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Countdown To Iowa; Hamas Praises Deadly Attacks In Central Israel; Paul Whelan's Family: Unable To Reach Him For Over A Week. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired January 15, 2024 - 16:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: Some of the cities like Des Moines have a lot more -- have many more locations. People do not have to travel as far but you can see how this could have an impact.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN HOST: Yeah. And I'm with Chad. I am worried about the livestock here.

BERMAN: Livestock does not get to vote, 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.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: All right. It is here. Decision day in Iowa. Good afternoon. I'm Erin Burnett in Washington.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: And I'm Wolf Blitzer in New York.

We want to welcome you to CNN's special live coverage of the Iowa caucuses. We are counting down to the official start of the first contest in the Republican presidential race.

BURNETT: We just want to confuse people, Wolf. I'm Washington, you are in New York. Everybody, get ready. We don't know what to expect tonight.

The battle for Iowa taking place against the backdrop, of course, of those record cold temperatures we've been talking about. In some places in Iowa, the real feel temperature is 35 below zero, which has not stopped the candidates in a contest all about turnout trying to get every single person out they can. These final hours, they have been making one final case for the candidacies.


NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We know that this is how we're going to get our country on track. But, remember, today is the day we make history.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm running on your issues and your family issues and solely to turn this country around.


BURNETT: All right. Now, here's what's interesting. We didn't see Trump, right? I mean, he made his final argument online, attacking his opponents and President Biden, and while Trump dominates the race, of course, as we've been saying, anything can happen. And tonight's results could solidify Trump's dominance over the party or signal some sort of a shift, a beginning of a longer primary ahead, Wolf.

BLITZER: Indeed. Anything can happen, as we always say.

We have a team of correspondents inside caucus sites and at the candidates' headquarters as we begin our special live coverage of this truly important historic day in Iowa.

Jeff Zeleny is beginning our coverage in Des Moines for us right now.

Jeff, today is the day. So, give us a sense of what we can expect?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, all of the campaigns have been working variously behind the scenes throughout the day from the beginning of sign up through this current point until the four hours until Iowans start casting their preference and finally open this 2024 Republican presidential nominating contest.

You heard the closing arguments from Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis. Of course, all is on the line for both of them, perhaps more for Ron DeSantis who has invested so much time, so much money here in the state. There is no doubt, Nikki Haley is already looking ahead to New Hampshire but it depends how she finishes in Iowa tonight.

And, of course, Donald Trump, he's been on the phone all day, I'm told, with some of his precinct caucus captains. They are the people who will be his volunteers essentially at all of the locations trying to make sure their supporters come. So, how this is going to unfold is in 1,657 precincts across Iowa from one corner to the other, in about 730 locations in schools, in libraries, in churches. So, in just a few hours, those Republicans are going to show up, wait in line, and go through the doors at 7:00 in Iowa, 8:00 Eastern Time, and begin giving their preference.

But the big question, the big wildcard in this is still the weather. The temperature, for sure but road conditions. In 28 of Iowa's 99 counties, there is just one caucus locations. So, some of these supporters and voters will have to drive for miles over snow-covered, ice covered roads.

So, the question is turnout. How many of them are going to turn out? So, that's why the campaigns, right now are trying to work through their list, trying to get their supporters to the polls, offering everything from rides in warm vans, to jumpstart if they need them.

But, Erin, this is one true wildcard. For all the precision that goes into planning, the weather here, mother nature, may have her own verdict to say on this as well. You can feel the anticipation. Finally, this campaign is underway in just a few hours -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Jeff, thank you very much.

And everyone here with me.

What's interesting, Jonah, there was a wire that came across as couple of colleges in parts of Iowa were suspending classes tomorrow and putting them online. I just want to give a sense if one more in normal situation, you would not be going out right now and yet -- and yet, the whole point today for each of these candidates is to get people to go out.

So, what are -- what do -- how do you think this plays tonight?

JONAH GOLDBERG, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I think the road conditions stuff is more important than the ambient temperature. Midwesterners go out in the cold a lot. They like to wear shorts when they shouldn't be. They forget to bring their coats. You know, I mean, like, this is the thing that Midwesterners take pride in. But objectively, if the roads aren't in good shape, that has knock-on effects.


I do think, you know -- look, I mean, it's not going to play out for everybody the same way. Nikki Haley's polling says that her core voters are less enthusiastic than Trump's voters.


GOLDBERG: But Trump's voters are also, a lot of them are first time voters, and Ron DeSantis has much bigger -- much more built out ground game.

So, you can see it affecting things in different ways and different places. Not being on the ground there to witness, it's very difficult -- it is very easy to speculate about what the different possibilities are about the weather stuff. But I think it all kind of cancels it out.

BURNETT: It's interesting that you see Nikki Haley out today, Ron DeSantis out today. Trump, no, online.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: He seems very confident. Look, this is Donald Trump's to lose and the numbers don't look like he's going to lose.

And what we are seeing with the other guys is they are playing the expectations game. Everybody wants to sort of tamp it down. There is no question that we have seen Nikki Haley surged in polls, but does that translate to Iowa? Is the fact that DeSantis is no longer the it candidate alternative to Trump, do his people go to Nikki Haley or do they go to Donald Trump?

I just want to say one thing -- thank goodness we are finally here today. BURNETT: I know, let's get going. Let's get it going.

So, online, Trump, you know, he did -- I know you have been talking to sources and a lot of sources you speak to are saying he called caucus captains and has been doing things. But online -- he went online today to slam Vivek Ramaswamy again. A vote for Vivek is a wasted vote. I like Vivek but he played too cute with us.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: Yeah, Erin, I mean, I think before that "Des Moines Register" poll came out, and that's obviously the gold standard, and indicated that Donald Trump is on his way to cruising the victory. I think he was worried about the numbers and where else would you go over some votes right now other than Vivek Ramaswamy, who has essentially operated almost like a Trump press secretary out on the campaign trail. He has only mildly criticized Donald Trump during this process.

But, you know, as to why Trump was doing so well? I talked to an adviser who said if you look at the poll numbers, and this was talked about in "The New York Times" today, college educated Republicans have come back to Donald Trump, which is an astonishing development. He really hemorrhaged support in that department after January 6. They went to Ron DeSantis for a little while but now they have come back, and that's a big reason why he is way in front.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: There's an interesting reason for that, and that's because of the indictments. You know, after so many years of being told that institutions are corrupt, there is a sense that the institutions that are indicting Donald Trump for 91 felonies are also corrupt. It has changed the minds of some college-educated voters to say, okay, we are going to give Donald Trump a shot because he is being victimized by these corrupt institutions.

So, these are voters that he did not have that he has now. One other thing I'd like to say about Donald Trump which is so fascinating to me. Ron DeSantis has gone to every county in the state. Nikki Haley is out there 10 times a day talking to audiences.

Donald Trump flies in, gives a speech, does not interact at all with the audience except may be to deliver pizzas or whatever. Doesn't take questions, and flies out.

And that's okay for some reason. That is fine. And these are people, like in all the early states who pride themselves on getting to know the candidates. It is clearly a sense that they know Donald Trump, they know who he is. It does not matter. He does not have to play by the other roles. He is worried about his supporters being complacent but he has not been there as much as the other folks and he has not interacted.

BURNETT: A totally different standard.

BORGER: Yeah. BURNETT: I mean, Eva McKend is on the ground out there, Jane. She was just talking to a pastor. This was an interesting story. I don't know if -- she was talking to a pastor who prayed with Ron DeSantis before the debate last week, prays, says he's committed to him, comes out today and says, nope, I'm switching. I'm switching to Haley and the one of the reasons is he's a good man but he doesn't excite or inspire me.

Now, what do you take away from something like that happening at this moment?

JANE COASTON, CONTRIBUTOR, NEW YORK TIMES: I think we are starting to see people look at the reality on the ground. Look, I have never been personally inspired by Ron DeSantis but that's okay. The issue is that voters aren't right now.

And I think that one thing that is been striking me is that Donald Trump is permitted to say and do absolutely anything.

BURNETT: That's right.

COASTON: And with Ron DeSantis, he has been meaner to a drag queen who once opened at Hamburger Mary's than he has been to Donald Trump.


And so, I think that there's a real sense here -- I think that this -- tonight is Trump. Trump has actually the highest expectations. I think that there are have been people talking about like he could reach 60 percent tonight. And I think that it will be interesting to see if he does that but I think it is telling to me that people are starting to say what a lot of us have already been thinking, that Ron DeSantis doesn't have it. And whatever that is, that's what Trump has.

ACOSTA: Yeah, this Trump adviser, I know you have to go. But, I mean, this adviser was saying Ron DeSantis has run the worst campaign ever.

BURNETT: Which is amazing, because he's got all the ground game.

All right. All staying with us on this important today. Next, we're going to take you back live to the ground in Iowa to see with the mood is at the Nikki Haley and DeSantis campaign in these final hours before people show up at the caucus sites. And John King is here at the magic well and he's going to show you exactly what he is looking forward to tonight.



BLITZER: Welcome back to CNN's special live coverage of the Iowa caucuses. We are closely following what is likely a race for second place. Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis are making their final pitches to Iowans and they're calling out the former president. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) HALEY: We don't want to have another nail-biter or holding our breath, having our country hanging on a stream. In every one of those polls, Ron DeSantis doesn't beat Biden. Trump is head to head. On a good day, he might be up by two points.

DESANTIS: You know, the former president, how many people that served in his administration are even willing to publicly support him, much less come in at negative temperatures to go door-to-door? Not a lot.


BLITZER: DeSantis, perhaps, has the most to lose tonight. He's put almost all of his energy and so much money into winning Iowa. Nikki Haley is hoping to get a boost heading into the New Hampshire primary.

Jessica Dean and Kylie Atwood are both covering these campaigns for us tonight.

Jessica, I'll start with you.

What do you -- I want to start with you because you are over at the DeSantis headquarters and I understand you have new reporting about the mood inside that campaign tonight?

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. I talked to one campaign source. He told me that Governor DeSantis is feeling loose, relaxed, and in his words, ready to roll. And that's where they are. He's going to cross the state with his final events today before the caucuses start this evening.

And it has been interesting to see his closing message. Last night, I was with him at an event just outside of Des Moines, and we really saw him zero in on the former president, on Donald Trump, really going after him. I mean, he only mentioned Nikki Haley once by name but really directly going after the former president.

And, look, you said it. Nobody has more on the line here in Iowa than Governor DeSantis. He has put so much time and resources into this state, really hoping that at the end of it, he would emerge as the Trump alternative.

We have seen Nikki Haley with that momentum and we are watching the battle likely, likely, no one's voted yet, for second place play out. But it means a lot to the DeSantis campaign if he comes in second. That's one thing. If he comes in third, what does that mean going forward as you move into New Hampshire where Nikki Haley is polling well against the former president?

So, those are some of the questions. But as for the mood inside the headquarters, I stopped by earlier today, Wolf. There were people on the phone. He was there doing television interviews. Everybody seems super energetic, ready for tonight. Of course, they have built out with that super PAC, this big infrastructure, over 900,000 doors knocked, precinct captains in all 99 counties. They are hoping that that will make the difference, but we'll see, Wolf.

BLITZER: We will certainly see, Jessica, thank you.

Kylie, I know you just caught up with Nikki Haley at a stop she made at Pella, Iowa. What did she say about her expectations for tonight?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, unsurprisingly, she resisted setting any specific expectations for the result of the Iowa caucus tonight. She said she hopes that she has a strong showing here in Iowa, just like she is hoping for a strong showing in New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Now, the other thing that she spoke about is the fact that she has been traversing the state, making this case to Iowans. And she continued to do that today.

One of the interesting things about Nikki Haley is that her husband Michael is deployed overseas right now. He is in the South Carolina National Guard. So, while she's here caucusing, preparing for the caucus with her two -- her daughter and her son, she is not here with Michael. She also has not been able to speak to him today, she told me earlier today.

Just listen to how she described that.


HALEY: He is in the middle of a lot of stuff. As you know, the world is on fire. So, he hasn't had access to communication for a few days.

ATWOOD: Even today?

HALEY: No. And so, you know, our hope is that we are going to hear from him. I pray that he comes home to us safely, but I know that he's proud of me and I'm proud of him.


ATWOOD: Now, we know as Jessica was saying earlier that Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis are really battling it out here in Iowa for number two. Nikki Haley wouldn't say how she makes this into a two person race between her and former President Trump if Ron DeSantis comes in ahead of her here in Iowa. They're just trying to get every voter to head out to the caucus sites later tonight.

She did defend her conservative credentials because Ron DeSantis earlier said he believes she can't beat Trump because doesn't have the support of conservatives within the Republican base. She said that's not true.


She was a Tea Party governor. She was an ambassador to the United Nations, strong ambassador to the United States. She is making the case that not only can she beat Trump in the primary but she can also beat him in the general election.

And that is the case that she has been making from day one indicates she has been making increasingly in the final hours before voting tonight -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Kylie, excellent report. Thank you very much.

Let's get to our panel, and I want to start with Adam Kinzinger, the former congressman.

Would you rather be Nikki Haley or Ron DeSantis going into this contest for second place tonight?

ADAM KINZINGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think tonight, I'd probably rather be Nikki Haley because I just feel like the momentum is with her. Something like this, the momentum is beneficial on caucus night.

Again, I say that with the caveat. Were going to have caveats all night, I'm sure, but with the caveat that Ron DeSantis, this is his stand, like he has to come in second or he's out. I will also say with that, if he comes in second tonight, I think the chance of having anybody but Donald Trump, I think, namely, it's only Nikki Haley that could be at this point, then it becomes basically Donald Trump is the nominee because Nikki Haley has to have momentum coming out of tonight. She has to have momentum out of New Hampshire for any prayer of her to gain momentum anywhere else. Right now, it is Donald Trump.

BLITZER: Ana, you watch DeSantis, you live in Florida, so you know him well. He has visited all 99 counties. He says every hour, all 99 counties in Iowa. So, why is he fighting so hard to come in second place?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Maybe because he has spent too much time in Iowa and they have gotten to know him and seeing what I have been saying for a long time which there is no it there when it comes to Ron DeSantis. He happened to have beaten Charlie Crist in November and it made him look like he was this invincible person. He is not.

I just heard Jessica say one of his senior advisers heard him saying loose, relaxed, and ready to roll. He's been my governor for five years. I've never seen him loose, relaxed, or ready to roll. I think he just created a first impression in Iowa that was a bad one. He has had a campaign that has been full of drama.

He just has not resonated. I actually think he went too far. He became a one song candidate, woke, woke, woke. When people wanted to hear about was policy. We have seen him change in the recent weeks but it's too late. That first impression has sunk in.

BLITZER: Interesting. In the final "Des Moines Register" poll, we've all studied closely. Let's put some of the numbers on the screen. Twenty-seven percent of voters with a college degree say they support Nikki Haley. That's where she seeing some of her strongest support right now. In fact, se is only slightly behind Donald Trump who is at 34 percent with voters with college degrees.

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yeah. I mean, her candidacy is made for people who ever had to go sit through a meeting at the Chamber of Commerce. She is the least hostile to corporate America. These are the people that you meet in the Republican Party who say, gosh, I wish we could go back or get all the stuff and the tax cuts but without all the baggage of Donald Trump.

That's the kind of candidacy she has constructed. The question has always been, are there enough Republicans left who would actually nominate sort of pre-Trump era Republican or are we too far past that point? If you look at the national poll, CBS this weekend, Trump's at 69 percent nationally, although we are covering this race tonight and trying to pick it apart, it's sort of hard for me to imagine that a party that has someone sitting at 69 right now would not be that party's nominee when there is nothing new to learn about the guy sitting on top.

What else could you learn about Donald Trump right now that would cause you to pull back? That's what Nikki Haley has been fighting the entire time.

BLITZER: Yeah, it's an important point.

Jamal Simmons is with us as well.

In the same final "Des Moines Register" poll, found that more than 40 percent of Nikki Haley supporters in Iowa say they would back Joe Biden over Trump. What impact do you think Democrats and independents might have in tonight's caucuses?

JAMAL SIMMONS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: They will have an impact in tonight's caucus. They will have an impact in New Hampshire as well. Those are the two states where you can do that and it will matter.

To Scott's point about what else to learn, I think there's not much left to learn about Donald Trump. A lot more to learn about Nikki Haley if you're in one of the states where she has not been campaigning very much. The question I have had throughout this campaign is if Nikki Haley surprises people and comes in second in Iowa, surprises people and gets close in New Hampshire, are there enough Republicans who stay with Donald Trump, they think he's the guy, when they find out that there is a girl that they could also side with, maybe they will decide maybe I don't want to be with Donald Trump anymore and I will get in the other car and ride with Nikki Haley for a while and see where that takes me.

BLITZER: Yeah, lots of drama unfolding right now.

Guys, thank you very, very much.

And our special live coverage of the Iowa caucuses will continue. John King is standing by at the magic wall. He knows all of Iowa's 99 counties, as all of us know. What he's focusing on is the results begin to come in. Stand by for that.


Plus, longtime Republican donor Dan Eberhart joins us. He's on the ground in Iowa with the DeSantis campaign. What does DeSantis need to do tonight to simply stay in the race?



BURNETT: And we are back with our special coverage of the Iowa caucuses. Former President Donald Trump, just a few moments ago, came out of his hotel and made this prediction about tonight.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: I think we're going to have a tremendous night tonight. The people are fantastic. And I've never seen spirit like they have. But in Iowa, I've never seen a spirit like they this.



BURNETT: He had posted online earlier but had not been on the trail today unlike Haley and DeSantis. But now, as you see him leaving his hotel.

OK. Let's go to John King at the magic wall.

So, you know, John, as you take that into account, right, he is expecting to win. The polls show that. So, he didn't need to spend the day out today, was his calculus. What are you looking for tonight?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We'll get into the nitty- gritty of Iowa's 99 counties in a few minutes, and throughout the night and into tomorrow. I think we should also remember today is the starting gate. This is day one, page one of the 2024 elections story. Our last election cycle ended with violence at the capitol.

So, for me, amen. People are going to be voting tonight in Iowa, that's a big deal. Number two, the nominations race is about delegates. Yes, Trump is overwhelming faraway, keep adding your big adjectives favor. He is the overwhelming favorite without a doubt.

But tonight, we start counting the delegates. Everybody starts at zero. These are alphabetical. Donald Trump is at the bottom, of course, he's at the top when it comes to expectations but we could start this tonight. The process starts tonight.

And, look, it's always worth winning a party's nomination. The Republican nomination this year is well worth winning because of this. As we start the cycle, it's important to note the Democrats are not doing any real business tonight but the incoming president of the United States, the Democrat Joe Biden, look at that, 38 percent approval rating. That is historically weak.

That's what this is about, is the beginning of the process to win the White House and the incumbents start, long way to go, but at starts a historically weak place which is why, which is why winning Iowa matters so much and this is why as we go through this tonight, the biggest question is how strong is Trump? Are there any signs of vulnerability? That's what we'll be looking for when we start counting votes.

BURNETT: So, I know that, you know, it's hard to make comparisons to the past in some senses, right? You have somebody, Trump running as incumbent who is really not an incumbent, but, you know, it's different in many ways.

But is there anything that you can take from past I would results that is instructive on what you're looking for tonight?

KING: Of course. You're always trying to learn, number one is Trump's hold on the party. He lost Iowa in 2016 but that was the first act in his hostile takeover of the Republican Party. It's his party now. So, it's his party now. So, let's use the past, or your three places I'm going to be watching tonight. I'll circle them first and then I'll tell you why.

It would come in here and we go out here. So why am I -- why am I picking these places? Well, let's turn this off.

Let's go back to 2016. Ted Cruz won Iowa but just barely 28 percent to 24 percent. Let me start out here in the west in Sioux City and Woodbury County. This is one of the places Donald Trump won not by a lot, but by four points over Ted Cruz.

One question tonight is in these conservative places, Sioux City, Woodbury County, that's Nebraska, that South Dakota, you're in the western part of the state, conservative country, does Trump build on what he did in 2016? Has he solidified the voters who are for crews are for Rubio last time, how much has he grown? That's a big question for me tonight.

Then we come into the middle of the state, look at these counties here. Those are counties won by Marco Rubio, your traditional Republican, your George W. Bush type Republican. He won here. He won in Story County, which is where Ames is, not by a lot, but he won. He won in Polk County.

If Nikki Haley's going to surprise us tonight, it's going to come from the Rubio places, the suburbs that have been growing since then. So that's at one place I'll be watching tonight. One last place I want to come over to the eastern part of the state and Scott County.

Jim Acosta mentioned this a bit earlier. Can Donald Trump rebuild his shattered support amongst suburbanites? To do that, you have to start with Republicans.

Trump, Rubio, won Scott County, Davenport, and the suburbs around it. In 2016, Trump came at a very close second. We know in 2018, 2020.2022, that's where Donald Trump suffered in the suburbs. Do we see any seeds tonight of a comeback for Trump in these critical places? It's another thing to look for.

BURNETT: All right, John. Thank you. And we're going to be watching all of those places and 96 more.

Live pictures out of Iowa where of course, across the state the weather is going to have a huge question mark tonight, 35 below zero in some areas, wind chill actually getting worse as people start showing up to caucus because of course it will be dark.

Plus, longtime Republican donor, Dan Eberhart, joins us live. He has thrown his support behind DeSantis. So where is he now? And what does he think DeSantis needs to do tonight in order to keep his campaign alive?



BLITZER: Welcome back to CNN's special coverage of the Iowa caucuses, the coldest caucuses in history, we're told.

Take a look at these live pictures coming in of the Iowa state capitol where the temperatures are now below zero. The dangerous arctic air will no doubt play a role in tonight's turnout.

Elisa Raffa is joining us now from the CNN Weather Center.

Elisa, what kind of conditions are we actually talking about right now?

ELISA RAFFA, CNN WEATHER ANCHOR: You're talking about temperature staying subzero. Des Moines hint zero today for the first time since Saturday afternoon. And much of the rest of the state is still sitting subzero temperatures as cold as six degrees below zero in Sheldon. Then you factor in the wind chill and you have these wind chill values, 20 to 35 degrees below zero.


So incredibly cold, and yes, Iowa gets cold, but not this cold. This is the departure from normal were about 30 degrees colder than average for this time of year in Iowa. So, wind chill warnings are in effect because as we go through the evening, we'll continue to find those wind chills get to dangerous levels. We're talking frostbite times in 20 minutes or less.

And you could be looking at symptoms hypothermia, shivering, difficulty speaking, and stiff muscles are things that people need to watch out for. As these caucus events are going on this evening, we'll continue to find temperatures dipping. We're looking at them five to ten degrees below zero as we go through the evening factor in the wind its 30 to 35 degrees below zero.

And when you look at past clock is, as you could see, what I was saying this isn't quite Iowa weather. Most of the past caucuses were in the 30s and 40s. 2004 was the previous coldest at 16 degrees. But today, again, we, only hit zero degrees in Des Moines, but I find so fascinating about this is that this is coming on the heels of the warmest winter on record for Iowa. Since December 1st, they hadn't really gotten a cold snap, so it's definitely not what they're used to for this time of year -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Elisa, it is pretty incredible and it coming off the warmest winter ever. All of a sudden, these coldest few days and hitting right now, as these first votes come in.

So as this weather, it continues to be a major focus, the DeSantis campaign is trying to rival Trumps campaign to get people out and to do that in the cold weather they've been offering rides, have been trying to basically a corner the market on four-wheel-drive SUVs and get them from peoples homes to the caucus sites. Will it be enough?

Joining me now is Dan Eberhart, a Republican political donor. He backs Ron DeSantis.

Dan, you and I have talked but many times over the years obviously in recent months, you have been a staunch supporter of Ron DeSantis.

So, were just a few hours out now from people actually showing up at these caucus sites. How do you feel about the DeSantis campaign tonight?

DAN EBERHART, GOP DONOR, ENDORSED DESANTIS: I feel good. I think were in the position of being the underdog and I think that Governor DeSantis has done all the work on the ground you know, unlike Donald Trump has done a huge amount of events here. And I think expectations are sky high for the others. And Governor DeSantis is well set up for a comeback here.

BURNETT: Okay. Set up for a comeback. I will say of course, people have really lauded his ground game, Dan, right? That he spent all 99 counties. He's put in the work. He's done it right. But his poll numbers, of course, have not moved since the beginning, right? And in fact, they went down a few points in that final Des Moines Register poll that came out.

So where do you stand on this as a donor? Is third acceptable to you? Does he continue if he comes in at third or not?

EBERHART: Well, I think he does continue. Look, he's got to a town hall with Wolf Blitzer tomorrow and a lot of things scheduled. He's headed to South Carolina tonight after he addressed his supporters. But I think really I think you're going to be surprised tonight.

Look, if you look in that last one register poll, there's a lot of good news for Governor DeSantis. His supporters have the highest level of enthusiasm and are the most likely to turn out tonight. And he's not expecting to win with -- or he's not expecting Democrat votes like Nikki Haley night. And I think that wearing a good position to really defy expectations and, you know, overcome, you know, what the polls may suggest.

BURNETT: So, obviously, we don't know. The votes haven't been cast. So we will see tonight. Eva McKend, our reporter on the ground there actually just had a

conversation that I wanted to share with you, Dan, because it really stood out to me. So she spoke to a longtime Iowa pastor. His name is John Palmer, and he had committed to a caucusing for DeSantis. He actually went to the debate last week, the CNN debate with Jake and Dana, he personally prayed with DeSantis ahead of that.

He now has changed his mind and he says he's going to caucus tonight for Nikki Haley. He says, quote, I believe the competency factor in Governor Haley is stronger and her ability to bring people together. And he continued to say Ron DeSantis is a good man. He simply doesn't excite or inspire him.

What do you say to that? And someone making that decision now when they actually know their vote truly counts, it's time to cast it, to come out and say something like that.

EBERHART: Well, look, I think -- I think you've got a lot of strong support for Governor DeSantis on the ground. I was at an event last night, Senator Ernst was there. Governor Reynolds was there, along with some other local elected officials. I think there's a lot of Iowans supporting Ron DeSantis.

I think he may not be the most exciting, the most captivating candidate, but I think he would be the best president of the United States, the best representative of the Republican Party. And quite frankly, he's got the most done.

He got 100 percent of what he campaigned on and -- when we running for governor in Florida done since he was elected, and that's the kind of competent leadership I think we need a lot of politicians are good at this kind of campaign stuff, and then failed to produce. And Ron DeSantis is maybe an okay campaigner, an excellent it producing once he's in office.

So -- but I think a lot of these voters in Iowa than up-close and they've met Governor DeSantis and I think were going to defy expectations tonight.


BURNETT: All right. Well, we'll see what happens and, Dan, I appreciate your time. Thanks.

EBERHART: Thank you.

BURNETT: And our special coverage of the Iowa caucuses continues after this, and we're also following breaking news out of Israel this afternoon, where Hamas is celebrating too deadly terror attacks today, and we are learning of a new video featuring hostages. Also tonight, the family of Paul Whelan, the American who's being held in Russia tonight, revealing that they couldn't reach him for days.

What happened? Whelan sister is my guest.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Welcome back to our special coverage of the Iowa caucuses. We'll have much more on Iowa in just a few moments. But first, there's some other major breaking news we're following, right now.

Hamas today praising twin terror attacks in the central Israeli city of Raanana. One person was killed, 17 were injured after official say stolen vehicles were used to run over multiple people in several locations. And it comes as Hamas released new video of three Israeli hostages being held in Gaza.


CNN is not showing the Hamas video because they were likely speaking under duress. But the undated tape shows Yossi Sharabi 53, and Itay Svirsky 38, as well as 26 year-old Noa Argamani, who was seen in this video on October 7, dragged away on a motorcycle by Hamas militants at that Nova Music Festival, not far from Gaza.

CNN's Nic Robertson is joining us now in Tel Aviv.

Nic, I understand it, an elderly woman in her 70s was killed in those terror attacks just hours after Hamas released video of those three Israeli hostages. What else are you learning?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yeah. Just specifically on that video from Hamas, Hamas on Sunday when they released that video, said they would update about the hostages on Monday and they did. They released another video and the IDF spokesman, Rear Admiral Hagari, referenced that today when he refuted some of the allegations that Hamas had made in this second video that he called it essentially psychological torture against the families of all hostages. He said that the IDF has been in touch with the families of two of the hostages who were depicted in the video. And he said as well that the IDF was concerned about their welfare at this time.

But that's -- that that was the extent of the details that we got from Rear Admiral Hagari on that twin ramming attack in that affluent central Israeli city today. That involved two men, Palestinians from Hebron, about 100 miles away from the side of the attack early afternoon. A twin attacks synchronize. So they both using stolen cars, according to the IDF, drove into groups of people in that city. Many of them was standing the bus stop.

That's where the -- we understand the elderly lady was killed two people critically injured, seven of the people injured, also children -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Nic, thank you very much. And it's everyone, of course, continues to wonder and hope for the fate of those hostages.

We talk about another American hostage tonight, the family of Paul Whelan, the American who has been behind bars in Russia for five years. Now, the family is coming out and revealing that they weren't able to reach him for a week.

And, of course, you remember which is happening with Alexey Navalny when he went missing and showed up on an even worse penal colony. The Whelan family saw this -- their brother, their son go missing after learning a physical attacks against him.

President Biden held a private meeting with Whelan sister Elizabeth shortly after the family's contact was cut off in this meeting lasted 40 keep minutes.

Paul Whelan sister Elizabeth joins me now in her first and only television interview since that meeting.

And, Elizabeth, first of all, thank you for being with me. I'm so glad now that finally, I'm talking to you after you've had a chance to meet with President Biden because I know you have been asking for that meeting and hoping to get that meeting four months.

What happened? What did the president tell you?

ELIZABETH WHELAN, SISTER OF PAUL WHELAN: Well, I'd love to share with you the details, but I'm going to keep it to the sort of the surface. I mean, the families pretty you -- we're uniquely positioned to be able to interact with a lot of people on polls effort, you know, all the way from the U.S. embassy in Moscow to the president.

And I don't feel like the president is a wizard with a magic wand, but he is a very sensible man. And at this juncture, we really felt that Paul needed his experience and his level headed approach applied to making sure, you know, as we go forward to get things done, that they're done thoroughly and efficient lee but with speed. And that's what I was there to speak with the president about.

BURNETT: And do you feel that he understood, that he agreed that they're doing everything they can do. Did you walk out feeling that way?

WHELAN: Yes, definitely. I know what to say that I've been feeling that way all the way along, that this past year in particular, I won't say -- I shouldn't say all the way along. There have been some bumps, but, you know, this past year, since Brittney came home, there was a lot of effort applied.

I did feel it could have gone a lot faster and that was why it was so keen to speak to the president and to get that feeling, that sense of urgency. This is a solvable case. I did leave the meeting feeling that everybody is in accord.

You know, there are so many people who are trying to help in different parts of the government. This is the time to deploy them. This is the time to get everybody the onboard so that we can move towards a solution. Paul needs to come home.


BURNETT: And Paul spoke to our Jennifer Hansler not long ago and one of the conversations he was able to have from prison, and he said something that I'm curious whether President Biden heard. I want to play first what Paul said to Jennifer. (BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

PAUL WHELAN, WRONGFULLY DEAINED IN RUSSIA: I would ask President Biden to pull out the stop, cross the read lines, and to whatever needs to be done to get this case resolved, and to get me home. If my life is not worth that effort, then I don't what is.


BURNETT: I know it's got to be hard to hear your brother speaking like that. After that conversation, he was missing for a few days. I know you understand he had been sort of attacked by another prisoner. His glasses were broken. He appears to have been incommunicado for several days.

Do you feel that President Biden knows all this, that he tried to put the right words on it, but that he truly hears your brother?

WHELAN: Oh, I definitely do. And not just my brother, but every American who's being held. I mean, this is a serious issue for him.

And with Paul, you know, every time he goes, he disappears like that. We wonder what's happened. I mean, occasionally, he has been put in solitary, moved to different places. We never quite know what's going on.

But I do think that the president feels acutely for every American held in a situation. I mean, these are foreign countries trying to coerce the United States, but there also are family members, our loved ones. We hear their voices, but we can't -- we can't see them and touch them, but it isn't, the president, isn't until wizard, he cant just go poof, you know, I'm bringing home your brother.

Russia -- Russia is the one that has to let Paul go and they're the ones that have been turning down offer after offer. And they are not negotiating in good faith.

BURNETT: Elizabeth. Thank you very much for taking the time to speak with me again.

WHELAN: Thank you so much for having me on.

BURNETT: And next, our special coverage of the Iowa caucuses continues. We're going to take you back to the ground as we'll soon be getting our first look at the entrance poll results from today's caucuses which could tell us a lot.