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Many Senate Races Too Close to Call; Interview With Rep. Steve Israel of New York; Democrats Look to African-Americans for Votes; Key Races that Could Shift Washington Balance of Power

Aired November 04, 2014 - 13:30   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Welcome back to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from Washington.

Voters across the United States today are going to the polls and the outcome of this, the midterm election, will determine the balance of power here in Washington. Republicans, remember, they need a net gain of six seats to take control of the U.S. Senate. Momentum appeared to be on the side of the GOP clearly heading into today's elections. But many of the key races that will determine who controls the Senate are still, as we say, too close to call. The outcome of today's election will have a tremendous impact on President Obama in his final two years in office.

Let's go to the White House. Athena Jones is standing by over there.

The president apparently no public events today. What's going on at the White House as far as the president is concerned, Athena?

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. The president is spending the day behind closed door. He's going to have a meeting with the IMF, the head of the IMF. He's going to meet with his national security and public health teams to talk about the Ebola response.

But what he's not doing, as you know, is appearing on the campaign trail out with some of these Democrats running for reelection. He did do a radio ad for Democrat Kay Hagan, the Senator in a tough fight in North Carolina. But the campaign didn't let us know about it. Right now, he's doing an interview with Connecticut radio to support Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy.

But that's all behind the scenes. The White House knows that Democrats in these tough and these close races in red states haven't been eager to have the president come out and campaign with them. We've seen -- you could even say some of these Democrats have been running away from the president. We saw it in Louisiana and in Kentucky. This is what the president is doing with his day, trying to help the folks he can behind the scenes and on radio, but not right out in front of the camera -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Athena, thanks very much.

Do the Democrats have any leverage to make a last-minute appeal to voters? Let's bring in New York Congressman, Steve Israel. He's the chairman

of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Among his jobs is to get Democrats elected to the House of Representatives.

Thanks, Congressman, for joining us.

Do you expect any last-minute surprises tonight or does it look like the Democrats aren't going to do well in the Senate, certainly not going to regain the majority in the House of Representatives?

REP. STEVE ISRAEL, (D), NEW YORK: I do expect some surprises. I'm like a pilot trying to land a plane through a tornado. It's very uncertain and turbulent. But the takeaway from this cycle, where we are now, is we're only a few hours away from the polls closing, and still we have 20 districts that are too close to call.

BLITZER: In the House?

ISRAEL: In the House. And not one single Democratic incumbent is down and out, in contrast to 2010, where most of our Democratic incumbents were down and out in late September. I think there are going to be surprises on both sides of the aisle.

BLITZER: "The New York Times," in their analysis, your hometown newspaper, said this -- and I'll put it up on the screen -- "There are fewer than 50 truly competitive house races. The only mystery is whether the Republicans increase their already sizable majority by more or fewer than 10 seats."

Is that analysis accurate?

ISRAEL: I think it is accurate. Look, absent the strike of lightning, I do not believe we're going to pick up the House tonight.


BLITZER: But lose maybe 10?

ISRAEL: Republicans said early on that this was a 2010 tidal wave and we were going to lose the historic average of 29. Remember, the historic average of losses for a president's party in a midterm election, 29. We lost 62 -- 63 back in 2010. So the Republicans kind of staked their claim at 20. Then they dialed it back. They're saying 15 or so. It's almost impossible to predict how far north or south we're going to land because you still have 20 very unpredictable races around the country.

BLITZER: Was it a mistake for these Democrats to run away from the president of the United States in their bid to get themselves reelected? Talking about Senate races?

ISRAEL: Here's what I think the pundits have it wrong. And I'm not an expert on the Senate races. My lane is the House of Representatives.

(CROSSTALK) ISRAEL: Well, thank you. But here's where I think the pundits are misreading it. If you're running in a very red area, chances are most of your voters don't want you agreeing with the president on anything. If you're running in a blue area, chances are your voters want you to agree with the president on everything. Our competitive districts are purple, where people sometimes agree with the president, sometimes disagree with the president --


BLITZER: But the states where the president carried those states -- states, like New Hampshire or Colorado or Iowa. The president carried them in 2008, carried it in 2012. Those candidates don't want to be seen with the president of the United States. They have stiff Republican opponents.

ISRAEL: I think it's very important for you to level with your voters and tell them, here's where I agree with the president, for example, paying a woman same as a man for equal work, and here's where I disagree with the president. You shouldn't run away from your core values. And most Independent swing voters in those competitive districts feel the same way. Agree sometimes, disagree other times. They want their candidates telling them where they agree and where they disagree.

BLITZER: But it almost seems a little unseemly to have these -- I mean, Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky, the Democratic -- she wouldn't even say if she voted for the president of the United States. That was a little awkward, wasn't it?

ISRAEL: I think people deserve to know where you stand. When you start to do that, I believe most voters understand what you're doing. It's best to be forthright. If you're going to vote against Alison because of who she voted for for president, chances are, you weren't going to vote for her to begin with.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens tonight.

Congressman Israel, thanks very much for coming on.

ISRAEL: Thank you.

BLITZER: Steve Israel is trying to get Democrats elected to the House of Representatives. Tough job.

You're doing the best you can, I know.

Still ahead, race and politics with President Obama largely on the sidelines in this election cycle. Some Democrats are targeting one key voting bloc to keep the majority in the Senate. And with so many races that are so tight right now, there could be some surprises, some upsets. Two of our political analysts are standing by to weigh in. Will there be some major surprises to look out for?


BLITZER: As we've been reporting, many key Senate races are simply too close to call. Voter turnout will be significant.

As our Joe Johns reports, Democrats are hoping minority voters, especially African-Americans, will give them a boost at the polls today. Critics say some of their tactics are divisive.


JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With their biggest weapon in President Obama mostly sidelined, some Democrats went for the heartstrings in a desperate bid to get blacks in southern states to the polls.


AD ANNOUNCER: He made it harder for communities of color to vote.


JOHNS: Invoking the shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida as a reason to vote in North Carolina. A radio ad generated by Majority Leader Harry Reid's super PAC, dedicated to maintaining control of the Senate, hit the Republican candidate for supporting the kind of controversial state statute made infamous in the Martin case, putting race at the center of the Senate race.


AD ANNOUNCER: Till led efforts to pass Stand Your Ground laws that caused the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.


JOHNS: North Carolina Republicans responded with a tough radio ad of their own, calling out the Democrats.


AD ANNOUNCER: You heard this race-hustling Kay Hagan ad paid for by Harry Reid's super PAC?


JOHNS: There's more. In Georgia, fliers encouraging African- Americans to vote invoke images from Ferguson, Missouri, where another young black man, Michael Brown, was shot to death by a police officer.

Republican Tara Wall sees it as an attempt to inflame voters.

TARA WALL, REPUBLICAN VOTER: Race is a very real issue for us as black people. We should be able to talk about it. But it's disappointing when you have Democrats that, number one, just take the issue of race and use it to incite without any fact or basis.

JOHNS (on camera): Democrats deny these tactics are about inciting racial anger but about localizing the election, making voters think less about the federal races and more about the judges, prosecutors and others who actually allocate adjacent.

(voice-over): Though the tactics are not endorsed by African-American politicians. But Atlanta city councilman, Kwanza Hall, says it's valid to talk about in the midterms.

KWANZA HALL, (D), ATLANTA CITY COUNCIL MEMBER: I would not use these in a campaign if it were my personal campaign. But I would want to make sure that we have dialogue and that we bring all parties to the table.

JOHNS: Still, dialogue over race is tricky. Louisiana incumbent Democrat Mary Landrieu got tough criticism after she said this in an interview with NBC about the south and the president.


REP. MARY LANDRIEU, (D), LOUISIANA: The south has not always been the friendliest place for African-Americans. It's been a difficult time for the president to present himself in a very positive light as a leader.


JOHNS: The question is whether racial appeals, especially advertising, could backfire, revving up black voters, who polls show still overwhelmingly support the president, while turning off white voters, the same polls show do not.

RYAN LIZZA, POLITICAL ANALYST: Generally, these appeals are very targeted. They are fliers or mail in predominantly African-American neighborhoods or radio ads on predominantly African-American radio. And so it's this sort of slicing and dicing the electorate.

JOHNS: Tough choices for Democrats and only hours before we'll know whether they pulled the right strings to get one of their most critical voting blocs to the polls in a tough election cycle.

Joe Johns, CNN, Lexington, Kentucky.


BLITZER: Still to come, control of the U.S. Senate, Republicans are pretty confident they can make that happen. Democrats aren't throwing in the towel, though, just yet. Our experts are standing by to take a look at some of the key races that could shift the balance of power here in Washington, D.C.


BLITZER: The stakes are certainly high for this U.S. midterm election. The outcome could change the political landscape of the Senate. And with so many tight races, every vote counts.

Joining us now, two of the best in the business, our senior political analysts, David Gergen and Ron Brownstein. David, I know what the conventional wisdom out there is, the Democrats

aren't going to do well tonight, Republicans in the Senate will do well. Is there anything surprising development that you're looking for that could go against what the punditry are suggesting?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: We've seen surprises in every one of these elections. There will be one or two states will certainly surprise us. The big surprise is if the Democrats actually win this thing. I think the Republicans have allowed expectations to get too high. Even if it's close, it's going to look like, well, they just pulled it off. When you're the out party, what you want is a wow factor. After an election night, it's going to be hard for the Republicans to get a wow factor. The other surprise could be if this thing goes into overtime. I think that doesn't help Republicans in terms of psychology. Someone wrote, yeah, they wanted to win by a couple of touchdowns. To win by a field goal --


BLITZER: It's certainly possible there could be elections in December and January in Louisiana and Georgia. You have to get a majority. You have to get 50 percent plus one other vote there.

Ron, any surprises you think we'll see tonight?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I'm having to grapple with the concept of an unexpected surprise. But if there's a downside surprise for the Democrats it will be New Hampshire or North Carolina or both, states where they have embattled women incumbents who are ahead but narrowly. It's most likely surprise is in Colorado. And after that, you'd say Iowa --


BLITZER: We just lost Ron Brownstein. We'll try to reconnect with him.

That was a surprise -- that was a surprise right there. The Democrats normally -- at least in 2012, they had a terrific ground game. They brought out the vote and got the president of the United States reelected in 2012 even after he called it a shellacking in the midterm elections in 2010 when the Democrats lost the House of Representatives. Here's the question, is that ground game going to be effective in helping the Democrats tonight?

GERGEN: It could be. I think that's why we have to be prepared for some upsets because the Democrats are better at getting voters out. They are much better with big data. They know how to use data in ways to encourage people to use psychology, in effect, behavioral psychology to get their voters out. And they normally sort of out- beat the polls by a point or two in some key states. On the other hand, they have not done a very good job of mobilizing voters behind an agenda or behind the president's record. They sort of run away from the president's record. There hasn't been much positive they've been selling. That's been a surprise. BLITZER: Is that highly vaulted Democratic ground game -- Ron we got

back. We got you back with us -- is that overrated in this midterm election?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, no question. The core challenge -- one of the core challenges Democrats face in their modern coalition, the one allowed to win the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections, is heavily dependent on young people and minority voters who historically vote much less in midterms than in the presidential year. They are trying to offset that with an unprecedented investment in "get out the vote." But when you have low approval rating for the president and you have a general sense of the country is on the wrong track, it's pushing on a string. We'll see how much tactics can overcome environment. I think Colorado and North Carolina probably are two places where -- and maybe Georgia, we'll get a very good look at that equation.

BLITZER: We'll see how they do in this midterm election. I want both of you to stand by.

Much more analyst coming up after the break. Both the Democrats and the Republicans brought out political stars to do some campaigning but does it make really that much of a difference? We'll discuss.


BLITZER: We're focusing on the U.S. midterm elections. Voting under way right now.

Let's bring back our senior political analysts, David Gergen and Ron Brownstein.

Ron, a Republican win tonight, would that help or hurt Hillary Clinton's chances of becoming the next president of the United States?

BROWNSTEIN: Interesting question. I think it depends on how the Republicans interpret and act upon a victory. If they look on a victory in the electorate as a mandate for an unflinchingly conservative and confrontational agenda, they run the risk of setting a tone that would make it hard for their party to win in 2016, for no other reason than they limit the choices for the eventual nominee. For example, if a Republican Congress votes to overturn any executive order President Obama pursues on immigration, they could make it tougher for a Republican to reach out to Hispanics. So I think there is a risk here of over interpreting 2014, just as there was in 2010, that could affect the 2016 dynamic. But if Republicans show they can govern and create for space for their nominee, pursue a more creative agenda, then they may help them, him or her, against the Democrats in 2016.

BLITZER: That's a good point.

You remember, David, in 2010. the president of the United States basically acknowledged the day after the Republicans took control of the House of Representatives in those midterm elections, it was a shellacking, but two years later he went on to get himself reelected. GERGEN: Absolutely, and that could easily happen again. If it's the

Hillary candidacy, she's going to have an advantage. She's got a blue wall. Very important in the midterms. Their 18 states plus District of Columbia that has voted Democrat in the last six consecutive presidential elections. That starts you out with 242, and all you need is 270 in the Electoral College. She or the Democratic nominee will have a big advantage. I think Ron is right. If the Republicans decide to go hard right after tonight, they're going to leave the middle wide open, and that gives a big advantage, whoever is Democrat nominee. If the Republicans are willing to play across the aisle and look more like a goching party, that will help them in 2016.

BLITZER: What about the president of the United States, Ron? He's in the final two years of his presidency. Is he going to make the kinds of compromises with the Republicans -- let's assume the Republicans are the majority in the House and the Senate. Will he will able to work with the Republican leadership and maybe, at times, irritate the liberal Democrat base?

BROWNSTEIN: Yeah. Trade and taxes would be the best opportunities. I think mostly he's going to pursue the independent action, the executive order on immigration, continuing to try and defend implementing the Affordable Care Act as well as his climate change regulations.

But, Wolf, a larger point about the president that you've talked about a lot, I think there's a clear lesson here. But this is a reminder to the Democrats that no matter who else you invite into the United States and whether you campaign with a president or not, the president of your own party on the ballot with you. And by 2016, Democrats need a better answer to what they've accomplished in the last six or, by then, eight years to tell the voters. If voters have a negative verdict on the last eight years, it is going to be tougher. That is the biggest headwind for a Hillary Clinton or anyone else that's the Democratic nominee. They did not solve this problem in the election. They didn't really confront it, as David Gergen noted a few minutes ago. They need a better way to talk about what they did get done over President Obama's term. That issue is not going away in 2016 just because he won't be on the ballot.

GERGEN: Very good point.

Let me go back to the immigration point. I think that's a good example of where the president would be better off showing good faith in making one more run in working with the Republicans after this is over, rather than going down the unilateral path, as Ron suggested he plans to do. That will be highly controversial. It will stick in the eye of Republicans and it will hurt the capacity to get other things done together other the next two years. Both sides have to be working together.


BLITZER: I guess the question, David, I'll rephrase it. You worked in the Bill Clinton administration, the Ronald Reagan administration. In the final two years, let's assume the Republicans are the majority in the House and the Senate, will Barack Obama, president of the United States, will he follow in the footsteps of Bill Clinton, who worked with the then-Speaker Newt Gingrich very closely -- even though they might have been fighting about impeachment during the day, they would work on other issues collaboratively -- or will the president of the United States will willing to do that in his final two years, even if it angers the Democrat base?

GERGEN: After tonight, after an exciting night, we're all waiting for it. But then the next big story is, how do the Republicans and the president come out of this. How do they frame the next two years? Do they plan to work together? Do they plan to throw spitballs at each other? They'll both say we're going to work together in the first 24 hours but, in reality, what are they going to do?

BLITZER: What do you think, Ron?

BROWNSTEIN: I think from both sides the answer will be more no than yes. I don't think the internal dynamics of the Republican Party make it very tough. I don't think this president is as inclined as Bill Clinton to try to find the agreements either.

And thank you, David Gergen, for mentioning my blue wall.


BLITZER: The blue wall is very important.

The Republicans even if they win, guys, they're looking ahead already to 2016. They don't want to see what happened in 2012 repeat in 2016. They had a horrible midterm but they came back and got the White House.

BROWNSTEIN: That's right. Look, in 2016 if we follow the long-term demographic turns, minorities will be 30 percent of the vote. If Democrat wins like they've been winning for the last roughly 40 years, the Republican nominee will have to roughly equal Ronald Reagan's vote among whites in 1984, the biggest landslide in modern history. So what you win with in 2014 is not necessarily enough to win with in 2016. That's a big adjustment for the Republican Congress to try to reach out to a broader segment they've been able to rely on now.

BLITZER: We will leave it there, guys, but we will have a lot more to discuss.

Much more of our coverage, 5:00 p.m. eastern, in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

Our special coverage for North American viewers begins. For our international viewers, 7:00 a.m. eastern.

That's it for me. "AMANPOUR" starts right now for our international viewers. Brooke Baldwin picks up our coverage for our North American viewers.