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THE SITUATION ROOM
Results Awaited for Iowa Caucuses; Ben Carson One-on-One about Caucuses; First Presidential Votes to Cash Overnight?; High Stakes for Hillary Clinton?. Aired 5-6 ET
Aired February 1, 2016 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: That's it for this edition of "THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER." I'll be back with special coverage of tonight's Iowa caucus at 7 Eastern. I now turn you over to Mr. Blitzer. It's in a place that we like to call THE SITUATION ROOM.
[17:00:17] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Right now in Iowa, candidates are making their closing arguments as voters get ready to make their opening statement in this, the 2016 presidential election.
I'm Wolf Blitzer, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Anderson Cooper. I've always wanted to be in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks for inviting me.
BLITZER: What do you think?
COOPER: It's nice. It's ice-cold and minty-fresh.
BLITZER: You like it like that.
BLITZER: You never want to see the anchor sweat.
COOPER: That's true. Very good point.
Together we've got the latest developments, along with the best analysis in this crucial first-in-the-nation contest.
BLITZER: And with the doors opening at caucus sites now in less than two hours, the final push is on. Republicans stumping across the Hawkeye State, Donald Trump leading in the polls but not by much. Ted Cruz looking for evangelical support. Marco Rubio expected to visit caucus sites later this evening.
Democrats Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, though, they're staying off the trail, at least for now.
Let's get the very latest, starting with Sara Murray and the GOP candidates.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So this is it.
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight GOP candidates are leaving nothing on the table, scrambling in the final hours before the Iowa caucuses to rally the troops.
TRUMP: I must say win, lose or draw, I love you folks all.
MURRAY: And turn out supporters.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're excited to be here with all of you. And I'm going to be brief, because I want you to call people.
MURRAY: Polls suggest it's Ted Cruz and Donald Trump vying for a win in Iowa.
SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We are, with this stop, completing the very last stop of the full grass.
MURRAY: Trump is pinning his hopes on voters' anger and frustration with the political establishment.
TRUMP: I am angry. I'm angry that we're being -- and you're angry, too.
MURRAY: And sending his children on a last-minute blitz across the state.
DONALD TRUMP JR., SON OF DONALD TRUMP: He wants to win it badly and I think our biggest focus is, you know, we want to win this early. We want to start going up against the other side right away.
MURRAY: As for Cruz, he's been wooing Iowa's stalwart evangelical voters.
CRUZ: And our rights don't come from government; they come from God.
MURRAY: While taking tougher jabs at Trump, predicting the billionaire businessman will turn on Iowans as soon as his jet leaves the tarmac.
CRUZ: I think the people of Iowa deserve more, that the American people deserve more than just a battle of petty insults.
MURRY: One "X"-factor in all of this could be Marco Rubio, whose poll numbers in Iowa are on the rise.
RUBIO: If I'm our nominee, I will unite not just the Republican Party and not just the conservative movement but I will work every day to unite this country.
MURRAY: And by tomorrow morning all eyes will be on New Hampshire.
TRUMP: I'm not going to talk about polls today, because frankly, the polls today, today we have our ultimate poll, so I don't have to talk with polls. But the one that just came out in New Hampshire has us way, way up.
MURRAY: For at least three candidates, that push starts tonight. Chris Christie, Jeb Bush and John Kasich all plan to leave before the caucuses even begin, hoping New Hampshire might give them a shot at victory.
BLITZER: And Sara Murray is joining us now from west Des Moines. Sara, you're at the election of Donald Trump's election night party later. What has his mood been like all day?
MURRAY: Wolf, I think what we saw from Donald Trump and from his family members today is cautious optimism. They know that their numbers look good in this state, but they want to leave Iowa feeling like they did everything up until the last minute to win here.
That's why you're seeing Donald Trump having an unconventional day for a candidate, holding two rallies and then saying he's going to appear at some caucus sites later. And his entire family is sort of spread out across the states, getting in these last retail politics visits and hitting up some caucus sites. They do not want to take anything for granted. They want to work until the very last minute.
We'll see Donald Trump here in just a couple of hours, whether that is a victory speech or a concession speech, who knows, Wolf.
BLITZER: We'll know soon enough. Sara, thank you.
COOPER: Yes, a lot to talk about in the next couple hours. First, though, let's take a deep breath. Some introductions. Two brand-new members of the CNN family: political commentator Bill Press. He's a Bernie Sanders supporter and author of "Buyer's Remorse: How Obama Let Progressives Down." Also CNN political contributor, Clinton supporter and former Philadelphia mayor, Michael Nutter. Welcome to you both.
CNN political analyst Gloria Borger and David Gergen are here, as well. So is CNN political commentators Kevin Madden, Amanda Carpenter. He's
a Republican strategist. She's a former communications director for Senator Ted Cruz. With us, as well, CNN national security commentator and former Michigan Congressman Mike Rogers; and last but not least, CNN political commentator, Geoffrey Lord, a Trump supporter and former Reagan White House senior staffer.
Geoffrey Lord, let me start out with you. The big question: Donald Trump's ground game. We don't know much about it, frankly. Cameras haven't been allowed in the room while the calls were being made. How confident are you as a Trump supporter about his ground game?
GEOFFREY LORD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I'm confidence in Chuck Lautner (ph), who put this together for Rick Santorum four years ago. He knows his stuff. And I've talked to him, and he insists they've got their act together. So we will see. This is, as Donald Trump's campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, said, "This is the Super Bowl for Chuck Lautner (ph)." So I'm sure he's prepared. [17:05:10] COOPER: Chairman Rogers, what are you watching for
MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: Lots of drama here. I think, if the snow can push back the newer voters, that I think, would, you know, give one to Ted Cruz going into the effort.
But what we've found is, and we talked to some folks on the ground today, they've never had so many calls in an election year for new voters trying to figure out how to get to the Republican polls. I would argue, if that continues and they actually show up, it's going to be a Trump night.
But at the end of the day, that evangelical, organized ground game of Ted Cruz, I think will be hard to beat. Snow or not, those folks will show up.
COOPER: I talked to a CNN meteorologist earlier today. He said he didn't think weather was going to be too much of a factor tonight but that a lot of schools are going to be closed down tomorrow. And the question he was raising is, is that going to matter for college students? Is that going to -- you know, that they're going to have the day off tomorrow, they're going to be all the more encouraged to go out to caucus tonight. We'll see.
AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN COMMENTATOR: From what I've seen with Cruz supporters, these are people that will crawl through a blizzard if needed to go and vote, and caucus for Ted Cruz.
I just think, as we arrive at this Iowa caucus day and we think about where things were a year ago, from my vantage point working for Ted Cruz when everyone said that he would never be able to be successful, the fact that he is a strong No. 2 in the polls, if not poised to win this thing, really speaks to his tenacity and strategy to get there, because he has had everything thrown against him ever since he came to the Senate.
The establishment has tried every trick in the book. And so win or lose tonight, I think this is a strong finish for Ted Cruz.
COOPER: The same, though, could be said. Nobody expected Donald Trump to be in this position. Everybody counted him out from even before he rode down that gorgeous escalator in Trump Tower.
KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's right. And this is a test of the new versus the traditional. It's a lot more elusive to build a campaign on free media and momentum, but Donald Trump has done exactly that to a very strong position right now.
And we'll see. Does that traditional ground game, grassroots conservatives getting to the polls, not only getting -- not only showing up themselves but bringing five of their friends, is that enough for Ted Cruz to take on and beat Donald Trump?
COOPER: It is incredible, David Gergen, though -- I mean, we're going to talk more about the Democrats in our next block, but even just on the Republican side, if you had said six months ago that, on this night, we were going to be focusing on, you know, a 74-year-old self- proclaimed Democratic socialist -- I think he's 74 -- and Donald Trump as, you know, potentially winning tonight, people would have said that you're crazy.
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: If you'd been on CNN, you would have been fired.
GERGEN: I think this is a remarkable night. And think about it this way, as well. Iowa is just a small slice of America. And the people who are voting tonight, could hold the fate of the country in their hands, are a small slice of Iowa.
In 2008 Barack Obama won the caucuses with just 4 percent of the registered votes in Iowa, and that propelled him to the presidency. And that could happen again tonight.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Can I just say Iowa is also more important than it usually is. You know, we all like to say, oh, Iowa doesn't matter. Look, Rick Santorum won Iowa. Mike Huckabee won Iowa. They didn't go on to be president of the United States.
But we have this confluence of events tonight in which both parties, it's going to make an important difference. If Hillary Clinton does not win Iowa tonight, she's going to have eight days of hell going into New Hampshire. She's going to have to prove that she can win there, and that's -- you know, if she wins, she can say, "Oh, New Hampshire is a regional -- a regional primary, and I'll just move on."
And if Cruz, Amanda, doesn't win tonight, I think it's kind of do-or- die, because he's never going to get more evangelical voters than he has tonight in Iowa.
And if Marco Rubio is a close third somehow, that breathes life into his campaign. And if Trump wins, of course, of course he's doing well in New Hampshire, and he's well on his way.
COOPER: Mayor Nutter, if Donald Trump wins tonight, I mean, Geoffrey Lord the other day said, you know, he could just clear the decks from here on out. I mean, it's -- he gathers a big momentum.
MICHAEL NUTTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it goes back to what was said earlier. It would be a truly stunning moment in American politics.
And I think, to go back to what Gloria said and David and others, there are so many "ifs" this evening...
NUTTER: ... that that's what makes this such a big night.
NUTTER: It's not theory anymore. People will start voting soon.
COOPER: Nobody can honestly say that they know what's going to happen.
NUTTER: Whatever it is, it will be reality, and it starts tonight.
LORD: You know, I just want to say I think for the whole panel and for everybody watching, I'm really glad to get rid of the rallies and the ads and get down to some real stuff, right?
COOPER: Actual votes.
LORD: The actual votes, right. And this is -- it's a moment of truth. It's a moment of truth for Bernie Sanders to see if all that enthusiasm turns out into votes and for Donald Trump to see if all this pizzazz turns out into actual votes.
So -- and I think the other thing we're grateful for is that Iowans are iconoclasts, right? They love to upset the apple cart. And I'm counting on them for doing it again tonight.
[17:10:12] COOPER: It's interesting, though, David, on the GOP side, Iowa has not had a great track record of picking the eventual nominee. For people in the GOP in Iowa, is this a particularly important night to show that they are still relevant?
GERGEN: I think what all of this adds up to is that, in this small group of caucuses tonight, the fate of the country could really be shaped by a very small number of people tonight. This is a very important decision.
If it comes out one way, if Hillary wins this, we all agree she's going to be -- she's going to be the presumptive nominee of the party coming out of this, no matter what happens in New Hampshire. So it has so much to do. But we're putting a lot of reliance on it, but I think it brings a drama to the evening that you rarely see in politics.
COOPER: On the GOP side, who has a ticket beyond Iowa? I mean, obviously Trump, obviously Cruz; Rubio clearly does. Who do you start to see dropping out right away?
CARPENTER: I think right away, you'll probably see Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee and even Rand Paul, who said that he'd re-evaluate things after the Iowa caucuses.
But the thing that I think is going to be most interesting to watch is where Rubio finishes. I think a lot of people are expecting, maybe even wanting, like myself, this race to come down to Cruz and Rubio. Because Rubio hasn't been able to step into the gap, to step it up with the fund-raising, with the endorsements, with the ground game, the race has moved towards Cruz/Trump. So where Rubio finishes in Iowa will cement whether he can actually be an alternative or the race does comes down to.
MADDEN: Amanda is right, though. Campaign never really run out of ideas. They never really run out of reasons to run. They oftentimes run out of money.
And so I think after tonight, if you're going to -- if you're Santorum or if you're a Mike Huckabee, you're going to have a hard time making the case to your donors, to your supporters that you have an ability to go on. So we'll probably see the field shrink, not by a whole lot but by about -- probably by three or four.
LORD: I think Kasich and Christie have -- they're not going to get their ticket, and they're already in New Hampshire or on their way to New Hampshire as we speak.
BORGER: Well, there are those people who didn't expect to get a ticket.
MADDEN: Right, right.
BORGER: And so they have already moved on. And because they've lowered expectations to such a point that they've discounted Iowa and for the governors mostly, that's -- you know, that's the case.
ROGERS: One other interesting thing on this and I would watch this going in. So the first and second place is going to be, obviously, critically important. You will have committed delegates who will walk in or voters walk in for Santorum or Huckabee, and the dynamics in the room will change. This isn't walking into a booth and pulling a lever and walking home. It becomes very obvious that they're outnumbered. And you might see some movement inside the caucuses in a way you wouldn't see in any other.
COOPER: And who do you think they move to?
ROGERS: I think that they go to Rubio. I think at that point, you'll see...
COOPER: Santorum or Huckabee people go to Rubio?
ROGERS: I think they do.
CARPENTER: I think they go Cruz.
BORGER: I think they go to Trump.
ROGERS: They're looking for a momentum change, because those voters have picked those -- selected those candidates for different reasons other than they would be with Cruz already.
LORD: ... with Trump the other day.
COOPER: We're going to continue this discussion. A lot more ahead. Let's go to Wolf right now.
BLITZER: Anderson, thanks. So much more ahead as we count down to the caucuses and watch the candidates make the final appeal for votes in Iowa.
Up next, a closer look at the Democratic race and Hillary Clinton's effort, as Gloria Borger said, to win here before facing voters in strongly pro-Sanders New Hampshire.
And throughout the night we'll be hearing from all the top campaign insiders, Democratic and Republican, so you can get the best picture possible of what they're thinking on this, the most important night so far of this campaign.
And on top of all of that, we'll take a closer look ahead at the next big night, to New Hampshire. That's Chris Christie right there, campaigning in New Hampshire right now. He has all but written off Iowa.
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ... never going to play a role in my life. Mary pat and I were never going to engage in that conduct, and I never spent a lot of time thinking about it. So I was kind of what I would call...
BLITZER: Less than two hours until the doors open at about 1,800 caucus sites around Iowa. Less than three hours until voters get down to business. Who shows up? Are they young? Are they old: Will it snow? Any or all of that could shape the outcome.
For Democrats the race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders simply could not be closer. Brianna Keilar reports.
HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you for everything you're doing.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton visiting campaign offices in Des Moines to thank their volunteers.
CLINTON: I can't stay long, because I've got to get back to work, but I thought I'd bring some unhealthy...
KEILAR: Encouraging them to give their all in this crucial contest.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What is our job today is to make sure that we have the highest voter turnout possible. That happens, we win. Let's go get 'em.
KEILAR: The two candidates locked in a dead heat, crisscrossing the Hawkeye State, making their final cases to voters.
SANDERS: And what the issue is, is not just Hillary Clinton versus Bernie Sanders. It goes deeper than that. It is whether the people of Iowa are prepared to lead this country in a very different direction. CLINTON: And I promise you this: I will stand up and fight for you
every single day of this campaign. And then when we win, I will fight for you in the White House.
KEILAR: Polls show the Democratic race as close as it can be, but tonight's results in Iowa will come down to who shows up to caucus. Regular Democratic caucus goers who tend to support Clinton...
CLINTON: Sign up for some. Go to caucus shifts. Don't worry about the weather.
KEILAR: ... or caucus newbies, who gravitate toward Sanders and eight years ago helped propel then-Senator Barack Obama to the White House.
SANDERS: What the people of Iowa did is said, "Hey, we're going to judge this guy not by the color of his skin, but by his ideas and his character." And you allowed Barack Obama to win the caucus.
[07:20:14] BLITZER: And Brianna Keilar is joining us now live from Des Moines. I understand you bumped into Senator Clinton just a little while ago. What was her mood like?
KEILAR: She was in very good spirits, Wolf. Yes, I bumped into her after she was coming back from her day out, where she did visit with volunteers, and she did go to a coffee shop. But she seemed to be in a very good mood.
In talking to aides close to her, they're looking at the indicators -- where the polls are, where they have been over time, the trajectory of those polls, what they're expecting in terms of turnout -- and they're feeling really good about it.
But the other thing is there are many people who were with her back in 2008, or they've heard, certainly, the tales of what it was like, Iowa 2008 for Hillary Clinton, where they also felt like things were going well going into caucus night, and it didn't turn out well.
So there's still this not really taking it for granted, really wanting to see what the results are and not counting their chickens before they hatch. They want to know what the results are so that they can sort of let go of some of that anxiety, even though they do have some confidence, Wolf.
BLITZER: Good point. Brianna, thanks very much.
COOPER: Only in Iowa and New Hampshire do you bump into a presidential candidate. Just about everybody else, one time or another.
We're back with the panel. How young did then-candidate Obama look? That was incredible, just to see him walking around in Iowa.
David, I mean, we talked about this a little bit before. But if Hillary Clinton does not win in Iowa tonight, again, you're going to hear time and time again, well, look, same thing as in 2008. People said she was an inevitable candidate, and now look what's happened.
GERGEN: She's no longer inevitable. She goes into New Hampshire, probably loses there. She then -- I think she'll still go on to win the nomination.
COOPER: Very strong, you know...
GERGEN: But I think she comes out wounded. I think she comes out wounded. It matters in politics whether you have that aura of a winner. Whether people think, "Wow, I want to get with the winning team."
If she comes out and she's still struggling, it's going to cast a -- it's going to cast a shadow over her campaign. I still think she's going to be very strong in the fall as the nominee, but it makes it more winnable.
COOPER: Bill, if your candidate, Bernie Sanders, comes in a strong second but second, nonetheless, do you think that seriously hurts him? I mean, has he set it up, like Ted -- some say Ted Cruz has, that anything -- if he's not winning, it's -- there's some people who can set up a second-place finish as a win.
BILL PRESS, CNN COMMENTATOR: You know, there are a couple of scenarios here.
First of all, I think if Bernie wins tonight, and he's got a good chance of doing so, and wins New Hampshire, it's a whole new ball game. And who knows what could happen?
I think if Bernie comes in a strong second tonight, again, who would have thunk it? We were talking a year ago that Scott Walker as going to win the primary. Scott who? Right?
If Bernie comes very close to Hillary, I still think that's a -- it's not as good as a win, let's not kid ourselves, but it's a quasi-win. He'll be very strong in New Hampshire and could go beyond that.
But I have to say Bernie sums it up, I believe, perfectly: turnout. If there's a big turnout tonight, he wins. If there's an average turnout tonight, Hillary Clinton wins. It's all getting those people out to vote.
BORGER: He and Trump are on the flip sides.
BORGER: They both need the turnout. And, you know, Trump needs it, and he needs it.
COOPER: And they both need kind of new turnout.
BORGER: That's right.
BORGER: Well, and they -- for Bernie Sanders it's younger voters. For Trump, it's people who haven't gone to caucuses before.
COOPER: Gone before.
BORGER: And for Bernie Sanders, as well. There was one number about Bernie that struck me in some poll that I read, which was that 65 percent of Sanders' supporters say they have never caucused before. So on a cold, snowy, whatever it is evening, they're going to -- they're going to have to get out.
COOPER: Mayor Nutter, if -- if Hillary Clinton does not win tonight, doesn't win in New Hampshire, how confident are you about South Carolina for her? She's obviously got a big African-American support. There's not a big African-American population in Iowa or New Hampshire. South Carolina obviously does. We all know this.
NUTTER: I was in Iowa two weeks ago, and I was in South Carolina about a month or so ago. Senator Clinton will be -- Secretary Clinton will be very strong tonight. We'll actually see what happens, and we won't have to speculate on it.
Certainly, New Hampshire is New Hampshire. Very strong in South Carolina. And then you start running into Super Tuesday, all throughout the South. When I was in Iowa a couple of weeks ago with Mayor Kasim Reed, with Mayor Sly James, they are waiting not only for Senator Clinton -- Secretary Clinton, but also for Senator Sanders down South. That's a whole different story.
COOPER: And how has Bernie Sanders' ground game in these other states, in the southern states? And we've seen him have big rallies in various states around the country, but so much focus has been on Iowa and been on New Hampshire. Does he have an organization beyond?
PRESS: He does have an organization in Nevada. He's got an organization, beginning of one in South Carolina, and nowhere near. But a lot of that -- and I think David made this point earlier. Iowa and New Hampshire can propel you like you wouldn't believe; propelled Barack Obama. And it can -- it can turn.
[17:25:13] Ryan Grimm (ph) had a piece in Huffington Post today about how quickly the African-American vote in South Carolina turned from Hillary Clinton in 2008 to Barack Obama once he had won Iowa. And it wasn't just that he's an African-American. He was winning, and they love that. They want to be with a winner.
BORGER: Hillary Clinton has a history there now. And she believes she has a firewall, and they've organized. Correct me if I'm wrong, they've been organizing in the South for a very long time.
PRESS: Longer than Bernie.
COOPER: Although, Mayor Nutter, what -- what Bernie Sanders does have, which was just announced yesterday, $20 million in donations. The vast majority, according to his campaign, are donations up to $27. Very small donations. That's an extraordinary figure to make up in small donations.
NUTTER: No question about it. Small donations, big donations, they all add up. I mean, the money is the money. And -- but it does speak to who's making those contributions and where those folks are coming from.
Again, organization does make a difference. There's a serious Hillary Clinton organization in South Carolina and many other places.
I would go back, though, and say, with every respect to you, that Senator Sanders is not Barack Obama.
PRESS: Oh, no. I didn't say that. I didn't say that.
NUTTER: In South Carolina in 2008, and suddenly people are going to go running over there. That was a -- that was a game-changer election. And things changed between Iowa and South Carolina with then-Senator Barack Obama winning Iowa.
PRESS: I would say, with all due respect -- with all due respect, if Bernie does win Iowa and New Hampshire, we are in a game-changing primary.
BORGER: It's a different game.
NUTTER: It's different. There's no question about it.
COOPER: You're not so sure, David?
GERGEN: I think once this turns South that Bernie Sanders is going to have a very, very hard time beating Hillary Clinton in any major southern state. I mean, the Clintons have been so deeply rooted in the south for so long with the minority candidates. You go into these cities like Atlanta, you know, where the mayor, Kasim Reed, is just a very, very strong Hillary person. She's going to be far better organized than Bernie Sanders.
COOPER: Right. More history there.
A lot to watch for tonight. Regardless of what happens, we're going to have an AC 360 Democratic town hall Wednesday night, 8 Eastern right here on CNN. Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Martin O'Malley in New Hampshire. We are very much looking forward to that. I hope you join us with that -- Wolf.
BLITZER: So thank you.
Just ahead, Donald Trump's moment of reckoning in Iowa is fast approaching. Tomorrow, one of his favorite adjectives, he's facing a huge unknown. Will his blockbuster crowds actually turn out, though, to caucus for him tonight? I'll talk to his campaign spokeswoman. That's just ahead.
BLITZER: Just a few hours from now, Donald Trump will find out if his undisputed knack for drawing huge crowds translates into actual votes in Iowa.
[17:32:31] He spoke at two rallies today. His wife, Melania, and daughter, Ivanka, joining him on stage in Waterloo. And as we've said, the latest CNN poll of polls shows Trump with a seven-point lead in Iowa over Ted Cruz with Marco Rubio in third place.
The wild card, of course, as you've heard, will be turnout. Will Donald Trump's devoted supporters actually show up in big enough numbers to deliver a victory tonight?
Joining us now is Katrina Pierson, national spokeswoman for the Trump campaign.
Katrina, thanks very much for joining us.
KATRINA PIERSON, NATIONAL SPOKESWOMAN, TRUMP CAMPAIGN: Hi, Wolf.
BLITZER: And as you know, polling shows first-time voters do put Donald Trump ahead of Ted Cruz, but is your get-out-the-vote effort strong enough to turn out a win for Donald Trump in Iowa tonight?
PIERSON: You know what? Wolf, yes, absolutely. Everyone is so excited to get out there and support Mr. Trump. Iowans care about their country, too. They care about national security. They care about the economy and jobs. And we're very confident that all the hard work that many of the Iowans here, not people bussed in, have done to get the vote out for Mr. Trump are very excited.
BLITZER: The accusations are getting pretty tense. As you know, Donald Trump is calling Ted Cruz a total liar, in part because of what Ted Cruz says about Trump's record. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CRUZ: His position on health care is the same as Bernie Sanders. They both support socialized medicine, expanding Obamacare to put the government in charge of our health care. His position on cronyism and corporate welfare is the same as Barack Obama.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, Katrina. Has Donald Trump taken a more liberal stance on these issues than Ted Cruz?
PIERSON: No, not at all. And Mr. Trump was specifically talking about Obamacare, because Senator Cruz is saying that a vote for Trump is a vote for Obamacare, when in fact, this entire campaign he's been talking about getting rid of Obamacare and putting in something a little bit less federally intrusive in place.
And this is the kind of thing that has really been turning off voters, particularly with some of the other candidates that have really been trying to tear down Mr. Trump, by putting out false positions. And yes, they are false, which means they are lies. Mr. Trump is not going to be politically correct about this. He's going to call it like he sees it. BLITZER: But at the same time -- and I've heard Donald Trump say this
-- if someone doesn't have health insurance, they're lying in the middle of the street and they're potentially dying, he wants people to be taken care of. Those are his words.
BLITZER: So does that mean -- does that mean universal health care?
PIERSON: Absolutely not. What that means is the federal government needs to be more responsible with how they spend money. And that's really a state responsibility, and that's happening today.
We do not let people just die in the streets. You can go into a state hospital. You can go into an emergency room, and no one is refused care, Wolf.
[17:35:08] What he's saying is we need to be more responsible and push it down to the state level, like block-granting Medicaid, which is something conservatives have been talking about for a very long time. That doesn't mean single payer or Obamacare.
BLITZER: What's your prediction for tonight, Katrina?
PIERSON: Well, we are very excited, Wolf. We are so proud of our candidate to have come out, put his entire life and business on the line to fight for this country. We feel very good in Iowa. As you've seen in the latest polls, he's back on top; and we feel like we're going to pull it off tonight.
BLITZER: Katrina Pierson, thanks very much.
PIERSON: Great to be with you.
BLITZER: Just ahead, Ben Carson one on one, his caucus night expectations right after this.
[17:40:29] BLITZER: In the latest CNN poll of polls, Dr. Ben Carson is in fourth place in Iowa, 9 -- at 9 percent, seven points behind Marco Rubio, who's in third place.
Back in November, Dr. Carson was actually the frontrunner in Iowa, with strong support, especially among evangelicals. The ground has shifted a lot since then. Dr. Carson is joining us now live from Iowa.
Dr. Carson, thanks very much for joining us. What do you think would be a win for you tonight? How well do you have to do?
DR. BEN CARSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Better than expectations. Obviously, would like to move up one, two, three slots and, obviously, get a greater percentage of the votes. And certainly, I think there's a strong chance that that's going to happen.
BLITZER: You think you'll emerge in the top three, is that what you're saying?
CARSON: I think there's a very strong chance of that, absolutely. From what I've been seeing, from what I've been hearing, every place I go, people say, "I'm caucusing for you." And even when I stop in, in places that are not on the schedule, a bunch of people come up and say that.
So it makes me think that maybe there are more people than we're thinking.
And also, when polling is done, it's frequently done with likely voters. And many of these people are people who have never voted before, never donated to a campaign before, and thus are not being counted.
BLITZER: So if there's a big turnout, if we get indications early in the evening a lot of people are showing up, more than usual, you think that bodes well for you?
CARSON: I think that would bode very well for me. But even if we have a small turnout because there's bad weather, I think the people who support me are extremely enthusiastic.
BLITZER: Because as you know, they used to have a saying. There were three tickets out of Iowa, the top three people in the Iowa caucuses that move on to New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, every place else. If you come in fourth or fifth, are you still going to continue?
CARSON: I will always -- even if I come in first, I'm going to reassess always the situation. That's a continuing process. But also recognize that traditionally when they say there are three tickets out, there have not been 12 people running.
BLITZER: Good point. What do you think: Who is more qualified to be president of the United States, Donald Trump or Ted Cruz?
CARSON: Well, I don't think I'm going to fall for that one. That's a good try, though, Wolf.
BLITZER: Why not?
CARSON: But -- you know, I believe that anybody who is running on the Republican side could do the job. But what we really need to ask ourselves is do we want to continue down the same pathway with a slight variation or are we tired of the inside politics, the buying and the selling of influence. The very things that have frustrated the American people. Is that really what we want to do again and expect a different result?
BLITZER: Bottom line, Dr. Carson, I just want to reiterate, you think you'll emerge in the top three tonight in Iowa?
CARSON: I would be very pleased, and I believe that that's a very strong possibility.
BLITZER: All right, Dr. Ben Carson, thanks so much for joining us.
CARSON: Always good to be with you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Thank you.
COOPER: Well, tonight's Democratic and Republican caucuses are run very differently from one another.
I want to check in with the Democratic side first. Tom Foreman is at a caucus site in Coralville, Iowa. He joins us now. So take us through how a Democratic caucus actually works, because it's a little more complex than it is on the Republican side.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Anderson. The Democrats of Precinct 7 here in Coralville, Iowa, will gather in this room, about 250 to 300 of them. And they will divide themselves physically to represent their candidates. What we mean is they look at these candidates, different areas will represent different camps.
For example, Hillary Clinton's camp is going to be over here. Martin O'Malley's is going to be right here. and then Bernie Sanders is going to be here. And the undecided voters will be back there until they decide whom they want to vote with.
When they get into place, we will have an automatic read out here from our CNN counters to show you what percentage of voters is in each place. Then comes the first realignment period. What that means is if some of Hillary Clinton's voters wanted to go to Bernie Sanders' camp, they could walk over and our numbers will change accordingly. Likewise, if some of Bernie Sanders' supporters wanted to go over here, they could do so.
[17:45:00] And, again, our numbers will show it in the instant that it happens, Anderson.
And nobody in this room wants to drop below 15 percent of the total vote, Anderson.
COOPER: So what happens if a candidate doesn't get 15 percent of the caucus?
FOREMAN: If they don't get 15 percent, for example, if you took the "Des Moines Register" numbers right now in their poll and if Martin O'Malley came in, based on those numbers, he would then be declared invalid or unviable as a candidate. So he would essentially disappear as a candidate. And then his supporters would have to decide if they were going to go home or if they were going to go off into these other camps. And again, as they go, if this were to happen, we would have an instantaneous reading as they moved on, Anderson.
Once all of that is complete, once you have all of these people in place for the final count, then there is a measurement of the percentage that each candidate gets and that is the final vote for precinct 7 for the Democrats. That goes to the state level and that's how we will later on tonight for the first time have a sense of who is leading that race for real -- Anderson. COOPER: All right, Tom, that was cool. Thanks very much.
Now let's check in at the Republican caucus site. Brian Todd joins us from there.
So the Republican caucuses a little simpler than the Democratic ones. Explain.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Simpler, Anderson. We're going to show you how it's working. And first of all we'll tell you that we're at the 13th GOP precinct in Ankeny, Iowa, about 15 miles north of Des Moines. The weather is good now but there's snow coming later, much later. We don't think that's going to affect the vote.
As we walk in we'll tell you how it's going to work. The voters will line up here, they'll come inside. The registered voters who are already registered will check in at this table. Unregistered voters voting for the first time are going to be over at this table.
This is a table we're going to be watching closely because, of course, Donald Trump has implored his followers to get out for the first time, many of them, and vote. He wants a lot of first-time voters. He's pounded that on social media. We're going to be watching this table very closely.
Once they check in here at the Ankeny Baptist Church, we go into the sanctuary where the voters is going to be held. You heard Tom Foreman explaining the Democratic caucus. It is much different. Here the people will sit in these rose, first they will do the "Pledge of Allegiance" then they will elect the caucus chair and co-chair. That takes just a couple of minutes.
Then representatives from each campaign will get a chance to stand up, speak for three to five minutes and make their final pitch, try to sway voters over to their side. When those speeches are done, it's go time. This is how it differs from the Democrats. These people will sit in these rows and vote in secret. It's very simple, they just put a name down on a piece of paper, fold it up, then put it into a basket. That is secret but the counting is in public. So once the votes are cast, we will be up here watching a table set up over here where they will count the votes.
That counting can be done in public. We're going to be filming that. That's what makes it so much fun tonight, Anderson. It's going to be -- these ballot cams are going to show you how the votes are being tallied in real-time on live TV. We're really looking forward to this.
COOPER: And it really can come down to the very last-minute decisions by caucus goers.
TODD: Absolutely. And as we've been talking about, this is really going to be a test case, especially this precinct. It's going to be a test case for Ted Cruz. Can he lure some of the more mainstream conservatives that really are a feature of this district. This district just north of Des Moines is known for fiscal conservatives. It is not heavy on evangelicals. Can Ted Cruz pull in some of the more fiscal conservatives that are away from his base in western and northwestern Iowa.
Also a test case for Donald trump. Are his supporters going to actually show up to the polls. We're going to be watching that table of first-time voters and see if there are a lot of them. And again, you're right, it could come at the last minute, some people could change their minds and based on the speeches that are given here, and then cast their ballots. So this could be a very tight race in this precinct.
COOPER: Yes, it's a really exciting night to watch. Brian, thanks very much.
Just ahead, for Hillary Clinton, tonight's caucuses are a do-over in a sense, a chance to get it right after her loss in 2008. The race closer than anyone expected. Take a look at how high the stakes are for her. I'll talk to the Clinton campaign ahead.
Also we'll check in with the Cruz campaign. Senator Cruz holding a rally right now in Merion, Iowa.
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CRUZ: Who understands the nature of our enemies, has the clarity of vision to take on radical Islamic terrorism and to utterly and completely defeat our enemies?
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[17:53:46] BLITZER: All right. It's finally the real thing tonight. In Iowa, you can feel the energy, not to mention the uncertainty. As we said, the Democratic race is about as close as it could be. That fact alone is something few predicted back in April when Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders announced their presidential runs.
Joining us now is Brian Fallon. He is the press secretary for the Clinton campaign.
Brian, thanks very much for joining us. How badly does Hillary Clinton need to win tonight?
BRIAN FALLON, CLINTON CAMPAIGN PRESS SECRETARY: Well, we feel really good, Wolf. You know, today through our first two shifts out canvassing throughout neighborhoods across Iowa, we had some 1500 volunteers knocking on some 37,000 doors. We have 150 staging locations throughout the neighborhoods across Iowa. And going into tonight at 7:00 p.m. here at local time in Iowa when Iowa Democrats go into their caucus sites, we're going to have 4200 trained precinct captains and other team members ready to consolidate that support for Hillary Clinton.
Because we're seeing her message resound in terms of the need to have a proven fighter that can protect the gains we made under President Obama and build on that progress on the issues that keep Americans up at night.
BLITZER: Because if she doesn't win tonight, next week, a week from tomorrow in New Hampshire, all the polls shows she's way behind Bernie Sanders there. What happens if she loses these first two contests?
[17:55:05] FALLON: Well, look, again, we feel confident about today in Iowa. That's the first contest. There is no question that we've seen some headwinds in the last couple of weeks in New Hampshire. But a lot can change in eight days. And the reality is that we have multiple paths to the nomination. That is why our plan that has made strategic investments not just in the first four early states, but across the March states, the primary and caucus states, that will vote in March loom so large.
I think that we have a good reservoir of support for Hillary Clinton across the country, including throughout those March states. So there really are multiple paths available to Hillary Clinton. It's all about amassing delegates and we are ready to wage a contest for however long it takes to win that nomination.
BLITZER: One quick final question, Brian. If you agreed to Bernie Sanders' demands for three specific debates following New Hampshire? And if you don't agree to the timeline that they put forward, they say they're not going to do the debate before New Hampshire Thursday night.
FALLON: So this is a matter of the Sanders campaign continuing to move the goalposts. Hillary Clinton has consistently said she wants to have additional debates. We wanted to lock one down for next week in New Hampshire. We're still hopeful that is going to take place. It's looking increasingly like that it will. We agreed to three additional debates after that. And now the Sanders campaign keeps changing their demands in terms of dates and locations. I'm confident we can work it out. If there is a will to actually debate. Hillary Clinton has the will to secure these additional debates and lock them down on the calendar. And I'm quite frankly perplexed as to why Senator Sanders won't take yes for an answer.
BLITZER: All right, Brian Fallon, thanks very much.
FALLON: Thanks, Wolf.
COOPER: Wolf, just over an hour from now, the doors will open in roughly 1800 caucus locations across Iowa. From that moment until the results are in, we're going be bringing you a lot of action there is going to be a lot of it.
Just ahead, the latest from the caucus night headquarters of all the leading candidates. We'll see what the mood is when we come back.