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2020 Candidates Size Up Their Chances As New Hampshire Votes; Candidates Flock To Polling Stations As New Hampshire Votes; Mayor Pete Buttigieg: It Would Be Difficult For Bernie Sanders To Beat Donald Trump; Source: Roger Stone Sentencing Recommendation Surprises Some At Department Of Justice; New Hampshire Polling Trends Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren Support Dripping. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired February 11, 2020 - 12:00   ET




JOHN KING, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Welcome to "Inside Politics." I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us. New Hampshire's first in the nation presidential primary is under way. The first votes were cast at midnight, as is tradition. Joe Biden is heading to South Carolina before the polls close, which speaks volumes about his New Hampshire expectations.

Plus how will New Hampshire reshape the race? Bernie Sanders looks to emerge as the clear progressive favorite. Two mid-westerners, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar compete for the momentum in the moderate lane. And some longer-shot candidates know the road ahead is bleak unless they engineer a big New Hampshire surprise.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you feel like you have to come in keep--

DEVAL PATRICK (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: First is what we're aiming for, and we're working real hard. We've made contact with hundreds of thousands of voters in New Hampshire, very direct, very personal over the last couple months. We're working today to get out that vote.



KING: We wish all candidates well on Election Day. We'll see how it plays out? We begin this hour with the real live votes in New Hampshire. Look actual votes counted. Last night the votes cast at midnight, turnout steady this morning across the granite state. Candidates are steady presence at polling sites.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Something is happening here and we just want to seize the moment. I'm going to work my heart out all day. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Mayor you going to win here today?

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We think so it's feels fantastic. The volunteers are fired up and the energy on the ground is wonderful.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is the way it looks like?

BUTTIGIEG: We'll let you work that out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senator are you feeling good?



KING: Many of the candidates setting expectations short of winning but Bernie Sanders' aim is very clear, finish first and cement front- runner status.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I heard the 1 percent may be very powerful, but there are a hell of a lot more people in the 99 percent than in the 1 percent. Let's win this thing. Let's transform America!


KING: The margins, of course, matter for every candidate today perhaps though a bit more for Senator Sanders because he won New Hampshire easily four years ago. Let's go back this is 2020, again some early votes cast in some tiny towns that voted at midnight. But things will get real a bit later.

Just a remainder if you go back to the Democratic Primary four years ago, Sanders from neighboring Vermont did win huge in New Hampshire. So he has those expectations there as you get into 2020. A lot to watch for tonight among the things we'll watch for how does Senator sanders do over here on the progressive sea coast?

How does he do in college towns like here and here? Nashua, New Hampshire, the most diverse part of New Hampshire, some suburban areas, who performs well there? Most of the votes more people this is the largest voter center Manchester in New Hampshire that's where we find CNN's Athena Jones. She is in a polling district. Athena, tell us what you're seeing today?

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi John well I'm at an elementary school, this is a ward 12 out of 12 wards. Manchester accounts for about 6 percent of the registered voters in New Hampshire, so it's an important town.

About 5,300 people registered to vote at this location. So far we just got an update on the numbers, about 1,233 have voted as of just a few minutes ago. Some of those are the absentee ballots that they continue to count.

So about a fifth of the people who could vote, I've talked about 80 of those voters since early this morning when polls opened at 6 am and we're seeing a lot of support for Sanders, a lot of support for Buttigieg.

What they're saying generally about Sanders is that they like his consistency, they like his authenticity. They say he's never wavered, he has had the same policy goals for 40 years and they like his stance on Medicare for all.

What they say about Pete Buttigieg, they like his energy that he is young that he is new. They believe he's good at messaging and they want to see a sort of a new kind of outsider politics brought to Washington.

We're also seeing support forward Warren, Biden and Klobuchar. They say that Klobuchar is moderate and they like that about her that she has the kind of grit that is necessary to go up against President Trump.

The Biden supporters said look, I like him, I know him, and I feel that I know him. They say that they like him because they supported Obama. Others who said you know I was considering Biden but I've moved away because I feel that he hasn't been doing as well lately in the polls and debates.

So we're seeing quite a mix here. But the important thing is that turnout so far, it doesn't look like it's huge compared to 2016, but it is moving along steadily. John?

KING: Moving on steadily, I'm very jealous, Athena in the mix of it with the voters there today. Thanks for that important insight. We'll check back with you looks like it is fun. With us to share their reporting and insights from New Hampshire CNN's Ryan Nobles and Lisa Lerer of "The New York Times"

As you listen there to Athena play this out, one of the big questions here is what will turnout be? Lisa, you talked about this after Iowa. A lot of Democrats who were thinking we might have a problem. All these candidates it should be excitement but turnout was kind of eh.


LISA LERER, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: That's exactly right. Democrats are already completely anxious about this race. There was no new polling that came out just a few minutes before we came on air that shows two-thirds of people believe that President Trump will be re-elected.

So Democrats are always anxious. I think they're particularly anxious right now because of the Iowa turnout. It showed it was far closer to 2016 than 2008 which was the high watermark. So people will be watching those numbers very closely today.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: And you know talking about that, John, you think with all these different options in front of them that would actually increase turnout because you have all these different candidates pouring money and energy into New Hampshire.

You talk to a lot of voters and they're almost paralyzed by the choice. They have so many options that they don't know how to make up their mind. And I'm been struck by these polls even in the closing minutes and hours of the New Hampshire Primary telling us that there is a lot of voters that have yet to make up their mind.

It's not the majority of voters, but enough that could make the difference in what we see in the outcome here tonight.

KING: That's why, number one, we want to be careful when people are voting not to focus too much on the polls. Number two, New Hampshire has surprised us before and it could well again. Heading in through the final weekend, it was Sanders who obviously won four years ago, he is from neighboring Vermont.

Buttigieg had second place although Amy Klobuchar was coming up late. We'll see how that plays out. But I want you both to listen here, this is the Sanders Campaign Manager, he's of course now that he is emerging as a leading candidate in this race taking some incoming. The Sanders Campaign Manager saying actually no, don't listen to other Democrats. He can beat Trump.


FAIZ SHAKIR, SANDERS CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Bernie Sander's appeal is to a lot independents or working class people who feel like they're current system is properly corrupt and rigged against them. They know that and they're looking for somebody who will be a true fighter for them. They know that Donald Trump betrayed them. He said he was going to fight for the working class, drain the swamp, all that nonsense.


KING: Ryan you have spent a lot of time around the Sanders campaign. Faiz making an interesting argument there in the sense that you know you hear Joe Biden in a moment we'll get to Pete Buttigieg saying if Donald Trump is running against somebody who calls himself a Democratic socialist, he'll be slaughtered, not only at the top of the ticket but down ballot as well. Sanders trying to prove with a win in New Hampshire tonight that, no, actually that's not true.

NOBLES: John, there is not one particular issue that the Sanders Campaign talked about more during their speeches on the stump, through their surrogates than trying to convince Democratic voters that Bernie Sanders has what it takes to beat Donald Trump.

They know, A, that that's the most important thing that Democratic voters care about, and they also know that, B, it's the biggest Achilles' heel for Bernie Sanders that Democratic voters in general seems to like him but they are deeply concerned that because of his progressive politics, that he may turned off independent voters.

It appears when you see the polling that they're actually starting to win that argument. The Quinnipiac poll that came out yesterday that finally showed him with the national lead, he also was the leading candidate in terms of the one that matches up the best against Donald Trump.

You know at least I think what's interesting about it is, they actually think there's a compelling case with the argument against Donald Trump particularly with white working class voters that he could actually win over some voters that Trump took away from Barack Obama.

LERER: I mean you're absolutely right that is the issue, is who can beat Trump? I've probably talked to 50 voters in the state over the past few days and I'm asking them are you on the liberal side, are you on the moderate side? Are you worried about the moderate side of this race splitting up and divided votes?

People do not care about that. What they want to know is who can beat Donald Trump? And whoever can make that case in the most compelling way and it may indeed be Senator Sanders is the person that will end up winning this race. I think that explains some of the slide we've seen with Biden.

In a race where everyone wants to find someone electable, what might just make you look electable is, in fact, winning something. If you lose badly in Iowa, if you lose badly in New Hampshire, even if those states aren't representative of the Democratic Party Electorate, they don't necessarily make Joe Biden look like somebody who can win this contest.

KING: Tough to say you're the strongest candidate when you're running fourth or fifth. Lisa and Ryan I appreciate it from New Hampshire. I'm going to come back in the studio here with me around the table in Washington Laura Barron-Lopez with "POLITICO" Toluse Olorunnipa with "The Washington Post" Heather Caygle with "POLITICO" also and CNN's Vivian Salaam.

It is fascinating to watch it play out because Lisa and Ryan are exactly right. When you go to the events, Democrats say beat Trump, beat Trump, beat Trump and then talk about their ideological or generational or whatever their other issues are.

But Senator Sanders is trying to make the case, that we can't beat Trump. It will be interesting to see, if you look in the rear view mirror, somebody that liberal, someone who says use the word socialist it's hard to make a case they can win. But we elected Obama and we elected Trump. Sometimes the rules don't apply we'll see what happens. Here is Buttigieg's response he says no, no, no, it cannot be a Democratic socialist.


BUTTIGIEG: I think it would be very difficult, and it's not just because of the labels, it's because of the approach. When you look at what he's proposing in terms of the budget, all the things he's put forward in how to pay for them, there's a $25 trillion hole in how to pay for everything he's put forward. (END VIDEO CLIP)


KING: New Hampshire doesn't settle this argument tonight. It's been the defining argument of the race how left can you go? Can you win whether Sanders Democratic socialists? So New Hampshire won't settle that, but it will tilt the scales a little bit, right?

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO: Yes, I mean if Buttigieg outperforms Sanders, although it is looking as though Sanders is in the lead right now, that could certainly help him heading into Nevada. Although again, someone like Buttigieg does not have the support amongst black and brown voters that someone like Sanders does.

Another big question for Biden is that he's also trying to make this argument like Buttigieg, that a moderate is the one that can beat Trump. A moderate is the one that front liners can run alongside those are Democrats that are in vulnerable districts.

But the big question is, if you don't perform well, like Lisa said, if Biden doesn't perform well in the first two early states, how much of a fire well or launching pad really is South Carolina?

KING: Right and so again one of the things someone who is trying to split the difference, she is clearly running in the centrist lane, is Amy Klobuchar. I was up there over the weekend there is no doubt she has momentum, the question is how much? Does it get you up to respectable or does she blow past Biden? Does she get close to Buttigieg?

She is her argument a last few days and you hear this lot in Democratic primaries, it more of a populist I will fight for you.


KLOBUCHAR: So, as you probably heard, we're on a bit of a surge. I know they have bumper sticker slogans, free college for all. I know it's appealing, but let's just step back. If you really think big, that's not the solution. If you really think big, you look at our economy and you look at our education system.


KING: The question is, can she?

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, she just raised more than $2 million after the last debate. That's feeding into this idea that this field is not getting smaller. There are different paths for different candidates and different candidates have reasons to say that they should stay in the race.

Joe Biden says he wants to get to South Carolina or he does strongly with African-American voters. Amy Klobuchar saying that her numbers are going up significantly after outperforming expectations in Iowa and having strong debate nights and then you have Michael Bloomberg who is waiting for the rest of the field and Super Tuesday.

So there is a chance that this field could sort of be jumbled for the next several weeks and we won't have a clear front-runner even if Sanders wins to night having done well in Iowa, having done well in New Hampshire. There are several paths and several reasons for other candidates to stick in the race.

VIVIAN SALAMA, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: The argument about beating Trump always fascinates me because it's one thing when one of the candidates really kind of commands this enthusiasm from the voters that a lot of people want to back that person because of who he or she is, versus the excuse of maybe wanting to beat the opposition line to beat the President in this case, where how are you going to get moderate Republicans on your side, how are you going to get independents?

I mean, a lot of that is because of the fact that that person generates enthusiasm, not because we're just going to beat the other guy. And so it's going to be interesting to see, especially with such a jumbled race right now who among these candidates can actually do that?

You have supporters like Bernie Sanders supporters, if he leaves the race for any reasons, are they going to throw their support behind Biden or Buttigieg or someone else whoever that front-runner may be?

KING: If that's a question way down the road given his sustainability. But just quickly to wrap up the first word of the conversation beat Biden is - beat Trump excuse me is a unifying theme among Democrats but beneath that differences over healthcare, differences over generational a lot of differences beneath that that are going to start being litigated tonight.

HEATHER CAYGLE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, POLITICO: Yes, I mean at some point we have to start narrowing this field down and the way to do that is to look at the differences on those specific issues.

But we did see Bernie kind of positioning himself as the front-runner in New Hampshire in recent days and he wasn't even targeting Buttigieg and Biden. In many cases he was positioning himself against Trump and saying I'm for Medicare for all, I'm going to give you $15 minimum wage, free tuition. What's this guy doing over here? So it will be interesting to see if these candidates start focusing more internally and trying to narrow each other out after tonight.

KING: A lot of uncertainty. But it is fun, they're counting votes and we actually think they'll count them today. Up next, hard questions for Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren about their path forward. As we go to break, some primary day fun this morning, Amy Klobuchar meets her doppelganger.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Amy just got my vote.

KLOBUCHAR: The best complement from a client last week. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There we go.




KING: Turning to an important development here in Washington today. An Internal Justice Department dispute over just what punishment Roger Stone should face. He, of course, is the Trump associate caught up in the Mueller Russia investigation. CNN's Sara Murray joins us from Washington. Sara, what's going on?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John this is extremely awkward to say the least. A Senior Justice Department Official is talking to my colleague David over at the Justice Department and saying that they were shocked to see the sentencing recommendation from Roger Stone from D.C. U.S. Attorney's office.

The D.C. U.S. Attorney's office asked the judge to put Roger Stone behind bars for seven to nine years. Now a Senior DOJ official saying this is not what have been briefed to the Department. The Department believes the recommendation is extreme and excessive and is grossly disproportionate to Stone's offenses.

They say they're going to clarify what they believe his sentence should be with the court later today. The Senior DOJ Official is insisting the Department felt this way long before the President's tweet last night where he defended Roger Stone, where he said that this was a miscarriage of Justice.

But you know either way you look at the timing of this, you look at how awkward it is, to have the Justice Department coming up against the D.C.U.S. Attorney's office and I think a lot of people are going to walk away with the impression that this is Bill Barr, this is the President's Justice Department weighing in to benefit the President's long-time Political Adviser Roger Stone.

But we should note at the end of the day it's not going to be up to Bill Barr it is not going to be him to the D.C. U.S. Attorney's office to determine how long Roger Stone should spend behind bars. That's going to be up to the judge when she decides to sentence him next week.

But of course you know the big question lingering out there, after the President's tweet, certainly now that the Justice Department is weighing in like this, is how the President will react if Roger Stone is sentenced to jail time and if he'll pardon him.


KING: Left-hand, right-hand issue at the Justice Department. Sara Murray I appreciate the breaking news there. Turning back to politics now at New Hampshire, Joe Biden a short time ago telling reporters New Hampshire is a priority, but his travel schedule does suggests his attention already focused elsewhere.


JOE BIDEN (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're going to stay here all day and fight for every vote and heading down to South Carolina. I'm getting on a plane and heading down there, doing a little rally in South Carolina to get going and then getting on a plane and going to Nevada.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you giving up on New Hampshire?

BIDEN: I'm not giving up on New Hampshire.


KING: Biden's spin is looking past New Hampshire is all part of the plan. But the reality is the result as we discussed a little bit earlier, could force both Mr. Biden and Elizabeth Warren to have some hard conversations about how to regain momentum and keep going.

Polls suggest Warren and Biden in the middle of the pack in New Hampshire. History tells us that can be a big trouble sign. Not since Bill Clinton back in 1992 has a major party presidential candidate won the nomination without winning either Iowa or New Hampshire. Back to New Hampshire let's get on the ground and watch some of the voting. CNN's Miguel Marquez in Dover New Hampshire Miguel, what are you seeing?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Now we're at ward one in Dover, New Hampshire which is a pretty liberal ward and Joe Biden has reason to worry. I've been doing my own unofficial sort of exit poll with lots and lots of voters today.

Not a single voter so far has said they voted for Joe Biden. Lots and lots of Bernie Sanders supporters, Pete Buttigieg does very well here. A lot of voters saying that they like Amy Klobuchar and they've come to her late after her performance in the debate here and some for Elizabeth Warren as well those were sort of the top voters there.

Interestingly I have even talked to some Trump voters today who say that if they had another choice, they might vote for a Democrat. They can't change their registration today, so they might have done that and they're looking for perhaps somebody else to vote for in November. But lots of Trump voters, the ones that have come in here saying that they are supporting him all the way through November.

We're watching Dover carefully because it's a bit of a tell for how the state will go? In the last contested Democratic Primaries, Dover went exactly the way the state went, not only picking the first one and two candidates, but all the way down the line, four and five, for those like 2008 and 2004 where you had a contested Democratic Primary.

The turnout here is so far tepid, not exactly going gangbusters. About 150 people an hour, that puts them on par with 2016, but not as high as it was in 2008. John. KING: Interesting to watch. I think you might be able to market that exit poll Miguel. Keep good notes. Monetize that baby. Miguel is at the ground for us in New Hampshire I appreciate that. Again, people are voting today. So always want to be careful. Just let people vote.

But if you're Elizabeth Warren or Joe Biden, people in New Hampshire understand. They pay very, very close attention. They understand what's happening. The question is why?

CAYGLE: Well, you know I think people are just kind of watching and seeing. I think with Biden he really has this moderate front line problem with Democrats who are kind of looking around and he was their guy. Now they're like, is he still our guy and especially on the Hill we hear this, a lot of nervous Democrats who are looking for an escape hatch.

They want to see if they can get out of the way before Bernie locks down the nomination and that's who they're stuck with and they don't think he can win. Now voters in New Hampshire obviously feel differently. I don't want to weigh in and influence that in any way, but we're hearing a lot of folks on the Hill talk about Mike Bloomberg.

He's spending a lot of money in the states beyond the first four. Maybe he's viable. I think that's kind of where the conversation is heading, and for Biden, I mean it's very important obviously that he performs well in Nevada and South Carolina to hang on.

KING: The question is the psychology of voters again, the demographics, Iowa, New Hampshire, more than 90 percent white. Not representative of the Democratic Party. But there's still voter psychology. If you're not winning, people start thinking, oh, can you win?

To your point about he started off strong I obviously it is Buttigieg and Klobuchar events over the weekend where people - they were shopping they say they were Biden voters or they're Biden voters, they were soft and they're looking around.

Just the trend lines here and again I was with Bill Clinton in New Hampshire in 1992, he dropped 17 points overnight in the middle of some personal drama shall we say and rebounded to come in third.

But the trend lines if you're Biden and this is where you are in July and this is where you are now. If you're Warren, this is where you were in July and this is where you are now, that is just the numbers speak for themselves.

LOPEZ: Right it isn't a good sign forward Warren, she is also from a neighboring state. It appears as though she's expectation-setting as well. In New Hampshire the same with Biden I mean, is poor performance in Iowa, and expectation setting in New Hampshire is definitely has others sort of spooking his supports.

I was talking to a House Democrat earlier today, who is a supporter of his, who was saying that if he doesn't do well in Nevada, they're not sure that South Carolina stays there for him.


LOPEZ: Again, even if he performs well in South Carolina, the fact that it is only three days before the Super Tuesday state, I'm not sure gives him as much runway as his supporters would like.

KING: That's a good point. Biden is in Nashua I think I'm told there. Elizabeth Warren is interesting, because she owned the summer. She was the growth stock throughout the summer. And it looked like she was going to grab and seize from Sanders the mantle of the progressive candidate in the race.

She says she's still in there, she say she's fine. She does have a good organization. We'll see if she can produce beyond? But raising money becomes an issue if you're coming in third or fourth or worse. She was asked today to draw a distinction between herself and Bernie Sanders. She's always very careful not to directly criticize but there is a bit of a nuance here.


WARREN: I'm not going to criticize Bernie. You know I haven't. - the approach I use overall, I believe we want to try to get as much as good to as many people as quickly as we can. We voted in different ways on the trade deal. Bernie said not good enough and I said I'll take it somehow and fight for better. And I think that's a difference--

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think you're more pragmatic?

WARREN: I'm determined to get things done.


KING: So my translation there, I'm willing to compromise. I'm a progressive I will plant the flag for progressive values. I will push for these ideas but then you got to count votes in Washington and get things done. Is that a fair translation?

OLORUNNIPA: That's what it sounds like she's saying. Politically that's not really where the energy is on the left side of the party. It's with Bernie who says Medicare for all, Medicare for all nothing else no other compromise. And the fact that he's been consistent on these issues for a decade is part of the reason he got endorsement from some of the top liberals in Washington and why he has a leading position among the liberal base of the - the liberal wing of the party.

Warren has tried to sort of consolidate parts of that liberal left leaning part of the party as well as win over some moderates. But the moderate lane is filled up with a lot of other candidates. She's finding trouble trying to put together a coalition.

It's not clear that after New Hampshire that she has a strong path for other states where she would do better. She's from the neighboring state in Massachusetts. She's long had a relationship with some of the voters out there. It's not really clear that if she comes in fourth or third that she is going to be able to surge out of New Hampshire and South Carolina or any other state.

KING: And when we come back, the complication for all of them no matter how well they do in New Hampshire is what's waiting. Mike Bloomberg's Super Tuesday strategy appears to be at least in some ways paying off first though, Pete Buttigieg having some fun with his New Hampshire supporters.