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Super Tuesday Coverage; The Path to the Nomination Explained. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired March 1, 2016 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[18:00:03]

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Stay with us throughout the night for our full coverage of Super Tuesday, which continues right now.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're closing in on the first results from the blockbuster event of the primary season.

COOPER: This Super Tuesday could be a defining night for both parties.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NARRATOR (voice-over): Across the nation right now, it's the biggest night yet in the presidential race.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're going to fight for every vote in every state.

NARRATOR: A dozen states holding contests that could make the front- runners unstoppable.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We weren't expected to win too much and now we're winning, winning, winning.

NARRATOR: Who will be left standing after this Super Tuesday? It's America's choice.

Tonight, in the Republican race:

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What we are dealing with here, my friends, is a con artist.

TRUMP: He was so scared, like a little frightened puppy.

NARRATOR: Donald Trump with a new sparring partner as he aims for a series of fresh victories and tries to knock out his rivals.

TRUMP: You have one who's a liar and then you have the other one, who may be a worse liar.

NARRATOR: Marco Rubio unleashing new fire and in need of a win to back up his claim he can take down Trump.

RUBIO: It's time to pull his mask off so that people can see what we are dealing with here.

NARRATOR: Ted Cruz hoping to grab the night's top prize in his home state of Texas, warning that time is running out to thwart the front- runner.

CRUZ: The time for the clowns and the acrobats and the dancing bears has passed.

NARRATOR: In the Democratic race tonight...

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This campaign goes national.

NARRATOR: Hillary Clinton shooting for a Southern sweep, looking to derail her primary opponent and set her sights on Trump.

CLINTON: We don't need to make America great again. America has never stopped being great.

NARRATOR: Bernie Sanders fighting to rev up his revolution.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you want a candidate who's going to defeat Donald Trump, you're looking at that candidate.

NARRATOR: Now it's time for voters to have their say.

CLINTON: Super Tuesday will be so consequential.

NARRATOR: Will the race for the White House ever be the same?

TRUMP: We have changed the whole playing field of politics, and I love that.

NARRATOR: America is choosing. The campaign is moving across the map. And the Super Tuesday stakes are sky-high right now.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Americans are going to polling places and heading to caucuses in a dozen states across the nation right now. These voters have the power to set the presidential race on an unchangeable course, or throw a game-changing curve ball.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in the CNN Election Center.

This a momentous night for the two Democrats and five Republicans who have survived this bruising primary season so far, and here's why. More than a third of the delegates needed to win the Democratic presidential nomination, they're at stake tonight. It's an even bigger share for the Republicans with nearly half of the delegates needed for victory up for grabs.

We're standing by for the first votes and our first chance to make projections less than an hour from now. That's when the polls will close in the first battlegrounds of the night. We're talking about Georgia, Virginia, and Vermont.

At 8:00 p.m. Eastern, we will be looking for results from Oklahoma, Minnesota, Tennessee, and Alabama and Massachusetts. And a half-hour later, the polls close in Arkansas. At 9:00 p.m. Eastern, the spotlight is on Colorado and Texas, and at midnight Eastern, the focus is on Alaska.

Here's what we're watching for as the night plays out. In the Republican race, how much will Donald Trump dominate? Remember, this round of voting isn't winner-take-all. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio can pick up a stash of delegates that could keep their campaigns going, even if they don't win outright.

And it's a similar dynamic for the Democrats. Hillary Clinton is looking to build a fortress of delegates. And Bernie Sanders, he clearly wants to chip away at all of that.

While the early contests were all about momentum, this Super Tuesday is all about winning delegates and getting closer to the magic number needed to lock up the nomination.

Let's go to Jake Tapper. He's got more -- Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Wolf. What an exciting night.

And just to give you an idea of the confidence that Donald Trump is feeling, there are 11 Super Tuesday states, but he didn't campaign in any of them today. In fact, right now, he's in Florida.

And that's where we find our own Sara Murray.

Sara, what can we expect this evening from the Republican front- runner?

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, Donald Trump is poised for big wins tonight. And you would think that would mean a big raucous rally.

But Donald is sticking with his unconventional style. He's doing a press conference tonight at Mar-a-Lago. As you said, we're in Florida. We're in a state that does not vote until March 15.

[18:05:06]

This is a finger in the eye to the home state senator of Marco Rubio and it's clear that Donald Trump is going to campaign hard in this state. He wants to win here. His campaign tells me that they have four big raucous rallies planned between now and the 15th. And they're looking at Marco Rubio trying to close the gap.

But when I was speaking to his Florida campaign co-chairwoman earlier, Susie Wiles, she said she just doesn't think Rubio is going to be able to do it. She said she doesn't think the personal insults, the new tone of Rubio's campaign is going to work for him.

And now the irony was not lost on her that her own boss has a freewheeling style and has said some outlandish things, but she said for some reason it just looks unbecoming on Marco Rubio -- back to you, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Sara Murray in Florida, Donald Trump's home away from home, a state he really wants to win.

It's also where we find the Democratic front-runner, Hillary Clinton, who is in Miami. And that's also where we find Jeff Zeleny.

Jeff, what are we expecting from former Secretary of State Clinton this evening?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, the Eastern Time Zone could be very good to the Clinton campaign. At least they believe it will be.

We're watching Virginia, Georgia, Tennessee. Of course, Vermont is the home of Bernie Sanders. So, they do not think that they can win there. But they expect to rack up delegates and wins early on in the evening. It's why we're expecting Hillary Clinton to be here in Miami giving a speech, a victory speech, they hope, early on in the evening, because if you look at the map as we shift farther to the west, to Minnesota, to Oklahoma, to Colorado, they believe that becomes more difficult for them.

So look for her to, what she hopes is to claim a victory early in the evening and give a speech perhaps even before 9:00. But all those things of course could change depending on the results.

But, Jake, the big takeaway tonight, the big headline to watch for is big state vs. small state. The Clinton campaign feels very confident and strong in the bigger states with those bigger delegates. The Sanders campaign is counting on some wins in small states.

But, of course, as we know, this is all about the math now. It's about politics, of course. But it's about math tonight. If she does well in those big states to wrap up those delegates, she will be doing very well. But perhaps she could clinch around Texas. Texas is the biggest trove of delegates all night.

She may speak right after the results of Texas are known -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Jeff Zeleny with the Clinton campaign in Miami, Florida.

Let me bring in my colleague Dana Bash.

Dana, in less than an hour, we expect three key states to shut, to close the polls, Georgia, Vermont, and Virginia. Vermont, we expect we know what is going to happen with the Democrats, but not the Republicans. That could be interesting, and then Georgia and Virginia both huge states.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Huge states.

And, you know, talking to the Republican campaigns in particular coming in to tonight, everybody knows that Donald Trump or thinks Donald Trump is going to do extremely well. The question, of course, is by how much? And that's what everybody is looking at as they start to add up the delegates as they come in throughout the night.

TAPPER: Yes. No, it's going to be very interesting to see, because the big question is, is there any way for any of the Republicans running to stop him? That's what Republicans in the establishment here in Washington want to do. But it's not clear that there's any possibility that that can actually happen.

BASH: Not in the at least. And people are more and more realizing that it is unlikely that that's going to happen unless and until this goes all the way to the convention and there's a contested convention, and people are openly talking about that today here in Washington.

Let's go to David Chalian, who has some of the exit polls. One of the things we're looking at is not just the vote totals, but what's behind them, why people are voting the way they're voting.

David, what do you have for us?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: That's right, Jake.

We're looking at who showed up and why they showed up. And, as you know, one of major through-lines throughout the Republican nomination race has been this sort of outsider vs. insider. So, we're looking at a few states tonight to take a look at how they split.

Take a look at Alabama. That's one of the states voting tonight -- 37 percent of Republicans showing up tonight say they want somebody that's experienced in politics, but 59 percent of Republicans in Alabama are looking for somebody outside the establishment. Not all states are equal.

Take a look at Virginia. The numbers are a little different there. There, you get 50 percent looking for an outsider -- 41 percent of Republican primary voters in Virginia tonight are looking for somebody with experience in politics. And just to contrast with that, another state, take a look at Vermont.

This is where it splits almost evenly. The Vermont Republican primary electorate, 48 percent want somebody experienced in politics; 47 percent want outside the establishment. So you can see that there's a different kind of electorate that shows up in each of these states and, as we have seen, Donald Trump has done tremendously well in the past with that outsider rage out there, and that is not necessarily coursing through at unbelievably high levels in each one of these states.

That's one of the things we will be looking for throughout the evening, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, David Chalian.

Dana, though, when you look at that number, 59 percent of Republican voters in Alabama want somebody who is an outsider, that certainly seems to bode well for Donald J. Trump.

[18:10:00]

BASH: That's right. It's why the very popular Republican senator there, Jeff Sessions, endorsed Donald Trump, even though he is a common word and common name on the campaign trail for Ted Cruz.

He said, you know what, I'm going to go with Donald Trump and this is a big reason why. His Republican constituents back home wanted him to go with somebody who's never been in politics before.

TAPPER: And, Wolf Blitzer, even in Virginia, where there are a lot of federal employees, people favoring an outsider.

BLITZER: It's amazing what's going on right now. We're getting more numbers as our experts are crunching all these exit poll numbers.

The voting is winding down in some of the Super Tuesday battlegrounds. Will this night define the campaign going forward? We're getting new clues about the outcome from our exit polls. Stand by. The first votes, they're about to come in.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:15:08]

BLITZER: We're getting closer to our first chance at projecting winners at the top of the hour. That's when the polls close in the kickoff battleground states of Georgia, Virginia, and Vermont.

I want to go to Manu Raju. He's over in Miami. He's with the Rubio campaign. Sunlen Serfaty, she's with the Cruz campaign.

Manu, first to you. You're getting some new information. What are you learning?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the Rubio campaign is really not expecting to win a state tonight.

If they do, it would be viewed as somewhat of an upset. But what I'm told by sources familiar with the candidate's planning is that tonight when he addresses supporters in Miami, that his speech is going to be directed heavily at Donald Trump. We have seen this happen over the last several days.

Of course, Rubio since our CNN debate in Houston increasingly taking the attack to Donald Trump. He wants to make the case in a prime-time audience that he is the one guy who could take the battle to Trump, he can unite the party behind him, and that if anyone wants to take out Donald Trump, it's time to support his campaign.

Now, what this means for Rubio's campaign going forward, he actually needs to win a state, and increasingly that means here in Florida in two weeks, a winner-take-all state. That's one reason why, Wolf, they're going to try to make the case here tonight about Donald Trump and shift their focus away from Ted Cruz. BLITZER: Interesting. All right, Manu, thanks very much. We will

get back to you.

Sunlen Serfaty is in Stafford, Texas. That's right outside of Houston.

That's where Senator Ted Cruz eventually will make his statement, right?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

And I have to tell you, tonight, you know, this is a big night for Senator Cruz. So much of the Cruz campaign, so much or their strategy has really been staked on doing well here tonight. They have always predicted it will be an amazing night for them key to going forward.

But the Cruz campaign is, remarkably, lowering expectations tonight. A Cruz campaign senior adviser telling me: "We have said it will be a big night. It needs to be a big night. It does not have to be the biggest night."

So, that's an important phrase there. At bare minimum, the Cruz campaign will be satisfied with a win here in Texas, and coming in a strong second in terms of delegate collection coming out of the states tonight.

That is a remarkably lower bar than the one that they set from the beginning of their campaign. So much of their strategy here on Super Tuesday banked on doing well, performing well in the Southern states. This is potentially not something that could happen here tonight for them -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Of course, we will stay in close touch with you. Sunlen, thanks very much. Manu, thanks to you as well -- Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: Yes, let's talk to our reporters and analysts.

I mean, David Axelrod, a lot riding obviously for Ted Cruz on Texas. Is it essential for him to win in order for him to move forward?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think so. I think it would be hard for him to go on if he didn't win his home state.

The weird thing about this is, if you're Donald Trump, I don't know what you're rooting for, because if Ted Cruz wins Texas, he soldiers on, the field continues to be cluttered.

COOPER: And that benefits...

AXELROD: And that redounds to Trump's benefit. He's watching these returns with probably mixed feelings tonight. I know he likes to win, win, win, but maybe this is one that he wants to lose.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it also depends on when you get to counting delegates tonight, who comes in second and who comes in third?

Because the question is, can Marco Rubio win anywhere? He may be the establishment's favorite Republican candidate, but can he win anywhere? I know they're all looking towards Florida, but you have to have some momentum.

And does Cruz perform tonight well? I mean, this was going to be his firewall, not only Texas, but the South. He had a Southern strategy, evangelicals. Trump's been doing pretty well with evangelicals.

COOPER: Right. Does Donald Trump continue to win among evangelicals?

BORGER: Exactly. Exactly. And can Cruz really rack up enough delegates tonight so that he can say to Marco Rubio, you know what, buddy, uh-uh, I have won in a couple places and you haven't won anywhere?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think for Marco Rubio, he's been in this race and hadn't really found his voice, hadn't really found his brand. And I think over these last couple days he's found his brand as the anti-Trump.

So if he loses tonight, maybe in some ways he wins because he's found his voice and he's been able to find some emotional reason for people to back his candidacy. For all those moderate Republicans who don't want to see Donald Trump take over their party, he is now the guy who is running as that candidate and almost a message candidate and almost as a cause candidate.

COOPER: I'm so looking forward to a night when a lose is not a win. I would like a night where just a win is a win.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: In a season of really big nights, I think tonight is huge, as the Donald would say.

And here's what I'm looking for. I think tonight's the night that we find out whether anyone can defeat him, whether any one of the three. I leave Ben Carson off the table. Whether any one of the three really can go toe-to-toe and defeat Donald Trump, or is the best that they can collectively hope for to thwart him from winning the nomination?

[18:20:01]

And the difference is key, because to win your home state, whether it's Texas, Ohio, or upcoming Florida on the 15th, that's not a path to winning the nomination by securing the requisite number of delegates. But if they each hold their own and win their own home states and cobble together other states, it could be enough to thwart him.

COOPER: It will also be interesting to see whether -- and we talked about this before in the last hour, but whether we get information tonight, proof of whether Rubio's strategy has actually worked.

People -- and I guess the only way is in exit polls, people who decided late, did they break for Marco Rubio?

AXELROD: Well, Nia says he's found his voice. His voice was a little bit like a -- kind of a lounge act in the last four days, you know, going after Trump in a very, very kind of pungent way.

And the question is, does he get rewarded for it? He's closed very fast in the last -- not enough to win, but he's been the guy late deciders turn to. It will be interesting to see if that's true tonight.

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH: I'm not convinced if Marco Rubio has been successful with the lounge act. I don't think that it inures to his benefit, because I don't think that someone abandoning Donald Trump is going to Marco Rubio. I think they're more likely going to Ted Cruz.

BORGER: And I don't think Cruz is necessarily -- I mean, Marco Rubio has necessarily found his voice. I think he has confused his brand to a certain degree.

And the question is whether that confusion turns some people off.

COOPER: Right. We will see what plays out.

Will this be the big night for Donald Trump? Will it be the big night he's been hoping for? We're learning more about what's on the minds of Super Tuesday voters and how that's influencing the choices that they're making right now.

The first results of this crucial night just minutes away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:26:16]

BLITZER: We're just minutes away from the end of voting in three key Super Tuesday battlegrounds. We're talking about Georgia, Virginia, and Vermont, and our first chance to project winners. It's hard to overstate the importance of this night for the two Democrats and the five Republicans still in the race.

Remember, more than a third of the delegates needed to win the Democratic nomination for president of the United States are at stake tonight, and nearly half of the delegates needed to snag the Republican nomination, they're at stake as well.

Let's go over to John King over at the magic wall.

John, this is an important night. And we're taking a closer look now at the Republican delegates, lots at stake tonight.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Lots at stake tonight. Donald Trump could sweep. If he did, he'd make a statement because he

begins the night, Wolf -- look, we're just getting started. Takes, as you see, 1,273 to win the Republican nomination. But when you win three out of the first four contests, people start to think, can he be stopped?

And 82 delegates to start the day. Let's put the Super Tuesday states on the board. Under this scenario, Donald Trump wins all 11 tonight. If he won all 11 tonight, and this is factored in with him winning at around 35 percent of the vote or so, he'd get up to somewhere around 291 delegates. And you see Cruz and Rubio would be significantly behind him.

Now, let's come back, though. Donald Trump, maybe won't win them all tonight. Ted Cruz is favored, the late polls, anyway, in his home state of Texas. Let's switch and make Texas a Cruz state. And for this, it's a hypothetical, folks, at home. I know, if you have a candidate, you don't agree with these things sometimes.

Let's make Rubio third and Trump second in Texas. That would give Cruz psychologically an important win and it would give him some delegates, 155 at stake. Again, that was factored in with the winner getting 35 percent. If he wins with more, a higher percentage, he might get more delegates.

But you see how important that is to Ted Cruz. Now you look at the rest of these states, Donald Trump was leading in all of the polls in the final weeks. So, you're looking, where could you pick off a win? If you talk to the Kasich campaign, they think perhaps Vermont could be a surprise for them tonight.

Let's just, again, for the sake of argument, say he wins there and Donald Trump comes in second. It doesn't really matter when you get down this low, but Ted Cruz third -- I mean, Rubio third and Cruz fourth. If that happens tonight, Kasich is running last, it would give him a little bit.

Marco Rubio campaign, they say if there's a state for them tonight, maybe it's the state of Virginia. Again, if he did that, let's just say Trump comes in second, Cruz comes in third and Kasich fourth, even then, you have a battle for Trump -- I mean, for Cruz and Rubio for second place, but Donald Trump is starting to inch away.

And that's the big dynamic tonight. The delegate math, how far can you get toward the -- this is -- it's a quarter of the way. Here's halfway. How much can Donald Trump stretch it out? And then just this, Wolf. Campaigns are about momentum. If Donald Trump ends the night even this and this or, guesses, Trump's ahead of them, if he ends tonight 10-1, 9-2, the psychology of the Republican race is likely to change in a big way.

And the question then is, if you go forward to the end of March, a lot of people think this is actually possible, that Donald Trump could run the board. Cruz gets this tonight, Donald Trump could win everything else. Take one or two states away if you want. But even if you take one or two of these out, comes down to the defining day on the 15th. I think Michael Smerconish was just talking about this. Rubio has to win Florida. If he doesn't win Florida, he'd be hard-pressed to stay in the race. Kasich has to win Ohio. Wolf, I will just do this for the sake of argument and then stop.

Even if they win just those states and Trump runs everything else, this is the math you're looking at in the Republican race.

BLITZER: But the key question Republican establishment leaders are saying, can they prevent Donald Trump, if they stay in this contest until the convention, from getting 1,237?

KING: It could work in a number of ways. Number one, if everybody else would get out, and you had a one-on-one, either Rubio and Kasich get out, and it's Trump-Cruz...

BLITZER: Show us how that works.

KING: You start walking through states, Pennsylvania, let's say Trump wins this one, then Cruz, you walk these through and you just go out -- let me do it this way for you.

If it was just Rubio, if it were just Rubio, a one-on-one race, you would get to this. Now, this could be Cruz or it could be Kasich. Just we will use Rubio for this example. If one candidate ran the board after March 15, that candidate would get -- would not win the nomination, but would pass Donald Trump.

Most people think that that's pretty unrealistic, now, if you got a one-on-one race. What's to say Donald Trump won't win some of these states? What's to say -- so, if you -- if you get into a race where Trump is winning some of them, and Rubio is winning others, or Kasich is winning others, or Cruz is winning others, there is -- conceivably, that somebody could either -- Trump would win and lead, but not get clinched -- or someone else could lead and not clinch. It's conceivable, which is what makes tonight so important.

[18:30:19] If Donald Trump can win eight or nine states tonight and get well ahead, there's a certain psychology and momentum that comes with politics. And if Cruz wins, he's not going to get out. And until you get -- we're not going to be able to test that theory unless you get two candidates in the race. And there's no sign you're going to get two candidates in the race at least until March 15, after Florida and Ohio vote. It might happen then. By then Trump could be way out here.

BLITZER: We're going to stand by. Let's take a quick break. Much more. We're standing by for the first results. The first projections. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:35:33] BLITZER: We're getting closer to the top of the hour and our first chance at projecting winners on this critical night of voting. That's when the polls close in Georgia, Virginia, and Vermont. Those states will give us an early clue about whether the front-runners will steam roll through Super Tuesday or be slowed down.

Let's go back to John King. Let's talk about the Democrats' delegates right now. What, 865, I believe; 865 Democratic delegates are at stake tonight.

KING: And Democratic rules are very proportional so you can lose, but if you're close you still get a bunch of delegates. Let's start where we are. These are pledged delegates. I'll get to the super delegates in a moment.

Coming into tonight, 95 for Hillary Clinton, 65 for Bernie Sanders. Obviously, she has momentum on her side, having won three of the first four contests. So let's put the Super Tuesday states on the board. Unlikely, but if Hillary Clinton were to sweep tonight, she would pull ahead something like that. But we do expect Bernie Sanders to win his home state, for example, Bernie Sanders' first as New Hampshire -- let me come back. I got to switch that one back. Bernie Sanders wins that one. Let's come over to Vermont. Bernie Sanders wins this one here. His home state.

Other targets for Bernie Sanders tonight, they think they can do well in Minnesota. So let's, for the sake of argument, play out the hypothetical. If Sanders wins targets states tonight, that would include Colorado, as well. The Clinton campaign is competing in Oklahoma.

For the sake of argument, let's say that Bernie Sanders wins his target states but just his target states. Hillary Clinton then starts to pull away. But again, because of the proportional rules, this is assuming she wins 60-40 across the South, 55-45 in the other places. Bernie Sanders stays close.

But there's this. Hillary Clinton already has a very healthy lead because of the Democratic super delegates. If you add in her super delegates, she's nearly -- she could be nearly to the halfway mark by the end of tonight to the Democratic nomination with Senator Sanders only 21 super delegates to her 468. Those are the elected and appointed Democrats who get a vote at the convention.

So the question is, is there any place else on the map tonight that Senator Sanders can make the point? One of the states that's hotly contested is Massachusetts. But again, let's assume Sanders wins Massachusetts. If he does, if he wins a close race, he gets a few more delegates, but it's not much of a difference.

So this is what the Clinton campaign hopes at the end of the night. They want to say, "Look, we win where you have African-Americans and Latinos. We're winning the big states. You're essentially winning caucuses in New England. And look at this map, Senator Sanders."

That's what they hope for in the Clinton campaign, to be able to end the night somewhere approaching the halfway mark with Bernie Sanders way back here for, A, psychologically to say, "You're a message candidate. You're a protest candidate. The math says you can't catch up." They're hoping, essentially, he turns it down. They know he's not -- turns the volume down and the heat down. They know he's not getting out of the race. But this is what they hope for.

And if you play it out one more step through the end of March, the Clinton campaign is hoping by the end of March, it looks something like this. But Bernie Sanders will tell you, "We're going to fight in Michigan. We're going to fight in Ohio." We're going to fight in some of these other industrial states, where the demographics do shift back in Senator Sanders' favor.

But the Clinton campaign hoping, Wolf, to get a lot of momentum tonight to carry it through the rest of march, and they want inevitability to be the conversation, if not tonight, within a week or two.

BLITZER: But he has -- people are making clear they have the money. They' raised $42 million in February alone and wants to get that message out. He feels that's important. The best way to do it is continue to have debates, continue to be out there campaigning.

KING: There's no question he's in the race to stay, not just for weeks but for months, and maybe all the way to the convention, without a doubt. And like I said when you get later down the road, there are some states where the demographics and the economy are more to his liking. He's not leading in those states at the moment, but there are certainly some places where, if he recaptures some momentum, he can do that. And a few wins tonight might help him in those places.

Again, the Clinton campaign hopes it looks like this by the end of March. That's overwhelming. But if you have a state like Ohio, for example, if you switch that one, Sanders could pull that off. You have a state like Michigan. If Sanders could change that one back, he starts to inch up some.

The super delegates give her a huge advantage: 468 delegates in your back pocket is pretty good when the other guy's only got 21. So even if he's competing on election nights for the pledge delegates, and taking advantage of the proportional Democratic rules, which are generous to the second-place challenger, even if that happens, as long as she keeps winning, she'll keep these super delegates. They can switch their minds if they want.

But if she keeps winning, she'll keep this in her back pocket. And that's a pretty nice gift.

BLITZER: A huge advantage she starts off with. Anderson, over to you.

COOPER: Yes, Wolf, thanks.

Let's talk to our reporters and analysts. I mean, assuming Hillary Clinton has a good night tonight -- and we just saw John look at -- run the numbers -- how does the race change for the Democrats moving forward? I mean, does Bernie Sanders continue to try to sort of show the differences between them? Does he somehow pivot to Donald Trump, the Republicans?

AXELROD: Well, there will be -- I think Trump actually helps Hillary Clinton in this regard. If there is an assumption that Trump's going to be the nominee, I think it's going to raise anxiety among a lot of Democrats.

COOPER: You think it could drive turnout for Democrats and raise that?

[18:40:02] AXELROD: Yes. But I think it will raise anxiety in terms of not having too much of a squabble among Democrats. So no one, I think -- there may be some who try and push Bernie Sanders out of the race if she has a good night tonight and into March.

I don't think he's going to go, I don't think they should try and push him out, honestly. I think that will create a backlash. But there will be a conversation of what the tone of the race should be and just how rough Democrats want it to be, knowing what they have coming down the road.

COOPER: How does that work, though? Does -- who has that conversation? I mean, is that just a conversation that the DNC has or does somebody try to approach Sanders?

AXELROD: I told you I would have to...

COOPER: OK.

BORGER: Maybe -- maybe the president of the United States has that conversation.

AXELROD: Well, I think that there will be -- yes, the president certainly could have influence on -- on this, but look, I think that Bernie Sanders, himself, yes, he's been tough lately, but he hasn't been nearly as tough as he could have been throughout this race. I think he has some sense of what's at stake here. So we'll see what judgments he makes.

BORGER: First of all, Bernie Sanders also raised last month $42 million.

COOPER: Huge amount.

BORGER: He has a lot of money. There's no reason for Bernie Sanders to go anywhere. Hillary Clinton, herself, if you recall in 2008, stayed in until June?

AXELROD: Yes.

BORGER: Yes.

AXELROD: But he has a specific -- he didn't start off, in my view, thinking that he was going to be the Democratic nominee.

BORGER: Exactly. He thought he was...

AXELROD: He started off to try and drive a message and drive the party.

BORGER: And he has done that.

AXELROD: and he has done that, and he will continue to do that.

BORGER: And this is how he has influenced this race so tremendously. He's influenced Hillary Clinton tremendously. The conversation has changed tremendously.

COOPER: There's no doubt about it. I mean, she's moved to the left in -- on a number of issues.

BORGER: And he's going to continue to do that, and that is something, perhaps, that Republicans could honestly take advantage of to a...

COOPER: Also, him staying in the race, Michael, it makes the -- the argument is, besides what they have said, is that also, he continues to draw enthusiastic crowds. He continues to kind of raise enthusiasm on the Democratic side. And also, perhaps, even makes her a better candidate.

And Paul Begala made the points days ago that he has already made her a better candidate, and that will probably continue.

SMERCONISH: I believe that. I think he provides a necessary foil for her, and I think that there are limits to how far he's willing to go.

I'm sure Senator Sanders wishes to be president of the United States. I also get the impression that he's a realist, and he's defined the boundaries beyond which he will not go to score additional points.

I mean, last week, a federal judge appointed by her husband, meaning President Bill Clinton, said there was a reasonable suspicion that the public right to know had been thwarted through the whole, quote, "damn e-mail controversy," and he never would go there. If he had gone there, he could have -- he could have exploited some of the honesty issues that she has that are reflected in these numbers.

HENDERSON: And I think we saw last week in his speech, after he got walloped in South Carolina, he focused mostly on Donald Trump in the end. He kind of presented the Democratic Party as the party of real American values, and Trump as something else, outside of where America should be. He lightly criticized Hillary Clinton around the transcripts, but I think you'll see a candidate that's a little different going forward.

AXELROD: Let me say, he has made her a better candidate, I have no doubt about it. At some point she's probably going to decide she's a good enough candidate. It's time for him to move on.

COOPER: Question, of course, will Super Tuesday live up to the hype for Donald Trump and for Hillary Clinton? We're going to learn the first winners of the night right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:47:48] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're closing in on the first Super Tuesday results right at the top of the hour. That's when the polls close in Georgia, Virginia, and Vermont. Here's what to look for just minutes from now.

In the Republican race, it's the first test of whether Donald Trump will have a -- be a big winner tonight, Virginia and Vermont could be competitive.

For the Democrats, Hillary Clinton wants to get out of the gate with wins in Georgia and Virginia. Bernie Sanders is counting on his home state of Vermont to score his first Super Tuesday win.

Let's go back to Jake -- Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Wolf.

You know, two of the things we're looking for today have to do with turnout and have to do with new voters. And those are things that the Trump campaign has been very focused on.

Sara Murray is in Palm Beach, Florida, with the Trump campaign.

What do they have to say about turnout and new voters and identifying those new voters?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: That's exactly right, Jake. There are a couple things the Trump campaign tells me they're going to be looking for here in Mar-A-Lago tonight before Trump takes the stage for his press conference in that white and gold room. I believe you guys are seeing.

But a couple things they're going to be looking for are big turnout as well as these open primaries that they really think can help them. Remember, Donald Trump is building a coalition that's not just traditional Republican voters. It's low propensity voters, disaffected voters, new voters.

And they really feel good in Georgia, that's one of the early states we'll hear from. That's a place where there's an open primary and operatives there have sort of given volunteers free rein, saying if you want to talk to voters at a beer fest, do it there, talk to voters at gun shows, bring in anyone you can.

Now, they say that they're organized in all 159 counties in Georgia, which is a pretty impressive organization for a campaign that's been knocked on that a little bit and the reason they're organized like that is because they want to walk away from Georgia not just with the win but with as many delegates as possible -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Sara Murray at Trump headquarters.

Donald Trump knocked for not having a good ground game in Iowa, but since then, his campaign manager said they learned the lesson.

Now, let's go to Sanders campaign headquarters in Essex Junction, Vermont, where we find our own Brianna Keilar.

Brianna, you spoke with Senator Bernie Sanders' wife earlier. What did she have to say? BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's

right. She had a rare on the record gaggle on the senator's plane last night, something she very rarely does.

[18:50:01] What she said was that to get a sense of where the campaign is looking tonight, she said this is a really rough map for them, admittedly, sort of managing expectations.

But she said really the national media has been paying that much attention to Sanders, except beginning earlier on this year. And because of that, she feels that people have not really had a long enough time to get to know Bernie Sanders specifically in the South, where we've seen so many voters go to the polls today.

She also goes on that she's hopeful that they will be able to split votes and split delegates. Of course, that would be quite a triumph if Bernie Sanders were able to win those five states that he is really aiming for.

And I know you can tell it's very loud here, Jake. It's actually Ben Folds from Ben Folds Five playing for the crowd here at a victory party.

But Jane Sanders pushing back on questions about what it would take for her husband to step out of the race. She said he has a lot of support. He may not have a majority of support, but we won't even know until tonight if he does. So, they're going to keep going -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. A lot of questions to be answered this evening when it comes to Bernie Sanders.

But now let's go to Sanders' opponent, Hillary Clinton. She's in Miami. And that's where we find our own Jeff Zeleny.

And, Jeff, Florida's not even voting today. They don't even vote for two weeks. But Clinton's there.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: She is here, Jake. But they actually are voting today.

Now, the primary is not today, but there's early voting in Florida, and that explains why there's a very giant sign behind me on the wall here that says "vote early".

The reality is the Clinton campaign is hoping to bank on votes at this point for the next two weeks going forward to win the Florida primary. It's also very much a dual track strategy, emblematic of what this Clinton campaign is trying to do going forward. They have at least one eye on the general election as well.

And if Donald Trump should become the Republican nominee, which is what most people inside the Clinton campaign believe, they believe that Florida will be complicated by Donald Trump. In fact, they're not sure how it would change the equation. But they know it would change the equation. So they have one eye on the general election and one adviser told me

there's no better place to be in ground zero of politics than in Florida. That's why Hillary Clinton is here tonight -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Jeff Zeleny in Miami with the Clinton campaign.

And, Dana, I guess everybody expects that the front-runner is Donald Trump, and Hillary Clinton will do well this evening. But the question is, how well? Will their opponents have any momentum tomorrow?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And in conversations with the Cruz campaign and with the Rubio campaign earlier today, it was amazing to hear how each camp is trying to gain each other out in the race for second place, most importantly mathematically, but also psychologically, and how each of them gains out the system.

But I think what both Sara and Jeff were talking about, in the words of the late great Tim Russert, "Florida, Florida, Florida", we're obviously focused on tonight because it is so big. Half of the delegates needed to win will be awarded. The fact that so many of these candidates are in Florida, tells you a lot about where they think that this can whole campaign on aisle will really be broken.

TAPPER: All right, Dana. Let's bring in David Chalian, who's looking at exit polls for us.

David, what more can you tell us about the voters who turned out?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: We're looking here on the Republican side, Jake. And as you know, one of the bloodlines sort of coursing through the veins of the Republican voters this primary season has been this sense of betrayal with Republican Party leaders, leaders of their own party.

Take a look how this is playing across some key states tonight. In Georgia, 58 percent of the Republican primary voters tonight say that they have feel betrayed by their own party's politicians, 38 percent say they haven't. Take a look at Alabama. That's another state that has a high percentage of betrayal, 57 percent of Republican primary voters in Alabama feel betrayed. I would imagine that's good news to the Trump campaign which has been sort of playing on that sense of betrayal by the establishment politicians.

Virginia is a slightly different story. Take a look here, 52 percent, slightly lower number, but still a majority, feeling betrayed by their own party's politicians -- 44 percent say they have not been.

So, this is one of the things we're critical states because the stronger that accepts of betrayal, one might imagine, if past performance is sort of a preview to what we might see tonight, one might imagine those will be stronger states for Donald Trump.

TAPPER: All right, David, that's interesting. Dana, what's so fascinating, we expect Republican Party voters in

Alabama and Georgia and Virginia to have negative views of Barack Obama, negative views of minority leader Nancy Pelosi. What we don't expect is that they will feel betrayed by their own leaders, their own Republican Party leaders.

BASH: That's true. You know, I talked to lots of Republicans today who have run campaigns, particularly in the Senate and the House over the past several cycles, who have said, where has everybody been? They don't understand this is happening.

[18:55:01] I mean, look at what happened in Mississippi for example. Thad Cochran ended up winning his primary, but barely. The entire Republican establishment around the country had to come in and get the Democratic support.

So, it's been going on. I talked to one official who said, you know, it's almost as if we've forgotten how to run campaigns.

TAPPER: Almost, almost.

Anderson, hell hath no fury like a voter scorned.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: I think we're going to see a lot of that tonight.

I mean, S.E. Cupp, what are you expecting? I mean, we hear the sense of betrayal you see in these exit polls. A lot of anger and dissatisfaction, virtually all of the voters on the Republican side angry or dissatisfied.

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. I think the lesson we'll probably learn tonight as it looks like Trump is poised to do very well, is that the brand a lot of voter blocs to maintain this year has really been over-estimated.

Whether that's evangelicals, blue collar workers, voter blocs that Republicans traditionally get -- yes, they're not leaving to go to the Democratic Party. I think also if Donald Trump does really well, completely repudiating the Republican apparatus. That's our party leaders, our party elders, our moderates, our strict constitutional conservatives -- I mean, across the board.

None of them are good enough if Trump pulls out the win that we expect.

COOPER: Van, we haven't heard from you tonight.

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think there's a rebellion in the Democratic Party. It seems like it's on the path to being defeated. The question is, will the rebels stay in the party?

There's rebellion in the Republican Party. It looks like the rebels are going to win. Will the establishment stay in that party?

So, we literally are facing different outcomes with the same phenomenon in the different parties. I think what we don't know about the Sanders uncertainty, we don't know its fate, we don't know it's character. Is this just a whites-only, Yankee-only, young people-only phenomenon? Or will you see today, is it a little bit more promising than that? That's what I'm looking for tonight.

COOPER: It is interesting, Kayleigh. I mean, so much of this was supposed to be a big night for Ted Cruz months and months ago. Now, the story is really Donald Trump.

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, TRUMP SUPPORTER: Exactly. It should be Donald Trump. Look, this started, I think people had a big wakeup call June 14th, 2014, when Eric Cantor lost the election, the Republican majority leader to a no-name professor David Brat. That rocked the political world. No one saw that coming.

But the voters did. The voters had this anger, and it was this groundswell of anger that rose up and dethroned Eric Cantor. And that should have been the indicator that this was not Jeb Bush's year, that this is not Marco Rubio's year. That this was an outsider here.

That's what we're seeing now is what transpired that day, coming to right now.

TAPPER: Paul, very briefly?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The total cultural shift in the two parties. Republicans used to be orderly and hierarchical. Like the neighborhood party, the Republicans showed up on time, they left with their own spouse. They were like completely predictable people.

And they always nominate the oldest white guy in line. Now, it's chaos. And I couldn't be happier.

(LAUGHTER)

COOPER: Let's go back to Wolf -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Anderson, we're only, what, two minutes away or so from the first projections, the results we're getting.

John, the polls are going to be closing in Georgia, Vermont and Virginia.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, let's take some of things we'll be looking for. Let's start down in Georgia. I'm going to go back to the 2008 race on the Republican side. We'll start with the Republicans.

You see the gold here. This is Mike Huckabee in 2008. Can Ted Cruz win in the rural evangelical areas with Tea Party voters? Can Ted Cruz make a strong showing in Georgia?

This is the Atlanta suburbs up here, you saw Mitt Romney did well there in 2008. John McCain won where you have military installations and mainstream Republicans. A fairly tough split in 2008. Will we get that tonight? Will Ted Cruz to perform while he has to be in the middle? We'll watch Rubio and Trump fight for these mainstream Republicans there.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton doesn't like this map, 66 percent to 31 percent. She lost of the then senator Obama won the African-American vote in Georgia overwhelmingly. Secretary Clinton trying to do that tonight in Georgia as she did in South Carolina.

Let's go back up to the state of Virginia. This is a swing state in presidential politics. Let's go back to 2008 as we look at it.

On the Democratic side, Barack Obama not only won the African-American vote in Virginia, in Richmond, Norfolk, they also won a lot of white, Latino, and African-American populations in the Washington suburbs. Hillary Clinton won in 2008 here in these rural areas. Tonight, she wants to win the Obama map in the state of Virginia to make a statement. A lot of delegates at stake there.

On the Republican side, 2008, this could be a fascinating race. Again, 2008, this is Mike Huckabee, small, rural evangelical counties. Jerry Falwell's Liberty University out here. Pat Robinson's base of operations over here in the southern eastern part of the state.

So, you have evangelical community available to Ted Cruz. But Donald Trump has been making big inroads with that community. Can Donald Trump continue to stymie, to frustrate Ted Cruz in what should be his base?

And the Washington, D.C., suburbs up here, right up in the northern area. If Marco Rubio pulls off a surprise tonight, it will be right here in the suburbs, Wolf. We'll keep an eye on those.

BLITZER: All right. We're only a few seconds away from the top of the hour right now. Three states that are closing. We're going to be able to make our first projections in this race for the White House, critically important night. It's Super Tuesday.