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Crowd Gathers For Trump Rally With Few Masks, No Social Distancing; Trump To Visit California Monday For Briefing On Wildfires; Ohio College Students Face Fines For Hosting House Party Despite Testing Positive For COVID-19; Kenosha Shooting Survivor Recounts Attack; Some Voters In Swing State North Carolina Don't Like Trump Or Biden; All Eyes On Suburban Women Voters In North Carolina. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired September 12, 2020 - 17:00   ET




ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: Thanks so much for joining us. You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York.

And happening right now, people packed in lines in the Reno area to see the president speak this evening. They are entering to enter his rally, which actually doesn't get underway for the next five hours or so. This is a really, of course, he has not canceled or postponed despite not just the risk of the coronavirus spreading but also a local air quality alert due to the raging wildfires across much of the west right now.

And yet, the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services is telling CNN today the president's, quote, science-based decision- making has saved lives. That was Alex Azar's response to new allegations that two Trump appointees altered CDC reports to not undermine the president.

This is according to a federal health official who says the chief spokesman for HHS, Michael Caputo, tried to alter the CDC's morbidity and mortality weekly report to better line up with the president's messaging. The venerable MMWR is the CDC's primary publication for public health information and recommendations. And it has been around in some form since the 1870s.

This happening after we learned the president has known the truth all along about just how deadly and dangerous this virus is. And he has been intentionally downplaying the severity of it, he says, as his own voice revealed of recorded conversations that he had with veteran journalist and author, Bob Woodward.

Let's go now to Minden, Nevada, and that is where CNN's Boris Sanchez is standing by. Boris, before we talk about what you are seeing there on the ground and hearing, let's start with this new report about altered CDC reports. What more are you hearing now from Trump officials. BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Trump officials are trying to discredit this source that is in the administration that reported this to CNN, the allegation that administration officials appointed by President Trump were altering reports from the CDC in order to make sure that they weren't contradicting the president's public line on coronavirus.

They specifically mentioned Dr. Paul Alexander as someone who was involved at that. You mentioned Michael Caputo, he was installed by President Trump at HHS to lead this communications effort. He put out a statement defending Dr. Alexander, saying that he is an epidemiologist, that he's familiar with the context of what he's talking about.

And then he put out this statement that's kind of a bit loaded. Listen to this. He said, quote, our intention is to make sure that evidence, science-based data drives policy through this pandemic, not ulterior deep state motives in the bowels of the CDC.

Of course, the insinuation there being that data coming from the CDC is somehow an attempt to destroy that the president whom himself has made many unscientific remarks throughout this pandemic, things that contradict what other officials in his administration, people like Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx, who have said about how to prevent the spread of coronavirus and specifically about just how grave this situation could become. Obviously, we're seeing the result of that now. Ana?

CABRERA: And as we look at the images behind you, Boris, is there any concern from the people that you're hearing from there about the coronavirus and the spread? And they're so close together, obviously.

SANCHEZ: Ana, I'll just step out of the way so you can get a clearer picture. They're chanting, they're standing very closely together. Keep in mind, they have been here for hours already in scorching heat. The campaign, when we asked them about what measures they were taking to protect these folks, gave us the standard statement, that they are checking temperatures, that they are making sure that people have masks. But as you can see, they're not enforcing whether people are wearing them or not.

This event, we should note, was actually moved from the Reno airport because the officials there determined that holding this event there would go against the mandate from the state of Nevada that bans gatherings of 50 people or more. They were able to hold it here in Douglas County. Officials telling CNN that they are not worried about coronavirus here. Ana?

CABRERA: Okay. Boris Sanchez, again, in Nevada for us, thank you, Boris. We will check back.

And as we continue to monitor the crowds preparing for the president's upcoming rally in Nevada, let's just revisit the timeline for a moment of the president and the lie he told in public while admitting the truth in private.

This is February 7th to journalist Bob Woodward.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It goes through air, Bob. That's always tougher than the touch. The touch you don't have to touch things, right? But the air, you just breathe the air, and that's how it's passed. And so that's a very tricky one, that's a very delicate one. It's also more deadly than your -- your -- even your strenuous flu.



CABRERA: He knew. He knew how deadly it was, how contagious, how much worse than the flu it was. And yet to the masses, he said that same month back in February, this.


TRUMP: It's a little like the regular flu that we have flu shots for. I mean, view this the same as the flu, this is a flu. This is like a flu.

Everything can be perfect, and then you hear, gee, there's a bug, there's a flu, there's a virus.


CABRERA: And not only did he dismiss and downplay it, he held rallies encouraging his supporters to gather together, shoulder to shoulder, at least 16 times that we counted even before tonight's event in Nevada. And as the death toll went up and up, so did the number of dismissive comments the president made in public.


TRUMP: And we're prepared. And we're doing a great job with it. It will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.

There are certain sections in the country that are in phenomenal shape already. Other sections are coming online. Other sections are going down.

It will go away at some point. It will go away. It may flare up and it may not flare up. We'll have to see what happens.

And the crisis is being handled, and we are likewise getting under control.

They are dying, that's true. And you -- it is what it is. But that doesn't mean we aren't doing everything we can. It's under control as much as you can control it.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CABRERA: Here we are, more than 193,000 Americans are dead. So why not just be straight with the American people, why not tell them the truth?

For that answer, here is the president in private to Bob Woodward in March.


TRUMP: Well, I think Bob, really, to be honest with you --


TRUMP: I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down.

WOODWARD: Yes, sir.

TRUMP: Because I don't want to create a panic.


CABRERA: He didn't want to cause panic, he says, but where was that restraint when he talked about migrants at the border or riots in the suburbs or his favorite topic as of late, mail-in voting?


TRUMP: When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best.

They're bringing drugs, they're big crime. They're rapists and some, I assume, are good people.

They set up these caravans. In many cases, they put their worst people in the caravan. They're not going to put their best in. They get rid of their problems.

If Biden wins, it will be a giant jail break for MS-13 and vicious criminal gangs.

This will be the most fraudulent election in history.


CABRERA: Now, that same president wants you to believe he was keeping people calm in a dark hour, much like the great leaders of World War II, a comparison that we'll let him try to explain.


TRUMP: America will prevail over the China virus. As Franklin Delino Roosevelt said, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

As the British government advised the British people in the face of World War II, keep calm and carry on. That's what I did.

When Hitler was bombing London, Churchill, great leader, would often times go to a roof in London and speak. And he always spoke with calmness. He said, we have to show calmness.


CABRERA: What actually happened is that both Roosevelt and Churchill leveled with their people about the crisis they were facing.

But putting that aside, since the president has a fondness for invoking the leaders of old, perhaps he would consider the words of Abraham Lincoln. I am a firm believer in the people, Lincoln said, if given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis.

Joining us now, former Republican strategist and co-founder of the Lincoln Project, Rick Wilson. He is also the author of the book, Running Against the Devil, A Plot to Save America From Trump and Democrats from Themselves. And also joining us, CNN Senior Political Analyst and USA Today Columnist, Kirsten Powers.

Rick, we can lay all that out, but we have seen this week and we are seeing again this afternoon, people lining up to see the president because they don't believe he would ever do anything to put them in danger. So what is being lost in translation here?

RICK WILSON, FORMER REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, there is a separate reality bubble around the Trump world. They get their news from Facebook and another network. They are hermetically sealed against reality. And they believe that there is no such thing, they believe only 9,000 people have died of COVID instead of a few hundred thousand. They believe that the president is -- confers on them some sort of almost magical immunity to the reality of this world. And it's tragic.

And as we've seen, we have major gatherings that happened in Sturgis, that happened at (INAUDIBLE) university campuses, we get major outbreaks to follow.


We will have outbreaks following these events. They're not social distancing, they're not wearing masks, because Donald Trump has told them that those things aren't part of the way we have to face up to COVID. He is promising them a magical vaccine at the beginning of November. No such vaccine exists. It is cruel delusion that he has created for these people.

CABRERA: There have been lies, there has been tons of misinformation out there, it's no wonder people are confused, Kirsten. And now, we have this new revelation from a source that Trump appointed communications officials at the Department of Health and Human Services pushed to change language and weekly reports by the CDC so as not to undermine Trump's message. Why isn't this causing bipartisan outrage? I mean, this is playing politics with people's lives.

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, I think you can ask that question pretty through this entire administration, how rare it is that you actually see Republicans standing up to him. But this does seem like the kind of thing that should cause panic for anybody. Certainly, Republican leaders must care about people getting information that will save their lives, right, in theory.

But it seems that when it goes up against Donald Trump, they're going to choose to let Donald Trump say what he wants to say even though we know behind the scenes, as you were just earlier playing, he was telling Bob Woodward that he doesn't even tell the American people the truth about what he knows. And so I think this is just another example of this administration trying to keep factual scientific information from people that could save their lives and also could help end this pandemic.

CABRERA: And, Rick, as we heard a moment ago, the president is now trying to defend his handling of the pandemic behind these bizarre, historical illusions to FDR and Winston Churchill. What do you make of that?

WILSON: Well, I think it's ludicrous because Donald Trump, as we have now heard in his own words, as you pointed out, that he knew the severity of this crisis, he downplayed it deliberately, when he could have been taking steps as early as January to prepare the country both for the humanitarian aspects of this crisis and for the economic disaster that he has caused in regards to this crisis.

This is a president who does not deserve to even compare himself to the worst leaders in history, far less, those who led us to war too, successfully. If this was Donald Trump during World War II, he would have said, well, the Japanese didn't bomb Pearl Harbor, it was an accident, or the German invasion of Poland is just a temporary thing, it's going to go away soon.

These are ridiculous claims by Trump that he has, in any way, compared to those men. And it's also ridiculous that he took any sort of steps ahead of time when we know he did not. We can see the evidence he did not. He refused the advice of scientific experts. He refused the advice of epidemiological experts. And now, he has got stooges in his government, like Michael Caputo, changing the text of reports and attempting to tweak and propagandize the data that Americans need to try to stay safe during the course of COVID, and these coming resurgence of COVID.

CABRERA: I mean, as Rick lays all this out, Kirsten, it is just eye popping to think about it all. And yet we have new polling out today in some of these battleground states, like Nevada and New Hampshire, where the race at this point is too close to call. We saw polling out of Florida earlier this week, in which it's both 48 percent, 48 percent supporting Trump and Biden. Does all of that surprise you?

POWERS: No, not really. I mean, I think that the -- I've always thought that this race is going to be very tight. And so I think as we get closer, we should expect to see the kind of tightening that we see in some of these states.

I do think it is very troublesome though that when they ask voters in these four states, which one they were more concerned about, whether it was the pandemic or law and order, that they slightly said, law and order.

Now, the idea that we have a problem in this country with not enough law and order versus the pandemic, which is killing people and destroying our economy, is very concerning. And so it does make you wonder where people are getting their information. And this is what we're sort of talking about, is that there is so much -- bad information out there.

And who's most of it coming from? The president of the United States, who has set up this false paradigm, where, first of all, he loves to create chaos, so we know that that's not true. But he has also set up this false paradigm that his only choice was to say nothing versus create panic, right? There is a middle ground there where you tell people what's going on and you don't create panic.

CABRERA: And yet, he has not getting backlash for this though. I mean, he doesn't appear to be being held accountable, at least at this point, as far as we can tell, when you look at the images coming out of Nevada tonight and these enthusiastic crowds who are turning up for him.


WILSON: Well, I don't think that the crowds in the Trump rally are ever going to hold Donald Trump accountable. This is more of a personality cult now than a political party or a campaign. So those folks don't really care. He could say that the black plague is awesome, let's go get it, and they would probably nod up and down and go, okay, cool, he said so.

So this is not a president who will ever be under any sort of pressure from his internal base at all. They are, as I said earlier in the segment, divorced from reality in a really fundamental kind of way.

But I think what's really going on here, these polls were always going to tighten. American political races always start to tighten around this time of year. And they're going to continue to tighten. The driver though in the coming weeks will not be law and order, and the fantasy Donald Trump is trying to perform of American cities in flames.

What's going to be the driver, I think, is that will have the fall resurgence of COVID, we will have the resurgence of COVID because of all these people not socially distancing, all these schools reopening without a plan. And as that starts to pick back up again as we go into September and October, I think you're going to probably end up seeing a much different perspective on the way the race looks as we come into the next few weeks.

CABRERA: It's hard to believe how close the election actually is. It's already the middle of September. Rick Wilson, Kirsten Powers, thank you both for being here. I appreciate your perspectives.

WILSON: Thanks, as always.

CABRERA: And, again, Rick Wilson's book is called Running Against the Devil, a Plot to Save America from Trump and Democrats from Themselves.

So, California has been battling COVID-19 along with the rest of us, but it's also facing wildfires that are out of control. And we're just learning President Trump will be visiting that state soon.

Paul Vercammen is joining us live now from Monrovia, California. Paul?

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. What President Trump will see is that there is about a hundred major wildfires raging throughout the west. The death toll is mounting, and the air quality is horrific, all of that in just a few minutes here on CNN.



CABRERA: We have some breaking news. A hurricane watch has just been issued for parts of the Gulf Coast starting in Grand Isle, Louisiana, and stretching to the Alabama-Florida border. Forecasters are tracking Tropical Storm Sally, which is expected to make landfall late Monday or Tuesday around the Louisiana-Mississippi border. Again, a hurricane has not been issued.

Meanwhile, on the west coast, it's a nightmare that's come true for people. Nearly the entire west coast of the United States this weekend, wildfires, widespread deadly and destructive, many of them raging completely out of control, about 100 separate fires in all.

Now, the line of devastation stretching from south of Los Angeles all the way to Washington State. Emergency officials in the state of Oregon this weekend are preparing for what they call a mass fatality incident, anticipating that a large number of people may die in the fast-moving wildfires. Already we know 27 people have been confirmed dead in California and Oregon alone.

And CNN's Paul Vercammen is in Southern California right now. Paul, President Trump, we know, will visit at least one fire-ravaged part of that state on Monday. But where are people and property in the most urgent danger right now?

VERCAMMEN: Well, throughout the state, really, Ana, this is a widespread fire event. So, here in Southern California, this is the Bobcat fire, fire been peaking its head up above the ridge behind me. We know they're fighting it right now in the canyon.

In Northern California, again, in Paradise area, Chico, Orrville, if you remember, they were ravaged by fire two years ago, that fatal fire that killed some 82 people, keeled (ph) over about that fire up near the Oregon border we've got fire, and then there was the Creek fire.

So many, it's difficult to count, resources spread thin. California's governor, Newsom, has basically had it, is the way he is putting it. He says he is sick and tired of hearing about climate change deniers in the face of all these fires.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D-CA): Mother Nature is physics, biology and chemistry. She bats last, and she bats a thousand. That's the reality we're facing, the smash mouth reality. This perfect storm, the debate is over around climate change, just come to the state of California. Observe it with your own eyes. It's not an intellectual debate. It's not even debatable any longer. What we are experiencing, the extreme droughts, the extreme atmospheric rivers, the extreme heat.

Just think in the last few weeks alone, we've experienced the hottest August in California history.


VERCAMMEN: And because they cannot get through all these fires with hand crews, in some instances, they're going ahead and they're fighting fire with backfires. This is Angeles National Forest crew lighting backfires on one flank of this particular Bobcat fire, which is super challenging, as they spread out 29,000 firefighters over Oregon, California, Washington, other western states there's just not enough to go around.

The chief telling here me, normally, they would fight this fire with up to 1,500 firefighters. And now, they're doing it with 500 because the firefighters are so spread out. Back to you now, Ana.

CABRERA: Paul Vercammen in Southern California for us, be careful, my friend, thank you.

College students fined for throwing a house party and it's all caught on camera.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Other people here and you're positive for COVID. You see the problem?




CABRERA: Six college students are now facing fines in Ohio after police say they threw a house party in violation of local coronavirus guidelines.

Now, some of the 20 people who were gathered at this off-campus residence apparently tested positive for coronavirus. And they knew it, even before they got together.

CNN's Dianne Gallagher is joining us now. Dianne, what more have you learned?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So this was kind of astounding to see this body camera video we're going to show you, Ana, here. Because, look, those six students who have been cited for violating the public gathering ordinance, which is limited to just ten people indoor and outdoor, for any kind of activity. The police officer, initially, is kind of talking to them, saying, hey, you can't have these many people here. He goes back and takes the I.D. of one of the students who lives in the house, and comes out.


And you can tell that even he is a little shocked as to what came up. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER: I've never seen this before. There's an input on the computer that you tested positive for COVID?




UNIDENTIFIED LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER: Are you supposed to be quarantining?


UNIDENTIFIED LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER: Do you have other people here and you are positive here for COVID?

You see the problem?

UNIDENTIFIED COLLEGE STUDENT: I mean, they were, honestly, just talking aby when we were out here.




GALLAGHER: Yes, the officer pointing out there's something that's obvious to many of use, but apparently to everyone, that the point of quarantine I to be by yourself, not to invite people to your home.

Those six students, that citation starts at $500, Ana.

We talked to the University of Miami. They wouldn't go into the specifics on what's going to happen to those students. But did say any violation of quarantine as well as that public-gathering ordinance would result in some kind of disciplinary action.

CABRERA: Dianne, we're seeing more and more universities and colleges struggling to contain outbreaks on their campus. The latest now, University of Wisconsin, Madison, which has now paused in-person classed due to a spike in positive cases on campus there. What steps are university administrators taking to try to slow the


GALLAGHER: Kind of what we just saw there. It's hard to control what happens everywhere around the college campus.

We're seeing this increase, in some cases, this exponential increase of cases around campus.

So the University of Wisconsin on Wednesday sent an alert out saying they're going to pause classes. Because for the previous two days, the campus saw a more than 20 percent positivity rate, which is astounding.

And they said they want a pause. And they're asking students essentially to quarantine, to make sure that they stay in their areas.

Two specific dormitories, they were able to link the spike in cases to. In those particular dormitories, those residence halls, they're going to have the students who live there quarantine there.

That's really important, Ana, because the CDC has been adamant about the fact that students who test positive do not need to go home and quarantine in their home city or with their parents or anything like that. That just furthers the spread around the country.

They're asking colleges and universities to make sure that they quarantine there at the school to try and prevent the spread even further.

CABRERA: OK. Dianne Gallagher, thank you.

And staying with some news out of Wisconsin, coming up, we'll hear from the survivor in in a deadly triple shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin.


GAIGE GROSSKREUTZ, KENOSHA SHOOTING SURVIVOR: I walked away with my life that night. Two people didn't.




CABRERA: Welcome back. The sole survivor of a deadly triple shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin, is speaking out for the first time, and own to CNN.

I have to warn you, some of what you are about to hear is disturbing.

CNN's Sara Sidner brings us this report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ana, we were able to sit down with Gaige Grosskreutz. He is the only person to survive a triple shooting during the Kenosha protests.

GROSSKREUTZ: I walked away with my life that night. Two people didn't.

SIDNER (voice-over): Gaige Grosskreutz is the only person to survive of the three people shot during protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

GROSSKREUTZ: I think about the screams, about the gunshots. I think about everything all the time.

SIDNER: Grosskreutz say he arrived in Kenosha from Milwaukee deeply disturbed by this video of police shooting Jacob Blake in the back and concerned about a call to arms by a local militia on Facebook.

The former paramedic says his goal was to provide medical care to anyone who needed it there.



SIDNER: When he arrived on August 25th, he had no idea that 17-year- old Kyle Rittenhouse had also arrived from Illinois. He was also vowing to help people and protect businesses.

Both had their cell phones. Both carried medical kits. Rittenhouse had a rifle.

(on camera): Were you also armed?

GROSSKREUTZ: Absolutely. Like I said, I believe in the right to bear arms.

SIDNER (voice-over): But that night, Rittenhouse used his firearm, while Grosskreutz had to use his medical kit on himself.

This is just before the two came face to face.


SIDNER: Rittenhouse is running down the street after his first deadly shooting that night. He falls.


SIDNER: He shoots and misses one person. Anthony Huber hits Rittenhouse with a skateboard.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (EXPLETIVE DELETED). He shot that guy in the stomach.

SIDNER: Huber is shot and killed.

Three seconds later, Grosskreutz goes toward the shooter and he's shot.



GROSSKREUTZ: I'm missing 90 percent of my bicep. I'm in constant pain, like excruciating pain. Pain that doesn't go away.

SIDNER: Rittenhouse eventually walks towards police with his hands up and police pass him by.

His attorney says his client acted in self-defense.

GROSSKREUTZ: The shooter walked away and got to sleep in their bed that night. Some people don't get that luxury.

SIDNER: Two people were taken to the morgue that night. And Grosskreutz was taken to the hospital in a police vehicle.

(on camera): What on earth got you to a point where you were chasing somebody who had a semiautomatic rifle?

KIMBERLY MOTLEY, ATTORNEY FOR GAIGE GROSSKREUTZ: We don't want to compromise the current criminal investigation against the shooter at this point in time. And unfortunately, going into those details, it might do that.

SIDNER (voice-over): Prosecutors have charged Rittenhouse with two homicides, attempted homicide and use of a dangerous weapon.

Under Wisconsin law, Rittenhouse is too young to legally possess a gun. But Grosskreutz says he's the one facing death threats for his actions that night.


GROSSKREUTZ: I never fired my weapon that night.

SIDNER (on camera): Why not?

GROSSKREUTZ: I was there to help people, not hurt people.

I had a legal right to, one, possess it and, two, possess it concealed.

I'm not an Antifa terrorist organizer. I'm a mid-20s-year-old male. I go to school.

And, yeah, I exercised my First Amendment right to peacefully protest.


GROSSKREUTZ: Nobody should have been hurt or died that night. We're Americans. We're human beings. We're better than that.

(END VIDEOTAPE) SIDNER: His attorney, Kimberly Motley, says she believes others are culpable in the triple shooting. She asked who gave Rittenhouse his gun and did someone help him cross state lines.

He is currently in jail in Illinois. He has an extradition hearing scheduled for an extradition hearing on September 25th -- Ana?


CABRERA: Sara Sidner, thank you.

It's been called the swingiest of swing states. So how are the voters of North Carolina feeling with the early voting already underway?


JAMIE OSWALD, UNDECIDED VOTER: I want to vote for someone other than Donald Trump. I don't want to vote for Biden. It's hard.




CABRERA: Today, President Trump is once again urging voters to test their states voting system on Election Day.

In a tweet, that has since been flagged by Twitter as a violation of election integrity, the president told voters in North Carolina, who mail in their ballots, to go to their polling station and make sure those votes are counted on Election Day. And if not, vote again."

State election officials there are warning residents that showing up at the polls on Election Day will cause more delays. And, in fact, voting twice would be against the law.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny talked to some voters this upcoming election in that crucial battleground state.


OSWALD: I want to vote for somebody other than Donald Trump. But I don't want to vote for Biden. It's hard.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Meet Jamie Oswald, a hairdresser and undecided voter. She grew up in a Republican family and likes President Trump's economic record, but not much else.

OSWALD: If he could just not talk. The stuff that he says, it's just, like, embarrassing.

ZELENY (on camera): If he could just not talk. That's saying something about a president of the United States.


OSWALD: It is. It's saying a lot.

ZELENY (voice-over): Yet, so far, she's not sold on Joe Biden.

OSWALD: I think he's been in office for so long, and he really hasn't done a whole lot.

ZELENY: Oswald says she's never voted, but will this year, inspired by the pandemic that left her unemployed for more than two months.

She's one of 1.3 million new voters in North Carolina since 2016, when Trump narrowly won the state by 173,000 votes.


ZELENY: Now it's a battleground. He's visited three times in the last three weeks.

Voting here is already under way, a sign that coronavirus is influencing the election, including how people cast their ballots.

BAKARR KANU, DEMOCRATIC VOTER: It's very important for everybody to go out this time, because there's a lot at stake.

ZELENY: Bakarr Kanu, a professor, received his absentee ballot in the mail this week. He dismisses any talk of fraud, saying Trump is trying to intimidate voters.

Yet, the president's supporters here are already echoing his questions about the election's legitimacy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And mail-in ballots, I wouldn't trust it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I will definitely go in person.

ZELENY: At the end of a challenging week for the president, where his own words to Bob Woodward became a new flash point, Trump's supporters are unwavering.

Sarah Reidy-Jones, who leads a women's Republican group, believes in Trump now more than four years ago, in part, because of judicial appointments.

SARAH REIDY-JONES, PRESIDENT, UPTOWN CHARLOTTE REPUBLICAN WOMEN: Four years ago, President Trump wasn't my first, second, third, fourth choice.

We're saying, get beyond that rhetoric and go with what -- that record of accomplishment.

ZELENY: That record does not sit well with bar owner, Blake Stewart, who believes the president's leadership on coronavirus has been appalling.

BLAKE STEWART, DEMOCRATIC VOTER: He had the opportunity to grab this bull by the horns. Instead, he let it run us all over.

ZELENY: His business is still closed. For that, he blames Trump, not the state's Democratic governor.

He planted this voter registration sign outside, hoping to find new voters to help block the president's path to reelection.

There's little question Trump supporters here are fired up. But there are also signs he's awakening the other side.

His presidency motivated Angela Levine to become politically active for the first time and work against him.

ANGELA LEVINE, DEMOCRATIC ACTIVIST: I became a much more informed voter. That's why I got this blue wave tattoo. This is to remind me never to assume someone else is going to do all the hard work.


CABRERA: Our thanks to Jeff Zeleny for that reporting.

Now I want to bring in senior staff writer at "Politico," Michael Kruse, who is based in North Carolina.

Michael, good to have you here.

The latest polling from that state shows no clear leader right now in the race between Trump and Biden.

And you actually wrote a piece about how suburban women voters are going to be the ones to watch in the swingiest of swing states. These are white, college-educated women who live in the suburbs of Charlotte or Raleigh and they haven't made up their mind.

Why are they so key in deciding who wins the state in the presidential election?

MICHAEL KRUSE, SENIOR STAFF WRITER, "POLITICO": So this is the swingiest of swing states, according to Chris Cooper, a political scientist at Western Carolina. Florida might have some argument with that.

But it is basically within the margin for error. It is up for grabs. It is up for grabs because of those suburban women.


We know what the country is going to do, what the rural parts are going to do, we know what the cities are going to do. We know even what the outer suburbs are going to do.

This slice of territory that is up for grabs is the close-in suburbs of Charlotte and Raleigh.

And in particular, within those close-in suburbs, white, college- educated women who are just tuning in, who like some things about Joe Biden, might not like some things about Donald Trump, but are still making their decisions here as we head toward the start of early in- person voting on October 15th.

And of course, mail-in ballots have already started to go out so voting is under way here in North Carolina.

CABRERA: The Trump campaign is well aware of the importance of North Carolina. The president has visited that state three times over the past three weeks.

Here's some of what he pitched to voters there during those visits.


TRUMP: They have rules in these Democrat-run states that, if you're campaigning, you can't have more than five people.

If you're willing to riot and stand on top of each other's face and do whatever the hell you want to do, you're allowed to do that because you're considered a peaceful protester. So we decided to call all our rallies peaceful protests.


TRUMP: American warriors did not defeat Fascism and oppression overseas only to watch out freedoms be trampled by violent mobs here at home.

We stopped those violent mobs very easily. All they have to do is say, please come in, Mr. President. We'll have it done in one hour.



CABRERA: That's clearly an appeal to people living in the suburbs. But here is the question: Is it working?

KRUSE: You know, we'll see. Focus groups run by Republican consultants I've talked to over the last couple weeks, they say that there's some suggestion that it is starting to seep into the thinking of those white college-educated women.

It is important for the president and for his campaign to try to make something stick for these exact voters.

In 2018, these are the kinds of voters that swung those suburbs, which, traditionally and historically, are Republican and more conservative, started to swing them more blue.

For instance, where I'm sitting right now, in Davidson, before 2018, I was represented in the state legislature and in the county commission by three Republican men.

Coming out of the 2018 election, I am now represented by three Democratic women. Lots of factors went into that swing. But it suggests that those

territories are moving in a wrong direction for the president. And time is short and he has to do something.

The law-and-order rhetoric clearly is the strategy that he and his campaign have picked.

CABRERA: I'm a little tight on time, but I do want to ask you, given how swingy the state is -- and you just laid out some examples -- what about the state's demographics and population make it so important to watch this election cycle?

KRUSE: It's such a fast-growing state. Migration has brought people from the northeast and the Midwest, typically, people to the cities and to the suburbs for jobs, for lower cost of living.

These are people who traditionally are more "D" than "R." So the political makeup, the demographics of the politics here have been changing for years but are approaching what Democrats hope is something of a tipping point.

CABRERA: All right, Michael Kruse, thank you for your insights. I appreciate it.

MICHAEL KRUSE: Thanks so much.

CABRERA: All next week, CNN will be highlighting people who are making a difference around the world through innovation and determination. These "CHAMPIONS FOR CHANGE" came up with fresh solutions to big problems.



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CABRERA: You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York.

We begin with the president seeming to put politics above people's lives during the worst health crisis the world has seen in this century.

First, few masks. But you can see lots of people in these lines to see the president speak at a Nevada rally set to happen several hours from now.

That's several hours of people staying packed in, despite the need to socially distance. The president's campaign is failing to try to stop this.

It's not the only case of the president's message apparently overriding what is best for public health.


A federal health official tells CNN today his political appointees tried to change the wording in CDC reports.