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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

Trump Urges Iowans to Vote Despite Weather; Haley Brushes Off Enthusiasm Gap in Final Iowa Poll; DeSantis Looks Forward to Iowa Caucus Despite Final Poll; Trump Continues to Dominate in Final Iowa Poll; New Poll Shows Iowa Evangelicals Overwhelmingly Back Trump; Iowa's Role as Maker or Breaker of Presidential Ambitions; 100 Days Since October 7th Attack. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired January 14, 2024 - 20:00   ET



BURNETT: And before we go on this Sunday, an important programming note, we're back beginning at 4:00 tomorrow afternoon to kick off CNN's special election coverage of the Iowa caucuses. Reporting from the campaigns, the caucus sites, John King at the magic wall and of course, stay with CNN tonight. A special edition of "AC 360" begins now.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight on 360, new endorsements, fresh polling, final pitches and sub-zero cold. We're indoors and out with the candidates all across Iowa with the opening contest of primary '24 just hours away.

Also tonight the role evangelical voters are expected to play in Iowa and beyond. I'm joined by one evangelical leader, Bob Vander Plaats tonight.

And later the rising discontent in Israel 100 days since Hamas attacked and took hostages with progress, the freedom stalled, and the conflict already widening.

Good evening. Thanks for joining us. We're now 24 hours away from the first vote to the 2024 presidential race. 24 hours away from the start of the Iowa caucuses most of which convene at this time tomorrow night, just getting started of what is normally poll closing time in most other states.

One of the many things we'll talk about tonight which set Iowa apart including this year, a blizzard in the final days of the campaign and record cold temperatures expected tomorrow tonight. A number of significant endorsements tonight. Florida Senator Marco Rubio announcing he's backing the former president and not his home state governor Ron DeSantis. Former candidate and North Dakota governor Doug Burgum today doing the same and former Maryland governor Larry Hogan endorsing Nikki Haley.

New polling from the "Des Moines Register" showing her now running ahead of Governor DeSantis but still a distant second to the former president who's nearly 30 points ahead. But polling also shows him with a significant lead in how enthusiastic his supporters said they are. 88 percent saying they are extremely or are very enthusiastic compared to 62 percent and 39 percent for DeSantis and Haley respectively.

John King is going to join us in a bit to look deeper into that, but first, for all the last-minute campaigning, CNN's Kristen Holmes is with the former president, CNN's Kylie Atwood is with Nikki Haley, CNN's Jessica Dean is with the DeSantis campaign, and in the CNN Weather Center, Chad Myers is on the one key factor not on the ballot.

Want to go first to Kristen Holmes in the town of Indianola, just south of Des Moines.

So what is the Trump campaign's closing message to Iowans tonight?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, Donald Trump in his only event of the weekend, three or four events got cancelled because of the weather, spoke for nearly two hours and had a very long and multi-layered message. One was airing of grievances, two was attacking Nikki Haley and three was stressing how important it was to show up and caucus on Monday. Listen to just some of what he said.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you want to save America from crooked Joe Biden, you must go caucus tomorrow. The very first step. You can't sit home. If you are sick as a dog, you say, darling, I've got to make it. Even if you vote and then pass away, it's worth it. You're just so sick you can't -- darling, I don't think -- get up. Get up. You get up and you vote. Yes, darling, because ultimately we know who calls the shots, right?


HOLMES: And Anderson, one thing to note here is, yes, Donald Trump is joking there, however he is concerned about what will happen when it comes to turnout. His team's ground game has been reaching out to people who have supported Donald Trump, but never caucused before. So the question being, will the weather deter them? They've never shown up before. It's going to be a new experience for them.

Are they as determined to show up as he needs them to be? Because even though he is winning by 30 points in recent polls, the "Des Moines Register" was 20 points, they are concerned that that margin is actually smaller and they need a big margin to win, not just obviously to win the delegates, but also because they want to set the tone for the primary season and also stop any moment up that they are seeing from his GOP rivals namely Nikki Haley in New Hampshire.

COOPER: What are you hearing from within the campaign about where the former president's head is at?

HOLMES: Well, I've heard that he's been asking his senior advisers about what they think about turnout, if they think the weather is going to affect it. He has been talking about the weather nonstop, bringing it up, wondering if people are going to still show up. Obviously we know Donald Trump is not someone who likes the cold which he has made very clear, but, again, a lot of this is about those poll numbers and trying to make the biggest margin possible.

The other concern that he has had and his team has had is when they see these huge poll margins, they being those who are going to show up to caucus on Monday, they might decide that between the weather and Donald Trump's big lead they don't need to show up, that he has enough support.


And that is a big concern of theirs, that people are going to already think that he has the backing meaning they aren't going to show up on Monday, so a big push right now to get people out the door and to caucus then.

COOPER: Kristen Holmes, thanks so much.

And now to CNN's Kylie Atwood in Adel, Iowa, west of Des Moines.

So you see this new poll, Kylie, which Haley has overtaken DeSantis for second place. What's the Haley campaign saying about that tonight?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, of course they're welcoming that news. They say that it demonstrates that she has continued momentum, but when it comes to Nikki Haley and Iowa, expectations aren't as high for her here as they are for Ron DeSantis who has put tremendous resources into the state, and Nikki Haley's team is essentially trying to keep it that way.

They say they wanted her to have a strong showing tomorrow as the result of the Iowa caucus will be determining, you know, how she does out of this state going into New Hampshire, but they aren't defining what a strong showing will actually look like. Now Nikki Haley, for her part making her final pitch just here a few moments ago on the eve of the Iowa caucuses hitting similar themes that we've heard from her throughout her entire campaign.

The need for school choice, the need to defend America's borders with more resources, the need to defend Ukraine in order to prevent wider wars from occurring, and also reminding voters in the room here of the electability argument that she has been making, reminding them that in the last seven out of the last eight presidential elections Republicans have lost the popular vote.

She said that isn't a good thing and she's telling them that she's in the position, she's best poised to be the one to change that, citing those theoretical polls that we have seen with her up against President Biden, saying that she's the one who can win, saying that Trump and DeSantis just don't do that.

Now of course her team is looking ahead to tomorrow trying to figure out what her schedule will look like. But I do want to note that they still think that there are Iowans who haven't made up their mind. Nikki Haley asking the room here this evening if there's anyone who has seen her for the first time. And there were at least a dozen folks who raised their hand. So that's significant because even though it looks like it's baked, it looks like she could be gaining steam, they still think that there are still folks that they could still convince to come to her side as they battles it out with Ron DeSantis to come in number two here in Iowa.

COOPER: Ron DeSantis has put a lot into ground operation on the ground in Iowa. How is Haley's ground operation?

ATWOOD: Well, listen, Nikki Haley has a more nimble ground operation here. We know that there is the Koch PAC, that super PAC backed by the Koch family who has been operating on her behalf, here in Iowa as well. Their goal is to knock on 250,000 doors of Iowans here before the caucus tomorrow, but you also have the DeSantis super PAC that is going to hit a million doors by tomorrow.

So even though they both have those super PACs out, Nikki Haley's super PAC just isn't quite as resourced as DeSantis' has been on the ground here, but the campaign feels like there's momentum. They feel like that is a thing that that they've got going for them. They feel like the more voters Haley meets the more come to her side, so that's what they're banking on ahead of tomorrow, particularly as they head into New Hampshire where they feel like she's going to do incredibly well.

COOPER: Yes. Kylie Atwood, thanks very much.

Next to CNN's Jessica Dean in the city of Ankeny, where a DeSantis event is getting underway shortly.

What has Governor DeSantis' closing message been?

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, Ron DeSantis has been all across the state of Iowa today going to his supporters and saying it's time to turn out. They are very confident, he and his team, that the operations they've built here and the enthusiasm from their supporters is going to come through for them tomorrow.

Now of course, that "Des Moines Register" poll that came out last night showing him slipping to third place, but if you talk to his team, they don't believe that that's how it's going to shake out tomorrow.

Here's what DeSantis said to some of his supporters just a little bit ago.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We built a great army here. Tomorrow is going to be fun for us, and I love when, you know, the media and stuff, I would much rather be an underdog. That's how I've done every race that I've ever been in.


DEAN: So we're waiting for the governor. Senator Joni Ernst is on the stage right now. She's been out with some of the other candidates. You can see it's a pretty packed room here. One other reason they're optimistic, Anderson, is that they believe that their supporters are enthusiastic, that even with this weather that they can count on them to turn out and that when there is this unpredictable factor of this extremely cold weather that that could make a difference for them in this battle likely, if you trust the polls, for second place -- Anderson.


COOPER: So what is the DeSantis' campaign plan to get out its supporters? I mean, are they driving people to caucus sites?

DEAN: Yes. It's a combination of that. I'm told by the Super Pac, they told me today, they've not done some 940,000 doors here in Iowa along over the last several months. And Never Back Down, that super PAC that's aligned with DeSantis has poured millions of dollars and a lot of time into this state. DeSantis himself and his family have also poured a lot of time into here. He's made a big point of visiting all 99 counties, the full Grassley, not the Chuck Grassley, the other state senator here in Iowa, that he spent time here with his family, that he's gone to all corners of the state.

I believe he's coming on -- hang on, it's just getting loud. We're just waiting for him to come on, but he has spent so much time here. They think that is going to make a difference that they have these touch points with so many people, these precinct captains in all 99 counties, Anderson. The question is, will that work tomorrow for Ron DeSantis where he can emerge as a potential alternative?

Nobody has more at stake than him. He's really put all his eggs in the Iowa basket so we'll see how it shakes out tomorrow.

COOPER: Jessica Dean, thank you.

Now the cold, which is bad even by the Midwest winter standard, winter chill now approaching the minus 30s, dangerous weather advisories up across the state.

Joining us, CNN meteorologist Chad Myers.

So how cold is it in Iowa right now? What's it going to be like on caucus day tomorrow, Chad?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It will be the coldest day for a caucus by 25 degrees that we have seen lately. 2004 we were like 16, then tomorrow afternoon we're going to be minus nine at polling time. Even right now, 12 below zero. That is the thermometer. I know we focus on windchill because it blows across your skin and it makes you feel colder. But the thermometer is 44 degrees below freezing.

The entire state except for just a couple of counties now under windchill warning. So take you to 8:00 tomorrow night, nine degrees below zero, windchill 31 below in Des Moines, probably 28 below up in Sheldon and Okoboji. This is a widespread cold event and a lot of the rural farmers have to take care of livestock. They have a lot of things to do to keep livestock alive, not just drive around the town. In 25 minute, Des Moines, you will get frost bite if you have exposed skin.

Now talking about where the high temperature was in 2004 when 16 degrees did affect turnout, and we're talking somewhere around 20 degrees colder than that for the high temperature tomorrow. Another thing is going on here I think probably not seeing the departure from normal because you look at Twitter and they say, oh, it's Iowa, it's winter on the way. 30 degrees below normal will be the high temperature tomorrow. This is not just normal. It will be warmer in Fairbanks than it will be in Des Moines.

One last thing I have to talk about. This entire winter has been above normal by a large margin in Iowa. Are the animals ready? Are they acclimated? Are people acclimated? Are the pipes acclimated? There's a lot of things and they go bump in the night here when you temperatures that are -- where the thermometer at 10 below zero -- Anderson.

COOPER: Chad Myers, thank you.

Next, CNN's John King with more on what the latest polling is telling us and what to look for tomorrow night. Our team of campaign veterans and political professionals also weigh in. Also tonight, the deepening anger and frustration in Israel with hostages in Gaza now passing 100 days in captivity.



COOPER: Across Iowa, around this time tomorrow night, people will just be starting to get down to the job of picking a Republican presidential nominee. Now most caucuses in the state convene at 7:00 Central Time, which is 8:00 p.m. on the East Coast. And as we mentioned at the top, there's new polling with clues to how it may go.

CNN's John King has been digging deeper into them, joins us now from the magic wall.

So talk about where the race seems to stand in Iowa according to these polls?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm excited as you, Anderson. A little more than 24 hours from now we're actually be counting votes. The first votes of the 2024 cycle, 99 counties in Iowa. They will fill in.

So you mentioned the poll a little bit earlier. Let's just look at the last Iowa poll. Right? A very reliable poll over the years, not necessarily be picking the winners in 2016. Ted Cruz passed Donald Trump and in '22 Santorum passed Romney. But, but, never have you had a lead like this. Donald Trump at 48 in the last poll. If you go back five months, he was at 42. So he hasn't been out there as much as the other candidates, hasn't spent as much money as the other candidates, and yet he goes from 42 to 48 over the course of five months.

DeSantis flatlined and down a little bit, from 19 to 16. And Haley does have some up at the end. Do you call it momentum? That's the big debate. Right? She's up to 20 percent, and still a 28-point gap between the two of them. But this is what's interesting when you look at the poll. We talked about how Trump supporters tend to be more enthusiastic, more excited, more locked in, more dedicated, look at this. 88 percent of Trump supporters say they are extremely or very enthusiastic about their candidate.

If it's going to be as cold as Chad Myers says it's going to be, you want your people to be very enthusiastic. DeSantis, that's not a bad number. 62 percent say enthusiastic or very enthusiastic. This is a problem sign for Haley. We'll see what happens tomorrow, but some of her voters are more moderate Republicans, some of them are Democrats or independents. They're not usual caucus-goers. If they're not all that enthusiastic, and it's horrible out, do they show up? We'll know tomorrow.

COOPER: And how do you expect the campaigns are going to define success tomorrow night?

KING: Right. Trump wants to be above 50 because his polling average is about 50. He'll have something to say if he's just below that, but I think if Trump wins the question is, what's the gap, right? What's the gap between first and second? And then, again, back to the question who's going to show up and vote, right, if you come on this?

Here's one thing I want to show you. If you look, there's no votes in here yet so it's a little hard to understand. But you see the bigger circles on the map. The bigger circles are the population centers. That's where more people live. The bigger the circle the more people. It's pretty simple. Where the circles are big, that's your urban areas and your suburbs. That's where Nikki Haley must do well if she is going to surprise us.

And those people tend to have a shorter drive to the polling places so maybe the weather is less of a factor. The smaller dots, not only does Donald Trump want to win them and win them big, Anderson, we will know in these smaller rural counties, is this like 2016, right? Is it Ted Cruz and Donald Trump splitting the vote, or is it -- turn that out so you can see a little better.


2016, Ted Cruz and Donald Trump split them. If DeSantis is going to be competitive he better be like Cruz and like Trump up here if this is all red for Trump, big night.

COOPER: All right. John King, thanks very much.

With me here tonight, four CNN political commentators from across the partisan spectrum. David Urban, Kristen Soltis Anderson, Bakari Sellers and Kate Beddingfield. Kristen is a pollster.

What stands out to you in those numbers?

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It stands out to me that Donald Trump is so far ahead that his lead has been so large and has only gotten bigger even as we've gotten closer, more voters have tuned in. A big problem to both Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley have is that as voters have gotten closer and closer to the caucuses, and as they've learned more about them, they haven't gained enough momentum to really put a dent in Trump's lead.

And while we may have an academic debate here about, well, if the gap is 20, is that really a win for Trump, if it's 30, sure it is. For most voters, a win is a win. If Donald Trump comes even close to 50 percent, if he's got a double-digit margin he's going to count it as a win and so will his voters.

COOPER: Did Nikki Haley respond to criticism from Donald Trump about his criticism that she's not tough enough essentially? Let's play what she said.


NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He's saying this because now he knows he's in trouble. Now he knows this is becoming a two-person race. So I know that he knows the truth. It doesn't bother me at all.


COOPER: The fact that he is spending time attacking her.

DAVID URBAN, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Yes, listen, I know Trump's -- he's going to attack Ramaswamy, attacks everybody. He's still in the race. So I wouldn't put too much in it. And, you know, to Kristen's point about the Trump lead continuing to grow, there's lots of academic research, as well, and as just, you know, you're on casual observation, people want to be with the winner.

They want to be with the winner and they see these polls, Trump's at 60, 65 in some of these polls, they see their candidate kind of trailing away. That "Des Moines Register" poll had DeSantis and Haley category, you know, could you be persuaded to vote for somebody else, right? And the numbers both for DeSantis and Haley are both almost 40 percent they could be persuaded to vote for somebody else. So if they go in to their caucus, and that's super strong DeSantis, not super strong Haley, Trump is crushing it, I think he's going to run up the numbers.

COOPER: Kate, I mean, weather, who benefits?

KATE BEDINGFIELD, FORMER BIDEN WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Yes. Well, there are kind of two schools of thought on it. I mean, one, you look at the enthusiasm gap between Trump and the other candidates, it's hard to believe that somebody who only feels, you know, there's only sort of a 20 percent level of enthusiasm for that candidate, for Nikki Haley, that that person is going to go out in, you know, negative 24-degree weather and stand in the gym, and go through it all.

But, you know, conversely, obviously Trump has been leading by such a massive -- has had such a massive lead throughout this race, I think there's a risk of complacency. I mean, I think even voters who feel incredibly motivated to go out and vote for Trump, you know, would reasonably look at a 30-point lead and say, do I have to go stand in that gym in negative 25-degree weather when he's clearly going to run away with this.

So, you know, we'll see. I think in the end it is probably most likely to hurt Haley and DeSantis, but you could certainly see an argument the other way.

COOPER: And Bakari, I mean, Nikki Haley has the lowest enthusiasm in these polls, and the sort of probably the worst ground game of any of these tree.

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But she has momentum, and that's something that the other two don't have. I think if anybody in this race has one thing that's somewhat of an intangible, Nikki has that which is momentum riding into Iowa. She is where you want to be compared to any of the other candidates outside of Donald Trump who has a 30-point lead or whatever.

But, you know, at the end of the day I think that Iowa has done its job. Iowa has called the field. You know, you no longer have Chris Christie. You no longer have Mike Pence. If there's any hope in the Republican primary to stop Trump, I think that ship has sailed, but if there's any hope there can't be three tickets out of Iowa, there can really only be two. And so what I'm looking at is who comes in third place? And how far that third place is down?

If Nikki Haley comes in third place in the Ramaswamy territory, then I don't know if Nikki Haley actually makes it into South Carolina. If Ron DeSantis comes in third place, he needs to skip New Hampshire and go straight back to Tallahassee.

URBAN: You know, and Kate talked about, you know, this -- overlooking the lackadaisical attitude. I would say, that would be a concern to the Trump operation and the DeSantis operation. They've got a lot of people on the ground. The team that's running Trump's campaign was the same team that did it in 2016. They're pros, they're knocking and dragging folks. The couch, Bakari likes to say, the couch wins a lot. Couch is not going to win and that Trump campaign or the DeSantis campaign. The DeSantis team has the governor's operation with them.

COOPER: The DeSantis people have been knocking on a lot of doors for a long time.

URBAN: Yes. They've been knocking doors. They've got the governor's team, the governor's people, so I don't think complacency is going to be an issue, though. That's why I think on team DeSantis, they'll have a better-than-expected turnout. On the Haley campaign probably a little worse. And on Trump, I think that 80 percent, that enthusiasm is just going to be supplant -- it's going to be bolstered by also people calling, their neighbor is calling, do you need a ride? I'll take you in my SUV. There'll be a lot of that going on tomorrow. Both in DeSantis and Trump world.

SELLERS: To your point, though, in the "Des Moines Register" poll, nearly 50 percent of the people voting for Nikki Haley said that they would vote for Joe Biden over Donald Trump. So these are not, you know, true and true through Republican, true bred Republicans.


And so we're going to see if those individuals -- because frankly I don't see independents and Democrats, people who have little Joe Biden has, we're not coming out in 21-degree weather --

URBAN: Well, if they're Eagles fans tomorrow night, they're watching the Eagles game, maybe.

SELLER: Or if they're Cowboys fan, they're going to be depressed tomorrow.


ANDERSON: This is a huge X factor that pollsters have to deal with, right? We in our industry have to do a lot of things to make an educated guess about the future including, you know, in CNN's post- debate town hall from earlier this week, there were voters that they've had who watched all five of these debates and one of the guys afterwards said, you know, I'm going to wake up and see how I feel on Monday morning when I decide who to vote.

Political pundits, we can think of voters as they've taken all this information and they're making these like very calculated decisions, you know, sometimes they just wake up and they feel how they're going to feel. So for pollsters deciding, one, what do you do with the guy who just wakes up Monday morning and that's when he's going to figure it out? But number two, how does something like the weather factor in?

Does it mean that if you are a Trump's supporter, you can have that complacency or not? The other problem is, without a really competitive Democratic contest, and this isn't just an Iowa issue, this a New Hampshire issue, and so on and so forth, how does that scramble the deck? Does it actually make it more possible for Nikki Haley to do something that wouldn't be possible in a year with a competitive Democrat?

COOPER: If DeSantis does not come in second, I mean, if DeSantis comes in third, does he stay in?

BEDDINGFIELD: Hard to imagine how.

COOPER: I mean, he says he's in for the long haul. But obviously.

BEDDINGFIELD: Right. He'll say that, he has to say that. You're in it until you're not in it, so -- but, you know, hard to see how he stays in given where he is in New Hampshire, given where he is in South Carolina. I mean, unless he really is able to capitalize on momentum kind turbo charge coming out of Iowa. You know, we just don't see numbers that suggest that he has a path to the nomination.

He has not carved out an effective argument against Trump that's gotten traction. He just has not created space for himself. So, you know, it's hard to see how he would move forward. And I think, you know, Bakari is right. The question is, there's sort of two -- you know, traditionally there are kind of two tickets out. There's sort of two narratives. It's who wins and then who either -- who unexpectedly overperforms.

So, you know, I think you could certainly make an argument that if that overperformance is DeSantis, and he kind of comes out of Iowa with more momentum, runs into a brick wall in New Hampshire, that's only good for Donald Trump. At the end of the day, unfortunately, that's only good for Donald Trump, so.

COOPER: There's this argument being made by Vivek Ramaswamy, and even some of the DeSantis people now that a vote for Ramaswamy or for DeSantis is actually --

URBAN: A vote for Trump.

COOPER: A vote for Trump. It's a way to protect the former president. Does that make any sense?

URBAN: No, it makes no sense. It's, again, it's what you say when you have a polling of 8 percent, you know you're going to lose, right? This is what I don't understand. Like Vivek Ramaswamy's campaign has like a shelf life, like a carton of milk, stamped on it and it's tomorrow, right? 1:15 it expires because on 1:16 when you're at 6 percent or 4 percent, wherever he's going to finish in Iowa, he's kind of done.

So today, you know, he has as much power he's ever going to have in this race today, and he could have said, you know what? I realized I'm not going to win and I urge my followers to support Donald Trump. And then guess what? He goes, he's a big hero. He goes runs for governor in Ohio, very successful story, right? On the 16th he's just going to be bitter. He's wasted all that time.

SELLERS: That requires like self-awareness. That requires --

ANDERSON: And a certainly level of likability.



ANDERSON: I have to wonder if that's not what Ron DeSantis ultimately does a couple of days from now. If things don't go as hoped in Iowa he is very young. He could very easily run for the Republican nomination in 2028, if he plays his cards right, and if this is not the year for him, if he exits the race gracefully and make smart choices and how he positions himself with Republican voters. That's probably the smartest thing he did.

SELLERS: And I do think, I mean, I really -- first of all, I think Ramaswamy is going to overperform 8 percent. We can have a stake in that. I mean, I just think that he's actually been there, he's flooded the market or flooded the zone as they say. The only problem with Ramaswamy is he actually has galvanized young voters.

URBAN: Right. SELLERS: But young voters I don't think will show up tomorrow night in

that weather and some good football is on and there's a lot of variables. And so we'll see what happens, but at the end of the day, and I got fact-checked live on TV the other night, John Berman taught me this, but you can't be -- you can't have a president and a vice president from the same state. So there's no way for Ron DeSantis to have a future as Trump's vice president, so you're right. He needs to figure out what he's going to do pretty quickly after the 15th because I think for Ron DeSantis, this race is probably over for him if he underperforms.

COOPER: All right. We will see tomorrow. A lot to be decided. Everyone, thank you.

More to come on Iowa tonight including why in most polls one of the most important bloc voters in Iowa, Republican politics, evangelicals, is seemingly siding with the former president over Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley. Bob Vander Plaats, a DeSantis supporter and evangelical leader in Iowa joins us next.



COOPER: The former president's lead in the Iowa polls is his connection with evangelical voters, something his campaign has played up recently by promoting a video I'm about to show you made by a group of supporters. It appears to use AI to mimic the voice of a deceased broadcaster Paul Harvey and his famous speech "So God Made a Farmer." Here are the messages God made Trump. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And on June 14th, 1946, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, I need a caretaker so God gave us Trump. God said I need somebody willing to get up before dawn, fix this country, work all day, fight the Marxist, eat supper, then go to the Oval Office and stay past midnight at a meeting of the heads of state, so God made Trump. I need somebody with arms strong enough to wrestle the deep state.


COOPER: I'm joined now by one of the most influential evangelical leaders in Iowa, Bob Vander Plaats. He's CEO of the Family Leaders. He's endorsed Ron DeSantis back in November.

Mr. Vander Plaats, I appreciate you being with us. So the latest "Des Moines Register" poll has more the former president's support among evangelical Iowans at more than 51 percent up from 2016. You've got a great read on what is going on in Iowa. Do you believe these polls?


BOB VANDER PLAATS, CEO, THE FAMILY LEADER: No, Anderson. I've said it for a long time, my pulse just doesn't match the polls because if those polls are right, every other person on my base would have to tell me they're voting for Trump and that's just not the case. They're very appreciative of what the former president did, moving the embassy to Jerusalem, appointing three Supreme Court justices, the Abraham Accords, a lot of things like that. But they always followed it up with a but.

But I believe we need to win in 2024 so therefore we need to turn the page, and that's why I believe there's going to be a break for Governor Ron DeSantis tomorrow night.

COOPER: What indications do you see of that break? I mean, that's just something you feel based on your interactions with evangelical voters?

VANDER PLAATS: Well, it definitely is, and Anderson, you know this isn't my first rodeo. I was there with Mike Huckabee. I was there with Rick Santorum. I was there with Ted Cruz. I would say Ron DeSantis has built by far the best organization I have ever seen in the Iowa caucuses. I believe that organization is going to turn out.

COOPER: Wow. Because Ted Cruz had a really good organization.

VANDER PLAATS: He really did. As a matter of fact, I would say Cruz had the best one that I've seen eight years ago, but now DeSantis I'd say is light years ahead of Cruz, and they've got this thing dialed in. I believe the people are going to turn out. The people that have committed to caucus for Ron DeSantis turnout is going to be a very, very good night for Ron DeSantis, and I think it's going to shock the country.

COOPER: And in terms of the operation that you've seen, I mean, I know they've done a lot of door knocks. I think I've heard different numbers, but just a huge number of door knocks. Do they have a big turnout operation for tomorrow in this weather, I mean, driving people to caucus sites?

VANDER PLAATS: They have an incredible turnout operation. All of the way from making sure that they're reminding people to get out to caucus, getting them rides if they need to have rides. It's an incredible organization. As a matter of fact, I compared to one time that Ted Cruz, a great organization but his was like the Flintstones and I believe DeSantis is like, you know, the Jetsons. He's just lightyears ahead on the organization. Now if that turns out tomorrow night it's going to be a good night for him.

COOPER: We had a poll up earlier about enthusiasm among the various candidates. Trump is at 88 percent enthusiasm among his voters. 62 for DeSantis, 39 for Nikki Haley. You know, some have pointed to what they believe is a late surge by or a momentum by Nikki Haley. It seems a lot of those people may be independents or people who necessarily wouldn't vote for either DeSantis or Trump if Nikki Haley is not in the race. What do you make of her support?

VANDER PLAATS: I see her support as being like the modern-day Mitt Romney lane, which is not a big lane. She may galvanize that support. The key thing is, will they turn out tomorrow night? When I read into the "Des Moines Register" poll I saw the enthusiasm of her supporters being low and a lot of them were Democrats and independents. I'm just not so sure they want to go out on a cold, icy, snowy night to cast their vote for someone who's not going to win the Iowa caucuses and most likely not going to play second either.

COOPER: A recent "New York Times" article, the headline, Trump is connecting with a different type of evangelical voter made the case that the former president's strongest supporters identify as evangelicals on cultural issues, don't necessarily attend church services themselves. I'm wondering if that tracks with what you have been seeing and if so what that means politically?

VANDER PLAATS: Well, I think that is some of what I've been tracking and what is it self-identified evangelicals and I haven't seen a drop in attendance with some of the evangelicals that support Trump, and my concern always is, is that politics does not become our religion. We always tell people here with the family make sure you look higher. David said where does my help come from, it comes from the Lord, not from Washington, D.C., not from the Republican Party or a candidate.

We also tell them to think bigger. And so hopefully people can keep focused where the focus needs to be, and understand the politics is a part of it but it's not all of it.

COOPER: Going back to that recent poll, does it surprise you the former president is doing so well among evangelical voters and polls even though he's been critical of certain state-level abortion bans? For instance, he called Governor DeSantis' six-week ban in Florida a terrible thing and a terrible mistake.

VANDER PLAATS: Well, I think what it is, I tried to read into that, Anderson, and I think, you know, President Trump now has a record. He appointed three Supreme Court justices, he stood up for religious liberty, he did a lot of good things. And I think what happens is when the indictments started to come out and started removing him from ballots, people start to galvanize and say this thing is weaponized against him so I'm going to have his back as he had our back.

My concerns are some of the things you just mentioned. He's not with us on the life issue right now. He's not with us on the gender issue right now. There just seems to be a lot of things that (INAUDIBLE), what are you for? It's not just about winning the White House but what are you going to do once you win? How you're going to surround yourself with?

And that's why I think we have a once-in-a-lifetime candidate in Ron DeSantis, you know, who has actually led on all these things, took a toss-up state and dominated it to deep red in the midterm elections.


And I think he's our best shot to win the White House in 2024. So if 2024 is the most important election of our lifetime we need to win and that's why I'm thrilled to back Ron DeSantis.

COOPER: Bob Vander Plaats, I appreciate your time. Thank you.

VANDER PLAATS: Thank you, Anderson.

COOPER: Just ahead, Iowa's history as a maker and sometimes breaker of presidential ambitions. Randi Kaye takes a look at that.


COOPER: Iowa's importance doesn't end after Monday night. Randi Kaye has a look at how every four years key moments in this contest become embedded in the history and some political lessons for future generations of presidential candidates.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When Vermont Governor Howard Dean came in third place in the Iowa caucuses 20 years ago this was his response.

HOWARD DEAN (D), FORMER VERMONT GOVERNOR: And then we're going to go to Washington, D.C. to take back the White House. Yes!

KAYE: That scream and Dean's loss of momentum, perhaps because of it, put the brakes on his bid for the nomination. Then there was this wild laugh from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis which went viral last fall.

Iowa has a long history of memorable moments when it comes to presidential hopefuls.


At the Iowa State Fair candidates devoured just about anything on a stick. Pork chops are always a winner.


KAYE: Where else but Iowa can candidates ride bumper cars? DeSantis did with his daughter Madison while Nikki Haley opted for ski ball. Vivek Ramaswamy wrapped up a fair side chat with Iowa's governor by launching into the iconic rap song by Eminem called "Lose Yourself."

Former president Donald Trump didn't rap, instead he danced at an Iowa rally despite his wife's request he stop doing that.

TRUMP: She said, darling, I love you. I love you but this is not presidential. You don't dance.

KAYE: There have been other only in Iowa moms like this one from 2015 when Marco Rubio tried to have a friendly game of football with kids, but instead bumped one little boy on the head.

If Iowa teaches candidates anything it's that voters are listening and what they say can get them into trouble like when Mitt Romney told caucus-goers in 2011 that corporations are people, too.

SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): One is we can raise taxes on people. That's not the way --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Corporations. Corporations.

ROMNEY: Corporations are people, my friend.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, they're not.

ROMNEY: We can raise taxes -- of course they are. Everything that corporations earn ultimately goes to people. Where do you think it goes?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It goes into their pockets.

ROMNEY: Whose pockets? Whose pockets? People's pockets.

KAYE: And in 2020, Pete Buttigieg found himself pleading with a silent crowd for applause.

PETE BUTTIGIEG, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: So I'm going to look to you to spread that sense of hope to those that you know. Come on.


KAYE: In 2007 former President Barack Obama also had a line that fell flat with caucus-goers. On an Iowa farm he noted rising supermarket prices asking the crowd, anybody gone into Whole Foods lately and seen what they charge for arugula? I man, they're charging a lot of money for this stuff. Turned out the state of Iowa didn't have a Whole Foods at the time. Obama quickly moved on to another topic, though he did go on to win the state.

Randi Kaye, CNN.


COOPER: Just ahead, another major story today. It's now been 100 days since Hamas launched its terror attacks against Israel and the war began. In Tel Aviv large crowds gathered to remember those murdered on October 7th and the more than 100 people still being held hostage. A live report from Tel Aviv, next.



COOPER: It's been 100 days since the October 7th terror attack in Israel, 100 days since those kidnapped by Hamas and others were taken, 100 days since the war with Hamas began, and 100 days of suffering for so many in Gaza and in Israel.

In Israel today, crowds out in large numbers remembering the 1200 who were murdered 100 days ago and the estimated 107 people still believed to be held hostage. In most cases, Hamas has not given confirmation to families of those they kidnapped that their loved ones are being held or still alive. Some of those kidnapped had severe wounds like Hersh Goldberg-Polin, whose left hand and part of his arm blown off while he hid in a shelter. Others being held suffering from serious medical conditions like

cancer and diabetes. Even getting medicine to these people requiring high level talks that are still unresolved. Today Israel's defense minister said in a statement that the war will not stop, quote, "until Hamas is defeated."

Jeremy Diamond joins us from Tel Aviv with the latest.

So what is the status of any hostage negotiations? Are they actually ongoing?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there certainly appear to be discussions, movement towards trying to find a new deal to free some more hostages, but no clear signs of progress. The only sign of progress that we have perhaps seen bringing us maybe closer to the next deal is this agreement at least to have medication flown by Qatar to Egypt, then handed over to Palestinian Ministry of Health officials inside of Gaza to give some 40 hostages, who Israel estimates need medication, to get them some of that badly-needed medication.

But still, the Hamas still will not allow even the Red Cross to visit those hostages. But as we hit this 100-day mark now today, it has been an incredibly emotional time here in Israel, and in particular for the families of those 100 plus hostages who still remain captive in Gaza, both because of the toll that 100 days brings on these families, but also because of the opportunity that they see at this 100-day mark to once again call attention to the plight of their relatives.

We have seen relatives of hostage families go to the border with Gaza to try and deliver messages to their loved ones over loud speakers. And here in Tel Aviv over the last 24 hours, we have seen tens of thousands of people flocking to what has become known as Hostages Square right across from the Defense Ministry here in Tel Aviv. A 24- hour rally to call attention to the plight of those hostages.

We've heard that techno track that was playing at the Nova music festival when that attack occurred be played by that very same deejay, and we've also heard emotional testimonies from family members. All of this with the goal of trying to raise awareness and try and bring more pressure to bear on the Netanyahu government and on the international community to get that next deal for the release of more hostages.

COOPER: What is the status of the relationship between the U.S. and Netanyahu's government?

DIAMOND: Well, look, publicly we still see firm affirmations of support from the United States toward Israel. We have watched as the secretary of state was just here recently. U.S. officials and Israeli officials in regular contact. But there's no question that over the last month or so there has been a fraying of the ties, in particular between President Biden and the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Some frustrations from White House officials about the ways in which Israel has conducted this war, particularly as you look at us nearing this 24,000 death mark, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.


Inside of Gaza, the majority of those casualties, women and children. And tonight, Axios, our own analyst, Barak Ravid, has reports according to a U.S. official saying that the president is losing patience with Netanyahu. I can tell you that I've heard those very same comments from U.S. officials over the last month or so. And so the question now is, will that actually lead to anything different in the relationship?

So far the only sign that we've seen of fraying from a public standpoint is the fact that these two leaders haven't actually spoken since December 23rd and when Blinken was here last week, all he really got out of that visit was an agreement by the Israelis to send the U.N. team into northern Gaza to conduct an assessment. But very little else of the Biden administration's asks have actually come to fruition in terms of the Israeli government -- Anderson.

COOPER: Jeremy Diamond, thanks so much.

Next, remembering the Iowa principal who died today more than a week after acting heroically to save students during a mass shooting at his school.


COOPER: While Iowa prepares for tomorrow's caucuses, the city of Perry is also.