody stay with us as we go. But how did that happen?

Well, last time you were here, I was saying the major population centers, we had nothing. And now we do have Jefferson County. By far, it's more than 17 percent of the state population. So we finally got some votes in there, still only 16.

But you see, this is the -- this is number one. Your Democratic African-American base number two, you're close in suburbs which have trended Democratic. The question for Governor Beshear is, can he keep them? Can he keep them in this election?

Right now at 76 percent. When he won election four years ago, he was at 67 percent in Jefferson County. So at the moment, he's over- performing. If he stays near that number, he'll be reelected. But again, 16, largely early votes, they tend to be Democratic mail in ballots and things. So let's wait and go through.

But he's doing what he needs to do so far. That's Jefferson County there. And then you come over here to Fayette County, where Lexington is. Again, it's your second largest county in the state. He's running at 80.

If you go back four years ago, I think he was in the high 60s. Let's go back and take a look, 66 percent four years ago. And he beat an unpopular incumbent governor four years ago.

But so -- if you're Andy Beshear and you're looking at this now, you're above if he stays there, game over. But again, it's 20 percent of the vote. And these tend to be what you get the mail in early ballots, which tend to be Democratic.

But if you are him, you're meeting your metrics. If there's one place you're worried about, but it's only 20 percent of the vote, Campbell County up here, Cincinnati, Ohio.

These are suburbs in northern Kentucky. They're essentially the Cincinnati suburbs. Andy Beshear won this last time. Donald Trump won it in 2020. It's only 2 percent of the state population. But if you're always looking in a rematch, an incumbent running again can he match his map last time?

This is a county he did win last time. So we'll keep an eye on that. If he keeps running up the margins like he is in Louisville and Lexington at the moment, he could offset that. But you're at 11. So we have a long way to go. But Governor Beshear is grateful to see the big early margins in the population centers.

TAPPER: Can I see how he did four years ago up there in those Cincinnati suburbs?

KING: Yeah, sure. So if you come here for Andy Beshear, carried these suburbs. He carried them both. If you look at Campbell county here and you look at come over here, come back this way, why are we stuck? Well, let me come out and see.

All right. There we go. Campbell and Kenton there. That time it came up. Sometimes she plays tricks on you. You see Andy Beshear just barely, right? Just barely.

But if you look at -- you come to the 2020 presidential race, Donald Trump won one these quite healthy. So that that has been the Beshear brand.

He can compete in traditionally Republican areas. The question is, can he keep that going tonight as you're heading into 2024, as you have the incumbent president as a Democrat underwater, he just flipped it. See, if you stay at the magic wall long enough.

Now, you're up to 32 percent and he flipped it. So that's why we say that's -- that's for me fun. I know partisans at home don't find this fun when things are jumping around.

TAPPER: Do you like the voters to have a --

KING: Yeah, it's just this is why live on election night while you're standing here things can change, and while this is the most important number. That's significant. You're meeting your early metrics.

If you're Andy Beshear at the moment, you're happy. But you also know you have a long way to go in a very, very competitive state.

TAPPER: So if you're Daniel Cameron, what are the areas that you're looking for to drive up count? Obviously, you want to eat into Beshear's count in the population centers, but what are some places you really want to drive up your vote?

KING: So you pick a rural county here, right? You come out to the more rural areas, 30 percent of the vote in. So this we're having a hypothetical conversation. We need that number to get higher.

But he's at 59 percent right there right now. And you see the number. There's an off year election. It's not going to match presidential turnout. But you want the juice this up.

Look at the presidential race in these counties when you come in here now, right? Donald Trump gets 80 percent, 81 percent, right? Daniel Cameron needs to track Trump. If Andy Beshear is running strong in Fayette and Jefferson in the Democratic areas, and if he's close to where he was four years ago, even in the suburbs, then Daniel Cameron essentially has to in the rural areas, track Trump.

But this is this has been Andy Beshear's gift. If you -- if you look at go back to the 2019 race, right, this is Andy Beshear in 2019. See all this blue? See all this blue out here? This is a Democrat governor in a very red state, running strong.

Now try to find it. When you look at the presidential race, Joe Biden only won two counties. Joe Biden won two counties in Kentucky. Andy Beshear, when he ran for governor, won a boatload, because of the brand, the family name.