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Special Coverage Of The Iowa Caucuses Begins; Iowa Votes. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired February 3, 2020 - 16:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[16:00:00]

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Our special coverage of the Iowa caucuses starts right now.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: After months of campaigning, it is decision day in Iowa.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: And the Democrats' hopes of winning back the White House are on the line.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER (voice-over): In the heartland right now, one state casts the first votes in the epic collection.

JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is time to decide. It's time to move.

ANNOUNCER: The moment is here for Democrats to make up their minds.

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Are you ready to send this presidency into the history books?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Trump will be defeated.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Beat Donald Trump, that is our job. And I got a plan for that.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

ANNOUNCER: Who has what it takes to take on Trump? It is Iowa's choice.

Tonight, the kickoff contest of 2020.

BUTTIGIEG: Are you ready for caucus night?

ANNOUNCER: And the field is wide open.

Joe Biden arguing that he is the most electable, with a promise to restore America's soul.

BIDEN: We choose hope over fear. We choose truth over lies. ANNOUNCER: Bernie Sanders claiming he can energize voters with a

promise to transform America.

SANDERS: Sorry, you ain't going to buy this election.

ANNOUNCER: The top candidates in a high-stakes battle over who can take back the White House.

WARREN: Hello, Iowa City!

ANNOUNCER: Elizabeth Warren offering up a passion for big plans.

WARREN: This is no time for small ideas. That is why I'm here.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

ANNOUNCER: Pete Buttigieg pledging a new generation of leadership.

BUTTIGIEG: We are the solution to the problems that we face.

ANNOUNCER: Amy Klobuchar promoting Midwestern pragmatism and grit.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have won every race, every place, every time. We want to win.

ANNOUNCER: Eleven candidates in all eager to challenge the president in the bitter aftermath of impeachment.

SANDERS: Enough is enough. We are going to win.

ANNOUNCER: Now it is time for the voters to have their say.

TOM STEYER (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We know we need to turn the page.

ANDREW YANG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We are going to shock the world. Am I right?

ANNOUNCER: Iowa is the first stop on the road to the White House.

BIDEN: Let's get the hell up and take back this country.

SANDERS: There is nothing that can stop us.

ANNOUNCER: And tonight will change the course of the 2020 campaign.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in the CNN Election Center.

We're counting down to the official start of the Iowa caucuses, the first crucial contest in the Democratic presidential race.

Eleven candidates are in the running for the party's 2020 nomination. But the battle for Iowa is expected to come down to this, four leading candidates, Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren, in a very close and suspenseful race, all of them focused on defeating one man, President Donald Trump.

We're standing by for early results from what's known as satellite caucuses. They're being held in Iowa and at locations across the country and even around the world. Iowans who live out of state are getting a unique opportunity to participate.

The next satellite caucus we're covering begins in Saint Petersburg, Florida, in less than an hour. Others already are under way, including this satellite caucus in Port Charlotte, Florida. We have a live report soon on the results of that location.

We have a team of correspondents inside caucus sites and at the candidates' headquarters, as we begin our special coverage of this momentous day in Iowa.

Right now, let's go to Jake Tapper and Dana Bash. They're in Des Moines for us.

Guys, set the scene.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Well, it's great, Wolf, because, right now, we have absolutely no idea what's going to happen. The race is wide open.

All four of the front-runners that you mentioned there, Buttigieg, Warren, Sanders, Biden, all four of them have had moments where they were ascendant in the polls, especially here in Iowa. The polls have shown them all fairly close, neck and neck, within the margin of error in a lot of those polls.

So, really, anything could happen. We have no idea. Forget the pundits. Forget the spin. Forget what press secretaries say. Forget the TV ads. It's all entirely left in the hands of the voters of Iowa, the Democratic voters of Iowa.

And so, for that reason alone, it's an exciting time.

But also, Dana, one of the things that's going on that's so exciting is truly the Democratic Party, these Democratic voters here in Iowa and around the world are going to be deciding the direction of the Democratic Party. Do they want to try to appeal to middle-of-the-road voters?

Do they want to chart a more moderate path, like with Buttigieg or Biden or Klobuchar? Do they want to try something completely new like Yang?

[16:05:06]

Do they want to pursue a more progressive path, trying to motivate voters who don't naturally come out to vote, like Warren or Sanders?

So, really, it's so exciting for people like us, because now it's up to the people who really matter, the voters.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's true.

And because caucuses are so different from all of the primaries we're going to see down the road, people are going to come together in their communities and form groups to decide which of those answers that they're going to give.

It's, first of all, going to be the question of the ideology, the personality of the candidate, but then there are big changes this time around from what we've seen...

TAPPER: Oh, the rules, yes.

BASH: ... in the rules.

And I can tell you, I was traveling around Iowa over the past couple of days, yesterday in particular, talking to voters, and even ran into some who are precinct captains, meaning they're the ones who are going to be in charge of trying to get the voters their way for their candidate.

And there are a lot of people who are concerned that the voters aren't sure exactly or the caucus-goers aren't sure exactly how it's going to work, because, in the past, you could really move around.

This time around, you go to your candidate, you're locked in.

TAPPER: You're locked in.

BASH: You can't move.

TAPPER: Even if it's uncommitted.

BASH: Even if it's uncommitted, which is effectively a candidate, which we can talk about later.

TAPPER: Yes.

BASH: And so that is a really, really big difference that these people who are in the caucuses are going to have to explain real time to make sure that people coming understand their first choice is likely going to be their only choice.

TAPPER: It's complicated. And we're going to try to make sure that everybody out there understands.

But just to be candid, I understand it now after it's been explained to me, so it can't be too tough, because if I get it, if I get it, then I think the voters of Iowa are going to be fine.

As caucus results start to come in, we're going to break them down for you in more than one way, in several ways, in fact.

For the first time, Iowa Democrats are reporting the results of the popular vote in two different rounds, not just delegates, but the popular vote. In the first round, voters will get to declare their first choice candidate. In the final round, voters are allowed to switch their support if their first choice candidate doesn't arrive at, at least 15 percent in that caucus.

It's called a viability threshold. But 15 percent is the percentage to get to. We're going to be able to compare both rounds to see how the vote changed and how that may have helped the ultimate winner of that individual caucus.

Now, in the end, the winning candidate will be the one who gets the biggest share of Iowa delegates. State delegates are awarded based on the final round of votes, not the first one, but the final round.

Again, the state delegates are what matters most. We're going to be watching them very, very closely all night long.

And now we want to check in at a satellite caucus being held outside of Iowa. As Wolf mentioned earlier, registered Iowa Democratic voters who are out of state right now -- maybe they're in college, maybe they have winter homes in Florida, whatever -- they're getting the chance to take part in caucuses around the country and even around the world.

Let's go to CNN Rosa Flores. She's at a satellite caucus in Port Charlotte, Florida.

Rosa, what's going on there?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Jake, caucusing here has been going on for about 30 minutes.

I want to show you around, because you can see that there are different groups. This group right now that's raising their hands, those are the Amy Klobuchar voters. And what's happening right now is, this is the first round.

So, as you were just explaining, they're trying to figure out if these candidates have viability. There are 134 Iowans caucusing here today. So that viability number, Jake, is 20.

So what you're seeing is, is, they're going around and counting each hand one by one to make sure that each of the candidates has viability. And then here, to my left, you can see that this is the Pete Buttigieg crowd, so they're waiting.

They're also filling out their presidential preference cards here. And they're counting them, because that's another very important part of this year that's also new, is that there's going to be a paper trail that's going to be able to be counted.

Now, as we walk over, you can see the Bernie Sanders camp is a little light on this side. And then you have Elizabeth Warren on the far side here as well. Now, they're also waiting because they're going to be counted as well.

Now, we should point out that while you see a lot of activity here, this is not a barometer for the results that we're going to have this evening, Jake, but a lot going on, as you can see.

And from talking to a lot of these folks, as you were mentioning, Jake, they're very excited to be able to caucus and participate, even though they're in Florida in February -- Jake.

TAPPER: I know. It's a brand-new thing. It's very exciting.

And as Rosa just said, this is just one caucus site of more than 1,600, almost 1,700 total caucus sites.

So, what we see there, what happens after that first round of voting is not necessarily indicative. But we're going to go back to that caucus site right after we squeeze in this quick break to find out the first actual votes.

[16:10:03]

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our special coverage of the Iowa caucuses.

For the first time, there are what are being called satellite caucuses outside of Iowa around the country and, indeed, even around the world.

Let's go to Paris, France, right now, where they are just wrapping up the Iowa caucuses there.

Melissa Bell is on the scene -- Melissa.

MELISSA BELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're a long way from Iowa.

Now, it is the first time that registered Iowan Democrats have been able to come and vote overseas, three cities, Tbilisi, Glasgow and here in the French capital.

And what you're going to see in this room, however, they have just finished that second round of voting, the realignment, is really the same thing you're going to see throughout their satellite caucuses both domestically and, of course, in Iowa itself, the names of the candidates up on the wall.

Those voting cards, that paper trail that Rosa was just talking about a moment ago, everyone who came in here, 17 registered Democrats in the end, turned out to vote here in Paris.

[16:15:01]

And it is not necessarily representative sample, Wolf, nor is it tremendously large, but what is interesting about it is that it gives some early idea of how people in Paris, how Iowan Democrats here in Paris voted, simply because of the time difference, we have an idea of what's happened here.

Again, out f 17 registered voters, we are not talking about huge numbers, just over 41 percent for Elizabeth Warren, this is the first round of voting. CNN estimates, Bernie Sanders, 29.4 percent, Amy Klobuchar, 17.6, Pete Buttigieg, 11.8. Now, what that meant was that he was not a viable candidate and the people who chosen him had to then redistribute. We now have that second round of voting come in. So, now we now -- there's a final estimates here in the Paris caucus here, they've come in at 47 percent for Elizabeth Warren, 35 percent for Bernie Sanders and 17 percent for Amy Klobuchar.

Again, not a representative sample, but it is interesting to see who's come out to vote. Of these 17 Iowan Democrats, lots of young people, several first-time voters and I think this is really interesting, Wolf, one of the groups that turned out, we counted at least four Republican voters who have attended an Iowan Democratic caucus for first time.

BLITZER: And they can register on the same day.

All right. Melissa Bell in Paris, thank you very much.

Rosa Flores is in Port Charlotte, Florida, along the Gulf Coast, not to far Port Myers.

What are you seeing over there, Rosa?

FLORES: Wolf, a lot of excitement. You see around the room, a lot of claps, a lot of smiles, people are very excited to be here in Port Charlotte.

What's going on right now is the first round of caucusing. There are 134 Iowans in this room, and they are about to announce the results of the first round, but let me give you a quick look. You can see that the different groups are caucusing together. And I am going to try to walk to the back of the room, Wolf, so that we don't interrupt the proceedings.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- and also by counting cards, OK?

So, here's what I got. Bennet, zero. Biden, 33. Bloomberg, zero. Buttigieg, 38. Delaney, zero. Gabbard, zero. Klobuchar,48. Sanders, 1. Steyer, 2. Warren, 12. Yang, 1. And I don't have the uncommitted yet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were there any uncommitteds? In the hall?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wait, wait, are you uncommitted back there?

No. I don't think that we did have any.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. Right now, I have zero uncommitted. Is that reflecting?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is the total now?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have 135 cards completed. And I had 100 registered. I had 134 people who signed in. I have 135. OK. OK.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we'll just check the cards before we send them home (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I will check the cards. Honestly, there are a couple of you who kind of did a three-stroke signature and it was kind of hard to tell whether it was a signature or the tail end of a previous signature, and so I will check the numbers one more time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, the numbers that I have, and I'll skip the zeros.

Biden, 33. Buttigieg, 38.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thirty-seven.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's got 38 cards and we verified that. The 38th was mine.

Klobuchar was 48. Sanders, 1. Steyer, 2. Warren, 12. Yang, 1. And uncommitted, zero, OK?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you say Biden, 33?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I said Biden, 33, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. So what we need to do now is to have the people, what is viability?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, people -- well, of 134, 20 is viable. So the groups that are smaller, and I think that they know who they are need to realign, but that's Yang, Warren, Steyer, Sanders.

Your groups are not viable. So we invite you to find another candidate whose views you can support.

[16:20:02]

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Amy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wait, wait, wait.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, I have been asked to identify the groups that are viable. The groups that are viable are --

FLORES: Hey, Wolf, just to explain what's going on right now, this is first round of the caucusing, and with 134, 135 people in the room, that means that each candidate needs at least 20 voters for them to be viable for them to reach that 15 percent threshold. So, so far, Klobuchar, Biden and Buttigieg have viability, but Yang, Sanders and Steyer and Warren do not.

And so, what the organizers are asking for those voters to do is for them to find a viable group and join them at that time. And then that starts the second round of caucusing which is what is about to start right now. And what you'll see is probably a lot of discussion among the people here in the room so that they can do what Iowans do when they caucus, which is to talk to their friends --

BLITZER: All right. Rosa, hold on for a moment, Rosa. I just want to show the viewers the results that we're getting right now that you can see, and they are on the screen right now. Right now, and this is in Port Charlotte, Florida, 35.6 percent, first round of the voting in this caucus in Port Charlotte, Florida, Klobuchar, 35.6 percent, Buttigieg, 28.1 percent, Biden, 24.4 percent, Elizabeth Warren, 8.9 percent, Tom Steyer, 1.5 percent.

So, now, there's going to be a second round of voting because some of the candidates were not, quote, viable. We're going to have those results as soon as we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: You are looking at the satellite caucus, that is in Port Charlotte, Florida. They've already taken one vote. Now, they are going to be voting again shortly. We're going to go back to there in a moment.

Here in Washington with our panel.

Bakari Sellers, what are your expectations for -- for today? I mean, what are you kind of going to be watching over the next, I don't know, 15 hours?

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think -- we would all agree that the expectation is no one knows what's going to happen tonight. No one knows what the results are going to be.

I am watching tonight. Of course, you have Barack Obama's vice president in Joe Biden, you have Pete Buttigieg, who is the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, a city of 100,000 people, on the biggest stage in Democratic politics. If you caucus for him, or vote for him or not, that's a big night.

Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar carrying the banner for those individuals like myself who were championing and wanting a female president. And so, you just have all of these different things and trends.

So, tonight is a good night. It gets our juices flowing, and we get to see Iowa and Port Charlotte and these places. We get to see what real democracy looks like.

COOPER: Governor?

JENNIFER GRANHOLM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It is the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency is what I am excited about, the whole season starts right now.

But I'm looking forward to the -- COOPER: You seem optimistic.

GRANHOLM: Well, I'm optimistic that the process has begun. I'm optimistic. I mean, even looking at the folks who are in Florida, it's just a cool thing. Democracy is such a wonderful thing.

So I am really interested in the storyline between the moderates and the progressives and the storyline between the young and old. I think that those are going to overlap somewhat, but I am interested in to see how the people move throughout tonight.

COOPER: Scott? By the way, I love the watch the satellite caucus, I mean, to kind of just watch it happening in real-time is fascinating.

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It really is, and I have been in four presidential elections. I teach a class on this at Harvard, but to like watch it all go down, when you legitimately have no idea what's going go happen tonight makes it, you know, take it out of the classroom and it makes it real and on live TV. It's really amazing what we're seeing.

Having been in the campaigns before, I thought they would give some perspective to the staffers. The heart is beating, you're wondering, did I do everything I could do, did I knock on every door, did I work as many hours as was required. So, my hats -- even though I hope that these people are not successful in November, Governor, I hope -- my hat -- this is the lifeblood of American democracy.

GRANHOLM: It is, that's right.

JENNINGS: Campaigns, talking to voters, people casting ballots in the run-up to the peaceful transition of power in the United States of America --

SELLERS: I agree with that, I agree, in January of '21.

GRANHOLM: Yes.

JENNINGS: So when we transition from Trump to Trump, it is going to be an amazing thing.

(LAUGHTER)

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS EDITOR AT LARGE: I do think it is important, in 2008, we had sense, right, you saw the momentum behind Obama. Now, Hillary was still hanging on, Edwards -- I know, this feels like 200 years ago, but John Edwards was still in the mix. But I think if you polled us off air in 2008, most would say, probably, probably going to be Obama. In 2016, we expected Hillary, was closer than any of us expected. I really think, I mean, I could see a case made for, you know, we show the top four, I could see a case made for all of them.

I think it's important to note, too, winning is absolutely by far the most important. But don't underplay the over-performing of expectations, especially for someone like Amy Klobuchar. She keeps waiting for that moment.

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