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Dems Trade Sharp Jabs Ahead of Tonight's CNN Debate. Aired 6:30-7p ET

Aired April 14, 2016 - 18:30   ET


RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: The next immediate part of the race is tough for Bernie Sanders, because it's closed primaries where only Democrats can vote, and they tend to be primaries not only closed but with a lot of African-American voters. And those two things have been the toughest for him. So the next ten days is a very difficult period for him.

[18:30:16] But then, kind of the worm turns again, and you look in May, and you're back to a lot of states where he could do well. The grooves are cut pretty deep, Wolf. It's hard for either of them to move very far from the patterns of support we've seen. But the ingredients are there to take this all the way to the end.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: He makes a good point. On Tuesday is New York, but then the following Tuesday you've got Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Maryland.


BLITZER: You've got states, potentially, where she could do really well.

BORGER: Well, and this is why Brian Fallon, who is Hillary Clinton's communications director, said to you earlier that they believe that mathematically that they should have this pretty much wrapped up by the end -- by the end of April.

Now what does that mean? Who knows, because Bernie Sanders is not going to stop running. Just like Hillary Clinton didn't stop running in 2008. Bernie Sanders has a lot of money. You saw the numbers of people out there the other night. You saw his average donation is $27.


BORGER: And so these people are -- who are his supporters are passionate, and they're not going to stop giving.

The worry I would have, if I were Clinton is that -- that polls show that Sanders' supporters are not, you know, so easily translatable. And she's got to figure out a way to fight with Bernie Sanders on that stage tonight without alienating those people who are so passionate.

BLITZER: She's going to need them if she gets the nomination. BORGER: Absolutely. Absolutely.

BLITZER: If Bernie Sanders on Tuesday were to stun everyone and actually win in New York, a very narrow win, but that would be an enormous win.

HENDERSON: It would be a huge political upset. And even when he decided to really put stakes down in New York, it was something of a surprise, because this is obviously Hillary Clinton's home state. It looks like the polls have been pretty consistent over the last couple of weeks: 12, 14, 10 points or so with Hillary Clinton getting that edge.

And I also think Bernie Sanders has had something of a tough go of it recently. He kind of slipped up in calling her unqualified, had to kind of walk that back. We'll see what's he does with that tonight. And it wasn't his fault, but the surrogate at that big rally talking about corporate whores. That didn't help him either.

BLITZER: How much will that hurt the campaign? Because Bernie Sanders has obviously apologized for that.


BLITZER: Dr. Song has said he regrets making corporate Democratic whores a reference, because it was coming out of a sentence in which he was very critical of Hillary Clinton. He says he wasn't referring to her specifically, but presumably, that could hurt.

HENDERSON: I think so. And one of the things you see is the two sides really hardening, in some ways, their antipathy towards each other. The supporters of the pro-Clinton folks and the pro-Sanders folks. And I think that just feeds into it. And I think, as Gloria said, the onus going forward, if Sanders doesn't win, is going to be on Hillary Clinton, how to reach out to those voters.

BLITZER: Do you think for women voters, do you think that reference, "corporate Democratic whores"...

BORGER: Yes, I think it was a bad reference. I think it was apologized. Brian Fallon accepted the apology when you asked him about it earlier.

BLITZER: He said the campaign is ready to move on.

BORGER: So I think -- you know, it doesn't -- doesn't help either Hillary or Bernie to keep talking about it. So I think they're both -- I think, you know, they're both going to drop it.

BROWNSTEIN: Just back to Nia's point from a moment ago, you people talk about momentum in the race. I think demography trumps momentum. I mean, there are certain kinds of states that are better for Bernie Sanders that tend to be more white, fewer African-Americans, and tend to be open, where independents can participate.

BORGER: Right. BROWNSTEIN: There are states that are better for Hillary Clinton that tend to be closed, allowing only Democrats to participate, who she's winning Democrats almost everywhere, and also have larger African- American populations.

The way you change the dynamic of the race is to break serve.

BORGER: Right.

BROWNSTEIN: You win some place where you're not supposed to win.


BROWNSTEIN: And if everybody holds serve the rest of the way, even if Bernie Sanders gets over the top in California, which I think is possible, he loses. He does well, but he loses. He is the one who has to break serve somewhere. Pennsylvania, New Jersey, probably several somewheres in order to..,.

BLITZER: These are closed contests; only registered Democrats can vote.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: And they're primaries; they're not caucuses.

BORGER: Right. And he does well -- so well with independent voters, you know. She does well with Democrats.


BORGER: And you can't win the Democratic nomination unless you start doing well with Democratic voters.

BROWNSTEIN: The primaries he's won have tended to be open primaries.

BORGER: Exactly.

BROWNSTEIN: Wisconsin, Michigan, New Hampshire, et cetera. Caucuses and open primaries have been his strength. Now, he's looking at closed primaries in the northeast with the added hurdle of a big African-American population, which he's struggled to reach.

HENDERSON: And you saw him trying to make inroads to that -- to that community, going before Al Sharpton's group, the National Action Network, but we'll see how that plays in the coming days.

BLITZER: You heard Ben Jealous, the former president of the NAACP, say he is making some inroads, but he's got to make a lot more.

HENDERSON: Yes. It's like 30 percent.

BROWNSTEIN: Right. He's done better in the Midwest and the North than the South. But it's still two to one.

BORGER: Democrats are so democratic that the -- the delegates are distributed proportionally. So even if you don't win, you still get an "A" for effort. Right?

[18:35:05] And so what Ron was saying, Ron's point is that Bernie Sanders needs to win somewhere by a large margin if he's going to make any dent in the math without talking about super delegates. Let's just talk about delegates. And that hasn't happened.

BLITZER: She presumably will continue to go after him. Supposedly, he struggled with that "New York Daily News" editorial board interview. Didn't offer specifics on his core issues: "How are you going to break up the banks? What are you going to do with that?" I assume he's got his -- his talking points ready to go?

BROWNSTEIN: You've got to -- you've got to think so. That was -- that was a tough moment for him. And you know, we talked about before. This is one of the first -- this may be the first state where he's had a chance to dig in in one place with nothing else on the calendar, and he hasn't improved his vote. I mean, most places where he's gone and he's been able to spend that huge amount, you know, that he's been raising to hold those incredibly large rallies, he's gained. But in New York he hasn't.

And as Nia was saying, he's had more stumbles than he's had elsewhere between the Daily News editorial, calling her unqualified, what happened last night. It's got to be enormously frustrating for him coming back decades after leaving New York, to have that's rally, one of the highlights of your life, I think, politically...


BORGER: Right.

BROWNSTEIN: ... and the next day we're talking about somebody who talked, you know, an hour and a half before you were on stage. And that's -- you know, that's just the reality of politics.

BORGER: You know, and she's a popular former senator, you know...

BLITZER: Twice elected.

BORGER: ... in New York. So -- twice elected. So this is her home turf. She lives in Chappaqua, New York. Bernie Sanders may have been, you know, born here, but he's a senator from Vermont. And so, you know, I think Hillary Clinton comes in with a head of steam. And she hasn't lost -- she just hasn't lost it.

BROWNSTEIN: Having said all that, the fact that he's now ascended in polling to essentially be even with her in national polls...

BLITZER: Among Democrats.

BROWNSTEIN: Broadly. Democrats and independents. Democratic-leaning independents. It's remarkable. It does give him a stronger base from which to contest all of these states. And when you get into may, you get to places like Kentucky, West Virginia, Oregon, and they're probably going to be very good. Indiana looks like a place where it's kind of even. There may be a real clash of strengths. But the problem again is if that -- if the distribution goes the way

it's been going, and she holds those four big states or even three of them...

BORGER: Right.

BROWNSTEIN: ... New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey. Even if he wins California, that's probably not going to be enough.

HENDERSON: Yes. I mean, and they keep saying that they feel like Hillary Clinton isn't going to have the necessary delegates going in. They clearly won't either. You know, super delegates at some point will come into play. And who has the...

BORGER: But you're not going to convince a super delegate to change...

BLITZER: All right.

BORGER: ... his mind unless you are...

BROWNSTEIN: And super delegates are 20 percent of the total. The idea that you should be able to win without them means you have to win 60 percent of everything else.

BORGER: Exactly.

BROWNSTEIN: That's -- that's a pretty high bar to set.

BLITZER: The stakes are enormous tonight, shall we say?

BORGER: Good luck, Wolf.

BLITZER: To the presidential...


BLITZER: All right, guys. Stand by. Much more from Brooklyn right after this.


[18:42:45] BLITZER: They've been trading sharp jabs all week campaigning in New York. And now, they're getting ready to come here. The Duggal Greenhouse at the Brooklyn Navy Yard for the CNN Democratic presidential debate. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, they have been preparing to brawl, potentially, here in Brooklyn tonight.

Let's get some analysis, what's going on. Joining us, our senior political analyst, Ron Brownstein. He's still back with us, along with CNN political commentators Donna Brazile and S.E. Cupp.

It's been a combative week, Donna, for these two candidates. How heated do you think it could get tonight?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, you know, debates are about moments. And I'm sure that Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders are preparing for those moments where they can show what I call the deepest contrasts. But the vast majority of Democrats would like to see that our candidates continue to conduct themselves with civility. So I don't think that they will become too aggressive, but they will get their points across.

BLITZER: He had a huge crowd at Washington Square Park here in New York last night. Young people showing up. A lot of enthusiasm. But the math isn't there. It's not that easy for him right now. He needs, what, at least 56 percent of the remaining delegates in order to capture the nomination?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes. It was great. First of all, he took the "A" train to the event lasts night for the first time in 24 years; take the subway to a presidential primary in New York.

BLITZER: Did he have trouble getting in?

BROWNSTEIN: No, no. Since 1992. The last time they really had a New York primary that mattered full-scale was Bill Clinton against Jerry Brown, who also had a big rally there. Barack Obama had a big rally there in 2008.

Look, Sanders has a strong coalition that he has put together. He has expanded well from beyond where he started. He started as that classic one-track candidate: depending on young people, depending on Volvo liberals, white-collar whites. He's competitive now with blue- collar white voters, and that has served him well in the Midwest. It's going to serve him again in the Midwest: in Indiana, Kentucky and West Virginia.

The problem he's got is he's struggled with Democrats, and he's continuing to struggle with African-Americans. And New York and the states that's follow next week -- Pennsylvania, Maryland, in particular -- are states where those voters dominate. And he has to get over that hill if he is going to catch her and truly threaten her for the nomination.

BLITZER: Do you think, S.E. -- you know, we've heard him complaining about the Democratic nominating process in recent days. Jane Sanders, his wife, has been complaining about it. Do you think we're going to hear him go after the Democratic establishment tonight?

[18:45:01] S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't think so. You're in a Democratic debate. There are Democrats in the audience. This is a Democratic state.

I think he's going to play nice with Democrats. I also think he knows that having a process debate at a debate isn't really helpful.

I think Bernie is going to spend tonight defending his record and defending his integrity, which have both been impugned by the Hillary camp over the past few weeks, calling him out on gun control and calling him out on all kinds of measures. I think he's going to want to hammer home defending his record in Congress and his character. BRAZILE: The core of his message has been about income inequality and

the system is rigged against ordinary people. This is an opportunity for Bernie Sanders who grew up in this neighborhood, I'm not from New York, but I'm sure it's somewhere around here to say, I'm home. But here's why I want to bring -- you know, I just think this is a very emotional moment for him. He's home.

But Hillary has represented this state. She's been elected twice to the United States Senate and, of course, she won the primary in 2008. She's someone who can say, I've taken on Wall Street. I've taken on the big banks. So, I think it's going to be a very spirited debate.

But remember, civility, civility, civility. We're Democrats. We're not going to try --

BLITZER: I assume, Ron, they'll both be personal in talking about New York. I'm sure he will say something along the lines, from Brooklyn. I grew up here. Rent control apartment. We didn't have any money.

You know, the thought that I'm even here --

BROWNSTEIN: It was a very powerful moment last night. Him and his wife left here as children and to return to Washington Square Park with that many people was -- and correct something I says before. Having talks to a real expert. Superdelegates are only 15 percent, not 20 percent of the total.

I don't think they'll talk about that tonight, but I think the end game between Sanders and Clinton will involve some debate about the future role of superdelegates in the Democratic primary process.

BRAZILE: We've had that debate many, many times. In 2009, we had it after President Obama. As a superdelegate, Wolf, I have to tell you, we've never overturned the will of the voters, overturned the will of the people.

It's like making gumbo. There's a roux and all the ingredients. We're the roux, but we're not the ingredients. We're 14.8 percent and by the way, we don't have any interest --

BROWNSTEIN: You think it will go down after this election?

BRAZILE: It's going down before. It will probably go down again.

CUPP: That smart conversation is what you will not hear from the candidates, just because it's so inside and it's not what either of them want to spend their precious moments on that stage talking about, right?

BRAZILE: Yes. I mean, Bernie Sanders has received something like 42 percent of the raw vote but 46 percent of the actual delegates. And so, the Republicans may enjoy talking about rules but the Democrats, you want to talk about the rules that are rigged against the people who are trying to get jobs to take care of their families, we're not going to -- BLITZER: But, Donna, you are a superdelegate, a vice chair of the

DNC. Let's say neither of these candidates shows up in Philadelphia in July with enough pledge delegates on the first round to get it. Her firewall, are those 700-plus superdelegates. A lot of them -- many more of them will want her to be the Democratic nominee, thinking she has a better chance of winning the presidency than Bernie Sanders might have.

BRAZILE: Well, first of all, you can't separate the supers from the pledge delegates because we're all part of the system. The difference is a pledge delegate going in and they have to pledge on the first ballot to support the candidate they elected to help in a primary or caucus. Supers are unpledged until we get to the --

BLITZER: But these are party leaders, these elected officials.

BRAZILE: You tell the Mayor Reed of Atlanta, you tell Mayor Bowser of D.C., you tell these mayors and these members of Congress that their votes and there voices do not matter in the Democratic Party. And I can guarantee you, they will not like that.

BROWNSTEIN: The challenge Sanders faced is the superdelegates were created as a firewall against the kind of candidacy he represents. I mean, they grew out of the frustration of Democrats over George McGovern in '72, Jimmy Carter in '76 and '80, they came out of that 1980 campaign, and the idea was the process was not producing nominees who could either win or govern. They wanted someone more from the heart of the party. Thirty years later, I do think there's going to be debate about whether they have too much influence.

But in fairness to Hillary Clinton, you know, if it's only 85 percent of the delegates are pledge, you have to win close to 60 percent of those to win the majority just by map on the pledge delegates alone. It's unrealistic if you haven't reached the majority in pledge delegates, you're not the real front-runner.

BLITZER: But a superdelegate's vote on the convention floor, S.E., is equal to a pledge delegate's vote on the convention floor. And these elected officials, party establishment, looking ahead to November, presumably, they're going to think, maybe I'm wrong, they're going to say themselves, you know, Hillary Clinton has a better chance of beating whoever the Republican nominee is than Bernie Sanders might have.

[18:50:01] CUPP: Well, yes. And you want people to think about electability. That should be a priority. And one of the frustrations in my party is that it seems as though there are a lot of voters who don't seem to think electability is a priority, and that's been a frustration.

BLITZER: Having said that, though, Donna, you've looked closely at the polls, and the hypothetical matchups, Bernie Sanders does remarkably well against these Republican candidates, sometimes even better than Hillary Clinton.

BROWNSTEIN: In fairness, the case has not been defined against him or against John Kasich. I mean, the case against Bernie Sanders from the Republicans would be his agenda raises federal spending by 40 percent overnight. I think it's hard to know what to make of those numbers for him in the general election.

Look, but there's no question he has built a big, broad coalition within the Democratic Party. He's advanced well beyond where he started and however this ends, if Hillary Clinton is the nominee, she has to figure out how to deal with it, in particular his overwhelming advantage with young people which exceeds even President Obama's. He's won over 70 percent of voters under 30, even President Obama only won 58 percent in the '08 primary.

BLITZER: You think we're going to hear the names Donald Trump, Ted Cruz mentioned tonight?

CUPP: I absolutely do.


CUPP: These are both candidates who are not only trying to draw distinctions between themselves, but repeatedly to draw distinctions between them and the Republicans. Democrats, of course, will say the Republicans, even though there is great differences between a Ted Cruz and a John Kasich.

You're going to hear a lot about our candidates and the fights that we're having. Some of those fights are deeply embarrassing to a lot of us conservatives. I would be disappointed if they didn't exploit those weaknesses.

BRAZILE: Punishing women alone, I guarantee, will take up a lot of the time. Wolf, good luck tonight. You've got a big job ahead. This is the night Democratic debate, and thank you for hosting it.

BLITZER: Thank you very much.

BROWNSTEIN: Two SUNY alum. We have to call it.


BLITZER: University of New York, Buffalo, State University Binghamton --

BRAZILE: I'm in a New York state of mind.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, absolutely.

BLITZER: All right, guys, thank you.

We have much more coverage coming up. We're live here in New York's Brooklyn Navy Yard, the site of tonight's CNN Democratic presidential debate. We'll be right back.


[18:56:48] BLITZER: We're back in Brooklyn, getting ready for the Democratic presidential debate.

Joining us now, Luis Miranda. He's the DNC communications director.

Lots at stake for these two candidates, but a lot is at stake for the Democratic Party, Luis, as well. What are you looking for?


And we obviously expected the candidates are going to have an exciting debate. I think we're down the stretch. We want the candidates to show that they want this because the voters are going to recognize that. For us, this has been an actual good process to have an extended primary because people are more engaged. We're actually seeing that Hillary Clinton has more votes than Donald Trump. Bernie Sanders has more votes than Ted Cruz and John Kasich.

So, we want them to do what they've been doing, which is to be substantive, to be serious, and to show that they're the ones that have the temperament and the judgment to lead. And that's itself a good frustrate, especially right now when Republicans are refusing to debate. We're here at a Democratic debate.

BLITZER: You want them to debate. You want Democratic voters out there whether in New York this coming Tuesday or Pennsylvania and Maryland, Connecticut a week from Tuesday, you want the voters to have a better knowledge of where they agree or disagree. So, if it gets a little heated, you're not going to be upset about that?

MIRANDA: Not at all. I think it needs to be a little heated because it's down the stretch and voters need to know that the candidates want this, and they want to represent them in the White House and fight for them. And so, they've got to have that passion.

But at the same time, we want them to focus on the bigger picture too. They have to do both. They have to draw those differences, but they have to be able to remind voters that there's a bigger picture and of that contrast with the Republicans.

Just today, we saw something very good, which is that both campaigns are expressing interest in a lawsuit that the Democratic National Committee filed jointly with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee over the voting irregularities in Arizona. It's a stronger reminder that there's a bigger picture and bigger issues that we're going to have to get together on once we get to the general election.

BLITZER: What do you say to Bernie Sanders who says this process that the Democrats organize early on distorts the system? Jane Sanders, his wife, saying it should be one person, one vote. She says it's not really democratic. They want major changes.

Is the Democratic Party open to that?

MIRANDA: The Democratic Party is always open to that and there have been major changes. If you look at 2008 versus now for example, after 2008, there was a commissioner that recommended and reduced the number of what you guys call superdelegates, the unpledged delegates went from 20 percent to 15 percent. So, 85 percent of the delegates going into this convention are going to be people who are determined by the voters in primaries and caucuses.

BLITZER: It's still 700-plus superdelegates. And these are party leaders, elected officials. They will have an enormous say presumably.

MIRANDA: But there's more than 4,000 delegates at the convention and only 15 percent are superdelegates. And so, the reality is, is that the primaries and caucuses make the biggest difference. The voters going out and participating is by far the biggest factor.

Ands so, we do think it's important to reiterate that. And look, superdelegates, I think media organizations make a mistake when they report the results and throw in the superdelegates, because anything that says what a superdelegate is going to do today is an informal poll. They're going to change their minds tomorrow, the next day, certainly leading up to the convention. It's very possible. We saw it in 08. We could see it again.

BLITZER: All right. Luis Miranda, the DNC communications director, Democratic National Committee, you'll be watching very closely. You'll be with the press in the spin room I'm sure.


BLITZER: It will be exciting for all.

I'm getting ready myself. I'll be back in two hours to moderate this Democratic presidential debate, very, very special night, historic in a sense (ph). Stay with us for continuing coverage.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.