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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Republican Party Afraid of Sarah Palin?; Final Push Towards Election Day

Aired November 1, 2010 - 22:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And thanks, everyone, for watching.

Tonight, as always, we're "Keeping Them Honest," with a Democratic politician accusing Republicans in his state of wanting to return African-Americans to the -- quote -- "cotton fields of Jim Crow days," an incendiary injection of race in the final days of this election. How can he say that? We will ask him in a moment.

We're just hours away from a potentially epic day all across the country. This could be a very, very big deal, another big-change election. We have got fresh new estimates of where the election could be heading, some very big names with their jobs in jeopardy and very big names campaigning hard on their behalf, the president and Mrs. Obama, Bill Clinton, Sarah Palin campaigning, but also making big headlines, lashing out at reporters for a story detailing a plot to keep her out of the running for president in 2012, a plot reportedly hatched by top Republicans. We will have details on that.

We're supersizing the best political team on television tonight. We will talk to them throughout the hour. We will also have the latest on the tightest and most interesting races around the country.

The final hour for the battle for the House and the Senate. Take a look at our virtual Capitol hear -- 39 seats Republicans need to win the House. They need 10 seats to win over there in the Senate. Harry Reid, obviously, the most powerful Democrat in the Senate, his job right now happening by a thread.

Now, as we said, we have new numbers tonight and a new way to make them kind of come alive for you. Take a look, new CNN/Opinion Research data, just 25 percent surveyed saying things in the country are going either very well or fairly well, 75 percent saying they're going pretty badly or very badly. And that's translating into the possibility of a Republican sweep.

Look at our final poll of polls -- 51-43 percent, an eight-point lead for Republicans nationwide. We are going to talk about all of that ahead tonight with our panel.

But we begin tonight "Keeping Them Honest" with an injection of race into this election by an Alabama Democrat. Now, when the NAACP put out a report alleging the Tea Party movement was a magnet for extremists and white supremacist elements, but used an arguably biased researcher to produce it, we called them on it.

When Tea Party favorite Carl Paladino was found to have distributed racist and sexist e-mails, we called him on it.

Tonight, it's an African-American politician, Alabama State Senator Hank Sanders, who is warning that a vote for Republicans in the governor's race and lieutenant governor's race in his state would mean a return to the cotton fields of Jim Crow, his words.

He said this in a recorded call sent out to voters, a robocall. Listen.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

HANK SANDERS (D), ALABAMA STATE SENATOR: Hello. This is Hank Sanders, Alabama state senator. And I'm still mad as hell.

I say, hell no. I ain't going back to the cotton fields of Jim Crow days. I'm going forward with Ron Sparks, Jim Folsom, and others who would do right by all of us. I hope you're mad as hell and will not go back. And you have the power to choose. I will stand until hell freezes over.

Vote Ron Sparks for governor and Jim Folsom for lieutenant governor on November the 2nd.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, it's a pretty serious charge to make, but does he have actual evidence to back up his statements?

We invited State Senator Sanders to come on the program. To his credit, he did. We spoke earlier.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Senator Sanders, how can you say to voters in your state, as you did in this robocall, that, if the two Republicans running against the Democrats for governor and lieutenant governor, if they win, that they're going to bring you and Alabama back -- quote -- "to the cotton fields of Jim Crow days"?

How can you say that? I mean, what evidence do you have of that?

SANDERS: Well, there's a certain mean-spiritedness that's out there, not only in Alabama, but it's in America. And that makes this election extremely important.

If we want to go forward, then we have to go forward with people who are -- will try to include everybody, as opposed to people who may not include everybody.

COOPER: But -- but, wait -- but -- but you're...

SANDERS: This is a -- these are difficult times.

COOPER: Your ad...

SANDERS: I'm sorry? COOPER: ... your robocall says nothing about mean-spiritedness or division in the country. Your ad is specifically saying that these two politicians, these two Republicans, Robert Bentley and Kay Ivey, will -- will return you and -- and others, African-Americans in Alabama, to the cotton fields of Jim Crow.

I mean, that's an extremely incendiary comment. And you don't provide any evidence.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: I'm giving you an opportunity to provide specific evidence.

SANDERS: Let -- let me say this. The ad does not mention the Republican candidates at all.

COOPER: Well, yes, it mentioned -- it mentions the two Democrats and says that, unless the Democrats are elected, then -- then it's going to go back to the cotton field of Jim Crow.

SANDERS: Jim Folsom and Ron Sparks have been inclusive of whites and they have been inclusive of blacks.

In Alabama, there are no African-Americans, elected officials, who are Republicans. The governor of Alabama has one person in his Cabinet African-American, so just generally excluded.

COOPER: You're not just saying that they're not inclusive. You're saying the days of Jim Crow. And I got to tell you, it just seems like you're fear-mongering. You're -- you're touching very emotional racial buttons in order to get people to vote for your candidates.

No?

SANDERS: I grew up during that time. I experienced it firsthand. I know exactly what that situation is.

And I'm concerned that we will slip back into those days if we don't stand up and fight. I'm encouraging people to do something positive. And that is to -- to go out and vote.

And I'm saying, if you don't go out and vote, then you can slip back into the days that we -- none of us want to go back to, because they were horrible times. I lived through them myself.

COOPER: Well -- and I respect that, sir. And -- and -- but I guess I'm just -- you know, these are very serious allegations you're making against two Republican candidates, and you're not providing any specific evidence about some policy that they -- or something in their track record.

You have actually worked with some of these candidates, from what -- from what one of them says. You're -- you haven't specifically said anything about them that would -- that would really tell somebody why they want Jim Crow to return.

(CROSSTALK)

SANDERS: Well, I didn't say anything about them specifically one way or another.

COOPER: Oh, come on, sir. Come on. You know -- you know...

SANDERS: Wait a minute. Wait. Wait a minute.

COOPER: If you say an ad saying if -- unless the Democrats are elected, unless two -- two specific Democrats are elected, we're going to go back to Jim Crow, what you're saying is, if these two Republicans are elected, we are going to go back to Jim Crow.

And how -- and you can't say that.

SANDERS: Well, I'm talking about a much broader situation. It wasn't personal directed to two people.

COOPER: Sir -- but, sir, that's not true. You...

SANDERS: I'm talking about a much broader situation that all of us find ourselves in.

COOPER: Sir -- sir, you recorded a robocall for two candidates, a candidate for -- the Democratic candidate for governor, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor. That's what you did.

It's a very specific robocall you recorded. You didn't record a robocall saying: There's a general meanness in the land. There' racism in the land. We have got to fight against it. You have got to go to the polls in order to fight against racism. That would be one thing. You're saying, Jim Crow, cotton fields, and -- and, unless these two Democrats are elected, that's where -- that's where we're -- we're going.

SANDERS: I know what I said. And anybody can listen to the ad for themselves.

What you're doing, in fact, is trying to put words in my mouth. And I...

COOPER: How so?

SANDERS: ... I didn't mention anybody specific. I didn't say anything against the individuals. I didn't call their names. I'm talking about a broad situation of us slipping back into a situation that I lived under.

To -- to -- I was grown before I got a chance to register and vote. I was grown before I can go into various places and eat without being harassed. And I can't afford to go back there. And I think I have an absolute right to be able to say to folks, it's time to vote. It's time to stand up, or else you risk sliding back into a terrible situation. I do not apologize. COOPER: And I respect your right to say that, and -- and I respect you coming on the program to -- to defend the ad. Appreciate it. Thank you, sir.

SANDERS: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: All right, a lot to talk about.

Joining us is Erick Erickson of RedState.com, senior political analyst David Gergen, Nicolle Wallace, who, in addition to being a Daily Beast contribution, is also a former campaign adviser to John McCain and Sarah Palin, and author of the new novel "Eighteen Acres." Democratic strategist Paul Begala is also here. So is Democratic strategist and pollster Cornell Belcher and Republican strategist Alex Castellanos. We have supersized the panel today. We have got a bigger table.

(LAUGHTER)

COOPER: Paul, putting out a robocall saying that, if you don't vote for the Democrats, you're going back to the cotton fields of Jim Crow day -- I mean, he complains about meanness and polarization out in this land. Doesn't that kind of rhetoric, though, contribute to meanness and polarization?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, yes, but it's so over the top, nobody is going to believe it, so completely irresponsible.

COOPER: Oh, come on. Plenty...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: I'm not defending it. It's so completely irresponsible. It degrades -- Senator Sanders' district includes Selma. And he talked about living through that.

It -- it's a sacrilege to -- to use that kind of language when you represent that kind of area. And that's the only thing I can hope, is that I think voters are smart. And you get that call at home, you're going to think -- look, I'm -- I take a backseat to no one in my distaste for elected Republicans, but no sensible person is going to think, if you vote Republican, we will be back to Jim Crow and cotton fields. It's crazy.

COOPER: Cornell Belcher, you're a pollster. Do you believe that? Do you believe it?

CORNELL BELCHER, FORMER OBAMA CAMPAIGN POLLSTER: Well, the interesting thing is, it becomes sort of bothersome, because you take what the state senator is saying, and, surely, he's -- it's racial- baiting to a certain extent.

But it's a state senator on a very low level, and it sort of rises to the point where we're putting it on national television, and it also seems as though it's equal, when, quite frankly, no it's not equal, because the Southern strategy was a real national strategy by the Republican Party, which their chairman, Ken Mehlman, apologized for a little while, which was specifically to rate -- to bait the races and divide the races. So, this is not level.

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Actually, that was Michael Steele who apologized for it.

(CROSSTALK)

BELCHER: No. It was -- no, it was Mehlman who did apologize for it.

(CROSSTALK)

ERICKSON: Ken Mehlman did? You're kidding me. Oh, good lord.

(CROSSTALK)

BELCHER: Yes, he did, because it was part of your national strategy.

ERICKSON: No.

(CROSSTALK)

ERICKSON: No.

BELCHER: No, it was.

ERICKSON: No, it really wasn't.

And, you see, the issue here is that, this phone call, this happens a lot here in the South. I'm an elected official in the South. It happens across the South. John Lewis, a respected civil rights leader and congressman, last year in Atlanta for the Fulton County Commission did a phone call where he said, Republicans taking over the Fulton County Commission would be worse than -- not equal to, but worse than the dogs in the street he fought during the civil rights movement.

This rhetoric across the South in particular at this time of the year, it crops up. It is not acceptable, but it happens.

I can tell you that -- believe it or not, I have actually run Democratic races in Georgia. It happens less and less...

(CROSSTALK)

ERICKSON: I know.

(LAUGHTER)

ERICKSON: It happens less and less generationally. And I suspect that, in another few years, this won't happen at all. ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I think that's the big point about all of this is, right now, we have heard these charges about the Republican Party. We hear these things about the Democratic Party.

But I think all of us could agree that, right now, it doesn't reflect where the parties are as a whole. This is a fringe element of the debate when it happens on both sides. Does this characterize Republicans or Democrats when you hear it these days?

No, I think the country has actually some made progress in that sense.

COOPER: Let's -- let's talk about comments that President Obama made in an interview to Univision that conservatives are seizing upon. I'm going to play it for our viewers. Listen to the one word he used, "enemies," that is the point of contention. Let's listen.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, UNIVISION RADIO)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If Latinos sit out the election, instead of saying we're going to punish our enemies and we're going to reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us, if they don't see that kind of upsurge in voting in this election, then I think it's going to be harder.

And that's why I think it's so important that people focus on voting on November 2.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

COOPER: David, Republican John Boehner making an issue out of this in -- in the final day. President Obama already walking back the statement, saying he should have used the word opponents, not enemies.

Is this a big deal, or this much ado about nothing?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it's -- no, I think it's marginal.

And it's like this Mr. Sanders from Selma. I think everybody respects him because of the Selma roots here, but I think these are all on the fringes. The critical point is this. Back in the 2008 presidential election, 69 million Americans voted for Barack Obama, almost 10 million more than voted for the Republican opponent.

I think that they proved that this is not a mean-spirited nation and not a racist nation. What is going on in this election is not about race in 2010. It is not about the race of Barack Obama or the racial differences in the country, although they are still there. It has much more to do with economics and disappointment.

And we shouldn't allow the racial story to be -- and color the interpretation of what this election is about.

COOPER: Well, let's look at these latest poll numbers, though -- 75 percent of people that we just showed, in this final poll, 75 percent of Americans saying things are either going very badly or pretty -- pretty badly.

What does President Obama do starting the day after tomorrow? I mean, if -- if the Republicans take over the House, as most people think they're going to do, how do you start to change numbers like that?

NICOLLE WALLACE, FORMER BUSH WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Well, I think the smart thing to do would be to walk into the Rose Garden and do what he should have done after Scott Brown won Ted Kennedy's seat in Massachusetts and say: I hear you. I hear you. And, from this point forward, I'm going to moderate my agenda. I'm going to be for tax cuts for all Americans, not just those making under $250,000 a year.

But there is no sign that he will do that.

And, on enemies, here's why the use of the word enemies matters. Barack Obama is a very button-down president. He's very scripted. What we see from him is very polished. And, every now and then, the curtain comes back on this very partisan, political guy. And I believe most Republicans think that this is who he really is, this really tough, Chicago politician.

(CROSSTALK)

BELCHER: Two things. Two things. Two things.

One, I'm going to have to dissent from -- from David briefly here, because the truth of the matter is, I think some of it actually is cultural. I'm not going to sit here and buy into this narrative that the Tea Party is all about deficits and taxes, because, quite frankly, I don't think it is.

And I think there's a lot of evidence out there, because, if it was all about taxes...

GERGEN: Well, do -- do you think it's about race?

BELCHER: Hold on. Hold on.

(CROSSTALK)

BELCHER: If it was all about taxes and deficit, they would have charged Washington with pitchforks when he took this from a -- from a surplus to a deficit. They did not. They did not do that.

CASTELLANOS: That's what they're doing. That's exactly what they're doing right now.

BELCHER: They did not do...

(CROSSTALK)

BELCHER: ... that the Tea Party isn't also a cultural movement about something that is going on culturally I think is disingenuous.

(CROSSTALK)

GERGEN: But, Cornell, wait a second. We were talking about race. And you have now sort of -- you've sort of -- sort of taken culture and said -- used it as a substitute word for race.

Are you saying the Tea Party move -- is a racist movement?

BELCHER: No...

GERGEN: OK. Let's be very clear about that.

BELCHER: ... because I have no problem saying it's a racist movement if there's a racist movement.

GERGEN: OK.

BELCHER: But I'm not going to pretend that -- that what's -- that the cultural change that is going in this country did not, in fact, impact that.

And I will -- I will even go further, because I will -- I will say this. I wonder if there would be a Tea Party movement if the first president, black president, hadn't just been elected? That's a good question that I think we should debate.

ERICKSON: Oh, I think if George Bush got a third term, you would see a Tea Party movement. You started seeing these people revving up over the immigration debate. It only came...

(CROSSTALK)

ERICKSON: We had TARP, Harriet Miers.

WALLACE: Not just immigration, but also over education, the education bill.

CASTELLANOS: And, by the way, they are charging Washington with pitchforks. They're about to throw 60-some Democrats out.

(CROSSTALK)

BELCHER: It is -- it is different than -- the tone and manner that they're going after this president and this administration is different from...

(CROSSTALK)

BELCHER: It's different from anything we have ever seen before.

ERICKSON: It's different because people fight harder when they feel like change is coming that they don't want.

And then you have a lot of people who...

BELCHER: Exactly.

ERICKSON: ... feel like...

(CROSSTALK)

ERICKSON: ... changing, but it's economic change they don't want, not cultural change.

(CROSSTALK)

BELCHER: No.

ERICKSON: Yes.

CASTELLANOS: But you know why it also matters that the president of the United States would use the word enemies? The power of the state is in his hands. This is the man who controls the biggest budget, the biggest bureaucracy.

(CROSSTALK)

CASTELLANOS: And the Republicans are very concerned...

(CROSSTALK)

CASTELLANOS: They're very concerned that the president of the United States says, punish our enemies.

(CROSSTALK)

CASTELLANOS: If George Bush had said that, what would you be saying?

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: First off, he can't. It's too many syllables. He couldn't have gotten it out. It's three syllables.

CASTELLANOS: Enemies?

BEGALA: Yes.

But -- but...

(CROSSTALK)

WALLACE: George W. Bush is as popular as Barack Obama right now. Easy.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: All right, finish your thought, and then we have got to -- we have got to move.

BEGALA: Look, the -- culturally, there was -- there was great change in the early '90s, and we had a very similar reaction to Bill Clinton, which I think proves Cornell's point. I don't think it's race.

I think it's change. And progressive change somehow causes much more of a reaction, I think, in this country. People accused Bill Clinton of murder. They accused him of rape.

ERICKSON: Because they don't want it.

BEGALA: They accused him of -- right. They didn't want equality in the military for gays and lesbians, which Clinton was for. They didn't want to have taxes raised on the rich, which he was for.

ERICKSON: They didn't want Hillarycare. They don't want Obamacare.

(CROSSTALK)

BELCHER: Well, you know what?

(CROSSTALK)

BELCHER: .... put it to a vote, they wouldn't have wanted integration.

BEGALA: There's -- there's a false equivalency we always draw...

(CROSSTALK)

BERGEN: Wait a minute. That's not fair.

ERICKSON: Yes.

BEGALA: Republicans hated Obama, just like Democrats hated Bush. But I don't think so.

(CROSSTALK)

CASTELLANOS: We're somehow a more racist country because we elected a black president. I don't understand that.

(CROSSTALK)

BELCHER: No.

(CROSSTALK)

ERICKSON: See, this is why I think a lot of the Democrats are going to get wiped out tomorrow, is because they have missed this pulse.

They're convinced that it's something other than what it is, which is largely economic. Yes, they had the reaction of Clinton. Yes, they had reaction with Obama. They would have with Bush, too.

COOPER: OK.

We have got -- we have got to take a break. I'm sorry. (LAUGHTER)

COOPER: We're -- we will -- we're -- the panel is here for the hour.

So, stick around. We're going to pick up the conversation after a quick break.

A reminder, also, live chat up and running at AC360.com, if you want to weigh in.

Also up next: Sarah Palin, are top Republicans trying to figure out a way to stop her from running for president? It's a stunning story, full of anonymous sources. Palin is calling out the reporters and some of the Republicans allegedly quoted.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, FOX NEWS CHANNEL)

SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: We seek to debate in a healthy arena what it is that Americans need to start talking about. And, you know, I will just ignore this crap.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Well, Sarah Palin not running officially for anything yet, but she's apparently hopping mad at a story suggesting the top Republican Party leaders would try to stop her if she does run for president in 2012.

She is calling Politico, that published the story, in her own words, crap, and the reporters behind it jokes -- her words packing so much weight obviously, because, at the moment, she's a power broker unto herself. Thirty-two candidates she endorsed before the primaries, about two-thirds of them won their nominations, which may explain why none of the Republican sources for the Politico story would agree to be named.

They're cited as being worried that Palin would win the 2012 presidential nomination, then get slaughtered in a general election. The story goes on to say the GOP establishment would work behind the scenes to try to keep the nomination out of her reach.

Needless to say, the former governor was not amused.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, FOX NEWS CHANNEL)

PALIN: We seek to debate in a healthy arena what it is that Americans need to start talking about. And, you know, I will just ignore this crap.

(CROSSTALK)

PALIN: Well, Politico, Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei, they are jokes. This is a joke, to have unnamed sources tearing somebody apart limb by limb.

If they would cite themselves, if they were -- if they would man up and if they would make, you know, these claims against me, then I can debate them. I can talk about it. But when they're just -- to me, it's -- they're making stuff up again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: "Man up" is sweeping the country -- Sarah Palin on FOX News.

Back now with the panel, Erick Erickson, David Gergen, Nicolle Wallace, Paul Begala, Cornell Belcher, and Alex Castellanos.

Nicolle, you advised Sarah Palin...

(LAUGHTER)

WALLACE: Yes.

COOPER: ... in the presidential election.

(LAUGHTER)

COOPER: What do you make of this? Do you think she's really mad, or does this play into her narrative kind of perfectly?

WALLACE: Yes.

COOPER: I mean, this makes her a victim again, yet again.

(LAUGHTER)

WALLACE: What was the question?

I love it when she says, man up. You know, I just wrote a novel about the first woman president, and I wish I had her saying man up in every meeting.

COOPER: Yes. Just about everybody is saying man up these days.

(CROSSTALK)

WALLACE: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

WALLACE: I kind of love it, though, when it's her. It would be funny if she said it, you know, to any of us.

But -- I think she did say it to me once. Look, these stories are -- I have to agree with her -- pretty silly two years out. And they only serve to make her, if it's possible, all the more powerful in the Republican Party.

Now, she would be well-served to ignore some of this stuff, because her base of power is in the real world. And I don't think Politico is read by too many real Americans. It's read by people like us. So, I'm not sure that she was wise to engage them. But...

CASTELLANOS: This is -- this is such a softball over the heart of the plate for Sarah Palin.

WALLACE: Yes.

BEGALA: Right.

CASTELLANOS: I mean, if the Washington establishment is opposing you, gee, they...

BEGALA: Right.

WALLACE: You must be doing something right.

(CROSSTALK)

CASTELLANOS: They might as well walk her into Washington on a throne.

(CROSSTALK)

CASTELLANOS: And, by the way, I know Mike Allen. Mike Allen is a friend of mine. And he's funny, but he's not a joke.

COOPER: Uh-huh.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

ERICKSON: Here's the issue. I guarantee you I know some of the sources for this because I hear from them saying much of the same stuff. And you have...

COOPER: So, it's not -- completely made out of whole cloth...

(CROSSTALK)

ERICKSON: No. I don't think it's made up.

The issue is that a lot of the people who are Sarah Palin's biggest critics are the people who probably should have been thrown -- well, they were thrown out of power in 2006, and they are going to probably going to wide -- ride this Tea Party wave that she's helped create back into power, and have learned nothing in the four years that they have been out of power.

So, yes -- yes, they're targeting her because she's pushing an agenda they are diametrically opposed to. And she's going to raise millions of dollars off of it. Good for her.

(CROSSTALK) CASTELLANOS: But Sarah Palin has had a brilliant political year. She's become a huge political force. She's raised tons of money. She has energized the Republican Party tremendously. She's making lots of money personally.

(CROSSTALK)

CASTELLANOS: She -- she's figured out a role for herself. She's the most powerful fish in a small pond, as opposed to a big pond.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Well, it is amazing, when you think of where she's gone from, losing the race, quitting the governor's office, and then now...

(CROSSTALK)

CASTELLANOS: ... predicated a lot on her potential to be president.

(CROSSTALK)

BELCHER: Alex, she's also a candidate right now with one of the highest negatives of any of your -- of any of...

(CROSSTALK)

BELCHER: ... guys that are running.

(CROSSTALK)

CASTELLANOS: Well, which is why she can't run for president, or she will end up like Christine O'Donnell.

(CROSSTALK)

BELCHER: I don't know why you guys are trying to kill the front- runner for the Republican nomination.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: I don't know Mrs. Palin. I have never met her.

But what was instructive to me, this story is the best thing that could happen to her, for all the reasons these guys and gals are saying...

ERICKSON: Right.

BEGALA: ... right, because this is the evil Washington establishment against the plucky kid from Wasilla.

(LAUGHTER) BEGALA: Why, then, attack the journalists? I think she should say, this is probably exactly what all those evil people in Washington think.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: In other words, she strikes me as exceedingly thin- skinned.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: She's attacking the -- it's a twofer, though, isn't it?

(CROSSTALK)

WALLACE: See...

ERICKSON: No, she's not really saying a whole lot more than what the White House has said in the past year about the Politico running a bunch of anonymous quotes about them.

(CROSSTALK)

ERICKSON: Politico runs a lot of stories with a lot of anonymous quotes, and it makes a lot of politicians mad. It doesn't mean the story aren't true. And, in this case, I guarantee you I know some of the people...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Instead of whining about the journalism, embrace the substance. I mean...

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

ERICKSON: She gets to attack the Washington establishment and the liberal media.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Do you think, A, she could get the nomination and, B, actually win a general election?

ERICKSON: Yes. You know, I didn't think Barack Obama could win. Either did a lot of Hillary Clinton supporters.

Yes, I think she could win.

(CROSSTALK)

GERGEN: She could win the nomination. She can't win the general election, unless, you know, the country turns upside down, and we get unemployment at 14 percent or something like that.

ERICKSON: You know, two years ago, they said the Republicans couldn't win in 2010.

(CROSSTALK)

GERGEN: Yes. You know, there -- there's a certain narrative about people that gets written, and it's really, really hard to change.

But I have to say, Nicolle, I -- congratulations. You've got a bestseller, first novel, first book, boom. She's got a bestseller.

(LAUGHTER)

GERGEN: That's terrific.

But, you know, the anonymous sources that came out with knives after the campaign that you were involved with, with her, working, and all the people that worked for her, if they didn't sort of put her away and create a sense of a witch, I -- I don't know what did.

It was -- originally, a lot of the reporting came out of the -- the people who went to work for her in that her campaign. And -- and -- but, right now, look, I think the Republican establishment thinks there are a lot of people in Washington who think they're on the brink of taking -- they're going to take the House tomorrow and they're going to -- got a good chance of taking the Senate two years from now, and they have got a very real chance of taking the White House.

For the first time, they think that. And Sarah Palin is the answer that leads away from the White House, from their point of view. And so, of course they are going to put this story out. I think it's -- I'm amazed it hasn't come out already.

(CROSSTALK)

CASTELLANOS: But Sarah Palin's political value is all predicated on her credibility as a presidential candidate.

GERGEN: No, I don't think so. I don't think so.

(CROSSTALK)

CASTELLANOS: The day she says...

(CROSSTALK)

CASTELLANOS: No, no.

The day she says she's not running, she doesn't get as much news media attention, and she loses, I think, a huge platform.

GERGEN: You and I agree...

(CROSSTALK) CASTELLANOS: So, she's got to fight for that.

(CROSSTALK)

CASTELLANOS: And that's why she's fighting back here.

GERGEN: But, Alex, I agree with you.

CASTELLANOS: It doesn't mean she will run.

GERGEN: She is been a tremendous force. She has been a tremendous force for Republicans. She's been the star of this. If there's any personal star leader, it's been Sarah Palin in this campaign. But...

CASTELLANOS: No one has helped Republicans more except Barack Obama.

GERGEN: But she's making too much money. You know, I think the woman is probably...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Too much money to run for -- for president? She wouldn't want to give that up?

GERGEN: I think she's made at least $20 million since she left.

WALLACE: Those are personal considerations, though.

But I think, if you just take her and line her up against the rest of the field, the only other person that's had a -- has had as great of an impact on these midterms is Rush Limbaugh, who gave a speech in March of 2009 at CPAC. You all covered it. It -- it aired on this network. And everyone focused on the statement, "I hope Obama fails." He meant his agenda.

But what Rush Limbaugh did and what would serve Sarah Palin very well to do was, he made an intellectual argument about how Republicans can go at Barack Obama as an ideological and a philosophical level. He instructed Republicans to have a debate about the role of the federal government in American life.

And Republicans are still very attracted to these intellectual arguments in defense of capitalism, in defense of conservatism. And you see Jeb Bush speaking out and others speaking out. If she's going to be the nominee for our party, she's going to have to tap into some of that power and some of those ideas and bolster that side of her political persona.

BELCHER: Looking at what she and the Tea Party has done in the -- in the Republican primaries thus far, particularly for Senate, if she runs, she wins the nomination.

ERICKSON: Let's not leave out Jim DeMint, though.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

ERICKSON: He will not be running.

COOPER: Coming up, we want to talk about the impact Sarah Palin's endorsement of Joe Miller, for instance, might end up making tomorrow in the Alaska Senate race.

Also, new developments in the cargo bomb case, reports of a possible dry run and the kind of disaster the bombers might have been aiming to create.

Also, Clint McCance, who posted that hate-filled rant about bullying victims on Facebook, then apologized for it here on 360, he also promised to resign his job as a school board vice president. Tonight, we find out if he kept his word.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: And we're back now with our panel: Erick Erickson, David Gergen, Nicole Wallace, Paul Begala, Cornell Belcher and Alex Castellanos.

So you have this wave now, of some Tea Party candidates coming to D.C., likely to be coming based on tomorrow's election. What does the GOP do, the establishment GOP? I mean, if they're scared about Sarah Palin, what do they feel about, you know, the possibility of Sharron Angle? How do -- what happens when these folks who we're talking about, no compromise get to a place where compromise is king?

BEGALA: Well, they -- I think the leaders, the establishment, the elite, they panic.

A minute ago Eric mentioned Jim DeMint. He's this hard-charging Republican conservative from South Carolina, a senator. Seems to me, as a Democrat, to be the arch rival of the Republican leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell.

McConnell, John Boehner, the establishment leader of the Republicans in the House, they're riding a tiger here. They could very well be the Robespierre of this French Revolution. In other words, think they're setting something great in motion that's going to put them on top and then watch the guillotine get them. I think they're going to be consumed by the forces that they've set in motion in their party.

ERICKSON: It's funny you should mention McConnell and Boehner. Because there's a real issue within the Tea Party movement of what to do. You have Trent Lott a couple months ago quoted in "The Washington Post" saying they need to co-opt some of these Tea Party people, marginalize those you can't. In the Senate, you may very well see some of these guys get on committees we've never heard of where it's just them. In the House, though, you have this -- you have this real dynamic between Eric Cantor and John Boehner. And this fight between conservatives over what to do. They don't really like Boehner. They don't trust Cantor. Where did the Tea Party movement go?

Plus, Kevin McCarthy, the deputy whip in the House, has elected a lot of them. And what do they want to do? I think in the House, because there are so many more people, you're going to have a much easier time dealing with them than in the Senate, where you may have five or six of the Senate rules benefit them.

COOPER: Are these folks about governance, or are they about making sure President Obama doesn't run or doesn't get re-elected?

GERGEN: They're really serious about cutting spending. They're really serious about trying to tackle some of the substantive issues.

I think the first big test of the leadership, the establishment leadership is to make sure that they're fully represented on the key committees and make sure the committees, especially in the House, are not just taken over by people who have been around for 20 years. You've got to...

ERICKSON: ... corporations (ph).

GERGEN: You've got to put some of the red-hots in the positions of real authority in order to incorporate them, and don't co-opt them. Give them a voice. Give them a place.

WALLACE: And in the view of the voters, voters feel like, what are they going to do? Screw it up? Nobody feels like anything productive or satisfying to them is happening in Washington. That's why -- that's why some of these people were nominated.

BELCHER: So what happens when you put all the ret-hots in power? They've already talked about on the campaign trail, "The first thing I'm going to do is repeal health care." I can see them -- you know, vote after vote, repealing health care. But Americans are like, wait a minute, what about the economy?

BEGALA: They have a chance to repeal their own. Right? Become the change you seek in the world is what Gandhi said?

They should -- if they're elected, and I hope they won't be, but if they do, first thing they should do is turn down the congressional health care.

CASTELLANOS: ... have a little bit of trouble understanding the Democratic argument here, which is "Look, aren't the Republicans in real trouble? Look, they're winning. Isn't that terrible? They're winning. I don't see how they're possibly going to survive winning?"

You know, the Republican strategy -- what the Republican strategy is, and David hit it right on the head, is to put the Democrats in a position where they have to say no. They have to say no on spending. We want to cut spending, Mr. President. We want to cut some taxes. BELCHER: That's good for you all.

CASTELLANOS: It has. And that was the message the American people sent from Washington. You asked about governance. Governance is now defined as stopping the bad things. Stopping the spending that's making the country broke. So if the Republicans were able to achieve that, that's the voice of this election.

ERICKSON: There was a Rasmussen poll that came out. I think today an Allegheny College poll that came out. They showed the same thing. Voters don't want conservative. They don't want liberal. They don't want centrists. They just don't want the government in their lives as much.

And I think you can probably find across the aisle, if we're talking compromise, Democrats and Republicans, both with this new attitude of fiscal restraint, saying, "You know what? Maybe the feds just don't need that program."

CASTELLANOS: And don't be surprised if Obama moves there with them. Remember, this was the guy who campaigned as a candidate saying pay-as-you-go budgeting.

GERGEN: He will only survive if -- he will only survive if he's got to pivot towards the center. He's got to do what Bill Clinton did back in '94 and '95. After that election he rebuilt a more centrist coalition. He got some things done with a Republican .

BEGALA: He had people who would work with him. Let's see if the new crowd, if they come, will work.

COOPER: We're going to have a little bit more from our panel ahead. Nicole Wallace isn't able to escape just yet, like she wants to do. We're going to get their take on the balance of power.

Also, John King talking about details of some of the closest elections and what may happen tomorrow. First, let's get a look at some of the other stories we're following. Joe Johns has a bulletin -- Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, a few weeks ago the U.S. intercepted packages from Yemen that were being shipped to Chicago. The packages contained only books, but officials believe it may have been a dry run by al Qaeda. The two bombs that were discovered on Friday were being shipped to the United States from al Qaeda, and it's -- al Qaeda's actually suspected in the plot.

The Justice Department and Arizona argued before a federal appeals court today over that state's tough new immigration law which was signed in April. Arizona wants the court to lift a ban imposed by a lower court that blocks some of the law's provisions, including a requirement that police officers check a person's immigration status while enforcing other laws.

The military's "don't ask, don't tell" policies can be enforced while the Obama administration appeals a lower-court ruling which found the policy unconstitutional. That word today from a federal appeals court. The gay rights group that filed the suit may make an emergency appeal directly to the Supreme Court.

And Clint McCance resigned today from his school board job in Arkansas. He ignited controversy when he posted anti-gay remarks on his Facebook page. Last Thursday, on 360, McCance apologized, and the story that really lit up the Internet last week, Anderson.

COOPER: It certainly did that. Joe, thanks very much.

Still ahead, should Democrats be bracing for record losses tomorrow? John King is crunching the numbers. He's at the Election Matrix. He's like Neo. He'll look at the numbers in the House and the Senate on the eve of the midterm elections. Get the latest from him.

Also ahead, former California congressman Gary Condit, testifying in the Chandra Levy murder trial. We'll tell you what question he refused to answer.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: In any midterm election, of course, it's common for the party in power to lose seats, but tomorrow, Democrats could be looking at historic losses.

In the House, take a look at our virtual Capital. Here in the House, about 100 of the 435 seats are considered in play. And tonight, all predictions from both parties show Republicans making big gains and claiming the House majority.

The Senate is harder to predict. Thirty-seven of the 100 seats are contested. Republicans have a shot at winning a majority, but it's a much, much tougher fight. John King is here to show us where the key races are.

KING: We'll start at the Matrix. This is the CNN 100. The 100 most competitive races for the House, 91 are blue. That's a Democratically held seat. That tells you how steep the Democratic challenge is tomorrow.

Look early on for the class of 2006 or 2008. The 2006 class made Nancy Pelosi speaker. The 2008 class came riding in on President Obama's coattails. There are more than enough seats just in those two classes for the Republicans to get the 39 they need for a House majority. And as Anderson just noted, even many Democrats now say they expect 45 or 50 or maybe more of a pickup when it comes to the House. So the House most likely to go Republican. That's the consensus across the party tonight.

The Senate -- excuse me for turning my back -- is a much more difficult challenge. These are the House districts across the country. Here's are the Senate races up tomorrow, 37 races in all. The red states are held by Republicans. The blue states are held by Democrats. Here's the current balance of power in the Senate: 59 Democrats, 41 Republicans. You can do the math at home. Republicans need plus 10 to get a majority. That's what they need heading in.

Now, what we're going to do here is a bit of a simulation. Some of you at home might say, "Oh, no, my state is not going that way," but we've assigned some of these states based on the late polls. The states that aren't very close.

For example, we give Delaware to the Democrats, Connecticut to the Democrats. Arkansas, we've given over to the Republicans. North Dakota, to the Republicans.

If you take out the races that seem pretty easy to call most likely, this is what you get: 48 for the Democrats, 44 for the Republicans and one, two, three, four, five, six, seven toss-ups. Again, do the math at home. To get to 51, the Republicans would have to sweep the toss-up states. And this is where it gets very interesting.

Pennsylvania is a dead heat. Washington is a dead heat. Nevada is a dead heat. Colorado, a dead heat. Illinois, most people think leaning slightly Republican. West Virginia, a dead heat, maybe leaning slightly Republican. Wisconsin, leaning slightly Republican. But again, the math would have to be that the Republicans need to run the board and win all of the toss-ups to get to 51.

Among these states, Anderson, Colorado, Tea Party candidate there. Some question if the other Republican had won, had not been beaten in the primary, might that be a little bit better? Republicans feel reasonably confident about that.

Ironically, it could come down to that one there. Harry Reid's seat in Nevada. He's the Democratic majority leader, and if Republicans have a good night and there's a wave and they sweep these other toss-ups, watch Nevada.

COOPER: John, thanks very much.

Let's go back to our panel.

Erick, what race are you watching? What are the ones that interest you most?

ERICKSON: I think everybody is interested in Nevada. I am interested in West Virginia and Colorado more than anything. West Virginia, given the history and given whose seat it was -- it was Robert Byrd's seat -- it looks like the Democrat may very well win there, although it's gotten very, very close.

Colorado, I'm good friends with Ken Buck, who's running there. And the fascinating race to me although it's not a -- not even close is Kentucky.

And then, really the fascinating race to me, although it's not even close is Kentucky. You have Rand Paul, who is this very hard- core libertarian Republican candidate, who was opposed by Mitch McConnell, destined for the Senate, where he and Mitch McConnell can be great nemeses from the same state, in the same party.

COOPER: Was the Aqua Buddha ad a mistake? It seems like the poll numbers...

ERICKSON: I really think that ad was -- to Conway's credit, his campaign really wasn't giving traction towards the end, and he had to do something. He gave it a Hail Mary pass, and I think it wiped him out.

CASTELLANOS: He should have attacked his brother, Aqua Velva.

COOPER: What race are you going to be watching tomorrow?

GERGEN: I'm -- rather than one race, I'm looking at the state of Ohio. It is such a bellwether for presidential politics and for power in this country. And it's a Republican sweep, not only the Senate race but the governorship and pick up three or four of the House seats, I think that has real implications for 2012.

COOPER: Nicole, what are you watching?

WALLACE: Alex and I were talking about Ohio in the green room, about how that was, you know, the state we stayed up watching in 2004 to see if President Bush was be re-elected.

I'm, this year, interested in Illinois. Because it's not -- it's not what we've been talking about. It's not a Tea Party race. But it would be remarkable to me if Ted Kennedy's seat, held by a Republican. Barack Obama's seat, held by a Republican. That would just, I think, emotionally, those are really hard races to lose for the Democrats.

COOPER: Paul.

BEGALA: Coming back to David's point about Ohio, there are nine states that George W. Bush carried that Barack Obama picked up. If he lost eight of them and held Ohio, he still gets reelected president.

Within Ohio, the one I'm looking at, not only the governor, Ted Strickland, who's in the fight of his life, but John Boccieri, who's a young Iraq War veteran, a decorated combat pilot, a congressman now from northeast Ohio, seat been held by Republicans for 60 years. He may be the only Democrat that can hold it, but he is in a neck-and- neck race with a Republican named Jim Renacci, a local businessman. That to me is the most exciting race in the country.

WALLACE: That's so sad. I was out there last weekend. Have you been Googling all night, to find one that looks good?

(CROSSTALK)

Belcher: I'm going to jump -- you know, to stay on the Ohio bandwagon, I think Ohio is an awfully important state, although, I think increasingly, battlegrounds, Colorados, New Mexicos, Nevadas, they are the future battlegrounds of America. But Ohio is awfully important.

And I think, sort of whether or not Republicans have a tsunami or just a strong sort of tie is we're going to succeed to bear it out in Ohio. Because I know that's where the DNC has put an awful lot of money and troops on the ground there, and hopefully, they've been able to push back in some of the early vote.

Ohio won another congressional district that you have on your top 100 to watch. That's another sort of bellwether place in Ohio. That's a district that to me sort of symbolizes sort of the Obama surge of fact onto the flipping over seats. And right now, we're going to early vote right now. Looking at some of the base groups there, 37 percent of the early voters right now, African-American. They make up only 27 of the electric.

I think the DNC and the Democratic Party is doing a lot of good work on the ground. And is it going to be enough to stop this from being a tsunami? That's what we'll find out tomorrow.

CASTELLANOS: I think the whole Senate is fascinating. The possibility that the Senate could even come close. Look how big...

COOPER: You know happening in the Senate?

CASTELLANOS: No, I don't think so. I thought we had a shot a couple of weeks ago, but not now.

But nevertheless, what's the difference between the House and the Senate? Only a third of the Senate is up. Imagine if everything, all 100 seats were up. Republicans would be picking up at least, what, 18 to 21 seats, and it would be a bigger gain even than the House. That's tremendous.

And within that, I'm looking at two states, Florida and I'm looking at California. We have Hispanic, a new generation of Hispanic Republicans coming up. Brian Sandoval, running against Harry Reid's son in Nevada.

BELCHER: California, Alex?

CASTELLANOS: Now, Florida, because we have Marco Rubio. Suzanna Martinez, governor of New Mexico. There's a new prop (ph). Carly Fiorina, outside a Republican business woman, she just has this much under water. That's one I hope we're watching late.

GERGEN: What difference -- I have a lot of people ask me, OK, could Republicans take the House if they don't take the Senate? What difference does it make whether they take the Senate a lot?

CASTELLANOS: Politically, it makes a lot of difference. It still leaves the Republicans with a, I think, a simpler case at the outsiders. And it leaves Obama, you know -- we have the brake pedal and Obama has the accelerator and the steering wheel.

That means for the next two years Republican is going to be cut taxes, repeal health care, send stuff to Obama that he has to veto and send back. And that leaves Obama more vulnerable.

I'd still rather govern, Republicans to win as much as they can and try to do what's right for the country. Would it be better politically? It might be. You can make the case it would be better for Republicans. If -- to get a Republican president in 2012.

COOPER: We've got to leave it there. Cornell Belcher, Alex Castellanos, Paul Begala; Nicolle Wallace; Erick Erickson; David Gergen. Thank you all. I appreciate it.

Still ahead, a dramatic day in the Chandra Levy trial. Former congressman Gary Condit Asked about his affair with the Washington intern, we'll tell you how he responded.

And eight years after she was kidnapped from her bedroom in Utah, Elizabeth Smart preparing to testify at the trial of her kidnappers.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Got a bunch of other stories we're following right now. Joe Johns joins us again with a "360 News & Business Bulletin" -- Joe.

JOHNS: Anderson, former congressman Gary Condit testified today in the trial of the man accused of killing Chandra Levy in 2001. Condit allegedly had an affair with the Washington intern, but he refused to tell the court if he had sex with her. Condit did admit they talked by phone a few times a week. He also said they never had a fight.

In federal court in Utah, jury selection began today in the trial of the man accused of kidnapping Elizabeth Smart more than eight years ago. Brian David Mitchell's attorneys will use the insanity defense. Smart, who is now 22 years old, is expected to testify at the trial.

AIG is starting to pay back American taxpayers after raising nearly 37 billion through the sale of one insurance subsidiary and the initial public offering of a second. AIG received more than $180 billion in federal bailout money.

Actor Zach Galifianakis stunned viewers of HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher" on Friday when he appeared to smoke pot while talking about California Proposition 19, which would legalize marijuana for personal use. But Maher told CNN today it wasn't a joint. Otherwise, he would have smoked it. He said he thought it was, quote, "cloves or something."

And congratulations to the San Francisco Giants, who moments ago, won the World Series!

But I've got to go back to the cloves or something. How many times did you hear that in the dorm when you were in college? You know, cloves? But it's not like this is Smell-a-vision or anything. So we'll never really know, will we?

COOPER: Have you ever seen Zach Galifiankis's show on "Funny or Die"? It's called "Between Two Palms?" It's very funny. JOHNS: I've hard about it, yes.

COOPER: He interviews celebrities and basically mocks them.

All right. Tonight's "Shot." We both know that live TV, sometimes odd things happen. Sometimes our colleagues won't let us forget those things. So one of the anchors of Canada's CTV reminded the weathercaster of his mishap. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Look who's back in the studio tonight. Tom Brown is with us, wearing his microphone, not holding it -- Tom.

TOM BROWN, METEOROLOGIST: Thank you very much, Michelle. Yes, the only thing I'm holding back is a warm, sunny day for your Saturday. Let's have a...

Three, 2, 1...

JOHNS: What was that?

BROWN: OK! OK! OK!

JOHNS: He's throwing pumpkins at the polar bears?

BROWN: It went in the polar bear pool. No polar bears were hurt.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: Good, grief.

COOPER: Yes. You know apparently the mike was attached to the ball. He let it go. He seemed a little miffed.

A lot more ahead at the top of the hour starting with the supersized version of our political panel and a politician injecting race into the campaign in these final days of "Keeping Them Honest."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)