Return to Transcripts main page


Winners & Losers From First Night of CNN Debates; What to Expect From Biden in Tonight's CNN Debate; Iowa Voters React to 1st Night of CNN Debates; What to Watch for in Tonight's CNN Debate. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired July 31, 2019 - 11:30   ET




[11:32:11] GOV. JOHN HICKENLOOPER (D-CO), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think if you're going to force Americans to make these radical changes, they're not going to go along.

Throw your hands up --


HICKENLOOPER: -- but you haven't --


HICKENLOOPER: -- oh, I can do it!


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: That was one of the more interesting moments of last night's debate. Theatrical, for sure, between Senator Bernie Sanders and former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper. They were sparring over what became the major theme of the night, liberal idealist versus moderate pragmatist.

We all know that these debates include a lot of strategy and a whole lot of preparation ahead of time, identifying the moment that you can capture, being able to deliver on it then under the bright lights. How do you do it and how did they do last night?

Joining me right now is a very well-known debate coach, Brett O'Donnell, who has advised candidates like Mitt Romney, John McCain, among many others, for moments just like this.

It's great to see you again, Brett.


BOLDUAN: So let's jump into this. You agree with the conventional opinion that Elizabeth Warren maybe was most successful last night. Let me play for our viewers what you saw as one of her strongest

lines, her take on the whole debate, the back and forth among Democratic candidates over Medicare-for-All.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA): We are not about trying to take away health care from anyone. That's what the Republicans are trying to do.



WARREN: And we should stop using Republican talking points in order to talk with each other about how to best provide that health care.




BOLDUAN: Brett, why did this work so well?

O'DONNELL: Well, because it reframed the debate. You know, most primary debates, to be successful in a primary debate, you've got to look like the leader, not the person who's bickering back and forth with the team. People are looking for the champion of the team, not the person who's going to kill all the other players.

So you want to find that moment where you can get outside, reframe the debate against the audience, against the enemy. Elizabeth Warren was able to do that, in that moment, to say let's stop using Republican talking points.

Now, I might have differences with her on policy, but in terms of debate strategy, that was a good one.

BOLDUAN: Debates are often about creating these moments. You think that Marianne Williamson was quite successful in doing that when she was talking about racial inequality. Let me play some of that for the viewers.


MARIANNE WILLIAMSON, SELF-HELP COACH & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is part of the dark underbelly of American society.


WILLIAMSON: The racism, the bigotry, and the entire conversation that we're having here tonight. If you think any of this wonkiness is going to deal with this dark psychic force of the collectivized hatred this president is bringing up in this country, then I'm afraid that the Democrats are going to see very dark days. (END VIDEO CLIP)

[11:35:02] O'DONNELL: Again --


BOLDUAN: What did you see there?

O'DONNELL: Yes. A very effective moment for her.

First of all, you know, I don't think she'll be the nominee, but she had two of the biggest moments in the debate last night. She drew the biggest applause throughout the entire debate with both of her lines on Flint, Michigan, and on reparations and race.

The reason for that is, if it was the battle between the ideologues and the pragmatists, no one was at the far poll better than she was in terms of being an ideologue. So that ability to say, hey, look, here's who we are, and define what it means to be a Democrat was a big moment for her in the debate last night. It's why she turned up to be the most searched candidate after the debate.

BOLDUAN: Let's jump ahead and look at tonight's debate, Brett. I want to ask you about, Joe Biden's June debate performance was, by all accounts underwhelming, lackluster, how so many people described it. He said that he's not going to be so polite this time, is how he's putting it.

What would your advice be in prepping a candidate like Biden? Does he need to come out on attack and attack early and often?

O'DONNELL: No, absolutely not. In fact, it's not about being less polite. It's about being ready. And Joe Biden just wasn't ready for his last debate.

Tonight, he better be an effective counterpuncher. He needs to know how to take an attack and rejoin that attack and counterpunch and turn an argument.

There were lots of missed opportunities for him. It seemed as though he was pulling a George H.W. Bush and didn't really want to be on the stage. "My time is up, I'm out of time," he said a couple times.


O'DONNELL: Tonight, he's got to seem like he's engaged and ready to counterpunch. But it doesn't mean being more, at least, angry. It means being a little more aggressive in terms of how he counterpunches.

And it means pushing a message. He's selling himself as the person who's ready to take on Donald Trump, yet, in that debate, he wasn't really ready to take on anyone.

BOLDUAN: Yes, I did find it noteworthy, and a lot of people noted it, that one thing you saw there was, last night, there was energy, it was heated, there were clashes, but it wasn't personal. And that's something that I think we could all take something away from. That should carry on through all the debates going forward.

Great to see you, Brett. Thanks so much.

O'DONNELL: Good to be with you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up, in case you didn't hear it the first and second and third time, Michigan is key in 2020. Before anyone tries to win here, they have to win -- they have a couple other states they need to go through, including Iowa. What voters in that crucial first caucus state have to say about night one of the CNN Democratic debate.

We're going to bring that to you as AT THIS HOUR, live from Detroit, continues in a moment.


[11:42:39] BOLDUAN: Welcome back, everybody.

We have been talking all week about how no matter who the Democratic nominee is, Michigan is critical if they want to win back the White House. It's the heart of the battleground in 2020.

But before any Democratic candidate makes it here to Michigan, they first need to make it through another midwestern state, Iowa and the Iowa caucuses.

So what are those key voters taking away from last night's debate?

Let's go there. CNN's Vanessa Yurkevich watched the debate with Democrats in Cedar Rapids, and she's joining me now.

Vanessa, what are you hearing? What did they think?

VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN BUSINESS & POLITICS REPORTER: Hi, Kate. As much pressure was on the candidates last night to perform well, voters here in Iowa were feeling the pressure as well about who to pick to vote for, for president, even as the Iowa caucuses are six months away now.

I spoke to some of them. They said everyone did really well last night, making their decision even harder.


YURKEVICH (voice-over): Iowans get a lot of visits from the Democratic field.

BRET NILES, CHAIRMAN, LINN COUNTY DEMOCRATS: We've seen them all from Bernie to Joe Sestak, they've all been here.

YURKEVICH: But voters here at a watch party in Cedar Rapids were eager to hear more from the candidates.

K.C. BARNES, IOWA VOTER: I want to hear about women's rights. I want to hear about race relations. And I want to hear about climate change.

YURKEVICH: Beto O'Rourke resonated with some voters here, talking tariffs and farmers.

BETO O'ROURKE, (D), FORMER CONGRESSMAN & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The question was about tariffs, and they're a huge mistake.

And farmers in Iowa and across the country are bearing the brunt of the consequences.

CATHY MEYER, IOWA VOTER: It hits home with almost anybody. You can ask anybody you work with. Oh, yes, my uncle's a farmer. Farming is our state. So it's huge.

YURKEVICH: Elizabeth Warren was a standout in the crowd.

UNIDENTIFIED IOWA VOTER: I feel like Warren really did. It felt like no matter where pressure was coming from, where different topics were coming from, she was able to handle it and take it up a few notches from that too.

YURKEVICH: The campaigns sending their representatives here, too, making what could be last-ditch efforts to connect with voters.

BARNES: I think the stakes are much higher. And I think people like Delaney, although I think he's a very decent man, I think his own people are saying it's time to step back. And I think a lot of them will step back if they don't knock it out of the ballpark.

[11:45:09] YURKEVICH: With stakes running high, some candidates lagging in the polls were able to shine.

ANNETTE BISHIOP, IOWA VOTER: I've actually been impressed with some of the things that Marianne Williamson has been saying. This is my first opportunity to really hear what she's had to say on certain issues. While there's not a lot of specifics, she's definitely, I think, speaking to the values and the morals of the country.

YURKEVICH: Even after a nearly three-hour debate, picking a frontrunner got even harder for some.

NILES: Frankly, it's overwhelming. I think sometimes I'm almost going to the point where I'm thinking, who can I eliminate rather than who can I elect.


YURKEVICH: As for tonight, voters we spoke to say they're eyeing that matchup between Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to see if they go head to head just like they did in their previous debate.

And, Kate, as for when we're going to hear from voters about who their favorite might be, do not hold your breath. We're probably going to have to wait until after September's debate when there's simply less candidates to choose from -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: That is a very good point. We'll ask, nonetheless, as we always do.

It's great to see you, Vanessa. Thank you so much. Great work.

Coming up for us, the 10 candidates facing off tonight are about to start arriving to the Fox Theater behind us. You're seeing inside the debate hall right now. They're going to be starting to do their final walk throughs.

They had the benefit of watching last night, of course, before they take the stage tonight. So what is tonight going to look like?

We're live in Detroit. We'll be right back.


[11:51:37] BOLDUAN: Welcome back, everyone.

We're live in Detroit, Michigan. We're just hours away from the second CNN Democratic presidential debate. Round two featuring the frontrunner, Joe Biden.

Soon the candidates will be arriving to check out the stage, get a feel for where they're going to stand, how it's going to feel once the lights go on tonight.

What is everyone watching for?

CNN's John Avlon and Harry Enten are here with me now.

Hello, guys.



BOLDUAN: It begins.

John, looking to tonight, what do you think the impact of last night is on tonight's debate?

AVLON: I think the candidates come in knowing we're going to have a substantive debate that has really emphasized the divide between the centrists and the left. The difference is Biden and Kamala Harris really do straddle those two camps even while their opponents try to push them into one or the other.

Also, the last debate hangs heavy on this. Here we are in the Motor City, but Joe Biden has to show he has the focus and the fire to deserve to be the frontrunner. If he's a couple of miles off the fastball, folks are going to pounce.

BOLDUAN: Another difference about tonight is that tonight there's the most diversity in the race. Most of the diversity is on the stage tonight.

Something to definitely watch is Biden standing in between two candidates who have targeted him most, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris. And racial inequality could be a very big discussion in this debate. Where are the numbers around race that people should remember when they hear this?

ENTEN: Look, this is a political atmosphere dominated by the president of the United States. We know that a majority of voters nationwide and certainly a majority of Democrats believe the president of the United States is a racist.

And it's not just that. It's that a majority of voters believe the president is racist. And I went back to 1968, George Wallace, who has been compared to the current president of the United States by Vice President Joe Biden. More voters say the president of the United States is a racist and thought that about George Wallace back in '68.

AVLON: Can we talk out how crazy that is? I mean, George Wallace ran as a segregationist, governor of Alabama. He really began a lot of these conservative populous politics, albeit on the Democratic side at the time, because the south voted Democrat 100 years since Lincoln.

For Donald Trump to be in that position poll-wise is a cry for help. He can call himself the least racist person on earth, with air quotes all day long.


AVLON: But the American people are saying differently and that's because of his actions. Never did someone in the White House try to intentionally divide Americans by race this way.

BOLDUAN: A little reality check in looking at tonight and looking at what the real impact will be when we see a new poll come out. We saw from the last debate, Harry, that debates have an impact on the polls. You can see a boost but you can also see a settle. Right?

ENTEN: Right. It's about capitalizing on the momentum. Joe Biden was at about 30 percent in the national polls before the last debate, then dropped in the mid 20s. There's a few polls out over the last few days that have him back in the law 30s.

Kamala Harris went from singles digits all the way up into the high teens. Then she settled back into the low teens. That puts here in a better position than she was at the start.

But what we're going to see tonight is a lot of the candidates will go after each other tonight. There could be a change in the polls. But remember, folks, hold on a little bit. Wait a little bit. See beyond that initial bounce whether the bounce actually holds.

BOLDUAN: Still, debates still matter.


ENTEN: They matter. They're fun. They're great television.

AVLON: And that perceptions are going to hard harden. BOLDUAN: Yes.


BOLDUAN: Thanks, guys.

[11:54:57] But wait, there's more. If you want more of this fine political analysis -- I'm pointing to them, obviously, not including myself -- the three of us, cause we're crazy, have launched a new podcast called "THE FORECAST." Between John, Harry and I, we'll bring you the data and analysis that you need to get smart, stay smart on what's happening in this already wild election season. You can subscribe to the free podcast, "THE FORECAST," at Apple podcast, Stitcher, Spotify and your favorite podcast app.

Live coverage continues with the one and only, the great John King, after a quick break.