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Poll Begin to Open for Voting; Presidential Candidates Campaign in Swing States; Interview with Jim Clyburn; Polls Open In Illinois; Furious Fight To Finish; Election Day Is Finally Here; Slim Obama Lead In Many Polls; Americans Casting Their Votes; Recovering From Superstorm Sandy; Seven Syrian Generals Defect To Turkey; Saints Sack Stumbling Eagles; The Road To 270; The Balance Of Power; GOP Facing Challenge To Win Senate

Aired November 6, 2012 - 07:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome, everybody. I'm Soledad O'Brien and you are watching a special election Day edition of STARTING POINT. And we're coming to you live from our nation's capital. It is decision day. Right now, it's 7:00 a.m. on the East Coast. The polls are open in a total of 26 states and in Washington, D.C.

Today, millions of Americans will vote and choose the next President of the United States. Will President Obama get four more years? Will Mitt Romney be the next leader of the free world? The best political TV -- team on TV has it covered.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm John Berman. Let the counting begin. Yes, the first election results, they are in from the tiny towns of Dixville Notch and Harts location in New Hampshire. And there is an indication it could be a long night.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: I'm Christine Romans. 270, the magic number for clinching the White House. We're going to look at the paths to victory for each candidate and whether the road to the White House must go through Ohio.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Zoraida Sambolin. The immense damage from Hurricane Sandy forcing an Election Day scramble, and now, another nor'easter could add to the misery and all the confusion. We are tracking the storm.

O'BRIEN: Joining us throughout the morning for our special coverage: South Carolina Congressman Jim Clyburn; Obama campaign senior adviser, David Axelrod; Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell; former Ohio governor, Ted Strickland; Texas Congressman Jeb Hensarling; and Bob Shrum, a Democratic consultant who worked on the Kerry and Gore campaigns.

It is Tuesday, November 6th, Election Day, and STARTING POINT is coming to you live from Washington, D.C., and we begin right now.

Welcome, everybody, you're watching a special edition of STARTING POINT and CNN's live coverage of Election Day 2012. The two candidates have been talking for about 17 months now and now it's the American people who will have the final say. These are the states with polls that are opening right now -- state of Delaware, state of Florida, state of Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Washington, D.C.

You're looking at a live picture now from Wilmington, Delaware, where Joe Biden is expected to vote at any moment. The vice president then will head to Chicago to watch the returns with president Obama today.

Mitt Romney is not letting up on this Election Day. He's added two campaign stops today in Cleveland, Ohio, and in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. There are already legal issues that are plaguing two battleground states, the state of Florida, where there are more long lines yesterday, and Democrats are suing to extend early voting hours, even though those early voting hours legally ended on Saturday.

Then the state of Ohio, where a hearing is now set for Wednesday morning to hear arguments about the rules for counting provisional ballots. The final tally from the buckeye state could take weeks.

And in the aftermath of super-storm Sandy, New Jersey is allowing voting by e-mail, or by fax. New York is permitting voters in disaster areas to cast ballots at any polling place in the entire state. CNN correspondents are all across the map today, in those key battleground states. John Berman has more on that for us this morning. Good morning.

BERMAN: Good morning, Soledad. You know, in New Hampshire polls have been open for just over an hour. But voters in town of Dixville Notch got a head start. At midnight they cast the first in the nation ballots, really the first to be counted. There were just ten of them. President Obama got five votes, Mitt Romney also got five votes. A tie and that has never happened before.

Now, not to be outdone, another New Hampshire town also voted at midnight, Harts Location New Hampshire. They reinstated 9 practice in 1996. They started it back in the 1940s. The result there this year, President Obama with 23 votes, Mitt Romney with 9 votes. Our David Mattingly is live in Bedford, New Hampshire, this morning, where they are already voting as we said. Good morning, David.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. Here in Bedford, state officials describe this polling location as one of the busiest in the country. This is a high school gymnasium. It is full of polling booths right now. And look at the crowd that's already here. Some of these people got in line well over an hour ago, and they came in with smiles on their faces, a great deal of excitement today. The secretary of state in New Hampshire believes that there could be as many as 70 percent voter turnout in the granite state today.

They have 800,000 people registered to vote. And New Hampshire has a provision where they allow people to register to vote when they come into the polling place. So it's possible we could be seeing another 100,000 people signing up to vote today. But again, expect a very heavy volume through New Hampshire, a state that can't be described as red or blue right now because it's so evenly divided down the middle. Right now New Hampshire is purple. It might be later today, 7:00 tonight, or even later before we know what color it really wants to turn. John?

BERMAN: David, thank you so much. New Hampshire truly has become a swing state. Another swing state, Ohio. The one many believe could ultimately determine the winner of this whole thing. Polls in the Buckeye state have been open for about half an hour right now. As we mentioned one of Mitt Romney's final campaign rallies today is in Ohio. Carol Costello is live in blue ash, Ohio, which is right near Cincinnati. Good morning, Carol. I see voters behind you.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You think there's no enthusiasm to vote this year? You would be wrong, John Berman. This is blue ash, Ohio, and Hamilton County, Ohio, a traditionally Republican county. And take a look at all the people filling this polling station already. They started lining up by car, at about 5:30 this morning.

In fact, I just talked to one voter. Her name was Linda. It was after she voted, of course. And she told me she was so excited to vote she actually woke up at 11:00 last night thinking that she missed the voting. She tried to vote this weekend in early voting. The lines were too long, so she was very nervous about getting here and actually casting her ballot. She said it's time for a change, and she really wanted to cast her ballot to change the country for the better.

As you know, the big rub here in Ohio will be the provisional ballot. If there's a problem in your registration or you applied for an absentee ballot and you decided to vote in person, you're going to have to fill out a provisional ballot. You're going to have to fill it out exactly correct by yourself. If not that provisional ballot may be thrown out and your vote won't count. Of course there's already been filed lawsuits because of that. We'll get into all that later and hope there are no problems. Back to you, John.

BERMAN: Carol Costello live in Blue Ash, Ohio.

The polls have just opened in another key battleground state, Florida. And for Mitt Romney it's more than really key. It's really critical. He almost definitely needs to win Florida in order to win the White House. And Ashleigh Banfield is live in Miami. She's in front of a line of people. Wow, a long line of people waiting to cast ballots there.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: John Berman, do you think this is a lot of people behind me? Walk with me, my friend. Let's take a little loop-see-do. This started well before 5:00 a.m. It has grown to over 300 people. Loop-see-do around and back up this way and now come with me to the polling station. As I tell you the story of a number of people in this line, who, in Florida, made the attempt to vote early. Some of them, many of them, in fact, I spoke to personally, they went and they voted, they waited two hours in line, and abandoned. Said I just couldn't be done. And then they went back and tried again to vote the next day, waited two hours in line. And that didn't work. So they're back again today. And one woman who was at the front of the line at 5:00 this morning said she was prepared to wait at least two more hours. The polls just opened. So my assumption is she's just gone in. Come on through here and I want to get you a peek. It's a little tricky to see but you can see them voting in there and they got these, real quickly, John, let me show you. They gave these out in line. They're sample ballots. There's nine pages long. Some in Miami-Dade up to 12 pages which is why it takes a long time to vote which is why we have long lines. This is just a taste of things to come today, John.

BERMAN: Ashleigh Banfield in Miami introducing a new word to the political vocabulary, loop-see-do. Thank you so much.

We're going to go now to Virginia where they're already voting this morning, as well. This is one of the states where the polls close fairly early, 7:00 p.m. eastern time. It is one to watch early. And Randi Kaye is live in Woodbridge, Virginia. Good morning, Randi.

RANDI KAYE, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, John. We're in prince William County, and Virginia likes to think of itself this year as the new Ohio. And they mean business. We have seen a steady stream of folks here coming to vote. Probably a couple hundred right now. There are 2600 registered voters for the precinct that we're at. They don't have any early voting here in Virginia so they are coming out today.

A couple things that we're watching are the demographics. It's the old Virginia versus the new Virginia. The old Virginia is Republican, religious, white working class. The new Virginia is diverse and more urban. That's who helped get Obama elected, winning by about 6 percent back in 2008.

We'll also be watching the economy. The economy is fairly robust. 5.2 percent unemployment. Housing prices are going up. The jobs are coming back, Mitt Romney having a hard time making that same argument against Obama that he has failed in terms of the economy here in the state of Virginia. And, of course, we'll be watching the Senate race, a marquee race, $53 million in outside spending. The race of two former governors, George Allen the Republican, Tim Kaine the Democrat.

BERMAN: Randi Kaye live in Virginia. CNN is all over the map for you this morning, including the state of New York. Where the damage from super-storm Sandy has made voting difficult for people who were displaced from their homes by hurricane Sandy. New York's governor is doing something about it. Voters who live in disaster zones can now vote at any polling place. CNN's Alina Cho is at a makeshift polling station live in Brooklyn, New York, this morning. Good morning, Alina.

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, good morning to you. I'm at the only school in New York City that is actually doubling as a shelter and a polling station today. The polls have been open here for about an hour, and if turnout is any guide here I can tell you that turnout will be very high in New York state. Hundreds of people have already cast their ballots, I spoke to a lot of people inside where the line was snaking inside the building. Lots of people said to me, this is a very important election. I want to cast my ballot early. I spoke to another young woman who is voting in her very first election. She came with her mother today. Late yesterday, in an extraordinary move, New York's governor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order basically saying that if you live in a federal disaster zone in New York, you can cast your ballot not just in your district, but in any district in New York. That is significant and unprecedented. The governor says just because you are displaced, it doesn't mean you should be disenfranchised. He also said it won't be easy, but after last week, meaning hurricane Sandy, John, this, the governor says, will be a walk in the park. John?

BERMAN: All right. Thanks so much, Alina. It is interesting, there are different rules in different states for how close cameras can get to these polling places. But we are at so many of them for you this morning. We go now to Soledad.

O'BRIEN: John, thank you. Let's go right to Wilmington, Delaware. That is where the Vice President Joe Biden is now casting his vote. Here's a live picture. That would be, I believe -- we're looking at the back of his head? There it is the back of his head as he votes. That's his wife Jill standing on the right side of the screen there. They will be voting this morning a little bit later, vice president is planning to get to Chicago, watching the returns this evening with the president, President Obama.

The polls are starting to open. There's another concern, and that is making sure that all the votes are counted and that they're counted accurately. Ali Velshi is following any voting regularities that could develop. We've been e-mailing back and forth this morning, Ali, because some people the minute they get confused or feel like something's up they send us a tweet or e-mail.

ALI VELSHI, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: That's what they should be doing. That's exactly what they should be doing. I'll tell you how you get in touch with us. In response to one tweet you got, one e- mail you got from somebody in New Jersey. How do you take advantage of this fax or online voting in New Jersey? Generally it is for people who have been displaced from their homes or first responders. You have to go to the New Jersey department of elections site to apply. They'll give you a response within an hour and then depending on what you chose they'll either fax you or e-mail you a ballot which has to be filed by 5:00 p.m. today.

If you are not displaced but you're just having trouble getting to your voting site you need to call the office and see whether they'll allow you to do this. That's part of the approval process.

Hamilton County, Indiana, we've had several tweets to say there are voting machines that are down there. We're looking in to that to see when they'll be up. Also getting news from New York city, there are some automatic polls that are down. Again, bear with it. Have patience. The danger here, as Ashleigh said, is that people are leaving the polls. Because these lines are long or the machines aren't working. We're going to try to make sure everybody who wants to vote can get to vote. And you can let us know about that, Soledad. O'BRIEN: Ali, thank you for watching. And if you want to share your experience, just send us a tweet or an e-mail, or just send us a text on twitter #CNNvotewatch, e-mail us at votewatch, or text us at CNN55333, or you can follow Ali on twitter or me on twitter as well.

Let's get right to Zoraida for a look at some of the other stories making news. Hey, Z.

SAMBOLIN: Hey, Soledad. A lot of critical races to watch today, many of them impacting the balance of power in congress. In Massachusetts, incumbent Republican senator Scott brown is in a very tight race against former Obama administration official Elizabeth warren. Local polls show it is just too close to call.

North Dakota Senate race is also getting a lot of attention. Republican Rick Burgh battling Heidi Hicam. Republicans are banking on a big win for Burgh to help them gain control of the Senate. Former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords has cast her vote. She and her successor, democratic congressman Ron Barber dropped off their ballot in downtown Tucson. This was yesterday. Barber was shot twice alongside Giffords in the Tucson rampage that killed six people in 2011. He is going for a full term after winning a special election in June. He's locked in a really tough race against Republican Martha McSally.

And communities in the northeast are trying to clean up from the devastation left by super-storm Sandy. And now they're facing a new storm. Brick, New Jersey, has already ordered mandatory evacuation for residents in low-lying areas, also encouraging others to leave if their home could be affected. Sandy forced thousands of people in New York and New Jersey from their homes and more than a million are still without power this morning. Meteorologist Rob Marciano is tracking that storm for us. What can you tell us, rob?

ROB MARCIANO, METEOROLOGIST: It's impacting Georgia right now and Florida, rain across Florida could be heavy at times as this front comes through and hits Tampa here in the next hour or so, Jacksonville seeing some rain. Orlando, you're next, you'll see some rainfall as well.

This is important because study shows that one inch of rainfall will actually decrease voter turnout by 1 percent. And general, foul weather, which rain would be a part of that, helps the Republicans by about 2.5 percent. Other areas, Wisconsin, a mixture of rain and snow shouldn't be too bad. Rest of the country doesn't look terribly awful.

We are watching this storm that will come out of Florida today and head up the eastern seaboard. This is the nor'easter that we've been fearing, and there are coastal flood watches and highway watches posted now, potential for seeing some snow as well. There's some cold air with this. Obviously some wind. Models trending a little bit further to the east. That would be good. The further east, we'll keep you posted, impacts beginning tomorrow about midday, Zoraida, back to you. SAMBOLIN: Insult to injury. We keep on saying. Thank you so much, Rob. We appreciate it.

Got to wonder how many people actually go out and vote particularly in the northeast, right?

O'BRIEN: They've got time, right? Talking about noon, it's a fair amount of time. All right, Zoraida, thank you.

Still ahead on STARTING POINT this morning, as voters head to the polls they're not only thinking next president, they're obviously thinking their local officials too. So what are some of the scenarios that could play out in the House of Representatives? We're going to talk with South Carolina Congressman Jim Clyburn coming up next. We're back in just a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're taking a look at a live picture. That's the vice president, Joe Biden. He has just voted this morning in Wilmington, Delaware, and now he is heading out of his polling station. The lines actually don't look so bad there. You can see the line of photographers seems to be as long as the line of people who are trying to cast their ballots this morning.

Our team this morning on this special edition of STARTING POINT, Erick Erickson is with us, editor in chief of and a CNN contributor. Ryan Lizza is a Washington correspondent for the "New Yorker" and CNN contributor as well. Roland Martin stepped out for a radio hit. He's the host of "Washington Watch with Roland Martin," also a CNN political analyst.

Polling stations open right now in 26 states. And today, President Obama will be in Chicago while Governor Romney hits a couple of swing states. Last night both men were making their final and I thought very emotional appeals to voters. Listen.


BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To all of you who've lived and breathed the hard work of change, I want to thank you.

ROMNEY: I ask the American people to vote for love of country.



O'BRIEN: Let's get right to South Carolina Congressman Jim Clyburn. He's the third ranking Democrat in the house, and an Obama campaign supporter. The polls in his state opened up at the top of the hour. South Carolina is considered to be Governor Romney's territory there. Nice to see you, sir. Thank you for talking with us. Certainly appreciate it.

REP. JIM CLYBURN, (D) SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, thank you so much for having me.

O'BRIEN: All right, let's start with, with some of the emotion as both candidates were wrapping up those speeches last night. Michelle Obama, I thought, as well, was, was emotional, more emotional certainly than I've heard her before, when she was talking to the crowd. Let's play a little bit of that.


MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: The auto industry was in crisis. This economy was losing 800,000 jobs a month. And a lot of folks were wondering whether we were headed for another great depression. Do you hear me? That's what people were worrying about. And that is what Barack faced on day one as president of the United States.


O'BRIEN: How emotional has this last tour for the president and Michelle Obama been?

CLYBURN: It's been very emotional. And last night, when I watched some of that I found myself walking away from the television. I know Michelle Obama's family very well. Her family roots, on her father's side, or right here in South Carolina and Georgetown County, which was a part of my congressional district, so I understand that emotion.

So those emotions you get wrapped up here and then you lay your heart out, and you know that you were not dealt a hand that anybody would want. But, and you know you played it as best you could. And you wish you had more support from the other side. But you know, when you're playing your hand, and you show all your cards and the other person fails to follow suit, it's tough. And you feel that.

And this president has done a great job. We -- he's laid it out for the American people. People have gotten tied into his campaign. I've been running all over the country. I went to five states in five days. And I'll tell you, people are very, very emotional all over.

BERMAN: Congressman, it's John Berman here in Washington, D.C. all the polls we're looking at right now, they tell a story of something of a divided country right now. That either president Obama will be elected with a historically low white turnout or that Mitt Romney will be elected with a historically low minority turnout. What does that mean for tomorrow? How does the president, whoever wins, move forward?

CLYBURN: Well, I think that everybody wins an election. It should lay out to prove to all the voters that you are magnanimous and to serve all people. One of the problems we have with our election process is that we have this winner take all, 50 percent plus one and then you get the whole barrel. And then you have to be magnanimous enough to demonstrate everything that you promised during the campaign.

And I think president Obama did that. He did a tremendous job of reaching out to the other side time and time again. And I was there in the congress watching some of this, and I was among those who kept saying to him, just forget it, they aren't going to work with you. But this president kept doing it, kept doing it, kept doing it.

And I think when Sandy visited the northeast coast, he was able to demonstrate to the entire country and the world, if you please, his ability to reach out and that's what he did with Governor Christy and I really believe that became a defining moment in this campaign and people got to city just how magnanimous this guy is.

O'BRIEN: Congressman Jim Clyburn joining us this morning, Democrat from South Carolina. Nice to see you, sir. Thank you for talking with us.

CLYBURN: Well, thank you so much for having me.

O'BRIEN: You bet. We're back in just a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. It's been 17 months of campaign promises, and TV commercials. Americans now head to the polls to pick their president today. Welcome, you're watching a special Election Day edition of STARTING POINT. We're coming to you live from Washington, D.C.

As is tradition we already have the first results in in Dixville Notch, New Hampshire. And for the first time in history, it's a tie, five votes for president Obama, five votes for Mitt Romney. Right now the polls are open in 26 states and in Washington, D.C., among them, key swing states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Virginia. Just a few minutes ago we showed you Vice President Joe Biden, and the second lady, Dr. Jill Biden, voting in Wilmington, Delaware. In just a moment I'll be talking with president Obama's senior adviser, David Axelrod.

First, though, let's get right to John Berman with a look at what's happening on the campaigns today.

BERMAN: Thanks so much, Soledad. The polls are open in the president's home state of Illinois. Of course the president has already voted. So he will spend Election Day in Chicago, after a busy final day delivering his closing remarks to voters in Iowa and other states. CNN's Dan Lothian is following team Obama in Chicago and the president's got kind of a traditional day planned for himself.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He does. And you know what the campaign says he likes to do every time election time rolls around on Election Day, he likes to play basketball. He surrounds himself with what I've been calling the class of 2008. These are some of the folks who were with him from the very beginning. Some stayed on the administration then went on to do other things. So we're seeing Reggie Love, the president's former body man. He was brought on the last couple of days on the campaign trail. He will be -- he's the one, we are told, was charged with organizing this basketball game. Robert Gibbs, the former press secretary, is back again. A lot of reflection is being done here talking about the last four years. Not only the president's accomplishments, but what it has meant to be part of his team.

We saw a little bit of this reflection from the president, as well, during the final campaign stop of his political career in Iowa yesterday where he was thanking all of those who've supported him over the years. Take a listen.


OBAMA: I want to take this opportunity to say one thing to all the young people and not so young people who've given so much to this campaign over the years.

Those who haven't done this just for me, but for each other, for a laid off family member, for a sick child, for a fallen friend, to all of you who've lived and breathed the hard work of change, I want to thank you.


LOTHIAN: Now, we're told by campaign aides that the president is optimistic about the outcome of the elections. No plans for the president to head back out town the campaign trail, as we see Governor Romney doing going to Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Instead the president will be doing some satellite interviews, some radio interviews, as well. Some of his aides will be going on television. The big push will be to make sure that folks get out to the polls and vote -- John.

BERMAN: All right, Dan Lothian in Chicago. There will be no basketball today for Mitt Romney. He is expected to cast his vote in about one hour from now in his hometown of Belmont, Massachusetts.

The polls there have just opened. As Dan said Mitt Romney is not done campaigning. He has two stops today, one in Ohio, and one in Pennsylvania.

I'm joined now by Peter Hamby live at the Romney headquarters in Boston, Massachusetts. Peter, these are sort of late additions to the schedule.

PETER HAMBY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, and travel, John, is the best indicator of a campaign's thinking. Look, we've known that Pennsylvania sort of last-minute gamble/insurance policy for the Romney campaign.

Ninety six percent of the vote is on the table there today because there isn't really early voting. But the Ohio travel jumped out at me and Paul Ryan is also going to Ohio today, John. This signals to me that they are nervous about Ohio, as they have been.

But they're just a little more nervous in these closing days. But, you know, Romney himself, of course, is projecting confidence outwardly. Check out this rally last night in New Hampshire that pulled 12,000 people. This is what he said.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: We have known many long days and short nights, and now we're close. The door to a brighter future is there. It's open. It's waiting for us. I need your vote. I need your help. Walk with me. Walk together. Tomorrow we begin a new tomorrow.


HAMBY: There is, John, an air of anxiety and nervousness inside the Romney campaign. But also they know they still can win and they're right. There are enough variables around the margins in these states. I was just in Ohio for the last few days. Republicans there think they can still pull it out.

And I think they're right, John, but looking at the states, the Romney campaign is confident about Florida. They're confident about North Carolina. They're confident about Colorado. And they're actually really confident about New Hampshire.

The problem is that doesn't get them over the hump, and Ohio seems to be the wall that they're going to be running into today -- John.

BERMAN: And he will run into it again today with a last trip there on Election Day. All right, Peter Hamby live in Boston. Thanks so much. A lot more to talk about this morning, let's go back to Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right, John, thank you. Let's get right to the president's senior campaign adviser, David Axelrod joining us this morning. Let's talk about Ohio.

Since Peter Hamby was just laying that out for us. If you look at likely voters, choice for president, CNN/ORC poll, 50 percent for President Obama, Mitt Romney at 47 percent, little more of a gap there if you're looking at the NBC/"Wall Street Journal"/Marist poll, which is 51 percent to 45 percent for Governor Romney.

When you talk to conservatives, Karl Rove, for example, he says listen, they're claiming a net gain for the GOP in early voting in Ohio from four years enough to wipe out the entire margin victory from 2008 for President Obama.

The bottom line, being like if they can win tonight that that means that the early votes won't matter. What do you say to that?

DAVID AXELROD, OBAMA CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER: Of course, Karl got a bunch of folks to give him hundreds of millions of dollars to try and beat this president so I think he needs to -- he's in hyperspin there.

The fact of the matter is that every single bit of data out of Ohio in the last few days has been very encouraging to us, and particularly the early voting. You know, we fought hard in court to maintain early voting for voters across Ohio in the last few days of the campaign. And there was an explosion of voting there, very favorable to us. We think we're going in with a significant edge. Obviously it's close. The whole election is close. We've prepared for a close race.

We've got incredible organization there and we're going to be making sure we get our vote out today. So my optimism, Soledad, is based on cold, hard data. Their optimism is based on some faith and some unseen hidden wave and I think that they're going to be disappointed tonight.

O'BRIEN: Let me ask Erick Erickson a quick question. Your optimism is based on faith. His is based on the numbers.

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No, I think my optimism is based on the fact that when you look at, for example, Colorado where they've had a very strong turnout for the Democrats, they're probably going to lose Colorado.

I see the same thing happening in Ohio when you have Evangelical Catholic voters who are really angry with the president on some of the religious freedom issues and some of those blue collar workers.

It's going to be very close, but I do see them particularly on the eastern side of the Ohio turning out for Republicans in a way they didn't turn out in 2008 and as the surrounding suburban counties from Cleveland.

O'BRIEN: And I would also wonder, sir, about those provisional ballots, 200,000 according to the secretary of state in Ohio, 200,000 provisional ballots could be cast today. They couldn't be counted for ten days. Do you think we'll be waiting the ten days to go through those provisional ballots or do you think it's decided tonight?

AXELROD: If you're directing that question to me --

O'BRIEN: I am, sorry, yes.

AXELROD: I think we're going to continue tonight. We're going to watch -- we're going to watch that -- we're going to watch those ballots closely. We want to make sure that everybody's voice is heard in this election.

But one thing I'd say about Ohio, Soledad, is that an issue that's crystallized in the last few days is this issue of the auto bailout, the auto intervention. The president stepped in, saved the auto industry, and in Ohio one in eight jobs flow from that auto industry.

Governor Romney's opposition to that action has been an issue in the campaign and then a late ad in that campaign that implied otherwise and suggested that somehow Jeep was moving jobs to China created a real backlash in that state and I think that's going to come into play today, as well.

O'BRIEN: Ryan Lizza, let me throw a question in your direction. John King says that when he talks to people, some who are with campaigns, some who are not with campaigns they're pointing to 10,000 to 15,000 votes decided in the state of Ohio.

Do you think that's a fair assessment? And do you think that what David Axelrod was just saying about the jeep controversy, if you will --

RYAN LIZZA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It's obviously going to be very, very close. I will say that you look at the last, you know, 40 polls in Ohio, and it's been polled to death, the president has a consistent -- a small but consistent lead.

So I think all of us are going to be shocked tonight if Romney wins that state looking at the data over the last couple of months. The auto bailout, obviously, if Obama wins -- explanations of why he won and why he holds those Midwestern states, Iowa, Wisconsin and Ohio I think we're going to be talking a lot about his decision in the auto bailout in 2009 as the main factor. I agree with that.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: But the problem Romney had was that he put that jeep ad out. You have papers across the state who were saying it's a lie, it's not true, and so, why did you rekindle, mark spoke to this yesterday, why did you rekindle an issue that is an Achilles heel? That made no sense whatsoever. I think he helped the Obama campaign out tremendously by talking about jeep and putting that ad out to discuss it.

O'BRIEN: David, do you guys calculate how many votes you think that that would be responsible for? I mean, is that a math that you do, you say listen that I think it's true that said yesterday that he thought that was a big misstep do you sort of drill down into that?

AXELROD: I don't think you can make an empirical calculation as to how many votes that will mean. But what it did was create an even larger gulf of trust, and trust is a big issue in this campaign and particularly for these voters in Ohio.

For whom questions like the survival of the auto industry are very much questions about their families' economic well-being. So there's no doubt in my mind that as we travel around the state, we were there every day for the last four days, we heard this everywhere we went. And I think it's going to be a factor in this election.

O'BRIEN: Let me ask you a question about the Nate Silver does this polling, and this I think it was last night he was tweeting that there was sort of a 91 percent certainty by the -- the -- by looking at likely voters and sort of crunching those numbers through a formula that President Obama would win the Electoral College.

And, and then other people say well very, very tight. So how can both of those things be true, 91 percent sounds like it's, you know, a strong victory.

AXELROD: Well, first of all, this is all theoretical. We believe we're in a strong position to win this election. But it's only a theory until people go out and vote. And what's important today is to make sure that everybody does go out and vote. Because even though I think our chances are good, it's going to be a narrow election. And because it's a narrow election particularly in these battleground states there will be questions about what margin will exist in the Electoral College.

Nate Silver suggests somewhere around 315 electoral votes. Others have said less. Others have said more. We'll see. I believe we're going to be on top and in more of the states than were listed before. We're even or ahead in every one of those battleground states.

We've got a big lead in the early vote in several of them, including Ohio, Iowa, and Nevada. We've got a lead in Colorado. We feel very good about where we are.

O'BRIEN: David Axelrod joining us this morning. Thanks for being with us. We appreciate your time.

AXELROD: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: You want to be sure to watch the rest of our CNN election team tonight when the first polls close at 6:00 p.m. Eastern. You can follow the exact countdown in the lower left-hand side of your screen and as the clock ticks for those closing. There are other stories making news this morning. Zoraida's got that for you. Good morning, Z.

SAMBOLIN: Good morning. Another key race to watch today, former presidential candidate Michele Bachmann is in the toughest battle of her political life. The Minnesota congresswoman is in a tight race with Democratic challenger Jim Graves. In their final debate, Bachmann defended her claims that Muslim Brotherhood operatives have infiltrated the federal government.

And a sign today that the northeast is slowly recovering from superstorm Sandy. The National September 11th Memorial at the World Trade Center site in New York City reopened today. It was closed due to flooding from Sandy. The storm forced thousands from their damaged homes, and more than one million people are still without electricity this morning. They're without heat and hot water, as well.

And what could be a major blow to the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, seven Syrian army generals defected today to neighboring Turkey. Turkish media report that the generals arrived at the Turkish border and asked for refuge. They were granted entry, and taken to a location in Southern Turkey under very tight security measures.

Switch gears here, Monday night football. New Orleans and Philadelphia, Saints quarterback Drew Brees throwing two touchdown passes in a 28-13 victory over the Eagles. Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick sacked seven times as the Eagles stumbled to their fourth straight loss.

Roland was saying earlier he's waking up with a lot of Bengay this morning.

O'BRIEN: That's a lot of getting hit.

MARTIN: You'll be getting a rubdown maybe.

O'BRIEN: All right, thanks, Zoraida. Appreciate it.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, many of the roads to 270 electoral votes lead through the state of Ohio. But what happens if Pennsylvania is in play? Can Pennsylvania put Mitt Romney over the top if he in fact loses Ohio? Christine Romans is going to look at the map for us, that's coming up next.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. We begin with a look at blue ash, Ohio. That's where voters are lined up. Polls in the buckeye state, they're going to be voting this morning in the buckeye state, of course, is a crucial battleground opened at 6:30 this morning Eastern Time. Christine's got a look at the Electoral College and how we get to that magic number of 270.

ROMANS: That's right. Well, here's where it stands right now. You know, you can see the dark red states. Our projections are these are pretty reliable for Mitt Romney. Blue is for Obama.

You could see when you add up the electoral votes, 237 to 206. These are just projections, of course. As the night wears on, we're going to start turning these states as the vote turns in, 270 is the number you need.

So what could happen here? Well, Democrats are confident about Wisconsin and they're confident about Iowa and they're confident about Nevada right now. That puts the president at 259.

Mitt Romney really, really wants Florida. And they really, really want Virginia, and they think that they have a chance at Colorado and Paul Ryan spent a lot of time in Colorado. Look at how close that is, 259, 259, Soledad that means these 18 electoral votes in Ohio are critical for whoever is going to be the next president of the United States.

Critical but there are pathways for Romney to the White House that don't include Ohio at this point. Let's give Ohio to the president. And let's do a couple of things here. Let's say potentially that Romney gets Nevada.

And Mitt Romney gets Wisconsin, right? Look at that 273. That would be how Mitt Romney would do it. Again, it could happen. It could not happen. I mean, when you look at the polls, the polls are leaning toward the president at this point.

But those are still toss-up states. There's another way to do it, too. What if this reliably blue state is not blue anymore but turns red. You know Mitt Romney is spending part of today in Pittsburgh.

He'll have, you know, access to the TV markets of eastern Penn -- Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio. What if that turned red? That would put Romney over the top, as well. Those are two potential hypothetical ways to the presidency without Ohio for Mitt Romney.

O'BRIEN: Absolutely fascinating. We've been really focused on Ohio. It is doable without Ohio, I'm sure that the Romney campaign has been crunching that very path.


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

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT. Today's election will not only decide who's going to be president of the United States for the next four years, also decide the balance of power in Washington, D.C. We'll break that down up next. Stay with us.


BERMAN: Welcome back to CNN's special live coverage of Election Day 2012. It is here. And 11 more states will open their polls to voters in the next hour.

While most Americans are focusing on the race for the White House, it's the balance of power in the Senate and House that could really determine how much gets done in Washington for the next four years.

CNN political editor, Paul Steinhauser, is live with us this morning to break it all down. Paul, let's start with the Senate.

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: You got. You know, you're right. The battle for the White House is grabbing all the attention, but the battle for Congress is just as important. OK, the Senate, where does it stand right now, 53-47. There are 53 Democrats, actually 51 Democrats and 47 Republicans.

How many seats are up for grabs right now? Thirty three seats are up for grabs. Of those 33, Democrats control or are defending 23 of those 33 seats. The next map, here are the 13 races that really, really could -- the most competitive, could decide who wins control of the Senate.

Take a look at these races and let's just narrow down -- the Democrats are defending, right here, Virginia, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Ohio, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota and Missouri. We'll be keeping our eyes and all these Missouri, interesting.

The Republicans really thought they would have a pick up there, but Congressman Todd Akin, the Republican candidate, his controversy over rape has weakened their stance there. It's not just the Democrats playing defense. The Republicans are playing defense as well, John.

Look at these states in red are the ones Republicans are defending. Well, Massachusetts and Maine up in the northeast, Republicans, you may lose those.

Indiana, that's a seat they thought for sure they would keep Richard Mourdock, the Republican candidate there, controversy over rape again. That's making that race very close in Nevada and Arizona. We're keeping our eyes on that as well. John, if it comes down to a 50/50 Senate, you know what? It's going to determine the White House. The race for the White House will determine who controls the Senate. Is it going to be Vice President Joe Biden or Vice President Paul Ryan who would have that tie breaking voter if it's a 50-50 Senate --

BERMAN: We're looking at the state of Indiana behind you. That is why Democrats are optimistic there will not be a Senate flip to the Republicans. But Democrats I speak to are much less optimistic about the House of Representatives and finding any real gains there. What's the situation?

STEINHAUSER: All right, right now, the Democrats need to win back 25 seats. That's a lot of seats to win control back of the House that they lost back in 2010.

You're right. Democrats aren't really -- there's no bravado there. They say they could do the pickup, but that's very, very tough math. The House race is more than the Senate, will be determined by the wave of the general election by the president.

If Mitt Romney has a good night, the Republicans are going definitely going to keep control of the House, maybe even make some pickups. If President Obama has a huge night, maybe the Democrats have a chance at 25 pick up, but it is a long shot -- John.

BERMAN: But tough for them in the blue dog states and also not doing as well in the moderate states? Not as well as they may have expected. Paul Steinhauser, great to see you here this morning.

We have a lot more coming up. Ahead on STARTING POINT, we continue our special Election Day edition, what polls are opening at the top of the hour and all the implications of today's votes.

Our correspondents are all across the country. And we'll be talking with Bob McDonald, the governor of the battleground state of Virginia. He has a lot to say. Stay with us. You're watching STARTING POINT.