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Key Races Still Too Close To Call; Who Will Control Washington; Georgia Tight Senate Race; Fight For Control Of Senate; Obama Endorsement

Aired November 04, 2014 - 13:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1:00 p.m. here in Washington, 6:00 p.m. in London, 8:00 p.m. in Jerusalem, 9:00 p.m. in Moscow. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.

Up first, high stakes and high drama as voters cast their ballots in these 2014 mid-term elections. Republicans seem to have some serious momentum right now. But it all could come down to less than a dozen close races.

So, why do these mid-term elections matter and what's at stake? All 435 House seats are being decided, along with three dozen governor's races and three dozen Senate races. Today's election will determine the balance of power here in Washington.

The big question is whether Republicans take control of the U.S. Senate. And if they do, that will have a huge impact on President Obama's final two years in office. The mid-terms will also tee off the 2016 race for the White House.

We're covering Election Day as only CNN can. This hour, we'll take you live to our correspondents in key battleground states from Iowa and Kentucky, to North Carolina and Georgia. We'll also get the view from the White House and analysis from our top political insiders.

In the battle for control of the U.S. Senate, the magic number for Republicans, remember this, it's six. They need a net gain of six seats to wrestle control from the Democrats. And key races right now are considered too close to call.

Our chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash reports on the final frenzied push for votes.


DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Ground troops from both parties.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Got it? Next house, 2154.

BASH: With high-tech apps looking for every last possible voter behind every door. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Victory is in the air. We're going to bring it

home tomorrow night.

BASH: As candidates launch their closing arguments in nearly a dozen intense Senate races. For Republicans, it's all about President Obama and distrust of government here in Georgia.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you trust President Obama and the Washington politicians to deal with the problems we face?


BASH: Democrats who understand voter disgust with Washington are trying to keep it local and personal, like Senator Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire.

SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D), NEW HAMPSHIRE: It's the 1,200 people who are in their homes because we worked with them when they were being foreclosed on.

BASH: Some Democrats in trouble are attempting a last-minute course correction.

SEN. MARK UDALL (D), COLORADO: What it takes to be successful --

BASH: Colorado's Mark Udall is finally talking of his own appeal after what even some Democrats call a failed strategy, an almost singular focus on women's issues.


UDALL: My opponent, Congressman Gardner, led a crusade that would make birth control illegal.


BASH: In Iowa, Democrat Bruce Braley said the same about his GOP opponent.

BRUCE BRALEY (D), IOWA SENATE CANDIDATE: She introduced a constitutional amendment in the Iowa Senate to ban all abortions.

BASH: Republican Joni Ernst called Braley part of a --

JONI ERNST (R), SENATE CANDIDATE, IOWA: Big Washington D.C. bureaucracy.

BASH: But (INAUDIBLE) their strikingly similar closing ads.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: More government, more spending, more taxing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: More than 30 years later, it --

BASH: Appealing to undecided independents as they look to fill the seat of retiring Democratic Senator Tom Harkin who went very off script.

SEN. TOM HARKIN (D), IOWA: Joni Ernst, she is really attractive. And she sounds nice. I don't care if you're as good looking as Taylor Swift.

BASH: Ernst was offended but also joked, like Taylor Swift, she would shake it off.


BLITZER: Dana bash reporting. Dana ended her report with Iowa. That's where we begin our live coverage this hour. Iowa, one of the key states that could determine control of the Senate. Democratic Congressman Bruce Braley, Republican state senator Joni Ernst, they are locked in a fierce battle right now, to replace the retiring senator, Tom Harkin.

Our Correspondent Stephanie Elam joins is joining us from Altoona, Iowa, right now. Stephanie, a very close race there. Set the scene on this Election Day.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's very much the case, Wolf. And when you take a look at how tight this election is, it's going to go down to the wire here. Early on, people thought that this election was going to go for Braley. But as we've seen through this momentum that Joni Ernst has really gained some strength here and capitalized on some other missteps, also coming across as very relatable to a lot of people here in Iowa. And Iowans have already shown that they do not care about parties. They vote for who they want to vote for here in this state.

And just taking a look at the vote so far here, there's been a steady stream of people where we are here in Altoona all day long. The weather is great so people have no reason to not make it out. And when you look at the absentee ballots here in the state, for mid-term elections, they just hit a new record. A lot of those ballots being requested by Democrats more so than Republicans. But that doesn't mean that's how they're going to vote. So, what comes out in these numbers will play a key part in this today as well -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Stephanie, thank you. Let's go to Kentucky right now, another key race there. The senator minority leader, the top Republican in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, is hoping to get even more powerful, likely almost certainly become the majority leader if, if the Republican Party takes control of the United States Senate. But first, he has to get past the Democratic challenger, Alison Lundergan Grimes.

Our Joe Johns joining us from Lexington, Kentucky. Joe, set the scene over there. This is still considered a very close race.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it was. But I have to tell you, over the weekend, a lot of the polls we were seeing suggested that McConnell was beginning to pull away. Look, there's a picture circulating right this morning, this afternoon, on social media that sort of says it all about Senator McConnell. He's voting in Louisville, Kentucky. Behind him, right over his shoulder is a man giving him the thumbs-down sign. That's kind of what we found here in the state of Kentucky.

We've talked to a lot of people who say they don't like Senator McConnell that well. He's not the guy people want to sit down and have a beer with. But they admire him and his political skills. And that's very much what counts, not so much in the population centers of Lexington, of Louisville, of Frankfort. But out in the country, the rural areas, that's where McConnell support is so strong.

Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Democrat, has been running uphill all week, all month, all campaign. It's been difficult for her. She also voted today in Lexington, Kentucky. She told our colleague here at CNN, Deborah Feyerick, that turnout is higher than usual here. So, they're hoping, the Democrats are, that higher turnout, new voters will get them closer to the finish line. We'll see, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, we'll see if there's a surprise in Kentucky. Thanks very much, Joe. Joe will be back later this hour.

So, who will come out the victor? Who will be left picking up the pieces? Remember, "ELECTION NIGHT IN AMERICA," our special election coverage, begins at 5:00 p.m. Eastern for our viewers in North America. Special "SITUATION ROOM" for our international viewers, coverage will begins at 7:00 p.m. Eastern when the polls begin to close here in the United States.

CNN's special coverage of these pivotal mid-term elections continues with a closer look at the Senate races in North Carolina and Georgia and why these races are so important and why one of them could delay who takes over the power in the United States Senate.

And we'll also be talking with Reince Priebus. He's the chairman of the Republican National Committee. We'll talk about the future of the GOP, what's at stake, the importance of today's elections and does a role -- how much of a role does race play in these elections in the United States? We'll have a closer look at how both parties are targeting the African-American vote.


BLITZER: President Obama has been mostly on the sidelines of mid-term campaigns when it comes to the race for the Senate. But he is certainly featured in an 11th-hour ad for North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Voting's easy so stand with me, President Obama, and take responsibility in moving North Carolina forward by voting for Kay Hagan on November 4th.

SEN. KAY HAGAN (D), NORTH CAROLINA: I'm Kay Hagan, candidate for U.S. Senate and I approve this message.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Hagan is trying to hold off a strong challenge from her Republican opponent, Thom Tillis. North Carolina is one of those close races that could determine who controls the Senate.

Our Correspondent Miguel Marquez is joining us live from Winston- Salem, North Carolina. Miguel, Senator Hagan, she had shied away from getting the president to come to North Carolina and work for her campaign, be very visible there. What's her strategy with this literally last-minute endorsement?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they think they can get more votes out. If you look at the early voting and the absentee voting that came in, African-American participation in that was up enormously, 44.7 percent participation by African-Americans in early voting. We're at a voting station here. I want to take you inside in Winston-Salem. This is one of the top four places for votes. How are you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right. How are you?

MARQUEZ: Very good.


MARQUEZ: This is where they are voting here. It's been long lines here in Forsyth and in Wake County where there's a ton of votes, and in Mecklenburg County, both those places have some of the top votes in the state. This is where they're voting and they're checking in in this area as well. And we expect that by 7:30 tonight, when polls close, the vast majority of those absentee and early ballots will come in. And then very quickly thereafter, probably by 8:30 or 9:00, we'll have a very clear idea of which way North Carolina is going -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll be watching it, of course, every step of the way. Miguel, thanks very much.

Georgia also has emerged as a major battleground in the fight for control of the Senate. Michelle Nunn, the daughter of the former Georgia senator, Sam Nunn, she's in a tight race against Republican candidate, David Perdue. But he's, by the way, the cousin of the former Georgia governor, Sonny Perdue. But the Libertarian Party candidate, Amanda Swafford, could throw a wrench in the mix. You need 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff.

Nick Valencia is joining us from Lawrenceville, Georgia right now. The possibility that there could be a run off this election, this race won't be over tonight, will drag into January. That's very real, isn't it?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that certainly is a scenario that people in Georgia and beyond are preparing for, Wolf. And part of what's contributing to that is what you mentioned, that Libertarian candidate, Amanda Swafford, that is taking away votes from the Republican candidate, David Perdue.

Now, the threshold number here in the state of Georgia is 50 percent plus one to avoid that January 6th run-off. At this point, polls have not shown that either Perdue or Nunn have reached that number.

Also a contributing factor in all of this is early voting. Earlier I spoke to the Georgia secretary of state's office and they told me that since the last midterm in 2010, early voting in Georgia is up 20 percent. What we don't know at this point is which candidate has benefited from that. But at this point, Wolf, all indication is that this Senate race between Nunn and Perdue is going to be a very, very close one.


BLITZER: Could go into a run-off January 6th in Louisiana similarly. If none of the candidates gets more than 50 percent of the vote, there will be a run-off December 6th in Louisiana.

All right, thanks very much, Nick, for that report.

Much more politics coming up when we return. Voters decide the fate of three dozen governors' races today as well, as well as those key Senate races. Will there be a Republican wave? We're going to speak live with the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus. He's standing by.

And where has President Obama been during this entire campaign? I'm going to ask the head of the House Democratic Campaign Committee about the president's low profile in these Senate races. Representative Steve Israel, he's standing by live as well.


BLITZER: We could be on the verge of a significant power shift here in Washington. Republicans today, they're feeling pretty optimistic about their chances of becoming the majority in the Senate. They need a net gain of just six seats to take control of the Senate. If they win, it will put both houses of Congress, the House and the Senate, in Republican hands. The fate of 36 governors' races across the country is also at stake tonight as voters head to the polls today.

Reince Priebus is the chairman of the Republican National Committee. He's joining us now from RNC headquarters here in Washington.

Reince, thanks very much for joining us.

I know you're going to - you're very optimistic about the Senate, but let's quickly talk about some governors' races right now, especially in your home state of Wisconsin. How much trouble is the governor there, Scott Walker, in? Because he's got a tough challenge from Democratic Mary Burke.

REINCE PRIEBUS, CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Well, I think he's going to win tonight. And it is a tight race and that's why we need everyone to get out there and vote. But, you know, Scott had a great week last week and I'm not sure how closely you follow in the weeds, but Mary Burke, the opponent, had a really miserable ending to her campaign when it came out that her own family had fired her from her own job at Trek Bicycle, which is really not the way you want to go into a finish. So it was a pretty embarrassing conclusion and I think Scott had some momentum going into that week anyway. The Marquette University poll, which is pretty good, showed that Scott was seven points up. I don't know if it's that good, but I certainly think it's going to be close. But Scott will survive tonight.

BLITZER: What about two other incumbent Republican governors, Rick Scott, he's in a very, very close race with former Republican, now Democrat Charlie Crist, as you know, in Florida. And in Pennsylvania, the Republican governor, Tom Corbett, he's in a very close race. You know, he could lose as well. If the Republicans start losing some of these gubernatorial races, what does that say?

PRIEBUS: Well, I mean, I think governors' races are very local. I mean, you know, you can look throughout the entire Midwest. You have states that are almost completely dominated by Republican governors, Republican legislatures, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania. But then those are the same states two years later that go all for Barack Obama. And so, I mean, it's very different. I mean analyzing national races and local races, which governors' races are, are just very, you know, unique to the states. Rick Snyder is doing well. It's a close race, but Rick Snyder will win. And he's turned Michigan around. I think Kasich is going to probably run away with it tonight. And his opponent really never really got out of the starting block.

So I think they're just local, Wolf. But if you look at the Senate races across the country, it's -- the candidates have done very poorly on the Democrat side and they're linked to Barack Obama. His, you know, ratings and approval are all in the ditch and so is the country and so that's why I think you're going to see a very big win among the Republicans tonight up and down the ticket.

BLITZER: I don't know if the country's in a ditch right now. The economy, at least the macro picture, as far as unemployment, job growth, stuff like that, seems to be doing OK. I don't know if people in the middle class and the poorer people are feeling all those gains, but I don't think it's fair to say the country's in a ditch right now, is it?

PRIEBUS: Well, I think if -- Wolf, if you peel back the onion a little bit and the layers, I think what you'll find though is that the labor participation rate is at some, you know, decades-long high. I don't want to put a number on it, but I think it's something like 40, 50 years. And it's worst case of people actually employed in this country.

I don't really think people back home in Wisconsin, in Iowa and the middle of the country thinks that this economy is on the right track. I don't think they're very impressed with Barack Obama's leadership. They don't like Obamacare. The stimulus bill didn't stimulate anything. All these Democrats that were Obama's loyal lieutenants are going down and don't even want to admit that they supported Barack Obama.

So, obviously, we're lacking leadership in this country. I think people are tired of Washington. I think that in many cases they're tired of both Republicans and Democrats. But unfortunately for this president, he's not been the type of person that's led the way. And he is the head of the Democrat Party and these Democrat senators followed him off the plank. So now they're going to pay the price.

BLITZER: So when Rand Paul, the Republican senator, says the Republican brand, in his word, "sucks," you say?

PRIEBUS: You know what, he's a good friend. And actually we do a lot of the things together. When he made those comments, he was actually making them from the black engagement office that we pay for at the RNC. He's not talking about the RNC. He's not talking about what we're doing here. He's actually part of our entire engagement effort in black, Hispanic and Asian communities.

I agree with him in the sense that unless we operate on a four-year basis in black and Asian and Hispanic communities, we're not going to get better. But the beauty is, that's what we are doing and that's why you see us doing so much better with black and Hispanic voters across America. You can look at Colorado as an example of that and what Cody Gardner is doing there. He's, in some ways, he's doing better with Hispanic voters than any candidate we've had there in recent history. So we're making gains. And what Rand Paul is saying is actually an add-on to what our growth and opportunity report said 18 months ago, which is what we've turned around at the RNC in an historic way.

BLITZER: Reince Priebus is the chairman of the Republican National Committee. Reince, thanks very much for joining us. We'll check in with you, obviously, after the election tonight as well. Appreciate it.

PRIEBUS: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Up next, what is the Obama factor in this election? I'll ask the head of the House Congressional Campaign Committee on the Democratic side about the president's low profile overall in this campaign. Representative Steve Israel is standing by live.

Also ahead, both parties are looking to a key demographic group to help them in the midterms. But are some of the persuasion tactics going on right now, shall we say, questionable?