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Wyclef Jean Barred From Haiti's Presidential Race; Shirley Sherrod Turns Down Government Job

Aired August 24, 2010 - 22:00   ET


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: A thanks for joining us tonight.

A big night for you, as primary results come in from across the country. Former presidential candidate John McCain fighting to keep his Senate seat in Arizona. The Sarah Palin endorsement factor. Will the mama grizzlies roar tonight? Does money matter? Two billionaires, yes, billionaires, running down in Florida spending millions of their own dollars. We will see what it brought them.

Also tonight, Shirley Sherrod saying thanks, but no thanks, to a new job with the government. Her old boss says the White House had nothing to do with her firing after Andrew Breitbart set off that phony racism flap. See what Ms. Sherrod has to say about that, about why she said no to her new job, and her plans to sue. It's the "Big 360 Interview."

And later on: why not Wyclef? We will ask Wyclef Jean about being barred from Haiti's presidential race. He's claiming political dirty tricks and says he's going to fight to get on the ballot.

A lot to cover in the next two hours, starting with the races that we can call.

John King tonight doing the honors. He's also be drilling down into the numbers as we go along, looking for any clues to voter behavior tonight and into November.

Right now, he is joining us from Washington with the latest.

Hi, John.


A consequential night. And you just mentioned Arizona. The polls just closed in Arizona. We are waiting for the results. We will bring them to you as soon as we get them.

Will John McCain survive this challenge from the right? That challenge coming from former Congressman J.D. Hayworth. Another Republican candidate, activist Jim Deakin in that race. Hayworth viewed as the challenger. John McCain spent millions earlier to try to push J.D. Hayworth out of to race. He believes he will win tonight, but we will watch the results come in, in Arizona to see if the former Republican presidential nominee survives for the general election. Another race we're watching where we do have results, this one very, very close and very, very important, in the big state of Florida, the Republican gubernatorial primary, 47 percent at the moment the lead. The former health care executive Rick Scott spent millions of dollars of his money in this race against the state attorney general, Bill McCollum, now at 43 percent of the vote -- 72 percent of the vote counted, so Rick Scott's lead has held up as the count has gone through.

We should note this, though, still waiting for a lot of votes in South Florida, a lot of population down there, so there is still time and votes for Bill McCollum to come back, but a lead for Rick Scott.

Another race we have called tonight, who will be the Democratic nominee be in the three-way race for Florida Senate? The nominee is Kendrick Meek, the Democratic congressman, an African-American from the Miami area, defeating billionaire real estate investor Jeff Greene.

Again, Jeff Greene spent millions of dollars of his own money. Kendrick Meek withstood that challenge, now in a three-way race against conservative Marco Rubio and the former Republican, now independent Governor Charlie Crist.

One more race we're watching tonight, a big test for the Tea Party in the state of Alaska. Lisa Murkowski is the incumbent Republican senator. Joe Miller, a Tea Party favorite, not only does he have the Tea Party backing. This one is personal, the former Governor Sarah Palin backing Joe Miller against longtime rival Lisa Murkowski. About two hours until the polls close in Alaska.

Quick walk over to the magic wall to help put this into context. You might say, why do I care about a Senate race in Florida or a governor's race in Florida or all that is going on up in Alaska? Well, let's look first at governor -- 37 contests across the country tonight. Some of these governors, including the two Republican candidates down here, are suing. They don't like the Obama health care law.

Obviously, after the census, all the legislative and congressional districts across the country will be drawn. So, 70 nights from tonight, John, as you know, big consequences there. The House breakdown here -- we will talk more about this in a moment, but the control of the House of Representatives is at stake in this election, Republicans increasingly confident they can take it away from the Democrats.

And when we talk about John McCain's seat in Arizona, that seat down here in Florida, the contest out in Alaska, three dozen Senate contests across the country, again, the Republicans believe they have a chance to take back the Senate. That is not just mathematics. It's the debate about taxes spending the deficits, what to do in Iraq Afghanistan.

John, we are 70 nights from the big election night, and on this primary night, a number of key races to keep our eyes on. ROBERTS: Hey, John, back to Florida and health care for just a second.

Rick Scott, of course, was one of the most outspoken opponents of the health care bill. He headed up Conservatives For Patients' Rights. He used to run Columbia/HCA, paid record fines for Medicare fraud, $1.7 billion.

But if he were to win the primary tonight and then go on to win the governorship, do we expect then that the fight against the Obama health care plan will get even -- even hotter?

KING: I would expect it to stay red-hot.

From Rick Scott's perspective, as you noted, he was nationally involved in that debate even before he decided to run for governor. And Bill McCollum, the attorney general, if he can somehow come back to win that race, he is one of the attorneys general, the Republican attorneys general who have already filed suit challenging the Obama law.

So, from that state of Florida, regardless of which Republican wins, if they go on to win in November, you will have in one of the most important states in American politics heading into the Obama reelection campaign, if one of those Republicans wins, they will be leading, helping to lead the national fight challenging that law, so a fascinating and consequential election, primary night tonight in Florida and 70 days from now, when the American people get their say.

ROBERTS: And that is why Florida always matters in American politics.

John, thanks. We will check back with you in a second.


ROBERTS: We're going to be going now to Arizona.

J.D. Hayworth giving John McCain more of a fight than he bargained for. The senator unopposed in the 2004 primary, very much opposed this time around.

Our Jessica Yellin in Phoenix for us tonight at John McCain's headquarters.

And, Jessica, this was a race that if it had gone off six months ago, have had a very different outcome than we are expecting tonight.


There was a time not so long ago when J.D. Hayworth and John McCain seemed neck and neck here, and John McCain has been fighting for his life. This has been such a bitter, aggressive campaign that John McCain broke spending records here, spending $20 million, more than $20 million, on the primary alone. In Arizona that is unheard of.

And the attacks have been very personal. John McCain has -- as you know, he was famous for his position on immigration reform, saying, we have to embrace a comprehensive approach. He shifted that position, saying, well, we really need to focus on tight borders. He took a much more conservative stance.

His opponent, J.D. Hayworth, has called John McCain for that a shape-shifter, a hypocrite, even a liar, and now is alleging that if McCain wins, he will move to the left and try to negotiate with President Obama to seal his legacy as some sort of consensus builder in the Senate.

All this to tell you just how personal this race here has been. At this point, it does look like John McCain going into today with a healthy double-digit lead is likely to come out as the Republican winner. But you never know. And as he said today, it is not over until it is over, John.

ROBERTS: All right, Jessica Yellin, we are going to get back to you as well tonight.

And we are hoping to bring you live the speeches from Senator John McCain and J.D. Hayworth, as the outcome in Arizona becomes known.

For now, though, let's introduce our political panel, members of the best political team on television. Our political analyst Roland Martin is with us tonight, as well as contributors Erick Erickson from and John Avlon. John is the senior political writer for The Daily Beast and author of "Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America."

Good to be with you tonight, folks.

You heard Jessica Yellin just a minute ago talking about John McCain's shifting perspective on immigration, being called a shape- shifter by some people.

Let's -- let's play the evolution of John McCain's position on immigration from 2007 to now.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: America is still the land of opportunity. And it is a beacon of hope and liberty and, as Ronald Reagan said, a shining city on the hill.

And we are not going to erect barriers and fences.

Drug and human smuggling, home invasions, murder.

PAUL BABEU, PINAL COUNTY, ARIZONA, SHERIFF: We're outmanned. Of all the illegals in America, more than half come through Arizona.

MCCAIN: Have we got the right plan? BABEU: The plan is perfect. You bring troops, state, county, and local law enforcement together.

MCCAIN: And complete the dang fence.


ROBERTS: He has gone from not going to erect barriers and fences to complete the dang fence.

John Avlon, that is quite an evolution.

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. And the use of the word dang is a little questionable.


AVLON: But I think what John McCain's takeaway from the real heat he took from the right, which was a courageous stance he took back in comprehension immigration reform, very unpopular, was one of the reasons why he seriously dipped in the polls before winning the nomination.

The real takeaway from that was put border security first. That conventional wisdom was something he was speaking about before Governor Brewer front-loaded the immigration debate in Arizona and made it national. He has certainly pivoted to the right on this issue, but that is what he needed to do to protect his right flank from J.D. Hayworth. And he has done that successfully, it looks like.

ROBERTS: Yes. And it may be something also that helps Jan Brewer, who is up as the Republican nominee for governor tonight in the state of Arizona.

Roland Martin, John McCain was known as a pragmatic Republican, one who worked across party lines to actually get things done. Have we seen the end of that John McCain, do you think?

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, first of all, we have seen the end of that in many ways on the Republican and the Democratic side.

I mean, look, conservative Democrats are eviscerated by the liberal left. And, of course, moderate Republicans are torn apart by the right. And so, the problem we have today with these primaries is that people have to have hardened positions in order to appeal to the hard-core bases on each side.

That is why I love the California ballot primary, where they want to do away with this whole partisan notion and the top vote-getters go to the general election. This is the problem when you have partisan primaries. People have to be hard when it comes to the extreme elements of both parties.

ROBERTS: Erick Erickson, zero sum politics seems to be the order of the day. (CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS: And with the battle for Congress being so heated in 2010 and everybody after control -- and they are always after control -- but this way -- this time around, in a way that we have rarely seen before -- do you expect that we are going to become a country where all people do is, they win at the cost of somebody else losing and therefore we don't get anything done?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Oh, I mean, that is what we already do now to a degree.

This race down in Florida, the governor's race on the Republican side is an example of that. I predict, if Rick Scott wins, you will not see the establishment running to embrace him. In fact, they have already canceled their unity breakfast in the morning down there.

And the same thing with Hayworth and McCain. A lot of conservatives, they don't like McCain, but they don't like Hayworth either. I am hoping injuries get 90 percent in the polls tonight. It is a zero sum game right now, but you know what? That is because for a lot of reasons and on a lot of issues we have taken up the common ground.

And now there are a lot of divisive issues, both culturally, socially, financially. And people are fighting on those divisive issues, instead of the common ground.


All right, lots to talk about tonight, no question.

Stick around, everybody, because we are going to continue the conversation as we await results in Florida's very tight Republican governor's primary on the Republican side.

And a quick reminder: the live chat up and running at

Also ahead tonight: presidential elections not in the United States, but Haiti. Would-be candidate Wyclef Jean barred from being on the ballot. He's with us shortly. And he will tell us why he is fighting that decision.

And later, hear from Shirley Sherrod. Hear her explain why she said thanks, but no thanks, to a new job at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. She was fired, of course, you will remember, in a phony racism scandal. She says the orders for that came from on high. Is she sticking to her story? Did the White House panic?

Stick around and find out.


ROBERTS: We are back.

Five states holding primaries today, key races in Arizona, Alaska, Florida, Oklahoma, and Vermont.

Arizona Senator John McCain battling conservative talk show host J.D. Hayworth. Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski facing a challenger back by Sarah Palin and the Tea Party. Two billionaires both in Florida batting .500 tonight at the polls. We are still waiting to see about Rick Scott's race against Florida's attorney general, Bill McCollum, to see who will be the Republican nominee for governor there.

We are going to continue to bring you the raw numbers throughout the night.

And we want to go back to John King right now, who has been looking at some of the "Raw Politics" driving those numbers.

Hi, John.

KING: Hello to you, John.

Back to the quick results. Let's update folks. This is the hottest race so far that we have, the Florida gubernatorial primary. You just mentioned this. These are the two Republican candidates to win that nomination. Rick Scott, the former health care executive spent millions of dollars of his own money, leading at the moment, 47 percent. Bill McCollum, a former congressman, currently the state attorney general, 43 percent.

About 75 percent of the vote in. Rick Scott has held that lead, about that same margin, consistently as the vote count has gone up. One thing we want to show you here, what e are waiting for, we can't call this race just yet, because down here, Miami-Dade, Broward County, Palm Beach County, that is where we are still waiting for a lot of the votes to come in.

And, John, as you know, those are populous areas. So, if Bill McCollum can run up big margins down there, still has a chance, but right now Rick Scott holding that narrow lead at the moment.

The other race you mentioned, the more key race of the night to many, is the Arizona Senate Republican primary. John McCain just one election after being the Republican nominee for president trying to hold off a conservative challenge from the right in former Congressman J.D. Hayworth.

Senator John McCain leading comfortably in the pre-election polls, but turnout always a big concern. Quick trip over to the magic wall. Why does this matter? As we watch the elections tonight -- and it's a big primary night tonight -- 70 nights from now, 10 weeks exactly, we will have the midterm elections.

And the balance of power is at stake. This is what the map looked like on election night when the presidential race ended in 2008, blue states for Obama, red states for McCain. Of course, that's not what is at play this time.

We have 37 races for governor. And you have here the yellow states are viewed as tossups. The red states are viewed as leaning Republican. And, as you notice, not too many blues up there, this forecast to be a tough year for the Democrats.

More importantly, you look at the House of Representatives, from the Washington perspective, these are the races across the country -- again, red leaning Republican, dark blue likely Democrat -- and one of the big questions there is the House balance of power. Here is how it currently lines up, 256 for the Democrats, 179 for the Republicans.

Thirty-nine is the magic number for Republicans. If they can take 39 seats, you will have a Republican speaker replacing Nancy Pelosi. Let's move the House balance of power out, bring in the Senate number.

John, you know these numbers -- 59 Democrats at the moment, 41 after the election of Scott Brown in Massachusetts. The Republicans need a net gain of 10 to take control of the United States Senate.

So, the balance of power in the House, in the Senate and in the statehouses across the country hugely consequential in this midterm election year. We will continue to count the numbers, John, as all those results come in.

ROBERTS: All right, John. And we will get back to you just as soon as we get some more results.

Florida, now 75 percent of the precincts reporting in that gubernatorial race.

Let's will bring our panel back in, Roland Martin, Erick Erickson, and John Avlon.

John Avlon, you know, John King laid it out there, that it's going to be a challenging year, to say the least, for Democrats. Some people predicting that this will be equal to, if not worse, than 1994.

What do you think?

AVLON: Well, look, with the 40 seats you need to gain in the House, that is certainly within reasonable striking distance for Republicans, absolutely.

I think the 10 seats in the Senate are going to be a much tougher sell. But you look at every poll, every indication, every barometer shows that independent voters, who are going to be deciding the winners and losers of those swing seats in particular, moving decisively toward Republicans for a long time now.

Now, independent voters tend to like divided government. They're angry about excessive spending. So, those two issues are helping drive that. The question is, are the candidates the Republicans have been putting forward in these primaries, some of the more polarizing play-to-the-base candidates, are they going to be Kryptonite when it comes to independent voters and folks in the center?

That is really where this battle is going to be won or lost. But the tide is certainly shifting Republican, and no Democrat should be in denial about that. ROBERTS: Roland Martin, what do you think? Are the Democrats going to have to give up one house?

MARTIN: First of all, what the Democrats have to do is get a very consistent message between now and November 4.

They are all over the place when it comes to the narrative. And that is, why should they return to power? The Republicans are very clear in terms of their whole talking points. Now, sure, Democrats are saying, look, all you guys are simply doing is voting no. That means nothing.

But, really, what is the Democratic narrative? It is very difficult to say, well, we were losing 750,000 jobs a month. We put all these things in place. Now we have small gain, six straight month of private sector growth.

But people are saying, but I'm not seeing significant job growth. Housing starts are down. Of course, they can reference the CBO report when it comes to health care, but it is difficult for the average person to get their hands around all of that to say, hey, your policies actually made sense, because their narrative, frankly, is all over the place.

ROBERTS: Well, as Will Rogers said: "I belong to no organized party. I'm a Democrat."


ROBERTS: Erick Erickson, speak to what John Avlon was talking to us about. Some of these candidates who are very far to the right, many of the ones who are backed by the Tea Party, are they going to be Kryptonite come November?

ERICKSON: Oh, you know, I know there are a lot of people who would like to say that .

But if you actually look at the polling, from Sharron Angle in Nevada, to Ken Buck in Colorado, to Mike Lee in Utah, to Rand Paul in Kentucky, to Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania -- these are the -- the radical, spooky guys -- they are doing better than the Mark Kirks in Illinois and the Mike Castles in Delaware and the Linda McMahons in Connecticut and the Carly Fiorinas in California.

The crazy, fringe, right-wing candidates are the ones who are actually polling ahead of the Democrats. The moderate, Milquetoast Republicans are the ones who are not doing so well. And I think really what that says this year is, I don't know that voters really care whether -- how right they are. They just want a real contrast with the Democrats.

AVLON: I appreciate the point Erick is making, but I think the comparison doesn't make sense unless there's context.

You know, it's one thing -- when Harry Reid has been at 35 percent approval rating as the Senate majority leader and all of the sudden he and Sharron Angle are neck and neck in a state like Nevada, that is a sign of weakness for the Republican nominee, not a sign of strength.

And in states that have been going Democratic lately, the fact that Obama's seat and Biden's seat are being strongly contested by centrist Republicans in Democratic-leaning state speaks to the strength of the centrist candidate, not their weakness.

ROBERTS: Roland, finish us off here in this segment.

We look at Florida and what is going on there. Florida always matters nationally. And we have seen it time and time again. What we are seeing unfold in Florida tonight, how does that matter to country come November?

MARTIN: Well, first of all, it is going to be huge because it positions 2012.

And, obviously, you have, you know, Charlie Crist, who likely will be pulling from Democrats and Republicans. And, sure, the polling data is saying right now that Congressman Kendrick Meek likely will come in third, but then the question then comes in, how -- how strong will the White House back his campaign? And so can they take that seat?

And, so, you know, I think Florida is the key state for 2012. Right now, if you look at the polling data, I don't see President Obama having the same map in 2012 that he had in 2008. I think we are likely to see a repeat of 2000, 2004, but it really comes down to Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

ROBERTS: All right, gentlemen, stay with us. Thanks so much.

We're going to continue to follow the late returns in Florida, Arizona, and Alaska throughout the hour and the night.

Coming up next, hip-hop's Wyclef Jean talks to us about his fight, unsuccessful so far, to get on Haiti's presidential ballot.

And Shirley Sherrod -- why she said thanks, but no thanks, to a new government job. You will hear it directly from her.


ROBERTS: So, we had promised you just a few minutes ago that Wyclef Jean was going to be joining us to talk about his presidential aspirations and the challenge that he is mounting to the election commission's decision that he is not eligible to be on the ballot in Haiti.

And it is with great embarrassment and a heavy heart that I tell you that Wyclef is MIA.


ROBERTS: He was supposed to call in to us a few minutes ago and hasn't. So, we're going to keep working the phones, try to get him on the line.

Meanwhile, Alina Cho following some other important stories for us tonight. She is here with a 360 bulletin.



You know, the White House is asking the broadcast networks for a prime-time slot exactly a week from tonight. President Obama wants to deliver a major address on Iraq from the Oval Office. A senior administration official tells CNN that the speech will mark the end of combat operations more than seven years after the war began.

A plane crash in northeastern China today killed at least 43 people, but, amazingly, 53 on board survived. Now, that is according to state-run media. Reports say the passenger plane overshot the runway and caught fire while trying to land in heavy fog.

The debate over building a mosque near Ground Zero took a new turn today, a new twist. New York's Roman Catholic archbishop says he is concerned about the tone of the debate. After meeting with New York's Governor David Paterson, Archbishop Timothy Dolan said he worries that the values of tolerance and unity are at risk.

With the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina just days away, there is late word tonight that former FEMA Director Michael Brown will broadcast his radio show from New Orleans tomorrow and Thursday. Yes, we are talking about the same "Heck of a job, Brownie" Michael Brown who was vilified for the government's bungling of the response to the storm.

"Keeping Them Honest," we will be listening to those radio shows starting tomorrow.

And a quick programming note: on Thursday, a special edition of "A.C. 360," "In Katrina's Wake: Building Up America." Anderson investigates just how far the Gulf Coast has come since that catastrophic storm. That's Thursday at 10:00 p.m. Eastern.


ROBERTS: And I fully expect that Anderson will do a heck of a job.

CHO: He will do a heck of a job.


CHO: And we really need him.

ROBERTS: Michael Brown, we are not too sure.


ROBERTS: All right, Alina, thanks so much. CHO: You bet.

ROBERTS: Quick Florida update: Rick Scott leading the GOP governor's primary by three points now with 82 percent of the precincts reporting. It is getting close to the end for Bill McCollum.

Next up on 360: Shirley Sherrod, why she is not going back to work for the U.S. Department of Agriculture -- the "Big 360 Interview" just ahead.

And you are looking now at a live picture of McCain headquarters in Arizona, where we are awaiting results from the state's Republican Senate primary race.

Our breaking news coverage continues in a moment.


ROBERTS: In Washington today, Shirley Sherrod said thanks, but no thanks to working again for the Agriculture Department. The former agency official was ordered to resign last month, you'll remember, after a conservative blogger posted an edited speech that falsely gave the impression she discriminated against a white farmer.

Agriculture Secretary Vilsack asked her to rejoin the agency, but Sherrod rejected the offer.



SHIRLEY SHERROD, FORMER USDA EMPLOYEE: I just don't think at this point, with all that has happened, that I can do that, either in the new position that was offered or as state director for rural development in Georgia.

It doesn't mean that I'm not interested in that work, because I certainly am. I was working on many of those issues long before coming to the government, and would hope to be able to work on many of those issues in the future.


ROBERTS: Earlier I talked about the issues and the future with Shirley Sherrod for tonight's "Big 360 Interview."


ROBERTS: Shirley, it's great to see you again. Thanks so much for joining us. The first question I had was what exactly were the jobs that the secretary of agriculture offer you, and why did you turn them down?

SHERROD: The first job was deputy director for the Office of Outreach and Advocacy. And after I questioned him about why I was not offered the position as Georgia state director of rural development, he said I could have that one, also. After all that has happened, I really question whether -- well, it was just time to move on.

ROBERTS: You think? Because I remember you telling me in the early going here that you had received lots of phone calls from folks who said, "Shirley, we need somebody like you on the front lines in a position like state director," so I'm wondering when did you make the decision that the needs of the folks who you would deal with on the front lines were not as great as your desire to move on?

SHERROD: Oh, my goodness. I still think the need is so great, you know. I enjoyed the work that I did while I was there. And throughout this last month, just the idea of not being there to do that, you know, it bothered me.


SHERROD: But I think, in light of everything that has happened, it would be difficult for me.

ROBERTS: You know, we saw some pictures there of the two of you standing side by side, and he again took the blame for the whole mess of your firing; said it was his decision and his alone. Do you believe him, Shirley? Because you have said right from the very beginning that your information was that it was the White House that wanted you out?

SHERROD: And I stand by that. I was told that it was the White House. And even though -- I mean, he did the correct thing. He took the blame. That's what he's supposed to do as secretary of agriculture, but I know what I was told. The White House wanted me to resign.

Now, whether that came directly from the president or others working for the president, I can't say. But I know I was told on July 19, it was the White House.

ROBERTS: You know, the last time that you were on 360, you were on with Anderson Cooper and you talked about Andrew Breitbart. And you called him flat out, you called him a racist. Let's just replay that little section...

SHERROD: Well, you know, I really would not like to go there anymore dealing with -- with Breitbart. I'm just not making any comments at all, dealing with him and would rather not even discuss him.

ROBERTS: I was just wondering if, you know, as a person who was unfairly and inaccurately called a racist yourself, is that a term that you throw around lightly?

SHERROD: No, I don't. And I would rather not even go there with it again.


SHERROD: You know, I'm moving on.

ROBERTS: All right. Well, let me ask you this question, though. Are you still moving forward with the lawsuit?

SHERROD: That's still a possibility.

ROBERTS: Right. Now, back to the agriculture secretary. He said at the press conference today, in light of you not accepting either job, he said, quote, that "the offer didn't fit what she needs, what she wants, and what she deserved." If it's not what you deserve, I'm wondering, why did he offer it at all?

SHERROD: That's something the secretary would have to answer. Like I said, I'm supportive of the effort the secretary is trying to make, in dealing with discrimination in his agency, and I've offered to play a role with that, some type of role in the future.

But, whatever I do, from this point on, needs to be something that I feel I can do, and that I have support in doing. So, I have to weigh all of that. You know, I'm unemployed at this point. Not a great feeling. You know, I'm 62 years old. I'm not a young chick anymore.

ROBERTS: Well, I would like to think you're 62 years young and you've still got a long way to go.

SHERROD: I hope so, but you know, I'll be 63 in a couple of months, and these years are rolling on.

ROBERTS: Well, they say 63 is the new 35. Shirley, great to talk to you, again. Thanks so much.

SHERROD: OK. Thank you.


ROBERTS: At least that's what I'm hoping.

Still ahead, the latest from Florida, where CNN is projecting that Congressman Kendrick Meek will defeat billionaire Jeff Greene. Money talked, but it didn't have the final say. Why not, and what does the outcome of the race mean for the midterms?

Plus John McCain's battle to win a fifth term. For a while, it looked pretty dicey. What are the takeaways from that Senate race? Our live coverage continues after this.


ROBERTS: Getting very close to calling Florida's GOP gubernatorial primary. Billionaire Rick Scott leading Florida attorney general Bill McCollum with just a few percentage left to go.

Let's check in with John King. He's got the latest numbers, and John, we're getting very close to the end here, looks like? JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, we are. We're double-checking some numbers, John. We're talking to some sources down in Florida, but we're very, very close. We're just being conservative to be safe.

Here's the race. The Florida gubernatorial primary on the Republican side. Bill McCollum, the attorney general; Rick Scott, the former health-care executive millionaire who spent a lot of his own money. Forty-seven to 43 percent, now 89 percent of the vote in. This margin in the percentages has held up for some time.

Here's what we're double checking. Bill McCollum's stronghold is down here in South Florida, Miami-Dade, Broward County, Palm Beach County. This is where he is strong. In fact, he is running up pretty good margins percentage-wise down in these counties. But the turnout has not been high enough to narrow the gap, so we're just checking, making some final calculations to get this one just right, but you can see here, 89 percent of the vote, Rick Scott coming from behind. Most of the late polls showed him trailing, most. One or two did show him ahead. He spent a lot of his own money. Huge critic of the Obama health-care plan.

We're moments away from a call in that race, John, and whoever wins this race, the Republican will be favored in the general election, one of the most important states in our national politics, as you know very well.

ROBERTS: All right. John King tonight with the magic wall and the magic iPad.

Now let's bring in our CNN senior political editor Mark Preston. He's at Kendrick Meek headquarters in Hollywood. And Congressman Meek managed to fight off the billionaire's challenge, but it looks like Bill McCollum may not be so lucky.

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENOR POLITICAL EDITOR: Yes, I know. Absolutely right. Kendrick Meek coming into tonight's election, John, you know, he was fighting an uphill battle. He was outspent greatly. In fact, his opponent, Jeff Greene, spent more than $20 million in a span of few months to try to raise his name I.D.

However, Kendrick Meek, whose mother was a congresswoman, he took her seat, was able to fight back. He is now the Democratic nominee for Senate, John. He heads, however, into the general election very battered, very bruised. And he is penniless. He only has a couple of million dollars right now heading into November.

However, his opponents have pretty good dough in their pocket. Charlie Crist, the independent, the former Republican, John, has $8 million, and Marco Rubio, the Republican nominee, has about $4 million.

ROBERTS: All right. Mark Preston for us tonight at Kendrick Meek headquarters. Mark, thanks so much. We'll keep checking back with you.

Let's talk more about what happened in Florida today and in Arizona, where John McCain was fighting for a fifth term. Lisa Caputo, Susan Molinari and John Avlon join me. Lisa, of course, a former press secretary for first lady Hillary Clinton, now chief marketing officer for Citigroup. Susan is a former New York representative, a Republican; now a senior principle at the law firm Bracewell and Giuliani. And John, of course, the CNN contributor. And he wrote that book "Wing Nuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America." And a senior writer for "The Daily Beast."

I'm afraid we're out of time. No, I'm kidding.

Let's take a look at Florida. And Lisa, when we look at Florida and millionaires and billionaires, they're batting .500. Jeff Green lost, but it looks as though Rick Scott may pull out a win here tonight. And then you look across the country at Meg Whitman, Carla Fiorina, Linda McMahon. Is it possible for people to buy elections simply by pouring millions of their own dollars in?

LISA CAPUTO, FORMER PRESS SECRETARY, FIRST LADY HILLARY CLINTON: Well, yes it is. If you look at what happened with McCain in Arizona. He spent $21 million. That -- that total, I think, amounts to as much as he spent in all of his Senate races in total since 1986. That's crazy. I mean, he's advocated for campaign finance reform, and here he is pumping all this money. Lisa Murkowski in Alaska spent a boatload of money against her opponent.

So money does talk, unfortunately. That's not the way the system is supposed to work, but it does talk.

ROBERTS: You know, Susan, when you look at it, it has brought in some diverse characters into the race, people who we might not normally have seen, but, you know, when you think that Rick Scott poured $40 million of his own money into a Senate primary. My goodness.

SUSAN MOLINARI (R), FORMER NEW YORK REPRESENTATIVE: Yes, I say my goodness, jealously, myself. But you know, here's going to be the challenge. It looks like Rick Scott may win the race, and Republicans are going to look at him saying you better be willing to spend more to win the general election, because it is a an important gubernatorial seat, and this has turned out to be a good night for the Republicans other than Bill McCollum which looks like his loss in the state of Florida with Kendrick Meek winning, it places Marco Rubio much closer to winning that Senate seat.

ROBERTS: John Avlon, do independent voters see the amount of money thrown around in any sort of distasteful way or is that just what politics is these days?

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it's funny. You know, one of the things that self-funded candidates always say in their pitches is, "Look, nobody owns me." They try to spin their money as something that can lead to independence as a way of appealing to independent voters.

And in Florida, there are 2.5 million independent voters, so they're the folks that are going to decide who wins or loses come the fall. But I do think, you know, Jeffrey is the outlier in this cycle, the guy who tried to buy his seat with a lot of his own money, and imagine, being a real estate guy, this cycle it didn't work.

But we are seeing one of the national trends we are seeing is self-funded first-time candidates on the Republican side, and career politicians on the Democrat side. California, Florida. We're seeing that trend a lot, and it does say something about our politics right now and about the character of both parties.

ROBERTS: Rick Scott, because he's self-funded, can say, "I'm not in the pocket of special interests," but not too long ago, he was a special interest.

CAPUTO: That's exactly right. That's exactly right. But I think this is a key issue, you know, the whole money issue in the political realm, and John makes a great point about the independents.

I mean, we talked earlier this morning on this very air on CNN about how the country, and in many states are turning purple; not blue, not red, but purple and how independents are key. And independents are peeling away from Democrats, and that's a problem for the president.

And I think that you're going to start to see this White House really go out with a great bang out into the heartland and try and capture those independents back.

ROBERTS: Of course, to win a primary, you don't need independents necessarily. Susan Molinari, when it comes to Rick Scott, who ran as an ultra conservative against Bill McCollum, does he now have to run slightly to the center, if he wants to win in November? Put it this way: the campaign, the rich guy campaign is reaching out to CNN, saying, "Hey, do you want to have him on tomorrow?"

MOLINARI: Well, no doubt that Rick Scott is going to have, and he came through a kind of bruising primary. He is going to have to relive a lot of the charges as he enters the general election.

But you know, Lisa's point in terms of the independents. We have never seen two things that Republicans have, no matter who the candidate is, quite frankly, or with exceptions, the independents moving rapidly toward the Republicans. And I don't think the president nor the Democrats can do much to change that right now, because every number seems to slide more and more to the Republican column for the way the independents are splitting.

And the enthusiasm gap in the Republican Party. I mean, I saw the number today that we have something like 1,600 Republican candidates now. Now, some people look at that and say, well, there's all this intra-party bickering. What it shows is amazing enthusiasm for Republican candidates compared to 600 candidates on the Democratic side.

And I know that speaker upon speaker have talked about the turnout in these Republican primaries at an historic level, Republican versus Democrat. This all bodes very well for the majority of candidates that are running on the Republican line this year.

ROBERTS: Well, Lisa, what do you say about that? Is there far more enthusiasm in the Republican Party than there is in the Democratic Party during these primaries?

CAPUTO: I'm not sure about that. What I will say is we've got to take note...

ROBERTS: How do you account for the numbers?

CAPUTO: Well, what I would say is we have to take note of what's going on in Florida. We have a lot of presidential hopefuls in this upcoming season for 2010, get behind McCollum for -- for governor in Florida.

You also had Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin on opposite sides, you know, throwing their hats behind two different candidates for attorney general in Florida.

So I think that -- look, as the saying goes, you know, it's the economy, stupid, my great friend, James Carville, once said. I think we're having a tough time economically. No one knows where the economic recovery is going. And that always bodes well for the opponent as opposed to the party in power.

So I think that's more what's at play. And I think that the White House will take and make the argument of what they've accomplished over the past two years in the midterms.

ROBERTS: Yes. Let me just share with our viewers tonight and with you folks that we had heard that Bill McCollum had shown up at his headquarters and taken to the stage and we thought he would make an announcement, but the announcement that he has made, and let's just listen in here real quick...

BILL MCCOLLUM: We know that the beaches and the rivers and the lakes and the streams are going to get protected, and we're going to be there one way or the other, fighting alongside you in every way possible to make all of the dreams for all of those people come true. We love what we have been doing, and we continue what we are doing, and we love you.

Again, this race is not about me. It's about you. Thank you so much. God bless you and God bless America, and we will see you in the morning while we wait it out.

ROBERTS: What you actually missed there was just a few seconds before, he went to McCollum and he said, this is going to go into the wee hours of the morn. So he is not about to concede to Rick Scott.

Again, more than 80 percent of the precincts reporting. There are three points separating them, but McCollum certainly didn't come to his head quarters to give any kind of a concession speech. I want to switch gears here, because we are waiting for the first results to come in from the state of Arizona, and the amazing change that's gone on with John McCain, where he said in the 2008 election campaign. And 2007, he didn't even think we should be building fences across the border and recently said, just build the dang fence. And now he's distancing himself from the moniker of maverick.

And here's what John McCain has said about that, then and now.

We don't have it, apparently. All right. We will have it, but John McCain has, in the past, embraced the fact that people called him a maverick and actually said he was a maverick, himself, in his book -- OK. We have the sound now. So, let's play it for you. Sorry.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: And the American people know me very well. And that is independent and a maverick of the Senate.

SARAH PALIN, FORMER GOVERNOR OF ALASKA: I think I'm going to have to cast my vote for the maverick.

MCCAIN: I'm happy to say that I've got a partner that's a good maverick along with me now.

PALIN: I've joined this team that is a team of mavericks with John McCain also.

MCCAIN: Sarah is a maverick.

PALIN: I think that's why we need to send the maverick from the Senate and put him in the White House. I'm happy to join him there.

MCCAIN: I'm a maverick.

I've been called a maverick.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's the original maverick and one who is ready to lead. McCain.

MCCAIN: I'm John McCain, and I approve this message.


ROBERTS: Well, you heard a lot of that, maverick, maverick, maverick. In 2002, his book, "Worth the Fighting For" said that it was the education of an American maverick. But now John McCain saying, "I'm not a maverick. I never said I was a maverick." And Susan Molinari, I'm wondering how could he say that?

MOLINARI: Well, you know, times change. Politics change, and the situation changed. The situation in Arizona, as he explained it, you know, changed, and the president by his lawsuit in Arizona I think really kind of raised the ante.

Look, John McCain is a smart politician, and he didn't do what a lot of other politicians did, which is to assume that, because he was the party nominee for president, that he didn't have to work hard. And he had sort of the gift which we always think is, you know, a terrible thing of a later primary to see that some of his incumbent colleagues and others in the House might have taken their elections and reelections in the primaries for granted.

And so, you know, he ran a smart race. He spent a lot of money, and he did what he needs to do to presumably return to the United States Senate.

ROBERTS: But John Avlon, it's almost classic John McCain, where he says, "I never said I was a maverick." And then you play the audio tape, and they say, "Well, with all due respect, Senator, I think you did."

AVLON: Yes. That's just a dumb thing for him to have said.

ROBERTS: And it's sort of indefensible, because it's such a core part of his identify, not just one imposed upon him but one he accepted. And it's dumb, because this was -- this was actually a great year for someone to stress their independence, for someone to stress, the John McCain who the American people have come to know and respect, somebody who was standing up against fiscal responsibility when Republicans were spending like drunken sailors, he stood up against his own party. That should be a message that's perfect for this year, and perfect for the Tea Party.

And the fact that he was independent should be a strength, but being primaried from the right, people kept saying that maverick was code for independent. So we've got to get some clarity right now. The Tea Party folks who say that the No. 1 issue is spending, John McCain should be always a hero to them. And the fact that he's considered a RINO by some speaks to the sickness in our politics and a problem with the Republican Party right now.

ROBERTS: One more quick comment from you, and then we've got to go to John King. Lisa, he doesn't really have to -- if John McCain wins the primary, he doesn't have to worry about the general election. I think he won with 75 percent last time.

CAPUTO: Likely not, but what he has to worry about is what's the public perception of John McCain? What's his legacy? Which John McCain are we talking about? Are we talking about the maverick or are we talking about the Reagan Republican? Who are we talking about?

ROBERTS: We've got to go, because we've got to go to John King with the Florida race between Bill McCollum and Rick Scott.

John, what have you got?

KING: CNN now projects, John, a message from the Republican right against the Republican establishment in the state of Florida. Former health-care executive Rick Scott, we now project, will win the Republican nomination for the Florida governor. That will likely make him the favorite in the Florida governor's race.

Rick Scott now winning, we project, the Republican nomination for governor of Florida. We'll show you the latest results. He was running against a veteran statewide politician, the attorney general, Bill McCollum, former congressman. And yet, Rick Scott, with 93 percent of the vote, leading 47 percent to 43 percent, CNN now projecting him as the winner.

That margin has held up consistently. You see, a relatively narrow margin here, and more than a 1 million votes cast in the Florida gubernatorial primary. Rick Scott spending millions of his own money. Attacking Bill McCollum as a member of the establishment, the same old politics, Rick Scott said. He now will be the Republican nominee for governor in the state of Florida. The current governor, Charlie Crist, is now running as an independent in the Senate race.

This is a big race, John. Florida governor always a consequential election to begin with. Both of these men were fierce critics of Barack Obama and the Democratic health-care plan, a key race now in the state of Florida. As we project Rick Scott, a Florida businessman and a lot of controversy in his background as a health- care executive. He will be the Republican standard bearer in the state of Florida, in the consequential race for governor.

ROBERTS: John King for us tonight, watching the numbers. John, thanks so much.

A few minutes ago, Bill McCollum said it is going to be a long night, maybe not. We'll be right back on 360. Stay with us.


ROBERTS: Alina Cho joins was the "360 News & Business Bulletin."

Hello, Alina.

Hey, there, J.R. Good evening to you.

You know, we start with that incredible story about those 33 trapped miners in Chile. Liquid protein and liquid vitamins will actually be lowered down to the men, who have been underground for a staggering 19 days. They're alive, but stuck in a tiny, 500-square- feet shelter.

Officials have not told the miners it could take up to four months to reach them.

Using Facebook as a deadly hit list. That's the reality in Colombia, where police say three teenagers were found shot to death. They were among the 69 people named on a hit list posted on Facebook. Authorities suspect a gang or guerrilla group may be connected.

And a bit set-back today for the economy. Home sales plunged more than 27 percent last month to their lowest level in 15 years. The bad news fueled a Wall Street sell-off today with the Dow dropping 134 points.

John, back to you.

ROBERTS: Can you imagine those miners stuck for 19 days?

CHO: And not being told. I don't know if I'd want to know or not.

ROBERTS: But there were some estimates that they may be there until the new year.

CHO: That's right. Four months. Four months from now with liquid vitamins being dropped in a six-inch diameter tube, down to them. At least they have it.

ROBERTS: If they can make it, it will be a miracle. Alina, thanks.

A lot more to bring you tonight. The latest results still coming in from primaries across the country. Don't go away.