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Majority See Electing Minorities and Women, Extremist Violence Important to Their Vote; First Polls Closing, Awaiting Results of Midterms. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired November 6, 2018 - 17:00   ET

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


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- is watching, and anything is possible until the last vote.

[17:00:21] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Look at that rainbow over the U.S. Capitol right now. Control of the Congress clearly is on the line as voters cast ballots in one of the most consequential midterm elections of their lifetimes.

We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer, along with Jake Tapper. We're here in the CNN Election Center; and we're counting down to the first votes on this election night in America.

And our first exit poll results are coming in right now. We're just moments away from bringing you these crucial, early clues about how this historic night will play out. It could be a major turning point for the Trump presidency and the balance of power here in Washington, as Democrats battle to retake control of the House.

To do that, they need to win 23 Republican-held House seats and keep the seats they have right now. To win control of the Senate, Democrats must pick up two Republican-held seats and hold onto their existing number of seats.

Jake, Democrats see their best chance for victory tonight in the fight for the House.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, it could all come down to fewer than 50 key races where Republicans are at greatest risk of losing House seats.

Our team is here in the Election Center, covering all the important contests. We have John King at the Magic Wall, of course, mapping out the races and the votes district by district, with the first results just minutes away.

Dana Bash is standing by. She's following the 35 Senate contests where Democrats are facing a very tough map tonight.

We're also watching 36 governor's races. Our Nia-Malika Henderson will keep us up to date on those results.

And we're about to get the first exit polls of what voters are thinking tonight. David Chalian will have that.

We have reporters spread out across the country, monitoring the results as they come in.

Let's start with our Manu Raju on Capitol Hill -- Manu.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. Democrats very confident that they will take back the House tonight, which will be a significant turning point for the Trump White House.

Now, the question is how big of a majority they may ultimately have. And right now, senior Democratic officials are trying to downplay talk of a major blue wave. They do believe that they could pick up seats, perhaps 30, 35 seats, which would give them about a 10- to 15-seat majority. But pick-ups of 40 and beyond would amount to a much more significant size majority. At the moment, Democrats do not believe it will be that big of a majority, ultimately.

Now, that could, of course, change, depending on how those first results come in, particularly in the states of New Jersey, and in Florida. If they do better than expected, expect those expectations also to change. But right now, Jake, Democrats feeling very good about their chances, as they look -- as it appears that they could be on the cusp of regaining control of at least the House, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Manu Raju on Capitol Hill.

Let's go to Pamela Brown now. She's at the White House. Pamela, what are they thinking inside that building?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, the White House is preparing to frame possible losses in the House as a direct result of historical trends while also projecting optimism that the losses won't be as bad as President Obama back in 2010.

One source I spoke to tonight close to the president's political team telling me that there is confidence that the president did everything he could to make sure his party performs above the historical odds.

Another source telling my colleague, Sarah Westwood, is that the expectation is that it won't be a bloodbath, but that Republicans will not win the House.

On the Senate, on the other hand, the White House is preparing to make the case that, if Republicans gain any seats, then President Trump deserves all the credit. They're pointing to states like Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, saying these are states that are now competitive for the Republican candidates because of President Trump's influence.

Now, in reality, that's not entirely true. North Dakota was already trending Republican.

The president will be watching the results roll in tonight from the residence.

Back to you.

TAPPER: All right. Pamela Brown, thank you so much.

Let's go to David Chalian right now.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Thanks, Jake. Thank you, Jake. We've got our first exit poll results for you. And it is all about the Trump factor. That is what we asked voters about.

And take a look at his overall approval rating here. According to voters today, this is interviews as voters have left their polling stations today, and it is just preliminary information. These numbers will change throughout the night. But he's at 45 percent approval, 55 percent disapproval. That's historically at a low point. That's about where George W. Bush and Barack Obama were sitting when they faced their first midterm election and lost big seats in the House.

Take a look at the passion when we split it out, about strongly disapprove is 31 percent. And compare that to this number. Strongly disapprove: 47 percent of voters say they strongly disapprove of the president's performance. The passion is on the disapproval side, Jake.

[17:05:04] And then, of course, we asked, "How does the president factor into your vote?" This is what voters told us: 65 percent of them say they are, indeed, voting with Donald Trump as a factor in mind. Twenty-six percent of them say they're doing it to support President Trump, but more are doing it, 39 percent, to oppose President Trump. And only 33 percent said Trump is not a factor in their vote at all.

We also asked voters today how they feel about the way the country is going. And take a look at this, guys. The wrong track number is 56 percent. Only 41 percent of Americans say the country is headed in the right direction. This is an electorate, thus far, displeased with Donald Trump, displeased with the direction of the country, and showing the president at about where his predecessors were when they lost House seats.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, Jake, that the president has said this is a referendum, for all practical purposes, on him. If these numbers, these exit poll numbers are accurate -- and we assume they're pretty accurate -- he's not going to be very happy.

TAPPER: It's preliminary information right now. But if this holds on, this will be the first test of the so-called resistance of people who oppose President Trump and their ability to get people to the polls. And if these numbers are to be believed -- and again it's early yet, and these are preliminary numbers -- this is a rebuke of President Trump.

And when you have 55 percent disapproval, 56 percent saying it's on the wrong track, the nation is on the wrong track. Forty-seven percent strongly disapprove of President Trump. If these preliminary numbers hold out throughout the rest of the night, that's a strong rebuke of the president. BLITZER: It certainly is. And the fact that his job approval number,

according to this exit poll, is so low. If you take a look at other presidents going into their first midterm, it doesn't necessarily bode well for the Republicans.

TAPPER: No. I mean, I think when Obama and Bush and Clinton have had similar results, similar nights, it has meant a blood bath in terms of the loss of House seats.

Now, the one thing President Trump has going for him, above and beyond anything else, is the fact that the map for the Senate is so difficult for Democrats. Democrats are playing defense in so many of those Senate seat.

But on the House side, Republicans are the ones playing defense. And these numbers, if they hold up, if they continue, show that President Trump will be an albatross around the necks of a lot of Republican members of Congress.

BLITZER: As you and David Chalian point out, preliminary numbers.

TAPPER: Very preliminary.

BLITZER: Let's see what happens down the line.

Anderson Cooper, of course, is with us throughout the night, as well -- Anderson.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, Jake, thanks very much.

Obviously, there is a lot we do not know. A lot of people thought they knew what was going to happen in 2016 and, obviously, were surprised. Who knows exactly what's going to happen tonight? So you want to stay tuned.

David Gergen, we're just getting -- and these are very early preliminary look at exit polls. I don't know how much you put faith in them. But what do you make of what you're hearing?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think you've got to wait for a while here to really understand it. And exit polls have notoriously shifted over the course of an evening.

Having said that, I was surprised at how low the president's approval rating was among voters, at 44 percent. But I'm even more surprised about the right track/wrong track, because the alternative argument to Trump's conduct in office, the tone, which is -- alienates so many, was the argument that the economy is doing really well.

COOPER: Right.

GERGEN: America is booming.

COOPER: Unemployment at record lows.

GERGEN: All those things, and yet on the right track/wrong track, people are saying, no, the country is not going in the right direction; it's not in good shape.

COOPER: It's interesting, Kaitlan, the notion, perhaps, that the president's -- the overall dislike of the president, it shades the way people see even economic numbers or see the way the country is going.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. It's surprising that, given the economy and how well it's doing that, still, so many people view this president so negatively less than two years into his term.

And President Trump has been citing numbers about that, kind of giving himself some cover before, in case they do lose the House to Democrats. He's been saying that traditionally and historically, they lose the House, whoever is in -- whichever party is in power. He's been citing that a lot lately on the trail.

And he's also been citing that he can't campaign for all of these House members, because he wants to make clear he doesn't want any of the blame for this if the Democrats do sweep the House by tomorrow and he has to come and say that.

BLITZER: I want to go to David Chalian, who's getting some more exit polls -- David.

CHALIAN: Thanks, Anderson.

Thank you, Anderson. We are now taking a look at when voters made up their mind. This is a fascinating number.

Nearly two-thirds of the electorate, 65 percent of voters, tell us today that they decided more than a month ago. Seven percent say the last few days. Eight percent say last week. Eighteen percent say last month.

But this last number here, that 65 percent, this was a locked-in electorate, despite all the news happening in recent days leading up to the election.

We also asked voters if they were a first-time voter. And this number is going to be critical to watch throughout the night. Again, these are early exit poll numbers. We expect them to change as more interviews are done with voters throughout the night.

But look at that. Sixteen percent of voters tell us as they're leaving the polls they are a first-time voter. That number in 2016 in the presidential election was 10 percent. So this is an electorate that has a lot of first-time voters in it. I am sure that's going to be something we're talking about throughout the night -- Wolf, Jake.

[17:10:18] BLITZER: All right, David, thank you.

You know, that's a potential significant moment. A lot of people coming out for the first time, younger voters, not necessarily something that's happened before.

TAPPER: And if they're younger voters, younger voters tend to vote Democratic. Older voters tend to vote Republican. So if they are younger voters, that's a good sign for a potential blue wave.

The question is, are they people who have not been motivated to vote, but President Trump or anti-President Trump motivated them to do that?

Sixteen percent first-time voters is a big number. President Trump got a lot of first-time voters out in 2016. But this would potentially, if these numbers hold up, be even more.

BLITZER: It would be very significant.

Let's go over to John King at the Magic Wall. John, we're about, what, 50 minutes away from the first actual results coming in. These have been exit polls. We're about to get results.

JOHN KING, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And we'll start seeing in these early races, we'll get an early indication, are the Democrats performing in Republican-held districts that they need to flip the net 23 they need to get the House?

And the first polls close, 435 House seats up tonight. CNN is looking at 97 of these -- sort of the key races. They will tell us what's happening.

And so let's look. As a subset of those key races, one of them is right here. The polls close first in Kentucky. This is Kentucky's 6th Congressional District. Andy Barr, the Republican incumbent; Amy McGrath, the Democratic challenger. If this race goes blue tonight, Democrats are confident they will get the 23.

Why? Just let me go back in time to show you a little bit in this district. President Trump carried this district by 15 points. This is a Republican solid district. This is not one of the 20-plus districts we'll look at tonight that Hillary Clinton carried for president that are now represented by a Republican in Congress. This is Trump country. There is no reason that the Republicans should not win this race unless we have a big Democratic year.

So we'll watch this. Amy McGrath, retired from the military, fighter pilot. One of the first races we will see. Watch the results come in.

No. 1, is it close? No. 2, if the Republican's winning, by how much? No. 3 if the Democrat is ahead in this district, it will give you an early indication of strong Democratic performance.

Then in the 7 p.m. hour, if you pull out the map --

BLITZER: Let's put a -- yes.

KING: this will fill in with the results. This will fill in with results in Georgia. We have two races that we say are leaning Republican, but we have to watch these.

You might remember Karen Handel. She won the special election. This is the former health and human service secretary Tom Price, this is his district right here. You have two races. This race here, Georgia 6. This race here in

Georgia 7. Again, these should be Republican districts. You have the big governor's race down there. We're going to see what suburban turnout is there. Targets of opportunity for the Democrats. If they're competitive in these races, they're on the path, watch the results, see if Republicans are turning in a surprise performance.

And then you come up to Virginia, also in the 7 p.m. hour. This is a key early test. We have four electrics we're watching closely. This one, Democrats are favored. Republican Barbara Comstock is the incumbent. This is the northern -- essentially, the Washington, D.C., suburbs. They've become more blue over the years. Democrats need this one. They need this one on their path to 23. This is a must.

The question is, are they winning it? And then, No. 2, what are the margins? Especially as you start to move away. The farther out, excerpt (ph), the more rural areas. Is Jennifer Wexton competitive? If she is out there and she's winning big, then we're going to look down here.

A couple of other targets for the Democrats. They need 23. If they're winning here, the 7th District, Dave Bratt's district -- he's the Republican incumbent. If they're winning here, they think they're on the path not only to 23 but maybe something higher than that.

Why? The Richmond suburbs. We're going to be talking about the suburbs a lot tonight. If you look at the polling, college-educated white women, they don't like Donald Trump. Will they take it out on Republican incumbents? That's one of the biggest question tonight. Richmond suburbs here should be stronghold for the Democrats. You move up here. This is Tea Party. And Trump country. Should be good for Dave Bratt. This is a very competitive district here. We'll be watching early on, if you will, the first bellwethers, the first clues as the results come in.

BLITZER: Yes. These are some of the early key races on the House side. We're about to get a preview of the 11 key races on the Senate side and another window into what voters are thinking and the issues they care about most. We're going to have more results from our exit polls right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:17:52] BLITZER: At stake tonight, who will control the U.S. House of Representatives? Who will control the Senate? Which party will be in the majority. Enormous, enormous implications in all of this.

We're standing by. In 42 minutes, we'll be actually getting the first poll closings. The first results will be coming in. We're watching the Senate very closely, but no one is watching it as closely as Dana right now.

Dana, a lot on the line tonight.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Sure is, Wolf. Thirty- five Senate seats are on the line, to be precise. But the battle of control for the Senate will likely come down to 11 key races. Republicans are, of course, in charge of the Senate right now.

But here's what Democrats have to do to change that. They need to hold onto seats in these seven battleground states: Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, North Dakota and West Virginia.

And Democrats need to flip at least two of the Senate seats Republicans are defending tonight in Arizona, Nevada, Tennessee and Texas.

Now two is the magic number for Democrats. That's the one we're going to be following all night long. If they can pick up two GOP seats and not lose any of their own, they could take back the Senate.

Now, two doesn't seem like a big number, but it is a huge challenge. First, because Democrats are defending many more seats than Republicans. And even more important, many of those Democrats are in red states where President Trump won big in 2016. We're going to get the first results pretty soon from Indiana, where Democratic Senator Joe Donnelly is in a tough fight against Republican challenger Mike Braun. And the Indiana Senate race really may be an early indicator of whether this is going to be a good night for Democrats or not so much -- Wolf and Jake.

BLITZER: You know, thank you, Dana.

The challenge for the Democrats is pretty enormous. They believe, though, it's doable.

TAPPER: It's doable. And it is theoretically doable. The incumbents have been able to play defense. The races have narrowed in recent days, many of them to the Democrats' advantage. They have to hold those seats and just pick up two. There are two that they can pick up that seem certainly possible, especially Arizona and especially Nevada. But one doesn't know. That's a lot of territory to be playing defense on.

[17:20:06] So the odds are. I mean, the Democrats have the advantage in the House of 97 competitive races. Republicans are playing defense in 88 of them. But they have the exact opposite problem in the Senate. They are playing defense -- David Chalian.

CHALIAN: Hey, Jake. We've got more exit polls for you. We asked voters today, and we also have interviewed some early voters in a telephone poll, in addition to talking to voters at polling sites today what their top issue is.

Take a look at this. Health care is the dominant issue for voters in this election, by a lot: 41 percent. Then it's down to 23 percent who say immigration; 21 percent say that economy. There's that whole debate if President Trump should have been talking up the economy or not. And 11 percent say gun policy.

Here is what is going to be more welcome news for the president and the folks in the White House. Take a look at the condition of the economy. Sixty-eight percent of voters in this election are telling us the economy is good. Only 31 percent is calling it poor. We then asked, "Well, can you compare your financial situation to two

years ago?" And look at this. Thirty-five percent say it's better today. Fourteen percent say it's worse today. And about half the electorate, 49 percent, say it's about the same.

But again, there's a lot of positive economic news in the electorate. But the fact that health care is so dominant and that's what Democrats were running on all campaign season, that's going to give Republicans some pause.

BLITZER: Yes, you're absolutely right, David.

And Jake, the Democrats were making health care the most important issue. The president was making immigration, for all practical purposes, the most important issue.

TAPPER: And are a lot of viewers and voters hate when politicians are on message and just stick to their message, no matter what questions are thrown at them. But it -- they do it because it works.

And Democrats have been very good about staying on message on the issue of health care and saying Republican are going to take away your health care. Republicans don't believe in protecting people with pre- existing conditions.

I have to say, that you look at this number, what's the most important issue? Forty-one percent saying health care, that is a good sign for Democrats. Because they are the ones driving the health care issue home. The same exact poll, except the 2010 midterms, I would have said that's a bad sign for Democrats, because the message then from Republicans was Obamacare was going to be disastrous. But this context, 41 percent is good.

Another thing that strikes me about this is the idea that the condition of the economy, 68 percent of those in these preliminary exit polls say the condition of the economy is good. That normally would be a great number for President Trump. And of course, it still is a great number for President Trump.

But contrast it with the right track/wrong track numbers. Sixty-eight percent of those in these preliminary exit polls say the economy is good, but 56 percent say the country is on the wrong track. Well, if the economy is good, what exactly are you complaining about? Why do you think the country is on the wrong track?

And this is, assuming these preliminary exit polls hold up, this is the conundrum of Trump: People who like the way how the economy is going. They lie how it's affecting their pocketbook, but they don't like the direction the country is going because of a lot of things he says and does.

BLITZER: We're going to -- we're about to get the first actual results a little bit more than a half an hour from now. We're going to get the first results. Senate races, House races.

Anderson, over to you. COOPER: Kirsten, Jake just raised a really important point: 68

percent saying the economy is good, NS yet this right track/wrong track. Wrong track, 68 percent say the country's on the wrong track.

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. So the one thing about the right track/wrong track numbers is you don't know who's answering. I mean, Republicans could be feeling things are on the wrong track because they don't like Democrats. So you don't know exactly how that plays out.

And the economy being good, that's an amazing number, 68 percent. But oftentimes we see in polls you ask somebody, "Do you think the deficit is too high?" And 70 percent of people say the deficit is too high, but it's not the issue they're voting on.

And so what we saw here is the No. 1 issue people are voting on, twice as many are voting on health care than are voting on immigration. And immigration was the closing argument for the -- for Trump, and health care was the closing argument for --

COOPER: There's also just another statistic out of these -- these same exit polls. Forty-one percent said health care is the No. 1 issue for them. Seven out of 10 said that health care needs major changes.

S.E. CUPP, HOST, "UNFILTERED": That's bad for Republican governors. That's bad for Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker; Ohio, Mike DeWine. These are guys who have had to defend against those lawsuits that they joined, against the ACA. They've been having to insist, "Well, whatever happens federally, we'll take care of you and your preexisting conditions in the states."

Well, that requires a huge leap of faith for a voter. That the guy that I'm going to elect can then convince my state legislature to ensure some new law that's going to, you know, protect my pre-existing conditions. That's been real tough for those Republican governors. And if that number holds as a defining priority for a lot of voters, it's going to imperil a lot of Republican governors.

[17:25:00] BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But all these numbers tie in, because this wrong direction number, right track/wrong track number, I think, is a lot about the rhetoric of the president of the United States and people showing up with intensity to repudiate the language that he uses.

And we can't just act like these elections happen in vacuums. We have to recall that two black people were killed in Kentucky, because they were black. We have to think about the anti-Semitism that led to the shooting in Pittsburgh. We have to think about the pipe bombs that were mailed to our colleagues right here at CNN.

All of these things tie into -- or are baked in the cake when we're talking about an election.

The other number that is very important is the number of new voters that are voting in this process. You know, 16, 17 percent of that number stays around there. Those are young voters. Those are minority voters. And this is not going to be your first election to come out and vote and support Donald Trump if you didn't vote for Donald Trump in 2016. That just simply doesn't make any sense. So I think that's a large group of individuals that the Democratic Party can count on.

COOPER: It was 10 percent were new voters in 2016. Now, according to this exit poll, again, if it's correct, it's 16 percent.

SELLERS: Sixteen percent, and I think those are Democratic voters.

COOPER: When you see those numbers, what do you make of what the president has been focusing on?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I'm thinking about the strategic choice to go away from the economy at the end.

You want to fight these elections on the friendliest terrain possible. These numbers suggest to me that Democrats chose wisely on health care. People want major change in health care. They're not the party in power. They wanted to fight it out there. That seems to have worked.

So if you're the party in power, where do you want to fight? It's clear: 70 percent of Americans think the economy is good. So you need to make that the key issue in the election.

I think Republican candidates at the congressional and Senate level were trying, but the president wanted to go a different direction at the end. It's -- the friendliest terrain is to tell Americans the economy is good; we're on the right track.

But when you look at all this, it calls into question whether it was the right strategic choice. I think Republican intensity had already gotten there with Kavanaugh. I don't think they needed immigration to do it.

COOPER: The president, you're saying, did not need to kind of get the base riled up?

JENNINGS: No, I think he had it. He had it. And three weeks ago, he had the right slogan: "Democrats create mobs; Republican create jobs." And he sort of left it behind. And I knew -- every Republican I knew thought that was the best branding he'd come up with.

CUPP: Immigration is a good issue for Republicans in these midterms. I get why he wanted to go there. It was the tone. It was the barbarians at the gate. That is -- that was not, I think, what a lot of voters wanted to hear in terms of the problems that we have with immigration.

I think he could have used immigration to rile up the base, but he could have done it a lot more strategically, in ways that didn't offend suburban women.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And one of the many decisions that we've seen the president and the White House doing different from advisors, there was this ad. It was a "new morning in America"-like ad that was released last week by his campaign. It was designed to remind people that things are good; that your jobs are good and other things.

The president, I am told, hated that ad, so then he switched to immigration. And we could even see it at the rallies we covered. He focused the majority of his time on immigration, on everything else but the economy.

COOPER: He even said at one point that the economy is kind of boring to talk about. Or not as interesting.

ZELENY: Right. So he was leading people -- so the question here is, this is still -- we should say these numbers are very early. We don't know how individual races are going to play out. Because I do believe that he did fire up his base with immigration, no question.

CUPP: Right.

ZELENY: But who else did he fire up? It may have been suburban other voters who are not with him.

COLLINS: That's right, and that's the question. Yes, immigration does rile up his base. But the question is, is he going to regret trying not to reach people outside of his base?

Because in the last two weeks, we saw President Trump go to states that he won comfortably in 2016, red states where he felt good, and he had a lot of strong support. Is he going to regret, after all of this is over, not branching out to other states and trying to expand his support to a bigger group?

GERGEN: Yes. The Republicans ought to hope that these numbers change dramatically for the rest of the evening, because there's very little good news in here, if you look at it overall.

I'll be particularly looking for the women vote on this and how they broke, because I think it's going to -- we're going to reinterpret everything we see here after we look at those numbers, I think.

But you know, what's interesting to me is that President Trump made a bet in 2016 based on his instinct to go for fear, to play on the fear, and it paid off. He made a similar bet this time, and it's backfiring on him. That's the -- that's the reading out of it. And in a very striking way, he took his party up in 2016 with that victory, and now he's the one taking it down.

SELLERS: But I think it -- I don't think it's necessarily going down, but what I think that Donald Trump's Republican Party -- and I'm very clear that Donald Trump's Republican Party -- I think it's plateaued. Because what we're seeing is that his party is not expanding. His party is not -- his party is not including the new diverse -- the diverse group of voters. It's not including younger voters.

The question is: do Democrats, do we have the ability to mobilize these voters? And you're going to see that kind of play out in these suburban areas sooner rather than later.

CUPP: Well, and that's the key, because it's not, I'm not even sure plateaued. I think it might be shrinking.

GERGEN: I agree. I agree with that.

CUPP: Republicans reliably, you know, rely on -- rely on suburban educated white women. And those numbers are shrinking.

COOPER: We should also point out these are preliminary numbers.

CUPP: Yes.

COOPER: And it's very early. It's just 5:30 on the East Coast.

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: East Coast.

COOPER: I know the Democrats here are excited. But I just -- you know, if this story has not been written, we don't know what's going to happen throughout the night.

I do want to go quickly back to David Chalian. He's getting some more exit polls -- David.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Anderson, we asked voters how they felt about the political parties in the country today. And take a look at what we found. Remember, these are early exit polls. These are interviews done with voters leaving the polls. We did some telephone polls with early and absentee voters to get a sense of how they voted.

And take a look at this. The Republican Party is upside-down by 11 points. Fifty-four percent unfavorable, 43 percent favorable.

Contrast that with how voters today think about the Democratic Party: 50 percent favorable, 46 percent unfavorable. They're right-side-up by four points.

Here's the one caveat for Democrats on this score: Nancy Pelosi. She has been a polarizing figure throughout this entire election. And this probably will not be a great surprise to many people, but she is significantly upside down. And the opinion of Nancy Pelosi, 55 percent of voters today have an unfavorable opinion. Only 31 percent have a favorable opinion -- Wolf, Jake.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Thank you, David.

You know, Jake, this upside-down number for the Republicans doesn't necessarily bode well for them.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: No. It actually -- it's horrible news for them, in terms of who's coming out. It shows that, assuming these numbers hold up -- I keep saying that. It's preliminary exit polls. People are still voting. But assuming they hold up, 54 percent having an unfavorable opinion of the Republican Party; 50 percent having a favorable opinion of the Democratic Party. That means these are people who don't like the Republican Party right

now, the majority of them. And they want to vote, presumably, Democratic.

The one caveat, of course, as David pointed out, is the Nancy Pelosi numbers, which are very, very negative and shows that the Republicans have done a good job of making her the bad guy and a villain.

Ad in fact, when you look at the number of Democratic candidates, some of whom are going to win tonight, who have said that they will not vote for Nancy Pelosi for speaker, that really, actually, poses some serious questions for the Democratic Party, assuming they do win control back of the House of Representatives.

Pelosi has said that she will serve as a transition figure, but she intends to be speaker. What exactly does that mean? And will she be able to get 218 votes at the end of the night, assuming Democrats do actually win and take back the House? I don't know.

But again, preliminary, but these are great numbers for Democrats and bad numbers for Republicans.

COOPER: Absolutely right. All right. Everybody, stand by. Coming up just minutes from now, the first votes of this historic election. We're also going to look at the key governors' races tonight. Why they matter for the entire nation.

Plus more exit poll results coming in. We'll be back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:36:45] BLITZER: Live pictures, a beautiful sunset here in Washington, D.C. We'll see what the sunlight brings tomorrow morning. We'll see if there's a change in the battle for power here in Washington.

There's a huge battle underway right now in involving governors' races, Jake, and Nia is taking a close look. There are huge opportunities for the Democrats, Nia, to make some significant headway.

HENDERSON: That's right, Wolf. Thirty-six governors' seats are up for grabs tonight. But only a handful are close, high-profile contests that will test the president's influence in key battlegrounds and likely have an impact in 2020 and beyond.

We're going to be watching races in Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Ohio and Wisconsin. Now, these are states where Republicans currently hold the governor's office and are very much on the defensive tonight.

One of the hottest match-ups is in Florida, where Democrat Andrew Gillum is battling to be the state's first African-American governor. He faces Republican Ron DeSantis, who has made his endorsement by President Trump very much a centerpiece of his campaign.

In Georgia, Stacey Abrams is vying to be the first African-American woman elected governor. Her opponent is Trump-endorsed Republican Brian Kemp, the Georgia secretary of state. Now, this close and bitter race has been rocked by allegations about election security and could be headed for a December 4 run-off.

In Wisconsin, in the Midwest, Democrat Tony Evers has a shot at ousting Republican Governor Scott Walker, a former presidential candidate and conservative favorite who beat back a recall attempt six years ago. Walker, in this race, is billing himself as the underdog and conservative favorite who beat back a recall attempt six years ago. Walker in this race is actually billing himself as the underdog.

In Ohio, staying in the Midwest, Democrat Richard Cordray is in a tight race with Republican Mike DeWine. The president made a late campaign push for DeWine in his bid to succeed Ohio's term-limited GOP governor John Kasich, a vocal Trump critic.

Also in the Midwest, in Kansas, Democrat Laura Kelly aiming to flip the governor's office in this deeply red state against a polarizing Republican, Kansas secretary of state Kris Kobach. Kobach is a strong ally of the president and headed his controversial and now disbanded Committee on Election Integrity.

We're waiting these first votes in these very important races that will very much shape the political landscape heading into the next election -- Wolf and Jake.

BLITZER: Lots at stake in these governors' races. And Jake, I mentioned that Democrats could make some significant headway. Right now they're at a tremendous disadvantage among the governors. All the governors that are Democrats versus Republicans.

TAPPER: That's right. Let's take a look at this map also, because this will help illustrate why Democrats are in a position to take advantage of it. It's because they start off at such a tremendous disadvantage.

Democrats with only 16 of the governors' race -- governors' offices in the country. Republicans with 33. There's an independent in Alaska. And so it's very possible that Republicans will lose governors' seats, because they're starting off with so many.

But as Nia-Malika mentioned, we are going to take particular notice of the races in Florida, in Georgia, in Ohio, in Wisconsin and in Kansas. That's where Democrats feel they have some of the strongest possibilities to pick up states.

And this has ramifications beyond the lives of the people in those states. Although, obviously, it has tremendous implication for that, This has 2020 implications. Because the people who, first of all, there are possibly going to be people who win this evening and then decide to run for president against Donald Trump.

[17:40:16] But beyond that, the people who run the states of Ohio and Florida, the people who run the states of Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania and other states, that's going to be very significant to how well and how confident President Trump can be as he tries to pursue re- election.

BLITZER: It's very true. Let's go over to John.

Take a look at the, possibly the highest-profile gubernatorial contest right now in Florida, John.

JOHN KING, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And I'm looking at it through the 2016 map, because let's just go, as you go through the night, obviously, we are waiting for this. We're waiting for this.

Congressman Ron DeSantis, as Nia noted, the Republican nominee, a pro- Trump congressman, a Trump defender on cable television, he is a Trump candidate in the state of Florida. His congressional district down here, watch how that one plays out tonight. Andrew Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee, hoping to be the first African-American governor of Florida.

So this is the 2018 map. We'll watch it fill in. I was looking at 2016, because Florida is just one of those states, how many times we've been through this? Florida is one of those states, whether you're talking about governor, or you're talking about president, it is what it is, which is a highly competitive state.

So let's look. Remember the presidential election? President Trump carried his adopted second state, if you will, by 112,000, 113,000 votes. I made a little circle here. There are a lot of Democrats here. Democrats need to do well here, here, here, here and here. Right? So that's 2016. You say, well, that's just the 2016 election, Donald Trump versus Hillary Clinton.

This is Rick Scott when he last won for governor. Notice anything? It's the same map.

Let's go back to 2010, Tea Party era. Rick Scott wins his first election for governor. Pretty much the same map. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Picking up a little strength down there in the Panhandle.

So this is the map you're looking at. Let's just go back to the presidential year. That's there. Let's bring in the presidential election results, just so you can watch.

For Andrew Gillum, run it up here. For Andrew Gillum, for you Democratic base voters down here, how does he do, not only in Orlando and Tampa but in the suburbs around him? It will be a common theme tonight. Can he, an African-American candidate, create an Obama-like coalition? Do younger voters come out? Does he do well with college- educated women in the suburbs? Florida is becoming increasingly suburban. That's a big play.

Another big test for -- if you come back, for Ron DeSantis -- and again, this is the Trump/Clinton map, so you can see the coast. Ron DeSantis, block this out. Must run it up here. The Panhandle. This is the south, if you will, Georgia and Alabama up here. This is Trump country. Must run it up here. That's one of the reasons the president helped the rally right there. And must in these other rural areas, run it up. This is just the Senate race, too. We're looking at the governor's race now. Let's put the candidates up so we aren't confusing people. We're going to -- we're looking at the governor's race now. There's a competitive Senate race, as well. The two Democratic campaigns working hand in hand, the Republican campaigns, a little bit of distance between them. Rick Scott, not always a fan of Ron DeSantis. We're going to see what happens in this race as he tries to run statewide.

As you know, Wolf, we've been at Florida for many elections. They're always close. Always close. The question for the Democrats is, in this environment, can Andrew Gillum turn out those magic voters, if you will, get more younger voters to come out in a more presidential level, get African-American to come out at a more presidential level?

So the composition of the electorate, when we get a closer look at the later exit polls, will tell us a lot. But it's always a late night.

BLITZER: Yes. Well, polls in most of Florida close at 7 p.m. So we'll get an early indication.

We're closing in on the first votes of the night when some polling places will be closing in Indiana and Kentucky. We expect to get crucial early clues about the outcome in the battle for control for Congress and how important is it to voters to elect more women and minorities? Our exit polls will tell us. We'll be right back.

[17:45:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Love this beautiful shot. Live pictures of Capitol Hill right now.

We're getting ready. Moments from now, we'll be getting the first actual results. Who will control the Senate and the House of Representatives? The first clues coming up in about 12 minutes.

In the meantime, let's go back to David Chalian for some more exit polls.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Thanks, Wolf. As you know, people have been talking about this year potentially as another year of the woman. Well, we asked voters today if, indeed, it was important to them to elect more women to office, and look at this number.

Seventy-eight percent of voters voting today in these early preliminary exit polls tell us that it is, indeed, important to elect more women to public office. More than four in 10 call it very important, Wolf.

We asked the same thing about electing racial minorities to public office, and take a look at that. Again, more than seven in 10, 71 percent of voters, in this electorate voting today tell us that it is important to elect racial and ethnic minorities to public office.

This is an electorate seeking more diversity, both gender diversity and racial diversity, in their elected officials. Let's go to Anderson.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, David, thanks very much.

Kirsten, again, I just -- there is a caveat. These are polls done, you know, by interviewing people. And Scott Jennings pointed out, like, who is going to say, no, I don't want -- you know, voting for women is not important?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, women, but I don't think --

COOPER: Or racial minorities.

POWERS: I don't think they're going to say no. But in terms of making it a priority, I think the Democrats have made it a much higher priority. But even if --

COOPER: I just mean if you're asked by a pollster, wouldn't somebody --

POWERS: I don't know. I think there are people who would --

COOPER: Really?

POWERS: I mean, I feel like whenever I -- I constantly hear back from Republicans. They're, like, I just vote for the person, I don't care about the race or the gender.

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The race doesn't matter, yes.

POWERS: That's always a constant line you have from them. So they would say, I just vote for the best person. I just don't make it a priority to vote for a woman or for a minority candidate.

But let's just say that's not even true, it still bodes well for the Democrats because they are the ones that have more women and more non- White people running.

SELLERS: But I mean I -- and that goes to something which I think is going to be one of the minor themes of the night, which is the quality of candidates that the Democrats have put forth -- the Andrew Gillums, the Stacey Abrams, the Amy McGraths, the M.J. Hegars.

I mean, you have these individuals who are diverse but they're extremely talented. I mean, when Andrew Gillum was on the stage with Ron DeSantis, there was no question who won that particular debate in that particular moment.

And so I think when you're looking at the quality candidates, that's why Democrats have -- and our candidates have stepped back from the national discussion somewhat. And they fit their state and they fit their congressional districts, the Aftab Purevals and the Andy Kims.

They fit their congressional districts. And so I think that's going to bode well as Democrats go through because the country is becoming more diverse. And I think you're going to have a more diverse participation tonight. And a younger participation tonight.

[17:50:07] COOPER: I mean, certainly, Democrats have been focusing -- and whether you believe the quality of the candidate or not, they have been focusing on healthcare, which, clearly, to a lot of people, is very important in these exit polls.

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, and important to a lot of women.

COOPER: Interesting.

CUPP: And women are going to be so central, I think, to this election, to David's point. And a certain kind of woman, that suburban woman.

I talked to, very anecdotally, a number of women yesterday in Arizona, Kansas, North Carolina, Ohio, Michigan, and Massachusetts. They all leaned right. They did not like the President's rhetoric, and they planned to vote Republican down the ticket.

If that's representative -- and I'm not saying it is, we don't know. We won't know until we get exit polls. If that's representative, if women can silo the President and his personality and his rhetoric from the issues that are important to them, Republicans will do OK. If they can't, they're doomed.

COOPER: We're going to continue this. I just want to quickly go back to David Chalian because I think he is getting some new exit polls on this violence in the United States.

CHALIAN: Hey, Anderson, that's right. We asked folks today, if your vote -- how you considered, how important was this recent extremist violence that we've seen. Take a look at this.

Fifty-one percent of voters call it an important factor, and 25 percent call it the most important factor. So this was clearly on people's mind.

And here is also another hard truth we found about America when we asked folks today about whether or not we're more united or divided as a nation. Take a look at this.

Politically, do you think Americans are more divided or united? More than three-fourths of voters voting today tell us that America, politically, is becoming more divided. Only eight percent say we are becoming, politically, more united, Anderson.

COOPER: All right. David Chalian. Again, Kirsten, I'm not sure how people would see a more united nation, certainly.

(LAUGHTER)

COOPER: But it is interesting, the --

POWERS: It's only seven percent there.

COOPER: But it is interesting, the impact of, you know, extremist violence.

POWERS: Yes. Yes, definitely. I mean, I don't know how much we can really read into that, right?

I mean, I don't know that that's necessarily -- I'm not comfortable saying, like, that's a profile of a Democrat or a Republican per se. I mean, I don't know what you guys think.

SELLERS: No, I think that -- I actually think that that is indicative of a lot of the issues that tie back into the President's rhetoric.

And people are making that nexus and correlation, whether or not it's correct or incorrect, where people are attributing the language and the demonization of, let's say, the caravan and immigrants to this country, Brown and Black people.

And they are attributing that to a rise in the division that we see, the anti-Semitism that we see, and the racism. And I think that -- listen, I think that's going to play a role, especially with young people as they come out and vote today.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: So we've been at rallies with the President's supporters for the last two weeks, sometimes two or three a day, and what we've heard from his supporters is the reverse of that.

They think the Democrats are also contributing to the division in the country with the comments from Maxine Waters, from Nancy Pelosi, from these leading figures in the Democratic Party. They think -- so they don't see that it is all the President's rhetoric.

We were there at rallies the day that pipe bombs were sent to the President's political targets. We were there the day after the Pittsburgh shooting.

We saw all of the President's supporters right around these very crucial events, and they were all saying they do not believe it's the President's rhetoric that has contributed to these. So whether or not that will affect his voters at all is still to be determined.

POWERS: And they also -- go ahead.

COLLINS: But certainly, there is a reverse argument to that.

POWERS: And they also think the media is causing division. That's another thing that --

(CROSSTALK)

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But there was a race to the bottom on rhetoric.

COLLINS: Yes. Literally.

JENNINGS: I mean, the President is divisive, sure. Barack Obama was out there a couple of days ago saying, they're robbing you blind. Now, this is not the uplifting civil discourse that I think a lot of people want to see.

CUPP: Scott --

SELLERS: Yes, that's not a winning --

CUPP: Scott, that's not the President of the United States --

JENNINGS: He's their best --

CUPP: -- just announced, I'm a nationalist.

JENNINGS: He's their best, Sarah.

CUPP: He used that, I'm a nationalist. Used that word.

JENNINGS: But my point is this, both --

CUPP: It's different.

JENNINGS: Both parties made a decision that using divisive rhetoric was to their advantage going into the final days. Obama did it and Trump did it. Everybody was doing it. The country is divided.

CUPP: But plenty of candidates chose not to. Andrew Gillum chose not to. Beto O'Rourke has chosen not to.

Tonally, whatever you think of their politics, tonally -- Stacey Abrams -- they have decided to be happy warriors. That strategy is on the test that's being tested tonight as well.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.

COOPER: Do you think it's fair to compare the tone of President Trump and President Obama in these final days?

GERGEN: I think it's fair to compare them because they're so different, not because of their similarity.

(LAUGHTER)

GERGEN: I mean, President Obama, yes, some people found him divisive, but he didn't use the kind of sharp rhetoric, the below-the-belt kind of punching, that you've seen here. I mean, he was -- you know, he was a much more eloquent man who tried to go up in the mountaintop like that.

I do think there's something fundamental going on here in this election that maybe we should bring to the surface. And that is, there were an awful lot of people who hate Donald Trump, who are really upset about him -- you know, the extremists on this poll -- who really worry that they -- this was no longer the country they thought it was.

[17:55:04] They're worried about what kind of people we're becoming. And if this had gone -- if the numbers hold tonight, I will tell you that a lot of people will wake up tomorrow thinking, I'm not sure if the Democrats can govern well or not, it may be a rough couple of years, but I recognize this country. I feel more comfortable about who we are as Americans.

COOPER: Jeff? And we've got to --

GERGEN: Let's cheer that.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. One of the things the President -- I'm told by some of his advisers and people who want him to succeed. They fear that he is in an echo chamber and only hearing the people who are in these rallies, which is absolutely the fact of the matter is.

But I mean, I think, going forward, as we look to the story of the night -- we still don't know what the outcome of the story of the night is -- who campaigned with the President and who sort of, you know, recoiled from that? That will tell us a lot here going forward.

But last night, at the closing rally again, the President surrounded himself by women. Ivanka Trump --

COLLINS: Yes.

ZELENY: -- Sarah Sanders, Kellyanne Conway. He knows he has a woman voter.

COOPER: But talking about the echo chamber, he also surrounded himself with Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Jeanine Pirro --

(LAUGHTER)

CUPP: Yes.

SELLERS: And Judge Jeanine.

COOPER: Judge Jeanine.

COLLINS: Justice.

COOPER: I believe it's Justice.

COLLINS: She got an upgrade.

ZELENY: Justice Jeanine.

COOPER: Let's go back to Wolf and Justice Jake -- oh, John King, I'm sorry.

(LAUGHTER)

COOPER: Let's go to John King.

BLITZER: All right, we're only about four minutes away from the first poll closings in Indiana and Kentucky. We are about to get some actual results. Let's take a closer look. JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And we'll get our first

big clues on the two big questions here in Washington, control of the Senate and control of the House.

Let's start with Senate. Indiana, this is a marque public polls at the end. Show a close-tied contest between Republican Mike Bronner. He's a businessman. Joe Donnelly is the Democratic incumbent.

This one is personal to the President and, of course, his Vice President. The former governor and the former congressman from the state of Indiana, so this one is personal.

It also will go a long way. Can Democrats have any prayer of taking the Senate? Will Joe Donnelly would have to hold his seat?

Will Republicans add? This is one of their targets. It's 51-49 for the Republicans right now. They hope to add. This is where they hope to do it.

Let's just go back in time and take a look at this. At the presidential level, this state, not competitive. This was a blowout for Donald Trump, his Vice President Mike Pence.

I do just want to go back in time to 2012 to Joe Donnelly's Senate race. I'm going to be kind because it's in the rearview mirror. This is a weak candidate. Joe Donnelly just got 50 percent.

So this is a very tough state for Democrats. It was then, even more so now in Donald Trump's Republican Party so this is a marque test tonight.

That's for the Senate. Can Joe Donnelly hold on in this environment? What message would that send? We'll watch that.

I want to switch to the House map and just pull out a little bit and come back to 2018 -- 435 races. They're going to start to fill in any moment now. The first one that will fill in will come for us out here. It's one of the key races.

Pop out to Kentucky. Polls close any minute. This is a giant test tonight right here. Again, the President carried Kentucky 6th by 15 points. He went there to campaign for Andy Barr. Amy McGrath, one of those Democratic candidates the party went out of its way to recruit, former fighter pilot, military.

She stressed healthcare. He stressed the economy. The two big issues in the election playing out right here.

If the Democrats -- this is a Republican big district. The President won by 15 points. If the Democrats are winning this seat tonight, they think they are well on their way to taking back the House so it will be an early clue.

But one more, Wolf. I just want to say we also have two races in Indiana on our key races list, right? These both lean Republican. We expect the Republicans to win here, but they are competitive races so we'll watch these as well.

This one in the southern part of the state, Indianapolis suburbs, Bloomington in the suburbs, keep an eye on that. Can they be competitive?

This race up here in the northern part of the state, again, we lean this Republican. We expect the Republican incumbent to win this race tonight.

But if you're looking for evidence, is there a blue ripple? Is there a bigger blue wave? If these races are competitive, the early results are going to come in any minute now. That's what we'll watch as well.

Kentucky 6th, the big one we're looking at when it comes to the House, that's right here. But if there is more Democratic strength in the electorate, we'll see evidence of it in Indiana. We will also be watching that Senate race.

BLITZER: We're about to get some new clues. What's going to happen in the House? What's going to happen in the Senate? This is a moment a lot of people have been waiting for. The first results are about to come in. We're watching it, oh, so closely.

A high stakes night here in Washington as voters across the nation are delivering a midterm verdict on the Trump presidency. We're standing by for the first votes this hour.

We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer along with Jake Tapper. We're here in the CNN election center, and we're counting down to our first chance to make projections in the battle for control of Congress.

At 7:00 p.m. Eastern, all voting ends in Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, South Carolina, Vermont, and Virginia. Some polling places in Indiana and Kentucky are closing, in fact, right now, and votes from those districts could start coming in at any moment.

This is the hurdle Democrats face tonight in the House. They need to win 23 Republican-held seats to reclaim the majority and keep the seats they have now. In the Senate, Democrats have to win two seats now held by Republicans and hold on to their existing number of seats.

Jake, we expect to get the first results in seconds.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: In seconds. And, Wolf, this will be the earliest test of how Democrats are going to do tonight and whether control of the House is in the Democrat's grasp.

[18:00:00] We'll get important clues when the first results come in from Kentucky. Democrat Amy McGrath has a chance of defeating Republican incumbent Andy Barr, who rode the Trump wave to a big victory two years ago.