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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Election Day. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired November 6, 2018 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:15]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to a special Election Day edition of THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

And we're just two hours away from the first crucial polls closing tonight, polls closing at 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Eastern, that could give us an early and important indicator of where the night might be headed.

We're in the thick of what is perhaps the most critical non- presidential election in modern times. It's clear many of the votes being cast today are being cast either for or against President Trump and his policies. And the future of the Trump presidency could hang in the balance.

A Democratic House will definitely mean oversight and investigations of the Trump administration. And it could possibly even mean impeachment of President Trump.

There are signs of enthusiasm around the country. I want to show to you some video we just got into CNN of lines at the polling station at Arizona State University in Tempe, a big Senate race in that state. Lines wrapped around buildings. In Kentucky, a tight congressional race in a district President Trump won by double digits in 2016. That wraps up at 6:00 p.m. Eastern.

It pits three-term incumbent Republican Andy Barr against first-time candidate and former Marine Corps pilot Amy McGrath. At 7:00 p.m., polls will close in a race that drew names like Obama and Oprah and Trump and Pence. That's the race for Georgia's governor between Democrat Stacey Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp.

Also at 7:00 p.m. in Indiana, red state Democratic Senator Joe Donnelly trying to hang on against Republican challenger and businessman Mike Braun. In Northern Virginia, which has become a cauldron of slimy political ads, Republican Congresswoman Barbara Comstock is attempting to hold off Democratic challenger Jennifer Wexton.

And that is where we find CNN's Brian Todd, in Northern Virginia, specifically in Sterling.

Brian, tell us about the turnout and the energy out there today.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, the turnout is off the charts. According to the registrar, the deputy register of Loudoun County, they have broken records here. It is more than double the voter turnout from 2014's midterms.

And one of the reasons is because people are -- first of all, there's a steady stream of voters in precincts like this one, the 702nd Precinct at Parkview High School.

But another reason is because they're doing a very good job of moving people in and out of here pretty quickly. You register here, you check in here with your I.D. Then you go to these stations and then the votes are tabulated over here.

We love it when little kids come to the polling places here. The votes are put in here by paper ballot, and then tabulated. Another reason, Jake, that it has gone so smoothly here in -- at least in Loudoun County -- is because in this 10th District of voting in Virginia, it's a pretty simple ballot. Check it out.

You vote for Senate, for Corey Stewart, the Republican, Tim Kaine, the Democrat, or Matt Waters, for the House of Representatives, Barbara Comstock and Jennifer Wexton, the race you were just talking about, and then for ballot initiatives front and back and then you're out.

So this is a very smooth process, a very simple ballot. And then they move you through. Just three hours now until the polls close. And, as you mentioned, Jake, this is a hotly contested race. It's these suburban battlegrounds that are determining the balance of power in the House throughout the country, but no more emblematic really than here, where this race very hotly contested, Barbara Comstock really in a struggle to save her seat against the Democrat, Jennifer Wexton.

And you mentioned it brought President Obama to this precinct just yesterday campaigning for both Wexton and Tim Kaine. So it's drawn a lot of energy nationally and locally. And what's also interesting here is that this could be the first time in nearly 40 years that Republican does not hold this seat in Virginia's 10th District.

So, Barbara Comstock again kind of up against the ropes in this fight against Jennifer Wexton and it could be historic here in Northern Virginia -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Brian Todd, live in the commonwealth of Virginia, thank.

Let's go to Pamela Brown now. She's at the White House.

And, Pamela, you're learning that the White House is paying close attention to one specific race, Kentucky's 6th District. Polls there, as we mentioned, close in less than two hours. And that's a district that the president won overwhelmingly, but that House race is very competitive.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake.

Sources familiar with the White House is thinking or pointing to Kentucky's 6th Congressional District as one of the most closely watched races by Trump's team tonight. And there are a couple of reasons. As you pointed out, it's one of the districts to have the polls close first at 6:00 p.m. Eastern time.

Also, it's a district that Trump won by 16 points during the last cycle, but now the Republican incumbent, Andy Barr, is locked in a virtual toss up with the Democratic challenger, Amy McGrath.

So if Andy Barr, the Republican, the loses this race tonight, then it's going to be a long night for Republicans, as one of the sources told me. Now, the president has been getting updates from his political team throughout the day on voting and models of how voting is going.

[16:05:01]

He will be spending the evening in his residence with those closest to him, his family, Vice President Pence, as well as top aides, who will be briefing him throughout the night.

Now, one source close to the White House says that the president is realistic that his party could lose seats in the House, but that he is confident that Republicans will gain at least one seat in the Senate. We will have to wait and see -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Pamela Brown, thanks. We will check back with you in a little bit.

Joining me now, our panel of experts.

We have Joe Trippi. He's a consultant for Democratic Senator Doug Jones in Alabama and the former campaign manager for Howard Dean's presidential campaign. We also have with us former communications director for Republican Senator Ted Cruz Amanda Carpenter, former Ohio State Senator Nina Turner, and former Trump campaign strategist David Urban.

And David, I should point out you sign that non-disparagement agreement when you were with the Trump campaign in 2016. I'm not sure you abide by it, but you did sign with it.

I want to ask you about this Kentucky race, because it's going to be one of the first ones we see the results from, Kentucky 6. It has Andy Barr, Congressman Andy Barr, against Amy McGrath. It's a district President Trump won by 16 points in 2016, obviously a bellwether.

One of the things we were talking about during the break is the Democrats -- and I know this is much to your chagrin -- the Democrats have done a pretty good job when it comes to candidate recruitment.

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, the Democrats have done a phenomenal job.

You look at Ralph Northam in Virginia, Conor Lamb, Amy McGrath, these folks could be Republicans. They served in the military, conservative values. There's kind of a war going on inside the Democratic Party, progressives or kind of old Blue Dog Democrats. Where's the direction of the party?

And this new Congress if they do take over is going to have a pretty interesting mix of both and it'll be a kind of a battle. But the Democrats have done a phenomenal job of getting great candidates.

TAPPER: I'm sure you disagree with...

(CROSSTALK)

NINA TURNER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right, I do. I was going to say something, but you're reading my mind, Jake.

I mean, listen, variety is the spice of life. And far be it from the Republicans to talk about disruption within the Democratic Party. They got their own disruption going on, battling their own president, that refuses to talk about the economy, but yet continues to talk about immigration.

But they are not Republicans. They are Democrats. And we are looking for a big night to really hold off the president. And it's going to happen in House.

TAPPER: Joe, let's talk about Virginia right now.

Barbara Comstock, Congresswoman Barbara Comstock, she's one of the most vulnerable members of Congress in the country right now. If she can hold on there, that will indicate, I think, that there actually is a red wall, as opposed to a blue wave. But that's a tall order.

JOE TRIPPI, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yes.

No, if that happens, that would tell people right off the bat -- it doesn't mean the Democrats can't -- we can't take the House, but it would be a long, long road to get there. This is a district that we need to pick up.

I know coming from the Democratic side that we -- this one is one we're already sort of counting. I know people got to keep voting out there. But this is one that if we don't pick up this one, it's problems. That's trouble.

TAPPER: And, Amanda, one of the things that we have seen in the way that President Trump has chose to present his closing argument, as it were, is that maybe he's serving to rally his voters who like this very negative, anti-undocumented immigrant message, which is a polite way of putting it, but it hurts people like Barbara Comstock in Northern Virginia.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, absolutely.

Barbara Comstock is getting battered by a lot of forces. In the lead- in segment, the person noted that Corey Stewart is running in the Senate at the top of the ticket. He is a drag for Republicans. He has danced as close to the nationalist agenda that Trump has laid out as anyone probably in the country. But Barbara Comstock is a longtime GOP fixture. She's a smart campaign. She is a hard worker. She knows how to raise money and she's been down in the polls consistently. And she also was one of the few Republicans that said I cannot in good conscience vote for Donald Trump.

So it is heart-wrenching that the people, the Republicans most poised to hold the president accountable are going to be the ones who are wiped out. And so if we lose races like that, what you will end up with at the end of the night will be a much smaller, much more Trumpian party that will be less competitive in 2020.

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: She's also battling demographics. Let's get it straight.

I mean, the Northern Virginia suburbs, which she is running in...

(CROSSTALK)

CARPENTER: Republicans need the suburbs.

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: It went from red to purple now to blue.

(CROSSTALK)

TRIPPI: But it's going to lead to fewer women in the Republican Party holding office. That's part of what's going on here, is Republican women defect over to the Democratic side on this round because of the language and the way Trump is doing his fear and loathing tour.

The more they're going to lose people like Comstock.

TAPPER: Nina, I want to bring you in here, because I want to show you the latest Gallup poll.

It's the generic ballot on Gallup. And it squares pretty closely with what CNN's poll had the other day; 54 percent of respondents said they would support a Democratic candidate in their local congressional district in a generic ballot; 43 percent said they would vote for the Republican.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has been assisting Democrats are going to regain the House. She said it again today.

[16:10:05]

But I have to ask, State Senator Turner, do you believe the polls? Are you confident that Democrats are going to take the House today?

TURNER: Yes, I'm pretty confident. I mean, I don't think we should be overly confident.

I mean, it's up to who votes. This is the -- what I call the battle of the bases. People's base have to turn out and then we got to see which team the independent voters are going to pick.

But if that generic poll is any indication, and God forbid we think about a poll, given what happened in 2016 -- as a Democrat, I should probably square off polls -- but I really think the Democrats are very much poised to take the House.

TAPPER: And, David, the president has held 30 rallies since Labor Day in the final six days of the campaign, eight states, he's visited, 11 rallies.

He has tried to focus on the Senate, not the House.

URBAN: Listen, there's no doubt the president has left it on the field on this one, right, in terms of moving those numbers.

A few months ago, Republican interest in this election was really low. And you would have seen a total bloodbath to come today, right? The president went out there and like it or not, like his campaign tactics or not, they move numbers. They move people. They motivated the base. The enthusiasm gaps closed. The base has turned out.

As Nina said, this is going to be a battle of bases. We will see what's going to happen. But it will be a battle. It will be a battle here.

TAPPER: Do you think it's the president that moved the Republican voter enthusiasm, or was it the Kavanaugh hearings or both?

CARPENTER: A combination of both.

The president has done a very good job awakening Republicans from the slumber. Mitch McConnell about a month ago was saying we can lose this thing. And people say Kavanaugh, but I think it was actually the mob argument that was more persuasive, because that fed into the Kavanaugh hearings.

But that was something that was already going on before that. And then the caravan is sort of the icing on top, if you want to really scare Republicans into going into the polls, because you can't make the hopeful, optimistic argument.

TRIPPI: It's not clear to me at all that this is going to be a net help.

I mean, when you look at the CNN poll, and you look at supposedly it's tied between men, 49 supporting the Republican, 48 supporting the Democrat. Then you go look at the other side, women, 62-31 or some -- I can't remember, something like that.

(CROSSTALK)

TRIPPI: OK.

I spent all last night awake and unable to sleep trying to -- trying to just figure out how many districts there were in America in which women were not a majority of the vote. there isn't a district that is safe with those kind of numbers.

TAPPER: And, Nina, I want you to take a look.

Voters today -- and let's show some images of this, if have it, have faced to host of hurdles. Long lines in Wake County, North Carolina. Humidity has affected the ability of tabulators to read ballots. A ballot shortage in Arlington, Texas.

Power outages at a polling place in Knoxville. President Trump was warning yesterday with no evidence of voter fraud. He tweeted: "Law enforcement has been strongly notified to watch closely for any illegal voting which may take place in Tuesday's election or early voting. Anyone caught will be subject to the maximum criminal penalties allowed by law. Thank you."

But the real issue here, I mean, there are always a handful of cases of voter fraud, but it's never as big as people like President Trump want it to seem. But the real issue is people who have difficulty voting, they go to their polling places, the state has cut back, the state has made it more tough to vote, et cetera.

TURNER: That's right, Jake.

And it's the failure of government to make sure that they provide an atmosphere where people can vote. I mean, what you just read off -- and I was -- just Sunday, I was in Miami. I was in Miami. I was in North Miami and I was at a polling place where Haitian-Americans are the dominant personality.

And to see lines wrapped all around the building, the machines broke down. And then they ran out of ballots. In some cases, people were waiting anywhere between two and three hours to vote. You had elders in line who had no one to stand in line for them, otherly abled people standing in line.

And the irony of it, Jake, is that the name of that library that I was at is called the Desiline Victor Library, named after the 102-year-old woman who just recently died who actually stood in line six hours to vote for President Obama back in 2008.

So,the irony of that. And so, again, when President Trump talks about voter fraud, we need to talk about the mechanisms in our American body politic that suppressed the vote, that have a suppressive mechanism to them.

And people standing in line that long, some people won't stand in line that long, not because they don't want to.

TAPPER: Yes, they can't.

TURNER: Because they can't. And they shouldn't have to in the United States of America.

TAPPER: Everyone, stick around.

We're less than three hours away from polls closing in Georgia, where Democrat Stacey Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp have been waging a fierce battle for governor. Abrams, seeking to become the nation's first female African-American governor, has received support from Oprah and former President Barack Obama, while President Trump and Vice President Pence campaigned for Kemp.

It's a race that's turned pretty ugly, with accusations of voter suppression and an outside group making a racist robo-call.

Gary Tuchman is at a polling station in Powder Springs, Georgia.

And, Gary, what are you hearing from voters? What are you seeing on the ground?

[16:15:02] GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, I've been in this church gymnasium for more than nine hours now, since before the polls opened. When the doors opened, more than 100 voters ran inside. It was pouring rain out there, but they were waiting in line in the rain to vote.

And I will respectfully tell you that outside of the poll workers who work here, I know the mood of this room better than anybody. It's enthusiasm. People are not voting out of anger. They're voting because they're enthusiastic Americans.

The people are voting for Republican Kemp mostly have told me they think he'll make a great governor. The people who are voting for Democrat Abrams are saying that they'd think she'd make a great governor, and they want to make some history because she'd be the first African-American woman to ever be a governor in the United States. Also, Republicans are telling me they're enthusiastically voting because they want to symbolically support Donald Trump. And Democrats are telling me they're enthusiastically voting because they symbolically want to prove Donald Trump wrong.

One thing I will tell you, Jake, the turnout has been huge here in the state of Georgia. Huge in this particular precinct in Cobb County. Cobb County, by the way, is the former home of former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.

It's become a battleground county. Hillary Clinton narrowly won this county in 2016 despite the fact it's gone Republican for so many elections before that.

But I want to tell you this -- before the doors even opened today, more than 2.1 million Georgians already voted early. There's been three weeks of early voting here in the state. And four years ago, during the last midterms, 900,000 people voted early. So more than double this time around.

The turnout here in this state, in the Peach State seems immense -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Gary Tuchman live in Georgia for us, thanks so much.

Back with me, we have our panel, Joe Trippi, Amanda Carpenter and Nina Turner and David Urban.

Amanda, let me start with you. That's interesting that Gary Tuchman is hearing such positivity from the voters. That has been, especially on the air waves, a very negative race, the Georgia governor's race.

CARPENTER: Yes, it's very interesting to me because there seems to be a one-way conversation happening there about voter suppression, voter turnout, where the Democrats are the only ones saying there's a problem here, and Republicans are essentially saying, no, no, we don't know what you're talking about. That doesn't work.

But also, the Oprah speech, that speech was so accessible. She talked, she made a deliberate pitch to women and minorities but in a way that wasn't partisan or political but so accessible to anyone. I think if Stacey Abrams wins this race, it will be because she's a good candidate, but people will look to that speech and talk about this is how progressive Democrats can appeal to people outside their tent. It's because they're figuring that out in a way that Republicans haven't, because there's no one else campaigning there except for Trump and Pence.

TAPPER: David, race has been an issue in the Georgia governor's race. Abrams has been targeted by a white supremacist group. They released a couple racist robocalls.

Brian Kemp strongly condemned that racist robocall. But Kemp has been willing to use some racist -- or racial themes. Last night, he tweeted this: The Black Panther Party is backing my opponent. Retweet if you think Abrams is too extreme for Georgia.

It's interesting to me how he's running towards these racial tropes, the Black Panther Party, et cetera. And Abrams is not -- I mean, she could do the same thing. She could show pictures of Klansmen with guns, saying these are Brian Kemp supporters if she wants. But she doesn't.

Not only does she not do it, but Sunday when I interviewed her for "STATE OF THE UNION", she wouldn't go there when it came to racial stuff, when it came to Sonny Perdue saying cotton pickin', when it came to President Trump saying she's not qualified. She wouldn't -- she wouldn't go there. She's trying to appeal to white suburban moms.

URBAN: Absolutely. Right. And white suburban men. She wants to be the person who's, as Amanda puts out, accessible, reasonable, and that's how she wants to come across. She's doing a great job at it. Wouldn't be this close if she wasn't.

You know, this is a state -- this is Georgia, mind you, right?

TAPPER: Right.

URBAN: It's Georgia.

TAPPER: Yes.

URBAN: She's pretty progressive. TAPPER: Absolutely.

URBAN: This is a state that's had Newt Gingrich. You may have a governor who is far left of the party running that state. It's a big deal. It's a big win.

TAPPER: And, Nina, what does this say about how a very progressive woman of color can -- she's made it close, no matter what. We don't know what's going to happen, but she's made it close. How an African- American woman of color can appeal to the white suburban voters who normally vote Republican.

TURNER: She's been authentically herself. What you see is what you get. And it is that authenticity. It is the fact that she was the leader of the House in that state, so she understands the needs of the people.

She's been such a tremendous leader by every stretch of the imagination. She has taken the high ground because that is the ground by which she lives. She has no reason to go that way because she's running such a strong race. On the other hand, the other candidate has not so much. But she has been herself --

URBAN: And I just want to say, Jake had her on. Jake was talking to her. It was a great interview. You did push her on some of these things, like Second Amendment. She's pretty slippery in that regard.

TURNER: Not slippery.

[16:20:02] Savvy.

URBAN: Savvy, OK.

TURNER: She was not slippery.

CARPENTER: She knows how to duck and dive.

URBAN: Jake was saying, you want to take people's guns away? She's saying, no, we want to open a dialogue.

TAPPER: It's slippery if you're on the other side. Savvy if it's on your side.

URBAN: That's right.

TAPPER: Joe, Oprah weighed in on the racist robocall. I want you to take a listen, because obviously, this is still part of her get out the vote even if she didn't from -- I don't know where she did it. But let's assume it was Santa Barbara. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OPRAH WINFREY, ENTREPRENEUER: I just want to say, Jesus don't like ugly. And we know what to do about that: vote. Tomorrow, show up and show out and vote.

(END VIDEO CLIP)(

TAPPER: Again, positive, funny. Jesus don't like ugly. But no grievance. Just an appeal.

TRIPPI: Absolutely. What I think is going on in a lot of these white suburban voters, they don't want division. They want that pulling people together, that accessible -- and I'm just putting it out there who I am.

And yes, I may have to address stuff like guns, but you know where I'm coming from. She does that. Oprah did it. I think Oprah is like obviously just doing get out the vote there.

CARPENTER: There's a story within a story in these of these gubernatorial races. In three races in red states, the Republicans may lose -- Florida, Georgia, and Kansas. Each of those Republican candidates were strongly supported by president Trump when they had more moderate Republicans who could have won their primaries.

If the Republicans lose in those three states, that is a firm rejection of Trumpism, and people are going to have to rethink this narrow grievance-driven Republican strategy.

TRIPPI: And that started in Alabama with Doug Jones. We've seen this movie before and it just keeps seeming to play out.

URBAN: OK, Joe. No, don't be dancing on the grave there, buddy.

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: It's about candidates. Candidates matter. You got to pick good candidates here.

If Republicans lose, you have bad candidates, right? That's the issue. It's not the president.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: -- base candidates but running --

TURNER: God forbid that David and I agree on something, but I was going to say is, I want to give credit to the candidates, and not just anti-Trump, because what Stacey Abrams has done, the honorable Stacey Abrams and what the honorable Andrew Gillum has been able to do is incite a vision of where we are going to go. They've made it clear they're different from the candidates they're running against. They've talked about Trump here and there, but they have been visionaries. So, I don't want to give all the credit to President Trump.

CARPENTER: That's a credit to them. I agree.

TURNER: Give credit to the candidates.

TAPPER: All right. Everyone stay with me. Coming up next, we're standing by for the first exit polls for this

historic midterm election. Plus, the polls haven't even closed, and top Republicans are already finger pointing. We've some new details from our Manu Raju on Capitol Hill.

And, of course, John King at the magic wall. What will King be watching as the first polls close?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:27:32] TAPPER: Welcome back to a special edition of THE LEAD: Election Day in America.

And as the polls begin to close in the next few hours, the blame game has already begun among top Republicans.

Manu Raju is live on Capitol Hill.

Manu, what are you hearing?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. Actually, the Republicans are already sensing a loss tonight, potentially losing the House, and already assessing how this will play out tomorrow.

And the blame game is beginning, looking at one of the first polls closing in that Kentucky race with Republican incumbent Andy Barr. That's a race in which Paul Ryan's super PAC has spent $3 million in that race. The National Republican Congressional Committee has not spent anything in that race. They've actually spent $20 million fewer less than it did in 2016.

Now, you talk to Republicans in the National Republican Congressional Committee, and they'll say they'll spend $20 million on special elections instead. And they say the Paul Ryan super PAC could have spent even more money because they don't have the same contribution limits that that committee does.

Now, the overall concern that Republicans all over Washington are expressing about whether or not the White House is messaging, particularly the president's messaging, about immigration was effective, particularly for these House Republican candidates, people like John Culberson in Texas, Will Hurd in Texas, Carlos Curbelo in Florida, whether or not that was more effective than the talks about jobs versus mobs and the economy. That was the Republican message from last month, but the president instead shifting the conversation to immigration.

And the concern tonight from Republicans is that could hurt some of these key GOP lawmakers in those races and could eventually lead to Democrats taking control of the House tonight, Jake.

TAPPER: I guess we'll see.

Manu, you just spoke to the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. What did he have to say?

RAJU: Yes, he was just leaving the Senate floor. We caught up with him, asking about how he was feeling. And he was mum, saying, ask me afterwards how I feel, I'll tell you how I feel depending how tonight turns out. I asked him, are you predicting Republicans will stay in the Senate majority? All he would say is, I sure hope so, as he went into his office.

And Republicans today nervously looking at those Senate races, worried they may only pick up maybe a seat. They'll be happy with that, but it could go either way as these races are so close as polls are closing in just a matter of moments, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Manu Raju on Capitol Hill, we'll be watching how that plays out throughout the evening.

Two of the races we're watching closely tonight are the Senate races in Missouri and Texas. We have reporters live in both of those states.

Ed Lavandera is in El Paso, Texas. He's at the headquarters for Democrat Beto O'Rourke. He's trying to win the Senate seat currently held by Ted Cruz.

Rebecca Berg is in Springfield, Missouri, at the headquarters for Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley. He's trying to capture the Senate seat currently held by Claire McCaskill.