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JOHN KING, USA

Primary Preview

Aired August 24, 2010 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks Suzanne and good evening everyone.

A busy big day in politics, five states are voting today. The polls just closed in Vermont and in most of Florida they've just closed. And many of these primary contests across the country tonight are being settled in races with national implications. So we have a packed hour ahead framed by these big questions -- is tonight John McCain's last stand or yet another new beginning?

Is the Tea Party losing steam? And are Republicans ready to govern? That question is front and center tonight, exactly 10 weeks until all of America votes because the man who would be the speaker of the House if the Republicans win big delivered what was billed as a major speech today. Most of his ideas were familiar. And this was GOP leader John Boehner's big headline.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), MINORITY LEADER: President Obama should ask for and accept the resignations of the remaining members of his economic team starting with Secretary Geithner and Larry Summers, the head of the National Economic Council.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: President Obama is on vacation, so it was left to the vice president to deliver the scornful rebuttal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For eight years before we arrived in the West Wing, Mr. Boehner and his party ran the economy and the middle class literally into the ground.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Your choices tonight and 70 days from now will shape the national debates over taxes, spending and whether to repeal or change any of the new health care law. So what will we learn tonight?

Let's begin our special coverage with Democratic strategist James Carville, Republican strategist Ed Rollins, and with me here in Washington, Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher, and John Avlon, he's author of "Wing Nuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America" and in Phoenix with us national political correspondent Jessica Yellin. Let's begin with this question. We'll hone in on some of the details and these races in just a minute, but James Carville, to you, first, what are we going to learn tonight?

JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: We're going to learn that --

(AUDIO GAP)

CARVILLE: -- get right or get out. John McCain got it right and he's probably going to have to get out. He'll be the nominee and probably stay in the Senate. It'll be interesting some of the other races are going to be pretty interesting here. I think the Florida Senate race is going to be interesting on the Democratic side. You know, but let's -- most of these primaries are not going to tell us a whole lot about the general and we already kind of know Republicans have a pretty good hand going into the general election.

KING: Ed Rollins, what are we looking for most of all tonight?

ED ROLLINS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Comments and established candidates can win if they run good campaigns, and the fact that you've got -- you're an outsider, and you've got millions and millions of dollars to spend like in Florida, if you're undefined, you may not do very well. And these guys aren't going to very well tonight.

KING: Cornell.

CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: I think money is the big story coming out of this election cycle. Look, if Americans were upset about the influence of money and power in their elections, wait until they get a load of what is going on this year.

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I tell you -- I mean I think it's big money, can't buy every primary. The self funded outsider doesn't always win and it's center right incumbents the GOP can sometimes beat back far right incumbent challenges.

KING: All right, we'll bring Jess in, in just a sec. First I'm going to wander over to the "Magic Wall". Let's focus on the one race that has drawn the most national attention of all these races tonight and many are getting national headline, but the Arizona Senate Republican primary, the incumbent is John McCain, of course the 2008 presidential nominee for his party.

J.D. Hayworth, a former congressman, challenging Senator McCain from the right. And Jim Deakin, a minor Republican candidate in that race, but in a primary like this, how many votes the third candidate gets could have an influence. As this race has unfolded, J.D. Hayworth, the former congressman has been relentless. He says McCain has shifted to the right only to win conservative votes in the primary. And he told Jessica just last night that if McCain wins, he'll come back to Washington and run back to the deal-making middle. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) J.D. HAYWORTH (R), ARIZONA SENATE CANDIDATE: Not only will we have retreated to the unfortunate denigration of Mr. McCain from a senior statesman to a political shape shifter, we will have him there as a shameless panderer to the left.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: We're looking forward to moving forward after tonight to the general election and working just as hard as we did in the primary and taking nothing for granted.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Senator your opponent said if elected you'll move to the left.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Senator, your opponent said if elected, you're going to move to --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That voice you were hearing there was the persistent Jessica Yellin. Jessica, as you wait for the polls to close and the results to come in what's the sense on the ground there tonight?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's some cautious optimism in the McCain camp. He had a healthy double digit lead going into today, but as you know it was hard fought in a year that's been tough for incumbents, particularly hard for John McCain. He had to spend $20 million on this primary, a record for this state.

And it centered, as you know, John, largely on immigration. So he did shift far to the right on his stance on immigration. If he makes it through tonight, that could pose some challenges for him in the general election. There is a strong push to register many of the state's Latino voters, try to get them out to the polls, more of them who are feeling energized in the wait of the controversies around the state's immigration laws, so he may have to temper his stand. I should point out, John, because it's getting almost no coverage, there are also four Democrats running for the U.S. Senate here in Arizona tonight. They are worth at least that mention -- John.

KING: Well four Democrats running and we'll track that among the many races we're covering. I want all of you to listen to this. Jess was out talking to voters today. Senator McCain is a very superstitious guy. He has a tradition.

He votes. He goes to his favorite Mexican restaurant in Phoenix, then he goes to the movies. We're told he went to the movies with his wife Cindy this afternoon. One of the things they're worried about is it it's 110-plus degrees in Arizona today, so of course you're always worried and especially in a primary in a midterm year about turnout. As Jess noted, Senator McCain comfortably ahead in the polls, but listen to these voices she found after they cast their ballots today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I supported John McCain for president but I didn't like the way he's flip-flopped on all of the issues especially immigration. His cap and trade he supported, I don't support that and so I voted for J.D. Hayworth.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I see the race here in Arizona very much like the Brown versus Kennedy race in Massachusetts. It's not that I dislike the Senator so much as he's been in there a very long time and it's time for a change.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: James Carville, when you hear voices like that in a midterm year, in a primary where you never quite know turnout, what does it tell you about the mood?

CARVILLE: Well, you know --

(AUDIO GAP)

CARVILLE: (INAUDIBLE)

(AUDIO GAP)

KING: Having a bit of a problem with James' audio there. Let's go -- Ed Rollins, when you hear those voices, if you're John McCain, you look and you see well I'm up double digits in the polls, but --

ROLLINS: I'm glad I outspent my opponent 7-1.

(LAUGHTER)

ROLLINS: I think John is going to win and win easily. I don't think Hayworth turned out to be the candidate everybody expected him to be. And as I said, he was obviously badly outspent and John ran a good campaign, John really was aggressive and basically went back to his core, went back to what Arizona Republicans wanted.

KING: Ed says back to what Arizona Republicans wanted. You guys know the debate here in Washington. It's like if -- when he wins this race, will he come back and be the McCain, Kennedy, Bush guy on immigration. Will he be the guy when it comes to be the big deficit commission and they're looking where are the spending cuts. Will he be senior statesman, Mr. President, where can I work with you or will he be as he has been over the past year pretty much poking Obama on just about every turn?

BELCHER: I think this is part of the larger narrative that we see going on. I mean John McCain is probably going to pull this out tonight. However John McCain, the maverick is dead. I mean he -- Tea Party inquisition killed that John McCain.

That John McCain, by the way, got a lot of independent voters like is dead. Now I hope he does in fact do what J.D. is afraid of and he goes back to the -- what -- the deal-making middle because guess what? That's where -- that's what happens in politics. And that's where we can make deals and move this country forward. I think the Tea Party has pushed him so far to the right it's going to be hard for him to do that.

AVLON: Well look, John McCain over the last two years has not been John McCain that we saw during the Bush years, but the ironic thing about him being challenged from the right and being called a rhino by some folks on the far right is that if the number one issue is spending for the Tea Party groups. This is a guy who is among the only voices in the Senate standing up to spending when the Republicans controlled the Congress and the White House.

He deserved to be applauded for Tea Party groups, not primary. And so look, if he returns to his form, hopefully in some statesman like fashion where he's bridge in the opposition Obama, which is clearly personal with his instincts to be that dealmaker, that's a guy who can be a really important constructive voice going forward.

BELCHER: And that goes to my point. It's a purity test. I mean he -- you know he did stand up and he was that maverick. But he wasn't pure to those on the fringe of the GOP.

KING: All right. We'll continue to watch the primary results. Again Vermont, the polls have closed. Florida, most of the polls have closed and we will bring you the results as they come into us.

When we come back, though, if this is a big Republican year, and if the Republicans take control of the House, are they ready to lead? The man who would be speaker began to outline his ideas today. We'll debate them when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: In this corner and in this corner.

KING: The big political night we're watching primary contests in five states with special attention in Florida and Arizona. Most of Florida's polling places closed at 7:00 Eastern, although voters over here in the Central Time Zone part of Florida, they had to vote until the top of the hour.

Arizona polls open for a little less than three hours. We just talked about the big race out in Arizona. That is the Senate race, pitting John McCain against two Republican challengers. In a moment, we'll dig deep in Florida, Republican gubernatorial primary between Bill McCollum and Rick Scott, more on that in a minute; also more in a minute on a very interesting Democratic Senate primary; billionaire Jeff Greene against Congressman Kendrick Meek.

But at the moment we want to sort of take a big picture view and that would be what if. The man who would be the next speaker of the House if the Republican Party can take back the House, they need 39 seats this November is John Boehner. He gave a big speech in Cleveland today part of his introduction if you will to the American people.

John Boehner knows as far back, President Clinton, remember, he said he would change Washington. George W. Bush said he would change Washington. Barack Obama promised to change Washington. Mr. Boehner knows the voters are fed up. He promises make me speaker it will be different.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOEHNER: If I were fortunate enough to be Speaker of the House I would run the House differently. And I don't just mean differently than the way Democrats are running it today. I mean differently than both Democrats or Republicans in the past. That means challenging the old ways in Washington. Getting to the bottom of what drives people crazy and then trying to fix it once and for all.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now Democrats were quick to say Mr. Boehner was part of being in charge in Washington for six years from 2000 to 2006 when you had a Republican president and when Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress. Mr. Boehner was not the leader then to be fair to him. But he was in a senior position in the Republican Party all six of those years, either a member of the leadership or a chairman of a key committee.

Let's look at spending in those six years. This is what the Democrats say the Republicans did when they were in charge in 2001. They inherited from Bill Clinton a $128 billion surplus and then if you watch the numbers over the next six years, deficit, deficit, deficit, deficit and deficit.

James Carville, back to you in New Orleans, can Mr. Boehner make the case that he would be different, or maybe the better question is this, do Republicans need to offer an agenda, or should they just run against the Democrats this year?

CARVILLE: Well, they haven't so far. And the idea that John Boehner is going to change Washington, I don't think anyone believes that. It's almost comical. He's a decent guy, but he's never been about changing anything and as you correctly point out, he was part of the Republican leadership during the six years, when not only did the surpluses evaporate, they turned into humongous deficits.

But again, I'm not sure that that's necessary. We'll see, because we got some, you know, some fascinating elections coming up in the general. We know these incumbents can hang on in primaries, I don't know if that's going to happens in the general. You know this is going to be a fascinating year. But I don't believe that anybody is going to look at John Boehner and think change. I'd welcome some comments of some of the other panelists on that.

KING: Well Ed Rollins, to you first, you have been involved in these races, Ronald Reagan's political director. You were involved in the midterm in '82. You've been involved in candidate by candidate races since then. Should the Republicans be trying to say here's what we would do --

(CROSSTALK) KING: -- or should they just be campaigning on we're not them?

ROLLINS: I think we're not them is going to be enough to get the either majority of the Senate -- the House and very close in the Senate. The key thing here though is when you look long term, Ronald Reagan didn't deal with fringe Democrats. He dealt with the leadership to make his bipartisan deals.

Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton and Trent Lott sat down and dealt, so Boehner and the president if -- whatever happens here in November, they're going to have to have a better relationship than they have today. The president is obviously not going to fire his economic team and Boehner is not going to get everything he wants. But the reality is, if he's the majority -- if he's the Republican speaker this White House has to deal with him or nothing is going to get done for the next two years.

KING: And as you guys watched this play out, is Boehner introducing himself to the American people (INAUDIBLE) large and you spent a lot of time on the middle?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

KING: That was a quote -- that first quote aimed at the middle. We'll actually try to do some stuff in Washington or does he know that he might face his own challenges, if the Republicans -- maybe someone will try to challenge him from his own comments and he's trying to impress?

AVLON: I mean look, you know what he's saying (INAUDIBLE) on both your houses, we're going to be different than Republicans, and I was a part of the leadership at the time. That's clearly a play to the center. And look, independent voters have been swinging decisively towards the Republicans in the swing House seats, so the wind is at their back.

Here's the thing. You know most independents want to vote for divided government. They're deficit hawks. They like divided government. It's because they assume it will force the White House, the Democrats and Republicans to work together, but is the well so poisoned right now? Is the bad blood between Boehner and Obama so serious because of this no-Obama (ph) strategy which has been played out over and over that they're not going to get checks and balances. They're going to get more grid lock.

KING: There was not a lot of love between Newt and Bill Clinton back in those days and yet --

BELCHER: But here's the thing. I mean what he's doing is very strategic and it's important because guess what? He's on the change sort of -- he's back on change. Last couple of elections we've had been about change. Guess what this is going to be about -- change.

And what he's doing, it is sort of a move to the middle because you look at those independent voters, they want change. They don't want anger and fear. That plays to the fringe base, but middle independent voters they want change, so he's trying to move there. However, I'm like James on this one, him selling change is a bit much.

(CROSSTALK)

ROLLINS: You have to remember, Boehner is not known by the country. He will be shortly. But, you know, so he can pretty much say what he wants, and there will be some believability especially in Ohio.

(LAUGHTER)

AVLON: He's got (INAUDIBLE) a positive message. The Republicans do too. They need a positive plan and so far it's just been a lot of no. That's just not a stereotype. I mean it's all about no, stop, cut, it's a defensive no-Obama agenda as opposed to a positive --

BELCHER: And that was change apparently.

KING: All right, a quick timeout -- everybody stay put -- this just into CNN. We have just learned that President Obama wants to deliver his major address on Iraq from the Oval Office in primetime next Tuesday night. That will be the president telling the American people about keeping his promise to get U.S. troop levels down, a major address from the president from the Oval Office next Tuesday. Remember to watch it right here on CNN.

When we come back, Florida's races, big primaries for governor and the Senate, we'll take you in close and tell you why you should care even if you live far away from the sunshine state. And as part of our commitment to bring you into the conversation, we've been asking people online and around Washington to make your case about this question.

Do you think as the Republican leader said today that President Obama needs a new economic team? Here's a sampling of your answers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DWAYNE MICHAEL, TENN.: I think they are a disgrace to what the American people in our political society and what this country stands for. I think they need to step in immediately, as the president himself. I think he needs to resign.

BILL BATTLE, CONN.: No, I don't think it's necessary to fire his staff. He may need to rethink some of the policies that's happened (ph).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: Get ready. We're going off to the races.

KING: Tonight we're watching primary contests in five states with special attention on Florida, where most of the polls are closed and out west in Arizona. We've also shaken up our team of political experts. Joining us from Atlanta, CNN contributor Erick Erickson, he's the editor-in-chief of the conservative blog Redstate.com and joining Cornell Belcher and John Avlon here in Washington is Republican media strategist Todd Harris, who is very important tonight. He's the senior strategist for Marco Rubio Senate campaign in Florida.

And let's begin there since Mr. Harris has joined the conversation and Mr. Erickson also a big supporter of Marco Rubio. The Republican primary tonight, Marco Rubio will be the winner of that in Florida. The big question and I'm going to go to the "Magic Wall" to remind our viewers of the candidates here. And the big question is who will win the Democratic primary.

Jeff Greene, he's a billionaire. He gets his money from real estate. Kendrick Meek is a Democratic congressman from down in the Miami area. This is your established Democratic Party candidate, he has the support. Barack Obama, Bill Clinton recording a turnout call for him. Jeff Greene's advantage in this race has been his personal fortune.

He has spent millions in the race. So Marco Rubio voted today. Mr. Greene and Mr. Meek voted today. Before we debate the race let's hear from the candidates.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA SENATE CANDIDATE: For people that are happy with the direction Washington is taking America, you have the two candidates on the ballot. The Democratic nominee and you have Charlie Crist.

REP. KENDRICK MEEK (D), FLORIDA SENATE CANDIDATE: You can't trust Charlie Crist. I mean that's the bottom line. The guy is a conservative. Here is a man that abandoned his own party not to become an independent because he felt he couldn't win in the primary. I hung in the primary against $26 million and against a guy that was on television more than Geico and Burger Kings and McDonald's put together.

JEFF GREENE (D), FLORIDA SENATE CANDIDATE: Retire them and give a chance to someone new, an outsider like me, I'm Jeff Greene the outsider whose greater job is my whole life and will fight for the people of Florida.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now Governor Crist not there because he didn't have a primary today. He was a Republican. He decided instead to run nonparty affiliated. Most of us call that independent. Todd Harris, to you first, if you look at the polling in this race it has gone from Marco Rubio knocking off Governor Crist probably in a Republican primary, to Marco Rubio now in a very tough race with Governor Crist in many of the polls favor at the moment in a very fascinating three- way race in a very fascinating and diverse state.

TODD HARRIS, REPUBLICAN MEDIA STRATEGIST: We're slightly up right now, but there's no question that it's a very fluid race. If I had to guess on the Democratic side tonight, you know, I think that most -- the smart money is probably on Kendrick Meek, and I think that the lesson that comes out of that is number one, while money may be the mother's milk of politics, you have to have a message to go along with it.

And I think that a lot of people just didn't find Jeff Greene a compelling messenger and number two, and John, I know this will come as a shock you to, but maybe being a billionaire who made all of his money off of credit default swaps who used to live with Heidi Fleiss and who had Mike Tyson as the best man at his wedding, that may not be the best bio to run for office.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: It's a certain demographic, but it's not a very large demographic.

BELCHER: I wouldn't insult Mike Tyson.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: I want to ask Cornell --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) boat.

KING: Yes, everybody wants him on the boat --

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) Cuba.

KING: If he loses, maybe the boat will be available tonight, but one of my guiding philosophies is let the people vote. Sometimes the polls are wrong, especially -- this has been an unpredictable year, so let's let the people vote and we'll bring you the results as they come in.

But Cornell Belcher, if Kendrick Meek wins, the Democratic establishment here in Washington is going to face a very tough decision because most of the polling shows that if the higher Charlie Crist goes, the better chance to keep the seat out of Republican hands, that is a Republican seat right now.

Republicans need 10 to take back the Senate. If the Democrats can somehow take that one or if the independent can win it, it complicates the Republicans math. If you're Bob Menendez and Kendrick Meek wins that primary tonight and two or three weeks from now, he's not doing very well, do you cut him a check or do you at least say let's hope Charlie Crist wins?

BELCHER: Well no, I think you cut Kendrick a check because and here's why. Quite frankly you know if the Tea Party inquisition hadn't forced Crist out of the Republican Party, this was probably not a seat that the DCCC chairman was going to spend a lot of time and money on. Now you have a race that quite frankly you don't have anyone running away with this race.

You have a three-person race. And we don't need to get a majority there. And if you look at some of our turnout efforts that we've had in Florida and you look at Bill Clinton going in there and you look at the Obama (INAUDIBLE) apparatus there in Florida, we can gin out some votes and make this awfully competitive. You can't walk away from this Florida race. It's a race you cannot walk away from.

AVLON: Yes, I just -- I just don't think that's -- you know, that's a really rosy scenario, the Democrats. You know let's be real.

BELCHER: That's my job.

(CROSSTALK)

AVLON: But it's not mine. I get to be the independent (INAUDIBLE) here. Look, Florida has 2.5 million independent voters. That is a huge, huge swing. Charlie Crist made a strategic decision that was the right one. He was not going to win this close partisan primary.

He came in the favorite. Rubio ran a great campaign, got a lot of momentum. Crist decided to live, fight another day, appealing to the general electric. I think there's no question Meek is not a strong candidate against Rubio as Charlie Crist is, the open question is, even if Crist were to win, which would be a huge upset, who does he affiliate with?

KING: So Erick Erickson, if you're Marco Rubio today, do you go right to make sure every single person in your base turns out, or do you have to shift a little bit to the middle to keep Charlie Crist from taking up that large middle John Avlon just talked about?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know he's interesting, Marco Rubio has been ruffling some feathers on the right with some of the statements on education reform and Social Security, but by and large he's playing to Florida voters. He's not really worried about national voters and national trends.

He's playing to Florida and right now it looks like he's doing a very good job of being the conservative candidate who is also palatable to the middle. And we got to remember as well he is in a run-off. There is still -- he's still got high undecideds and high unknowns, believe it or not among a lot of independents in Florida.

I think they're going to like what they see. The interesting thing to me is that all along we've kind of known based on PPP, Rasmussen, Quinnipiac, Mason Dixon and others that he polls better when Kendrick Meeks is the Democratic nominee. I was kind of surprised that just strategically Democrats didn't try to make a push for Greene just to try to hurt Rubio.

KING: Let me -- Rubio supporters, meaning Erick and Todd are not allowed to answer this question because it's called t-ball. But one of the frustrations of the Rubio campaign and many conservatives is that Charlie Crist won't answer this question. If you win this election, which party will you caucus with in Washington?

Now he's been pillory by the right for his hugs with President Obama, for being nice and pleasant to President Obama, especially of late, when he took the stimulus money. Now does he have to answer that question to be credible in this year when people are sick and tired of politicians? Does he have to answer that basic question if you go to Washington, if you win?

AVLON: I think he's going to do everything he can not to answer that question because he could be in the position of being the king maker, bizarrely. Look, Marco Rubio is a much stronger general election candidate than the Tea Party candidate stereotypes suggest. He has got a much more of an ability to build bridges to the middle than a typical Tea Party backed candidate. (INAUDIBLE) on Crist has always been what Kendrick Meek just said. You can't trust him. But he knows the hand he's been dealt. He knows he's surfing a larger national wave. I don't think there's any way he's giving away that political capital.

BELCHER: Crist would be nuts to answer that question. Because then it basically blocks off one group of voters from you. He can play both sides right now and take off some moderate Republicans, take off some moderate Democrats in the middle. He would be crazy to answer that question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The one thing --

KING: I said you couldn't answer this.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

HARRIS: I'm agreeing and adding on. The problem he's going to have, by not answering that question is that it becomes the perfect metaphor for the fact that this is a guy who will do and say anything to win an election. That he's not running for Senate to do something, he's simply running to be somebody. And every time he refuses to answer that question, voters are reminded of that.

(CROSSTALK)

ERICKSON: I want him asked over and over and over.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Let me ask you about the Florida governor's race. I'm going to walk (INAUDIBLE) here. We're going to put this Senate race -- we're going to put this Senate race away for a minute. Let me get that to clear. Come on, you can do that for me. All right there we go.

Now let's come over here. Now Bill McCollum used to be a congressman here in Washington, part of the Republican leadership. Now he's the attorney general in Florida. He would be the establishment Republican candidate in that race. Rick Scott a former health care executive who has dumped millions of dollars of his own money in, had a lot of conservative base support, grass roots support.

McCollum leading in most of the late polls, there was one poll I saw that showed Rick Scott ahead, so there could be a polling company debate after this, but in this race here, I want your thoughts on the stakes, gentlemen, in the sense of both have said they don't like Obama care. McCollum has joined the suit against it. Rick Scott has -- before he ran for governor, campaigned against it, spent a lot of money on ads about it.

What are the consequences of that race in that state? John, to you first, given that whoever is the governor of Florida, is automatically a very, very, very important person when it comes to 2012 presidential politics and redistricting?

AVLON: Rick Scott has tried to pump a huge amount of his private portion in this to be a dynamic figure. He's campaigning as a dynamic figure who can bring business sense to the state. The problem is he's been overshadowed or campaigned against this 1.6 billion dollar judgment against the company he used to run for Medicaid fraud. It's not exactly the best message for someone who is trying to run on the tea party way. Bill McCollum is a very mild mannered guy, not exactly huge doses of charisma. Solid conservative, been running ads with Michael Reagan endorsing him, Jeb Bush endorsing him. He's not going to be making national waves Bill McCollum but he's a conservative stalwart that's how he's been able to pull ahead of Scott.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is why whether you're a Democrat or Republican you hate primary battles. Scott spent, what, $40 million in advertising, and he spent a lot of that money beating up McCollum. Whether they're good ads or bad ads or ineffective ads, if you spent $40 million in advertising, it has an effect. The problem is both of these guys are now running negatives into 30s, if not 40s, which absolutely helps Alex, because they're in a good position.

KING: Before you guys get into the conversation, I believe we have an ad from Alex Sink. She's the chief financial officer essentially of the state of Florida. She's the Democratic. She's tried to take advantage of the spat, the personal spat in the Republican primary to say there are big problems in the state and in the country. We need serious leadership.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's get it on. Let's get to work.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALEX SINK: Here's a better idea. Let's get real. I'm Alex Sink. The fight I have for governor is for you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Todd, you're involved in the Rubio campaign. As you watched this play out as a Republican, when do you have a nasty primary, do you worry that the spillover effect is that voters look around and say, ah.

HARRIS: I think both on the Republican gubernatorial primary and on the Senate side and Democratic side on the Senate race, there's been so much vitriol on the air right now. Voters are dying for this day to come and go so they can at least have a couple weeks without all of this on the air. As far as the GOP nomination, we're going to run on the ticket with one of these two guys. How is this for a copout, they are both great Americans, I think either one will beat Alex Sink.

KING: Erick, when you look at incoming to red state.com. You have one in Arizona tonight, you have these two races in Florida. Is there a sense, a very competitive, personal, nasty primary, there's a fracture. Will the fracture be healed? Sometimes primaries make better candidates. Sometimes they divide pears?

ERICKSON: No, I think it say party divider down in Florida on the gubernatorial level. This is frankly the race I've been more interested in than any other in the country for the past four, five months. You have a guy sitting attorney general of Florida, was in the race 11 months by himself. Former Clinton impeachment manager and all of a sudden this guy no ones ever heard of who was investigated for Medicare fraud, had his company receive one of the largest fines in history, dumps 40 million into the race versus I think 30 million for McCollum and pulls it close. This is a fascinating dynamic. It says more about how bad McCollum's campaign was run or than how well Rick Scott's campaign was run. McCollum is probably going to pull it out tonight. But it will be bad for him. The problem is if Scott wins, the establishment won't want to get close to him. If McCollum wins, the establishment really doesn't care about Rick Scott.

KING: Quick time-out there. When we come back, the results starting to come in. We'll start counting the votes with you in the key Senate race and the gubernatorial primary we're just talking about. Also, other top stories we're tracking tonight. Don't go anywhere.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Early results just coming in to us from the Associated Press. This is the Florida Senate primary on the Democratic side. Kendrick Meek he's a Congressman from the Miami area, just shy of 50 percent of the vote. Jeff Greene, a billionaire real estate developer, 36 percent of the vote. Kendrick Meek with the lead but note the bottom there, just 5 percent of the vote counted so far. This is the Senate Democratic primary in the state of Florida. Winner of this primary will join a three-way race with Republican Marco Rubio, independent candidate the former Republican Governor Charlie Crist. We'll continue to watch this. Let's check in with Brianna Keilar for the other latest political news you need to know. Brianna?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there, John. As you reported, CNN has learned President Obama wants to deliver his major address on Iraq from the oval office in primetime next Tuesday night. And the whistle-blower website week Wikileaks has just tweeted it will release a CIA paper tomorrow.

And busy guy Mitt Romney is, he plans to visit 25 states on behalf of Republicans running in this November's midterms. Also another possible 2012 Republican presidential candidate, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty starts a national tour in January to promote his upcoming book "Courage to Stand."

Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele tells CNN he stands by his recent comments that Arizona's immigration law is not a reflection of the entire party and Florida's Republican Party is abandoning us its long-standing plan for unit events tomorrow.

KING: Maybe a little bad blood in Florida after that one.

KEILAR: Makes you wonder. They say it's logistical according to the Palm Beach Post but it makes you wonder.

KING: There you go. Logistics plus I think we'll call that one. Brianna thanks. When we come back who is counting the votes in Florida this time around? We continue to keep a tally on all of the big contests, Florida, Arizona, late tonight Alaska. Stay right here throughout the night. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Take a quick look at the latest results coming in to us in the Senate race in the state of Florida. We're waiting on the results for the Republican gubernatorial primary as well. Here are the Senate results so far. Congressman Kendrick Meek, a Democrat running against billionaire real estate investor Jeff Greene also a Democrat. With five percent of the results in, the Associated Press gives Meek 50 percent, Jeff Greene 37 percent. Kendrick Meek winning at the moment. Only five percent of the results in though. We'll continue to count the votes throughout the evening. We'll bring you the gubernatorial results as soon as we get figures in that as well.

Let's move on though and discuss some stories on the radar. With us Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher, Republican strategist Rich Galen and CNN contributor and senior political columnist for thedailybeast.com John Avlon. All right gentlemen. Shirley Sherrod is in town today. You remember Shirley Sherrod. She said no, she won't take her old job back or any other job with the department of agriculture. She and Secretary Tom Vilsack seemed less than comfortable you might say after talking things over today. An awkward hug there. He's apologizing profusely for firing her based on an out of context blog.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM VILSACK, AGRICULTURE SECRETARY: I disappointed the president. I disappointed the administration, I disappointed the country, I disappointed Shirley, I have to live with that and accept that responsibility. That's what happens when you have this kind of position.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: You have to say, watching this guy whether he made a mistake or others involved he is taking the hit. BELCHER: He seems awfully sincere, your heart goes out to him. On the flipside, I'm glad she didn't take the job. Quite frankly when you look at that woman you think there's a larger calling for her to do something bigger and more important. I think it's a blessing in disguise.

AVLON: He clearly could not be more apologetic. That's more brutal self-flagellations I've seen on television. She was offered a job to really address the concerns that she had been talking about that she's become a symbol for. You want to see people accept the apology and then accept the responsibility to make the change they are talking about. She lived her life that way. She's become a symbol for a lot of the ugliness in the politics, but I would like to see her accept that opportunity.

GALEN: I don't think she could have possibly. Not with Vilsack there. She could have done it if Vilsack started this national conversation they were talking about this afternoon with the two words "I quit" then maybe she could have. Assuming he did it by himself which nobody believes, assuming he did. That's what she said how can he not resign? That's beyond him.

KING: We can't assume in my business, I have a lost questions about the tick tock how this place out. Maybe someday we'll answer them.

Sounds like New York Congressman Charlie Rangel is still bothered by President Obama's suggestion he ought to end his career with dignity instead of sticking around to fight ethics violations. During a debate last night, Rangel said this, "Frankly President Obama has not been around long enough to determine what my dignity is. For the next two years I will be more likely to protect his dignity." A little bad blood there.

AVLON: You know, he's really getting buoyant and defiant in advance of what looks like a very public, very damaging trial. And, you know, pride cometh before the fall. These are high stakes. He's a favorite to win. The Democratic Party kept out. Michael Falkner, Republican candidate challenging him, but these are real high stake. With the trial coming ahead, that's more bad news for Democrats down the line.

BELCHER: Well, you know, it's a tough position, full transparency, I work for Charlie Rangel. One time I worked for Obama in the campaign. I'm in a hard place between the two. Truth of the matter is, what Congressman Rangel is talking about is right. In the end he's a guy that will stand with the president and fight for the president for his agenda and for what he needs. He's going to have the president's back. As for this case, this case will be played out. I don't think they'll have a case. He still remains tremendously popular in his district and he's probably going to win re-election.

GALEN: I think they'll have a case and I think he's going to have tax problems. But the down side risk for Charlie Rangel is he has to stand in the house and have Boehner or somebody kind of wag their finger at him. There's no -- still Pelosi will get it done this year. There's no down side risk. He's not going to get thrown out of the house. He is popular.

KING: This is interesting. If you're tracking the debate about troop levels in Afghanistan. A lost people have their eyes on the deadline to begin tracking U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Commandant of the marine corps said those watching closely include the people his troops are fighting.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. JAMES CONWAY, COMMANDANT, U.S. MARINE CORPS: We think right now it's probably giving our enemy sustenance we think that he may be saying to himself in fact we've intercepted communications that say hey, we only have to hold out for so long.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: General Conway went on to say that if the deadline comes and goes and if the U.S. forces stay in Afghanistan, that could be a blow to the enemy's psyche and a good thing for the United States but boy from the commandant at the beginning of that, that was kind of a, gee, Mr. President, no thanks, we really don't need talk of a deadline.

AVLON: He told the truth. Our enemy thinks in geologic time. There's a quote in the newspaper from a column that said, you Americans have to watch us, but we know the time. Of course, when you lay out a time table, all it does is embolden the enemy to say especially the people we're trying to win over, the Americans will go one day, we'll remember. He told the truth. It is a more complex thing. That was a domestic political deadline. It didn't have to do with facts from winning a war standpoint.

BELCHER: The truth of the matter is, it's not a hard time line. We'll reconsider it when the time comes. The other part of this is guess what, with all due respect to the general, the American people are tired, fed up with us being in Iraq and Afghanistan, they want troops to come home. To a certain extent at some point in a democracy, you have to listen to what people say.

GALEN: There was a report I think it was Joe Kleinman that somebody was reviewing -- went through the conversation that the president had with General Petraeus when he was millimeter Centcom commander, and Petraeus assured him and Gates assured him they can live with the 18 month deadline.

KING: All right everybody. Stand by. Coming up next, is the Republican Party chairman telling the Latinos one thing on immigration and something else to broader audiences? We'll break down the tape after the break.

Meanwhile as we speak they're counting the votes in most of Florida which makes it show time. Today's most important person you don't know, Dawn Roberts is Florida secretary of state which makes her Florida's chief collection office. It was the same job, Katherine Harris back during the Bush versus Gore controversy case. That was seven secretaries of state and almost a full decade ago. A lot has changed. Roberts is a Michigan native, grew up in Florida, been with the secretary of state's office for seven years, director of its division of elections in 2004 and 2006 when electronic voting machines and optical scanners replaced those intimate punch cards. She was appointed interim secretary of state last May after her predecessor resigned. She counts the votes. We are counting them too. Don't go anywhere. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Want to update with the latest results as they come in from Florida. Here's the governor's race, with 10 percent reporting in the Republican primary for governor, Rick Scott leads Bill McCollum 48 percent to 42 percent in the governor's race on the Republican side. In the Democratic Senate primary, Congressman Kendrick Meek leads businessman Jeff Greene 52 percent to 34 percent. Those results, 10 percent of the vote counted.

Let's break down the tape on this big primary night. Still with us, Republican Rich Galen, Democrat Cornell Belcher, John Avlon, he's our man in the middle. Let's break down, very interesting, Republican national committee chairman Michael Steele, who gets himself into controversies from time to time. I want you to listen to what he told Univision, of course, the Spanish language network, Latino voters watch this network. Here's Steele's take on the controversial Arizona immigration law to a Latino audience.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL STEELE, RNC CHAIRMAN: The action of one state governor is not a reflection of an entire country, nor is it a reflection of an entire political party. The governor and the people of Arizona have made a decision that they thought was in their best interest, self- interest. That's the beauty of a republic, which we are.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Not as clear, and you might say, not as so less controversial when he spoke to our Soledad O'Brien.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEELE: I may have my own personal position, but as chairman of the party, as chairman of the party, I've got to look at the entire party.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And as chairman of the party, what's your position?

STEELE: As chairman of the party, I support my Republican governors, wherever they are and whatever they're doing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: So to Univision he says the action of one state's governor is not a reflection of an entire country, nor is it the reflection of an entire political party. GALEN: And people thought that Michael Steele was not trainable. Clearly, he is. He learned his lesson, is staying the heck out of some of this stuff. He didn't have to be the voice of every single issue. And I thought, frankly, in both of those, he sounded fine.

BELCHER: I don't know. I think this is part of why, again, Americans don't trust politics, because it's one say one thing to one audience, another thing to this different audience and you're playing politics. And quite frankly, when I look at the fund-raising numbers they had over there, I understand why he's talking out of both sides of his mouth.

AVLON: Let's do something different and not throw Michael Steele under the bus. He clearly told the truth when he spoke to Univision, and he clearly, personally, he basically said that he opposed -- de facto said he opposed the Arizona law. This is a problem you're running into again and again where a lot of the members of the GOP, who are trying to build bridges, especially to the Hispanic community, the African-American community are running into a lot of problems when it comes to the base. The Arizona law, the backlash against the Sarah Palin tweets in defense of Dr. Laura. These things are leaving a mark and there's a real division between some folks in the base and certain party leaders.

KING: Gentleman, thanks for coming in tonight. We'll continue to count the votes and we'll continue to get your thoughts.

Up next, we'll answer some of your questions about tonight's primary races and the upcoming elections, and of course, throughout the rest of our hour and throughout the evening here at CNN, we'll continue to count the votes and bring you the latest analysis.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: A couple minutes away from the top of the hour and "RICK'S LIST," prime-time, that's also where the polls close in the rest of Florida and in Oklahoma. What have you got, Rick?

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: I'm looking at some of these numbers that you've been looking at as well, John. This is amazing. I'm looking at 17 percent of the precincts reporting in the Senate race, on the Republican side, 12 percent on the Democratic side. And that governor's race, this is fascinating. This Rick Scott/Bill McCollum race. We've got 10 percent, Scott's ahead 181,000 to 161,000. This is going to be a fun night. This 8:00 show tonight, I think we're going to just bust everything out and we're going to do it mostly politics. I don't know. I got a feeling, John. Back to you.

KING: Rick's got a feeling about politics. And our offbeat reporter, Pete Dominick's out talking politics. And I think he's got a couple questions for me.

PETE DOMINICK, OFFBEAT REPORTER: That's right John King. I've wrangled up a couple of lovely young ladies from here in New York and New Jersey. First we go to Crystal from Harlem, right Crystal? Say hi to John and what's your question? John's in there. CRYSTAL: Hey, John, I wanted to know, how big of a deal is health care reform in tonight's primaries?

KING: It's a great question, because especially in that Florida governor's primary, both candidates have said they would sue the federal government to try to repeal Obamacare. They're among the Republican governors who would sue to repeal it. It's an issue down there. And a lot of the others races around the country, will the Democrats stand up and say they're proud of it, so we'll watch, but definitely in Florida, the health care debate is a big issue. Go ahead.

DOMINICK: All right. This is Sally, she's from New Jersey. She has perfect eyebrows and she has a question for you, John. Go ahead, Sally.

SALLY: Hey, John, I'm Sally, originally from the Bronx and in Jersey now. I know a major concern for a lot of Americans is an issue with unemployment rate, finding jobs. Aside from that, what would be the secondary and tertiary concerns of Americans today?

DOMINICK: Did you just say tertiary?

SALLY: Yes, I said tertiary.

DOMINICK: All right John. What are the other concerns outside jobs tonight and November 2?

KING: After I answer her question, she gets an automatic job on the best political team on television for being able to say tertiary. Pete I bet you can't even spell tertiary. It all tends to flow from the economy. You mentioned the unemployment rate. Unemployment, jobs, those are the big things there. Deficit spending in Washington and in Washington control and balanced budget, those are the big concerns. And in different states, different issues as we go across. Ladies, thank you both for your questions tonight and keep Pete in line. Maybe we'll do this again another night. That's all for us though. We'll continue to count the votes all night long starting on "RICK'S LIST" primetime right now.