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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Midterm Election Outlook; Dems Cry "Witch Hunt" Over GOP Candidate Kemp's New Probe; CNN Polls: Dems Positioned for Big Midterm Wins Tomorrow. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired November 5, 2018 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:10]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: 'Twas the night before the election, and all through the House, Democrats were stirring, asking, do you think the polls are right this time?

THE LEAD starts right now.

With control of Congress on the line, and with the special counsel reporter on the horizon, President Trump continuing his scorched-earth campaign swing, playing to fears and even admitting that his focus on the migrant caravan is all about rallying his base.

With just hours to go, brand-new CNN polls giving us a possible glimpse of where the balance of power might be decided and who will decide where this country could be headed.

Plus, dead heat in the biggest swing state of them all, a race that could decide the control of the Senate, filling the airwaves with commercials swampier than the Everglades.

Welcome to THE LEAD, everyone. I'm Jake Tapper. This time tomorrow, we will be closing in on revealing the first results in the 2018 midterm elections.

So far, at least 31 million early or absentee ballots have been cast in the first nationwide test of the Trump presidency. At this point in the last midterms, in 2014, that number was only about 19 million. President Trump himself has been advising supporters to vote as if he is on the ballot.

It's an attempt to defy history and keep Republican control of Congress. To do so, political newcomer President Trump is throwing out the conventional playbook and bringing back his own, except now with less substance, and more fear.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They all say, speak about the economy. Speak about the economy. Well, we have the greatest economy in the history of our country, but sometimes it's not as exciting.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: What President Trump apparently does find exciting is fomenting fear and doling out falsehoods at a clip that seems dual- purposed, to also be a federal employment program for fact-checkers.

Here's the president falsely suggesting that Democrats invited this caravan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: And I think it's a good thing, maybe, that they did it. Did they energize our base, or what?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Last night, in Tennessee, the president rattled off a series of false claims about the leadership of the Democratic Party and their agenda, all within 60 seconds.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: They want to raise your taxes by double and even by triple. They want to take away your health care. They want to impose socialism on our country. Democrats want to invite caravan after caravan of illegal aliens to pour into our country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: So that's false, false, false, and false.

There was once a time when politicians could be shamed away from blatant lies. But that time seems a distant memory. The president paints a picture of Democratic control of Congress that is as nonsensical as it is dystopian, with a healthy wallop of racial division, talking about marauding hordes of undocumented Latinos, causing the country to become overrun with criminals.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Even you in Montana, you're not going to be able to walk around. You will be locking those doors, you will be locking those windows.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Right.

The president's latest ad is so full of falsehoods, so racially incendiary, not only CNN, but NBC and Facebook and FOX News -- FOX News -- are refusing to air it. Contemplate that for a second.

Now, as a purely political matter, it may be that this ploy works in rallying the president's base and saving some House and Senate seats. But Republican officials in Washington are worried about the impact on also serving to rally Democratic voters and turn off swing voters in those key suburban districts.

Now, some Republicans hope the strong economic numbers are what the public will ultimately pay attention to. Unemployment at 3.7 percent, a 49-year low. Hispanic unemployment at its lowest rate ever. Wages at a relatively robust growth after years of stagnant paychecks.

Republicans hope voters focus on that and not on the normalizing of demonization of undocumented immigrants, bald-faced lying, violations of basic decency.

In a matter of hours, the American people will get the final say.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is in Cleveland, Ohio, where President Trump finished one of his final three rallies before Election Day. And Kaitlan, you're learning that the White House, White House officials have advised the president to brace for Republican losses in the House.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake.

Inside the White House, they do not feel confident at all about keeping the House. And they're trying to temper the president's expectations ahead of tomorrow.

Now, President Trump has been insistent that these midterms are not a referendum on him and his agenda. But he told the crowd here in Cleveland, and I'm quoting him now, "In a sense, I am on the ticket."

[16:05:07]

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS (voice-over): President Trump delivering his closing argument in a final three-state Midwest mad dash before voters head to the polls.

TRUMP: I think we're doing great in the House. I think we're doing great in the Senate. But who knows?

COLLINS: Despite what Republicans had hoped for, the president's final message has been light on the booming economy.

TRUMP: America now has the hottest economy on Earth.

COLLINS: But heavy on immigration.

TRUMP: That's an invasion.

COLLINS: As he continues to paint a dark picture of a caravan of migrants still hundreds of miles away from the U.S./Mexico border.

TRUMP: These are rough, rough people in many cases.

COLLINS: Those remarks coming as NBC, FOX News and Facebook have all decided to stop running a controversial ad paid for by the Trump campaign and widely criticized as racist because it ties an illegal immigrant convicted of murdering police officers to the caravan.

NARRATOR: Dangerous, illegal criminals like cop killer Luis Bracamontes don't care about our laws.

COLLINS: Trump said today he hadn't heard it was being pulled.

TRUMP: A lot of things are offensive. Your questions are offensive a lot of times.

COLLINS: Even though he says the midterms aren't a referendum on him, Trump urging his supporters to mobilize.

TRUMP: In a certain way, I am on the ballot. Whether we consider it or not, the press is very much considering it a referendum on me and us as a movement.

COLLINS: The president visiting three more states he won in 2016 today, starting in Ohio, then on to Indiana and Missouri, where he will joined by right-wing firebrands Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.

The president is ramping up his attacks on Democrats in the final days.

TRUMP: Democrats want to invite caravan after caravan.

COLLINS: As he goes head-to-head with former President Barack Obama.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They're telling us that the single-most grave threat to America is a bunch of, like, poor, impoverished, broke, hungry refugees 1,000 miles away.

COLLINS: Obama didn't mention Trump by name. But he didn't have to.

OBAMA: Unlike some people, I don't just make stuff up when I'm talking.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: I have got facts to back me up.

COLLINS: With voters set to deliver their verdict on his first two years in office, sources tell CNN White House aides have braced the president for a loss in the House, but feel hopeful they can hold on to the Senate. President Trump is hedging his bets.

TRUMP: The difference is, I can't campaign for all of those House members. There's so many of them.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Now, Jake, President Trump just wrapped up after an hour here in Ohio. He's going on to Indiana, then Missouri. He's been campaigning nonstop the last two weeks, two or three rallies a day.

But I'm told by someone inside the White House he has nothing on his schedule tomorrow. He's going to sit back and watch and see if all this campaigning has paid off, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Kaitlan Collins at the Trump rally, thank you so much.

Let's talk about this with our experts.

And, Scott Jennings, Politico is reporting that House Speaker Paul Ryan called the president this weekend and begged him to focus on the economy, instead of these fears of the caravan that he is stoking.

Obviously, Speaker Ryan concerned that this might turn off some key voters in swing districts.

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Sure.

The suburban House districts, where people are worried about maybe in October the stock market going down, and they're worried about the state of the economy, they want to see the president focus on the good news in the economy.

I think, frankly, the president had it right a few weeks ago when he was saying, Democrats create mobs, Republicans create jobs. That was his own special kind of branding. I thought they had it right, and he sort of abandoned it after a few days.

But it was -- I think it was really working out there. I will tell you that his immigration issue is certainly potent in some areas, and the reason I know it is because Democrats are also using it in the middle of the country.

But for the suburban House districts, I think Paul Ryan has it right. Shoring up the suburban white-collar Republicans on the economy is really where the Republican campaign ought to be.

TAPPER: So CNN, Kirsten, CNN, FOX, Facebook and NBC have all pulled that Web video, the racially charged Web video from the air. It was also full of falsehoods.

The president was asked about the ad and whether or not it was offensive before he left Washington this afternoon. Take a listen to his response.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We have a lot of ads. And they certainly are effective, based on the numbers that we're seeing. A lot of things are offensive. Your questions are offensive.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: So his response seemed -- by the way, Josh's questions are not offensive.

But the point seemed to be, it's effective. Forget about whether or not it's...

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN COMMENTATOR: Exactly.

[16:10:00]

And I think the fact that FOX News pulled it tells us a lot about it, because they're so in the tank for him. And so I think he's doing this because he thinks it's effective and he seems to have made a calculation probably they have lost the suburban white women. And so he's going to go towards -- white educated women.

And so he's going towards his base. I have to say, he sort of knew what he was doing last time. So we will have to wait and see, I think, when we see the polls. He was going to, if history is any guide, probably not do very well anyway to start with. And so he seems to have made a calculation that he's going to try and shore up his base where he can.

TAPPER: So we did see a similar play in the Virginia governor's race last year, Ralph Northam, the current governor, the Democrat, against Ed Gillespie. Ed Gillespie closed out his argument with fears of undocumented immigrants and the like.

It didn't work. You know, people came out to vote for Ed, but it turned off many more voters in districts in Northern Virginia, like where you live, than it did drive up the base.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right.

And Virginia is a purple -- a more purple state, where those areas of Northern Virginia, you have to worry about that kind of voter. And I would say also that the ad spending all over the country, if you look at Republican ads, reflects the fact that they don't want to be talking about this principally.

The only places where it dominates ads are sort of a bit on Texas and the border, a bit in Arizona and a couple California districts, right, where this is really an issue on the ground.

Now, Republicans do lead on the issue of border security, and are more even with Democrats on the issue of immigration in general. So it's not a terrible place to be talking about something, if you could do it in a delicate way.

But I think, ironically, the Kavanaugh fight and some of the behavior from Democrats, I think actually charged up some Republicans and more moderate Republicans in those exurban and suburban districts and now this is the kind of thing that's perfectly calculated to make them stay home again.

TAPPER: Do you agree with that?

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes.

I think that -- I have been in Virginia 10. I was just knocking on doors with Paul Begala down there at lunch. We have -- I have gone to Cincinnati, I have gone to Williamsburg, New Jersey. And you look in these exurb, suburb districts, you look at Underwood

and right outside of Chicago,and what you're starting to see are people are turned off by the rhetoric. And that's the debate that keeps going back and forth. Civility and the rhetoric. And because the president is ending on this message and because the president is not talking about jobs -- look, we can have an argument about who created this economy, when did it start.

But he actually has a message that says the economy is still here. The wages are still growing. Unemployment rates are still decreasing. But he would rather talk about brown people demonizing this country, and that is turning people off. People are growing weary of it, and especially where you have college-educated white voters in these suburbs exurbs.

And that's where Democrats are going to make up the ground. And that's where Democrats are going to take back the House. It's going to be a lot more difficult for Joe Donnelly and Claire McCaskill in the United States Senate. But this closing message, it's Trumpism. He's never changed.

And this is a referendum on Trumpism. And it's two different parts of the country clashing on him tomorrow.

POWERS: I have to say, this is a particularly bad thing that he's doing. But he's done so many other things that I just have to wonder, if he wasn't doing this, would it really change that much with those voters, right?

HAM: No, I think that is a question, whether this is baked in, and people think, well, that was going to happen regardless. I think that's a real issue.

TAPPER: Unless you think, as you seem to be -- the argument you were making a few minutes ago, which is that motivation and enthusiasm depends on what's going on at that moment.

HAM: Yes. I do think on the margins, it is possible that what I felt with some Republicans that I think had not been in -- the heads in the game a couple weeks ago during the Kavanaugh hearings sort of turned on to the races and then, like I said, this seems perfectly suited to make them go, really, is this what we're doing?

TAPPER: You were talking about how it might help in some places.

JENNINGS: Sure.

TAPPER: You're not endorsing it, but you're saying it might help in some places.

Let me ask you. You're from Kentucky. One of the big races I'm going to be looking at tomorrow night -- the polls close at 6:00.

JENNINGS: Yes.

TAPPER: Is right outside Lexington or the Lexington area, rather, Andy Barr and McGrath, Amy McGrath.

Do you think this helps the Republican, this debate, in the Lexington area, or does it cut the other way, or do you know?

JENNINGS: You know, that race is so close.

The final "New York Times" poll had it 44-44 there. There's not really been that much other public polling. Both campaigns will tell you it's on a knife's edge. I talked to Andy Barr a little bit today. He feels good about the rural areas of the district. It's got urban Fayette County, Lexington.

And then the rest of it is fairly rural. So you have got a lot of different and diverse populations. The trick to winning for a Republican there is to get the rural vote energized and maximize it.

That's why Amy McGrath brought Joe Biden into Bath County, Kentucky, Owingsville, which is a very rural and small place. She's trying to tamp down what Andy is trying to do to run up the score.

I think that -- and the president came and he went to Richmond, which is not in Lexington either. So both campaigns understand, the whole game is whether Andy can run up the score in rural America. And I will be honest.

Right now, in those counties outside of Lexington, what Donald Trump says is still what goes. And Barr knows it.

TAPPER: Although who knows what the standard is in terms of the effect this will have.

Bakari, the latest CNN poll finds the president approval rating is at 39 percent, which is a record low going back to President Eisenhower. Seven in 10 voters say they will be sending a message to President Trump this election.

Twenty-eight percent of likely voters said their vote would be a message of support, compared to 42 percent who said their vote would send a message of opposition.

[16:5:03]

Now, we should point out, that 39 percent is something of an outlier. Some of the other polls released have him in the low 40s, not the high 30s. But still, that's not where you want to be if you're --

SELLERS: That's an albatross. If you're a candidate running a race -- if you're Karen Handel in the outskirts of Atlanta, that's an albatross around your neck having to go out and campaign and carry the message and the proverbial water for somebody who has a 39 percent approval rating who goes on national TV doing his rallies and lies about everything. And now we're talking about rhetoric.

There are a few other things that have happened that we have not mentioned. You had the two black individuals in Kentucky who were killed because they were black and then we had the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. And we also had the pipe bombs.

And so, when you look at all of these things as a collection, they're not events, as the president wants to call them, to stop momentum. That is just the terror that is kind of baked into our country right now, and the tragedy in all of those isms we're trying to reject. So there are a lot of people who look at this race as not just rejecting Trumpism, but rejecting anti-Semitism, rejecting bigotry, rejecting xenophobia, and all of those things that I'm not saying he is these things, but all of those things who somehow find a way to get close to him and find a home in his message.

TAPPER: All right. We'll have more on that coming up.

He's a Republican running for governor in Georgia. He's also in charge of overseeing elections in the state. And he just lobbed a grenade into this closely watched race.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:20:08] TAPPER: Into an election where allegations of voter suppression have loomed large, Republican gubernatorial candidate and Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, a man charged with overseeing the state's elections, including his own, threw a curveball, announcing an investigation into the Georgia Democratic Party, claiming without any real evidence that Democrats tried to hack the state's voter registration file.

Now, Democrats say Kemp's claims are completely without merit, that a voter brought to their attention a vulnerability in the system, and they told Kemp about it, only to see him turn around and use it for dirty politics, they say. CNN has the e-mails Kemp is pointing to as evidence, and they do seem to back what Democrats are saying, showing Georgia Democrats passing along concerns to his office, not saying that they tried to hack anything.

CNN's Kaylee Hartung is joining me now.

And, Kaylee, all of this unfolding on the eve of election day. Is this impacting the final day of campaigning?

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Not really, Jake. The drama continues in this campaign, and sure, both candidates use today to continue to appeal to their polarized bases with the rhetoric and responses to this controversy. But otherwise both campaigns telling me they tried to stick to the issues, that they know will motivate voters to go to the polls in this deadlocked race.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HARTUNG (voice-over): In the final hours of one of the most contentious and high-profile campaigns of this election cycle, a political firestorm rages. Republican candidate for Georgia governor and sitting secretary of state, Brian Kemp, requesting an investigation into the Georgia Democratic Party for a failed attempt at hack of the state's voter registration system.

BRIAN KEMP (R), GEORGIA SECRETARY OF STATE/GEORGIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not worried about how it looks. I'm doing my job. This is how we would handle any investigation when something like this comes up.

HARTUNG: Kemp's office has not provided any evidence of a hack or even an attempted hack. But they say a chain of e-mails between state Democratic Party operatives and cyber security experts discussing a massive vulnerability in the system sparked the investigation. Those e-mails obtained by CNN indicate that rather than taking part in any alleged hack, the Georgia Democrats have simply passed along information regarding potential security flaws from a Georgia voter to a private cyber security firm, which in turn shared its concerns with Kemp's office.

His Democratic challenger, Stacey Abrams, defending her party.

STACEY ABRAMS (D), GEORGIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: It's wrong to call it an investigation. It's a witch hunt that was created by someone who is abusing his power.

HARTUNG: The Democratic state party denies any wrongdoing and says they have not been contacted by law enforcement. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation today say they're opening a probe. Abrams saying this is a political stunt to deflect from potential vulnerabilities in the voting system.

ABRAMS: Brian Kemp was notified there was yet another flaw in the election security system. Instead of owning up to it, taking responsibility and seeking a way to fix the flaw, he instead decided to blame Democrats.

HARTUNG: punches thrown by the candidates and their most prominent supporters.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If Stacey Abrams gets in, your second amendment is -- gone.

HARTUNG: If elected, Abrams would not have the power to change a constitutional amendment. Kemp refusing to step down from his role as the state's top election official. Democrats calling this a conflict of interest, and claiming Kemp pushed voter suppression.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT: Stacey's opponent has already been caught multiple times.

(BOOS)

Don't boo! Vote!

HARTUNG: The star power that's inundated Georgia unprecedented. So too are the early voting numbers. Georgians have already cast more than 2 million early ballots, more than twice the amount to this point in the last midterm election.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HARTUNG: Records have been broken at the polls and in fund-raising. But this race remains too close to call. Jake, something we need to keep in mind tomorrow night, a hitch here, being there is a third- party candidate running in this race. If no one receives a majority of the votes cast, all this drama will carry us to a December 4th runoff.

TAPPER: A runoff! The devil, you say.

Kaylee Hartung, thanks so much.

Are Democrats in good position to gain a political check on President Trump? The latest snapshot on the race to control Congress, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:28:11] TAPPER: Before election results start rolling in, new CNN polls may -- may give us an early indication of what we might see tomorrow night. Let's bring in CNN's Phil Mattingly.

And, Phil, start with the new poll for a generic congressional ballot. Now, obviously, policy didn't quite hold true in 2016, but history might back up the results of this one.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and I think what we're looking at right now is a clear Democratic advantage. You look at the new CNN/SSRS poll today, had Democrats on a generic ballot leading by 13 points. That's a sizeable number.

You want to go back to 2010, there was a Republican wave. Republicans were up by about 10 or 11 points within the margin of error here.

Now, there's other polls, the NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll, "Washington Post" have it around seven. There is a difference that matters. If it's around seven, Democrats can probably still win the House, potential problems over in the Senate. If it's at 13, you're talking about a potential wave type of issue.

What I'm being told, it's somewhere in the middle. You can see the numbers clearly give Democrats an advantage. The question now is, what kind of advantage will they have going into tomorrow night?

TAPPER: How much of this vote is about President Trump?

MATTINGLY: You know, the interesting thing we polled through out poll was, first off, look at the top line approval ratings. Right now a poll of polls, this is all of our polls together, CNN and other entities as well, 43 percent approval rating. This raises alarm bells if you're a Republican going into this.

One of the things that made Republicans start to feel a little bit more comfortable a couple of weeks ago was that this number started to tick up to 45, 46. That matters, particularly in some of those house suburban districts, white collar districts. Forty-three percent, that's a warning sign, particularly if it continues to drop. Take a look historically at what we're looking at here. You go

through past presidents and where they were going into midterms, traditionally -- first-term presidents, first midterm, they're going to take a hit.

You have 2010, President Obama got wiped out. Where was he sitting? Right around 46 percent.

TAPPER: OK.

MATTINGLY: Around the area of where President Trump is now, a little bit higher. Bill Clinton, 1994, another 50-plus seat wipeout, 46 percent as well.

TAPPER: I'm old enough to remember both of these nights, by the way. They were bloodbaths.

MATTINGLY: I was around.

TAPPER: You were alive.

MATTINGLY: I was covering 2010.

TAPPER: OK. OK.

MATTINGLY: I was covering. But no, but you see these numbers do have a direct correlation. I think that's why people are keyed on this right now.

TAPPER: OK. So, when the polls start closing and the votes are coming, what are you going to be looking at? Which House races?