CNN CNN


 

Return to Transcripts main page

JOHN KING, USA

Tuesday Senate Primary Results

Aired August 11, 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.

A big day in politics and here's something you haven't heard often this election year; they are celebrating at the Obama White House tonight. They give two reasons why. One, they insist Tuesday's Senate primaries in Colorado and Connecticut provide fresh evidence that the Tea Party insurgency on the right is producing flawed and weaker general election candidates in some of this November's biggest target races.

Reason two from team Obama, they say the victory of their favorite candidate in Colorado's Democratic Senate primary is proof the Obama team can recreate some of its 2008 voter turnout magic. Are they right? Or is this just more disconnect between what you think and what you want and how Washington's political elite sees things?

Let's explore the big lessons. Erick Erickson is the editor-in- chief at the conservative RedState.com. John Avlon is the centrist author of "Wing Nuts" and of "Independent Nation" and here with me in Washington, Democratic pollster and strategist Cornell Belcher and our senior political analyst Gloria Borger.

Let's start with the lessons on the Republican side beginning with Ken Buck's victory in the Republican Senate primary out there. Jane Norton was the establishment Republican candidate. She was the favorite all along. Ken Buck with Tea Party support, Erick Erickson support, comes out to win that election. I talked to him earlier today. We'll play most of the interview later, but listen to how Ken Buck explains why grassroots conservatives like him are beating the establishment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEN BUCK (R), COLORADO SENATE CANDIDATE: I think Republicans realize that Republicans are every bit as much to blame for the mess that we are in, in D.C. as the Democrats and we can't send the same kind of Republican to Washington, D.C. to fix this mess. We've got to send someone that is sincere about spending and other important issues of the day.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Erick Erickson, he's your guy, the Democrats are saying, well, you know what he's a weaker candidate, he's a flawed general election candidate, he's an extremist. ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes and the Republicans are saying the same about Michael Bennet. You know, it's too soon to say. I think that's ridiculous to say right now. Ken Buck has been a district attorney in Colorado. He's quite popular among the grassroots in Colorado.

And if you look at the turnout in Colorado between the Democrats and the Republicans and their primaries, Republicans in Colorado turned out hugely. They're extremely impassioned. You know, Ken Buck is the type of candidate we always say we want, and more importantly, for independents, he's willing to go out there and slam Republicans as much as he is for Democrats.

KING: And John Avlon, to that point, if voters are looking for people who are different, who are not easy to stereotype, who are not predictable, do candidates like this, is Washington wrong when we say, oh guys like that you know they've never done this before. They haven't run statewide. They can't win.

JOHN AVLON, SENIOR POLITICAL COLUMNIST, THEDAILYBEAST.COM: Well, Buck's ability to criticize Republicans as well as Democrats can appeal to independents but let's look at the bigger picture. I mean Colorado, which had swung towards Obama, all of a sudden it looked like it was going to swing back towards Republican big time, towards that traditional voting pattern. Instead, Democrats have a reason to celebrate tonight.

John (INAUDIBLE) looking very strong in the fall and Bennet is the best thing that could have happened to him, is to run against Buck. So that's, you know extremists are always their own side's worst enemy. And the Tea Party movement has been very powerful in winning these primaries. But they always necessarily translate to a weaker generational candidate. Not always, but very, very often. And that's why you see Democrats celebrating today.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well but you know, John, the Democrats had a divisive primary so they have to make sure that their voters come out in the fall election. That's why the DNC chairman, Tim Kaine is heading out to Colorado, to have kind of a unity rally, because their enthusiasm gap is the real problem here. And you know they've got to get their voters out in the fall. Bennet they may think is better but Democrats have to go to the polls.

CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: But here's the thing, you know those guys are going to have a unity event out there, they are coming together. And the bigger story --

BORGER: You hope.

BELCHER: And the bigger story -- no, well it's planned, it's going to happen. The bigger story here really is about what DNC and organized for America is beginning to do out west. I think when you look at Colorado, we all want to say, rah, rah, rah, the president (INAUDIBLE) support the candidate and his candidate won. You know I'm a good company guy and say that's great. But the bigger story here really is sort of -- begin to sort of move to taking care of that enthusiasm gap and by doing that we're beginning to organize on ground and building our apparatus in Colorado again like we did --

BORGER: But how do you do that when the White House spokesman is criticizing liberals?

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not a lot of liberals in Colorado.

BORGER: Right, all right --

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Let's for a minute stay on the Republican results and I want to move on. We have Ken Buck in Colorado. I want to move on to the state of Connecticut, probably a Democratic hold anyway, but a potential target for Republicans if you have a wave year. Former Republican Congressman Rob Simmons was running for the nomination, but instead Linda McMahon, the COO of the wrestling WWE, she spends millions of dollars. She sweeps in to victory.

I want to show you something. A lot of viewers are going to find this offensive, but this is what the Democrats are going to say now. They're going to say, here's the woman who ran WWE and here's her husband in the ring degrading women.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get down on all fours right here in front of me, $300, all four, come on, get down there, get down there on your hands and knees like that. All the way down. That's it. That's it. Now, let me hear you bark.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, let's just stop that there. I've seen enough. I did not show this for the shock value. I'm showing this because Democrats are spreading this all over to everybody, saying here is proof that this woman is not dignified enough to be a United States Senator that she ran this operation that that's her husband in the ring -- Erick Erickson, to the conservative first, fair?

ERICKSON: You know, there are a lot of women out there sometimes my wife as well, who regret what their husbands do. And I think women get that. The interesting thing about Linda McMahon who it's interesting to hear the Democrats in particularly the White House call her the Tea Party candidate when she most assuredly was not.

Neither was Rob Simmons for that matter. Republicans can -- Tea Party activists were really more towards the libertarian guy in the race. Bombarded by people wanting me to support shift, but Linda McMahon -- what people don't realize who aren't in Connecticut is every single campaign commercial she ran had working class mothers and high -- professional moms in the campaign ads, all of them.

They were all moms dropping off kids at school, on their way into Manhattan to go to work. And it really resonated in that race. And if she keeps that up, I don't think she's going to have the problem Democrats think she will.

KING: And to the broader point, here, you have Linda McMahon in Connecticut, you have Ken Buck now in Colorado. You have Sharron Angle in Nevada. You have Rand Paul in Kentucky. What the Democrats are saying and the Obama White House says they're so happy about today is that you have these inexperienced, untested people statewide. John Avlon, I could make an argument that in this year where people clearly are dissatisfied with politics that maybe they see some (INAUDIBLE) like appeal in that.

AVLON: Well that's certainly what those candidates would want to connect with because that's what's connecting with independent voters, who are the majority in a state like Connecticut. But the newly minted candidates the Republicans are putting forward this year really come in two stripes. They're the self-funded candidates like Linda McMahon and then they're the Tea Party insurgents.

Those two things are driving Republican primary voters this cycle. And self-funded candidates can go a long way down the field. They can win a primary by flooding the market, but they don't necessarily translate to the general election. Linda McMahon is going to have a hard time because of viral clips like the one you just showed.

ERICKSON: You know if I could jump in there and echo what John said, the Republicans have a long history of running self-funded candidates. Coors in Colorado, Huffington in California and they all wind up blowing up spectacularly in general elections because they bought the primaries and can't compete in the general.

BORGER: Well but experience counts, too, when you're running. And we know that from covering campaigns for many, many years. And if these are inexperienced candidates and you have that kind of a viral video which will clearly offend women, you know, I would say she's lucky she's not running against --

KING: I don't want to make a direct comparison --

(CROSSTALK)

KING: I don't want to make a direct comparison, but, but the voters of the United States of America two years ago elected a 47- year-old African-American who had been in the United States Senate for only a short period of time.

(CROSSTALK)

BELCHER: Who was extraordinary mainstream candidate --

(CROSSTALK)

BELCHER: Here's the problem with what's going --

KING: On the issues you mean --

(CROSSTALK) BELCHER: -- Tea Party. You know it's not about experience. It's about you've got a guy in Ken Buck who questions the constitutionality of Social Security. You've got a senator -- you've got a senator-wannabe in Angle who quite frankly says you know a U.S. senator's job isn't to make jobs. So you have McMahon you know in -- I don't even have to say it. That commercial sort of writes itself --

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Right, he made that mistake, right?

BELCHER: Right, so you've got candidates who are on the fringe and when you look at what the people --

KING: It's not about the jobs they've held. It's about what they say --

(CROSSTALK)

BELCHER: And arguably, their viewpoint is outside the mainstream of Colorado, Connecticut, and we're going to find out even Kentucky.

ERICKSON: I've got to disagree with that. I don't think they're outside the mainstream. They're outside of the Democratic mainstream. They're not outside the mainstream of independents who are largely rejecting Washington.

BORGER: Well but they're outside --

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: But they're outside the mainstream of a lot of Republicans, though, right, because these weren't the candidates chosen by the Republican establishment.

(CROSSTALK)

BELCER: And I'm sorry, guys, if you question the constitutionality of Social Security, if you want to do with away with Social Security and Medicare, you're outside the mainstream of American values --

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And keep something in mind --

(CROSSTALK)

ERICKSON: Colorado is not going to be on that though.

AVLON: No, Colorado and Connecticut are two of the states where registered independents outnumber registered Democrats or Republicans, independents overwhelmingly. Yes, they may be closer to Republicans when it comes to fiscal issues but they hate the hyper partisanship and the (INAUDIBLE) of Washington.

(CROSSTALK)

AVLON: And if you put forward candidates who seem to embody that or will exacerbate it, they're going to react against that.

BORGER: But John, will they stay home then in a midterm election or will they come out and vote against someone?

AVLON: No, I think they will come out and vote against somebody who is going to seem to perpetuate or accelerate the harsh hyper partisanship that seems to be derailing Washington and making our government dysfunctional.

KING: All right let's take a quick break on that point right here. We just spent some time on the Republican side and the energy there. Is the White House tonight, they insist, as Cornell just noted, that they're starting to find the formula to recreate the 2008 voter turnout magic? Are they right or are they seeing things that simply aren't there? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: So what did we learn on the Democratic side in yesterday's big primaries? For starters in Colorado we learned the candidate backed by President Obama beat the candidate backed by former President Clinton, in part, because the president himself got involved to help the appointed Senator Michael Bennet. Listen here, this is President Obama on a phone call, a robo call that left, sent to the (INAUDIBLE) homes of Democratic voters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I need Michael Bennet in the Senate so that together he and I can continue to fight for the future we want and the change we need.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: So Bennet wins a big victory last night and the president's top political adviser, David Axelrod, says this to "The Hill" newspaper. He says, "Bennet's win over Andrew Romanoff reflected our ability to rally 2008 Obama voters to participate in an off-year election, something that will be meaningful this fall."

So let's continue the conversation with our panel and Cornell Belcher to you first, as the Democrat, if that's true, wow that would be big news for the Democrats. But I just want to point out and Erick mentioned a bit of this in the first break (ph). In the Colorado primary 310,671 Democratic votes cast; 340,788 Republican votes cast. The loser on the Republican side got more votes than the winner on the Democratic side, so they may be over hyping their turnout operation?

BELCHER: No, because we got to build it. Look, when you look at a state like Colorado, we -- closely 300,000 more voters vote in that election than voted in the previous presidential election. Those were Obama surge voters. When you talk about the energy and enthusiasm that's on the right, we've got to counter that with grassroots operation.

And guess what? DNC is putting out $50 million. Guess what we're going to do with that $50 million? That robo call you heard from Bill Clinton, we're going to get a lot of those, we're going to get a lot of people on the ground pulling those Obama surge voters out again because we know -- I remember the day we took a state like Nevada from red to blue in registration with our new voters. Those voters are target number one for Democrats going (INAUDIBLE) cycle.

BORGER: But I'm going to raise the point I raised before which is you have the White House press secretary disparaging, if you will, would you say that, liberal voters, and you have the base very disappointed with President Obama. So how do you get those -- you know the base out, the enthusiastic base that voted in 2008? I think it's uphill.

KING: And somebody help me translate this and to John Avlon first, but first let's listen to this sound. Here's Michael Bennet and how enthusiastic he was for the president when Barack Obama came out to help him in February.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET (D), COLORADO: It is my great honor to introduce to you someone who is a great husband, a great father, a tireless fighter for all of you, and who happens to live in Washington, D.C., but works day and night to make the real world a better place.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: President gets that -- that's a hug that would do Charlie Crist proud right there. And yet today Michael Bennet wins the big primary. He gets the president's help. He's doing TV interviews and he's asked, so wasn't it the president's endorsement that put you over the top and are you going to have him out between now and November?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BENNET: I certainly wouldn't describe it as a hindrance and I also don't think it made the difference. I don't think it was material to most primary voters.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Ouch, John Avlon. I'm assuming that that's in part Michael Bennet's understanding that as you noted, Colorado has a lot of independents and at the moment the president is not doing too well with them.

AVLON: That's right. I mean independents have been leaving President Obama and the Democrats for really the past year and that's when he -- Michael Bennet is going to need to win and he's not a perfect fit for Colorado in the first place so he's going to need to figure how to appeal to those folks in the general election and hugging President Obama may not be the best way to do it. But I think the big story of that primary in particular -- the White House is breathing a sigh of relief. But take a look at, you know, big labor backed Bennet's opponent Romanoff big-time in this race. And they could not pull it out. Their big labor is a ground game and knocking on doors and making calls could not turn the tide against the incumbent. Same thing we saw in Blanche Lincoln's race in Arkansas. So I think on the Democratic side that's really one of the untold stories of last night is that the administration has been able to defend more centrist incumbents even when they've come under assault from the Democratic base and activist groups.

ERICKSON: You know I would echo that as well that Romanoff ran to the left of Bennet. He made Bennet's rejection of the public option compromise a big issue in this campaign to begin with as well as campaign finance and the Democratic voters rejected him like they did in Arkansas, Halter, they went for the more centrist candidate.

But you know as far as these turnout numbers and the excitement of the Democratic primary, I was actually looking for research projects at Red State on what was being said at this time back in 1994 and it's amazing how much exactly the same things were being said back then.

The economy, if we remember, about this time we started to go back up. Democrats were coming back in the polls in 1994. And I actually found this great interview between Frank Sesno and one Gloria Borger who pointed out that midterm elections are about anger and voters being angry about Washington typically. It's going to be the people who are mad who turn out --

BORGER: Was I right?

ERICKSON: -- and if Democrats --

BORGER: Wait a minute, was I right?

ERICKSON: You were.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn't think you were that old --

BORGER: Yes --

KING: It was her high school project.

BORGER: Yes, it was --

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: It was my high school --

(CROSSTALK)

ERICKSON: -- about people mad at Washington --

BORGER: Can I just say something about Romanoff? Don't you think people just thought he was a bit hypocritical running as an outsider, being a former House Speaker and running as an anti politician when in fact he was the one who had been elected before and Bennet had actually never been elected to an office, he had been appointed to an office?

ERICKSON: The narrative didn't fit the facts for Romanoff.

BORGER: Right.

KING: So wait, you mean the voters figured --

BORGER: You can quote me --

(CROSSTALK)

KING: The voters figured it out. They -- you know what -- they often do.

BELCHER: Can I say --

(CROSSTALK)

BELCHER: Can I say one thing, Bennet did absolutely the right thing by saying what he said about the president because you know what, Republicans want to nationalize this and make it about the president, referendum. Democrats we got to make this about a choice. The president isn't on the ballot. This is between Bennet --

KING: But aren't Democrats nationalizing him to some degree by saying it's either Obama or Bush?

BELCHER: No, no --

BORGER: Yes --

KING: The Bush policies essentially --

(CROSSTALK)

BELCHER: No, no, we're not.

(CROSSTALK)

BELCHER: What we're saying is do you want to go back to the Bush policies that ran us into the ditch or do you want to move forward? Thanks for giving me the opportunity to make that plug.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Great. I got to call a time-out there. Thanks, everybody, for coming in -- it's a feisty debate. We'll continue it another day.

When we come back though we'll continue the conversation about all things politics because you heard Gloria mention Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, is in a bit of a spat with what he called the professional left -- today no apology. We're going to use the "Magic Wall" to break down just what this big fight is all about.

And then "One-on-One" with the Colorado Senate candidate we've been talking about. Ken Buck has bucked the Republican establishment. He has some interesting views. You'll want to hear him.

Our most important person of the day, well, he is this year so far conservative Kingmaker, eight for eight in big contests. Who is he? Come on. Think about it. You might figure it out.

On my "Radar" tonight who is it that's telling Sarah Palin to "butt out"? And this candidate with a famous name says Barack Obama is the worst president in history.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: John, after 11 days of deliberations, jurors in the Rod Blagojevich trial today told the judge they cannot agree on all counts. The judge told them to figure out what counts they can agree on.

Here's a dramatic example of people's desperation in these economic times. Just outside Atlanta there was a mob scene, as 30,000 people tried to get 13,000 applications for public housing units, 62 people needed medical attention.

And Sharron Angle and J.D. Hayworth will attend a Tea Party rally Sunday, along Arizona's border with Mexico.

And at today's White House press briefing, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was asked if he put his foot in his mouth when he complained some liberals, Gibbs called them the professional left, need to be drug tested because they're demanding too much from the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think I have both my feet planted firmly on the floor and nothing in my mouth to speak of.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: And, John, you know I mean I know it's August and the controversy goes on but there's something to be said. Around town, people are saying, hey what he said was accurate. Probably shouldn't have said it.

KING: You know, Joe this is an interesting debate and stay right there because I'm going to use the "Magic Wall". We'll have a little virtual White House briefing room here. Let's go inside this debate because this is Robert Gibbs' point. He says, look, the president came to office, Washington is a tough town, and look at all these things they've done that the left wanted. They passed health care reform. They passed financial reform. They passed that big stimulus bill. They passed other jobs legislation and they're beginning the troop draw-down in Iraq with a key deadline just approaching, so Robert Gibbs says take a look at all that. He says you know I know, I know that liberals got -- they didn't get everything they want, but his position is you should be happy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GIBBS: Those are accomplishments that we all should be proud of, regardless of whether it encompasses 100 percent of what we had wanted in the beginning.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: And yet, as we -- we'll see if Robert will go away. We'll come back down here. The left says now wait a minute. You've got a big majority in Congress. You've got a Democratic president. We worked so hard to get you all in office. Why haven't you done immigration reform?

You promised that, Mr. President. Why couldn't you get the public option in the health care bill? That's a big liberal complaint. "Don't ask, don't tell", remember the president's going to abolish that. Well, it's still in place. Gitmo, Guantanamo Bay, the president promised to close it within a year, it is still open, and the left also doesn't like that the president not only isn't drawing down troops in Afghanistan, at the moment, the troop levels are going up.

And if you have been watching this program time and time again, voices from -- I guess what Mr. Gibbs would call the professional left -- have been right here to say whether it's war or immigration, this president's failing the test.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AMY GOODMAN, HOST, "DEMOCRACY NOW": People are angry. They're angry about the wars that President Obama hasn't pulled back. They're angry about health care that public option and single payer wasn't considered.

MARIO SOLIS MARICH, RADIO HOST: The situation as it is right now calls for more than just speech making. It calls for action. And this speech did not contain a call to action.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: And so, Joe, some of this is legitimate frustration on the issues. And some of it is also what I think what you'd call growing pains. When the party's in power, it has the House, it has the Senate. Those liberal organizations and activists, they did work so hard in 2006 and 2008 and they want more and they don't think this president wants to fight as much as they would like him to. And the White House of course says you know enough. JOHNS: Hey, yes, it's like the ideals versus the practical realities of governing. I think that's what's going on. And people are saying it's our time. You've got to do it now. You've got to do everything now. And the president and some of those people on Capitol Hill too are saying, hey, we can only do so much. There are Republicans in this government.

KING: There are Republicans. The question is, does this liberal dissatisfaction mean lower turnout in November? That's what we'll keep watching.

When we come back "One-on-One" with the new Republican Senate- nominee in Colorado; Ken Buck is his name. He defeated the Republican establishment. The question now can he beat a Democratic incumbent?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: It's time to go "One-on-One".

KING: One of this year's most compelling political narratives is playing out, out west in Colorado. Ken Buck with the backing of the Tea Party defeated the Republican establishment candidate Jane Norton in yesterday's primary. He now goes up against the Democratic establishment, not only incumbent Senator Michael Bennet but also the Obama White House, where Press Secretary Robert Gibbs opened fire this afternoon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GIBBS: Senator Bennet will now go up against somebody who believes that Social Security is bad policy. I think that is a debate that will turn out quite well for us in November.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Republican-nominee Ken Buck joins me now to go "One-on- One". Congratulations and welcome to the general election all in one breath, I guess sir. Answer Robert Gibbs there who says that Senator Bennet, the Democrat, is running against a Republican, and he means you, who thinks Social Security is bad policy.

BUCK: Yeah, what I think is bad policy is when Congress and the president decided to take -- and this is years ago -- decided to take money out of the trust fund and use it for pork barrel projects and other things and really leave that trust fund susceptible and leave Social Security on an unsustainable path.

KING: So let's make clear to anyone, many people just getting to know you across the country, Social Security, 75th anniversary this year. A good policy? Or would you prefer the federal government not get involved in retirement policy?

BUCK: I certainly don't think it's what the Founding Fathers intended but we have the policy. We've made a promise to our seniors. We need to keep that promise. I think we need to make sure that we are putting Social Security on a sustainable path. It's absolutely something that the federal government is going to be involved in, in the future. We can make it the best program we can make it.

KING: And what do we have to do to make it the best program we can make it? Do we need to raise the retirement age or reduce benefits to put it on a more sustainable fiscal path?

BUCK: Well, we certainly need to raise the retirement age. I've told my 19-year-old and my 22-year-old that they're not going to be getting retirement benefits at age 62. That doesn't mean somebody age 60 won't get them at that point. We've got to make sure our younger workers understand that as life expectancy increases, the retirement date for benefits increases also.

KING: It's not just the White House press secretary already putting a target on your back, sir, your opponent, Michael Bennett, when he won the Democratic nomination last night, he immediately took aim. I want you to listen to Senator Bennett for a second.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MICHAEL BENNETT, (D) COLORADO: Do we want a senator who answers only to the extremes of his or her party, even when it flies in the face of progress?

CROWD: No!

BENNETT: Or will we remember our Colorado independence, roll up our sleeves and get to work?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: You answer to the extremes of the Republican Party, as your opponent says?

BUCK: You know, it's an interesting question. I think that when Senator Bennett supports, you know, cash for clunkers, and when he supports the stimulus bill, and when he supports the health care bill. And he is, in effect, a rubber stamp for President Obama and Harry Reid. If extreme means that I am unwilling to go to Washington, D.C., and do what President Obama tells me, then so be it. But I am certainly not going to Washington, D.C. to represent the interests of D.C. I'm going there to represent Colorado values.

KING: To the degree that your name has become known nationally, it is because of some provocative or maybe controversial things you have said on the campaign trail. I want to walk through one or two of them.

One was when you were being recorded, and you did not know this, walking into an event and you had something many consider to be disparaging to say about some Tea Party activists. I want you to listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUCK: Will you tell those dumb (EXPLETIVE DELETED) at the Tea Party to stop asking question about birth certificates? What am I supposed to do?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: What was the point you were trying to make there, sir?

BUCK: You know, on seven or eight occasions, I was at meetings -- this is over a 16-month period as I was campaigning. I was at meetings and a what we call "birther" was at the meeting and disrupted the meeting. And I couldn't get to talk about subjects I think most people at those meetings were interested in, like the $13 trillion of debt we have now. And it was frustrating to try to deal with those folks.

So I was talking specifically about seven or eight people on the campaign trail. I got a lot of Tea Party and 912, and grassroots support in Colorado. I think that we had a very high turnout for first-time primary voters. I attribute a lot of that to the grassroots efforts. So I certainly wasn't making disparaging remarks about Tea Party, generally, but rather about a few birthers who were trying to disrupt meetings.

KING: And as the party tries to rebuild, and recover from its losses in 2006 and 2008, who do you view as the national leader? Is there one?

BUCK: I don't think there is. I have gone through a wonderful process. Think there were seven, eight, nine different candidates in the Republican side of this Senate race. There is now one left. I think the same thing's going to happen in the presidential race. Think we'll see a number of people get into the race. We'll see who has the stamina, who has the financing, who has the -- really, the grasp of the issues to attract voters. And I thank process has to unfold before we can make that call.

KING: Ken Buck is the Republican nominee for Senate in Colorado. Sir, we'll keep in touch the next 84 days to election day.

BUCK: Thank you very much.

KING: Thank you, sir, appreciate your time.

What candidate with the famous last name calls Barack Obama the worst president in history? That's coming up next in "The Radar."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: As of this week's round of primaries, today's most important you don't know is now eight for eight in endorsing staunch conservatives who went on to win nominations to the U.S. Senate. He's South Carolina's junior Senator Jim DeMint and he's conservative to the core.

Maybe DeMint is good a picking winners because he ran a market research company and did advertising before getting into politics. After three terms in the House, DeMint moved up to the Senate back in 2004. That's the same year as an Illinois freshman, who quoted him a lot, during the health care reform debate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One Republican senator said, and I'm quoting him now, "If we're able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. They will break him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Yep, no hyperbole, Jim DeMint really did say it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JIM DEMINT, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: If we're able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo, it will break him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Waterloo may have come and gone, health care is the law of the land, but as a heavy favorite for a second term and with some new conservative allies, maybe coming to town, Jim DeMint's likely to be ready for some other big battles.

Let's talk him over with our guest right here, Paul Begala, a CNN contributor and Democratic strategist, and Rich Galen, a Republican strategist, publisher of "The Mullings Report,"

Jim DeMint has proven in this campaign year, a force to be reckoned with on the right?

RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Not only a force to be reckoned, but he's a force to be reckoned with on the right, without sounding goofy. I mean, that's an interesting quote, and turned out I don't think we need that to have the breaking point, because the president's on a downward spiral. I think DeMint has really carved out a place for himself as the conservative voice in the Senate, and probably in national politics.

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: If you look at the -- maybe the competitor of him, within the Republican caucus, I'd say it was John Cornyn from my beloved state of Texas, who has been getting his rear end whipped by DeMint in these primaries. Cornyn has gone, and I don't blame him for this, but he has gone with the establishment Republican time after time. Just yesterday with Jay Norton, the lieutenant governor of Colorado, who was the kind of safer, more establishment bet, DeMint goes with Ken Buck. Once again, DeMint wins. Cornyn loses. So Cornyn's stock's down -

(CROSS TALK)

BEGALA: It happened in Nevada, it happened in Kentucky. Trey Grayson was a candidate of Jon Cornyn and Mitch McConnell, the establishment. So yeah, watch -- and I can't call a United States senator a young turk-but the new power in the Republican Senate Conference is definitely DeMint. KING: Interesting switch. Let's move on to some other stories on my radar tonight. Let's begin with this one, the kid with a famous name, former Vice President Dan Quayle's son, Ben, is running for Congress in Arizona. He's not a kid anymore, he's a grown up. He's having a little bit of trouble. "Politico" reports that Ben Quayle has changed his story. Now admits posting comments, a few years ago, on a racy nightclub party life Web site called Dirty Scottsdale. One rule in politics is when you're in a little trouble maybe you want to change the subject. So, with the primary just around the corner, Ben Quayle is busy attacking the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BEN QUAYLE, CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: Barack Obama is the worst president in history. And my generation will inherit a weakened country. Drug cartels in Mexico, tax cartels in D.C. What's happened to America? I love Arizona. I was raised right. Somebody has to go to Washington and knock the hell out of the place.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Rich Galen, you used to work for Ben Quayle's dad. I tell you one thing, it's striking, the resemblance.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The voice as well.

KING: Yeah. Young first-time candidate --

GALEN: Well, you know, Dan ran at 26. Knocked off an 18-year incumbent in Huntington, Indiana, in the Fort Wayne area. Then came back six years later, knocked off Birch Bayh, at the age of 32, two years over the minimum. And then was vice president seven years after that, or so, 10 years after that. So he comes -- and Dan was a very good politician and Paul knows this, that his dad, when he was a senator, one of his closest allies was Ted Kennedy, of all people. So I think what you're seeing here is the second generation. Who knows? It's a big primary. Somebody's going to win with 22 percent of the vote.

KING: And 10 Republican candidates, I think, in that primary. So I guess if you want to get some attention, you call Barack Obama the worst president in history.

BEGALA: He's Dan Quayle's anchor baby. He's about got the IQ of an anchor. That's an embarrassment to his family.

GALEN: Oh, you can't say that.

BEGALA: Oh, come on, it's just stupid. I don't care about dirty Scottsdale, dopey Scottsdale. I mean, if you are going to-it's just too dumb. Arizonians are smart. I just don't think -- I don't know, maybe he's playing dumb, maybe it's just an act. But I don't think it will work.

GALEN: I would have done it before a large audience, so it had people cheering and -- BEGALA: Maybe streams forwards together without a deep breath, a pause, like he's reading cue cards --

(CROSS TALK)

KING: Let's move on. Razor close, but Nathan Deal beat Karen Handel in Georgia's runoff for governor. That's the Republican governor, Handel conceded the race this morning. Now, remember, Sarah Palin was in the state on Monday to campaign for Handel. Today, one of Georgia's Republican Congressman Jack Kingston, told the America's morning news radio program that Palin should quote, "butt out of state primaries."

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

REP. JACK KINGSTON, (R) GEORGIA: Why Palin decided to get in the race, is beyond me. I don't know why she feels compelled to get into primaries all over the country. But, you know, fortunately, Georgia voters are doing their own thinking on things like that. What she's doing is dividing the Republican Party at a time when we don't need to be divided.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

GALEN: Well, that's what primaries are about. You pick a side and stay with that. I think it's fine. I think having Sarah Palin around for Republicans, on net is a net-plus by a long shot. I'm not a huge fan, but I think that she does her job, which is to be the Republican personality.

BEGALA: I'm not a huge fan either, but I like when somebody gets in -- takes a position. She often does not take the safe choice, as I was just criticizing Jon Cornyn for doing so. Honestly, God bless her for that. I'm not being cute about it. Think it's good. I don't think it's hurting the Republican Party. They're in for a very successful election, frankly. Jack Kingston, first off, his guy just won, he can't even be a gracious winner. He's a sore winner. You know, you won, Jack, don't be bashing Sarah.

GALEN: Take yes for an answer.

BEGALA: Exactly.

KING: Here's another one, a pair of one-time Washington power brokers in the news tonight. One footnote a little bit sad, former Illinois Congressman Dan Rostenkowski, who chaired the House Ways and Means Committee, back in the 1980s and early '90s before a corruption scandal forced him from Congress. He died at the age of 82.

Meanwhile, another former chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, Charlie Rangel, is having a combination fundraiser and 80th birthday party this evening in New York. Due to ethics violations against him, though, attendance is expected to be a bit off, although I think Aretha Franklin is supposed to there be.

GALEN: That is-if you can get Aretha Franklin, it's probably a successful birthday party.

But I worked for Newt back in those days. And Dan Rostenkowski, Rosty, was known to one and all. He was kind of a big bear of a guy, but he became the poster child for Democrats becoming fat and sloppy and corrupt, which took them 40 years, we did it in 12, it turns out.

BEGALA: He was also the ultimate lunch bucket Democrat. There was a time when Democrats weren't just college professors. We actually had working men and women. And I think we still do, when we're at our best. Rosty represented that. He worked with Ronald Reagan very successfully, worked with Bill Clinton successfully. He did have that ethics problem, but he did the time. He called it my Oxford education, because he was from Oxford, Ohio. He was a great man, and a great Democrat.

As for Charlie Rangel, I'm a bit of a dissenter from my fellow Democrats on that. The man deserves a defense. I don't care if the Democrats

(CROSS TALK)

BEGALA: He has a right to defend himself against these charges. If a criminal does, certainly a congressman ought to.

GALEN: The silence yesterday was deafening.

BEGALA: Yeah.

KING: One more, because I know you're both huge fans of reality TV. Bristol Palin, among others, is apparently not impressed that her ex, Levi Johnston, supposedly will run for mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, in his new reality TV show.

Bristol tells "US" magazine, quote, "I never knew he had political aspirations."

Meanwhile, "The Huffington Post" quotes the current mayor as saying, "Since I'm nearly old enough to be Levi's grandfather, I think it would be wise for him to get a high school diploma and keep his clothes on. That's what the voters like," the mayor goes on to say.

GALEN: That mayor's running for re-election, he's a shoo-in, I think.

BEGALA: Yeah.

GALEN: But I was a city councilman when I was 26 or 27, in Marriott, Ohio --

KING: Did you keep your clothes on?

GALEN: Yes, I did. Back in those days, they sort of looked like Zoot suits. I think young people should get into this stuff. I'm not sure he's the right guy for any job, much less that one.

BEGALA: Yeah, at first, is it Mayor Rupright? Is that his name? I should send him a donation. I don't care if he's a Democrat or a Republican. What a great quote. This is -- it's a stunt. It's not what the former governor needs. And, the guy has a right, I guess, but it's an embarrassment. Come on.

KING: It is one of those -- only in America, you say proudly. And only in America, you sort of say, down like that.

All right. You guys stay right here, because next in the "Play By Play", a major player at the White House talks about rumors of an inflatable exit on his office. Huh?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: Here comes the play-by-play.

KING: All right. Paul and Rich still with us to help us break down the tape. We are going to begin with some substance. Wolf Blitzer had an exclusive interview with Jim Jones, the president's national security adviser, today. As you all know out there, the deadline for getting U.S. troop levels down to 50,000 in Iraq is at the end of the month. Wolf wanted to talk about the more broad mission. Where are we? Is Iraq a stable place?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GEN. JAMES JONES, (RET.) NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: Politics is breaking out and they're settling their differences and coming to their compromise positions in a reasonable way, and the violence is very low.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR, THE SITUATION ROOM: Mission accomplished?

JONES: Mission, on the way to being accomplished. The trend lines are good.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: I'm shocked a guy of his experience would go anywhere near any variation of "mission accomplished."

GALEN: That's because he's a general, not a politician.

BEGALA: And an impressive general. First off, he doesn't do very many interviews. I was glad he came and did this one.

But I think he was realistic. We had a period of time where, frankly, our government was telling us too optimistic a message. He seems to be from the reporting, the independent reporting, he seems to be right, that the trend lines are moving in the right direction there.

GALEN: Yeah, I was there for six months, as you guys know. And I was one of the ones being too optimistic. But I really believed it. I thought, you know, how many more weeks until I can be sitting on the corner and having a glass of tea in the afternoon? It turned out never. But I think at this point, that between the Bush strategy and Obama strategy, and the generals, it is working, and they'll move on, past us, and we can get out of there.

KING: One of the things we love to do in "Play By Play" is look at some of the great ads in the campaign. And one of the themes we have seen from time to time is all these guys who work in Washington like they've never been here. It's like this strange foreign place. Here's Joe Donnelly. He's a Democrat in Indiana, too, a conservative Democrat. Here's what he thinks.

(BEGIN CAMPAIGN AD CLIP)

JOE DONNELLY, (D) INDIANA: That's why I voted to hire 5300 more border agents, penalize any business that hires illegals, deport illegals who commit felonies and eliminate amnesty because no one should ever be rewarded for breaking the law. That may not be what the Washington crowd wants -

(END CAMPAIGN AD CLIP)

KING: Wait, wait, wait, wait, the Washington crowd? The Washington crowd. That was President Obama, and Speaker Pelosi, and Republican leader John Boehner but the Washington -- you have a Democrat, a Washington crowd, is that what you want to do?

BEGALA: Isn't that amazing. At least he didn't name them. Not running against the president by name, but that's pretty audacious. Look, he's trying to cut himself out of the herd. He's in Indiana, for goodness sake. He's lost the cover of Evan Bayh. I think the Democrats have a pretty good candidate running there in Brad Ellsworth, the former sheriff, and kind of an outsider-type himself. Without Bayh on the ballot, any Democrat in Indiana is going to be nervous.

GALEN: Coats is going to win that in a walk, it turns out.

I think it's demonstrative of not only the Tea Party-esque attitude of a lot of voters, whether they understand what's that's about, the anti-Washington thing, but also, you can't say I'm with Obama, that doesn't work anymore.

KING: The White House press secretary has been in an argument with what he calls the professional Left the last few days. Saying some of them should be drug tested. That they're not happy because President Obama hasn't done enough. Robert Gibbs came into the briefing room, today, he did not apologize, not at all. But he is trying to use a little humor and everything else to get rid of this. People asked him in the briefing, a couple of liberals said he should resign. Gibbs' answer?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: What do you think the consequences should be of the comments that you made about the quote/unquote, "professional Left"?

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The consequences? QUESTION: Uh-huh.

GIBBS: Do you have anything in mind?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No supper.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: One House member suggested resignation so --

GIBBS: I don't -- I don't plan on leaving so -- and there's no truth to the rumor that I've added an inflatable exit to my office so --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That's where you grab a beer on the way out like the JetBlue guy, and go down the slide.

(CROSS TALK)

GALEN: A few choice words for reporters.

BEGALA: Yeah.

GALEN: Why is this guy in a fight with the Left?

BEGALA: Well, first off, the professional left nominated Barack Obama. It sounds like one of my old Hillary Clinton pals complaining about the Left, because those are the people who gave Barack Obama the nomination of his party. But, you know, I think he's quite an asset to this president. And I do think people ought to back off a little bit.

GALEN: I not only don't think he's an asset, I think he's a detriment. I think it shows weakness in the administration that they're becoming more and more close minded and fighting everybody on every side, much like Charlie Rangel yesterday.

KING: All right. We have to call it quits right there. You guys have to walk out of here, there's no inflatable slide. Paul and Rich, thanks for coming in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are beers.

KING: There are-we can arrange that.

BEGALA: Next, Pete on the Street has something different up his sleeve tonight. Apparently, he's found some people who want to ask us questions.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Almost to the top of the hour. Let's check in with Rick Sanchez for a sense of what's coming up on "RICK'S LIST PRIME TIME".

Hey, Rick.

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR, RICK'S LIST: The federal government's investigating this and we're going to be all over it, John. The possibility that this couple who was trying to buy a home were not sold the home, even though they met every single counteroffer, did everything right, simply because they're black. Pure and simple. That's what the federal government is saying. That's what they're investigating. And so are we. Tonight on "RICK'S LIST". Back to you, John.

KING: You know how the drill goes here, offbeat reporter Pete Dominick usually out on the street asking questions. But I understand tonight, maybe something a little different, Pete?

PETE DOMINICK, JOHN KING USA, OFF BEAT REPORTER: That's right, John, We're going to do something a little different tonight. Let's ask you questions. People have a lot of questions about what goes on in there, what happens, you have the answers, here we go.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm Catherine Walker from Wadsworth, Illinois. And, John, I would like to know the toughest story you had to cover at the White House.

KING: Ah, at the White House, it would definitely be the impeachment of Bill Clinton, the whole Monica Lewinsky saga. It was a very tough one because it involved personal conduct of the president. But also a criminal investigation of the president, grand jury subpoenas. It held up the agenda in Washington. It was messy. We often had to say things on television that weren't exactly family friendly and you hope your children weren't watching when you did that.

You got another one, Pete?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, John, I'm John. And my question is, how do you decide the questions that you ask between the issues of the day, as opposed to issues of greater national importance?

KING: That's a fabulous question, especially in this election year, when we're meeting a lot of new candidates. So you want to know a little bit about them personally, a little bit about their biography. A little big, maybe, about what's happening in their state or congressional district, but then you want to bring them out to the big picture. What do they think about Iraq or Afghanistan? Where are we in the tax cut debate? Sometimes social issues like abortion or same-sex marriage, come up. So it's tough and you have to do it on a case-by-case basis. But you have to hopefully, hopefully, you never get it exactly right, hopefully find the right mix.

Pete, time for one more maybe?

DOMINICK: I think we'll have to do this again. Back to you, John.

KING: All right, Pete. About out of time tonight, but we will do that again. That's fun. We like answering the people out there. That's all for us tonight. We appreciate you stopping in. Please come back and see us tomorrow night. RICK'S LIST PRIMETIME starts right now.