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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT

Minutes Away From Polls Closing In OH Special Election; Gates Admits To An Affair Falsifying Docs In Manafort Trial; Feds Scrutinizing Michael Cohen's Ex-Accountant Bank Loans; Dem Threatens To Flip District Trump Won By 11 Points. Aired 7-8 ET

Aired August 7, 2018 - 19:00   ET

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


[19:00:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: -- Pimlott for what you are doing. That's it. I'm Wolf Blitzer in "The Situation Room. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts now.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Out front next, a special edition of "OutFront" election night in America. Polls closing in Ohio minutes from now. Can Republicans hang on to a seat or could tonight be the beginning of a blue wave?

Also breaking this hour Rick Gates grilled by Paul Manafort's defense team. Did he do more harm than good for the prosecution? Let's go out front.

And good evening to all. I'm Erin Burnett. Out front tonight, the breaking news. Election night in America. Polls closing just moments from now in Ohio. One of five seats with important elections tonight. And Ohio is where all the drama is this hour. A special election to fill a vacant congressional seat.

Now, this seat should be a lock for the GOP. Trump won the district by 11 points in 2016, right? So that's pretty overwhelming. But it is a dead heat tonight. The GOP candidate Troy Balderson backed by Trump running neck and neck with Democrat Danny O'Connor. And make no mistake, Trump has gone all in for Balderson.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're going to have a tremendous victory for Troy. Right from the beginning, Troy Balderson, he is the guy.

Troy Balderson is going to help me do that. Right, Troy? Troy? Yes. OK. He said yes. If he said no, I'm out of here, OK?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Tremendous Troy. And Trump tweeting in part today, "Ohio vote today for Troy Balderson for Congress." So will the GOP win and turn around Trump's losing record on special elections? He's one for three on his endorsements when it comes down to a Democrat versus a Republican. It's a nail-biter and it's the last special election before the mid-terms.

First, though, this hour we also have breaking news about President Trump's former Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort. His right-hand man Rick Gates facing a grueling cross-examination admitting to an affair, a secret life, and lie after lie about money. And the question now is who will jurors believe, the accused liar Paul Manafort or the admitted liar Rick Gates?

Kara Scannell is out front live in Alexandria, Virginia outside the courthouse. And you were in there today, Kara. How did it go for Manafort?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: Well, Manafort was really trying to put Rick Gates on trial today. His defense lawyers were hammering Gates about his lies, about his admitted lies to the Special Counsel's office, about false filings and bank accounts that Gates had done in his own personal life, and really they were putting the focus on whether he embezzled from Paul Manafort. And there was a bit of a jockeying between Gates and Manafort's defense lawyer about where the money came from. Gates was not making many admissions. At various times he said he couldn't recall things whereas on direct examination he had very good memory.

But some of the big surprises of the day was Manafort's attorney forced Gates to admit that he had had an affair a decade earlier and there were questions about where that money came from, if it was money that he admitted he'd embezzled from Paul Manafort. They also were pressing Gates on his credibility in general, whether he was lying. And Gates was trying at the end to strike a note of contrition after all the sparring where he said I made a mistake, I regret it clearly, I'm here to tell the truth, Erin.

BURNETT: Now, Kara, did Gates and Manafort interact at all today? I know yesterday Gates was loath to even make eye contact with his former boss.

SCANNELL: That's right. I mean, today Gates when he came into the courtroom, his eyes were darting all across the defense table. He was looking over there. Manafort, you know, he was studying documents, he had his glasses on it various times. But he was closely paying attention so were the jurors.

And then during cross-examination, Gates seemed a little more on the defensive. He was speaking to the attorney then. I did not see any eye contact between Gates and Manafort as the day unfolded. We're expecting to cross-examination to continue tomorrow when court begins. And that could go for about an hour, Erin.

BURNETT: All right, Kara, thank you very much. Kara will be in that room again tomorrow.

And now let's go to Harry Sandick, former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Anne Milgram, former Prosecutor and former New Jersey Attorney General, and Garrett Graff, Author of "The Threat Matrix: Inside Bob Mueller's FBI and the War on Global Terror". Harry, let me start with you. The Manafort attorney who questioned Gates today --

HARRY SANDICK, FMR. ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: Yes.

BURNETT: -- you know, he was aggressive and he did a good job. His name is Ken Downing and you know him.

SANDICK: Yes.

BURNETT: You used to work with him. As he left court today he said, quote, Mr. Manafort had a great day. Do you agree?

SANDICK: Well, it's hard to know that this is -- to say that this is a great day. There was in the morning a lot of very incriminating evidence being laid out. The cross-examination, it's never a surprise that the defendant comes right at the cooperating witness. And that's because the government by federal law under our Constitution has to provide a tremendous amount of impeachment material. And so the start of the cross-examination usually involves something like what we saw today from Kevin Downing.

BURNETT: So Anne, the defense, you know, they forced Manafort to repeat that he lied to the Special Counsel. Now let's just be honest here. Because we don't lie.

[19:05:02] Twenty times he met with the Special Counsel. Twenty times, before they agreed to do a deal. Which means he lied a whole lot to Bob Mueller before he decided to stop lying to Bob Mueller.

He admitted the stealing from Manafort today, helping Manafort cheat on his taxes, said he may have taken money from the inaugural committee funds which there's a brig brouhaha over where that money went because there's no trail. Lied to his wife, had an affair, it goes on and on. Was it a good idea for Gates to go on the stand?

ANNE MILGRAM, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: So yes. I mean, and I think Harry's point is exactly right which is this is like a roller coaster. Yesterday you saw just Gates on the stand with the prosecutor going through all this evidence. It looks like wow, there's a ton of evidence. Today, all you see is a cross-examination where, and we already knew this, Gates lied to the Special Counsel, Gates has already admitted his plead guilty to committing all these crimes. So this is sort of the way it goes.

Now, what's important is that at the end of the day this morning, you had e-mails and they were between Gates and Manafort and they're all about moving this money to avoid taxes.

BURNETT: Yes.

MILGRAM: And you have Gates explaining those. So at the end of the day, the fact that Gates lied about things, does that mean he's not telling the truth when you have the physical documents here.

BURNETT: Yes. I guess that's the point. You know, he's almost a cherry on the top but you already have the documents to show it. MILGRAM: It's a roller coaster until the end when the prosecutor and the government puts all that together.

BURNETT: And Garrett, as you look at it, you know, in Mueller's decision obviously to put Gates on the stand, you think Gates may not have taken such a big hit today?

GARRETT GRAFF, AUTHOR, "INSIDE ROBERT MUELLER'S FBI AND THE WAR ON GLOBAL TERROR": Yes. I think what he saw actually in the cross- examination was entirely consistent in some ways with the tale that he was telling yesterday on direct examination, that this was sort of a stew of corruption and embezzlement where everyone was stealing from everyone else and sort of everything that he was testifying to today that he did in some ways backed up the story he told yesterday about the schemes that he was pulling off with Paul Manafort.

BURNETT: You know, Harry, to that point, Manafort's lawyer spent a lot of time today pounding the table on --

SANDICK: Yes.

BURNETT: -- how Gates stole all this money from Manafort.

SANDICK: Right.

BURNETT: A hundreds of thousands of dollars. And there's a significant point here that I don't know if everyone watching has realized. Downing said, you know, your colleague --

SANDICK: Yes.

BURNETT: -- why don't you say embezzlement? Gates, what difference does it make? We all remember who infamously said that. Downing, why won't you say embezzlement? Gates, OK, it was an embezzlement from Mr. Manafort.

SANDICK: Right.

BURNETT: OK. He didn't want to say it, but he did it. And obviously that means that Manafort didn't know about it. So he was able to sneak financial dealings to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars by Manafort. How does that play to the jury?

SANDICK: I think that that's one of the stronger points that we saw from the defense because it at least raises the suspicion that maybe some of these other crimes that he's trying to pin on Manafort were in fact done by Gates without Manafort knowing. If Manafort didn't know about this, maybe there are other things he didn't know about. So I think that's actually a good line of cross-examination because it doesn't just say hey, this is a bad guy. If he's a bad guy, Paul Manafort's partner for all these years was a bad guy. You need to, if you're the defense, show why he's lying about the crime.

BURNETT: So Anne, to this point, the jury's not just watching Gates. They're also watching the judge. So, according to the Washington Post, at the end of the day today, you know, Gates said what all of the accountants and bookkeepers and landscapers and Mercedes-Benz dealers have said, right, which is Manafort was in charge and he kept a close eye on things. But the judge, Judge Ellis, interrupted and said, "He didn't know about the money you were stealing, so he didn't do it that closely."

MILGRAM: Right.

BURNETT: Now, this comes from the judge. Obviously, we remember this judge reprimanded the prosecution, has repeatedly during the trial. Before the trial he said you guys are using this as a fig leaf, you just want to impeach Trump. Will this behavior sway the jury?

MILGRAM: Yes. I mean, it absolutely could sway the jury. But I also agree with Harry's point. This is one of the more effective parts of the defense cross today, was just the fact that, you know, there's no honor among thieves. They're both -- right? Manafort is sitting there accused of bank fraud and tax fraud and Gates is admitting not only to that but also to having stolen money from the person who's having him steal money. Right. It's like it's sort of like this very, you know, complex web of deceit.

BURNETT: I mean, you know, it's pretty incredible. I mean, Garrett, we're also learning that federal prosecutors tonight are now investigating Michael Cohen, Trump's former lawyer, for tax fraud, right? Which is exactly what we're talking about here with Rick Gates and Paul Manafort. So you'd now have three people from the Trump inner circle during the campaign under scrutiny, charged or have actually pleaded guilty to the charges of tax fraud. Does this mean Mueller is zeroing in on the President himself?

GRAFF: Well, it's hard to say. Obviously, the Michael Cohen investigation is by the Southern District of New York, a separate investigation. But where you sort of see these threads come together is Rick Gates over the last 48 hours has shown how devastating it can be to have a trusted aide, a trusted adviser, a trusted fixer turn on you. And so if you're sort of looking at this investigation right now thinking what could Michael Cohen deliver on Donald Trump given his years of working sort of as, you know, Donald Trump's Rick Gates, this could be a pretty devastating push if the President faces Michael Cohen turning on him.

[19:10:14] After Michael Cohen faces serious tax or bank fraud charges, which is what he's been reported to be under investigation for. Because those are very serious charges and, again, charges that can come pretty much with just some paper research and indictments.

BURNETT: Which, Harry, gets us to the point if Mueller sits down in interviews with the President, he said it could be about obstruction of justice, right? He has explicitly not said, right? It's not about any kind of fraud. But to the point Garrett's making, that doesn't mean that they may not be looking at that with the President of the United States himself, because the paper trail may be more important than any interview.

SANDICK: Absolutely. And you know, the cooperating witness can't make a case on their own. You would never as a prosecutor just bring a case based on one person's word. You would want to have the documentary evidence and then the cooperator is the explainer. He explains how the documents fit, what actually happened. But none of these cases would be makeable just based on one person saying you did it.

BURNETT: Right. And of course we should keep in mind accountant after accountant and bookkeeper and landscaper, I mean, they've all already made the case.

SANDICK: Yes.

BURNETT: Plus the documents and then there was sort of the icing on the top.

SANDICK: It's a strong case.

BURNETT: OK. We'll see. All right, thank you all very much.

And next, the breaking news. Polls about to close in that crucial Ohio special election. It is a major test for Trump before the mid- terms. The first results are coming in in about 15 minutes. So we're going to have that breaking here.

John King next out front at the Magic Wall. And Trump backing a controversial candidate for governor in Kansas, a man who was out to prove there was massive voter fraud. Will this backfire for Trump? And if Democrats can pull off a win in Ohio, what happens to their hopes of a blue wave?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:15:27] BURNETT: Welcome back to a special election night edition of "OutFront". Polls closing just moments from now for the special congressional election in Ohio. Standing by for the first results. And these are going to offer major clues about whether President Trump and the GOP are in serious trouble for the mid-terms or not.

Democrat Danny O'Connor squaring off against Republican Troy Balderson, who was backed by President Trump, right? That big rally this weekend. O'Connor is trying to flip a seat that the GOP has held for about 35 years.

"INSIDE POLITICS" host John King is out front. Now, John, obviously this is a crucial race, right? And this is, you know, the last special election. Dem versus Republican, that we're going to get here before the ultimate test in November. What are you watching tonight?

JOHN KING, INSIDE POLITICS HOST: Erin, just the fact that we're having this conversation, that we're worried about this race tipping, Republicans are worried about this race tipping, tells us it's a problem for the Republican Party. This is the district here.

Here's the big question. We're going to learn tonight is this a very difficult year for Republicans or is this potentially a disastrous year for Republicans? As you noted, the 12th district hasn't elected a Democrat since Ronald Reagan was president. So what are we looking for tonight? You mentioned the President going out there. So let's start with that.

The Trump effect. Morrow County is in the district here. This is Pat Tiberi. He was the incumbent. He left the seat. That's why it's open tonight in the special election. Look how well he did in this largely rural area in 2016. Did the President's visit? Does the President urging Trump Republicans to come out to vote? Does Balderson get numbers like this?

But it's important to note, fewer people live here. Look at the smaller vote count here. Just 15,000 people in Morrow County back in 2016. Balderson needs to run up the numbers out here. Trump Republicans need to come out and vote and they need to vote Republican. The next test, and we just start moving closer to Columbus, not all the way there but Delaware County. Yes, you have some rural areas out here but this is a more affluent exurban area.

Again, Trump sometimes turns off those kind of Republican voters. Does Troy Balderson run strong? You see how well Tiberi ran here with 72 percent, almost 73 percent of the vote. And notice there are more voters here. As you start to get closer to Columbus you're in suburban and exurban areas that are more populated. The President has had a problem with these voters at times.

This is a key county to watch if this area is close. And then the key is down here. About a third of the district is in the Franklin County part -- the part of Franklin County that is in this congressional district. This is where Trump has been toxic if you look at the Alabama Senate race, the Virginia results last year, Pennsylvania '18. The closer you get to the city, these close in suburbs, that's where you have your millennial voters, your college educated suburban women who have been turned off by the President, either staying home or voting for the Democrats. If this is red tonight, Republicans will hold this seat. If this is blue, the Democrats are in play as we watch this play out.

Again, we watch this tug of war within the Republican Party. The more traditional suburban Republicans turned off by the President, the President bringing in new voters into rural areas. We'll see that play out tonight, Erin.

BURNETT: And john, you know, this is also -- when you talk about how this conversation even happening is significant. There has been so much money poured into this race. I mean, we're talking about millions and millions of dollars for a special election where they've got to run again in November. I mean, it's pretty stunning, right? How much money are we talking about?

KING: It's pretty stunning. Again, it is evidence when you look at the lopsided nature let's switch walls that come out over here. This is just the outside money. Never mind the two campaign spending. This is just the outside money. And look how much of it is Republican.

More than $5.2 million from May through earlier this week into this district. The Democrats have spent a little more than a million. Again, 5.2 to 1 million. What does that tell you? A Democrat, again, has not been elected here since Ronald Reagan was President. The Republicans having to flood money into this district from outside PACS trying to save their candidate. It tells you, a, how much worried they are, b, how important it is for them not to lose the morale.

If Republicans lose the seat tonight, there's going to be a panic in the party. It's going to make more Republican incumbents think I'm in trouble this year. So that's why pouring in all this money, trying to save a race, Erin, that if you went back a few months you wouldn't even think should be close.

BURNETT: That's incredible. All right, John King, thank you. And John's going to be back with us of course because we're awaiting results, as I said, could start coming in here in just about 10 minutes.

I want to go now to our Senior Political Analyst Mark Preston, White House Correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks, April Ryan, former Special Assistant to President George W. Bush, Scott Jennings, who has been in touch with all the players including the voters in campaign on the GOP side, and former DNC Communications Director Maria Cardona.

April, I want to start with the numbers that John just went through. More than $6 million in spending, it's a 5 to 1 in favor of Republicans who have held the seat of course for 35 years. Why is this one race so important?

APRIL RYAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, AMERICAN URBAN RADIO NETWORKS: It's Ohio. It's a battleground state. But, you know, most importantly, one of the reasons why it's so important, it's some of the heartland of America. You have people there who are grassroots, who are in manufacturing. You have all types of communities in the state of Ohio.

[19:20:08] But when you get to this piece, when you have all of this money spent and you have a President going down and you have Democrats -- and I've talked to some Democrats in Ohio. They said Republicans are going to lose. And for this President, if that is the case, and they're saying it's not about a blue wave. This Democrat from Ohio -- it's not about a blue wave. It's about the fact that people are tired of this President's antics, quote, unquote. They said it's women, white women. They say it's independents.

And the Democrats are energized in Ohio. And it didn't help that this President talked about LeBron James, you know, last week. Ohio. That's Ohio's guy. LeBron James.

BURNETT: So, you know, Mark, it's interesting. You know, again, this point, since Ronald Reagan, right? This has been a Republican seat. President Trump won the district by 11 points. That is not eking it out, OK? That's 11 points. It's a comfortable margin. So the question is tonight, does the margin of victory matter for Republicans or is a win a win even if it's by one point compared to the 11 that the President pulled off as just an example?

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, a win is a win in the fact that if Democrats were to win it would be one less seat that they have to win in November. Of course, this would be one of those seats that they would have to win in November. But I do think the margin of victory is really going to be the talking point out of this.

You could argue right now that the amount of time we're talking about this in the middle of August just shows the enormity of it and how important it is. But specifically what the margin of victory is or the margin of defeat is for the Democrat. And if it's within about four points, I really do think Democrats are going to use that as a messaging tool --

BURNETT: I mean, it's amazing with all this money, when they have to vote again in three months. I mean, you know, I don't know. It's kind of like you roll your eyes at the whole thing.

(CROSSTALK)

BURNETT: OK. Now, the President, you know, he went this weekend, he went and campaigned for tremendous Troy, as he called him. Alliteration can work. But, you know, he likes to say he picks winners. But, Scott, it's actually amazing.

When you look at Republican primaries, right, Republican versus Republican, he has an amazing record. 18-1, OK? Anybody would take that in any athletic endeavor. General elections, special elections, his Republican versus Democrat, 1 and 3. That's not so good. And that's the record that's on trial tonight.

SCOTT JENNINGS, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes. The White House and the RNC and the Balderson campaign will all tell you though that they think the President's engagement in this race was enormously helpful. In fact, what they will tell you is that about two weeks ago this campaign was in a free fall and that because of some gaffes made by the candidate, Balderson, and some other reasons they were up and then they had gone way down. Pence shows up, Trump shows up --

BURNETT: So they're going to say even if we lose it would have been worse?

JENNINGS: Well, look, they have underpinnings for this from Pennsylvania. Everybody thought Saccone was going to get blown out. It was much closer and that was I think because Trump showed up and energized some people. They also saw --

BURNETT: OK, but a loss was a loss.

JENNINGS: Yes. But they showed some improvement in the early voting they say after Pence and Trump came. They feel good tonight about the flushing operation of voters they see in Franklin and Delaware. They are little worried about on the rural counties leaking.

So I will tell you this. The Republican apparatus feels better going into election night on this one than they felt about going in on Pennsylvania in the Conor Lamb race.

BURNETT: I don't know.

MARIA CARDONA, FORMER DNC COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Look, going back to your question to April about why this is so important, including everything that April said, this is so important because it's in play, Erin. There is no reason why this district which is deeply, deeply red, should be in play. It was won by Trump by 11 points. It was won by the Republican just in 2016 by 37 points.

There is no reason why we should even be talking about the possibility of a Democrat being in play here. And the fact that Republicans will try to use talking points to push back, gives you an indication of how nervous they are. Because there's no reason why we should even be talking about this specially --

(CROSSTALK)

BURNETT: Anybody but a Republican in here.

CARDONA: So much money.

JENNINGS: Sure, a couple things. Number one, the district has changed over the years. Number two, it took Pat Tiberi an entire career to build up that kind of base. And number three, you know who else won this district? Barack Obama won it in 2012. I know because I was there and I ran the Romney campaign in Ohio.

So, this is a district. It's not as red. It's not as red. Well, they broke up the same percentage, 53. It's not as red. It is a slight red district. But it's not as deeply red as you --

(CROSSTALK)

PRESTON: No, let me be the uniter here. You know, I mean, look, no matter what happens tonight there's going to be an incredible amount of messaging that is going to come out of it. Now, whether all of that messaging is correct and whether it's true or it's accurate or if it's going to even matter in November, we will have to see. The fact we are talking about it is a big problem.

CARDONA: Yes. Yes.

PRESTON: If I'm a Democrat right now, though, I wouldn't be that excited.

BURNETT: All right. We're going to hit pause because we're going to squeeze in a break here because we're going to come back right in time as this closes. And we hope we're going to get some initial results here. We are moments away from the polls closing and those first results.

[19:25:08] Plus, just how closely is President Trump watching those races tonight? And will another controversial endorsement in Kansas pay off for him? That's also, right, judge and jury tonight. And the President says there's no blue wave, there might even be a red wave. Larry Sabato, the man who's made a career out of predicting elections, says Trump is wrong, and he's out front next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: And welcome back to "OutFront". Polls about to close in Ohio, a special election for an open congressional seat. This is a race that President Trump has personally bet a lot on, gotten involved in, went to that big rally for the GOP candidate, told voters to go out today on Twitter, and it is a major test for President Trump tonight.

Mark, literally we have just a few seconds here till these polls close. This is very important for the President. He has put a lot of personal capital on the line.

PRESTON: Yes. This race is very important for President Trump because he's going to make it important about himself even if he loses. And by doing so if tonight, if Troy Balderson loses, Donald Trump will dump all over Troy Balderson which will only cause more of a headache in the --

BURNETT: Right. Like I can save anybody but you are unsaveable.

PRESTON: Right. I, you know, I did my best to get you there. However, why voters should care right now is that this is the canary in the coal mine right now. This is something that we've seen over the past few months. And this could be intuitive of what happens in November.

RYAN: Here's part of the problem. We are supposedly sitting on a great economy right now. And for it to be so close in so many different areas --

BURNETT: Yes.

RYAN: -- something is wrong.

BURNETT: Yes. All right.

RYAN: Something is wrong.

BURNETT: And here we are because we have our first key race alert for the night. Polls just closing in Ohio.

And as literally here closing within the past ten seconds. Obviously, too early right now to call the special election race. But you see here what's at stake. Democrat Danny O'Connor, Republican Troy Balderson. Polls are closed.

These results are going to start coming in. We are going to bring them to you for this crucial Ohio 12.

I want to check in with both candidates. We have reporters at those headquarters with this crucial race tonight. Jason Carroll is with the Balderson campaign. Rebecca Berg is with the O'Connor campaign.

Let's go to Jason Carroll first.

Jason, the president has put so much on the line here. What is the mood at camp Balderson like?

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Folks are feeling good here. They know it's likely going to be a late night. They feel as though the race is going to be tight.

But, you know, I spoke to a Republican operative very close to the campaign who says that anecdotally, they're showing extremely high turnout across the district and they feel as though that's going to tip in the favor of Troy Balderson. So, that's certainly what they're saying is some good early news, what they're feeling at least so far.

But look, also they know there's momentum coming from the left, coming from Democrats. They feel as though President Trump coming here this past weekend is going to give Balderson a huge boost. But having said, that some folks are also talking about -- the promise that Balderson made last night when he said, you don't want someone from Franklin County representing the district, of course, O'Connor being from Franklin County, where you find a lot of the suburbs, you've got Balderson, who's from Zanesville, which is more rural parts of the district.

Look, having said that, the campaign says this is a district that's always been red. They feel like it's going to continue to be red. And when I asked that Republican operative, I said, how confident are you about how things are going to go tonight on a scale from one to 10? He paused and then he said a 7. Then he paused again and he said a soft seven.

Erin?

BURNETT: All right. Thank you, Jason.

So this high turnout, Rebecca, is that what you're also hearing from camp O'Connor and do they see that as good for them? What's the mood there?

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, certainly, Erin, Democrats are hoping for a high turnout here tonight because it means that we could see the same Democratic energy here in this district that we have seen across the country in special elections for the past few months. The reason of course that this special election is so much bigger is because we are so much closer to Election Day.

And so, that Democratic enthusiasm would mean so much more for Democrats across the country as we're looking toward November. But for this campaign tonight, I'm getting cautious optimism from the O'Connor campaign. They do feel like they did everything they could do. They checked all the right boxes. They finished the campaign on a strong footing.

They believe that Balderson, the Republican, finished the campaign on the defensive, responding to their attacks on social security and Medicare. Very important issues, of course, for Democratic voters. And so, they feel very strong going into tonight.

But, of course, this is a traditionally Republican district. They're trying to defy history here. So they're just trying to keep it close tonight.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Rebecca.

And, of course, we're going to be going back to Rebecca and Jason as these results start to come in here in the next few moments. Everyone back with me.

Extremely high turnout across the district. You heard Jason Carroll. Balderson thinks that's good for him.

Do you both think that's good for each of the respective sides?

MARIA CARDONA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yes, I do think --

BURNETT: You think that's good for Democrats, you think that's good for Republicans?

SCOTT JENKINS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, the reality is there are seven candidates --

(CROSSTALK)

BURNETT: Depends where, right?

JENKINS: Depends where. The Democrat only -- if I were the Democrat I would not want high turnout in the rural counties because still -- the Democrat only has to win Franklin. They can lose the rest counties as long as they win Franklin by enough.

The county I'm watching is Delaware. It is a truly suburban county. If we talk about the suburbs, all this whole midterm cycle, you want to find out what's going on, what happens in Delaware really matters. Do the Republicans get the margin that they're used to getting in Delaware?

CARDONA: And to Scott's point about Franklin county, what Balderson said about Franklin County didn't help. I mean, he essentially dissed a third of the district. And I think it also reminded people within that district how divisive and polarizing he is. And guess like who? Like President Trump.

When you have white suburban women who are disgusted not just by the rhetoric but by the policies Trump has put in place, specifically and most recently the separation of families at the border, that is going to really remind them of what's at stake.

BURNETT: So, Jason mentioned it. You've now mentioned it. What Balderson said, one of the -- last night, right, about Franklin County.

So, to your point, a third of the voters in this whole district live in Franklin County. Yes, it is overwhelmingly Democratic.

[19:35:01] But nonetheless he's got to get some votes there or at least suppress some other votes. Here's what Balderson said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TROY BALDERSON (R), OHIO CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: We don't want somebody from Franklin County representing us. It's really important that we move that needle tomorrow.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: So, April, again, a third of the voters are from this count. I sure it's a Democratic County. But a comment like that, how damaging could it be?

RYAN: Very damaging, especially when it's on tape because you can play it over and over again. And this goes back to this inartful speak, this speak that is not politically correct, from this president. And it's now acceptable in certain areas. If he were to go into those urban areas, people won deal with them.

And the problem is he would not get a large majority of the vote there. And the sad piece about it is, and you brought up this piece about voter suppression. All of that stuff is on the table right now. The unfortunate piece is when you go into federal elected office, you are covering a large swath of the community, black, white, Jew, gentile, Protestant, Catholic, Hispanic. It all matters.

When you start separation, there's a problem. You wonder does my vote count, is my voice really heard? And people have been screaming that for a mighty long time.

BURNETT: So, do you think that that comment about Franklin County will matter, whether it's in terms of more people voting or fewer people voting or whatever it might be? Because that's what everyone said here, right? It's your margin in Franklin County that's going to determine --

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, let me tell you why it does matter. In many ways it was a stupid comment.

RYAN: It was stupid, period.

BURNETT: Yes.

PRESTON: Right. But we don't really know what the meaning behind that comment is. But I will tell you, the folks who heard that can certainly interpret it the way that it's not going to be advantageous to Mr. Balderson. And guess what. We're talking about it.

Again, takes him off message. And he puts something out there that can be interpreted in many different ways. That, mind you, can be interpreted --

(CROSSTALK)

RYAN: This is the anniversary week of Charlottesville. You cannot talk about separation like that. People look at things differently. But the base of it is I'm separate from you, period. I'm separate from you. BURNETT: He's got to represent this.

JENKINS: Yes, well, special elections are inherently base turnout elections. His base in this district is really all in the rural counties. And what he's trying to tell people in the rural counties is we need someone from the rural part of this district to represent us in Congress. It has everything to do with the rural-urban divide that's been on display in this country really since 2016.

RYAN: It boils down to race.

JENKINS: I disagree with that.

RYAN: No, it does, the rural-urban divide, it does.

(CROSSTALK)

CARDONA: I agree with that. And people will hear it that way, the people who actually are going to be very energized by going out to vote.

(CROSSTALK)

BURNETT: You guys are talking about white women in the suburbs.

CARDONA: That's right. But I think it affects them as well because they don't like the divisiveness. They don't like the polarization. They actually want a president who has some kind of character. This president has no character.

JENKINS: Well, Balderson is not running for president. He's running for Congress.

RYAN: He's following behind the president of the United States --

CARDONA: He has embraced the president.

BURNETT: He's tremendous Troy.

CARDONA: He's tremendous troy. And you know that in the --

PRESTON: Can I bring us all together?

(CROSSTALK)

PRESTON: In all seriousness, though, all seriousness, because I'm sitting here and listening to the different perspectives of urban and the rural divide --

RYAN: It's real right now.

PRESTON: I understand. And believe me, I understand and agree with what you're saying.

But I also understand and agree with what Scott is saying as well. We are a country very much divided that does need to come together but we need to understand each other. And right now there's zero understanding. That's the problem.

JENKINS: Yes.

BURNETT: There isn't.

And comments like that, whatever you think of them, wherever they may have come from, are not helping that.

All right. All of you saying with me, because as I said, the breaking news continues because those polls are closed and those first results, any second are going to come in from the Ohio special election. John King's back, going to look at some other crucial races tonight, the must-win races.

And why is President Trump paying such close attention to a race in Kansas this evening?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:43:05] BURNETT: Breaking news. First results coming out of Ohio for the special election there. We have a key race alert.

And John King back.

We've got some early results, John. What are they? And obviously, the county crucial where we're getting these first numbers.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Exactly right, Erin. So, let's look at the numbers. If you're a Democrat, you're going to see this and you're going to be happy.

I'm going to caution you not to rain on the parade. One percent, 1 percent of the vote in. Danny O'Connor, the Democrat with the big early lead, but we expected this to happen, Erin.

This is the entire district. Let's take a break and look where these votes are coming from. Let me get the county line here for you. This separates the districts by county.

All of the votes we have so far are from the piece of Franklin County that is in this district. That is the most Democratic area, the most moderate Republican area. It is closest to the urban area of Columbus. So, this is where we expect Danny O'Connor to run the strongest.

Now, if he keeps the margin like that in Franklin County, he's off to a great start. About a third of the vote in this district as you're discussing is down here. But this is what the Democrats want. Get off to a big early start. But just have patience.

We're going to be at this a while. These rural areas are critically important to the Republican candidate. And we don't have any votes in yet.

But if you're Danny O'Connor, this is the way you need to come out of the gate. I would just say, though, we're going to be at this for a while, probably several more hours. So, we shall see what happens.

The district, if you just think about it, this is the way it looked in 2016. All red. Pat Tiberi winning with 66.6 percent of the vote. So, if you're Danny O'Connor, you're off to a good start, Erin.

Don't crack the beer yet. Just hang in there.

BURNETT: Yes. I mean, and as you point out, obviously, that county overwhelmingly Democratic. But he can't win it without it. So, as you say the way to get out of the gate.

Now, if Democrats do manage to win, right, the map puts -- you know, the seats they need to take control of the House to 22 instead of 23, right? They could argue, right, this is the beginning of our blue wave. Got to start somewhere.

Could that really happen? If so how?

KING: Yes, sure, it could happen.

[19:45:00] Emphasis on could happen.

Even if Democrats are competitive in this district, even if they lose by a point or two, they will spin this and will be right to spin it, is to be optimistic, because again, look at the margin last time. The president carried this district by 11 points. Mitt Romney carried the district by 10 points.

The Republican incumbent won it in a walk away last time. So, if the Democrats are even close, here's one way to look at it. If there's -- look at the demographics of Ohio 12. It's 88 percent white. If Democrats are competitive in districts like this across the country -- well, Republicans are in trouble, plain and simple, flat in trouble.

If Democrats continue to be competitive in districts that look like this, guess what? Republicans are in trouble. That's one way to look at it.

Now, let's look at it this way. We list 95 House races coast to coast. Ohio 12 one of them, as the competitive races worth watching. Erin, 82 of those seats are currently held by Republicans, only 13 by Democrats.

So, Republicans are already back on their heels on defense in the president's first midterm election here. If you're already on defense and Democrats are competitive, maybe even can pull away with a win here, guess what? It gets worse.

BURNETT: All right. That's a powerful way to look at it because of course it does matter, right, on, you know, which seats are actually in play. All right, John.

And I want to go now to Larry Sabato, founder and director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, creator of the election forecasting newsletter "Sabato's Crystal Ball". All right, Larry. So, we've got these early results just coming in

from a highly Democratic county, right? It's always gone Democrat, but, you know, he's got to run up the margin there, the Democrat does, and he's doing that out of the gate. We'll see what happens over the next few hours.

The president said, as he's campaigning for Troy Balderson, he has said there will be no blue wave and there might even be a red wave come November. You say he's wrong.

LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA CENTER FOR POLITICS: Sure. I'll go way out on a limb three months ahead of Election Day. I think he's wrong because if you take the last century there have actually only been two midterm elections, the first midterm election of a new president, Franklin Roosevelt in 1934 and George W. Bush in 2002, where the president's party, the White House party, actually gained a few seats in the House. And it was just a few in both cases.

It's extremely unlikely that there would be a red wave. Even Republican operatives tell you privately they would be thrilled if they ended up only losing 15 seats. Democrats need 23. It would mean Democrats get pretty close to taking over but fail.

There are really three types of blue waves that I think we could see in November. And it's too early to know which one. The first, of course, is a small wave in which Democrats gain 15 or 20 seats but not quite enough to take over. The second is a medium size blue wave in which they do gain the 23 and probably a few extra.

Then, there's the big blue wave the Democrats talk about, and it could happen. The big blue wave would mean I think about 40 seats, maybe more. Is it possible? Sure. Do we see it yet? No.

BURNETT: So the big -- 40 seats. I'll go ahead and name that a tsunami.

CARDONA: True.

BURNETT: Larry, how important is tonight? Right? And I put it in the context of Trump won the district by 11. So do Democrats need to win it for that wave to happen? Do they just need to narrow that margin by 2/3?

I mean, how do you look at the significance of tonight's Ohio race?

SABATO: Well, I agree exactly with what John King has said and what Mark Preston said earlier, which is essentially this is about margins. Yes, it matters enormously to Ohio 12 who their representative is. We're not taking that away from Ohio 12.

But for the country and for the match-up between the two parties, what matters is where these candidates finish, less than who wins. If in fact the Democrat comes within two or three points of winning, even though he's losing the seat, the Democratic Party you could argue convincingly has actually won the night. BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Larry. Pretty interesting

laying this out -- 15 to 20, 23, or 40 seats. These different scenarios. Larry, I appreciate your time. We'll see you soon.

Out front next, more results coming from that Ohio special election. Key race alert next as these numbers continue to pile in here to CNN.

Plus, Kris Kobach, controversial Republican candidate for governor and also officially endorsed by the president. Could a Kobach win tonight mean a loss in November for Republicans? This is a crucial race happening at this hour in Kansas.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:52:46] BURNETT: And breaking news: we're getting more results out of Ohio for the special election. Key race alert right now.

And, John King, more results in, and what do they say?

KING: We're up to 5 percent, Erin. Democrat Danny O'Connor continues to lead in this district. It hasn't elected a Democrat since 1980. Hasn't been represented by a Democrat since Ronald Reagan was president.

But I just want to caution everybody. Whether you're Democrat or Republican or just an interested observer, just be patient. This is going to take a while.

Only 5 percent of the vote counted. We knew the Democrat was likely to take a big early lead because of where most of the vote was coming from. That's the district by whole. Now let's break it down by county.

Most of the early vote is coming here, from Franklin County, as you see that 10,000 to 2,500 here. This is the most Democratic area of the district. It is also where you have the most moderate Republican, suburban Republicans where President Trump and his party have had a problem during the Trump presidency.

So, Danny O'Connor needed to start with a big night here. He is off to a right start, if you're a Democrat and you want to win the race. But again, I want to say, we're very early. Interesting, though, as we do go through this, again, with a huge caveat, this is very, very early.

Let's move up here. Richland County, the Democrat is ahead right now. The Republican incumbent who won this last time got more than 60 percent of the vote up here. It's only 1 percent. No conclusions can be drawn.

But that's interesting. Just keep an eye on it to see if it holds up. Let's go here over to Morrow County. This is a rural Republican county, where the Republican is ahead, again, we're only at 1 percent, 550 votes to 448 votes. It's a long way to go here.

But just by comparison, I want to switch walls and show you. Remember that, the Republican is ahead, but just barely, right, by 10 points, 55-45. Let's go over to the same county and look at it in this blowout election by Pat Tiberi, the Republican Congress who retired. He got 77 percent in Morrow County in 2016.

So, one of the things you're looking at when you're comparing races, the last race to the current race, Troy Balderson does not need to match Pat Tiberi, who run away with the race last time. But a 10- point margin here, if that holds, which suggests you have a competitive race, could suggest that some of these white working class voters who came to Trump are bleeding back a little bit towards the Democrat. Might. I emphasize might because we're at 1 percent. So, it's just worth watching as it comes in.

Again, if you go to the district as a whole, Danny O'Connor is winning.

[19:55:01] If you look at it by county, Erin, it's coming in right now as we would expect. The Franklin County part of the district given the early part of the lead, this is curious, we'll keep counting.

BURNETT: All right. Curious and we'll keep counting.

And I want everybody to know, 5 percent of the vote in overall, as we continue to talk, you're going to be able to watch on the bottom of your screen, as each of those numbers changed, and keep your eyes on the bottom of the screen as you listen to what everyone is saying.

I want to now go to Jeff Zeleny.

Jeff Zeleny, the president obviously watching all of these races closely, Ohio and Kansas, of course, where he also endorsed a controversial candidate in the governor race.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Erin, no question. The president will be watching these results come in very carefully. He has a lot on the line once again today. Don't forget, his name is not on the ballot in this midterm election year, but his policies, his popularity absolutely are, and he is doubling down on those.

He, of course, was in Ohio just on Saturday, campaigning there. He is meeting with a business leader at his resort at Bedminster out here. But after that is over, after that dinner is over, I'm told, he is going to be watching these returns.

And. Erin, it is going to say a lot about what is going to happen for the next three months or so. You know, he is investing himself heavily in all of these races. But Republicans are not pleased with what he did in Kansas, weighing in on that governor's race, weighing in for one of his long-time supporters, Kris Kobach there, a big immigration supporter of his, but going against the sitting Republican governor.

The Republican Governors Association asked him to stay out. He got in. So Democrats believe it's a possible window for them in Kansas. We'll see if that happens tonight.

But the president here certainly watching it on his working vacation -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Jeff Zeleny. Let's go back to our panel.

All right. As these results come, in we're looking here, Scott, about 5 percent of the results in. Some of the counties as John was breaking them down. Rural Richland county right now, a Democrat ahead. Morrow County, huge Republican county. The Republican barely ahead.

One percent in each case, right? So that does not necessarily mean where we're going at all. But what do you make of the early results.

JENKINS: They count -- I've been hearing from the campaign. They count the early and absentee votes first. One thick that is true about politics in a lot of places, especially in Ohio, Democrats vote early and absentee and Republicans vote election day. So, some of these early results are going to be the early vote totals that will look great for Democrats.

Then, the election day votes will roll in. And the race will tighten up. I don't know if the Republican is going to win. But that's the early -- that's what you're seeing in the early numbers.

BURNETT: Would you agree with that, Maria, that analysis?

CARDONA: Yes, I think that's right, which is why Democrats need to tamp down the enthusiasm. But, again, the fact that we're even talking about this, I do think is overall a win for Democrats, because we shouldn't even be talking about this. I've also been hearing from the campaign, Democratic organizers who have been knocking on doors both this whole campaign as well as today are saying that Trump voters are telling them that they don't like the fact that Republicans want to take away their health care, and they don't like the fact that --

(CROSSTALK)

BURNETT: She said there is going to have to be increases in age for benefits.

CARDONA: Increasing the Social Security, exactly. So, those are two huge issues. You talked about how policies are on the ballot. Absolutely, they are on the ballot.

JENKINS: The Republicans are very, very worried. When Balderson said in that debate couple of weeks ago on Social Security and Medicare, it provided a huge change in the internal polling. They saw a massive flip. And the president came in and tried to stabilize it. But that policy attack really hurt.

BURNETT: Yes. Speaking the truth on that issue is not something that pays off for anybody, Democrat or Republican.

April, these results, though, again, early. And they both are agreeing. You know, you tend to lean Democratic because of those early votes, those absentee votes. RYAN: Right.

BURNETT: What do you make of it?

RYAN: The question is will the vote, the early votes mirror what's going to happen today? There is a discontent among Dems in Ohio, among white women and among independents. And those are interest ones that Democrats are hoping that will show up for what they don't want to call a blue wave, but the discontent that's growing.

But also, when you have a president who has a great economy and it's still this back and forth trying to figure out who is going to win, there is a problem. Something is wrong.

BURNETT: What it is about, Mark, what are you more interested in turnout out, right? Your ability to get base motivated. And I understand, we're talking about a special election, so fundamentally, that's going to be the core of it.

However, is that more important here when we look big picture, or it is more important whether you have voters who were, you know, not engaged with the last election, or were leaning Trump but have changed, right? Voters who are changing their minds or energizing your base, which matters more?

PRESTON: It's both. I mean, right now, the country is so divided. Look, President Trump, I mean, look, he went over 300 electoral votes, but it was an extremely close election. If you're running a campaign, you've got the make sure that you're not only reaching out to your base, but you're careful what you say to not offend those who may be on the edges. So, wou know, we've talked about that tonight.

O'DONNELL: Chris Christie model at work does not work now?

PRESTON: Right. Does not work now. Never worked then either.

CARDONA: Historically, midterms and polls have shown that people want a check on the president, not a blank check on the president.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you all very much. And this is obviously a big special election matters across this country. So please stay with us with our special coverage of the Ohio special election.

It continues now with "AC360".