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Clinton, Trump Set for Final Debate; Trump Facing Tough Odds and Tougher Polling; Interview with Boris Epshteyn; The Question of Handshakes. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired October 19, 2016 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: third and long. Donald Trump facing tough odds and tougher polling. He's getting ready to face Hillary Clinton again. Will the third and final time be the charm? And how rough will it get?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Also tonight, checking the rigging. We will put Trump's claims that the election is rigged and victory could be stolen to a reality check see how they stand up to the real facts of voting in the United States.

BLITZER: And the keys to victory tonight, what each side needs to do to prevail.

COOPER: I'm Anderson Cooper.

BLITZER: And I'm Wolf Blitzer. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Good evening again from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, site of the third and final presidential debate of this turbulent campaign. Donald Trump comes into it talking trash about his opponent and trashing the entire system.

Polling says he lost two debates, one and two, and other polling nationwide and state by state shows him falling behind Hillary Clinton right now. Yet every day, every leak from WikiLeaks is bringing new embarrassment to the Clinton campaign, and potentially new material for Trump to use on the stump and perhaps on stage tonight.

So, we will take a closer look at it all in the hour ahead, starting with CNN's Sara Murray. She's covering the Trump campaign for us.

Sara, what have you learned about how Trump spent the day, first of all, preparing?

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he's of course been preparing for this debate and he's actually done some more mock versions, further than he's gone before.

But he also had a private lunch with some of his biggest boosters, and members of his family, including Eric Trump, Don Jr., and Tiffany Trump. And I'm told by sources he seemed very confident at that luncheon, that he feels like he's done as much debate as he possibly could heading into tonight, Wolf.

BLITZER: Sara, what is his message for his inner circle going into tonight?

MURRAY: Not only does he feel confident going in. He feels like he's done the prep needed at a time where, as you pointed out, he's trailing in the polls. He really needs a solid debate performance, not just the kind of thing that will bring out the Donald Trump faithful, but the kind of thing that will expand his base.

But he also told his supporters something that I thought was very interesting, which is that he felt like he faced an onslaught of attacks during the Republican primaries. He felt like he was the subject of a negative ad blitz during the primaries, especially in Florida. And he pulled out a victory there. And he says he is convinced that he can pull out something similar in the general election.

Now, of course, that would mean essentially all the public polling we're looking at right now is either wrong or it's going to tighten significantly in the next three weeks. But it gives you a sense of how, even as he's trailing in these polls, Donald Trump still feels confident and sure of himself going into tonight.

BLITZER: Sara Murray, thank you very much.

Now more on the Clinton campaign, how they have been preparing and how they see the stakes for tonight.

CNN's Brianna Keilar is joining us now with more on this part of the story.

Brianna, how is Secretary Clinton preparing for tonight? How concerned is her campaign about the WikiLeaks Podesta e-mails?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Publicly, Wolf, they're insisting they're not terribly concerned about it. But, of course, this is something that they wish were not out there, because it's a competing storyline for the controversies surrounding Donald Trump and these accusers of his who say that he groped or forcibly kissed them.

Now, I'm told to expect some of what we have heard from the campaign, which is questioning whether these e-mails are real or fake. We certainly, while they aren't verified, believe them to be real, because the campaign has not come out and said this is fake or that is fake.

But I think we're expecting her to pivot back towards Russia, which the U.S. government believes is behind the hack that got those e-mails from her campaign co-chair, and also to question Donald Trump and his relationship and business ties to Russia and use that as a vehicle to do it.

BLITZER: Secretary Clinton, Brianna, will also have some guests, VIP guests, with her tonight. What do we know about them? KEILAR: There is a repeat appearance by billionaire Mark Cuban, who,

as you know, is a -- he's been notorious for trolling Donald Trump this election season. He's been a big critic of his.

And also Meg Whitman, who is a former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, who had her own run for -- a gubernatorial run in California as a Republican, so a message there about Republicans who are coming over to support Hillary Clinton.

But some people who you might not recognize, certainly, we do, having followed Hillary Clinton around Nevada. One is an 11-year-old girl named Astrid Silva, someone who a long time ago when Hillary Clinton was in the earlier stage of her campaign, questioned Hillary Clinton about her concern that her parents, who are undocumented immigrants, about them being deported.

And Hillary Clinton tried to comfort her about that. That's part of her message, as she tries to attract Latino American voters.


Also, we're going to be hearing from a housekeeper from Trump International here in Las Vegas, Ofelia Diaz Cardenas. She is someone who tried to union organize at the hotel and saw her employment terminated, ultimately was reinstated there. But she is someone who works at that hotel, and yet has a message certainly that is very anti-Trump. She will be in the audience.

BLITZER: All right, Brianna, thanks very much, Brianna Keilar reporting.

Our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, joining us right now from here. We're both inside the debate hall.

You have some other new developments you're following. What have you learned?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the whole question is how far Donald Trump is going to go tonight in what we have heard him saying now every day on the campaign trail that the system is rigged, that the election is rigged.

We heard his daughter today not necessarily talk about things being rigged, but she did say, Wolf, that she will -- and that she believes her father, more importantly, will accept the results of the election, no matter what. Same goes for his campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway. She said she didn't believe there is widespread fraud.

Now, that is far different from what we have heard, Wolf, from the candidate himself. And I'm told there's been a lot of attempts privately to tell Donald Trump, you know what? Ease up on this rigged election stuff. And it seems as though that hasn't been successful.

So they're going around him and doing it through the media, trying to sort of box him in publicly.

BLITZER: As you know, Ivanka Trump, she was out in California at an event today.

BASH: Exactly.

BLITZER: Tell us a little bit more about what her message was.

BASH: Well, her message -- first of all, she was talking obviously about her father and about the comments that he made. This is the first time she really talked extensively about it, saying she was obviously not happy about it.

But she also -- she didn't go as far as her father on rigged elections, but she did talk about the media and how she feels the media is doing on covering her father. Let's take a listen.


IVANKA TRUMP, DAUGHTER OF DONALD TRUMP: I did find it to be offensive. He acknowledged it was as well. This tape was over a decade old.

I'm sure he didn't remember this conversation, but was very embarrassed by it. And he expressed that not only to me personally, but to the American people.

Well, he recognizes it was crude language. He was embarrassed that he had said those things and he apologized.

This is -- that's not language consistent with any conversation I have ever had with him, certainly, or any conversation that I have overheard. So, it was a bit jarring for me to hear, and he was very sincere in his apology.


BASH: So, we obviously heard from Melania Trump, the candidate's wife, in the interview she did with Anderson Cooper.

But we haven't heard this kind of extensive discussion from his daughter. She's talking about that one tape, of course, that was from "Access Hollywood," where he caught on tape saying some pretty unbelievable stuff.

I don't know if she was asked, and she obviously probably should be about things that he even said about her, about his own daughter, about whether he feels comfortable with men saying things about his daughter. There's a whole lot of stuff that is not an ideal situation for any family, certainly for any politician.

BLITZER: The Clinton campaign, they are feeling pretty good right now as they are looking at the polls, they're looking the numbers. But they're also afraid to get out ahead of themselves.

BASH: Absolutely.

Look, it seems to me that just in talking to Clinton sources, that her -- first and foremost is, her goal is to do no harm tonight. When it comes to that strategy, I'm told that that's backed up by data, because historically speaking, they feel that at this point in the campaign, it is -- it just doesn't happen that a candidate comes from as far behind as Donald Trump seems to be not just nationally, but in some of these battleground states, to win.

So they don't think he can overcome those poll numbers in tonight's debate. But one of the things that can change things if she really messes up. So, they just want to try to keep the status quo as much as possible.

BLITZER: And 90 minutes tonight without commercial interruption, the third and final presidential debate.

Dana, thank you very, very much.

BASH: Thank you.

BLITZER: Up next, we're putting that claim we have been discussing that the election could be stolen at the ballot box to a reality check -- that and much more right after this.



COOPER: It is debate night here in Las Vegas.

We have just learned about another Donald Trump guest, a source telling us she is 2008 vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

Trump comes into tonight's debate warning that the election is rigged and victory could be stolen from him on Election Day. It's a line he's been going to again and again, even though his campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, has been saying otherwise as recently as this morning.

Take a look at what he's been saying.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It looks to me like a rigged election. The election is being rigged by corrupt media pushing false allegations and outright lies.

The press has created a rigged system and poisoned the mind of so many of our voters. The system is also rigged by the daughters giving hundreds of millions of dollars to Hillary Clinton's campaign. They even want to try to rig the election at the polling booths. The process is rigged. This whole election is being rigged.


COOPER: Well, as you might imagine, in addition to stirring up his base, this kind of talk is not going down well with secretaries of state and other officials who oversee elections, many of them Republican. [18:15:07]

Some of the closest states, Ohio, Iowa, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, Georgia, they all have Republican governors. That is just one point to note.

CNN's Tom Foreman has more. And he joins us with an election rigging reality check -- Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Let's look specifically at this idea that the election would be decided by some sort of fraudulent voting, because that is one of his specific claims.

Donald Trump has said: "Of course there is large-scale voter fraud happening on and before Election Day. Why do Republican leaders deny what is going on? So naive."

So what's wrong with this statement? Well, first of all, history. There have been many studies of this issue of voter fraud, people taking it very seriously, and almost all of them have concluded, as this one from New York University's Law School did, that, by any measure, voter fraud is extraordinarily rare.

In part, this is because fraud by individual voters is a singularly foolish and ineffective way to attempt to win an election. That's the case because of scope.

To try to make a big difference -- yes, if you could move a few dozen votes or a few hundred votes or maybe even 1,000 in a relatively small race, you might make a difference. And they have had problems with exactly that happening in Missouri. There is some voter fraud.

But in a presidential election in 2012, roughly 126 million people voted. If you wanted to shift that 1 percent, you have to come up with 1,260,000 fraudulent votes. And that's tough to do because of geography.

Even though this is a national race, it's conducted at the local level, meaning you would have to have all sorts of voting officials in all sorts of precincts in key places agreeing to do this all at once. Or maybe you could have state officials agreeing to do it, but that's not getting caught by the local officials, not getting caught by anyone else all working together.

And as you pointed out a minute ago, Anderson, look at this. All four of our yellow states here that are still battlegrounds, according to our assessment here, they are all run by Republican governors, who it's hard to believe would go out of their way to cheat to help a Democrat win -- Anderson.

COOPER: But Donald Trump has cited a study by Pew showing there is a problem is with the voter registration.

FOREMAN: Yes, there are absolutely problems with voter registration records. This was from 2012. Pew found that one out of eight voter registrations is outdated or inaccurate. They also found that there's still 1.8 million dead people still registered in this country. That number may even be higher now. And they found that 2.75 million people are registered in more than one state.

This certainly could be fertile ground for voter fraud. But, again, there's just no proof that it's ever happened on a level that would make a difference in a presidential race. That's why his claim of large-scale voter fraud is false, Anderson.

And, of course, people can find out more about this and all of our reality checks all evening long. Go to -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Tom Foreman. Tom, thanks.

Back with the panel, CNN "INSIDE POLITICS" anchor John King, CNN senior political reporter Nia-Malika Henderson, CNN political analysts David Gergen, Gloria Borger, and Kirsten Powers, Trump supporters Corey Lewandowski and Scottie Nell Hughes, also Clinton supporter Bakari Sellers.

Scottie, I didn't get to you in our last hour.

Do you believe there is large-scale voter fraud, as your candidate said?

SCOTTIE NELL HUGHES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think there's large-scale voter fraud, but not yet in a presidential election that we have seen.

There's over 400 cases documented by the Heritage Foundation in smaller elections where there's been issues. But we have not seen it on the federal level. I think Donald Trump will address this a little bit tonight. But let me just point to something


COOPER: But he's already saying that there is large-scale voter fraud.

HUGHES: There is voter fraud.

But I think he's going to address this. But here's what is different about tonight, though, I think, Mr. Trump, how he wins, is he goes down a different path. I think he spends 10, 15 minutes prosecuting possibly the past, everything we have talked about tonight.

More importantly, he talks about his policies for the future. Most Americans today, they're tired of all of this. We have rehashed and hashed it. They want to know the policy points. When he starts talking about his ethics reform or his call term limits or immigration, when he actually talks about policy, I think that is what Americans on both sides of the aisle want to hear.

COOPER: Corey, do you believe there's large-scale voter fraud, as Donald Trump is saying there is?

COREY LEWANDOWSKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, what I think is, if this election comes down to a few thousand votes in any particular state, then we have to really take a hard look at the way our voting system works.

We have seen 1.75 million people on the rolls who are now dead. We have got 2.75 million people who are registered in multiple states. Is that the best we can do?


COOPER: But even that Pew study doesn't show examples of voter fraud. It shows problems with registration, dead people on the rolls, things that haven't been updated.

LEWANDOWSKI: But we're coming into an election in 20 days, and we don't know of those 1.75 million people who are dead if any of them plan on voting this year. We have heard about it in the past. And we know that there's a possibility it could happen again.



KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN COMMENTATOR: I don't think they're going to vote, the dead people.

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: This is the most dangerous rhetoric that the Trump campaign has perpetrated throughout this entire race.

Listen, he's gone after some specific minority groups. He's gone after different groups of people. And I think the rhetoric I think has been inciteful, has been dangerous.

But this is the most important talking point that we have to discuss and flesh out and debunk, because it goes to the heart of our democracy. What separates us from everybody else is a peaceful transfer of power, from one person to another. When you lose, you pick up the phone, you concede and you go forward.

But he's spreading this theory and he's asking his supporters, many of which whom are here today, to go out and be watchful. And for many people, when you say the word watchful and mindful, what that means is intimidate at the polls.

So when you have this and you have no basis for saying it, it's patently false that there's widespread some voter fraud. It's simply not. If we want to talk about it, if Republicans really carried about it, if Donald Trump really cared about the issues of making it easier for people to vote, he would go to North Carolina and talk about things like voter I.D. or things that really matter.


COOPER: Let Scottie respond. HUGHES: Let me just ask you this. How did you feel when Bush and Gore, when we had the great recount? Did you believe that Bush rightfully won? Did you see that transition, that phone call get picked up?

SELLERS: You know the difference between Al Gore and President Bush? You know what Al Gore did after he lost? He said, you know what? This is it. This is how we do it in the United States of America. Al Gore was the adult in the room. And Al Gore said, I lost. I want all my followers to understand I lost.


HUGHES: I don't remember that.


COOPER: One at a time. One at a time.


LEWANDOWSKI: That's not what happened.



Al Gore had one of the most gracious departures from the stage anybody had seen. When it was resolved, he left graciously and accepted the results.

The most famous case we have, Anderson, in modern political history was 1960. It was Kennedy vs. Nixon. But it was very close right at the end, and people thought Chicago graveyards voted very heavily that year. And it was a big deal whoop-de-doo that it had been stolen from Nixon.

And Richard Nixon said, we should not pursue this. We should call it a day. I am out of here. Kennedy has been elected.

Even Richard Nixon understood the importance of accepting the integrity of the process and not convincing people this is illegitimate.


LEWANDOWSKI: The Democrat political machine in Texas has rigged votes for years. LBJ...


LEWANDOWSKI: ... outlines the story about it. You have seen it very clearly. Every single person's handwriting is exactly the same in that and every single person voted -- and what they knew is how many votes LBJ needed to win the election. They produced those at the end. That is voter fraud. (CROSSTALK)


Look, we're conflating two very different things here. If this election comes down to 537 votes in Florida like 2000, then Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton has every right to ask the state for a recount, to ask the state to look at the machines, to go have their people look in a bipartisan process to look at the records, and if you believe you have been wronged, to take it to court.

They would have every right to do it. And everybody should step back and relax. And that's what happened. We didn't relax. We had a country that was torn up. But after the Supreme Court, Al Gore did man up and he did do the right thing.

And there were a lot of Democrats saying, sir, do you want us to surround the Supreme Court, do you want us to bring people to Washington on buses? And Al Gore said, no, I think I was robbed, but this is how it works.

But we're talking about something very different now. In terms of -- I'm a broken record on this, but if there is widespread fraud in the United States of America in recent history, then why do the Republicans have a big Senate majority, Republicans have a big House majority, Republicans have 30 governors, Republicans have gained 1,000 legislative seats in the last 10 years?

If you rig an election, you rig it to win, right?


KING: Have the Republicans rigged all the elections in the last 10 years except for the presidential election?


KING: It just doesn't happen.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think one of the things that's most dangerous about this is Donald Trump is clearly using racialized language to talk about it. Right?

He's saying that this voter fraud happens in other places, like Philly and Chicago. And we know that from what Donald Trump has said himself, he thinks that is where black people live. I think that's very dangerous. He's telling these white crowds to go to other polling places to watch over black people who he thinks will rig this election.

COOPER: Gloria?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: And can I say, states have laws since 2000, and before 2000?

States now have laws about automatic recount. And if you want to go back to Bush v. Gore and look at what occurred with 537 votes, that took 36 days to resolve. There were demonstrations, but it was largely a peaceful transition of power, which is what we should always hope for in this country.

And in the end, Al Gore wasn't happy about the result. It went to the Supreme Court. And he did give a gracious speech and he respected the system and the court.

And that is the way it ought to be. So there is -- if there is voter fraud, and if elections in some battleground states are close, the secretaries of states of those states I think will be able to handle it and tell the American people what they ought to do, whether there's an automatic recount or not.


In Bush v. Gore, the question was voter suppression. It wasn't voter fraud. It was about long lines of people who got caught off. And that's something we really need to improve in this country.

HENDERSON: But that's a part of voter fraud. That's a part of it, where you have too long of lines.


SELLERS: This is a dangerous topic, so we cannot conflate issues.

There is something called voter fraud in this country where you impersonate a voter or you're not supposed to vote. And then there's something called voter suppression in this country, which many people have fought decades over decades over decades.

And when you look in Arizona, for example, during the primary season, you had long lines and you had a number of precincts that was shrunk. That is voter suppression. And so when we're talking about these things, we have to be clear, because the thing that separates us from -- I can't state this enough -- the thing that separates us from Third World countries and dictatorships and authoritarian regimes is the way we vote.

And the president of the United States, the person who is running for that office, the highest office in the land, should be emboldening people to go out and vote.


COOPER: Kirsten, do you find this dangerous, though?

POWERS: Well, I think I find it inaccurate. I think that is the biggest problem.

And so even when you invoke dead people on rolls, that's not voter fraud. It would be somebody taking the dead person's name and going in and placing a vote, which has in no way been demonstrated. And we saw this. conservative were really obsessed with ACORN, which was a group that was registering Democratic voters, and they kept insisting there was fraud, because some of the volunteers had registered people who didn't exist.

But nobody ever showed that anyone ever went and voted.


POWERS: OK. But unless someone is actually voting, then they're not actually changing the election.


COOPER: One at a time.


LEWANDOWSKI: I have never heard Donald Trump use the word voter suppression.


COOPER: Let him speak.

LEWANDOWSKI: In the primaries, particularly in the state of Nevada, we petitioned to leave the polling places open longer because the Republicans could not vote, because there was such a massive turnout.

The Donald Trump campaign petitioned the court to make that happen. So, this notion of voter suppression is complete tomfoolery. He's never said those words. And so don't accuse him of saying something that isn't true.

COOPER: David. David.

GERGEN: There are a number of states that have passed laws that have stiffened the requirement for identification to register.

And courts have struck down several of those because they suppress the vote. They fall unevenly on minority voters. We know that. Look at the state of North Carolina. You can look at other...

LEWANDOWSKI: What does that have to do with Donald Trump?

GERGEN: But here's the real issue.

The real issue is not whether there are going to be individual instances of fraud. Of course there are going to be. There are in every election. The real issue is, this is the first candidate in American history who up front has said the conclusion of the entire process is rigged.

LEWANDOWSKI: The system is rigged. Look at the media coverage.


GERGEN: He is saying, I'm basically -- I'm going to lose this because it is rigged. And that's the message to his 50 or 60 million voters? I lost this

because it's rigged, and, therefore, you ought to rise up against this government?


HUGHES: He's never said that.


HUGHES: He said never rise up against this government. This idea that he's been encouraging violence...

GERGEN: That has been the message that everybody has heard.


HUGHES: But it's not been said.

The only person that's had violence happen against -- is against Trump supporters right now. North Carolina, our GOP office was firebombed.

GERGEN: It was.

HUGHES: Voter suppression happened when the Black Panthers stood outside the election...


HUGHES: Yes, it did.

POWERS: No, no, I actually know a little bit about this.


COOPER: Let her talk.

POWERS: Not a single voter complained at that...


COOPER: Will you please let her talk?


COOPER: You talked. Now she talks. That's how TV works.


POWERS: That's the perfect example of what Nia was talking about, white Republican poll watchers going into a majority black neighborhood, a majority black district, and then claiming that there's intimidation going on.

And they were trained to go looking for -- they basically were told there's going to be vote fraud there, go find it. And then they claimed -- white Republican poll watchers claimed, not any voters, OK? There was not a single complaint from a single voter.

COOPER: All right, we have got to take a break.

We're going to have much more to talk about ahead on this high-drama night in Las Vegas.

Up next: how Donald Trump plans to counter Hillary Clinton's momentum tonight, plus the remarks made by Malik Obama, the president's half- brother and one of Donald Trump's guests at tonight's debate. We will hear from a Trump campaign senior adviser.


BLITZER: You're listening there to the UNLV marching band, and they are truly something to behold. Very, very impressive.

[18:34:29] Get ready. In less than three hours, there will be something else to behold. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, they will take the stage right behind me here in Las Vegas. Their third and final showdown before election day, with just 20 days left in this race for the White House.

Polling shows Hillary Clinton's lead actually growing, Trump's numbers right now falling. And now some reliably red states even appear to be in play. As we've said, both candidates have invited special guests to the debate.

Joining us now, Trump campaign senior adviser Boris Epshteyn. Boris, thanks very much for joining us.

BORIS EPSHTEYN, TRUMP CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISOR: Of course, Wolf, thanks for having me.

[18:35:06] BLITZER: Let's get to those guests. For example, Trump has invited the president's half-brother...


BLITZER: ... Malik Obama. As you know, there are now reports -- this is sort of controversial. He's on the record of saying his good friend was Moammar Gadhafi. He supports Hamas, the Palestinian group which the U.S. considers to be a terrorist organization. Did you guys thoroughly vet Malik Obama before inviting him to sit in the VIP section right up front here?

EPSHTEYN: Well, the reason Mr. Obama here -- is here is to point to the fact that, even though his brother, president of the United States, has hand-picked a successor, Mr. Obama, Mr. Malik Obama disagrees with that and knows that this country needs change.

BLITZER: Do you feel comfortable with Malik Obama getting such VIP treatment, given his views, for example, on the Palestinian question and Israel?

EPSHTEYN: I feel comfortable with him having the opportunity to be here, to listen to the debate, and reinforce his position, his view that this country really does need change and not eight more years of what his half-brother has brought to this country.

BLITZER: Did you know his views before he was invited?

EPSHTEYN: I wasn't part of the invitation process, Wolf, but what I will tell you is that it's good that he'll be here to listen. Like the citizens...

BLITZER: You're a strong supporter of Israel.

EPSHTEYN: I'm a very strong supporter of Israel.

BLITZER: So somebody supports Hamas, you feel comfortable about that?

EPSHTEYN: Again, I was not part of the process to bring him here. I don't -- haven't looked at the information you're bringing up.

What I do feel comfortable with is somebody who knows we have -- need change in this country, somebody who is obviously related to President Obama but disagrees with him vehemently on where this country stands and knows that we need change, and Donald Trump is the right agent of change, not Hillary Clinton.

BLITZER: Donald Trump has a lot of work to do tonight. He'll have 90 minutes in this face-to-face debate. Look at some of these poll numbers. Even in Arizona right now, very reliable red state, Hillary Clinton 43 percent, Trump 38 percent. That's the "Arizona Republic"/Morrison-Cronkite News poll.

In Wisconsin, a state he also needs, Donald Trump, Clinton 47 percent, Trump 40 percent.

And look at New Hampshire. We just got this in from the University of New Hampshire, a state he won in the primaries. Clinton 48 percent. Trump 33 percent.

EPSHTEYN: That's not a live (ph) poll.

BLITZER: Fifteen points. Other polls in New Hampshire show Hillary Clinton ahead, as well. How worried are you that these states are disappearing?

EPSHTEYN: I'm not worried at all. In terms of New Hampshire, outlier poll. There's a poll a few days ago which was within two points, within the margin of error.

BLITZER: New Hampshire is a pretty reliable poll.

EPSHTEYN: And the polls in New Hampshire are all over the place, as they always tend to be.

In Arizona, I'm very confident that Arizona, with its vast illegal immigration problem, Arizona will stay red and will continue to vote red and will vote for Donald Trump for president.

Now, if you look at the other states, we're up in Ohio. We're tied, in fact, we're in the state of Nevada right here. Tied in North Carolina, close in Colorado, and within four or five in Pennsylvania.

So I'm very confident over the next three weeks, as we continue to deliver the message on national security, the economy, draining the swamp of Washington, D.C., with ethics reform and the term limits, that this election will absolutely go our way.

BLITZER: Boris, I want you to listen. This is a clip of Donald Trump. It -- our CNN K-File (ph) found it, eight years ago. Listen to what he was saying about Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton. Listen to this.



TRUMP: I think she's a wonderful woman. I think that she's a little bit misunderstood. You know, Hillary is a very smart woman, very tough woman. That's fine. She's also a very nice person.

I think she's going to go down, at a minimum, as a great senator. I think she is a great wife to a president. And I think Bill Clinton was a great president. A lot of people hated him, because they were jealous as hell. Bill Clinton was a great president. Hillary Clinton is a great woman and a good woman.


BLITZER: Hillary Clinton is a great woman and a good one. That was eight years ago. Not that long ago.

EPSHTEYN: Well, Hillary Clinton also attended Mr. Trump's wedding, obviously supporting him in that way.

Mr. Trump is well known to have supported politicians on both sides of the aisle. And he was a businessman when he was talking about that. And also, it was before Hillary Clinton's disastrous tenure as secretary of state. If you look at the terrible Iran deal, the failed reset with Russia, Syria, Libya, all over the world we're much worse off now than we were back then.

BLITZER: So when he said Bill Clinton was a great president, Bill Clinton was a great president, are you saying when he said that, he really didn't believe it; it was politics?

EPSHTEYN: What I'm saying is that I'm sure there are points from Bill Clinton that Mr. Trump agreed with then and may agree with now. But if you look at NAFTA, a trade agreement that's proven to be disastrous, 700,000 jobs lost just because of NAFTA. Millions more lost because of TPP, which we now know Hillary Clinton supports, we know from the WikiLeaks information.

So that was a tape from eight years ago. But a lot of information has come out since that she's disqualified from becoming president.

BLITZER: Eight years ago when I interviewed him, he also said he really admired Nancy Pelosi, except for one thing: She wasn't tough enough in going with impeachment proceedings against then-President Bush. Because he said he lied about Iraq, getting the U.S. involved in that war. He was very strong in condemning President Bush, praising Nancy Pelosi, praising Hillary Clinton in the interview with me, as well as -- as well as President Bush -- President Clinton.

EPSHTEYN: Even in the South Carolina debate this year, right Wolf, Mr. Trump was very specific that he disagreed with President Bush on Iraq and he's been -- Mr. Trump has been against the Iraq War from the very beginning. So that makes some sense that he was talking about that.

[18:40:07] BLITZER: Except in that interview with Howard Stern before the resolution authorizing the war in November, a month before he did say, "I suppose I am for the war." You remember that Howard Stern --

EPSHTEYN: Well, the Howard Stern was actually much earlier -- Cavuto was a month before.

BLITZER: No, no, no, the Howard Stern interview was in September of 2002, and the resolution authorizing the war was in November of 2002.


BLITZER: It was about six weeks before the members of Congress voted on that resolution.

EPSHTEYN: But a month before the incursion, on the day of the State of the Union, he said he was against it.

BLITZER: That was another thing. But he did support the war before he opposed it.

EPSHTEYN: In a comedic interview with Howard Stern.

BLITZER: It wasn't comedic. He was sort of serious. Yes, he was...

EPSHTEYN: Again, he was a businessman.

BLITZER: He said, "I suppose so."

EPSHTEYN: He was a businessman, and he gave sort of a non-answer. When he did answer, he said he was against it. but again, the key tonight is somebody who is determined, who was a strong businessman versus a life-long failure in Hillary Clinton. I'm excited for the debate.

BLITZER: Boris Epshteyn, we'll be watching the debate. Thanks very much for joining us.

All right. We've got a lot more coming up here. Our special coverage will continue. We'll be right back with our panel. The debate night here in Las Vegas, we're getting ready.


[18:46:00] COOPER: Just a little more than two hours to go until the final head to head showdown of this presidential election season.

Back with our panel.

Corey, what do you want to see Donald Trump doing tonight on that debate stage? I mean, this is his last chance face to face with Hillary Clinton.

LEWANDOWSKI: Look, I think tonight, it's really important for both of the candidates. I think it's going to be the last opportunity each them have to talk directly to the American public, to have an audience of between 85 million and 100 million people watching. I think tonight is the night that they both need to make their case of why they can be the leader of the free world.

I think they need to outline what their vision is for America, talk about the differences between each of their respective plans on immigration. One is for open borders, and one is for amnesty. I think they need to talk about their vision for creating jobs in this country.

I think if Donald Trump is going to be successful tonight, he has to talk about his experience of creating jobs in the private sector. And most importantly, reminding the American people that the 30 years, the Republicans and Democrats have failed them in Washington, D.C. We have a $21 trillion deficit and I love his new mantra of drain the swamp.


COOPER: That resonates with me.

LEWANDOWSKI: I think it hits right in a home, and (INAUDIBLE) simple never knows it, you want to make America great again? Go drain the swamp in Washington.

COOPER: Scottie, does he need to go after Hillary Clinton the way he has certainly in the last debate?

HUGHES: You know what, I don't think -- he's a good prosecutor, he's not a great prosecutor. He's a better businessman. He's a better problem solver. He needs to offer solution.

More importantly, I think we're seeing very passionate people behind us. I think they're very passionate people in America. I think it's whoever is able to speak to those passionate folks and engage them will go and vote. I guarantee the people behind us, majority of them will be down -- they will cast votes. This is happening all across America. It's whoever speaks to them honestly.

COOPER: Bakari?

SELLERS: I think we can look -- we can tell the tenor of tonight's debate just by the guests are. I mean, you have Sarah Palin, you have Barack Obama's half brother, you have a Bill Clinton accuser, a new Bill Clinton accuser. So, I mean, I think that you understand the tenor, and Donald Trump is

actually just by looking at who his guests are, Donald Trump is going to be speaking to his base again. The funniest part about this whole process is for the past, I don't know, six, seven months, we've been expecting a new Donald Trump and we haven't. So I don't know why we would get the American people to get geared up to expect, voila, Donald Trump is going to have a personality transplant.

Hillary Clinton has problems answering the e-mail question. That is going to be her biggest issue going into tonight. And I am going to sound like a Republican surrogate and a Donald Trump surrogate, she's not going to only have to beat Donald Trump tonight. She's also going to have to beat Chris Wallace. I think both of those are going to be difficult tasks.

COOPER: Kirsten?

POWERS: I mean, I think -- just to put in perspective what a big turn this is going to be for him, Corey, you've cited a poll where he's doing OK, I guess. If you look at the white Catholic vote, Romney won them by 19 points. In the most recent Public Religion Research poll, which is expert on polling religious people, Hillary was up by four points. OK? So, that's a swing of Romney winning them by 19, she's now winning. She shouldn't be winning them at all.

So, I think that that shows how big of a job he would have to do tonight in order to convince people to move. I think it's just a very, very high bar.

LEWANDOWSKI: Anderson, I'd say just on that point, "The Washington Post" poll which came out this week shows that Donald Trump is winning the Catholics, 51-38.

POWERS: No, Catholics, not White Catholics.

LEWANDOWSKI: And he's winning White Catholics, 51-38, the ABC/"Washington Post" poll. And he's winning white Protestants by 75- 25. That's a fact. That's the ABC/"Washington Post" poll cane out in the 16th.

BORGER: I'm going to agree with you, Corey, what Donald Trump ought to do tonight, because I think your notion of presenting himself as a reformer, an outsider, talking about a constitutional amendment on term limits, draining the swamp, that's a really good argument for him and it always has been. My -- and now, he's talking about it.

My question is, whether he sticks to that, and can make that case, or whether he goes back to the rigged election, which we've been talking about. And continues to complain about his own party deserting him, the Paul Ryans, et cetera, et cetera, and continues that fight on another front, which he's been having. He ought to have the fight with -- on the change issue, because he having trouble on the change issue.

[18:50:01] I mean, this FOX poll showed, and this was the most stunning thing to me, that by 42-44, voters trust Hillary Clinton more to change the country than they do Donald Trump right now. That's a problem for him.

COOPER: David, we've seen Donald Trump very aggressively interrupt at times Hillary Clinton. But Donald Trump certainly during ht first debate interrupted her a lot more often. Do you expect to see that again?

GERGEN: I hope not for his sake. If he wants to ruin --

COOPER: You don't think that plays well?

GERGEN: I don't think it plays well. Listen, the candidates, for both candidates, this is the last round of the campaign. This is the last time both of them will commend huge audiences and they have different missions.

For Donald Trump, he started his business career amidst casinos. Tonight, he may end his political career amidst casinos. Unless he wins and wins big, it's going to be very, very hard for him to come back from the depths.

COOPER: Do you think this is the final chance he has?

GERGEN: Yes. And there is no other big event out there that can shift the dynamics. He has to do it tonight. And I think he needs to be much more presidential to go back to Gloria's earlier point.

I think Hillary has a very different mission, and that is first of all, obviously, make no big gaps that cost her and change the momentum. But I think she needs to start the healing process of what is it like to be president. I think people are increasingly looking at her as the very, very likely president and they want to judge her by, are you going to you going to reach out and bring us in or you're really going to start this healing, or you're going to continue this craziness that we've seen in the campaign?

HENDERSON: Yes, there is an ad that's running in Nevada, and it's a Republican woman, a white woman who's probably over 50. And her take on this is that she doesn't agree with everything Hillary Clinton says but she feels like Hillary Clinton is smart, reasonable and works with other people, works well with other people. And I think what is that Hillary Clinton needs to embody tonight, those characteristics and if Trump is smart, that's where the voters are, that's where the Republican voters are.

So, he needs to come across as smart, as reasonable. He needs to I think calm down a bit and settle into these debates. He sort of runs hot I think in these debates. So, he's got a tall challenge.

COOPER: John? Then, we're going to go.

KING: The arc of the race has changed so much since the first debate when Donald Trump has momentum. The town of David Copperfield, Donald Trump essentially has to bend steel with his works tonight, to bend the race back his way, because it turns so much against him.

I agree with Scottie and Gloria, that if he can get back on the change argument, both about the (INAUDIBLE) in Washington and about the economy, that's the greatest argument to prosecute. But before he can disqualify her, he has to re-qualify himself. The American people have to the conclusion he's not a president. He doesn't have the temperament. He had to get that far first.

COOPER: We got to go. I want to thank everyone in the panel.

We'll be right back with a closer look at tonight, what each candidate is going to do on that stage, how much impact this debate can have on the election. We'll be right back.


[18:57:34] COOPER: Just about two hours from the final debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. We have just gotten a little background color on the question of handshakes tonight. A source with knowledge of the issue tells us the Clinton campaign did ask for the Bill Clinton, Melania Trump handshake opportunity to be eliminated.

As for the debate itself, the question is, will anything the candidates say tonight change voters' minds this late in the game?

John King joins me now with more on that.

Do third debates, John, traditionally make a difference?

KING: History shows, Anderson, the verdict is mixed. It depends on the specific race and the closeness of it.

Let's go back in time and look at a couple of examples, and let's start with the last campaign in 2012. Very close race. They were tied, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama in the last debate. They came out essentially tied. No big change race. Governor Romney played it pretty safe in that race, the president was more aggressive in that third debate. But it came out about tied.

The Democrats won because of their strength on the ground, turning out the vote, early votes, infrastructure. President Obama ended up the winner. But the debate was status quo.

George W. Bush twice third debates to help himself in very close races. This is 2004 against now secretary of state, then-senator, John Kerry. George W. Bush went in at 48 percent. After the debate, he went up to 52 percent, closing strong in the end, using the debate as the springboard into the final weeks of the campaign. 2004 was a close election. President Bush won.

2000 was as close as they get. We talk about recount a bit earlier in the program. Bush went in 47, came out 51, got a boost out of the third and final debate that carried him to the finish line.

The question is, what about tonight? Those races I just showed you, 2012, 2000, 2004, they were very tight races at the end. This one is not. This is the challenge for Donald Trump tonight. Hillary Clinton comes in with a big lead in the national poll of polls, right? You look at that. Eight point lead there. Donald Trump needs a home run. He needs to change the fundamental

dynamic of the race to close that gap. She needs to protect what he's got. If she can win new voters tonight, that's what she'd like. But the she comes out with the status quo she's just fine because both candidates come in to the debate tonight looking at this. In our new map right now, the advantage overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton.

Donald Trump can't change five or six states with a debate performance. He has to change the national dynamic. Only then if he can get a big jump out of this debate is he in competition to do that hand to hand combat, Anderson, state by state, for the rest of the race.

So, she comes in looking to protect. He comes in needed to fundamentally change the arc of a race that right now is lopsided in Hillary Clinton's favor.

COOPER: All right. John King -- John, thanks very much.

That does it for us. Thanks for watching.

Our pre-debate coverage continues right now with "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT".