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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, 11/2/21

Guests: Errin Haines, Larry Sabato, Alex Wagner, Cecile Richards


Election Day arrives, featuring two key governor`s races in Virginia and New Jersey.


NICOLLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST: As things get exciting, here`s the plan.

I will join my friends and colleagues Rachel Maddow and Joy Reid and, of course, Steve Kornacki, just before that 7:00 p.m. Eastern time poll closing in Virginia. We will begin to get our first results, that vote count Steve keeps talking about, of the night.

Until then, stay put, because THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER starts right now.

Hi, Ari.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Hi, Nicolle. We have been watching and we will be watching you. Thank you so much.


WALLACE: Thank you my friend.

MELBER: Absolutely.

This is THE BEAT. I`m Ari Melber.

And you can hear the music. It is election night. Steve Kornacki is at the Big Board right now, as mentioned, tracking all the results as we get them, exit polls, and all the voting. There are races in over 30 states tonight. There`s battling for local offices, special elections, DAs, mayors, and a race for governor in two states, New Jersey, where polls close at 8:00 p.m., and Governor Murphy is trying to be the first Democratic governor to win reelection there in over 40 years.

And then, of course, Virginia, which may carry many political implications across the country, not just in that state, as Terry McAuliffe and Glenn Youngkin can battle it out. Polls close there within the hour.

Now, it is election night. So we begin, where else, but exactly where we want to go, and we think America wants to go, to the Big Board with MSNBC`s Steve Kornacki.

Steve, take it away.


Well, as you say, inside of an hour, we`re waiting for real votes. Between now and then, we have got the exit poll. We have got our first look at the electric, folks who went out and voted today. Also included in this exit poll, folks who voted early, folks who voted by mail as well, a lot of different ways of voting these days.

Let`s take you through some of what we`re seeing here. First of all, one of the central questions for the backdrop for this governor`s race, President Biden. We have talked so much about how the party that controls the White House has struggled in Virginia governor`s elections.

What is Joe Biden`s job approval rating with Virginia voters today? Right now, this is what we`re seeing, a 43 percent approval rating for the president, upside down; 56 percent disapprove. That actually tracks pretty closely to what we saw nationally in our NBC poll that came out on the eve of the election.

Nationally, we had Biden at 42. Today, the exit poll right now is putting him at 43 percent in Virginia. How about this one, though? Terry McAuliffe and the Democrats, they have been trying to make Donald Trump a front-and- center issue in this campaign, trying to attach Trump in voters` minds to Glenn Youngkin, the Republican. This is why they have been doing that.

Here`s voters` view of Donald Trump in Virginia. That is also extremely upside down, 41 percent favorable, 54 percent unfavorable. So is Trump going to be more of a weight on Youngkin, or is Biden going to be more of a weight on McAuliffe, one of the questions we`re going to get answered with the actual votes coming in.

Also, opinion of the candidates themselves. Glenn Youngkin, the Republican, actually in our exit poll clocking in over 50 percent in the favorable rating for him. That is better than Terry McAuliffe in this exit poll. He`s clocking in at 44 percent favorable.

I will note the one time that Terry McAuliffe got elected governor before, back in 2013, he did struggle with that favorable rating back then as well. He was able to overcome that in `13. We will see if he`s able to overcome that in `21.

And, again, Ari, the countdown, you can see right there, inside of 57 minutes. I expect shortly after 7:00 -- county officials have been telling us they have changed the process a little bit this year for reporting of votes -- this thing should really start to come to life and light up right when 7:00 rolls around.

MELBER: And your bottom line there, Steve, on the exits, very interesting to get the favorables. They tell you something, but not everything.

KORNACKI: Yes, that`s right.

And the other thing I caution the exit poll is, 5:00, we get our first look at it. There`s going to be more data that`s added to the exit poll. There are more interviews that are taking place as we speak, that have been taking place. So more data is going to be added to that exit poll I think about 45 minutes from now.

So the numbers I showed you could shift a little bit. That`s one thing we`re going to look at, but these exit polls, they kind of take shape in waves. So we will get another look at about 6:45. And then 15 minutes after that, maybe we could toss the exit polls aside, because we will have real votes.

MELBER: Get to the real thing.

Well, a lot of insight and context. So we thank you for that, Steve. And the only thing I ask is that you promise us, Steve, don`t go anywhere.

KORNACKI: Yes, I`m here. You don`t worry about that.

MELBER: OK. Steve Kornacki at a near the Big Board at all times tonight.

Now, he just walked through a lot of key numbers. Polls are open, which means we emphasize we certainly don`t know any results. But let`s dig into that gap on favorability that Steve just mentioned. Exit polling shows that Virginia voters today do have this more favorable view of what is essentially a new Republican than the Democrat they already know who used to be governor.

That 53 percent majority with a favorable opinion of Youngkin, who`s new to politics and pretty much introducing himself, 44 percent unfavorable. In contrast, 53 percent of Virginia voters here in these new exit polls tonight have an unfavorable opinion of the Democrat, McAuliffe, only 44 percent with a favorable view of him.


That could mean a lot. It also gives us a picture of how some voters feel. Whether they dislike the Democrat and still pull the lever for him is completely possible. As Steve mentioned, McAuliffe has never had favorability through the roof.

Now, this race has been nationalized. McAuliffe, the Democrat, relentlessly trying to tie Youngkin to Trump. As "The New York Times" put it here in a closing article, they`re fixating on how racial inequality is taught in schools on the right and cultural issues. These are themes that have been channeled or echoed by voters that our own NBC teams have caught up with.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The important issues this year was education.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Schools, the issues that are going on in schools right now.

ZOLLIE ALLMOND, VIRGINIA: The biggest issue is what we`re doing about the pandemic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I believe McAuliffe hurt himself a lot with saying parents had no place to talk about education. That hurt him a lot. And that took away my support.

QUESTION: A whole big part of his pitch was that, if you elect Glenn Youngkin, you`re electing another Donald Trump. Did that work for you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, absolutely, especially after the January 6 incident. I feel that anyone that has ties to him is a problem for our country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you look at the attempt to paint young kid as another Donald Trump, it just doesn`t wash.


MELBER: That`s just some of what we`re hearing from voters.

The candidates also making their final pitches here, as these close -- are about to close.


GLENN YOUNGKIN (R), VIRGINIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: But let me be clear. What we won`t do, what we won`t do is teach our children to view everything through a lens of race, where we divide them into buckets.

FMR. GOV. TERRY MCAULIFFE (D-VA): Donald Trump wants to win here tomorrow night, so he can next day announce for president of the United States of America. Well, we`re going to put an end to Donald Trump`s future plans right here in Virginia.


MELBER: Our special election night coverage begins now with Cecile Richards, co-founder of the women`s group Supermajority, Showtime`s Alex Wagner, University of Virginia`s Larry Sabato, and MSNBC senior national correspondent Chris Jansing live on the ground in Virginia.

We could start anywhere, but, Larry, what`s the most important thing to understand about this special state with its special off-year race?

LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA CENTER FOR POLITICS: In an off-year race like this, even when turnout is high, one party tends to show up disproportionately.

When Donald Trump was president, the Democrats showed up disproportionately. If the early exit poll is accurate -- and I have been looking at exit polls since the 1970s. So we need to be cautious. They do evolve. As Steve noted, they evolve throughout the night.

But if that is representative, then the Democrats have a problem, no question about it.

MELBER: And we`re a long way from making any calls here. That is done in the scientific process, and the polls are open.

But, Cecile, your reaction to what Larry saying that he`s seeing, and what is that partial data?

CECILE RICHARDS, CO-FOUNDER, SUPERMAJORITY: Well, I think, again, it`s early to say, but, clearly, women are going to play a critical role, as they have every single cycle, particularly suburban women.

And that`s one of the things we have been really focused on at American Bridge, is making sure they know what the Biden agenda is, what`s what`s happening in Washington. I think that the real hard thing here is that women are exhausted after four years of Donald Trump, and they`re pretty much turned off by politics.

And so getting turnout up is going to be critical. We will see what happens here in Virginia. I know it was interesting to see that the issue of access to safe and legal abortion and reproductive health care, something that Governor McAuliffe was very strong on, was actually a very good issue for him, not a good issue for Glenn Youngkin.

But all of these -- I think all of this will be really instructive as we go into the midterms, where, again, suburban women and women in general will make the difference.

MELBER: Yes, and let`s take that point to Alex.

You have followed a lot of races, that Trump is a shorthand when it comes to women`s issues, when it comes to diversity, when it comes to a lot of these things. And just, again, to show folks, because people are busy and they may not have been falling Virginia all week or all month, here`s exactly what McAuliffe and Biden, the Democrats, have been closing on, which is making everything Trump when it comes to the Republican ticket in Virginia.

Take a look.


MCAULIFFE: He`s created hatred and division, just like Donald Trump.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Terry`s running against an acolyte of Donald Trump.

MCAULIFFE: We don`t want Trump. We don`t want Youngkin.

BIDEN: He won`t allow Donald Trump to campaign for him in this state.

QUESTION: Would you rally with Donald Trump if he came to Virginia this week?

YOUNGKIN: Well, he`s not coming.

BIDEN: What`s he trying to hide? Is he embarrassed?



ALEX WAGNER, CO-HOST, "THE CIRCUS": Yes, it`s a really awkward position that Glenn Youngkin is in, given the fact that he wants to pull Trump supporters into his electorate, into his voting public, but he doesn`t actually want Donald Trump to come to the Commonwealth of Virginia.

But, look, I mean, all right, the fact of the matter is, Terry McAuliffe has played the Trump card repeatedly on the campaign trail. We have all seen him do it. The question is whether Virginia voters believe him.

We know that Glenn Youngkin`s message on education is resonating. It is something that has brought large crowds to his speeches and campaign events.


And if you look at those exit polls, education is the number two issue. That is not usually what`s happening. And Youngkin has found a device that I think you will surely see in use in 2022, which is using schools as a locus for a host of cultural issues that Republicans want to wage a cultural battle over.

There, in schools, they can talk about this phantom Critical Race Theory that`s not actually taught, but they can attack liberal overreach on what they see as cultural and racial sensitivities. They can go after LGBTQ issues. They can talk about charter schools. There`s just a number of things that prove useful in this sort of usually anodyne topic of education, and you`re seeing that resonate in Virginia.

So, no matter -- I mean, this is going to be a closed race. But I think Youngkin is providing a really valuable playbook for Republicans, no matter who ends up winning this tonight.

MELBER: And, Chris, you`re out there on the ground reporting. What are you seeing?

CHRIS JANSING, MSNBC SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, whether you talk to voters or, yesterday, I went to two Youngkin events, every single voter who was supporting Glenn Youngkin mentioned education.

Now, a lot of them did also mention the economy. They talked about the price of bread and milk, but it`s clear that that`s resonating. I should also say that, when I talked to supporters of Terry McAuliffe, what resonates with them is they don`t want to return to the time of Trump.

But as one analyst told me, a Republican who was supporting Glenn Youngkin, he said, angry voters vote, and that was what he was hanging his hat on. I just got off the phone with the McAuliffe team. I asked them what they`re seeing in terms of turnout.

They said in some of the key areas for them, and I`m going to quote them, they say we are seeing ridiculously high turnout, way over the midterms. They said that if they got that high turnout when I was speaking to them yesterday that they would feel confident.

Tonight, what they`re saying is, but we have to see who those folks are, going back to the whole idea that this momentum seemed to be with flying Youngkin; 1,000 people turned out here in blue Loudoun County for him last night. They had to march across some fields at the county fairgrounds to get to his event. And they did it.

They were buying T-shirts and hats. He brought -- got 200 to an airport in the middle of a Monday afternoon. So that momentum is clearly there. But I would say that the nervousness and anxiety on the ground here is very high, Ari.

MELBER: Larry, you hear Chris` reporting there and what she was hearing from these campaigns, including the hedging on that turnout. What`s your reaction?

SABATO: Well, the hedging is appropriate, because high turnout on its own means nothing. You have to know who it is that`s turning out in major numbers.

And as I looked around the turnout figures this afternoon, it was pretty clear to me that while black turnout was higher than some Democrats had feared, it certainly wasn`t through the roof in most of the places I looked at, whereas there is a pattern of quite high turnout in some suburban localities that Democrats have won recently, but contain a lot of independent Republicans who couldn`t stand Trump, but may be looking for a way to return to the house of their mothers and fathers.

So it was a very mixed picture. And I think Chris is right about that.

MELBER: Alex, what do you think about that? Because, of course, we just witnessed the national election in 2020, where the Democrats led by Biden spent a lot of time trying to make those Republicans feel at home because they were up for grabs.

What Larry`s suggesting, what Chris is reporting this out there is some of them may be less up for grabs, if they don`t believe the message we just discussed, if they have not actually accepted the idea that this candidate equals Trump.

WAGNER: Well, yes, and you couple that -- you look at the national polling on Biden, 71 percent of the country thinks that America is on the wrong track; 40 percent of the Democratic Party doesn`t want to see Joe Biden at the top of the ticket in 2024.

Those are not good indicators for a Democrat, right? I mean, I think when it comes to Republicans, one cannot -- let`s remember, Ari, Joe Biden didn`t get the nomination -- and I don`t mean to be a rain cloud over the Biden presidency, but Joe Biden did not get the nomination because he stoke the ardor of the Democratic electorate.

He became the nominee because he could coalesce the party and they thought he could beat Trump. When Trump`s no longer on the ticket, do people come out to vote? Do Republicans feel the same necessity to come out and support the Democrat? The anyone-but-Trump strategy doesn`t work when Trump`s not actually on the ticket?

And I think you might see some of that play out in Virginia. And the other thing I will tell you, just from being in Virginia and covering these events, Glenn Youngkin -- I went to an Asians for Youngkin event. The Republican Party is desperate not to be a white tent party.

They have long thought that their message of economic conservatism and social conservatism could resonate with the Latinx, Hispanic community and low taxes, some of the more fiscally conservative approaches could resonate with the Asian community.


And I`m telling you, if Youngkin wins, and he can bring more Asians and other people of color into the mix, again, this is going to be the formula that Republicans try and duplicate in 2022. Likewise, Democrats are going to really have to rethink how much Trump and the existential despair of the GOP is truly going to motivate voters in a midterm election.


So I will Cecile Richards respond to that, having worked alongside a lot of Democratic candidates.

What do you think of that argument? There is also the corollary that Biden and McAuliffe, according to the exit polls, are underwater, unfavorable. That`s never a great thing. And yet we checked this in our -- for our for our coverage tonight. Obama was underwater in 2013, as was McAuliffe, Kornacki reminded us of that as well, when McAuliffe did eke out that victory.

So these things are relevant, but not always predetermined. I`m curious your reaction to all of the above, Cecile.

RICHARDS: Well, like, look, I think it`s -- clearly, McAuliffe is going against historic trends here. I mean, it`s always tough in Virginia for the party that`s in power to win the Virginia race.

So, put that aside. I think, headed into 2022. Everything Alex said is right. The Republican Party has got to figure out how to diversify their base. And maybe Glenn Youngkin has done a tiny bit of that in Virginia.

But look, if we -- going forward, looking at next November, we will have passed a massive infrastructure bill, we will have passed help for women, everything from child care, the child tax cut, support for taking care of your elders in their homes, everything that is so popular in the Biden plan, which is, of course, why every Republican is voting against every single piece of it, and trying to throw sand in the gears.

So, clearly, this election is happening at a critical moment, in a very tough moment. But that`s going to be different in November 2022. And, again, I think women are going to look and see, who are the folks who have actually been on my side who are passing legislation, enacting things, putting checks in my pockets, getting my kids back to school, and who`s a party that`s actually trying to keep anything from progressing?

And I think, look, Glenn Youngkin, may have done a good job of sort of like fading the Donald Trump support. That`s going to be much harder for Republicans when we go -- get into next November. He`s going to be a weight around their neck every step of the way.

MELBER: Yes, a lot of key points here with folks who know their way around these races.

Cecile, Alex, Larry, and Chris, my thanks to each of you for kicking us off.

It is election night here. We are going to look at the Republican rhetoric on one of those other issues that we just mentioned, the classroom. And is education now a kind of a code for getting into racial strife?

Also, the man who put Obama and Biden in the White House, David Plouffe, live on a big night.

Stay with us.


BIDEN: We`re going to win. I think we`re going to win in Virginia.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If my base turns out, he`s going to win. And I hope they turn out. I really want them to turn out.





UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We should play a big part in our kids` education.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Parents being involved and having a choice and having a say in what`s going on in our schools.


MELBER: Education, it is a once routine, even dry policy issue that has turned absolutely electric in this Virginia race being decided tonight, polls closing within the hour.

Here`s why education is shifting, why it`s almost become something of a buzzword that is apart from its definition of providing information or knowledge to people. Republicans out of power are seizing on schools as the place to stir up racial tension and culture wars.

Virginia, for example, does not formally teach this framework of Critical Race Theory. It is more of a collegiate or academic level lens for analyzing racism`s role in history. But the Republican candidate`s closing argument, of all the things going on, jobs, COVID, et cetera, no, it`s a pledge that this thing that is not in Virginia schools won`t come to Virginia.


YOUNGKIN: And so let me be clear. Let me be clear. On day one, we will not have political agendas in the classroom and I will ban Critical Race Theory.



MELBER: Now, that would maintain the status quo, Democrats arguing this whole thing is a distraction and a retooled Southern Strategy to stoke race, while pretending that the discussion is about classrooms.

Now, the Democrat, former Governor McAuliffe, has fact-checked Youngkin on this issue and the wider idea that school curriculums should somehow be subject to political parent vetoes or even banning books.


MCAULIFFE: The parents had the right to veto bills, veto books, Glenn, not to be knowledgeable about it, also take them off the shelves. And I`m not going to let parents come into schools and actually take books out and make their own decision.


MELBER: I`m joined now by Chai Komanduri, a political strategist, veteran of three presidential campaigns, including the Obama campaign, and a friend of THE BEAT, editor at large for the 19th Errin Haines.

Good to see you both.

Chai, it is election night. We will get into all of it. But on this issue that has not only been a big closing issue, but now that we have these exit polls, is the basically second highest ranking issue for Virginia voters who talked to exit pollsters, after jobs, is this really about education?

CHAI KOMANDURI, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: No, it`s not at all about education. It`s actually about using education, and specifically the term parents` rights, as an umbrella term for a lot of nefarious ideas and things.

Glenn Youngkin talks about parents` rights, and he uses it to sneak in ideas like the deep state ideology of Donald Trump when he talks about the FBI going after parents, which is nonsense. He uses it to sneak in anti-fax sentiment, saying that kids don`t need to be vaccinated to go to school against COVID.

He uses it, quite frankly, to sneak in racism, which is what the Critical Race Theory argument that he`s making is all about. Critical Race Theory is not being taught in Virginia schools. Glenn Youngkin saying he`s going to ban it is like him saying he`s going to ban unicorns. It is a useless thing that he is saying.


However, what he`s really doing is, he`s sending a signal to his Trumpist base that: I`m with you on how you feel about the way this country is changing.

MELBER: Very clearly put.

Errin, I`m curious your views. This really dovetails with some of what our guests were talking about at the top of the program, and whether or not this race will land on the idea that the Republican is synonymous with Trump, very Trumpy, MAGA, take your pick, or a different kind of Republican.

Chai arguing here that, in those racial appeals, it`s much closer to Trumpism. Your view?

ERRIN HAINES, EDITOR AT LARGE, THE 19TH: Well, look, Ari, lest there be any confusion, critical Race Theory is the big lie of 2021. It is, as you mentioned, the modern-day Southern Strategy to appeal to white voters.

Last year, it was the fear of a rigged election and voter fraud. In 2018, it was phantom migrant horde that was headed for the Southern border. Education is the 2021 version of the economic grievance kind of code buzzword of 2016.

And that is because race-based appeals are an increasingly perennial aspect of GOP politics. I mean, it`s one that former President Trump capitalized on certainly in his elections, but it`s not new to President Trump. And current candidates are testing this strategy to really see how successful it can remain going forward.

MELBER: Yes, and this really goes to where the politics are headed in this year. And then, of course, we have the national midterms next year, Chai, because these things sometimes work by appealing to one group and understanding, oh, that`s a, as you put it, white grievance MAGA culture, while other people who are less politically informed might say, well, what`s wrong with parents` rights?

I mean, if parents` rights means that you have input on aspects of, for example, your family`s autonomy or how your children are treated, fine, I mean, if that`s what parents` rights means. But if what it means is code for saying, oh, we`re going to make the sixth-or eighth-grade classroom the battleground for racial debates that were not in the classroom but for this right-wing approach, that seems misleading, at best.

Reading from coverage hear -- this is from Juan Williams -- parents` rights is code for white race politics, he said: "It`s not long ago that racist Southern politicians rallied against integration with an argument for states` rights. Now the message is that white parents are being ignored when they complain that their children are uncomfortable learning about racism."

That`s from a longtime analyst, but a self-described moderate and longtime FOX News analyst, Juan Williams, basically saying, wait, be honest about what this is, and don`t forget that America`s classrooms, our schools were ground zero for racist white attacks in politics and against integration for a long time.

KOMANDURI: Yes, and the problem for Democrats is, historically speaking, the states` rights appeal did work. The Southern Strategy did work for Republicans.

And the same thing is happening again right before our eyes. States` rights sounds very reasonable. Of course, states have rights. But the GOP used states rights to sneak in all kinds of causes, first and foremost, the maintenance of Jim Crow. But, then later, it expanded to fighting environmental regulations and labor regulations.

All of these things became part of states` rights. And what the GOP has found is that parents` rights serves the same function. It is the new states` rights. It is an umbrella term that sounds reasonable. Of course, parents love their children. They should have a say in their education, which is why we have a PTA. That`s why we have parent-teacher conferences. That`s why we have school boards.

That`s why we have school board meetings and school board elections, all of these things parents can participate in. And every teacher I have encountered has told me they wish parents would participate more in these things that have been set up for them, not less.

MELBER: Right, but in a real way.



And -- but the problem is, is that this is being used as code for all kinds of MAGA-related causes. And the problem for Democrats is, it has all worked before.

MELBER: And you use that word code.

Errin, I want to get your reaction to something that`s gotten a lot of attention. We fact-check stuff before we take it from the Internet to television. But this is a real video that went viral, millions of views, where it really shows that the acronym for this code, as Chai put it, is something that`s riling people up, but then they don`t necessarily even know anything about it. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And what is Critical Race Theory?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I`m not going to get into the specifics of it, because I don`t understand it that much. But it`s something that I don`t -- what little bit that I know, I don`t care for.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And what have you heard that you don`t like?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I`m not going to -- I don`t -- I don`t -- I don`t have that much knowledge on it, but it`s something that I`m not -- that I don`t care for.


MELBER: Errin?


HAINES: Sure, because he didn`t learn it in school, and it`s like -- unless he went to law school, and likely at a historically black college or somewhere else where they are teaching Critical Race Theory at the law school level, because that is where Critical Race Theory is being taught.

Listen, this fight is isn`t even about Critical Race Theory, Ari. You know this. We talk about states` rights. States` rights is already in full effect here in the wake of the 2020 election. States` rights is what the voter suppression effort is about. States` rights is what we`re seeing happen with the abortion -- the ongoing fight for reproductive rights in this country.

States` rights is what`s happening with the transgender attacks right now happening in this country at the state level. But Republicans are attempting to redefine and kind of weaponize Critical Race Theory in this area of academia to really fit into the ongoing culture war to really erase history, frankly.

I mean, The 1619 Project has been part of this. The case for tearing down Confederate monuments was part of this. The settled matter of what the Civil War was about -- and, just to be clear, it was about slavery, not states` rights -- is absolutely part of this.

But people who are on this side of the argument know that history cannot be changed, but it can be forgotten if it`s not taught. And we, as a country, I thought had already learned this lesson. And yet we find ourselves here again, because race does remain so potent in our politics.

MELBER: Right, a living history with an echo.

And, Errin, it`s election night, but was it not Lil Wayne who said, the past isn`t prologue, it isn`t even past? Or was that a different writer?

HAINES: I believe that was the rapper William Faulkner, also from the South, though. I get your confusion.

MELBER: You know what? It was Little Faulkner. I did get confused. And I appreciate the literary fact-check.


MELBER: Errin and Chai, good to have you both on the big night.

We have our shortest break in election coverage, 60 seconds.

We`re also half-an-hour to polls closing in Virginia. Obama`s former campaign manager, David Plouffe, when we`re back in one minute.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn`t even look at the Republican candidate because of the last four years, honestly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you look at the attempt to paint young kid as another Donald Trump, it just doesn`t wash.


MELBER: We`re tracking all kinds of races across the nation.

It`s this off-year election night. National politics, though, most fixated on Virginia, where polls close within half-an-hour. Republicans testing this cultural war strategy we have been covering. It tries to tap Trumpism while claiming distance from Donald Trump the person.

Democrats insist Trump is still effectively on the ballot as long as the Republican Party remains this extreme. And Terry McAuliffe, you see on your screen there, selling competence on COVID and the economy and experience.

But if a president is a drag on the party, well, it could actually be Biden, who has a 56 percent disapproval in those new exit polls among Virginia voters today; 28 percent say their vote is to express opposition against Biden.

The ray of hope for Democrats here? Well, last time, when McAuliffe won in an off-year, a similar 54 percent of Virginians at the time disapproved of then-President Obama, who also went onto reelection.

An architect of those winning strategies is David Plouffe, Barack Obama`s 2008 campaign manager, a former senior adviser in the White House, and someone who all Democrats turned to for insight and counsel.

So interesting to have you on the big night.


MELBER: 2021.

PLOUFFE: There we go.

MELBER: Let`s start with that comparison. Obama and McAuliffe were underwater, as you experts like to say, but managed to win. Could Terry McAuliffe pull that off tonight, or is it different?

PLOUFFE: No, he could.

I think the question here is, this is a really -- 2013 was a tough environment for Terry too. But we just can`t compare this election night to a year ago, OK? I think a lot of Americans, including Virginia, thought we were going to be largely done with the pandemic. Delta reared its head.


Economy is growing, but not as quickly as we`d like. Gas prices, which I will tell you, when gas prices are this high before an election, voters are really cranky, other cost of living matters. Terry`s a repeat candidate. I think that doesn`t work as well these days as he used to, so a bunch of things that make the terrain challenging.

So I think, when you look at Biden`s approval number, which is 43, I think, approve, Trump`s is 41. So the question, as we see Youngkin in the exits -- and, by the way, I have been through exits being as wrong as anything can be wrong in the world. So let`s be careful about it.

But which of those two candidates, McAuliffe or Youngkin, can more outperform their standard-bearer? And I think you would still say Trump is the Republican standard-bearer. And do some of these people who say education -- I was struck in the exit polls anyway -- they might be wrong - - even though it was such a number, I think it was the number two issue, Youngkin only won them by 18 points. And that`s his signature issue.

So, yes, I think this is going to be a very, very close race. But my point in terms of, what does this mean, it means a lot who the governor of Virginia is if you live in Virginia. But, for 2022, whether McAuliffe loses by one or two wins by one or two, there`s a big delta between what Biden won by last time.

So Democrats have to really figure out which voters have moved and why.

MELBER: And by delta, you mean?

PLOUFFE: Well, Biden went up by 10. We will learn something in New Jersey too. Murphy won that by 16. Does he win by close to that, 12, or is it more like six or eight?

So this is not unusual. Usually, those two governor`s races depart a lot from the previous year`s presidential race. But I do think you would have to sit and look, what happened with swing voters? What happened with the Republican turnout? What happened with Democratic turnout? Really do a lot of research, quantitative and qualitative.

And also know you have got a year to fix it, because Democrats lost House seats in 2020 when Biden won Virginia by 10. So, to basically hold onto the House, I think you have got to think, how do we get back to the point where winning states like Virginia by 10 again?

MELBER: Right, which for you is kind of an alarm for the Democratic Party without making any prediction about tonight, which we don`t do around here.


MELBER: The other question is the flip side. Why in your view is Glenn Youngkin up in the favorable view among so many Virginia voters?

Is it because of something about him or that he`s new?

PLOUFFE: Well, I think part of it, he`s new. But, I mean, I think the conversation about a Youngkin on social media -- so I live in California, I get a lot of what`s happening in that race through social media -- is about the ad about banning books, the rally.

Those two things were super offensive. But this guy has spent an enormous amount of money running ads basically being Mitt Romney.

MELBER: Now, hold on, David. Are you suggesting you can`t rely on Twitter for all of your news and views of the world?

PLOUFFE: Yes, maybe sports and weather, OK, but not politics.


MELBER: So let`s develop this point, because, of course, we have seen some of that and the heat of that. And, to be clear, the Biden-McAuliffe strategy was to focus on that.

You`re saying that he may have broke through, at least on the favorable side, whether he wins or not, on what other issues on the ground?

PLOUFFE: Well, I think on being more moderate, being a kinder, gentler Republican. I think he`s run ads talking about he wants to increase education spending, he wants to increase teacher pay. So it`s not just the right-wing crazy stuff.

So I think he did a good job in the beginning. He had to hug Trump in the primary. I think he`s paid a price the last two or three weeks for his association with Trump. But I think he spent some time basically saying, I`m not Trump. I`m a different kind of Republican. I`m a Virginia kind of Republican.

And we know in states like that -- listen, Larry Hogan, governor of Massachusetts. You have got Baker in -- I`m sorry -- Larry Hogan in Maryland, Baker in Massachusetts, those type -- if they can portray themselves as moderate Republicans, they still have a shot, even in a state like Virginia.

MELBER: Let me ask you also about the other part of politics, which is this momentum, this existential feeling of, are you going the right way or not?

We cover this. We talk to a lot of people. Right after the stimulus checks were cut, there was this feeling, however vague, about a Biden momentum, and people felt like it was really hitting them, and it was kind of in the conversation.

And right now, it`s something like the opposite of momentum. There`s a mood that maybe Bidens/the Democrats aren`t -- quote, unquote -- "getting it done in Washington, trying hard enough. Why is it taking so long to pass the thing?

News viewers, you know from being inside a White House, that may melt away if you get progress. We have discussed that, right? It may melt away, you get that 50th vote. But that momentum certainly is not strong right now. And you don`t have to take my word for it. A top Virginia Democrat, Mark Warner, saying that. Take a listen.


SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA): I wish we would have gone ahead and passed the infrastructure bill back in September. It would have given the president a big win.

I think it would have made the race in Virginia a lot better for Terry McAuliffe, but we are where we are.


MELBER: Is that true or wishful thinking from someone who`s both in Virginia and wants that thing to pass?


PLOUFFE: Well, he`s also won Senate and governor`s races there.

I would say this. I don`t think it would be a lot better, but it would be better. The one thing to remember is, Virginia, particularly those large vote-producing suburban areas, they`re actually paying attention to what`s happening in Washington much more than you find elsewhere.


So I think, in a lot of states, this would be more background noise that activists might care about, and they`re important too, but I think, in Virginia, maybe a little bit more.

But, listen, I think when the rescue package passed, that was also before the Delta variant had basically recaptured the country. So I think people were really hopeful. Biden comes in. We`re getting shots in arms. I got a rescue package. We can see the other side of it.

Here we are deep into 2021, and we`re still struggling with COVID, despite the enormous progress we have made. And you have got cost of living that`s high. To the extent people are frustrated about lack of action in Washington, that`s happening.

And I also think -- McAuliffe, I think, has done a good job of trying to put Youngkin on trial. Murphy`s done that in New Jersey. But the national debate has just been Democrat vs. Democrat. You really...

MELBER: Yes, for months, right?


PLOUFFE: ... the Republican into the ring. And that has to be part of next year is, got to do a better job of defining what Democrats have fought for and won, and how they delivered it for you, the voter.

But then you got to crucify these Republicans, OK, embracing white nationalism, embracing the insurrectionists. Basically, they have extended the pandemic, talking down vaccines, talking down masks, lying through their teeth, basically running -- they`re very comfortable running race campaigns now.

So if you can`t beat these guys in 2022, we have got a problem, in my view. But I think you have got to be really tough. And I think we have got to get a little bit out of academic language and get a little more guttural in terms of how we`re talking both about what Democrats are doing, but who Republicans are screwing.


Well, and so then you mentioned New Jersey, and you widen out, and we know why people are focused so much on Virginia. But you have the governor`s race in New Jersey. You have New York City, which has a bunch of races that tend to favor just a highly Democratic registration advantage.

But you still have a big mayor`s race there, where you had kind of the former police officer who also said he`s for civil rights win out. Some MSNBC viewers may recall Maya Wiley was one of the alternative candidates, came in second, Andrew Yang, a Democrat people know. You have a DA`s race.

PLOUFFE: Used to be a Democrat.


MELBER: Independent. A DA`s race.

Yes. So what about any of those other races? Are you watching any of those? Is there anything that could be interesting there tonight?

PLOUFFE: I think you will look for turnout in all of them, even though they`re different, because mid -- off-year elections, swing voters matter a great deal, as they always do. But turnout is incredibly important.

So, I think you`re looking for Democratic enthusiasm. You`re also looking for Republican enthusiasm. Reports would suggest that turnout is quite high in Virginia today. But reports would also suggest it`s high in blue and red areas.


PLOUFFE: So we have to learn from that. So I think, yes, what you need to do is, if you`re running a race in 2022, if you`re a candidate in 2022, if you`re Pelosi or Schumer running the DGA, the White House, you got to spend a lot of time studying this.

What happened? It`s harder to know why it happened. So, you got to do research and understand, optimistic...


MELBER: What is this? Is this not as good turnout as possible? Or what is the this that they have to study?

PLOUFFE: So, you have got to look at, if swing voters behave differently this November from last November, who were they and why?

Turnout. Were there variances in young African-American voters, in the Latino vote, with Asian voters, suburban voters? What did Republicans do? Were they able to get strong turnout, despite Trump not being on the ballot? You got to bake all that in.

I think the environment for Democrats will be better next year, because I think hopefully the pandemic will largely be in our rearview mirror. Economy should be surging. Biden and Democrats should have accomplishments. Republicans I think are quite vulnerable if you run a smart campaign against them.

But you cannot mistake the challenge. The thing I`m most concerned about is if Republicans are able to generate strong turnout -- hell, Trump almost one because her turn -- his turnout, I think, beat expectations in `20. Democratic turnout was historic in `18, but Republicans also had strong turnout where they needed it.

So that -- to win swing congressional districts and Senate races, you have to do both, particularly in an off-year. You have got to meet your turnout mark, and you have got to swing voters. You cannot choose. And so you have got to look at what happens tonight across the country super carefully and not assume it`s cement, but understand that to ignore it would be at your peril.

MELBER: The other thing we want to get you on -- so we have just got David Plouffe here, who Barack Obama literally picked to help him get to the White House. And you did it.

You also have experience in this other thing in the Democratic Party that is a very difficult dance that has become more common as Republican extremism has been mainlined. And it`s what Barack Obama dealt with, which is, how much time do you spend rebutting and disproving lies and the crazy, because you don`t leave it unanswered, without overdoing it?

And, as you know, and everything -- everyone who watches the news knows, sometimes, Democrats seem to overreact all these things. We`re coming off an insurrection and the big lie, and now you have people -- we see this in Virginia, but it apparently may be the new M.O. in many races where Republicans are actually just trying to lie and claim that anything going towards the Democrats means there`s voter fraud and all the attacks on the voting confidence.


Newt Gingrich, in your view, may not be such a high standard to begin with, but, historically he`s getting worse than he used to be. And the claims and lies are coming louder and earlier than they used to.

So, again, I always tell viewers, I`m not playing this because it is newsworthy and true. I`m playing it because it`s a newsworthy lie for David Plouffe`s analysis briefly, Newt Gingrich here before any results come in, in Virginia. Take a look.


SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: Does Youngkin need to win for this to have the maximum impact? What if it`s really tight?

FMR. REP. NEWT GINGRICH (R-GA): Now, if it`s really -- first of all, if it`s really tight, they will steal it. So you can`t afford to have a really tight election. You have to win by a big enough margin they can`t steal it.


MELBER: This is that Trumpified groundwork. How much, in your view, should this be addressed, tackled, fact-checked, rebutted, and how much of it should be just pushed to the side until it`s actually real in the courts and you only deal with it then?

PLOUFFE: Such a great question.

I`m going to nerd out a little bit in terms of politics. This is why we do a lot of research with voters, because even the Critical Race Theory B.S. that`s made up in Virginia by Youngkin, I think, if he wins tonight, people will assume that`s going to sweep the Republicans to every election victory next year.

I highly doubt that. I think you`re going to find some states and some candidates where that won`t fly. So here`s what I know has to happen. If the Build Back Better and infrastructure bill passes, and I think they will, most -- we have seen polling. Nobody in America knows what`s in it outside of people -- so you have got to educate them about what`s in it, who`s -- by the way, the billionaires and big companies paying for it, that`s even more popular than the popular stuff in the bill.

You have got to do storytelling along the way. You got to make clear that the Republicans opposed all of that. You have got to make -- most voters support mask mandates. They have supported vaccination mandates. They support climate change. They support expanding health care.

We`re winning the issues. The problem is, even when we`re getting 60 to 65 percent of people on issues, we`re losing some of them on head-to-head races. So I think we also have to improve the way we deliver those messages, make it stronger, more guttural, more controversial even.

And also don`t let them be the only ones playing the culture war. Like, Josh Hawley talking about, oh, these poor men in America don`t work anymore, and they`re obsessed with video games or pornography because their masculinity is being challenged.

How ridiculous is that? Like, mock these people, I think, and be a little tougher, but understand that Newt Gingrich, he is now the rule.

MELBER: Right.

PLOUFFE: That is the rule.


PLOUFFE: So if you go to a boxing match, they`re going to come in with heavier gloves and a knife in their boot. They`re not going to play fair. You just have to know that.

MELBER: Yes. Yes. And you know your way around that.

David Plouffe, our special guest here on a big night, thank you.

That does it for me, Ari Melber.

But don`t go anywhere, because our special coverage with Rachel, Nicolle, Joy, and Steve at the Big Board picks up early right after this.



RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Happy election night. Thank you for being here. This is very exciting. I`m Rachel Maddow here on the mother ship in New York City, with all that means.

I`m joined by my colleagues Joy Reid and Nicolle Wallace. The special occasion putting all three of us into the same room tonight, in the direct line of sight of our beloved Steve Kornacki and his Big Board is because it is election night, not everywhere, but in a bunch of cities and states across the country that tonight are deciding some crucial questions.

Tonight, voters in the state of Virginia have gone to the polls to elect a new governor. Virginia voters cannot ever reelect a governor directly. The state prohibits governors from running for consecutive terms.

This year, the outgoing Democratic governor, Ralph Northam, will be replaced either by Trump-endorsed Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin, the very wealthy head of a famous private equity firm called The Carlyle Group, or they will bring back a previous Democratic governor of Virginia, Democrat Terry McAuliffe.

McAuliffe led the commonwealth from 2013 to 2017. He is running tonight to get that job back. Now, if historical trends and patterns hold sway, Republican should have the edge here. Going all the way back to the 1970s, every time a new U.S. president has been elected to the White House, that president`s party has gone on the following year to lose the Virginia governor`s race.

So, with Democrat Joe Biden winning the presidency for the first time last year, history suggests the Republican candidate, Glenn Youngkin, will win tonight. That said, history doesn`t get a vote. Virginians do.

And recent polling has had this race basically tied, well within the margin of error of most polls. Now, we have had our eyes on other important racist tonight too. New Jersey voters are going to be deciding this evening whether to reelect their Democratic governor, Phil Murphy. There are also important mayor`s races tonight in New York City, in Boston, Atlanta, in Minneapolis, and a really, really interesting race in Buffalo, New York.

We will have more on that to come over the course of the evening tonight.

But, for now, our first point of focus is on Virginia. Right now, we are minutes away, about 17 minutes away from the polls closing in that state. Again, the Democrats hoping to hold on to this governorship in Virginia. We will also be watching the state legislature in Virginia tonight.

Democrats are also trying to hold on to control of the now Democratically- controlled House of Delegates. There`s a lot at stake.

Let`s jump into it. We turn naturally to the great Steve Kornacki, who has been marinating in the data and the polls and the exits now for as long as we have had access to them.

Steve, what should we expect over the course of the night? How do you think tonight`s going to unfold?

KORNACKI: Yes, Rachel, well, here we go. Strap yourselves in.

The clock, you see ticking down, inside of six minutes now to polls closed in Virginia, and then we start getting actual results. So, right now, this map is blank, McAuliffe vs. Youngkin.

But based on talking to the county election officials here in Virginia, they have been sending signals that this thing could start to light up pretty dramatically pretty quickly after 7:00. It`s kind of a technical explanation, but, essentially, Virginia has changed some of the procedures for reporting out the vote that should make it much easier to get vote reported out this year.

For instance, I will give you one example right here. This is Fairfax County I`m circling. You`re going to be hearing a lot about Fairfax County tonight. It is the biggest county in the state.

About one out of every seven votes in the entire state of Virginia is going to come out of Fairfax County. Fairfax County is historically one of the latest to report in Virginia. In fact, back in 2020, a year ago, it was 11:45 p.m. that they -- that Fairfax reported out the lion`s share of their vote.


Election officials in Fairfax believe they`re going to be reporting out a massive chunk of their vote within minutes of the polls closing at 7:00 tonight. So, Fairfax is sort of exhibit A there, potentially, but a lot of other counties may be a lot quicker in Virginia than they were in 2020.

One thing that that could change is, historically, the pattern in Virginia has been that, in this scoreboard, this running tally you see on the screen, historically, Republicans get out to an early lead, because, historically, it`s the rural counties that report first and then we`re waiting on the Fairfax counties of Virginia.

But if they have managed to streamline things procedurally, that historical pattern may be different. It may be McAuliffe who gets out to the league tonight. So we will see. That`s one thing to keep an eye on.

The other thing here is, talking to the campaigns today, talking to Democrats and Republicans in Virginia, the one thing I have heard agreement on from them today is, they both believe there has been very high turnout in Virginia today.

It`s funny. You talk to Democrats, they are very afraid that Republicans have turned out their voters. You talk to Republicans, they are very afraid that Democrats have turned out their voters. So we will see if there was a winner in the turnout battle when this board starts lighting up.

But before we get the results here, just give you a quick sense here. This is the backdrop. This was Virginia a year ago. A year ago, the Democrats won this state. They want it with ease. Joe Biden won by 10 points. Here`s what we`re looking for very quickly as the results come in tonight.

I mentioned Fairfax County, the biggest in the state. This is a Democratic vote center. Joe Biden won this county by 42 points over Donald Trump. It is a big reason why Biden got that double-digit victory statewide. This is right outside of Washington, D.C.

Key question tonight, it`s a question in Fairfax. It`s a question in all of Northern Virginia. It`s a question in the Richmond suburbs as well, these metropolitan areas that, especially in the Trump era, moved dramatically away from the Republican Party. Can Glenn Youngkin, without Trump as president anymore, can he make inroads here?

Let me show you what I mean. Trump lost by 42, but if you look at Fairfax County before Donald Trump came along, this is the last presidential election before Donald Trump, Mitt Romney in 2012. Romney got blown out here. But you see the margin was only 20.

Losing Fairfax County by 20 points if you`re a Republican is a world of a difference between winning and losing it by 42 points, as Trump did. This takes you out of the game completely statewide.

But if Youngkin win back some of those Republicans -- some of those voters that Republicans gave up in the Trump era, that could put him in the game statewide. So we want to see if Youngkin is making inroads in Northern Virginia and in the Richmond suburbs.

The other big question we`re asking tonight, kind of circle a big swathe of Virginia here, Southwest Virginia, the Shenandoah Valley. You`re seeing core Republican areas here. Believe it or not, Republicans actually got stronger in this part of the state during Donald Trump`s presidency.

A lot of these are very small counties, but you add them together, there can be some significant vote there all added together. Let me give you an example of this, though. Take a look here at small Allegheny County. Donald Trump won this by 44 points. Look what it was like for Republicans here before Donald Trump came along. They were barely winning.

Mitt Romney only won this county by three. Trump won it by 44. So Republicans made gains by leaps and bounds in some areas of this state during Donald Trump`s presidency. That`s another question tonight. Can Glenn Youngkin, without Donald Trump as president, can Republicans keep those gains that Donald Trump helped them make?

That`s the combination that would win this tonight for Glenn Youngkin, inroads in the suburbs with equal Trump enthusiasm in those core Southwest, Shenandoah Valley rural areas of the state. That`s the balancing act he`s been trying to strike as a candidate. That`s how you could erase if you`re a Republican a 10-point gap statewide.

So, again, when this board starts lighting up in a few minutes, you can expect we will be looking a lot at those areas, those counties. Also, I should mention Hampton Roads, the closest thing to a real bellwether swing area in the state, right down here in Virginia Beach, largest city in the state, 450,000 people.

And look at this one. Trump won it in 2016. It flipped to the Democrats. It flipped to Joe Biden last year. This is a very important county tonight to keep an eye on. And it could be a bellwether. Demographically, Virginia Beach looks an awful lot like the state of Virginia. So we will be talking a lot about that as well.

MADDOW: Steve, we`re just about 30 seconds from the polls closing.

And I just want to underscore, the reason we may get some results right at the polls close or within a couple minutes of the polls closing is in part because Virginia counties are not just allowed, they have been directed by state -- by voting reforms that they could start pre-processing ballots that came in, absentee ballots that came in, ahead of the polls closing right now.

Isn`t that right?