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Former Governor Sonny Perdue Says Cotton-Picking For Gillum's Opponent; Independent Voters Spoke Out. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired November 4, 2018 - 19:00   ET


[19:00:10] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. There may be no election more consequential than the one just a day and a half from tonight.

Democrats who could turn the House, or perhaps even the Senate, blue know it. President Trump who could be facing future congressional committees and subpoenas, he knows it as well.

So he and President Obama today, the biggest names of their respective parties, are out on the trail, each in places where the big political brains believe they will have the most impact.

Women voters know the stakes. Dissatisfaction with the President is driving some to the polls, especially in suburban districts.

Young people appear to be turning out in early voting. They, too, know the stakes.

So do Trump supporters, hoping this midterms will help lock in their 2016 victory.

As for so-called never-Trumpers, they seem energized.

In fact, you'd be hard pressed to find any segment of the country for whom Tuesday's vote won't matter.

Two southern states, Florida and Georgia, could elect African-American governors. And in both states, race and racially offensive language has factored into these last few days.

Also, in Georgia, in the governor's race, a stunning last-minute legal move by the Republican candidate who also happens to be overseeing the elections. He is both a player and the referee. What he did in his official capacity has touched off a storm certainly among Democrats.

We have correspondents across the map tonight along with the best team of election watchers and the analysts around. A lot of big brains are on the table.

We begin tonight in Tennessee where President Trump flew in today for -- to stump for Republicans. CNN's Boris Sanchez joins us from Chattanooga.

So the President is certainly pulling out all the stops in these final days before the midterms. BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There's no question, Anderson.

Over the last few weeks, we've -- excuse me. We've seen President Trump crisscrossing the country as you well know. He's done six campaign rallies since Friday alone, and he's got three more planned for tomorrow.

Here in Chattanooga, he's planning to campaign for Representative Marsha Blackburn. She's trying to capitalize on the President's popularity here in the volunteer state. His approval rating here over 50 percent for quite some time.

She is trying to replace Senator Bob Corker who is retiring. She's cast herself as being to the right of Bob Corker, and she's trying to cast her opponent, former governor Phil Bredesen, as being a far-left liberal, often comparing him to Donald Trump's campaign opponent in 2016, Hillary Clinton.

Bredesen, meantime, is trying to cast himself as a moderate, someone who's willing to work with President Trump on a number of key issues. In fact, he has one ad where he's seen shooting a firearm, talking about his support for the Second Amendment.

He also supported the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court amid sexual assault allegations. It will be interesting to see exactly how the President goes after Bredesen here.

We should point out, both of them are in a dead heat right now with Marsha Blackburn maintaining a small advantage, though, Anderson, it is well within the margin of error.

COOPER: Boris, I mean, the President has a lot of very positive developments, obviously, he can run on -- good news on the economy, certainly low -- record low unemployment, his nominees for the Supreme Court both passing. But he's also focusing on these final days, really, on border security and the caravan.

SANCHEZ: And there's no question he's going to continue focusing on that. Two points on that, Anderson. The President believes that that message works. It's the same one that he used when he descended on that escalator back in 2015 and called Mexicans rapists. So it's no question that the President is keen to use it again.

He actually joked about exactly what you're talking about at a rally last night in Pensacola, Florida, that I attended, dismissing criticism on television that he's too focused on immigration and not focused enough on a booming economy.

Second point, Representative Marsha Blackburn, who we're just discussing, she's got a hardline stance on immigration. So there's a good chance the President is going to talk about the caravan here tonight, continuing to portray these immigrants as invaders, even if it could be dishonest, deceiving, and dangerous, Anderson.

COOPER: Boris Sanchez reporting from the rally. Thanks very much.

President Obama campaigned for Indiana Senator Joe Donnelly earlier today. He is in Chicago tonight. So is our Ryan Young.

So, Ryan, the former president just finished speaking. Talk about what he focused on.

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, absolutely contrasting styles. It looked like President Obama came out ready for a fight.

His voice sounded hoarse, Anderson. It sounded like the campaign trail is starting to take its toll on the former president's voice, but he said he was coming here to make sure the people understood how important getting out to vote was.

Look, there was a concert here before he got to the stage. That lasted some 45 minutes. It had the crowd sort of lathered up before he got here.

J.B. Pritzker who's running for governor in this state who has a comfortable lead over his opponent, the incumbent Rauner, barely spoke on stage, maybe about 10 minutes. But when President Obama got up there, he talked about, definitely, the idea that this vote was going to matter. That a great awakening is happening in America.

He went on to say that he feels that people are starting to get more motivated to get out to vote.

And he said he never thought in a million years that people would be running on healthcare and the fact that it's been changing, that the focus was on making sure people with pre-existing conditions had a chance to get the healthcare they needed. He talked about that.

[19:05:05] People started booing when he started talking about Republicans. The former president stopped them and said, don't boo, vote. So he made his conversation with this crowd very different. In fact, he said there was a lot of hype men in the crowd.

And people were interacting with the former president. It seemed like it sort of energized him to keep going a little longer than I think some people expected. At the end of it, he even stayed around to kind of high five people in the crowd, and that sort of lathered them up as well. So you can understand the pull, especially in Chicago.

But one thing he did go back to is that after he was elected, a lot of people thought that was going to be the big change. He says it may not happen overnight. You may vote today and something may not happen, but what could happen is healthcare is saved. You may save a life, someone gets job training programs, and that might help them move forward.

So people believe, just like in a big basketball game, they've brought in the -- the closer, they thought, for the Democratic Party into this area to make sure that people put out the last bit of effort to go out and vote, Anderson.

COOPER: I mean, it is extraordinary to hear a former president who was just the president out on the campaign trail. Usually, former presidents don't really do that, particularly in a midterm and particularly using the kind of energy and focus and some of the things that President Obama has been speaking about.

It was a busy day for him, two rallies. Do Democrats -- I mean, clearly, they believe he is the person who can get their candidates over the top or at least the best chance they have.

YOUNG: Absolutely. Something actually stood out to me and I kind of wrote this down. I was surprised he said it.

He was talking about how Republicans were talking about Hillary's e- mails. And he went after President Trump for his cell phone and the fact that the Chinese are listening. He was not holding back. I think the crowd was energized by the fact that the President was engaging with them, kind of going back and forth.

And he laid it out. He says we need -- talking about the tax cuts and how the people who are wealthier are getting more money. He was really focusing on the idea of not making that sure that not only people here go out and vote but a broader spectrum, especially when you think about what's going on in the neighboring state of Indiana and the -- how close that Senate race is.

An energized Obama, people hope, leads to more people going out to vote and maybe not the apathy that we've seen sometimes from people in terms of the last few days.

COOPER: Ryan Young, thanks very much.

YOUNG: Welcome.

COOPER: We're going to be playing you bits from former President Obama and from President Trump, obviously, over the next two hours of our coverage tonight.

This is one of those nights when someone inevitably looks at the number of guests and the size of the set and says you're going to need a bigger boat as a result.


COOPER: Joining us tonight is David Chalian, Nia-Malika Henderson, David Axelrod, Gloria Borger. Also, Van Jones, Jennifer Granholm, Rick Santorum, and David Urban.

How much impact, Gloria, do you think President Trump, former President Obama can have in these final days?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, at this point, it's about motivation, getting out your base. Mobilization, not persuasion. So they're not exactly traveling to places where they're not popular.

And, you know, you don't see Donald Trump in New Jersey, for example, suburban New Jersey, even Bedminster where his golf course is, because there's a possibility that congressman could lose the seat there, a Republican. And you're not going to see Barack Obama in Montana. So, at this point, I believe that they're not going to persuade

anybody, but it does remind people, I think, about the stakes of the election because you have these two presidents dueling at each other.

I mean, tonight, Obama said, you know, no one was indicted in my administration and reminding people about pre-existing conditions and makes the case very well for Democrats. And you know, you have Trump out there doing what Donald Trump does, which is talk about immigration and the caravan, et cetera.

So they're not convincing anybody, but it will motivate people on either side.

COOPER: David Axelrod, how much for President Obama is this about his legacy, right?


COOPER: How much is just personal, I mean?

AXELROD: Well, I don't think that it's personal. I think that, you know, this has been a big step for him because he's been trying to search for the way to be a former president in the Trump era. And I think he's decided that this particular election is deeply important. I think he -- you know, I don't think it's -- I think it's less about legacy and more about deep concern about the direction of the country.

There's no doubt that anybody with any sense would know that the things that the President has done to dismantle some of the things that President Obama worked hard on are irksome to him. But honestly, people have been urging him to come out for months and months and months, and I think he finally felt like he had an obligation to speak out.

COOPER: And, Nia, I want to play the shot that Gloria was just referencing, President Obama talking about nobody in his administration having indictments. Let's watch.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All right. So now they've had two years of total control in Washington. What have they done with that power?

CROWD: Nothing! Nothing!

OBAMA: No, no, no, it's not true they haven't done nothing. They've done something. They promised they were going to take on corruption in Washington. Instead, they've racked up enough indictments to field a football team.


[19:10:03] OBAMA: Nobody in my administration got indicted.


OBAMA: Which, by the way, is not that high a bar. I mean.


COOPER: I was actually going to say it wasn't that high a bar until I saw that.




COOPER: But, I mean, it is -- it does bear repeating just how unusual it is to see, you know, a former president, the last president, out on the campaign trail so aggressively like this.

HENDERSON: Yes. In some ways, it's interesting to even see Barack Obama out in the -- on the campaign trail in a midterm year, right? He wasn't that present in 2010. He wasn't that present in 2014.

Certainly not in red states like Indiana. I was actually surprised to see him in Indiana, in this red state. Sure, there's Gary.


HENDERSON: There's an African-American community there and that's where he was, but it's still a red state. So to see him out there. I was texting with some Democrats about it, and they essentially say it's very close.

They like the contrast that Obama has, you know, with Trump, obviously. His vision for America, very different. He pointed out there this whole contrast between what happened in his administration and what has happened in Trump's administration.

So, yes, I mean, at this point -- for months, it was the sense that Obama -- they didn't want Obama out there because he provided more heat than light. And at this point, I think he does provide some light and some clarity in terms of this contrast and in terms of talking about very specific issues like healthcare.

COOPER: David Urban, do you think Republicans like seeing President Obama out there because it --


COOPER: -- does the opposite impact on Republicans?

URBAN: Sure, I'd like to see, you know, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton --

BORGER: No, no, you're not getting that.

URBAN: -- some of the Kennedy family, right? COOPER: You're not --


URBAN: Let's roll them all out. Let's roll them all out.

Look, I was there the night before the election in Philadelphia with Barack Obama on the stage. It didn't make much of a difference.

I think, in Indiana -- look, the good news is that Democrats feel a need to roll him out in this very close states. It shows you how incredibly close it is. I hope he gave Joe Donnelly a chance to clean up his remarks, his very insensitive remarks about African-Americans there earlier in the day about saying, you know, "but."

But, you know, I think it's good news for Republicans that it's this close in a lot of these Senate races.

COOPER: Van, what do you think?

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I love seeing Obama, and I love seeing him let loose. But I think we don't talk enough about the fact that, on the ground, you have people doing extraordinary work.

There's a group that has knocked on one million doors, Center for Community Change. A million doors in Florida! The National Domestic Workers Alliance has housekeepers knocking on doors in Georgia. I mean, people who are fighting for their lives out there.

So, you know, it's -- you love to see the big folks come in, but you can't underestimate. You've got a grassroots movement now.

People have knocked the skin off their knuckles on those doors and that is going to be -- if we get across this finish line, it will be in part because of the Oprahs and the Obamas but largely because of those unknown, unnamed people who are out there killing themselves now.

COOPER: In terms of that, Senator Santorum, I saw Ralph Reed quoted, I think it was in "The New York Times," saying that he thinks Democrats are going to be surprised in some House races, in particular with Evangelical turn out, and that's sort of the secret of this.

I mean, to Van's point, do you see that same kind of mobilization among Republicans?

RICK SANTORUM, FORMER SENATOR FOR PENNSYLVANIA: I mean, I've been talking to several campaigns here in the last 24 hours, and they're telling me that the energy is very high. They also have people out knocking on doors and working very, very hard.

I think the report -- the earlier report is correct, everybody is pretty amped up. I mean, the President gets people on both sides amped up. I'm not sure that Barack Obama really makes that much of a difference at this point in time and -- JONES: He does to me. He does to me.




JONES: He does to me. I love him.

SANTORUM: What I'm saying is --


JONES: I love him.

SANTORUM: -- you know, in the past, it really hasn't worked. I mean, he really hasn't been very effective in getting people who are supportive of him get out and vote when he's not on the ballot. And maybe that's different now. Maybe Trump is the factor.

But I will have to say about the indictment thing. I will tell you, from a lot of Republicans, you hear that -- say, yes, but there should -- people that should have been indicted like Hillary Clinton and like Lois Lerner and like a whole bunch of other people.

So he brings that up and he thinks that's a sell line. To a lot of conservatives, it's like, heck, there should have been.

GRANHOLM: You know, Anderson, for the -- almost the whole campaign, people on the right, in particular, have been saying the Democrats have no message. The Democratic message has been a bottom-up message, right?

It's been a grassroots bottom-up. To Van's point, the messaging on the ground has been things like in Michigan, fix the damn roads, that kind of thing. What Obama does, in coming in at the end, is to put it all together, and especially in contrast with Donald Trump, by causing our hearts to soar, to remind us that we are united as a people.

When he says it doesn't matter how you worship or what you look like, you are all part of the fabric of this great country, it's such a fierce contrast with Donald Trump that that's what I think the value is of his presence at the end of the campaign.

BORGER: Well, I think what Obama does is make the policy argument, though, very well. I mean, not only that.

[19:15:03] GRANHOLM: That, too.

BORGER: And on Friday, he talked about hope and change a little bit, which was fun to hear. But I think what he does do is remind people about the Affordable Care Act and how many times it was that Republicans tried to repeal it and how the Justice Department is fighting against pre-existing conditions or has refused to defend pre- existing conditions. So he makes the policy cases very, very succinctly, I think.

COOPER: David Chalian?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes. Politically, I just -- what Rick was saying about, we do have an eight-year track record of Obama. And we did see his popularity did not translate to the party all that well throughout the Obama years both in the midterm elections but also at the state legislative level. It was just -- there wasn't a full translation effect.

I think it's one of the big questions about this Tuesday about President Trump. We don't know the answer yet. This is his first test.

And we're going to see, does President Trump's popularity with his voters translate in a midterm election year when he's not actually on the ballot no matter how much he is embracing being out there and attaching himself to it? That's one of my big question marks, I think.

AXELROD: Well, one thing --

COOPER: Wait. We got to take a quick break.


COOPER: Hold that thought.

AXELROD: All right.

COOPER: We only have two hours, I know.

AXELROD: I'm holding my thought.


COOPER: Yes, all right. We're going to talk about a very interesting story that just popped up, Georgia's top election official okaying a probe of state Democrats on the eve of election that he's running in for governor.

A candidate enforcing rules. Democrats are saying, is he abusing the rules? We have breaking news on that and new reporting.

Also, Andrew Gillum and the attacks on him, allegations that they are racially coded, like when his opponent warned he would monkey up the state.

President Trump has called him a thief. Today, a member of the President's cabinet weighed in. I'm going to play what was said so you can decide for yourself what to make of that. We'll be right back.


[19:20:18] COOPER: Even under normal circumstances, a top state election official announcing the investigation of alleged misconduct in the closing hours of a campaign would be a big story. However, as we point out almost nightly here, these are not normal circumstances.

So when Georgia's Secretary of State who doesn't offer any evidence launched a probe with the state's Democratic Party, it went beyond big. That's because the Secretary of State, Brian Kemp, is also the Republican candidate for governor and has locked in a very tight, bitterly fought race with Democrat Stacey Abrams.

We invited Mr. Kemp or anyone from his campaign to come on the broadcast. They all declined.

Our Kaylee Hartung is doing some late reporting on this right now. She's in Augusta, Georgia.

First, explain what's going on. And second, I know Stacey Abrams has talked about this in her remarks with reporters. What is she saying about it?

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Anderson.

So, earlier today, the Secretary of State's Office announces that they're launching this investigation into Georgia's Democratic Party in response to what they described as a failed attempt to hack the state's voter registration system. But they announced this investigation without giving us any evidence as to why the Georgia Democratic Party was a part of this probe.

The Secretary of State's spokeswoman saying that she couldn't comment on the specifics of an ongoing investigation other than to say they learned of this attempted hack from their legal team.

Now, we have to delineate between the communications from the Secretary of State's office that Brian Kemp heads as opposed to Brian Kemp's gubernatorial campaign communications.

That campaign has been much more direct in tying Democrats to this hack saying, quote, Democrats tried to expose vulnerabilities in Georgia's voter registration system.

Now, these are claims that Democrats say are 100 percent false. They say the claims are scurrilous. Stacey Abrams just spoke to a couple hundred people in this community center. She didn't address the controversy in front of the crowd, but we spoke to her immediately following her public remarks.


STACEY ABRAMS, DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATE FOR GOVERNOR OF GEORGIA: First of all, it's an unreal investigation. What has happened is that Brian Kemp, once again, is trying to cover up for his failures in cybersecurity by blaming someone else. The first four times, he blamed staff, he blamed vendors, and now he's blaming Democrats.

But the reality is there were imperfections in their system, there were weaknesses and vulnerabilities. They were told about this on Friday. And instead of owning up to the failure and making it right, he decided to blame Democrats.

We are not responsible. We have nothing to do with this. And I'm very sad that, instead of owning up to his responsibility and honoring his commitment as Secretary of State, that he is, once again, misleading Georgia.


HARTUNG: Now, throughout this campaign, there have been these repeated allegations of voter suppression by Brian Kemp in his capacity as a Secretary of State. We have heard the litigation.

Well, as the news of this investigation comes out, we're also learning that one of the organizations involved in litigation with Brian Kemp is claiming that the online voter registration database that updates the electronic polling lists, they're saying that that system is open to manipulation.

So, Anderson, you see the P.R. machines on both sides spinning, trying to use this as an opportunity to appeal to their already polarized bases. But at the end of the day, there is a question about the vulnerability of Georgia's voting registration system.

COOPER: So has Mr. Kemp made any comment directly about this?

HARTUNG: No, he hasn't. He didn't address it when he was on stage with President Trump earlier today in Macon, Georgia.

Like I said, you have to really separate the communications we're getting from his Secretary of State Office as opposed to his campaign. That campaign being more willing to be aggressive in their rhetoric towards Stacey Abrams and the radical Democrats as they call them. But we have not heard Kemp address this situation directly himself, Anderson.

COOPER: Right.

HARTUNG: Though his Secretary of State's Office does tell me they will be meeting with the FBI and other officials tomorrow to see how this investigation proceeds.

COOPER: All right. Kelly Hartung, appreciate it.

Back now with our political team. I mean, is it -- I mean, it's kind of a complex story. It's hard to kind of figure out.

David, how do you see it?

AXELROD: Well, look, I mean, this has been a controversy ongoing, the fact that the candidate for governor is also administering the system and it's come up in connection with the potential disqualification of -- or the provisional status of 50,000 or so voters who -- 70 percent of whom are African-American.

And, you know, so the question comes up, how does he not recuse himself from overseeing an election in which he has such a stake? And by throwing this into the middle of it in the last 48 hours, I

mean, it really -- I wonder how voters there will process it and whether they feel like this is a last-minute dirty trick and underscores something untoward about the Secretary of State and --

[19:24:59] COOPER: Or does it mobilize Republicans who feel like Democrats are trying to manipulate the system?

AXELROD: It could, although you'd have to produce some evidence of that. I mean, there are some Republicans who will believe it, but I think the lack of evidence -- this thing is going to be decided, I think, in the suburbs of Atlanta where there are voters who are more discerning about these things.

I think they're going to find it strange that he should -- that this should come out the way it came out. Without evidence, without spokespeople stepping forward, without any real backup for a fairly serious charge.


GRANHOLM: Anderson, he plasters this press release on his Web site. Come to find out that this is the same Brian Kemp who was sued earlier this year by people who were saying that Georgia's voting system is vulnerable and it's subject to hacking.

He doesn't have any paper trail. The Department of Homeland Security offered to help and -- help to secure the system, and he rejected that help. The judge in the case he was sued in, again, back in December, castigated him wholly for this completely vulnerable system and not for shoring it up.

And so now, on the last minute, to start to accuse Democrats of his own failure, it is astonishing. This man is playing on the field and he wrote the rules and he's the ref. It is outrageous.

COOPER: Senator?

BORGER: And no evidence.

COOPER: Senator Santorum?

GRANHOLM: And there's no evidence, of course.


GRANHOLM: At least on the Democrats' part.

SANTORUM: Yes. I think it is important that if they're going to make the claim -- as, again, the reporter said, that the Secretary of State's Office is not making that claim, it's the campaign making that claim.

COOPER: Right.

SANTORUM: So if the campaign is going to make that claim, they're going to have to come up with some evidence to show between now and about sometime tomorrow.

They're going to have to show some evidence as to where the Democrats were somehow complicit with this. I don't think they can get away with blaming Democrats and just hoping everybody believes it.

JONES: The bigger --

SANTORUM: I think there has to be something.

JONES: I think the bigger issue here is that, across the country, there's a sense that, between the gerrymandering and voter suppression, that there's -- that the Republican Party is hostile to a fair vote. And this is sort of like the most --


JONES: I mean, if you --

SANTORUM: Oh, come on.

JONES: Yes --

SANTORUM: Let me call it a tactic (ph) --

URBAN: Gerrymandering is a flag on the play.

COOPER: Hold on.

JONES: Hey, listen.

COOPER: Hold on.

URBAN: Flag on the play.

JONES: Or they're --


URBAN: Flag on the play.

JONES: There's a hostile --

GRANHOLM: Wait, you disagree that Republicans --

COOPER: I promise we'll go to you guys next.



JONES: I think that there is a sense and there is a fear that Republicans are hostile to a fair vote here. That this particular -- and Kemp is just the worst example. That you have Kemp who has a history of being hostile, has been sued many times.

And I think that we've got to be careful here because when you are in a situation like Kemp is where you are the referee and you're the player and you -- and you're in a squeaker --


JONES: -- if he wins and people doubt his legitimacy, that's bad for everybody. And I think the Republican Party had a huge opportunity. Now, I'll give you guys a chance. You had a huge opportunity.

The Republicans don't get enough credit. They actually voted for the Voting Rights Act to be passed and then the Supreme Court struck it down. And then they have not come back to fix it.

And so now the Republican Party, which actually voted for the Voting Rights Act to be passed, having failed now for years, for a couple of years, to restore the Voting Rights Act, you're all now vulnerable to the idea that you don't care about a fair vote. And you've got to deal with it.

COOPER: David?

URBAN: So I'm not going to speak to Georgia specifically, but in terms of gerrymandering, look at -- in our home state of Pennsylvania. The Democratically elected Pennsylvania Supreme Court drew a map that, by all accounts, by "The Cook Political Report," said was drawn to favor Democrats and which is going to result in the flip of probably about six seats here.

So in terms of fairness, the Republicans looking for fairness, I mean, what's fair in one state may not be fair in another. So, Van, if you put --

JONES: You could pick one state.

URBAN: Well --

JONES: We've got --

URBAN: -- you pick another.

JONES: We've got a dozen lawsuits going --

GRANHOLM: We got about 26, yes.

SANTORUM: That's because -- because legislatures are controlled by Republicans. And the Democrats did it in California for years and years and years. So, look, any time either party --

JONES: And we fixed it.

SANTORUM: -- either party has control, they're going to draw lines that are going to be favorable to them.

AXELROD: But that's not --

GRANHOLM: But it's not gerrymandering.

AXELROD: But that is not -- GRANHOLM: It's not the judge gerrymandering.

AXELROD: But this issue of Kemp is different. I think Van's point --

SANTORUM: I agree with him. But that's not what he's --

AXELROD: -- is fair.



AXELROD: The most compelling point here is this is a razor-thin election. And the notion that one of the participants in a razor-thin election is the guy who's going to administer that election is, on the face of it, troubling. But then to do this at the end as this element of suspicion --


AXELROD: -- that is -- I agree, it's dangerous and irresponsible.

COOPER: We're going to talk about more about this but we've got take another break in. Much more ahead including what Agricultural Secretary Sonny Perdue said at a rally for Ron DeSantis in Florida who is running against Andrew Gillum that's been making headlines.

Purdue used the phrase, "cotton picking." We'll hear how Gillum reacted to that. We'll talk about it with our political team next. A lot more in the day's news ahead.


[19:33:36] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: There is a lot of ways to describe the significance of Tuesday's election in Florida, potentially historic is one way. If Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum wins his race, he will become Florida's first African-American governor.

Now in a rally to Gillum's opponent, Ron Desantis, agriculture secretary Sonny Perdue chose - well, he made a comment, we will let you interpret it. Here's Perdue, a former governor of Georgia described the stakes.


SONNY PERDUE (R), FORMER GEORGIA GOVERNOR: Public policy matters. Leadership matters. And that's why this election is so cotton-picking important for the state of Florida. I hope you all don't mess it up.


COOPER: Well, Gillum is asked today if he had any reaction to Perdue's choice of words.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MAYOR ANDREW GILLUM (D), FLORIDA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: No, he should go back to Georgia. We will take care of Florida. Listen, we are trying our very best to end this race on a high note. As I have said throughout the campaign, we are working to give voters something they can vote for and not just against.


COOPER: Back with our political team.

Van, how do you see this?

VAN JONES, CNN HOST, VAN JONES SHOW: You know, listen. I -- it's an archaic expression, but honestly, as a southerner, I hear that sometimes thrown around. So, you know, I'm trying not to go directly to the worst possible thing and then I get eat up. I think it's an unfortunate choice of words but I don't think that it was an intentional dog whistle. I really just don't.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, I agree. I mean, I may have used that phrase before. I'm from the south, really small town in South Carolina, so I didn't necessarily, you know, it didn't land wrong for me. I think it's odd that Sonny Perdue who is, you know, a former Georgia governor is in Florida. It's sort of weird that way. I think it speaks to the fact that Ron Desantis has had trouble attracting crowds. Gillum has been much better about that.

But I do think this race, it has been imbued with the racial dog whistling and that started with Ron Desantis. This whole idea of -- he said at some point, you know, don't elect Andrew Gillum. We don't want to monkey this up. And then you had the President calling Andrew Gillum a thief. So, you know, I think we are sort of sensitive to that in this race, but I think this particular instance of using the word cotton-picking, it didn't strike me as a sort of racial dog whistle.

[19:35:49] DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: What I thought it so interesting was Gillum's response --.


CHALIAN: -- is different than how he responded when his opponent said monkeyed up. Different than in the debate CNN hosted by Jake Tapper moderated where he went really hard back at Desantis and calls him out for the dog whistling or the, you know, the horn, the foghorn that he says more than a dog whistle that it's so loud. Here, two days out, I just think it tells us everything.


CHALIAN: That he did not want to make this about race at the end because he is not just courting a base in Florida, a very purple state. He is also courting -- he wants to make sure some white voters who may not be comfortable picking him to go ahead and pick him heading to the ballot box. That was a telling moment where that race is. GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: This is not a place for

him to stir the pot at all. I mean, it is close race. He wants those suburban, an ex-suburban voters who could get them (ph), and so certain again, he has made his point about race. That's done. And I think it was very clever.

RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. I saw it a little bit differently. I think he basically said, yes, it's about race, but we are not going there. So -- it was a very deaf move on his part because he basically confirmed that, yes, I see this as an insult. I see the system another dog whistle, but I'm going to end this on a high note. So I somewhat disagree with you because I think he did call him out. He just did it in a way that was -- I'm drawing the contrast because he has called out Desantis.

CHALIAN: Well. No. He throw out this campaign. So he may --. It's not like he --.

SANTORUM: He didn't do a damn thing. He didn't do set you up. This is a saying that, and I'm not -- he took it but he took a different approach.

CHALIAN: But he took a different approach in how to handle it.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I actually -- that was my first thought, was Republicans and Democrats, if you speak to them privately right now think that he has an edge in that race. I think he thinks he has an edge in that race and he is trying to land the plane here. And I thought he was deaf. And you know, I thought he handled it pretty well.

COOPER: How close do you think the race is?

AXELROD: Down there?


AXELROD: You know, its close. So I think, if he wins, it's going to be by a point, two points, three points, but he has been consistently ahead in the polls down there. If you talk to, and we all do talk to people on both sides. There's not a lot of optimism on the Republican side, and there's sort of guarded optimism on the Democratic side.

BORGER: Yes. And there's the sense that Desantis may not have been a fabulous candidate, whereas Gillum is of course, a very, very good candidate as we just saw. And, you know.

JONES: This race is so important because it really is, it's a hand- picked kind of Trump person versus a very different vision of what a Democrat can do. This is a Democrat who is willing to be progressive, he is willing to be bold. He is deaf but he is willing to be progressive.

For Democrats this fight inside our party about do you go to the moderate middle or do you run on your diversity and probably on your progressive ideals, if Gillum wins, it's not just important for Florida, it's important for the Democratic Party.

And I also - one other thing. A bunch of Puerto Ricans who had to leave their island because of what happened with that storm Maria are in Florida right now. They are American citizens. They can vote. And they are going to be voting for Dem.

SANTORUM: And a lot of folks have abandoned them are not going to be voting which is a real problem for all of the (INAUDIBLE).

COOPER: We are going to talk about Florida. We have another tape. Randi Kaye spoke with a group of women there who identify as independents to see how they see the race at this stage, what they said and how that could translates to other direction perhaps on the campaign.

We will be right back.


[19:43:21] COOPER: The latest polling shows Florida voters are almost evenly split on both the Senate and gubernatorial races.

Randi Kaye spoke with the group of six women in Florida who call themselves independents. Now to vote in the primaries in Florida you have to register with the party. In this case, one has registered as a Democrat, two are registered Republicans, three others did not join the primaries. Of those three, one leans Democratic but again, they all call themselves independents. I know there is a lot of specifics but we would like to tell you everything. Full transparency.

Here's what they told Randi.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: How many of you have made up your mind about who you are voting for?

Of these six voters who identify as independent, five know how they plan to vote.

SALLY CLARKE FOX, INDEPENDENT VOTER: I don't like the direction, the negative direction that we are going right now. So I think it needs to flip.

KAYE: Sally Clarke Fox says she is voting Democrat. Nicole Padro is still undecided but leaning toward Democrat Andrew Gillum in the governor's race.

And you are telling me you like Gillum who is a Democrat and you are registered as Republican for voting in the primaries?


KAYE: So you're leaning Democrat on the governor's race.

PADRO: Yes. That's probably the only one. KAYE: OK. The key issues influencing their votes are immigration,

security, the environment, and the economy.

Erica DiAngelo is voting Republican.

ERIC DIANGELO, INDEPENDENT VOTER: Thousand economy is doing affects me personally.

KAYE: So when you hear that more people are working, unemployment is way down at a nearly 50-year low and wages are up, that you like the sound of that for republicans?


KAYE: What do you make of Donald trump's approach in these final days and weeks, these endless scare tactics about immigration and the caravan? Will that sway your vote?


PADRO: Absolutely. I think the whole caravan thing is ridiculous.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's not an invasion.

[19:45:00] JESSICA CALLELLA, INDEPENDENT VOTER: I mean, I'm ready for change quite frankly.

KAYE: So you are saying Donald Trump's scare tactics on immigration will make you not vote Republican?

CALLELLA: That's correct.

KAYE: But not everyone is letting the President's language influence their vote.

Morgan Kissel, an independent who didn't register to vote in the primary has decided to vote the Republican ticket.

Will the rhetoric about the caravan and the scare tactics change your vote?

MORGAN KISSEL, INDEPENDENT VOTER: No. I have done all my research at this point. And I understand what's important to me as a voter.

ALLYSEN KERR, INDEPENDENT VOTER: Fear is a very easy motivator to move people in one correction or another.

KAYE: So has Donald Trump's behavior influenced your vote one way or the other?

KERR: Yes, it definitely has confirmed that I'm making the right decision to not vote in that direction.

KAYE: Not to vote Republican?

KERR: Right. KAYE: But is the language do you think a turnoff to independent


DIANGELO: I don't know if there is scare tactics other than the fact that I think it is scary that 3,000 people that we don't know are trying to get into our borders, so I absolutely support a military going down to the border.

KAYE: Most in this group were disgusted by Trump's remarks following the pipe bomb scare, and fatal shooting at the Pittsburgh synagogue, suggesting both had slowed down Republicans' tremendous momentum.

CALLELLA: Ad I just think it's a little careless this, you know, far into the season.

KERR: For someone to say something like that when in such a tragically and sad moment was just careless.

DIANGELO: It doesn't change my vote, but I think sometimes people get too hung up on the way Trump delivers his message instead of what he is actually trying to say.

KISSEL: It was disappointing that that was the reaction.

KAYE: But yet, but that doesn't change your vote? That doesn't weigh into your vote what he's been saying?

DIANGELO: No, it doesn't weigh on my vote.

KAYE: Six independent voters and five have their minds made up. Three will vote Democrat, two, Republican, and one likely split in key races.

Randi Kaye, CNN, Tampa.


COOPER: We will talk to the panel about what these women said and what could say about races around the country. We will be right back.


[19:51:13] COOPER: Just before the break, you saw 360's Randi Kaye talking to a group of Florida independent voters. Part of the discussions have turned to the immigrant caravan that President Trump has spent a lot of time focusing on. Take a look.


KAYE: Will the rhetoric about the caravan and the scare tactics change your vote?

DIANGELO: No. I have done all my research at this point. And I understand what's important to me as a voter.

KERR: Fear is a very easy motivator move people in one direction or another.

KAYE: So has Donald Trump's behavior influenced your vote one way or another?

KERR: Yes. It definitely has confirmed that I'm making the right decision not to vote in that direction.

KAYE: Not to vote Republican?

KERR: Right.


COOPER: Back now with our panel.

How important do you think -- I mean, the President -- there's a lot of great news for the President to be Trumpeting, no pun intended, I mean, the economy, incredibly low unemployment numbers, record low unemployment numbers, Supreme Court nominations or picks. His focus on the caravan, it's obviously not by accident.

AXELROD: No. And, look, I mean, I think whatever you think about the caravan issue and so on, and I have my feelings about it, the fact is that Republican enthusiasm has grown during this period. The question I have is in the last week, after the tragedies, it felt like the President kind of took it from a 10 to an 11 to try and regenerate Republican enthusiasm, and I think this was an interesting group.


AXELROD: Because I wonder how there is a small group of independent voters who are going to make a difference in some of these races, many of them in suburban areas, some of them much like those women who were there. Donald Trump carried Florida, carried independents in Florida in winning that state narrowly. Gillum is winning independents right now also narrowly. I think that in Florida and elsewhere the final closing push of Donald Trump may go too far and push some people in close races in the wrong direction from his standpoint, people who would probably have responded to the economic argument if he had closed with it.

COOPER: I'm sorry. You are shaking your --

CHALIAN: You know, there is a lot of concern among Republicans, especially those working on House races, that just wish -- they don't think -- to David's point. They think immigration does help bring some Republican enthusiasm. We have seen it in the polls that it rises among Republicans as a top issue when Donald Trump puts it front and center, but these Republican strategists are saying why can't the economy be an equal part of this argument? Why can't the accomplishments on the court be an equal part of his closing argument?

COOPER: But the President spoke to that.

(CROSSTALK) BORGER: He said it was boring and then he proposed, you know, a 10 percent tax cut for the middle class and then said never mind. That is only going to happen if Republicans win the House.

One other point I want to make is that these are women. The President has a big gender problem. He has a big education problem. I was looking at one number which sort of starling today because ti start with 60 percent of college educated white women now favor Democrats by 33 points.


BORGER: So you have a focus group here of women who are saying, you know, I don't -- the caravan thing, you are not going to scare me on that. And I think that may have repercussions in a lot of other races. They would rather have him talking about healthcare, I believe.

JENNIFER GRANHOLM (D), FORMER MICHIGAN GOVERNOR: I mean, I think this was a smart group of women. I think that women though in general, there was a poll that was done last week, which said that 80 percent of Americans view the divisive rhetoric as being -- as a huge negative and is generating more danger to them. And so, the issue about safety, especially in a state like Florida where they had, I don't know if she did this focus group today, but, you know, they just had somebody who was an extremist go to a yoga studio and shoot people, right.

So people in Florida, perhaps almost more than any other states, has seen gun violence and has seen extremist violence. And I think that that language with independents and with women.

[19:55:26] COOPER: Although, senator, I mean, one person's scare tactics is another person's valid warning.

GRANHOLM: Let me just say, one other things, and I know that you want to go over here, but when Virginia -- when this happened in Virginia in the last midterm election and Ed Gillespie raised all this fearsome language about the other, it was -- it was -- he lost.

SANTORUM: Sorry to interrupt you, Jennifer.

GRANHOLM: Yes, go ahead.

SANTORUM: I mean, I have got to pick you on something because you said these smart women as if because if you have a college education you are smart and if you don't have a college education, you're not smart.

GRANHOLM: I don't know if they have college education or not.

BORGER: That's what Gloria was talking about. College educated women.

GRANHOLM: I don't know if they did. They just sounded like they knew what they were watching. SANTORUM: I thought you were responding to Gloria's comment.

And look, the contrasting in that same survey is that 41 percent, I believe it is, of males.

BORGER: White men.

SANTORUM: Of white men who are high school educated are favoring Republicans. And so, you know, it's -- it is very divided, and there's -- it has nothing to do with being smart.

COOPER: We are going to take a break. A lot more ahead. We are going to check with CNN John King's for the very latest trends and outlooks and return with our political analysts and experts, all ahead.