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CNN Live Event/Special

Voting Underway In South Carolina's Republican Primary; Trump, Haley Make Final Pitches In South Carolina GOP Primary; U.S. Coalition Launches Dozens Of Strikes On Houthis In Yemen; Voting Underway In South Carolina's Republican Primary; Trump Suggests His Mug Shot, Indictments Appeal To Black Voters; Ukraine Marks 2 Years Since Russia's Invasion; State Rep. Drew McKissick (R-SC) & SC Republican Party Chair, Discusses SC Primary. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired February 24, 2024 - 16:00   ET



FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: The Golden State Warriors are breaking new records at the sidelines. Head coach Steve Kerr is now the highest paid NBC coach in history. The four-time NBA championship winning coach agreed to a record-breaking two-year contract extension for $35 million. The 58-year-old is in his 10th season with the franchise. Congrats to him and them.

Thanks so much for joining me today. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. Our special coverage of the South Carolina Republican presidential primary starts right now with Wolf Blitzer and Erin Burnett.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Welcome to CNN's special coverage of the South Carolina Republican primary. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Erin Burnett joins us from New York.

We're just three hours away right now from the polls closing. Donald Trump is expected to dominate in Nikki Haley's home state where she was twice elected governor. But Haley says she's, quote, "not going anywhere" and plans to continue until the very last person votes.

South Carolina's primary, Erin, pick up our reporting.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Yes, it's open, Wolf, as you know, it means Democrats and independents can cast ballots in the GOP race, which is a significant thing. The Trump campaign had a weak showing among independent voters as you'll remember in New Hampshire. The real question, though, is whether that will be enough to close the gap between Haley and Trump in South Carolina.

Whereas, Wolf, you've been saying that the gap seems insurmountable. But we will see when the numbers come in. Of course, we've got a team of reporters all across the state. Polling stations are open across South Carolina. So let's start in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. That's on the coast, just basically a suburb of Charleston, where Brian Todd is talking to voters.

And Brian, what are they telling you? BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, they're excited to be here

for one thing. You want to see what an energized electorate looks like? This is what it looks like. Check out the lines here. It goes all the way in from here into the entrance there. I can tell you that at various points today this line extended way down that walkway. But as we walk along the line, here's what I can tell you.

We are at a place where there are six different precincts here in this one polling location. This is Jenny More Elementary School here in Mount Pleasant. As of a few moments ago, an official here told me that more than 1600 voters had cast their ballots here, and look, again, the lines are coming out the door all day long. You've got now, what, three hours now until the polls close. So we're going to see just how good the turnout is. This is generally a very robust turnout here in this precinct.

I want to talk to a voter who's here, Vincent Buenavida (PH).

Hi, Vincent. You've only lived here for about three years, you say. You just voted for Donald Trump. Let me just ask you quickly, what were the main issues that drove you out here to vote for the former president?

VINCENT BUENAVIDA (PH), SOUTH CAROLINA VOTER: Mostly taxes, border security, just a general disgust with the federal government, and what's been going on in D.C.

TODD: As you know, the foreign president has legal cases pending against him. If he is convicted in any of those cases, would that change your mind about him?

BUENA VIDA: Not at all.

TODD: Why not?

BUENA VIDA: As a former resident of New Jersey, we kind of see what's happening with different legal battles that's going on up there. The legal battles and I think that especially what happened in New York, and with that judge decide, I mean, they just turned the real estate laws on attack in New York. So there's -- you know, it's just, it's more politics I think that anything else.

TODD: We talked to a lot of voters here who said not so much that they were voting for someone, but they were voting against someone. Was that the case in your instance?

BUENA VIDA: No, not necessarily. I voted for Donald Trump the first go around. So he did a great job. It's more about policies for me than anything else. He's got the right policies. He's got the ability to do the job right. So that's what we're looking for. I don't buy into the personal negative stuff that anybody would do. You know, I think that from when you go back and you look at what Bill Clinton did, you know, they turned that presidential race into like a popularity contest. That was never the case for me. It was always about policies. So that's kind of why I voted for Donald Trump.

TODD: Very good, Vincent. Great to meet you. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us and good luck to you.

All right, guys. A little bit about how the vote is going to go here. We are not allowed to film inside live, but we did take video. We're allowed to go in and shoot taped the video inside of the voters voting. When you come in here, we're going to roll some of the tape showing some of the voters inside voting. When you come in here, you check in your show photo ID. You can be a Democratic voter, by the way, and vote in a Republican primary in South Carolina, as long as you did not vote in the Democratic primary earlier this month.

So you come in here, you show your photo ID, they make sure that you didn't vote in the previous primary, then they give you this kind of rectangular white piece of paper that has nothing on it with a barcode on it.


You take that and then you put it into a marking device where a touchscreen comes up, you touch -- that will show your selections. Then you touch your selections, then it prints out. You check your vote, then you feed it into a tabulator. We were allowed to, again, film video of that just a few moments ago on tape, but we are not allowed to go in and film live when voters are voting. So you got a little less than three hours left until the polls close, guys. Again, very energized electorate here.

One thing that's going to be very interesting, you know, I sampled people off camera as they came out of the polls asking them who they supported. A pretty healthy dose of support for Nikki Haley in this precinct. She has, you know, a lot of people like her from her term as governor here. And one thing to remember here is that in this county, this is Charleston County, this county and Richland County, South Carolina, were the only two counties that Donald Trump did not win in 2016. So we'll see how he does here in this county.

Erin, Wolf, back to you.

BURNETT: All right, thanks so much, Brian -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Erin. Let's go to Rock Hill, South Carolina, right now. That's just south of Charlotte where CNN's Boris Sanchez is at a polling site.

Boris, tell our viewers what you're hearing from voters.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, Wolf. A steady stream of voters here in Rock Hill today. Many of them animated to vote. Right now it is a little bit quiet. There are some folks that are casting their ballots literally as we speak. That gentleman is walking over from his voting booth with his ballot to the tabulation machine. At 7:00 this voting location will shut down. Those votes will get tabulated and then they'll be shipped to a main office, and then we'll start to see the official results come in.

From the voters that I've spoken to here, a lot of supporters of former president Donald Trump, as well as some supporters of former governor Nikki Haley. Of course, she is seeing this as a big test, this being her home state. Notably, I spoke to one voter earlier who says that she is a Democrat. She didn't vote in the primary on the Democratic side a few days ago in order to vote in the primary for Nikki Haley. Listen to some of what Crystal shared with me earlier, Wolf.


CRYSTAL MEANS, SOUTH CAROLINA VOTER: I'm a registered Democrat. And since I didn't vote in the Democratic primary, I was able to vote today. And I wanted to make sure my voice was heard so hopefully Nikki wins. If Nikki would become the Republican candidate I would vote for her over Biden.

SANCHEZ: What attracts you to her as a candidate?

MEANS: I feel like I can relate more. She seems more on my views on some things, not everything of course, but she seems real. And of course she's a woman so, you know, support the women.


SANCHEZ: It is, of course, going to be an uphill battle for the former governor. Polls show her lagging considerably behind former president Donald Trump who actually held a rally here in Rock Hill last night. I spoke to a source close to his campaign who says that they are fully confident this will be yet another step toward him securing the nomination -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We shall see fairly soon. Boris Sanchez on the scene for us. Thank you very much.

I want to bring in our excellent panel of analysts right now to discuss.

And Gloria Borger, I'll start with you. What do you think? What can we expect tonight?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, if the polls are accurate, we have to do that big caveat, I think we're going to see a big victory for Donald Trump. At this point the polls show like he's 30 points ahead. I think she has crisscrossed the state. She's done multiple, multiple events. He has not been in South Carolina very much. He's been in a courtroom. He hasn't done town halls, but it doesn't really seem to matter.

I think what's interesting to me is that the state that elected her governor is different from the state that the way the state is now. It is more conservative. There are a lot of out-of-state Republicans who have moved to South Carolina, and like the gentleman we just saw, and I think that that's not going to help her. It just isn't the same constituency and -- so this is going to be a big blow to her. There's no doubt about it.

And she says she's going to go on. She's got money to do that. She's going to go to Michigan I believe tomorrow. But I think you'd have to say that it's going to be a long haul and difficult haul for her.

BLITZER: Very difficult indeed. You know, Kristen Soltis Anderson is with us as well.

Kristen, poll after poll shows that Trump is leading by huge margins right now in South Carolina. But Nikki Haley keeps on saying its close and competitive this race. Does she have a shot at all of winning her home state?

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It makes sense that Nikki Haley would say that this is a close and competitive race. You never want to be out on the campaign trail saying that you expect defeat. But it really would be a very large surprise if she even makes it close with Donald Trump.


Part of that is because her overperformance in places like New Hampshire are really based on her strength with these independent and Democratic voters who do not want Donald Trump to be their only option besides Joe Biden. They want something different and they're turning out. But unlike New Hampshire that has a robust tradition of lots of independents and Democrats participating, in South Carolina, they're allowed to, but I as a pollster I would be laughed out of the room if half of my sample was, you know, independents or crossover Democrats. And so the math is just very challenging for her.

BLITZER: Very challenging indeed.

Nia, as we noted, Democrats and independents, they can vote in this Republican primary, assuming if they didn't vote in the Democratic primary earlier in the month. So you think that will make a big difference today?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: No, it won't make a big difference at all. You know, listen, we heard from the woman there who hadn't voted in the Democratic primary. Looks like she is going to vote for Nikki Haley and would vote for Nikki Haley if Nikki Haley was the nominee. But they're not going to be that big of a part of this primary.

A lot of the polling showed that folks who are liberals and moderates very much prefer Nikki Haley, but maybe there'll be 10 to -- you know, 10 percent to 15 percent or something of the electorate here. But by and large, it is Trump country in South Carolina. And listen, Nikki Haley has every right to continue, as she said she would in that sort of that prebuttal speech she gave earlier last week. She's got money, as Gloria said.

But the problem is, if you can't win at home, right, in a state that you won of a governorship of twice, if you can't win there with people who know you best, then how do you win down the line? Super Tuesday is coming up in a week or so. Many, many delegates up. I think something like 800 or up. How does she go forward and make the case to folks in states like Michigan?

BLITZER: It's March 5th.

HENDERSON: Given that its March 5th. Exactly. So I think she's got a real a hard row to hoe going forward, but she'll stay in. And listen, she'll continue to critique Donald Trump. Democrats are very happy about that. All the Republicans, obviously not so much and obviously Donald Trump not happy at all that she's sticking around.

BLITZER: Let's get Lulu into this conversation. Lulu, as we know, one of her main arguments, Nikki Haley, is that Trump simply can't win a general election down the road. And I want to play a little clip. Listen to this.


NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What I'm banking on the fact is that he can't win a general election. I mean, you look at the Marquette Poll that came out this week. He's margin of error with Joe Biden. I defeat Joe Biden by 18 points.

PETER ALEXANDER, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: Have you had any conversations with party leaders assuring you that they would support you if Donald Trump is convicted

HALEY: No, I haven't had any conversations about that. This isn't about conviction, it's about chaos. There is chaos all around him.


BLITZER: So, Lulu, do you think that argument that Nikki Haley is making is going to resonate with Republicans in South Carolina?

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No. And if you listened to her there, I thought it's very telling when she had that long pause, when was asked -- when she was asked if indeed anyone hadn't been having conversations with her. The fact of the matter is there are two groups here that want Nikki Haley to continue, one or Democrats who want to actually see her try and drain money from the Trump campaign, a campaign that is struggling financially because of all the legal bills. And the second group that wants to see her continue are the never-Trumpers. And that again is not the party as we see it.

And so what we are seeing at the moment is a candidacy that is really there for maybe the next go round. And -- but it doesn't really seem viable for this one because, you know, what's in the middle of her and a general election is actually the process that we're going through now. And it's Republicans who are voting and the problem with that as we've seen in recent polls, that she actually been polling less well among Republicans. The more that they hear from her, the more that she attacks Donald Trump, the less they liked her.

BORGER: I think the truth of the matter is that the Republican Party has changed and it's a different Republican Party right now that she's trying to coalesce around her. And they're the Trump party. And so when you are combative now, as she is against Donald Trump, calling him unhinged and mentally defective or whatever, these are people who were very loyal to Donald Trump and it has really hurt her, I think. And you can't reshape the party in your image in one shot at it. And I

think if that's going to happen post-Trump it's going to take a while. And I think she's trying to do it single-handedly. And the voters in South Carolina, many of them never knew her as governor because they're new to the state, are saying, you know, no way, we're going to stick with what we know. We know that he's got some personal issues and we don't like everything he says. But we feel -- we felt better under Donald Trump than we did under Joe Biden.


HENDERSON: Yes, listen, and I think that gentleman articulated it, right? This idea that the court cases or political -- I mean he sounded like he was reading from a speech from Donald Trump. You know, the fact of the matter is GOP primary voters love Donald Trump. It's not that Nikki Haley is a bad candidate. It's not that Ron DeSantis was a bad candidates. Any of the folks who came up against him this go around, it's just that Donald Trump remains a beloved figure among Republicans.

They believe everything he says even if it's outright lies and oftentimes it is outright lies. But they take him at his word and support him.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I think one of the real issues as well is that, you know, who does Nikki Haley actually represent? I've struggled with this a little bit because on the one hand, you see her presenting herself as a moderate. We know that she polls well with moderates. We've seen moderates vote for her. And yet when push comes to shove and you have listened to her actual positions, they are not actually moderate.

I mean, we've just seen what happened with the embryo debate, with the IVF, where she says actually I believe that embryos are babies. That is not a position that would be considered to be a moderate position. That is not a position that most Democrats, for example, would embrace. She struggled when asked about issues of race, for example.

I mean, when she was governor of South Carolina, she actually did something that would be seen as very sort of -- something that moderates could embrace, which was take down the Confederate Flag. And instead she's kind of had to shy away from that because of the Republican Party as it exists at the moment. She's struggling.


ANDERSON: I would disagree that she's tried to frame herself as a moderate. She uses the word conservative to describe herself frequently, but she has said she wants to appeal to moderates. And I think what she really represents is a type of conservative, but a type of conservative maybe from a time capsule, of a decade or more, more of a Republican Party that has transformed very much.

And I think the reason why she has stayed in the race, even though it seems extraordinarily unlikely that she will be the Republican nominee, is to try to hold on to the notion that, hey, there is still the slice of the party. It's not a majority of the party, but it still exists, that believes those things they were saying a decade ago and believes that perhaps their time will come around again.

BORGER: But we forget that she started out as a Tea Party candidates and so she was very conservative, but on foreign policy, you see the stark differences between her and Trump in the Republican Party right now.

BLITZER: All right. Everybody, stand by. Don't go too far away. We have a lot more to assess.

Still ahead, our special coverage of the South Carolina Republican primary will continue. We're checking in with the Trump and Haley campaigns. Plus we'll talk about what Trump said while addressing black voters. Stay with us. We'll be right back.



BURNETT: Well, fresh off his speech at CPAC, former president Trump is heading to South Carolina. The state that he hasn't spent much time in, although of course he's running against the former two-term governor of that state. Today, the votes.

Kristen Holmes joins us now from Trump campaign headquarters. Those are in Colombia.

And Kristen, what is the strategy from the Trump campaign at this point in the race? You know, how do they see it starting tomorrow?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, so let's talk about strategy in South Carolina and strategy in the race overall, because there really hasn't been a strategy here in South Carolina because they haven't had to have one. When we look at these poll numbers, and I do want to note, look, it's all going to come down to who shows up and who votes.

But what we noticed this election cycle is that the poll numbers have been almost exactly accurate and the poll numbers here in South Carolina show him up by 30 points. So that means he's been outpaced by Nikki Haley on the campaign trail. He's been outspent by her, but yet he is still leading like I said by 30 points.

Now overall, what is the election strategy? Well, a lot of this is a focus on the general election, or they want it to be a focus on the general election. You heard him in multiple speeches yesterday and today talking about how he is a political dissident, how election day is the day that he is going to liberate all of his supporters and take care of all of the losers. He is treating this now as a general election.

Now of course it is not. Nikki Haley is still in the race, not only is she still in the race, but she has said that she's going to continue to stay in the race, but what we're really seeing from Donald Trump is trying to pivot to just hitting President Joe Biden. And certainly on the other side, Democrats, they are hitting former president Trump because they believe he's going to be the GOP nominee, nonstop, linking him routinely to the overturning of Roe v. Wade since he was the architect of that, as well as to that Alabama ruling by the Supreme Court. They are taking him on as though it's a general, and it is starting to feel that way, again even though the primary is not over.

BURNETT: So, Kristen, I've also been hearing that the RNC is circulating some resolutions that would basically slow down Trump's takeover of the party, although that isn't kind of questionable. Things as it appears have already occurred. But what can you tell us about that? What are they actually trying to do at this final hour?

HOLMES: I would say it's slowing the takeover of the actual committee. So let's talk about what happened two weeks ago, which is essentially we learned that Ronna McDaniel, who Trump has had issues with for a long time, who's the chairwoman of the RNC, offered to step down when Trump became the nominee. After that, Trump himself essentially acted as though he was the presumptive nominee, even though primary season isn't over, nominating someone he wanted to be the chairman, Michael Whatley from North Carolina, as well as his daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, and saying that he was going to implant essentially the leader of his campaign, Chris LaCivita, as the chief operating officer of the RNC.

Well, this is a little bit of pushback to that. It's interesting because we often think, as you said, that Donald Trump has already taken over the Republican Party, but clearly there are still some members within the RNC who are pushing this resolution, one in particular.


And what it would do is twofold. The first part of the resolution would ensure that anybody was -- that nobody would be endorsing or the everybody in the RNC would remain neutral until somebody was actually the nominee. And also part of that was making sure no one from any presidential campaign was actually put into the RNC. So clearly on that.

There's also a second resolution that said that the RNC wouldn't pay anyone's legal bills. Obviously, Donald Trump or Haley's legal bills unless they were related to the 2024 presidential election. So obviously there are still some people pushing back on Donald Trump.

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

And now let's go to Charleston, South Carolina. That's where Kylie Atwood is following the Nikki Haley campaign.

And Kylie, you have been following this campaign from the beginning, from state to state. Now you are in Haley's home state. Polls predict her losing there by a wide margin as Kristen was saying, 30 points. We'll see what happens, although thus far in this campaign, Kristen points out the polls have been accurate. What are you hearing from her supporters now? KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, they're excited to cast

their ballots for Nikki Haley today. A lot of them have already actually voted in the pre-voting before election day today. The early voting that they were able to do. But what they're hoping is that they can give her at least enough support to give her a boost out of this state and they know that she's probably not going to win here. But what they're hoping to do is give her enough support so that she can keep her campaign alive.

Now, Nikki Haley's campaign for their the part, as you guys have been talking about, is saying that they're not going anywhere. They know the stakes, they know the odds, but Nikki Haley is going to keep campaigning until the door closes. And Haley, for her part, she went in, she cast her own ballot today for herself in Kiawah Island, which is where she lives. She took that opportunity to speak with reporters after and offer some very sharp criticism of what former president Trump said last night about the fact that he believes that black Americans support him because they feel like he has been incriminated against just like they have.

Now we haven't seen Nikki Haley consistently over the last year for campaign get into a tit-for-tat with the former president. But she has increasingly done that in the last few weeks here in South Carolina. Listen to her criticism earlier today.


HALEY: It's disgusting. But that's what happens when he goes off the teleprompter. That's the chaos that comes with Donald Trump. That's the offensiveness that's going to happen every day between now and the general election, which is why we continue to say Donald Trump cannot win general election. He won't.


ATWOOD. Now Nikki Haley has tried to somewhat manage expectations here in South Carolina, saying that she hopes that she is able to perform in a competitive way. But after the New Hampshire primary, she said that she's certainly has to do better here in South Carolina than she did in New Hampshire, where she was 11 points behind former president Trump. I asked her today if she hopes to actually get that goal and she said, we'll have to see -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right, Kylie, thank you. And Wolf.

BLITZER: Erin, we're following some major breaking news overseas right now. A U.S.-led coalition has just launched a fourth round of strikes against what are being described as dozens of Iran-backed Houthi targets in Yemen.

Oren Liebermann is joining us for the Pentagon right now.

Oren, update our viewers, what are you learning?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, these strikes carried out just moments ago according to two U.S. officials by the U.S. and the U.K. As you point out, this is the fourth time we have seen this coalition carry out these strikes. According to two U.S. officials, it is against dozens of Houthi targets in Yemen across several locations. Those locations include the capital of Sanaa, as well as other locations used by the Iran-backed rebel group.

According to one of the officials, the strikes targeted weapons, radar sites, command and control centers, as well as underground weapons storage facilities. The attacks were carried out by aircraft and perhaps more assets. We're waiting for more details here.

This is a response to continued attacks on commercial vessels, including a number that have hit -- very recently that have hit commercial vessels that have some association with both the U.S. and the U.K. here. In fact, one of those ships that has an association with the U.K. is now leaking oil in the Red Sea, and it's impossible to get to it, according to officials, because of the threat of Houthi attacks.

Part of the challenge here is that in the middle of all of this, U.S. officials are trying to figure out how to handle the Houthis because these ongoing strikes, including the coalition attacks, have done little to deter Houthi attacks on one of the world's most critical international waterways -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very serious situation. Will stay on top of it. Oren Liebermann, thanks very much for that update.

Coming up, we're going to continue our special coverage of the South Carolina Republican presidential primary. Much more on that right after this.



BLITZER: Welcome back to CNN's special coverage of the South Carolina Republican presidential primary. Right now, voting is underway in the state where Nikki Haley served as governor, but where Donald Trump is clearly dominating in all the polls.

Joining us now, CNN senior data reporter, Harry Enten.

Harry, how important is winning South Carolina normally to winning the GOP nomination?

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR DATA REPORTER: Yes. Wolf, you know, if you look back through history, let's take a look back through time, did the GOP win the South Carolina Republican primary? Take a look here.

Yes, it's dominating along this board. Ronald Reagan in '80, George H.W. Bush in '88, Bob Dole in '96, George W. Bush in 2000, John McCain, 2008, and Donald Trump in 2016.


The only guy who didn't win South Carolina and then went on to win the Republican nomination was Mitt Romney back in 2012.

Remember, it was Newt, it was Newt back in 2012, who won South Carolina. And then basically didn't win another primary throughout the rest of the primary season. So winning South Carolina is very important.

Now, going back through history, take a look at what happened back in 2016. Trump's 2016, South Carolina win.

I think the real question this year is, can he win all 46 counties in 2024? Because he came pretty close back in 2016.

He only lost a highly college-educated Charleston and Richland, and that, of course, is where Columbia, South Carolina, is.

If he can do that, it can show that he's really gone in and is dominating the GOP, not just among non-college educated voters, but among college educated voters as well.

And here's the other way that Trump could dominate, winning Iowa, New Hampshire, and the first-in- the-south primary. Could Trump be the first Republican?

It's only happened twice before, Jimmy Carter in '76 and Al Gore in 2000. Both of those, of course, went on to win the nomination.

If you're able to do it, you're really show your dominance in the Republican primary -- Erin?

BURNETT: All right, Harry.

So here with my panel, right?

Doug, what are we going to learn today about the Republican electorate? I mean, I think the history Harry is showing is so crucial.

And then, of course, you say, well, gosh, we're in this bizarre moment with the fact that there's even a race going on right now is a bet that history won't matter that there's going to be some kind of a bizarre event that's going to occur, right? What are we going to learn?

DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't think we're going to learn anything that we don't already know. It's why the main thing that we're looking at is what is the margin going to be?

Very clearly Donald Trump is going to win this, very clearly, he's going to win it by a large margin. The question is, is that 29 points? Is that 31 points or more?

And does Nikki Haley ultimately not beat the polls, but does she beat expectations? That's where she's been able to keep her campaign going, is by saying, I did better than people thought I would, and therefore, I'm going to fight on and she's planning to go to Michigan tomorrow. But we already know that this is Donald Trump's party. It's why Henry Barbour, from Mississippi an RNC member, is filing two resolutions to slow down the process of RNC, of breaking RNC neutrality and bringing in Trump staffers early.

BURNETT: Absolutely. Ashley, that's one thing that's been interesting looking at today, and Brian Todd was talking about it -- and he's in Mount Pleasant, which is really right outside Charleston.

The reality that Democrats can vote today.


BURNETT: Now, Democrats can vote. It's an open primary race. So every state has its own rules.

But I thought it was interesting only if you didn't vote in the Democratic primary a few weeks ago, which while it didn't matter, still was a thing. Biden wanted it, right? He really pushed to get that bit.

OK. So is that -- does that -- I mean, I know that we're talking about the margin, but is this a group that could matter at all?

ALLISON: I suppose, but not enough to close a 30-point gap between Nikki Haley and Donald Trump.

But this is the interesting thing. So when the Democrats had their primary, 97 percent of African-Americans votes were for Joe Biden. That was a big question mark around that primary race.

Last night, Donald Trump was in South Carolina, attempting to court black --


BURNETT: Wait, the 97 -- just to make sure we are listening -- the 97 percent of Democratic African-American --


ALLISON: -- of the electorate of registered African-Americans. And those that showed up, 97 percent of black folks who voted in that Democratic Party primary --


ALLISON: -- voted for Joe Biden and not Dean Phillips or Marianne Williamson. And that was a big question, were folks going to show up and do an -- a protest vote to say we want a different type of primary on the Democratic side.

Last night, Donald Trump was trying to court African-American voters. I don't think you're going to see 97 percent of voters who show up to vote for -- in this primary are going to vote for Donald Trump. Maybe. But I think there are some Independents, some folks who are saying,

what do I -- do I really want to get rid of Donald Trump and use this as an opportunity.

And turnout was not extremely high in that primary because it -- for the Democratic because it wasn't extremely contested, right?


ALLISON: But there may be a few people who show up tonight or today to say, I want to send a message that we don't want Donald Trump, we want an alternative to him.

BURNETT: So this event where everyone --




BURNETT: So this event where Trump was speaking to black voters in South Carolina, let me just play one thing he said, if anybody missed it.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I got indicted for nothing, for something that is nothing. They were doing it because it's election interference. And then I got indicted a second time and a third time, and a fourth time.

And a lot of people said that that's why the black people like me because they have been hurt so badly and discriminated against.


TRUMP And they actually viewed me as I'm being discriminated against.

Like the mug shot -- we've all seen the mug shot. And you know who embraced it more than anybody else? The black population. It's incredible.



TRUMP: You see black people walking around with my mug shot. You know, they do shirts. Black people walking around with my mug shot.


BURNETT: Black people walking around with my mug shot.

SHERMICHAEL SINGLETON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: You know, Erin, I've been a conservative a long time. I haven't seen that. I think -- so Deonte Johnson is an individual who started the group

Black Conservative Federation. I had a chance to talk with him.

And my question to him, I said, you know, OK, look, I understand what you guys are trying to do. I do think there's a possibility of targeting African-American men around a message of economics.

I think maybe there could be a part two to try and address some of the criminal justice issues that has a clearly disproportionate impact of black men compared to everyone else.

My hope would have been that the former president would have spoke to those things. Those are tangible things that I think you can say, look, these are things that we recognize impact you all. I'm going to try to address some of these things if given a second opportunity.

I think placating or building upon stereotypes of black people. that doesn't turn anyone on. It doesn't convince anyone to come out and vote for you.

You had an opportunity to talk about some salient things that really do impact black men. And I think they would have been open. Democrats openly discussed the fact that they are struggling with black.


SINGLETON: And I was hoping that would've been an opportunity. He missed the opportunity.

Now I think the question though, as pertains to tonight, what impact will him going and talking to black men have on whatever marginal difference it will make in terms of black voters saying, you know what, were going to go for Trump versus someone like a Haley, considering Haley brought down the Confederate Flag.


SINGLTON: Many African-Americans remember that.

There is a sliver of them I saw in 2016 when I worked on Dr. Carsons campaign who did actually activate their vote participation by voting for Carson or Cruz. And some even voted for Trump.

The question for me though, Erin, is, what percent, how negligible is it?

And also, I would ask in terms, in terms of the suburban voters, do we see some of them saying, you know what, it is clear that Trump is going to be the nominee, I'm going to cast my ballot for him?


JAMAL SIMMONS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. So I spent some time on the phone today with the Democratic Party official down in South Carolina, and they've been tracking the vote a little bit about what's going on. So they had -- the numbers they told me, they're about 200,000 early votes that have occurred, right? And of that number, about only about 6,000 African-Americans out of that 200,000. That's 3 percent of the early vote.

Now, you could say, well, maybe people are going to vote in person, but that's not a great trend line that tells you there's going to be some great African-American sway.

And that there was a lot of money spent, a lot of time and voter contact. There were robo calls being made. People felt inundated by some of these contacts.

So I just don't see African-American votes being swayed from the Republican Party -- I mean, from the Democratic Party to go into voting either for Trump or for Haley.

And if she's down 30 points, 3 percent of African-Americans, even if she got 100 percent of that number, ain't going to make it.

BURNETT: All right.

SIMMONS: As one of the blacks I'm speaking here.



BURNETT: -- front of us because we've had a lot more but to discuss throughout the evening tonight. We will be right back.



BLITZER: The body of Alexei Navalny, the main opposition leader to Russian President Vladimir Putin, has now been handed over to his mother more than a week after he died in a Russian prison. That, according to his spokesperson today.

Navalny's mother has accused Russia of holding her sons body hostage, trying to blackmail her into burying him in secret.

This comes as the world marks two years today since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the full-scale brutal invasion of Ukraine, triggering a brutal war with no end in sight.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is on the ground for us. He's live in Ukraine.

Nick, on this important day, what are you seeing, what are you hearing?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, it's been a day in which we've seen in Kyiv a startling array of European and Western leaders turning up to pledge their ongoing political strategic support for Ukraine. Emphasizing how this war that Ukraine began on its own two years ago, has now through so much Western support, essentially become part of a Western struggle in itself.

That's certainly the narrative that Russia have embraced thoroughly. But also, too, I think a day in which many Ukrainians who have had to take stock of exactly how their daily lives entirely changed.

Some even saying to me how they're texting about how they remembered two years ago a world without war.

Well, it punctuates every moment of life here, and particularly Odessa, a town not far from where I'm standing in Zaporizhzhia, which, over the past two nights, has had deadly drone strikes that have taken lives. Authorities saying, because drone debris have fallen on buildings.

Also, too, Russia's officials in the military, suggesting that they, in fact, have taken 100 to 200 prisoners of Ukrainian soldiers during their taking of the town of Avdiivka that last weekend Ukraine voluntarily withdrew from.

And I think within the promises of further help from Western nations, a recognition that so much is currently missing, so much is delayed. Key to that the $60 billion from the United States that's currently held up by a Republican-led Congress.

And so today, I think President Zelenskyy is reminder of the 730 days of hope, he says, for Ukraine, doesn't really have necessarily an end in sight.

As you said, and Ukrainians are dealing with a fight here that for them is entirely extension it's all about their safety, about their freedom going forwards.

But is currently seeing the Western unity that's kept them afloat for these past two years ebbing or at least not delivering the aid ammunition, as they say, they urgently need -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Nick Paton Walsh, on the ground for us in Zaporizhzhia, right on the front lines. As I say to you every day, Nick, stay safe over there.

Erin, over to you.

BURNETT: All right, Wolf.

And now the story we're all watching this hour, as the poles are getting ready to close in the state of South Carolina, voters have been voting throughout the day today to make a decision that could effectively end the 2024 Republican primary season.


Joining me now from Colombia is Drew McKissick. He is the chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party. He has endorsed Donald Trump. So I appreciate your time today.

Can you tell me what you're seeing on the ground in the state at this time for 49? What's turnout look like?

STATE REP. DREW MCKISSICK (R-SC) & SC REPUBLICAN PARTY CHAIRMAN: Well, first off, there is early vote turnout. So we had 208,000 people early vote for our primary contrasted with 132,000 people that are now for the entire Democratic primary here in South Carolina. That's only 20 percent of what they did four years ago.

This to me says that we're looking at record turnout here. Our record was in 2016 at 765,000 people. I think we're going to break that tonight. And I think that speaks to the enthusiasm for 49.

BURNETT: Now obviously, of course, Joe Biden is running as the incumbent, so it's presumed to be more difficult, right, essentially unchallenged.


BURNETT: But what does this turn out --


MCKISSICK: first-in-the-nation primary. Now I don't forget that.

BURNETT: Right. And they did change that on the Democratic calendar.

But what do you think is driving this turnout? And I asked you, Drew, in the context of the reality is the polls have been consistent that Donald Trump is massively ahead.

And I want to ask you about how much. But massively as the polls have shown 30 points? Often that's a difficult situation in which to get record turnout. So what do you think is driving it in that case?

MCKISSICK: Enthusiasm and excitement. Excitement for President Trump, excitement for taking back the White House, excitement for taking Joe Biden out the White House.

I mean, you'll have less enthusiastim about the issues that we've talked about since '15 and '16, whether it's the immigration issue has been at the top of everybody's mind, to the economy, to inflation, to the Wokefication of America. I mean, go down the list.

We need -- the issues are what moves people. They get excited about that. They get excited about candidates that they feel represent those issues to them and will address them and speak to them.

And I think you've got a lot of folks who want to turn out and make a statement today.

BURNETT: So what do you think the margins will be?

MCKISSICK: So I think the polls has been very accurate so far. We saw what we did in Iowa, which I know caucuses can be more difficult, and polls, and even the polls there had it within, say, a point and a half, I think. Of being right.

On New Hampshire, it was fairly accurate in terms of what the poll suggested. I think the polls here fairly represent what I've been seeing anecdotally and hearing on the ground.

And when we look at the different counties that we've seen come in big and early voting versus those that did, that, again, makes me feel like those polls are probably right.

BURNETT: So I want to ask you, Mr. Trump's said last night -- we were just talking about it on our panel.

When he was speaking to black voters and he said that black voters like him because he's been indicted, among other inflammatory statements where he was talking about, you know, how black people carry his mug shot around, actually were some of the words that he used.

Do you find that acceptable, Drew? And if you do, tell me why. But if you don't, how do you get past it?

MCKISSICK: Well, so first off, you know, look, Donald Trump has been speaking out in this country for a long time, and particularly in the political scene. Obviously, in '15 and '16.

Donald Trump speaks and people are accustomed that. If they're not used to it, they haven't been living in this country.

So this is not a situation where were going to lose political votes, lose votes, lose political support because of Donald Trump continuing to speak about issues the way he's been speaking about it for the last eight years here.

I mean, particularly here in South Carolina. I've seen the growth that we've seen here in this state. In the last three election cycles, particularly last two, were the best 150 years for Republicans here in South Carolina.

So I get it. Yes, South Carolina is not this state, it's not that state. Things are different in different places. But I know what we've seen here, and I know what were probably going to see today.

BURNETT: Drew, I want to ask you, because I'm not sure if we were misinformed. When I introduced you, I said you had endorsed Donald Trump. Have you endorsed him or --


BURNETT: Yes. Good

MCKISSICK: In South Carolina, we've got a tradition of being neutral up until the primary is over. I have held to that. And again, that's one of the reasons why we maintain that carve-out status and states trust us with that. And by the way, I'll say we've always got it right since 1980. No

Republicans become president of the United States without winning the South Carolina primary.

We are traditionally the graveyard of presidential campaigns in a lot of ways and I expect that's a tradition that will continue tonight.

BURNETT: When you were going through, though -- I understand you did -- you haven't formally endorsed.

But when you were going through the reasons that you thought Trump would win and all the enthusiasm, all of those comments were directed at Trump specifically as opposed to Nikki Haley.

Would you -- would you have that enthusiasm for Nikki Haley? I would presume, you know her.


BURNETT: Obviously, she was a two-term governor of the state.

MCKISSICK: State jobs can win the White House. So my point -- my issue -- my thing as the state chairman here in South Carolina is to support the people of South Carolina, support the Republicans here in this state.

So they're making their voices heard right now. We'll see how it all shakes out after 7:00 tonight. And then we're going to have one team from South Carolina after it's over.


BURNETT: All right, well, we will see. And as you said, those polls are closing here in these next couple of hours.

Drew, thanks so much. I appreciate your time on voting day.

MCKISSICK: Absolutely. Thank you.

BURNETT: All right. And we are just moments away from getting our first look at CNN's exit polls. And this is going to be crucial to tell you who's voting and maybe how they're voting, what South Carolina voters are telling us about who they voted for and the issues that are driving them to the polls today.

Our special coverage continues after a short break.



BURNETT: Welcome to CNN special coverage of the South Carolina Republican primary.