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GOP Feud; Primaries

Aired September 14, 2010 - 19:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks Wolf and good evening everyone. Simply put, it is a huge night in American politics. It is the last big primary night of the 2010 midterm campaign with contests in seven states and races right here in the District of Columbia. And as the results come in starting this hour we will learn this, whether the Tea Party knocks off another veteran established Republican, in this case, a man who has won statewide in Delaware 12 times.

Whether the biggest problem of this primary season, the civil war within the Republican Party, the Tea Party candidate in Delaware today called it cannibalism, cost the GOP any realistic chance of taking back control of the Senate this November and whether mayors and school chiefs across America are fighting for dramatic education reforms will get a shot across the bow from right here in Washington, D.C. where the teacher's union spent heavily in its effort to defeat an incumbent mayor who has fired hundreds of teachers for failing his grade.

And yes there's more, this hour a critical meeting on Capitol Hill, House Democrats are back from summer vacation, and they are nervous, big time. Tonight, their first big meeting together and among the challenges facing Speaker Nancy Pelosi, trying to referee big debates within the party over tax cuts. As you can see a packed hour ahead and a very smart team on hand to help us break down the big races and the big lessons as the primary season winds down and we shift to the final seven weeks of campaign 2010.

Let's begin with the stunning drama unfolding in Delaware. Mike Castle is a House Republican. He was the lieutenant governor, twice elected as governor, nine times reelected to the House of Representatives. When he decided to run for the seat once held by Vice President Joe Biden, the national party was ecstatic thinking it can take a seat in Democratic hands for nearly four decades, lock it up into the Republican column.

Guess what, a Tea Party challenger has Michael Castle on the ropes. Today Mike Castle saying Christine O'Donnell, the Tea Party in his can't win in November. Listen.


REP. MIKE CASTLE (R), DELAWARE: I am you know convinced that she does not have the ability to carry a general election in the state of Delaware, so, yes, it would have the effect of clearly taking a seat that could go Republican and making it Democratic.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Candidates under attack say some pretty wild things, but have you ever heard the word cannibalism? Here is Christine O'Donnell. She is under attack, not just from Mike Castle, but from the State Republican Party, from national Republican interests, she takes offense.


CHRISTINE O'DONNELL (R), DELAWARE SENATE CANDIDATE: It's a shame that the Republican Party has -- had to resort to Republican cannibalism because we have the winning principles and I'm hoping that come tomorrow we can kiss and make up and get to get to the business of winning this seat in the General Election.


KING: So what message is Delaware sending and how does this fit into the big national drama involving the Tea Party this year? Our national political correspondent Jessica Yellin is on the ground in Delaware. With me here in studio Republican strategist Jim Dyke, John Avlon, a CNN contributor, Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher, our senior political analyst Gloria Borger and we've got more conservative Erick Erickson joins us from Atlanta and Democratic James Carville from New Orleans.

Jess to you first on the ground, reports of turnout being moderately high. Any sense today on the ground from the campaigns, what they think is happening?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'm here at the Christine O'Donnell headquarters and they are feeling jazzed because they think that they are hearing that turnout is high in the counties where she is most popular and possibly lower in Wilmington where she is probably going to get fewer votes than Mike Castle, but the Castle campaign is also feeling confident, so it is just too early to tell, John.

The bottom line here is that establishment Republicans really do believe that if Christine O'Donnell wins today, not only do they lose the Senate seat, but that could determine Democratic control of the Senate, so there is a lot riding on this in the Republican world here of Delaware tonight, John.

KING: And Jess, to the group, Jess makes a great point in the sense I sat down with Mitch McDonnell, the Senate Republican leader the other day and he was rattling off all the races they need to win to get him into the majority spot and Delaware was one of them. And he thought they could do it.

But Erick Erickson I want to go to you first on this because you have been backing Tea Party candidates throughout this campaign. You have said that Mike Castle is too moderate for your taste. I want you to listen to him here. He essentially says that he is part of this national movement by the Tea Party to purge Republicans who God forbid will do business with Democrats.


CASTLE: This particular campaign has become a bit of a test of can, you know, the very conservative elements of the Republican Party take out, an incumbent with which, with whom they do not always agree. So that is part of what we are dealing with here. It's a little beyond just Delaware.


KING: Fair point, Erick Erickson that there are some on the right who essentially want to adopt a purity test in the party?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No, I think it's nonsense, and that is what people like Mike Castle say. He is not a moderate. He's a liberal. A moderate is someone like Mark Kirk in Illinois who the Tea Party activists sat on the sidelines back in February instead of opposing.

Conservatives don't like Mike Castle. They don't want Mike Castle, and frankly this race is about moving the Senate Republicans to the right, not moving the Senate into Republican hands.

KING: James Carville, as you watch these races play out, you've been involved when you helped Bill Clinton win the nomination back in 1992. He was the different kind of Democrat running against a Democratic Party he thought was too liberal. We've seen these kinds of debates before but anything like this?

JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, it is pretty rough there and I mean they've got all kind of sexual undertones and overtones in this thing. And it is tough, I mean, look they are fighting for their party, I guess. You know there are a lot of people out there, Erick being one, says that the Republicans win when they put -- (INAUDIBLE) hard right candidates out there and they don't -- they -- you know, to their credit, I guess, that that is what they want.

So you end up with Sharron Angle, and you will end up with this woman in Delaware, and a guy out in Alaska. I mean they're going to get the prototype talk radio kind of candidate in November, and they may do well with that. We'll have to wait and see.

KING: Jim Dike, Ronald Reagan had a rule, you know the 11th commandment thou shall not attack another Republican and yet this race has turned incredibly nasty including -- I want to play a little bit of it -- the State Republican Party so worried that the momentum is on Christine O'Donnell's side in the final days, put out a robocall today essentially with a woman who managed one of her prior campaigns -- and this is not pretty.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE, DELAWARE REPUBLICAN PARTY ROBOCALL: As O'Donnell's manager I found out that she was living on campaign donations, using them for rent, and personal expenses while leaving her workers unpaid and piling up thousands in debt. She was not concerned about conservative causes. O'Donnell just wanted to make a buck.


KING: I think --


KING: I think we get the point that number one it is nasty stuff from your own party. She could conceivably win this race tonight and be the Republican nominee tomorrow. How does the party figure that one out if that happens?

JIM DYKE, PRES. JIM DYKE & ASSOCIATES: Well, she could and it wouldn't be the first time. Marco Rubio who -- a poll out today as Sharron Angle who's in the margin to beat the majority leader will still win Alaska. In Utah, Ken Buck, we're up in Kentucky, so this sort of hand wringing about the outcome of primaries I think is a little hyperventilation. To the specific of the primary, you know, politics is more brass knuckles than badminton, so these things are going to happen.


GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: When I talked to a senior Republican strategist today who is very involved with this particular Senate race who said if she wins the national committee is not going to give her any money. So if she's going to want to go on and beat the Democrat, she is going to have to do it on her own, because they're going to have a lot of other races they're going to invest in, so this is a real big fight here in the Republican party --

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It's not just a battle I think for the soul of the Republican Party or whether or not there is a big tent. I mean this has been an unusually ugly race and this isn't about whether or not a conservative candidate can win in Utah. This is about -- this is about Delaware where the only candidate who has got a shot is Mike Castle, a centrist Republican who's got credibility.

And if the Tea Party really is about fiscal conservatism, if it really is about liberatarism (ph), then you know Christine O'Donnell is a professional social conservative activist whose campaign has been so ugly that Erick Erickson on his blog to his great credit has said, I can't back it. I can't be any part of that, against a guy who cut income taxes three times as governor, who voted against the stimulus, who voted against health care, so what is this about --

BORGER: Not conservative though --


ERICKSON: Well, you know it is largely about people who left the center trying to define Mike Castle as someone who is centrist of moderate when he is not according to pretty much any measure that a conservative would use --


CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: And here is the problem -- here's the problem, Erick. You know northeast has long been the holdout bash (ph) for moderate Republicans. If the Tea Party drives moderate Republicans out of the northeast, you know --


ERICKSON: He is a liberal, and you know frankly, in my position, I would be happy if Mike Castle lost.


KING: I want to get Jessica back in, in a second, but Erick, let me ask you this question first. As somebody who wants to advance the conservative cause, if it comes down to having Mike Castle in the Senate and the result of that is Mitch McConnell as majority leader -- I know you're not a huge fan -- but potentially an empowered Jim DeMint maybe as a committee chairman, Tom Coburn maybe as a committee chairman and you would then have a conservative Senate, that is not better than --


KING: -- Christine O'Donnell win the nomination and lose that seat?

ERICKSON: Pigs will fly before Jim DeMint gets a committee chairmanship and I would much rather see a Democrat than Mike Castle in that seat.

BORGER: So you don't care about a majority --


ERICKSON: Well, you know look, when you look at 2012, the Democrats have a very bad calendar against them. This is about moving the Senate Republicans to the right not moving the Senate to the Republicans.

AVLON: This is the attitude that has led to directly to not being a single Republican congressman from all of New England, and you know, that is a big deal. This is either you are a big ten or you aren't and you need to bring the people -- we are center right country. Republicans are in a great shape, but they need centrist Republicans. They can't just kick them out of the party --


KING: I want to get back to Jessica --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Moderate is not a bad thing for most of the country. KING: I want to get back to Jessica for just a second (INAUDIBLE). You can hear Jessica. This is obviously a spirited debate here in Washington. What about Delaware? It is a small state and because it's a small state, you know Joe Biden had the seat for 36 years. Mike Castle has been in statewide politics since the 1960's. Tom Carper was another former governor (INAUDIBLE) so they're used to the same familiar faces, for the people on the ground, do they want this change.

YELLIN: Again, John, they are talking to a very small segment of the electorate. There are fewer than 200,000 of registered Republicans here and about 30 percent of the max will be voting. And the message in this campaign has been very much about attacking the establishment. I mean Christine O'Donnell consistently says that the boys are out to take her down, that she is fighting the power that she is out for change.

There are a lot of gender valences here. Sarah Palin came in and there's a suggestion that the boys are attacking the new insurgent women, so she is talking to a very invigorated base of conservative Republicans here who yes, are embracing her. The question is would the rest of Delaware, which is much more middle center and heavily Democratic follow? She says yes. That is an open question, John.

KING: Well, the polls close there in about 50 minutes, 49 minutes, so within a few hours we will find out whether this will be put to the test or not. Jessica Yellin on the ground in Delaware -- we'll check in with her. As the night continues, everybody else stand by.

When we come back a big, big meeting up on Capitol Hill today for Nancy Pelosi, and there are more big challenges around the country. The polls in New Hampshire close at the top of the hour, in the District of Columbia, 8:00, Maryland 8:00, Massachusetts 8:00, so a lot more to come. Stay right there.


KING: Seven states and the District of Columbia voting as we say farewell with the exception of Hawaii to the big 2010 primary season. What lessons are we learning tonight and when we look in total at the primary season? Let's continue our conversation and ladies and gentlemen, let's look at the state of New Hampshire.

Kelly Ayotte was the establishment Republican favorite in this race for the Senate seat. Judd Gregg is retiring. He's a Republican. Ovide Lamontagne on the right you see there is running literally to her right in that race. There is another candidate, Bill Bennie, who has spent $6 million (INAUDIBLE) own money in that race.

This is another one of those seats people out there in the middle of America might say why do I care about New Hampshire, but it is a Republican seat, and the big conversation up there is that if Mr. Lamontagne wins, is he so far right that the Democrat might have a chance to pick up that seat and therefore again get in the way of the math of Republicans taking the Senate. BELCHER: And a state I will add that we won, the Obama campaign won last time around, and a state with a whole lot of independents in it. Independent vote there is really big, and they liked John McCain before Sarah Palin got on that ticket, and I -- when you see sort of -- then again I don't bet against Jim DeMint Republican primary, so I think in fact you will have a real conservative candidate there. That's going to put that seat in play for us.

BORGER: This is the classic -- you are smiling -- the enemy of my enemy is my friend, right, and for the Democrats the enemy of Republicans, the Tea Party candidates, you believe will end up being your friends, because it will give you more of a shot.




DYKE: Because the Tea Party movement is a leading indicator. It's a leading indicator for enthusiasm for the Republican Party and it's a leading indicator on policy when it comes to independents. Independents are aligned with the Republican Party when it comes to spending, when it comes to taxes, when it comes to deficit, when it comes to big government versus restrain in government --

KING: And you are convinced --


KING: And you are convinced the carry (ph) is over, when we close the chapter of the primary you're convinced the carry (ph) is over?


KING: Because that's the big question.

DYKE: That's right, when you get to a general election and you have the choice in New Hampshire, which is a guy who has raised taxes, who is for spending and the conservative candidate who is opposed to it --


ERICKSON: You know you are right. This was actually my frustration with the Tea Party movement, and conservatives compared to Delaware. They have a real shot with Ovide Lamontagne against Kelly Ayotte -- however you say her last name -- Ayotte I think --

KING: Ayotte --

ERICKSON: Sorry -- on whether or not he could actually win. We pretty much know that Christine O'Donnell probably is not going to win Delaware and conservatives didn't go into New Hampshire where they have a real chance for a gain. They decided to stay in Delaware and make a stand and a statement, and that is part of my frustration with the Delaware race compared to this one.

AVLON: It is a great point Erick makes and look New Hampshire is one of those 10 states where registered independents outnumber Democrats and Republicans. And Kelly Ayotte is a great candidate, 42- year-old, attorney general (INAUDIBLE) across party. Look, Jim is right to the extent that independents will swing Republican because of spending, because of deficits and debt, but they are turned off by far right social conservatives. That is the simple face of the matter.

BORGER: But do they vote?


BORGER: Will they vote --


KING: James, when you're watching this from a Democratic perspective, when you're watching this, what is the biggest lesson you are learning in the sense that watching the primary season and saying here's what -- here's where we need to shift going into the general election.

CARVILLE: Well the big -- the big takeaway is that it's obvious to me that Jim DeMint is going to run for president and get a heck of a lot of votes over there. That's the first thing that I've learned by listening to this conversation -- he's the most popular guy over there on the right there that is and he -- and by the way, he puts a lot of skin in these things, and I think he will do pretty well.

The next thing is, is that, look, that party is way, way, way more right than any Republican Party we have ever seen, and I think that that is by design. You know in Democracy Corps of Research, the Tea Party is more influential in the Republican Party than organized labor and African-Americans combined are in the Democratic Party. So this is outgrowth of democracy.

The Republicans, themselves, are choosing to do this. And this is what happens, and I think it is fascinating and I also think that the 2012 thing is going to be fascinating because I think DeMint is running. I think he can book (ph) it. It's done. He's not running to be -- to take Mitch McConnell's job. He wants Barack Obama's job.


ERICKSON: That might be news to him.

KING: If that's the case, then this New Hampshire race is interesting, because DeMint is with Lamontagne --


KING: -- and the conservative "Union Leader" newspaper is with Mr. Lamontagne and Sarah Palin is with Kelly Ayotte, so this one may rumble over into 2012 if we have a showdown like that. We're going to lose Mr. Carville in a minute, so I'm going to ask everybody else to stand by and James, President Clinton was out today speaking at an event, and he had an interesting thing to say about one of his critics on another cable network. I want you to listen to it, then we'll talk about it.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And even today, I agree that I'm being excoriated by people, one of the "Lead" -- television commentators on one of our liberal cable channels said I was the best Republican president the country ever produced, which would come to quite a surprise from the Republicans (INAUDIBLE) they'll think I'm a closet communist, but --


KING: I was not aware, James, that you had helped elect a Republican president.

CARVILLE: I didn't (INAUDIBLE) like 95 percent of the Republicans in Congress had tried to impeach him because they didn't like the results (INAUDIBLE) election. That would be news to a lot of people. But you know, if history has -- the arc of history on some cable TV networks is very, very short, about 15 minutes.

KING: We like to think we're a little bit longer than that. One more number before we work in another break here. This is Jim Dyke just making the case that this Tea Party momentum and energy will carry over. Here's one of the things driving whether it's the Tea Party or driving the electorate this year. CNN Opinion Research Corporation poll out today, do you trust the government -- trust the government always or most of the time? Look at these numbers.

Twenty-five percent of Americans say they trust the government always or most of the time. In 2000, it was 42 percent; now it is 25 percent. Why are people giving up on their government?

BORGER: Because they don't think that it works.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because in 2000 --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've seen anger about broken government --


CARVILLE: Because the unemployment rate was 4.5 percent in 2000 and it is 9.5 percent now.


AVLON: It starts really around Katrina. I mean you start seeing this lack of faith and trust in governmental institutions and I think it has crested because of the economy.

(CROSSTALK) BORGER: Well and it was -- it was higher post 9/11 --


BORGER: -- when people saw the first responders going into the building and they understand, oh, that is your government.


BORGER: But if you look further into that particular poll, it shows the Democrats are happier with government, not surprisingly than Republicans are. They are still not happy --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, not overwhelmingly happy --

BORGER: -- no six out of 10 as opposed --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were told that $1 trillion stimulus would create jobs, and it didn't.


ERICKSON: You know I don't care whether it is Republicans --


ERICKSON: I don't care whether it's Republicans or Democrats --


ERICKSON: You should never trust government.

KING: All right, we'll let Erick end it on that. We'll go to break on the conservative note from Erick Erickson. When we come back lots more continuing coverage of the primaries tonight, including a close look at a D.C. mayor's race and you may think out there why does that matter to me. This is a huge part of a national conservation about education reform. Stay with us.


KING: Welcome back. Let's check in with Deb Feyerick, she's in New York. We'll get the latest news you need to know right now -- hey Deb.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi John. Hi everyone. Well freed American Sarah Shourd is heading home. She reunited with her mother this afternoon in Oman after spending almost 14 months in Iranian captivity.

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels says he will make a final decision about running for president in the coming months, but adds he currently has no intention of seeking the 2012 Republican nomination.

And former President Bill Clinton endorsed Jerry Brown in the California governor's race today. Republican Meg Whitman is running commercials showing Clinton attacking Brown during the 1992 presidential campaign when both men were running for the Democratic nomination.

Republicans don't like it, but Senator Harry Reid is adding an immigration reform measure to the controversial defense bill that would also repeal "don't ask, don't tell". The so-called Dream Act creates a path to citizenship for young illegal immigrants who go to college or serve in the military. Expect a big showdown vote next week.

And in Philadelphia today, President Obama told students a personal story about when his mom confronted him because he was getting lazy in school.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: She said you can't just sit around waiting for luck to see you through. She said you can get into any school you want in the country, if you just put in a little bit of effort. She gave me a hard look and she said do you remember what that is like, effort?


FEYERICK: Well John the president left off his response to his mom, but it says -- appears that he picked up his game quite significantly -- John.

KING: He seemed to do OK.

FEYERICK: Yes, doing OK, cleaned it up -- cleaned his act up, yes.

KING: You never had an effort issue in school, did you, Deb?

FEYERICK: No, no, no, no, not, not from my perspective, but don't ask my mother.

KING: We will leave your mom out of this one for now -- Deb Feyerick thanks a lot. More to come in the program including that issue the president is talking about right there.

There's a D.C. primary tonight and one of the big issues in the race for mayor is education reform. We'll go "One-on-One" with each of the candidates. You'll hear their perspective; you'll also hear from this city's controversial school chancellor. Education reform a big issue here and a big issue to you.

A lot of politics in the program tonight, you are out there voting strong tea. We've talked a lot this primary season about the Tea Party. We'll pull it all together for you. Is it a nightmare or is it a good thing for the Republican Party?

And later on off to the races, among the big challenges tonight, in New York Charlie Rangel, he was the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. He had to step aside because of ethics investigation, will he survive a big primary tonight on his way to a 21st term in Congress.

A lot more to discuss tonight -- among those joining us the new anchor -- co-anchor of a program right here on CNN -- Eliot Spitzer, the former New York governor, we'll get his take and more in just a moment.


KING: One of the big primary contests tonight is right here in the District of Columbia. This is incumbent mayor, Democrat Adrian Fenty. This is his prime challenger. There are several challengers but the city council chairman Vince Gray is the primary challenger right now. We want to show you something interesting about the mayor. Because if you ask people in the District of Columbia how it is going, 64 percent of the residents in the District of Columbia say that positive things have happened under Mayor Fenty, so you would think that he is in good shape for an incumbent, but he is not. Here is one of the issues here. When people are asked about the wards, richer people up here and poorer people down here and there is a huge racial and economic divide right here in the city. Vince Gray running against Mayor Fenty says he has stopped caring about the African American base, and cares more about the wealthy white voters in this part of the state. A big defining issue is education. The teacher's union is spending a lot of money, because Michelle Rhee who is Mayor Fenty's hand picked school chancellor. A few months back she fired more than 200 teachers. She says if test scores don't improve she will hold the teachers accountable and fire them. She was on this program a short time ago. She says she knows she is controversial. She doesn't really care.

MICHELLE RHEE, D.C. SCHOOL CHANCELLOR: I am not here to be well liked. I don't care about being popular. Mayor Fenty brought me here to fix the school system, and in order to do that, you have to make some incredibly hard decisions that sometimes rankle people, and for me that is okay as long as I feel like I am serving the children well.

KING: I live here in the District of Columbia and talked about this race with some of my friends and neighbors in the city. We also talked today to some voters outside of the polling places, and this is one striking thing. Several people we talked to said they find that Fenty is arrogant and detached from the people of the city, and several of the same people said they were voting for him, because they are afraid if he loses, Michelle Rhee will leave Washington, D.C. So, I put that question to the mayor today. Does it bother you that people are voting for you to keep your school chancellor?


KING: It doesn't bother you?

FENTY: One, Michelle Rhee is the best example of what we are doing here in D.C., hiring great people and allowing them to run the agencies almost in a private sector environment where results matter. The schools are the most important thing. Anybody who says that the number one reason they voted for me is because of the schools or my school's chancellor, boy, that is about as much praise as you can give an elected official and means they were making the right decisions on the right issues. D.C. is headed in the right direction. We believe we will support all of the advances we have made and even the most critical poll, and we think that we have made a lot of progress since the latest polls have come out and even the most critical one that says that 65 percent of the people believe that the city is headed in the right direction and we are responsible for it.

KING: Well, here is an interesting dynamic in the race. Vince Gray has benefited because the teacher's union advertising against the incumbent Fenty, the teachers union helping turn out voters for Vince Gray but when I spoke to him this morning, he said that school reform is not tied to one person, but he also said that if he wins the primary and this election, he will meet ASAP with Michelle Rhee to see if they can make an accommodation?

If you win, can you keep her?

VINCE GRAY (D), WASHINGTON, D.C. MAYORAL CANDIDATE: Well we'll see. I've said many times that education reform has to be about more than one person. I have been a strong proponent of education reform and I have said I will continue with education reform. I have helped to shepherd the legislation through the council in the first place. I will continue with a strong chancellor. We will have a birth through 24 approach. We're going to involve all of the stakeholders in how we make the decisions and restore fiscal responsibility to the schools. I have said on many occasions that after this election is over, I'd like to sit down with Michelle Rhee and talk through how we might work together.

KING: So, is there a national message here? Let's talk to John Avlon. As you paid close attention to the race, if you are a mayor elsewhere out in America and you have been thinking or started to adopt the reforms if the test scores are not improved, the teacher is fired, and if all that spending defeats a mayor, Adrian Fenty tonight, at a time when most people in the city think it was going okay, what is the message?

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It is a chilling message in the hearts of mayors across the country embracing education reform or thinking about it. In a close partisan primary, the mayor who has 64 percent of the people of the city saying he is doing a good job and if he can be taken out in a closed primary with union muscle, that immediately changes the calculus. Great things are happening with educational reform. We are finally making real progress in education, but it requires the mayors taking on the teacher's union and that is a dangerous thing with the Democratic Party and not just local election, but huge implications nationally.

KING: And the education secretary Arne Duncan, the Obama white house have backed up Mayor Fenty and Michelle Rhee and refused to get involved in the race.

AVLON: That's right and you have to ask why? Because Michelle Rhee really is one of the strong leaders of educational reform movement. This is a sign of things to come. This is happening in real time. And we are seeing gains but only by confronting issues of merit pay, and firing teachers, imposing accountability so backing up Michelle Rhee and Mayor Adrian Fenty as a result is important, so I don't know why they won't back the mayor.

KING: That might be part of it right there. John Avlon will be with us as we continue our conversation. And when we come back, how strong is the tea party and is it good or bad for Republicans?

And there's a huge meeting on Capitol Hill tonight, the house speaker Nancy Pelosi trying to calm a case of jitters, because the party is worried about losing their majority, and a big debate about tax cuts. Stay right there.


KING: Seven states and the District of Columbia are holding primaries tonight, and a lot of the polls close in just 20 minutes at the top of the hour. Some early results, parts of the polls, including the state of New Hampshire have polls closed. It is a lesson ahead and what are we learning? Here to help us tonight for first time on this program a new member of the best political team on television. Eliot Spitzer is in our New York bureau. His new program will be coming up right after this program soon and governor, I want to get to you in a moment, but my first chance to say hello. As we see this primary playing out, including some big challenges tonight, including the tea party challenge up in the state of Delaware, what is your takeaway?

ELIOT SPITZER: My takeaway is that the Republican Party is being torn asunder by the tea party, and it is creating excitement and energy which is necessary for them to win in November, but also knocking off some of the candidates they need to be on the ballot to succeed in November. The fringe is always powerful when the party is out of power. You have fringe of the Republican Party in the form of the tea party challenging the establishment and perhaps committing the Democrats to hold on in November by not forcing the Republicans to nominate candidates who cannot win.

KING: And the question of whether the Democrats can hold in November plays out in part on Capitol Hill. Our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash is there. The house Democrats are back for the first time since being home since the August recess, and they are nervous and then some, and Dana, just a few moments ago put a very important question to speaker of the house Nancy Pelosi. Let's listen.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: How concerned are you that your reign as the first female speaker will come to a close --

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), HOUSE SPEAKER: Well, first of all, this is nothing to do with me. It is about the plight for the American people, and that the contrast to be drawn. Republicans are there for the special interests, and the special interests are pouring tens of millions if not hundreds of millions of dollars into this campaign to go back into the status quo they had before the election of President Obama when we took the country in a new direction. KING: Great talking points from the speaker there in the answers, and straight forward question, and she shifted on the Democratic talking points of the Republicans and the special interests, but forget that for a minute, Dana, inside of the meeting tonight, what is the speaker trying to do to calm her party of losing the majority and the tax cuts?

BASH: Well, to calm the fears of the people in the room I think it's going to be very difficult for her to do that. The best she can do right there the talking points that she did there. The talking points that she and the president have been much better of delivering in the past couple of days which is that there should be a contrast between the Republicans and Democrats on key issues like social security and tax cuts and things like that. But what is interesting is what I meant was are you going to keep the majority, and she immediately said it is not about me, because she knows that we saw that this the Republicans are trying to make it to tying the Democrats to her. I finally did get the follow-up question, I said are you going to keep the majority and you predicted it in the past. She said, I predict it again and I am not yielding one grain of sand. We will have a strong majority. The question of the tax cuts are hotly debated. They want to keep it a vote on the extending the tax cuts for middle-class, but there are a lot of Democrats in the caucus think it is the wrong thing to do. They want to extend tax cuts for all Americans, otherwise many believe they will be punished even more at the polls in November.

KING: And I want to listen to some of the Democrats -- Glenn Nye who is a blue-dog Democrat, which means he's a conservative. He's from the state of Virginia. He is vulnerable, and he's giving voice to the moderate Democrats are saying, please, madam speaker, if we're going to have a debate about tax cuts, do it after the election, and please, extend the Bush tax cuts as is for now.


REP. GLENN NYE (D), VIRGINIA: I believe that the right thing to do right now would be to extend all the tax cuts until we see the other end of the terrible recession. I can't debate it in Congress, but I am nominated to represent my people in western Virginia, and that is what I am doing.


KING: Eliot Spitzer, a few moments ago you were having fun with the discord within the Republican Party. As you know being a Democrat, it is your party that has the reputation as a circular firing squad. What is happening in the Democratic Party right now in this debate of taxes and economic policy and the broader possibility of the jitters of losing the majority?

SPITZER: Well, there is panic the Democratic Party and not so much because of the primary season where the Republicans have taken the worst of it, but as we approach November, and the earlier session, why does public not trust government, it is impossible to think of something that government has done well over the past significant number of years, and given that the Democrat Party has both houses of the Congress, clearly, they will be blamed. That is what people are worried about doing what Nancy Pelosi did, and getting people to look back to the Bush era, and say, wait, we are better than then rings hollow, so that the party is in a state of emotional disrepair.

KING: And I think one of the senses you get, we were out on the road last week, Gloria, you remember that, they have the sense that all of these guys, all of them, Republicans and Democrats, they worry about protecting their own job and not doing anything, and might we pass some legislation that helps an American get a job out there, and a lot of people think it is crazy. One of the voices speaking up is George Voinovich who bolted from the Republican Party and said he will vote for the Senate small business bill. This is what he told the "Washington Post" the other day. Most of the Republican amendments he said, "Didn't have anything to do with the bill. They amounted merely to partisan messaging. We don't have time for messaging. We don't have time anymore. This country is really hurting." Amen to Senator Voinovich.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: But he is not running for re-election, so you are more brave when you are not on the ballot and he was clearly critiquing his own party.

SPITZER: And give him a shout out for having the guts to critique his own party and tell the truth, because so many of the debates are fundamentally dishonest and not about policy or substance and get it filtered through bipartisanship, and that is causing the gridlock that's frustrating so many folks, especially independents.

KING: With the polls closing in many states voting in primaries tonight, as we go to break, take a look at the very early results from New Hampshire so far, Kelly Ayotte the former attorney general 31 percent of the vote. Ovide Lamontagne who came out of nowhere challenging her from the right, 54 percent of the vote. I want to caution you though Mr. Lamontagne had the momentum coming into primary, but that is 3 percent of the vote count New Hampshire. A lot of the counting to do. Six other states and the District of Columbia voting tonight. Stay right here.


KING: We are counting the votes as they come in seven states, and the District of Columbia, and also waiting for the top of the hour with "RICK'S LIST PRIMETIME." Let's check in with Rick Sanchez for a preview.

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: You are right, John. As you go through the list of some of the polls, and New York will close at 9:00, but we've got Delaware is closing at 8:00. That is, you know, as you have been saying tonight, that is the big one. Also, we have New Hampshire closing at 8:00. D.C. is closing at 8:00 and Wisconsin to 9:00, but as you break these down what you start to realize is we're going to probably get a lot of these results as we get into this. So you will be sticking around, because I need your help, John.

KING: I will be here. SANCHEZ: Okay. I have you and Gloria.

KING: All right. Until then though we will be back with Rick in a minute, but President Obama yesterday used the words I feel your pain, and in a way it reminded some of 1992, a guy, of course, who was 8 years ago old in 1992. Our offbeat reporter Pete Dominick who wanted to go on the street and explore this premise.

PETE DOMINICK, OFFBEAT REPORTER: Hey, John King. I graduated in high school in '93. I was 17 and I had a ton of hair all over. John, every night on the show, you talk about jobs, jobs, jobs. I went out to ask people, do you think the president does feel your pain? And I've got to warn your viewers, there was some physical violence in tonight's segment.


DOMINICK: Any troubles in your life whatsoever that you think the president can relate?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have back pain.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I feel my pain.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He just needs to be out here and hear common people. Common people's problems.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That is the most stupid question I've ever heard.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's trying his best. He's left with Bush problems.

DOMINICK: Sir, do you think President Obama feels your pain?


DOMINICK: Do you think he can operate a segway?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Probably, yeah.

DOMINICK: Are those sunglasses prescription?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just for the readers underneath.

DOMINICK: Do you think he can relate to that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When his eyesight goes bad, he will.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He has no clue.

DOMINICK: What is your pain?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My pain is that I'm working hard and I'm not making much money because people can't pay me.

DOMINICK: Do you think they relate, really?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Basically, I don't think they care that much.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think they're concerned about jobs, about weighing the political points. I don't trust any of them.

DOMINICK: Remember when the Clintons said I feel your pain? Oh, we're getting calls. Excuse me, sir, do you think President Obama feels your pain?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No but do you feel this?


DOMINICK: Well, that sometimes happens out there the violence in the street. John King, my question to you is, how long do you have to be in the white house before you actually disconnect from the average American?

KING: They call it the bubble, Pete. They call it the bubble. Every president says they will not get trapped in the bubble. This president is already very frustrated. President Bush got frustrated. President Clinton got frustrated. That's one of the reasons they get out. Even when they get out, it's hard to talk to people because they've got the secret service everywhere, trying to touch base with folks at town halls.

DOMINICK: Doesn't he read like ten letters a day?

KING: I believe he does. I think I'm going to try to get him to do your radio show.

DOMINICK: That would be huge. John King, you're my man.

KING: When we come back, Charlie Rangel is among those waiting out the term tonight. 21 terms. Will ethics violations get in the way and help his primary challenger? It's an important race. We'll check in on it when we come back.


KING: 7:55 in the east. Polls close across the state of New Hampshire at 8:00. Here's some early results from precincts that closed at 7:00 p.m.. Lamontagne, a conservative, currently 53 percent of the vote to Ayotte, the former state attorney general. She was the big favorite in the Republican senate primary coming into this race at the moment with five percent of the vote counted in New Hampshire she is trailing. And an early count, we will keep on top of that race and so many others as the night continues here in CNN.

Another big race is in the state of New York, specifically in New York City. Charlie Rangel once was one of the most powerful Democrats in the United States of America, the chairman of the house ways and means committee, that committee sets tax rates, tax policy, a lot of healthcare policy decisions. Now sidelined a bit by ethics allegations and facing a stiff primary challenge, and tonight the best political team on television still with us, including our Joe Johns standing outside of Rangel headquarters. Joe what's the mood up there tonight?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, John. You sort of got the national local disconnect in a nutshell going on right here right now. You go around the country and you talk to people who know what they know about the Charlie Rangel situation on Capitol Hill which isn't resolved yet, by the way. And those people say how can had they elect a guy like Charlie Rangel. But you come out to Harlem to see people on the streets and they say, how could we vote for anybody else? It's a different situation on the street here in New York. We talked to political insiders even those who believe Charlie Rangel's going to end up the winner tonight. They say, there is a question about a protest vote. There are five different candidates in the race. And there are people around the city who don't like all the publicity. Don't like what's happening to Charlie Rangel and want to send him a message. The question is, what are they going to do? They have five different choices to choose from, it's anybody's guess what the margins are going to be tonight. A lot of people, though, suspect that Charlie Rangel can pull this one out.

KING: Joe Johns is tracking that important race for us. I want to bring in Eliot Spitzer for his perspective. You were governor of New York, Eliot. You know Charlie very well. Has he become a liability for the Democratic Party?

SPITZER: No, I don't think so. I think his name will fade in significance into the midst of the serious debate towards November. Keep in mind, I think Joe got it right, there's a disconnect between the national press and the local politics. Mike Bloomberg, the Republican Democratic mayor of New York, he switched parties of course frequently, Mike Bloomberg endorsed Charlie Rangel. The folks in Harlem and in New York City think that Charlie Rangel has produced for the city. That's why he's going to get re-elected. That's the story line over and over. One of the more interesting race, a state Senate race that mirrors the debate going on in Washington D.C.'s mayoral race about charter schools and education reform. That's a conversation for another day.

KING: A conversation worth having on another day. Governor Spitzer, thanks. John Avlon, is that the right perspective?

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Look. Charlie Rangel is going to be a national issue. I respectfully disagree with Eliot here. Locally, Charlie Rangel is going to get re-elected. In a safe seat in a primary with a fractured field. It's more easy to get indicted than elected in those offices but Charlie Rangel is beloved in his district. He's a national lightning rod.

KING: Approaching the top of the hour when the vote count will start pouring in. we'll stay with you all night. I want to get a final thought first to Dana Bash on Capitol Hill. Dana, would the house Democrats come back more optimistic about keeping their majority after summer break or more pessimistic?

BASH: Despite what the house speaker said in public on the record, definitely more pessimistic. Look, they will tell you, being home for five weeks, it's not just that they had a hard time making the case, it's that the world stayed really in a bad place. That simply does not help the majority party. It does not help them. I've got to tell you, frankly, the Democrats, especially, they are not for the most part thrilled about being back here. This is Washington. This is what many of the voters are very, very angry about. They want to get back as fast as possible. Get out with the voters.

KING: God forbid they have to do their jobs. Erick Erickson, you have been part of the grassroots movement that has more than made its mark already in the primary season. Tell me, as we count the votes in Delaware, New Hampshire, and other states tonight, what are you looking for in the hours ahead?

ERICKSON: You know events frankly, things can change. A year and a half, we were talking about the annihilation of the Republican Party. Now, it looks like they'll take back at least the house. Things change and the only thing that doesn't really is the static frame of mind that a lot of people look at politics in.

KING: It's a fascinating night in politics. We thank all our contributors. Some of them you might see in the hours ahead. Seven states and District of Columbia voting. A lot of the polls in a few seconds. "RICK'S LIST PRIMETIME" starts right now. We'll see you throughout the night.