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THE SITUATION ROOM
Justice of the Peace Resigns, Obama Insiders Recall Historic Night
Aired November 3, 2009 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KING: Will the Republicans vote Independent -- the moderate Republicans -- or will they support the Republican candidate?
Again, we will look for those places along down here -- down in here and right up in here, which is in the northern parts of New Jersey. Big turnout is what we'll look for here -- not just the margins, Wolf, but how many people are turning out, because for the Republican to win a close race, he not only needs to win these counties, but he needs a big turnout to give him a big margin.
That's what we'll look for.
BLITZER: We'll watch together with you.
John will be over at Magic Map throughout the night.
Thank you, John.
And to our viewers you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, election day 2009 and some very closely watched races -- are voters sending a message to President Obama?
We're counting down to the first poll closings, standing by for the first exit poll results. Those exit poll results will be coming in this hour.
And no matter what the outcome, both parties are at a crossroads, facing some very serious problems in this election -- but why?
I'll ask Democratic Maryland governor, Martin O'Malley, and Republican Mississippi governor, Haley Barbour. They're here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Plus, part two of my exclusive interview with three of the president's top advisers recalling the night one year ago when their campaign made history.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
A year after Barack Obama's historic election victory, Americans are heading to the polls again today, with the first polls closing in just under two hours. That would be in Virginia. And a handful of today's contests are seen by some as a referendum on the president, who swept into office on a trail full of promises.
So how many has he been able to keep?
Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, is joining us right now with more on this story.
Promises kept, promises not yet kept. How is he doing so far -- Candy?
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, exactly what you say. There are some that he has been able to deliver on, but let's remember that he's only been in office about 10 months.
What is interesting to me is that though the economy remains shaky, the jobless rate is up and health care reform is still in the works, most Americans -- and most Americans do not approve of the way the president is handling a variety of issues -- our latest polling from CNN/Opinion Research Corporation shows that, overall, 54 percent of Americans approve of the way the president is handling his job. And that's just about the same percentage he got when voters went to the polls a year ago. It's the kind of patience he asked for the night he was elected.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM NOVEMBER 4, 2008)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even in one term.
CROWLEY (voice-over): A day short of a year since his election, President Barack Obama still needs time to turn a myriad of campaign promises into policy.
OBAMA: I believe in a pathway to citizenship for the 12 million or so who are here.
CROWLEY: To the dismay of activists, the immigration issue has been put on hold until next year and even that seems iffy. The to-do list is long and topped with other priorities -- financial market regulation and a game-changing energy bill the president promised.
Compounding problems in 2010 is that is an election year, generally an inefficient time for law making. Still, the president can put down several major campaign promises as in the works.
OBAMA: I will bring this war in Iraq to a close. I will bring our troops home within 16 months. I will finish the fight against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
CROWLEY: Sixteen months has slipped to 19, but the majority of U.S. troops will be out of Iraq next year and the president did send more than 20,000 more troops to Afghanistan. On the domestic side, two issues have dominated the first 10 months of the Obama era and the president can claim progress on both -- health care and the economy, stoked by a nearly $800 billion Obama stimulus plan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM JANUARY 10, 2008, COURTESY YOUTUBE)
OBAMA: Our plan will likely save or create three to four million jobs. Ninety percent of these jobs will be created in the private sector.
CROWLEY: The administration claims the stimulus plain has saved jobs, but the president's promise is immeasurable.
ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: The administration can claim what they'd like. We have no way of knowing how many jobs were actually saved as opposed to created.
CROWLEY: The crown jewel of the president's promises -- health care reform -- has gotten further than any effort in several decades, but it's going more slowly than he'd like.
OBAMA: Well, governing is even harder than campaigning.
CROWLEY: If 10 months is not enough to fulfill hundreds of campaign promises, it's long enough to break some. Contrary to pledges on the campaign trail, there are lobbyists working in the administration, not every bill is put up on the Web for five days before the president signs it into law and the nitty-gritty horse trading in health care negotiations have been held behind closed doors.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
CROWLEY: There's a Pulitzer Prize winning Web site that tracks more than 400 promises the president made during his campaign. At PolitiFact, the numbers point to an administration in its infancy, showing that so far, the president has kept 49 promises, seven have been broken, the rest are either stalled, in the works or not yet rated -- Wolf.
BLITZER: As you say, less than a year in office. So he's got his work cut out for him, as we all know -- Candy, thanks very much.
So is today's voting a test of the president's record after his first 10 months in office?
The answer depends on whom you ask.
And joining us now two governors, Democratic Governor Martin O'Malley of Maryland and Republican Governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi.
Governors, thanks very much for coming in.
GOV. MARTIN O'MALLEY (D), MARYLAND: And thank you. BLITZER: Gov -- Governor Barbour, how much of a referendum, if at all, are the elections tonight for President Obama?
GOV. HALEY BARBOUR (R), MISSISSIPPI: I think it's too much to say it's a refer -- a referendum on President Obama. But I think -- do think his policies are having a tremendous impact on these elections. And these -- his policies are hurting Democrats, both in Virginia and in New Jersey, where people are concerned about jobs, about spending, about debt.
And all they're hearing from Washington is about health care reform that's going to cost more money, drive up their health insurance rates and about energy policy that's going to cost more money, cost jobs, make energy more expensive.
That's not helping the Democrats, it's hurting the Democrats.
BLITZER: What do you think, Governor O'Malley?
O'MALLEY: Well, I think, on the contrary. I think that most people understand that President Obama inherited a huge mess, an economy that was in shambles. And if you look at the progress that's been made, I mean eight months ago, all of the economists were talking about us teetering on the brink of depression. Now we're seeing the start of a recovery and most debate is over how quickly is it happening.
And so these governors who are up -- Governor Corzine in New Jersey has had to make tough decisions in a very, very tough economy that was not the making of President Obama. But I think he's made tough decisions. He's governed well.
BLITZER: All right, let me interrupt...
And then if you look at Virginia...
BLITZER: Let me interrupt for a minute, Governor O'Malley, because in New Jersey, Obama carried that state by more than 15 points.
In Virginia, he carried the state by 6 points. Yet the two Democratic candidates there, especially in Virginia and maybe in New Jersey, they're poised, potentially, to lose.
O'MALLEY: Well, that's -- the races are certainly close, because these are some of the toughest times economically. We've never seen this sort of -- haven't seen this sort of unemployment in 30 years.
But if you look at Jon Corzine's race, a few months ago, everybody was counting him out. Now it's a -- a virtual dead heat.
In Virginia, we're coming off of not one, but two very successful Democratic governors. And while this contest has -- has been a very challenging one for us, we still -- voters do surprise us from every now and again. And we're hoping for good things in Virginia, as well.
But the fact of the matter is it couldn't be a tougher time in our economy for these races to be happening than right now.
BLITZER: Why, Governor Barbour -- and you're a former chairman of the Republican Party. All of us remember your tenure at the RNC.
Why do only 20 percent of voters out there now openly identify themselves as Republicans?
BARBOUR: Well, the real question is how are people going to vote. Now, Jon Corzine, the incumbent governor of New Jersey, who has outspent his opponent by multiples of three, four, five to one, may get 42 or 43 percent of the vote tonight. If he wins, he's going to win despite the fact that 55, 58 percent of the people in New Jersey voted against him.
Now, if the Democrats want to claim that as some sort of a -- exclamation point for their administration, more power to them. But same thing is true in Virginia that...
BLITZER: But, you know, Governor Barbour, that you did a lot of...
BLITZER: You did a lot of politics. A win is a win.
BARBOUR: Well, a win is a win, except if you're trying to assess what effect is the administration and its policies having on Democratic candidates. And I think Democratic candidates around the country are going to look at the returns tomorrow and say, we got clobbered in Virginia. If we won in New Jersey, it's with like 42 or 43 percent of the vote. And these two things are going to help Republicans next year, because they're going to be really good for candidate recruiting and they'll be a real springboard for the 2010 elections.
BLITZER: And Haley Barbour...
O'MALLEY: And, Wolf, you know...
BLITZER: Governor O'Malley, he remembers what happened in '93 and '94, when he was the RNC chairman. The Republicans used the '93 wins to recruit candidates to get out there and do really well in '94 and reassert the majority in the House and Senate.
O'MALLEY: But, Wolf, let's not forget the fact that for the last 24 years, the party that controls the White House has never won in Virginia and New Jersey. So that -- that's the historic trend. And that's what President Obama is up against here, just nine months into office and having to have done some pretty difficult things in a short period of time to turn our economy around.
So these will be exciting races tonight and I think that it's a testament to the direction that President Obama is taking us in that you've seen some of the reversals of fortune that you've seen in -- in New Jersey, certainly. And you're also seeing more people now in favor of a public option, whereas just a month ago, they were opposed to it.
So the American public realizes that health care is pulling down our economy and it needs to be addressed.
BLITZER: If the Republican -- excuse me, the conservative candidate in Upstate New York, Governor Barbour, wins that race, after having successfully pushed out the official Republican candidate from running, what will that say about recruiting candidates, looking ahead to one year from now?
BARBOUR: Well, it will be good for Republicans in the House, to start with. More importantly, it will say to party leaders around the country, don't do what the New York Republican Party leaders did when the state party chairman let a handful of people choose our party's nominee.
In addition, where there are 45,000 more Republicans than Democrats, instead of having a primary where all the Republicans could choose who they wanted -- and whoever they chose would have gotten the unanimous support of -- of the voters in the district from the Republicans, instead the state party chairman, who has now been replaced, let a handful of people pick the nominee.
No wonder people are furious. I'd be furious, too.
BLITZER: It's a pretty close race, although Doug Hoffman, Governor O'Malley, seems to have a little bit of an edge going in, now that the Republican candidate is out.
O'MALLEY: Well, the Republican Party is a little bit at -- at war with -- with themselves, aren't they?
I mean, they've got the -- the right-wing of their party and they've got the extreme right-wing of their party. And you've seen them turn on each other time and again as they try to figure out what they want to do as a party, let alone -- let alone what sort of direction they want to lead our country.
And so that's an exciting race and it's certainly an interesting dynamic, where you have the Republican -- one of the Republicans -- the more moderate one who dropped out endorsing the Democratic candidate. So it should be an interesting night.
Do you think that the Democratic is going to win?
O'MALLEY: I hope so. I think so.
BLITZER: You do think so.
What do you think, Governor Barbour?
BARBOUR: Well, I'm not as close to it as I am to the governors races, Wolf, obviously. But everything I hear is that Hoffman, the conservative and Republican, is going to win. But, again, I don't want to claim that I'm close enough to it to be an expert.
BLITZER: We'll all know soon enough.
Gentlemen, thanks very much for coming in.
O'MALLEY: Thank you, Wolf.
BARBOUR: Thank you.
BLITZER: And it's not just the governors' mansions that are up for grabs in New Jersey and Virginia. Voters are also filling seats in both state legislatures. And nationwide, 380 cities, with a combined population of 39 million people, are voting for mayor. Additionally, there are a total of 26 ballot measures in six states.
We'll have complete results coming up here on CNN throughout the night.
Let's check in with Jack Cafferty right now.
He's got The Cafferty File -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: Wolf, as President Obama weighs whether to send as many as 40,000 additional troops to Afghanistan the government we're supporting over there continues to become more and more of a joke.
President Hamid Karzai has now been declared the winner of that disputed election after his chief challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, dropped out of runoff that would have happened this Saturday. Abdullah was calling for the resignations of top election officials to avoid the kind of fraud that happened in the first election.
It didn't happen.
Faced with a transparently phony situation now, President Obama is calling for a new chapter of improved governance in Afghanistan, now that Karzai's re-election is complete.
Well, Obama doesn't really have much of a choice, does he?
Mr. Obama says Karzai has to take on the rampant corruption and the drug trade, which he hasn't done so far, and has helped the Taliban make a comeback.
Maybe Karzai's brother, the suspected big player in Afghanistan's illegal opium business and also suspected of rigging those August elections, could head up the new Afghan ethics committee?
What do you think?
With each new development, our presence in Afghanistan looks more and more futile. And it's no surprise that Afghan political experts, along with regular citizens there, say the elections have undermined the people's faith in democracy. That's not how it was drawn up on the board. Meanwhile, President Karzai vows he will stamp out corruption and work with the Taliban. Well, not even the Taliban buys that. They call the election a fraud manufactured by Washington.
Just what we need, as our troops continue to die in that Godforsaken place. And more of them could be going there soon.
Here's the question, then -- should the United States place its faith in Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jack, thank you.
The first exit poll results, they're coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
We're going to take a closer look at some of these exit results in two key states to see what voters are thinking as they cast their ballots today.
Plus, three of President Obama's closest aides sit down with me for an exclusive and revealing interview. Part two today. You saw part one yesterday. They're talking today candidly about their historic election victory and what's next for the Obama White House.
BLITZER: All right. Just in, we're just in getting the first exit poll results from the closely watched gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia.
Our special correspondent, Soledad O'Brien, is finding out what voters were thinking as they actually went in there to vote.
What are we learning, Soledad?
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, we wanted to investigate in the State of Virginia and the State of New Jersey what are the voters really focused on. And no huge surprise that the economy is a really big issue. When you ask, are you worried about the economy?, to voters in New Jersey, 90 percent say yes, they are.
In Virginia, it's 85 percent. So pretty much everybody.
Let's break it down, though, a little bit more.
Take a look at Virginia. Forty-six percent say the most important issue is economy/jobs. And after that, 25 percent say health care. And you could really look at this and say, well, those are really national issues in the State of Virginia. That's what they're focused on.
If you go to New Jersey, though, we see something a little bit different. Economy/jobs, 31 percent, most important issue; but then property taxes, 26 percent of the people said that's the most important issue for them in this election. Twenty percent said corruption is the most important issue.
And I think these are really local, local, local issues. And, in fact, because the unemployment rate in New Jersey is 9.8 percent compared to about 7 percent in Virginia, they're really seeing local issues, I think you can argue, all the way across.
So that's really going to put Governor Corzine in the spotlight. It's really his record as the incumbent that everybody is focused on in New Jersey.
I think a couple of things to note. Of course, the polls are still open in Virginia. The polls don't close until 7:00 p.m.. We're also collecting data, so they're voting and we're collecting data. 8:00 p.m. in New Jersey, voting and collecting data. So we'll have more information for you about that.
And I think what's really interesting here is it's kind of a -- a prism to think about next year's election, dare I say. The mid-term election, if the economy is still a big problem, who does that help, who does that hurt?
I think that's how you have to examine all of these issues. The most important issue, health care, of course. And the economy, of course, a biggie in both of these states -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Soledad, I know you're going through the numbers. We'll get back to you for some more exit poll results. That's coming up.
Let's bring back John King and Candy Crowley to assess what we just heard -- Candy, it sounds like back -- it's an old refrain, "it's the economy, stupid."
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. And I think if I -- if you had to extrapolate from this and you look at Virginia, which has had a Virginia governor for the last couple of -- a Virginia Democrat, sorry, in the governor's race for the last couple of rounds in the election, that this probably bodes well for the Republican, who had a pretty hefty lead going into this.
If you look at the issues with economy on the top in New Jersey, I think I'd have to say the same thing here. Jon Corzine is an incumbent governor, a Democrat. If the economy is the major concern among voters there, if property taxes are the major concern among voters there and on down the line, those are the issues that Jon Corzine has been dealing with. So if -- if that concern is unhappy concern, that doesn't bode well for him.
BLITZER: Yes. I think you'll agree, John, in New Jersey, especially, corruption and property taxes are among biggest concerns. The incumbent usually suffers.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Property taxes are always a huge issue in New Jersey. Corruption has been an issue, both because Chris Christie, the Republican nominee, was a U.S. attorney and he has said that he is a corruption fighter and yet has had allegations that there was some misconduct -- some political use of his office when he was the U.S. attorney. And Corzine's administration has had some issues there, as well.
The health care in Virginia tells me proximity to Washington has made the health care issue a bigger issue in that state by far.
But, Wolf, to Candy's point and to Soledad's point, you have a Democratic governor in Virginia. You have a Democratic incumbent in New Jersey. Voters are not happy about the economy. That does not bode well for them.
Now, the voting is still going on. There's a long way to go. But if you're -- if you're the Democrats and you know what the candidates running against you have pushed as their big issue, especially in Virginia, where even the Democrats will tell you, they believe Bob McDonnell made an excellent pivot in that race. When his conservative writings and his conservative record were an issue, he pivoted and made it mostly about jobs and the economy. And the Democrats begrudgingly give Bob McDonnell a lot of credit down in Virginia -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. In Virginia, a little bit more than an hour-and- a-half from now, the polls close there.
Guys, don't go away. We have more to divest.
More exit polls are coming into THE SITUATION ROOM, as well, right now. We're going to go back to Soledad O'Brien for new information from the voters. They're telling us how they feel about some of these big races.
Also, the mystery of hundreds of pieces of missing luggage finally solved -- how those bags may have disappeared and why.
BLITZER: Dan Lothian is monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Dan, what's going on?
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, bad news for some 8,000 employees of health care giant, Johnson & Johnson. The company announced that it would cut between 6 and 7 percent of its global workforce, looking to save between $800 million and $900 million this year. This news comes as unemployment at the U.S. is at a 26 year high.
Police in Phoenix have discovered over a thousand pieces of luggage said to have been stolen from Sky Harbor Airport. Police raided this house and arrested two people after allegedly observing one of them taking a bag from the baggage carousel without having arrived on a flight. Neighbors said the couple would often hold garage sales.
OK, Wolf, listen to this. It's pretty incredible. A worker in a Moscow liquor warehouse loses control over his forklift, bringing down one row of shelves. And then -- wait for this -- another, a second shelf goes over. An estimated $150,000 of vodka and cognac was destroyed. The driver is reported to be only slightly injured.
You know, Wolf, I worked in a warehouse one time on a forklift. I knocked over palettes of medical records.
BLITZER: Oh. A lot...
LOTHIAN: No liquor.
BLITZER: Not like that, though.
LOTHIAN: Not like that.
LOTHIAN: Yes, just palettes of medical records.
BLITZER: That's unbelievable.
LOTHIAN: This is pretty unbelievable.
BLITZER: Ooh. A lot of vodka and cognac.
LOTHIAN: That's right.
BLITZER: All right. Thanks, Dan.
So where were you when Barack Obama was elected the 44th president of the United States?
It's a moment that will go down in history. And now, one year later, the president's inner circle talks about that big night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: And I remember walking across that hall and shaking the hand of the man we now call the president-elect.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: My exclusive interview with three of the president's top advisers. We had part one yesterday. Part two coming up in a moment.
And our CNN exit poll results are also coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.
Is the president a factor in today's races?
We'll go live to Soledad O'Brien.
BLITZER: There's a developing story just coming in from Louisiana. I want to go back to Dan Lothian who has got the information just coming in right now. What are we learning, Dan? DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Keith Bardwell, the Louisiana Justice of the Peace who caused a national controversy when he refused to marry a black man and a white woman, has resigned. The Associated Press cites the Louisiana secretary of state's office is saying the resignation is effective today. Bardwell said he routinely recuses himself from marrying interracial couples because he believes they are bad for the children of the marriage. The couple in question was married by another Justice of the Peace -- Wolf?
BLITZER: All right. Interesting story we've been following that. A lot of uproar involving that. Dan, stand by.
I want to go right back to Soledad O'Brien. More of the exit poll results are coming in from those gubernatorial contests in New Jersey and Virginia. What are we learning, Soledad?
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: One of the things we wanted to find out, Wolf, was as folks were leaving the voting, having just voted, was their vote a reflection on President Obama? Were they sending a message of support for the president or opposition to the president or was it not a factor at all, in two states Virginia and New Jersey?
Let's pop up Virginia first if we can and you'll see here 18 percent said they in fact were sending a message of support for the president. Opposition to the president 24 percent but this is the important number right here, 55 percent in the state of Virginia said that actually not a factor as well, 55 percent, very similar thing that we're seeing in the state of New Jersey, if we take a look at that one. Support 19 percent, even closer here, 20 percent said it was a vote of opposition to the president, but over here, not a factor, 60 percent, so you have one in five basically sending a message of I like him or I dislike him. Overwhelmingly though it's not a factor, and I think what we're seeing in the vote for governor and I remember from the last question about the economy, with the economy on everybody's minds, they think it's the governor of their state that's actually going to have a big hand at how the economic situation turns out for them personally. You're talking about taxes. It can make or break a person individually, the governor of their state. This is not then the election today, not a referendum in any way that we can really see on President Obama. That referendum, Wolf, will come in three years.
BLITZER: Well, it could be next year a year from now in the mid term elections, a lot more races, 435 races in the House and a third in the Senate, that could be more of a referendum than the gubernatorial races and one Congressional race in New York state. Soledad, I know you're getting more information so stand by for that.
Let's bring back John King and Candy Crowley to assess that. A lot of the pundits, John, as you know, they are going to try to say this is a referendum, but at least here 55 percent and 60 percent of the exit poll results are suggesting that Obama was not a factor in their decision.
JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I don't think it's any surprise, Wolf, when somebody goes to cast a vote for governor they would say I'm voting for governor and it has nothing to do with the president. In terms of the split, I think in Virginia, you have a bigger group, about six point difference saying they were voting to oppose the president. I think that would be troubling in the sense that all the spending in Washington and the health care proposal and especially in coal country in Virginia the president and the Democratic Party's climate change legislation, the cap and trade proposal, was a big issue out in rural Virginia so that gap there, while you might say most said he wasn't a factor, the fact that he was a factor more in opposition in Virginia would be troubling to Democrats especially because in both states Wolf, remember, the president went into both states late in the campaign and he is also on the radio and TV both states late in the campaign saying we can do it again, essentially urging African-Americans, the young voters, the key members of his 2008 coalition to come back out this year so if you're the Democrats or the White House you would like to see that margin in your favor, more people voting to support the president than voting to oppose the president. Not a huge number by any means, but more in Virginia definitely the president will be an issue one way or the other in these results than in the more Democratic state of New Jersey.
BLITZER: Candy, as you know in Virginia, the polls have all shown a dramatic lead for the Republican candidate.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They have, and -- and it is interesting to me just to sort of turn this upside down a little is that we did, as John mentioned, see the president go into these states and campaign alongside the Democratic candidate precisely because he had such huge margins of victory in both states, 60 percent in Virginia and I think over 15 percent in New Jersey last year when he won both those states, so the hope was that some of that mojo would rub off, and clearly when you look at these numbers and you see 60 percent don't care or more than that, slightly less than that in New Jersey, what you're seeing is that the president's coattails didn't have a lot of durability from last year to this. He certainly pulled in Democrats last year when he was on top of the ticket. When he is not on top of the ticket, I think then it reverts to the person who actually is there and who they are voting on, so this is certainly a lesson for Democrats as to just how far the president's powers of persuasion can go, whether or not he can translate that magic on to a different ticket, and I would say that's sort of not looking as though it does.
BLITZER: Guys, stand by. We're getting more exit poll results, and we'll check back with you as well.
It's quite a change to go from the campaign trail to the White House, so what's it like to suddenly call your boss Mr. President?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The most awkward thing is when -- when he walks into a meeting and David and I stand up and he sort of smirks at us like, yes, yes, sit down. You don't really mean it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The behind-the-scenes stories from the president's inner circle. Part two of my exclusive interview. That's coming up next.
BLITZER: One year ago, Barack Obama made history, and many of the people with him in the campaign and on that night are now key players in his White House. I sat down for an exclusive interview with three of them, the senior adviser David Axelrod, the communications director Anita Dunn, and the press secretary Robert Gibbs. Part one was yesterday, and now part two.
BLITZER: It was a moment that will be remembered for generations. Around the world millions of people celebrated as Barack Obama was elected the first African-American president of the United States.
CNN can now project that Barack Obama, 47 years old, will become the president-elect of the United States.
I asked three of his closest advisers to take us back to that moment.
That was in Chicago, David Axelrod. You remember that night well. I'm sure it was an exciting moment for you, but just reflect a little bit what you were thinking and how you were feeling at that second.
DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: Well, when the network projection came up, I was standing with David Plouffe and some people in the war room where they were getting returns, and when the words were spoken, I think we all were a little overcome. It had been such a -- it was surreal, I mean, to hear the words that this fellow we'd worked for, who I began working for when he was a state senator, was now the president of the United States, and it was quite an emotional moment.
BLITZER: I can't tell you how many people all around the world who were watching us said to me over the past year, you know, as you said those words, I started to cry.
BLITZER: Did you?
AXELROD: I'm among them. I'm among them. That's not unusual. I'm an emotional guy, but, yes, I was -- I was really overwhelmed by that moment.
BLITZER: What about you, Anita Dunn?
ANITA DUNN, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: We've been hearing reports all night about what a wonderful crowd it was down in Grant Park and just, you know, it was an unusually balmy evening in Chicago. We scheduled an outdoor event for early November which was risky but it was a beautiful day. It was like a festival all day with people on the streets and wearing their Obama gear and, you know, and --
AXELROD: And selling people Obama shirts.
DUNN: And when we heard those words and it was just this sense of oh, my gosh it really happened.
BLITZER: Because you knew it was going to happen. It was not a great surprise, but at the moment that it actually happened when we said he was going to be the next president of the United States, it began to sink in.
DUNN: It did begin to sink in. I think for many of us earlier in the evening when you called Ohio, and Ohio had such symbolic value after 2004 and it was like oh, my gosh, if Ohio is going this early, we may really win this thing, but when you said it, the reality sank in, it was just an incredible moment.
BLITZER: Because we had already projected not only Ohio but Virginia and North Carolina, a lot of these battleground states, Robert Gibbs, but we were waiting for that 270 number and it was only going to happen when the west coast, when California and Oregon and Washington state, when they closed their polls, and it was only then that we could go on the air and say what we knew was going to happen for the last several hours.
GIBBS: I was with him about 45 minutes before that when, as you mentioned, there was that time lag when you knew we probably had gotten 2790 minute the west coast closed, and I remember talking to him and it was a bit surreal because at that point we did know it but we hadn't been told it officially in a sense, and I remember I got the same chills watching that again that I had that night.
DUNN: Yes, mm-hmm.
GIBBS: Standing in a room across the hall with -- with some folks, and I remember walking across that hall and shaking the hand of a man we now call the president-elect.
AXELROD: And I had spoken to him earlier in the evening after Ohio. It became clear that we were going to win Ohio, and he said so it looks pretty good, and I said, yes, but I'm not going to make the same mistakes others made but I'm not congratulating you until we're absolutely sure so when I saw him after you guys made your projection, he said, well, can you congratulate me now?
BLITZER: A year later now, almost exactly a year later. Robert, how has the president of the United States changed?
GIBBS: Wolf, not a lot. I think we would certainly all say this, and I think anybody quite honestly that knew him before that call was made, he hasn't changed that much. He's still -- he's still the same person that we went to work for. I'm now in the sixth year of working for him. He's down to earth. He asks you about your kids. He's concerned about your well-being as much as he is every day worried about the country's well-being, and I think it's remarkable that all of what has transpired in our lives as a result of what's happened in the last year has done remarkably little to change the person that we went to work for.
BLITZER: But he is, Anita, he is the president now.
BLITZER: Been the president for month, almost a year. He must have changed a little bit. Has he become more serious, more reflective? You tell me.
DUNN: You know, I -- I remember when he called me, I think it was maybe a week after the election, he called me to talk about something, and, you know, I answered the phone, and when I heard his voice I said, you know, what is it, circumstances and he said, since when do you call me sir, and I said since you got elected president of the United States, I call you sir, you know, but he really -- I think what Robert said is true. Now, of course, you know these are serious times and I don't think anyone understands the challenges better than the president does, but at the same time he still has the ability that I think we all value of being in touch with, you know, people's lives and the reality of what these things mean that, you know, what happens in Washington actually does matter to families across the country, and, you know, he reads -- he still reads letters, he reads letters and he will ask people, you know, he'll say I read this letter today, is this true, can we follow up on this?
GIBBS: He wasn't -- he would say this out on the campaign trail and he -- he's not that far removed from not being in public life or as David said a state senator in Illinois, he's not that far removed from paying off student loans and understanding the day-to-day economic pressures that so many go through and he used to say that, that that gave him that perspective if he ever got to this office, and I think that perspective serves him well every day.
BLITZER: All of you, I assume, call him now Mr. President.
BLITZER: Even though you've known him for years but now it's Mr. President, right?
GIBBS: The most awkward thing is when -- when he walks into a meeting and David and I stand up and he sort of smirks at us like, yes, yes, sit down, you don't really mean it.
AXELROD: Yes. He's just happy we're getting exercise, but, you know, the -- you know, the most significant quality among many great qualities that he has is consistency. I mean, he's a very genuine person. He is who he is. He's got a very good perspective. He takes what he's doing very seriously. He doesn't take himself too seriously, and none of that has change the. I think the only manifestation that I've seen is that his hair is a little grayer and maybe that's where he channels the pressure, I don't know.
GIBBS: He's not the only one.
BLITZER: If you take a look at the video of him a year ago or two years ago or three years ago, he, like all of his predecessors, whether President Bush or President Clinton, they have aged, he has aged. You've seen that.
AXELROD: But one thing we learned during the campaign, Wolf, is that we were at our worst, when we had our most significant challenges, he was at his calmest and most focuses so it wasn't a revelation to us when he became president dealing with all these horrific problems that he would be calm, focused, as I said consistent and that's what we've seen.
BLITZER: With the election of the first African-American president, there's concern about growth among hate groups. Are these officials worried about the president's security in the rest of my exclusive interview with President Obama's inner circle? That's coming up. He told me I had choices in controller medicines.
BLITZER: Now the final part of my exclusive interview with the top White House insiders, David Axelrod, Anita Dunn and Robert Gibbs and their very personal reflections on the election one year ago of Barack Obama.
BLITZER: I can't tell you how many people still come up to me and I assume to you too but I want to get your thoughts on this, how many people come up to you and say isn't it amazing that the first family of the United States is African-American, what does that say to you, Robert?
GIBBS: As somebody who grew up in the south, I think it demonstrates how far the country has come. I think a little bit about my son, he has a place mat with all the pictures of all the pictures of the presidents and I realized that he's 6 and he doesn't know anything other than the fact that this is something that's very normal. He and many of children like him aren't going to grow up wondering what we did, if there's ever going to be an African-American president.
BLITZER: So many African-American leaders, John Lewis, Congressmen among others, have said to me in recent days, they never thought they would live to see the day that an African-American was elected president of the United States.
AXELROD: But I think it's more important that the young people see this.
BLITZER: They're not that surprised by it. Our generation is more surprised than our kids.
AXELROD: But I do think there are millions of kids in this country for whom that kind of success seemed unattainable and he said when she was considering the race, Michelle said well what can you do that no one else can do? He said I know one thing, when I take that oath of office, there are millions of kids in this country who are going to think that their opportunities may be different than they did the day before, they're going to see the possibility of attaining great things, and I think that he is a tremendous role model and that's a gratifying thing.
BLITZER: You could get emotional just thinking about that?
DUNN: Absolutely. When Nancy Pelosi was first sworn in as the first female speaker of the House it was interesting generationally Wolf that some of the younger women kind of took it for granted because they're growing up where men and women compete for jobs. For women of my generation, it was quite emotional. I listen to what Robert said about his son Ethan and I think about my own son, and they are growing up in a world where African-Americans and women and people are going to be running for these jobs and win these jobs and they're going to accept that as the norm and it really is an amazing thing.
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BLITZER: But along with the history comes hate, the election of a black president has not erased the black-white divide.
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BLITZER: How worried should we be about his safety?
GIBBS: As long as we have the secret service, which we always will, I don't think he should worry. I think they're the best group of folks that we could ever hope to have, they are professional, they are the best security force in the world. I don't think people should be concerned.
BLITZER: Your biggest challenge looking ahead, assuming health care reform one way or another gets passed, what's your number one legislative priority for the next year?
AXELROD: Well we've got several things. Well, I think that finishing health reform, an energy bill and financial reforms are absolutely essential to the future progress, but, Wolf, our greatest focus for the next year domestically is to try and get people back to work again. We're finally seeing economic growth, but it doesn't filter down quickly and we need to get people back to work, all over this country, people are looking for work and that's something that we talk about every single day and that's something he is thinking about every single day.
DUNN: When he ran for office, he ran because he wanted to make Washington work for middle class families again, you know, the people who were left behind or just didn't really get to participate in some of the booms and busts are the ones who really got hurt by the boom and bust economy, and if there's one goal we have, it's to keep that promise.
BLITZER: All right on that note, jobs, jobs, jobs, we'll leave it, congratulations, a year ago they were in Chicago, we have video of people all over the world watching CNN, I don't know if you have ever seen that.
AXELROD: That brought tears to my eyes.
BLITZER: People from the Philippines and Europe, they were all watching, millions of people all over the world and they remember that moment. When I show them those videos, those recollections, people get really emotional.
AXELROD: It was a great night.
BLITZER: Thanks so much.
DUNN: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: In Virginia, this voter takes her young daughter voting in Alexandria City, we're going to show you what's going on in Virginia, a lot more coming up, we'll take a quick break, we'll be right back.
BLITZER: Let's get right back to Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack?
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour has to do with Afghanistan. Should the United States place its faith in Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai?
Greg writes from Pennsylvania: "I wouldn't. All the more reason to reassign our combat troops to eradicate the poppy fields, help the farmers plant pomegranates and then work with the U.N. in providing aid to the real Afghan people. Helping the Afghan people is the way to success. Sending more men to fight and die only pours more gas on the flames and helps the Taliban and al Qaeda look like the good guys."
David writes: "No, he's a mindless, unethical power grubbing mouse. He will turn his back on us as soon as we leave and we will have spent billions of dollars and thousands of lives for nothing. Level the place and leave. Tell them and the world if you try to attack the United States again, your fate will be the same."
Darren writes: "How many corrupt governments is the U.S. going to prop up in the Middle East on their costly nation building tour?"
Gus in California writes: "Not really. First, remind of them of the fate of President Yem in Vietnam that we have a history of standing aside for the assassination of corrupt ineffective leaders. There is also no reason why we can't manage the Afghan elections. You don't have to stand still for poor government when you're the only reason they can exist."
Scott writes: "I think we have little choice but to trust Karzai, we shouldn't give up on bringing Bin Laden to justice. I'm always appalled when Americans say we should end the war and bring the troops home. Should we give al Qaeda a free pass? Let's work with Karzai and hold Karzai accountable for making progress in Afghanistan."
Bernard says: "Gather the 15 to 20 tribal leaders of Afghanistan together in a room and offer them a deal. Either get rid of al Qaeda or we'll take some agent orange left over from Vietnam and destroy the entire poppy crop and your claim to fame and fortune."
Carl in San Francisco says: "I have as much faith in Karzai cleaning up crime and corruption in Afghanistan as I would have had in Al Capone cleaning up crime and corruption in Chicago. He's the problem not the solution."
If you didn't see your email here, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/CaffertyFile -- Wolf?
BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much.