CNN CNN


 

Return to Transcripts main page

JOHN KING, USA

Stem Cell Ruling; Running Away; Big Primaries Tomorrow; Bad Eggs

Aired August 23, 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, Suzanne and good evening, everyone.

Breaking political news tonight involving one of the most sensitive and political medical issues across the country. All three branches of the federal government also involved in this debate. This afternoon, a federal judge slapped down President Obama on embryonic stem cell research, stopping all federal funding because in the judge's word, it unambiguously goes against the will of Congress.

Supporters of stem cell research argue it holds the promise of curing a host of chronic disorders including Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and paralysis. But the research unquestionably destroys human embryos and the judge says that violates an amendment included in federal spending bills. The Justice Department says it's reviewing the decision.

In a moment, the political ramifications with CNN contributor Republican strategist Ed Rollins, Don Baer, he's a former senior adviser to President Clinton, former Republican Congresswoman Susan Molinari, also with us from New York Amy Goodman, the host of radio and TV's "Democracy Now!". But first the legal ramifications here with our CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin -- Jeffrey, this decision, the impact is --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE)

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SR. LEGAL ANALYST: Was to greatly expand the ability of the federal government to fund stem cell research which George Bush had allowed in a only very limited way. What Judge Royce Lamberth did today was stop that program in his tracks, saying that it violated a 1996 law that was a flat prohibition on what he said was the use of stem cell research that destroys an embryo and he said that the president cannot overturn a law passed by Congress. He said that's what Obama was trying to do so he stopped it today.

KING: And Jeffrey, so the administration's recourse, the Justice Department tonight says it is reviewing the decision. One would assume it would appeal. Where would it go from there?

TOOBIN: The next stop would be the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, often called the second most important court in the country, which handles a lot of appeals involving federal power, very evenly divided between Democratic and now mostly Republican nominees. Then very likely to the Supreme Court, because this is a major issue and it is a case about stem cell research, but this litigation, this law, is fundamentally still about abortion politics because the parties line up very much on the pro-choice, pro-abortion side and the anti-choice, pro-life side.

KING: Jeffrey Toobin, our senior legal analyst right there -- Jeffrey, thank you. What about the politics of this? This suit is about a big shift that President Obama signed into effect back in March 2009. It was a major break from the Bush administration policy.

The Bush administration had allowed the research only on existing stem cell lines. In signing a broad expansion into place, President Obama said it was time to put the science first and he voiced hope that that expanded research could lead to medical breakthroughs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our government has forced what I believe is a false choice between sound science and moral values. In this case, I believe the two are not inconsistent. As a person of faith, I believe we are called to care for each other and work to ease human suffering.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: So what now, as the case makes its way through the courts, will there be political ramifications and perhaps any impact on this year's midterm political debate. Let's get to our political panel.

And Susan Molinari, to you first, this is an issue that divides some Republicans. Nancy Reagan, among those saying please let this research go forward. She had hoped it might lead to breakthroughs in Alzheimer's which of course took President Reagan. What's your sense of where we go now?

SUSAN MOLINARI, SENIOR PRINCIPAL, BRACEWELL & GIULIANI: Well I think nowhere. I think that this is going to be one of those issues that if President Obama seeks to raise it and elevate it as a political issue before this election, it will be the last straw in terms of the way Democrats, particularly those in some contentious conservative seats both in the Senate and in the House, this is another one of those issues they don't want to bring up before this election.

And Republicans I think do not want to discuss it. They want to stay focused on the economy, on unemployment, on deficit reduction. So I think that it's going to be radio silence on this for awhile at least through this next election.

KING: Radio silence, Don, let it play through the courts?

DON BAER, WORLDWIDE VICE CHAIRMAN, BURSON-MARSTELLER: I think they're going to try as much as possible, but to Susan's point, independents. This is an issue that really cuts and has some real potential for damage to Democrats among independent voters. And I think they're going to try as much as possible to keep it low. ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Democrats will try and energize their base, Susan's exactly right. This was passed by Republicans. It was basically enforced by President Bush. The law was very clear because it was intended to be that way. The judge made the correct decision today. But I do think it gives an opportunity for Democrats to go out and try and rev up their base, which is very difficult in this environment. In all probability, it will (INAUDIBLE) public's one more big distraction to get away from jobs and the economy which is really what everybody needs to be talking about.

KING: Amy Goodman, President Obama signed into place this broad expansion in which the research could go on. Now that it makes its way through the courts, does he have a responsibility to argue in public, the court of public opinion, as his Justice Department decides what to do in court or should he, as the political group seems to think, maybe quiet down?

AMY GOODMAN, HOST, "DEMOCRACY NOW!": Well, I mean I do think that politicians should operate on principle and clearly if Congress passed new legislation this wouldn't be an issue in the courts because they're saying this violated congressional intent. But as you pointed out, John, this isn't a Democrat or Republican issue.

Nancy Reagan was the greatest champion for stem cell research. And I think about Christopher Reeve before he died, who was paralyzed, who was fighting with his wife, Dana, for stem cell research and of course, Michael J. Fox. This cuts across the political spectrum. It's about humane research for people who are sick.

KING: Any chance at all Congress would take this up? The Congress will be back before the end of the year. They're not trying -- they're trying to stay away from anything controversial, especially Democrats, but is there any chance at all?

MOLINARI: Yes, I think I mean if they really feel and they do an analysis that they need to get their base going, yes. But on the other hand, we've got some seats now that are recently been put on you know the toss-up block or lean Republican in Texas, in Georgia, in Colorado, both in the Senate and the House. I think they have to make a politically calculated decision that they are not going to throw these members out -- under the bus in order to stimulate their base.

KING: If Speaker Pelosi were to call Don Baer and say -- or Harry Reid were to call Don Baer and say what's your advice, Don, do we bring this up before the election?

BAER: My advice would be don't go there, but Ed brings up an interesting point, which is the motivation of the Democratic base. I don't think it's worth doing that because of what Susan is saying. That these independent voters in some of these swing marginal districts and marginal states are going to be critical.

ROLLINS: You have to understand people who Tony -- (INAUDIBLE) little -- I go way back -- Tony Cuelho's protege, Rahm Emanuel recruited to win these districts, these swing districts, many of them are pro-life Democrats. And people always forget that 39 percent of the Democrat Party is pro-life. So in these districts, Pennsylvania, Texas, elsewhere, you try and make this a battlefield, you are going to basically energize the other side against you, too.

KING: And yet if you look at the polling, we have a Gallup poll -- this one back in May -- is it morally acceptable to have embryonic stem cell research? Fifty-nine percent, six in 10 Americans say morally acceptable; 32 percent say unacceptable. So on the one hand, Amy Goodman, the numbers would support President Obama's position but if you listen to these people who crunch individual races in the key swing states, they would say it's not worth a national fight because of where you might lose when you go race by race and state by state.

GOODMAN: Well again, as you point out, I mean with the poll numbers like that, I think people in the media really misjudge the American people. And I don't even think necessarily they divide along Democratic or Republican lines. I think these are human issues and if people just stood up on principle, I think they would go much further than they are going right now.

KING: The panel is going to stay with us. We're going to take a quick break.

When we come back though, 10 weeks, in 10 weeks from now the American people decide who gets to control Congress next year. They get to decide what they think of the president's agenda. After all the first midterm election is in many ways a referendum on President Obama. We'll show you some examples of new Democratic jitters and some Democrats who think the best strategy is to run from the president.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Ten weeks from tomorrow, American voters will decide which party controls Congress, the House and the Senate viewed as increasingly in play for the Republicans. Republicans need 39 seats to take the House. They need 10 seats to take the Senate. Want to focus now on some of those Senate races because more and more, you see Democrats deciding to go it on their own, in many cases being directly critical, perhaps not a surprise in Arkansas.

Blanche Lincoln survived a tough primary. The unions went after her; a more liberal opponent went after her. Now as she tries to survive in the general election, she is bragging, bragging about stopping one of her party's top policy priorities.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: After years of health insurance horror stories, it was clear we needed reform. But a government-run program wasn't right for Arkansas. And I made sure we stopped that. I approve this message because there's no easy way to fix health care. But I work to find the balance.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Amy Goodman, as someone who wanted Blanche Lincoln to lose the primary, what is the impact there when she's literally bragging that she stopped the public option?

GOODMAN: Well, I think people all over the country, especially progressives, who are deeply concerned about what she did and the role that she played, when polls are done that ask people in this country, we believe that there should be a basic right to education and I think overall when the question is asked right, people believe that everyone should have a basic right to health care. You can get the boutique stuff if you have more money, but people should have a basic right. And Blanche Lincoln did not stand for that. She stands with Wal-Mart. That's a big problem.

KING: That's a tough shot from Amy Goodman -- she stands with Wal-Mart, but Don Baer, smart politics for Blanche Lincoln? If you're trying to survive, she's got it very tough.

BAER: -- smart politics and she believes in the policy that she's talking about as well or didn't believe in the one that was being put forward, so you know I don't think it's a fair thing to say she stands with Wal-Mart. She stands with the people of Arkansas, where they are on these issues.

KING: Here's another one. I think if we had a conversation a couple of months ago about vulnerable Democrats, I don't think anyone in the room would have put Ron Wyden high up on the list. Now Ron Wyden, if you look at the scarce polling available in the state of Oregon, doesn't seem to be in trouble. But you get the sense that all Democrats are worried there could be some wave, so Ron Wyden presumably safe in his re-election? Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In Washington, one senator is a little different, Ron Wyden. He got his start protecting seniors from insurance fraud and phone scams, bucked two presidents and his party to vote no on the Wall Street bailouts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Susan Molinari bucked two presidents, meaning Bush and Obama, and his party, the Democratic Party. The bailouts, that is like, that is a toxic --

MOLINARI: Yes, it's just amazing to me. I think Ed Rollins would agree with me that if we were doing this panel six months ago and said you know we're going to talk about Ron Wyden, but we're really going to look at Blanche Lincoln who, you know real clear politics -- that is you know going to lose to (INAUDIBLE), but Senator Boxer, band-aid in Colorado, Nevada, Washington State, you know Russ Feingold, if these were seats that were even going to be in play, you would look at us and say please don't put them on a panel anymore because that's just so far from reality. And yet that is the reality of where we are going into these November elections. Senators that six months ago -- Democrat senators looked like they could withstand and would never be in any kind of danger or on the endangered species list.

KING: If you wondering why at home just look at the unemployment rate state by state. It is rising in the west. Nevada has the highest, double digits in California. The unemployment rate is still going up on the West Coast to the point where just had the Washington State primary -- I believe it was just last week -- Patty Murray, another Democratic Senator, she's in the leadership, her first ad after the primary, take that Dino Rossi.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Corporate lobbyists held a fund-raiser for Dino Rossi in Washington, D.C.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now Dino supports keeping tax loop holes for corporations that send our jobs overseas.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rossi thinks it's OK to encourage corporations to build plants in China or move work to Mexico.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Rather than save American jobs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Ed, the previous Patty Murray ads, we put one on them on the program earlier, were about her efforts to bring jobs home. This is taking a whack, the jobs issue front and center but taking -- going negative right after the primary tells you what?

ROLLINS: She had a terrible number in the primary. I ran for (INAUDIBLE) his race against Tom Foley and Foley got exactly the same numbers she got. You know they had the open primary there. So if I was she, I would be very concerned. And I think that this is a well- known candidate. He's been through two good races out there. And I think that she's definitely got a race of her life.

KING: Is the concern there with somebody like that, a Ron Wyden, Don that there's just a wave and there's almost nothing you can do about it if there --

BAER: Well there is something you can do about it. There is a concern. There's clearly a wave beginning to build here. But the Democrats have got to get out and do two things. They have been doing one thing. They have got to do two things.

The one thing that they have been doing is going back and blaming the Republicans, and making it clear that we don't want to go back again. And you've heard that mantra from the president and everyone else. We don't want to go back to the ditch that we were in.

You don't hand the keys to the car back over to those who put us in that ditch. What the Democrats have got to also do -- and this makes it tougher -- is say now that we're out of that ditch, here's the direction we're going to go. We had to do these things to get out. It's not the end. It is the beginning and we need to do better about talking about jobs and the economy. KING: And the question is will Democrats come together despite some family feuds, if you will. Howard Dean was on "STATE OF THE UNION" yesterday with Candy Crowley and he said a lot of nice things about the president. I want to be clear about that.

He said the president was out fighting. He thought the president in the last couple of weeks was energizing the Democratic Party. But then Howard Dean took a shot at some of the people who work for the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOWARD DEAN, FORMER DNC CHAIRMAN: I think that people around the president have really misjudged what goes on elsewhere in the country other than Washington, D.C. I don't think this is true of the president, but I do think his people, his political people, got to go out and spend some time outside Washington for awhile. The average Democrat is a progressive.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Amy Goodman, the governor seems to be asking a question. Does this White House have a good relationship with its own base, its own voters?

GOODMAN: Well it's a very important point. He's talking about Rahm Emanuel. He's -- I mean also Robert Gibbs firing that opening salvo when he's talking about going after progressives. I think things are straightforward. Politics isn't a game. It's making this country better and what people represent, it's a massive jobs program.

For example, building the infrastructure of this country and it's not just the highways. It's public transportation. It's taking the money from spending money in war, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and bringing it back home because there are major wars at home. People are struggling. That's the kind of real action that -- then it doesn't matter what the words are. It's people are seeing actions. That's what counts.

KING: What message was he trying to send there?

ROLLINS: Howard and I share -- we're both presidential fellows at Hofstra University (INAUDIBLE) the last year I've heard his comments, which he understands the progressive movement around the country. He helped build it. When this election is over and whatever Republicans do if we win the House, win more Senate seats, all that's going to be left is going to be progressive liberals.

And so the battles will really be between conservatives, be on our side and obviously the progressives. I think this White House has missed a lot of steps. They have tried to be king makers. They ran a brilliant campaign in 2008, but they have now gotten the primaries, everything else, and picked the wrong candidates in many cases and really divided their party as much as anybody I have seen in a long, long time.

KING: All right I want to thank -- go ahead -- you got a quick point?

BAER: Well I just want to say I like Howard Dean, and all respect to him, the average Democrat may or may not be a progressive but the average voter is not a Democrat. And that's the challenge is that we've got to be moving towards these independents who are growing at historically fast numbers.

And they don't necessarily want to go to the Republicans. They want to find that party that is really focused on solutions. And this president who has tried to focus on solutions, it's the people who work for him have tried to focus on those solutions. In many cases, they have. And they need to continue on that line.

ROLLINS: The only thing is many young people are becoming independents and they may stay independents. And their big issue is you're basically rolling up a debt for us to pay in the long term.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's going to be the next big issue for independents.

KING: Ten weeks --

GOODMAN: Obama also has to take on big banks. He's got to take on BP. He's got to now take on the large egg industry, about half a billion eggs, right? All of this is about regulating corporations to make us safer. And I think again that cuts across the political spectrum. It will bring young people in. It will bring conservatives in, in the south, in Louisiana and Mississippi. We're all feeling this.

KING: All right, lot of tension, lot of tension, you can detect it here, left, right, middle. Ten weeks to work it out. Thank everyone for coming in tonight. We'll bring you back in.

And Amy just mentioned eggs; we've got a lot more to come in the program tonight, including a focus on that. We'll go "One-on-One" with Robert Kenner. You might remember him from the documentary "Food, Inc.", his views on the bad eggs and food safety in America.

Our most important person you don't know, he's a big money man for the conservative movement and is he really waging a war against the Obama administration?

In the "Play-by-Play" tonight, we'll break down the tape. Joe Biden says if you don't like something, blame it on GM. What something? Stay with us.

And tomato, tomato, Nevada, Nevada, we'll break down the tape on that one, too. You'll want to see it.

And our Pete Dominic, he's on the street tonight, let's get that to come out. He's asking a simple question. Who deserves 50 bucks for an autograph?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: You heard a bit in our last segment about the concerns over food safety in the wake of this dramatic recall of potentially tainted eggs with salmonella. Let's take a closer look, 550 million eggs recalled, that's 32 percent, 550 million. You might think that's a huge number.

It is 32 percent of weekly egg production, just weekly egg production. Still, that's still quite a bit of eggs. Where are they? Let's take a look right here. The concern is that they come from farms in Iowa, two farms in Iowa, two producing companies, but they have gone to 17 states. You see the highlighted states right there.

Some of those states include food processing and from there it could end up somewhere else. That's part of the difficulty of tracing this. But the source is Iowa, then the shipping, so far 17 states affected by the recall. This is pretty fascinating, watch this here. This is salmonella. This is the five-year mean, five-year average of salmonella cases, right.

It tends to run right along that line. Watch how this has played out this year. Those are cases this year. Little bit above average. Little bit above average. Now watch this spike, May, June, July. Look at the numbers, way, way up here. And then we come into the month of August. Again, this is the mean.

This is this year. The case numbers way, way up here. And yet the recall didn't begin until August. The cases were way up here back in June and July when the recall expanded here. We were of course waiting for the rest of the numbers for the month to come in. So what is going on out there and is there a chronic problem of food safety in the United States?

A short time ago I spoke to Robert Kenner; he is the producer of the documentary "Food, Inc.".

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: And Robert Kenner when you see this big egg recall, and you hear that the two big companies involved share a common supplier, I assume this is in some ways eerily familiar to some of the themes you covered in "Food, Inc." especially -- here's an example about the beef industry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, "FOOD, INC.": In the 1970s, the top five beef packers controlled only about 25 percent of the market. Today, the top four control more than 80 percent of the market. You see the same thing happening now in pork. Even if you don't eat at a fast food restaurant, you're now eating meat that's being produced by this system.

KING: What is your sense of the impact of this centralization, if you will, on safety?

ROBERT KENNER, "FOOD, INC." DIRECTOR: Well, I think that ultimately, centralization has produced -- has allowed us to create food that's cheaper today than it's probably ever been at any time in history. Unfortunately, there are costs that come with this centralization. Salmonella didn't exist 30, 40 years ago, and then we started putting thousands of hens into hen houses and you know, fewer and fewer companies were controlling these hens, and now if we have one sick hen in this house, these disease spreads.

And now we have eggs with salmonella going out to 22 states and you know we have a recall of over half a billion eggs. And it's -- you know we have always had food-borne illness but now we're more capable of getting more people sick and they're -- ultimately I think we've created a system that's not sustainable.

KING: You say not sustainable and is the motivating force money? I want you to listen here to another example. This is a farmer from Virginia in "Food, Inc.".

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, "FOOD, INC.": Everything we've done in modern industrial agriculture is to grow it faster, fatter, bigger, cheaper. Nobody's thinking about E.coli, type II diabetes, and the ecological health of the whole system. We're outsourcing autonomous farmer decision making. We're outsourcing that to corporate boardrooms in big cities 1,000 miles away.

KING: You see a parallel here?

KENNER: Yes, I definitely see a parallel. You know ultimately, I think that when we have these really large producers who time after time are selling food that is making us sick and they're not getting punished for it, something's wrong with the system. In "Food, Inc." we had a story of a child who ate hamburger meat with E.coli and it turned out that we knew where the producer was, but the FDA and the USDA do not have the power of recall. And I think there's something wrong when we leave it up to these corporations to decide when they have to take it off the shelves, and also that they don't get punished if there are numerous violations that keep occurring.

KING: To that point, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, Margaret Hamburg, was out making the rounds on television this morning and she says that she doesn't have enough authority nor does she have enough resources. Take a listen.

DR. MARGARET HAMBURG, COMMISSIONER, FDA: We need additional resources. We need additional authorities. We need greater ability to trace back products to their source so that we can identify how the contamination occurred and what products are at risk. We need better ability and authorities to put in place these preventive controls and hold companies accountable.

KING: If you listen to that list of what I need, it seems like the government essentially is in this fight without a weapon.

KENNER: It's absolutely the case, and I think we need to give them weapons. I think ultimately, like the financial crisis, we have situations where I would rather have the government overseeing this than having these corporations that have their own selfish motives involved. I would feel safer having the government have more weapons. We need the power to allow the government to have recall. We need traceability, as that what was just being said. We import most -- you know a lot of our food is now imported from overseas. We should be able to have more inspectors checking to see if this food is safe. It's not really being checked.

Like right now, there's another recall going on with, I think it's Goya Frozen Fruit (ph), where there was typhus in that. We need more inspectors. They don't have enough money for inspectors. As we say in "Food, Inc.", there are fewer inspectors today with a lot more food. So again, it's a lack of weapons. They need more support.

KING: Well maybe this will draw attention to it and maybe they will get more support in the months and years ahead, but they're not going to have it in the days and hours ahead. So Robert Kenner, what should the consumer out there watching, who is a bit jittery about this, not just about the eggs, but about the food supply in general, what should the consumer do?

KENNER: Yes. Well to begin with, there's a bill in front of Congress, S-510, that will give some of the power for the FDA to have recall and some of these measures. It's been there for a long time, but hopefully it will pass. I think it's up in a few weeks.

And maybe this will help bipartisan support for this bill. But as a consumer, I personally want to go support my local farmer. Whenever possible, I want to go to a farmer's market. I want to buy organic, but ultimately I want to buy from decentralized local producers whenever possible, and I think you just have to be careful. If you're eating eggs at this point, make sure to cook them. I wouldn't be eating any raw eggs or putting raw eggs in baked goods or things I'm making. You have to be very careful at this point.

KING: Do you view the food supply as more or less safe now than when you were making "Food Inc."?

KENNER: Well, I view -- unfortunately, there haven't been that many changes. I would like to see more changes being made to help improve this food system. You know, ultimately whether it's food safety we're talking about now, which it happens generally every year around this time, there's a crisis, whether it's e-coli or salmonella, but there's also just in the sugar, salt and fats in processed foods. When one-third of Americans born after the year 2000 are going to have early onset diabetes, I think there's -- and I think it's caused generally by the food, I think there's something wrong. We need to start to change it. Otherwise we're not going to be able to afford what is very inexpensive food but it comes to us with very high cost.

KING: Robert Kenner, thanks for your time tonight.

KENNER: Thank you.

KING: In today's most important person you don't know, he's one of the richest men in the country and the money man behind what's being called a war on the Obama administration.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back. Let's check in with Brianna Keilar for the latest news you need to know right now. Hey Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there John. The Atlantic's newest hurricane, Danielle, is expected to stay well offshore at least through Saturday.

Tomorrow the department of education announces the winning schools in its $3.4 billion race to the top competition. There are 19 finalists.

And Levi Johnston's filed the paperwork confirming his intent to run for office in Wasilla, Alaska, but he didn't fill in which office.

At tomorrow's big primary, Senator John McCain visited campaign workers in Tucson and Phoenix, Arizona today. Big day tomorrow, John.

KING: Didn't fill in which office. Okay. Never mind. Never mind.

KEILAR: I know, right?

KING: Let's walk over to the magic wall and take a closer look at that. Brianna mentioned John McCain. We'll get there in a minute but our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin, will help us wander through this. As we use the wall, one of the big themes tomorrow, five states vote, Oklahoma, Vermont, Alaska, Florida and Arizona. The big contest getting national attention, Florida and Arizona. Let's start in Florida. Here's one of the reasons this is getting so much attention. This is the Republican primary for governor. Bill McCollum used to be in Congress, now he's the state attorney general. He spent $2.5 million running in the primary, on TV ads. That's a decent amount of money but former health care executive Rick Scott, $21.3 million in ad spending so far. These are the latest numbers. They're still spending right now as we speak. $21.3 million to $2.5 million, the Republican primary for governor. There's a Senate Democratic primary as well. Look at this. Jeff Greene, a newcomer, used to be a Republican, now a Democrat, $11.6 million in ad spending. Kendrick Meek, $2.6 million. Jessica Yellin, when you look at these Florida races, it's all about spending. Latest polls show Meek and McCollum, the two traditional politicians, the established candidates who spent less money. The latest polls show they're ahead.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: The broke guys are winning, huh? They're not really broke, only in this year. It's astonishing the amount of money in the races that many candidates in multiple states are actually talking about their yachts and trouble with their yachts. We saw that in Florida. But it is meaningful because the candidates who are opposing these billionaires and multi- millionaires are using that message against them and it seems to be resonating with voters in this recession. They are just a little mistrustful of people who are trying to buy their way into office, whether that's fair or not. That's the way it's coming across in some campaigns. Interesting way to put it. One footnote on Florida, the winner of this Senate primary gets to get in a race with conservative Marco Rubio and Charlie Crist. They are waiting for the winner of that primary. Now to Arizona. John McCain, remember, he was the Republican presidential nominee two years ago. He's running. He has a primary by J.D. Hayworth, former Republican Congressman. John McCain using money to his advantage. He's spent more than $4 million in advertising. J.D. Hayworth, just shy of $1 million. McCain has been able to raise so much money. Jessica, this one is personal.

YELLIN: Personal and so nasty. We have all seen how immigration played in this race but in addition to that, when you're here, you see the ads. The attacks are mean, is the word for it. John McCain calls Hayworth a huckster. Hayworth called McCain a shape-shifter and alleges if he's re-elected he will suddenly rip off his conservative mask and turn into a closet liberal. There's all sorts of accusations flying, especially in these closing days, and a lot of bitterness here. It's been a nasty race.

KING: With McCain favored like that, is there any evidence that J.D. Hayworth is right, there will be a shift, or is it just politics?

YELLIN: First of all, who knows? There is one interesting note to mention. Last week, John McCain was asked about this debate about the 14th amendment, so-called birthright citizenship, should the children of illegals be allowed citizenship in the U.S. He says he believes the constitution should stand. The illegal children should be allowed to be citizens which is a break from some of the more conservative positioning he's adopted on immigration during the primary. Maybe with his big numbers he can move back toward that maverick position he used to assume, or maybe he just believes in constitutional purity on this one. It does remain -- it does leave that question open.

KING: That open question. We will explore it as we go forward. First the primary tomorrow. Stay with us because coming up next, the items on my right are a prominent Republican endorses a Democrat in a key U.S. Senate race. Stay right there.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: There's a 100 percent chance you will be hearing or reading a lot about today's most important person you don't know. David Koch is a 70-year-old billionaire who dabbles in politics. He was the libertarian party's vice presidential candidate in 1980. These days, his dabbling comes in the form of big money political contributions. Contributions that have the president of the United States crying foul.

PRES. BARACK OBAMA (D), UNITED STATES: Right now all around this country there are groups with harmless sounding names like Americans for prosperity who are running millions of dollars in ads against Democratic candidates.

KING: Koch Industries as in David Koch is behind Americans for prosperity. The latest issue of the "New Yorker" says David and his brother Charles are among the richest men in America and are waging a war against the Obama administration. The article lists their priorities as drastically lower taxes, minimal social services and much less oversight of industry. Thanks to the Supreme Court, they can spend about as much money as they want. Let's talk that over. With me in studio, veteran Republican strategist, Jim Dyke of Jim Dyke and Associates, Jennifer Palmieri, a former Clinton white house hand from the Center of American Progress and our national political correspondent Jessica Yellin who is still awaiting the primary in Scottsdale, Arizona. Jim, lot of money going in to help conservative causes. The president of the United States crying foul. What is the goal of the Koch Brothers?

JIM DYKE, PRES., JIM DYKE & ASSOCIATES: I don't know what their goal is but Republicans are playing a game of catch-up with Democrats. Since 2004, actually, the Democrats wisely created an outside structure to support Democratic candidates and spent hundreds of millions of dollars --

JENNIFER PALMIERI, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: I thought you were talking about me.

DYKE: I am. I am indeed. I think what you're seeing is Republicans play catch-up.

KING: Fair statement? You are at the Center for American Progress run by former Clinton white house chief of staff, an ally of this white house. It is an outside Democratic organization trying to help influence both policy battles but also political campaigns sometimes.

PALMIERI: It's mostly, you know, I think that what's important about this is to have disclosure. The story in "The New Yorker" was helpful because it shown a light on how much impact this one family has. Don't think Americans for prosperity is necessarily a nonpartisan group. I think the more disclosure we can have on this and people understand what their bias really is, and maybe who they're really representing, it's important to do. It is the Wild West right now.

KING: You see these ads, this isn't the only group but we get all these ads that come into us. If it's from candidate x or y, you know who they are. Sometimes you do see when the group first appears, Americans for good government, Americans for great oxygen, you have to figure out who are they.

YELLIN: Right. It's a lot -- it takes research. It's our job. Candidates on both sides will press for more transparency on this stuff. The thing I find interesting is that after citizens united passed, there was a lot of hue and cry about every corporation rushing in to advertise. We saw the Target Corporation get in a lot of trouble with some of their shoppers and shareholders when they backed a candidate and it seems to have been an object lesson for a lot of other corporations. We might see a lot of private individuals like the Kochs continue to use this to give money. Still unclear how much big corporate money is going to get involved because of the potential consumer bite-back. KING: Excellent point there. Let's move on to some stories on my radar. Representative Joe Sestak, he's the Democratic senate candidate from Pennsylvania is picking up what you might consider to be an unlikely endorsement, former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel. He will endorse him in separate events at Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Sestak's in a tight race with Pat Toomey to replace Senator Arlen Specter. Is that a blow to Republican unity, if you will?

DYKE: I think -- I don't believe much in endorsements to begin with but I think it has the equivalent of maybe if Jennifer endorsed his opponent.

PALMIERI: I might just do that.

DYKE: You can. I'm certain it would be welcome but I'm not sure it has much impact in the state of Pennsylvania.

PALMIERI: When you do exit polls on Election Day, I don't think anybody will say I voted for Sestak because of Hagel. He had Bloomberg endorse him last week, an independent, a Republican this week. It probably registers on some level that this guy might be a different kind of Democrat, an independent Democrat which I'm sorry to say is probably a good thing in Pennsylvania this year.

KING: You're sorry to say that. Any impact, Jess?

YELLIN: I'll play beltway chess player here and say this might actually be more about Chuck Hagel than Sestak because there's all this chatter Hagel could be one of those folks who could take Gates' job at the pentagon if the president wanted to do a bipartisan move and appoint a Republican as secretary of defense. This is a reminder that he is a moderate, reminder to the Democrats that he has been a supporter and also his military service. You never know.

KING: Six degrees of Chuck Hagel.

PALMIERI: I really hope the president appoints a Democrat as secretary of defense.

KING: Here's another one for you. Michelle Obama and Laura Bush are getting together for the upcoming anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The first ladies will be at the flight 93 national memorial in Pennsylvania to honor the lives and memories of the 40 passengers and crew members who were killed there. This is in a partisan season, we all call time-out and say amen.

PALMIERI: The first ladies are class acts. Laura Bush in particular and I'm sure, you know, a lot -- I think Mrs. Bush is pretty independent, probably makes her own decisions. I can see some Republicans thinking that wasn't a great idea and they might be hoping to use 9/11 and talk about the mosque more and this might chill them from being able to do that. They're both really great ladies.

DYKE: It's a great idea. If you have read the first lady's book, former first lady's book, excuse me, she's really passionate about these issues and it means a lot. What a great thing to come together and have bipartisanship.

KING: Jess, probably two people who are more popular even within their parties with the American people than the politicians on the ballot.

YELLIN: That is true. It's one of the reasons is because they do events like this. Feel-good things where you can say we're Americans first and put aside partisan differences.

KING: All right. We will take a quick break. When we come back, we'll continue with the play by play. First, this one for you. It's back to school time across the country. In Upper Marlboro, Maryland today, not far from Washington, D.C., students headed to class at Barack Obama Elementary. It's reportedly the seventh school across the country named for the current president. There is apparently only one George W. Bush Elementary, in Stockton, California.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Monday night play by play. Republican Jim Dyke, Democrat Jennifer Palmieri, still with us to help us break down the tape. Vice President Biden out on the road out of town today. He says if you don't like the fact that he's vice president, this is who you should blame.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT: If you're unhappy that I'm your vice president you can blame it on General Motors. 1963 General Motors were running three shifts at their Boxwood plant in Delaware. My dad is an automobile man. He said, Joe, good paying jobs there. I went and applied for a job on the third shift. Had they hired me I would be a proud UAW member and you would be in good luck, I wouldn't be vice president. Blame it on GM.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: You got to blame it on GM.

DYKE: A lot of people get into politics because they can't do anything else. I'm one of them. Good news is now there's hope for myself and others that we could be vice president some day.

PALMIERI: I just want to point out that President Obama is on vacation for five more days so you have five more days of Vice President Biden being our lead spokesperson so you may want to block time for this segment.

KING: Tough. Tough.

PALMIERI: As a Democrat in American I'm grateful to GM for not hiring him.

KING: The president is on vacation. Last week we spent a lot of time discussing this new poll. Nearly 20 percent of Americans think the president is a Muslim. About 40 percent of Americans don't know what faith he practices. The Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell was on "MEET THE PRESS" yesterday and David Gregory asked him, Mr. Leader, you understand the president's a Christian, right?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MINORITY LEADER: The president says he's a Christian. I take him at his word. I don't think that's in dispute.

DAVID GREGORY, MEET THE PRESS: How do you think it comes to be that this kind of misinformation gets spread out and prevails?

MCCONNELL: I have no idea but I take the president at his word.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: I take the president at his word. Why not the president is a Christian. I know that.

DYKE: I'm from the south, Arkansas originally and live in South Carolina now and there's no greater thing you can say Senator McConnell being a Kentucky man than I take him at his word. I think this might be a little bit overblown if you show the rest of the clip he moves on to the more important point about taxes and spending and all that stuff.

PALMIERI: I don't take Senator McConnell at his word that he didn't intend to suggest that perhaps there was reason for doubt. I found it pretty shocking.

KING: Let's quickly get this one in. There's an assemblyman out in Nevada who wants to pass a resolution that says it's okay if you say Nevada. It happens sometimes in politics. People get it wrong.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: It is so nice to be back in Nevada. We are so happy to be here. Nevada. Nevada. Nevada. Nevada. Nevada! Oh no! Nevada! Nevada! Nevada! I know how to bounce back from my mistakes.

FMR. PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: It's great to be here in Nevada. You didn't think I would get it right, did you?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DYKE: He had a good sense of humor there.

KING: He did.

DYKE: I grew up in the south. It was Nevada and we didn't think much about it.

KING: You got it right.

PALMIERI: Nevada. I grew up in California. I know these things.

KING: All right. Thanks for coming in. We're short on time. Ever ask a professional athlete or celebrity for their autograph? Ever think of asking a politician for one? Pete Dominick on the street investigating.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: "RICK'S LIST PRIMETIME" coming in at the top of the hour. Let's check in with Rick Sanchez for a preview. Hey there.

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Every once in a while you get unbelievable video stories of a shootout that we'll bring you with reporters all but caught in the cross fire. You'll see it for yourself and then miners who are stuck underground that can't get to them until Christmas. We're going to show them to you through a tiny little peephole. We'll have it for you here. Back to you, John.

KING: Especially this year if we asked you how much is a politician's word worth? You would probably say not much or both. How about a signature. What do you say about that?

PETE DOMINICK, OFFBEAT REPORTER: Rod Blagojevich, John King, is charging at some comic book convention 50 bucks for an autograph. 80 bucks for a picture. Who would you pay for your autograph? I went to ask adults if they would ever do that today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DOMINICK: He's getting $50 to charge for his autograph. Can you believe that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Unfortunately what's happening to this country is keeping dumb and stupid.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nobody pays for me so I pay for nobody.

DOMINICK: I would buy the autograph for 60 bucks. Would you pay 50?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. I really just can't stand that guy.

DOMINICK: It's a $30,000 truck you only pay $500 for it but it has Rod Blagojevich's autograph on the back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would not pay Rod for his autograph. I would not.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lil' Wayne maybe.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Maybe Picasso.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know, maybe Bruce Springsteen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oprah.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tiger Woods. There we go.

DOMINICK: You would pay a buck for Tiger Woods.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lebron James.

DOMINICK: Would you pay for Pete Dominick?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't even know who that is.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DOMINICK: John King, what would you need to charge for an autograph?

KING: I got a buck for yours right here.

DOMINICK: I will take it. I need it. Please, send it up.

KING: It's on the way.

DOMINICK: I'll sign it John King.

KING: All righty, Pete. I don't know what to say back to that. Can't sign John King. That's my signature. That's all for us tonight. Thanks for stopping by. "RICK'S LIST PRIMETIME" starts right now.