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Louisville Under Fire; Ben Carson Surging; Hurricane Targets Mexico; Clinton Riding Momentum After Debate, Benghazi Test; Carson Topples Trump in Iowa Polls. Aired 4-4:40p ET

Aired October 23, 2015 - 16:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Shorelines bracing for catastrophe.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Thousands flee a colossal storm slamming to landfall today, the fiercest hurricane ever recorded, 200-mile-per-hour winds and nothing standing in its way.

Ben Carson surges ahead in Iowa, plowing past Donald Trump. Now two polls confirm it. It's the first time that Trump's been behind in any battleground state since June.

Plus, sex parties at Louisville. The college hoops powerhouse is under fire with accusations of paid escorts for players and recruits. Today, coach Rick Pitino says he won't step down.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jim Sciutto, in today for Jake Tapper.

And we begin today with breaking news in the world lead. Seemingly out of nowhere, Hurricane Patricia has exploded, now the largest hurricane ever recorded. It is just seconds away from slamming a tourist mecca in Mexico, 200-mile-per-hour sustained winds, 245-mile- per-hours gusts, 20 inches of rain, and with a pulverizing wall of water that could leave the coastline drowned and devastated.

The U.S. not out of danger at all, with this monster threatening to team up with another storm that has already flooded parts of Texas and sent mobile homes floating away.

CNN's Martin Savidge is live inside Puerto Vallarta.

Martin, I mean, really an incredible storm as we listen to these warnings. What are the conditions there right now?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know what's fascinating, Jim, is the fact you look out here -- and this is looking on the old part of Puerto Vallarta -- this is that calm that is before the storm. The air is incredibly still.

Light rain is falling and it is intensifying, not a breath of wind. And if you look out on the ocean that's in the bay there, it is almost flat as glass. The town itself, though, this is usually bustling with tourists, deserted. It has that kind of spooky feel as you drive in.

Police are monitoring and driving through the streets. You see them. Just moments before air, you could hear an emergency announcement being broadcast on a speaker system here. The tourist hotels have been evacuated. They're gone, either sent to Guadalajara, pushing out in major buses, or being moved to schools that are up in the hills. The same is true of the people who live here.

The stores are all closed. Restaurants, casinos, anything in this town is closed. They're holding their breath and waiting for what comes next, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Martin, we have heard from some people on the ground that the warnings from the government to locals there, as well as tourists, that they came late, not necessarily giving people time or resources to get out. Have you seen that there? Have you heard that?

SAVIDGE: Well, you know, you have to respect the fact that this is a storm that grew with such incredible intensity, probably one of the fastest intensifying storms that we have ever seen.

And this is exactly an emergency planner's worst nightmare, where you have a city like this that is right on the water and where you have literally about 24, 36 hours to prepare to move everyone. I'm sure that's going to be investigated. What we saw on the road coming in, bumper-to-bumper traffic going out, a lot of it tour buses, so clearly they were moving people not just to evacuation centers, but get them out of the zone of danger.

The other good thing we saw, heavy earth-moving equipment coming in this direction, which means they're planning ahead, realizing that with mudslides and with debris, roads closed for first-responders, they need to get those roads opened if the worst comes to it. And it will apparently -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Martin, first thing I will say to you is stay safe. And we're going to check back with you later in the hour to get the latest.

Right now, CNN meteorologist Jennifer Gray, she's tracking this monster storm.

Jennifer, you hear stories about it being a miles-wide hurricane with these really intense winds. What's the latest update?

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, well, the hurricane-force winds are going to spread about 75 miles across this storm.

And it is very close. We just heard Martin say those roads are bumper-to-bumper traffic. This storm is so close. It's only about 75, 80 miles from the coast. And it has winds of 200 miles per hour, the strongest storm ever in the Western Hemisphere.

That's the same -- that's equivalent to an F-5 tornado. You don't want to be in your car. So now is the time to be in that safe place. It's moving to the north at 12 miles per hour. There's going to be a wall of water, a storm surge associated with this. So you want to be away from the coast as well.

It is going to make landfall as a very strong Category 4 or Category 5 within the next couple of hours. And then it's going to continue its track inland. It will decrease. It will -- those winds will start to decrease once it makes its way inland because the terrain is so mountainous.


But it will continue to contain all of that rain. And so we are going to see possible flash flooding, as well as those deadly landslides that you can see in these mountainous regions. We're talking about anywhere from 10 to 20 inches of rain right along the coast, not to mention possible historic storm surge.

Along the Gulf Coast, during Katrina, we had about a 27-foot storm surge. We could see even higher here along the coast in Mexico. This is unprecedented. It could possibly be catastrophic right along that coastline where the eye crosses, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Jennifer, you probably heard Martin on the ground there describe how the government didn't really have a sense of this very early on, but that's because it developed so quickly, this storm. How did it get so strong so fast?

GRAY: And Martin was right. This could be one of the fastest intensifying storms that we have ever seen.

In about 24 hours, it went from a tropical storm all the way to a Category 5 storm. One of the reasons, this is an El Nino year. We have warmer-than-normal sea surface temperatures. Temperatures right along the Mexican coast are running in the mid-80s. That's very ripe for hurricane development.

There's also very low wind shear. And so all of the environmental factors are in place. It is going to be a very, very strong storm when it makes landfall. El Nino year, we most of the time see above active seasons for Pacific, below active for Atlantic.

That's just what we have seen this year, especially with those Pacific storms and their intensity, big and strong just like the one we're seeing now.

SCIUTTO: Jennifer Gray, we know you're going to be following this. Thanks very much.

Let's go now to Jonathan Lake. He's on the phone from Puerto Vallarta. He's a property owner on vacation there. And he's decided to stay.

Jonathan, you're deciding to tough this out in the face of the largest recorded storm. You have to tell us why.

JONATHAN LAKE, PROPERTY OWNER: Well, a couple of reasons. Number one, we didn't really have a choice. This Hurricane Patricia came on so quickly. We arrived yesterday

morning at 9:00 a.m. and had no idea. People weren't even talking about this storm. It wasn't until last night, last evening when we started seeing people boarding up their homes, did people start really chattering about this.

And then around 2:00 in the morning was when our phones started ringing from the emergency response about the evacuations. So, again, not a choice, didn't have a choice, but, again, needing to stay to provide help in the aftermath as well.

SCIUTTO: So it sounds like you have gotten the warning, but the government didn't give you really the means or the time to heed that warning?

LAKE: Right. Exactly. Correct.

Underneath our door this morning was a note that said that the government was evacuating the hotel in the tourist zones. That was really the first when we realized how, you know, huge this storm really was becoming and continuing to become.

SCIUTTO: Is it like a ghost town there now? Or are there a lot of other people staying as well or who had no choice but to stay?

LAKE: Yes, great question.

So, downtown in the hotel zone, which is about 150 steps down the hillside from where we have sort of been evacuated up to, it's really a ghost town now. It's the quietest I have ever seen downtown Puerto Vallarta. But the tourists -- so all the hotels emptied out the tourists and moved them up into residences and hotels up here on the mountainside.

SCIUTTO: Now, tell me about those buildings, as we're talking about 200-mile-an-hour winds. Do they look like they're capable of withstanding a storm like this?

LAKE: You know, I think they are. These are all concrete buildings.

You know, there's going to be a number of -- you know, there's going to be the broken ceramic tiles. There's going to be broken windows. But Puerto Vallarta has sustained a couple of storms like this in the past. Where the heaviest damage was, was right along the hotel zone next to where the restaurants and downtown area is.

That's where it's been worst in the past, especially from a 30-foot storm surge that they're expecting.

SCIUTTO: So, tell us about the mood then there. There must be a lot of concern. Are people worried? Are they scared?

LAKE: You know, I have been asked this by my colleagues back in New York at (INAUDIBLE) where I work.

I say that there's three faces of the individuals here in Puerto Vallarta right now with the incoming storm. You have the locals, who are busy trying to maintain the infrastructure. They're the ones who are putting the sandbags together, help, you know, with the palapas and boarding up the buildings.

You have the tourists in the hotels, who are frantic and trying to figure out where to go, how to get to this next place, what's going on with my vacation. You have the third face of it, which are the ones who are kind of storm chasers, life is great, nothing's going to harm me. They're down playing on the beach, playing on the pier, having hurricane parties, if you will, so three very separate faces of what's going on here right now.


SCIUTTO: Well, listen, Jonathan please stay safe. We don't envy you down there. We hope you and the others get through this storm just fine. Thank you for joining us.

LAKE: No, that's good.

I just want to say one more thing. The big event right now is the storm, but I don't want anyone to forget the aftermath that's going to be here, because, again, remember, there's going to be struggles with the infrastructure, power, water, food, so please keep this top of mind and keep your viewers top of mind on this as well.

SCIUTTO: OK. Thanks a lot, Jonathan. Take care.

LAKE: Thanks, everyone.

SCIUTTO: We will continue to follow this breaking news story. Hurricane Patricia is expected to make landfall at any minute.

But, first, our politics lead, Donald Trump admitted that he was surprised after a second poll shows that Ben Carson has a firm, nearly double-digit lead over him in Iowa. That's next.


[16:15:16] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jim Sciutto, in today for Jake Tapper.

And our politics lead: what a difference ten days make. Rewind to last Tuesday at this time and the political class was wondering whether a bad debate performance would steer Hillary Clinton's campaign into a Bernie Sanders shaped iceberg. But now Clinton is belle of the pundit ball.

I want to bring in senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny.

So, Jeff, Democrats calling this a turnaround. They're certainly capable of spin one might say. But are we starting to see evidence of that in the polls?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: In the polls, yes, in the short-term. But even more immediately the sudden surge of rank Democrats who have been so worried about secretary Clinton's e-mail controversy and her summertime slump. But today, she had a wide smile in her face and bounce in her step. This is the campaign she's been waiting for.


ZELENY (voice-over): Hillary Clinton is back on her feet.


ZELENY: And confident after the strongest ten-day stretch of her campaign.

CLINTON: I can't tell you how great it feels to be here on this beautiful day out in the sunshine.

ZELENY: A commanding debate performance, escaping a Joe Biden challenge and emerging unscathed from a grilling Benghazi hearing.

Today, a victory lap in Virginia.


ZELENY: A summertime controversy becoming a fall triumph.

GOV. TERRY MCAULIFFE (D), VIRGINIA: You want to talk about a fighter, how about those 11 hours of testimony yesterday?


ZELENY: Virginia governor and long-time Clinton confidant Terry McAuliffe leading the cheers.

MCAULIFFE: This is why she needs to be our commander in chief.

ZELENY: The Benghazi campaign has hung over Clinton's campaign like a dark cloud. But she stood her ground and kept her cool during a session that lasted 11 hours, knowing not everyone is not on her side.

CLINTON: I really don't care what you all say about me. It doesn't bother me a bit.

ZELENY: Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy conceded he learned nothing new.

REP. TREY GOWDY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I don't know that she testified that much differently today than she has previous time she's testified.

ZELENY: With the testimony behind her, Clinton is trying to build on her momentum.

CLINTON: You know, a lot of things have been said about me, but quitter is not one of them.

ZELENY: Today, she basked in the glow of her adoring supporters. Linda Brown, a Virginia Democrat, said the Benghazi hearing was a

lifeline for Clinton's candidacy.

(on camera): How have these last ten days been?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think the nation should be applauded. I think she should be applauded. She looks great. She endured 11 hours almost without sweat. It was awesome.

ZELENY: She's on the rise in Iowa. A new Quinnipiac poll today shows her at 51 percent, up 11 points from a month ago. Bernie Sanders holding steady at 40 percent.

The Democratic field is now down to three. Former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee, the latest candidate to drop out.

LINCOLN CHAFEE (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Obviously, it's a good week for Secretary Clinton.

ZELENY: And Clinton extended a hand to Joe Biden as she tries to fire up the Obama coalition.

CLINTON: So I agree with what vice president said the other day in the Rose Garden, Democrats should be proud of that record of achievement. And we should defend it.


ZELENY: Now, Clinton also won the endorsement today from the largest public employee labor union, AFSCME, another step in trying to consolidate that Democratic base.

And with Lincoln Chaffee out of the race, it's now down to three candidates. She also had the best online fundraising hour of her entire campaign last night from 9:00 to 10:00 Eastern, just as that Benghazi hearing ended. She heads to Iowa tomorrow with her husband at her side. It's the start of more Bill Clinton on the campaign trail.

SCIUTTO: Two Clintons on the campaign trail.

Jeff Zeleny, thanks very much.

While Clinton for the first time in a while might have the wind at her back, instead of smacking her in the face, some of the air seems to be seeping out of the Donald Trump balloon in Iowa.

I want to bring in CNN national political reporter Sara Murray.

Sara, two days, two polls, two pieces of hard evidence it seems showing that Donald Trump is no longer on top in the key battleground state of Iowa. Tell us what you're seeing there.

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: You are right, Jim. And nobody, no candidate I have ever met likes to talk about the polls more than Donald Trump. But you've got to imagine today, he's a little bit less excited. Like you said, two in a row showing that Donald is no longer on top.


MURRAY (voice-over): Donald Trump dethroned.

Today, there's a new man on top in the Hawkeye State. Dr. Ben Carson polling to the lead in Iowa, and it's not a small one.

DR. BEN CARSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm gratified by the fact that so many people are really paying attention to what I'm saying, because none of the things that I'm saying are wild crazy things. They are very logical things.

[16:20:01] And if people really sat down and thought about them rather than allowing themselves to be looped into a frenzy.

MURRAY: A new "Des Moines Register"/Bloomberg Politics poll shows Carson with 28 percent support. Nine points ahead of Donald Trump.

JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're on the verge of greatness --

MURRAY: Meantime, Jeb Bush with fifth place in Iowa is trying to regroup. His campaign is cutting salaries across the board and downsizing their staff at headquarters.

As for Trump, he's fresh off the campaign trail in Iowa where he bragged about his lead.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I love these polls. And I say to people when they always say you love to mention the polls, nobody else does, I said that's because they're losing. They're not stupid people.

MURRAY: He may not be as excited to talk about these polls. Two in as many days showing he's no longer on top in Iowa.

TRUMP: I was very, very surprised to see it because I think we're doing well in Iowa. I have a feeling we're doing much better in Iowa than the polls are showing, if you want to know the truth. But we had an amazing crowd. I'm sure you saw it because it was all over on television.


MURRAY: Polls show Trump is still in first nationwide.

But Carson is looking to solidify his position, going up on the air waves with two new ads, slamming Washington.

CARSON: Did you know Washington is built on a swamp? Massive government debt, stifling regulation, special interest politics, partisan dysfunction. Now it all makes sense. Washington is broken.

(END VIDEOTAPE) MURRAY: Now, Donald Trump is treading on his competitor's turf tonight holding an event here in Florida, the home state of Jeb Bush, as well as Marco Rubio. I think the big question is does he go after those Florida gentlemen tonight, or will he train his fire on Ben Carson -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Sara Murray with the campaign in Miami, thanks very much.

This programming note, don't forget to watch "STATE OF THE UNION" this Sunday for three exclusive interviews as Jake Tapper speaks with Senator Marco Rubio, Senator Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. Don't miss that. And the best political team on television at 9:00 a.m. Sunday morning right here on CNN.

President Obama speaking just minutes ago, comparing Republicans to a furry and unhappy Internet sensation. We'll play that for you.

Plus, we're keeping a very close eye on Hurricane Patricia with winds over 200 miles per hour. We'll go live to the popular tourist area that's about to get slammed.

Please stay with us.


[16:26:41] SCIUTTO: Welcome back to THE LEAD. And staying with our politics lead, here with me now CNN political commentator Kevin Madden, and former communications director for the Democratic National Committee, Moe Elleithee.

So, I want to give you a moment that just came through from one of the president's appearances today. He seems to be shifting into campaign mode with Vice President Biden now out of the race. Let's hear how he described Republicans just a few minutes ago.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It does make you wonder why is it that Republican politicians are so down on America? Have you noticed that? I mean, they are -- they are gloomy. They're like grumpy cat.


SCIUTTO: There he was smiling. All the comic timing as ever. So is, Mo -- Mo, I'll start with you, is this the president in campaign now? Is this the president unleashed now that his vice president's out of the race?

MO ELLEITHEE, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, DNC: Does give him a little bit more freedom it seems like. And it does feel like now that the vice president is out and Hillary Clinton's had a pretty good couple of weeks that there is a lot of energy sort of coalescing around her. I don't know if the president is going to come out and go that far, but I do think you feel and see a little bit of a bounce in Democrats step right now. They're eager to get out there. (CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: You've got to respond.

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Here's the thing, when you've run for president twice and won and had the job for eight years you can't help but look at the folks that are out there campaigning and want to sort of joust with them a little bit and have a little bit fun with them, right? So, I think that's a little bit of it.

The other part too is that his name is not going to be on the ballot, but he's going to be a big part of the 2016 conversation. So he's getting a chance when he can to sort of shape that conversation right now.

SCIUTTO: No question.

Mo, I want to talk because you have a narrative now after not just the last Democratic debate, but also the Benghazi hearing yesterday. And here's basically how it's shaping up in the spin rooms. She came out of these hearings unscathed. The Republicans proved themselves to be a partisan exercise.

But we did have Tommy Vietor who we, of course, know very well tied to this administration said Benghazi was clearly a failure in terms of security. I just wonder whether they handled these hard questions well in this panel. I mean, there are still substantive questions, I mean chief among them, you know, why didn't this facility have better security? That seemed to be buried in the 11 hours of testimony.

ELLEITHEE: Look, I think there are some legitimate questions out there that will be asked throughout the life of this campaign and beyond. And she's going to have to answer that. There are debates, there are going to be more media interviews, there are going to be other opportunities for her --

SCIUTTO: And still an FBI judgment on the e-mails.

ELLEITHEE: And so, it's going to happen. She's going to be asked and she's going to answer.

But I do think that Republicans kind of shot themselves in the foot yesterday with the way they approached this, 11 hours of testimony. A lot of it with a tone that did feel more partisan than it did substantive, focusing on issues like Sid Blumenthal and a lot of people scratched their heads saying what are you doing?

So, I don't know if the goal is to get to the truth and figure out how to do this better moving forward, I'm not sure they got to that yesterday.

SCIUTTO: Kevin, I mean, this was supposed to be an all-star panel of Republicans and a great opportunity. Did you see a missed opportunity there to really make this stick?

MADDEN: Well, I think when Trey Gowdy had the gavel and Trey Gowdy was leading the inquisition, it was probably much more focused on the substance.