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JOHN KING, USA
Gulf Coast Tour; BP Spill Impact
Aired June 7, 2010 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN KING, HOST: Thanks, Wolf and good evening from Pensacola Beach, Florida, as we begin a week on the Gulf Coast to assess the growing environmental and economic impact of the BP oil spill. It is day 49 and we spent it hearing this community's fears and its frustrations and visiting its most sensitive treasures.
So far spared from the oil's reach but still at risk and not protected in the way local community leaders say is critical. Florida has the most at stake from an economic standpoint. Tourism is a $60 billion industry for this state and $1.2 billion of that is generated right here in Escambia County. Worried is an understatement, hotel reservations for the rest of the summer are in free fall. And just a few moments ago we talked to the owner of a local marina who says his summer is likely to be down 90 percent.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFF TAGGART, OWNER, PENSACOLA BEACH MARINA: We're talking years here. You know, if the pollution is bad enough in the water, we're concerned that they're going to shut down all fishing in the Gulf for a very long period of time. That's 40 percent of our nation's fish stock.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: This drama of course stretches up the Gulf Coast to Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, which has suffered the brunt of the damage so far. Anger at BP there is off the charts and today Governor Bobby Jindal took the company's new spill point man out for a firsthand look at the devastation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. BOBBY JINDAL (R), LOUISIANA: We are literally in a war to fight -- to protect our way of life. And anybody that doubts the impact of this oil, anybody that thinks this is just sheen or tar balls, go out to Pass-a-Loutre, go to South Pass, go out to the Barataria Bay. Go to East Grand Terre Island. Go to any one of a number of places 140 miles of our coast have been oiled. Go and talk to those commercial fishermen. Go look them in the face.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: And the political fallout of course stretches all the way to Washington, where President Obama called his cabinet together today to discuss the spill response and made clear this challenge will carry on for months.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Even if we are successful in containing some or much of this oil, we are not going to get this problem completely solved until we actually have the relief well completed. And that is going to take a couple more months.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Here's what you need to know at this critical hour. National incident commander Thad Allen says, quote, "We're no longer dealing with a large monolithic spill". Allen says the spill has now broken into hundreds of thousands of smaller oil patches. That cap on the leaking pipe is now collecting 40 -- 466,000 gallons a day, that's about 68 percent of the oil. Down on the bottom right of your screen, you see our meter estimating just how many gallons of oil have spilled, more than 36 million gallons since April.
Bases on government estimates and taking into account what's being captured by the cap, oil is still leaking into the Gulf at a rate of nearly 14,000 gallons an hour. That's down from more than 33,000 gallons an hour before they capped that pipe last Thursday. Here in the Pensacola area we walked the beaches today and some 100 BP workers scooped up tar balls, often kneeling near families trying to keep their vacation plans.
The oil sheens are on the surface several miles off shore, but local divers say more and more they're finding plumes and particles deep underwater. And that is the biggest worry of local environmental leaders who believe the booms set up by BP so far will do little or nothing to the biggest long-term threat under the water, not the easier to skim oil on the surface.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Dead Man's Island (ph) is one of the triple diamond sites. It's one of the environmental sensitive areas that we're trying to protect.
KING: So what makes this sensitive?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well we have --
KING: What (INAUDIBLE) do you worry about?
HEATHER REED, ECOLOGICAL CONSULTING SERVICES: We have a beautiful (INAUDIBLE) marsh out here in our bayou. This area protects lots of homes, resident homes. We have cactuses on one side, wet on the other. It's very unique. But we also -- what's most important is we have this oyster reef breakwater funded by NOAA and the Army Corps of Engineers.
KING: And have you seen any evidence of it here? I mean that's just mud.
REED: That's peat. Yes --
REED: That's peat material (ph).
KING: That's normal.
REED: Yes, that's exactly what we need.
REED: If we get oil into that we have a lot of (INAUDIBLE) organisms, you can see -- we have hermit crabs which the birds eat and they go underwater and they come up. They're going to be affected. It is kind of hard to pinpoint whether or not the oil affects it, but it's kind of obvious when we have oil in the area and dead animals.
KING: So this is designed just to keep any particles from coming ashore the best you can.
REED: That's right and sub surface.
KING: So that's BP's boom.
REED: That's BP's boom.
KING: And this is yours.
KING: This is about three feet long from top to bottom. A little more -- little under three feet. There's at least a two-foot gap between the bottom of the boom and the floor. So anything down low, any particles down low can come straight in underneath and go straight in there. Oysters, which is what they're worried about. Anything underneath can come on through and it would wash right in here into the sensitive bay into where these oysters are.
REED: I have a guy out there monitoring. I don't see him. But he was out here counting oysters just to see what kind of problems we have when the oil hits here.
REED: We've got rip rock (ph) all along that area right there, those rocks. The oil gets in the rock, it coats (ph) the rock, it gets behind the rock, and then it starts leaches out over a period of time. And according to the report, it's still doing that today in Valdez and we certainly don't need that here. There are a lot of great natural resources and nutrients within those bayous. And people have homes with living (ph) shorelines, they would like that protected. KING: What's your trust level of BP?
REED: I've been on this since day three. And I've given BP the benefit of the doubt and some of their contractors are great, but the P.R. and BP Corporation in general, most of it in my opinion is a dog and pony show. I have no trust in them at all, which is why we're taking our own measures.
KING: Let's continue the conversation now in Washington. CNN contributor and Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and Jacqueline Savitz. She is the senior scientist and director of Oceana's Climate and Pollution Campaigns. And also joining us on the telephone is the governor of this state, Charlie Crist, the governor of Florida.
Governor, I want to start with you. Because when we were out on that tour today a remarkable volunteer, Heather Reed (ph) right there, she said BP is putting those booms out there. But those booms run about two feet. And when you get below them, once there's sediment, oil, perhaps underneath it can easily flow in to the very sensitive areas. How do you stop that?
GOV. CHARLIE CRIST, FLORIDA (via phone): Well that's a great concern. And that's why the skimmers I think are so important as well, John. And what we're trying to do is position skimmers as much as we possibly can so that they can accumulate and gather up the oil before it even would get to where the boom is. And then have the boom hopefully serve as a backup to what the skimmers are able to do to try to extract the oil initially, but you know, nothing's perfect. We're just trying to use every possible measure that we can in order to protect our estuaries, protect our marshes, protect our beaches, but it's very, very challenging.
KING: A lot of the local captains here, Governor, say they've been contracted by BP and they go out and they find those smaller sheens five, sometimes six, sometimes nine miles off shore and they call for a skimmer boat, but they say as often as not, the skimmer boat never comes. Is BP still short changing your state when it comes to the resources?
CRIST: Well we certainly hope not. You know what's important is that as soon as those facts are known, if there is a shortage, that we can get the request in ASAP, to make sure that we get the skimmers where they need to be, when they need to be there so that we can protect our state as much as we possibly can.
KING: And Jacqueline, come in and help us with the science here because we've talked to several boat captains today who say they have taken divers out. And the divers go down and they're seeing small particles, they think they're plankton at first, and then when they get closer to them and try to grab them, they realize they're oil particles, essentially nickels and dimes and quarters, much like the tar balls we've seen hit the beaches. They say they are floating underneath. And when they come up, sometimes they say they come up looking oily like a bird. What is the long-term consequence of that? How can you capture that?
JACQUELINE SAVITZ, SR. SCIENTIST & DIRECTOR, OCEANA: Well as you say they do look like plankton, John, and they look like plankton also to the animals that eat plankton. So that means that fish and other marine life, which have been exposed to this oil spill now for nearly seven weeks may be consuming some of these little tar balls and ultimately bringing them into the food chain, not only affecting them, affecting the fish, the sea turtles, et cetera, but also potentially shaking up the whole food chain.
KING: I want you all to listen. The president gave an interview on the NBC "Today" show that will be broadcast tomorrow. But NBC aired a portion of it tonight in which the president uses some pretty tough rhetoric making clear that even as he tries to manage the response to this spill, he's looking to find a better sense of who is responsible.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I went down there a month ago before most of these talking heads were even paying attention to the Gulf. A month ago I was meeting with fishermen down there standing in the rain talking about what a potential crisis this could be. And I don't sit around just talking to experts because this is a college seminar. We talk to these folks because they potentially have the best answers. So I know whose ass to kick.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Governor Crist, you've been in politics for a long time. When you have a politician saying so I know whose ass to kick, is that a legitimate response from the president or is this a guy who sees sometimes the harpoons coming his way, people questioning the federal response, and he's trying to deflect it back?
CRIST: Well I think everybody's frustrated, John. And I certainly can understand why. This is a tough situation. We have never had to deal with an environmental catastrophe such as this in the history of our country. And so when you got this oil spewing out, you know 24/7 in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico and people understandably terribly frustrated and angry, as am I, you know you start seeing this stuff coming toward your coast, you don't have much choice except to be frustrated, angry and very upset about the prospects of how this is going to impact my Florida or in Jindal's case, Louisiana, or Haley Barbour's case, Mississippi or Riley's case, Alabama. And for the president, it's the entire Gulf Coast. So I can understand the level of frustration that he's sensing and obviously that he exhibited today. I feel it, too.
KING: We're going to take a quick break. We'll have Donna Brazile join the conversation when we come back -- much more to come from right here in Pensacola. And tomorrow we're going to take our tour up the Gulf Coast to Alabama. Keep working our way west until we finish the week in Louisiana. Pleas stay with us -- a lot more to come.
KING: You're looking at live pictures here at the beaches of the Pensacola area in Florida, $1.2 billion a year in tourism income comes out of this county. There are 70 hotels along the beach her, some 50 to 60 condominium complexes that rent out to visitors and everyone here in this community saying that their reservations for late June, July and into August are way, way down because of this -- because of this -- reports of these tar balls coming ashore.
Standing by still with us Donna Brazile in Washington, Oceana senior scientist Jacqueline Savitz and the Florida Governor Charlie Crist has been kind enough to join us on the telephone. Donna, I want to bring you into the conversation first now because you are from Louisiana which has suffered the most devastation in the short term. And you were recently here in Florida for a conference to the east of where I am in Destin. And what we have been told is these tar balls that have washed up over the weekend here in Pensacola are starting to come that way. What was the sense when you were in Destin?
DONNA BRAZILE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well first of all, I want the applaud Governor Crist like the other governors along the Gulf Coast for responding immediately to the challenges there because there are people out there on the Gulf Coast trying to pick up some of the debris. John, I saw some of that boom stuff being laid. Unlike you, I didn't go out there. I'm not that brave. But people are concerned about tourism.
They're concerned about the hotels. They're concerned about the Gulf itself and the sea life, the marine life. I had a chance to visit with a lot of people in Ft. Walton and Pensacola as well as in Destin and let me just tell you some of the best beaches in the world are located down there, but 67 percent of the Gulf remains open. The seafood, the quality of the food was excellent. You know I had to taste it a little bit myself. But people are worried, and they would like to make sure that BP is held responsible and that BP continue to help states like Florida and Louisiana recover from some of the damage that's been caused.
KING: And Governor, as you well know, the federal government has closed a significant portion of the Gulf of Mexico including your state to fishing. You have to go out several miles before you hit the federal waters. How do you make the calculation -- many of the local captains we talk to here are petrified that as that oil comes a little bit closer to your shore that you in the coming days will have to decide to shut down state waters. They say they're hurt already. And they would be devastated perhaps for years to come if you had to do that. Where are you in making that kind of a decision?
CRIST: Well it would devastate me, too. I'm a fisherman and I love to get out there in the Gulf of Mexico and participate in that. And it's a huge industry in our state, John. But I would have to consult with scientists and make sure -- we want people to be able to continue to fish and presently now thank god they're able to. The fishing is great. And I was at a seafood restaurant in St. Petersburg Beach today and it was extraordinary. We had you know shrimp and grouper and it was excellent. But we've also got to balance and make sure that we protect the health, safety and welfare of our constituents and our citizenry. And so I will be consulting with Mike Sole. He is the secretary of our Department of Environmental Protection to make sure that what we do in the decisions that we make, make sense, protect the people and continue to allow our fisheries to stay open as long as possible, but right now the fishing's good in Florida, the beaches, the vast majority are clean, Donna's exactly right. And we hope that that will continue to be the case as long as possible.
KING: Jacqueline, help us understand the enemy we can't see, which is the oil that's underwater, the oil on the surface, if they can find it and get a skin (ph) boat there they can get it out, but when I was out in those oyster beds today, and I'm holding up some of the oysters here, the big fear is that like in the case of the Exxon Valdez that it gets in the water, it comes into the marsh and the estuary areas, gets trapped in the rocks and essentially no matter how good a job you do cleaning it up on the surface, and even cleaning up what you can see under water that it keeps washing out for years and stays in the food supply of these oysters and obviously you have the hermit crabs and the birds that feed on all the life around there. How do we assess, when will we know about the depth of the risk of the enemy we can't see.
SAVITZ: Well as the governor said earlier, John, all these methods we're seeing to clean it up, whether they're booms or whether it's a burn or using these chemical dispersants, none of them are really perfect and so some of this oil is getting into the water. The dispersants are actually helping the water, helping the oil dissolve into the water making it more available to fish and more available to those oysters you're holding up.
When we look at the Exxon Valdez we see that some of that oil stayed in the environment, even 20 years later we can still find some of it. Now that shouldn't necessarily be a scare tactic. But the point is that we'll need to -- as the governor said, monitor the fish resources to make sure that not only that they're good enough to eat but if they are clean that we let people know that and that there isn't this sort of negative remaining residual fear about it, so we're going to have to do really good work on monitoring. But I think what we're seeing is that you talk about the fishing industry and the tourism industry, you talk about marine life. We've put the interests of the oil industry above the interests of all those other industries and we need to stop doing that. (INAUDIBLE) think we need to stop drilling.
KING: Jacqueline Savitz, Donna Brazile, and Governor Crist, thank you all for your time tonight and helping us understand the impact not only here in Florida but up the coast.
And next in "Wall-to-Wall" the latest forecast, just where this spill is heading next, how much more it might spread. We'll also look at some signs of the times, marinas advertising, almost begging for customers. And in "One-on-One", we'll take you inside a county's emergency command center where they're tracking the oil offshore and hoping it doesn't destroy their ecology and their economy.
And in "Play-by-Play", who's that young guy in a 1990's music video, certainly looks like a future president. And plumes or no plumes, how much oil is hiding just under the surface of the Gulf, well it depends on who you ask.
And our offbeat reporter Pete Dominick is way off his usual beat, he's in New Orleans talking to Louisiana shrimpers.
KING: In "Wall-to-Wall" tonight, a closer look at some of the images we've captured so far in our travels and then a look at where the government and the experts think this spread is hitting next. Look at some of the pictures we've put up on Twitter during our travels. First you see here on Dead Man's Island (ph), a protected wetland. You see I'm in the waders there looking out at some sensitive oyster beds and other spawning areas right off this remarkable island.
They're worried, no damage yet, but they're very worried that it could come to shore. Next picture you'll see is oil on the beach called Fort Pickens at Santa Rosa Island just near one of the Gulf Island State Park. Some of the tar balls on the beach there were workers out there picking them up today. Quite a few of them out there. Also quite a few workers out there in the scathing, scorching heat trying to collect all those tar balls.
You look at this next image, what you see that bent mesh, it looks like mesh -- it's called a turbidity (ph) curtain. It's a yellow curtain. Local environmentalists think it is much more effective than the shorter booms that BP is laying out in the water. The curtain reaches four sometimes five feet under the water. They believe it helps trap the sediments better underwater to keep them away from the oyster beds right in that area.
Here is a sign we took this snapshot at the Pensacola Beach Marina, "still fishing, let's go." Now we head over to the "Magic Wall" because we want to show you from Google map, a 24-hour projection of just where this slick is headed in the days ahead. You can see some of the sheens on shore as we told you at the top of the program.
Admiral Allen, the incident commander, says it has now broken into thousands of little pieces that are floating east from off Louisiana beginning to approach the Florida coast. We continue to track it. And before we go to break, I do want to show you some of the local efforts here. Volunteers say BP isn't doing enough. We'll give BP its say.
But this is a mop essentially, it is an oil absorbent material that they say you can take out if you see a sheen of oil in a sensitive area, you can get this from the local volunteers and essentially just go out, just like you would with a sponge. It is oil absorbent but not water absorbent and pick up the oil this way.
This is for you to hold in your hand and just use as a mop. Here is their own version of a little boom. Again it is similar material inside, oil absorbent, it is in this wire mesh. This stuff all donated by different businesses in the area. This one here they actually drop in the water in the sensitive areas hoping that it can go below those booms and if oil sediment starts to come in to the sensitive wetland areas, get captured in the booms here.
Again, remarkable efforts -- this is a volunteer effort not done by BP, to try to protect the oyster beds and other sensitive marshlands here. More on that in the hour ahead and as you know we're determined to bring you into the conversation, so each week we ask you to "Make Your Case" on a very important topic.
This week's question, what is your message to the people here in the Gulf region? Record your opinion and post it at CNN.com/JohnKingUSA. We'll play the best video on Friday and we'll send you a little treat.
Next we take you inside the Escambia County Command Center where they're tracking the oil off shore and hoping it doesn't destroy their environment and their economy.
ANNOUNCER: It's time to go "One-on-One".
KING: We wanted to get a sense of just how each local community here is reacting, so for our "One-on-One" conversation tonight we went over to the Emergency Operation Center for this particular area to talk to the Escambia County chairman -- County Council chairman -- excuse me -- Grover Robinson.
GROVER ROBINSON, ESCAMBIA COUNTY, FL, CHAIRMAN: The resistance has happened at unified command and so that's been a challenge for us. They won't necessarily tell you but I'll tell you the frustration we've dealt with.
KING: So what have you had to wait for?
ROBINSON: We are still looking for our sifters and rakes for trying to get tar balls off the beach. We got people going around -- you probably saw them -- on hands and knees. And I just don't think it's a real practical way. We've got to do something that can get this thing up quicker and better and how we can deal with this process. I think those are some of the things that we've been challenged with.
We're not happy with the way the response has been on cleanup. We clean up that beach every day. We're used to cleaning it up. We're not used to oil. But we're used to cleaning it up, so this is something we wanted to see. We had some expectations of what we expect. We expect it to be sugar white sand and that's our expectation. And so we -- that's what we try to --
KING: And whose fault is that?
ROBINSON: On --
ROBINSON: It's BP's fault that we've got this stuff here in the first place and we expect them -- we expect them to do what -- they told us they would do whatever it takes to get rid of it, so we --
KING: They're not doing it fast enough, not enough people, not the right equipment --
KING: All the above?
ROBINSON: I think a little bit of all the above. We have some ideas that we would like to see implemented. And we've had some difficulty getting those things accomplished.
KING: In terms of the protection of the marshlands you're talking about. One of the things when we were out earlier looking around just outside of this county but it's a similar challenge, you see BP has put these booms out that are about two feet, maybe like that. But if you've got the particles underneath or if you have heavy tidal action. You haven't seen that yet. It hasn't come that close to your shore yet in any big way, but does that concern you?
ROBINSON: Oh, absolutely it concerns us. That's why in Florida we're fairly fortunate. We typically have these inland passes that, you know, are in our case, Pensacola pass is about a mile across. We've got about a mile across. It really shrinks. When you start thinking about 36 miles, it almost seems overwhelming. But when you can shrink it down to one mile and you defend one mile, that's what we do.
KING: In terms of business and industry, how bad's the hit in terms of people saying, you know what? I'm not going to risk it.
ROBINSON: It is tough for us to measure right now because we have pleasurable tools of what's happening in the past, we did not have necessarily a bad May, but we didn't have any product in May. So we had a good May. What we're seeing is people backing off June, July and August, which is our busiest season and it is critical. It's not just affecting people on the beach. It is kind of a psychological effect. Businesses slow down everywhere. And that's been what we've tried to say is this economic issue of Florida that we see the environmental -- there's no doubt there's a huge environmental impact in Louisiana. There could be environmental impact here. We believe what's more significant is the economic impact. That's what we really want to mitigate. It is clear it is happening and it's happening to our people. We don't have oil and other things that we can depend on here.
KING: Anecdotally, what are people telling you, whether it's cancellations or -- ROBINSON: They say not so much cancellations although they've had some cancellations, it's much more no reservations.
KING: No increase for the later months.
ROBINSON: Exactly. Normally they had the phone ringing off the hook and people would be booking for June, July and August and it's just that the book is empty right now.
KING: What does that do to you -- obviously, your employment base, your tax base?
ROBINSON: All that's reduced. It is a tertiary effect and sort of a ripple. It then affects suppliers who supply those businesses, then their families. Then you have people like doctors and attorneys and in the service industry that get affected because people are getting affected. That's the challenge that we run into. That's our biggest concern in this process is what is this going to mean to us.
KING: You feel better today than you did, say, on Friday when you first noticed the evidence or can you not answer that question?
ROBINSON: I would say we feel better today than we did a week ago when it first broke that ten-mile barrier. We had no knowledge, when it broke the ten-mile barrier, nobody was communicating with us at that point. We got a memo from our ship's captain and that began to do the process. Again, there was a little bit of a breakdown in communication with us and I think unified command.
KING: That's the government and BP?
ROBINSON: Correct. We sought with BP to establish better relationships. We kind of had a fairly frank discussion with them and they promised us that they were going to communicate better. We're still waiting --
KING: Describe really frank.
ROBINSON: We passed a resolution that said we wanted them out of here because -- because, you know, this is supposed to be a team. We can't depend on them if they don't share their information with us. That was disappointing to us in the process. Again, nobody here, they're not going to tell you that stuff. Nobody wants to get into that. But we as the elected officials, we need to every now and again make that clear and let people know what's going on.
KING: After the break, the most important person you don't know. And if you're down here in the gulf region, you can't afford not to meet this man. Still to come, we send our off beat reporter Pete Dominick to Louisiana to talk to folks working or these days not working in the shrimp industry. We're live in Pensacola Beach for the first stop in our tour of the gulf.
KING: Today's most important person you don't know is the guy overseeing all the claims BP will be paying up and down the gulf coast. Darryl Willis is the vice president of resources for BP America. He isn't just sitting at a desk pushing paper. He's been touring some of the 10 claims office BP has set up right here in Florida and there are 15 more in other gulf states. In late May, Willis assured Congress BP will make the claims process quick and fair. He now says they've already written more than 18,000 checks. Willis was born and raised in Louisiana, attending college and graduate school there. During hurricane Katrina, his mother lost the home she'd lived in for 50 years. Because of that, Willis says he knows disaster recovery can be time consuming and frustrating. Let's bring into our conversation two friends standing by in Washington, Democratic strategist Paul Begala and Republican strategist Rich Galen. That's not the job you would want right now, being the BP guy going around saying, what do I owe?
RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: No, I would want to be the BP guy sitting in London saying what's for dinner?
PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: And John, Mr. Willis, I'm sure he's a fine guy, but you know 18,000 checks total, $48 million. Which -- with an m, million -- which is less than they've already spent on advertising. 50 million they spent on advertising, another 30 million that they've spent in the past year on lobbying. BP won't impress me until they get to the "b" numbers, billions that they owe those poor fishermen, shrimpers, all those people on the gulf coast who they're ruining their lives. So Mr. Willis got a lot of work cut out for him.
GALEN: Yeah, I won't defend BP in any part of this thing. But there has to be a process. I mean one of the things that we find -- I was down in Louisiana a week and a half ago meeting with Billy Nungesser of Plaquemines county, they've got like 60 air boats that are sitting there because somebody said let's air boats in here and there's no drivers for them. So that money is being sucked up. The point is that it's one thing to say we're spending this much money. It is another thing to make sure the money is going to the people that need it the most.
KING: That's an excellent point. Hit or miss out here on the road. Some people say, I got my $5,000 check. Others saying, it's taking way too long.
Let's move on now to some other stories on my radar tonight. Tomorrow is a huge primary day. Voters in 12 states will be selecting candidates for governor and the U.S. Congress. Our senior Congressional correspondent Dana Bash is in Little Rock where Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln is in a do or die runoff. Another big primary out in California where Republicans are picking candidates for both U.S. senator and governor. National political correspondent Jessica Yellin is out in Los Angeles. Dana let me go to you first in Little Rock, Blanche Lincoln needs to win tomorrow or she'll be former Senator Blanche Lincoln. What's the race look like?
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Neck and neck. There's really no reliable polling down here John and we talked to both campaigns, Blanche Lincoln's campaign and her challenger the lieutenant governor Bill Halter. And they will tell you they don't really know. It will be very, very close. But you're absolutely right. The name of the game here for Blanche Lincoln is to not become the third sitting senator this year to lose her Senate seat because of a primary bid because of a bid from within her own party. It is absolutely still anti-incumbent fever down here when it comes to Blanche Lincoln. That's what she was fighting during the primary and that's what she's still fighting right now in this run-off with Bill Halter.
KING: What makes California so interesting is I know that Arnold Schwarzenegger is a Republican, but he won the governorship by challenging a Democratic governor in a runoff election. He didn't win it the first time as a Republican candidate but yet Republicans think maybe for governor, maybe for senator that they have a chance in what has been one of the bluest states to perhaps have a bit of a resurgence this year.
BASH: That's true. It's because California is in such dire straits economically John that Republicans believe it's ripe for the taking. But in both these campaigns, you have new politicians running and likely to win tomorrow. In the governor's race, you have Meg Whitman, a former CEO of eBay who has invested $71 million of her own money into the race. She's running as the relative moderate and will likely face off against Jerry Brown, the well known liberal who used to be governor of this state and is a lightning rod for critics here. Then in that Senate race, the front-runner is Carly Fiorina. She ran Hewlett-Packard, as you know. Also Republican and what's fascinating John, she's invested $5.5 million of her own dollars into her campaign. Two female tycoons self-funding, pushing themselves to the head of the pack. We'll see if it's enough to help them -- beat against seasoned politicians in the general election come November, John.
KING: Rich and Paul, you guys pick the order back there in the studio. What will we learn tomorrow?
GALEN: Paul and I both come out of Texas politics, so we know there's nothing worse than a runoff election. You just never know which way the wave's going to break at the end. But I do think that Arkansas may well become a Republican pickup in the fall no matter which one wins. In California, both of these women have been very crafty. They've run very good campaigns. They kind of got off to bumpy starts, because running a major campaign in a state like California isn't as easy as running eBay or HP. If I had to pick, if I had to bet a dollar, I'd say Boxer goes and Brown wins.
BEGALA: Oh, really? See, I disagree with Rich on that. I love Senator Boxer. But taking that aside, if Carly Fiorina, the disgraced former CEO of Hewlett-Packard who Jeffrey Sonnenfeld of the Yale School of Management said you couldn't find a worst nonindicted CEO to be your standard bearer than Carly Fiorina. She's a poster child for everything Americans hate about CEOs. She shipped jobs overseas, then bragged about how many jobs she cut. She took a $42 million payout. She even sold computer equipment to the Iranians, our sworn enemies. In terms of opposition research, that guys like me love, she's a target rich environment. If I was running a campaign against her and I'm not, I would feel like a mosquito at a nudist colony. I wouldn't know where to start. Anywhere you hit though is going to be a good target.
GALEN: Thankfully she's not running in Connecticut. The Democratic has zone problems there.
KING: I'm going to keep both of you out of the nudist colony.
BEGALA: King's wearing Speedos, are those John King Mark Spitz Speedos? Wait till we see you walk away.
KING: Absolutely not. Let's move on to this one. It's the end of an era at the white house. Helen Thomas is retiring effective immediately. Thomas is 89. Has been under fire since a YouTube video surfaced where she said Israel should "get the hell out of Palestine." And that the Jewish people should go home to "Poland, Germany, America and everywhere else." Jessica to you first, then to Dana. This is a tough one because Helen Thomas was a trail blazer for women journalists but she's become very controversial in recent years. I'm going to say so myself, this is me talking, not any of you, she's hurt her own legacy.
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Clearly, it was time for her now. It's hard for us to do this in the media sometimes. But to remember somebody as complicated, as positive and negative. This is a woman who had enormously winning attributes. Her tenacity is what got so many women in the press room. And we stand on her shoulders. She couldn't separate her own views from reporting work and the comments she made about Jews and the countries that persecuted it, then killed them, was deplorable. So yes, time for her to go. But we can't remember her only for this one incident, John.
KING: All right. Jessica Yellin in L.A. We need to take a quick break. Can't get to Dana. We'll get to that another day. As we go to break, we want to show you the president of the United States. He's delivering what we call a graduation speech at Kalamazoo Central High School. They won a competition. They get the president of the United States. You see the president there. We'll track his remarks to these lucky students tonight. We'll bring you any news worthy developments and we'll also be right back.
KING: Here's tomorrow's news tonight including some news made right here during this program the past hour. Florida governor Charlie Crist tells me he understands President Obama's frustration with the BP oil spill. The president tells NBC, quote, I don't sit around with experts because this is a college seminar. We talk to these folks because they potentially have the best answers. So I know whose ass to kick. That's the president of the United States. National incident commander Thad Allen says the spill has broken into hundreds of thousands of smaller pieces. The cap on the well now siphoning more than half of the leaking oil, but almost 14,000 gallons still spilling into the gulf just during this hour.
In another breaking story from Texas, officials have shut off the gas line that was feeding a huge fireball in Johnson County. The fire is now out.
Back for our play by play now, Paul Begala Democratic strategist and Republican strategist Rich Galen standing by in Washington. You may have noticed I have moved inside. I'm in the comfortable CNN Express right now. It gives me a few more monitors here as we go through our play by play routine with these guys. Let's start Paul and Rich with this. Plumes or no plumes. I want you to listen to Doug Suttles. He's the COO of BP. He was on JOHN KING USA last week. We were asking him is there oil gathering under the surface that we can't see that could we a huge long-term threat. Doug Suttles said this.
DOUG SUTTLES, BP CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER: What you can see from that data is there are not large concentrations of oil beneath the surface. In fact, the measurements are in the parts of oil per billion parts of water. So extraordinarily small amounts and we're also looking for toxicity oxygen. And so I think it is true to say that to date we have not found any high concentrations of oil below the surface.
KING: But the incident commander, the national incident commander, the former coast guard commandant Thad Allen says possibly.
ADM. THAD ALLEN, U.S. COAST GUARD: Established by testing we understand there are dense -- there are densities down there. But as she would say, they haven't been characterized yet. That's the reason they're doing a sampling right now and testing them.
KING: Paul and Rich, I can tell from you talking to the captains and people who have been around the diver, they say if you go out a few miles and you go down, you see plumes and quarter sized pieces of oil floating around. They think it's a huge threat. They think the government and the BP are not telling them the truth or at least not looking hard enough.
BEGALA: John, you remember when you had Mr. Suttles on your program, I said here's the way to tell when a BP executive is lying. Their lips move. Mr. Suttles knew or should have known that already two universities in Mississippi and another university in south Florida independent experts have tested and said, yes, in fact, there are densities below the surface an and plumes underneath the surface. BP has a vested interest in diminishing the damages they'll have to pay in a court of law or maybe even criminal sanctions. They have incentive to lie. So they're going to lie. I think that's how we should approach these people. Yes, they have expertise. You know, they're the people that caused this problem. We should treat everything they say with the highest degree of skepticism.
GALEN: To Paul's point, the amount of oil being collected by this cap is still, what, three times more than they ever told us was leaking in the first place. So somewhere along the line somebody missed something. I think the initials are BP.
KING: This crisis has not only cast the president into a huge central role of questions of leadership, how does he manage a crisis, but all the governors, Bobby Jindal, Bob Riley, Haley Barbour, Charlie Crist in Florida, one of the governors is most outspoken and saying in his view this has been exaggerated, the risks have been exaggerated. That is Haley Barbour, the Republican governor of Mississippi. Listen to how Haley Barbour says yesterday don't worry so much.
GOV. HALEY BARBOUR (R), MISSISSIPPI: We've had virtually no oil. If you were on the Mississippi gulf coast any time the last 48 days, you didn't see any oil at all. We've had a few tar balls. But we have tar balls every year as a natural product of the Gulf of Mexico. 250,000 to 750,000 barrels of oil seep into the Gulf of Mexico through the floor every year. So tar balls are no big deal.
KING: Is he trying to keep friends in the oil industry? Is he is trying to keep the tourists coming, a combination of the above?
GALEN: I think governors have a very difficult row to hoe. I think Charlie Crist has got similar problems. On the one hand you want to make sure that your state is taken care of and on the other hand, you want to make sure you don't miss an entire season. It's like jobs. We can't shut the beach. This is the season. And I think that's what Haley's going through. One quick thing before we go. When I was in Baton Rouge right after Katrina and Bobby Jindal then was a Congressman. Of all the visitors that came down he asked the best questions. So I have a lot of confidence in Jindal.
BEGALA: I think if you're handicapping for 2012 based on performance here in the Republican Party, the Republican governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal doing real well. I like Haley Barbour. He's a charming guy. But that is not -- he needs -- I don't know. He doesn't know the difference between a tar ball and high ball. He needs to get his rear end down to Bobby Jindal's state and take a swim. How about that? If they're no big deal, take a swim where Jindal is working his heart out to keep that stuff away?
KING: You're wondering the value of Paul Begala. Only he can get from you tar ball to high ball.
BEGALA: It's about that time.
KING: We have to leave it there. Thank you both for coming in tonight. Really appreciate you joining our first night on the gulf coast. When we come back, I'll get back out to the beach right here off the comfy CNN Express and we'll visit Pete in the street. He's in New Orleans looking at some guy who's would rather be working. Stay with us.
KING: We're a couple minutes away from the top of the hour. Let's head to New York and check in with Campbell Brown for a preview. Campbell?
CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Hey there John. We're also of course following the latest developments in the gulf tonight. We have an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the mission control of the massive cleanup effort. This is the place where federal, state agencies, BP, all the companies involved in fighting the disaster come together for better or worse. We'll bring you there. Also tonight we have a special preview of a must-see documentary on a rare education success story in this country. We hope you'll join us in a few minutes. John?
KING: Thanks, Campbell. We'll see you then.
We're not the only ones on the gulf coast this week. As JKUSA hits the road, our off beat reporter Pete Dominick is also out with us. He's up in New Orleans trying to talk to guys who wish they could be working. Pete?
PETE DOMINICK, OFFBEAT REPORTER: That's right, John King. I left the streets and headed to the Louisiana bayou in Louisiana and I want to learn how people's livelihoods were affected. We went to check out the shrimping boats. Here you go.
DOMINICK: My favorite thing is shrimp. I love shrimp. And this is where they bring the shrimp in. Randy, what exactly is this?
RANDY: Shrimp dropoffs?
DOMINICK: Shrimp depots.
RANDY: Shrimp depot you might call it.
DOMINICK: But there's no shrimp here right now.
RANDY: No sir.
DOMINICK: Normally you're out there busy. How long have you been doing this?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 45 years.
DOMINICK: 45 years. You think the shrimp will be coming back here?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nope.
DOMINICK: You don't. You think it's over? Are you worried?
There clearly was shrimp here at some point. It always comes back. How do you like shrimp the best?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fried.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The best way to eat shrimp is boiled.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Boil them, fry them. I don't. Some people eat them raw.
DOMINICK: Would you ever eat a shrimp raw right out of the water and pop it in your mouth?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.
DOMINICK: You eat a shrimp raw?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. I had a friend do that and he got sick.
DOMINICK: The best way to eat a shrimp?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any way, they're good.
DOMINICK: Are you the boss? You're at the desk.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My son's the boss.
DOMINICK: Your son? Who is your son?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Randy.
DOMINICK: Where is Randy?
I thought I would fix that for you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can see we have to make gator bait out of this one.
DOMINICK: Here we go. So we're going to buy you a new ore.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've had this thing for six years.
So, John, they told me all the shrimp boats are working for BP. Somehow those guys are remaining upbeat.
KING: I should apologize to those people. They have enough problems and we send them Pete. Pete, we'll see you tomorrow night. That's all for us from Pensacola Beach tonight. We'll make our way to Alabama tomorrow. Hope you'll stay with us. Campbell Brown starts right now.