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Primary Coverage

Aired May 18, 2010 - 19:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Wolf. A big night of breaking political news ahead starting this hour, the final polls will close in seconds in Kentucky and we should learn in the minutes ahead whether Tea Party favorite Rand Paul will shock the Republican establishment and capture a GOP Senate nomination. The polls are open in Pennsylvania for another hour and for about 90 minutes still in Arkansas. In both of those states, Democratic senators with strong White House backing are trying to overcome a strong anti-incumbent, anti-Washington tide this midterm election year.

If there's no voting in your state today and you think this doesn't matter to you, give us a few minutes to prove otherwise. The issues at stake in these races matter to all of us. And will echo in your state when the midterm battleship is there. How tough should Washington be in cleaning up Wall Street? Should the Obama health care plan be given a chance or immediately replaced or repealed?

What about the economy, the growing federal deficit, and the debate about where to try terrorism suspects? Tonight is the biggest test so far of your mood on these and so many other issues. On the front lines for us tonight the best in the business when it comes to covering politics. Candy Crowley is in Pennsylvania, Dana Bash is in Arkansas and Jessica Yellin is in Kentucky where we begin tonight because Jessica, the polls are closed there.

Rand Paul, the Tea Party favorite, not the favorite of the Republican establishment, believes he will send a message in this state. I want your analysis and your take on the intensity there. But first, let our viewers listen to something Rand Paul said today. Many say the Tea Party baggage, the label, will hurt him in November. He says just the opposite.


RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY SENATE CANDIDATE: I think the outsider label and the anti-incumbency, the anti-Washington, all those are still good things for us in the fall. People want their budget to be balanced.


KING: Do they have any doubt, Jessica?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: They are very confident here, John. I would say they have little to no doubt. In fact, Rand Paul took most of the day down relaxing, at least this afternoon, and he is here now waiting for returns to come in. Rand Paul has made it clear he believes his election is a mandate for change and a sign that the Tea Party has the will behind it to shake up the Republican Party and politics nationally.

He believes that the message it sends is that Americans want non politicians in office and they are sick of the way things are so much that there is a groundswell to shake it up in any way they can think of. In fact, one of his proposals when he goes into office, John, is to require Congress with every bill they pass to state where in the Constitution they get the power to make a decision on this issue.

So he wants to strip down the power of Congress, take it back to constitutional principles, control spending and he believes tonight's predicted victory will give him the power to do that and to lead a Tea Party change nationwide -- John.

KING: Jessica, stand by and stay with us. That seat there, the Republican nominee, whoever it is, will be favored come November. A different story in Pennsylvania, a battleground state. Our chief political correspondent Candy Crowley is here. Candy, Arlen Specter is the incumbent. A little more than a year ago he was a Republican, now he is a Democrat and if you listen to him today, his message to primary voters is, look, trust me, I'm one of you now. I left the Republicans. Let's listen.


SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (D), PENNSYLVANIA: I've been willing to cross party lines, and the path I had was clear cut to the election to be re-elected if I had voted against the stimulus. But I simply refused to stay with the obstructionistic (ph) Republican caucus.


KING: And Candy, as you stand in that ballroom, this is the tense time for any campaign, especially an incumbent in this year. They're waiting for the polls to close. All they can go on is all we can go on, anecdotal evidence, calling labor sources, calling African- American political sources. I was in touch with a few recently who said they don't see the evidence so far that they have been able to do enough in the turnout department to help Senator Specter. Do they feel the same way there?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right. There was a certain target that they needed to meet in Philadelphia in turnout that would bring Arlen Specter over the line. They don't think they've had that turnout so far. Now we've got another hour at the voting booths, but there's a big game here today. It's raining, it's cold. The turnout has been pretty low. And that runs against Arlen Specter.

As much of this race has, I mean, the fact that he switched parties perhaps in a general election might have helped him but in a primary you're talking about the truest, bluest Democrats. And to have someone who was a Republican and they have known as a Republican in this state for 30 years, suddenly become a Democrat, has been hard for a number of primary voters, those being the most passionate of voters that turn out for a primary in a midterm election.

So yes, they certainly are worried about that (ph). I have to tell you they we did see Senator Specter. He came into this room, talked with reporters. One of the -- a couple of things that he said really struck me. One of them was somebody said, you know, has this been the toughest race of your political career. That's how it's being described. And he said well I'd say I've had six of the toughest races in my political career.

That of course would be all of the races that he's had for the Senate. And then he was asked whether he should have left the Republican Party earlier or not left the Republican Party and he said no regret, no regrets, no regrets three times. So I think that they still are, as the senator said, optimistic if they can turn out the vote. But I think that they are also realistic and you can feel that when you talk to some of the people around him.

KING: Candy, stand by as well. About 55 minutes for the people of Pennsylvania to still vote if you're watching we'll track the results throughout the night. Stay with us here on the program. Now let's go to Arkansas, the other Democratic senator in trouble tonight is Blanche Lincoln. She's the chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. She was in the House before she was in the Senate. But Dana Bash, as we come to you, as she voted today, she tried to suggest, well yes, I work in Washington but I'm not a typical politician. Let's listen.


SEN. BLANCHE LINCOLN (D), ARKANSAS: I'm definitely not your most typical of senators. I'm not a lawyer. I'm not a former governor. You know, I'm not any of those. I'm a mom and (INAUDIBLE) proof back here with me. I'm a wife. I'm a daughter. I'm a hard worker. And, you know, I've grown up in small business and, you know, that's what I bring to the Senate.


KING: My translation of that is I know you're mad at the politicians but please don't be mad at me.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I know you're mad at the politicians but really I'm not really a politician. That was effectively what she was saying and she was responding to a question that I asked pretty much on that point, which is, you know, are you feeling like you've been able to sort of thread that needle? Because that really has been what she's been trying to do, John. It's been fascinating to watch her.

She has been in the Senate for 11 years and the campaign that the lieutenant governor, Bill Halter, is running against her is classic, absolutely classic, saying, look, she's an insider. I'm an outsider trying to play upon that anti-incumbent, anti-Washington anger. And so that's why you heard her say well I'm a seventh-generation Arkansasan (ph) and I'm really just one of you. So that is the race that she's running right now which actually expect her to take into the general election if she does, in fact, win this Democratic primary.

And what we're looking at right now as we're waiting for the polls to close is whether or not she is going to break a 50 percent threshold. That's what she needs to do in order to avoid a runoff which would be on June 8th. And, you know, it's very unclear if that's going to happen, talking to her campaign tonight, they say that they feel a little better that turnout in her former House district is pretty high, they've done a pretty good turnout the vote there. But you've had a very, very nationalized aspect to this in that the labor unions, that the liberal groups have come down here in full force to try to defeat one of their own because they think that she's a traitor, that she hasn't been liberal enough on many of their issues.

KING: Three of our best out there covering the three biggest races tonight. We'll check back in with Candy Crowley, Dana Bash, and Jessica Yellin as developments warrant. Ladies thank you so much.

A packed hour ahead -- first and foremost, throughout the night we'll bring you the election results as they come in to us and the key primaries, we'll map out the key demographics and explain why it matters to you and the balance of power here in Washington.

On our "Radar" tonight, a family value conservative congressman abruptly calls it quits after acknowledging an affair with a congressional staffer.

In "Play-by-Play" tonight, Connecticut's Democratic attorney general, he's the favorite in the Senate race there. He acknowledges he has misspoken about his service in the Vietnam era. We'll compare what Dick Blumenthal (ph) says now with what he said throughout his history.

And Pete on the street tonight, well Pete is part of the best political team on television. He's in Pennsylvania exploring this issue -- party switching.


KING: It's a big primary night. The polls in Pennsylvania still open for another 45 minutes or so, the polls in Arkansas open until the bottom of the next hour. The polls in Kentucky are closed. Let's show you the early results in a key Senate race there.

Trey Grayson is the secretary of state. He was the establishment Republican candidate. At the moment he is losing 39 percent of the vote. Rand Paul, a Tea Party favorite, the son of the former libertarian presidential candidate Ron Paul, 55 percent. Only six percent of the vote in, though. We'll continue to count that -- could be a dramatic upset for Tea Party favorite Rand Paul in the state of Kentucky.

As we stay on top of that, let's have a conversation about why these midterm elections in these big primaries tonight matter to you at home. Joining me here in studio Democratic strategist Cornell Belcher, Republican pollster Neil Newhouse, Democratic strategist Paul Begala and in our Atlanta studios the editor-in-chief of conservative activist Erick Erickson.

Erick I want to go to you first for your take on this race here in Kentucky and its importance not only just to Kentucky but to the energy on the right going forward if Rand Paul holds that lead.

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, there are a lot of people early on who dismissed Rand Paul, just a lot of people thinking he was like his father, a man whose supporters we actually had to ban from Red State for just being a little bit too far gone. I've supported Rand Paul throughout this race. He had a very unique campaign, getting off to a start according to some people in this campaign with long-form letters to primary voters repeatedly sending long-form letters, built up his name recognition.

And he's really attracted a base of Republicans who feel betrayed by Washington, who feel betrayed not just by Democrats but by Republicans as well. And it looks like he's on track to win tonight. It's going to be an upset for a lot of guys in Washington who thought they knew better than the people in Kentucky.

KING: So Neil Newhouse, if that happens, what does it mean to the Republican Party? Some say oh my gosh it's the horrible shock wave at the (INAUDIBLE). Others say good it gives us new energy, new blood.

NEIL NEWHOUSE, CO-FOUNDER, PUBLIC OPINION STRATEGIES: You know this is not that different from what happened to Senator Bennett in Utah. This is an extension of the kind of insider/outsider argument that we're having not just in our party but also nationally right now. I think it's going to give more energy to Republicans.

I don't think you're going to find too many Republican primaries that are similar to this where you're going to find the establishment guy being knocked out. But this is a warning for Republicans and Democrats who are incumbent who are kind of resting on their laurels, that you know what, nothing's a sure thing anymore. And I think the Grayson campaign made some errors late when they reinforced that they were basically the insider candidate by talking about all the endorsements they had. And I think that played right to Rand Paul's advantage.

KING: Let's turn to the Democrats. Let's start with you Paul. What's your biggest question tonight? As you look at the map -- Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Arkansas, the late one out in Oregon -- what's your biggest question?

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: The biggest race is the smallest one geographically, that is the Pennsylvania 12th Congressional District. First off, it's the only race out there where there's no incumbent whatsoever at all or no heavy hand of any incumbent whatsoever. Kentucky primary does look a bit like a referendum on Mitch McConnell's pseudo incumbent, the other senator from Kentucky.

In Pennsylvania, it's the only congressional district, the 12th, that went for John Kerry in '04 and then John McCain in '08. So if Republicans can win there, they'll be able to say they picked up a seat from a legendary Democrat. If Democrats can win there, they'll say hey we won in a district that we couldn't even win with Barack Obama at the top of the ticket, so both parties are going to have huge bragging rights --


KING: And we should make clear to our viewers that's an election tonight. That's a special election to replace the late Congressman Jack Murtha. The Democratic candidate is Mark Critz, a former Murtha aide. Tim Burns is the Republican candidate. I spoke to sources up in Pennsylvania earlier today and they say this one is very tight. It's one of the only parts of the state where turnout is up over the other parts. They're not saying turnout is very high, but it's up over other parts of the state.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This district is 60 percent Democrat.

NEWHOUSE: I mean Democrats should win it but in this kind of political environment --


KING: The expectation game is in full bloom --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes I mean John McCain won the district and you got -- then you have the Republicans they're out spinning the Democrats there by 3-1, so it's a tough district.

KING: I want to pop this up because what we're learning tonight -- and if your state doesn't have a primary and you think this doesn't matter -- what we're learning tonight is who has the juice, where's the energy in this early part of this critical midterm election season. Gallup did some interesting polling.

Are you enthusiastic about voting in congressional elections? And look at the gap when you look at these numbers. Conservatives when you ask are they very enthusiastic, they are much more likely to say so. Forty-five percent of the conservatives say they are very enthusiastic (INAUDIBLE) vote only 26 percent of liberals.

Twenty-two percent of conservatives say they are somewhat enthusiastic. Twenty-nine percent of liberals -- but when you add up the conservatives somewhat and the liberals somewhat very enthusiastic, a big intensity gap. Remember in 2008, this was Barack Obama's baby. He won bigger and bigger because of that intensity gap on the left. Cornell, why is it on the right now?

CORNELL BELCHER, PRES., BRILLIANT CORNERS RESEARCH & STRATEGIES: Well I think what you see is a continuation of what 2008 and 2006 was to a certain extent. In 2008 and 2006, I think you had a focus, energized left hungry for change (INAUDIBLE) from the grassroots. Right now clearly you see sort of it took Republicans a little bit longer to get there but I think the right is there now where their grassroots is focused and they're energized and ready for change. And you can see that how energized they are and this Kentucky race to me is huge. Again, it is a civil war within the Republican Party as the Republican establishment going down in a way that is really, really fascinating.

KING: Erick, how do you sustain the energy? This big race, it did have a marquee endorsement of Mitch McConnell. It did have Rand Paul who had some celebrity because of his dad. How do you sustain that energy? Where is the next one?

ERICKSON: Well you know there's some good inertia here. Things in motion tend to stay in motion and I think they're going to keep staying in motion as long as Democrats keep convening on Capitol Hill to try to pass Barack Obama's agenda. You have got a lot of conservatives who are very, very upset about this. I think the conservative movement is going to shift over, though, back to Utah in this primary between (INAUDIBLE) Mike Lee (ph) and Tim Bridgewater (ph) to see what happens there.

Also down in Florida and in Colorado you're going to have another battle there. Jane Norton (ph), the former lieutenant governor, in a tough race against Jim DeMint-picked and I've endorsed Kim Buck (ph), really grassroots again versus establishment. And Norton (ph) looks like she's the next Republican establishment pick in serious trouble.

KING: All right, a quick break here. We'll continue to count the results as they come into Kentucky. We'll bring you the latest as soon -- call as soon as we get it here at CNN. Polls still open in some other states. When we come back he's not on the ballot but President Obama has huge stakes tonight and in this midterm election season. Stay with us.


KING: The latest results we'll give you right now. Kentucky's contested Republican Senate primary. Rand Paul, the Tea Party favorite, 51 percent of the vote so far. Trey Grayson the secretary of state, a statewide official there endorsed by much of the Republican establishment, he is trailing at the moment 34 percent of the vote, just 13 percent of the vote in on this important contest tonight. We will continue to track it.

Someone who is not on the ballot but has huge stakes in this midterm election season is the president of the United States. The president's party almost always suffers in the midterm elections especially the first midterm election of any presidency. Let's do a little history lesson here before we continue the conversation in the room.

Let's look at the past Democratic presidents and their midterm performance. Back in 1978, it was Jimmy Carter who was the Democratic president in the White House. His approval rating on Election Day was 49 percent. Democrats lost 11 seats in the House. In 1994, Bill Clinton was the Democratic president. His approval rating on Election Day was 46 percent. Democrats lost 53 seats in the House, the big Republican sweep year of 1994.

At the moment, again, five months to Election Day, President Obama's approval rating is 49 percent. Of course we don't know what will happen in November. Cornell, when you look at the numbers and you know what the history is, can't feel very confident right now as a Democrat.

BELCHER: Well I was wondering what Paul was doing when we lost all those seats back in '94.


BELCHER: But -- but here's the thing. We know we're going to lose seats but here's the thing. Other graphics (INAUDIBLE) are really interesting because we do have to get our enthusiasm up and here's the other part of this, those voters who came out and sort of took us across the line, those new surge voters, we've got to be targeting them. We've got to go after those votes. We've got to bring those younger, more diverse voters back into this electorate or we're going to lose -- or we could be looking at '94.

I (INAUDIBLE) looking at a '94 now and Paul can talk to this as well because I don't think the Republican brand is what it was back then when we lost all those seats. The Republican brand is a lot weaker now than it was back then. So I would think that would help us also.

KING: As you come into the conversation, listen to the president today. Now many thought he would maybe go to Pennsylvania, to try to help Arlen Specter in the final hours. The White House said uh-uh. But he did go out to Ohio, Youngstown (ph), Ohio a blue collar area, and the president did something I know Paul Begala has wanted him to do it and many Democrats have wanted him to do. He was more partisan on the number-one issue in the country right now, the economy, saying that look the Democrats are doing the best they can in a tough environment against an opposition that keeps saying no.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If the just say no crowd had won out, if we had done things the way they wanted to go we would be in a deeper world of hurt than we are right now. Families wouldn't have seen those tax cuts. Small businesses wouldn't have gotten those loans or those healthcare tax credits that they are now eligible for. Insurance companies would still be deciding who they want to cover and when they want to cover them and dropping your health care coverage whenever they felt like it.


KING: Better? You've been a critic --

BEGALA: That's better but that's C-plus. He -- that's operational and that's fine -- this policy, that policy. He -- the model here that midterm president you didn't show was Ronald Reagan, who had a 44 percent approval rating and only lost 26 House seats, which is about the historic average in the postwar area.


KING: Let's show that history --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- up every month --


KING: Let's show the broader history. 1982, Ronald Reagan, 42 percent on Election Day, they lose 28 seats. George H.W. Bush in 1990, a 58 percent approval rating, they only lost eight seats. Bill Clinton in '94, we showed you 46 percent. You had the sweep (ph). The one exception to the rule of late was George W. Bush because 2002 was the first election after 9/11.


KING: So that's an exception to the rule. They actually gained six seats.

BEGALA: But here's what Reagan did. He situated it in a philosophy, not just a policy or a program. He said every major speech -- I've gone back and looked -- every major speech in 1982, as unemployment went up and Reagan's approval rating went down he kept saying liberal economic policies have ruined this country and he explained.

I was -- I'm against taxation and litigation and regulation and I'm for tax cuts and deregulation. He made his case on a philosophical level. This president is uniquely able to do that and so I don't want him down there in the operational level. I want him to frame up the philosophy that Democrats believe and most independents ruined the country in the eight years that the Republicans had the House, the Senate, and the White House.


BEGALA: -- need to make that case philosophically.

KING: Go ahead, why is there a problem with that?

ERICKSON: Well because I think most people still agree with Ronald Reagan. I mean look at some of these races. We're not talking about (INAUDIBLE) in Hawaii who is in a heavily Democratic (INAUDIBLE) but looks like he's going to win. And you know like I said last night, we've been focused a lot on Republicans, quote, unquote, "conservatives purging the party". And one of the reasons we're not talking about it on the left is because, for example, Matheson (ph) out of Utah is going to be primaried (ph) for not being liberal enough.

He's probably going to win. Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas is probably going to win for not going to the left. Voters in the country still tend to be center right I think and so I don't think if the president goes out and campaigns on more liberalism is going to work.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But I don't think --

BEGALA: That's not what I'm saying. I'm saying that he ought to point out that we gave the keys to the kingdom to the Republicans. What did they do? They cut taxes for the rich, exploded the deficit, shipped jobs overseas and declared two wars. If you put them back in, they'll do the same thing again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So it's prospective as well --


NEWHOUSE: But at the same time, Paul, and I respect that, but you've got to look at his record, what he's done. He's blaming -- he's blaming the current economy and you know on Republicans.


NEWHOUSE: It is --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It needs to be a choice not a referendum.

BEGALA: If it is a referendum only on Democrats they're going to lose --

NEWHOUSE: It's a midterm election -- it's a midterm --


NEWHOUSE: This is a referendum.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Reagan made a choice --






NEWHOUSE: Go at the actual numbers. Numbers themselves, his approval rating was 49 percent in January of this year. No president has ever improved their approval rating from January to November of a midterm election in the first year.

(CROSSTALK) NEWHOUSE: His numbers are going to go down. Republicans are going to pick up a ton of seats. As you said the other day --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why didn't Reagan --


KING: Time-out.


KING: Time out. We got a feisty conversation brewing here. I need to call a time-out. We'll continue to track the races. The polls will close in Pennsylvania in about 30 minutes. The Kentucky results come in. Stay right there -- a lot of breaking political news tonight and as you can tell a feisty debate about it.


KING: The first big primary night of the 2010 midterms. A feisty discussion (INAUDIBLE) but first let's get the latest on all the results as they come in. Our Wolf Blitzer is standing by at the CNN Election Headquarters up in New York -- hi Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: John, thanks very much. Let's take a look at the numbers coming in from Kentucky where the polls are now closed. About 14 percent of the vote is now in on the Republican Senate primary and look at this -- Rand Paul, the eye surgeon, the son of Ron Paul, the Republican congressman from Texas, he's ahead 52 percent of the vote to 34 percent for Trey Grayson, the Kentucky Secretary of State. On the Democratic side, there's a battle under way, but Jack Conway, the Kentucky attorney general, 47 percent to Dan Mongiardo, he's the Kentucky lieutenant governor, 40 percent. 16 percent of the vote is now in.

So, we're watching both of these Senate contests. In about a half an hour, the polls will close in Pennsylvania, a big race there, Arlen Specter, Congressman Joe Sestak. We'll be watching that closely. And about an hour from now the polls will be closing in Arkansas. We'll see if Blanche Lincoln can hold on to her seat in the United States Senate. So, there's a lot of results coming in. At some point, John, as you know, we'll be able to project winners but that's going to be a while.

KING: We'll keep watching. Wolf, we'll get back to you with developments. All right. Let's continue our conversation with conservative activist Erick Erickson, Democrat Cornell Belcher, Republican Neil Newhouse, and Democrat Paul Begala. We know that earlier the president has a has a lot at stake here in the sense that, and let's show our viewers, what is at stake in this mid-term election here. There are 36 Senate races from coast to coast, and 21 of those states by my count earlier, President Obama carried those states, it's 20 or 21, also, at 37 governor's elections.

And most people think what does that have to do with the debate in Washington? Hugely consequential because this is a census year 2010, and after the census, they will redistrict and those 435 House districts that are on the ballot this year will be redrawn depending on population changes in those states. The economy is issue number one, and we talk a little bit about the president a moment ago and there was a little bit from his Youngtown speech that you didn't like.

I want you to listen to another section of the speech when I read this and then heard this today from the president. Parts of it sounded eerily familiar. Let's listen.


OBAMA: That's not how we deal with crisis. That's not what America is about. We do not become the greatest economic power that the world has ever known by avoiding problems. The United States of America does not play for second place. We step up, we face our challenges, we compete, and we win.


KING: Compete and win was his signature Bill Clinton line in 1992, a product of Stan Greenberg and all his research about Reagan Democrats, the middle class, how to sell a message about international trade to blue-collar union voters who are afraid of international trade. Again, you're not a fan. You think he's too much in the trenches. The failure many Democrats say is an overarching economic argument. Is that a piece of it?

BEGALA: That is a piece of it. I am a fan. I voted for this president. I gave him money. I think he's doing a terrific job. I just think he needs to put their ideas on trial as well as his own. Now, I like that bite because it does show Obama -- our president as an American exceptionalist. Very important. And only the president can speak for the whole country that way. That's in our best traditions. That did sound a lot like Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan or any successful president going all the way back to FDR. You have to believe in this country and its people. And when the other side is still very, very angry, sometimes it's kind of nice to hear your president say we are great and we can be great.

KING: You say the other side is very, very angry.

NEWHOUSE: The other side. It's not anger. Part of it's anger, but there's an energy behind our side and it goes beyond just Republicans. It's the independents, as well. I mean, you look at the numbers now among independent voters across the country. Obama is not faring very well. There's an energy that they're upset with Obama, and he's not making the connection to average Americans, to average voters across the country just like that clip showed. There's no connection there.

BELCHER: I would argue that they're more upset with Washington than they are with Obama. The interesting thing that happened with all this talk, interesting thing that happened last week is that guess what, the generic horse race for Democrats, we had been running behind. Guess what happened, it spiked up and now we're running ahead. They may be angry at a lot of things, but I don't think they're necessarily angry at Obama as much as they're angry at Washington and politics as usual.

And as much as he sort of pulls away from the politics as usual, look, he's taking on the (INAUDIBLE) you talk about his record, he's taking on the big issues, he's taking on health care, he's taking a country that was on the brink of great depression, and guess what, we're begin to sort of bail (ph) and move and get point in the right direction. Right now, we own the economy. For better or worse, I would argue that Republican -- for better or worse, Obama owns the economy, Democrats are getting blamed for it, but we're also going to get the credit for as it begins to turn around.

KING: Erick to this debate we're having here in the conversation. When you look at all the people who put comments on red state, who sometimes applaud with you write or sometimes scream at what you write in the conservative community. What are they mad about? Are they mad at Obama? Is it more about Washington and less personal? Is it a chance to take their party back? Is that part of the motivation?

ERICKSON: You know, all of the above, really. They are mad at Barack Obama. There are a lot of conservative who do view him as very far to the left of them economically and socially, but there's a lot of anger in Republicans. That's why we're having such bloody primary fights this year. The message I've been saying that resonates a lot with people is that if we take back Congress in 2010, the people who got us thrown out of Congress other than George Bush will be back in charge. And the only way to make sure that the Republicans don't screw up and lose voters' trust again is to start picking people off in primaries and replacing them with others.

But, you know, to the larger point on whether or not people like Obama, Paul may actually be able to chime on this one. I really can't remember, and I've tried to go back to look through old Gallup surveys up until 1995 or 1996, I think it was. Gallup really diverged on the personality versus the professionalism of the president. Meaning, in 1996, I think it was significantly that Gallup really showed voters they didn't really like Bill Clinton at the time personally, this is right when Monica Lewinsky was starting to blow up, but they really loved what he was doing.

And I'm seeing the opposite this year where voters really like Barack Obama. Even people who are slightly right of center do. But they don't like the policies, and right now, they are connecting that with Washington as a whole.

KING: Does the gap matter?

NEWHOUSE: It does matter. I think Erick is exactly right. You saw the same thing with Clinton reversed. What you see now is impression, I like him, I don't like his policies or, you know, I like his policies don't like him. And you find a majority of Americans like him personally, but also the majority don't like his policies. It is policy oriented (ph). It's not personal to Barack Obama.

BELCHER: I wouldn't go as far as saying the majority of Americans don't like his policies. Look -- NEWHOUSE: Really?

BELCHER: They're fairly divided on his job approval. And by the way, same thing happen with George Bush where his personal favorability lag, you know, didn't drop just dramatically as his job approval overall. The president is taking on tough, hard things so yes, he's taking some hits right now. Is the country going to be better off because of some of the policies put in place? Is he going to get credit for this as his country begins to turn around and can we move in the right direction? Yes, he is. But given where the country is right now --

KING: And the question is --

BELCHER: The country the turning around.

KING: And the question between now and November what happens are. We're going to take a quick break here in less than a half an hour until the Pennsylvania polls closing. We're also, as we take a break, we're also still counting the votes coming in from the Kentucky. A very important Republican Senate primary there. We'll keep track of that. You'll want to be with us as we only make the call tonight. And when we return, a congressman resigning after an extramarital affair is exposed. Wait until you hear what he'd been advocating.


KING: Times Square bombing suspect, Faizal Shahzad, appeared in court this afternoon which makes today's most important person you don't know the guy in charge of the government's case against him. Preet Bharara is the United States attorney for the southern district of New York. He's been on the job for less than a year and now has some really big shoes to fill. Previous, he was attorneys for that important district include Robert Morgan (ph) and Rudy Giuliani.

Bharara is a naturalized American citizen from India. His parents brought him to New Jersey as an infant. He grew up to graduate from Harvard and get a law degree from Columbia. Bharara knows politics quite well. Senator Chuck Schumer's chief counsel, he investigated the Bush administration's firing of other federal DA's.

Still with me in the studio, Cornell Belcher, Neil Newhouse, and Paul Begala. A guy with a political pedigree now in a really tough case.

BEGALA: Well, every U.S. attorney has a -- I mean they're appointed by the president, conferred by the Senate. So, there's nothing wrong with that. Our viewers should know that. But, yes, this -- as you mentioned these kind of cases can make or break a career and, you know, people not too amused at the notion that this guy almost blew up Times Square. Let's hope that he gets a fair trial and then swift justice.

NEWHOUSE: Yes. There are high stakes here, yes. KING: All right. Let's go through because he was in court today. And that today's hearing, the charges against Faizal Shahzad were read out. They're read allowed, read his rights, but he did not have to enter a plea. An attorney put in a request that asked Shahzad be served food proprietary according to Islamic dietary laws. His next court appearance is June 1st. As this plays out so does the political debate.

In this mid-term election year, Neil Newhouse, you worked for Scott Brown and his race in Massachusetts. One of the things he used as a political argument the line he used was I want your tax dollars spent on weapons to defeat them, not lawyers to defend them. Does that message have more, less, the same credence as we move forward in the campaign?

NEWHOUSE: Yes. It's going to have some traction this campaign, just like it had traction in Scott Brown's race against Martha Coakley. I mean, there is real sense that, you know what, we shouldn't give these guys constitutional rights like we give American citizens try him in a military tribunal. Americans want to be tough with these people. They want to treat them as terrorists. They want to try them as terrorists and send them to jail and put them away.

BEGALA: This is an interesting fissure. If, in fact, Rand Paul pulls off this primary, and I think he probably will in Kentucky, he'll be maybe the new Scott Brown, right? He's not running around counterterrorism. In fact, he has said there should have been a declaration of war against Iraq and if there had been one, he would have voted against it. He won't support President Obama's troop surge in Afghanistan.

He is to the left of Barack Obama on national security which is why Dick Cheney came out and endorsed the other guy and attacked Rand Paul. So, this is a fissure in the Republican coalition. the libertarian right does not much like a lot of the counterterrorism measures and the neoconservative right does. So, it's a family feud in your party.

NEWHOUSE: Not yet it's not --

BEGALA: It will be by tomorrow morning.


KING: One race does not a feud make. Is that what you're trying to argue here?

NEWHOUSE: It's one race, one -- you know, this race will play out on other issues than that. You know, this is --

BEGALA: But it is true -- ideas have consequences. And he is running to his credit on a clear set of ideas. They are very libertarian. They are not neoconservative. That's a huge difference for the Republican Party. They become the libertarian party, then they're no longer going to be the party that repeats this sort of mantra Scott Brown did on terrorism. KING: Here's one more I want to get in here because it's important. It's very important policy wise and will also play into this political debate we're discussing but from a policy prospective, I read this report today and just think how can this be so long after 9/11. As from the Senate intelligence committee, points out 14 intelligence failures leading up to that attempted Christmas day bombing of the U.S. jetliner. It sounds eerily like what happened before 9/11. The bipartisan report says the CIA didn't share information about the suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. The state department didn't revoke his visa when it should have. His name wasn't placed on terror watch lists and nobody connected the dots.

BEGALA: The only good news is that they are pointing fingers. I am pro finger-pointing. I will point out if grace these services (ph) that the Republican Congress did for a Republican Bush was they did not hold his administration's feet to the fire when they were messing up. Here's a democratic chair committee by Dianne Feinstein, a former client of mine for many years ago, running a very tough report about a democratic presidency. This is what our country needs to hold the feet to the fire irrespective of party. So, God bless Dianne Feinstein.


BELCHER: You have to stop playing politics with this issue. And I think much to my chagrin, I think Republicans do play politics with this issue far too much. It has helped them in the past, but this is an issue absolutely right where we have to stop playing politics. Democrats, Republicans, point the fingers when they need to be pointed. Don't try to gain political favor with terrorism.

NEWHOUSE: Guys, it's hard to stop playing politics when all you do is play politics and use, you know, past congresses as an example in the thing. It's not a -- it is a political issue, but you've got to look at the 14 deficiencies.

BELCHER: Absolutely.

NEWHOUSE: I mean, they're taking responsibility. There were major problems and they have to be held responsible for it.

KING: All right. You want to jump in?

BELCHER: This is why Americans are ticked off about politics. Because they see an issue like this and we are playing politics with it when American families think this is an issue, Democrat, Republican keep us safe, don't play politics --

KING: Since I'm the less political guy, I can't say I'm non- political guy, but I'm the nonpartisan political guy in the room, let's say let's hope they read these 14 recommendations and other recommendations and figure it out because it is scary when you read it and think I've read this before somewhere, haven't I?

Here's another one for you. Indiana Congressman Mark Souder, an eight-term family values Republican conservative abruptly announced that he'll resign on Friday. He also admitted he sinned against God by engaging in a relationship with a member of his staff. Reports identified the staffer as the woman who interviewed him in a video on abstinence education. Politics is full of ironies. Silence in the room.

NEWHOUSE: That's horrible. I mean, you know, he -- he did the right thing, but that's -- I mean, the arrogance of somebody like that to take advantage of a staffer, you know, there is no excuse for that.

KING: These guys were just talking about accountability and how it's necessary. He went to John Boehner, the house Republican leader. Every indication was the Congressman knew he was going to do this. John Boehner says you are leaving. We're going to stop the conversation right here with very important announcement from our Wolf Blitzer.

BLITZER: All right, John. We have breaking news. We can project a winner in the Kentucky Republican Senate race. The eye surgeon, Rand Paul, the son of congressman Ron Paul will be the Republican nominee, and we project he will defeat Trey Grayson, the Kentucky Secretary of State. Grayson was seen as the establishment candidate. The Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, from Kentucky, he had endorsed him. He had other endorsements from major Republicans, but Rand Paul, a really novice in politics, coming in. He's an ophthalmologist, coming in with an overwhelming amount of support from the tea party movement.

He, now, will carry this Republican Senate primary in Kentucky, setting the stage for a contest against the Democratic candidate in November. That democratic race is still going on. We are not yet ready to project a winner in the Democratic contest between Dan Mongiardo and Jack Conway. As soon as we get some more results, we might be able to move in that direction. But, John, right now, Rand Paul, not a huge surprise because he was very, very popular in all the polls going into today. Rand Paul, we project, will be the Republican senatorial candidate going forward towards November -- John.

KING: Wolf, thank you. We'll get back to you as other news breaks throughout the evening.

Let's talk this over. Not a surprise as he said, but as you look at what this means, the other candidate, Trey Grayson had Mitch McConnel's endorsement, he was the state Republican party endorsement. If you are on the establishment side of politics, left or right, you look at this and say whooh?

BELCHER: To me, this has interesting contest within sort of Washington, D.C. between Demint, who was clearly on sort of the side of the tea party side versus Mitch McConnell who's been sort of the establishment side. I mean, those guys are now clashing for control of the party inside Washington. To me, that's an interesting also sort of spin off from what's going on in this race.

KING: And Jessica Yellin is on the scene where Rand Paul will celebrate tonight in Bowling Green, Kentucky. He would replace if he's elected to Washington and the Republicans certainly would be the favorite here, Jim Bunning, former baseball, a hall of famer, a controversial guy sometimes, a very conservative member of the senate. How would Rand Paul be different, if you will, he'd be a Republican who'll be a conservative. Where does he differ?

YELLIN: You know, John, it's interesting. He says that he will be very different from the existing Republican Party. He has said he wants to take the party back, control spending, and return more power to the states, but he said he'd actually like to follow in the footsteps of Jim Bunning, the man he would replace, partly because Bunning was so disliked. And I mean that because he doesn't want to do what's popular.

He says he'll do what he believes is right. He thought Jim Bunning did that. I've been talking to a bunch of the people who are gathered here at the victory location. They said Rand Paul victory to them means not only would they be taking their party back, but that they would demand that the country pay their bills the way hey have to every day. That is the message I hear from voter after voter. The government is not being responsible the way I have to, and they want Rand Paul to change that.

Rand Paul, himself, has said he will not rest for a moment. He will wake up tomorrow and start doing interviews bright and early, 4:00 a.m. National media has been good to him, and he is going to keep on working that, but tonight, he's here at this country club, and we're waiting for him to speak here in the next few hours -- John.

KING: Jessica Yellin on the scene. Now, new else (ph) I can't resist. This might come across as a bit of a cheap shot. He's the tea party favorite or is he a country club Republican?

NEWHOUSE (ph): Let's stick with tea party.



KING: They should have at least taken the signs down. He is a member of the Bowling Green Country Club. We looked it up. the membership is

BEGALA: a real man of the people.

KING: The membership dues are not that obnoxious. It's like $7500 a year. He is an eye doctor. If you want to talk fiscal conservatism, one of the reasons his staffs says he's there is that he gets the room for free as a member. He doesn't have to spend money.

NEWHOUSE: But the bigger message here is listen to what the voters are saying there. The voters are they want the government to be accountable with their dollars, to spend the money in the same way they do, and balance their checkbook. And that's not specific just to Kentucky. That's across the country. That's exactly what we're seeing across the country. And it's not just tea party. It's Republicans, it's independents and it's even Democrat. KING: And it's TARP. It's spending in Washington, it's debt as it pays but also the bailout program. Blanche Lincoln, it's an issue against her and the Democratic primary. Bob Bennett, the Republican senator, just stripped of his nomination out in Utah. In Washington, they say we had to do it. The economy was on the verge of collapse. Outside of Washington, a lot of people think --

BELCHER: I got to tell you, I can't tell you how many times I sit behind a focus group window and listen to working Americans talk about I'm the one who needs a bailout. And they cannot connect the dots. And I think to a certain degree we've done a poor job on the Democratic side connecting the dots between what you had to do to stabilize Wall Street and sort of what Wall Street means to Main Street because I hear it almost every night in the folks group. I need a bailout. They bail out the big guys, but they're not bailing out us.

KING: When does that psychology lock in? You, guys, do polling for a living. When does lock in if President Obama is perfect from point X out to election day in trying to connect those dots and make the message, when does it not matter anymore? Voters have already decided this is what I'm doing this year?

BELCHER: I can't spin it. Quite frankly, it may be slipping beyond the point of no return.

NEWHOUSE: John, it is pretty closed to locked in now. I mean, the fundamentals of the Republican coalition have come back together again. I mean, between independents, men, lower income voters.

BELCHER: I got to give you independents.

NEWHOUSE: We've got them. I mean, the fundamentals are being locked in right now.

BEGALA: Wait until Rand Paul comes to Washington and says "cut Pell grants." All those families who want to send their kids to University of Kentucky or great schools in that state or cut farm benefits and subsidies. People in Kentucky, many of them voting for Rand Paul are themselves on welfare of some sort or government subsidies of some sort. And when it comes a cropper, when he comes, I think if he should win the Senate election, come here and propose deep cuts in Kentucky Ag subsidies and Kentucky college funds, all of a sudden, people are not going to be quite so happy with the theory of libertarianism, I think.

KING: Dramatic breaking news in Kentucky tonight. Rand Paul, the tea party favorite, taking the Republican nomination for Senate. He is now the favorite to win that race, taking it away from the candidate endorsed by the Republican establishment. A big win for the tea party and the right in that one. And more breaking news coming tonight just moments away. The polls close in Pennsylvania about six minutes from now. We will be all over this. A key Senate incumbent. Republican turned Democrat Arlen Specter hangs in the balance there. Don't go anywhere.


KING: In just a few minutes, the polls close in the state of Pennsylvania. The big question there, can Republican turned Democratic senator, Arlen Specter, survive a primary challenge from the left? A little bit of history here. Back in 2001, Jim Jeffords, the Republican of Vermont decided he was going to become an independent and caucus with the Democrats. It was a dramatic change in our politics. Among those going to the Senate floor to comment on it then Republican Senator Arlen Specter.


SEN ARLEN SPECTER, (D) PENNSYLVANIA: I have delayed in expressing these thoughts to further reflect upon them, and perhaps, avoid saying something I would later regret.


KING: Hold that right there. Perhaps saying something I would later regret. Remember those words. Let's finish.


SPECTER: I intend to propose a rule change which would preclude a future reoccurrence of a senator's change in parties in midsession, organizing with the opposition to cause the upheaval which is now resulting.


KING: So, Senator Specter back in 2001 saying he wanted a rule prohibiting senators from doing exactly what he did. Just a little more than a year ago, switching party in mid session. We thank the good Lord for the C-span archives and for YouTube.

Our Pete Dominick is in Philadelphia tonight at Specter headquarters. And he's been exploring this question about switching parties.

PETE DOMINICK, JOHN KING, USA'S OFFBEAT REPORTER: Hey, John King, yes, I went out to ask Pennsylvanians how they felt about party switching and loyalties, in general. Would they ever change their loyalties to something they care so much about if the wind blew that way? We'll see.


DOMINICK: What do you think of Arlen Specter leaving the Republican party after 427 years?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It seemed like the opportune thing to do.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Maybe his philosophical differences changed.

DOMINICK: Enough with your logic, miss. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I always think of Arlen a diverse bipolitician.



DOMINICK: He goes both ways?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: goes both ways.

DOMINICK: Politically?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator Specter wants to do is get reelected and retain power. He doesn't care how he does it. And he'll change parties for any party.

DOMINICK: But sir, you've done that to attract a woman, haven't you? You've lied about your job or your hobbies?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, they don't like me no matter what I say.

DOMINICK: They don't like you. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm originally from Massachusetts.

DOMINICK: All right. So, you would never change who you root for in terms of sports teams based on where you live, would you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It depends. It depends on the team.

DOMINICK: You would sell out on the Red Sox and root for a Pennsylvania --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I support the Phillies now. My mother would be very unhappy to hear that. Take that, John King!


You would never root for the pirates?


DOMINICK: Or the Yankees?


DOMINICK: You're going to stab me? Would you ever change your loyalty and become a lobster? How long have you been married?


DOMINICK: Thirty-nine years. You don't hear that very often. Is there still a chance, though, for a new man?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's too late to try to get to know somebody new.

DOMINICK: Too late.



KING: Our thanks to Pete on the Street. Our thanks to everyone else who came in to help us here on this big night of breaking political news. It continues. The polls closing in Pennsylvania. Campbell Brown standing by to take it away.