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JOHN KING, USA

President Obama Drama; Mourning in America; Healthcare Reform

Aired September 22, 2010 - 19:00   ET

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


JOHN KING, HOST: Thanks Wolf and good evening everyone. A lot of breaking political news tonight, we have an advance copy of the campaign agenda House Republicans will outline tomorrow and we'll share some stunning new poll numbers.

A prominent Democratic senator in trouble and a tale of two very different Tea Party Senate candidates, why is Colorado looking good for Ken Buck, yet, Delaware, well not so good for Christine O'Donnell. But first, turmoil and turnover in what was once called the no drama Obama White House.

A new book spotlights bitter infighting over the war in Afghanistan and some of the quotes attributed to the president are generating quite a controversy. And the White House is one place in America you might say where the help wanted listings are growing. The president's economic team is learning another member and now there's word the chief of staff Rahm Emanuel could leave as early as next month to run for mayor of Chicago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: People ask me sort of how do I stay calm in my job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: So does all this drama impact the president's agenda and his party's already shaking campaign standing? CNN contributors Paul Begala and Donna Brazile, well they're Democrats with friends in the middle of all this turmoil. Jim Dyke is a veteran Republican strategist and this is hardly the first White House shake-up covered by our senior political analyst Gloria Borger.

And I want to start there and start with the Democrats. Paul, Rahm Emanuel is a friend of yours. Rahm Emanuel is polling already in Chicago. And he knows ethically it would be a bad deal to stay inside the White House once he makes the decision if he starts organizing a campaign. All signs are yes, you don't have any doubt?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, he hasn't said, at least not to me, even offered (ph), hasn't said finally, informally, but he's never made it a secret. The two great dreams of Rahm's life had been to be speaker and/or be mayor of Chicago. He gave up that dream of being speaker to serve this president and I think he's served him quite well. Who could possibly, you know, (INAUDIBLE) who could stand in the way of him saying, OK Mr. President, I've served you as best I can for two years, now I want to go pursue my dream in Chicago --

KING: So let's look, if Rahm Emanuel may leave as early as next month, you also have people leaving on the economic team. Christine Romer gone, replaced by Austan Goolsbee. Peter Orszag, the budget director, gone. Larry Summers, the head of the National Economic Council leaving. Rahm Emanuel possibly leaving very soon. Donna Brazile, six weeks before an election, any impact on the workings of the White House and the political operation when this happens?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Oh, absolutely not. Look it's not --

KING: Absolutely not?

BRAZILE: Absolutely not. It's not unusual for people to start looking you know for a way out after the midterm. I mean --

KING: This is before the midterms though.

BRAZILE: Look -- well, John, we know they may put their resignation note in but they won't leave until after the midterms. Look, they want to go back -- get back to academics, get back to business, get back to their lives. And as for Rahm Emanuel, look I think Rahm, if he chooses to run, Rahm is going to be a very tough candidate. He knows how to put together coalitions. He has enormous reach in terms of fund-raising, the ability to bring people on board from all sectors of the Democratic Party. So if he chooses to run, he will be the instant front-runner in that race.

KING: I want to bring the others into the conversation, but this is an administration, it's kind of ironic, the first African-American president, and yet you hear from African-Americans around the country and some women that this is a president who has surrounded himself with a largely white male team in senior positions. Do you think these openings are an opportunity for more diversity in this White House? Do they need that?

BRAZILE: There's always an opportunity for more diversity not just at the White House, but all across America. Look, if the president can find good capable strong people who happen to be minority or female, absolutely, put them in those slots.

KING: Put them in those slots --

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Valerie Jarrett, his senior adviser, the secretary of state is apparently a woman, I can attest to that, Mrs. Clinton. I mean he's got --

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: (INAUDIBLE)

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: He's got a lot of women in very --

KING: And yet there's grumblings about this for some reason.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Not in the polling. That's the thing. If you look, particularly African-Americans who are being hammered by this recession are still holding very firm to this president and women --

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- solid distraction if I was the president I'd tell Rahm Emanuel not to say another thing about it. Get out or stay. The American people are concerned about jobs. They're concerned about deficits, debts. This can't help the president at a time when they want their president focused on this and his staff to be chattering about whether he's going to run for mayor of Chicago. No one cares.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know these jobs, I don't have to tell you this, Paul, these jobs are really tough and you know every year serving in the White House can be measured in dog years, right? It's just a tough --

BEGALA: This last one has been a female dog --

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, what does that mean?

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Yes, what does that mean? Yes and so it -- these are really -- these are tough jobs. You distracted me with that. These are tough jobs so you can't blame people for leaving. I think the problem is where the people get so distracted by thinking who's going to be the next White House chief of staff. This isn't only a parlor game we play; it's a game they're playing inside the White House.

KING: And to Jim's point, Democrats have been urging this White House, you have been on this program and others urging this White House, forget everything else, focus on jobs --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right.

KING: -- jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs, then pause and focus on jobs. That's been your message to this White House. So now you have this staff turmoil, maybe it doesn't play as much out in the country as it does here in Washington, but it does take up some time and now you have -- this is welcome to another administration and another Woodward book.

Every administration goes through this and you have quotes -- this is the national security adviser, Jim Jones, talking about the staff. National security adviser James L. Jones privately referred to Obama's political aides as the water bugs, the (INAUDIBLE), the mafia or the campaign set. I mean, he's a general. I'm sure the political guys are a pain in the you know what sometimes, but why do people -- why do people say these things?

BORGER: Well now we know why all those stories were leaked about Jim Jones, those nasty stories that were in the news --

KING: And by the way, people say he's going to leave after the midterms probably too.

BORGER: Right. Right.

BEGALA: Well and you know he's a national treasure, too. He's a four star Marine general who by the way is very close friends with John McCain and agreed to serve a president of the opposite party, deserving of high, high honor. And so --

KING: But what happened to the tightly disciplined no drama, no leaks, no internal warfare White House?

BEGALA: Welcome to the White House. I mean it's one thing to be able to control it in a campaign. But this is a much bigger broader apparatus. And I have to tell you just from the excerpts that were in "The Washington Post" I don't mind -- in fact I like the fact that there was a little head knocking, a little fighting over a war. These are thousands of brave Americans lives at risk, billions of dollars of our money. And that's OK with me if they were arguing about that.

BRAZILE: Absolutely --

JIM DYKE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: And that's fine, some head knocking. I think the trouble -- the problem for this White House and previous White Houses is the perception that they're more interested in making political decisions than they are make national and security decisions. That's something that lots of people tried to say about Bush when he was president and, you know this -- we can absorb attacks. I don't know how that's going to play out --

KING: Let's go through some of that.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Let's show some of that and then I'll come back to you, Jim, because let's show some people some of the things that people are saying are quite controversial. Other people are shrugging and saying yes, so what. Here's one of them right here.

I have to say -- this is to Lindsey Graham, a Republican senator, the president was talking about the deadline, July 2011, to start bringing troops home from Afghanistan. Lindsey Graham was saying, Mr. President, you don't want to be so firm. You don't want to have a hard date and here's what the president allegedly said.

"I have to say that. I can't let this be a war without end and I can't lose the whole Democratic Party." Now you can make the argument as Jim just did wow, you're linking a war to a political calculation. Or you can make the case as the Obama White House says, well, he's a Democratic president. If he loses the support of his entire party, how does he govern?

DYKE: He would be -- he would have been better off saying -- talking about losing the support of the American people than his Democratic Party and I think there's a big difference in those two --

BRAZILE: But Jim you and I both know that he has to go before Congress to get, you know, not only appropriation for the war but also when there are changes in strategies, when the general -- when we change generals. So I don't know why a Democrat can't somehow or another govern with the politics behind -- in terms of his calculations.

(CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: He understood what was at stake --

BORGER: But he was portrayed as such a reluctant warrior from the excerpts that I've read in this book, again, I haven't read the whole book, but the question can be raised, particularly with that quote, question can be raised that if he's such a reluctant warrior, why did we go to war? Why did we send more troops? Was it a political --

(CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: -- also say that he was deeply involved in the --

(CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: -- terrorism strategy, Gloria, so this excerpt, all this little cherry picking it paints him as somebody who was hard nosed, who was clearly involved in the strategy in Afghanistan.

BEGALA: But if you're looking at a Republican president in time of war who was perfectly attuned to politics, look at Abraham Lincoln. He was hammering his generals before the re-election of 1864 to win a couple of battles so he could win re-election. And Lincoln I think was the greatest American, much less greatest president who ever lived and he was totally attuned to the politics of it. You can't separate the two.

DYKE: Don't disagree, but it certainly was -- there was an attempt to use it as a negative against President Bush and I think --

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Here's one other --

(CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: President Bush used it against the Democrats with Iraq so --

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Here's one other quote in the book that Jim just mentioned a minute ago, the president saying "we can absorb a terrorist attack. We'll do everything we can to prevent it, but even on 9/11, even the biggest attack ever, we absorbed it and we are stronger."

Again, now some people saying, why is the president talking about the United States can absorb a terrorist attack? Others saying if Bush said that everybody would be saying, there he goes, cowboy again. And others saying, well that's the president saying you know God forbid, I don't want it to happen. We're doing everything we can to stop it, but America's a big country, a tough country, and we can deal with it. That's the political debate right now.

BEGALA: He sounded -- say this nicely -- he sounded more like an Israeli leader than an American. Americans tend to whine. They all want to be victims. Oh it's so bad. I'm so oppressed. I'm such a victim. He said, no, we're a big tough country.

Israel's a tiny tough country and they're not scared of nothing. And I like the fact that this guy -- he doesn't want an attack. Good lord, nobody does. But you know what --

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: -- the country's not going to fold.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He didn't say bring it on, right?

(CROSSTALK)

DYKE: But he wasn't, like Bush was, and what he said basically, the same thing, making a similar point about how we're a tough country and -- I mean, I think, again, there will be people who don't make the distinction that maybe some Democrats are making and separate the two and see this as political and use it for political purposes.

KING: All right, so a quick time-out. Everyone's going to stay with us. This is a conversation that's happening in Washington right now about this book, about the turmoil. What about out in the country? How is it playing? Years ago, there was a campaign ad for a Republican president. It was called "Morning in America". Republicans now trying to turn that phrase say "Mourning, Mourning in America". We'll tell you what we mean when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Midterm election year. In the first term of the Obama presidency, a lot of people look back to 1994, the first midterm of Bill Clinton. Others go back to 1980, the first of Ronald Reagan. Republicans lost some seats in that election. But then in 1984 when Ronald Reagan was running for re-election, if you turned on the TV, you saw this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, POLITICAL AD: It's morning again in America. Today, more men and women will go to work than ever before in our country's history.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That was then. Some of the people behind those ads then say it's "Mourning in America", trying to put the Democrats on the defensive, listen here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, POLITICAL AD: There's mourning in America. Today, 15 million men and women won't have the opportunity to go to work. Business is shuttered, 2,900 families will have their homes foreclosed by nightfall.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That's an ad by Fred Smith, the Republican ad maker. I want to note it's a modest ad, by about $400,000 on national cable television to start. They said they might put some more money behind it. Essentially that is a dreary, dreary message. A Republican group trying to, I assume, get everybody on the left depressed and everybody on the right motivated.

BEGALA: I don't -- I've been researching Ronald Reagan a lot. I had -- I'm working on a book about him. I don't believe Ronald Reagan would run an ad like that. I don't. He ran in a terrible recession and he said well, our greatest days are ahead of us. FDR ran in the Great Depression and he said happy days are here again.

Bill Clinton ran in a recession, said things can be great. Confucius said a leader must be a dealer in hope and Republicans are at their best when they're like Reagan, hopeful, and this not a hopeful ad. I wouldn't -- honestly, I'm not being partisan. I would not run --

DYKE: I'm not sure the president sounds hopeful and what I've heard him say --

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Well, that's the point.

(CROSSTALK)

DYKE: -- roundtables or whatever he's been doing and these little get-togethers. He doesn't sound hopeful. He doesn't -- you know the two biggest issues, health care reform and the stimulus, no one wants to talk about. And that's put him in a real bind. I mean, you saw the woman, the CNBC thing, talk about how you know she was disappointed in him. You see that with Independents. They're in a tough spot --

(CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: She wasn't really saying that she was disappointed as much as she was exhausted defending the record when she knows that he's done some things, he's made some progress, but people like her, middle class Americans are not feeling the joy yet.

(CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: That's what she's saying.

BORGER: I mean that's what this ad does. It reinforces the pessimism that people are feeling right now.

KING: And to that point, you heard the economic part of it at the top of the ad, "Mourning in America", all the unemployment. These guys doing this, they're the -- called the Citizens for the Republic. They say they're old friends of Ronald Reagan, supporters of Ronald Reagan. They make a direct personal attack on the president of the United States as well. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, POLITICAL AD: There's mourning in America. Under the leadership of President Obama, our country is fading and weaker and worse off. His policies were a grand experiment, policies that failed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: It's a -- it's a I guess a more polished advertising way of raising the question Sarah Palin often does when she says how's that hopey-changey thing going.

BRAZILE: You know when you take an economy that's gone off the cliff and you bring it back on the road to recovery it will take some time. And one thing that has frustrated I think many Democrats and God knows I don't speak for a lot, is that we've sat back and we've watched Republicans try to reframe the argument that somehow or another they're responsible stewards of the economy when they inherited a budget surplus from Bill Clinton and Al Gore and they squandered it and now President Obama and the Democrats must clean up the elephant dump that we've been doing for the last --

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Whether you like that or not, as people who have done campaigns and covered campaigns, what's the point? What are they trying --

BORGER: A referendum -- this is a referendum on Barack Obama. This is not the choice election that Barack Obama wants and the Democrats want. This is a referendum on Barack Obama and his policies. That's what that ad was saying --

DYKE: It's a referendum on Barack Obama's policies. They told us that if we spend a trillion dollars on stimulus unemployment wouldn't go over eight percent. It did. They told us that if they pass this health care thing, this huge expansion of government, things would change, things would be better for people. They haven't. We've increased the deficit. Now we're talking about tax increases. I mean it's the policies that are the problem --

(CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: It's a choice --

(CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: Go ahead, Paul --

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: And so it is incumbent upon him to offer new policies. I got to say people want -- particularly Republicans. We'll talk about this in a minute because they're trying --

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not in that ad --

BEGALA: In that ad, they do not. This is why I hate that ad because it -- they are trying -- I think you're right, John. They're trying to depress the vote, which is kind of an un-American thing to do to tell you the truth. They have all this energy on the right, and I admire that. I do not admire running ads that say America sucks --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I got --

(CROSSTALK)

DYKE: Republicans don't need that ad. The Democrats are already depressed. The Republicans --

(CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: And Republicans while --

(CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: Voters are not happy with Democrats. They blame the Republicans for the mess that we're in right now.

KING: And so -- and so the president's team knows this stuff is going on, whether that specific ad and as far as (INAUDIBLE) dynamic. So he is now trying to reach out to the Obama coalition which we have learned studying the polls and traveling is not necessarily the Democratic coalition this year. And here's the president's message. He's essentially saying get up off your you know what.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I need everybody here to step up their game. It's not going to be enough for you to just go to the polls. We've got to have the same energy. We've got to have the same enthusiasm.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: So, a rallying cry there to his own people. I have to tell you though, when you watch and listen to the president, he doesn't seem to have a (INAUDIBLE) lot of energy and enthusiasm in that speech.

BEGALA: The performance values are low in (INAUDIBLE). There's no music, there's no energy. And the other thing is if you want to go back to (INAUDIBLE) -- if you want to inspire a depressed force, you don't attack your force. You don't say the beatings will continue until morale improves.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: We say look at them, they're evil. They're evil. I mean look I used to do this.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Ken Starr, Newt Gingrich, find me an enemy and I can --

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: I can motivate my --

BORGER: Well that's it. You have to tell them what the stakes are. You know if John Boehner honestly is not the enemy. It's not enough --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, he should be --

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sarah Palin --

(CROSSTALK)

KING: So then why don't they do it?

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Donna and Paul, why don't they do it?

BRAZILE: First of all, we've got 40 days and we all know from the Bible that 40 days is a long time --

(CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: We're ready to turn this thing around --

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Is he (INAUDIBLE) or what is it?

BEGALA: You know first off, he wouldn't be where he was if he wasn't tough.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: OK. This guy is a political miracle worker. OK, we need a political miracle. But this is not, as you said, a hope change time right now in America. People are angry. And I think and Donna thinks they should be angry at the Republicans for ruing the country that Bill Clinton and Al Gore built up. Republicans think they ought to be angry at Barack Obama, but he needs to -- he does -- he needs to point some fingers here. He hates to do that.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I agree with some of it --

BRAZILE: -- Wall Street as well -- and the Republicans just want to give Wall Street the candy store again so they can ruin it for the rest of us.

DYKE: This actually also is a change election because they wanted change. I would argue that it was more about the Iraq war and other things in 2008 and 2006, by the way, when Democrats took over Congress prior to Barack Obama's election. But this is a change election and they are angry because they put their trust in Barack Obama to do these things. He's done things. It hasn't been a case of obstruction or not being able to get things done. He's accomplished things. And they haven't done what he said they were going to do and that's a problem.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: I got to call a quick time-out in the conversation here. We've got a lot more to come, a lot more to come in the program. Let's head over to the "Magic Wall". We'll give you a sense of what we do have coming.

One of the things we have coming for you we'll bring you the headlines tonight and Stephen Colbert coming to Washington for an immigration hearing. We'll tell you what that's all about. You don't want to miss it.

Later on tonight when we break down the politics, a lot of Republicans already starting to move around the country thinking Barack Obama might be vulnerable in 2012. What leading Republican though says, I'm not ready? You don't want to miss that.

And we'll explore some fascinating new numbers tonight on some of this year's biggest Senate contests, an endangered Democrat in a big Midwestern battleground. And two very different looks at two prominent Tea Party candidates, one's up, one's down. We'll show you why.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back. Let's check in now with Joe Johns for the latest political news you need to know right now -- hey Joe. JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Hey John. This is no joke. Stephen Colbert testifies this Friday at a congressional hearing on protecting America's harvest. He'll tell members of a House immigration subcommittee about spending a day in the fields volunteering for the United Farm Workers "take our jobs" campaign.

Ohio's state Democratic Party chairman got a little carried away while accusing Republicans of believing in his words, health care is a privilege, not a right. Chris Redfern used the "F" word on camera.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS REDFERN, OHIO DEMOCRATIC PARTY CHAIRMAN: If your kid's going to graduate from college, now he or she gets health care, your health care, while he or she looks for a new job. It's in the very base terms. We win these arguments. And every time one of these (EXPLETIVE DELETED) say -- excuse my language --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: Just got to watch for the open mike there, folks. Redfern tells CNN he wasn't aware of the camera but -- well that it was on, but since it was a private meeting he's not apologizing.

President Obama was much more polite this afternoon while explaining some new health care reform benefits to Virginia voters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: The single biggest driver of our deficit is the every escalating cost of health care. So it was bankrupting families, companies and our government. So we said we had to take this on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: So we know just a little bit about open mikes and you, the big question is whether they were talking about health care in that debate you --

KING: Health care costs are an issue up in Massachusetts. Remember, they had the Romney plan, the Massachusetts plan beforehand, interesting to see the president doing that. In fact, Joe, as you know this is one of the greatest White House frustrations. They thought they would get some political plus out of the health care plan.

JOHNS: Right.

KING: Instead, Americans are deeply divided and in this campaign it has been largely a negative. But the White House is hoping -- let's go over here and show some of the provisions of the new law take effect actually tomorrow and the White House is hoping that as people start to see these things, maybe they'll have a better feeling about the law -- excuse me -- one of the things that takes effect, children can now stay on their parent's coverage up until age 26. You cannot be denied for pre-existing conditions if you're under 19 -- little bit of a cold. They can't rescind my coverage when my illness strikes, starting tomorrow. And you get free preventive care and no lifetime limits on your insurance. Now this is important, these changes, if you're getting a new policy. If you have a current policy, some of these changes won't take effect until either January 1st or your open enrollment period when your policy changes every year. So if you have a plan, like we do here, maybe you have a cold, might not come as soon as tomorrow.

(CROSSTALK)

JOHNS: You could use a little health care yourself right now.

KING: The larger point, they're being though -- that they're hoping at the White House and the Democratic Party that as people start to realize, OK pre-existing conditions, the kids can stay on the plan when they are in college. This is a little better for me. They're hoping it will help a little bit. But six weeks to Election Day at this moment it's still a negative --

JOHNS: Is a narrative written, do you think on this thing? Is it too late?

KING: For this campaign, most people would say yes. But that's a great question. We'll keep an eye on this one in this campaign.

And when we come back, we'll talk about the next campaign. Republicans already jockeying to run against President Obama except one very prominent Republican who's relatively new on the scene says not me, I'm not ready.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Not just energy on the right when it comes to this year's midterm elections. A lot of Republicans already moving around the country thinking ahead to 2012.

Why? Because many of them -- many of them -- think President Obama looks vulnerable. And if he is vulnerable, you'll have a very crowded Republican field.

So let's talk about the state of the Republican Party. With us here, Erick Erickson. He's the editor in chief of RedState.com, a CNN contributor.

And, Erick, I'm going to hold this up to give you a little prop.

Eric's new book, "Red State Uprising", in bookstores tomorrow morning. If not -- if you can't sneak out and get it today, get an advance copy. I might get mine autographed by the time the night is over.

Whit Ayres is veteran Republican pollster. And Paul Begala back with us. I want to go first to Senator Jim DeMint who, Erick, he's a close friend of yours. He's this conservative force in the party right now. He's been behind a lot of these Tea Party candidates who have had success in the elections.

And he was on with Candy Crowley on "STATE OF THE UNION" Sunday and he was asked, well, if you're not going to run for president in 2012, who are you thinking about?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JIM DEMINT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I'm looking for someone that's almost like a Governor Christie in New Jersey who's willing to tell people the hard truth. That the federal government can't do anymore. We've got to do less if we want to save our country.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Well, all apologies due to Senator DeMint. You're going to have to look elsewhere because here's Governor Christie this morning on CNBC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I mean, these are two things, right? First, you have to have -- in your heart, you're going to want it more than anything else. More than anything else. I don't want it that badly.

Secondly, you got to believe in your heart that you are ready to walk into the oval office and to lead the nation. And I don't feel like I'm ready.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That's remarkable candor there. "I don't feel like I'm ready." Pretty much straight-up.

A lot of politicians wouldn't have the guts to say it just like that.

WHIT AYRES, FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT, AYRES, MCHENRY & ASSOCIATES: That's where you get credibility.

KING: That's where you get credibility?

AYRES: Yes.

ERICK ERICSON, EDITOR IN CHIEF, REDSTATE.COM: It's kind of his hallmark. He is the refreshing candidate who tells it like it is. What is interesting from DeMint's remarks, he endorsed Romney in 2008. It doesn't sound like he's committed this time.

It's interesting.

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: It showed wisdom, as well as humility, which is pretty rare in politicians.

KING: Is it -- now let me argue, devil's advocate here. Chris Christie is looking at, yes, he's getting a lot of great coverage right now. Republicans just saying, wow, here's this guy who's actually doing what he promised to do. He's coming in. He's making the tough decisions.

If you're Christie, though, do you look at this crowded Republican field and say, my party has a history of going with the guys who've been around the track before, and maybe I think Obama is going to win reelection, I'll wait anyway?

ERICKSON: You know, I think that Chris Christie is smart in that he knows that if he -- if he even hints at it, look what's happening to Haley Barbour who is flirting with it. And now there are dozens of stories every week about how he had a mixed-up racial past in Mississippi.

Everyone's going to come after him. And right now, he's fighting the Democrats in New Jersey. He can't afford this fight with the Republican Party right now.

KING: Why are there so many Republicans moving around this early?

AYRES: Because they see Barack Obama as potentially vulnerable. It's very clear. 2010 is going to be a great Republican year by all indications we have. And they think that may carry over into 2012.

KING: But if you look back at more recent history in the White House, you worked in a great Republican year in '94. Turned out to be a good thing politically for Bill Clinton. So we could be having a very different conversation about Barack Obama this time next year.

AYRES: Not necessarily predictive. Not necessarily predictive at all.

BEGALA: He's exactly right. I mean 1994 was the worst Democratic year in my lifetime. Bill Clinton had a high quality Republican opponent in Bob Dole. And with all respect to Sarah Palin and these others, they're no Bob Dole.

Able. Brilliant. Gifted Guy. And yet Bill Clinton cruised to an easy reelection two years after the worst landslide against his party.

KING: So a lot of conversations about the Tea Party. Shows up in your polling. You're a big fan. You've been watching with fascination, seeing what happens out there. Not always a big fan.

Wolf Blitzer sat down today with I'm sure everybody out there in America knows as, you know, America's greatest populist, Donald Trump, to get his views on the Tea Party.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, CHAIRMAN, PRESIDENT, THE TRUMP ORGANIZATION: It's extremely powerful and I love it. I love it. I think it's great. Because they're telling people we're watching you.

I really love it. They're saying that we don't want China to take over the United States. They're saying that we don't want to see oil prices at 75 if they're supposed to be at $20 a barrel. And we don't want to be paying all of this money.

There's a lot of great things happening in the so-called Tea Party movement. And I'll tell you, it's got people thinking. It's got people on the Democratic side and the Republican side thinking.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

KING: You know, Erick, I'm going to look through the index here. I don't think Donald Trump is in here.

ERICKSON: Donald Trump is not in there.

KING: I guess he's not a big Tea Party guy?

ERICKSON: No, I missed that one. You know I tried to get it without an index just like Sarah Palin's.

(LAUGHTER)

ERICKSON: They wouldn't let me.

KING: I don't mean to make too much light of it but when everybody even Donald Trump now sounding like a populist.

BEGALA: Let me tell you what it is. He's a brilliant man and a brilliant barometer of public opinion. I know he's a gazillionaire, but that is a guy who is in touch, somehow, some innate talent he has. He could have been a great politician.

And so I do think -- I've been saying this all the time. I don't think we -- Democrats should demonize the Tea Party but we shouldn't patronize them either. These -- have serious ideas. I think that they would be disastrous for the country but that's what we should talk about, about the ideas that they're putting forward.

AYRES: We've got a lot of focus groups with Tea Party people. And it's very clear, they're very conservative fiscally but they really feel like people in Washington aren't listening.

And that's the source of their frustration. They feel economically distressed. They fear that money from Washington is going to Wall Street rather than to help them. They're really frustrated. And that's where the energy is coming from.

ERICKSON: I'm going to make a prediction that you can trot out in two years to embarrass me. I think that 2010 is the year the Tea Party activists go after Democrats. 2012 will the year they go after Republicans.

KING: You think they're so unhappy with the --

ERICKSON: I think they're unhappy with both parties, and the Republicans aren't giving them anything to be happy about right now.

KING: But when you mention the focus group, help us to understand, because we sit here and I traveled some this year but not as much as I would like. And you know it's different from state to state, the Tea Party movement. It's not organized. It's not on the ballot.

So it's a group of people. How are they different? Help us. When you do focus groups in different parts of the country, what do you see?

AYRES: They are fundamentally disaffected Republicans. And they all get aggravated about different issues. But fundamentally they're people who would be Republicans if they felt like somebody were listening to them and speaking for them.

BEGALA: As opposed to the Perot movement, which I studied in great detail, which was about half Democrats and half Republican.

AYRES: Right.

BEGALA: Mostly out of the center. These are I think people who believed the Republicans betrayed conservative principles so they're more conservative than the mainstream Republicans. That's a very different phenomena.

KING: It's quick break time. When we come back, we're going to put this to the test. Number of fascinating races involving Tea Party candidates. We have some new polling out tonight. It's stunning.

We're going to show you just why one candidate in Colorado from the Tea Party is doing quite well. One in Delaware you've heard a lot about lately, not so much.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: All right, we're back with our panel. Also joining us, our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash.

Dana here because we have some fascinating new numbers about some very important Senate races this year. A lot of talk this year about the Tea Party candidates and the big question, so you upset an establishment Republican candidate in the primary, can you win in the general election?

Let's break down some new numbers. CNN just asked today, and we'll show you some very fascinating developments in two different states. We're going to start in Colorado. Ken Buck was the Tea Party candidate. He beat the establishment Republican in the primary. Michael Bennett is the Democratic incumbent at the moment. This is close. For at the moment Ken Buck, the Republican, winning, 49-44. Remember, he's a Tea Party candidate.

So I'm going to make this go away. Give that another bang, it's a little feisty today. We come up with the Delaware race now. And we bring this one up, Christine O'Donnell, though you've heard a lot about her in recent weeks, look at this.

Her Democratic opponent, 55 percent. A 16-point gap here. The Democrat winning in the state of Delaware.

Now let's take a closer look and see if we can show you why. Bring this one down. Bring this up. Here's the Colorado race. I'm going to use a little telestrator here.

Mr. Bennett holding the Democratic base. Mr. Buck holding the Republican base. But look at this in the middle of the electorate. Buck, the Republican, the Tea Party candidate, getting 50 percent of the independent vote.

That is the difference. Independents breaking for the Republican and the Tea Party candidate.

But we take a look at the Delaware race as well, and we bring this in, look at the same dynamic. Coons holding the Democratic base, 77 percent. That's all of the Republicans. People who say they're Republicans, 15 percent of them say they're going to vote for the Democratic Chris Coons.

That's one problem for Christine O'Donnell.

And then look at this. The Democrat in this race is winning the middle. Independent voters for Coons here, independent voters for Buck here.

Whit Ayres, why can one candidate in Colorado, Ken Buck, get the middle, and keep his base, and Christine O'Donnell's having a problem with the two most important rules of politics, keep your base, get the middle?

AYRES: No. They're different states and they're different candidates. In Colorado, the Democrats nominated the establishment candidate. The Republicans nominated the insurgent candidate.

So in an anti-establishment, anti-incumbent, anti-Democratic year, the Republicans nominated the better candidate in Colorado. And Delaware is a more liberal state. It's a bluer state. It's a more Democratic state.

And Ken Buck and Christine O'Donnell are very different candidates. And you can see that reflected in your numbers.

KING: Well, let's look a little deeper at the numbers for you before we bring the others to the conversation. There's also a gender gap here. Christine O'Donnell, obviously a female candidate, but look at this. Chris Coons getting 49 percent of the male vote. Essentially splitting that. Forty-six percent for O'Donnell.

But among women, the Democrat, 61 percent. The female Republican Tea Party candidate, 32 percent. Why a gender gap?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I know I'm going to get e-mails about this, but looking at that it makes me think about 2008 and Sarah Palin, how she was put on the ticket in large part because of John McCain's campaign.

We're hoping that she would reach out to women, especially suburban women, and it didn't happen. It backfired. At least in the initial numbers it looks like perhaps the same thing is happening with her protege, Christine O'Donnell.

BEGALA: That is anomalous. One of the reasons Democrats have so much trouble is they're losing those women, especially women, in the middle.

You know, keep in mind. My old boss Bill Clinton against Bob Dole, I talked to you earlier how he cruised to an easy reelection? He lost the male vote. But for the 19th amendment Bob Dole would have won that election.

And so Democrats have got to get those women in the middle. Chris Coons is doing it with the assistance of Miss O'Donnell who's a little eccentric but Senator Bennett and the other Democrats, that's what they've got to do. They've got to get those women to come home to the Democratic Party.

KING: And when you talk to your friends and people posting at RedState.com, have they written that race off?

ERICKSON: You know, not really. There's still some excitement but there's already a lot of blame with the establishment Republicans, the NRSC and others, that yes, she would be behind, but she wouldn't be behind as far but for what the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Delaware Republican Party did to her.

KING: Beat her up in the primary.

ERICKSON: Yes.

KING: Let's go to another races. The Democratic incumbent, if the Republicans are going to get the Senate majority, they need to take the seat now held by Democrat Russ Feingold of the state of Wisconsin.

Here's our new poll out tonight. Look at this right now. Fifty- one percent to 45 percent, Feingold is losing. And if you look at just why, both of these candidates are holding their base. But look at this. Look at independents. When you show the independents a 10- point gap. Republican candidate winning by 10 points over Russ Feingold in the middle of the electorate. I was looking at new Pennsylvania numbers today. And you look at the Colorado numbers across the country. This is a dynamic that right now is helping Republicans immensely.

AYRES: We've seen this all over the country. And it goes back 18 months, John. Resurgent Republic polling first started in April of 2009 showing how independents were looking more like Republicans and like Democrats, unlike 2006 and 2008.

But you'd see it in state after state after state. And these are stunning numbers from Wisconsin. But it's driven by the independents who are lining up with Republicans this year.

KING: What makes it very interesting is there's a little bit of a role reversal here. When Russ Feingold first ran, he was the outsider. He was the nobody. He was the guy who was going to go to Washington and teach them some lessons.

I want to show you a new ad Feingold has just put up in the air trying, trying to recreate the magic.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD (D), WISCONSIN: Back when I first ran for the Senate, I said I would shoot straight, be independent, and fight for Wisconsin. Not much has changed today. I still live in the same house. And I continue to always keep my promise to put the people of Wisconsin ahead of any party or corporate interest.

Except now I put my promises on my Web site. Not my garage doors.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now that's Mr. Feingold. I just want to show you, very quickly, Ron Johnson, a businessman running against him who sounds now like Feingold did back then.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN SENATE CANDIDATE: It's about a guy with 31 years of real-world manufacturing experience, you know, producing products, exporting products, creating jobs, which is really what this election is about.

You know, versus someone like Russ Feingold who's really been in politics the better part of 30 years.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Feingold has got a tough one.

BASH: He does have a tough one. You know I'm looking at the images from that ad, and certainly I understand his theme, but I was just thinking to myself, showing pictures of himself so young, reminding people how long you've been, might be interesting.

But I was just saying and thinking about the fact that, look, I'm the independent voter, and I'm Russ Feingold. If there is a wave, this is definitely one of the places to watch because Russ Feingold, watching him and covering him in the Senate, he does tell his party to take a hike.

He tells Republicans to take a hike. He is genuinely one of most independent senators and who's angered both parties and so if he loses because maybe he has a senator in front of his name, that's really indicative of the fact that people are saying throw them all out.

KING: And --

ERICKSON: Why any incumbent, any Democratic year, do you run a commercial reminding people how long you've been in Washington? There seems to be a disconnect there to me.

BEGALA: His campaign -- at least I've talked to people who support him. And they think they've got something to go after Mr. Johnson on with independents. And that is, you know, the people aren't going to stand for anything, it's stopping the federal largess.

And they argue that Mr. Johnson is a businessman who was a beneficiary of three federal loans. In other words, a bailout of sorts. And now he's going to get the votes of people who hate federal bailouts. That's sort of Feingold, particularly as an independent maverick of the Democrat himself, might be able to capitalize on.

KING: He got six weeks. He better hurry if he's going to turn that around. Ten-point loss among independents.

Paul, Whit and Erick, thank you. Dana is going to be back with us. A little break. When we come back, the latest political headlines and little more fun. Don't go anywhere.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back. Let's check in again with Joe Johns and the latest political news you need to know right now -- Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Hey, John, A U.S. Appeals Court today ruled Florida's ban on adoptions by same sex couples as unconstitutional.

Governor Charlie Crist, who's running for the U.S. Senate, immediately announced Florida will stop enforcing the ban.

Also in Florida, Al Gore will make a rare campaign appearance a week from tomorrow at a rally for Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Kendrick Meek.

Tomorrow at a Virginia hardware store, Republican lawmakers will unveil their party's 21-page "Pledge to America". Among the promises, a freeze on most federal hiring, imposing federal spending caps and repealing and replacing President Obama's health care law. So obviously, John, it's been compared to the "Contract with America". In some ways, though, it's scaled down even though it's 21 pages long.

KING: And even though we've obtained a copy tonight, they'll release it tomorrow. It's controversial already.

Joe, join the conversation.

Our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash still us and Erick Erickson as well.

Erick, in a preamble, they say we're the party that's anti- abortion and anti-same sex marriage. And then they go through these bullet points largely focused on fiscal issues. Spending caps and the like. They haven't even really released it yet but you don't like it.

ERICKSON: Yes, you know, it's just pabulum -- I mean it's designed to woo independents, admittedly, to shy away of being the party of no, which worked very successfully for Pelosi in 2006, and it really does nothing.

I mean, for example, saying we're not going to grow the federal workforce? The federal workforce interestingly enough hasn't really grown since World War II. They pushed all those jobs to the state level, didn't enforce federal mandates.

Everything we expected them to do is in there. Nothing to surprise us was in there. They needed some surprises.

BASH: There are a couple of small things. I mean, for example --

JOHNS: Small.

BASH: They say they're going to be -- and this is I think the things that are most important, are the things that they put in there to try to reach out to Tea Party voters. Weekly votes on spending cuts. As you mentioned, a federal hiring freeze on all non-security employees.

And allowing any amendment that is offered to be voted on that has do with reducing spending, things like that. But big picture, talk to some of the authors of this, what they are aiming for here is getting to the voter, the one who goes into the voting booth and said, I don't like the Democrats, but I remember how much I really didn't like the Republicans, too, giving them something to show, at least prove, that we hear you, we got you, we spent too much, and we're going to deal with that.

KING: It sounds like they so wanted to avoid a major controversy or a major tug-of-war within their own party about this document that they wrote something that's maybe too safe?

JOHNS: Yes, well, they also look like they gave themselves a lot of wiggle room. Now I scanned it. I didn't see in that document anywhere where they said they were going to bring to the floor for a vote this or that in a time certain, the way the "Contract with America" did. Am I right about that?

ERICKSON: Yes, I didn't see it in there either. And you know they got a lot of stuff about the social policy, the (INAUDIBLE) with no actual legislation. The funniest part is they've got a line in there about how this ruling elite has imposed mandates on the people.

And then you get to the health care section, and it's imposing mandates on insurance companies. I mean, total hypocrisy on that one.

BASH: It's broader than the "Contract with America". It's not as specific as that was actual legislation 10 points of legislation that they promise to do. The idea they say is that these are things that they can try to do immediately, as soon as they get into Congress.

ERICKSON: The biggest one is no earmarks. They fought hard to get a conference rule on no earmarks which they all say is the gateway drug to bigger government, and it's not even in there.

BASH: The problem is, you know, they all say that.

ERICKSON: Yes. Yes, they don't always --

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: That's why it's not in there.

ERICKSON: If you're not willing to pick that fight before the election, they'll never pick it after they win.

KING: Interesting. We'll look at the document tomorrow.

Dana, Erick, Joe, appreciate you coming in.

Now here's a question I'm sure you've asked yourself. What would you do if you met the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?

"Pete on the Street", Pete Dominick, he'd love to meet him. He's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: "RICK'S LIST PRIMETIME" just ahead at the top of the hour. Let's check in with Rick Sanchez for a preview.

Hey there.

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: We have just gotten some information, John, about the embattled Bishop Eddie Long and his sex scandal, and those accusations against him, how he's finally going to address this.

We have that information on the very day that another person has come forward saying that he was coerced into having sex with this reverend. Wow. We'll have it all for you right here on "RICK'S LIST."

KING: Heads of state from around the world have converged on New York for the United Nations General Assembly.

So our offbeat reporter Pete Dominick dodged the gridlock to ask, which leader would you like to meet?. Pete.

PETE DOMINICK, JOHN KING, USA'S OFFBEAT REPORTER: John King, I am most excited actually to hear who you, John King, would like to meet, seeing as that you've already met so many world leaders. But I went out and I got some really interesting answers. But I look forward to yours after this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nelson Mandela.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nelson Mandela.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Obama.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Probably President Sarkozy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Lincoln. (INAUDIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Gandhi.

DOMINICK: Gandhi. Who would you least like to meet? Or even become violent with of all time?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bush.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ahmadinejad.

DOMINICK: You would most like to meet Ahmadinejad?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

DOMINICK: Yes. What would you -- what would you say to him?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just like to know if he's really as crazy as people make him out to be.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Clinton.

DOMINICK: Who's the person you really -- I'm not going to use the H word but disliked?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ahmadinejad.

DOMINICK: Who would you like to punch --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Maybe Obama.

DOMINICK: You really don't like Obama? You'd like to give him a knuckle sandwich, the president? Wow, that is something. You are bold.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is ditto (ph). Obama.

DOMINICK: Really? Wow. Wow, ladies.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Make it a threesome.

DOMINICK: Who is your least favorite world leader? I mean obviously it's got to be some violent dictator, right?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, but they're too intriguing, I'd want to meet all of them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: From "The West Wing," what's his name, Martin --

DOMINICK: Martin Sheen?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I like him.

DOMINICK: You want to meet a -- you want to meet a fake president?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I'm saying he could be.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

DOMINICK: Well, there you go, John King. And it is buzzing here in New York as I was on my way up to CNN, the New York bureau, I walked past a whole bunch of people, including Terry McAuliffe and others.

But John King, I want to know, who would you like to meet? You've met a lot of world leaders already. U.S. presidents and others. Who is it, John?

KING: I just first -- before I get to that, I can't believe you just had -- the words, oh, never mind, threesome? And -- yes, in that same piece. Never mind.

So what would I like to meet --

DOMINICK: I don't know what you're -- go ahead.

KING: Those people you interviewed, they were being a little naughty there at the end, I think so.

DOMINICK: Yes, it was. It was a bit of a --

KING: You know at the moment, Ahmadinejad would be great. I think Cameron and Clegg, the conservative and the liberal Democrat leader of Great Britain, the two of them together because they have this coalition, but we'll see. Got to go.

"RICK'S LIST PRIMETIME" right now.