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Off to the Races; Midterm Elections

Aired September 6, 2010 - 19:00   ET


JOHN KING, HOST: Thanks, Wolf and good evening, everyone from Pittsburgh. We're on the road this Labor Day and in one of the biggest battlegrounds in this midterm election year. President Obama won this state handily two years ago but Republicans are leading at the moment in the races for governor, Senate and this state is also critical to Republican hopes of seizing control of the House of Representatives.

We will show you tonight up close why at the moment Republicans are so confident and what Democrats and their allies here are trying to do to limit the damage. One of those allies is organized labor which today staged its annual Labor Day parade and in the week ahead, begins a multimillion-dollar effort to keep union households in the Democratic column.

But first the national picture, fresh evidence tonight of the Republican tide and a feisty Labor Day counterattack from President Obama. Our new CNN polling tonight gives Republicans a seven-point edge when voters are asked which party they will support for Congress this year. The White House knows a gap that big would mean a disastrous election day so President Obama turned it up a notch today as he attended a Labor Day rally in Wisconsin and pushed a new $50 billion plan to create jobs by funding major construction projects.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today I am announcing a new plan for rebuilding and modernizing America's roads and rails and runways for the long-term. This will not only create jobs immediately, it's also going to make our economy hum over the long haul.


KING: Can the president help Democrats rebound over the next 57 days or is he part of the problem? Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell has been pushing the White House for months to spend more on roads and bridges; also here with us tonight, national political correspondent Jessica Yellin and our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash.

Governor, I want to start with you. You have been pushing the president for a long time saying this is the way to create jobs immediately. He announced this plan today but they don't have the votes in Congress to pass it. So this is more symbolism, more in your face than real job creation, isn't it? GOV. ED RENDELL (D), PENNSYLVANIA: I'm not sure, John that the votes aren't there to pass infrastructure. Senator Inhofe and Barbara Boxer, as you recall, tried to triple the amount of infrastructure spending in the original stimulus, infrastructure sort of goes across party lines. Do I expect anything is going to get done in the next two months?

No, because the Republicans don't want the economy to improve. That's a fact, and you could debate that as long as you want, but it's a fact. They don't want to do anything that will make the economy improve now. That's why they've held up on the small business bill. They've talked about small business over and over again, let's help small business.

We have a chance if we pass that bill, which is fully paid for, we have a chance to put $30 billion into lending for small business and they won't do it. Why -- because they don't want the economy to pick up until after the election. It's disgraceful.

KING: I want to bring Jessica and Dana into the conversation, but first I want people to hear more of the president today. He was loose today. He was feisty today. He was passionate today, and at a time the Democrats are worried that especially white blue collar labor union members might go and vote Republican like they did for Ronald Reagan, the so-called Reagan Democrats like many did back in the big 1994 Republican sweep, the president tried to make a direct personal connection with the labor movement, saying in his view many of the things the Republicans would do if they win would threaten gains brought about by union workers. Listen.


OBAMA: It was the labor movement that helped secure so much of what we take for granted today. The 40-hour work week, the minimum wage, family leave, health insurance, Social Security, Medicare, retirement plans, the cornerstones of the middle class security all bear the union label!


KING: So I guess the first question, Jess, is where has that guy been?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. I mean that's the guy who won this election and that's what a lot of Democrats are asking right now. I was talking to some folks at this labor parade today who said yes, they're Democrats but they're deeply frustrated, one in particular, the White House has been unable to communicate what they've accomplished and that's a failure of leadership to put it simply. It's what we say but folks are feeling it really out here.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: As soon as the president was done speaking I got some "hallelujah" e-mails from Democrats in Washington who are trying to get their fellow Democrats reelected in Congress because that has been a major complaint among them, saying, as you say, where has this guy been? We need him to focus every single day in a passionate, passionate way about the economy and more specifically, you know he talked about being kicked like a dog, but kick the Republicans from the perspective of the Democrats.

KING: And yet, Governor, I was down at the parade today, the Labor Day Parade, marching, I ran into some people -- I had no idea they were going to be there, but guys I have known for 20 years, who do labor turnout and some of them are from other states and they've beamed in here because they have past experience here, some are veteran Pennsylvania guys, and they said they don't want Obama here.

That in this part of the state they think he's unpopular and they're really worried. They said send in Bill Clinton if you want. Maybe send in Michelle Obama, and I looked at some polling today from a firm I can't name them but I trust the polling numbers, and I looked at it, 33 percent of union households right now say they're going to vote Republican for Congress. If that happens, what happens on Election Day?

RENDELL: Well we'd lose, but I think it's more than that, John. I think that Jessica's right about turning up the heat. Because if you look at the polls in Pennsylvania, we're behind in both the Senate and governor's race among likely voters but among all registered voters it's about dead even. All we've got to is get our base out.

Remember we still have 1.3 million more Democrats than Republicans. We've got to get our base out and we've got to get the base excited. You get them excited two ways, talking about things we've accomplished, talking about our heritage and then talking about the whackos on the other side. Our people should be scared to death the whackos are taking over the Republican Party.

They're all Fruit Loops. They want to get rid of the 14 Amendment. They want to do away with unemployment compensation. They don't think the president was born in the U.S. They're nuts.

BASH: But the problem for, as you well know because you know the state's politics better than anybody, is are the Republican candidates that are challenging the Democrats who aren't -- your words not mine -- Fruit Loops, but actually do fit quite well in some of these House districts and they're giving the Democrats the race of their lives.


RENDELL: -- may be so, but in the statewide, you've seen Tom Corbett tack way to the right. He was the only northern or Midwestern attorney general to join --


KING: I was going to say what does it tell you about your state, though? That Obama carried handily, swept, you've been the governor here for eight years, a Democrat, and you have a Republican attorney general who felt running for governor, Tom Corbett, who is leading right now, who felt he could join that suit challenging the Obama health care plan. He must sense a big change in the politics of this state.

RENDELL: And he was a big mistake. I think elections in Pennsylvania statewide, not the congressionals that Gloria was talking -- Jessica was talking about --

KING: Dana --


RENDELL: Dana, I'm sorry.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's so many of us.




RENDELL: Gloria is --


RENDELL: I saw Gloria in the trailer. In the congressional election Dana is right. It's different but statewide elections are won right now in southeast Pennsylvania, that's where the population center is. We've been killing the Republicans in the Pennsylvania, in the Philadelphia suburbs which have traditionally been Republican. Tom Corbett is making a mistake by tacking to the right, because he's making himself vulnerable in the places where elections are won or lost.

YELLIN: I just want to ask why is it that your base though is so unexcited. I mean you make the case that there is whack jobs, you say, on the other side and that there -- you have a really strong case -- I know you used the word Fruit Loops. I don't want to put words in your mouth --

RENDELL: They're wacky also.

YELLIN: You know pick your word. So why isn't the base excited? What can do you --

RENDELL: Well I think Dana said it very well, communication failure, no question. The White House, the best communicators during a campaign I've ever seen in all my 33 years in politics they haven't communicated well. The health care bill is a good bill for average Pennsylvanians, for small businesses, 125,000 small businesses with 25 employees or less, John, in Pennsylvania, are eligible for a 35 percent tax credit.

I don't think 10 percent of them know it. How many people do you think know that they got a tax cut, if they earned less than $200,000, they got an $800 tax cut, their families in the stimulus program. I don't think five out of 1,000 know that. We didn't communicate the things we've done well, that's number one. And number two, we're a little too cool. We've got to fight back and we got to let people know that the other side is nuts.

KING: All right, the governor is going to stay with us, but he's going to take a break. When we come back, Gloria Borger will join the conversation. We'll get all the names straight, I promise.


KING: Jess and Dana are going to stay with us. We'll see the governor in a little bit, but first a quick look using my friend the "Magic Wall" at why this state is so crucial.


KING: Pennsylvania always a big important industrial state in our national politics and a critically important state this year, and the economy is the reason Republicans at the moment are so optimistic about making gains. Look at this, manufacturing jobs in the Obama administration, from 2009 to 2010, down. Blue collar construction jobs the Obama administration from January 2009 to now, down.

Modest gains in hospitality and leisure industries, but the economy for the most part in Pennsylvania struggling a bit and that has Republicans optimistic, optimistic they can carry the state's big Senate race. Democrat Joe Sestak currently trails the Republican Pat Toomey in the Senate contest.

Republicans also running ahead in the race to succeed Ed Rendell, you have a Democratic governor. He's term limited. Tom Corbett, the Republican candidate currently running ahead as we enter the final weeks of that contest as well and Pennsylvania is critical. If Republicans going to get the 39 seats they need to take control of the House of Representatives they need some pickups in the state of Pennsylvania, Jason Altmire, Patrick Murphy and Mark Critz, among the Democratic incumbents Republicans are targeting in this midterm election year. If the Obama White House had to pick one of these races to watch most closely it would be the Murphy race and let me show you why.

Murphy's district is here in the Philadelphia suburbs, right down in this area. It is a part of the state -- I'm going to draw this too -- Murphy district down here, the blue collar area is from Scranton, Allentown, Reading, all the way down to Philadelphia -- look at all that blue. That's 2008.

Obama carried these areas and he carried most of them quite comfortably -- I'm going to walk across now to go back in time. The last time a Republican won Pennsylvania for president was 1988. George H.W. Bush did that -- and look at that -- remember these areas again -- all these blue collar areas, the critical Philadelphia suburbs. George H.W. Bush carried them by saying Michael Dukakis was too liberal.

And that was then. That was 2008. The key challenge in 2010, can Democrats hold these areas that are critical, for their chances statewide it will be critical to Obama's re-election chances or can Republicans make the case a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress a bit too liberal.



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

KING: Do you want an early clue on election night about whether the Republicans are going to take over Congress, well keep your eye on some key races right here in the state of Pennsylvania. With a heads up on what to watch, still with me our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash, our national political correspondent Jessica Yellin and joining us our senior political analyst Gloria Borger.

Let's start in the east in the Philadelphia suburbs. You just heard Governor Ed Rendell talking about that. In the Philadelphia suburbs you have a rematch of a race four years ago. Mike Fitzpatrick was a member of Congress; he was beaten four years ago by Patrick Murphy, an Iraq war veteran. The Republican Fitzpatrick wants his seat back. In the Philadelphia suburbs where Barack Obama won big listen to Mike Fitzpatrick slapping the Democratic incumbent.


MIKE FITZPATRICK (R), PA. CONG. CANDIDATE: Four years ago, Patrick Murphy had no record to run on. He had no legislative record, and this time he has a record and the record is not good. It's a record of voting for Obama care. It's a record of voting for stimulus, of creating no jobs. It's a record for voting for the bank bailouts, the TARP program. He has voted with Nancy Pelosi 97 percent of the time and that is not the value and the ethic of this district.


KING: A textbook Republican case right there trying to tie the incumbent to the liberal House Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying he votes with the Obama White House all the time. That's the national Republican strategy on exhibit right there in the Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia suburbs. Now listen to the incumbent Patrick Murphy. Guess what -- when Fitzpatrick was in Congress George W. Bush was president. Maybe you've heard this before.


REP. PATRICK MURPHY (D), PENNSYLVANIA: People are hurting out there, I mean people are looking for work, our economy, you know, the Bush administration and Mike Fitzpatrick ran it into a ditch and we're trying to make sure we try and grow jobs. I mean I'm door knocking every single night and people are asking -- they're worried about making their mortgage payments and putting food on the table, and part of the things that we need to start doing is making things in our country again, and we were hamstrung because guys like Mike Fitzpatrick frankly voted for a bad trade deal. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: If on election night number one this is a textbook national battle, the ditch the Bush people put us in, the Pelosi/Obama health care plan, back and forth. If Patrick Murphy, if you see on election night that that seat in the Philadelphia, the moderate Philadelphia suburbs has gone Republican, then you're probably going to have a wave.

BASH: It certainly seems that way. This is a race that Democrats -- Democratic sources say they really weren't worried about like six months ago but they have worried big time now, internal Democratic polls show it neck and neck right now. Patrick Murphy only won in this original match, which is now a grudge match by more than 1,500 votes, not very many votes.

That was in a huge Democratic year, so it's certainly something to watch and just one other interesting note. We talk about the changing of voter registration in this state, in that district. The reason I wanted to go there is because back in 2006, when the Democrat won, it was up 27,000 for Republicans. Now since Barack Obama registered so many Democrats it's now majority Democrat and they're still very worried because of what we were talking about before, the enthusiasm.

KING: I want to get to a race in a minute that's on this end of the state, the western end of the state, but before that let's talk about this dynamic because in the Philly suburbs Democratic registration did go up some, but I want you to look at these numbers in our new poll.

If you're a Democrat and you see these numbers, it has to give you palpitations. Independents -- these are independent voters. How do you plan on voting for Congress this November? Sixty-two percent -- 62 percent of independents say they plan to vote Republican. That's up from 46 percent just a month ago. Look at those numbers. That is stunning. If those numbers hold then Nancy Pelosi is no longer the speaker of the House come January.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: No, absolutely, and that's why you see every Democrat saying I'm independent. I'm independent. Yes, Barack Obama is the Democratic president, but yes, I am my own person. I've separated myself from Barack Obama and they want to make this into a choice not about Barack Obama, not a referendum on Barack Obama, which it looks like this election is going to be, but rather an election on individual races and they say OK, vote for me, the person, not for Barack Obama the president. I'm up for election. He's not.

KING: And out here in the western part of the state, Jess, you were in the district, Jason Altmire is the Democratic incumbent. Unlike Patrick Murphy who is hesitant to be publicly critical of his leadership, Jason Altmire is not afraid to say where he voted against the Obama White House, voted against Speaker Pelosi and he's not afraid and you'll hear him right here to criticize his own party for saying guess what? It's not communicating to voters about the issue they care most about.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE, POLITICAL AD: Too many people in Congress just vote the party line.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But Jason Altmire, he is not like that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jason is independent, no doubt about it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You saw it when he voted against health care.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And when Jason opposed the Wall Street bailout.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I like that Jason Altmire is not afraid to stand up to the president.



KING: That's an Altmire ad right there. Here is his opponent. Keith Rothfus says you know what, Jason Altmire; you're going to try to tell that to the voters, but I'm going to try to convince them it's not true.


KEITH ROTHFUS (R), PA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: He can try to be middle of the road, but he votes with Nancy Pelosi almost 90 percent of the time. That's not middle of the road. So it's my job to educate the voters about his instinct to consistently vote for big government, big spending.


KING: Now I talked to a Republican today at the parade who said he thinks Democrat Jason Altmire is OK, but if that one goes, then we have a tidal wave.

YELLIN: Tidal wave absolutely. What's interesting is Jason Altmire seems to think he's doing OK, too. He says his internal polling shows him way up but that's only because in their view they are running this campaign basically against his own party and it tells us a lot about where the Democrats are right now.

He's one of those guys -- this was a district that went for John McCain in the 2008 election. He was elected in 2006 in that big wave where Democrats came in and there were a lot of Democrats who were really in the middle and it's this big tent party. It's having a hard time gathering everybody together and a lot of Democrats here feel -- and Altmire among them -- that the party has not given them a message and the party is not only, he said made missteps in his words, he said there were key missteps he voted no on health care, he's proud of it he says, but that they just need some sort of organizing theme that they're not getting.

BORGER: Let's just say he's not going to have Barack Obama into the district any time soon.


KING: But -- but does the leadership -- is there any sour feelings about that or is it like, you know what? Say whatever you have to do if you can win.


BASH: They say whatever you have to do if you can win, but just talking to Democratic strategists nationally, they say that just in terms of the kumbaya inside, the people who maybe pick up the phone quietly and call Nancy Pelosi and say -- or hear people and say hey I'm sorry but for my district I have to do this (INAUDIBLE) I have to do this. They're probably going to be better off down the road if they do keep their seat.

One other thing I wanted to point out which I think is really interesting just to show the juxtaposition here. You are talking about Jason Altmire. He has since the beginning, since he's been in Congress kind of voted against the Democrats. He's prepared for this moment. Someone like Patrick Murphy who I was with out in suburban Philadelphia, he may say he's voted his district but he certainly has been voting on the big Obama agenda items with the president and with the Democratic leaders, so it's hard for him to separate himself.

BORGER: I was talking to a woman at the parade today who is a Democrat and she said look I'm a Democrat. I support Democrats, but you know what? I'm really worried about health care reform; I'm worried that we've got too much big government so even you have somebody who is a committed Democrat, labor person saying you know what? I think maybe we in the Democratic Party made a big mistake and it's turned a lot of our friends against us --


KING: So everybody --


KING: That makes a key point there, talk to people at the parade, it raises the question who is going to vote in 57 days, turnout will matter. And what message are voters in this state sending? And we'll also discuss the Obama factor.

How many candidates will welcome the president? How many will stay away? And Pete on the street tonight, well he's got some questions for guess who? That would be me.


KING: Welcome back and hello again from Pittsburgh. Let's check in with Brianna Keilar, go right now for the latest -- latest news you need to know right now -- hey Bri.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, John. The season's latest Tropical Storm Hermine is about to make landfall in northern Mexico near the border with Texas.

And General David Petraeus says a Florida church's plan to burn Korans to mark the anniversary of 9/11 could endanger U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

A new statement from President Obama says the nation quote "owes a debt of gratitude to Jefferson Thomas." He was one of nine students who braved mobs to desegregate Little Rock's Central High School in 1957. Thomas died of cancer at age 67 -- a brave man, John.

KING: A brave man indeed, a heroic man, one of the legendary people in our civil rights movement -- Brianna thank you so much.

When we come back, live from Pittsburgh again with this big question. Is there anything the Democrats can do with 57 days to go to turn the political tide? The governor of this state and a veteran Republican strategist who knows it well, Ed Rendell and John Brabender right here with us when we come back.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) voted for Obama or sorry they voted for him?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I find a lot of that. I do find a lot of that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You didn't vote for him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I did not vote for him, but I obviously am a very big Republican and I would never vote Democrat.


KING: That's one of the many conversations we've had today that are proof to us at least at the moment 57 days out the intensity is on the Republican side here in Pennsylvania. Again, 57 days to the midterm election and the Democrats are way past the point of seeing storm clouds on the horizon. Right now it's more like funnel clouds are filling the sky and warning sirens are going off. That's a bit of hyperbole there I think.

To talk about what's next, I'm joined by Republican campaign and advertising consultant John Brabender, and back with us, the Democratic governor of this state, Ed Rendell.

The woman there in the diner I talked to this morning, she's a Republican. She says she voted for John McCain. Didn't love him, but she's a good Republican. Still, a lot of her friends here, blue collar friends, who voted for Obama now think the party went too far to the left.

I want you to listen to the president. A lot of Democrats, you among them, Governor Rendell, is saying he's got to make a better case to the American people. He's got to have a stronger economic message.

This is the president on Labor Day, today, taking issue, you might say, with the other side.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Over the last two years that's meant taking on some powerful interests, some powerful interests who had been dominating the agenda in Washington for a very long time, and they're not always happy with me. They talk about me like a dog.

That's not in my prepared remarks, it's just -- but it's true.


KING: Now, I've been trying, I've been e-mailing, placed a couple of calls and one guy at the White House told me don't make too much of that. Another one said, I don't know where it came from. The president wanted to -- I remember Bill Clinton used to say I'll be with you until the last dog dies. But, Governor, can you translate that one for us?

RENDELL: Well, I think the president does feel put upon. I think he believes that he's accomplished a lot, and so do I.

If you read the recent "Time" magazine about stimulus, it blows the roof off of people who say the stimulus hasn't accomplished anything. He feels sort of unloved, and I can understand it.

But -- but in politics, we have an expression, never let them see you sweat, never let them see you complain. It's our business. We're supposed to be treated like dogs, right, John?

KING: Well --

RENDELL: In fact, this guy -- this guy treats us like dogs.

JOHN BRABENDER, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: Yes, well, that's my paid job. Benny (ph), look, this was not a Labor Day speech. That's ridiculous. This was an infomercial, a political infomercial, and, frankly, I think that it was historic in the sense that not only did he use this term but now he put more blame on the predecessor, saying that this whole economic fiasco is not his fault. He's --

On the same talking points there, the Republicans put us into a ditch. Well, we're now spiraling down into some river or something compared to where the Republicans put us. He -- he said he didn't have anything to do with the bailouts, which he did.

I mean, basically, when he came out and said none of this is my fault and don't vote for the Republicans, it's there (ph). That's ridiculous.

KING: And so the question, with 57 days left, for two guys who know the nuts and bolts of politics, especially of this state, as well as anyone, is what can the Democrats do about it?

I was down at the parade today. A guy you know very well, the Allegheny County Labor Fed chief, Jack Shea, was down there and he says, look, if the election were tomorrow, we'd lose, and we'd lose big. I told you, I've seen some pollings, saw that about a third of union households say they plan on voting Republican for Congress. In 1980, we got the Reagan Democrats, in 1994 a lot of those blue collar voters went the other way.

But I want you to listen to Jack Shea. He is convinced -- they start their program this week, tomorrow. He's convinced with a lot of contact they can turn it around.


KING: If I'm one of your guys, between now and Election Day, how many times am I going to hear from you and in how many ways?

JACK SHEA, PRESIDENT, ALLEGHENY COUNTY LABOR COUNCIL: Well, you would hear from me between eight and 12 times. You're going to hear from me by phone. You're going to -- I'm going knocking on your door. I'm going to visit you at your work sites. You're going to be hearing from your local union, and we'll -- we do -- and we'll revisit you, and we'll make sure we're to get out the vote.

The most important thing this election is GOTV, getting out the vote.


KING: Do you think they can do that? I mean, you know, as far as the state, when Rick Santorum won he got a lot of blue collar votes. Bob Casey has that Senate seat now. He's a Democrat that gets the blue collar votes. How do you get them?

BRABENDER: They don't have a story to tell. That's their problem.

Unemployment is high. Spending under our governor here went up 40-some points -- percent since he was governor. Taxes are higher --

RENDELL: That's the dog part there.

BRABENDER: You know, people are very worried. They're tired of all the bailouts, the high taxes. There's not a single Democrat in this entire country who is running ads saying that they voted for Obamacare.

Everything that they're trying to say is a success, people think is a failure. Even the governor -- even the president's hometown newspaper today came out with a poll that showed that almost half of Illinois citizens don't think he's doing a very good job. KING: You used to be the national party chairman in addition to your work here. I mean, does that surprise you? He's right. No Democrats are running ads saying I voted for the health care plan. I'm proud of it.

RENDELL: Well, yes. It doesn't surprise because, again, we've lost the communications battle. Stimulus -- we lost the communication battle in the first two weeks, and nothing we can do can change people's minds, which is a shame because the CBO, nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said that the stimulus has added -- has -- has kept the unemployment rate from somewhere between one and two percent being additional unemployment.

That's the CBO John, and you guys quote the CBO all the time, so don't give me any bull about the CBO. That's number one --

BRABENDER: Do I call the stimulus a success? Are you ready to call it a success?

RENDELL: I think the stimulus has absolutely retained jobs and created jobs. It should have been more infrastructure, because infrastructure -- I can show you places in Pittsburgh where people are working today solely on stimulus-funded dollars. Those are good construction jobs that can't be outsourced.

And stimulus has worked. We've done a lousy job persuading. What Jack Shea has got to do is not just tell his people to vote Democratic, he's got to give them the talking points. So I disagree with John, who I think is among the best, especially at treating us like dogs, but I disagree with John. I think there is a story to tell. There is a story to tell.

BRABENDER: Governor, there's a reason why independents and Democrats are saying they're voting Republican, they don't like what they see. They don't like it in Pennsylvania, they don't like it in Ohio, they don't like it in Michigan.

RENDELL: Two months out.

KING: Two of the most feisty guys, DNR (ph) in Pennsylvania politics. A quick break. When we come back, we'll continue the conversation.

Fifty-seven days to the election, some Democrats, as you're hearing, are running away from the president. Others say get more feisty, Mr. President. They saw a little bit of that today.

Don't go anywhere.


KING: Great scenes there of the Labor Day parade here in Pittsburgh. It's a great blue collar city. You see a lot of -- you see the marching bands. We saw a lot of labor movement down there to the United Steelworkers Headquarters. That's the building you see just behind you there. Wonderful scene on the streets of Pittsburgh. There's the Teachers Union, important turnout force for Democrats in this election campaign. There are candidates here in Pittsburgh.

The president was out in Wisconsin, and when the president was in Wisconsin today, one prominent Democrat, well, was nowhere to be seen. Still, President Obama went out of his way to embrace Senator Russ Feingold and attribute his absence to a scheduling conflict.


OBAMA: I know the other great senator, Russ Feingold, was here earlier standing with you and your families, just like he always has. Now he's in his hometown of Janesville to participate in their Labor Day parade.

So it is good to be back.


KING: So, scheduling conflicts. Governor Rendell, how many scheduling conflicts are we going to see in the next 57 days when the president rolls through town?

I mean, look. You used to be the party chairman. You're the governor here. Your popularity has suffered because you're the governor at the time. But --

BRABENDER: I'm willing to (INAUDIBLE) Governor, just because you're a Democratic candidate --

KING: What would you tell a Democrat in the sense that these are the cards you're dealt. He's the Democratic president. This is his record. It's the first midterm, so it's a referendum on him. That's how it goes. It always is so.

RENDELL: Interestingly, John -- interestingly, it sort of divides between Congressional races and statewide races. In the statewide races, the president in Pennsylvania is going to be very helpful, in the southeast, in Philadelphia, and driving out that vote, where he's still popular and where people still care very much about him and where he can deliver that message.

So, statewide, I think he's a plus. You -- you put him in certain areas.

KING: I'll bet you a buck when he's out there campaigning for Joe Sestak in the Senate race that Congressman Murphy has one of those scheduling conflict things.

RENDELL: Possible. Now, I would -- I haven't polled Congressman Murphy's district, but I don't think President Obama's numbers are that bad in -- in Congressman Murphy's district.

It depends. It's -- it's -- basically breaks down regional. But if we see the President Obama who we saw today -- feisty, tough, fighting back, making the case fairly or unfairly, making the case, I think people are going to warm to that.

You can turn elections around in 60 days no, question.

KING: Coming on that point. But first, let's hear some of that feisty President Obama, because he was out in Wisconsin at that Labor Day rally and he was doing what Governor Rendell has wanted him to do for a long time, saying, let's talk about the other guys. They only know one word, and it's "no".


OBAMA: Almost every Republican in Congress says no. Even on things we usually agree on, they say no. If I said the sky was blue, they say no. If I said fish lived in the sea, they'd say no.

They just think it's better to score political points before an election than to solve problems.


KING: So, John Brabender, what if he said the Steelers play in Pittsburgh?

BRABENDER: Whose side are you on? You got the governor already. Look, I will tell you --

KING: No, I'm just trying to --

BRABENDER: Absolutely. Now only do Republicans but independents and people all over this country are saying no. They -- we tried it their way. It didn't work.

No to the bailouts. No to the tax increases. The president gave us a stimulus, $787 billion stimulus, that failed. No more to that again, now that he wants to do the stimulus light and try round two. And, frankly, no more to this deficit.

I agree, Republicans were responsible for the deficit in the past, but the budget that the president gave us this year puts a record deficit. No more to those. They should first do no harm, and they want to call us the Party of No. That's fine. These are things we're against.

RENDELL: What I can't understand, John, as I remember it -- as I remember it, the bailout started under President Bush and Hank Paulson. President Obama's given every working family an $800 tax cut under the stimulus plan.

And the perfect example of saying no to something that the country needs is the Small Business Bill, John. The Small Business Bill, it's disgraceful that they wouldn't come back and pass that. It's disgraceful that they --

BRABENDER: But, Governor, let's be honest. The disagreement is how you pay for it. Why is --

RENDELL: Small business -- small business needs that money, John.

BRABENDER: You know Small Business is supported --

RENDELL: It's paid for. It's --

BRABENDER: -- by Republicans (ph) more than they do the Democrats.

RENDELL: That's not it. You've got to compromise. We've got to get something done in this country or we're going to go to hell in a hand basket.

KING: So, tactically, what -- tactically, what would you do? Everyone has been on recess. They've all been home for August. If you think that it's reprehensible that the Republicans wouldn't vote on that bill, why wouldn't Harry Reid call the Senate back into session and every day make them vote no?

RENDELL: And he should. I mean, remember, that's how we passed the bill that extended the money for police, firemen and teachers. The Democrats came back from vacation, and thank God for Olympia Snow and Susan Collins, we were able to get over the filibuster.

But their filibustering a bill that they've talked about. Let's help small business. Let's get money into the hands of small business. Compromise, John. Compromise. Don't just say no.

BRABENDER: How about (ph) compromise? There's no compromise on the health care.

KING: John, do you have any worries that, you know, the guy's -- his numbers are down right now, largely because of the economy and what you think are some mistakes. But do you have any worries that Republicans might understatement? The guy is a pretty good politician.

BRABENDER: Look, I'll be the first to agree that President Obama is one of the best people I've ever seen at reading a teleprompter, all right? He is great on the campaign trail.

The problem is, every policy or major policy he's had has failed to some extent, even Obamacare. Now, the majority of Americans say they want to repeal it. They understand that we took the greatest health care system in the world, and instead of the Democrats compromising and solving the problems of health care, we just overhauled the whole thing and, frankly, people think we've possibly have destroyed it.

KING: All right. Two feisty guys here. I'm going to call it time up, but we'll continue the conversation of 57 days.

Governor Rendell, John Brabender, We will see you again. This is a great state, a fascinating laboratory.

When we come back, our reporters will come back to empty their notebooks. They've been testing voter attitude out there and voter energy out there. Just who's going to vote on Election Day, when we come back.

And stay with us on the road this week. We're off to Ohio tomorrow, another big, huge industrial battleground. And then to the state of Kentucky. A Tea Party candidate, Rand Paul, hoping there to prove that he can take a Senate seat.

It's a great week to be on the road. Stay with us.


KING: Welcome back, everybody. It is a spectacular evening here in Pittsburgh in Western Pennsylvania. Let's check in right now with Brianna Keilar for the latest political news you need to know right now. Hey, Brie (ph).


Even though Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal passed up a recent chance to endorse his state's Republican Senator David Vitter, Jindal's staff tells CNN "maybe later."

And a rare interview in the U.S. Senate race in Nevada, Republican candidate Sharron Angle tells CNN, quote, "I'll be a mainstream senator."

And CNN has learned a South Carolina Social Studies teacher named Greg Snoad will launch a write-in campaign for the U.S. Senate seat this week.

And Vice President Joe Biden is appearing on "The Colbert Report" this Wednesday, John.

KING: Do you think, Brie, he'll say "nation"?

KEILAR: I think he will and I think if he's appearing on Wednesday that gives you something to put on your show on Thursday.

KING: There you go. There you go. A funny moment from the vice president.

KEILAR: No doubt.

KING: Let's hope he comes up with that one. Thanks, Brianna.

So one of the big questions is who votes in 57 days? You know, it's an old cliche. The only thing that matters in Election Day is turn out, which happens to be true.

So let's talk it over. Our reporters who've been here working their sources, talking to voters -- Dana Bash, our senior congressional correspondent; Jessica Yellin, our national political correspondent; Gloria Borger, our senior political analyst, all with us here.

One of the big questions is can the Obama coalition be put back together for this election? And one of the key constituencies were younger voters. And when you were over in the eastern part of the state, you ran into Jamie Bartholomay -- do I have that right?


KING: Jamie is a college student. She was very excited about President Obama. She voted for him as did so many college students back in 2008. Is she excited about 2010 and the Congressional elections -- the midterms? Not so much.


BASH: Are you going to vote in this Congressional election?

JAMIE BARTHOLOMAY, COLLEGE STUDENT: I probably wouldn't. Just because I don't really know what's going on. I don't think I've talked to anybody this year who's interested in the Congressional election.


KING: So, she's probably not going to vote and she says none of her friends are interested in this. If that -- if younger people don't turn out, that's one strike against the Democrats.

BASH: Absolutely. I mean, that was very telling to me, because at the beginning of the conversation, she was talking about how excited she was and how active she was two years ago for -- for the president and for Barack Obama. And look, the bottom line is, she's just -- she's not interested now. She is disillusioned because she thinks issues don't really pertain to her, but she's also disillusioned because she thinks that promises were made and they weren't kept.

So that is why you're hearing Democrats say that they are going to do things differently, but I think it's important to point out that not just Democrats but Republicans also understand their brand has not been rehabilitated yet either. So Republicans are also, on the campaign trail saying we are independent, as well, just like Democrats are.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: There's a -- there's statewide poll here in Pennsylvania that says that one third of the voters who voted for Barack Obama, only one third of them are actually going to turn out for this election, which is terrible for Democratic candidates.

And the question that I have is why hasn't this president and this White House been able to take the message to their voters about the high stakes -

KING: Right.

BORGER: -- in this election? You'd think they were so good during the campaign that they might be able to do it in the midterm, which is so important for them and their agenda.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I get the sense that voters realize the stakes are high, but there's just such a sense of frustration. I don't think this is that shocking. We have been here in Pennsylvania -- do you remember how often -

KING: Right.

YELLIN: -- we were here in the 2008 election?

BASH: Yes.

BORGER: Right.

YELLIN: It was the big state. Will he be able to get it or not? I mean, we did endless live shots about it.

BORGER: We did.

KING: Right.

YELLIN: He did -

BORGER: Ten points.

YELLIN: -- by 10 points. Only on the economy. It was all the economy. Do you remember?

And so, given where the economy is today, it should not be surprising that those people whom decided the last minute to swing to him are really disillusioned with the Democratic Party.

KING: And we just heard from a young voter, another key piece of the constituency, very important in this state -- African-Americans. A lot more in the Eastern Philadelphia, but you have some out here in the west.

I want to show some pictures of Braddock, Pennsylvania. It's a tiny town not far from Pittsburgh. And to say it is on hard times is a dramatic understatement. This is Braddock, Pennsylvania. It has lost 90 percent -- 90 percent of its population since the collapse of the steel industry. And in January, the town's major employer, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center closed the Braddock branch.

Look at that. It is a depressing place. The population is tiny. It's predominantly African-American, Obama voters two year ago.

Listen to Keisha Sails here who says the politicians -- Democrats and Republicans in her view simply just don't give a damn about people like her.


KEISHA SAILS, BRADDOCK, PENNSYLVANIA: These people come from good homes or good backgrounds or had houses and land and property and was able to do the things that they wanted to do. You know? But they don't care. They really don't care.

So, I think that's why the people around here are like, I'm just going to do me. I'm going to live my life and that's it. You know? Nobody else matters.


KING: Just disengaged.

BORGER: It's -- it's a voter and you hear this a lot from voters that essentially Washington has become irrelevant to their lives. They believe -

KING: And they're really smart people, too.

BASH: But -

BORGER: Right.

KING: And they know the issues but they just think it doesn't matter.

BORGER: And -- right. And they believe that -- that everyone in Washington is terrible, not just Democrats but both parties have disappointed them. So why should they care?

BASH: And the problem is, it's not just disengaged. It's that they're disappointed and that is something that is very real that we are seeing. You saw that there. I saw that in -- in Pennsylvania and another states as well. Just when people think that things are going to get better and they had so much hope, things are getting worse.

KING: Right. We need to call a time-out for tonight. But guess what? This is a road trip, Ohio tomorrow. The ladies will be with us -


KING: -- as we head west into Ohio, another big state.

When I come back, maybe I want to keep them in case I need a lifeline or something. Pete Dominick, our offbeat reporter, he's on the street and he's got questions for me.


KING: A couple of minutes away from the top of the hour and "RICK'S LIST PRIMETIME", Rick Sanchez in New York tonight. Let's check in for a preview. Hey, Rick.

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR, RICK'S LIST: We, too, are going to be following a lot of political stories tonight, John.

But there's one really bizarre story that's taking place right now in San Francisco. It's a man that they've dubbed "Spiderman" and he's almost at the very top of a -- of a high-rise building. It's a 58-story skyscraper. There he is right there. You're watching live pictures as police waiting for him on the roof. They say this guy's done it before. We're watching this. We're going to let's -- we're going to let it play out and we'll bring you the very latest on this story as it happens.

John, back over to you.

KING: Now it's my turn to answer some questions instead of asking them. Pete Dominick, our offbeat reporter, he's out and he's got some for me. Hey there, Pete.

PETE DOMINICK, OFFBEAT REPORTER: Good evening, John King. How's (INAUDIBLE) Pittsburgh treating you? I would imagine lot of Roethlisberger jerseys or not after the controversy? What have we seen?

KING: We did see a lot of Steelers jerseys today, some Big Ben, some more. Just a lot of black and gold in this town, Pete. But you know, he has his fans here, more fans than detractors. But we'll see how that one plays out.

Politics, come on.

DOMINICK: All right, John. Labor Day, what does it mean? And, you know, the people in China celebrating our jobs? What does exactly Labor Day mean?

KING: Labor Day is supposed to be a celebration of just that, the American worker. And, of course, organized labor, union workers staged big parades all across the country, but all workers should celebrate.

It's a tough day in a year when you 9.6 percent unemployment nationally and, you know, it's a tough economy, obviously. So while it's a celebration annually, it's bittersweet this year. And it's also, Pete, in politics, what I do for a living, we consider it the curtain raiser, if you will.

DOMINICK: John, we've been talking a lot about -- or you've been teaching me about politics as perception. Yesterday, a friend of mine told me, well, Obama took more vacation days than President Bush. You're right. It is perception. The facts sometimes don't really matter in elections.

KING: That is not true. That is not true. That is not true. But we will -- we'll give you a vacation count pretty soon in the future. But that's all the time we've got tonight. Pete Dominick, thank you.

Tomorrow night, we'll be in Columbus, Ohio. But that's all from Pittsburgh. "RICK'S LIST PRIMETIME" right now.