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GOP Candidates Face First Test Of Primary Season In Iowa; How Young Voters Could Influence Tonight's Caucuses; Biden Camp Eyes Iowa Closely As It Prepares For Trump. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired January 15, 2024 - 15:30   ET



DANIEL STRAUSS, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: This is a state that he's focused on, he has a very serious ground operation there, and I'm terrible at predictions anyway, so like, let's see it unfold. But again, the looming questions over this night, one of the big ones is Ron DeSantis going forward.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN HOST: You did predict Michigan was going to beat Alabama, but we'll get into that.

Jackie, if you're looking at Trump's mindset, as we so often do going into this, I mean, he's posting today criticizing Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis, and Vivek Ramaswamy, probably most after Nikki Haley, writing today that he doesn't think she can win a general election because she doesn't have MAGA supporters behind her that she never will. This is as close as he's probably gotten to complimenting Ron DeSantis, saying that he is MAGA-lite at least, but Trump says MAGA is almost all of the Republican Party and saying that candidates who kind of are in the vein of Nikki Haley can't win a general election. I mean, that's a primary argument made against Donald Trump himself.

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE BOSTON GLOBE: Right, he has this way of trying to turn the argument around against him on someone else, but listen, he's going after Haley because he's threatened by her, particularly somewhere like New Hampshire. Because if she's able to -- I mean, if she's able to beat him in New Hampshire, that does show that it is a possible thing and could create a permission structure down the line if some people aren't exactly enthralled.

Now, these are a lot of ifs. This is a lot of, you know, wish-casting for people who don't like Donald Trump and the Republican Party. But if he keeps spending money against her, if he keeps spending money, if he keeps talking about her, that's all you need to know. He wouldn't, he'd be completely ignoring her if he wasn't threatened.

MIKE LEON, HOST, "CAN WE PLEASE TALK" PODCAST: She's right. I mean, listen, Don Manley told Derek Jeter this one time, run it out because you never know who's watching. And right now, what you guys were talking about before in terms of donors watching this, they're closely watching this to see where DeSantis finishes. You're talking about leaning the operation. I don't even know if that's feasible in terms of what he did in Iowa. He hasn't really focused on New Hampshire. I know he's going tomorrow for a town hall. He's kind of shifted his focus to South Carolina where he feels like he could win that state.

Tonight is a pivotal night. We're going to wake up tomorrow morning, and either Ron DeSantis is still going to be in this race, we're going to get a surprise, or we're going to get chalk like we say in sports.

COLLINS: We've talked a lot about the margins here and what Trump is aiming for, and he certainly would like to just kind of put this race to bed tonight. He is going after Vivek Ramaswamy, which I think is notable because he did get about 8 percent, I believe, in that Des Moines Register poll that came out on Saturday night. Is there a concern that he could cut into the margins for the former president?

MATT MOWERS, FORMER TRUMP ADMINISTRATION ADVISER: I think it's a concern not just for Iowa, but also for New Hampshire, where Donald Trump really may need those votes. You know, Vivek Ramaswamy and Ron DeSantis are usually juxtaposed between 6 percent and 5 percent in New Hampshire. Every vote may matter there. So, I think it has as much to do with New Hampshire as it does with Iowa, and what Donald Trump's saying about Vivek Ramaswamy on that.

You know, look, I've talked to folks in the Trump campaign, and for months they've been talking about, we want to win by at least 12. And so, I know they're re-lowering expectations again today. Internally, their campaign team recognizes that the largest spread in history was actually Bob Dole in 1988, when he won by about 13 points. They figure if they can do that, they can claim history.

But the challenge, of course, is this. He's not just running as an open primary field. He's running as a quasi-incumbent. And so, they're going to have a lot of answering to do if he doesn't hit 50 percent. But regardless, the spread is what it is. He's clearly the frontrunner going into not just tonight in Iowa, but likely even New Hampshire.


STRAUSS: If this thing goes on for a while and goes on to South Carolina, it's going to be, that is going to be the primary to watch, I think. Because it is Nikki Haley's home state. Because Ron DeSantis is flying there after Iowa. Because Donald Trump is so popular there. Look, I mean, because it's such a conservative state, I think that will be what's important to watch after this if all of these candidates or most of them stay in this race.

KUCINICH: But it's a lot of oxygen between New Hampshire and South Carolina this year. It's something like 30-some days between the two. And a lot of money.

Yes, a lot of money, a lot of time. And if that's where they're -- I mean, if you're Ron DeSantis, you need money to enable to continue your campaign down there if that's where you're going to focus.

LEON: Well, it's beautiful because you can see that all of them have positioned each other in a different state. So, Ron DeSantis is focused on Iowa, Nikki Haley's focused on New Hampshire. Donald Trump is not even looking at them. He's looking past them, to quote Jay-Z. Like he's not even looking at these candidates. So, he's focused on just hammering them tonight, winning New Hampshire by January 25th. Let's all rally behind me.

If one of them wins tonight or in New Hampshire next week with Nikki Haley, it's going to be interesting to watch. We're all eyes turned to South Carolina, that's for sure.

COLLINS: Safe to say, that's like three quotes that you dropped.

LEON: I know. I got like five more.

COLLINS: I need the rest of the panel to drop two quotes. Thank you all.

Right now, Republican presidential candidates are making those final appeals to voters in Iowa ahead of the caucuses. What can we expect from young voters, young Republicans? That and much more in our special coverage right after this.



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: The Iowa Caucuses start in less than five hours, and some voters are juggling them with classwork. Young Republicans may have a larger than expected say tonight because the deep freeze could keep some of the older ones home.

Joining me now from West Des Moines is Dylan Engelbrecht. He's the chair of the Iowa Federation of College Republicans and the Drake College Republicans. This is his second time voting in the Iowa Caucuses. Dylan, thanks for being with us. So, for young voters, what's more important tonight, electability, or the issues?

DYLAN ENGELBRECHT, CHAIR, IOWA FEDERATION OF COLLEGE REPUBLICANS: Well, when it comes down to it, I think electability. We want to be unified for a candidate against President Joe Biden.


But a lot of conversation around the issues as well, mainly affordability for housing, making sure they have access to great jobs after graduation. And a lot of the cultural issues, like the efforts of DEI and all that. A lot of those issues are being talked about and seen on college campuses. So definitely top of mind for young Republicans here in the state.

COOPER: What about turnout tonight in terms of actually going out and caucusing?

ENGELBRECHT: Well, I think we're really energized here at the college level. You know, students are just coming back from winter break, getting settled into their dorms and, you know, maybe shoveling out their car from the last couple of days of the blizzard. But you know, today we've seen the plows out and getting the snow

removed. So, I think we're expecting some really great turnout tonight, especially on the college campuses. We've had candidates from around the cycle coming to different college campuses, speaking with voters, and really trying to court that key demographic that the Republican Party's been trying to court this past election.

So, I know here in Des Moines and at Drake University, we've had students volunteering and working on campaigns and just simply going to caucus events throughout this whole time, whether that's at a local diner or the big rallies like we see with President Trump.

So definitely a lot of energy here on the ground, despite the weather. And today I think we're at negative one degree and it feels like summer compared to the last couple of days.

COOPER: Do you think most young Republicans know which candidates they're going to caucus for or vote for or more still undecided?

ENGELBRECHT: I think a lot of them have joined the camps. Like I said, we've had a lot of people volunteering, whether that be through phone banking, you know, going to rallies and showing their support, getting pictures with candidates. I think a lot of people have settled on their candidate.

You still have that really firm base for President Trump. You know that he played a key part of turning Iowa red in 2016 and doubling down with him in 2020 with a lot of those 33 pivot counties that voted for Obama twice and then doubled down on Trump again in 2016 and 2020.

But I think we also have a lot of students that are saying, hey, maybe there's an alternative like Ambassador Nikki Haley or Governor DeSantis or Vivek Ramaswamy.

So definitely a key demographic that I'm going to be watching tonight. You know, those big college campuses like in Ames with Iowa State, University of Iowa in Iowa City and Cedar -- up in Cedar Falls, the University of Northern Iowa.

COOPER: And is getting to the caucus sites an issue? I mean, are they near the -- are the sites near or on college campuses?

ENGELBRECHT: Yes, a lot of them are a short drive away, less than a five-minute drive away. And I know some of them at University of Iowa are just a quick walk down the street.

So, you know, definitely we're encouraging students to make their plan to go to caucus and make sure you have plenty of time to get there. Like we've covered here on CNN, the caucuses start at seven o'clock, but try and get there around 6:30. You know, make sure you have plenty of time with the roads and the walkways to make sure you get there safely and get inside to where it's warm. So definitely close to campuses. And like I said, it's a huge -- it's going to be a huge turnout tonight for young conservatives across the state.

COOPER: Do you think one candidate has been better at reaching out to young voters than others?

ENGELBRECHT: I think it's been a pretty mixed bag. I think, you know, a candidate like Vivek Ramaswamy, who's an outsider, who's been, you know, really active on social media and trying to court that younger vote has been a huge candidate this cycle. But I think continuing President Trump and Governor DeSantis have had a huge ground game here in the state of Iowa. So, you know, whether that's knocking doors or, you know, the mailers, the text, or the huge events that they're inviting students to, that's played a big role.

But I think Ambassador Haley has had a lot, you know, has been going to a lot of campuses and really appealing to a lot more of those moderate students that maybe stayed home in 2020 or voted Democrat in 2020, but are, you know, maybe thinking that, hey, I want to come back to the Republican Party if it was a person like Ambassador Haley.

So, like I said, definitely a mixed bag, just like what we see in the polls. But I think definitely a couple of those key candidates were making huge strides within the young vote here in the state.

COOPER: Well, good luck to you tonight. I hope you get there. I hope it's not too cold. Dylan Engelbrecht, thanks so much.

ENGELBRECHT: Thank you, Anderson.

COOPER: As Iowan Republicans get ready to caucus and vote for a nominee, Democrats keeping a close eye on the contest. What are they watching for? We'll talk about that next.



COLLINS: The Biden campaign is closely watching the Iowa caucuses today alongside the rest of us. The communications director telling CNN that they are gearing up to make the November election a fight about, quote, more freedom, and more democracy in the United States.

CNN's MJ Lee is live at the White House. MJ, obviously we've got this. We have the Biden campaign announcing that big fundraising haul earlier today. What are they looking for in tonight's caucuses?

MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know, even if President Biden isn't on any ballots tonight. The Biden campaign is very much closely watching what happens in Iowa tonight to try to glean anything they can about the beginning of this process on the Republican side. That will, of course, ultimately determine who President Biden goes up against in November.

And as with so many people that are paying attention to this election, the widespread view within the Biden campaign and many of Biden's allies at this moment in time is certainly that the expectation is that President Biden will be going up against Donald Trump come November.

But we are seeing an interesting thing happen here where, you know, there is, of course, sort of the possibility that if something goes awry or something goes unexpected in this race on the other side of the aisle, of course, there is always the possibility that somebody else ends up having a moment or ends up emerging the nominee.


And interestingly, I was just listening to the Biden campaign holding a press conference in Iowa. And Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker was casting the field as a field of Trump mini-mes. I thought that moment was kind of interesting because they're sort of acknowledging, yes, it's Trump that we are making preparations to run up against.

But all of the other candidates that are running against him and trying to defeat him, they espouse similar ideas as Donald Trump, the former president. So, I do think that is an idea that we are going to hear more from the campaign.

And as this press tour was going on, they were also leaning very heavily into rights for -- abortion rights and reproductive rights. That, of course, as you know very well, is expected to be a very big theme heading into the fall, something that has worked very well for them. The Biden campaign thinks.

COLLINS: Yes, we'll see if it continues to do so. MJ Lee, thank you.

And joining me now is Howard Dean, former Democratic National Committee chair, also former Vermont governor and also the former presidential candidate who ran in this race not too long ago. Knows what it's like to be a presidential candidate in Iowa. Governor Dean, given that, I mean, what are you looking at tonight? What are you looking for in these caucuses tonight and what stands out?

HOWARD DEAN, FORMER DNC CHAIRMAN: I'm looking at two things. One is turnout. This is the coldest caucus they've ever had. And it's going to be actually hazardous for people to come to the polls, especially older people in rural areas, which Trump's strong suit.

The second is I'm looking to see if Nikki Haley can beat DeSantis, because if she does, she's going to beat him in New Hampshire. And that's probably the end of the DeSantis campaign. And then the third thing, of course, I'm looking at is what are the margins? Does Trump get the 50 or not? Because if he doesn't, he's got some trouble on his hands.

COLLINS: And you know what a race like this could do as far as momentum. I mean, if there is a strong second finish for Nikki Haley, if she goes on to New Hampshire, as you predicted, potentially to win New Hampshire. I mean, what does the future of this this race look like?

DEAN: Well, if she wins New Hampshire, this is a completely different race. Trump can't afford to lose any primaries this early, coming in with a supposed 50 percent majority. That's a whole different ballgame. I wouldn't predict that right now, but I do think it's a possibility. COLLINS: But given that and what we're looking at tonight with this weather and you know how challenging weather like this can be for those voters to get out. When you look at the polls and it says who's more enthusiastic compared to DeSantis supporters, Trump supporters and Nikki Haley supporters, hers are certainly near the bottom. Could that affect what we see play out in just a few hours?

DEAN: I don't think so. You know, the vote for Haley is a vote for the survival of the Republican Party and actually the survival of the country. I think most of the Nikki Haley supporters understand that Trump is borderline crazy. And I think they're horrified by what's happened to the Republican Party.

So, the question is, who's motivated to come out and who isn't? And I think there are a lot of Republicans who do really want change. And Trump is not the answer to change. That's more chaos, incompetence, and dishonesty.

COLLINS: Is Nikki Haley, if she's the Republican nominee, is she a bigger threat to President Biden?

DEAN: Yes, she is a threat to President Biden. I think I think we have a better chance of beating Trump than we do of Nikki Haley.

COLLINS: Howard Dean, as always, thank you so much for joining us tonight. I know we had a few technical issues. We appreciate you joining them.

DEAN: Thanks for your patience.

COLLINS: And thanks to all of you for watching. CNN's special live coverage of the Iowa caucuses continues right after a quick break.



COLLINS: The headlines out of Iowa. It is Caucus Day and it is cold. The question is how do the two work together? How does one affect the other? CNN's John Berman is at the Magic Wall. John, I mean, I don't know if anyone's noticed yet, but it is quite chilly in Iowa today. And I think it is a real question of if it has a real impact on tonight.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: It will make everyone very cold. Kaitlan. 99 counties in Iowa. How many of them under winter weather warnings? 99. All 99 in yellow there. The deep yellow have windshield warnings. The pale yellow, weather advisories. It's just going to be so cold there. Let me blow this up so you can see it. It's worth it. It's worth it.

Des Moines, 8 o'clock tonight, 7 below. That's without the wind. Forget the wind chill. 7 below. Davenport, 7 below. Sheldon up here in the northern corner, 9 below. That is so, so cold.

And one other thing I want to point out. Some of these counties, Kaitlan, only have one caucus site. So, if you look at, for instance, Palo Alto County or Emmett County, not a lot of population there. But people are going to need to travel in this ice-cold weather to get what they're going.


Because this entire county, these counties, only have one site. Some of the cities, like Des Moines, have a lot more, have many more locations. People won't have to travel as far, but you can see how this could have an impact.

COLLINS: Yes, and as I'm with Chad Myers, I'm worried about the livestock here.

BERMAN: Livestock does not get to vote, not even in Iowa, Kaitlan.

COLLINS: John Berman, as always, thank you so much for that.

Thank you all so much for joining us. Our special coverage of all of this is going to continue, including the weather, with Wolf Blitzer and Erin Burnett right now.