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INSIDE POLITICS

Tight Race in Arizona and Nevada; Immigration Important to Voters; Trump on the Trail; Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired October 31, 2018 - 12:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:00:23] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

President Trump hits the road and brings new meaning to the term campaign stretch. Immigration is his top priority. Sticking to the facts, not so much.

Nancy Pelosi drops her caution and says Democrats will retake control of the House. Should she be so confident?

Turnout is the focus in this final week. And for many Republicans, that means skip the good economic news and channel the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The caravan is coming. Some say criminals among them. But there's Beto O'Rourke cheering them on. Welcome in, stay a while, don't be paranoid Beto tells us, complaining there's too much border security.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The caravan is coming yet Bredesen is too liberal to care.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not a threat to our security.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who is tough enough to secure our border?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We begin the hour with the midterm map and some new math in the fight to control the Senate. When it comes to the Senate, it is advantage Republicans heading into these final days. But perhaps a sliver of hope here for the Democrats.

If the Democrats are going to have any shot of seizing control of the Senate, emphasis on if because it's a big if, they must win seats now in Republican hands. Seats like Tennessee. Seats like Nevada. Seats like Arizona. Long shot hopes for Texas seem to be fading. They've got to win two or three of those.

We have some new polling out here in the western states today. Let's take a look at it. Let's start in the state of Arizona. Kyrsten Sinema, the Democratic candidate in our brand new CNN poll releasing right now, ahead 51-47 over Congresswoman Martha McSally. Now, this was a seven point race in September, a four point race now. So the Democrats are ahead. The Republican, though, is a little bit closer. Although talking to Republicans in the last 24 hours in Arizona, they're worried about this one. But a very close competitive race. Democrats still in the hunt in a state they must win if they have any hope -- any hope of retaking the Senate. That's Arizona. Pretty much a dead heat, maybe slight advantage Democrats into the end.

Now, Nevada. Again, the Democrat, Jacky Rosen, leading here 48 percent over the most vulnerable Senate Republican incumbent Dean Heller, 48- 45. A three point race now. That was a four point race in September. That's what this one has been for quite some time, locked to the end.

I was in Nevada yesterday. Senator Heller believes he's going to pull this one out. We will see. Look how close this one is. Now, again, Democrats could take a sliver of hope in the fact they're leading, even within the margin of error in both of those states.

This is one of the reasons Republicans think, maybe we pull both of these out in the end. Look at the president's standing. The president's approval rating in Arizona, 47 percent in our new poll, up 8 points from September. In Nevada, the president at 49 percent, up four points from September. Republicans think the president focusing on Senate races, as he is in these final days, are helping them in some of the key battlegrounds. Democrats hoping those narrow leads will hold up on Election Day.

Look at here in Nevada. It's 2018, right? The ads sounds like 2016.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Dean Heller, who promised to vote against the plan to repeal Obamacare because it would hurt Nevada. But when President Trump put the pressure on --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You weren't there, but you're going to be -- you're going to be.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Dean Heller got back in line

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A liberal and a lock step partisan, just like Clinton.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I am a Hillary person.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: With me today to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Abby Phillip, Carl Hulse with "The New York Times," David Drucker with "The Washington Examiner," and "Politico's" Rachael Bade.

I was in Nevada yesterday and it's -- the ads are just off the charts. I said Dean Heller briefly and I said, you're either God or you're Satan. I can't quite figure that out from watching television. But when you look at these polls, you look at these polls, statistical

ties essentially. You could say slight advantage to the Democrats. Most of the calculation in this town is that the Republicans are -- most likely will hold the Senate, maybe even gain a seat or two, some think three. Is that right?

DAVID DRUCKER, SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "WASHINGTON EXAMINER": I think it is right. I think that when you look at the Senate playing field, I think Republicans are a lock to hold the majority. The question is, can they gain a couple of seats? And so that's why Arizona and Nevada become so important. It's the two areas where Democrats have a real chance to flip the seat, oust Republicans and therefore hold down their losses because I think North Dakota's gone. I think Missouri's gone. And I think Indiana's on the verge of being gone. The other two seats we're going to look at where the Senate shakes out are Montana and West Virginia, where I think maybe you give a slight edge to the Democratic incumbents, more so with Manchin than with Tester, but it's just a tough map for Democrats. It always has been. And in retrospect, if we didn't know it then, the Kavanaugh hearings really helped seal the deal for Republicans in a lot of these states where we expected them do well anyway.

[12:05:05] KING: Right, help them energize. Without a doubt, helped them energize their voters. (INAUDIBLE) big questions, Montana. Some people thought maybe the Republican would win. Now, you're right, that they think the Democrat will eek it out. Maybe the Kavanaugh thing fading a bit.

I just want to look at some of the polling because if you're -- a lot of people -- the president knows he's an issue. It's a midterm election. The president's always an issue. Some presidents sort of stay at the White House. This president is out everywhere. This president is talking about immigration.

Look at our poll among likely Republican voters. In Arizona, look how much immigration has jumped as an important issue. In Nevada, look how much immigration has jumped as an important issue. So the president staking essentially his part of his election on his 2016 reflexes. And in those states, it's risky in the sense that you have big Latino populations. Both Nevada and Arizona. So as you energize the Trump base, you do run the risk of energizing the other side.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's true. I do think, though, that the president is staking this on his powers of persuasion over his own people, which we know is extremely strong. I think that's what this -- these numbers really demonstrate is that when the president focuses on an issue that is resonant with his base, he can sway their opinions on this issue. He can push it up to the front of the line. And that can make a big difference for his base.

But to your point, Democrats, you know, this is particularly (INAUDIBLE) with the birth -- the birth issue with whether you can become a citizen in the United States if you're born here. Things like that start to really stick in the craw of Democrats. It really starts to kind of push over the line from just energizing your base to really antagonizing your opponents. And in some of these border states, you mind find that it has the opposite effect where you -- or rather you might have some diminishing returns as you keep pushing forward.

CARL HULSE, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Yes, I agree with that.

RACHAEL BADE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "POLITICO": What that has also done -- what that has also done, though, is divide Republicans. You saw "The Wall Street Journal" today sort of the scorekeeper when it comes to Republican ideals and claims coming out and saying this whole notion that the president wants to get rid of birthright citizenship, that goes against the Constitution. You had Speaker Paul Ryan push back against on -- against that and a bunch of Republicans in sort of swing districts in the House say you can't do that. So, you know, that, he was trying to, again, continue the success he has had in changing the conversation from things like health care that hurt Republicans, to things like immigration that help Republicans and have energized the base and made a lot of these races closer. But did he overstep with this because right now they're fighting?

HULSE: Yes, I think that --

KING: We'll find out -- we'll find out on Tuesday.

And, number one, one thing we should also note, in 37 states people can vote early. So sometimes these things happen in the last week.

HULSE: (INAUDIBLE) voting (INAUDIBLE).

KING: And if you've already voted (INAUDIBLE) too late.

HULSE: No, all I was going to say is that this is the story of this election. What helps in the Senate hurts in the House.

KING: Right.

DRUCKER: Yes.

KING: Right.

HULSE: And this is just the way it's been breaking the entire way.

So, yes, this probably helps him a little bit in some of these places. But in the House races in Florida and California, you know, this is the kind of thing that turns Democratic voters on.

The one thing I wanted to say about Nevada too, John, and you know this, there's a bit of a Democratic machine there with Harry Reid, that he has put in place over the years, and they've managed to pull out some elections in the past, including his own, which he probably should have lost. And I think that that's a factor here. We have to see how well that they can -- they can get their voter.

KING: And to that point, we focused on some of the good ads. We focus on the president's rallies. We'll talk more about those in a minute, as we should, focus on the big activities out in the campaign. In the final week of a campaign, though, it's all about mechanics. Each campaign says we think we need this many votes to win. Here's our list. Let's find them. Let's text them. Let's grab them by the ear. If we can get them to early vote, we vote. So they're all focused on that right now as we look at these (INAUDIBLE).

We mentioned immigration up as an issue. Look at this, the same poll, Arizona and Nevada, health care among Democrats. This is where they're spending all their money, on TV ads. It's a big part of their speeches. And you see here, health care among likely Democratic voters in both of those states, health care jumping up again. It is a motivating force.

Am I naive to think elections are held in a democracy to litigate issues? So if the Republicans win Nevada and Arizona, can the president say in the lame duck, I want my wall money and I want it now, I want more border security, I raised immigration, we won? And the flipside, if the Democrats carry these seats, will there be a message in Washington to do some health care legislation?

HULSE: Well, I mean, I think the lame duck is going to depend a lot on what happens in the election, as it always does. And everything turns on a dime Wednesday when we know the results.

I think the Democrats really found an issue with health care that they were surprised that it had the resonance that it did and that the -- you can see it in the way the Republicans have had to fight back against it. I mean it really -- so I think that there's not going to be a big race by Republicans no matter what happens in the Senate to go, boy, you know what, this election showed us, let's go repeal Obamacare. I don't think so.

DRUCKER: The irony, by the way, is eight years after Democrats lost the House majority, largely because of Obamacare, six years -- or four years after the lest the Senate majority, largely because of Obamacare, Democrats are now running proudly on Obamacare and it's Republicans that are largely on the defensive. Yes, it's about pre- existing conditions and lifetime caps. It doesn't matter. You look at these ads and this thing for them is finally paying off, or at least appears like it might really pay off. And it's amazing to see how the script has flipped when you look at how damaging the entire health care effort was for them during the Obama years.

[12:10:21] BADE: That's right. Republicans have clearly already learned the lesson, do not touch preexisting conditions. They are out on the trail right now saying that they voted to protect people with preexisting conditions, which is 100 percent false. I covered the health care repeal effort in the House and I remember specifically when they put in the language giving insurance companies and allowing states to opt out of these requirements that they cover certain people. And so the fact that they are actually, you know, changing and changing their position and saying, oh, you know, we voted for this to protect people, I think they've learned a lesson here, even if they do keep the House and Senate.

DRUCKER: John, speaking of policy, it show you how much Obamacare turned out to change health care policy in America. Americans now expect --

KING: Right.

DRUCKER: Preexisting conditions to be covered. So whatever else you want to say about the law, and there's plenty to say positive and negative, it fundamentally changed how Americans look at health care and it is fundamentally changing the politics of health care.

KING: Right, without a doubt. Without a doubt.

One more example. We just showed you the president's approval rating up in Nevada, up in Arizona.

Here's another race. This is an NBC/Marist poll of another one of these races the Democrats thought maybe -- still think maybe -- we can pull out a victory in Tennessee. But look at the numbers now. Marsha Blackburn 51, Phil Bredesen 46. Compared to 48-46 a little while ago.

Again, every -- when the president goes from 36 to 42, some people think, well, he's still in the low 40s. Every bit -- inch the president goes up, it helps Republican candidates. Especially, you made the point, the House and the Senate are very different beasts.

I want to sneak in an ad here from Joe Donnelly. You mentioned, this is one of the races we're going to watch till the end. If Republicans can pick up -- he's one of those Trump state Democrats, the president won Indianan by 20 plus points, can Joe Donnelly hang on? One of the ways -- elections in the midterms especially are about the base, right? Republicans trying to turn out their core voters, Democrats their core voters. Joe Donnelly, in the end, trying to stake out ground in the middle.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOE DONNELLY (D), INDIANA: Bet you never heard this in a political ad. I may not be the candidate for you. If you're part of the extremes in either party, the anger, hyper partisanship and violence, I'm not that guy. There's only one way we can get on with building a wall or improving health care, stop demonizing the other side, work with both parties and bring America together.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: You could cast that as an appeal to independence. You could cast that as a Hail Mary, I've got a problem and I'm in a very Republican state. Let me throw this one up and see if it works.

DRUCKER: Yes, look, I spent some time with Joe Donnelly in Indiana over the summer and I think what you're seeing in that ad is the real Joe Donnelly. But when you have to put that in an ad down the stretch, it usually means that you're in a lot of trouble because the political winds of the state are against you and you're trying to do everything you can to convince people that you're not the other team, that they can feel comfortable with you.

And I think that as Mike Braun has become more known, I think that was always his biggest challenge. I think the political fundamentals of this red state are taking hold in the same way that they did in 2016 when Todd Young ended up beating Evan Bayh.

KING: Right. And we'll --

PHILLIP: And as pointed out, when President Trump's approval rating improves, that helps those fundamental dynamics. And I think we should also not forget the thing that we haven't been talking about in the last several weeks, which is the Russia investigation, and that always helps President Trump when that isn't hanging over his head as much as it was, for example, in the heat of the summer when there was a lot going on, there were indictments, people pleading guilty, people being found guilty. I think the president has benefitted from this last stretch being focused on Kavanaugh, now immigration, allowing some of these folks in states that they should win in to have those fundamentals be the thing that rules the day.

KING: And we'll follow up on that in a minute because the president's about to hit the road. A very busy part of the campaign's last act.

As we go to break, listen to this, new confidence from Nancy Pelosi about the Democrats' odds of retaking the House.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), MINORITY LEADER: Let me say this, up until today I would have said if the election were held today we would win.

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE LATE SHOW": What happened today that changed that?

PELOSI: What -- now I'm saying is, we will win.

COLBERT: Please don't say that. Do you want to say that on Hillary's fireworks barge that she cancelled? Please, please, please don't say that.

PELOSI: We will win.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:18:34] KING: Welcome back.

The president back on the trail. Tonight, Fort Meyers, Florida. It's the first of 11 rallies he'll hold between now and Election Day. On the itinerary, eight states, Missouri tomorrow, a pair of rallies in West Virginia and Indiana on Friday, weekend rallies in Montana, Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee. Stops in Ohio, back to Indiana and Missouri as well to close out the campaign. Just look at the map. The president's overwhelming focus is on states he won big and on keeping the Senate red. The White House brushing off any suggestion the president is not an asset when it comes to the fight for the House.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We've done a lot for the House. These are also places where the president's overwhelmingly popular in those locations. And I think that the president's the best messenger for the party. He's had an incredible, historic first two years in office and he has a great story to tell. And he's been doing that all over the country for the last several months.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: It's her job to defend the president and she does it well. The idea that he's not an asset in House races. There are some. There are some, but those aren't competitive. The ones the Republicans are going to win where the president would be an asset, they're already going to win them. You're not going to see the president in New Jersey. You're not going to see the president in Pennsylvania. You're not going to see the president in a suburb anywhere. You're going to see the president in red states, which is, to his credit, you make the decision the last week of the campaign, where can I help, stay away from where I hurt, right?

PHILLIP: Yes, definitely. I mean it's pretty clear, based on this map, that he's not going in places where there's a chance that there isn't going to be a competitive race because these districts are so much smaller, the issues are more localized to the populations. And, you know, if you have a suburban district, even right outside of Washington, D.C., in Virginia, the president cannot go there. He cannot be helpful to a Barbara Comstock at this moment.

[12:20:17] So -- so the White House is being prudent. And the president's being helpful to them by basically obliging. Basically saying, you know what, you want me here, I'm going to go here, and he's going to say exactly what they want he to say for the most part.

KING: That's a bad -- that's a bad --

PHILLIP: For the most part. Up until -- well, really, up until this point, I mean, he's been remarkably disciplined on the campaign trail in a way that has made Republicans pretty happy. I mean he has his wild, ruckus campaign rallies, but he's delivering the message, he's riling up the base and I think they're OK with that as long as he's not sticking his foot in races where he's not wanted.

KING: And we just talked about the Arizona and the Nevada races. Our Jeff Zeleny had reporting that, you know, the president -- those campaigns said, please don't come back. I talked to Senator Heller yesterday. He was grateful the president came. He said the president helped a lot up in Elco (ph), northwest corner of the state. He doesn't want the president anywhere near Las Vegas at this point because of the Latino (INAUDIBLE). You know, the plus sometimes brings a minus. And that the White House is listening. This has not been a White House known for a sharp political operation in the first two years. Near the end here they are getting more points.

DRUCKER: I think that the real remarkable thing about President Trump over the past year is that he's really embraced the role of party leader. And if we can look back a year ago, he's constantly fighting with Republicans in Congress, targeting them more than he's targeting Democrats. Talk to Republican insiders at the time and they'll tell you that he wasn't very helpful with raising money. He wasn't really helpful at party building. That's why Mike Pence was doing so much. And what have you seen over the last year? You've seen this transition to where he's embraced his role, whether it's raising money and sending it to the campaign committees, going out on the trail where he can help, and, as Abby said, not going where he's not going to be helpful because if they lose the House it's his fault.

KING: I was going to say, let's wait until Wednesday morning. You're right. You're absolutely right. But you said, Wednesday morning, we'll see if he starts the blame game.

DRUCKER: And -- well, it will just be his fault, even though he won't accept any blame, if they lose the House.

But I think it's important because if we still had a President Trump that was calling out Republican leaders in the House and saying how awful a job they were doing, I think Republicans in both chambers would be in a lot more trouble than they are today. And, in fact, in the Senate, they're not in really any trouble. In the House, we'd be looking, I think, more at a 50 seat wave than maybe, you know, a 30 seat wave, that that's possible.

KING: Right. And it's interesting. We have record low unemployment in the country. Good, strong economic growth reported just again by the government the other day.

But listen to the president on the road, and most Republicans in the final campaign ads, they're not talking about the economy. Instead, they're following the president's lead talking about the border.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Republicans want strong borders, no crime and no caravans, right? We don't want caravans. We're not having caravans.

As we speak, the Democrat Party is openly encouraging millions of illegal aliens to break our laws, violate our borders and bankrupt our country. Democrats' extreme immigration policies will overwhelm your schools, your hospitals and communities and strain public resources to the breaking point.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: If he's referring to the caravan, there aren't millions of illegal aliens to break our laws in the caravan. There are several thousand people who say they're seeking asylum. I'm sure there's some bad apples in the group. But the president, in the hyperbole, have met many times before.

The question is, does this work? Does this work? And it does seem to be ginning up Republican enthusiasm. It is enough? He trusts his instincts. And when people say focus on jobs, be bright, if you will, jobs, economy, growth, strength. He chooses, instead, to be dark, here they come, be afraid, the Democrats are with them. BADE: I think that Republicans think that it helps. It's better than

nothing. It doesn't hurt them by any means if they're changing the conversation to an issue where they feel like they can turn out their voters.

But, again, the question of whether it's going to be enough, I don't think that they are even convinced of that. You know, we've definitely seen a tone shift in the past week where Republicans were really excited about the possibility of keeping the House just a week ago, week and a half ago, saying, oh, you know, maybe a 30 percent chance. They seem to have, you know, stopped talking so hopefully privately.

KING: Yes. And you noted this earlier, the House speaker, he's leaving, but the House speaker, Paul Ryan, having to say, Mr. President, whoa, whoa, whoa, birthright citizenship, you went too far. We have a Constitution. You can't do that through executive action. Yes, if you want to send a bill up to Congress, fine, though we' think it's just fine as we are. That's the speaker.

Ryan Costello, again, he's leaving, so consider the source. A Republican who couldn't win re-election probably in his district who's leaving, says this of the president. We all know the challenges of suburban Republicans. The block of competitive Republican-held districts less impacted by POTUS thus far are those with high number of immigrants. So now, POTUS, out of nowhere, brings birthright citizenship up. Besides being a basic tenant of America, it is political malpractice.

[12:25:01] So you are seeing (INAUDIBLE) cracks in the Democratic Party arguing over, should we impeach if we win, what about Medicare for all if we win the house. There are a lot of cracks in the Republican Party too.

HULSE: But I think he's playing into his general overall theme her, let's make this about immigration. I give the president credit, honestly. He's a closer. He's out there. I know he likes doing these rallies. It's fun for him. But I don't remember President Obama or President Bush at that time going out and making this kind of effort when they were in danger of losing control of the House. In fact, they knew they were going to.

So, you know, he's out there in the places he needs to be. But I think the blame game will be a whole different story. On Wednesday it's going to be, I did everything I could and these guys really blew it.

DRUCKER: They didn't listen to me. If they would have only carried my message everywhere, you know, including suburban Denver and suburban Chicago, of course it would have worked. And it wouldn't have, but --

BADE: There are several districts where Democrats have sort of withdrawn their money. Republican held districts with large Latino populations that were -- basically Republicans had put away. So it will be interesting to see if this whole birthright citizenship totally changes that.

KING: All right, which district flips will tell you a lot about how the people on Capitol Hill process the results after, what they think they're supposed to do.

Up next for us, swamp talk. The interior secretary faces yet another investigation.

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