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Nevada Results Projected; South Carolina GOP Results Pending

Aired January 19, 2008 - 15:00   ET


BLITZER: We are watching this unfold on the Republican side by the way, we've already projected that Mitt Romney will capture the Nevada Republican caucuses.
These are live pictures, by the way, that you are seeing from Caesar's Palace. That's where one of the Democratic caucuses, where they've now convenes. They are getting ready to hear instructions from the respective chairs of their caucuses. They'll provide some information on what the process will be. They'll gather in corners and make their initial preferences known, whether it will be for Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama or John Edwards or some of the other Democratic presidential candidates out there.

As people, by the way, in the state of Nevada were walking into their caucuses, we asked them their preferences. And what we can tell you, at least based on these so-called entrance polls we're getting is that there was a strong expression of support among those walking into the caucuses for both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. A little less support for John Edwards seemed to be coming in third place, at least among those walking in. These are the entrance polls. We have no numbers yet to report to you.

But we're watching all of this very, very closely. There's passion. There's excitement in these caucuses in Las Vegas especially. You can see the supporters for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, John Edwards. They are excited about this. It's very different for Democrats in Nevada because they've been thrust into the spotlight right now as a result of the Democratic National Committee deciding Nevada should have a higher priority after Iowa and New Hampshire, in part because of the large union presence in that state, in part because of the large Hispanic presence in that state. Iowa, New Hampshire, not having a large Hispanic presence or a large union presence for that matter as well. So these are -- this is a new experiment. But the Democrats are going through and it's been a fiercely fought contest among the three top Democratic presidential candidates right now. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards.

Once they start getting some instructions, I'm going to want to go to that room and give our viewers a little flavor of what it's like to be in a caucus. Especially extraordinary event on the strip in Las Vegas at a casino. This is Caesar's Palace where workers, especially Culinary Union Workers are gathering during their lunch hour. It's noon out on the west coast right now. And they are taking a break from their work. You see them. Many of them in their own uniforms, whether chef's uniforms or other uniforms. They've come to this room to watch what's going on. Ali Velshi, by the way, is there as well. John King is watching all of this unfold. It's an experiment for the people, the Democrats, in Nevada. And it's a significant development, John.

KING: It sure is, Wolf. You watch it, some people saw the excitement earlier. Perhaps some of the feistiness in the room. The Obama supporters and the Clinton supporters jousting back and forth. They might say, this is not exactly a beautiful sight. It may be a bit imperfect about our democracy. It may be imperfect but it's more perfect than anything else out there. We're watching the process. They'll be taking their seats. They'll soon be asked their preference. As we discussed earlier 15 percent is the viable threshold. Any candidate that gets 15 percent is viable on the first count. You walked in the room supporting someone who does not have 15 percent you can go over and support another candidate as you go. As we watch the process, let's go to the stakes here, Barack Obama the big winner in Iowa. Hillary Clinton the comeback surprise winner in New Hampshire. The South Carolina Democratic just ahead, Republicans are voting there today. But the South Carolina Democratic primary next.

The first primary in which you'll have a significant African- American vote on the Democratic side. If you are Senator Clinton, you very much want to win in Nevada today. She has a lot of the Democratic establishment in the state on her side. She very much wants to get a victory today because the expectation at least at this moment, within the Clinton campaign is that it is Senator Obama who has the advantage when the campaign moves on to South Carolina. A win in Nevada, certainly, though, Wolf, might change that calculation and give Senator Clinton two wins in a row if she can get New Hampshire and Nevada. And we will watch the results here, fascinating to look inside the room. You see a bit of dancing and energy in the room. It's a great process. Thumbs down there as people are debating back and forth and we'll keep watching it. It's also important fun.

BLITZER: It's part of the process out in Nevada. They have their own little tradition but they are actually starting on this day. I want to explain what a lot of our viewers are seeing at the bottom of their screens because it could get confusing. Take a look at this. Not even 1 percent of the precincts have actually reported among the Democrats in Nevada and all the doors supposed to be closed by now. Some of the doors closed earlier with very little actual county delegates reporting. You are looking at this 86 percent number for Barack Obama. It's gone to 73 percent, 27 percent for Hillary Clinton.

But these are county delegates that are now reporting into the state Democratic Party as to how they would vote at the state convention. This is very different than the Republican process, which is basically straw vote. They actually count votes. Here they have a complicated process they work through as in Iowa, in which they get a percentage and then they tally that and they turn it into county delegates.

Right now, with 3 percent of the precincts in Nevada actually reporting, Barack Obama has eight of these county delegates. Three going to Hillary Clinton. Edwards, Kucinich and Gravel zero so far. But, remember, this is very, very early. And these numbers are going to be changing as more official numbers come in. Only 3 percent of the Democratic caucuses have now formally reported their preferences to the headquarters in Nevada. Ali Velshi is out at one of these caucuses inside Caesar's Palace. There you see what's going on inside that room. Ali, set the scene for us.

VELSHI: Very interesting. The chairman of the caucus whom you can possibly see up at the podium has just announced that she'd like somebody who speaks Spanish to come up to the podium to help them out and translate. We have about 175 people in this room right now. They planned for up to 275. No one had any idea at these nine caucuses on the Las Vegas strip, how many people would turn up. They just did announce that while the doors should be closed now, there are still people in line. So they probably will get close to 200 people to this caucus.

This room is mainly dominated by Obama supporters who you can see on the right of your screen but on the left of your screen, which you may not be able to see just yet, but there are Hillary supporters. As John was saying, it's very spirited in here. It's got a very busy exciting atmosphere going on. It's good-natured political debate. What is interesting is that something that hadn't taken place in prior caucus experiences in Nevada, which happen very late in the season. The question was how they were going to take to this earlier, very important caucus.

And it looks like Nevada residents are embracing this. Particularly here on the Las Vegas strip. These are mainly culinary workers, members of the Culinary Workers Union and shift workers who are on shift who are just coming off shift or who are starting their shift within the next hour. That's what these particular caucuses were designed for. They've shown up in good numbers at least at this one, Wolf.

BLITZER: Am I right to conclude, Ali that on the right side, those dressed in red are Obama supporters and on the left side of that room at Caesar's Palace, those are Hillary Clinton supporters. Is that fair?

VELSHI: That is exactly right, although as you are watching it right now, they are starting to mix because the Hillary supporters have just walked over to the Barack supporters and are chanting. We've done our look around the room. There's a very strong Hillary contingent, and about two identifiable John Edwards supporters. We talked about viability, having 15 percent. Once we start to caucus in this room, they'll get some sense of where these candidates are going to go, where these voters are going to go with their support. It does look like you'll have at least two large groupings, Obama and Hillary. Both very active right now.

BLITZER: Ali, let's listen in and just get a little flavor of what's going on. I'm going to let this be.

(UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE): Obama! Obama! Obama!

(UNIDENTIFIED MALE): Hillary! Hillary! Hillary! Hillary!

BLITZER: All right. We're going to let this play out. You can see the passion among the Obama supporters. They are on the right side of this room at Caesar's Palace. The Hillary Clinton supporters, they seem to be on the left side of this room at Caesar's Palace. And they are both screaming. They are both shouting, expressing their support for their respective candidates. Ali Velshi is inside. But I want John King who has been watching this unfold as well, to weigh in. John, it's a fascinating caucus at Caesar's Palace.

KING: Relatively good natured. There's spirited discussion going on in this one caucus in Vegas. And we are told one of the reasons they've not started the voting yet is because turnout is higher than the Democratic Party expected. They are still signing people in and registering people and giving them their candidate preferences card. As you watch the feistiness inside the room here, we are also getting e-mails and phone calls from the Clinton and the Obama camps. While it's relatively good natured inside the room, it's not so good natured in the back and forth here. The Obama campaign saying, what are the Clintons trying to do here?

Bill Clinton complaining publicly that he has seen examples of voter suppression, even though the Hillary Clinton campaign has the support of Rory Reed, the senate majority leader's son who runs the Clark County Commission the most powerful body in Clark County. She has his support, she has Congressman Dortly (ph) support, and she has the whole establishment out there. Why does she keep complaining about this? Why is she keep complaining about the process?

Well first of all Senator Clinton had a huge lead leading up to the caucuses just a few weeks ago. Senator Obama has been able to make up a lot of ground over the last couple of weeks after receiving the support of the Culinary Workers Union. It's a fierce debate. The Clinton campaign are charging voter intimidation. They are saying some of their members who belong to some of the unions would like to caucus for Senator Clinton but they've been intimidated and told they could not caucus.

Because there's a lot of confusion as to how to caucus. People are rightfully confused about where should they stand. So the Obama campaign has put a memo clarifying they are not intimidating people, they are not trying to suppress the vote. They are trying to get everybody to get out there and express their thoughts.

KING: We want to go out to our caucus site. Ali Velshi is standing by. Ali they've made the big decision to close the doors which means that people who are inside, no one else can go in. Now we learn who has how many votes.

VELSHI: That's exactly right. We have -- just the chairman of this event is speaking now. They've closed the door announcing that 164 people have registered to vote. She has asked for someone who speaks Spanish to be near her so that they can interpret what they are discussing or help people out who don't speak English. This is mainly culinary workers, shift workers, people who work on the Las Vegas strip. This, John is one of nine centers on the Las Vegas strip that have been designed specifically for people voting who work here, work for -- in the tourist area.

In this room, what we have established so far is that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton both have enough supporters in this room to attain viability so that they'll both gain candidates out of this. They'll both gain candidates out of this caucus. We're yet to see how many. Obviously, what we've been looking at in the spirited discussion is that there are more Barack Obama supporters in the room. Very few John Edwards supporters, but it has been very spirited. The excitement in the room has been palpable. I suspect this is what we're feeling all across the Las Vegas strip in the nine different caucus rooms that have been set up just in this one mile.

KING: We'll get back to you, Ali. Bill Bennett, I want to ask you watch the Democrats have this bad blood back and forth, this isn't the first time. They've done this in the prior contests as well over issues. The race debate of last week and Senator Clinton and Senator Obama saying let's have a truce on this. Is this the kind of thing that whether Democrats or Republicans carry over?

You have a party dispirited after this contest or when there's a winner does everyone say kiss and make up and move on?

BENNETT: I think two things are true. People can say they're going to tampon down. Even if they tamp it down at the top level of the campaigns, they don't usually tamp it down through the ranks. Second, it's not tamped down at the top level either, if Bill Clinton is making charges. The other point I'd make is just a history of voter suppression. It's a very strong thing to say about somebody. We know what that feels like. It's been said about us a lot. Sometimes accurately, most often not accurately. But now the people who are swinging the sword are swinging at themselves. It's not pretty to watch. I don't take any joy in it. When you use this, you might end up cutting yourself.

BORGER: What's really going on here, isn't it, is this sort of playing the expectations game on both sides. You have the Obama campaign sending out this memo saying the Clintons and the discredited caucus. Because if she wins, they want to point out to you that, in fact it was her campaign who has tried to discredit the caucus. The Clinton campaign had a conference call just within the last hour talking about voter suppression. So I think they are both trying to lower expectations.

KING: We're going to go back into the room and listen in. It's getting interest.

(UNIDENTIFED FEMALE): Next card with a number and a preference card. Please come and sit down. We're going to put the Obama folks on this side. Hillary's folks over here. OK. Is Ken around or Alex? Can you come up, Bonnie.

(UNIDENTIFED FEMALE): Excuse me; are there any Edwards's people?

(UNIDENTIFED FEMALE): Edwards folks, where are you? Raise your hand if you are Edwards, please. There are two Edwards. Two Edwards's people. Are there any uncommitted? Is there anyone here who is undecided? There are two. Where?

Can you guys come up front? I'm sorry to move you but it's easier for us to do the counting this way.

Will you count the Hillary people?


There's four people right now, two in the Edwards, two in the uncommitted, correct? The rest of you are either Obama or Hillary is that right?

Gravel, where are you?

Can you come sit up here, please?

Who is going to do Obama?

(UNIDENTIFED MALE): I'm doing Obama.

(UNIDENTIFED FEMALE): Go do Obama. Go sit over here.

Obama is right here.

And you are Hillary?



Here's what we're going to do right now. Can all the people who are supporting Hillary please fill in your card and hold it up.



Obama people, please do the same thing. Ken is going to count the Hillary people right now. And Bonnie is counting one by one. She is counting all of the Obama people. Please fill out the blue side of your card. Bonnie will pick it up from you and you will be counted.

BLITZER: Ali Velshi, as we watch this unfold, they are segregating the Hillary Clinton supporters from the Barack supporters. The John Edwards supporters. We heard at least one supporter for Mike Gravel. You said there were 164 people in there. So that would mean, to be viable, 15 percent, they'd need about 24 supporters. Does it look like the Edwards camp has 24 supporters in there?

VELSHI: No, Wolf. The Edwards camp seems to have two supporters because they asked for uncommitted and Edwards supporters. There were two Edward supporters, two uncommitted. One for Gravel and the rest are split between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. So it looks like in order to be viable and get those 25, Barack Obama and Hillary will both achieve that. They are now counting up. They are holding up their cards to indicate who they are supporting. They are being counted. They didn't have to segregate them. It wasn't too difficult. Everybody on the right side of the room are the Barack supporters. On the left side are the Hillary Clinton supporters.

This scene is likely playing out not the other eight sights on the Las Vegas strip where these special caucuses are being held for shift workers who work in the tourist area. In order to qualify here, the people have got to work within 2 1/2 miles of the center of the Las Vegas strip. They have to be shift workers. They have to be coming off their shift beginning their shift or in the middle of their shift. They have to be working within an hour of this caucus. So the turnout has been pretty good, 164.

They put out chairs for as many as 275. They had no idea how many would vote. The process is under way and very soon we'll have a sense of how the delegates are being aportioned. We will have 33 delegates coming out of this particular room, Wolf and it's a very interesting process to see how these voters have embraced what is relatively new to them. What is not something that none of these voters have done before.

BLITZER: And they will take those John Edwards supporters, Mike Gravel, Dennis Kucinich supporters and if they don't get that 15 percent threshold, it doesn't look like they will, then they'll get the chance to go to the Hillary Clinton side of the room or the Barack Obama side of the room and weigh in. Is that right?

VELSHI: That's right. And one of the interesting things about this caucus is that you can actually change your alignment after, you know, as soon as it started. It's not likely that Barack supporters or Clinton supporters will go to each other but those four or five not committed to either Obama or Clinton will have the opportunity to realign with them if they so wish. But right now you can see there's a physical counting process of those voters going on. They've asked everybody who is not caucusing to leave the area where the seats are. And everybody who is caucusing to be sitting down.

BLITZER: It's fascinating. The Associated Press is reporting Ali, what you've been saying, reporting based on this one room, this one caucus at Ceasar's Palace that turnout is slightly less than they anticipated throughout the state for the Democratic caucuses, 164 people have turned out for this caucus at Caesar's Palace. What they were ready for 275. Is that right?

VELSHI: Yeah, but we've been talking to them all morning, Wolf. They were saying they had no idea how many people would show up. The estimates for the -- statewide are from 25 to 100,000 people. So there's a real range. Nobody really knows how many are going to show up for this process. What I can tell you is those who have come here, even if those numbers are a little lower than expected. The excitement and enthusiasm, the Democratic Party must be very happy they decided to do this because these people have embraced this process.

John King keeps talking about how it's good natured and high spirited at least in at the caucus level. That may not be happening at the national level. But at the caucus level this has to be good for politics in general. These people are feeling so engaged in the process. By the way, there are a number of Spanish speakers in here. While they didn't organize someone to speak to them, what the chair of this caucus has done is said that they will have somebody who will translate for the Hillary supporters and for the Barack supporters, for the Obama supporters. BLITZER: The AP reporting the turn out at these nine locations for caucuses on the strip in Las Vegas seems to be a little bit lower than they had anticipated, but this is the first time they've done this. They didn't really know what to expect. And they were ready for presumably all sorts of contingencies. It's not easy, John King, for these individuals to come forward and to express their preferences because they -- it's not a secret ballot. Everybody is going to know if they are supporting Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama or John Edwards or anyone else.

KING: That's what makes the caucus so fun. You aren't pulling that curtain behind you and making your choice. Especially for these union members. The Culinary Workers Union members whose union has strongly urged them to support Barack Obama so they get a vote en masse. Now you know if you are a culinary worker organizer or official you know how many in your caucus right there, 160 something people, are not doing what the union wants them to do. It's a feisty process and an interesting process. And Jeff Toobin, as it goes on and you watch this, small-scale process with big stakes.

TOOBIN: Enormous and what's so interesting about the Nevada caucuses is that there were hardly any polls. No one had any idea what was going to happen today. And, you know, we still don't. The numbers haven't come in yet and we'll see.

BORGER: I think what's also becoming interesting about this caucus is what's going on behind the scenes in these campaigns between Obama and Hillary Clinton. The bad blood right now is unbelievable with each side charging the other side with voter suppression, which is a very, very serious charge. It makes you wonder -- the Clinton campaign in particular, with Bill Clinton leading the charge on this. If they win, are they going to announce their own victory because they think there was voter suppression? I tend to doubt it.

(UNIDENTIFIED MALE): The problem is in these caucuses. They are ridiculous ways to have elections. There's no secret ballot, no -- only one hour to vote. Just because it's there doesn't mean it's a good idea.

BRAZILE: I have to disagree because it's a party building exercise. What we've seen is that the Democratic Party for the first time, in history, has now out registered Republicans in Nevada. Nevada will be a key swing state for the Democrats. One reason why Iowa and New Hampshire have become swing states is because we have these party building exercises. When the party looked at giving Nevada this opportunity it was to help grow the party in that state.

KING: Let me ask you, Donna, and I want the others to weigh in. Your party has a reputation for assembling the circular firing squad when things are looking great and somehow inflicting wound on itself. You've watched these campaigns they've been fighting over things that seem petty and trivial. Oh, gosh, you once said something nice about Ronald Reagan and you aren't a good Democrat. Then they argued over the race card. The use of the language voter suppression. That is a big deal. How do you score this if you will and you are looking at the big states and one of these people is likely to be the nominee? Is there going to be part of the party that says forget it. Bad blood from the primary season.

BRAZILE: I think there will be some leftover bad blood from other previous cycles. In the end, the Democrats will look at the bigger picture and come together. The allegations of voter suppression and voter intimidation are very serious. We should take a look at it. I know we will look to see if there was any voter intimidation that took place among some of the union members that may have tried to participate and were told they couldn't or perhaps those who did show up were told they had to vote a particular way. So these are serious charges. We will look at it, but at this point, the people are getting out because they are excited about one of the other candidates. That's what democracy is all about.

BENNETT: Those conservatives and Republicans, I am almost tempted to say, you all just had this discussion. We'll sit back and it. That's tempting but irresponsible. I'm sure at the end of the day people will get together and shake hands and work things out. This is a special moment. One has to be very careful deal with accusations of race.

KING: We'll come back to that point. We want to go back and listen inside the caucus room here at Caesar's Palace.

(UNIDENTIFED FEMALE): Who doesn't have a number card? Who does or doesn't? There's one more person who does not have a number card, two people. You don't have a number and he doesn't have a number card.

Are they both Edwards?

No, he's an Obama.


BLITZER: All right. They are counting heads literally at this caucus at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. Looks like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama supporters are the two sides. The other candidates including John Edwards don't appear to have received what they call viability, 15 percent of the 164 people who have gathered in this one caucus. Remember, this is one caucus out of many all over the state. This is one of nine along the strip in Las Vegas that have been established for the Nevada Democratic caucuses. And Ali Velshi is inside watching. All right, tell our viewers what process -- what stage of the process they are in right now in Caesar's Palace where you are.

VELSHI: Well, this is a bit of housekeeping. They've counted up voters on both sides. There seems to be, we haven't gotten any numbers. There seems to be a relatively even split between the Barack and the Hillary supporters. We have about three or four people who indicate that they either don't have the right papers or haven't been -- haven't been counted somehow in the vote. So they are trying to establish how to deal with that.

The next step is that there are five voters who are not -- who are not voting for someone who is viable. There 2 uncommitted. It looks like two Edwards's supporters and one Mike Gravel supporter. They are going to have to align themselves in some fashion or not or remain uncommitted. So we're waiting for the second stage of this at which point they will then count up the final votes and align delegates to each candidate. So this is very much in this caucus room a contest between Obama and Hillary Clinton.

But as you have been pointing out, this particular process of the early caucuses in Nevada and particularly these ones on the Las Vegas strip are new. So we're trying to figure it out. Right now, the chairman of the party is about to announce what they have from the first round of caucusing. Let's see what she's got to say.

BLITZER: Is it fair to say, Ali, that most of the people in this room, whether Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama supporters, are, in fact, members of the Culinary Union?

VELSHI: Yes, I would -- from our sort of informal discussions with everyone around here; I would suggest that we do know this. They need to be shift workers and they need to work within 2 1/2 miles of the strip. They've got to sign an affidavit that's the case. They've asked people to come with their work I.D. or badges. Some are in uniforms. You can see people here with kitchen hats, kitchen clothes. So, yeah, these are generally union workers or shift workers who work in the tourist industry in Las Vegas. The Culinary Union leadership did endorse Barack Obama. It's unclear weather their workers are going to do the same.

BLITZER: All right, well let's listen in and see what she's saying right now. Because they're counting heads and obviously, not as easy to get a precise count as might normally be the case.

Bonnie. Who did you give the -- Josh? Yeah.

BLITZER: All right, as she waits for some numbers, remember 164 people are registered to participate in this and as soon as they get some numbers, they're going to share it with all of the people in that room at Caesars Palace and share it with the rest of us, as well. It's been a fascinating insight into how these caucuses are unfolding, because presumably what we're seeing here is similar to what's going on in these eight other caucuses on the strip in Las Vegas and around the state, as well, and the numbers are coming.

By the way, in the bottom of your screen, you can see the numbers. It's still a relatively small percentage of the numbers of the caucuses of the precincts that are reporting. But look and see how close it is between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama right now for the top slot in Nevada. We always knew it was going to be very, very competive between these two Democratic presidential front-runners. At least so far with a relatively small percentage of the precincts report, it's showing to be very competitive, indeed -- John King.

KING: Well, if you make the point that in recent weeks we have expected a very close contest here. But I think one of the surprises and one of the reasons there is so much tension here is that this is one of the places where Hillary Clinton is getting surprised. Not a surprise in the last three weeks or so, but over the summer months when she locked up the son of the senate majority leader, Harry Reid, when she locked up son of the other institutional Democratic support for her, this was a place where she thought her infrastructure within the party, her support within the party, would help her rack up an early and important win. And now she's fighting and she's fighting hard and the question, Gloria, and everyone else, as it goes forward, we learn a lot about candidates. We said it after Iowa, you learn from somebody when they lose. She fought her way back in New Hampshire. This is a battle likely to go on for a while, maybe as long as the Republican battle. But, what are we learning about her?

GLORIA: Oh, well we're learning that she's a fighter, we're also that Barack Obama is a fighter. She had the structural advantage here, I mean, in Nevada. She had a 25-point lead, and if this turns out to be close, he's made up a lot of ground. But she hasn't given an inch. As she gains on her, he's not giving an inch. You see these charges and countercharges between the campaigns about voter suppression and intimidation and confusion. And they're not going to stop. You know, these two candidates are going to continue to go at it.

KING: Much more to talk about as we await the results of this one caucus and the other similar caucuses being held across the state of Nevada. We'll now back to Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, let's update our viewers. What we see right now, you can see these pie charts, three percent of the precincts have now reported officially in the state of Nevada and Hillary Clinton is very, very close to Barack Obama with 48 percent for Obama, 46 percent for Clinton, Edwards a distant third with three percent of the precincts, only five percent for John Edwards.

And as we've been reporting now for some time, Mitt Romney is the winner among the Republicans. Their caucuses were concluded much earlier in the day, a very different process for the Republicans; 38 percent of the Republican caucuses have now formally -- of Republican precincts have reported. Romney with 56 percent to McCain's 12, Ron Paul 12 percent, Mike Huckabee eight percent. You can see the hard numbers with 38 percent of the precincts reporting almost 10,000 for Romney. But it's very close between McCain and Ron Paul for No. 2, 2,084 for McCain, 2,014 for Ron Paul.

You can always go to and get a lot of precise information, additional information there on what's happen on the Democratic side, on the Republican side. You can also go there and you can watch some of these caucuses being streamed live if you want to see live video coming in from the caucuses in Nevada. Much more of our coverage on these two states, Nevada and what's going to be happening in South Carolina, when we come back.


BLITZER: All right, you're looking at this caucus, this caucus room at the Caesars Palace Hotel in Las Vegas. They've just gone through the first round, 164 voters turned out there. So far we're told 79 decided to go into Hillary Clinton's camp, 82 into Barack's. They're continuing the tally. Now, they're going to go through those voters who decided to support either John Edwards or some of the other Democratic presidential candidates and we'll see what the final tally is going to be.

Ali, you're inside that room. You were saying this is incredibly tight in this one caucus on the strip, one of nine that were selected there. And if these numbers are right, as she just reported, 79 for Hillary Clinton, 82 for Barack Obama, doesn't get much tighter than that.

VELSHI: With five voters who are supporting -- who are the non- committers who are supporting nonviable candidates, do the math on that. That's incredible. What you're watching there in the middle of the screen, Wolf, are candidates from both sides and at the moment it seems to be mainly Barack supporters moving in on those candidates who are those voters who are not committed to try to bring them over to one side or the other. So, this is the alignment phase, the realignment phase of the voters for those who are not committed or supporting a nonviable candidate. Where will they go? Will they tip this particular caucus one way or another?

And you're hear something cheering, so it appears to me -- well, you are hearing cheering from the Hillary side. So, it's unclear as to whether somebody has decided they are going to go over to that side or not, but there's some very good natured jostling going on in the front with the Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton supporters trying very hard to win over those uncommitted or nonviable supporters -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's fascinating. And as close as it is in that one room, in that one caucus at Caesars palace in Las Vegas, if you take a look at the numbers coming in right now with about three percent of the precincts, you can see a similar, very tight race emerging, 48 percent so far for Obama, 46 percent so far for Hillary Clinton among delegates, state delegates, county delegates, John Edwards with five percent so far coming in, an incredibly close contest. Remember, this is very early for the Democrats, only 3 percent of the precincts reporting.

And it's good to know that as excited as these folks are in this one room at Caesars Palace, it is good natured. They are passionate, they're enthusiastic, but it hasn't gotten ugly or anything like that, has it, Ali?

VELSHI: Not at all. Not at all. It has become very passionate. There have been things that look a little bit like yelling, but I do think it was good natured.

You know, there are a couple of things at play here, Wolf. First of all, the Culinary Worker's Union, the local here, has endorsed Barack Obama, or at least the leadership of the union has. But, Hillary Clinton has made a big push to say we can support the union, but you can support your candidates. So the signs say, "I support my union. I support Hillary." So, there's that issue.

The secondary issue is that this state has a higher unemployment rate than the national average, at 5.4 percent, compared to five percent for the nation. It has serious healthcare issues because these are all service workers. It also has issues with respect to house prices. Remember, the southwest, Arizona, Nevada, parts of California, these were places where the housing boom was the biggest in the country and they have suffered. So, many of these people who own homes could be under water in their mortgages. So, economic concerns become very important.

So, this is remarkable to see how these people in this caucus and along the strip have engaged in this process of Nevada having an earlier and important primary. They are certainly concerned about their future and they'd like to have a candidate who, you know, might be able to come up with issues that they can -- come up with solutions to the issues they face. So, these are real issues, this isn't just partisanship out here. These are people who seem to be very happy to be partaking in the process this early on in the presidential cycle.

BLITZER: And I must say, Ali, this has been a really excellent civics lesson for all of us, our viewers. All of us at going inside, seeing a caucus itself, seeing how it unfolds in Las Vegas, Nevada. Very different than in Iowa where the caucuses are so familiar and so famous. We've gone inside and taken a look and see what's going on in one caucus on the strip, one of nine extraordinary caucuses that were authorized by the Democrats out in Nevada.

We're going to continue to watch and see what unfolds, not only there, but across the state, across Las Vegas. It's a close contest by all accounts. Let's take a look and see the -- oh, by the way. Let me update that one caucus. Obama did pick up, we're told, two more, two more. He's at 84 right now compared to Hillary Clinton's 79. Let's listen in to see what she's saying.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One of the Edwards...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's going home. He said I'm not committing to anyone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. We're counted now.

No, I got him already. He can leave now.

OK. We have a final count. And then what I need you to do if you are interested in being -- you guys, please, please leave if you are going to be disruptive.

OK. What we have -- what we have is -- ma'am, ma'am? We have 166 people here, 80 for Hillary, 86 for Obama, 16 delegates go to Hillary, 17 go to Obama.


BLITZER: All right. There it is as Caesars Palace, you've got the winner, at least at this one room -- at this one room. Hold on. Let's listen in again.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If there are any delegates for Senator Obama, please stay and vote and get yourself on the slate. We have cards, we're going to pass out to you, same with Hillary. You guys have 16 delegates. BLITZER: All right. The Democratic Party, the participants there to actually register and vote come November. Just recapping, that one caucus at Caesars Palace, Hillary Clinton wound up with 80 supporters, 86 for Barack Obama. That translates into county delegates of 16 for Hillary Clinton, 17 for Barack Obama. Very, very close in this one contest at Caesars Palace. But it's close apparently throughout the state. We're staying on top of it. We're going to share all the latest numbers with you. We'll take a quick break.

Also, we're getting early entrance poll numbers from the Democrats. Bill Schneider has been crunching those numbers. We'll take a quick break. Much more of our special coverage from the CNN Election Center when we come back


BLITZER: As we anticipated, a very, very tight race emerging in Nevada among Democrats between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Take a look at this, with four percent of the precincts of the Nevada caucuses now formally reporting, Barack Obama with 48 percent, 45 percent for Hillary Clinton. It's actually just changed, now 23 percent, even as we're speaking, 23 percent of the precincts have reported. And it looks like Hillary Clinton is ahead with 55 percent to Barack Obama's 42 percent. That's a dramatic change only within the past few seconds, as you saw live here on CNN.

Edwards with three percent, that must be a disappointment. That's almost a quarter of the precincts now reporting. Once again, Hillary Clinton with 55 percent to Barack Obama's 42 percent. Let's go to Bill Schneider because he's been looking closely at these entrance polls.

Bill, entrance polls of Democrats as they walked into the caucus in Nevada, what were they saying?

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN SR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, we asked the voters in Nevada, the caucus goers, what was the most important issue on your mind. And we can see why this caucus looks so close. The most important issue was the economy. I would call those, where's the beef voters? They want to know, what your going to do about the bad economy. A lot of people who worry about the economy seem to be voting for Hillary Clinton. But now, when we ask them, same caucus goers, what's the top quality you're looking for in a candidate when you vote today? We can see that here, the top quality, just about the same percentage are new menu voters. They want to know who's going to bring about change.

So, it looks like the Nevada caucus goers are kind of split between where's the beef and what's on the new menu. And look. The Obama voters, when we asked those supporting Obama, what do you want the top quality you are looking for in a candidate? They said they are looking for someone who can bring about change. Seventy-five percent of them, Obama voters, are looking for that new menu.

When we asked the Hillary Clinton voters, what are you looking for? What's the top quality you're looking for? Their answer was they want experience. Where's the beef? So, there it is. Where's the beef versus a new menu. And, Wolf, I'm getting pretty hungry.


This is all about culinary workers.

BLITZER: You'll have plenty of time to eat later. This is too exciting to eat right now. Right now we're watching this Nevada Democratic caucus unfold.

Candy Crowley is actually out there and seeing a little uptick for Hillary Clinton with about 23 percent of the precincts reporting.

Candy, set the stage for us, what are you seeing out there?

CROWLEY: Well, you know, they have been fighting this tooth and nail for the past several days. There has been a push and then push back. There was a lot of talk between the two campaigns about a Spanish radio ad that was put out. There was a lot of talk about intimidation of voters. We've heard Bill Clinton today talk about voter suppression. So, this has been, you know, very, very hard fought out here in Nevada. I will say that when everybody says, well, didn't they put that all behind them in the debate, at that particular point, they were talking about the sort of week-long race debate that had really caused some bitterness within the party. But, they have not given up on pushing back and forth with each other and I think you see the reflection of that in the polls and that's why they're doing that.

BLITZER: And their caucuses, basically, a lot of them have wrapped up. Just as we saw live here on CNN at Caesars Palace, one of nine caucuses that were established on the strip in Las Vegas. We're going to be getting those numbers coming in relatively quickly right now, Candy, and we'll see what's going on. But it's been a close contest in Nevada. It's been -- I think it's fair to say, correct me if I'm wrong, pretty fiercely fought battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

CROWLEY: Absolutely. And you know, part of what's also gone on is, as you know in caucuses, it really counts about your ground game. And a lot of people really gave the advantage to Hillary Clinton on that. Barack Obama may have gotten the Culinary Workers Union endorsement, which was major, but Hillary Clinton had the establishment Democrats out here, they have an infrastructure. She had more people out here, so the advantage on the groundwork, which really counts in these caucuses, particularly because there's so little time to get people there, the advantage for that went to Hillary Clinton.

BLITZER: The Clinton political machine pretty impressive, at least on this day, so far, out in Nevada. Candy, stand by, I want to update our viewers on these numbers that are coming in: 27 percent of the Nevada Democratic precincts have now reported. Hillary Clinton retaining her lead at 53 percent to Barack Obama's 43 percent, John Edwards at four percent. Right now 27 percent of the precincts reporting.

I want to go to John King who is watching all of this as well, together with the best political team on television. If that one caucus that we saw at Caesars Palace, and it was a very close fight among those 165 or whatever individuals inside, pretty much an even split between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama -- if that one caucus was indicative of what's going on, it would potentially be very good news for Hillary Clinton, even though she came in second in that one room. Explain to our viewers why.

KING: Exactly right, Wolf. That is a small victory, a slight victory for Obama that you might call a moral victory for Hillary Clinton. Why? Because her campaign didn't want those at-large sites on the strip because they believe that would be the Culinary Workers Unions' dominant place. The union supported Barack Obama, that was a place where Barack Obama had hoped to run up big numbers, if you will, to offset Hillary Clinton's support somewhere else.

And I just got an e-mail from a Democrat out there on the ground who says a similar thing happened at the Wynn Casino, at a very similar site than what we've been watching at Creasers Palace, but waiting for the official results there, but a Democrat on the ground saying that it's essentially a split at the Wynn Casino, too, Donna Brazile, that is a good thing for Senator Clinton in that the Teacher's Union aligned with her fought having those sites at all. If she breaks even there, she should expect to carry the day elsewhere?

BRAZILE: Look, the Clinton campaign complained about the process but they never stopped organizing. They knew early on the Culinary Union and NCIU would make an endorsement. So, they went after that support. They began mailing to these people, they began organizing, and so while the union came onboard for Barack Obama, I think it might have been too late to persuade many of them to join the Obama brigade.

KING: It's a nation of 300 million people. We're watching 160- something in a room have a big impact. You know, people say, why all this emphasis on Iowa, why all this emphasis on New Hampshire. Now a small group of people, some would say at least a more diverse group of people in a room in Nevada. Bill, it's a Saturday, and people are vote on a Saturday. Interesting process.

BENNETT: A step of the time. But you know, Caesars Palace, Wynn Las Vegas, enough to make a man nostalgic, you know.


But enough of that. No, it was -- thank you. I was commenting on the differences, you know, it is America. But, you know, the portrait. Remember the pictures in the houses in Iowa. The folks in their overalls talking and you know, serving cake. And here's this crowd and they are in there shouting at each other inside a meeting room at Caesars Palace. It's a big country.

The point here, though, it's a serious point, may be a slight victory for Obama, maybe a slight victory for Hillary Clinton. But then as you all have been emphatic, two or three weeks ago, this would not have been very good news for Hillary Clinton because she was expectinging -- this thing, wasn't it set up for Hillary, wasn't this primary, this caucus established to get big leg up on this thing? And if it comes in close, you know, there were people who were expecting a coronation at this point. And there ain't no coronation.

KING: No coronation. I think we're going to have a struggle into South Carolina and then beyond. But we want to get back to Wolf at the moment who wants to check back with our man who's right there in the middle of a fight in Vegas.

BLITZER: Right, at Caesars palace. Not the normal fight you'd expect at Caesars Palace, but it's a political fight.

All right, John, thanks very much. I want to show our viewers what's we know right now, 35 percent of the precincts have formally reported. And Hillary Clinton maintaining her lead. That's a slight lead, 50 percent for Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama's 45 percent. John Edwards down at five percent, that's with 35 percent of the precincts reporting.

Ali Velshi, you've been inside Caesars Palace at the one room throughout the last hour or so as this process unfolded. And we got an excellent civics lesson in what it's like to be inside an Iowa caucus, especially on the strip in Las Vegas. What's happening now and what's going on?

VELSHI: Well, you asked me earlier whether I thought most of these people were working people. Absolutely. This room, which was -- which had 160 -- I guess, 166 people in total, plus all the people observing it. It is largely emptied out, this crowd behind me filling out the paperwork, basically, is all that's left here. These shift workers had to get back to work. And this process took longer than they thought because it was new and there were some confusing things.

But to the point that John was just made with Bill and Donna, you know, the endorsement of the Culinary Workers Union was thought by some people to be a very big deal for Barack Obama, but what happened was there was a strong push. I just want to show you this sign I've got here, this is the sign the Hillary Clinton supporters carried. While everybody else carried Barack '08 and John Edwards '08, this says, "I support my union, I support Hillary." The idea was for union workers who didn't want to be told who to support by their union, the Culinary Worker's Union, or for those union workers who didn't want to support Barack Obama, this was sort of a campaign on the part of Hillary Clinton's workers to say, support who you'd like in this -- as your candidate, you can still support your union by coming out and voting. So that was an interesting message.

Overwhelmingly, the people in this room and across the Las Vegas strip were shift workers and in many cases members of the culinary union, which is the union that employs most of the people who work at the casinos, so a big showing, a strong showing, a high-spirited showing. We're getting anecdotal word, as John said, that the split was similar across the Las Vegas -- across the nine caucuses in the Las Vegas strip. However, what I am hearing is that there was even stronger turnout at some of those caucuses at the other casinos. Here they were prepared for up to 275 people, got about 166, but spirited involvement. I think the participants in this caucus can be very happy that, as John said, they are being heard, right now. The nation's eyes are on these small rooms, really was an excellent civics lesson. It was very exciting to be here to watch how this jostling goes on, particularly after the first vote, Wolf, where they asked those uncommitted delegates, or voters or those voters who had supported a candidate who wasn't viable, where to go. In the final voting, four of the six nonviable voters went over to Barack Obama, one of them went to Hillary Clinton for a final vote in this room of 86 for Barack Obama, 80 for Hillary Clinton, one uncommitted voter stayed uncommitted all the way until the end and was actually taken off the delegate count as a result, because they didn't go to support one of the key candidates. But that's Democracy, I guess -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ali, we heard the chairwoman make a point of saying they need a translator to translate into Spanish because they were having some troubles there. What was the process for these people, 164 whoever were approved to go in and actually cast their vote in these caucuses to make sure these were U.S. citizens?

VELSHI: Well, there was -- in fact I looked at the form when I first got here this morning, to take a look at what happens. In order to register to be part of this caucus, if you were a Democrat, you could register, by the way, to be a Democrat today, you couldn't even vote if you weren't a Democrat, but you did have to fill out a fairly extensive form, which reminds me of the kind of form you fill out in order to get your drivers license. I mean, there were a lot of pieces of information, one of which was to attest to the fact that you were a U.S. citizen and eligible to vote and they were told on the form that if you are found to be lying you are eligible to face a fine. I think it was about $20,000. There's no checking onsite as to whether the people who participated in this ballot or this caucus were U.S. citizens, but they did have to sign a form to say that they were U.S. citizens.

They also, by the way, Wolf, had to attest to the fact that they are shift workers here within in 2-1/2 miles of the Las Vegas strip.

BLITZER: Ali, thanks very much. We'll check back with you Ali, doing some good reporting from the scene.