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CNN LARRY KING LIVE
Aired August 24, 2010 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight in Arizona, John McCain's Senate seat's on the line. Can he fend off the biggest primary challenge of his career? Could Dan Quayle's son be on his way to Congress? Big bucks, ugly battles in Florida and Alaska, too. We've got results from primaries in five states, next on "LARRY KING LIVE."
Good evening. As we pick it up, a program note, the very funny Wanda Sykes is here tomorrow night. Polls are closed in Florida, Vermont, Oklahoma. Voters in Alaska, Arizona still casting ballots. We'll get right to the results with our man, John King at the magic wall. John, can we call anything in Florida a surprise?
JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: We've got a big surprise, Larry, going on right now in the Republican primary for Florida governor. Let's show you the results right here. Bill McCollum is the state attorney general, a former congressman, 43 percent of the vote, which means he is losing at the moment to Rick Scott, a former health care executive, a millionaire -- multimillionaire, who has largely self-financed his race. 46 percent to 43 percent. Just over a half percent of the vote counted, according to our friends at the Associated Press. This is a very, very close race in a very consequential election to be the Republican nominee and most likely the favorite in the race for Republican governor. That's one big race.
Let's also look at Florida's Senate race. You're going to have Charlie Crist on in a moment. This is a fascinating contest, too. Kendrick Meek, the Democratic Congressman, we are now projecting he will with this primary. 54 percent to 33 percent over billionaire real estate investor Jeff Greene. Again, about 51 percent of the vote counted. Kendrick Meek, though, will be the Democratic nominee.
Marco Rubio is the Republican nominee. And you'll talk to Governor Charlie Crist in a minute, Larry, I know that now running non party affiliated or Independent.
The other big contest tonight, you mentioned at the top of the show, that's out in Arizona. We can show you the candidates. The folks are still voting out there. Senator John McCain, could his 30- year career in Congress end tonight? Well, it could if J.D. Hayworth can beat him in the primary. Late poll shows Senator McCain ahead. There's a third Republican candidate Jim Deakin in that race. Remember, Larry, an odd midterm election year. The only thing the McCain camp was worried about today was turnout. Would they get voters out on a day where triple-digit temperatures in Arizona? Senator McCain, the favorite. Former Congressman J.D. Hayworth trying to spark a conservative surprise.
Let's make a quick trip over here to the magic wall, just put some of this into context. Here are the governors races across the country this year. 70 nights from now, Larry, we'll be having a conversation about who won nationally in the midterm elections. More than three dozen races for governor. Florida is one of them. We just talked about that. That's one thing.
As we watch that McCain race out in Arizona, again, take a peek at the candidates. McCain, Hayworth, and Jim Deakin there. Why does that matter? Well, that's a Republican seat the Republicans need to keep as you battle for the control of Congress. These are all the races across the country.
Republicans are favored. One more quick one for you here. Here's the balance of power right now. 59 Democrats, 41 Republicans. Essentially, the Democrats need to hold off the Republicans. Keep them from picking up 10 seats in the Senate. So when we learn the nominees in Florida tonight, when we learn whether Senator McCain survives that challenge out in Arizona, when we go up to Alaska, where another incumbent Republican is facing a Tea Party challenge, Larry, we're learning about, A, do these incumbents survive?
We're also learning about intensity in the electorate. If you go back and look at those Florida races right now, higher turnout so far in the Republican primary than in the Democratic primary. That could tell us something about the intensity and where the energy will be when we have a much more important conversation on election day 70 nights from now. Larry?
KING: Thanks, John King, the host of "John King USA". Let's swing now to McCain headquarters at the Phoenix Convention Center in very hot Arizona. Jessica Yellin, our CNN national political correspondent, is on the scene. She's been there all day. The polls don't close until the top of the hour. He pulled -- McCain has pulled ahead in the polls, hasn't he?
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He has, Larry. He's pulled ahead and is clearly feeling confident, but still cautious enough that he wouldn't take questions from reporters today. And he kept saying, you know, it's not over till it's over.
This was a very close race for some time. John McCain seeking his fifth term was so threatened by his charge, J.D. Hayworth here, that he first of all spent a record amount of money on this primary, $20 million just on the primary. Never been done before here. And he also had to shift his policies quite considerably, running significantly to the right, especially on immigration, which has been, you know, his signature issue.
There is a question, will he have to moderate some of these positions to win over Independents. And especially the state's Latino voters, should he, as expected, win tonight and go on to the general? But John McCain is focused, I'm sure, on tonight for now, Larry. And with fingers crossed in the McCain camp, assuming that he will get a victory tonight. But as you say, polls don't close for the rest of the hour. Larry?
KING: One other thing, Jessica. No one's mentioned it all day. Is there a Democratic primary in Arizona?
YELLIN: I know! Yes, the answer is yes. And I interviewed one of the Democratic candidates who said, do you people know there's a race on our side? There are four candidates running. One of them is actually a Latino who got into the race because of the state's immigration politics lately, but because of McCain's name and because this has been a red state for some time--
YELLIN: --this Republican race tends to get some attention. But you never know, Larry.
KING: You never know. Thanks, Jessica, as always. Jessica Yellin, she'll be here all night. Let's go to St. Petersburg, Florida. Our old friend, Governor Charlie Crist, who was initially going to be in the Republican primary, is now running for the Senate as an Independent. Anything surprise you tonight so far, Charles?
CHARLES CRIST, GOV., FLORIDA: Not really. Not really, Larry. You know, it's been pretty predictable, but this is going to be an interesting race and an unusual race in Florida this year. I mean, you know, having a Republican nominee, a Democratic nominee, and an Independent candidate in myself, I think, really offers the people of Florida a choice. And they deserve a choice.
And what that choice is, when it comes to Florida is, if you want somebody that's on the hard right, you have a candidate now. If you want somebody on the hard left, you have a candidate.
But, if on the other hand, you want somebody who's going to fight the gridlock in Washington, stand up for the people first instead of the party, do what's right for Florida rather than what's right for Washington, or right for just Republicans or Democrats, then you have an alternative. And that's what we offer in this race. And I'm excited about it and I look forward to it.
KING: Very similar situation to yours, Joe Lieberman ran in the general election, won as an Independent in Connecticut. And he caucuses with the Democrats. You are not saying who you'll caucus with.
CRIST: That's right. Well, I think it's important to maintain that independence. And frankly, what I say repeatedly is that I'll caucus with the people of Florida. What I mean by that is, that I have to put the people first. It's not about party for me. And that's one of the clearest distinctions in this race already, as of tonight, as a matter of fact. My Republican opponent and my Democratic opponent have already made that choice. They've already made that decision.
When it comes to me, I want to do what's right for the people of Florida first. I want to make sure that when I get to Washington, should I have that honor, that I have the opportunity to ask the hard questions. Who's going to do more for job creation in the sunshine state? Who's going to do more to make sure that we protect our environment? Who's going to do more to invest in clean energy? Who's going to do more to keep our taxes down? Those are the questions that I'm going to answer if I have the honor of serving my fellow Floridians in Washington. And they deserve those answers in order to have an effective senator for Florida.
KING: With half the votes in, are you surprised that Rick Scott is ahead of Bill McCollum?
CRIST: Well, it's been a close race all along, Larry. And it doesn't really surprise me that much. I mean, a lot of money's been spent on this race. It's been very competitive from the get-go. Both of the candidates really worked very, very hard. And now they go to challenge Alex Sink on the Democratic side for the general election in November. It's going to be in interesting race to follow as well.
KING: Are you going to endorse either one?
CRIST: No, I'm not. No, I've got my own hands full. I've got plenty to do in this race for the U.S. Senate to try to get this Independent message out to the people of Florida.
And frankly, I think, it's something that's really important now more than ever. You know, people see the bickering all the time in Washington, the gridlock, the frustration with nothing really getting done. I think what Floridians want, frankly, I think what's good for America, is to have somebody go there that will put the people first instead of the party, do what's right, instead of what they think is politically correct for the parties.
KING: There's nothing like Florida politics. I don't believe -- I lived there 20 years, I don't believe an Independent has ever won anything statewide. When you go out on the hustings, who do you appeal to, because Republicans are entrenched, Democrats are entrenched. How do you know who the Independents are?
CRIST: I think the Independents are the people of Florida. I really do. You know, I'm not trying to appeal to just Republicans or just Democrats or just Independents. I'm the only one in this race, frankly, who's honest enough to say, Republicans have some very good ideas, for example, about cutting the deficit and reducing our taxes. Democrats also have some very good ideas, about investing in clean energy and producing more jobs for people.
The most important issue that all of us are going to be facing. My opponents aren't able to do that. Because, really, they are imprisoned by the parties, you know, expected to do certain things, because of the party that they have to really subscribe to before they care about the people. And that's the real difference in this race. That's what I think not only Florida wants, but America wants. Somebody to stand up to them first instead of being gridlocked. And the parties are truly gridlocked. We see it every day now in Washington. They can't get anything done as a result of it.
KING: One other thing, Governor, who do you get your money from?
CRIST: The people, honestly. I mean, you know, when it comes to resources, when it comes to support, when it comes to votes, I have to appeal to the people of my state. I love Florida. I want to continue to serve the people in the United States Senate to make sure that they have an honest broker there, somebody who thinks about them first, doesn't think about political parties and the party bosses drawing the line in the sand. And if you cross it, you're almost a traitor. I've got to do what's right for the people first. I think it's refreshing.
KING: All right.
CRIST: And I know it's what they want.
KING: One other thing, governor, how -- it's going to be hard to -- I guess you never had this. How do you run against two people? How do you strategize Meek and Rubio, who couldn't be further apart?
CRIST: Well, I don't run against them. I run for the people of Florida. And I put forward a positive message about what I think is the right thing to do to rein in spending, to reduce our taxes, exactly like we've done here in Florida, to make sure that we're innovative about trying to produce a better economy, a clean economy that produces new jobs, work with Democrats for that, work with Republicans to reduce taxes. You know, just the kinds of things that are common sense. That's the thing that's really missing in Washington today. Where's the common sense?
KING: Will there be a three-way debate?
CRIST: Oh, I'm sure there will be, probably sponsored by you.
KING: I volunteer right now to come down there and moderate it. I've got a lot of experience moderating Florida politics. Say the word and we'll be there.
CRIST: Accepted. All right. The word. Let's go ahead and do it.
CRIST: That would be a lot of fun.
KING: All right. One person has accepted. Now it's up to Rubio and Meek. And we'll be there.
The DNC chairman, Governor Tim Kaine is here, and he's next.
KING: And John, as Governor Crist just said -- Kaine is the former governor of Virginia, he's the DNC chairman. He joins us from Las Vegas. What are you doing in Nevada tonight, governor?
TIM KAINE, DNC CHAIRMAN: Larry, I'm doing what I always do. A little bit of press out here for Senator Reid's campaign and Rory Reid for governor. Thanking volunteers. I'm kind of a road warrior these days.
KING: What do you make of Mr. Meek? And how well will he do down in Florida?
KAINE: I think Kendrick is going to do fine. And it looks like he's going to have a convincing win. And I understand the race has always been called for him. Obviously the three-way race is going to be fascinating. But Kendrick has been part of a heavy-lifting Congress that's done good work on health care, on Wall Street reform, on credit card reform. And I think as we get into this three-way race, and hopefully have those debates that you and Governor Crist were talking about, I think Kendrick is going to show he's the right guy to take his campaign into the U.S. Senate.
KING: The -- is not doing well in the polls. The Democratic money might shift to Crist. Do you buy that?
KAINE: Well, you know, I've heard folks speculate about that, but I also think that there are some issues still kind of bubbling up in the Republican party in Florida, that are going to affect both Marco Rubio and Governor Crist. It is going to be a fascinating race, but I do think this very convincing win over a guy who spent, you know, millions and millions of his own dollars is going to give Kendrick a real shot in the arm going into the fall. We've supported him. The White House is solid behind him. It's going to be a fun race there in Florida, just as the governor's race is going to be a great one.
KING: Speaking of the White House, what do you make of President Obama's falling ratings?
KAINE: Well, it's a tough time, you know, out there. And so when times are tough, people aren't going to be happy. But I noticed in "The Wall Street Journal" poll last week, the president still had numbers that frankly most senators or governors anywhere in the country would very much like to have.
The American public gives him stronger marks. And they draw a sharp distinction between his leadership, and for example, the Congressional Republicans that are trying to stand in his way.
But what the president has said over and over again is, look, it's not ultimately about the numbers, it's about the accomplishments. And so the CBO came out today with the study showing that the stimulus is responsible for a shrinking economy going to a growing economy. Lord knows, we've got a long way to go, but thank goodness we're climbing again behind the leadership of this president and some heavy lifting in Congress. And we feel like he's our best asset out on the campaign trail, as he's getting out there vigorously for our candidates. KING: Bill Clinton was in Florida, heavily supported the winner tonight, Congressman Meek. Do you expect him to be very involved in many races this fall?
KAINE: I certainly hope so, Larry. And every indication is that he will be. He has just done a great job out there campaigning for our candidates. And we feel like with President Obama, with Vice President Biden, both of whom are very, very energetic for our candidates, President Clinton, as many races and as much involvement as he wants to have, we're thrilled to have him, because it is so helpful to us.
We've got a lot of folks that we can put out on the field. And we also think that we're doing a darned good job on the fundraising side and on the field energy side on putting that field effort in place at the end of the day in midterm elections. An awful lot of your strength is your organization. We feel very strong in that.
KING: One other thing, in that governor's race in Florida, everyone's talking about Scott and McCollum. Do you give Alex Sink a good shot on the Democratic side to win it?
KAINE: I absolutely do, Larry. The -- Alex Sink showed up ahead in polls against both Scott or McCollum within the last two weeks. She had been steadily closing gaps and then has moved ahead as these guys have been very negative on each other.
One thing we've just heard from Florida is that Scott and McCollum campaigns had had a unity event scheduled Wednesday or Thursday, which they've now canceled. The Democratic party is pulling together behind their leaders. The Republicans have thrown Charlie Crist over the side. And now their two gubernatorial candidates, apparently, have decided that they can't unify after this race. We're going to be unified going into the fall in Florida. And that's going to help us.
KING: Thanks, Governor, always good seeing you.
KAINE: You, too, Larry, thanks so much.
KING: Governor Tim Kaine, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
We'll see what our political observers make of these primaries. The pundits are next.
KING: We're back. What does tonight mean for Democrats and Republicans? Let's find out from Ben Stein, the economist, former presidential speechwriter, columnist for "Fortune" Magazine, and author of "The Little Book of Bulletproof Investing." Alicia Menendez, senior adviser to NDN. That's a liberal think tank. Ari Fleischer, our old friend, the former White House press secretary for George W. Bush, a Republican strategist as well. And Representative Debbie Wassermann Schultz, Democrat of Florida, vice chairman of the DNC and supporter of Representative Kendrick Meek, the victor tonight in the Democratic Senate battle in the sunshine state.
Okay. What's your over view, Ben?
BEN STEIN, ECONOMIST, AND FORMER PRES. SPEECHWRITER: Well, I think it's a sign of how vital and lively our democracy still is with all this terrible foreign policy situation, terrible war situation, terrible recession situation. We still have lots and lots of people who want to serve in the very difficult task of elected public service. We have lots and lots of new voters coming out. We have groups that have not been represented before. I don't think we've ever had an African-American that has a very good chance of being a senator from Florida, at least not since reconstruction. I don't think we've had a Hispanic American, who has also a chance in high office from same office from Florida. I think it's a very positive night. I like tonight.
KING: Alicia, from a Democratic standpoint, how do you see it?
ALICIA MENENDEZ, SENIOR ADVISER, NDN: I just want to make a quick correction to what Ben said, which I largely agree with, which is that the seat they are looking to replace belonged to Mel Martinez. So a Hispanic has in fact held this seat.
STEIN: Wasn't he born in America? Was he not born in--
MENENDEZ: I'm not sure if Mel Martinez was born in Cuba or if he was born in America.
STEIN: I think he was.
MENENDEZ: But either way, Marco Rubio was born here so--
STEIN: He's Hispanic.
MENENDEZ: He's Hispanic.
MENENDEZ: No, I think this has definitely been an interesting night. I think there are lots of interesting narratives coming out of this, including the fact, you know, we here in Washington like to set these standards that, you know, either this is going to be an anti- incumbent election, or this is the year of the woman, or this is going to be insiders versus outsiders.
What we're seeing tonight, it seems, is that none of these molds fit exactly. And we're going to need to be, you know, more critical and more precise in looking at these races.
KING: Former Senator Martinez was born in Cuba.
MENENDEZ: There we go.
STEIN: Oh. Thank you for the correction. I appreciate it.
KING: All right, Ari, how do you look at it? How -- first, are you surprised that Scott is ahead of McCollum?
ARI FLEISCHER, FMR. BUSH WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, everybody knew that was going to be close race. McCollum was almost written off a few weeks ago or a few months ago. So he's had a strong comeback. We'll see how that one ends up.
But what I always try to do in a long primary season is look at the overarching trend for a few months. And the overarching trend that I think is going to continue right up until election night, is you have a huge turnout for Republicans and a much less interested turnout by the Democratic party in all primaries.
In 2006, the Democrats had three million more Democrats turn out in primaries than Republicans. And the Democrats took the House, took the Senate.
2010, exact reversal. So far in the primaries, where people have voted, 3 million more Republicans have voted than Democrats. That's a huge enthusiasm gap. And it can actually be measured over time in who shows up. That's what determines winners and losers in November. That's the biggest trend of the primary season so far, Larry.
KING: And Congressman Schultz, does that give you pause for concern?
REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN Schultz (D), FLORIDA: Actually, what should give Republicans pause is that they are in an internecine battle for essentially the heart and soul of the Republican party. All over America, what we've seen is the extreme right wing Tea Party Republicans have been beating moderate, more mainstream Republican candidates, and essentially, strangling the chances of almost any of these races to be successful for Republicans.
America is not on the far right. We're in the mainstream, middle of the road. And to watch the Tea Party essentially strangling the Republican party, that's going to be the trend that will be talked about in the 2010 election.
KING: We'll take a break. When we come back, we will discuss the Tea Party's impact on all of this right after this.
KING: Before we get back to the panel and have them go at it, let's go at it back to the big board and John King for a quick update. John?
J. KING: Larry, I'm sure they're going to go at it, especially as we show you some of these very competitive results. The Florida gubernatorial Republican primary. This is a close one. We're going to track this all the way down. Leading at the moment, conservative former health care executive, Rick Scott, 47 percent of the vote to 43 percent for the state attorney general, former Congressman Bill McCollum; 57 percent of the vote counted.
One thing I want to show you, Larry, using all of our technology tonight. You might want to say, wow, he's held on to that lead for a long time. You know the state very well. Palm Beach, Broward, Dade County, a very slow vote count. Not many votes down there. That is where the people live, as you know, in the state of Florida. So there is time and there are votes to be counted. Bill McCollum has room to come back. Rick Scott leading at the moment. We'll keep tracking that one.
The Democratic primary for Florida Senate, we have called this race for Kendrick Meek. He's the Democratic congressman. You see the check mark there, 55 percent to 32 percent. Kendrick Meek winning out despite millions of his own money spent by real estate developer Jeff Greene.
Notice these numbers here, Larry. Ari Fleischer was just making this point. So far -- let's wait until they count all the votes. So far, turnout much higher on the Republican side. And a marquee race still to be counted, as the polls close out in the state of Arizona. John McCain -- if the polls are right, the pre-election polls, he will hold off a challenge from the right in J.D. Hayworth.
Let's show you the candidates in Arizona, if we can bring that one up. John McCain, of course, the Republican presidential nominee less than two years ago, now fighting to keep the Republican nomination for Senate against the former congressman, J.D. Hayworth. Republican activist Jim Deakin also in that race.
Again, turnout a concern there, Larry. Temperatures over 100 degrees today, but Senator McCain reasonably confident. We'll be counting the votes in the hour ahead. Now back to Larry and the panel.
KING: Before we get back with the panel, let's go for a couple of moments to hear from the victor, Congressman Meek, addressing his supporters.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. KENDRICK MEEK (D), CANDIDATE FOR SENATE FROM FLORIDA: We will be victorious on this night. And I want to thank every Floridian that cast a ballot in this primary election to make me the Democratic nominee, and eventually the next senator of the state of Florida.
I made the case that I am the real Democrat in this race. I also made the case that I have the will and the desire and the energy to pull a double shift, to get Florida back to work, to make sure that people have health care, to make sure that we protect our environment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: That's Kendrick Meek, who's on his way to run for the Senate, the congressman from Miami, a very effective speaker. Let's discuss the Tea Party, Ben. Are they going to be decisive in November?
STEIN: Well, they'll have some big impact, but I must say, I respectfully disagree with Congressman Schultz. She's a fine woman. I heard her speak recently at a Congress conference in Scottsdale. She's a very good speaker -- sorry, not in Scottsdale, in the desert outside of L.A.
But it's just a mistake and a myth to say that the Tea Parties are extremists. Some are, some aren't. The ones I know want lower taxes and less government spending. That doesn't sound like an extremist position. They want to be sure that before we go into wars, we have to absolutely be sure that we can win them --
KING: They don't appear to appeal to minorities.
STEIN: I've seen plenty of minorities at them, plenty of African-Americans. In fact, one of the most prominent Tea Partiers in the Phoenix area is an African-American. It's just a myth that the Democrats are trying to put out that these are extremists.
KING: Alicia, from an election standpoint, are you concerned about them. I'll get back to you, Debby. Are you concerned about the Tea Party?
MENENDEZ: I don't think Democrats need to be concerned about them. I think Republicans need to be concerned about the Tea Party. In a lot of these primaries, they've forced candidates, either like John McCain, to hook to the right on issues he's historically been very good on, like immigration, like Don't Ask, Don't Tell, which he's completely flip-flopped on in this election.
In the case of Marco Rubio, they gave him a lot of his initial support, which allowed him to win the Republican nomination, but now that he actually needs to move into a general, they're angry about the fact that he's flip-flopped on Arizona's SB-1070, their controversial immigration law. And when you look at his policies, there's a lot of chatter about the deficit, but none of his policies actually add up to reducing the deficit and driving home that Tea Party message that Ben was just talking about.
KING: Ari, what do you make of the Tea Party?
FLEISCHER: I think they're great when it comes to the economic issues, Larry. I think the Republican party had lost a lot of its way when it came to spending. And the Tea Party came by as a very wise and helpful reminder that we need to reduce debt, reduce spending, and lower taxes. The fascinating thing about this discussion that leaves me a little slack jawed is anytime people say, as the congresswoman did, that the Tea Party is bad for Republicans, then why are Republicans winning in all the polls?
That's something they said, I remember, when Rand Paul won a Kentucky primary as a Tea Partier, and the Democrats said, ah ha, now we win Kentucky. Well, Kentucky now looks like it is pretty safely in the Republican category.
I think that's something they say because they really don't have a lot to say when it comes to the central issue of the race, which is the economy, jobs, and the poor shape we're in. It's the type of political distraction that gets thrown out there. But there's no evidence that supports it. If it was, Democrats would be winning in a lot more of the polls which we see heading into November. And that's just not the case.
KING: Congresswoman Schultz, how do you respond?
SCHULTZ: Larry, what Ari is saying is just absolutely not born out by the facts. Just look at the very fact that Harry Reid, until Sharron Angle was nominated by the Republican party, a hard right-wing Tea Party supporter, Tea Party essentially representative -- until then, Harry Reid was struggling in the polls. Now he's up in the polls in every major poll.
You have candidates across the country, Democratic candidates, Democratic incumbents who are up in the polls overwhelmingly, and about eight or nine of the NRCC, hand-picked moderate, young guns have gotten beat in Republican primaries and now those nominees, the Tea Party nominees, are down in the polls and will ultimately lose to our moderate, mainstream middle -- Democrats, who are pro-business and who have their finger on the pulse of their own constituencies, instead of their finger on the pulse of the people on the hard right. That's just the reality.
KING: Why do you laugh at that?
STEIN: Because the Democratic party doesn't have its pulse on the mainstream of America. The Democratic party has its foot on the neck of American business --
SCHULTZ: We sure do.
STEIN: Just like the foot on the neck of the American business, making it very, very expensive for businessmen to hire people, putting through a health care bill that 60 percent of Americans oppose, putting through a health care bill that people in business are terrified because it increases their cost for employees by so much, putting through apologies for America all around the world.
The Republicans would not be in such a strong position in the polls if people thought that Democrats were a mainstream party. They're not anymore.
KING: Let me get in a break. We'll come back with Alicia and more. And we'll get back with the very upset Debby Schultz.
But first, these words.
KING: We're back until the Arizona polls close at the top of the hour. That's the race we're interested in, with Rick Scott four percentage points ahead of the attorney general, Bill McCollum. The winner will face Alex Sink in November to be the next governor of the state of Florida. All right, Alicia, Congresswoman Schultz makes it sound like this is a great year for the Democrats. Do you buy that?
MENENDEZ: I don't know that it's a great year for the Democrats. I certainly don't think it's as bad as some on the right have made it out to be. Barack Obama's approval ratings, as we said, remain relatively high. And I think voters are going to go to the polls for the general election and they're going to be faced with what is not an excellent choice. They have one party that has tried, that has put us back on a path toward economic recovery; and they have another party that simply won't play ball.
And I think when given that choice, while I admit it is not an ideal choice to make, I do think there is the possibility that voters break for Democrats in a way that is potentially unexpected.
KING: Ari, do you see any clouds on the Republican horizon at all?
FLEISCHER: Well, the trend continues to be very ongoing and consistent. And in some ways, the Democrats can't even catch a break. You had further terrible economic news coming out today about housing, with 27-year low in starts. It's as if every piece of economic data just keeps getting bad and worse and it's baked into the cake between now and November.
So the overall trend is not going to change. I think the real issue is do Republicans have enough to pick up the House? I don't believe they're going to pick up the Senate, but they're going to make such a huge dent in the Senate that for all intents and purposes, Barack Obama's agenda will have been stopped. And then the question is it sets up a huge 2012 election, where Republicans could take it all, Democrats could take it back.
That's what I think we're looking for heading into November. No matter what, even if Republicans fall short in the House and fall short in the Senate, it will have effectively stopped the Obama agenda.
KING: If the Republicans take the House, Congresswoman Schultz, a lot will be expected of them, will it not?
SCHULTZ: I don't think that's actually going to happen. And let me just say, Larry, I'm certainly not painting a rosy picture for Democrats. I do think that Democrats are going to lose seats in the House and probably the Senate as well. But Americans do face a choice. The choice is a little bit different, I would characterize it a little bit different than Alicia did. It's a choice between continuing to move the country in a new direction, as she said, and backsliding toward the Bush area, which the Republicans would do, and return to the exact same agenda, where they drove the economy into a ditch; they focused on the wealthiest one percent of Americans and ignored the middle class and working families.
So those are the types of choices that our candidate across the country offer. So it's a very stark contrast and a very stark choice. I think Americans will choose to continue to move the country in the direction that it's been in, where we've got private sector job growth now from the bleeding 750,000 jobs just before President Obama took office. So I would say at the end of the day, you'll see us hold both houses. KING: Switch to another quick area. Ben, do you think this Muslim question with the center that's proposed to be built in New York will have a national effect?
STEIN: I do. I must say, I have rarely seen people so worked up about anything. It's astonishing. People are e-mailing me --
KING: Despite the fact it's a Constitutional right.
STEIN: It is a constitutional right to worship without government interference. I don't think it's a constitutional issue. It's a moral/cultural issue. I actually saw someone on your program talk about the fact that this is not really a moral issue, but a moral/cultural issue and that Mr. Obama has really stepped in it this way by backing something that is so offensive to so many Americans. If that many Americans are offended by it, even if there is a legal right to do it, I don't think it should be done. It's really, really offensive.
KING: Alicia, will it be a national issue?
MENENDEZ: I don't think so at all. I think right now most American voters are focused on one issue. That is the economy. While this may play in some redder districts, I just don't see this driving people to the polls, especially when we're going to talk about moral issues, then we can talk about providing health insurance to Americans who don't have it. We can talk about fixing our broken immigration system, so that we can keep families together. We have a lot bigger moral fish to fry than some mosque that's surrounded by two other mosques, Larry. That's the ridiculous thing about this conversation. It's not the only mosque in New York.
FLEISCHER: Larry, this is not a red district/blue district issue. Manhattan voted 85 percent for Barack Obama, 15 percent for John McCain, and Manhattan opposes this. This is an issue which I don't know why the president has weighed in so deeply into it and then equivocated on it. This just touches a raw nerve with a lot of people of both parties. It just doesn't feel right out of the sensitivity issue.
Yes, it's a right in this country to build a religious institution anywhere you want, but sometimes part of exercising our rights is being delicate and sensitive enough to say, but I choose not to here. And that's what I wish we would hear from the Muslim community in lower Manhattan. And that's how you start to bridge gaps and bring people together, and build it in a place where New Yorkers can say, yes, we all support it; let's put it here.
KING: Got to get a break and we'll find out what Congresswoman Schultz thinks, and whether she thinks it will be a national issue, after this.
KING: Congresswoman Schultz, do you think that Muslim situation in New York will be a national issue?
SCHULTZ: Um, I really don't think it will be a national issue. I think what it boils down to is it is a case of just because you can doesn't mean you should. I think the leadership of the mosque and that Muslim community in that area of New York City would be well served to sit down with the leadership in New York and in that community, and work together to build some consensus on an alternative site.
I do think the national issues that are important in the outcome of races are turning the economy around, creating jobs, and the fact that virtually all Republican candidates for Congress across the country support privatization of Social Security, deep cuts in Social Security, like Dan Webster in Florida --
STEIN: She just made that up.
SCHULTZ: No, no, Ben. With all due respect to you, I did nothing of the kind. There are candidates across the country for Congress --
STEIN: Will you show us the source?
KING: Phoenix, hello.
CALLER: Hi. I'd like to know how the Democrats plan on continuing their tax and spend philosophy and the growing deficit that it is creating within America today?
MENENDEZ: I think that is a complicated question. On one hand, we have to get our economy back on track. This administration has made every effort to do that. And two years down the road, we certainly need to start talking about our deficit. As a young American, I am of course, concerned with our deficit. And at the same time, there is no point in talking about that until we have really revived our economy, gotten to the type of job creation that Congresswoman Schultz was talking about. Until then, the deficit is a conversation that needs to be saved for down the road.
FLEISCHER: Well, that is -- I think the voter, the caller put his finger on what this election is really shaping up, as a referendum on all the spending we've had. First it was the Tarp under President Bush. And then it was the 787 billion dollar stimulus that was supposed to keep unemployment below eight percent, and it broke 10 percent. And since then, we have bailed out all kinds of other people, and the taxpayers are fed up with it.
That is the overarching trend. What is driving this election. It is spending. It's debt. And it's the lack of jobs. That is what has changed what was a really powerful Democrat back-to-back 2006 and 2008 election. The voters are in stern backlash. Independent voters breaking overwhelmingly Republican. This is a big change in America.
KING: We will come back with a statement from House Minority Leader Boehner and a reply from Joe Biden and the comments of the panel right after this.
KING: The House Minority Leader John Boehner called on President Obama to fire his economic team today. Here is what he said. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), MINORITY LEADER: President Obama should ask for and accept the resignations of the remaining members of his economic team, starting with Secretary Geithner and Larry Summers, the head of the National Economic Council. Now, this is no substitute for a referendum on the president's job killing agenda. That question will be put before the American people in due time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Ben Stein is a big fan of Larry Summers, and we will have his comment. But here is how Vice President Biden responded to Boehner's speech. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There are millions upon millions of Americans who saw their savings and their paychecks shrink, lost their jobs, their homes. Mr. Boehner is nostalgic for those good old days, but the American people are not. They don't want to go back. They want to move forward. And so folks, I am still waiting for what it is that they are for.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: OK. Ben, what do you make of Boehner and Summers and --
STEIN: Actually, Larry Summers is one of the smartest guys in the world. We are incredibly lucky to have him in public service. Geithner is a total cipher. He might as well be pushing cookies at some embassy in some remote foreign country. But VP Biden has put his finger on a major problem. We don't know what the heck to do. Republicans don't know what to do. Democrats don't know what to do. Ms. Schultz does not know what to do. I don't know what to do. Nobody knows what to do.
KING: Isn't that true, Alicia?
MENENDEZ: I think there is certainly some truth to it. And I have to give it to Ben, because it is refreshing to hear somebody be that honest. We can be that honest because we are not running for office in November. At the same time, I do think there is a distinction between one party which is putting forward forward-looking solutions, innovative solutions, and another party that wants to play looking back in time and just going backwards, when we know what those policies got us. So I think that there is a distinction.
KING: Ari? Do you have a solution?
FLEISCHER: Well, one thing for certain is you don't raise taxes in the middle of the weak economy we have. And I'm afraid that is what we may be heading for if Congress doesn't figure out what to do with the expiring tax cuts. But two, when those tax cuts were passed in 2001 and 2003 with overwhelming bipartisan support, it led to 52 consecutive straight months of job growth in our economy. That's more than four straight years of job growth. People should not forget that.
There was a recession in 2001, September 11. And then as a result especially of capital gains and the dividend tax cut, the economy took off. And the deficit in 2007 was down to 157 billion dollars. And then you had the meltdown of 2008. And I don't attribute that to the 2001 tax cuts. That was a much bigger factor that involved both parties and involved Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as well as Wall Street and the whole meltdown.
But there was very recently solid job growth. And it was a result of those tax cuts that Democrats are deriding.
KING: Congresswoman Schultz, we only have about 35 seconds. Go ahead.
SCHULTZ: Thank you. We have the most credible economists that don't attribute the success of the job growth under the Clinton administration, and then the tanking of the economy under the Bush administration to tax cuts that focus on the wealthiest one percent. What we are going to be seeing is -- and what we have seen is the way we have returned to adding jobs to the private sector is through the policies of President Obama. We have gone from bleeding 750,000 jobs a month to adding jobs in the private sector. We have begun to move the country in the right direction. That is attributable to the policies that we've adopted over the last year and a half.
KING: We are out of time. We thank you all very much. Of course, we will have you back frequently.
The polls are about to close in Arizona. Stay with CNN for the latest results. Wanda Sykes is here tomorrow night. Right now, it is John Roberts and "AC 360." John?