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JOHN KING, USA

Midterm Elections; Governors' Races

Aired October 20, 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. Tonight the he said-she said sexual harassment showdown that captivated the nation two decades ago is back. And the big question is why. Why did Ginni Thomas, a Tea Party activist and the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas recently leave an early morning voice mail for Anita Hill asking the law professor who nearly derailed her husband's confirmation to pray and then to apologize?

Also tonight brand-new CNN polling shows Republicans are protecting their key seats when it comes to the fight for control of the Senate, yet capturing the Senate majority remains a steep climb. We'll map out the balance of power and break down the races critical to the so-called Democratic fire wall. Nevada is one of the biggest Senate battlegrounds and embattled Democratic incumbent Harry Reid welcomed help today from the hardest working member of the White House political army, the vice president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH BIDEN, (D-DE) VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I do not think any honest person would say what I'm about to say is anything other than factual. The alternative to Harry Reid is extreme.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Democrats are also trying to pin the extreme label on Republican Senate nominee Rand Paul in Kentucky. In one harsh ad, Democrat Jack Conway questions Paul's commitment to Christ. Paul has already called it a smear, and today, Kelley Paul stood by her man and then some.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLEY PAUL, RAND PAUL'S WIFE: These personal bitter attacks really hurt people's families. I'd have thought someone who had a beautiful baby daughter would take that into account, no matter how desperate he is to win.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: In Florida, former President Clinton was campaigning again for the struggling Democratic Senate nominee Kendrick Meek, but Mr. Clinton took time to look at the big national picture and it is bleak for the Democrats, using a football analogy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now, we just hired a new staff two years ago after the previous staff took us to several seasons where we were two and nine. And these guys are actually about to get hired again by saying you should fire our staff because we didn't win the national championship in our first year.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Another veteran Democrat the pollster Peter Hart chose weather not sports for his warning. Just 13 days out Hart says the Democrats face a category four hurricane that at a minimum is almost certain to rip away their control of the House, so let's begin there tonight, the balance of power in Congress and which party wins in 13 days will shape next year's big debates over tax cuts, spending, and whether to scale back the new Obama health care law.

Here to help us sort thing out -- sort things out CNN contributors Ed Rollins, John Avlon and Roland Martin. And let's begin with Peter Hart's testimony to a category four hurricane. Do any of you -- Ed to you first -- do any of you see a path for the Democrats keeping control of the House?

ED ROLLINS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No, absolutely not. I think there's 75, 80 seats that I know that are in play that are Democratic seats. My assumption is we win 45 or 50 of those seats. Our base is intense. Theirs isn't, so I think it would be a good night for us.

KING: John?

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTORS: No, Republicans will pick up around 50 seats.

KING: Roland?

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No, when you see Democrats pulling money out of critical races that shows that they're trying to hold on to other areas. But look this could help them because when you declare a category four hurricane, it's telling Democrats you might want to get off your butt and go to the polls.

KING: It is telling them that. It is telling them that. All right gentlemen, let's move on to the Senate where some new CNN/TIME Opinion Research Corporation polls out tonight show that Republicans are protecting the seats they need to keep in GOP hands. Yet, still hard to find a clear path to the 10 pickups the Republicans need to capture the majority.

Here are the new numbers beginning in Florida. Republican Marco Rubio is opening up a lead among likely voters. He's now at 46 percent in a three-way race there. In Ohio, Republican Rob Portman holds a comfortable lead. In Alaska, a dead heat between two Republicans, the GOP nominee Joe Miller and write-in candidate Lisa Murkowski, the incumbent senator that Miller beat back in the Republican primary. Senator Murkowski, by the way, will be with us later to discuss that fascinating race. Now those three races are all seats where Republicans are leading and Republicans currently hold. But let's look finally at our new poll in Arkansas. It shows Democratic incumbent Blanche Lincoln trailing badly. That would be a pickup for the GOP.

And let's go right here and look at the Senate balance of power as you guys weigh in. This is the Senate now, 59 for the Democrats, 41 for the Republicans. You watch this play out. These are most of the seats at stake this year. We have assigned some seats that are already leaning one way or the other. If you're watching at home, you might dispute that we have Kentucky in the Republican column. That is a hypothetical. We know that race could change.

Other races -- we've assigned Florida to the Republican column. We know, but this is a hypothetical exercise and we're going to even bring it in some more and assign some more races. We just showed you an Arkansas poll so we're putting that over there. Indiana is over there. Florida is over there. Alaska is over there for the Republicans. So we have this roughly -- again, it's an exercise -- at 44, 46 for the Democrats.

Now gentlemen, look at all these races right here and I'm going to go through a few. The Delaware race with Christine O'Donnell, Democrats feel increasingly confident they're going to keep that one. So let's get the wall to cooperate here and make that one -- OK. There we go. Switch back over. Sometimes she's finicky.

Connecticut is another race up here Democrats feel confident about. Again, the Republicans think they're still in some play. But let's assign that one over. Wisconsin -- there's a new poll out today that shows Russ Feingold closing here but most of the polls have shown him behind so just for this exercise let's say that the Republicans have a good night in Wisconsin.

Now look where we are, 45 to 48 and we've got these seats right here. I'm going to take up Colorado and I'm going to assign one more to the Republicans. Again, some evidence that race is tightening. But let's give this one over to the Republicans. Now we're at 46/48. Ed Rollins, to you first, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Illinois, Barack Obama's seat, Washington, California, Nevada. Can from those six Republicans get the four they need to get to 50 or the five they really need to get to 51?

ROLLINS: Yes, I think we're in great shape in West Virginia. We've got a smart campaign manager there, he used to work for me, Jim Dorman (ph), and they're running a good campaign.

KING: All right, I'm going to assign --

(CROSSTALK)

KING: As you speak, I'm going to assign it, just for hypothetical, go ahead. ROLLINS: I think Nevada -- I think, you know, after 24 years people want Reid out. They're getting more comfortable with Angle. I think that will be the anti-Reid seat -- vote, but we'll still win it.

KING: All right, Ed Rollins has them up to 48. Roland Martin, you spent a lot of time in Chicago. That's your home base, what's going to happen to Barack Obama's seat?

MARTIN: I think Giannoulias wins. Mark Kirk has been fading. The questions regarding his truthfulness have hurt him deeply. You would think that he would be strong at this point, especially a Republican who is beating Pat Quinn in the polls for the governor's race. I think Giannoulias will eke out a victory there.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Republicans -- Republicans would disagree, but I'm going to take Roland Martin's advice today. This is again a hypothetical exercise and let's just go -- now we're at 49/48 and look where we are. We've got a California seat, a Washington State seat and a Pennsylvania seat hanging in the balance. Go ahead, Roland. I didn't mean to interrupt.

MARTIN: Yes, I think very simply if the Republicans do not take control of the Senate this will be a perfect example of how the Tea Party has helped them in the House, how it will hurt them in the Senate, because when you look at these races, when you talk about Buck in Colorado, you talk about Angle in Nevada, you talk about the Connecticut race, even Wisconsin, they'll win that, but even -- even Miller in Alaska, the Tea Party candidates could keep them from taking control of the Senate.

KING: All right, John Avlon, take issue with any of those guys if you want. You control the board. My hand, your mind, tell me what to do.

AVLON: All right, I think Kirk takes Illinois. I think Manchin keeps --

KING: All right, I'm going to switch that one for you.

AVLON: I think Manchin keeps West Virginia. I think the thing to look at in Nevada is the split between the gubernatorial vote for the Republican Mark Sandoval, who is going to win easily and Angle. I would not put that in either column yet but I would not count Harry Reid out. I think you're looking ultimately at 48/52. I don't think Fiorina is going to ultimately pull this out but Whitman might when you go California. I find the new Wisconsin polls hard to take, given how deep down Feingold's been.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: And a brand-new poll tonight where the president is -- I don't mean to interrupt -- but a brand new poll tonight in this Washington State race, we had a poll a couple of weeks ago showing Patty Murray comfortably ahead. There's a new poll today showing this a dead heat. Republican Dino Rossi, this is one where the president is today. This suggested to me that we could be up for a late night watching California, Nevada and Washington State.

AVLON: I tell you there's two guarantees. One there's a Republican wave this year the question is how big that wave is. The second thing guarantee it's a late night. We're going to be looking at Alaska. We're going to be looking at Washington, California. I mean the whole board's moving right now. You see -- some evidence Sestak is surging against Toomey in Pennsylvania --

(CROSSTALK)

KING: That's why I left this one open. Ed Rollins, I'm looking at a 48/49 right now. And again, some of these could easily change, very tough needle for the Republicans to thread. Still in reach right now. I was talking to a senior White House official today who said he believed the Democrats would come out with between 51 and 54 Senate seats. Today he said it would be 51, but he thinks they can boost that up to 54. That sound reasonable?

ROLLINS: Fifty-one is a possibility, 52 maybe. I think we're going to win Pennsylvania. We're going to certainly going to win the governorship there. Pennsylvania becomes the ultimate swing state. It goes back and forth. Toomey is a great candidate --

KING: (INAUDIBLE) Pat Toomey and Joe Sestak are the candidates there. This -- Ed Rollins gives it up this way. We'll see what happens there. That would get you to 49/49 with Washington State and California (INAUDIBLE). That would be a nice --

ROLLINS: Washington also has a tax initiative out there that should benefit the Republicans.

MARTIN: Well I'll tell you -- I'll tell you, John, if this is the case, I think the CNN sale department better go get some energy drink to sponsor election night because we're going to need it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Well that's just -- that's just -- you guys are great. We'll do more of this. We got 13 more days to Election Day. This is a good hypothetical watch of the Senate balance of power.

When we come back, we're going to talk about some other critical races. We talk a lot here in Washington about the House and about the Senate. Thirty-seven governors' races at stake. That's your property taxes. That's your school system. That is the implementation of the Obama health care law and it could have a lot to do with 2012 presidential politics -- be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Much of Washington's attention is focused on the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House, but there are 37 governors' races across the country. Tonight we have new poll numbers in two of the biggest and most important. In Ohio, Democratic Governor Ted Strickland leads former Republican Congressman John Kasich 48 percent to 47 percent among likely voters. That's within the margin of error there, so it's too close to call but that is progress for Strickland from our last poll.

And among likely voters in Florida, Republican Rick Scott leads Democrat Alex Sink 49 percent to 46 percent, again within the sampling error there, which means essentially a dead heat in Ohio and a dead heat in Florida. Let's get back to the conversation with Ed Rollins, John Avlon, and Roland Martin.

Ed, we focus on these numbers all the time and I think sometimes we fail to make the point about why all of these races but maybe especially the governors' races are so important. This is about implementation of the health care law. This is about -- there's no stimulus money next year so how's your state going to deal with its budget crisis? This is about education. And this could be, especially in Ohio and Florida about 2012.

ROLLINS: It's also about reapportionment, which is very, very important. They're going to draw the lines. States are going to lose seats and gain seats and those two are certainly going to be in play. John Kasich is a guy who in 1982 came to my office when I was the White House political director, he's running for Congress. I was losing all kinds of seats and he said I need your help.

I said John, I can't help you. You're running against a Democrat. You're way behind. He was the only member of -- Republican who beat a Democrat in 1982. He knows that state. He knows that blue collar. And he said I'm going to come back here in January and tell you -- Lee Atwater was my deputy -- how dumb you two guys are and he did for many years after that. We're great friends. He knows that state well. He's a great campaigner.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: I'm sure he's prepared. Let's look a little closely at that state before we bring John and Roland into the conversation in the sense of what is playing in the ads out here. Here's Ted Strickland out against John Kasich. Ted Strickland is an incumbent. There's high unemployment in the state. They have lost jobs. He knows -- he knows it's a tough year for Democratic incumbents, so what is he trying to do? Push his opponent out of the mainstream. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, POLITICAL AD: John Kasich's Washington friends don't want you to know the real record on trade. Ted Strickland voted against NAFTA and against the special trade deal for China. John Kasich voted for them. And for over 20 more trade bills that hurt Ohio workers. Kasich's trade deals cost Ohio thousands --

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: -- just stop that there. John Avlon, this is a theme we're seeing more and more from both parties actually, trying to take advantage of economic anxiety, worries about international trade, specifically worries about China and Wall Street.

AVLON: Yes, that's exactly right. China is a major theme this election that's been a sleeper, but it doesn't just have to do with outsourcing of jobs and anxiety about the economy. It also has to do with the debt. People are -- American people are getting savvy about the issue of the debt and how it ultimately forms a challenge (INAUDIBLE) strategically to America's competitiveness internationally, so that's -- it's a very complex issue.

I just got back from Ohio. I can tell you that Portman's running away with the Senate race, but this race, Strickland/Kasich is tightening. One of the interesting things your new poll shows Strickland is now beating Kasich almost two to one among centrist voters, this in a swing state. That's the source of a lot of his surge in recent weeks. That's a significant indicator.

MARTIN: He is not a Tea Party candidate, John, but the reason Kasich is so strong this year, this was a reform party guy. This was a guy who was all about the debt and the budget when he was in Congress. I went to the -- that reform convention that was in Dallas and when he walked out, he was a rock star. And so that crowd -- this Tea Party crowd, I think that's also why he's really tightening with this very popular governor in Ohio.

KING: And to John Avlon's point, you know the candidate's poll too, and John Kasich sees Ted Strickland coming back among those voters in the middle so he's trying to use Ted Strickland's own words to say this guy made promises and he didn't keep them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, POLITICAL AD: People in Ohio are desperate for change. They are sick and tired of being sick and tired of the current leadership. They know that we can do better. That we should do better than we are and they're desperately wanting someone to provide a vision and the leadership to carry out that vision.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE, POLITICAL AD: Ted Strickland. Four years of talk. Four years of failed policies. Four hundred thousand jobs lost on his watch.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Ed Rollins, I know you're a Republican and you agree with that ad, but just in principle, when you can use a guy's own words against him, more powerful, right?

ROLLINS: It's very powerful -- it's very powerful ad and I think it -- you know remember John was a TV commentator for a period of time on another network.

(CROSSTALK) ROLLINS: So he's a great communicator. He was chairman of the Budget Committee, as Roland said and son of a mailman. He knows those roots. And I think he'll be a very effective closer here.

KING: An interesting guy in the sense we hear so much talk about polarization. Kasich was a guy who really didn't like or love Bill Clinton very well, but they did business with Bill Clinton when he was the Budget Committee chairman. They balanced the budget.

John, I want you to jump in. I'm going to ask all of you in closing -- I want to look at the president's approval rating in these two big states. We just showed you the polls, horse race, dead heats essentially in Florida and Ohio. Here's the president's approval rating. In Ohio, 42 percent approve, 53 percent disapprove. In Florida, 41 percent approve, 55 percent disapprove. Does it matter in a governor's race? Is the president a drag on a gubernatorial candidate?

AVLON: It does matter. It's not good that Obama's upside down. It's worth keeping in mind that in 2006 Bush's approval was in the 30's. In 1994 Bill Clinton's approval was in the 30's. They were lower than Obama as a benchmark. But Kasich I agree is a strong candidate who knows his roots. That ad is devastating. It is effective and it is honest. And it shows how much voter anger is consistent, especially among Independents between 2006 and today.

MARTIN: Those approval numbers are even more important because the president has spent a lot of time going to Ohio. Remember with the stimulus project, he went there, Columbus, to say that police cadet class of Mayor Michael Coleman (ph) and so he spent a lot of time there, but also he will likely try to push folks in Cleveland, in Cincinnati, especially inner city voters, African-Americans to raise those numbers to combat suburban Cincinnati, which will likely be a strong Kasich stronghold.

ROLLINS: No Republican can win the presidency without Ohio --

(CROSSTALK)

ROLLINS: -- and obviously it's a big, big focus on our part.

KING: I think Obama and Biden may owe state taxes in Ohio by the time --

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Roland, John, Ed thanks for coming and a lot more to come in the program tonight. We're going to keep our focus on politics, but we're also going to visit what some consider a very bizarre story. Nearly 20 years later, Ginni Thomas decides to place a phone message and leaves a voice mail for Anita Hill asking for an apology. Why, and why now?

We'll also go "One-on-One" with Lisa Murkowski. She is the incumbent Republican senator in Alaska, but we have it laid out this way, because you won't find her name on the ballot because she lost the primary. Would you write her in if you were up there? Right now that race is a dead heat. Lisa Murkowski will be with us.

Also with us a bit later, "Pete on the Street", here's a question. You got your Constitution, what's your favorite amendment? And remember last night we told you about the "rent too damn high" party in New York? Boy is there a new interesting revelation today. Don't go anywhere.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Let's get straight to Joe Johns for a major development you need to know right now -- Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: John this just in, a federal appeals court has brought back the enforcement of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, while the issue is argued in the courts. That's in response to the Obama administration's emergency request to stop the military from allowing openly gay troops from serving at least for now.

A new report backed by the NAACP accuses the Tea Party of accepting and even embracing racist supporters. The Tea Party leaders call it a smear, an ugly smear tactic ahead of the November elections.

And check out one of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's latest tweets under the hat tag "Rumsfeld Rule". It says, if you are not being criticized, you may not be doing much. And, John, I think that explains everything about his days in the Pentagon. Now we know. If you do a lot, you're going to take a lot of heat.

KING: I have to say he's using it now in Twitter -- in his new Twitter account but that has always been a Rumsfeld rule, that if you're not being criticized, you're not doing much. And this -- yes, we talked a little bit about this last night. Don Rumsfeld using the new social media, he's a politician of sorts. He's one guy.

But I want to go to the wall here to show you just another quick update on how social media is such a big part in the fabric of our campaigning these days. Here are Facebook fans in this election year. And the Republicans have an edge right now when it comes to Facebook, 3.1 million Republican fans of Republican candidates on Facebook, 1.2 million Democratic fans of Democratic candidates on Facebook. And just shy of 50,000 Independent fans of Independent candidates.

So as you can see, Republicans when it comes to fans have an edge and it's not scientific of course. But this does tell you something. It is part of the illustration of that so-called enthusiasm gap we see in the electorate right now. Thirteen days to go maybe that will change. So who has the most? John McCain is at the top, some of that obviously a carryover from his running for president back in 2008. He's not (ph) running for re-election in Arizona to the Senate.

His Governor Jan Brewer, she's number two, most fans on Facebook. That probably comes from her role in the controversial immigration debate out there. Meg Whitman, a big state, she's running for California governor. Bill White is the only Democrat in the top five, another big state, he's running for Texas governor, running a surprisingly competitive race down there. And Marco Rubio, the Tea Party favorite now the Republican nominee in Florida, he is fifth. These are the politicians, Joe, with the most fans on Facebook. And again, it's not a scientific sample.

JOHNS: Right.

KING: But it is a way to get people engaged and it is a way for the candidates to get names and then addresses you can text, phones you can text or ways you can communicate with people on their mobile devices, so on Election Day you can say, hey, Joe, you're my fan, did you vote?

JOHNS: Why not more Democrats? I mean do we know?

KING: It's an enthusiasm gap this year. You see Republicans coming up to organize.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Obama had that huge edge in 2008 in that arena. We'll see if the Democrats catch up, but it's good to keep an eye on. When we come back, the ghost of one of Washington's bittersweet showdowns in the past 20 years is rattling chains among both political parties and both sexes tonight. Next, Senator Orrin Hatch joins us to talk about why Justice Clarence Thomas' wife called Anita Hill to ask for an apology.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: It's been 19 years since Clarence Thomas was confirmed to the Supreme Court after a confirmation process that captured the nation's imagination in part because law professor Anita Hill alleged sexual harassment. Clarence Thomas responded that he thought he was being held up in an electronic lynching. So why, why 19 years later would Thomas' wife Ginni dredge it all back up?

As you no doubt heard today she recently left a message on Hill's voice mail asking for an apology, which Hill says she has no intention of making because she stands by her testimony. We invited Ginni Thomas to be our guest tonight, but she declined, with us though from Capital Hill, Senator Orrin Hatch, Republican from Utah and a Clarence Thomas supporter.

In Miami, Patricia Ireland, who at the time was president of the National Organization for Women, now again during those Thomas confirmation hearings. In New York, our senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin and CNN senior correspondent Joe Johns who has covered these issues is with us here.

Senator Hatch, I want to go to you first. I know you're a Thomas supporter. Many of the people are asking why. They understand this is tough personally for Ginni Thomas and for Clarence Thomas, but why now bring this up? And I want to read you the voice mail that Ginni Thomas left on Anita Hill's voicemail at Brandeis University at 7:31 a.m. on October 9th, a couple of weeks ago. "Good morning, Anita Hill, it's Ginni Thomas. I just wanted to reach across the airwaves and the years and ask you to consider something. I would love you to consider an apology some time and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband. So give it some thought and certainly pray about this and come to understand why you did what you did. OK, have a good day."

Why now Senator Hatch? What do you think the motive of that is?

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: Well I think Ginni Thomas and Clarence Thomas they're two of the most honest people I've ever met. They're both really, really good people. Very Christian people. They're people who do what they do and say what they say and do it in honor. And I think probably this has grated on Ginni all these years and I think she was hoping Anita Hill would finally admit what she said was wrong. I can tell you a lot about that and why I'm so strongly in favor of Clarence Thomas.

KING: You believe, Senator, to this day, you believe Anita Hill was lying, exaggerating? What do you believe?

HATCH: The toughest witness to cross examine is somebody who is absolutely wrong but believes they're right. I think Anita Hill made an excellent witness but I also know Clarence Thomas and I know Ginni Thomas. By the way, when I heard the -- this whole thing was outed by a staffer of one of the Democrat senators. It was a violation of law to do this. Because Anita Hill did not want to testify and that's why she was not called.

KING: I don't want to go back to that. I do want to focus on the question at hand.

HATCH: Let me get to it because this is all important. What happened was, is that I called Clarence and I said, Clarence, any truth to this? Now, I know Clarence very well. I know if there had been he would have said, yeah, I did that, but he didn't, he said no, I can't understand why she would do this. I was her mentor. I helped her. He said, I did promote somebody over her. He said, that's the only explanation I can give. Just think about it. If you put the worst twist, the worst spin, on what she accused Clarence Thomas of, you'd have to say he used inappropriate language. Now, he didn't that but she believed it --

KING: Let me bring Patricia Ireland into the conversation. Do you view it that way, Miss Ireland? I want to read Anita Hill's statement to CNN on this. She said, I believe the call was inappropriate. I have no intention of apologizing because I testified truthfully about my experience and I stand by that testimony.

PATRICIA IRELAND, FORMER PRES., NATL. ORGANIZATION FOR WOMEN: Well, I have to say that it is just bizarre that Miss Thomas would make this call. And like her being a tea partier, I think this bizarre behavior is going to reflect in a way that hurts the credibility of Justice Thomas as being an impartial or, shall I say, fair and balanced member of the Supreme Court. In this close to the elections, I wonder if it might help remind some voters why it's so important who we elect to the U.S. Senate to vote on things like nominations to the court and elsewhere. I think it is inexplicable and it doesn't surprise me at all that professor hill thought it was somebody's bad joke and referred it to security.

KING: I want to bring Jeff Toobin in. first I want to say, Miss Ireland, you said it's bizarre, like her involvement in the tea party. Most people involved in the tea party whether you agree or disagree with their politics are Americans who are exercising their first amendment rights. I do think it is a question of whether the spouse of a Supreme Court justice should be involved in overt political activity. That's a debate we can have. But just joining the tea party, whatever you think of their views, they have every right to do that. They're exercising their rights.

IRELAND: No, I said like her -- excuse me, but you misquoted me. What I said was "like her being a tea partier, this will hurt Justice Thomas' credibility."

KING: Okay if that's your point, I apologize. Jeff, come in on that point. Senator, I'll get back to you in just one second. Jeff come in on that point. Because it is unusual -- now, look, she's married to a prominent person. Hillary Clinton was married to a prominent person. He was the president of the United States. Michelle Obama's married to a prominent person, the president of the United States. Political spouses have this difficulty, if they're accomplished professionals, and Ginni Thomas was involved in politics. Where is the line?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I don't think Ginni Thomas has crossed the line here at all. She was a political activist, as you point out, before she even met Clarence Thomas. But they are a team. They believe the same things. They fight for the same things in different forms. But Clarence Thomas and Ginni Thomas are both committed to a conservative agenda, and they are acting on it every day in their respective jobs. That's what they do. It's not illegal. But it is also what they do.

KING: Joe, come into this, I also want to read a statement that Tony Perkins of the conservative Family Research Council who I should note, in about an hour, will be hosting a web seminar with Ginni Thomas to talk about spending and government issues and the elections this year. I don't suspect they're going to talk much about this. He gave us this statement. "Isn't this what the feminist movement was all about? Feminists hold up Jill Biden, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Hillary Clinton as spouses who paved the way for other women. Even though Thomas is a conservative, she still has the same constitutional rights to engage in the political process." I don't think anyone disputes that. The question is, she's involved in a group, liberty central, it's a 501-c which is complicated for a lot of people but it's one of these organizations that raises money, has tax exempt status. Some ask the question, aren't those very issues going to come before the court and should Justice Thomas maybe have to recuse himself?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: That's a relevant question. It's the kind of thing that's an offshoot of all this. The nucleus of this whole thing is a little bit of anger and an unresolved issue. Clarence Thomas really, to this day, is still viewed, through the prism of those confirmation hearings that were so controversial. And he is reviled on the left and revered on the right. So these are things that have just never been resolved. As far as the 501 and, you know, corollary issues, there's a much broader picture out there that will evolve a lot more.

KING: I want to get back to Pat Ireland and then Senator Hatch. When I read this, it was breaking last night and I read it and your mind starts thinking, why is this coming up now, what is the motivation? We're not involved. This is somebody's life, somebody's marriage. But just what went through your mind when you heard it?

IRELAND: I did think it was awkward, to say the least. I was reminded, of course, of the huge outpouring of women telling their own stories of sexual harassment at the time of those confirmation hearings. Whether you believed Anita Hill or didn't, it was a cultural watershed with women, many of them like Anita Hill who were reluctant to tell their stories, suddenly felt free to tell their stories, and I think it helped change the culture against sexual harassment. Again, no matter what you think of the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill confrontation, I think it was significant, and that's what came through my mind.

KING: Senator Hatch, a final thought for you. As you give it, could you weigh in on the question of -- she has every right as a citizen to have political activity but is there a line sometimes where it puts the justice in a tough spot maybe of having to consider recusal?

HATCH: Both of them know what the line is and Clarence Thomas is very careful about meeting strict judicial standards. He's a totally honest man. I haven't met anybody I'd rate any higher than Clarence Thomas. When I called him and said, did you do this? He said, no, sir. I know, if he had, he would have said, yes, I did those things. You look at what happened in the past, my gosh, Clarence Thomas, you put the worst spin on it, you'd have to say it was inappropriate language. It wasn't true the accusation against him, but look at what's happened in this town since. I've got to say, I wish our friends on the feminist side and on the Democratic side would find as much fault with those who have gone way beyond any accusation that was made to Clarence Thomas, but yet find so much fault with Ginni Thomas because she's a conservative. And to bring up the tea party, that's only done to smear her, I'm convinced of that.

Look, I was there. I know this more intimately than almost anybody. I can tell you Clarence Thomas was telling the truth. I believe that Anita Hill was an excellent witness. I think she actually believed and talked herself into believing what she said. There was sexual harasser at that time according to the sources I had and he was her supervisor, he just wasn't Clarence Thomas. I think she transposed that to where she believed it because she was outed by the feminist women at that time and she couldn't change her mind after -- she couldn't change her tune. And that's what happened. I wish her well. I hope that she does a good job up there. And it's just the way it is. But don't smear Clarence Thomas and above all don't smear his wife, Ginni. She's a really good person.

KING: Senator Hatch, appreciate your time. I don't want to relitigate 20 years ago but I appreciate your time talking about the issues at hand tonight. Patricia Ireland, Jeffrey Toobin, Joe Johns as well.

When we come back, Senator Lisa Murkowski is the Republican incumbent senator in Alaska. When you vote on Election Day, her name won't be on the ballot. She's still running. You'll have to write her in. Lisa Murkowski joins us just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back. I want to take a quick moment to correct a mistake we made in one of our segments last night. We talked about a speech by former Congresswoman Kerry Meek during the Clinton impeachment debates. The video we showed, however, was not Meek but one of her colleagues Congresswoman Corrine Brown also of Florida. On that day, both congresswomen gave very similar speeches and we pulled the wrong tape from the library. I apologize for that error.

Let's check in with Joe Johns for latest political news you need to know right now.

JOHNS: John, we're getting more details on an important story just in to CNN just minutes ago. A federal appeals court brought back the enforcement of don't ask, don't tell, the policy that bars gays and lesbians from openly serving in the military. The court says it's temporary while considering the Obama administration's appeal of a lower court ruling declaring don't ask, don't tell unconstitutional. A new statement from the log cabin Republican says it's disappointed with today's ruling but views it as a minor setback. So a lot of back and forth there in that court case John.

KING: That one's going to continue. Joe, just yesterday, the Pentagon said if you're a gay or lesbian American, feel free to enlist, feel free to be open about your sexuality. Now this is a never mind of sorts as this goes through, very controversial. Congress will have to deal with this as well.

Next, when we come back, the election just ahead and the candidate who is tied for the lead in Alaska's Senate race but you won't find her name on the ballot.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Our brand-new poll just out tonight shows Senator Lisa Murkowski has a realistic shot at making history. She and Republican Joe Miller are tied at 37 percent among Alaska's likely voters with Democrat Scott McAdams far behind. A lot of things have to go right, if not perfect, for Murkowski to become the first write-in candidate to win a Senate seat since Strom Thurmond did it in 1954. The senator is in Fairbanks tonight and with us to go one on one.

Senator, let me start there. This poll is remarkable. It shows you as a write-in candidate at 37/37. You know, I'm sure all your advisers tell you, a number is one thing. It's tough when people have to not only fill in that little circle and spell out your name, how do you get from a dead heat today to victory on Election Day?

SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R), ALASKA: Well, let me tell you, you tell Alaskans that we can't do something and, by golly, our backbone just gets a little bit stiffer and we say, of course we can. You don't think that we can't fill in an oval and write in a name? So we're doing things a little bit perhaps out of the box, out of the norm. We've got little arm bracelets that tell you, fill it in, write it in, fill in the oval, write in Murkowski, here's how it's spelled. Yes, we can do this. We can write the book on how to run a successful write-in campaign for the United States Senate. We're doing it today. People across the state, people across the country now, are waking up and saying, yes, she can do this. Alaska is making this happen.

KING: Clearly people who don't want you to do this are taking notice. Among those is one of your colleagues in the United States Senate, Jim DeMint. He has a conservative pack. He supports Miller, the Republican nominee. Senator DeMint's pack is running an ad. You had said Joe Miller is out of the mainstream and he's extreme. Jim DeMint's ad makes the same case about you. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There are only three Senate candidates but only one choice to defend the unborn. Republican Joe Miller is pro- life and the only candidate pledged to oppose taxpayer funding for abortion. Scott McAdams and Lisa Murkowski are pro-abortion and they refuse to not use your taxes to pay for it. That's extreme.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: What do you make of the ad? In a campaign, this is an election about spending, taxes, the reach of the role of the government in Washington, D.C. is the abortion issue going to be decisive in Alaska?

MURKOWSKI: Well, I tell you, first of all, Jim DeMint know, as does Joe Miller know, that I have always drawn the line on federal funding for abortions. So Joe has misconstrued my record here in Alaska. The fact that Jim DeMint from South Carolina is playing in this race in Alaska -- I think Alaskans are looking at that and saying, you know what, this is our state, this is our race, we will be the ones who chooses who will represent us in Washington, D.C. so, you know, it is an issue that is out there. Jim DeMint is making it an issue. But I think most people in Alaska as in the rest of the country, they're focused on jobs, on what's going on with the economy. They're focused on who can deliver for our state those things that we need for the next ten years out. And further. That's where the focus of Alaskans is.

KING: You have a new ad making that case that include ace testimonial from the former Senator Ted Stevens. It was taped I believe about 10 days before Senator Stevens' tragic death. I asked your opponent about that earlier in the week. While he paid tribute to Stevens and his service to Alaska, he also said this -- (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE MILLER (R), ALASKA SENATE CANDIDATE: I think Alaskans recognize that the past era, that really is coming to an end. We can see that in the fiscal instability of the country. But we also know as Alaskans we have the capacity within the state to create jobs, resource, development, getting the federal government out of the regulatory burden that has really stopped that development, tax reform, making sure Obama care doesn't get passed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: His point there was essentially that elect Lisa Murkowski and what you get is more earmarks, more bridges to nowhere, and that has to change.

MURKOWSKI: What you get when you elect Lisa Murkowski is you get somebody who builds on that legacy that Ted Stevens built for our state for 40 years that continues on that path, that trajectory, to helping a young state like Alaska build us out. We've only been a state for 50 years. We do not have the transportation infrastructure that all you in the lower 48 have. We don't have energy grids that tie us in. We're -- we pay the highest energy of any state in the nation. So when we ask for assistance with connection, with transmission grids, when we work to develop a low-cost energy solution for our state, somehow or another, that's all pork now. Well, the rest of the country has enjoyed the benefits for a period of 100 years-plus. Alaska is still continuing. What I am delivering to Alaska is a future that holds hope and opportunity for jobs, for people in this state. What Joe Miller is offering the people of Alaska is this glass half full. The gloom and doom. You know, we're starting all over again. We're on the brink of bankruptcy. We need to be able to provide those opportunities for the people in this state through resource development. Well, I'm the one that's the most senior member on the energy committee who can help to facilitate these policies that will allow us to have the jobs --

KING: Let me sneak this in quickly in closing. The former governor Sarah Palin who opposes your candidacy and supports Miller gave an interview to one of our producers Shannon Travis the other day in which she said essentially if the Republicans ignore the message of the tea party, quote, the GOP is through. By extension, you could argue that you are ignoring the message of the tea party. That you were defeated in the primary and you should have gone away. Do you see a civil war in the party?

MURKOWSKI: First of all, I think it's important to recognize that many of the issues that are brought up by those in the tea party, the issue of pushing back against government overregulation, how we deal with debt and spending -- these are issues that we should all be focused on, Republicans, Democrats, tea parties, non-tea parties. So let's make sure we're in agreement there. I think what is important is how you achieve the ends here. When we're talking about reducing spending, let's not deceive people into thinking if you eliminate earmarks, all of a sudden, we will not be operating at a deficit. We've got to be more realistic when it comes to dealing with our entitlements and that level of spending. But right now there's a lot of very simplistic solutions out there to some very difficult and complex problems that we face as a state and as a nation. I want to be able to deal with those in a manner that is realistic, pragmatic, thoughtful, reaches across the lines, works to build consensus. Consensus should not be a dirty word in the political process. And yet there is some who believe we should never be reaching across the aisle. I couldn't disagree more.

KING: Senator Lisa Murkowski is the write in candidate for Alaska Senate. We will check in again over the next 13 days. Senator, appreciate your time tonight.

MURKOWSKI: Thank you. Thanks for having me on.

KING: Thank you.

What's your favorite constitutional amendment? Pete on the street's exploring that question. He's with us next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We, the people. You've heard that before. But do you know where it's from? For that, we bring in our own man of the people, our offbeat reporter Pete Dominick. Our constitutional law expert Pete Dominick.

PETE DOMINICK, OFFBEAT REPORTER: That's right. I just downloaded, John King, my constitutional app on my phone. Yesterday, the whole kerfuffle in Delaware over the constitution made me wonder what people know about the constitution. Look at this.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DOMINICK: Religion, the word religion appears in the first amendment. What does it say about religion?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It doesn't.

DOMINICK: It doesn't say anything about religion in the first amendment?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It does not say anything about religion.

DOMINICK: That means you are eligible to be a senator in Delaware.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I guess the first one.

DOMINICK: The first one, which is what? Why do you like that one?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Freedom of speech.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The second.

DOMINICK: Second amendment. So are you carrying? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not right now.

DOMINICK: But you do have a bottle of water.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have a bottle of water.

DOMINICK: The constitution doesn't say anything about the right to bear water.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fifth.

DOMINICK: Fifth amendment. Basically you don't want to talk to me?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You got it.

DOMINICK: Fair enough.

Let's look at the amendment that says a grown man should not wear corduroy sport coat. Where is that? What's not your favorite amendment?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The second amendment.

DOMINICK: You're not a big gun guy? Let me frisk you. All right, all right. Just want to make sure you're not being hypocritical. The second amendment is misunderstood.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The second amendment.

DOMINICK: Why?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because it backs up the first amendment.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, I love -- I worship JOHN KING USA.

DOMINICK: You have the right to worship John King.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I sure do.

DOMINICK: I like the part of the constitution that says the New York Jets have the right to crush the Patriots.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DOMINICK: Sorry about the freight Patriots comment. We are starting a new religion, we meet on Saturday nights. I hope you'll come.

KING: My Patriots will get your Jets next time. What's easier to spell, kerfuffle or Murkowski?

DOMINICK: Well I hope Murkowski if they want her to win there. I hope they don't put kerfuffle in the write in.

KING: That would be a tough one. Pete Dominick. I feel like Jon Stewart saying our senior constitutional expert Pete Dominick.

DOMINICK: I got an app for that.

KING: It's good to know there's an app for that. We'll see you tomorrow night. "PARKER SPITZER" starts right now.