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Democrats Battle to Win Back Michigan from Trump in 2020; DNC Communications Director Xochitl Hinojosa Discusses Debates, Importance of Michigan, Trump's Racist Remarks Against Cummings & Baltimore; TSA Launches Investigation over Racist Display at Miami International Airport; A Look at Fox Theater Debate Stage. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired July 30, 2019 - 11:30   ET



[11:31:58] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to the big lead-up to the big moment on the big day. Here in Detroit, Michigan, we are soon going to start seeing some of the Democratic presidential hopefuls arriving for their final walk-throughs on the stage before tonight's being debate.

It is no accident that we are here in Michigan for this debate. This state was key to Donald Trump's victory and most believe that it's a must-win state for any Democrat to win back the White House.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny is taking a closer look at why Michigan matters. He's joining me now.

Jeff, this is so important. I know you left your heart in Iowa, but what is it about Michigan, my friend?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, there's no question that Michigan remains one of the biggest points of contention, if you will, the stinging defeat that Hillary Clinton suffered here in 2016. The reasons for that really are an undercurrent for this entire 2020 Democratic presidential primary campaign.

All the issues we're hearing tonight and tomorrow night at the debate, should the party more towards the left or in a middle, that is all because of Donald Trump's victory here, and it was a victory because of 10.,074 votes.




ZELENY (voice-over): There's a reason President Trump speaks so fondly of Michigan. He's the first Republican presidential candidate to carry the state since 1988, and he's gunning for a repeat.

TRUMP: We're very tough to take out, aren't we? Very tough.


ZELENY: As Democratic hopefuls gather in Detroit for their second debate, there's little appetite for relitigating Hillary Clinton's loss in 2016. But the collapse of the blue wall in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania is a driving undercurrent of the 2020 race.

Here in Michigan, one number still seared into the minds of many Democrats, is 10,704.


ZELENY: That's how many votes Trump defended Clinton by.

GRETCHEN WHITMER, (D), MICHIGAN GOVERNOR: We were all in disbelief and as we parsed through what the numbers were, it was very clear that people didn't turn out the vote. The 10,000 plus votes that was a difference in Michigan was a very low turnout.

ZELENY: Gretchen Witmer is the state's new Democratic governor.


ZELENY: Winning office last fall as the party roared back in the midterm elections. She's closely watching the primary saying the outcome will play a critical role in determining whether Michigan is still Donald Trump country.

WHITMER: Between 2016 and 2018, we had a massive change in who showed up at the polls and the results speak for themselves. When the candidate shows up and listens to people and stays focused on the dinner-table issues, that's how you persuade people that you're worthy of their vote.

ZELENY (voice-over): Do you think any Trump voters from 2016 can be persuaded to vote Democratic in 2020, or are things so entrenched that it's more about turning out the Democratic base?

WHITMER: I think people can definitely be persuaded.

ZELENY (voice-over): That is one of the essential questions framing the Democratic fight. Should the party choose a nominee acceptable to more moderate Trump voters by winning over those who supported Barack Obama but rejected Clinton, or should they find a candidate who electrifies the liberal base?

[11:35:08] That dynamic comes alive in Macomb County, just outside Detroit, one of the most carefully Obama-to-Trump battlegrounds.

Ed Bruley is the county's Democratic chairman who believes the answer is motivating voters who stayed away from the polls in 2016.

ED BRULEY, (D), MCCOMB COUNTY DEMOCRATIC PARTY CHAIRMAN: I think there's too much fixation on this hybrid voter, and I think you need to really look at those who went out to vote and chose not to vote for either candidate.

ZELENY: Macomb county, alone, Clinton received about 31,000 fewer votes than Obama. In neighboring Wayne County, which includes Detroit, she received about 76,000 fewer votes than Obama.

GARLIN GILCHRIST, (D), MICHIGAN LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR; I think it was a matter of turnout.

Garlin Gilchrist, the state's new lieutenant governor, agrees that inspiring Democratic voters is key. But he also warns against complacency and thinking Trump can't win again.

ZELENY (on camera): Should Democrats take seriously the prospect of his reelection?

GILCHRIST: Absolutely. That's why he's president now because his prospect of being elected the first time was not taken seriously enough.


BOLDUAN: So, Kate, that is the backdrop here in Michigan of where this Democratic primary is.

And there's one more number to consider: 75,000 Michigan voters went to the polls in November of 2016 and didn't vote for president at all. They voted for other races. Those are called under votes. So when you add up all the numbers, that explains the margin and it explains what Democrats are looking for, as they begin weeding out this large primary field.

And on stage tonight, that conversation begins, of course, continues tomorrow night: What kind of nominee can beat Donald Trump -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. That was a great look back and look forward.

Jeff, thank you so much.

Joining me now to talk about tonight, Michigan and everything, Xochitl Hinojosa, the communications director for the Democratic National Committee.

It's great to see you, Xochitl. Thank you for being here.


BOLDUAN: So tonight, on stage, I want to know what you are hoping Michigan voters hear from the debate stage. Because it's setting up the way the draw happened, is you have a potential for a stark contrast. You've got the progressives in the center stage and then it's pretty much everyone else.

Some of those are the stage have also voiced concern that they think the Democratic Party in the primary is moving too far to the left at this point. We've heard that from some of the candidates. What do you want Michigan voters to hear tonight?

HINOJOSA: You have to appeal to all voters, our base, but then also those Trump voters that you saw in that segment right there. That's why we put 45 organizers on the ground very early this summer. The Democratic Party hasn't done that before.

But we also want to talk about the issues. I want to remind you, four years ago, Republicans were in the Fox Theater right here, and guess what they were talking about? Hand size. That's not what you're going to hear from the Democratic Party here and the candidates.

So will hear talk about health care and the economy. We might hear some immigration and what we're going to do for black voters. Unemployment is up for them, especially here in Michigan.


BOLDUAN: They're still as a historic low.

HINOJOSA: It is at a low, but there are too many voters that are not feeling the effects. So I think it's going to focus on the issues. And that's what we're looking for.

BOLDUAN: When you talk about racial division or racing criticisms, responding to the criticism about Donald Trump and that he's running on racial division, and did last time and will be doing this time, as it relates to the Baltimore tweets and the Elijah Cummings attacks.

The chairwoman of the RNC was on CNN this morning and she said this and I want you to listen to this.

RONNA ROMNEY MCDANIEL, CHAIRWOMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIOINAL COMMITTEE: The president is saying, let's look at the policies I put forward, lowest unemployment for the African-American history has hit during my term as president. Criminal justice reform. Wages are up. Poverty has decreased in the African-American community. Why aren't we talking about the good policies that this president is putting forward?

President Trump has been a champion for the African-American community and that story is not being told.


BOLDUAN: What do you say to that?

HINOJOSA: The story is not being told because Donald Trump is tweeting every second that he gets in order to divide our country.

A recent pool came out talking about how the majority of voters in Michigan do not believe that his tweets were appropriate. I think you hear from Trump voters right now and they want the tweeting to stop and they want to know, what are you doing for me. How are you looking to make my life better? And that's not happening.

And if Donald Trump continues the tactic of tweeting and attacks and especially racial attacks, he's not going to win. So we are very clear that we want to talk about, how are we helping people and that's what you'll hear today.

BOLDUAN: So many people on the stage tonight, as well as tomorrow.

My colleague, Harry Enten, took a deep dive, and I found it really interesting, into historical data and what it tells us about the reliability of polls, if you will, at this point in the game this far out. He found that, with few exceptions, candidates polling under 10 percent at the field at this point in the race have essentially no chance of winning the nomination. That's a vast majority of the field.

[11:40:09] Are 20 people on that debate stage this week helping your eventual nominee or wasting time and precious resources in taking down Donald Trump?

HINOJOSA: We learned the mistakes from 2016 and we want to say inclusive as possible. We are giving candidates two debates to make an impression. We understand polling isn't always reliable, and that's why we moved to a grassroots fundraising as well. Because we understand that if you get those grass roots donations that everyone is talking about, that shows momentum in your campaign.

So we looked at both and you can make the stages both ways. That's what you're seeing -- that's why you're seeing 20 people on the debate stage in two consecutive nights. We don't have an under card. We want to give everyone a fair shot for the first two.

Our threshold goes up in September. We have seen that no candidate polling under 2 percent has made it and become our president, so we think a 2 percent threshold is a pretty low threshold. But at the same time we want to make sure you're making progress in your campaign. And that's why we doubled the threshold.

BOLDUAN: Some of the progress begins tonight on the debate stage.

Xochitl, thank you so much for being here.

HINOJOSA: Thanks for having me.

BOLDUAN: Really appreciate it.

Coming up for us, the TSA is launching an investigation into some of its officers after a disturbing and racist display is discovered at Miami International Airport. A CNN exclusive report. We'll have that for you, next.


[11:45:28] BOLDUAN: We're getting exclusive reporting. The TSA has launched an investigation into some of its officers after this racist and disturbing display was found inside the workstation at Miami International Airport. You can see the image obtained by CNN.

Let me bring in CNN's Rene Marsh. She has the exclusive reporting for us.

Rene, what are you learning?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION & GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: It's truly disturbing. You saw in the photo a noose and the two stuffed gorillas. Obviously, this was very upsetting for the TSA employees who discovered it.

But what was also upsetting to them, I'm told, was their manager's initial reaction. That manager initially brushed it off as just a joke according to employees I spoke to. So that was sort of salt on the wound for these officers.

As we all know, monkeys have long been used as racial insults against African-Americans. And of course, the noose is just a powerful reminder of the history that African-Americans have violent history that African-Americans have endured.

So with all of that in mind for these three officers, this was no joke for them.

We can tell you that two TSA officers are on leave at this point as the agency investigates.

And we did reach out to TSA and they provided us with a statement which said, in part, "The display was immediately removed and an investigation was launched into who was responsible for the unacceptable behavior. TSA does not tolerate racist or offensive behavior. And those found responsible will be held accountable for their actions."

And I can tell you that the TSA employees that I spoke to say that this display really created this feeling of a hostile work environment and they say that they will not feel comfortable until everyone responsible is held accountable -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Much more to follow up on this.

Rene, thank you so much. Great reporting. Thank you for bringing it to us.

MARSH: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming for us still, here in Detroit, we are just hours away from the first of two CNN Democratic presidential debates. And the candidates will soon be arriving and taking their final walk-throughs of the big stage. So we're going to take you inside the debate hall. What they can expect to see when the lights turn on, that's next.


[11:52:43] BOLDUAN: The countdown is on. The T-minus-eight hours and some to CNN's Democratic debate. Candidates will soon be arriving at the historic Fox Theater just behind me to get their first glimpse of the big stage very soon. The podium placement, the lights, the all-important timing clock. We're getting our first look inside the debate hall as well and what

the candidates can expect tonight.

CNN's Ana Cabrera is inside the hall where it's all going to happen. She's joining me now.

Ana, what is it like in there? What are the candidates going to see when the lights turn on?

ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR & CORRESPODNENT; They'll see what you're seeing behind us. You can see final preparations under way on the debate state as we speak. The candidates will arrive in about an hour from now to do their final walk-throughs, a chance to get acquainted with the space and go familiar with the final logistics.

We went behind the scenes earlier today so you can see for yourself.


CABRERA: So this is where all the action will happen tonight. Ten candidates, 10 podiums each night.

But before the candidates come and debate, they'll get a chance to visit the theater, to get a real sense of the venue. Take a look around, this place is gorgeous. This theater was built in the 1920s. When it opened in 1928, it was believed to be the second-largest theater in the world.

I'll take a seat so our viewers can get a sense of what the live audience will see tonight. You get a real feel for how grand the theater is. This is the flagship venue of the Fox Theater chain.

Can you imagine seeing a show on that big stage? So many big names have taken that stage. Big names like Stevie Nicks, Bill and Hillary Clinton have signed the walls here backstage. Somewhere you'll finding the signatures of Frank Sinatra, Smokey Robinson, Jay Leno and countless others who had their time in the Fox Theater spotlight.

Let's head onstage.

As the candidates do their walk-throughs today, they'll have a chance to stand behind their podium to look out at this empty sea of seats, which, come debate time, there will be about 2,000 live audience members, all people invited by the Democratic National Committee from local colleges and elsewhere. Candidates will be talking to them and to those cameras up there, hoping their message connects with you.


CABRERA: Now, at least one of the presidential candidate has already been on this stage previously. Marianne Williamson lived in Detroit for about eight years in the late '90s, early 2000s. She's a faith leader in the community. She's done a number of lectures inside this theater. Her campaign hopes that gives her a competitive edge.

[11:55:14] She'll be on the far-left podium. Alongside her is Tim Ryan, Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Beto O'Rourke, John Hickenlooper, John Delaney and Steve Bullock.

That is the lineup for debate night one here in Detroit -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: And then debate night two, but let's not get ahead of it.

Ana, thank you so much. Really appreciate it.

One more time for good measure, it is debate day in America. Ten candidates are taking the state tonight. Who will rise, who will fall, what is their message to Michigan voters and beyond? We'll have much more live from the Motor City.

John King, right off camera. The King about to take the set.