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Biden Lands Critical Endorsement from SC Rep. Clyburn; Polls Show Biden Has Room to Grow with Key SC Voters; Buttigieg: A Sanders Ticket Could Cost Dems House and Senate Seats; 2020 Dems Shift Focus on Super Tuesday States. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired February 26, 2020 - 12:30   ET




JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Joe Biden rolled out a big endorsement today in the state where he guarantees a win.


REP. JIM CLYBURN (D-SC): I want the public to know that I'm voting for Joe Biden. South Carolina should be voting for Joe Biden. I know Joe. We know Joe. But most importantly, Joe knows us.


KING: Now, South Carolina Congressman Jim Clyburn's support for Biden was not exactly a secret. But the public rollout is important as the former vice president is challenged by both Bernie Sanders and Tom Steyer for support among critical African-American voters.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You hold in your hands in South Carolina the power to choose the next president of the United States. And I'm here, heart and soul, with everything I've got to earn the support of the people of South Carolina. I promise you this. If you send me out of South Carolina with a victory, there will be no stopping us.


KING: Not sure about the last part. Not sure about the last part. Don't mean it to be disrespectful. It's just he doesn't have a ton of money on hand, he's got Bernie is well organized, Senator Sanders across the states, Mayor Bloomberg is spending a lot of money there. But, we do know this, and Biden has now, he doesn't hide it anymore, he has to win in South Carolina or his rationale for running is done.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And I think how he runs -- wins in South Carolina matters. It has to be a decisive victory because if it's not, Super Tuesday is three days later, and that win, that lead, poof. JULIE PACE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's why you're trying to -- you're seeing the Biden campaign trying to create a sense of momentum around him right now. It's really hard to create momentum without winning, and he's trying to create it to lead into a win. So, you saw a pretty good debate performance last night where he clearly came in ready to be a little more energized than he has been in some of the previous showings following it up with the Clyburn endorsement. They think if they can get a pretty sizable win, I was talking to a couple Biden advisors this morning, they're hoping that it's double digits not single digits, then that can propel him into Super Tuesday, which is an expensive day. And he doesn't have a lot of cash on hand.

KING: He doesn't have a lot of cash on hand. We'll get to this later but he's only on television one of the states at the moment. But this is, if you look at it, his numbers are not as strong as they were months ago. But this is Joe Biden's best state.


If you look at it right now, he leads among women in South Carolina. He leads among older voters, 65-95. He leads among African-American, black voters there. You see that.

Here's what was interesting to me in looking at this polling data. Biden is also the second choice for a lot of voters so he's trying to peel away from Steyer and from Sanders with this debate performance. Among men, 28 percent of them, he gets 23 percent of men. Twenty-eight percent of men who are with other candidates say their second choice is Joe Biden. Fifty-nine percent of younger voters, not normally a Biden strength. That tells me younger African-Americans who area with Bernie Sanders or with Tom Steyer say if I had a second choice, I would go to Joe Biden.

He does OK among liberals and he's second -- again, he's the leading choice among African-Americans and he's the leading second choice as well. So he has room to grow unlike in some of the previous states.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes. And you saw him there I think in that press conference really make the stakes plain, and say, listen South Carolinians, it's all up to you in some ways on how South Carolina picks president. So if you're flirting with Steyer, if you're flirting with Sanders, it's time to get serious because it's all in your hand in terms of putting him in a better position.

I think to Jackie's point, though, he said -- you know, he needs a win, he needs a big win, he needs a kind of wow win out of South Carolina. We'll see if the things he's done so far. I do think he had a strong debate performance. You could tell him reaching out to those constituencies, he talked about nominating a black woman to the Supreme Court --


HENDERSON: Very, very subtle.

KING: Nobody was subtle.

HENDERSON: Yes. Yes, nobody -- yes, everyone was doing that last night. And we'll see who it works for. You heard Clyburn said, you know, we know Joe Biden, Joe Biden knows us. Sanders, not as much, you know, in terms of knowing the folks in that state. And Steyer certainly (INAUDIBLE) as well.

KING: And Sanders has worked hard.


KING: We talked about Sanders learning the lessons of 2016. He had decent Latino support in 2016, he has built on it. He did not have very good African-American support in 2016, he has worked very hard. Joe Biden making it clear in last night's debate if you're with Senator Sanders, think again.


BIDEN: Let's talk about being progressive. Walking distance to here is Mother Emanuel Church, nine people shot dead by a white supremacist. Bernie voted five times against the Brady Bill. He said he would primary Barack Obama, someone should. And, in fact, the president was weak and our administration was, in fact, not up to it.

Let's talk about progressive. Progressive is getting things done. And that's what we got done. We got a lot done.


KING: That was out of the -- almost out of the box for Joe Biden. He knew that was one of the things he needed to try.

TALEV: But you know those numbers that you just went over -- yes. But those numbers that you just went over, that second choice number, you can look at it in a good way when you see the younger voter support or you can look at it in a sign of weakness which is how I look at it. That in those different splits, it is the black vote in South Carolina that is the narrowest lead for Joe Biden, not the biggest. And it was always supposed to be the biggest lead. That was supposed to be the part that was his firewall.

Bernie Sanders because of his support among younger voters has caught up so much across the board, that even in South Carolina where it's 60 percent black voters in the Democratic primary, even there Sanders is much closer than Joe Biden wanted him to be and that may play out across other states no matter what happens in South Carolina.

KING: And the Steyer factor too. The reason Biden went after Steyer, and I'm not sure whether Steyer comes from older black voters or younger black voters --

HENDERSON: It's older black voters from what I -- just anecdotally can tell.

KING: Because his ads have been about climate change which is an interesting one. I'm sorry, you want to?

HENDERSON: Yes. But he's been on the air there. He's been on the air going back months and months and months with impeachment, right?


PACE: I think that's right. Steyer I think in South Carolina and Nevada which was a total money play, in South Carolina, he actually has been in a lot of communities (INAUDIBLE).

TALEV: He got a field operation and ground demos.

KING: All right.

Up next, he just landed a senior position in the Trump White House and he's still a senior in college.



KING: Topping our political radar today, the White House just hired a 23-year-old college student for a top job in the all important presidential personnel office. A source telling CNN that James Bacon, a senior at George Washington University here in Washington will work directly under the new personnel chief John McEntee whose under orders from the president to root out disloyal administration officials. Politico which was first to report this hire says Bacon worked with McEntee on the Trump campaign and transition.

In last night Democratic debate, reigniting a big debate over whether Bernie Sanders -- whether a Sanders nomination would be a downballot disaster for the Democratic Party. This is the take of Pete Buttigieg.


PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It adds up to four more years of Donald Trump, Kevin McCarthy as speaker of the House, and the inability to get the Senate into Democratic hands. The time has come for us to stop acting like the presidency is the only office that matters. Not only is this a way to get President Trump re-elected, we have a House to worry about, we got a Senate to worry about.


KING: The House Speaker Nancy Pelosi responding this morning saying, quote, I think whoever our nominee is, we will enthusiastically embrace and we will win the White House, the Senate, and the House of Representatives. Does she mean it?

PACE: This was all the talk in South Carolinians though among Democrats in the last couple days when I'm been down there. And it's really kind of funny to watch Democrats go through the stages of acceptance about Bernie Sanders potentially being the nominee. You have some people over here who think a total disaster for downballot candidates. There is no way they can take back the Senate or win the House.

And then others were starting to make the case. He can bring in young people, maybe he can expand the electorate a little bit more. Maybe he can pick up seats that we didn't think were a possibility. But the party is really trying to come to terms with this.

KUCINICH: But the moderate members, if you talk to them --

HENDERSON: Joe Cottingham (ph) folks like that.

KUCINICH: Right, right.


It's a little bit like, oh, look over there. It's too early.

TALEV: The prevailing view inside President Trump's circles and friends of Trump is that probably Bernie Sanders probably has such problems in Florida that it takes that off the map and moves the contest to other states. But they're not sure. They just watched it work in President Trump four years ago.

KING: A critical point, they're not sure. And Washington is often wrong about these things. Donald Trump can't win the Republican nomination, there's no way he can win the White House. And he would be president and you're not as he's fond of saying. So, we'll sort this out but it is a great conversation among Democrats.

If you look at the map, Sanders is as competitive as any of the other Democrats, as least within the margins. We'll continue that conversation.

Coming up, the Democrats look head to Super Tuesday wondering if it's too late to change the race.



KING: South Carolina votes Saturday then Super Tuesday on Tuesday. But it's important as we consider the impact of big events like last night's debate to remember this. Yes, 14 states vote on Super Tuesday but 13 of those 14 are already voting. Thirteen of them, all except Alabama have some form of early voting or in-person absentee voting. So the voting in these states and some of them are huge already underway. That's why Democrats are worried, can we stop Bernie Sanders.

Here's another one. More than 1,300 delegates at stake on Tuesday in those Super Tuesday contests. Half of them come from the big three prizes, California, Texas, and North Carolina. What do those states have in common? California, Bernie Sanders atop the pack. Texas, Bernie Sanders in the top tier, more competitive here. Bernie Sanders still poised to get delegates, to get delegates, and to get delegates. North Carolina, again, Bernie Sanders in the top tier, competitive just about everywhere, at the top of the pack in the three biggest prizes when it comes to delegates on Tuesday.

It's expensive to run in 14 states at the same time. Michael Bloomberg, look at that number, these were in the Super Tuesday state ad spending, a $161 million. That number is going to keep on going, Tom Steyer second. Senator Sanders, though, among the other candidates, in third place, $15 million so far. You see as we come down the line here. Joe Biden only $115,000 spending in Super Tuesday states, that's a very low number especially compared to others. And if you look, he's on the air in two states, Tulsi Gabbard beating him, she's on the air in three. Six, 12, eight, 13, seven, 14, Michael Bloomberg on TV and all of them.

Again, the three biggest prizes, California, Texas, and North Carolina. Only three candidates were on the air in all three of those.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: While other candidates argue about healthcare, Mike Bloomberg has a record of doing something. As president, he'll build on ObamaCare.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tom Steyer will beat Donald Trump on the economy. His people over profits plan makes a living wage a right. Tom's plan also makes healthcare a right by adding a public option to ObamaCare.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When candidates say we can't guarantee healthcare for all, make college affordable for all, combat climate change, or a world at peace, remember, America is best when we strive to do big things.


KING: The challenge ahead is amazing. And one of the things we just sometimes forget is because of early voting, because it is now a routine. Alabama still stuck, doesn't -- won't let people vote early, you can answer why yourself.

But the voting is under way. So you have a big debate last night. Elizabeth Warren had this happen to her in Nevada. She had a great debate, she thought it was going to help her in Nevada but more than 70,000 people had already voted.

PACE: California in particular, early voting underway, Bernie Sanders has a pretty sophisticated ballot harvesting operation in California which is legal in the state. You can literally go find people, get their ballots and go turn them in. So, all of these that we're talking about serve as the lead up to Super Tuesday, it's already happening right now. And that makes it a real challenge for candidates who are hoping like a Joe Biden for a burst of momentum out of South Carolina.

HENDERSON: And would also already happen is that Bernie Sanders ran in some of these states that we'll see on Super Tuesday in these contests. Sixteen or so contests, I think he won in about seven of them, places like Colorado, places like Utah. We obviously focus on California and on Texas but there's some other states in there that I think he's going to have an advantage in because he had a ground game that was successful for him before. He did well in California. Alaska round, I think he lost by less than 10 points. In Texas, he did very well among Latino voters. Alaska round, so he's going to -- you know, he's going in with a head of steam. We'll see what the others can do.

KING: The others are trying to keep his -- keep him in the 20s, just to keep him from pulling away with the delegates. We'll talk more about that in the days ahead but let's assume for the sake of argument, Joe Biden gets a South Carolina win. That's a hypothetical win (INAUDIBLE). But even if he does, to this point, 14 states plus American Samoa and Democrats abroad at the Tuesday contests, he's on the air in one state. He's on the air in North Carolina and it's $115,000 in spending. You don't need it to go to the FEC to understand, he doesn't have any money.

KUCINICH: Well, right, and that's why these debates do matter still, it's because there is an infusion of cash. Now whether as everyone here has said, whether that matters in the long run, we'll have to see. Perhaps he hopes that some of the other southern states that are voting on Super Tuesday could see a South Carolina win as an indicator that he's a horse to bet on.

KING: He's a known name so that does help you. But my other question is for candidates on the cast if you see here, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, and Pete Buttigieg. Twelve states for Mayor Buttigieg, eight states for Amy Klobuchar, six states for Elizabeth Warren.


They are desperate to find a place to win and so they're trying to direct their resources. Where is it?

PACE: That's the issue here. You do have to win. Third place is nice, second place is nice, Klobuchar is certainly hoping to win in her home state of Minnesota. You don't win your home state --

HENDERSON: Bad news.

KING: Yes.

PACE: Yes, that's right.

TALEV: Super Tuesday is going to be so important.

KING: We're going to go from four percent of delegates to more than a third of the delegates in a blur.

Stay with us I hope in the next few days. And thanks for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS today. See you back here this time tomorrow.

Alex Marquardt is in for Brianna Keilar today. He starts after a very quick break. Have a good afternoon.