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Fight for the Democratic Nomination Heats UP Early; Interview with Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA). Aired 8-9a ET

Aired February 24, 2019 - 08:00   ET



[08:00:20] JOHN KING, CNN HOST (voice-over): Bernie Sanders makes it official.


KING: As one of the Democrats' new faces stakes a claim to early 2020 momentum.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I intend to win, I will tell you that. I intend to win.

KING: Plus, the early map hints at trouble, but the president is confident he can once again defy the odds.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A lot of people running but only one person is going to win. I hope you know who that person is.

KING: And the cloud that could change everything. Several big legal twists, chief among them, word the special counsel is readying his big report.

TRUMP: That will be totally up to the new attorney general.

REP. JIM HIMES (D), CONNECTICUT: This report needs to come out. That is critical, I think, to the restoration of some sense of normal politics in this country.

KING: INSIDE POLITICS, live this Sunday from Iowa, including a conversation with California Senator Kamala Harris.



KING: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King.

To our viewers in the United States and around the world, thank you for sharing your Sunday.

We're live today from the Smokey Row coffee shop in Des Moines, Iowa. Beautiful winter day here. A road trip to mark the five-year anniversary of our Sunday conversations and an up close glimpse at the remarkably early and crowded 2020 campaign.

In a moment, a conversation with California Senator Kamala Harris. She is one of six Democrats in Iowa this weekend campaigning or testing the waters. Four other Democrats in early primary states -- Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

The greatest value in being here is to be reminded real America often has a very different focus than Washington. Health care and jobs and climate change, tuition costs, those are the topics that come up a lot at Democratic events. The Russia special counsel investigation barely if at all.

That could be about to change, though. Special counsel Robert Mueller is said to be days away from delivering his big report. And a big fight looms over how much of it will be made public. Six committee chairmen in the Democratic house wrote to the Attorney General William Barr this weekend insisting it should be released, quote, to the maximum extent permitted by law.

Senator Harris is a former prosecutor. In an interview here yesterday she, too, pushed for maximum public release. But listen here also for the first time suggesting a possible fallback strategy for Democrats.


KING: What's your transparency test? I ask the question in this context.


KING: You know this from being a D.A. You know this from being an attorney general.

Sometimes you see it, you feel it, you smell it. You know somebody is guilty. You believe it in your bones but you can't prove it.


KING: So you put that file away and bite your tongue.


KING: Does Donald Trump, do all the people around Donald Trump deserve that same process?

HARRIS: This is an extraordinary moment in terms of the need that the special counsel has to investigate the conduct of the president of the United States' campaign and issues surrounding it. I believe that given in particular all the misinformation that we can, I think, rightly believe we've heard, that it is important that the American public receive as much information and that we be as transparent as possible.

So I am an advocate for transparency. I'm not an advocate for a public report. And certainly that we in the United States Congress would receive all of the supporting information, be it in a classified hearing or not.


KING: With me this Sunday, happy road warriors, to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Jeff Zeleny, Jonathan Martin of "The New York Times" and CNN's Maeve Reston.

It was that last part that makes this interesting. Mueller never comes up -- hardly ever comes up out here. The Democratic candidates don't bring it up. They think the voters want to talk about jobs and health care and college costs.

But Senator Harris there at the end saying that whatever is not made public, could Democrats and the whole Congress, but Democrats should push for classified access to the work product. That they should see everything Robert Mueller has. Will that become the next big fight?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: I think it will become the next big fight in Washington. No doubt. You are absolutely right, though, about the difference in what people want to talk about.

I'm struck by the level of which Donald Trump doesn't come up as much at these Democratic rallies. Democratic candidates, including Senator Harris are trying to talk about anything but him, trying to show their own ideas. In Washington, it will become the next fight because of the House of Representatives. This is the one central theme of this year that President Trump is going to learn bit by bit by bit what a Democratic majority matters. So it is going to be a sound track of this campaign, not necessarily playing out here but certainly in D.C.

KING: And the argument will be, Republicans will make the argument and there's reason to make it. Robert Mueller looked at so much, interviewed so many people. He explored so many questions.

If he can't prove something, well, this is America. And then you put it away.

[08:05:01] And you bite your tongue, even if you suspect it, even if you feel but you can't prove it.

Democrats and Senator Harris making the case, give us the work product. Let us then see maybe the intelligence community investigates. Maybe things get referred or campaign finance violations, or other -- she also said in the interview, other regulatory agencies could play up. That's a new wrinkle.

MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: It is, definitely. And I think that she's cognizant of the fact that the candidates have to be careful talking about this because, obviously, there are some independent voters out there who think there's been too much focus on Russia in Washington and on the news.

And you know, even Democratic voters a lot of times, as Jeff said, some of them when I talk to them, they won't refer to him by his name. They just call him 45. They want the conversation to be about transparency, about access, about all of the things that they're not getting right now from the White House, and I think the Democrats feel that's a much stronger subject to talk about.

JONATHAN MARTIN, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I tend to think if there's real news from the Mueller report and that they're obviously at some point and the house becomes an impeachment inquiry, I think that's going to penetrate throughout the country and the Washington conversation will, in fact, travel beyond the beltway. I think right now we're just not there yet because, let's be honest, there's been a barrage of news and information about everything Trump and Mueller, various indictments and, you know, leaks. But there's not been a sort of major step like it -- like the opening of impeachment articles.

KING: In most cases, it would just be a ridiculous conversation. Show us the investigators' work product. You spent two years on something, interview people, when you can't prove something, you put it away, but there's some precedent in that the president himself pushed the FBI to turn over all the Clinton e-mail documents to Congress.

RESTON: Right, exactly.

KING: Jim Comey went public during the Clinton email investigation and talked about things we're not going to charge her. We don't believe there's evidence but we found this, this and this. So, is there -- do Democrats, if Senator Harris pushes this and other Democrats get on board, here's what you release in public but we want the rest in a classified setting so we can at least review it, do they have standing on an issue where a year ago you would say no way?

ZELENY: We'll see if they do or not. It depends what is in the version of the report. What Bill Barr decides to release? But I think it's also a question of how much these Democratic presidential candidates want to spend their time on this. Is this the path to the White House for Senator Harris, for some others? Probably not.

One thing is clear, it's hard to imagine Democrats any more fired up about the idea of defeating Donald Trump. But this is certainly firing up the president's base as well. So the more Democrats fight and push for more information about this, it's going to unify the president's base. And that's what he's trying to do all along.

So, we are here in Iowa. It's a state Donald Trump won. It's a state that Barack Obama won in '08 and in '12, but President Trump won. So, that is another context going on here as the Democratic primary is leaning a little to the left. What does it mean overall?

It's not just about the Iowa caucuses. It's about November 2020.

KING: And another test of whether the issues that dominate Washington spill over here. We'll see if the Mueller report comes out and takes up oxygen. The candidates decide, now is the time to try to get in. Michael Cohen is going to be on Capitol Hill this week.

There was a sentencing memo filed yesterday against Paul Manafort, a lot of people hoping for new clues about the Mueller investigation. Just a damning indictment of Paul Manafort saying he's been a liar for years. He lied to everybody, lied to his banks, lied his own lawyers, lied to the White House, lied to the FBI. But no new clues about the scope of the investigation.

Michael Cohen will be on Capitol Hill this week while the president is on the global stage in his summit with Kim Jong-un. That's Paul Manafort's lies you see on the screen there.

When Cohen is testifying in a public hearing, Democrats want to talk to him about debts and payments to influence the election, hush money payments to women who alleged to have affairs with Trump, campaign finance, tax laws, family business, Trump International Hotel, accuracy of the president's statements. Essentially, Democrats are going to put Michael Cohen on the chair and put President Trump on trial.

MARTIN: Yes, and it's going to be, you know, while he's in Vietnam trying to negotiate peace with the North Koreans. It will be quite a split screen. And, look, I think that that kind of a hearing will be a major event in Washington, and I think a lot of Democrats nationally will watch it and feel that much more fired up.

But I think the lesson of the Trump scandals to date is they typically have a real impact for a day, a couple of days and they're washed over by whatever the next thing is. There's always something next that comes in the Trump era. So, what is the sort of next -- I think that's part of the reason Democrats are trying to introduce themselves and talk policy because there is this backdrop of one Trump bombshell after another, but none of them have yet, at least, had a staying power that has been definitional because there's something more to come.

They've worn down his numbers. There's no question about it. But there's not the sort of one big smoking gun yet.

RESTON: I would say it is definitional in one sense, which is that when you talk to voters, they are looking very closely at which candidate they think can prosecute the case on the trail against Donald Trump.

[08:10:08] And Kamala Harris alludes to this sometimes, but when you talk to voters, that's what they want. They want that toughness, who can really not get tripped up by his insults and questions.

KING: And more on that as we continue the conversation. More on the interview with Senator Harris.

Up next, Bernie Sanders enters the race with a big splash and a big problem. There's a lot more competition this time.


KING: With six candidates or would-be candidates in Iowa just this weekend, it can be hard to forget the caucuses are still 344 days away -- 344 days away means asking who is in first is still a very, very, very silly question. But who is making a good impression first, a good first impression is not, or in the case of Bernie Sanders, a second impression?

Sanders officially declared his candidacy this past week and made an immediate splash with a record first day fund-raising haul. But he's still MIA in the early voting states, choosing instead to make his reintroduction through TV interviews.


[08:15:03] SANDERS: I think it is fair for people to ask, who was there when these ideas were not popular? You know, when I talked about Medicare for all, as you all recall, virtually nobody was talking about Medicare-for-All. Too radical, too extreme. When people look back and say, well, you know what? Bernie was there talking about these issues when they didn't have majority support in polls. Maybe that's worth something.


KING: We talk often about how different Donald Trump is. This is different, too. Bernie Sanders deciding, you know me, I'm going to do it my way. He announced in a video. A lot of television interviews. No New Hampshire, no Iowa.

ZELENY: He's going to Brooklyn, New York, and Chicago, Illinois, next weekend to -- to sort of launch this. It shows us a couple of things. He wants to remind people he's a national candidate and can raise more money than anyone else.

It also has a sense that he probably knows he may not wear as well here the second time around. The reality is in 2015 and '16, people liked Bernie Sanders, the ones here who did, because they wanted an alternative. Now there are several alternatives.

I talked to a voter in Winterset, Iowa, yesterday, Tom Claus (ph), who has been a long time Iowa Democratic activist. He supported Bernie Sanders last time. He said, this time, he's leaning Joe Biden.

I said that's a big switch. How does that work? He said I want someone who knows how to govern who can beat Trump. Other conversations with voter say they were with Bernie last time but I'm looking at others.

I think he has to make his case again, not saying he won't do well here with so many in the race. You know, the winning percentage is going to be much lower, but it's much different --

KING: It's a gamble. It's a gamble to not come out early and look your 2016 people in the eye and say I need you to stay with me. The longer you go to these events and see the old Bernie buttons.

RESTON: Right.

KING: But the Julian Castros, the Kamala Harrises, the Cory Bookers are saying, hey, come this way. RESTON: I have to say that in that first day fund-raising haul, I was

surprised just based on talking to voters over the last two months in all of these states and so often you talk to someone who has supported Bernie Sanders but says it's time for the next generation. It's time for someone else. They apply the same logic to Elizabeth Warren and often Joe Biden saying things like, I love Joe Biden, but we need fresh blood, someone new to go up against Trump.

And I think that's going to be a real struggle for those candidates just because they are so well known.

MARTIN: Bernie faces two challenges. The first is what Maeve referenced which I'm sure all three of us -- four of us have heard here which is you do hear that from voters, about we want fresh blood. We want a new face.

But he also faces a second challenge which is the sort of ill will from the last campaign. He's the most polarizing figure in a field that's largely undefined right now. I mean, people don't know these candidates for the most part. In the polling, though, he's the one that you see some of the sort of most polarizing numbers for. People say they will not vote for him under any circumstances.

So he's got real challenges here. But there's, to me, evidence he has learned some of the lessons of the last campaign. 2016, he was all ideological. His message relentlessly.

The fact he's opening his campaign by going to his childhood roots in Brooklyn and then Chicago where he went to school and was a civil rights activist tells me he's going to try to do some bio which is totally conventional but Bernie wouldn't do bio last time. The fact he's doing it this time tells me he's listening to advisers more and he's willing to sort of step out of his comfort zone at least initially to try to be more of a conventional, dare I say, candidate.

KING: It will be interesting to watch, because in the absence of Biden if he runs --


KING: -- most people assumed he will, and, Bernie, Kamala Harris certainly here and in other early states of trying to take advantage of having the field. If there's a top tier, that's a dangerous word to use this early, but candidates getting the most buzz, it would be them.

And then you have some of these other candidates, Amy Klobuchar, not here in the Midwest this weekend but in South Carolina trying to find her place. And here, Julian Castro, former housing secretary in the Obama administration, John Hickenlooper, the governor, listen to them yesterday trying to carve out their space. And my question is, for the lesser-knowns, is it you need a breakthrough moment or do it one day at a time?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JULIAN CASTRO (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I see myself as the antithesis to Donald Trump. I'm trying to bring the country together instead of tear it apart. I'm focused on being a president for all Americans, not just the 37 percent base that will support me.

JOHN HICKENLOOPER (D), FORMER COLORADO GOVERNOR: Unless we are able to come together and find ways to, you know, to find ways to get to common ground and really work together on solving some of these big issues that are facing our country, we're toast.


KING: Likable guys. They're very well-received in these groups. The question is, can you sell the, let's come together, let's be nice, sir, which is an anti-Trump message?

They say, we're not going to be that polarizing.

[08:20:02] I'm not going to do policy on Twitter. I'm not going to attack people but Democrats are hungry for a fight. Can you sell that?

RESTON: They totally need a breakout moment. And, you know, Klobuchar and Harris had that during the Kavanaugh hearings.

But I've been spending a lot of time in South Carolina the last two months and literally the voters are like, oh, that snowy lady. The one who, you know, announced in a blizzard?

I mean, these guys are so much lesser known that I really think they have a lot of work to do. And a lot of times that is going to be those moments that go viral or, you know, funny videos on the campaign trail because it's really hard to stand out in this field.

KING: And another one you spoke to him yesterday, this weekend, is Michael Bennet. You have your ten who are in and the other ten who you think are about to get in and Michael Bennet decides I'm going to come to Iowa. He's a Colorado senator.


SEN. MICHAEL BENNET (D), COLORADO: I think what I have to add is an experience -- a lifetime of experience outside of politics before I got into politics.

It's unusual. I was a school superintendent. Before that, I was in business in the Senate. I've spent ten years working a bipartisan way to create results and a range of issues from immigration to education and a lot of things in between. And I think I've got a perspective that's different than others as a result.


KING: Three hundred and forty-four days. A lot of time to make your mark. Where does he see his fate? ZELENY: The question there was, why you? What do you not see in this

Democratic field that's brought you here to a very snowy Iowa yesterday? He's like, look, he thinks he has something unique.

But he had a breakout moment on the floor of the Senate in January that's thrust him into this. It was a fight with Ted Cruz. So that is something that -- that is something that he is thinking about, but he is very seriously also considering joining this candidacy. I think Donald Trump taught a lot presidential candidates one thing, why not jump in? Who knows how this race is going to end?

Absolutely, we have no idea what the field is going to look like a year from now. One thing is clear. Showing up is a key ingredient to this. Julian Castro in Orange City, Iowa, a conservative area of northwest Iowa. That's where Democrats didn't do well, where Hillary Clinton didn't do well.

Just showing up in Trump country is a good thing.

MARTIN: And the big question I have, is Iowa still Iowa? The state that you don't necessarily have to have a viral moment, where Jimmy Carter came in in '76 that became the nominee and the president or Huckabee in '08 and Santorum in '12 did something similar. A lot of time, a lot of shoe leather and you eventually establish yourself here through longevity and hard work.

Or has politics changed in the Trump era and this is basically a sound stage for a national media and social media conversation?

RESTON: And you end up with ten tickets out of Iowa instead of three.

KING: The question is, if some of these lesser known candidates start to move up. Even if they come in fourth here, if you believe them, can you raise any more money? I mean, that's the vetting process that will be Iowa. A lot more to talk about as we go.

Up next -- Kamala Harris talks taxes, labels and whether Democrats are offering a long list of new programs without a way to pay for them. And Iowa crowded this weekend with candidates. Amy Klobuchar had South Carolina to herself.


SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That's what this election is going to be about. It's going to be the uniting. It doesn't feel like that when it feels like everyone in the room is running for president. I'm the only one right now in this room.



KING: There's no doubt Senator Kamala Harris can claim some early moment num the Democratic race, and no doubt, she's also learning lessons four weeks into her official campaign. A casual CNN town hall comment about how Medicare-for-All might wipe out private health insurance drew bipartisan fire. Now, she talks of how private insurers would offer important supplemental coverage in under Medicare-for-All.

We spoke for a few minutes yesterday before a town hall in Ankeny. And I began by asking, noting she gets annoyed when people try to label her, whether it's a media account calling her moderate, or the president and conservative talk radio hosts using the term socialist.


HARRIS: Well, I think, first of all, it's important to distinguish between where someone is on a policy issue with a label with name- calling. All of those are different points. And I certainly think that we should all want that. Our leaders do not engage in name- calling, because that's really just very low level of discourse and we should expect more from leaders.

In terms of where I am, who I am -- I'm a progressive Democrat. I'm a Democrat. I'm a proud Democrat. I'm not a socialist.

I believe that the people in our country today want leaders who understand that right now, everyone does not have equal opportunity to success. And we need to restore America's promise for equal opportunity to success. I believe that right now, we've got a country of folks who, in particular the working middle class who deserve to have more support and that the rules have been written over the last several decades, frankly, in a way that have excluded them.

And we can look most recently at the tax bill that was passed that benefits the top 1 percent and big corporations, to the exclusion of helping middle class Americans, which is why I'm proposing we change the tax code.

KING: What you propose is to take back the Trump tax cut?

HARRIS: Yes, repeal it, repeal it.

KING: To the wealthy and the corporations.

HARRIS: Absolutely.

KING: Give that to the middle class? Your LIFT tax, as you call it?

HARRIS: That's right.

KING: Is that it for you or do you think the government needs to raise more revenue?

HARRIS: Well, I think --

KING: Elizabeth Warren has the plan, you know, the mega tax, mega rich, get tax higher. Is that a good idea or do you think you start by taking away the Trump tax cut? You distribute it more fairly.

HARRIS: Well, we start fair. We start fair but I absolutely believe that we also have to look at the fact that the top 1 percent can pay more and should pay their fair share. We're looking at a situation --

KING: You're not there on how much yet?

HARRIS: I'm looking at all these ideas and I think they're very creative and I see positive benefit to them. And right now the working class of America, working middle class families are suffering. I have met more people who, you know, people tout the job numbers and unemployment numbers. Yes, people are working but they're working two jobs, sometimes three jobs to pay the bills. That's not right.

KING: You cast yourself on the campaign trail as a truth teller. You say when you could tell truth --


KING: What do you say or tell me if you think this is fair. That as you talk to Democratic voters, they're hungry and they want ideas. And so you'll hear things like the Green New Deal.


KING: You'll hear things like Medicare for all. You'll hear things like, y, whether it's taxes, you'll hear things --

HARRIS: Right.

KING: -- at what point do you say that's our north star but we have to be realists?

HARRIS: There's no question we have to be practical. But being practical also recognizes that climate change is an existential threat to us as human beings. Being practical recognizes that greenhouse gas emissions are threatening our air and threatening the planet and that it is well within our capacity as human beings to change our behaviors in a way that we can reduce its effects. That's practical.

KING: Can we afford it?

HARRIS: Of course we can afford it.

KING: $2.5 trillion, $3 trillion a year for Medicare for all by some studies. I don't -- depending on which portions of the Green New Deal you pick to do first --- that's money. You know what the Republicans are going to say -- tax and spend liberals, pie in the sky.

HARRIS: One of the things that I admire and respect is the measurement that is captured in three letters, ROI. What's the return on the investment? People in the private sector understand this really well. It's not about a cost. It's about an investment.

And then the question should be, is it worth the cost in terms of the investment potential? Are we going to get back more than we put in?

KING: So what Mayor Bloomberg, Amy Klobuchar -- some of your potential fellow Democrats say no too much, it's too ambitious, it's too expensive. You think they're wrong. HARRIS: I look forward to that debate on the debate stage. I look forward to it very much.

KING: Let me close with where we are. Trump blew up the blue wall -- Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin. This state has been right in the last four in eight of the last ten presidential elections -- 31 counties. They voted twice for Barack Obama in this state alone, switched and voted for Donald Trump.

How and why did that happen?

HARRIS: I'll leave that to the pundits, but I'll tell you that --

KING: Can I stop you there for one second?


KING: If I'm a Democratic voter and I want Trump gone --


KING: I want a better answer than that. In the sense that don't you have to know why it happened to know how to fix it?

HARRIS: No question. But not only why it happened. I think that the bigger question is, what do the American people want from their leader. That's the question I ask. And when I sit down with folks in their living rooms, in a coffee shop in a town hall, what they are talking about is the need to be able -- to be able to work hard and be able to pay the bills at the end of the month.

KING: But those are pretty big wows. I mean do you get -- do you think that President Obama just failed them? They got the sense that they didn't deliver enough change? Was Hillary Clinton just a bad candidate? Was Donald Trump just great?

HARRIS: John -- I think it is a mistake to assume that people are one issue or that they're monolith. There are people who voted for each of the candidates based on a variety of issues. But I'm going to tell you what I'm hearing in 2019 leading up to 2020.

I'm hearing people in the state of Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina wherever you want to -- name the state -- Wisconsin, Michigan. I've been to those places, too.

What they want to know is that people who want to be the leaders of this country are actually seeing them and thinking about the issues that keep them up at night. That's what they want. And whoever has the best plan for that, and I think speaks most truth about the reality of American life today, and speaks truth and with an honest heart and purpose about what can be the vision for our country, I think that's the person who the voters are going to support.


KING: It's a fascinating moment in that there's so much more attention so early. Normally candidates spend weeks if not months out here in small meetings. There's 20 cameras at some of these events.

So I don't want to be over-judgmental but she's going to need a better answer than that.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: And you know who has one? Sherrod brown, Amy Klobuchar and others have a better answer than that. And they say look, we can play in Trump country.

I was with Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, not in yet but seriously exploring it. He was in Howard County, Iowa -- one of those counties you talked about that switched from Obama to Trump that President Obama won with 57 percent of the votes. President Trump won with 60 percent of the vote. That's one of those counties.

And he makes the case you have to go to Trump country and make the argument. She -- that's a perfect example of how presidential candidates can grow on the campaign trail.

[08:35:01] We all remember 12 years ago, Barack Obama had many flubs.

KING: And people forget that. People forget that. Early Obama was not a good candidate.

ZELENY: He's not a hatched (ph) presidential candidate. He struggled. He talked way too long. They put him on teleprompter because he couldn't keep his answers short.

But this is something -- a growing process and that answer is not sufficient to many Democrats.

KING: And all of the Democrats are making a huge bet, a huge bet. My first campaign was the Dukakis campaign. He lost 40 states.

Bill Clinton then ran saying the Democrats have to move to the center. Obama won after that. Even Hillary Clinton repudiated a lot of what her husband stood for when she ran for president.

But they are making a huge bet. She was asked a question, the young girl's actually here in the audience today, about the debt and she said we need to invest. She talked about spending.


KING: The Democrats are making a big bet that they can sell this.

RESTON: Right. I think that -- and they're very particular about what they want to hear. Really interesting moment also in South Carolina, in Columbia, about a week ago, where she was asked by a voter like, why are you better than any of the other 2020 candidates to take on Trump?

And she said, you know, I'm a fighter. And she talked about her middle class tax plans and her lines about truth. People want someone to tell the truth.

I talked to the voter afterwards and she was like, that wasn't good enough. A generic answer. I want to hear more, you know. I'm keeping my mind open but I need more than that. They want like a real hard, you know, connection with passion from these candidates.

JONATHAN MARTIN, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "NEW YORK TIMES"L One of the biggest litmus tests, if there are any litmus tests in this primary is not on issue. It is viability.


MARTIN: It is can you defeat President Trump? You hear it again and again from voters. I just want to get Trump out of the White House.

RESTON: Right.

MARTIN: And I think that's the kind of mood music to this discussion that we're having. That's why her answer is insufficient. It's because that is such a crucial question that voters want to hear. How can you beat Trump? How can you put back into play those states Trump flipped from Obama?

And just talking about the fact that you're a fighter and the American people care about issues x, y and z I don't think cuts enough ice right now with those kinds of voters who do, in fact, want to hear a plan for how you can win.

And to Jeff's point, you've got candidates whose entire candidacy in some ways now is centered on their own viability -- namely Sherrod Brown and Amy Klobuchar. That's their entree into this race. I won Ohio. I won Minnesota.

And it's going to be fascinating to see how those arguments clash with her in the months ahead.

KING: It's a rough analogy when you look out the window and you spent the last few days here. But we're in the spring training phase of the campaign in the sense that it's interesting to watch the candidates grow. We'll see how that all plays out.

Up next for us here though -- the President, he's also thinking a lot about 2020. The map looks tough and Iowa again looms as a crucial swing state.


KING: Donald Trump is president because he broke the so-called blue wall flipping Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin from blue to red.

But Iowa's role should not be forgotten. The President won here by nine points. And while this swing state carries only six electoral votes, it has a history of picking White House winners in five of the last six presidential elections and eight of the last 10.

A "Des Moines Register" poll just this past week showed that just over a third of likely voters here in Iowa will definitely support the President's re-election. 45 percent, though, say they'll definitely vote for someone else. As the President gears up for 2020, we know the early numbers here and elsewhere show a big challenge. We also know the President has a branding plan for the Democrats no matter who they nominate.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Socialism promises prosperity, but it delivers poverty. Socialism promises unity, but it delivers hatred and it delivers division. Everywhere and anywhere it appears, socialism advances under the banner of progress, but in the end it delivers only corruption, exploitation and decay.


KING: It is being here a reminder that yes, we should and will focus again on Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan -- the stunners in Donald Trump's path to the presidency. But this state is a great bellwether and I just -- we talked about the story (ph), I just want to show the map real quickly.

This is hard to do. Here's 2012. Look at the Iowa map. Barack Obama's victory here. Then look at the map in 2016. Donald Trump's victory here -- 31 counties flipped. 31 counties -- that is hard to do.

ZELENY: It is. And that is why some Democrats say you need to show up in these counties. And that is one thing that this early process, it has a benefit in the end.

Barack Obama visited Iowa more than any other state, any other candidate some 80 times in that first year, building an organization in towns across this state of Iowa. It helped him win in '08.

So whoever is emerging as a victor here, or even not, building an organization can help for November. But one thing I'm struck by, voters are picking up on what the President is doing.

Talking to a voter named Mike Brenner in Winterset yesterday -- Winterset, Iowa is about 45 miles or so out of here, out of town. And he said the President is already branding you guys as too far left. What can you do to sort of stay in the middle?

Other Democrats are like no, no, we want to go left. So that is the conversation here. But the big thing is showing up. And again as we talked earlier, that's what Amy Klobuchar is talking about, Sherrod Brown is talking about. But that map is -- it tells the whole story.


KING: Before you jump in, I just want to look at the national map because Gallup did some great state-by-state today -- this week.

If you look at the map, the deeper the green in this map, the more popular the President is. The lighter colors is where he's weaker. In those flipping states, you know, the Trump -- the blue wall states -- Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and even here -- his numbers are down. But if you remember the 2016 campaign, they're down but they're not out of reach.

And so this is going to be the Midwest -- this state, those blue wall states are going to be the fight.

MARTIN: Yes, they are. And some more than others. I mean it's a bit of a delicate conversation to have here as we sit in Des Moines. But the fact is that Iowa is a much tougher state than Michigan and Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

[08:45:05] KING: For Democrats in the general, you mean?

MARTIN: In the general election. That map obviously tells the story. In both eastern Iowa towards the river and certainly western Iowa, a lot of the more heavily working class white counties have just gotten away from the party.

The flip side of that is that where we're sitting right here in Des Moines and the burbs around here are much more Democratic-friendly now. But not totally gone. It's just the map looks different now for Democrats than it did in 2012.

Like in a lot of parts of the country, their votes come out of suburbs now more than ever before.

KING: Fascinating to watch.

Up next for us here -- up next for us here, some observations from a weekend on the trail, including what voters tell us about their key early tests.


KING: It's going to be 11 months of fun, isn't it?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, really exciting.

It's really fun.



KING: Iowa's caucuses still 11 months away -- that's 344 days. Time many Democrats say they need to sort through a diverse and crowded field. One that could have 15 candidates, maybe more. Early conversations with voters here suggest it is more than wide open.

Some of the early battle lines came up in a breakfast conversation with three undecided Democrats yesterday in Waterloo.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, Bernie Sanders is great at bringing the ideas out. And they've been widely adopted. I know there's probably half of the candidates right now that are saying the exact same thing he said two years ago. So now let's get somebody who can unite, you know.

Unfortunately there's so many people who will oppose Bernie Sanders because of his label as a social Democrat. There's others who all say he's not even a Democrat, he's an Independent. So it's going to be hard to rally the party behind.

JONATHAN GRIEDER, IOWA VOTER: Someone who supports public education, someone who supports union rights are my top two issues.

As a dad who pays a lot of money in child care, that's another issue. As a millennial who has a lot of student debt and has a lot of friends with student debt that prevents us from buying houses or starting lives, or other things -- those are the bread-and-butter issues for, I would argue, most of the people of my generation.

RITA WAGGONER, IOWA VOTER: So I would love to see a different face. I mean I love Joe Biden. I caucused for Joe Biden. I caucused for Bernie.

But I would like to see things shaken up a little bit, you know. Either a woman or just something that looks different that brings in a new mix and I think that would energize people who have not felt like they are part of the system. That's the most important thing to me.


KING: Just a great flavor there of the competing pressures, the competing interests, the competing desires and the long list of questions Iowa voters have.

RESTON: Yes, I mean that is exactly the last voter that you talked to -- that is the central theme right now for so many of these voters out here. It goes to the electability, the viability theme and the idea that, in all of this chaos in Washington they want someone fresh, tough, fierce, and they want their candidates to show that to them.

MARTIN: Yes, it is striking to hear that last voter because I heard some of that yesterday, too, that there really is, I think, a Trump- era hungerness (ph) to prove that this country does not reflect Trumpism and that I think Democrats deep down are consumed with sort of rebuking, not just the President but what they think he stands for.

And I think that's why some of them do like the idea of nominating somebody who does not reflect the previous presidents in this country. Perhaps a woman. And I think that's something you hear time and time again.

You don't always get it on the first question to voters, but the second or third it often comes up.

ZELENY: I heard that same thing from a voter named Joyce, 74 years old, yesterday. She said I would like a younger candidate. I have nothing against Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden but we need new blood, new ideas, new people. So that is a challenge here for those older candidates.

But there is a wide age range -- Pete Buttigieg 37 years old, Bernie Sanders 77 years old. So that is the range of age.

But I think Democrats are also, we talked to them, looking for pragmatism, optimism, and they are shopping. One thing Iowa shows -- remember Howard Dean in '04. He had a surge here and then he crashed. The scream was because he got third place here that evening.

RESTON: Right.

ZELENY: So look for someone to rise this spring and summer. We don't know how this will end. But if Joe Biden gets in, if Bloomberg gets in, if Sherrod Brown gets in, if Beto gets in -- it is even more crowded than we know.

KING: How do the voters deal with these sometimes competing interests and, you know, tensions if you will?

We're at the fun phase now. I talked to one county chairman who said that he has talked to 17 -- 17 potential candidates, he's either met or spoken to. And two more campaigns have been in touch with him -- 19.

I talked to somebody the other who said they're about to say they're for Cory Booker and they were at a small gathering with Michael Bennett and said, I love this guy.

So they're going back and forth but to the point you made, this state is tough for Democrats in a general election. A lot of the Democrats feel guilty about 2016. And they know they had a great 2018. So they talk about if only we pushed the ball a little harder up the hill. If we worked harder up the hill.

So that is a general election dynamic coming up among caucus-goers who are normally much more ideological and talking about the party.

RESTON: And I think for sure that this is not a settled argument yet among Democrats about why they lost in 2016. And you hear that contradiction in candidate messaging all the time where they're trying to figure out whether they should be focusing more on the issues that really grab the millennials who didn't show up for Hillary Clinton or whether it's about going after those Trump voters and finding an economic message that actually connects this time.

MARTIN: It's a fascinating moment where the Republicans, led by President Trump, are determined to brand the Democrats as far left socialists and that to them provides a really great opportunity here.

[08:54:59] At the same time, you go to these town halls, you talk to voters, you just don't hear the kind of demands for purity. You don't hear the kind of expectations for a Sanders-style, you know, far-left platform as a lot of the kind of Republicans would sort of hint that you would.

They want to win. That time and time again is what you hear from voters here.


RESTON: But Twitter conversation's different than out here?

KING: Twitter conversations different. The Washington conversation is different. Maybe Democrats learning a lesson. Donald Trump wasn't exactly a pure Republican in 2016.

Appreciate you guys getting up early. Appreciate our host here. (INAUDIBLE) as well.

That's it for this special edition, Iowa edition of INSIDE POLITICS. Again thanks for sharing your Sunday. Catch us weekdays as well at noon eastern.

Don't go anywhere. Up next, "STATE OF THE UNION" with Jake Tapper. An interview with the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Have a great rest of your Sunday.