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Republicans Reject the Tea Party; New Worries over Al Qaeda Threats

Aired May 21, 2014 - 05:00   ET


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news overnight. Is the Tea Party over? Established GOP candidates beating over Tea Party challengers in key primary races last night. And it could mean big problems for Democrats come November. We're breaking down all the big breaking results live here on EARLY START.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Poppy Harlow in today for Christine Romans.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Berman. It's a special Wednesday, May 21st. Election results 5:00 a.m. in the East.

And we do begin with the big political news breaking overnight. Voters in six states have said no to Tea Party challengers and some big named Democrats as well making their choices for who they want to run in the fall. We're talking from Congress to their state capitols.

HARLOW: And by far the biggest race of the night was Kentucky where Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell was facing off against Tea Party favorite Matt Bevin. The businessman was expected to map a strong challenge but McConnell ran hard and in the end held him off pretty easily. Now the five-term senator faces a tougher fight come November against the Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. She won her primary thanks in part to strong support from the national party. Something McConnell made very clear will be central in his campaign.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), KENTUCKY: My opponent is in this race because Barack Obama and Harry Reid want her to be in this race. There's a reason, my friends, a reason every Hollywood liberal is sending her a check.

ALISON LUNDERGAN GRIMES (D), KENTUCKY SECRETARY OF STATE: Together, we will take this fight to Mitch McConnell and hold him accountable for his 30 years of failed leadership.


BERMAN: In Idaho, CNN now projects Republican congressman Mike Simpson has won his primary, one of many establishment candidates to turn aside Tea Party backed candidates there. The House Appropriations Committee chairman and a friend to Speaker John Boehner faced a tough battle against lawyer Bryan Smith. The primary was at a critical test in the party's internal fight between conservative groups. As for the governor's race there, Governor Butch Otter appears set to beat State Senator Russ Fulcher who ran or tried to run as the more conservative candidate.

HARLOW: This fall's Senate election in Oregon will pit incumbent Democrat Jeff Merkley against Republican Monica Wehby. Now that both have won their primary she is a pediatric neurosurgeon whose campaign was rocked in recent days by revelations of harassment complaints from an ex-husband and also former boyfriend. She did top a more conservative opponent in that race.

BERMAN: Another big name, Georgia, the Republican Senate primary there, headed for a runoff with two establishment candidates holding off the somewhat Tea Party backed secretary of state. CNN projects businessman David Purdue and Congressman Jack Kingston were the top two finishers. Neither got enough votes to break the 50 percent threshold.

Secretary of State Karen Handel, she finished third despite backing from Sarah Palin. There were two conservative congressmen who finished way back in the pack. Whoever wins the runoff then will face Michelle Nunn in the fall. She's a nonprofit executive and the daughter of former Senator Sam Nunn. National Democrats called her the best chance for retaking the Senate seat that he once held.


MICHELLE NUNN (D), GEORGIA SENATE CANDIDATE: I believe that would change is possible and we can do it. So as I have been traveling across the state of Georgia, I have been highlighting what Washington can learn from Georgia. And you know what? I think that Washington is going to learn a thing or two from our campaign.


BERMAN: The governor's race in Georgia, former President Jimmy Carter's grandson Jason will face incumbent Republican Nathan Deal in the fall. Jason Carter is currently a state senator.

HARLOW: Two former congressmen are now set to face-off for the race in Arkansas for the gubernatorial race there. Democrat Mike Ross and Republican Asa Hutchinson both handily won their primaries as the incumbent Senator Mark Pryor who will face Congressman Tom Cotton in the fall for the right to represent Arkansas in the Senate.

BERMAN: Let's go now to Pennsylvania where Chelsea Clinton's mother- in-law has lost her bid to return to Congress. Former Congresswoman Marjorie Margolies picked up only about a quarter of the voters in the suburban Philadelphia district, which is a Democratic district. That's despite last-minute campaigning for her by the Clintons. In the gubernatorial race in Pennsylvania, businessman Tom Wolf has won the Democratic primary after pumping millions of his own dollars into that race. He will face incumbent Republican Governor Tom Corbett in the fall. Corbett seen by many as one of the most vulnerable Republican incumbent in the country. HARLOW: Let's get straight to CNN political editor Paul Steinhauser to break down the results and what you think of everything that happened last night.

I mean, there's already, as we were talking about earlier in the show, ads coming out this morning about November, right?

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: No doubt about it. The race is on. You know, remember that little "Star Wars" movie, "The Empire Strikes Back," well, I guess you could say last night it was the GOP establishment strikes back. You mentioned those big victories in those Senate contests in Kentucky and in Georgia and Oregon. And that congressional race in Idaho. The establishment candidates, the incumbents won out, as you said, over the Tea Party backed candidates.

You know, that was not the case back in 2010 and 2012 when the Tea Party candidates set some big high profile wins in the primaries. But come November, they lost to Democrats. Republicans arguably lost five Senate seats because of that. The establishment definitely striking back this time. How did they do it? Well, they run smart campaigns and guess what, they also had a lot of outside help.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, that pro-business outside group, putting $4 million into the Kentucky, Idaho and Georgia contests backing their candidates there. What does this matter? Well, come November, this really I think you could say improves the odds for the Republicans when it comes to trying to take back the Senate. They need six Senate seats from the Democrats to win back the chamber. Currently it's 55- 45. We've got two independents who -- they caucus with the Democrats.

But guess what, the Democrats are -- they're up, they're defending 21 of the 36 Senate seats up for grabs in November. What happened last night improves the Republicans' chances -- guys.

BERMAN: The biggest establishment winner last night probably Mitch McConnell, the minority leader from Kentucky. He ran a very smart campaign, a very expensive campaign. He took nothing for granted. And it sets up, Paul, what already seems like a heavyweight battle for November.

STEINHAUSER: Yes. And we got an appetizer last night. If you listen to McConnell and Alison Lundergan Grimes, if you listen to their celebrations, their speeches at their victory celebrations, it really was a taste of things to come. Here you go.


MCCONNELL: My opponent is in this race because Barack Obama and Harry Reid want her to be in this race. A vote for my opponent is a vote for Obamacare. And the president who sold it to us on a mountain of lies.

GRIMES: Mitch McConnell would have you believe that President Obama is on Kentucky's 2014 election ballots. Well, let me set the record straight tonight for our senior senator who is out of touch with the commonwealth of Kentucky. President Obama is not on Kentucky's 2014 election ballot.


STEINHAUSER: Poppy, as you just mentioned, the ads are already going to start flying this morning. A pro-McConnell super PAC, one of those outside groups, says it's going to spend $500,000 to run ads starting today for the next two weeks in Kentucky that ties Grimes to President Obama who's very unpopular in Kentucky.

You know what? $82 million, that was the record for the most expensive Senate race. That was two years ago in Massachusetts. This contest in Kentucky could shatter that record. Stay tuned, the action is just starting.

HARLOW: Yes. It is starting, not skipping a beat. And Berman is pretty excited about it.

BERMAN: Yes. I wish I had been a political consultant, man.

HARLOW: Yes, right.

BERMAN: I can retire soon if that were the case.

HARLOW: A lot of money. A lot of money in that.

BERMAN: All right, thanks, Paul, so much.

Eight minutes after the hour. We have a new warning today about possible new terror threats against the United States. CNN has learned that U.S. intelligence officials are seeing an uptick in the so-called threat stream that could point to al Qaeda planning operations targets inside the United States.

Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr has the latest on this.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Poppy, John, a senior U.S. official tells me over the last six months they have seen an increasing series of al Qaeda based threats suggesting the possibility of attacks against U.S. and Western targets overseas and U.S. targets even here at home. None of the threats have been validated. They don't think that there are operational al Qaeda cells here in the United States but they are very concerned about what this may mean about the growing strength of al Qaeda.

One place they are looking is right back in Pakistan where al Qaeda began. They believe there are operatives there, potentially planning attacks against U.S. and Western interests. They also believe in Syria. This is now a place where there are a growing number of Americans, perhaps 70 to 100 who have gone there to fight. And al Qaeda operatives in Syria have been aiming to try and get those people back into the United States or into Europe.

There is also the situation in Yemen. The U.S. embassy has been closed there for several weeks. And it looks like it's going to remain closed for several more days due to what officials are saying is an active threat stream -- Poppy, John. HARLOW: Our thanks to Barbara for that. Meantime, today, the Obama administration has agreed to release a secret memo outlining its legal rationale for killing U.S. citizens suspected of terrorism overseas. Last year the White House acknowledged the killing of four Americans in drone strikes since 2009. And critics have called for this memo's release ever since. This timing is very important because a Senate vote is expected today concerning one of the memo's authors, a man who is nominated to a federal appeals court seat by President Obama.

BERMAN: Today a top White House aide assigned to the Veteran Affair scandal is headed to Phoenix. That's Rob Nabors, deputy chief of staff, you're looking at him right now. Phoenix of course is where dozens of veterans may have died waiting for care at a facility there, is accused of doctoring records to conceal deadly long waiting periods.

This week, the House of Representatives will vote on legislation that Republicans say could do something about this problem.


REP. ERIC CANTOR (R), MAJORITY LEADER: We also are going to be bringing up a bill this week having to do with the mess at the Veteran's Administration and to try to provide the tools to the administration to hold senior managers accountable. I mean, the American people are frustrated, especially when those who have served our country in uniform have been treated the way they have and god forbid who have perished because of the mess at the VA.


BERMAN: The mess only seems to be growing. Officials confirmed that 26 medical facilities are now under investigation.

HARLOW: European stocks slightly lower this morning ahead of the open here in the United States. One stock you're going to want to watch today is Target. The company still recovering from that major data hack last year that affected up to 110 million customers. It caused their profit to decline 46 percent last quarter. The breach also brought same-store sales down 2.5 percent.

So far this year, Target has fired its CEO Greg Steinhafel. He did walk out with nearly a $16 million pay package. They've also let go of their head of their Canada store. Canada was their first attempt at going international. It's been a huge challenge. It has cost them more than $900 million over the last year.

I spoke with Target's interim CEO, the man in charge right now, just a few weeks ago. Here's what he said.


JOHN MULLIGAN, INTERIM TARGET CEO: We have seen our guests indicate that they're ready to move on and they want to get back to the relationship they had with Target prior to the breach.


HARLOW: Proof is in the pudding, we'll see the numbers. The earnings coming out a little bit before the market opens this morning.

BERMAN: Twelve minutes after the hour. New revelations this morning about how far Donald Sterling may have gone to cover up the racist remarks that got him banned from the NBA. We'll have all the latest developments, next.


HARLOW: New details this morning about how L.A. Clippers owner, Donald Sterling allegedly went -- how far he went to try and allegedly cover up racist comments that got him banned for life from the NBA. According to the "L.A. Times," the NBA claims Sterling asked V. Stiviano to lie to league investigators and say she altered the recordings and that it wasn't Sterling making the racist remarks on the tape. Team owners will vote June 3rd on terminating his ownership of the Clippers. NBA commissioner Adam Silver spoke about that process last night.


ADAM SILVER, NBA COMMISSIONER: My confidence level is high. We know we're doing the right thing. And I know I have the owners behind me. And the timing is laid out in the NBA constitution. We're following it to the letter in terms of numbers of days that Mr. Sterling has to respond and then when the hearing will be held. And as I said, I know we're doing the right thing here.


HARLOW: Of course Sterling had asked for a three-month extension to respond. The NBA will not be giving him that. They also accused Sterling of destroying evidence in the case.

BERMAN: Actor Michael Jace is being held on $1 million bond for the shooting death of his wife. Detectives say they're investigating whether the couple's financial problems or other marital difficulties may have played a part in April Jace's death. They say the couple's two young sons both under the age of 10 were just returning from Little League practice Monday night when shots rang out.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They were unfortunately inside the home when the shots rang out. It's not clear if they saw the shooting but they were at least inside the home. They are now with family members. Just so very unfortunate, I mean, that a domestic incident like this occurs. We have two young children that, you know, lost their mom and now their dad, you know, is in jail and most likely will be in prison for this.


BERMAN: That's just so horrible for those kids. Jace, who played a police officer in hit epic series "The Shield" reportedly called 911 immediately after the shooting and told the operator he had just shot his wife.

HARLOW: Officials in Pennsylvania are expecting a rush of marriage license requests today after a federal judge threw out the state's ban on same-sex wedding. The judge writing that same-sex couples deserve equal dignity and respect. And he refused to stay his ruling meaning that it takes effect immediately. The state attorney general will not appeal. The governor, though, is considering options.

BERMAN: Meanwhile, same-sex marriages in Idaho will remain on hold. A federal appeals court extending a stay in the case until when appeal can be heard later this year. A federal judge last week threw out the state's marriage ban calling it unconstitutional. But the appeals court stepped in and has now set a hearing date for September.

HARLOW: Dumbfounded and disappointed. That is how former Chris Christie aide Matt Mowers described his reaction when he first found out about the Bridge-gate controversy. Mowers appearing before New Jersey lawmakers investigating the traffic jam scandal says he knew nothing about it. He called it the work of a few rogue individuals.

BERMAN: Some scary pictures to show you from Denver right now. Check this out. These clouds rolling into the city in the late afternoon bringing with them severe thunderstorms, hail, strong winds. Some of that hail the size of baseballs, bigger than golf balls. No serious damage reported.

HARLOW: Indra Petersons is here with more on that. How bad is it going to get out there?

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: So severe. Well, I'm still stuck on bigger than golf balls.

HARLOW: I know.

BERMAN: Golf ball sized hails so I'm putting it in perspective.

PETERSONS: Baseballs.

BERMAN: Baseballs.

PETERSONS: Big. I mean, that's what's scary. Now these huge the up drafts up there and of course it is spring. It's the time of year we're still talking about severe weather. Today almost exact same spots will have that threat for severe weather. So again from Denver really to just west of Wichita. But also notice the other part of the country, from D.C. stretching all the way back to St. Louis, we're still going to be talking about the threat for severe weather.

Look at the map. Very easy to see why. Two systems rolling through. One bringing showers in the northeast and the Ohio valley. And again the other one exiting out of Colorado. And that still bringing another round of severe weather especially as we go through the afternoon today. Big delays if you are flying. But there is an upside to the system. Notice where the exceptional drought right at the southern plains.

Look at the system that's going to be making its way through. It's been so long but finally, the heavier amounts of rain are going to be expected in that exact same region. This is a huge upside. They need the rain badly. And it looks like they will be getting it over the next several days.

The other side of this, Ohio Valley, warm air, cold air, jet stream law, they all line up. What does that mean? We already talked about it. The threat for severe weather will be out there. Already seeing the showers really in Chicago, making its way in towards the northeast. That's going to be the story especially as we go through the overnight hours. Look for more of that rain hanging on all the way through Friday but eventually clearing out by the weekend. Memorial Day, that's all you care about. Temperatures kind of mild. It is going to be gorgeous this weekend.


PETERSONS: We've got to get to the rain first.


PETERSONS: But it means a beautiful Memorial Day weekend.

HARLOW: We'll take it.

PETERSONS: It's all good.

BERMAN: Yes. We'll all be working Monday. It will be gorgeous while we are inside here.


HARLOW: I'm not working Monday.

PETERSONS: Make the exception.

HARLOW: I know.

BERMAN: All right. You two are my least favorite people in the room right now.

Thanks so much, Indra.

Coming up, the Heat on fire again and definitely back in their series against the Indiana Pacers. They had a big win, really couldn't come soon enough. Joe Carter has the details and I hope a lottery update in the "Bleacher Report," next.


BERMAN: The Miami Heat turning up the intensity and they even up their series last night against the Indiana Pacers with a big, big win.

HARLOW: Yes. Joe Carter has more in the "Bleacher Report."

Good morning, Joe.

JOE CARTER, BLEACHER REPORT: Hey, good morning to you guys. You know what, this series in my opinion is right where it should be. I mean, I know that the Pacers struggled at the end of the year and they struggled against a couple of playoff opponents, but hey, we're tied 1-1 in the series. We're heading to Miami. And so far, the series has been really intense.

Check this out in the fourth quarter. The Pacers' Paul George said that he blacked out for a moment on this play. You see Dwyane Wade's knee catching the back of his head. Now George stayed in the game but said he felt dizzy the rest of the night. There was 21 lead changes in last night's game. But in the fourth quarter, it was all Lebron and Wade. The superstars scored 22 of Miami's 25 points in that quarter. The Heat tie up the series with an 87-83 win. The next two games are in Miami. So later tonight game two of the Western Conference Finals there on our sister network TNT. The Spurs lead the series 1-0 after a 17-point game one win.

Now let's talk about NBA lottery. For the second straight year, the Cleveland Cavaliers will have the number one pick in the upcoming NBA draft. Here's the shocking part. This year, the Cavs have a 1.7 percent chance of drawing that first pick. Now, Milwaukee who finished with the worst record in the NBA will pick second. The 76ers who this season tied the longest losing streak in the NBA they pick third.

Trending this morning on, Yankee's star pitcher Masahiro Tanaka finally lost a game last night. The big deal here is it's his first loss in almost two years spanning back to his days in Japan. And he did strike out seven batters, but he gave up four runs and eight timely hits to the Cubs who by the way happen to have the worst record in baseball.

Yes, this is one of several celebrations going on in Minnesota yesterday. The NFL announced Minnesota as the host site for the 2018 Super Bowl. Why? Well, the Vikings are building a $1 billion stadium that should be ready in 2016. Now, of course, they beat out Indianapolis and New Orleans for the right to host the most watched event on television. New Orleans, by the way, guys, was 10 for 10 going into this in terms of getting Super Bowls. But of course they didn't pay their light bill last time, so they didn't get it. And Indianapolis, as a matter of face, rated the highest ever for Super Bowl experience. But of course they hosted a Super Bowl a couple of years ago. So Minnesota, they built a new stadium, they get the right to host it.

HARLOW: Do you see the smile?


HARLOW: It's been on since last night.

CARTER: I know you're a big Vikings fan. Yes. HARLOW: And I reacted the same way that they did in the video. I saw that news and I jumped up screaming by myself. No one was there to celebrate with me.

BERMAN: That made me uncomfortable. Their squealing was sort of a little bit odd there, I have to say.

HARLOW: Because we -- you know --

CARTER: John, you know it's the closest the Minnesota Vikings are ever going to get to a Super Bowl is hosting one.

HARLOW: That is so not true. So not true.

BERMAN: Very nice.

HARLOW: And you know I think it's not going to be a blizzard. It's not going to be that cold.

CARTER: Well, they have a roof, so it doesn't matter which is great.

HARLOW: It doesn't matter.

CARTER: No compare to New York. It doesn't matter.

BERMAN: We are always that excited when we see you. Just like there in Minnesota.

Twenty-seven minutes after the hour. Breaking news overnight. The Republican establishment beating back Tea Party challengers. Really important primary elections around the country that tell us so much about what we might see this coming November. Could be trouble for Democrats. We are breaking it all down right after the break.