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JOHN KING, USA

Tragic Plane Crash in Alaska; Borrowing and Spending in Politics

Aired August 10, 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 everyone.

Tonight we begin with breaking news from Alaska where authorities now confirm former Senator Ted Stevens, the Republican among the five people killed in a Monday evening crash of a small plane. Stevens was the longest serving Republican in Senate history, 40 years from 1968 until his loss just two years ago.

The former NASA administrator, Sean O'Keefe, was also on that plane. He's among four survivors from the crash tonight. CNN's Casey Wian has arrived in Alaska just moments ago and joins us now from Anchorage with the latest -- Casey.

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well John, we're expecting a briefing from the National Transportation Safety Board here just outside of the Ted Stevens Airport in anchorage, Alaska, in about an hour. We're going to get more details of exactly what happened or at least part of what happened during that crash late last night, but we already have some preliminary information from one of the men who actually discovered the crash scene.

He is a commercial pilot whose name is Eric Shave (ph) and he's one of two commercial pilots who flew over that scene last night and alerted to authorities to the crash. What he describes is absolutely incredible and in some ways terrifying for anybody who flies in Alaska. He said that the plane basically ran into the side of a mountain. It was about a thousand feet up that mountain and he said the clouds were so low at that time they almost came down to the level of where the plane was at.

He said the impact site, which he could see from the air, the body of the plane slid about 200 feet past that impact site but he saw no evidence of fire. He said that the entire plane, the front of it was smashed in. The wings were pulled back. And he said that he was absolutely shocked, very surprised that there were any survivors.

Now, because of the remote area and the bad weather, it took rescue crews a long time, many hours to get to that scene. But as we know now and as you have reported, four people, including former NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe and his teenage son have survived. We believe they are in a local hospital. Local media is reporting that they have broken bones and other injuries but we have no more details about their condition -- John.

KING: Casey Wian on the scene for us in Alaska -- Casey, we'll keep in touch as the hour unfolds and in the days ahead as developments (INAUDIBLE). Casey thanks. I want to take a closer look now. Casey just mentioned some of the terrain up here at the site of this crash. Let's zoom in and take a closer look.

The flight took off here at Lake Nerka, crashed here about 10 miles north of Dillingham. I want to flip this up a little bit. As Casey noted you have hills in here. You have some low mountains as well. You also have sometime very foggy extreme weather conditions. That's one of the areas of concerns as they look in -- again, the flight taking off here, coming around this way.

Most believe it was trying to head on this side of the lake here, instead, crashing in the terrain here; that obviously part of the investigation. Let's take just a quick look now at Senator Stevens. He served in the Air Force during World War II, went to UCLA and then was a Harvard Law grad. His first wife ironically was also killed in a plane crash. Senator Stevens survived that crash.

He left Congress because of corruption charges in 2008, lost his reelection bid because of them, though he was later cleared of those charges. One other footnote we want to make, politicians, there is a legacy of politicians dying in plane crashes. In 2002, Senator Paul Wellstone, a Democrat from Minnesota, Governor Mel Carnahan, a Democrat of Missouri in 2000, John F. Kennedy Jr., son of the famous president, of course, in 199, died in a plane crash.

The commerce secretary, Ron Brown in 1996, the Republican governor of South Dakota, George Mickelson in 1993 and in 1991, Senator John Heinz of Pennsylvania, these among some of the politicians and members of political families who have sadly perished in plane crashes. We will continue to follow developments in the Stevens crash up in Alaska including keeping a track of the conditions of the survivors.

But we turn now to the midterm elections. Jobs and the reach of the government are the defining issues of this year's campaign and tonight the Democrats up the ante by $26 billion. That was the price tag of a new package signed into law by the president tonight. It's designed to help cash-strapped states pay their Medicaid bills and to keep teachers, firefighters, and police officers on the job. To the president this is just common sense and compassion.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You can't stand by and do nothing while pink slips are given to the men and women who educate our children or keep our communities safe. That doesn't make sense.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: But to Republicans, more reckless liberal spending.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), MINORITY LEADER: We are broke. We do not have the money to bail out the states. It's time for them to get their arms around their own problem and not look to Washington to bail them out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Washington spending habits and role in job creation are big issues in a handful of big primary contests today and in the bigger fight for control of Congress this fall. So who's right and who has the upper hand in the politics of jobs and the economy?

Joining us CNN senior correspondent Joe Johns, CNN contributor Paul Begala, who of course is a veteran Democrat strategist, and John Brabender is a Republican strategist working on a number of big midterm contests. Also here to help from Colorado where voters are picking candidates tonight for Senate and governor our national political correspondent Jessica Yellin.

And Jessica, I want to go to you first because you're out on the ground in the races. How does this debate? We saw it play out in Washington today with a vote on the House floor and a presidential signature at the White House. How is it playing out on the campaign trail?

JESSICA YELLIN, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's giving both sides, John, something new to campaign on. It reaffirms the Democrats' message that they're trying to do something to help small businesses, to help regular folks, to help state governments and teachers in this economic environment and it goes to the Republicans' argument that Democrats are just focusing on spending to fix the problems and that's not the solution. Both sides are totally polarized on this and it's playing out in Colorado as it is across the nation -- John.

KING: Totally polarized, John Brabender. Now how do Republicans make the case when the Democrats say you're going to lay off teachers by voting no? You're going to lay off police officers by voting no. You're going to keep a firefighter maybe from being in your community to respond to an emergency by voting no.

JOHN BRABENDER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well I think the big part of this people understand is priorities. No one's saying that this is a bad thing. They're saying, though, however if you keep spending, spending, and then states know and the federal government knows you can borrow more and then you're going to spend more, it just never stops. And what we're finding in polling data for the first time are people are seeing a strong relationship between the overspending and this economy.

And they realize that the spending is not getting us permanent jobs. It's getting us temporary jobs and I think that's why the environmental is as bad as it is. Let me ask you this. Have you seen a single Democrat run an ad yet that say that they were for the bailouts, they were for the stimulus, they were for TARP, they were for health care? Why aren't they running ads on these things if they are wonderful things? PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Because the Americans are theoretically conservatives about spending, but operational liberals. So the theory is in the broad spectrum -- this is where Republicans win. They say I'm against spending. Where the Democrats win is they say I saved your local firehouse. I kept your kid from having going to go to class with 50 other kids with head lice.

I kept the firefighters in your neighborhood, your cops. That's -- so it's the tension. In fact the American people need to grow up because they want both. They want to cut spending and save their local firehouse and teachers.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Frankly Democrats would be better served if this bill had not passed and we were laying off teachers, cops and firefighters. The politics only, the raw politics would have been better for the Democrats if people actually felt the pain in spending cuts, but Democrats once again have saved people from the consequences of Republican spending cuts --

KING: I want to continue the conversation, but I will do so first by giving everyone a flavor of how this is playing out because if you have a big race in your state and you turn on the TV, we're 84 days out now. More and more advertising on the air -- this is a mix of what you're hearing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm Rob Portman. Ohio's lost 400,000 jobs and continues to fall behind. And Washington and Columbus just don't get it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Unfair trade agreements, letting Wall Street run wild. From day one I voted against them because you warned me they'd cost Wisconsin families jobs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've creates secure jobs here in Wisconsin. Russ Feingold, he thinks government creates jobs. I believe Washington is crushing us with spending and debt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator Murray leveled the playing field because we should build these plains.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And that means jobs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Local jobs.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Local jobs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ten thousand local jobs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: You don't hear, to John's point, people saying the stimulus plan did it. You see Patty Murray, I fought for Boeing. How did Democrats navigate this environment where you can't stand up and say you know we're adding 10,000 or 20,000 or even 70,000 jobs a month? Those numbers aren't enough to hit the unemployment rate.

BEGALA: Right. Republicans want to nationalize, Democrats want to localize and personalize. So Patty Murray, who did save jobs at Boeing in this plant, right? She can go right to that plant. Localize, personalize, humanize. That's the Democrats' best hope here.

The national environment is terrible, but if you can get two specific things and this issue of shipping jobs overseas -- let me tell you, if there's one diamond in the Democrats' doo-doo here, it is that they have the better of this argument. Republicans have supported tax breaks for corporations that ship jobs overseas.

Democrats are trying to do away with them and use the money for small business to create jobs here at home. That's a winning issue for Democrats because it's about jobs.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: The interesting thing too is Democrats keep hammering away at party of no, party of no, party of no. The difficulty here is a lot of these policies are not necessarily that popular and so there are a lot of people out there actually saying party of no might not be so bad, but you know that's the midterm phenomenon, isn't it?

BRABENDER: Yes, but first of all, you can't make the point that it's the right thing to do but it's the wrong political thing to do because if it's the right thing to do it's the right --

(CROSSTALK)

BRABENDER: A lot of the states don't have credibility. You have like in Pennsylvania where Ed Rendell says oh we need this money, it's great. Then they found out that he's also in the middle of borrowing money to pay $10 million for an Arlen Specter Library. If we can afford an Arlen Specter Library, we shouldn't be going to Washington asking for money.

KING: Jess, I'm going to let you in, but to that point, I just want to -- I do want to point out Ed Rendell may be spending money on an Arlen Specter Library, a lot of the Republicans who are saying no to this. That we can't afford it, Citizens for Governor's Way (ph) says Andrew Crunch (ph), a Republican of Florida, wants $26 million to build a fitness facility at a naval station. I'm sure they need it, but $14 million for a chapel complex at Fort Campbell. Senator McConnell and Bunning, two Republicans, so the Republicans are (INAUDIBLE) earmarks --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely --

KING: -- in some of these bills too.

BRABENDER: You'll see there are Republican candidates this time who are also blaming Republicans and I'll tell you what. When Boehner says we're broke, he's wrong. Broke would be overly optimistic. You know broke would be a goal at this point and we're nowhere near there and people have to realize that. We're on a terrible cycle and it's got to stop.

KING: Ms. Yellin has the disadvantage of being on the roadway and Jess.

YELLIN: I think someone needs to run an ad campaign against the voters and tell the voters that they have to make up their minds because what the voters are saying is we want to lower deficit and we want to reduce government spending, but we want tax cuts and we want everything you can do to stimulate jobs and our economy. They say they want politicians who will get along and work across the aisle and change Washington, but then they keep supporting the candidates who are in the most extreme edges of their parties over and over or encouraging candidates to run that way. So I'm voting here now for an outside group that will use some of their money to run some ads telling the voters that they have to make up their mind, get clear themselves.

KING: Jessica Yellin will make the first contribution --

(CROSSTALK)

YELLIN: -- doubt it.

KING: Everybody stay put because when we come back, one of the big debates in Washington tonight sharp condemnation of the professional left. Who's delivering that condemnation? Rush Limbaugh, oh no, no, it's the White House press secretary. Don't go anywhere.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: If you spent a little time with us over the past few months, you know people on the left sometimes are not happy with the Obama White House. They say why is he sending more troops to Afghanistan? Why couldn't we get a public option in the health care bill? Why, why, why. Many liberals are a bit upset. Apparently they've gotten under the skin of the White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. He told this to the "Hill" newspaper in an article published today.

"I hear these people saying he's like George Bush. Those people ought to be drug tested. I mean it's crazy." Robert Gibbs went on to dismiss what he called the professional left, saying they'll be satisfied when we have Canadian health care and we've eliminated the Pentagon. That's not reality.

Paul Begala is the Democrat in the room and someone who has worked in a White House that occasionally has come under fire from the left plank. Mr. Gibbs need a vacation maybe?

BEGALA: You know (INAUDIBLE) I'm sure he believes it and it's got -- there's a lot of merit to it frankly, but that's what you say over a beer and Gibbs, I should take you out for a beer. You don't say it to a reporter. He knows that. By the way, I think he's an outstanding press secretary, a real asset to this president and to our country.

But what flashed back was when I was working for Bill Clinton and the left was on his butt, too, and he gave an interview to "Rolling Stone", Bill Glider (ph), the legendary liberal journalist and he attacked and I quote "the knee-jerk liberal press." Sounded like Nixon or Reagan or something. So it's an occupational hazard. I hope my fellow liberals will cut Gibbs some slack here because I think he's doing a great job.

KING: Washington theater or does it divide among Democrats have an impact in an important election year?

BRABENDER: Well you know I was trying to first find some brilliance in this. Was it to show Obama is the centrist and there was something and I think it was more one of those things where -- one of those movies where you're thinking something and next thing you know you actually had said it out loud. I think in a bad election year already this cannot help. We find that the intensity is on the Republican side. There's a little intensity particularly among liberals. This certainly isn't going to help that.

KING: Jess, you're out in Colorado where one of the great races out there is the Senate primary tonight. We have Michael Bennet, who was an appointed senator. And he's being challenged from the left by Andrew Romanoff who says hey why didn't you fight for a public option in health care. Do you see that, the left to the more center of the party tug of war playing out on the campaign?

YELLIN: It's absolutely playing out in the campaign here. I mean Romanoff who is a centrist for most of his career, as you say, has run to the left in this campaign and I also was just at NetRoots Nation not long ago where the progressive left was very organized and vocal and Robert Gibbs actually spoke to something that they've been feeling which is that they feel sort of dismissed, scoffed at by the White House.

They think the White House -- many of them say -- many people in the White House seem to think that they're not strategic and don't quite take them seriously, and I'm sure within that community we've already seen postings on "The Huffington Post" this sort of verifies what they already felt was happening. It certainly can't help. I don't think it's you know fatal in any way, but it's going to rub some people definitely the wrong way, John.

KING: Joe, Jessica mentioned "The Huffington Post". Keith Ellison, a prominent liberal in Congress, told this to "The Huffington Post" today. This is not the first time Mr. Gibbs has made untoward inflammatory comments and I certainly hope that people in the White House don't share his view that the left is unimportant to the president. He may not be the best person for the job. Gibbs crossed the line. His dismissal would be fair.

JOHNS: Yes, well you know, what comes to my mind is the flight attendant who, you know, he just jumps off and he's gone. But you know it's like if you can't join them, beat them. That was the other thought. But you know you look at this White House and you realize they have been beaten up a lot. I mean there have been African- American members of Congress on the left who have gone after them. Gay groups have gone after them and --

KING: Latino groups on immigration.

JOHNS: Sure. Yes. It's very frustrating because you know they think they're doing the right thing. But these groups are saying, look, this is our time, it's our turn. If it's not going to happen for us right now, it will never happen to us and it's up to you Obama.

KING: Quickly back to the strategist, though, again, it's a great debating point, but does it affect an election year, depressed turnout --

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: -- days away. Come on, no --

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Plenty of time to kiss and make up.

BEGALA: Not only that, but reality matters and for the Democrats reality bites. OK, we got 10 unemployment, two wars that are not going very well -- Iraq better. The president says he's getting our combat troops out, but that's what's going to drive this is jobs, jobs, jobs, not whether Mr. --

BRABENDER: But he's going to apologize tomorrow.

BEGALA: He has apologized --

BRABENDER: He has apologized already --

BEGALA: And it was more apology than he needed --

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- keep apologizing.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Robert, if you're watching, the Republican position is you should keep on apologizing. Shocked by that, but before we let this group go, this is my little tribute to Mr. Begala, the president was in his state yesterday and he went to the University of Texas and --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Hello, Longhorns.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: I don't think he's going to carry Texas, but at least -- BEGALA: John, he'll get 70, 75 percent of Texas with that. There -- we do have these people called Aggies (ph). It's a remedial school (INAUDIBLE).

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: That is the finest presidential photograph I think I've ever seen --

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- throws a baseball out. I'll tell you right now --

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) Mr. President.

BEGALA: I love that.

KING: All right.

BEGALA: And keep in mind Mack Brown (ph), our coach of the football team, he only lost one game. It happened to be the national championship --

JOHNS: Yes.

BEGALA: -- and there were people ready to fire Mack (ph) after that too.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: So hang in there, Mr. President --

(CROSSTALK)

KING: In politics and in sports the last one matters. Thanks everybody for coming. And a lot more to come tonight -- when we come back in the program tonight we'll bring you up -- first we'll bring you up to date on top stories including a defiant Charlie Rangel takes to the floor of the House today.

They're trying to pass a jobs bill. He wanted some time to talk about his ethics case. We'll talk to you about that. In our "Clash" tonight, the closest Senate race right now happens to be in Pennsylvania. We talked to both the Democrat and the Republican candidates today about tax cuts, the government's role in the economy. You won't want to miss their "Clash" of ideas.

In the "Radar" tonight, what candidate, potential candidate for president in 2012 calls himself a 4-year-old in search of a cookie. You don't want to miss that and a big ad in the mosque fight that's dividing much of this country, an important provocative move there. And Pete is on the street tonight. You know, Levi Johnston says he might run for mayor of Wasilla. It got us to asking should celebrities really be getting involved in politics?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back. Let's check in with Joe Johns for the news you need to know right now -- Joe.

JOHNS: John, authorities in Alaska have just released the names of the victims of last night's plane crash in Alaska. The dead are former U.S. Senator Ted Stevens, Terry Smith, the plane's pilot, William Bill Phillips, Sr., Dana Tyndall (ph) of Anchorage, Alaska, and Corey Tyndall (ph), also of Anchorage. The survivors are former NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe, his son Kevin O'Keefe, Jim Morehard (ph) of Alexandra and a 13-year-old boy.

Polls close at the top of the hour and the Republican runoff for governor of Georgia with less than one percent of the vote in, Karen Handel is leading Nathan Deal.

South Dakota U.S. Senator Tim Johnson had gall bladder surgery today. His doctor says the operation went exceedingly well. On the House floor this afternoon an angry Congressman Charlie Rangel demanded a hearing on the allegations made against him by the House Ethics Committee.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: If I can't get my dignity back here, then fire your best shot in getting rid of me through expulsion. And I don't think apologies mean that this is a light matter, it's very serious, but corruption, no evidence, no suggestion that this was ever found.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: John, looking at that, looks like it's going to be a long battle ahead. And talking to some Democrats they suggest he's not just hurting the party at this point. He's hurting himself.

KING: Joe, dead right on that last point. You know I was talking to some Democrats today who said why today, why today, why today, why today. You know they came back into this quote, unquote "emergency session" to pass this jobs bill. The Democrats thought you know let's try to turn the environment at least a little bit in our favor.

Charlie Rangel goes to the floor and does that speech. All the cable networks carry it. It disrupts their conversation. He's innocent until proven guilty, has a right to make his case, but boy a lot of his friends are not happy with the congressman --

JOHNS: Politically people are saying you know why not just take a deal and make this thing go away.

KING: Yes, a lot of people wish he had somehow negotiated his way out of this settlement several months ago, but tough one. Close to the election, Joe Johns thanks very much. Next in the "Clash", both candidates for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, one of them is getting help tonight from Bill Clinton.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Give us two more years and if we're wrong, send us packing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: In this corner and in this corner.

KING: In the "Clash" tonight, a look at one of the most hotly contested battleground Senate races in this midterm election year. It happens to be in the state of Pennsylvania and these are the two candidates. Congressman Joe Sestak, he is running as the Democrat, remember he beat Arlen Specter. The Republican turned Democrat at a primary; Joe Sestak is now the Democratic candidate trying to keep that seat in Democratic hands.

The Republican candidate is the former congressman conservative Pat Toomey; he is the Republican candidate. In a moment you'll hear from both of them. First though let's just take a peek at what this state means. Here's what happened in the presidential campaign. Obama carried it quite comfortably in part because of right here. For the Republicans to succeed in this state they need to do better in the Philadelphia suburbs, right in here, which have become increasingly Democratic in recent years.

So I talked to both candidates today and we started with the big vote. The House decided to vote and the president signed into law tonight a $26 billion emergency aid package. It helps states pay for Medicaid. It helps states keep police, firefighters, and teachers on their payroll. What do the candidates think?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REP. JOE SESTAK (D), PENNSYLCANIA: I voted for this because it mattered to the working families of Pennsylvania, but I'm also a pay- as-you go. Balance the budget, which I voted for three teams but Congressman Toomey voted to throw out the window and turn the largest budget surplus in the history of America to the largest budget deficit the year he left Congress. We can't go back to the past. We have to move forward with small business tax cuts to where we actually give community banks guarantees in the loans to small businesses, because small businesses of less than 100 people lost over 80 percent of these jobs. And that's where the working families are, and that's where we side with.

PAT TOOMEY, (R) SENATE CANDIDATE: Well, first of all I don't think it's good for the federal government to be bailing out irresponsible states. There are some states that have been pretty tough. They have watched their budget. They are living within their means. Some of them are actually running surpluses. Many are not. And it is not good for taxpayers to be, federal taxpayers, to be bailing out these states. It undermines any sense of accountability on the part of the states.

The second thing I would point out is that in order to get this thing to look at though it's revenue neutral, or deficit neutral, I should say, it depends on very unlikely spending cuts years from now. If they had the political will to cut that spending they would cut it now. They don't' have that will. This is going to increase the size of the deficit.

KING: Another dividing line in these tough economic times. Whether to leave in place the big tax cuts passed in the first year of the George W. Bush administration, or whether, as now is on the books, to let them expire at the end of the year.

SESTAK: What Congressman Toomey wants to do is give $687 billion of Bush tax cuts to the very, very rich, the millionaires, the top 1 percent of those who get income, mainly from Wall Street, and not pay for it. That's what he did with President Bush. He said let's do tax cuts and the majority of it went to the top 1 percent, the millionaires of America. And they never paid for it.

So there's the choice. Do you want a warrior who is on the side of the working families or someone who will side with Wall Street in the belief that well, it might trickle down.

TOOMEY: Here's the problem, liberal Democrats like my opponent Sestak don't understand that when you cut taxes, you can generate strong economic growth. And when you raise them, you can really damage economic prospects.

The fact is in 2003 we cut taxes for everyone who paid taxes, and within two years, the federal government was taking in more revenue than it took in before the tax cuts. Precisely because the economy was growing so much.

If we raise taxes now as Joe Sestak advocates and frankly he's already vote for a number of tax increases. If we have another big one now I'm concerned it could have really devastating impact on an already very weak economy. Bad idea. We should extend, make these rates permanent so that investors and businesses and workers will have the certainty of knowing what the tax rates are going to be and that they're not going to be punished with a huge tax increase.

KING: One of the things we try to do every day is see if there's a little bit too much hyperbole out on the campaign trail. Especially since these are two guys who either are serving or have served in Washington.

When Congressman Toomey was here he sided with the Republican leadership 90 percent of the time. Congressman Sestak, now still here, has sided with the Democratic leadership 97 or 98 percent of the time. So my question to them was it really fair as you cross the state of Pennsylvania to say, elect me, I'll be an independent minded voice. SESTAK: Look, I have advocated for a year and a half to reach to the other side with the Republicans and try to get small business tax cuts. If we had done that, we would have soaked up, with my legislation, we would have soaked up 5 million unemployed. Could they have been better? Could we removed more politics? Absolutely, John. And I'll fight every day to make sure it isn't special interests. It's only one interest that I will fight for, Pennsylvania's working families. Would I think that there's other policies we could have done better? You bet there are. As I stood up in the primary and advocated them and have, I will continue do so in the United States Senate if I'm honored to be a servant for the Pennsylvanians.

TOOMEY: Look at the big important agenda items. Joe Sestak is in favor of 100 percent of the Obama/Pelosi agenda. There are no exceptions. His only objection is they don't go far enough. Now, when I was in the house, I -- frankly I opposed my party very often. I opposed President Bush when he wanted to expand and create a new entitlement program. I opposed that.

I opposed many of our spending bills. I personally led a filibuster on the House floor against my own party because I thought they were intending to bust the budget and spend too much money. So the record is very clear I have stood up to my party when I thought they were wrong. Joe Sestak just walks in lock step with Nancy Pelosi, regardless of whatever she's doing.

KING: And because this state is so important this year, a lot of star power coming to Pennsylvania and its race for the United States Senate. As we noted, President Clinton there today. I asked Congressman Sestak who would he prefer, President Clinton or President Obama, and to Congressman Toomey I said, have you ever thought of maybe asking George W. Bush or Dick Cheney to stop by?

SESTAK: At the end of the day, Pennsylvania's got a lot of common sense. And why President Clinton is surely reminding them about a way to approach an economy which created 22 million jobs. And this president today has actually helped plug (ph) the holes of the damage Congressman Toomey did as he voted for George Bush. And we are hemorrhaging 700,000 jobs a month, the day he took over.

At the end of the day Pennsylvania's going to look at me. And they're going to look at Congressman Toomey and say do I want somebody who will side with them, Wall Street, to do it again, what they did to us. Or do I want someone who would lose their job over doing what's right for us, Pennsylvanians?

TOOMEY: I've already had several very prominent, national Republican figures. More are on their way. But I have to say I think it's kind of amusing that Joe Sestak doesn't want to be associated with President Obama and Nancy Pelosi, the people whose agenda he's actually voting for, and he wants to harkens back to Bill Clinton. Who, by the way, the big accomplishment under Clinton administration came when Republicans were in control of Congress. So, if Joe is a big fan of those policies, I think the obvious solution is to elect Pat Toomey and other Republicans to Congress, so that President Obama can have a Republican Congress to work with. (END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: A taste from both candidates, the Democrat and the Republican. We'll do more of that; 84 days until election day, we'll try to bring you more candidate voices as we get closer. And later on, as the program resumes, among the items on my radar, which possibly 2012 presidential candidate could be known as the Cookie Man?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: A long list of questions tonight about that plane crash that killed the former Republican Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska. Which makes today's most important person you don't know, Deborah Hersman, the chair of the National Transportation Safety Board.

She has been on the NTSB since 2004, and was a top staffer for the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee before that. A the NTSB Hersman has been on the scene of 18 major accidents, including the 2006 plane crash that killed the New York Yankees Pitcher Cory Lidle and his flight instructor.

She was also at last year's deadly Metro train wreck, right here in Washington. Now Hersman's heading to Alaska. You'll see her speaking for the NTSB's go team, in the coming days.

Let's talk this tragic crash over. Democratic Strategist Maria Cardona and former veteran Hill Republican staffer and Bush/Chaney campaign advisor, Robert Traynham.

Robert, when you were on the Hill working in the Senate, Ted Stevens of course was a leading and influential figure in your Republican Party.

ROBERT TRAYNHAM, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: No question about it. He was a leading not only because he wore the Incredible Hulk T-shirts and also the ties. But because he was a dominant personality on two fronts, number one he was a fierce protector of Alaska. He also was a fierce protector of the appropriations process. We talked a couple of months ago about the passing of Robert Byrd, and obviously, of Ted Kennedy, these giants that have left the Senate have left a huge hole in the United States Senate, but also in the country.

Ted Stevens is someone that was revered and respected not only because he was the Appropriations chair, but also because he was someone that believed in the institution of the Senate and someone that believed in the goodness of this country and God rest his soul.

MARIA CARDONA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: It is It's such a sad day today, John. It is something that, for me, reminded me of the day Ron Brown was killed. As you probably remember, I worked for him. And the day that his plane went down I got the call from CNN, asking me if Ron Brown's plane was missing and that's how I found out. Absolutely sad. My heart goes out to Stevens' family, and everybody who was on that plane crash. It is something that's just so horrible.

KING: It is horrible. We'll stay on top of the investigation. Now, let's look at some stories on my radar tonight. Some possible 2012 presidential candidates lead the radar. Starting with the former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. In the new issue of "Esquire" magazine, strap yourself in, he tells an interviewer, there's a large part of me that's four years old. I wake up in the morning and I know that somewhere there's a cookie. I don't know where it is, but I know it's mine. I have to go find it. That's how I live my life. My life is amazingly filled with fun.

Uh-huh?

"Esquire" also talked to Gingrich's his ex-wife, Marianne, who said of her former husband, quote, "He believes that what he says in public and how he lives don't have to be connected. If you believe that, then, yeah, you can run for president."

Ouch.

TRAYNHAM: I don't know where to begin.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSS TALK)

KING: Wherever you want.

TRAYNHAM: Well, let's put this in context. The context is that Newt Gingrich is an incredibly brilliant individual. One can make the argument, arguably one of the most brilliant politicians that this country has seen. Great thinker, enormous strategic thinker, but he's a kid at heart. I mean this is a guy who used to go to the zoo late at night and used to hang out with the animals and so forth. I don't mean that in a pejorative way, but I do mean in the sense that he always wanted to be a zoologist. This is a person who studies military tactics and understands what it takes to win and how to defeat the enemy. Hence the reason why he was the main architect of the 1994 Republican revolution.

However, as a person that worked in the Senate for many, many years Newt Gingrich would say certain things-that kind of scratch your head and say, OK, he's a brilliant guy. This is the reason why he said it, but all the reason why he's not a president of the United States because he has a tendency to think out loud. If in fact he runs for president, he needs to clean up his remarks.

CARDONA: It's going to be the reason why he's going to have a tough problem running for president. But if he does, I think, this is part of him trying to reinvent himself. And perhaps he can have Cookie Monster cut some ads for him.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: Badda-bing.

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, another Republican, he seems to have future elections in mind as well. "Politico" reports the likely Republican caucus voters in Iowa received a Barbour direct mail pitch and encouraging them to elect conservatives in 2010. But it also says, quote, Haley knows what it takes to succeed. And the mailer encourages them to sign up for updates on Barbour's Web site.

Now, how -- if you're thinking about running for president in 2012, you mail people in 2010 and build a list.

TRAYNHAM: That's clearly what you do. It's politics 101. Haley Barbour, speaking of Newt Gingrich, was one of the architects of the 1994 Republican takeover.

KING: Right.

TRAYNHAM: He is a brilliant thinker. He's arguably more of a strategist as opposed to a governor, so he's clearly thinking like a strategist. He's saying, look, 2012 is our number one priority, however, 2012 is right around the corner. While these folks are being energized about 2010, I want them to start thinking about 2012 because clearly that is something that is on our radar screen. Good for him.

CARDONA: Yes, I do think it's absolutely smart. It is clear that this is something he is doing so that he can run for president in 2012.

TRAYNHAM: Or at least positioning himself.

CARDONA: Building the list is the first thing that you need to do if you're going to have any kind of credibility.

KING: I'm going take a little time with this. But six months ago, or ten months ago, would you have thought, when Obama was riding high, that the perspective field of Republicans would include Newt Gingrich, Haley Barbour, Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, maybe Sarah Palin, maybe Mike Huckabee. There are some others I'm missing. By resume, I know you disagreed with a lot of them, but by resume, that's an impressive group of people.

CARDONA: It doesn't surprise me at all, though, John. Because from the day that Obama got elected, Republicans, the first thing they wanted to do was get him out of office. I mean, the way that Republicans have comported themselves, is such that they have wanted to completely destroy this president from a legislative standpoint, and their first goal from the day he went into office was to get him out of office. It doesn't surprise me at all that all of these Republicans are lining up to try to beat him in 2012. But I don't think it's going happen.

TRAYNHAM: John, remember back in 2008, it was all about change. It was about the old versus the new. John McCain represented yesterday. Obviously Barack Obama represented tomorrow. So it does surprise me a little bit that some of these, quote/unquote, older faces, i.e., like the Haley Barbour. Or even a Mitt Romney, is kind of in the mix. However, let me just say this, I disagree with my TV wife, a little bit.

(LAUGHTER) The reason why I say that, is because remember, when Barack Obama first was inaugurated president, Republicans came out of the gate praising him for a couple things. First and foremost by keeping Robert Gates as secretary of Defense. By also saying, you know what, let's take a step back here. Let's take a look at Afghanistan. Let's take a look at Iraq and let's try to form a bipartisan solution. So, with all due respect, history will tell us that Republicans have tried to come to the table, at least, with an open hand. At least in the beginning.

CARDONA: I think that lasted a day.

KING: Let's turn to a debate about, right now, here and now playing out. In the fight over allowing a mosque just a few blocks from ground zero, one side is taking its message on the road you might say. "The Huffington Post" says New York Transit Authority has approved a bus advertisement showing a plane flying into one of the World Trade Center towers. A building with a star and crescent, and the question: Why there? Also the Associated Press reports Governor David Patterson was offering state help if developers move the mosque a bit farther away. This one has proven to be a very emotional debate.

CARDONA: Yes, it absolutely has. And I completely agree with Mayor Bloomberg on this, which is the approval of having this building on that site speaks volumes of what our country really stands for in terms of religious freedom. But I have to say the opposite is true as well. As offensive as I think that ad is, we also have to allow it because it is freedom of expression and that is something that we adhere to religiously in this country as well. So you can't have one without the other.

TRAYNHAM: I totally agree 100 percent. This is a painful reminder that 10 years after the fact, still opens up a lot of wounds. And it speaks to, frankly, the diversity of thought in our country. That frankly an organization like that can do that and get away with it, in a good way. It's a good thing but it is also a very unfortunate thing as well. We have to remember it is a grave site.

KING: It is indeed a gravesite, and it is a memorial in many ways.

Guys, stay put right here. Next in the play by play, U.S. Senate Candidate Rand Paul has to tone down stories about his wild college days. Don't go anywhere.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Results are starting come in Georgia tonight, having a Republican runoff in the governor's race. Let's check in with Joe Johns.

JOE JOHNS, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Obviously very, very early on right now in Georgia. We're getting some early results from the Republican runoff in the governor's race. This is just 2 percent of the vote now, John, 2 percent of the vote in. Karen Handel said to be leading Nathan Deal 52 percent to 48 percent. We'll be watching that throughout the evening. Back to you, John.

ANNOUNCER: Here comes the play-by-play.

KING: We will keep an eye on the Georgia race and the other primaries tonight. But also move on to the Play-by-Play, helping to break down the tape tonight Democratic strategist Maria Cardona, and Republican Robert Traynham with us.

Florida: Attorney General Bill McCollum running for governor. He has a tough Republican primary. Sometimes when you're in a tough primary, you bob and weave a little bit on the issues. Here is Bill McCollum talking to Mark Caputo (ph). He is a "Miami Herald" politics and policy reporter. This is about a week ago talking about immigration policies. What he would support now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL MCCOLLUM, (R) FLORIDA GOVERNOR CANDIDATE: Well, the law that I would support is the Arizona law.

That is different from what you said before.

MCCOLLUM: Well, it's not different from what I said, it is what I-

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You said it was far out before.

MCCOLLUM: No, I didn't say it was far out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You did.

MCCOLLUM: I beg to differ with you with all due respect.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: OK? Remember? Remember? Remember? I didn't say it was far out. That's what he just said. Now Bill McCollum, then.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCOLLUM: I think Arizona has its own unique problems. I don't think Florida should enact laws like this, not quite that far out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Not quite that far out. That was the same guy on camera, wasn't it?

TRAYNHAM: Yes. Clearly he misspoke or had a senior moment where he just did not remember what he said before. Look, in this day and age where I have the "I gotcha moments" this is bound to happen. What is interesting about this one, John, is that he-the nuances, there are no nuances. Either he believed or he didn't believe it. So clearly he just tripped

CARDONA: I just think that between the time he said the first one, or he did say that the Arizona law was too far out, and the second one, he went to the John McCain school of campaign flip flopping. That's exactly what John McCain is doing on the Arizona law and on immigration as a whole. And it is clearly what McCollum is doing and frankly what a lot of Republican candidates need to do in order to win their party's nominations.

KING: Now, for the record, Attorney General McCollum says that Arizona did go back and they had an amendment to the law, where they cleaned up some of the language that some people thought might encourage or at least lead to racial profiling. He said when they changed it that made it a better law. But that's-he said, I never said it was far out, is where it gets him in trouble.

TRAYNHAM: If it gets you in trouble, there is no question about it.

KING: Ah, you're sure?

TRAYNHAM: Well, yeah, it does get you in trouble. We see it.

CARDONA: It will be an ad.

KING: Another one of this year's most fascinating candidates is Rand Paul. The son of Ron Paul. Rand Paul is a doctor in Kentucky. He is the Republican nominee for the Senate. Now he came out of nowhere, was the Tea Party candidate.

There's a story in "GQ" saying that while at Baylor University Rand Paul and one of his classmates kidnapped, I'm using the term loosely, but kidnapped, blindfold a female student and took her off and tried to make her take bong hits, and the like, and some other things. Yes, it is an interesting story. Well, Rand Paul went on FOX NEWS today. He wanted to make something clear.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAND PAUL, (R) KENTUCKY CANDIDATE FOR SENATE: I will categorically deny that I ever kidnapped anyone, or forced anybody to use drugs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARDONA: Speak being of campaign ads. -

TRAYNHAM: Just stop. Stop, stop, stop.

CARDONA: That's going to be the campaign ad-

TRAYNHAM: Stop. His campaign manager, his second one, needs to take out some duct tape and put it over his mouth and have him keep quiet.

(CROSS TALK)

KING: But he is supposed to just leave that out there? TRAYNHAM: You have your press person issue a statement in writing, by saying, whatever you need to say. But to have the candidate keep on coming out and talking-this is the third time we're talking about Rand Paul put his foot in his mouth. This is ridiculous.

CARDONA: You try not to do it on video, because right there you have the footage that will be in Jack Conway's ad, who is running against him.

TRAYNHAM: Here's the problem. I know you have to go on. I'll keep my comments to myself.

KING: No, go ahead.

TRAYNHAM: I mean, look, Rand Paul is a very nice guy who is probably more of a libertarian than a candidate. And he likes to think out loud. And these are the kind of conversations you need over a beer with your friend behind closed doors, but not in front of the camera.

KING: You two go have a beer.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: Maria, Robert, thanks.

Next, Pete On Street. Have the celebrities endorsements of a candidate ever made a difference in how you vote?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Just a couple minutes away from the top of the hour and "RICK'S LIST: PRIME TIME". Let's check in with Rick for a preview.

Hi, there.

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR, RICK'S LIST: Hey, John. You know Mike Gravel, everybody knows Mike Gravel from when he ran for presidency of United States. He's doing something very courageous tonight. He'll come here live, and talk to me. He's going to appear on my newscast to talk about Senator Ted Stevens. Here's why that's courageous. He and Senator Ted Stevens were what is described as a well known feud throughout much of their lives and he's going to take us through this in just a little bit. Back to you, John.

KING: You may have been paying attention this. Levi Johnston, remember him? He apparently wants to run for office, Mayor of Wasilla, Alaska. He's doing this for a reality TV show. In California the basketball legend Magic Johnson just endorsed Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer. Celebrities and politicians just seem to attract to one another. So, our Off-Beat Reporter Pete Dominick wants to know if that attracts you?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PETER DOMINICK, JOHN KING, OFF BEAT REPORTER: That's right, John King, from the Dixie Chicks to Lady Gaga in Arizona last week, from Charlton Heston to Sean Penn, do people care about celebrities political opinions? I'm going to go find out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Charlton Heston.

DOMINICK: Do you care what his opinion was on gun rights?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I did.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Miley Cyrus.

DOMINICK: Miley Cyrus.

Nobody is really listening to Mel Gibson.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no, not anymore.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not even Danny Glover.

DOMINICK: Do you care what Kobe Bryant thinks about things outside of sports?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.

DOMINICK: You don't care?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.

DOMINICK: Sean Penn, Charlton Heston, the Dixie Chicks?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.

DOMINICK: Lady Gaga?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.

DOMINICK: Lady Gaga?

Yes?

MALE CHILD: I like Lady Gaga.

DOMINICK: If John Legend wants you to shave your hair.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maybe, for Obama, yes. John Legend?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, favorite actress? Sandra Bullock.

DOMINICK: OK, so Sandra Bullock comes out and says, hey, vote this way, or support this issue, do you care?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I might care, but I will still think for myself. DOMINICK: Do you care what German celebrities think about politics like, say, David Hasselhoff. You guys love David Hasselhoff in Germany. Right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Actually not.

DOMINICK: Whoa! Whoa! I want you to think about who you voting for? Do you care what Denzel thinks about political issues?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not really.

DOMINICK: You are a tall man, you must care about what basketball players think?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do. I do.

DOMINICK: So, I'm going to run and tackle you right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's OK, you're smaller than I am.

DOMINICK: John King I can't lie we got some good ideas out there, but if Bono from U2 tells me to do it, I'm doing it. Back to you, John King.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Hope to see you tomorrow. "RICK'S LIST PRIME TIME" starts right now.