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THE SITUATION ROOM
America Heads to the Polls
Aired November 4, 2008 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: We are set for the first vote results in this 2008 presidential election. We're watching for returns coming in from key states.
Also, hanging in the balance right now as Americans cast their ballots, several House, Senate and governor states. Democrats could significantly increase their grip on Capitol Hill.
And scores of voters are enduring long lines, even problems at the polls. You are going to see what is happening and you're going to find out what you can do about that -- all that, plus the best political team on television.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer at the CNN Election Center. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.
It is 6:00 p.m., and the polls have just closed in parts of Indiana and Kentucky, most of the polls in those two states, in fact. Not all the polls are closed in those states. They will be at the top of the next hour.
Two big tests we are watching right now. Can Barack Obama pick up Indiana, which typically votes Republican? And, in Kentucky, can the Republican minority leader in the U.S. Senate, Senator Mitch McConnell, hold on to his seat?
Moments from now, we will be getting the first real votes coming in, in this historic election. And you can keep an eye on the bottom of your screen, where the results will be streaming in. Stand by for that.
Meanwhile, there is breaking news.
Let's go back to voter analysis right now.
Soledad O'Brien and Bill Schneider, they are standing by. And they are getting new numbers on these exit polls that are coming in -- Soledad.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: That is right, Wolf, right to the voter analysis board and some of these new numbers from our exiting polling coming in.
One thing that is not going to change are some of the issues, and the big issue, which is the economy. How does it look?
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: How does it look? Let's take a look at where it is right now.
Still, the economy is the number-one issue. In 2004, it was terrorism. In 2006, it was Iraq, this year, the economy.
O'BRIEN: Let's dig a little bit deeper. Break it down for me. How do people feel about the economy now? What do they say when they are polled?
SCHNEIDER: Stinks. How about that? -- 93 percent say the economy is not so good or poor, very negative assessment.
O'BRIEN: They also asked the question about the future. Are you optimistic looking forward? What do they say?
SCHNEIDER: They are pretty optimistic -- 47 percent think the economy is going to get better. That is twice as many who think it's going to get worse. So, the economy may be terrible, but people are optimistic.
O'BRIEN: Interesting to see over the last couple of weeks both candidates have been talking about the other guy raising your taxes, and that was a question in the exit poll.
SCHNEIDER: We asked people, do you think Obama will raise your taxes? Do you think John McCain will raise your taxes?
And look at this -- 61 percent say McCain will raise their taxes -- 70 percent say Obama will raise their taxes. About taxes, they are pessimistic. About the economy, they think it will get better. Taxes, they are not very hopeful.
O'BRIEN: And we want to keep reiterating, Wolf, that these numbers are going to change. What will not change is the economy as a top issue.
SCHNEIDER: I don't think so.
O'BRIEN: All right, Wolf, back to you.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Soledad and Bill.
The first polls are already closed in some counties of Indiana and Kentucky. The rest of the polls in those states, as well as all the polls in the key state of Virginia and other Eastern states, will be closed in less than an hour, 7:00 p.m. Eastern.
Then, by 7:30 p.m. Eastern, polls will be closing in Ohio, North Carolina, and West Virginia. And just a half-hour later, 8:00 p.m. on the East Coast, polls in Florida and Pennsylvania and 13 other states will close. At 9:00 p.m. Eastern, it is Colorado and 14 other states, then Nevada and a handful of others at 10:00 p.m. Eastern.
It won't be until 1:00 a.m. here on the East Coast that the last polls will close. That will be in Alaska. And we will be tracking every minute, every development, and at the end of it all, voters will have chosen a new president and a new Congress. Today, neither presidential candidate took anything for granted. Barack Obama cast his vote, then quickly rushed back to the campaign trail.
Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, is in Chicago watching this.
It might be Election Day, but they are still trying to make sure that they get out that last vote.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: This was a campaign, Wolf, that was absolutely determined to move forward, to never let up. He said it in his speeches all the time. They were out on the ground in all of these counties with so many turn-out-the-vote offices, that they really felt that they could not let any of this go until this final day.
So, you saw Barack Obama. He went over to Indiana, a state that he thinks has a possibility of winning, which would be pretty historic if he won that red state, which has been red since 1964. So, he did go over there. He made some symbolic calls to voters, saying, if you have not made up your mind, please vote for me.
This is also the time, Wolf, when these candidates begin to sort of have mixed feelings, because they are at the end of something and the beginning maybe of something else. So, Barack Obama was asked whether he was feeling just a little bit nostalgic.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Voting with my daughters, that was a big deal. I noticed that Michelle took a long time, though. I had to check to see who she was voting for.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. Unfortunately I think that we have lost Candy. Her audio I think has gone away. But we will fix it and get back to Candy Crowley in a few moments. She is in Chicago. That is where Barack Obama is getting ready for his event later tonight. He is watching the poll results coming in, in Chicago.
Let's go out to Phoenix right now. Dana Bash is with the McCain campaign.
They are going to be watching the results where you are. I take it they are getting ready for a big bash out there, right, Dana?
DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They are certainly getting ready for a big event here. It is really unclear obviously what kind of event it is going to be.
And, in terms of the mood, I just ran into one of John McCain's senior advisers coming out here who used the word stoic to describe the atmosphere inside the McCain campaign. I have actually been talking to advisers for the past couple of hours, who say that they are determined to remain optimistic, but they certainly are realistic as well, Wolf.
They are continuing to say -- probably even more and more are saying that they understand how tough an environment this is for any Republican. Now, as for McCain, he was out campaigning all day today. And he is more and more trying to say, look, defy the pundits, defy the polls, and his standard stump lines are getting more emotional and more sentimental.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have been fighting for this country since I was 17 years old, and it's been the honor of my life. And I have never lived a day, in good times or bad, that I didn't thank God for the privilege of serving the United States of America.
MCCAIN: I owe this country more than it will ever owe me. And I promise you, if I'm elected president, I will never let you down.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: Now, that was McCain speaking earlier today in Grand Junction, Colorado. That is a place in Colorado, Wolf, that has not gone for a Democrat since 1964. That is sort of indicative of the kind of uphill climb that they realize they have inside the McCain campaign.
You know, usually, John McCain, his sort of standard situation on Election Days is to vote and then take in a movie and kind of take it all in on Election Day -- not today. He was not only in Colorado, but also in the state of New Mexico, talking to volunteers, giving them a pep talk. Again, it sort of shows you the kind of mood that they are trying to display on the outside, that he is somebody who is ever the gritty warrior and not going to give up. Inside there, again, a little bit more realistic, Wolf.
BLITZER: Dana Bash in Phoenix, we're going to be getting back to you shortly as well. Thank you.
All right. CNN is the only network that has established a voter hot line to report problems at the polls. And there is new information coming in right now.
Ali has been fielding a lot of those calls. What are you hearing, Ali?
ALI VELSHI, CNN SENIOR BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: A lot of calls.
Wolf, we have taken 25,000 today since the polls have opened. We are charting them, along with info voter technologies, to see what the concerns are. By a long shot, voter registration issues are the biggest issues. These are people whose names are not on registration rolls. The second one are -- the second biggest issue is mechanical problems, polling machines not working. The third one is poll access, long lines. And that is where we want to take you right now. We have got a call. We have had several calls, but I want to play one for you from Maria Murphy (ph) in Norfolk, Virginia. Let's listen to her.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
MARIE MURPHY, NORFOLK, VIRGINIA: I am calling about the long lines and not enough voter booths. We only had about seven or 10, and the wait has been about anywhere from four to seven hours.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
VELSHI: We have heard that from a few people, lineups in lineups in excess of five hours.
Now, part of the issue here, Wolf, is that there a lot of counties, a lot of precincts that are basing the staffing in these precincts on the previous election, not on polling, not on the idea that there will be greater voter turnout. And, as a result, they are just not staffed. We have not had any complaints from Norfolk that they are problems, technical problems.
It is simply that the lineups are too long, and that some people are turning away, rather than getting their vote.
We want to remind people, if you have problems, we are prepared to look into them. We are equipped to look into them. Call us at 877-GOCNN-08. We will take a look at what the problems are. And we are determining trends across the country. We're seeing the biggest problem in states where we have had major voter registration drives and huge voter turnout -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Ali, thanks. Stand by. This is important information.
And we are mapping all the calls coming into the voter hot line here at CNN to try to get an idea of where the most severe problem areas might be.
Let's back to our chief national correspondent, John King. What are we seeing, John?
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, let me show you how it works and our viewers how it works.
This is a shell of the United States, white because we are waiting for the results in the presidential race to come in, but we also have programmed our hot line into it. And the brighter the orange you see, the higher the intensity of the calls and complaints.
Ali just mentioned a phone call from down in Norfolk, Virginia. That is right down here in this area. And you can see a number of calls down there, 47 here, 188 out here. That is medium intensity, based on population, how we gauge it right there. We will pull back out to a national look. You see higher intensity, a lot of phone calls up here in northeastern -- the Scranton area of Pennsylvania, also down here in the Philadelphia area, where we are tracking those as well. Another place of course we will keep an eye on, Ohio, a lot of battle between both parties there accusing the other of shenanigans at the polls and the like and a lot of long lines.
You see a lot of calls up in Cleveland, a decent amount of calls in Columbus, down in Cincinnati as well, the major population centers. So, throughout the night, Wolf, we have our national map. You see some intensity down in Florida. If you see a brighter orange, that means we're getting a high volume of calls. A lighter orange is a moderate number of calls. And these white areas of the country not so many calls. We will keep an eye on it all night.
BLITZER: We're watching it. John, thank you.
A reminder: If you have any voting irregularities or have any problems casting your vote, you can call this number, 1-877-GOCNN-08. That's 1-877-462-6608. You can also follow the reports we are getting in real time by logging on to CNN.com/hotline.
The first exit polls -- the first polls, that is, have now closed in two states. We are waiting for the first results to start coming in from Indiana and Kentucky. Stand by. In fact, Kentucky numbers are coming in right now. Stay with us for that.
The White House is not the only landmark up for grabs tonight, as you know. There may be a lot of turnover in Congress. We are watching what is happening there. John King will be back to take a look at the balance of power in our new virtual Capitol.
And CNN is in every one of those crucial battleground states. We will have reports, live reports, from Pennsylvania, Virginia, Missouri and more.
Lots of news happening right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: In our "Political Ticker" right now; It is not, of course, just the White House that is up for grabs. It's both the Senate and the House of Representatives, the balance of power at stake right now in this historic election.
Campbell Brown is here. John King is here.
Campbell, this is new technology we are about to unveil to our viewers. Set the --
CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: We hope. We hope.
BLITZER: Set the scene for us, you and John. BROWN: Well, as you said, this is going to be a huge night in both the House and the Senate. A challenging night that would probably be a nice way of putting it, John, for Republicans in the House and the Senate, where they are expected to lose seats in both places.
But set the stage for us before we get into the nitty-gritty about where things stands right now and what it looks like.
KING: Well, I will show you the numbers first. If you just look at the numbers up here on the screen, the Democrats have a majority in the House, 239-199. And they have a majority in the Senate. This shows the races up there now, but it's 51-49.
I'm going to try this for the first time on live television there and give you the Capitol.
BROWN: Drumroll, please.
KING: And there you go. If you can see this at home, we can't even see it right here. The virtual Capitol is now before you.
And what we want to show you tonight is the races for the United States Senate. We will start with this. And we begin the night -- I'm going to back to the lineup coming into the night, 51-49 is where we start the night.
Now, there are 35 Senate races tonight. So, we will hit live results. And you will see those races flash up in the middle. And most parties believe, of the 35 up tonight, Democrats are defending 12, the Republicans 23. That is a hard challenge for the Republicans. Most believe that that number of seats are relatively safe. You see the blue filling in, in the middle, the red filling in, in the middle. Those are seats we believe are safe.
So, you get to some pretty big races, Campbell, early on in the night in the state of Virginia. You see the candidates there on your screen, Mark Warner, the former Democratic governor, on the right of your screen, Jim Gilmore, the former Republican governor, two heavy weight candidates, but the Democrats expect that they will win this race and win it quite handily. So, I am going to hypothetically assign it.
And you see how the numbers change on our map, 51 there. Another pickup the Democrats expect is out here in the Southwest in Colorado. We will see the results come in. But let's -- so you get familiar with the technology, let's assign that one to the Democrats for the sake of argument.
Again, you see the numbers going up. Democrats expect another Udall to win in New Mexico. We will watch that one go up. And a big race early on will be this -- that one doesn't want to work, so we will send that one back. We have frozen up at the moment here. But, Campbell, as we go on throughout the night, we will have any number of races that we can bring up. We will work out the kinks in the technology. For the Democrats, of course the goal is the magic number of 60, which would give them a big enough majority to block a filibuster in most cases. We will see if that plays out.
Most Republicans think the Democrats will win seven or eight. Will they get to the magic number, nine? That's a big issue. A race to watch out there, of course, way out in the West, Alaska, Ted Stevens just convicted of corruption charges. Can he hold on?
KING: And we will watch the House balance as well, because whoever is the next president will have to deal with the Congress. And if Barack Obama wins, how much in control of the Congress will his party be? And if John McCain wins, how much of a Democratic majority will you be fighting I nation Congress?
BROWN: And, John, quickly, without getting into specific House races, in last election, Democrats picked up 30 seats in the House. I have heard predictions range from 20 to as much as 30 again in the House this round. So, this could be a real game-changer.
KING: And it depends highly on the turnout today. Younger voters, do they just vote for Barack Obama, or do they stay engaged and vote Democrat for Congress?
African-American turnout, do they just come out in high numbers and vote for Barack Obama, or do they go Democrat all down the line? Most Republicans think they will lose 25 at a minimum in the House. Campbell, they think it could go to 30, even 35, if there are big Obama coattails and Obama has a good night.
Conversely, the same thing. They think, if Republican turnout is surprisingly high, maybe they can keep it to two dozen in the House. It's hard to say that there is their optimistic goal, but most Republicans think, if they only lost 24, 25, they would that a good night, given how tough this year is.
BROWN: All right, John, a lot to keep an eye on tonight, and some of the stuff we will be learning fairly early in the evening, when polls close in some of these East Coast states, Virginia, North Carolina.
BROWN: A lot more with John later -- Wolf, back to you.
BLITZER: All right, guys, thanks very much.
I want to check in. First of all, some poll results are coming in. Indiana, most of the counties are closed there. We have no results yet in from Indiana. You can see zero percent, zero percent, but we should be getting some results coming in from Indiana very soon. All of the polls in Indiana won't close until 7:00 p.m. Eastern. That's at the top of the hour.
Remember, 11 electoral votes in Indiana, which is turning out to be a key battleground state. Kentucky not so much a key battleground state, right now, only a few poll results are in. Less than 1 percent of the precincts have reported in Kentucky, McCain ahead 59 percent to 40 percent. These numbers are just coming in right now. They're going to be changing dramatically.
We have correspondents in all the key battleground states.
And I want to go briefly and check in to see what is going on. We will start off with Brian Todd over here. Brian, you are in Philadelphia. What is the latest in Philadelphia?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A lot of energy and excitement here, Wolf.
We just found out they may not be expecting a record turnout in Pennsylvania, about maybe 80 percent at most, but that will not exceed the record, we are just told. At voting station, a very smooth operation, people getting processed in as we speak. This poll closes in a little over an hour-and-a-half. People are coming in and out. There were long lines here earlier today snaking around the street.
In Pennsylvania, the only reports of irregularities, some people showing up at the polls, thinking that they are registered and finding out they are not. They are given provisional ballot. We're told that is not a widespread problem.
Also, in this precinct and in others, some voting machines malfunctioned. In the cases where they did, they used paper ballots and everybody got a chance to vote, but, overall, a very smooth operation here, very, very high turnout. We're going to know in a couple of hours how the campaigns did. They really blitzed this state. We're going to know in a couple of hours -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We will check back with you, Brian.
Let's go to Dan Lothian. He's in Richmond, Virginia, where we knew there were some problems during the course of the day. Dan, tell us what happened.
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN BOSTON BUREAU CHIEF: Well, what we had is in one precinct here in Richmond, we had a particular polling place where five out of the seven voting machines broke down. They had to turn over to paper ballots and they were finally able to bring in some additional machines.
Also, in the Chesapeake, Virginia, area, we had about 1,000 people -- we confirmed that about 1,000 people were in a line there. They were simply overwhelmed. They had to bring in additional personnel to help out. We are told that situation was rectified.
But in general, officials telling us that really they prepared well for this and they did not get all those problems that a lot of people had feared. Polls close in about 40 minutes. And we are told that, if there are long lines, like we saw earlier today, anyone who is in line by 7:00 p.m. will get to vote -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We will watch in Virginia with you.
Ed Lavandera is just outside Saint Louis, Missouri? Is that right, Ed? Is that where you are?
ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. We're in the suburb of Webster Groves, is an interesting area to be tonight, as the polling location that we are at, you can see it is starting to trickle down now, the amount of people that have been coming through here. There's about an hour and 45 minutes left in voting. The polls close here at 7:00 a.m. -- or 7:00 p.m. Central time.
At this particular location, they are approaching 80 percent turnout, which is a little bit more than what they are expecting for the state throughout -- across the state of Missouri. They are expecting about a 76 percent turnout. Everything we heard so far is that that is still on track to be the case for today.
But in the north part of Saint Louis County, we are hearing major reports of long lines in various places, kind of a wide-range of reasons for why that is happening. But from what we have heard, we had a producer on the ground at one of those locations, and they were reporting that people seemed to be in good spirits and willing to wait out the lines this evening.
But, you know, these ballots, not just the presidential election, but there's a lot of local issues on these ballots, so many officials are telling us that it is taking people a long time just to get through all of the different measures and all of the different choices they have to make on these ballots -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Well, you have to be patient on this day if they want to vote in so many parts of the country. Ed, thanks very much.
I want to remind our viewers also to keep an eye on the bottom of the screen. You will see the numbers coming in. As we get them, you will see them throughout the next several hours.
And in Kentucky and Indiana, where a lot of the polls are closed right now, you will see those numbers coming in rather quickly over the next hour. All the polls in those two states will be closed at the top of the hour.
We are moving into this final phase. Polls in parts of two states, as I said, are already closed. We are waiting for the returns, more returns from Indiana and Kentucky.
Here is a question: Why are some people voting the way they do, the way they vote? We are taking a closer look at the issues that mattered most in the voting booth, and tracking real-time results, how you can keep up with numbers at CNN.com. This is information you need to know right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Happening now: The counting has begun. Polls are now closed in parts of Indiana and Kentucky, half-an-hour or so to go, as the polls close in some key states.
The returns could forecast what kind of night this will be. In fact, take a look at what we have, already, some numbers coming in from Indiana, where a lot of the precincts are closed. Less -- about 1 percent of the precincts have reported so far, Obama ahead 56 percent to 43 percent. He's up by about 2,000 votes.
In Kentucky, less than one percent of the precincts are closed, McCain maintaining a pretty impressive lead, 62 percent-36 percent. But, remember, this is very, very early in the game. Both those numbers are going to be coming in relatively quickly pretty soon.
Certainly, what is uppermost in the voters' minds as they cast ballots, that is a question we are trying to assess. We are going to go to voter analysis to interpret the numbers that are coming in -- all of this, plus the best political team on television.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
In the early exit polling, voters are giving us a pretty good clue what to watch for tonight.
Let's go straight to voter analysis. Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, and Soledad O'Brien standing by -- Soledad.
O'BRIEN: All right, let's take you right to the voter analysis board. We wanted to take a closer look at some of the demographics and one that interested both of us was the higher-income voter. So, what did they do? How did they vote?
SCHNEIDER: These are voters that -- whose taxes could go up. This is our list of all the demographic groups we have in the electorate. And our higher-income voters are those with incomes of $100,000 or more. That is one quarter of the voters. Now --
O'BRIEN: Now, let me stop you here --
O'BRIEN: -- because this is sort of a double funnel. What are we looking at exactly?
SCHNEIDER: Very pretty, isn't it?
O'BRIEN: It is, actually.
SCHNEIDER: Well, about half the states are red. What does that mean? That means that, in those states, higher-income voters, with $100,000 or more income, voted for John McCain. The wider the bar, the bigger the vote McCain -- the bigger McCain's margin. The blue states are states where these same higher-income voters, not the same voters, but voters with higher income, voted for Obama. So, immediately, you can see that their vote was sometimes for McCain and sometimes for Obama.
This gold bar is the United States as a whole. And, if we open up the drawer, what we see is, in the country as a whole, voters who make $100,000 or more voted for Barack Obama by a small margin. They gave him the edge, 52, 47, over John McCain.
O'BRIEN: Or -- or, to clarify, who we spoke to in our exit polling.
SCHNEIDER: These are voters that we've spoken to so far in our exit polling despite the --
O'BRIEN: Yes, let's dig --
SCHNEIDER: -- despite their concern about the taxes.
O'BRIEN: Let's dig down a little bit deeper into some of the key states. So Ohio, for example, where that tax issue was a big deal. And both candidates had been campaigning heavily on that. And, also, Colorado is another good place.
SCHNEIDER: OK. Ohio is a key battleground state. And let's open the drawer and see what's in it.
In Ohio, higher income voters voted for John McCain. So the tax issue in Ohio appears to have gotten McCain some traction. The other state you mentioned was --
SCHNEIDER: There you go. In Colorado, the tax issue worked for Obama, not for McCain. Higher income voters weren't put off, apparently, by his pledge to raise taxes -- not on voters over $100,000. He said he would raise taxes only of voters who make more than $250,000. So apparently, that didn't faze those voters too much. The voters over $100,000, they voted almost, what, 11 points margin for Barack Obama.
O'BRIEN: All right. Thank you very much, Bill.
And Wolf, we'll send it back to you.
BLITZER: All right, Soledad and Bill. Thanks very much.
Let's get some analysis of what's going on. And we've got the best political team on television standing by right now and throughout this night. Gloria, let me start with you. These early exit poll numbers we're seeing, by far the economy the most important issue affecting voters on this day, which doesn't necessarily bode well for John McCain.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No. I think that the economy has been a huge issue in this election particularly, I would think, since September 15th, when Lehman Brothers closed. And John McCain has had some problems with the economic crisis. There are lots of voters who felt that Barack Obama was more steady in the economic crisis, according to our polling before tonight.
So it's also hard when you're a Republican. And there's has been eight years of a Republican administration and you're trying to make the case that you're going to change things in this country, people have a hard time with that.
BLITZER: But the line we heard for many years from Republicans -- and David Gergen, you worked in the Reagan administration, so you remember -- the Democrats will raise your taxes, there will be big government, there will be more spending. And John McCain tried that this time, but apparently, with sort of mixed results.
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: It appears to be mixed results. It's way too early, but that Ohio result we just saw suggests it may have worked in Ohio and it may have worked in some other states. So I think it's too early to tell.
But what -- two things, Wolf. It's also the number two issue is Iraq. It's down to 10 percent. But surprisingly, Obama won on Iraq. And I think Bill Bennett has made the argument repeatedly, it's John McCain whose surge strategy seemed to work so well in Iraq.
But I do think -- coming back to the economy -- with 62 percent saying it's the number one concern, the turning point in this campaign came in September with the meltdown and the way John McCain handled it versus the way Obama handled it and the blame that was attached to the Bush administration.
And since then, when McCain was ahead, Obama surged ahead. And he's never been behind in a single national poll since then.
BLITZER: Because when it comes to Iraq, with the surge working as it did, people who said Iraq was the most important issue for them, they voted, apparently, according to these exit polls, more for Barack Obama than John McCain.
WILLIAM BENNETT, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, but the problem is -- and it's a good thing -- is that because John McCain's advice was taken, the issue got -- came off of the screen. It lost its priority. It's not down at the bottom because we lost a war. It's not there because we're having some great success.
And notice terror. I think Bill Schneider reported it was at the very bottom. Remember, the job description in "The Federalist." The security of citizens is the first job of the president of the United States.
So, this is a good thing for the country, but not necessarily a good thing for John McCain's political fortunes.
But let's hang on a few more hours, if we can, please.
BLITZER: No, it's -- definitely. We don't know the results yet. We're watching.
BLITZER: Rick Stengel is here from the sister publication, "Time" magazine.
What are you watching for most closely right now?
RICK STENGEL, MANAGING EDITOR, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Well, I think we have to go back to the economy. As Bill said, security is on people's minds. But economic security is what they're concerned about. That affects them in all kinds of ways.
One of the reasons that the tax issue might not work so well for John McCain is the fact that there is an appetite for government solving some of these problems that we haven't seen in a long time. I mean, when Ronald Reagan said government, you know, is the problem, not the solution -- people are looking at it the other way around now.
STENGEL: They're thinking that government is the solution for a lot of these problems.
BLITZER: Even in -- it's been the solution, if you listen to Wall Street, they want government -- big government right now.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST, "NEW YORKER" MAGAZINE COLUMNIST: They want it because the economy is in a wreck. And the central figure in this election, I think, isn't even on the ballot. That's George W. Bush. He is so intensely unpopular. He has burdened John McCain and the Republican Party with his looming unpopular presence. And I don't think there is much John McCain could have done to get out from under that shadow.
BLITZER: Rick --
BORGER: He tried.
BLITZER: Here's --
BORGER: He tried. BLITZER: -- a journalistic question --
BENNETT: He's not dead, guys.
TOOBIN: I was saying that yesterday, Bill.
BLITZER: Not by -- no, no, no. A journalistic question. Now, I may be the only one interested in this. You put "Time" magazine to bed when? You got various covers ready to go? How do you do that?
STENGEL: Yes. We have -- we have two covers ready to go. And I guess the third alternative is if there's no decision. We close at 9:00 tomorrow morning. We'll be up all night getting it ready. I mean, lots of stories are, you know, what happened during the course of this election, the things that have never occurred before, for example, that Mark Halperin did. That doesn't matter who wins. So we're ready for whatever the result is.
BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dewey beats Truman. Dewey beats Truman.
BLITZER: Stand by, guys. We have a lot more coming up.
Anderson Cooper getting ready to join us, as well.
We're going to be watching what happens at the top of the hour, because polls in two states will be -- in several states will be closed by then, all the polls. And we're going to be able to report on what's going on.
Lots of news happening on this historic day. We're here at the CNN Election Center. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: All right, the polls will be closing in six states at the top of the hour. That's about 20 minutes or so from now. Those six states are Vermont, Kentucky, South Carolina, Georgia, Indiana and Virginia. Stand by for that.
Although most of the precincts have already closed in both Indiana and Kentucky early -- very early numbers are already coming in. You see them changing even as we speak.
In Indiana right now, with only 1 percent of the precincts reporting, 51 percent for Obama, 48 percent for McCain. Very, very early.
McCain doing much better in Kentucky, as expected -- 66 percent so far for McCain, 30 percent for -- 33 percent for Obama. He's 3,600 votes ahead. Only 1 percent of the precincts reporting.
We have shots -- we have locations all over the country where people are getting to watch what's going on.
For example, in Chicago, this is Grant Park already. They're getting excited over there. Perhaps a million people are going to show up to hear Barack Obama later tonight.
And this live picture from Times Square, where they're watching us on CNN -- unfortunately, getting a little fuzzy right there, but we'll go back to Times Square. There it is. You can see that CNN is up on the monitor in Times Square. A lot of people are going to be gathering there, as well.
Let's go out to Grant Park, though, right now. Jessica Yellin is our correspondent. She's been reporting on the Obama campaign -- Jessica, crowds -- huge crowds getting ready to hear and see what's going on.
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there's a real intense sense of anticipation here tonight. It's unseasonably warm weather for Chicago, which is likely to draw even bigger crowds than expected. You can see it's empty right now inside the field, except for the many thousands of members of the international media who have gathered here.
And then outside, already that crowd waiting to get in. And the doors don't even open officially for another three hours.
Sixty-five thousand members of the general public are ticketed. There are huge jumbo screens in far flung areas around the park, so in the event a million people show up, they can see some of what's happening.
And guess what? Those monitors -- at least the one right here in the park -- set to CNN. So folks here will be getting their results from us -- Wolf.
BLITZER: That's the best place to be watching this stuff from.
All right, Jessica, stand by. We're going to be getting back to you, as well.
I want to go to voter analysis right now at the CNN Election Center.
Soledad O'Brien and Bill Schneider are crunching all the exit poll numbers in a new and revolutionary way -- Soledad, update our viewers.
O'BRIEN: We'll go right to the voter analysis board. And one of the demographics that was very interesting to us was white Evangelicals, because, as you well know, John McCain really struggled to reach those white Evangelicals -- so, Bill, tell us how they look.
SCHNEIDER: Let's take a look at those voters who said they were Evangelical or born-again and were also white. Now, notice that this is a sort of funnel effect here. What that means is in every single state up here, white Evangelical voters that we interviewed during the course of the day gave the edge to John McCain.
O'BRIEN: That's why it's red.
SCHNEIDER: That's why each of those is red. They gave the biggest edge to John McCain in Mississippi. That's at the top of the funnel. And McCain's lead among white Evangelical voters gets smaller and smaller until you get all the way down here to Minnesota, where he carried the Evangelical vote -- the white Evangelical vote by the narrowest margin.
In the country as a whole, Evan -- white Evangelical voters voted 72 percent for McCain, 26 for Obama.
Is that as good as George W. Bush?
O'BRIEN: Well, I was going to ask you, really, what matters is how does that compare to how Bush did in '04?
SCHNEIDER: It's a little less of a performance with this group. Bush got 78 percent of white Evangelicals...
O'BRIEN: A six point drop.
SCHNEIDER: So it's a six point drop for John McCain. But as you can see here, in every state where we interviewed white Evangelical voters, McCain had the edge.
O'BRIEN: It will be interesting to see, because I know there's a question on the exit polls that we'll be able to look into a little bit later tonight. Governor Palin, of course, had a great appeal to those white Evangelical voters. We'll be able to dig down and see if she helped the ticket, did she hurt the ticket, as we go through the night.
SCHNEIDER: Yes, we will.
O'BRIEN: All right, Bill.
Thank you -- and, Wolf, we'll send it right back to you.
BLITZER: All right, guys.
I love these numbers. And our viewers should know they can go to CNN.com and they can get a lot of information. Here's what you need to do throughout this night. Watch us on here CNN. Also, with your laptop, go to CNN.com, because you'll be getting all the information coming in from all of these key races all over the country.
We'll take a quick break, but we're only just getting started. Polls in six states will be closing at the top of the number -- at the top of the hour. Get ready. We're here at the CNN Election Center.
We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: We're back here at the CNN Election Center. Anderson Cooper is here. I hope you relaxed a little bit today, Anderson. Did you eat well?
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: I did.
BLITZER: Because, you know, we're going to be here for a long time.
COOPER: I ran, I worked out, I'm all ready to go as long as late as it takes.
BLITZER: Central Park?
Is that where you --
COOPER: On a machine.
Anyway, but we've got a lot of exciting races coming up. We've got about 12 minutes until polls close -- key -- some key races that will really give a sense of where this race is heading tonight. We're going to find that out in the next 11 minutes or so.
BLITZER: Yes. Let me walk over, because some states are closing at the top of the hour. Let me show our viewers what's going on.
In 11 minutes and 49 seconds, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, South Carolina, Vermont and Virginia -- those states will be closing. Two of those states' polls have -- in a lot of the states -- have already closed in Kentucky and a Indiana right now. And we're getting the results.
And you can see those results coming in at the bottom of the screen. But all of those states, the polls will be closed.
Georgia, we're going to -- we're anxious to see what's happening in Georgia, because it wasn't expected to be a battleground state and we'll see if it turns out to be a battleground state. There's an important Senate race that's underway there, as well.
Indiana and Virginia -- those are battleground states. So we're going to be watching those very, very closely.
Kentucky was widely assumed to go for John McCain, as was South Carolina. Vermont solidly in the red corner.
But we're going to be watching all of these. More states will be closing at 7:30 p.m. Eastern, then at 8:00, 9:00, 10:00 and beyond.
All right, we're going to go back to Anderson Cooper. He's got the best political team on television ready to assess. I'm really interested in Virginia and Indiana --
COOPER: Yes. BLITZER: I think like all of us, to see what happens at the top of the hour.
COOPER: It is remarkable. When you think about it, Virginia and Indiana have not gone for a Democratic president since Lyndon Johnson. Georgia went for Bill Clinton in 1992. That was the last time they voted for a Democrat for president. What are you looking for in Indiana, in Virginia, in Georgia, which is going to happen in the next 10 minutes?
BORGER: Well, I think Virginia is going to be a key because if Virginia goes for Obama, then, yes, I think you will have a sense that Obama would be having a very good night.
It's a state that folks in the Obama campaign believe that John McCain took for granted, Anderson. And they think that McCain should have been in that state more.
I was told, for example, an Obama staffer said to me, where did we go the day after we got the nomination? We went to the State of Virginia. John McCain hadn't been back there until October, when the polls started closing. So a very important state tonight.
GERGEN: These are what you could call ruby red states. You know, they're very deeply red. Virginia has not -- has only -- only for one Democrat in 56 years.
COOPER: Although, it was interesting, last night, Bay Buchanan kind of was writing off Virginia --
COOPER: -- saying, oh, he's been losing Virginia for a while now.
GERGEN: I know. That was one of the things --
GERGEN: -- when they had the real Virginia versus --
GERGEN: -- a Virginia. Exactly. And Indiana has only gone once for a Democrat in 70 years. And both of them are competitive. I think Virginia is the one we're all watching, because it's a linchpin for Obama. If he can win Virginia, it's very hard to see a road back for McCain, even if he were to take Pennsylvania.
If McCain takes Virginia and then takes Pennsylvania, it's going to be a very interesting and long night. So I think a lot hinges on Virginia.
COOPER: Also, in Georgia, Saxby Chambliss, in a race for his career.
COOPER: He did not anticipate it. Months ago, no one would have anticipated the race for Saxby Chambliss -- that that was a seat that the Republicans could actually lose.
BENNETT: All switch places are in play that normally aren't for Republicans.
On Virginia, two things. Remember, Jim Webb did beat George Allen. And that was big.
BENNETT: Also, Virginia -- this is not your grandfather's Virginia. I work in Northern Virginia. Northern Virginia, the Rosslyn area, there's a lot more people there than in the Richmond area. So it's a different state. It's indistinguishable, really, from suburban Maryland and that whole -- that whole D.C. area.
But, look, I want to give credit to someone whose name hasn't come up often -- Howard Dean.
Whatever the outcome -- and let me just say the outcome isn't in yet, all right. Sorry to be a broken record, but --
COOPER: No, that's right.
BENNETT: And that is Howard Dean was criticized for saying we should play on a national table. I think he was absolutely right.
COOPER: And he said that before Barack Obama --
BENNETT: He -- absolutely.
COOPER: -- was really seriously on the scene.
BENNETT: Remember, he was -- people said what the heck is he doing in Mississippi?
BENNETT: What's he doing?
BENNETT: Yes. Yes. It was a very good strategy, I think.
GERGEN: This is -- Barack Obama is right. He was right. But this is Barack Obama's strategy.
BENNETT: Oh, sure. Sure. ROLAND MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST, NATIONAL TALK RADIO HOST: No, but Howard Dean was, indeed, critical and the people on CNN.com about this, because Howard Dean -- what he laid out in terms of the Internet fundraising, but also saying we've got to rebuild infrastructure.
What also helped Obama is that you had an energized base in some of those states to build upon. So I'm very -- hoping when one of -- James Carville back there, who was one of the folks who called for Howard Dean to get right out of town because of that 50 state strategy, if he may say that Howard kind of was right. It was him, Chuck Schumer...
JAMES CARVILLE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: First of all, (INAUDIBLE) I didn't say that he should get out -- run out of town for a 50 state strategy. I said he should be run out of town for leaving $10 billion on the table after the 2006 election.
CARVILLE: If you're going to quote me, you should try to quote me correctly.
MARTIN: I got you.
CARVILLE: But I did -- I did not say -- and the way that you have a 50 state strategy is you win a national election by 7 or 8 points and then you carry a lot of states. If you win an election by 1 point, you're not -- you're going to carry fewer.
COOPER: How did you think -- I mean, a year ago -- that the Democratic candidate would be seriously competitive in Georgia, in Indiana?
CARVILLE: Well, if I thought that we were going to win an election by 10 points or 9 points, I would think we would be competitive in a lot of places. You can't -- there is no possible way that you can separate the national number from the state number. You can't win an election -- if Obama would say the public average going into this election was 7.5, there's no way that you can win by 7.5 points and not be competitive in a lot of states that you're not normally competitive in. The whole thing changes.
And the idea that you have two party staffers in a state is going to matter when you have a trend and a wave election -- if this turns out to be a wave election, you're going to be competitive in a lot of places.
ALEX CASTELLANOS, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: When you have a national strategy and a national economic meltdown, it's smart to have a national strategy. But if you hadn't had that, then -- and we'd be fighting over a few states, Howard Dean wouldn't be as smart.
But, by the way, let me just add something that someone at the table over there said, that somehow America has decided that more big government in Washington is the answer and what we really want is -- hey, we're thrilled with the way Washington is working and we want more of that.
No. America just had a test of that. We just had an economic meltdown. And Washington went to America and said give us $700 billion tax dollars, we'll get you out of this mess. We'll save your life. And America said we don't trust you.
So if the Democratic Party takes the message out of this election that what America wants is more old industrial-age, one size fits all big government, they're wrong.
COOPER: But that wasn't just the Democratic Party. That was also John McCain, who supported that $700 billion --
CASTELLANOS: A big difference. Republicans did so reluctantly. We hated doing it. Democrats think this is Christmas.
COOPER: Interesting perception. Paul Begala, were you thrilled by it?
PAUL BEGALA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: What, by the (INAUDIBLE)...
COOPER: By them spending $700 billion?
BEGALA: No. Look, it was President Bush who put that package together. It was President Bush who sent it to the Congress. It was President Bush who asked them to do it.
Why? Because the metaphor they were using to sell it -- Hank Paulson went to the Democrats and said the house is on fire.
Well, if, in fact, the house is on fire, it was a case of arson. It was not a lightning strike. It was a manmade, policy-driven catastrophe. And those policies were all Republicans. And, you know, I'm never going to like what they do. Alex always will. It doesn't matter what we think.
COOPER: Wait. Let's not get --
BEGALA: Voters are weighing in here. That's what I mean.
COOPER: I don't want to get into --
COOPER: -- a big debate about the bailout.
Let's talk about Indiana, Virginia, Georgia and what we're anticipating in --
BEGALA: Right. But when people are voting on the economy --
COOPER: -- (INAUDIBLE) from now.
BEGALA: They were voting against the Republican economic theory. And Alex may not like that and he may think it's socialism or whatever. I'm not really interested. He's not a swing voter.
COOPER: In some of these states, though, it's going to be hard to get, perhaps, an accurate sense of what's happening. And polls close at 7:00, but we may not know for quite a while in Indiana.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.
COOPER: I mean a lot -- it depends on the region where these votes are coming from. The Indianapolis area is very different than other parts in Indiana.
TARA WALL, FORMER SPOKESPERSON, DHS GULF COAST *REBUILDING EFFORTS, FORMER RNC PRESS SECRETARY FOR OUTREACH: And in places like Virginia, they're also starting to have some problems. You're starting to see Virginia, Florida and other places where they're having problems with machines, they're having -- they're already issuing lawsuits, as we're reporting on our Web site tonight.
So I think it's going to be a long night for some of these states. And quite frankly, I -- you know, early on, I couldn't see Virginia going toward Obama's way. But I think certainly this is one of the states that we're looking at very, very seriously that possibly could. I mean, and, obviously, that would be historic.
And so I think -- to your point, though, I just -- I have to pick up on this, because I think part of the revolt against Republicans is that Republicans didn't keep their word as it relates to spending and taxing. Those are one of the issues that voters are grappling with because George Bush, in their eyes, didn't keep their word -- didn't keep his word and the Republicans didn't keep their word when it came to bringing down taxes and all of that.
So I think that this is --
WALL: This is something that we are not -- we're not in this new zone of wanting more and bigger government. We're in a zone of wanting something different than more of the same. And so that is what voters are looking at this election.
WALL: And I think Alex made some very good points in that regard. This is, I think -- I don't think this should be a message that we want bigger government. COOPER: James, if the Democrats are to pick up 60 seats -- to get a 60 seat filibuster-proof majority -- you say it's pretty tough. But Saxby Chambliss would have to lose in Georgia to make that happen.
CARVILLE: They would have to either win in Kentucky, Georgia or Mississippi, in one of those three, to get to nine seats. They can get to eight seats with Alaska and Minnesota. They can't get to nine without a win in one of those three states.
COOPER: All right. A lot to look for in the next, well, couple of minutes.
Roland, I know you wanted to get in.
MARTIN: Yes. And we spent a lot of time in the Democratic primary talking about West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania -- the old Democratic map. The Obama campaign, from day one, always said that Virginia was THE most important state for them. Because when you look at their Western strategy of Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada, they say if you win Virginia, we have to win Ohio or Pennsylvania.
So a lot of Democrats are saying --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But --
MARTIN: But, no. The old model, they said no, this is the new model.
MARTIN: That's why Virginia was key.
BORGER: And Virginia is a new state. Virginia is a new state.
BORGER: It has a population surge of almost 50 percent in the last 10 years. It isn't, you know, your father's Virginia or your grandfather's Virginia.
TOOBIN: The reason why Obama can compete in all these places is he had so much money. He had so much money more than John McCain. You know, it's easy, frankly, to do strategy when you can buy advertising all over the country. And that is...
TOOBIN: That's what he's been doing.
MARTIN: But even before they had the money, that was still their strategy.
GERGEN: You know, we -- can I make a point? The brilliance of the Obama campaign -- and I think we will conclude tonight, by whatever -- however else it comes out, I think we'll all conclude he ran one of the best campaigns we've ever seen in modern politics.
GERGEN: And his capacity to take the Internet -- Howard Dean started this. He picked up on it. And he did something Dean did not do. He married the Internet to community organizing. So he not only was able to use the Internet to raise money, but to mobilize thousands upon thousands of volunteers in ways we've never seen before in American politics.
BORGER: And took advantage of things like early voting --
GERGEN: Right. Exactly.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Exactly.
BORGER: -- for example, just the way he did the caucuses, when we went through the whole primary process. Barack Obama knew how to organize the caucuses.
BORGER: He knew how to get his voters out there (INAUDIBLE)...
COOPER: It seems, in a way, though, that Hillary Clinton's people did just not understand. I mean he's...
COOPER: They seemed strategic in a way that --
CASTELLANOS: Well, but --
COOPER: -- no one else, even in the primaries, was.
BENNETT: But mechanics and materialism aside -- and these are all important considerations in the race -- this is a really, really good candidate. I mean, as good -- a natural, as we say in sports -- and, again, however, it comes out. This guy, I mean a flawless campaign, but almost flawless in his execution in the debates, in the speeches and almost everything else.
GERGEN: And he made one mistake.
BORGER: And for a new guy.
GERGEN: He made one mistake on the guns and the bitterness.
BORGER: Bitter (INAUDIBLE).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. The --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With Wright --
TOOBIN: Over two years --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A big one.
TOOBIN: Over two years, one mistake, that's a pretty good batting average, to continue the sports metaphor.
BORGER: And for a new candidate, somebody who hadn't run for the presidency before, who hadn't run for the vice presidency before.
TOOBIN: Who was an Illinois state senator 23 months before...
CASTELLANOS: That's correct.
COOPER: We've got a lot to talk about over the 24 hours that we will be here.
BENNETT: Sorry I raised the Howard Dean thing.
COOPER: (INAUDIBLE) over the break --
BENNETT: I won't waste time. I'll praise him.
COOPER: Let's go back to Wolf -- Wolf.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We like him.
BLITZER: Good discussion, guys. And we're only just getting started.
We're only a few seconds away from the top of the hour and polls will be closing in these six states. At the top of the hour, we're going to be able to make some projections about what is going on -- and this is only just the beginning of what is going to be a fascinating night here in the United States.
We're here at the CNN Election Center. And get ready, because we're about to make a projection.