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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

It's A Dead Heat; Battleground: Ohio; Battleground: Florida; Showdown In The Sunshine State; 1.5 Million Customers Still Without Power; Pittsburgh Zoo Tragedy; Trouble From Above; Buff It Out; Interview with Sen. Rob Portman

Aired November 5, 2012 - 06:00   ET

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


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Our special coverage begins right now.

We start with a little good news this morning. In 24 hours, it will all be done. All the talking will be done and the 17-month-long battle for the White House will be in the hands of the American people.

It has come down to this a brand new CNN/ORC poll of likely voters has Mitt Romney and President Obama in a dead heat at 49 percent apiece. Both candidates have been targeting those critical battleground states on this final full day of campaigning.

The president accompanied by rocker Bruce Springsteen. He's holding rallies in Madison, Wisconsin, and Columbus, Ohio and Des Moines, Iowa today. Governor Romney has events in Sanford, Florida, Lynchburg and Fairfax, Virginia, in Columbus, Ohio, and in Manchester, New Hampshire.

It wouldn't be a presidential election without some kind of legal snafu in the state of Florida. The state's Democratic Party is now suing to extend early voting hours with voters reporting lines of up to seven hours long at some South Florida polling stations.

We have CNN reporters all across all of the battleground states this morning to cover this race that appears to be headed for a photo finish. John Berman's been following that for us. Good morning.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Soledad. Let's start in a state many people think will decide this election, Ohio. President Obama and Mitt Romney, as you said, both hold rallies there today. The latest CNN/ORC poll has the president with a three-point lead in the buckeye state.

CNN's Martin Savidge is live in Cleveland for us this morning. Hi, Martin.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. Let's talk about early voting because they have been early voting in the state of Ohio since October 2nd. We are well into November and there's early voting again today.

The early voting could actually pay off very much in the favor of President Obama. Take a look at the numbers that CNN has gathered in the latest polling. And it has to do with those people who have either early voted already, or say they plan to early vote, and right now it's all in favor of President Obama that breakdown, 63 percent in favor of the president with 35 percent in favor of Mitt Romney.

But then, go to Election Day. Ask with the same poll who and how are you going to vote on Election Day and the numbers go greatly in favor of Governor Romney. They breakdown like this, 55 percent to the governor and it would be 42 percent to President Obama.

As you pointed out, both candidates were in the state yesterday. What do you know? Both candidates are going to be back in the state today. And both of them are going to be in the same city, Columbus, Ohio.

President Obama will be first with a rally that will take place this afternoon. You mentioned Bruce Springsteen. He'll be there with Jay- Z. Romney will be there tonight -- John.

BERMAN: All right, thanks, Martin Savidge in Cleveland where the early vote is so important is, too, in Florida. Let's go there, a state critical especially to Mitt Romney's chances. He holds the first of five rallies on this final day of campaigning today.

The latest polls there have some mixed results, some showing Mitt Romney with the lead, some showing the president on top. I'm joined now by CNN's John Zarrella. He is in Plantation, Florida. Hi, John.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, John. That's right. Mitt Romney with the slimmest of leads in that latest CNN/ORC poll, just one percentage point, 50 percent to 49 percent over the president. Florida is once again basically a toss-up state.

Now, the president did come to Florida yesterday. He was in Hollywood, Florida, at Macarthur High School. He spoke for about 20, 24 minutes, to 23,000 people, who had gathered for the rally there, and had spent many hours waiting to see the president show up for that rally down here in Hollywood, Florida.

Broward County one of the key, key counties the president must carry with huge numbers. Now, Mitt Romney did not come to Florida yesterday, but he will be here today. And absentee ballots to be brought in, in Miami-Dade County yesterday because of the enormous lines when early voting ended on Saturday, but it was a mess in Miami- Dade.

They opened then they closed because of printer problems then opened again. And the lines were once again hugely long there in Miami-Dade County, and the folks will once again today be allowed, John, to go ahead and fill out absentee ballots at the supervisor's office in Miami-Dade -- John.

BERMAN: All right, thanks so much, John Zarrella. It would not be an election without problems in Florida.

Finally now to Colorado where the race is surprise, surprise, to close to call. President Obama and Mitt Romney held rallies there this weekend. The latest CNN/ORC poll has the president on top 50 percent to 48 percent. Ed Lavandera is on the ground in Denver this morning. Hi, Ed.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, good morning, John. Well, you know, we talk to a lot of people here in Colorado, and they -- a lot of people out here think as things start to play out on the East Coast in states like Florida, Virginia, and Ohio, depending on how things shake out there, that Colorado and its nine electoral votes could be a state that plays a significant role in the outcome of this presidential election.

As you mentioned, this race very close here. A lot of the candidates and both campaigns at this point are focusing on turning out the vote in these key swing counties that surround the city of Denver. That's where they find the majority of the swing voters and many political analysts here in the state say those are the voters that will in the end determine this election.

Where it all boils down to the economy and the question of whether or not this turnaround in the economy is improving faster than -- as it should be, in fact, when you look at unemployment rates here in the state of Colorado, back in January of 2009, when President Obama took office, it was 6.6 percent.

In 2010, it jumped as high as 9 percent, but it is now in the last few months dipped down to 8 percent. Just above the national average. So that's what the question is the voters will decide here whether or not the economy is improving fast enough -- John.

BERMAN: All right, thanks so much Ed Lavandera in Denver, Colorado. At the bottom of the hour, we'll take you to two other battleground states, Nevada and Wisconsin. The story in every battleground, Soledad, it's close, it's close, its close.

O'BRIEN: One of the reasons to get through this on Tuesday and move on to Wednesday. All right, John Berman, thank you.

Let's go back to that hotly contested battleground state of Florida. We showed you the latest "Miami Herald" poll has Governor Mitt Romney leading in the sunshine state by six points.

Latest "Wall Street Journal" poll, though, has President Obama ahead by two. Mario Diaz-Balart is a Republican congressman from Florida. He serves on the Romney Campaign Hispanic Steering Committee. It's nice to see you again, sir. Thank you for talking with us.

REP. MARIO DIAZ-BALART, (R) FLORIDA: Good to see you.

O'BRIEN: Thank you. Appreciate that. In spite of that first poll that I showed you the Obama campaign has said they're optimistic about their chances in Florida. Let me play for you a little bit of what David Axelrod, he's the campaign senior adviser as you well know, this is what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID AXELROD, OBAMA CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER: We feel very competitive in the state of Florida. There've been a spate of -- in fact, in all of these battleground state polls that have come out in the last 48 hours we, I think we're ahead in 90 percent of them, including Florida.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: So he's sounding very happy about Florida. How do you think Florida is going to go?

DIAZ-BALART: Look, it's going to be close. You know, I -- I keep hearing about all these polls. The only poll obviously that matters is the last one, the one that's counted after all the votes are cast.

I think it's going to be close. But I do feel, out there, that Governor Romney's doing well and I'll tell you why, you do not see that passion that Obama had in 2008. You don't see turnout, you don't see the passion that was there for President Obama in 2008.

I think part of the reason, a big part of the reason, is the fact that the economy is frankly struggling. And you just saw that unemployment picked up, again, it's worse than it was when the president took office. Therefore, I think the passion just frankly isn't there for him.

O'BRIEN: You serve on this steering committee, Hispanic Steering Committee for the Romney campaign. As I mentioned, where you don't see the passion if you look at, for example, a Pew Research poll of likely Latino voters, President Obama has 66 percent of that vote, Governor Romney at 27 percent.

Last time you and I spoke where were we? I can't remember where we were -- at the DNC. We were at the DNC together. We've been on the road a lot. And you know you talked about how this could be problematic down the road if something like these numbers that we're seeing, that's a problem for the GOP.

DIAZ-BALART: I think long-term it could be, obviously. I think you're going to see, by the way, in the swing states where the entire campaign is focused, I think you're going to see the Hispanic numbers getting much better for Governor Romney.

However, it's an issue that we still have to deal with long-term. The Republican Party has to deal with long-term. Democrats and the president have been very good with their rhetoric. Unfortunately their results haven't been great because if you look at, for example, increase in poverty among Hispanics.

Hispanic children now make the largest group of children in poverty. So, the policies haven't been great, the rhetoric by the Democrats has been much better. The policies on the Republican side have been much better for Hispanics, for minorities, but the rhetoric, unfortunately, has not.

O'BRIEN: Mario Diaz-Balart joining us this morning, Republican congressman from Florida and a Romney campaign surrogate and also a member of the Romney Hispanic Steering Committee. It's nice to see you. Thank you for talking with us this morning. It's always great to talk to up.

DIAZ-BALART: Good morning, take care of yourself.

O'BRIEN: Thank you. Appreciate that. Let's get right back to Zoraida for a look at some other stories making news today. Hi, Z.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you, Soledad. Good morning, to you. One week after Superstorm Sandy slammed into the East Coast, more than 1.5 million power customers in 15 states are still in the dark this morning.

At least 115 deaths, as well, are blamed on that storm. Along New Jersey's devastated coastline, cleanup is under way. But it is a long road ahead. Bulldozers are being used to haul away piles of debris.

Housing is a major issue in New Jersey and in New York because of damage, lack of power, and now the falling temperatures. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said they are trying to come up with a plan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, (I) NEW YORK: The magnitude of the problem is we think we could have something between 30,000 and 40,000 people that we're going to have to find housing for. We are working on it. We will continue to get this done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: So this was great to see, hundreds of would-be New York City marathoners volunteered yesterday to help distribute aid to victims of Sandy in Staten Island. Yesterday's planned marathon was canceled due to the impact of the storm. That was great of them to do that.

And a 2-year-old boy died Sunday at the Pittsburgh zoo after being mauled by a pack of rare African painted dogs. The toddler was visiting the zoo with his mother and friends when he fell 14 feet off a deck right into the exhibit where 11 of the painted dogs were housed.

A zoo keeper was able to quickly clear away seven of the dogs. A police officer shot another one, but it was just too late to save that little boy.

NASCAR driver Kevin Harvick found himself with a dented car before he even got behind the wheel on Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway. A sky diver came down a little too close to Harvick's parked number 29 Chevy during prerace ceremonies.

The sky diver was fine. But a sandbag that was attached to his Texas flag dinged up the car, forcing 30 minutes of prerace repairs before the 29 crew. Harvick went on to finish ninth in the AAA Texas 500.

And in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, "Saturday Night Live" is spoofing New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his tepid endorsement of President Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I also want to thank President Obama for his fast and efficient assistance in our time of need while also reminding him we do not want him to come here. Your motorcade causes traffic headaches. I endorse you for president, but if you come here, I will have you arrested.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: What can I say -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right, Zoraida, thank you.

Coming up next, we're going to take a closer look at those battleground states and which side polls in a dead heat right now. We're back right after this. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching our special coverage, live from Washington, D.C. We're focusing on the election, of course.

Let's get right back to Ana Navarro. She's a Republican strategist. She was a national Hispanic chair for the Huntsman and McCain campaigns.

Roland Martin is with her, host of "Washington Watch with Roland Martin" on TV One.

ANA NAVARRO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Good morning.

(CROSSTALK)

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Good morning.

O'BRIEN: I'm ready to jump in and break it up if something happens.

Let's start with the poll numbers. And let's talk about Ohio, because it seems like everybody's talking about Ohio. Can we put the poll numbers up on the screen?

If you look at the Ohio polling -- yes, there we go. Obama, 50 percent, Mitt Romney, 47 percent. Likely voters, choice for president. This is a CNN/ORC poll.

Do all roads, Roland, lead through Ohio for Governor Romney?

MARTIN: No, not necessarily, because again, I think other states are also critical. You look at the competition in Iowa, you look at New Hampshire, you look at North Carolina. Obviously, Ohio makes it easier. But Virginia, 13 Electoral College votes. Nevada is six.

So, I think we can't negate those other states. Both campaigns have looked at multiple ways to get to 270.

It's not just all about Ohio. You can lose Ohio, pick up other states, and still win the presidency.

O'BRIEN: Earlier, Zoraida was mentioning Latinos in Ohio, which I have to say, we almost never talk about the Latino -- there are Latinos in Ohio.

MARTIN: More than my folks in Iowa.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: A small number.

So, what will they -- do they really have the weight to swing this election one way or the other?

NAVARRO: I think they could be very significant, maybe not in Ohio. But I think they will be very significant in places like Colorado, Florida, Nevada, Virginia. We have a lot of Central Americans now living in the tri-state area in Virginia.

I think they can be, you know, that's where -- but listen, Soledad. All the polls are tied, anything can make a difference. Anything can make a difference. And, you know, that's what we've got to keep in mind.

So, that's why this get out the vote effort this last minute is so important. Not all roads go through Ohio. But most roads go through Ohio.

What you're seeing in these last few days, the campaigns try to expand that map. You're seeing them all of a sudden fighting over Pennsylvania, Iowa, space that wouldn't be expecting -- Minnesota -- to be talking about, we would not have thought of talking about them a month ago. We're talking about them today.

O'BRIEN: Is it a turnout game, John Berman?

BERMAN: Well, obviously, it's always a turnout game. The side that wins always gets the most votes, turnout always matters. But when you talk about turnout, you always want to talk about who had the more efficient machine, who can get most of the voters on the fence, the uncertain voters out.

And there are a lot of people who have been saying over the last four years the Obama campaign never stopped campaigning. So in states like Ohio and Virginia, they've been organizing not just four years, really for five years, since the primaries in 2007.

O'BRIEN: Zoraida, do you think, Zoraida, that the October surprise was, in fact, hurricane Sandy?

SAMBOLIN: Oh, I absolutely do. We were talking about that earlier, what were the key moments, the key significant moments during this race. And when hurricane Sandy first happened, we said, will this be a defining moment for those undecideds, perhaps? The folks that were waiting for something, to see some bipartisan support, right? I think that that really changed this election dramatically. Like the first debate.

NAVARRO: It took an act of God to get them to decide.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: I think the auto bailout is really a big story in Ohio as well and how that's been played by both campaigns. And I know on our exit polling, we're going to be asking people in Ohio specifically, (INAUDIBLE) your family, do you support the bailout?

I think there's a lot of anxiety about what happened in the auto industry, how it happened, and who supported the auto industry more. I think that will be a very -- that will be something that's different in Ohio than the rest --

MARTIN: And that Jeep ad was -- look, Romney folks focused on that Jeep ad. We had so many papers across Ohio slamming him saying it was false. That's the last thing you want a week out.

NAVARRO: Even though I'm not sure it ever aired.

MARTIN: But it got a lot of conversation, trust me. I think they messed up with that one, because you already in a tenuous position anyway, you simply made it more difficult.

O'BRIEN: We've got pictures of that Jeep ad and eventually the head of G.M. would come out and say that it was basically not true, and also the head of Fiat as well.

MARTIN: But again, you had all these Ohio papers slamming him, as well. You don't want that a week out.

O'BRIEN: All right. Well, thank you, guys. Appreciate that.

Frustration at the gas pump is something else we're talking about this morning. And that frustration is even louder in the wake of hurricane Sandy. Lines that are hours long for gas in some of the hardest-hit areas.

Christine is going to join us to talk about -- if there's so much gas why is everybody struggling to get it? She explains that up next. Back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: And welcome back. I'm Christine Romans, minding your business this morning.

The lines are still very long. Day six of a crippling gas problem in the Northeast -- a problem that is not a problem of gas shortage, gasoline shortage, but actually the access to the pumps. The pumps powered by electricity. That's a problem. Also you had some problems in New York and New Jersey where the gas barges offload. Despite the assurances we've been getting from politicians that this is going to ease up, it has not eased up. This is now day six. Patience is very thin. Some analysts say it's also a psychological issue because people need gas, they look around and they see these lines, they get even more concerned, and get in line even if they don't have to.

But, still, thousands of gas stations are still closed. The federal government is going to bring in 12 million gallons of unleaded gas to the hard-hit areas in New Jersey. They're setting up a system linking your license plate number to the day gas is pumped. It's the odd/even system. It depends on the day.

Some Newark, New Jersey, residents are waiting four to five hours to fill up cars with gas cans. You see those gas cans? That's because people are trying to power their generators. It's very cold, below freezing last night. And people are trying to keep their -- their homes warm. Also people are trying to use gasoline to keep their chainsaws going because they're still trying to clean up after Superstorm Sandy. A lot of people using Twitter and online devices to try to help each other and share where there is gas.

But still, Soledad, this is still a problem six days after landfall of Superstorm Sandy. And it's a real problem for the politicians who are trying to figure out how to ease these lines.

O'BRIEN: And absolutely miserable for the folks who are trying to get gas.

ROMANS: Yes.

O'BRIEN: All right. Christine, thank you.

Coming up next, we're going to take you to two more critical battleground states. The state of Nevada where hundreds of thousands of people have already voted early, and the state of Wisconsin, which has voted Democratic since 1984. But Republicans say they're hoping they can take it back. That's ahead.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody.

Just one more day of campaigning, one more day of those political commercials, then, America decides.

Welcome back. You're watching CNN's special live election coverage. The battle for the White House couldn't be any closer than it is in the final hours of this bruising marathon race.

Take a look at the numbers. A brand-new CNN/ORC poll of likely voters have Mitt Romney and President Obama in a dead heat at 49 percent apiece.

Today, both candidates are crisscrossing the crucial swing states that will decide the election.

The president accompanied by Bruce Springsteen, holding rallies today in Madison, Wisconsin, in Columbus, Ohio, in Des Moines, Iowa.

Governor Romney has events in Sanford, Florida, in Lynchburg and Fairfax, Virginia, in Columbus, Ohio, and in Manchester, New Hampshire.

In New Jersey, and New York, Superstorm Sandy has election officials, scrambling trying to relocate polling stations and get generators to other places. Not clear just how much the storm's aftermath will impact voter turnout.

Meanwhile, "Daily News", "Newsday", two of New York's newspapers that backed President Obama in 2008, are now endorsing Governor Romney. "Newsday's" editorial board writes this, "Had Barack Obama done the job of president with the same passion and vision he displayed in seeking it, he would likely deserve another term. He did not."

We've got a packed 2 1/2 hours ahead for you this morning. Among our guests: Ohio Senator Rob Portman, Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen, Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey, Arizona Senator John McCain, former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, Obama campaign deputy manager Stephanie Cutter and former White House press secretary Bill Burton, all joining us this morning on our special election edition.

Both campaigns had multiple rallies across the swing states today and John Berman is following that for us this morning. Hey, John.

BERMAN: Hey, Soledad. I think one of the most interesting states in the country is Nevada with its six electoral votes, one of the battlegrounds targeted by both the Obama and the Romney campaign. It's a place where hundreds of thousands of people have already cast their ballots.

My friend, CNN's Miguel Marquez, is on the Vegas Strip this morning. Good morning, Miguel.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is a very, very interesting place here, John. Record numbers of early voters here in Nevada.

And, you know, the president is very close with Romney for some time, but it seems to be breaking out a little bit. "The Las Vegas Journal Review" which endorsed Romney actually has the president up by four points. "USA Today" has the president up by seven points here.

And those early voters, 44 percent Democrats requested ballots as opposed to 37 percent of Republicans. So things are looking up for the president. It seems his organization here in the state seems to be paying off.

The president and Romney have been through this state probably a dozen times each. Paul Ryan is up in Washoe County in the northwest corner of the state today, so they are still working very hard for this state. People are out canvassing as well. Now that early voting is done, there are huge numbers of people out for both campaigns knocking on doors, trying to convince those last few percentages of voters to come out and to vote.

At this point, as many as 70 percent, perhaps 80 percent of people may have voted in this state. So, by the time dawn breaks on Election Day, this thing may be over -- John.

BERMAN: So, Miguel, in Washoe County where you were last week, that seems to be fought to a tie in the early vote. But it's the margins in Clark County that has people buzzing today, right?

MARQUEZ: They are. It's a very big -- look, Clark County is Democratic. It's expected the Democrats would break loose there.

What the Republicans are saying, though, that a lot of those Democratic ballots requested are going to go to the Republicans, to Romney, and a lot of those independents that voted here are going to go to Romney, as well. And that's where they will make up the difference -- John.

BERMAN: That's what they need to have happen, that's for sure.

All right. Miguel Marquez live on the Vegas Strip this morning.

Now to Wisconsin, where President Obama holds the first of three rallies today. Now, Wisconsin has voted blue since all the way back in 1984 with Ronald Reagan. But it's almost always close, really close. John Kerry won by just 11,000 votes in 2004. Al Gore by less than 6,000 in 2000.

And the Romney campaign hopes that with native son Paul Ryan on the ticket, they can take it back.

Ted Rowlands is live in Milwaukee this morning. Good morning, Ted.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John.

The Romney/Ryan folks here on the ground in Wisconsin do acknowledge that they have an uphill battle. All of the polling has the president up. One poll has him up 8 percent.

But what the Republicans have going here is a very good ground game. That was established during the recall election earlier this year with Governor Scott Walker. They believe they're going to win the turnout game. I talked to Scott Walker yesterday at an event and they're very enthusiastic that they can take this state.

Now, on the other side of the coin, the Obama campaign not taking any chances. They are offering volunteers to come up from the state of Illinois to help them get out the vote, in return those folks will get a ticket to Tuesday night's election party in Chicago.

As you mentioned, the president will be here in Madison with Bruce Springsteen this morning. Paul Ryan will finish his long day of campaigning here in his home state at an event here in Milwaukee -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Ted Rowlands in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a state where a lot of the action is today. Thank you so much, Ted. One of the most important issues in every state in this election is clearly jobs.

And I'm here with Christine Romans at the magic wall to talk about sort of a historical perspective on unemployment.

ROMANS: Well, I'm looking at unemployment in this country since 2009, since the president took office. And you can see, the more orange it is, the worse the unemployment rate. This is the worst in the country, Nevada 11.8 percent. But the national average is 7.9 percent. And that's been getting a little bit better.

Now consider this, four presidents have run for a second term with the jobless rate above 7 percent -- four presidents since the Great Depression. Here's what they looked like. Before they ran for their second term, President Ford, when he was the last days of his campaign, 7.6 percent. President Carter, 7.5 percent. President Reagan, 7.3 percent. President George H.W. Bush 7.6 percent. And now, President Obama 7.9 percent.

Only one won re-election and that was Ronald Reagan. If Obama were to win re-election, he'd be only the second president to win with a jobless rate above 7 percent.

And his jobless rate also happens to be higher. So, what's really important here to remember John is that, you know, Ford's jobless rate was coming down from 9 percent but was still pretty high. Carter's very near the high. George H.W., very near the high.

President Obama and Ronald Reagan have something in common. In that the jobless rate has come down considerably from where it was at the peak of the jobless crisis.

Also you don't look at unemployment rates in isolation. Let's talk about stocks, because the stock market has done very well over the past four years. The S&P 500 is up 75 percent. NASDAQ up 107 percent. The Dow up 65 percent.

Super interesting to note these other factors that go into play. Not just the jobless rate, but a lot of people have been talking about how difficult -- how difficult historically, at least, it is to have such a high unemployment rate and win re-election. But this is down from 10 percent, in common with Ronald Reagan, who was also down from the --

BERMAN: Which is why the Obama team wants to talk about the direction because they want to be more like Ronald Reagan than Jimmy Carter.

ROMANS: The trend, not the raw numbers. That's right.

BERMAN: All right. Christine Romans, at the magic wall -- it really is magic.

All right. Thanks. I want to go over to Zoraida for some news then.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Thank you very much.

It is 35 minutes past the hour. It was one week ago today that Superstorm Sandy slammed into the East Coast. That storm is now blamed for at least 110 deaths in the United States. And this morning, more than 1.5 million people are -- power customers there -- are still in the dark.

With falling temperatures, housing is a major issue in all the devastated communities there. And the Red Cross reports that more than 10,000 people in nine states spent Saturday night in a shelter.

And now, there is a new worry. A nor'easter is in the forecast for the East Coast this week. The National Weather Service says the track and the timing of the storm is still a bit uncertain, but it warns that it could pack wind gusts above 45 miles per hour, spurring heavy rain or maybe even snow and cause coastal flooding and more beach erosion.

And today, a former Vatican employee, a 48-year-old computer programming analyst, goes on trial for his alleged role in a scandal involving stolen papal documents. Pope Benedict's top bodyguard and the pontiff's former butler are expected to take the stand. The former butler is now serving an 18-month prison sentence after being convicted last month of leaking the pope's private letters to an Italian journalist.

And with America less than two months from tumbling off the fiscal cliff, House Speaker John Boehner says a permanent fix from this lame duck Congress is not likely. In an exclusive interview with CNN, Boehner says the best we can hope for is something temporary.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R-OH) SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Lame duck Congresses aren't known for doing big things. And frankly, lame duck Congresses probably shouldn't do big things.

So I think the best you can hope for is some kind of a bridge. Some kind of a temporary pushback of the sequester, and then we have the debt limit right behind it in February.

So I would think that would be the best you could hope for. And even that is going to be very difficult to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Congress faces an end of the year deadline before drastic spending cuts kick in and tax breaks begin to expire, as well.

Sunday night football action, with last night's 19-13 victory over the Dallas Cowboys, the 8-0 Atlanta Falcons are the only undefeated team in the NFL. But this is no easy victory. The Falcons kept their perfect record on the strength of four field goals from Matt Bryant.

Are you a big football fan, Soledad?

O'BRIEN: No, I'm not. No, I'm not. But I support my husband who is a big football fan. So whatever -- whatever Brad likes, I fully support that.

Zoraida, thank you.

Still ahead this morning, a senator from the state that could prove to be the most important state in this election. Ohio Senator Rob Portman is our guest. That's right after this. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Just under 18 hours until Election Day. Welcome back to our special coverage coming to you live from Washington, D.C.

For the candidates, it comes down -- for many people -- to one word, Ohio. Both candidates are going to spend part of the day today in that state. They were there yesterday, as well.

There are 18 electoral votes up for grabs in Ohio. No Republican has won the presidency without winning the state of Ohio.

CNN's latest Ohio poll shows President Obama with a three-point lead, within the margin of error.

Rob Portman is a Republican senator from the state of Ohio. He played President Obama in Mitt Romney's debate prep. Nice to see you, sir. Thank you for talking with us. We certainly appreciate it.

SEN. ROB PORTMAN, (R) OHIO: Soledad, good to -- good to be on with you again.

O'BRIEN: Thank you.

Twenty-four hours left. Describe for me what the final strategy, the final push, is for the GOP?

PORTMAN: Well, it's twofold. One is to get our voters to the polls. And we're feeling like our grassroots this year is unprecedented. We've made more phone calls, gone door to door than ever before. In fact, we've knocked on 20 times more doors in all of 2008 already.

And then second is continuing to reach out to those voters who haven't decided yet, talk to them about the economy, and about the debt and deficit, and about the need for change.

And you know, I think the message that Mitt Romney's sending on is exactly the right one -- it's positive, it's uplifting. He's inspiring in the sense of saying we can do better.

And if we elect Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, we'll have a fresh start. We'll have the ability to put these policies in place to get the economy moving. But also to reach out to the other side and find common ground. So I feel pretty good about that.

O'BRIEN: We've been showing the polling in Ohio, and I'm curious, you were on the list, the short list, for people who could potentially be the V.P. pick and you ultimately weren't chosen. Do you think you'd be polling better in the state of Ohio if you happened to be veep pick?

PORTMAN: No, I think Paul Ryan has been great. I was with Paul yesterday in Mansfield, Ohio. We had an incredibly enthusiastic crowd. You know, we're drawing huge crowds everywhere we go.

And Paul's got a terrific message. Again it's a positive message about how we can address these challenges we face. He's been on point on these issues over the years. People respect that.

So I think the energy and the momentum is on our side right now. I know the polls are very close. I just heard you talk about the CNN poll within the margin of error.

But I do think that at the end of the day, the momentum is from the enthusiasm, and I think we've got that this year.

O'BRIEN: Seven percent unemployment in the state of Ohio, which is below the national average. You know, for a lot of people they say -- and Ohio, economically, is doing well, so people might be less inclined to support Governor Romney, who's been really pushing an economic message.

PORTMAN: Well, 7 percent is not doing OK. I mean, you know, this is not the new normal for us. We have -- if you add the people who have left the job force since President Obama was sworn in, it's closer to 10 percent.

And people don't feel good about the economy. If you look at the Ohio numbers on the question that pollsters love to ask, are you going on the wrong track or the right direction, our wrong track numbers are about like the rest of the country. Last month, we lost 12,800 jobs in Ohio.

So, yes, we're glad our unemployment numbers are about a point below the national average. But we don't think it's good enough. And I think that's the strong message that I'm getting from independents, a lot of Democrats, and Republicans alike.

O'BRIEN: But there's some interesting polling from Quinnipiac I want to show up -- throw up on the screen there. If you look at how people feel about how Ohio's economy is doing, in, you know, it looks for people to say better or the same is 82 percent.

And then, when you ask them who deserves credit for the better Ohio economy, this again this Quinnipiac, you know -- or does the Obama administration a lot or some, 67 percent. I would imagine that that has to -- that has to work against sort of the feeling you wish you could have because that was -- I guess leave the advantage to another candidate coming in, if you know what I'm saying. PORTMAN: Yes. I saw those Quinnipiac numbers. They don't seem to be consistent with, again, the wrong track numbers we see. But, look, I wish the economy were doing great. And I think people are hopeful here in Ohio that we can begin a turnaround. But, if you go through the small towns I've been at in the last several days here on the campaign trail, there are a lot of storefronts that are closed.

You go to our factories, there's a lot of capacity that's, you know, not being utilized because our economy is not working at its potential. And again, seven percent unemployment, when you add those folks back who have left the workforce, it's closer to 10 percent, that's certainly not acceptable.

So, we have high poverty rates here in Ohio than we had four years ago. We have more people on food stamps. And we have fewer people working. So, we're -- we're not feeling like, you know, we've turned the corner yet.

But I do think that the positive message at the end of the campaign by Mitt Romney about what we can do with tax reform and regulatory relief and getting health care costs down and dealing with our energy situation with both create jobs and energy independence, those are the kind of messages that people are hopeful about.

I think that's going to be helpful here in the last 24 hours to not just get our folks to the polls, but also, a lot of independents and undecided voters who either don't normally vote or might not be Republicans who are going to say, you know, it's time for a fresh start.

O'BRIEN: Was it a mistake then to run that that jeep ad which ran in Toledo, Ohio? As you know, Christine earlier was talking about how the exit polling is going to really examine in the state of Ohio, the impact of the auto bailout has in the vote eventually. We're showing a little bit of this ad.

As you known it was seen by "Politifact" to be false. The GM of -- the head of GM came out and said that it just was not the case. And, you know, the head of FIAT also said this was untrue and jeep's not moving production to China. So, I'm curious, you know, if you look back at that and say probably shouldn't have done that?

PORTMAN: Well, I don't know that they're saying that, Soledad. I think the ad is correct in the sense that jeep is planning to move some production to China. I think that's what they've said, and that's fiat, not General Motors.

O'BRIEN: Well, here's what General Motors said. I'll tell you -- you know, I'll just give you the verbiage and then you can answer me. He said this. This is Greg Martin, and he said this on October 31st. "We've clearly entered some parallel universe during these last few days. No amount of campaign politics at its cynical worst will diminish our record of creating jobs in the U.S. and repatriating profits back to this country."

It's actually worse than we paraphrase it. From FIAT they said this, "I feel obliged --

(CROSSTALK)

PORTMAN: Soledad, just for a second on that -- on that first one, that's General Motors. They have nothing to do with jeep. And I don't know why General Motors made that statement. But, of course, it had nothing to do with the ad, because the ad --

O'BRIEN: Here's -- jeep said this --

PORTMAN: OK. Let's hear from jeep.

O'BRIEN: -- "unambiguously restate our position. Jeep production will not be moved from the United States to China. Period."

PORTMAN: Well, I think what FIAT was saying there, and by the way, we love the fact that FIAT has invested in Ohio. As you know, I supported a rescue package at the time, and it was the right thing to do. But I think if you were to ask FIAT about whether they're going to start production in China, that they would say yes to serve the Chinese market.

That's what they've said in the past, and that's what that ad indicates. So --

O'BRIEN: The ad says this --

PORTMAN: -- I think there's a little disconnect here.

O'BRIEN: No, I don't think so. The ad says this, Obama took GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy and sold Chrysler --

PORTMAN: That's correct.

O'BRIEN: -- two Italians who are going to build jeeps in China.

PORTMAN: That's correct.

O'BRIEN: The implication being that jobs were taken from the United States and being moved to china. So, "Politifact" said it was untrue. The GM jumped in. That's why GM responded. And the head of jeep also -- rather the head of FIAT --

PORTMAN: Soledad --

O'BRIEN: Yes, sir?

PORTMAN: Soledad, two things. One, it is correct that Barack Obama and the administration took the two companies to bankruptcy. That's correct. It is true that jeep now makes all of their jeeps in the United States of America. And they actually export jeeps to China, into the Asian market.

It is true, I believe, unless something has changed, that FIAT is planning on beginning production in China for jeeps that will be sold in China. Bill Clinton's been talking about it on the campaign. O'BRIEN: But not move from the United States to China, which is --

PORTMAN: Hold on, hold on. Hold on. But that's not what the ad says. The ad says is that jeep is going to begin production in China. So, look, I don't think that's frankly the major point here. The major point is, who would be better for these companies going forward. But both of these guys, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney had a plan.

They were different plans. You can debate as to which one would have been better for the companies. But both of them had plans that included taking the companies through bankruptcy and having federal assistance and that was something that "Politifact" corrected the president on, as you know, during the debate.

The second debate when he said there was no federal help. "Politifact" said, no, that's wrong. There was federal help in the Romney plan. But the bigger issue for me is who's going to be better for these companies going forward? And as a U.S. senator who gets lobbied a lot by the auto companies as to what they're looking for, they're looking for regulatory relief because they want to be able to compete globally.

They want tax reform very badly along the lines of what Mitt Romney has proposed, not what the president has proposed because their corporate, rate as you know, is the highest in the developed world.

They're looking for lower energy costs, which is one of the Mitt Romney marquee proposals, talking about how we get more stable and affordable energy. And they're also looking for better worker retraining.

O'BRIEN: It will be --

PORTMAN: -- a fairer trade and a level playing field. So, those are the proposals that you know, as an autoworker and as a manager of one of these companies, that's what -- that's what you're looking for.

O'BRIEN: And I think the exit polling --

PORTMAN: I think that's probably the most important issue.

O'BRIEN: That'll interesting, the exit polling as Christine pointed out to see what people thought of that ad was and what their take was --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: I'm going to apologize, because I've got to hit a commercial break. So, my apologies.

PORTMAN: Thanks, Soledad. Thanks for having me on, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Our pleasure, always.

PORTMAN: Always good to be on here.

O'BRIEN: Senator Portman joining us this morning. Thank you. Appreciate it. We got to take a break. Back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Presidential election might be just around the corner, but some of you already made your voices heard. We're calling your early voting stories votergraphs. Wisconsin's Molly Censky says she voted for President Obama. Her main concern was LGBT issues. She said she takes (ph) to see the fight come to a dead halt.

And this is Kansas voter, Travis Needham. He voted for Mitt Romney, says he opposes Obamacare and the direction the country is moving.

Much more ahead as our special election coverage from Washington, D.C. continues right after this short break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Good morning. Welcome, everybody. I'm Soledad O'Brien. Welcome to our special coverage of the 2012 election live from the nation's capital. Just one day to go before Americans head to the polls, the race for the White House is in a dead heat as the candidates make their final push. And the best political team on TV has it covered for you this morning.