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JOHN KING, USA

Primary Night Fallout

Aired August 25, 2010 - 19:00   ET

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


JOHN KING, HOST: Thanks Suzanne and good evening everyone.

Driving our politics tonight is the fallout from a big primary night and more bad news for President Obama and his fellow Democrats -- one thump for the Democrats, a new government report showing a big drop in existing home sales, more proof of the shaky recovery and shaky political terrain for the party in power.

Another bad omen for the Democrats, Tuesday's big primary saw a big spike in Republican turnout. In just 69 days you decide who controls Congress and three dozen governorships and at the moment the intensity edge is leaning decidedly to the right.

As we sift deeper into Tuesday results, a few themes and questions worth exploring. Should Democrats learn a lesson or two from John McCain? Can Republicans heal some deep internal wounds in critical states? And what should we make of the emergence of more and more independent candidacies?

A trend now headlined by the three-way races for governor and Senate in all-important Florida. A lot to digest and debate with conservative radio host and former Education Secretary Bill Bennett, veteran Democratic strategist Paul Begala, and joining us from Roswell (ph), Georgia, the former House majority leader, Richard Armey, now chairman of the conservative organization Freedom Works.

And gentlemen before we dig deeper into these races, let me just ask you each, and I'll start with you, Congressman Armey, what did we learn last night? What did you see that maybe sunk in the most?

RICHARD ARMEY (R), FORMER HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: Well, I think what we saw was that candidate that presents themselves as a champion of the Constitution and advocate of constitutionally limited small government and responsible spending practices and governance practices is the candidate that's going to win the election.

KING: Paul Begala.

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: John McCain is going to continue in the Senate, most likely, (INAUDIBLE) Democrat run against him, but he won his primary because he did seven things that every Democrat should do -- attack, attack, attack, attack, attack, attack, attack. He made his opponent, J.D. Hayworth, former congressman and radio talk show host, made J.D. the issue, not John McCain. He could have run ads. He's been a very accomplished Senator. He could have run ads about the wonderful things he's passed and the laws he's written. He didn't. He attacked, attacked, attacked. That's what Democrats need to do if they have any hope this year.

KING: Bill Bennett's lesson?

WILLIAM BENNETT, NATIONAL TALK RADIO HOST: Well J.D. Hayworth attacked himself too when some of the record came out. But I think what I saw is a lot of restlessness out there, but it's still local. I mean talent in different places produces different results. People looking for people they want to support. And I didn't see the kind of pattern that I was looking for.

KING: Well, let's start, since Paul brought up John McCain, let's start with John McCain because he did resist, he pushed off the primary challenge from the right. He won the Senate nomination. He is now heavily favored for re-election. And many people including his opponent, J.D. Hayworth, said you just wait. If he wins this nomination, he's going to run back to the deal making middle. He's going to be again the guy who compromises with the Democrats in Washington. That is not the note John McCain sounded in saying thank you.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: We will stop the out of control spending and tax increases and repeal and replace Obama care!

(APPLAUSE)

MCCAIN: We will keep families in their homes. We'll create new jobs. We'll allow our businesses to grow without Washington interference. We will secure our borders, defend our nation and bring our troops home.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Dick Armey, you aligned a lot with the Tea Party and many people say John McCain's victory was a defeat for Tea Party forces out in Arizona. Is that a fair statement?

ARMEY: No, not at all, because, you know, we listened to our grassroots activists and a long time ago, very early, they let us know that they had mixed emotions about John McCain's opponent. That there -- there was no decisive support for him whatsoever. And quite frankly, if John McCain did anything that would set an example for the Democrats, he did a very good job of selecting his opponent.

The fact of the matter is that John McCain has seen the light, listened to the small government conservative movement and even by the clip that he made after the victory that guarantees his reelection he's made the commitment to the American people that I will work for constitutionally limited small government and responsible restraint of big government.

KING: Here's one of the things that has Democrats excited across the country and I want your views as to whether they're right in citing this or whether it's just one night in, you know one night in August. Look at these numbers right here. Arizona Republican primary turnout -- here's 2010, way up from 2006, four years ago, in a midterm election, up by a couple hundred thousand.

And just look at John McCain's votes. John McCain received more votes, even though he only got 56 percent of the vote in the Republican primary, John McCain received more votes than the total votes cast for Democrats in the Democratic Senate primary. It's not just Arizona.

Let's move over to Florida. Again, a midterm election Republican primary turnout in 2010 way up from 2006, the last midterm election four years ago, and Marco Rubio who had no real challenge in the Republican primary for Senate, well he received more votes, if you look at those numbers, than all of the votes cast in the Democratic primary for Senate.

Republicans look at this, Paul, and they say that is proof that what you had, what the Democrats had in 2006 and 2008, giant intensity edge, turnout edge, people excited to vote that they have this time.

BEGALA: And they do. I mean, the numbers don't lie. The -- right now, how many days did you say, 68 days --

KING: Sixty-nine days.

BEGALA: Sixty-nine days out the intensity is definitely on the right. Here's the strategy I think Democrats ought to embrace then. Use that. Tell America. You know, there's a real chance that Republicans could be running this Congress. Maybe the House, maybe the Senate, maybe both, we don't know.

What would they do? Let's put the Republicans' plans out there for the American people to look at. Privatize Social Security, turn Medicare into a voucher program, deregulate Wall Street, go right back to cutting taxes for the rich. Many of the same problems that caused the Republican recession that we're suffering under now.

That's what Democrats need to do instead of this sort of political narcissism where all they want to do is talk about themselves. No, talk about the other guy.

BENNETT: Well, yes, if they can make the case that it can be worse than it is now, I think they should try to make that case and we expect the attacks. What I've heard mostly so far is while the country may be going to hell, the economy is in terrible shape, but Republicans are insane, so you can't -- you can't vote for Republicans.

I hope this thing, you know, gets a little modulated as we get into the fall. But I'd have to agree with Paul's advice in terms of Democrats. They have to do that because things are very bad. The enthusiasm is all there. And it seems lately, and I don't want to take a cheap shot and be mean, but it just seems lately anything Obama touches he gets wrong. He gets not 52 percent of the American people against him but 60 or 70 percent. They've got to have more messages (ph).

KING: We had one giant question mark as we meet tonight from yesterday's primaries and that is who is the Republican Senate nominee in the state of Alaska?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.

KING: A Tea Party favorite, Joe Miller, is leading. I think we can show you the results so far. This is with 99.5 percent of the election night ballots cast counted -- Joe Miller with 50.8 percent of the vote -- the incumbent, Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski with 49 percent of the vote.

We should make clear that 99 percent does not include about 15,000 absentee ballots. So they have to count those and that could take some time to go, but Joe Miller he believes he's going to win this race. This was his message in what he believes will be a dramatic upset of a Republican incumbent.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE MILLER (R), ALASKA SENATE CANDIDATE: I think that they see the entitlement state, the federal government grown way too large. They understand because they have to balance their checkbook. The government, the federal government cannot continue to spend at the level it is spending. They understand that bankruptcy is a likelihood if we continue in the same direction. And that that is a dead end for Alaska.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Dick Armey, you heard this conversation after a Republican incumbent was knocked off in Utah. You've heard it in some other states. There are a lot of people who say your friends in the Tea Party movement are hurting the Republican Party by electing these untested guys, winning the nomination for these untested Tea Party candidates like Mr. Miller. Again, we need to be clear, he's not the winner yet, but it is trending that way. How would you answer those critics?

ARMEY: Well, you know, that's the insiders that want to keep their jobs that are saying, gee, this whole business is hurting me because I might lose my job. The fact of the matter is we will have a Republican senator that replaces Senator Bennett in Utah. We'll have a Republican senator that replaces the Republican senator in Alaska.

There's no doubt about it. The fact is those candidates that have listened to the American people, expressed their commitment to do something to allay their worst fears which are borne out by all the policies of the Democrat majority in Congress and this administration in Washington, those candidates are going to win elections.

If Democrats come in, say, look, give me a chance to go to Washington. I'll stop Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi that Democrat would win the election, if people believed him.

KING: This one in Alaska is delicious because of the personal feud between former Governor Sarah Palin and the Murkowski family, including the incumbent senator who now looks at risk of losing her job. Here's what Lisa Murkowski told "The Anchorage Daily News." "I think Palin is out for her own self interests. I don't think she's out for Alaska's interest." Paul, I know you're not a fan of Governor Palin but in this race with Joe Miller coming from nowhere with her support, her husband's fund-raising helped, the Tea Party movement behind him, it's proved that she still has some clout on the ground in her home state.

BEGALA: There's no doubt about it. I think it was enormously helpful to Mr. Miller that Governor Palin -- you're right, there's a grudge there, she knocked off Frank Murkowski, the legendary -- Senator Murkowski's dad -- legendary politician up there to become governor.

That's how Sarah Palin -- when was governor for about 15 minutes before she moved on and quit in the middle of her term. But what I liked about Miller's statement, I loved about it, is that he's attacking his state. See, Alaska is a welfare queen. It's a welfare state.

It gets about -- I was trying to look it up now -- I don't have exactly -- four to $5 back from Washington from the other 49 states for every $1 it sends here. OK, it's the biggest welfare queen in America. And if Mr. Miller is going to come to Washington and say, stop all the federal money leaving Texas, California, Massachusetts, New York, and going to Alaska, God bless him. Let's see how that works out for him. So let's put this to the test --

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: You know the specifics in Alaska are extraordinary.

KING: Jump in quick.

BENNETT: Yes, well Paul is proving this is the strategy (INAUDIBLE) out. But I heard several people say well this Tea Party nut, this Tea Party nut graduate of West Point, Bronze Star, Vietnam, law degree from Yale Law School, masters in economics, a pretty smart guy. Yes, I think he does want more accountability and I think he does want less government dependence including Alaska --

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: If Massachusetts wants the money, then they should get it. If California wants money -- but if Alaska wants to elect people who hate federal spending --

(CROSSTALK)

BENNETT: The point is (INAUDIBLE) for all the states.

(CROSSTALK)

BENNETT: All the states.

KING: Mr. Miller, I think you can count on a contribution from Paul Begala -- (CROSSTALK)

KING: I'm going to ask our panel -- and Bill Bennett, maybe Dick Armey as well -- I'm going to ask the panel to stand by. A lot more to come in the program (INAUDIBLE) get a little more feisty; they're going to stay with us.

One of the things we'll look at tonight when we go "Wall-to-Wall" is there's a decline in home sales equal a decline at the polls for the Democrats. The economy matters in this election (INAUDIBLE) we go "One-on-One" with Rick Scott. He's the $50 million man who just won the Republican primary for governor in Florida. How much more is he willing to spend and what does he see as the big issues? A four letter word, jobs, is what comes out first.

In the "Play-by-Play" tonight, what does Michael Bloomberg, the New York mayor, say could be a propaganda tool for Islamic extremists? And Dan Quayle's son Ben is he on his way to Congress here in Washington? And this one, you can figure this one out for yourself, Pete Dominick, our offbeat reporter well he's a good egg. Tonight, he's out asking people about those bad eggs.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

KING: Let's take a closer look at some of the big primary contests on Tuesday. Still with us Democrat Paul Begala, Republican Bill Bennett, conservative Dick Armey and joining the conversation John Avlon in New York. He's a CNN contributor and senior political columnist for "The Daily Beast".

One of the big questions, after any primary, is can a party heal its wounds? And that question is being asked more of the Republicans because it had so many personal contests. And one of the biggest was down in the state of Florida. Bill McCollum, the attorney general, one of your former colleagues in the Congress, Dick Armey, he was the establishment candidate for governor, but he was defeated by Rick Scott, a former health care executive, a man who spent more than $50 million of his own money.

We're going to talk to Mr. Scott in just a minute. But when we talked earlier today, I asked him about this bad blood. Mr. McCollum never called to concede the race, never called to say, I would support you. The Republican establishment in Florida is not happy. Mr. Scott's view --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SCOTT (R), FLORDIA GOV. CANDIDATE: Well, I haven't talked to Mr. McCollum, but I've talked to a lot of party leaders and the party's coming together and everything will -- everything will work out. The RGA, I've talked to Haley Barbour already. They are very supportive. The party is embracing me because I've lived the American dream and I believe in that for all Floridians.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: My translation of that is Haley Barbour decided to be the big guy here even though they're not happy with this. Haley Barbour decided this is a big state. It's an important race. I'm going to reach out and try to make peace here. Does it matter or is this Washington chatter?

Dick Armey, to you first, when we say, you know, the establishment is not with him. The party has wounds. Does it potentially undermine a Republican candidate?

ARMEY: No, I think the candidate has to do a lot of work in this case. The fact is he ran as an outsider. He's now won the nomination much to the surprise of a lot of people. He's got to do his work on the ground. He can't necessarily expect the party to come to him.

But these things get healed up. And, of course, the first thing that consolidates the healing process is a clear look at the Democrat opposition. Once we see that, we've almost always -- and it's true on both sides of the aisle, you put your differences aside and get down to the larger task at hand.

KING: That's an interesting point you make because one thing voters always complain about when you travel is we don't have enough choices. We get the Democratic candidate, the Republican candidate; they talk talking points at us. They won't go outside of the boxes of their ideological parties.

This year there are a lot of choices. I want to go to the wall and show our viewers this. A lot of choices, headlined by all these races down in Florida -- number one, you have the race for senator, Kendrick Meek, the Democrat, Marco Rubio the Republican, Charlie Crist who has decided to run as an independent, he's a sitting governor.

This is a serious slate of candidates, three choices for the voters in Florida. Come down here the race we just talked about, Alex Sink, the Democratic candidate for governor, Rick Scott, the Republican, Lawton "Bud" Chiles, the son of a former governor. He's running as an independent, a lot of choices for the people of Florida.

It's not unique to the state of Florida. In Colorado, a three way race for governor. An independent candidate, Tom Tancredo, he is running under the American Constitution Party. Up in -- here up in the state of Massachusetts, the Democratic incumbent, a Republican candidate, and an independent who has won statewide before. And also in the state of Rhode Island, we're still waiting for the Republican primary but Lincoln Chafee, famous name in the state, running as an independent against a Democrat and we will ultimately have a Republican nominee.

John Avlon, you spent a lot of time exploring the middle of America. Is this unique to this year or is something happening where with fractures in both parties we are beginning to get alternatives in the middle?

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think something larger is beginning to happen. Look, independent voters are the largest and fastest growing segment of the electorate. The two parties are too dominated by the special interests on either side to reach out to that 40 percent of voters in the middle. So as a result, the dynamics are changing.

People who feel like they're getting forced out of the parties if they're more centrist, whether it's a Republican or Democrat are all of a sudden realizing they can declare their independence and connect with a whole new constituency and playing by the party's rules of these closed parties in the primary is a sucker's bet.

It's a losing deal in many cases, so they liberate themselves by being allowed to run in the general and being -- put themselves in front of all voters. In the 1990's, we saw four independent governors who really set a model. Now we're starting to see independent candidates for Senate, but it's part of a much larger trend of dealignment. The two parties are being put on notice by the American people.

KING: And how hard does it make strategizing? How complicated does it get when you're not just running against one candidate, you're running against another? In the context of it, I want you to listen to Kendrick Meek. He's the Democratic candidate now for Senate in Florida.

A lot of Democrats in this town simply don't believe he can win. Kendrick Meek disputes that, but it's very clear for a conversation we had earlier today that he knows, Kendrick Meek knows his path to credibility and to being able to win runs right through the Republican turned independent Governor Charlie Crist.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. KENDRICK MEEK (D), FLORIDA SENATE CANDIDATE: You know, I'm not criticizing the governor's spine and how strong it is, but all I have to say is that the governor time after time again when the going got tough on issues, he got going. And I think that Floridians know that they must have a United States senator that's going to stand in the gap, even when it's not popular to do so.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: How hard is it?

BEGALA: Well, so that's what you do. If now Charlie Crist is moving to the left and he seems to be, pretty quickly, I might add, you go to character and you know Kendrick Meek is a former state trooper. He's a friend of mine. I spoke at a fund-raiser for him, so our audience should know that I have a strong bias in that race.

I like Kendrick a lot. I think he'd be terrific in the Senate. But I think that's the right way to go, too, is that it becomes about character. And in that case, particularly, I mean, Charlie Crist is a guy -- he's a popular man in Florida. But he is a guy who is known -- if he's speaking to a group of missionaries, he'd promise them cannibals. (CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How is this going to play out, Bill --

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because you know --

(CROSSTALK)

KING: It can be messy because the Tea Party movement exists in part because a lot of conservatives don't want to call themselves Republicans and you see it sometimes on the left as well. A lot of people unhappy with some of the direction of President Obama or maybe it's Afghanistan. Maybe it's health care; they're looking for a place to go. Where's this going?

BENNETT: A lot of independents don't want to call themselves Republicans either but their party of the Tea Party as well. Where it's going in Florida, I think Kendrick Meek strengthens the hand of Marco Rubio. I mean that was a great ad produced by a Democrat. We can use it and run it as a Republican ad against Charlie Crist. It was excellent.

Rubio -- Rubio's staff guy today said the only thing we want to do is consolidate fund raising with Rick Scott, so we share the same pot. I said that's an obvious point. But I have to disagree with John, I respect John's point of view, I don't think you are going to see a lot of independents winning. You may see a couple. I think you are going to see a lot of Republicans win.

KING: All right, Bill's got to go. I'm going to ask everybody else to hang on for a second. When we come back we'll go "Wall-to- Wall" to look at a bad omen for the Democrats. A record drop in home sales hasn't been this bad since 1963.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: In "Wall-to-Wall" tonight, we spend a lot of time on individual races. And in many cases, strategy race by race can determine who wins. But there's a big national dynamic in this election and it does not bode well for the Democrats. And you could say it got a little worse today.

I want to prop up a map here, take a look at this the darker the state, the higher the unemployment rate in the United States. Now watch this. You tap this in; this is new home sales in the country. Look, way down up here, high unemployment, down here, high unemployment, huge problem out in the west, a lot of competitive races out there.

Not quite as bad in the middle. Here's another way to look at it. You look at this, back to January '09. See this highlighted period in the middle? This is when there was in existence a new homebuyer tax credit. Buy a house get a break from the government. Watch these numbers; up top existing home sales; down below, new home sales.

You see the numbers going up. The housing market has been struggling and the economy. Look at that drop come down, come down, come down, come down and bang, tax cut expires, house sales off the chart, numbers here way down. Dick Armey, you've been through this before. You've been on the winning side in elections, the bad side in elections. I'm going to ask you to put your partisan hat off for a minute. When you get 69 days out and you have this national economic dynamic, is there anything the Democrats can do to shift that sentiment in the country?

ARMEY: No, because what this -- where we are right now, with housing is a great big punctuation mark on the point that we have the mess we have today because of the failed policies of this administration, had they had the sense that Bush did not have but when they took the office and had the chance to make the change they promised in the campaign to leave the market to clean this mess up, the market would have had this settled by now and people know that.

So it's really frightening to a lot of voters out there, is they understand that -- they understand economics better than their president. And they don't think that's the way it ought to be.

KING: So Paul Begala, I know you would say hogwash to that. The Democratic argument would be to dispute that. But to the broader point the Democrats are in charge now and whether Dick Armey is right or whether you are right, voters out there perceive --

BEGALA: Oh, there's nothing the Republican leaders like better than a bad economy. They like it morally. They like to see people suffer because it makes them more complacent in the workforce. It makes us easier to dominate and manipulate and it frankly helps them politically. This is no doubt that a bad economy hurts Democrats because the Democrats are in power.

But again, the Democrats strategy that needs to be -- put the Republicans ideas out there, right? You heard Mr. Miller, the Senate candidate in Alaska, say he was against entitlements. OK, entitlements are, ladies and gentlemen if you are watching at home, Social Security, Medicare, veterans benefits, those are entitlements, so that's fine. If you think in a recession the thing to do is to walk away from Social Security, Medicare and veterans benefits, vote Republican.

KING: I'm going to call a time out tonight. Congressman Armey we appreciate your time, hope you will come back.

We've got 10 weeks to go to Election Day. We'll bring you back. Paul Begala thanks as well, here. Next, I go "One-on-One" with Rick Scott. He's the billionaire who took on Florida's Republican establishment and to their discomfort, well, he won.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: It's time to go "One-on-One". KING: Rick Scott's victory in Florida's Republican primary for governor seems to send several messages. The question now which is the most important -- that spending millions of your own dollars on a campaign works, that campaigning against the proposed mosque and cultural center in New York City works, or being part of the Republican establishment like his opponent Bill McCollum doesn't work? Here's the message as Mr. Scott saw it last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCOTT: The message, it's time to clean house and hold government accountable.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Rick Scott joins me now to go "One-on-One". Sir, let me begin by saying congratulations. When we cover your candidacy, one of the questions we get from average Joe's on the street, and Tweets to the program, postings on Facebook is that why would this guy spend $50 million of his own money to be the governor of Florida?

SCOTT: Well as you know, I grew up in public housing. I was in the Navy as an enlisted man, started my first business when I was 21. I've absolutely lived the American dream. I want that same dream for every Floridian. And so that's why I'm running for governor. That's why -- I focused on jobs. I built private sector jobs all my life. That's what the race was about. Who was going to build private sector jobs? My opponent who never had one? Or me? That's why I won last night.

KING: How much more are you willing to spend on this general election? 69 days from now to Election Day. You're in one of the most competitive governor's races in one of the biggest, most diverse and sometimes most expensive states politically in the country. How much is Rick Scott willing to spend?

SCOTT: I don't know what it will take but I'll make sure I'll raise the money to get our message out and our message will be, I'm going to be the jobs governor.

KING: Do you have a personal limit on how much more of your own money you're willing to spend?

SCOTT: No, I don't. I don't. I'm very comfortable. I have a lot of support all across the state. We'll raise the money and make sure that we are able to get our message out. It got out very well in the primary campaign. It will get out very well in the general.

KING: One of the big questions the morning after your big win in this primary is whether the Republican Party of Florida can heal its wounds. You had a very personal campaign against your opponent Mr. McCollum. My understanding is he has yet to call you. Please correct me if I'm wrong on that point. Here's a statement he issued after he conceded the race to you. "No one could have anticipated the entrance of a multimillionaire with a questionable past who shattered campaign spending records and spent more in four months than has ever been spent in a primary race here in Florida." Do you view it as your obligation to heal these wounds in the party in Florida? Or is it his obligation?

SCOTT: Well, the party will support the candidate that lives the American dream, believes in the Republican principles. That's me. I've lived the American dream. I want that dream for all Floridians. I know the Republican Party stands for. I stand for limited government, fiscal responsibility, personal freedom, personal responsibility, so the Republican Party will support me. We're going to do very well. We're going to win in November. November 2nd will be a great night.

KING: When you say they will support you, where we are right now will say a lot about the Republican establishment in the state. It will also say a lot about how you operate as an individual and as a politician. Will you pick up the phone to Mr. McCollum if he doesn't call you? Will you pick up the phone to former governor Bush who campaigned for him? Or will you say, Rick Scott's won the race, they need to come to me?

SCOTT: I haven't talked to Mr. McCollum but I've talked to party leaders and the party is coming together and everything will work out. The RGA, I've talked to Haley Barber already. They're very supportive. You know, the party is embracing me because I've lived the American dream and I believe in that for all Floridians.

KING: The issue is also your past as a business man. You know because you've had to deal with in the primary campaign as well. When you say you want to bring accountability to Tallahassee, your opponents say, here is a man who was the CEO of a health care company that was fined a record $1.7 billion by the federal government for massive fraud. They will say, how can this man bring accountability to government.

SCOTT: That's what my opponent said in the primary and he lost. Everybody knows we built and I've built a number of wonderful companies. That company in particular, you know, I took my life savings of $125,000 and in nine years we built the largest health care provider in the world. Our patient satisfaction was way higher than the national average. So was the --

KING: You also paid a record fine for fraud violations.

SCOTT: And what I tell people is, you know, when you're in business, anything that goes wrong, you should take responsibility if you're the CEO. I do. The difference is let's think about where we are in the state. We have the highest unemployment on record. We have almost 50 percent of our home owns under water on their mortgages. We're walking into a five-plus billion dollar deficit. Has any politician in the state taken responsibility for putting us in this position? No. What I tell people all the time is I'm a business person. I know, you know, you put up your money, you try to build your companies and you take responsibility for what goes wrong. I do. When I'm governor, I hope nothing goes wrong. If it does, I'll show up, I'll take responsibility and I'll fix it.

KING: Another question you gave in the campaign is you recently gave a deposition in a lawsuit against your current company, Celantic I believe is the name of it, a series of clinics across the state, and you have yet to release that deposition to the public. Will you do that as you campaign now as the Republican nominee for governor?

SCOTT: This is just a smoke screen by Bill McCollum because he didn't want to run on his record. That's a company I have an investment in. It was a private matter. It has nothing to do with this race. This race is about jobs. Who do you --

KING: But the race is also about trust. We are in a time where people simply don't trust politicians. Don't you owe the people of Florida transparency and say, here it has nothing to do with the race, but here it is, look for yourself?

SCOTT: Well, it's a private matter. It's something -- it's not -- has nothing to do with this race. What I'm going to campaign on is what I've campaigned on in the primary. It's about jobs. I have a specific plan to build 700,000 jobs over the next seven years.

KING: Florida is one of the states with the highest price tag of dealing with the costs of hospital visits by illegal immigrants. There's been debate about whether the amendment should be changed and children born of people in the states illegally should automatically get citizenship.

SCOTT: I don't believe we ought to change the law. I think we ought to leave the law exactly the way it is, the 14th amendment.

KING: Leave it. Don't change that. You believe that is a right?

SCOTT: That is a right. If you're born in our country, you're a citizen of our country.

KING: And you've talked about the budget issues you will have to deal with if you're the next governor of Florida. You've been sharply critical of the Obama administration's approach. One of the things this administration has done for the state is offered millions of dollars, in some cases billions of dollars depending on the size of the state, in assistance to keep teachers and firefighters and police officers on the street. If Rick Scott is the governor of Florida, will you take that money?

SCOTT: Absolutely not. I think stimulus money is an absolute mistake. There's no free money in those stimulus dollars. We're going to have to pay those dollars back whether we pay it back, our children pay it back, our grandchildren pay it back. Stimulus does not work.

KING: Rick Scott is the Republican nominee for governor for the state of Florida.

SCOTT: Thank you very much for the opportunity to be here. KING: Thank you for your time, sir. Among the items on my radar tonight, former Senator Alan Simpson gets in trouble for a somewhat off-color description of social security.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back. Let's check in with Fredricka Whitfield for the latest political news you need to know right now. Hi Fred.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good to see you, John. President Obama will visit U.S. troops at Fort Bliss Texas Tuesday before returning to the white house for his prime-time address about Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Democrats held a unity rally in Vermont today even three they aren't quite sure who they are uniting for. The top two candidates in yesterday's primary for governor only 132 vote ace part with the third place candidate just 651 votes further back.

Former Republican Party chairman Ken Mehlman tells "The Atlantic" magazine he is guy. Mehlman was the Bush/Cheney campaign manager in 2004 and, John, he says he now feels very comfortable with letting everybody know. It took him 43 years, he said, to become comfortable, to get to this point, to share it with friends and family.

KING: Fascinating interview. Sure to cause a little buzz in politics. Fredricka Whitfield, thanks so much.

Joining me now to look at some stories on my radar, Republican consultant Greg Mueller, Democratic strategist Paul Begala back with us and in New York, John Avlon of thedailybeast.com. I want to start, we talked earlier about the lingering drama from last night. Who is the Republican Senate nominee up in Alaska? A tea party candidate, Joe Miller is leading narrowly at the moment. They need to count the absentee ballots and John Avlon, you are reporting tonight that if she loses the Republican nomination, Lisa Murkowski may still be running for Senate.

JOHN AVLON, THEDAILYBEAST.COM: That's right. My colleague has an exclusive story with a source inside the Murkowski camp saying there's a possibility she will run as an independent. Now, there's a precedent for this. In 1990, a guy named Wally Hinkle lost the Republican primary for governor but ran on the American independents -- Alaska independents party line and won. The other option is she -- she has until late October to file as a write-in candidate. With her name I.D., that's a very powerful play. It's part of a larger trend obviously. Charlie Crist decided not to risk a contentious close primary. He's running as an independent. If Murkowski chooses to run as an independent as well, there's national significance in that decision so it's a great story.

KING: So what would happen, Greg Mueller, in the conservative movement if a tea party guy knocks her off and she's running anyway?

GREG MUELLER, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: I think everybody would unite around the tea party guy and the conservative movement up in Alaska. I also wonder how many of Miss Murkowski's supporters would actually go with that. Because I think there's a party structure had a primary, a fair contest and I think a lot of people would see that as a spoil. I think she might lose a lot of her vote. But it would certainly mess things up up there for Miller.

KING: Go ahead, John.

AVLON: Let me add one thing on that. The reason why I think you need to look big picture on this and not just the Republican parties feelings about this, Alaska's one of ten states where registered independents outnumber Democrats or Republicans. So that's the plurality of votes. It's less about playing to the base and more about what the general electorate wants.

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: The Alaska independence party, pretty controversial outfit, they have flirted with succeeding from the union, which is not something we want. We love Alaska. I like to go fishing there. But I don't think Murkowski is a secessionist at all. If she could use that label --

KING: You called it the big welfare state but you say you love its fish.

BEGALA: I do, that's right.

KING: Playing both ways on Alaska. All right. Let's move on. You know Joe Biden really doesn't like something when he pulls out the "m" word, malarkey. He did it today while talking about Republican calls to extend the Bush tax cuts.

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT: The only argument that our colleagues are -- our Republicans can make is, well, this is really going to hurt small business. If you don't extend the tired Bush tax cuts. Here are the facts. 3, not 3 percent, of the entire businesses in America would benefit one single solitary penny from extending that top 2 percent tax bracket. This is just a bunch of malarkey.

KING: You see it on bumper stickers all over America, a bunch of malarkey.

BEGALA: Well, that's -- I think that's my Irish mother would agree with that, that's a polite way of saying in Texas -- I guess we'd say nonsense, baloney sandwich, BS.

KING: You're no fun on this one. Let's move on to this one. This one's more fun --

AVLON: Malarkey is something Biden knows a lot about.

KING: There we go. Today former Senator Alan Simpson apologized for sounding, well, like the former Senator Alan Simpson. In his role on the commission on reducing the deficit, Simpson described social security as, quote, a milk cow with 310 million tits. Despite today's apology, liberals want Simpson off that commission.

AVLON: I'd prefer pigs at the trough. KING: Okay.

BEGALA: I prefer the single most successful domestic program in American history. I like Alan Simpson. I don't think he should resign. Barack Obama knew what he was getting. Funny, deeply patriotic salty guy but also a guy who doesn't like social security because he's a Republican. Republicans hate social security.

MUELLER: Hold on.

KING: Come on in --

AVLON: It's not successful, it's broken.

MUELLER: It's in great shape --

AVLON: Alan Simpson committed the sin of using salty memorable language so that becomes a sound bite. If this is used by folks to try to say, you should be fired, just like Boehner was arguing with Geithner the other day. It's an attempt to undercut the integrity of this commission which is important to long-term fiscal stability in this country and entitlement reform is a piece of that. Both parties are gunning for him now. This commission is doing important work. Let's not lose sight of that.

MUELLER: No commission ever does anything valuable, it's all a PR stunt, please.

AVLON: I disagree with that.

MUELLER: Keep your Republican hands off social security.

KING: Next, the play by play the eight most important words in Dan Quayle's political life. First, today's most important person you don't know. Another small-town Alaska mayor who wants to come to Washington. Scott McAdams is the Democrat party's U.S. candidate in Alaska. Don't know the name? Guess what, you're not alone. A Democratic Party spokesman couldn't name him during ABC's top line webcast today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you going to do something then to help your candidate in Alaska? He has $4,000 from the bank right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's his name, by the way?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, our candidate in Alaska --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yeah, what's his name?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, his name is not Lisa Murkowski.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Scott McAdams is his name. He's also a former school board president and has worked as a deck hand in the commercial fishing industry. McAdams got into the race on June 1st. That's the filing deadline. Now will have to wait for Republicans to finish counting the ballots before he knows just who he's running against.

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KING: In house to help us break down the tape tonight, Democrat Paul Begala, Republican Greg Mueller. Big debate about whether there should be a mosque and an Islamic cultural center a few blocks away from ground zero. It's getting a lot of criticism but one of the leading proponents of the site is the New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He gave a speech in which he said, build the mosque, and if you don't it will send a very important, and, he believes, bad message.

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I), NEW YORK: We would send a signal around the world that Muslim-Americans may be equal in the eyes of the law. But separate in the eyes of their countrymen. And we would hand a valuable propaganda tool to terrorists who spread the fallacy that America is at war with Islam.

MUELLER: Well, I mean, I think, look, terrorists don't need a reason to recruit. They already have enough reasons to recruit. I think this debate is not healthy right now. It's not healthy for anyone. But at the end of the day, there are also a lot of Muslims that aren't getting on a lot of programs saying to the imam, don't do this, you're basically flipping the political bird to the American people and trouncing on the graves of those folks who died on 9/11 and it's wrong and we can build mosques elsewhere. And I think revelations that have come out about this imam. We still don't know where he's getting his money. He said some nasty things that the United States created Osama Bin Laden. He has got ties to Hamas. This is not about the religion of Islam. This is about his political ideology and his anti-Americanism.

BEGALA: It is about the religion of Islam and there is this Islamaphobia, particularly on the right in America, and religious prejudice has always sort of existed in America. That's why our founding fathers put the first amendment in there, freedom of religion. And these tea party activists, they all talk about how they love the constitution. You heard Dick Armey, talking about the constitution. All they want to do is violate the constitution. They want to change the first amendment so we can't have --

KING: Paul, hang on a second. First, another voice, Rick Scott who we just heard from, he's running for Republican nomination. He just won it. He's running now for governor of Florida, he had an ad in the final week criticizing the president on this issue. I asked him if it might have been one of the reasons he gained some ground at the end.

SCOTT: What President Obama was doing was absolutely wrong. He did not take into consideration. And we have many politicians that don't take into consideration what happens to us as citizens of this country. I mean, think about it, thousands of people died that day. It was a slap in the face for those people. To think about the leader of that mosque will not admit there's extremists still using terror tactic, we've got to elect politicians that are going to stand up for what they believe in.

KING: You think anybody voting for Florida governor is going to make a yes or no vote based on the --

MUELLER: I think this is the -- the only other issue that Democrats shouldn't want to talk about other than the economy is Obama's position on this mosque. It's just not going to be popular with the American public. I think it did. I worked on that campaign. I think it did help, because it stood for principle. This is about politicians, rather than pandering.

BEGALA: The reason that Rick Scott could raise that issue in the Florida governor race is because Obama raised it. It was a local issue. I happen to agree with the mayor. I agree with what the president said but when the president weighs in on something like that, then it becomes a legitimate issue. It should have no business in a Florida governor's race frankly. Mr. Scott I think had a right to do it because the president got in the middle of it.

KING: Another ad that got a ton of attention in recent weeks was run by the son of a former vice president Dan Quayle. Ben Quayle is his name. He won a ten-way Republican primary last night. I think he knows why.

BEN QUAYLE (R), ARIZONA CONG. CANDIDATE: Thank you, all, for coming out here today. It's been a long primary. And we're really excited about the -- how the events unfolded. I really just have about eight words to share with you and that is -- Barack Obama is the worst president in history.

KING: Those eight words were the signature line of that advertisement. Made a difference?

MUELLER: It's a simple message. I think it's playing into the sentiment we're seeing everywhere. Rick Scott's election yesterday. I think that's the sentiment out there. Not only an anti-incumbent sentiment, it's an anti-big government sentiment. They feel Obama is the engine of big government.

BEGALA: Here's my eight words. Ben Quayle, dumb as a box of rocks. Did he miss the Bush administration? Did he not read history? Say, James Buchanan?

MUELLER: Sounds like he's pretty smart. He boiled his campaign slogan down and he won.

BEGALA: Come on. I think it's going to be entertaining. I am glad it's coming here. It's Quayle with an "e" by the way. I hope he wins because I can't wait to mock him every day he's in office. I have not --

MUELLER: Paul, you're a nice guy, that's mean-spirited.

KING: Time out. I'm going to ask you guys for silence because we're going to break on a somber note. It was one year ago today that Senator Edward Kennedy died. We're reminded of these pictures, of the ailing senator throwing out the first pitch at the Red Sox game. His family mark the day privately today. We wish them the best. They're in our prayers.

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KING: Couple of minutes away from the top of the hour and "RICK'S LIST PRIMETIME." Let's check in with Rick Sanchez for a preview.

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: Some things just aren't right, John, like if you're a parent, you go down to the basement and you see your kids playing a video game and you know who they're killing, American soldiers, our troops in Afghanistan. That's not right. We're going to call it out. That's just one of the many things we'll have for you on "R" "RICK'S LIST." Back to you, John.

KING: We normally call him our offbeat reporter but tonight Pete Dominick, well, you'll get the point. He's our good egg. Hi Pete.

PETE DOMINICK, OFFBEAT REPORTER: Very clever, that is right, John King. I am a little concerned about this egg recall but I am an elitist organic egg eater. I went out to ask people if they were concerned about the salmonella in over a half billion eggs perhaps.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DOMINICK: Are you going to stop eating eggs because of that salmonella?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Of course not. I'm not going to stop smoking because it causes cancer.

DOMINICK: Are you still eating them?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm still clucking.

DOMINICK: Do you have salmonella outbreaks in Canada?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have something called regulation.

DOMINICK: You elitist Canadian.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're on top of you for a reason.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Local grown, local produced. You don't grow an egg. The chicken grows an egg. You don't even know how to communicate and you're trying --

DOMINICK: How dare you judge me?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you're not funny.

DOMINICK: No, I am.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, you're not.

DOMINICK: College kids adore me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because they're dumb.

DOMINICK: Right. I'm now a vegetarian because I'm so concerned about that because even in the spinach and tomatoes they get salmonella. I got to worry about everything.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why are we talking about your problems?

DOMINICK: Because it's about me right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't care.

DOMINICK: How do you like your eggs?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Scrambled.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Over easy.

DOMINICK: Do you have any of your own ideas?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got a good boss.

DOMINICK: What comes first, the chicken or the organic egg?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The chicken.

DOMINICK: Sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The organic egg.

DOMINICK: They finally disagree.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DOMINICK: John King, in the summer of 1994, I had salmonella. I can tell you, it's horrible.

KING: That's a very comforting message to anybody out there watching. Do you know the brown egg song, can you sing that for us?

DOMINICK: I don't know the -- the brown egg song?

KING: When I was growing up, brown eggs were local eggs and local eggs were fresh but I can't -- never mind.

DOMINICK: It must be a Red Sox thing.

KING: That's right, it was part of the Red Sox indoctrination. Have a great breakfast tomorrow. Scramble those eggs. That's all the time for us tonight. Hope we come back tomorrow night. "RICK'S LIST PRIME TIME" starts right now.