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Voters Line Up to Participate in Democratic Nevada Caucuses; Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders Chances in Nevada Caucuses Examined. Aired 2-3p ET

Aired February 20, 2016 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: -- from Washington, now begins.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're counting down to two crucial contests in two states.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Both the Democrats and the Republicans have a lot on the line.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a whole new climate in the presidential campaign. With the first contests in the south and the west, the candidates are turning up the heat.

HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's not enough just to be against things.

BERNIE SANDERS, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They're throwing everything at me, except the kitchen sink.

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Ted Cruz, I think he's an unstable person.

SEN. TED CRUZ, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Have you noticed how rattled Donald gets? Boy, he really lost.

TRUMP: He is a liar.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right now in the Democratic race, it's Nevada's choice. Hillary Clinton, planning to look like a frontrunner again after her crushing loss to Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire. It's the first battleground where minority voters could decide the winner. Will they rally behind Clinton and help her rebound?

CLINTON: It's not whether you get knocked down that matters. It's whether you get back up!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Or will Nevadans feel the Bern?

SANDERS: A funny thing happened. The people became involved in the campaign.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Later tonight in the Republican race, it's South Carolina's choice. Donald Trump resurgent after his landslide victory in New Hampshire.

TRUMP: All of these characters are going to give it up and we will make America great again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ted Cruz hoping to thump Trump as the race moves into the Bible Belt.

CRUZ: If conservatives stand together, we will win the Republican nomination.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Marco Rubio, John Kasich, and Jeb Bush, all battling to be the mainstream alternative in a diverse state known for its military might and political brawls.

JEB BUSH, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald Trump. He has no clue.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Jeb Bush has no foreign policy experience, period.

GOV. JOHN KASICH, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't take crap from anybody.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now, it's time for voters to have their say.

TRUMP: South Carolina, it's getting to be crunch time.

SANDERS: It's on to Nevada and beyond!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a wild ride and it's just getting started.

KASICH: If you don't have a seat belt, go get one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nevada and South Carolina are choosing, the political landscape is changing, and both party's races are wide open, right now.


BLITZER: Two states, two crucial contests in the race for the White House. Take a look at this. These are live pictures from Nevada where long lines of Democrats are filing in to caucus sites across the state.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from the CNN Election Center. Iowa and New Hampshire, they did their job in narrowing the presidential race, leaving only eight candidates. Democrats and Republicans left standing. Now we're counting down to when the doors closed and the caucusing kicks in in Nevada.

Three months ago it looks like Hillary Clinton would win easily in this state. But now her campaign seems to be lowering expectations here as Bernie Sanders may very well potentially be on the verge of what would be a big upset.

On the Republican side, six hopefuls anxiously watching turnout in South Carolina right now. We're keeping a very close eye on all the precincts there. It could be a momentous night for Donald Trump and the palmetto state. Things have gotten nasty between Trump and his closest rival Senator Ted Cruz. A win tonight in the Bible Belt for Trump could echo across the south. Marco Rubio also could be on the rise in South Carolina, while Jeb Bush, his entire campaign may be hanging in the balance tonight.

Right now, let's got out west. Our correspondents are over at the headquarters at the caucus sites across Nevada. Right now Jeff Zeleny with the Bernie Sanders campaign. Jeff, is this campaign, the Bernie Sanders campaign, pretty confident right now?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, they're certainly confident compared to what they were a month or so ago. But get ready for a potential split decision tonight. And here is why -- these quirky rules of the Nevada caucuses allow for the popular vote winner to be different from the person who wins the most delegates here. The Sanders campaign is confident that they can likely win the popular vote. This pavilion you see behind me here is where he's going to be later on. Last night more than 6,000 people here. They believe that the popular vote is on their side.

But the Clinton campaign here, Wolf, has been organizing for months. They believe the delegate vote could be on their side. It's reminiscent of 2008, a split decision here as well. But it's a sign the Sanders campaign believes they can go the distance here. One top advisor to the Sanders campaign told me just a few minutes ago, Wolf, that regardless of the outcome here, we are going to take this fight until June 7th.

[14:05:04] June 7th, of course, is the end of the road, the end of all the Democratic primaries with the California primary. So the Sanders campaign believes a strong showing here this afternoon and tonight can propel them all the way forward, Wolf, until the end of this nominating fight.

BLITZER: Jeff, stand by. We'll get back to you. I want to go to Brianna Keilar. She's over at Hillary Clinton campaign headquarters in Nevada right now. What are they saying over there, Brianna?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf. Clinton campaign folks are mentally preparing for what could be a very good storyline for Bernie Sanders coming out of Nevada, whether that is a Bernie Sanders win or just Bernie Sanders doing very well tying things up with Hillary Clinton. It's a far cry from a month or so ago when Clinton backers were scoffing at the idea Sanders could do well here. The Clinton campaign confident that they've had the organizational edge here, that they pulled out all the stops when it comes to surrogates. But with the Iowa caucuses not too far in the rearview mirror, they're very much worried that the caucus format here in Nevada favors Sanders more than polls will indicate.

And I should also tell you, Wolf, of all of the cafeterias and all of the casinos in Las Vegas, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders almost bumping into each other today working the same one. Hillary Clinton arrival at the Harrah's employee cafeteria seemed to be delayed because Bernie Sanders got there first to talk to employees.

BLITZER: Brianna, I want you to stand by as well. I want to go Kyung Lah right now. She's in Reno, Nevada, where folks are ling up. We can see them, Kyung, behind you. They're getting ready to go into that caucus site where you are. Tell us what's happening.

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: At this caucus site, this is the university of Nevada-Reno. There is a lot of energy, Wolf. And I want you to take a look at the end of the line, which we can't even see right now. This is how many people have lined up here an hour before all this opened. And it just opened a few minutes ago. But the people are already lining up out here.

I'm going to have you actually walk with me, because this is the midrange point. As you walk this way -- initial check-in is behind me over here. There's a line over there. But then after they check in they go all the way to the end of the line. And they're going to get a little exercise as they stand in line. And then we're going to try to avoid some of the local press, and walk in -- it's very crowded here, Wolf. I hope you'll be patient as we try to enter here.

And you can see that what we have here are a lot of people. I spoke to quite a number of people who are lined up here, and I have to say a lot of people are here caucusing at least early in line appear to be for Bernie Sanders. You can see we're in a classroom auditorium over here all the way around the room where people are beginning to line up. And then walk down this way with me. This is where they're going to check in. So they check in over here. Giving their names, double checking their registration, and then over here in this crowd over here, walk this way -- this is where going to start to caucus. So people are going to begin to line up for the Hillary camp, or the Bernie camp, and you can see a lot of people here already. Wolf?

BLITZER: Young people there on that campus where that caucus site is. Kyung, thanks very much. Dana Bash, our chief political correspondent is with me as well. I guess that must be a beautiful sight Bernie Sanders campaign. They like a lot of young people showing up if you believe what happened in Iowa as well as in New Hampshire.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: They do. But this is going to be the real first test for Bernie Sanders to prove that he can do well with the more broad Democratic electorate beyond the largely right Iowa, the largely white New Hampshire Democratic electorate. And that is really, has been the key for Hillary Clinton, you know, Wolf. She has been arguing that he's not electable because he can't appeal to those voters. If he can prove he can do well tonight with Latinos, with the black votes, about 15 percent of African-American vote, at least the last time around, and that is going to change the narrative, change the dynamic for Bernie Sanders. It won't necessarily mean he's going to get it in the bag, but it will allow him to make quite a different argument.

BLITZER: It's a big, big important moment right now, because as we've pointed out, a few months ago it looked like Hillary Clinton would have Nevada relatively easily. BASH: Absolutely. We should point out what makes today so exciting

is that Nevada is a complete mystery. We really don't know whether or not the polls that we've seen are right or not. It is very, very difficult to poll in the caucuses in Nevada for lots of reasons. But you're right. What we had seen showed Hillary Clinton way ahead, and it tightened dramatically the past few days. So that's why we're just going to strap in and see how it goes, because we don't really have a sense because it is so hard to poll there.

[14:10:00] BLITZER: It's so exciting right now. I'm sure everyone in both of these campaigns very, very nervous. Dana, stand by. Senator Bernie Sanders certainly hopes his revolution will sweep the silver staff while Hillary Clinton staffers are keeping their fingers crossed their so called firewall doesn't collapse. CNN has been talking to Nevada voters as they flood in right now. Which way will they break? We're going to get inside more of the caucus sites, get a temperature of what's going on, right after this.


TAPPER: Welcome back to CNN's coverage of the Nevada Democratic caucuses and the South Carolina Republican primary. I want to go right to Nevada right now to CNN reporter Jason Carroll, who is at a high school in Las Vegas, Clark County, where there is a lot of energy. Jason, what are they chanting behind you?

JASON CARROLL, CNN REPORTER: A lot of energy. It depends on what side you're on. If you look over here at this huge line of folks still waiting to get inside this caucus site here, you have got some chanting for Sanders. The other side saying, "Are we ready for Madam President?" obviously chanting for Hillary Clinton.

[14:15:11] This is one of 250 caucus sites across the state. If you can look near this line you see this is a very diverse group. It really reflects this county, Jake. And 30 percent here identify as Latino. About 11 percent identify as African-American. And in many ways this county represents much of what both candidates are trying to do in terms of trying to woo communities of color.

You know, I was talking to some of these folks here in line. Both, many of them who you can hear are very, very vocal. I said, who do you think was more successful? I spoke to a Latino woman who said she feels as though Hillary Clinton did a better job at reaching out to the Latino community. I spoke to a 26-year-old African-American woman who says it was really Sanders who lined himself up with the local hip-hop artists, went out into the community. Both agree on one thing. In Las Vegas, I think it's OK to use this term. Both sides relying on a little bit of lady luck to get them through. Both sides agree that the polls are extremely tight. It's going to be neck and neck out here.

TAPPER: All right, Jason Carroll. If you look on the right side of your screen you'll see former secretary of state Hillary Clinton through the crowd there. She is campaigning at a caucus site at Green Valley High School, trying to get out all of the support she can on this critical, critical contest. Let's talk to our panel right now. Michael Smerconish, let me talk to

you. A month ago Hillary Clinton's campaign manager was talking about how she was up 25 points in the polls. She was going to win Nevada. Now the polls are neck and neck. Everything is really riding on this here.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's funny that you say that because I remember sitting right here for both Iowa and New Hampshire, and the attitude among Clinton supporters this, too, shall pass, because these states are not reflective of the nation. And when we move on and get to Nevada things will change. And yet we're not sure that things have changed.

"Passion" is the one word I think of going into a caucus because, you know, it's a Saturday, right? Jake, this asks a lot of folks to come out and give of their time. You're not just mailing in a ballot. You've got to invest some skin in the game. My hunch is that's to Bernie Sanders advantage because he wins the passion vote.

TAPPER: And Nia-Malika Henderson, one of the reasons, as Michael was just talking about why the Clinton campaign has been bullish on states like South Carolina where there's a sizable African-American population, in Nevada there's a sizable African-American and Latino population, is that those are voters who at least according to polls have rallied behind her this campaign season.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, and they are passionate. Jason Carroll talked about lady luck. If you look at Latinas, particularly older Latinas and older African-American women, they talk about Hillary Clinton with a great deal of passion. They use phrases like, you know, it's time for a woman in the White House. She's certainly relying on that coalition of folks. I think something like 40 percent of voters in Nevada will be non-whites. So she's going to look to hopefully do well. If she is to do well she has to do well with that group.

It will also be interesting to see how she does with white voters. Last go-round she did better with white voters in 2008. John Edwards did better with white voters. It looks like Bernie Sanders was the one this time, he was almost the Clinton of this race doing better with white voters in the way she did in 2008.

TAPPER: That's right, everything seems to be flipped. David Axelrod, you were with Obama back then.


TAPPER: And the dynamics in terms of the racial politics and the support of candidates is reversed. But also, as was mentioned in the previous segment, Nevada is a state, as Jeff Zeleny pointed out, where you can win the popular vote and lose in delegates. That was to Senator Obama's advantage in 2008.

AXELROD: It saved the day for him. At the last minute, the delegate count saved the day for him.

TAPPER: But you won more delegates, and now Hillary Clinton wants to do that.

AXELROD: Exactly. That's what's really interesting here. They're now conceding they may lose the popular vote that they won eight years ago, but they've picked up a few things eight years ago and they've worked the northern part of the state in a way they hadn't eight years ago. And they're hoping to walk away with the delegates, all very interesting.

TAPPER: And Hillary Clinton also has to do very well in Clark County, the biggest, most populous county where Las Vegas is.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: This is really a test of what Democratic coalition looks like. You know, it's more urban. It's more non-white. And I think the test is here is for Bernie Sanders, really, to see whether he can attract more of that coalition than Hillary Clinton. And, you know, this has always been the question about his campaign is the staying power. And I think Nevada caucuses, the passion you talked about, Michael, but also this question of diversity and whether he can attract a more diverse electorate to his campaign remains unknown.

TAPPER: A big test for the Sanders' campaign, no doubt. We're getting new snapshots of turnout in Nevada as voters are gathering for the Democratic caucuses as you see on the right side of your screen. That could be decisive in who wins or who loses or whether it turns out to be a draw.

[14:20:01] Stay right here on CNN. Another high-stakes Clinton- Sanders contest is about to begin. It could be a nail-biter, and we'll bring you there live.


BLITZER: Welcome back. They're getting in line to go to the Nevada Democratic presidential caucuses. Right now a very fierce battle between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton under way. We're going to Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Tom Foreman is there at one of the caucus sites. I take it, Tom, there's a nice crowd is gathering? Tom Foreman, it's Wolf. Can you hear me?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is labor central. This is one of a half dozen sites that were set up for people to caucus who work out here on the strip. Lots and lots of people, and that has very much it's drawn a big crowd. The 150, they've obviously have already passed that number, and it just keeps getting bigger here.

[14:25:07] On top of which because this is so important to Hillary Clinton, President Bill Clinton came by to get some buzz going among all of these folks. It doesn't seem like it was much-needed because they are very energized right here and a very high presence for Hillary Clinton right now. We'll see how it plays out as they going further on.

But important, the culinary union here, one of the very big ones, did not endorse a candidate here. That's one of the reasons the Clinton people clearly feel they need to bolster this crowd and get people onboard. Look at the crowd here. The other thing to bear in mind, Nevada is one of the youngest states in the nation by population. You won't necessarily see it in all of the workers who are here right now, but many of the people who are here are younger, and those are people that Bernie Sanders is counting on to come through not only at this caucus site but the other five along the way.

Tom Foreman is over at Caesars Palace one of the Democratic presidential caucus sites in Las Vegas. I want to walk over to John King over at the magic wall. John, we're going to be spending a lot of time looking at Nevada, looking at various precincts as numbers start coming in. People are gathering for these caucuses, and it's good to look at the history as we look forward.

JOHN KING, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: First, let's look where Tom Foreman is. He's in Clark County which is down by Las Vegas. Important to remember, more than seven in 10 Nevadans live in Clark County. It's by far the largest county of the state. This is where the bulk of the votes will come in, and that's important. But if we go back in time and look at 2008, let me bring the state back in. The dark blue is Senator Clinton at the time. The lighter blue is then Senator Obama. You see as you talking about a little bit earlier, Jake was talking to the panel about the delegates. Obama won up here and actually came out of the state in the end with a couple more delegates even though Hillary Clinton won by six points in the vote.

But most of the votes are down here. This is where, as Tom said, the culinary union did not endorse this time. That has set up a scramble for the labor vote. That will be very important. And 15 percent Latino, 15 percent African-American last time. Look for the Latino number maybe to go up a little bit this time. But the major population centers, again, most of the votes come right out of Clark County. Then you move out to the western part of the state, where Reno is, up here, Washoe County up here. It's 15 percent, 16 percent of the state population.

And as we watch this it play out today, Wolf, it's worth remembering if you come out of the presidential race, remember, this used to be a swing state in presidential politics. The last two times President Obama won it big. The Democrats now count on this because of the Latino vote and because of the diverse population. Look at the state. Democrats win here and here. Republicans win the rest. That's John McCain. Fast-forward to Mitt Romney. Essentially the same thing happened in both states. So as we watched the Democratic primary process play out today, it's worth remembering Nevada used to be a huge battleground come November. The question after two or three cycles, is it locked in as a blue state?

BLITZER: That's always intriguing, Nevada, the caucuses take place late morning, early afternoon, their time on a Saturday, presumably when people can show up.

KING: Presumable when people show up, and that's why you see those caucus sites right in some of the casinos in Vegas. And that's an attempt to get the laborers in those casinos to take time to come by their caucuses.

BLITZER: Jake back to you.

TAPPER: And 100,000 Democrats participated in the Nevada Democratic caucus eight years ago. Obviously turnout is very, very important. Let's talk more with our pundits that we have here. Paul Begala, what are you looking for in terms of, obviously you're supporting Hillary Clinton and you work on one of the pro-Hillary super PACs. What are you looking for in terms of turnout? Where do you want turnout to be high in order to portend a Clinton win?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Not even so much where, but who, right? Hillary has been strong in recent polling with people of color. Bernie has been very strong with young people. That's kind of been their two bases. Each of them are going to try to turn them out. The thing I noticed looking at Nevada, fourth highest unemployment rate in America. And in the last month, a 30 percent increase in home foreclosures, the second largest percentage of home for closures in the whole country. People are economically pressed. They're angry and hurting. And I have to say, even though I'm for Hillary, Bernie speaks to that powerfully. And it's not that he wants economic problems, but the fact in the last 30 to 60 days there have been economic problems in Nevada I'd say probably helps Bernie.

TAPPER: Bakari Sellers, and another Clinton supporter, basically what Paul is suggesting is that the economic hardship started by, and a lot of people blame on companies like Goldman Sachs, might actually give Bernie Sanders a boost. Do you see it as a potential trouble spot for Clinton?

BAKARI SELLERS, (D) FORMER SOUTH CAROLINA STATE REPRESENTATIVE: It definitely is an issue because Bernie Sanders has tapped to that vein of economic unrest. But I'm looking for today is in 2008 we saw about 120,000 people participate in the process. If it creeps above 70,000, the closer it gets to 100,000, the better off it's going to be for Bernie Sanders.

And we're also going to see that the number of African-Americans that participate in the process is going to reach 15 percent like it did in 2008 because Barack Obama was running there. It's going to decrease slightly.

So I really want to see how Hillary Clinton does with this firewall, how she does with voters of color. And we'll see. The coolest part about this whole process, and Van and I were talked about this earlier, is that nobody truly knows what's going to happen today. This is the first process we've gone into and everybody is up in the air. The pundits don't know. The analysts, the smart people on the right don't know, and even Jake Tapper doesn't know.


[14:30:05] TAPPER: I'm the first one not to know.


TAPPER: But Van Jones, Hillary Clinton wins Iowa. Bernie Sanders wins New Hampshire. Obviously the South Carolina Democratic primary is coming in a week. But this could be a big thing in terms of momentum for either of these candidates.

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Absolutely. And I think from Hillary Clinton's point of view, basically there was a tie in Iowa. Listen, of course, this is a next door neighbor. New Hampshire, 22- point lead. Well, it's a very red state. If she doesn't do well, what's the excuse? That's what I want to hear. What can you possibly say? Nevada is not a next door neighbor for Bernie Sanders, and there are a lot of people of color.

The other thing, I'm so glad we talked about labor. Sometimes we talk so much about race we forget. In Nevada, labor is a very, very big deal. If you talk to people there, there's a split. The labor leadership really wants Hillary Clinton, but the labor members, many of them are being swayed by Bernie. In a caucus environment, it is very hard for a member to stand up and say to my labor boss, hey, I don't care. I'm going to the other side of the room. So how that plays out will be very interesting tonight.

BEGALA: We actually call them leaders in our party. Labor bosses.


BEGALA: That's sort of a derogatory term, just to bring you up to speed on nomenclature here.

TAPPER: One thing that we've seen play out in both parties is the fact that endorsements haven't really meant all that much. Hillary Clinton has the endorsement I think of every single Democratic Nevada legislator except for one guy who is staying out of it because Marco Rubio is his cousin, literally.


TAPPER: And -- but do you think that they just don't have the same cachet that they used to?

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: They don't. I thought it was, you know, the culinary workers union deciding to stay neutral this year I thought was very interesting. And to Van's point, labor is so important in Nevada. It's the 11th highest labor participation rate in the country. And both candidates have different strategies on that. As Van mentioned, Hillary Clinton, she's got 23 national union endorsements. She does really well. She finished up nine points on Bernie Sanders in Iowa caucuses among union households.

Bernie is saying, well, that makes her establishment. And it's an interesting strategy, and he's tried it with a number of different, you know, areas where she is beating him. I'm not sure that wins in Nevada. But it's an interesting strategy that I'm sure he'll try to replicate if it's tight around the country.

TAPPER: Fascinating. We're just minutes away from the caucuses beginning. Stay with us. Back after this quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [14:36:50] BLITZER: Check out live pictures of Caesars Palace. A lot of Hillary Clinton supporters there at the Democratic presidential caucuses at that hotel-casino in Las Vegas. They're getting ready for caucuses right now. CNN's Jason Carroll is not that far away at Rancho High School just off the strip in Las Vegas. Lots of people, Jason, where you are at the same time. What's it like?

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So many people here, Wolf. Look, you can see this line still going out to the sidewalk here behind me. Turn around, we can show some of the folks here. Some of the people standing in line, worried, concerned that they're not going to be able to get in and do what they need to do.

But caucus organizers tell us as long as you're in line by 12:00, noon, you will be able to go inside. So maybe these worries will be unfounded because all the folks you see here will be able to get inside. You can hear a lot of folks yelling out. Sort of an informal poll here. Who's here for Clinton? Yell out. Sanders? Yes. Clinton? Sanders? Clinton? Sanders? Hillary. Hillary?

CROWD: Hillary!

CARROLL: You see a very diverse crowd here which reflects where we are here in Clark County. Some 30 percent of the folks here identify as Latino. About 11 percent identify at African-American. Both sides agrees it is going to be very tight. Again, what they're doing here is lining up, they're going to go inside, register. Then the caucusing will begin.

BLITZER: What you're saying, Jason, they only have about 20 minutes to get inside and then the doors close? Is that what happened?

CARROLL: It's 20 minutes left to get into line. And I think that's why some people here are confused because they think if they're not inside the doors by 12:00 they won't be able to participate. Not the case. As long as you're in line by 12:00 you will be allowed to participate. All you need to do is get into line. It's a very long line, as you can see. But as long as you're in line, you're all right.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jason. We'll get back to you. Dana, what, four years, or eight years ago about 117,000, 118,000 it Democrats participated in these Democratic caucuses. Looks like a big turnout right now. I wonder if that helps Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.

BASH: I think both camps. I know both camps believe that the higher the turnout the better it is for Bernie Sanders, especially where Jason just was in Las Vegas, which is the heart of Clark County, which is population center for all of Nevada.

And I was talking to some people in Nevada who said that you really should look for the more rural areas, and if those numbers are higher than usual, then perhaps that will be better for Hillary Clinton.

But one thing to keep in mind is that I was looking at some statistics. Nevada is the seventh oldest population of white Americans. So what does that say? That says that those are the people who tend to go more towards Hillary Clinton, as we've been talking about for several weeks now. Bernie Sanders tends be to get the younger voters. So if the natural population of Nevada comes out for Hillary Clinton, that's good for her.

BLITZER: Stand by, Dana. I want to go to Jeff Zeleny. He's joining us right now as well. Jeff, you're over there at Bernie Sanders headquarters. What are you hearing over there?

ZELENY: That's right, Wolf.

[14:40:00] One of the most interesting things that's really been happening over the last couple weeks or so, really, since about the time of Iowa, the Clinton campaign has been aggressively working behind the scenes for one purpose today, and that is to get paid time off for casino workers to be able to actually participate today. They were successful in at least six caucuses up and down that Las Vegas strip. They were unsuccessful in some other places.

So if you're a casino worker who works at a Venetian or Palazzo, which is of course owned by Sheldon Adelson, the major Republican benefactor, then you do not get time off. If you work at the Wynn the Encore, you don't get time off. But if you work at Caesar's or Harrah's or MGM, you do get time off. So that is one of the differences here. Some people are just not able to participate today because they are working this shift.

But the Clinton campaign worked hard behind the scenes with casino owners to try and get paid time off so these caucus workers could actually -- so the hotel workers, excuse me, could actually go caucus today. So the number of people who turn out today will be key based on that.

And this is all because of eight years ago the union that represents all the hotel workers endorsed Barack Obama. They declined to endorse this time, as we've talked about. So they wanted to go worker by worker to try and get them out to the polls today, the caucus today, and that is what's happening right now, Wolf.

BLITZER: And to caucus, it's a lot different, Jeff, than it is to just go vote, put in a ballot or whatever. You have to invest some significant time in late morning, Saturday morning, early afternoon, to actually show up and participate.

ZELENY: You do. And that's why we're seeing people sign up in line. But some people are working here during this time. So they're given two hours' paid time off to go actually participate in the caucuses here. So if you happen to work in a couple casinos you can do that. Other casinos you cannot do that today, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jeff, stand by. Dana, that is where the population is. Seven out of 10 people in the state of Nevada are there in Clark County where Las Vegas is. And that's a huge representation. BASH: And what Jeff just described is a perfect example of how

intricate and complicated the caucus organizing process is in general, but especially in a place like Nevada that the campaigns are actually going to casino owners and saying, please, give your workers time off. It's absolutely fascinating. It also shows just how every single vote and every single pocket of Clark County in particular where Las Vegas is matters.

BLITZER: It certainly does. Everyone stand by. We're standing by for the start of the Nevada Democratic caucuses. You see long lines at various caucus sites. We're going to back over to those casino's long lines and see what happens once they all go inside. There was a razor close finish in Iowa, as a lot of viewers remember, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. What's going it happen right now in Nevada? We're going to be able to share some of our entrance poll results. That's coming up.


[14:47:00] TAPPER: Welcome back to CNN's live coverage of the Nevada Democratic caucuses. You're looking at live pictures right now from a caucus site in Nevada. I believe that is in Las Vegas. Let's go to Boris -- there's another one. Let's go to Boris Sanchez right now. He is at Knutson Middle School in east Las Vegas where apparently the lines are quite long. Boris, tell us about what you're seeing, tell us about who people seem to be supporting.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Jake. I had a little trouble hearing you at the end there, but I can tell you what I've seen so far. Huge crowds have showed up here. This is the registration area right behind these doors. Folks walk in there, get registered. I want to show you how long the line goes, all the way to the end of the street over here. We've talked to quite a few people. Some first- time caucus-goers. You guys are here for the first time, right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: First time. Yes. Let's go Bernie!

SANCHEZ: And we've also talked to a first-time caucus goer here who is a Hillary supporter as well. So the crowd is pretty evenly split. This is an area I should tell you in eastern Las Vegas that's very diverse. There is a big Hispanic population, a big African-American population, and Hillary is really counting on these minority voters to build that firewall for her and stop the Sanders surge. But as we talked to mow and more people that are in line, a lot of them are showing up for Bernie, especially the younger voters. Who are you guys voting for today?


SANCHEZ: Is this your first time caucusing. As you can see, a lot of these first time caucus-goers leaning towards Bernie. Again, Hillary hoping to keep an advantage here, but if Bernie can hold tight and dig into her lead he can still wind up with just as many delegates and she does. So it will be a tight race. And we'll have to see what happens once we get inside, Jake. TAPPER: All right, Boris Sanchez, thanks so much. Let's talk more

about this with our analyst Gloria Borger. In terms of expectations, it's pretty surprising that this is going to be as tight as it seems to be.

BORGER: Down to the wire.

TAPPER: The Clinton people just last month were saying she was up 25 points in Nevada.

BORGER: Right, down to the wire. I was just listening to what Boris was saying. If there are a lot of first-time caucus-goers, people who have not participated in this process before, then I think that means that Bernie Sanders has brought in new people into the process, and that would really be a plus for him.

And one of the reasons we sort of don't know here is because, you know, Bernie Sanders has not been tested on this kind of a stage before, where it's diverse, urban. And so we're just -- we're just going to have to see.

I think that another thing I'm going to be looking for is this question of the vulnerabilities that Hillary Clinton had in both Iowa and New Hampshire, this question of, cares about people like me and the issue of trust. And we'll see if those were just things that were problems in Iowa and New Hampshire, or whether they are issues for her as she goes down through the primaries and caucuses.

TAPPER: There are issues Bernie Sanders has, of course, as well, including electability. A lot of Democrats might actually go for Hillary Clinton because they think she'll do a better job in November against whomever the Republicans put up.

[14:50:03] AXELROD: That's been the dynamic of this race. It's been kind of a heart-head battle, the heart going with the Bernie Sanders supporters, and that's where the enthusiasm and passion comes from, the head going with the Hillary Clinton supporters. But it's hard to mobilize around the head. It's easier to mobilize people around the heart.

And the feeling in Nevada was if this turnout goes high, that Bernie Sanders has a chance to win this thing. And so when you see these long lines, you have to wonder how this is going to turn out. And it is hard to imagine that just three or four weeks ago the assumption was this would be a relatively easy day for Hillary Clinton.

TAPPER: The assumption of the Clinton campaign?

HENDERSON: That's right, and partly because they won there before and people who were working for their campaign organized that state. So they had the experience. So it is a surprising turn of events that Sanders has been able to reverse this thing and keep it so close. So, again, that is sort of why we don't know, and it's partly the caucus system which is so different as well. It's hard to poll going into these races. But it will be fascinating to see what happens and how each of these campaigns sort of spins whatever comes out of here. AXELROD: One of the things is that momentum breeds momentum. And

when he won New Hampshire as big as he did, that set Nevada on fire. That's really what got this surge moving. And I talked to a Clinton person yesterday who said we are sandbagging here. We're just trying to stop the surge. That surge really began with New Hampshire. And the question is, if he is able to win here, will it reduce her advantage in South Carolina, others more experts on South Carolina can speak to that, but momentum does breed momentum.

SMERCONISH: I was going to say what I think is at stake, Jake, for her is this sense of inevitability, because even though Bernie Sanders has had success thus far, there has been this general feeling I think among long-term Democrats that this will pass and in the end she'll secure the nomination.

Now all of a sudden should he have a strong -- I don't think he needs to win, by the way. We could also have a conversation about define what winning is. I think if he comes within five percentage points, put the delegate count aside, it's to say look at what I've been able to achieve in the last 30 or so days, and then there will be doubts cast about her viability.

BORGER: Can I just say, it's gotten nasty, too. This has not been, oh, we Democrats have a different kind of debate than the Republicans have. This has gotten very nasty, and the question here, I think.

TAPPER: Not compared to the Republicans.

BORGER: Not compared to the Republicans. OK, not compared to the Republicans, but it has gotten nasty. And the question is whether this attack on Wall Street from Bernie Sanders has an awful lot of resonance.

TAPPER: We'll talk more about that in a second. Stand by. We're going to take you behind closed door inside the Nevada caucuses. We're going to check out the size of the crowds and how the action plays out. Will it be a split decision between Clinton and Sanders? The first votes, the first results all coming up after this quick break.


[14:57:15] BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer in the CNN Election Center. Our political team is positioned on opposite sides of the country right now in South Carolina and Nevada. Eight candidates seeking the White House, and today's results could go a long way to decide who eventually occupies the Oval Office. Could Hillary Clinton bounce back after suffering a stinging 22-point loss in the New Hampshire Democratic primary? Will she be a resurgent candidate now in Nevada?

And for the Republicans, 50 delegates are at stake in South Carolina tonight. Just how many will Donald Trump add to his total? The frontrunner among the Republicans anticipating a resounding win after a bruising campaign trail clash with Senator Ted Cruz. While the polls in South Carolina are open for another four hours, we're just a few minutes away from caucus sites in Nevada closing their doors. Several caucus sites have clearly been overwhelmed with voters right now.

Let's go over to CNN's national correspondent John King over at the magic wall. Nevada, let's remind our viewers in Nevada where it is so critical for both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders to do well.

KING: Let's start with the big picture. Obviously Hillary Clinton won in Iowa, Wolf, but just barely, essentially a tie. Bernie Sanders then won contest number two in New Hampshire it what was a blowout. So this is a momentum day. Yes, it's about delegates. It's also trying to get getting momentum before we head into South Carolina, and then the calendar explodes in March with several big Super Tuesdays and many Super Tuesdays.

So as you look at Nevada, let's go back to the 2008 race just so we can fill it in. Hillary Clinton won. Then Senator Clinton over Senator Obama and Senator Edwards, and the delegates, Senator Obama actually in the long run. It takes a couple months to sort out all the delegates after the caucuses today. Obama actually won.

But how did Hillary Clinton win the popular vote? Down here. Most of the caucus sites are in Clark County. It's more than 70 percent of the population, heavy Latino population, a significant chunk of the African-American population in Nevada is here in Las Vegas. So this is what we'll look at mostly as votes come in.

But then as the panel was talking about earlier, there will be a competition up here for the much more rural northern part of the state where you can, a, add to your popular vote totals. But more importantly, at the end of the day, if we're talking tonight about delegates, because we now believe this Democratic race will go on a long time, so we'll score the popular vote, the count, for momentum, and then we'll look at delegate race in case we have a march into March and April and beyond in terms of the contest.

But the votes, the main parts to look for votes are Clark County and then out here in the Reno area in the western part of the state. Combined that gets you close to 90 percent of the state's population. The rest of these areas are much smaller. But again, they can become significant as things move on. But the first thing to do as the caucuses begin is to count the votes, and then later on, Wolf, as the math gets a little more complicated, we try and divvy up delegates.

BLITZER: Certainly we will try to do all of that. We're getting ready. Right at the top of the hour a few seconds from now they are going to be closing those doors. All of those people who are waiting in line presumably will be able to get in and participate in the caucuses, a very important moment right now.