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Will Utah's McMullin Control The Senate?; How Should Democrats Deal With Crime?; Has America's Support For Ukraine Faded?; How The Real-Life "Watcher" Stalked A Suburban Family; When "1776" Met 2022. Aired 9-10a ET

Aired October 22, 2022 - 09:00   ET




MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: Get out your crystal balls. I'm Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia with 17 days until the midterms and early voting already underway in 39 states after all the unpredictable, consequential events and passionate issues that cause the political football to bounce. The one big question remains, who's going to win?

History would suggest that the incumbent president and his party will lose their majority in the House, especially with President Biden's overall job approval number among likely voters at just 39 percent. And when you look at strong approval and strong disapproval, signs of passion, you see the real trouble for Democrats. A total of 18 percent strongly approve of the job that Joe Biden is doing, two and a half times that number, 45 percent strongly disapprove. Yet the numbers are still too close to say it's a done deal.

CNN's latest projection map of the House races has 18 labeled toss up, which means it's still possible for Democrats to control the House of Representatives. The conventional wisdom is that Republicans will take control. And in the Senate, according to CNN, it's 49 Republican, 48 Democrats with three toss-up. Whereas, according to RealClearPolitics, the momentum for the Republicans is such that they predict the GOP flipping the Senate, with Republicans ending up with 53 seats to the Democrats 47.

What's most notable to me about their projection they're finding is that they're seeing GOP wins in several states where the Democrats are still pulling ahead, including Pennsylvania and Georgia, though within the margin of error. Momentum seems to be on the side of the GOP.

Nate Silver of the FiveThirtyEight blog puts it this way, it's pretty f-ing close and says that there are three entirely plausible scenarios a Republican sweep of Congress, a democratic sweep or a split of Congress, with Dems more likely to hold the Senate. But as Nate Silver, "If you'd asked me a month ago or really even a week ago, which party's position I'd rather be in, I would have said the Democrats. Now, I honestly don't know."

Friday, Republicans seem to concede the New Hampshire race to incumbent Maggie Hassan as the top Republican Super PAC working to take back the Senate cut their final two weeks of ads for the nominee Don Bolduc. But that leaves plenty of uncertain contests, including in Georgia. Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock abandoned the high road about allegations that his pro-life GOP challenger Herschel Walker had paid for an abortion, now releasing a new ad calling out Walker's apparent hypocrisy. A Walker campaign spokesman responded by saying the Democratic senator is desperate and it shows.

In Pennsylvania, the sole debate between Democrat John Fetterman and Dr. Mehmet Oz who's been gaining in the polls is scheduled for this Tuesday at 8:00 p.m. But if the Phillies Padres pennant series goes to a decisive seventh game, that will air at the exact same time, maybe an outcome that Fetterman would prefer where he's avoided debating so far.

In Ohio, the race to replace retiring Republican Rob Portman also competitive between Democratic Congressman Tim Ryan, who's portrayed himself as a moderate and Trump endorsed author JD Vance, who has sought to portray Ryan as a party line vote for Democratic priorities.

In Nevada, where early voting starts today, incumbent Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto, the first Latina to serve in the Senate, finding herself within a statistical margin of error with challenger Paul Laxalt partly due to how hard the state has been hit by inflation and how the tourism industry suffered during COVID. Hispanics might hold the key to that race, but that doesn't guarantee a win for Cortez Masto.

Arizona, Democrat Mark Kelly despite being not just the incumbent, but a former astronaut, moderate and husband of Gabby Giffords, finds himself in a surprisingly tight race with challenger Blake Masters. And in Utah, a recent poll showed incumbent Republican Mike Lee leading independent challenger Evan McMullin, 41 to 37, with 12 percent undecided putting the race within the margin of error. If McMullin wins as an independent, this could make him an interesting power broker if the Senate does end up in a tie.

The other two Is, Bernie Sanders and Angus King, they both caucus with Democrats, McMullin, a former Republican who said he won't caucus with either party. All of which makes this as unpredictable and nerve wracking as the baseball playoffs.

Forget the pundits, I want to know what you think. Go to my website, it's Answer this week's survey question, "Which party will control the Senate after the 2022 election, Republican or Democratic?"

Joining me now is Evan McMullin, the Independent candidate for Senate in Utah. Evan, nice to have you here. By not aligning with either party, you're going to lack committee clout, is that worth the downside to Utah?


EVAN MCMULLIN (I), UTAH SENATE CANDIDATE: Well, great to be with you, Michael. I just don't think that's true. I know that's what my opponent says, but Senate Rule 25 says that every senator is required to have at least two committee assignments, and then you can possibly have a third from a smaller category. But I will have committee assignments. And there's never been, at least since World War II, a senator elected as an independent who hasn't had committee assignments. So, of course, I will.

But more importantly, I will have, if we prevail in this race, Utah will have one of the most influential votes in the Senate. It will be our opportunity to have a voice in the Senate that we have not had ever, and I don't think much will happen in the Senate, frankly, without the voices, without the votes of senators, like me, if I'm elected, who are acting more independently of party bosses and special interest groups. That's the big opportunity for this coalition of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents here in Utah and across the country to have a stronger voice in the Senate and to have a deciding voice in the Senate on many issues facing the chamber.

SMERCONISH: The backstory of the race is really interesting. You are a former Republican, a conservative, CIA credentials. You decide you're running as an Independent. And the Democrats, they say we can't beat Mike Lee but Evan McMullin probably can so they fold their tent around you.

Meanwhile -- and for me, this is a badge of honor -- you're getting criticism from the hard left and from the hard right. Put up that MSNBC headline so that everybody can see it. They say this is dangerous, that you might signal a dangerous, so here's what's so dangerous about Evan McMullin. Your political posturing in -- which you insist you'll never caucus betrays a more egoistic approach a me and my state first approach rather than a commitment to the broader ideals you claim to espouse.

Meanwhile on Tucker last night, you were his focus. And here's what he had to say in part.


TUCKER CARLSON, HOST, "TUCKER CARLSON TONIGHT": McMullin has picked his side, the Democratic side. "Republicans," they write, "Evan McMullin truly represents your values." Really? Which values are those?


SMERCONISH: He went on to call you a neoliberal, I'm not sure what that is. and even through your faith into the mix in -- making reference to Roe vs. Wade. So respond to the criticism from the hard left and the hard right.

MCMULLIN: Yes. Well look, that probably suggest that we're doing something right here. But I'll tell you what I'm proud of, I'm proud of the fact that we are building a cross partisan coalition here in Utah. Many people said we couldn't do it. The country, the state were too divided. You can't bring Republicans, Democrats and Independents and third-party members together. But we've proven them wrong. And that's why this is a close race. So all the credible polls have us down by a few or up by a few with lots of undecided to lean against Lee. That's why Lee is in such trouble now. But the reason this is a race is because we've rejected the broken politics of extremism and division, and been able to build this coalition.

And we start with our ideals as a country. Those in the Declaration of Independence, that we're created free and equal and our human purpose, our deepest human purpose is the pursuit of happiness. And therefore, we have a democracy in which our leaders are accountable to us.

And so we come together on those grounds. And we find further common ground on the most difficult issues facing the country. And that's why this coalition is growing. And it's a rejection of politics, as it is now, the broken politics of Washington. And I'd like to see this all over the country, but it's working here in Utah.

SMERCONISH: A final quick question, if I may, do you like or dislike when people refer to Joe Manchin or Kyrsten Sinema in assessing Evan McMullin?

MCMULLIN: Well, I think that there are a handful of senators who are now acting with greater independence, and some of them are Republican, some are Democratic. I mean, we have one in Utah and Senator Romney, who is a Republican, of course, but works across party lines to get things done. He works well with other Republicans, of course, he works well with Democrats. And he's been responsible, along with a small group of senators on both sides for most of the legislation that's been passed in the Senate.

Not entirely, there's been some partisan bills passed. But most of what's happening in the Senate now is being done by this group, this bipartisan group of senators, which I would join. Senator Lee has voted for --


MCMULLIN: -- exactly zero of the major cross partisan bills that have been passed over the last several months. Even Mitch McConnell voted for five of them. Mitt Romney voted for three of them. Senator Lee just does nothing. He sits on his hands until it's time to vote no. And then he complains about the status of our country. And that's just not good enough for Utah and for the nation.


SMERCONISH: Evan McMullin, thanks for being here. We'll keep our eye on Utah.

MCMULLIN: Thank you, Michael.

SMERCONISH: Can the Democrats, can the Democrats do a better messaging job on crime? That's the question raised by Democratic strategist Paul Begala in his recent piece for "The slogan hurting Democrats election chances." Begala writes, "Crime is an important issue. There, I said it. The problem is not enough Democratic candidates are saying it. Some don't seem to know what to do about the issue."

CNN Political Contributor Paul Begala joins me now. He was counselor to President Bill Clinton and is a scholar at the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. Hey, I read and appreciated your essay and you say, you know, crime is actually up more in red states and you cite Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska. But really, isn't it about Philly and Chicago and New York City?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, both, it's the cities and states. So look at cities, for example. Bakersfield, California, Republican mayor home with Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader in the House, much higher murder rate there than Nancy Pelosi's San Francisco. Jacksonville, Florida, probably the murder capital of America per capita. Republican mayor, Republican governor in Jacksonville, twice the murder rate of Democratic New York City. Democrats are better on crime and they need to make that case.

SMERCONISH: Is it part of the problem those -- and I'm not buying into a fox meme here. In this case, it happens to be true. Those Soros sponsored and backed progressive DAs, Krasner in Philly, Chesa Boudin in San Francisco, George Gascogne in L.A.?

BEGALA: The Democrats in San Francisco maybe the most liberal big city in America, already throughout Chesa Boudin. The Democrats who are running are tough on crime. Catherine Cortez Masto, the senator you mentioned a minute ago from Nevada, former prosecutor she was so tough as attorney general that her opponent even said she was a role model as attorney general.

Val Demings, the police chief in Orlando, Florida, 27 years in uniform, running tough on crime. The truth is, the Democrats have the right formula on this. And here's the formula, Michael, it's kind of what Senator -- not Senator, potential Senator McMullin was telling you. Here's the formula for Democrats, more cops, fewer guns. The far left doesn't want to hear more cops, the far right doesn't hear -- want to hear fewer guns, but 80 percent of Americans are right where the Democrats are, right?

We need more cops, community policing, no tolerance at all for police abuse ever, and fewer guns. We don't need teenagers buying AR-15 so they can walk into high schools.

SMERCONISH: Paul, I agree with you. I believe crime is a problem. I stopped this morning at Wawa for my coffee in Center City, Philadelphia --


SMERCONISH: -- near the studio, they're closing two Wawas in downtown Philadelphia because of the issues that you and I are discussing. I also think part of the problem is that there's a camera everywhere and everybody's got a camera in their pocket --

BEGALA: Right.

SMERCONISH: And consequently, there's the ability to run on a loop. You know, some poor guy getting shoved in front of a subway in the Bronx. And if then perpetuates that as bad as it is, it's even worse.

BEGALA: That's true. I think we, in the media, have a responsibility here. But at the same time, it is a real issue. And I think if Democrats --


BEGALA: -- or Republicans tell people, oh, it's no big deal, it's all Begalas and Smerconish's fault in their networks. You can't really, I think, blame the media for covering it, although they do, it is how long -- Tom Brokaw was a local news anchor in L.A. four years ago, and he said if it bleeds, it leads. But what I'm --


BEGALA: -- urging my Democrats to do is run on this. Did you know that the states that Donald Trump carried, 40 percent higher murder rate than the states Joe Biden carried? Democrats have a good record on this, and a lot of them are running on abortion, they should, the Supreme Court yanked away right that women have had for 49 years. But if I were them, I'd stitch them together, Michael.

I'm sorry, I no longer advise politicians for a living, but this is what I would do. I would say, here are the people I want to put in prison. Murderers, rapists, terrorists, drug dealers. Here are the people my opponent wants to put in prison, a 10-year-old girl who's the victim of rape in Ohio, a single mom who got in trouble, a teenage girl who needs to exercise her right to choose. That's what they want to put in -- Senator, what you can bring abortion in as a crime issue because the truth is, that's where Republicans want to lock people up. Lock her up now because --


BEGALA: -- the mantra of the Republicans for every woman in America.

SMERCONISH: Begala 2024. Now, I mean, the way you said it makes perfect sense. It makes sense. Paul, thank you so much for being here. Appreciate it.

BEGALA: Michael., great to see you again and go Phillies until they meet the Astros, and then I got to stick with my (INAUDIBLE).

SMERCONISH: Go Philly. It would be interesting to see if it's seven games because of this debate Tuesday night. What are your thoughts?

BEGALA: I heard that.

SMERCONISH: Tweet me at Smerconish. Go to my YouTube or Facebook pages, hit me with some of the social media reaction. I'll respond to some as best I can during the program. You know the drill here.

Hopefully Evan McMullin wins because he's a real Republican. Not caucusing with either party will meet mean that he could become the most powerful senator when there is a close vote. Look at what Joe Manchin did and he was a Democrat. [09:15:06]

James, you're entirely correct. I mean, all roads will go through Utah. Now, you know, the criticism at MSN from the person that I was quoting. And by the way, I should at least acknowledge who that person was, shouldn't I? Natasha Noman, is that, hey, it's a small state with population, like why do we give so much power to Utah or West Virginia in the case of Manchin? Well, that's the system we have. It was set up for a reason. Every state gets two votes. And yes, it would -- you would have to negotiate with him. And I guess I'm tipping my hand here, but he's reasonable.

Remember, I want to know what you think. Go to my website, it's and answer this question. "Which party will control the Senate after the 2022 election, Republican or Democratic?" Cannot wait to see the result of that.

Still to come, nearly eight months after Putin invaded Ukraine. As the battles rage on, then the American economy worsens. Has the support of Americans begun to wane? And how do the Ukrainians themselves feel? Why they are keeping an eye on our midterm elections?

Plus, will the young blood play in the basement? So read an anonymous note to a couple who had just bought this house in New Jersey. If you were upstairs, you would never hear them scream, it said. The real- life mystery of this threatening letter and the others like it. It became the new Netflix hit series, "The Watcher." I'm going to talk to the reporter who first told this creepy story.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who am I? It might not frighten you yet, but it will. Give the house what he wants. Young blood.




SMERCONISH: Monday, it'll mark eight months since Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine. Has American support started to fade? And how are the Ukrainians feeling about the conflict? Well, here's a barometer. When the news first broke, I made a point of wearing ties here on CNN every Saturday in the color of the Ukrainian flag, you know, blue and gold to show my support.

And for several weeks, I only covered the conflict. And then for several more, I mostly covered the conflict. But now I got to be honest, it's been a while. My support is not waning, but my speech has. Today I've got to another blue and gold one on.

Support is fading, if not outright splintering. A Pew poll last month found that 20 percent of Americans felt that the U.S. was providing too much aid to Ukraine. That's up from 7 percent back in March. And among Republicans, that number has gone up to 32 percent from 9 percent back in March.

As the midterms approach, Kevin McCarthy potentially the next Speaker of the House, warned on Tuesday, that if Republicans win control of the House, aid to Ukraine likely to dwindle. He said this, "I think people are going to be sitting in a recession and they're not going to write a blank check to Ukraine."

The next day, former Vice President Mike Pence told the Heritage Foundation, quote, "There can be no room in the conservative movement for apologists to Putin." One senior Ukrainian official told The Washington Post that because of Ukraine's near total dependency on foreign aid, its military feels that it must move fast to recapture as much territory as possible before such support softens.

"The U.S. midterms are one of the factors that have us concerned about the winter. Russia will gain an advantage with the new Congress and with Europeans as they blackmail them on energy policy. That's why the current offensive is so important."

Nevertheless, the Ukrainians seem bullish on their belief in victory, as seen in research by my next guest. Joining me now is Mohamed Younis, the Editor in Chief of Gallup. Mohamed, Gallup recently did some really interesting polling among Ukrainians. First question, how hard is it to get accurate information from Ukraine, much less a war- torn Ukraine?

MOHAMED YOUNIS, EDITOR IN CHIEF, GALLUP: That's a great question, and the technology enables us really to reach out to people on their phones across the country. And we were able to even cover it responded to the Donbas region in this poll. So we were able to ask questions that we felt would not subject people to any danger, but would give us useful information on where the tides are shifting among the Ukrainian public and we got some pretty strong indicators of where things are going.

SMERCONISH: OK, well, here's one of them. I'll put it up on the screen. You found that a clear majority, 70 percent of all Ukrainians interviewed in early September say their country should continue fighting until it wins the war. So it seems like, according to your data, they still got their resolve.

YOUNIS: Not only that, they also did I think what the U.S. has failed to do in several of its conflicts is define victory. Because the other question we asked is, what does winning mean for you in Ukraine? Nine in 10 Ukrainian said they want to see their country win back the territory lost, dating back to 2014, which would include the Crimean Peninsula.

SMERCONISH: Yes, there it is, nine in 10, 91 percent said that victory would entail Ukrainian forces retaking all territory that Russia has seized since 2014, including Crimea, as you've stated. Do you see a difference if you're focused only -- I assume you broke out the numbers -- if you focus only on the eastern most regions, those that that Putin is laying claim to and it says there was recently a referendum. Is there a difference between eastern Ukraine and the rest of the country? YOUNIS: There absolutely is and that's why one of the things we did is put out a map that essentially showed people's perceptions on some of these metrics across the country.


And as you can guess, Michael, in the east where the fighting is the hardest really on the frontlines, people's fatigue is very evident. Their lack of support relative to the leadership in Kyiv is very evident. But even in those regions, a majority of Ukrainians still share the views that you shared here a minute ago.

We also, you know, Michael asked about whether Ukrainians saw their country joining NATO, and a majority of Ukrainians now expect their country to join NATO within 10 years, which is remarkable, because when this -- the conflict essentially started about that issue, how far would NATO's border go? And Ukraine was not really in a position to join NATO, and it wasn't really expected although discussed heavily. So now, a majority of the people in that country expect NATO to encompass the Ukrainian territory.

SMERCONISH: Some people have wondered what peace might look like, and I've heard some expressed the view that there should be not a Putin referendum, but a legitimate referendum in those eastern most regions. Do you have a sense, if they were given the choice as to whether they wanted to be part of Ukraine or part of Russia, which way they'd go?

YOUNIS: I -- you can't could -- like conclude that with a poll, of course, that's why there's a war. And it's really important, Michael, for us, as researchers, to remain objective about the essence of the conflict. The data really highlight that there's a different experience happening and perceptions in eastern Ukraine. And many of the underlying challenges emanate from that within the country.

That being said, I think it's very clear that Ukrainians do expect U.S. support to continue. And I want to go back to this point on U.S. public opinion. You know, we asked at the beginning of this war, not whether you support the war in Ukraine, but whether you support the U.S. continuing to stand behind Ukraine through a prolonged conflict.

And over six in 10 Americans have shared that view, then, interestingly, Democrats much higher than Republicans. But the notion that the inflation or the recession will somehow result in a complete 180 on Ukraine, I think, is very far-fetched for one reason. Favorability of Russia now in the United States is at a record low. And I think the American public in our data really clearly highlight how they see this as a long-term problem --

SMERCONISH: I hope you're right.

YOUNIS: -- and that's critical to the U.S.

SMERCONISH: I hope you're right, the tie is back on. Thank you, Mohamed. I appreciate your expertise.

YOUNIS: Thank you. SMERCONISH: I hope you're hitting the website, By the way, totally revamped. Nice and easy to get in there and vote, although I hope you'll stick around for a while.

Poll question today, "Which party will control the Senate after the 2022 election, Republican or Democratic?

Up ahead, in today's PC cultural climate, 1776, a musical about the all-white male signers of the Declaration of Independence got a woke makeover. Did that make it good? And a successful couple thought this six-bedroom suburban house in New Jersey was their dream home. But after they bought it, they started getting anonymous letters making threats against them and their children. Their tale became the basis for the current hit Netflix series "The Watcher." But the real story is even wilder. I'll talk to the reporter who broke it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is just a prank.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's not a prank. You need to sow, sow, sow, sow, sow, sow, sow, sow, sow.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm still walking and I would be very afraid if I (INAUDIBLE).




SMERCONISH: What happens when your dream home turns into a real-life nightmare? That's the creepy story told in the new hit Netflix series called "The Watcher," and it's based on a true story. In 2014 Derek Broaddus, an insurance executive, and his wife Maria bought this $1.3 million six-bedroom home in the suburb of Westfield, New Jersey, bought it for themselves and their three kids.

In the series they're called Dean and Nora Brannock and played by Bobby Cannavale and Naomi Watts. After beginning renovations, the couple began receiving creepy letters from an anonymous person calling him or herself "The Watcher" and claimed to have been watching the house for years as their father and grandfather had before them.

Do you know what lies within the walls of 657 Boulevard? Why are you here? I will find out. More letters followed. The writer showed familiarity with the family's children, referred to them as young blood and threatened -- quote -- "Once I know their names, I will call to them and draw them to me."

The family reported the letters to the local police. They hired a private investigator. But to this day they have never learned who sent them.

"The Watcher" based on a story published by my next guest, Reeves Wiedeman, in "New York Magazine." In 2018 he recently revisited the case in a piece called "Taking Another Look at The Watcher, What we know about the case four years later." Reeves joins me now. He's a features writer at "New York Magazine." So how many letters in total and over what time period?

REEVES WIEDEMAN, WRITER, NEW YORK MAGAZINE/AUTHOR, "THE WATCHER": The Broaddus family received basically three letters sort of within the first roughly six weeks after buying the house. And beyond that, we know that there were -- there was one other letter that had gone to the house shortly before they bought it and one other letter that they received then three years later when the house was sort of embroiled in some more local controversy.

SMERCONISH: And, Reeves, I know from your great piece they bought the house not knowing that the former owner had received one similar letter. Was there any obligation on the part of that seller to disclose it?

WIEDEMAN: No, there wasn't. I mean this is one of those things where it's sort of in a gray area and there's no legal requirement to report something like getting kind of an unusual letter. And the people who sold the house said that, you know, the letter they received was kind of odd and strange but wasn't the same kind of threatening letter that the Broadduses received.


And they say they just sort of -- it was weird, but they threw it away.

SMERCONISH: I get that it was eight years ago. I would think that if it happened today, there are so many cameras all over the place and, you know, Ring doorbells. No video, no DNA gave the cops anything to go on here.

WIEDEMAN: There wasn't any video. I mean, these were sent through the mail, so this wasn't something that someone came up and dropped it off. Eventually investigators did actually put cameras at the local post office to try to see if they could see anyone coming to drop anything off but that didn't lead anywhere.

The one piece of forensic evidence we have is there is a DNA sample from one of the envelopes. It's from saliva that was used to lick the envelope shut. And the only thing that we know is that the DNA was apparently from a woman. So it seems that at least the person who licked that envelope closed was apparently a woman.

SMERCONISH: Is it an active investigation? Are the Westfield cops still on this?

WIEDEMAN: Not really. I mean there was a certain point at which this got escalated to the county prosecutor's office. And it's now been, as you said, eight years since the case came out, sort of four years since our story came out and kind of re-energized the investigation again. You know, I've been told that short of more evidence or a really promising lead, the police haven't closed the case, but they also aren't actively investigating it at this point.

SMERCONISH: Again, I know from your reporting on the real story, because a lot of liberties are taken by Netflix in telling it, I get that. They really never moved into the property. They were -- they were engaged in renovations and they had the crap scared out of them and I guess so too their kids so they didn't move in.

I have to believe when they finally were able to sell the house, and that's a struggle, but when they finally go to another property, I'll bet they wondered, uh-oh, I hope we're not going to get a letter here too, you know, like maybe it's something about us. Were there any letters ever sent to the Broaddus family, did any letters go to whoever did buy the house or did it end?

WIEDEMAN: Yes. That was obviously a concern but there haven't been. They haven't gotten letters at their new home, and the new owners also haven't gotten any letters. So whoever was doing this, it does seem that they have stopped for whatever reason, whether that's all the attention that's come to this case and not wanting to be caught or realizing kind of how awful this was that they had done this. Whatever reason it is --

SMERCONISH: Or they're dead.

WIEDEMAN: -- it seems like they've stopped -- what's that? Or they're dead.

SMERCONISH: Or they're dead.

WIEDEMAN: You know, it's also possible. I mean, that's also certainly a possibility.

SMERCONISH: I know -- I know many of us are caught up in the Netflix version. I encourage everybody to simply Google and access your piece because the real story is fascinating. Thank you for your willingness to come here and tell it.

WIEDEMAN: Of course. Thanks for having me.

SMERCONISH: More social media. From the world of Twitter about "The Watcher," I presume. What does it say? I just love how well it captured the feeling that everyone is batshit crazy.

What can I possibly add to that? Russ, you've said it all.

I want to remind you, answer this week's poll question at Which party will control the Senate after the 2022 election? I've heard the pundits. I want to know what you think. Are the Rs or the Ds going to be in control?

OK. Here comes a story I'm eager to share with you, the new Broadway revival of "1776" aim to update the story of the all White signers of the Declaration of Independence with a Hamilton-style casting, women, transgender, non-binary, multi race actors. Well, how is that working out?



SMERCONISH: Can you check all the boxes and still stage a successful show? That's what I wondered, reading the recent "The New York Times" piece called "For Broadway's 1776 Revival, the Drama Is Offstage." It concerns a fight sparked by comments of a cast member in the current revival of the 1969 musical based on the events leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Of course, in real life all those figures were exclusively White males.

But this "1776" seeks to take a page out of Hamilton. See in this version, actors who were multi race, female, non-binary and transgender all play the leading roles, including the all-White male signers of the declaration, including John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. As "The Times" piece put it, the show -- quote -- "was hoping to spark a conversation about power and representation. And it has, if not quite in the way it intended."

The show had already made some adjustments during its development following the murder of George Floyd by police and the national discussion that it sparked, including bringing in a Black co-director, Jeffrey Page, to work alongside the original director, Diane Paulus, who's Asian American. But two weeks after opening to what "The Times" summarizes as mixed reviews and soft sales, one of the show's stars ignited controversy.

Sara Porkalob, a Filipino American who plays South Carolina's delegate Edward Rutledge was quoted in an interview saying that during the rehearsal process -- quote -- "there was harm done" and labeled some of the staging decisions as cringey. In Porkalob's big second act song, "Molasses to Rum" her character calls out the hypocrisy of northern delegates who criticized slavery while their states profited from it.

The staging includes an evocation of a slave auction. She expressed concerns about the staging of that scene in an interview published by "Vulture" called "Sara Porkalob Has Some Notes." Porkalob said that when considering the slave auction, the co-directors had sought consent from the Black actors but not the rest of the cast, including the non-Black people of color.


Quote -- "For the non-Black POC folks, another layer was added, because we were assimilated into whiteness with no consideration of how our personal identity intersected with this song or this history. So the directors, by using race as a binary in the construction of Molasses to Rum, unconsciously held up a false narrative by assimilating non-Black POC folks into whiteness because they were prioritizing the Black folks."

Moreover, Porkalob who uses the pronouns she and they also said that she felt the directors had not paid enough attention to questions of gender identity. "When we were all in the room together, there wasn't any conversation about how we marry our queer identities with these characters, which is disappointing."

After that was published, the co-director Page who also is the show's choreographer made a post on Facebook, later taken down. He addressed it to -- quote -- "Nameless person" whom he called -- quote -- "fake woke" and "rotten to the core." Quote --"You are ungrateful and unwise. You claim that you want to dismantle White supremacist ideology. I think that you are the very example of the thing that you claim to be most interested in dismantling."

Last weekend, Porkalob sent an email apology to the company's production outfit obtained by "The Times" calling it an attempt to -- quote -- "repair the harm that I've caused." "My intention was to share an important moment of learning I had in the piece, specifically how I was proud to be a part of an ensemble that was able to deftly handle these complex issues, rather than not saying anything and pretending things didn't happen. But it is clear that the impact was me breaking what's said in the room stays in the room community agreement and I'm sorry."

All right, let's add some context. Back in 2015, came the controversy of Oscars So White, when the Academy of Motion Picture, Arts and Sciences took a lot of heat for the fact that all 20 of its acting nominees were White. And since then, we've been in an escalating era of cultural correction seeking to right past wrongs and underrepresentation. A worthy cause, right, to be sure.

But it also put studios and financiers in difficult positions about which projects to back and how to people them. There was no way in 2022 that anybody was going to bring back "1776" to Broadway with all White performers. And it seems like many measures were taken to put on a thoughtful new way of looking at the story a la Hamilton using a wide variety of underrepresented people. That's a good thing. But somewhere it seems to get to the point of excess and makes delivering a good show seem secondary.

To review, post George Floyd it was no longer acceptable that an Asian woman direct unless she was supplemented by a Black man. When a slave auction was contemplated, consulting only the Black actors was inadequate because it was lumping the non-Black people of color with the Whites. By the way, those non-Black people of color even have their own affinity group within this production. And let's not forget gender equality too.

It kind of reminds me of James Watt, Ronald Reagan's embattled secretary of the interior who in 1983 caused quite a firestorm. He was speaking to a Chamber of Commerce gathering and he bragged about his composition of his coal-leasing commission. He said, "We have every kind of mix you can have. I have a Black, I have a woman, two Jews and a cripple. And we have talent."

He thought he was being funny. Criticism soon followed from the commission members some of whom were Jewish, Black, members of Congress, environmentalists and the disabled. President Reagan called the remark stupid and a month later Watt resigned.

So when all is said and done, how is "1776"? Well, in his review of the play two weeks ago, "The Times" Jesse Green wrote this, "Though some will see the casting, which is diverse not just in gender but also in race and ethnicity as a stunt and a travesty, I'm in the wondrous camp." That sounds good.

But then he added this. "But the current revival seems interested in the cast's experience at the expense of the audience's. I can understand that impulse, especially when creating space on a major stage for actors who rarely get it."

And he concluded his thoughts this way. "Underlining one's progressiveness a thousand times, as this 1776 does, will not actually convey it better. Rather, it turns characters into cutouts and distracts from the ideas it means to promote. The musical even shows us that. It's only when Adams starts yelling and starts plotting that he begins to turn the tide toward ratification. Just so, theater makers should have enough faith in the principles of equity and diversity to let them speak for themselves. Are they not, as someone once put it, self-evident?"


Still to come, more of your best and worst tweets, YouTube, social media comments, and we'll all see the results of today's poll question at where you should go and vote right now. Which party is going to control the Senate after the midterm election, Democratic or Republican? Go vote.


SMERCONISH: There it is. There is the result of this week's poll question at Twenty-three thousand plus voted, 75 percent. Gang, I have to tell you a little something. It wasn't -- I have to say this to the CNN audience. It wasn't who do you want to control the Senate. Like I was clear, wasn't I?


Who do you think is going to control the Senate? There should have been a much tighter margin there. But we'll see. We'll see.

Social media reaction, Catherine. What do we have? Some of that which came in during the course of the program.

Started watching "The Watcher" last night, really liked it. Today was watching Smerconish and he went ahead and just finished the whole story in a five minute segment. Thank you.

OK. What's funny about that is that is -- is that -- is that like Adam Kinzinger as in January 6th? Adam, Congressman, the whole show, talking Evan McMullin, the midterms, and it's "The Watcher" that you wanted to respond to? That's hysterical.

What else came in? Why are you using the term woke in your preview related to the casting of "1776"? You know that word is now a right wing dog whistle. Stop sensationalizing. Cheri, did you just listen to what I laid out? I mean, if there is such a thing as wokeness, it's what I just described with making the production of "1776."

Quickly, one more if we have time. Do we? I'll make it real quick. Hurry.

I'm a mailman in the Philly burbs, picking up a ton of mail in votes prior to the election. My thought is what's the point of a debate now?

Yes, it's a shame. They should have been debating all along. The idea that there is only going to be one debate and it's Tuesday, too late. See you next week.