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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT

Candidates Go Head-to-Head in Vegas Tonight; Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders About To Face Off Shortly; Candidates May Attack Clinton's Shifting Positions; Final Preparations Being Made Just Before Debate; . Aired 7-8p ET

Aired October 13, 2015 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[19:00:11] ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: And OUTFRONT tonight, the high stakes in Vegas, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders front and center head to head in their first debate of the 2016 presidential campaign. We are live, our continuing coverage of the Las Vegas showdown. Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett. OUTFRONT tonight. Vegas showdown, we are live here in Las Vegas at the scene of the first democratic presidential debate. It is here at the Wynn Hotel. Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton and the self-described democratic socialist Bernie Sanders will go head to head tonight. Most of the candidates toured the debate stage just a short time ago. Otherwise, Sanders, Clinton, Martin O'Malley, Lincoln Chafee and Jim Webb have been hunkered down behind closed doors, locked into last minute preparations or, who knows what they're doing in those final minutes before the debate. The stakes are high. Clinton must not stumble. Sanders must soar. And their rivals need to deliver a death blow to actually steal the show.

We begin tonight with Brianna Keilar down to the debate stage behind me. And Brianna, the candidates are very soon, they will be making their way on to that stage. We have seen a few of them come in, check things out. What's going on where you are right now?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Erin. And as you can see behind me we actually have some stand-ins here for the candidates. As a lot of the photographers from the myriad of cameras that we have here in this debate hall are making sure that they're ready to go. Ninety minutes now from debate night in America. All of the candidates with the exception of Hillary Clinton have done walkthroughs. They have come up here on the set that they will be on for this evening. They have stood behind the lectern. Some of them have done sound checks. They've gotten reminders about their time limits. One minute to answer a question, 30 minutes for a rebuttal.

They have learned exactly where the lights are that remind them if they're running out of time. They can see where the moderators sit and you also can see we have the audience that is been filing in. We're going to have about 1,300 people here for a debate night in America and a lot of them already taking their seats. It's a huge night for all of these candidates especially for the front-runner, Hillary Clinton, as she's looking to turn a corner here from the e- mail controversy that's really haunted her so much at the beginning of her campaign.

Bernie Sanders, nipping at her heels in the polls. He wants to show people that he's mainstream and then you also have these other candidates who are almost really negligible in the polls compared to Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton and they are trying to come in, make a name for themselves, introduce themselves to the audience here at the Wynn Hotel. And to the millions of people who will be watching across America. Martin O'Malley for instance, the former governor from Maryland, I've been told by an aide that he's going to try to cast himself as the president who would be guided by principle and not by polls. It's an illusion of course to Hillary Clinton, so we'll be waiting to see if he and this other candidates take her on -- Erin.

BURNETT: That's going to be interesting to see if someone does goes straight for that. For the jugular. Brianna, thank you. And I want to go straight to the spin room now. When we throw that word around I thought it was word loud to explain what it is, it's called a spin room, because that's where the candidates' team actually go and try to spin their performance to the press in the world. So they can send someone from their campaign or friend or whoever it is. Their job is to spin.

Jeff Zeleny never gets spun, but Jeff, we are in the final countdown, what are the campaigns saying?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Erin, we are in the spin room. But the question about the spin room is, you have to perform on this stage. Otherwise, it really doesn't matter what happens here in the spin room. But of course aides are already gathering behind me talking to some reporters and getting ready. But what the candidates have been doing behind the scenes today is really pretty interesting. Bernie Sanders has not been preparing nearly as much as Hillary Clinton has. He's not been doing mock debate sessions and one of his senior advisers tells me today that he was planning on doing a prepared session. Everything was all set up. He got a couple minutes into it and then he said I can handle this.

And then they apparently stopped. Now, Erin, you never know if we're getting some pre-spin here, if they're trying to perhaps lower expectations because he's not debated on this type of stage before. And this is going to be the biggest audience that he's ever had of course as a presidential candidate. Hillary Clinton of course has debated some 25 times just in the '07, '08 campaign. But what the others are also trying to do, and it's key to remember that they're all looking for a breakout moment tonight. Martin O'Malley, the former governor of Maryland, the former mayor of Baltimore is a musician. He's the only candidate in this race as far as I know who is a musician, so he is bringing his guitar into his greenroom tonight. To sort of prepare him and to relax him for this.

He also spent some time working out today. And reading some policy papers and Brianna is absolutely right. He's going to draw the sharpest contrast we believe with Hillary Clinton tonight. He's been doing it from the sidelines but no one has really been paying attention. But tonight, of course, at center stage, everyone will be watching this. So just in about an hour and a half or so, debate night in America begins and everyone here certainly ready.

[19:05:03] BURNETT: Yes. All right. Thank you very much, Jeff.

And OUTFRONT now, Michael Smerconish, the host of "SMERCONISH" here on CNN. Republican strategist Ana Navarro, a Jeb Bush supporter, friend of Rubio's. And Dan Pfeiffer, former senior adviser for President Obama. And Van Jones, another member of the Obama White House or former member.

OK. Great to have all of you with us. Dan, I got to start with you because late today, this report came out this memo that you were one of the authors of. The New York were publishing it for the first time. This is from 2008 when you were preparing then candidate Barack Obama to beat Hillary Clinton in the debates. It's great day for this to come out. The memo says --

DAN PFEIFFER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. I certainly feel that way.

(LAUGHTER)

BURNETT: Okay. I'm going to quote from it. It says, quote, "HRC is driven by politics, not conviction. Clinton is constantly shifting, dodging and changing positions to satisfy the politics of the moment." Do you think she's changed?

PFEIFFER: I think that what in this memo should be no surprise, anyone who saw our campaign. This is exactly the case that President Obama made throughout the election. I think that some of the same vulnerabilities remained, but she has learned a lot of the lessons, her campaign has learned the lessons. So she comes in prepared. I think you hear the preview that Jeff just gave us of Martin O'Malley's strategy for this.

BURNETT: Right.

PFEIFFER: It's very similar to the Obama White House but Clinton will going to see it coming this time.

ANA NAVARRO, JEB BUSH SUPPORTER AND FRIEND OF MARCO RUBIO: Well, I think -- to assume Hillary Clinton hasn't changed but Dan Pfeiffer --

(LAUGHTER)

PFEIFFER: I read this memo. I thought what a great memo. She must have been done a great job.

(LAUGHTER)

BURNETT: I want to quote something else from the memo here. That Dan wrote. OK. I don't know maybe Axelrod wrote this line.

PFEIFFER: Had a million authors.

NAVARRO: Yes. I think we need that soundtrack. BURNETT: OK. So, it says Hillary Clinton puts, quote, "Obtaining and

preserving political power ahead of reliable principles." Now, I mean, you know, we are laughing about this, but when we look at what we call the word cloud, Quinnipiac did a poll, this was of all voters.

VAN JONES, FORMER SPECIAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: Yes.

BURNETT: To Democrats and Republicans. But the top three words for Hillary Clinton were liar, dishonest and untrustworthy. That's the way she is now. That's the same perception that this memo noticed, helped create, whatever the word might be back in 2008.

JONES: Listen, I think that that is her biggest challenge tonight. Is that you have now a number of issues that she's flip-flopped on just in the past couple of weeks that is the truth. However, if she gets out there and gets a place for herself, maybe she winds up getting a pass. Here's the reality. People want to believe that even if you don't know exactly what you're going to do on this issue or that issue, that there is a core there. There's a soul there. There's something reliable there. And I think that somehow even though Hillary Clinton has been in public life for a long time, there's still a question mark about what is her soul. If you can show her soul tonight she begins I think to close the gap again.

BURNETT: Like, how does she do that in her tone? How does she create that I am this genuine, authentic person that people want in general this election? But from her, they have wanted it for years.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST, "SMERCONISH": What strikes me about the memo that he may or may not have written is that --

BURNETT: Million authors was --

SMERCONISH: It's the antithesis of Bernie Sanders. You couldn't have said any of that about Bernie. I mean, I disagree with him but he's an individual of conviction, the issues have finally caught up to him. He was there on minimum wage, he was there on income inequality. He was there first. And the fact that he didn't do debate preparation ala Donald Trump I'm sure he's never even polled to get guidance to where he's coming from. So, that's the contrast tonight. How does she channel a little bit more of him and a little bit less of the Hillary Clinton that you described in 2008?

JONES: A big challenge to her tonight is coming in, over prepared in her head and underprepared in her heart. That's her big challenge. We know she'll dominate on policy, but can she be able to connect with other people? I may not understand all the big words in this bill, but do you care about me? She's saying I'm a fighter for you. I think she has to be able to convince that she understands what it means to be a normal person.

NAVARRO: Some of the best moments, some of the most memorable moments of any debate are frankly canned lines, one liners, singers. Lines that are --

BURNETT: That are practiced, yes. NAVARRO: So, frankly, if she can master faking authenticity she's

golden.

PFEIFFER: I haven't seen up close. That's not her skill. She can be very good when show's human. And not do -- some candidates are very good at doing scripted lines. Marco Rubio was great in doing scripted lines in the last debate. Hillary Clinton has to have a spontaneous moment to have it work. And I would say one thing on this memo like, we ran a very strong, hard fought campaign against them, I'm also after that campaign. I got to know Hillary Clinton a little bit. I have to work with her in the White House and --

BURNETT: So, this is your way of saying, in person she's not all this --

PFEIFFER: Well, I would say --

NAVARRO: More impactful --

SMERCONISH: Self-deprecation and even a foible or two could go a long way to humanize her. If she's too polished, it's not going to work.

JONES: One more thing about her, everybody says, it's a cliche now, I have seen her get up on stage, read a term paper at a crowd, call that a speech. Lose nobody. And then ten seconds later, when she hits the rope line she's Oprah. I mean she has such a huge heart.

BURNETT: That might be a bit of an exaggeration.

JONES: No. I'm not -- no, in real life when she's not on -- I don't -- I mean 20 seconds, I mean, ten seconds later --

BURNETT: Yes.

[19:10:06] JONES: She's got a huge heart. Somehow when she gets on that stage it goes away. If that can get across tonight, she can have a different response.

NAVARRO: If she's walking into this debate as the front-runner, she needs to walk out of this debate as the front-runner.

BURNETT: Right.

(CROSSTALK)

NAVARRO: Make no mistakes. Do no harm.

BURNETT: So, can she do something with the whole Trump situation. Right? Donald Trump tweets he's going to be live tweeting the debate. Watch out, Hillary. She responded, whether she wrote it or an aide wrote it, I don't know but it was funny. Glad you'll be watching. It's going to be quote-unquote huge. Play on Donald.

JONES: Yes. Huge!

BURNETT: So you know what can she do something with that? SMERCONISH: It serves hope there.

(CROSSTALK)

BURNETT: She monetize that?

SMERCONISH: I mean, what a favor for both Trump and for Hillary that they're involved in this kind of a relationship.

PFEIFFER: Right.

SMERCONISH: She props him up by going to the hotel last night. She'd love him to be the embodiment and the face of the GOP. So that that sinks in for the general election. Even if he's not the candidate. I would love to see something from his Twitter feed posed by Anderson as a question tonight.

BURNETT: Yes.

NAVARRO: You know, let's not forget that --

SMERCONISH: That would be the way to do it.

NAVARRO: The only person on that stage that has had a relationship with Donald Trump is Hillary Clinton.

SMERCONISH: Yes. Sure.

NAVARRO: You know, he's maxed out to her on donations, he's given hundreds of thousands of dollars to the foundation. And you know, she was at his wedding. So I think she opens herself up a little bit, an attack from the other folks there.

JONES: I'll tell you what. It's for her, it's great to be attacking a Donald Trump. Because she wants to be the standard-bearer for the party. The entire party is united in disgust at Donald Trump.

NAVARRO: What do you mean? Paul Begala thinks he's manna from heaven.

JONES: True. But if Hillary Clinton is taking on one-on-one Martin O'Malley, who cares?

PFEIFFER: Yes.

JONES: Who cares? If she's going after Donald --

NAVARRO: You know, let's just reflect on a moment on how media savvy this guy is, Donald Trump. But we are at the democratic debate, we have just spent the last two minutes talking about him.

BURNETT: There's no question about that. You want to say who's the master brander, as Bill Clinton describes him to me, yes, he certainly is.

All right. You all are going to be with us through the hour. Thanks very much. We'll hit pause for a moment. Next, behind me obviously the stage for tonight's debate between the democratic contenders for the White House, this is the room where it's all going to be happening. Who will be left standing? And Hillary Clinton under fire for flip-flopping. Our special report on her long record of as she probably calls it, changing her mind.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:16:09] BURNETT: We are less than two hours away from the first showdown between the democratic candidates for president. The pressure is on for the front-runner Hillary Clinton. Her close aide Huma Abedin made a walk to the debate stage in podium a short while ago, but the big question is whether Clinton will be able to walk away from her reversals on several key issues for democratic voters. It is going to come up tonight, there is no way it doesn't. Jeff Zeleny is OUTFRONT.

And Jeff, I guess, the question is, will voters buy her sudden shift on some issues to the Left?

ZELENY: Erin, there's no question that most politicians evolve. Certainly when you have been in public life as long as Hillary Clinton has. But those questions, so you're right, she's shifted so far to the Left in a year when voters are craving authenticity. The question is, will they buy it? Let's take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY (voice-over): Hillary Clinton's long record will be front and center tonight as she returns to the debate stage for the first time since her 2008 campaign.

(Crowd chanting): Hillary! Hillary! Hillary!

ZELENY: It's not only her second act, but the debut of new positions on several hot button issues. Whether it's political flexibility or a straight up flip-flop, there's no question Clinton is responding to the liberal winds driving the Democratic Party. Her rivals say, the shifts raise questions about her credibility. Starting with Iraq. But Bernie Sanders won't let her forget.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I didn't believe them and I voted against the war in Iraq.

ZELENY: It was a war she voted for back in 2002.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Any vote that might lead to war should be hard, but I cast it with conviction.

ZELENY: The issue dogged her during that first presidential race but she held her ground.

CLINTON: Obviously, if I had known then what I know now about what the President would do with authority that was given him, I would not have voted the way that I did.

ZELENY: In this campaign, she now calls it one of her biggest regrets.

CLINTON: I made a mistake, plain and simple.

ZELENY: On same-sex marriage in evolution so stark, it became a "Saturday Night Live" punch line.

CLINTON: It is really great how long you have supported great gay marriage.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. I could have supported it sooner.

CLINTON: Well, you did pretty soon.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. Could have been sooner.

CLINTON: Fair point.

(LAUGHTER)

ZELENY: She's hardly alone. President Obama and most Democrats once opposed gay marriage. In 2004, Clinton said this.

CLINTON: I believe that marriage is not just a bond but a sacred bond between a man and a woman.

ZELENY: Three years later, she talked about her support for civil unions on "Ellen."

ELLEN DEGENERES, HOST, "THE ELLEN DEGENERES SHOW": You support civil unions.

CLINTON: I do.

DEGENERES: But not gay marriage.

CLINTON: Uh-hm.

DEGENERES: And why?

CLINTON: Well, I'm very much in favor of civil unions with full equality of benefits.

ZELENY: In 2013, a change of heart.

CLINTON: That's why I support marriage for lesbian and gay couples.

ZELENY: Martin O'Malley took note and released this video when she announced her decision.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: History celebrates profiles in courage. Not profiles in convenience.

ZELENY: And on trade, Clinton was a champion for the Pacific Rim agreement. As Secretary of State she traveled around the world, pushing the administration's deal at least 45 times in public speeches saying it sets the gold standard in trade agreements. Last week, she came out against it. Siding with labor unions and liberals who say it will cost jobs.

CLINTON: As of today, I am not in favor of what I have learned about it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: And this new position on trade could be front and center in the debate tonight. She is now aligned squarely with most Liberals in the Democratic Party but she's certainly is left an opening for herself, for Bernie Sanders, Martin O'Malley or others to walk right through. But there is a fine line between political flexibility and political flip-flops here. And she learned a lesson from that 2008 campaign when she refused to say the Iraq war vote was a mistake. So some of her supporters say she's wise to make these changes right now -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Jeff, thank you. And OUTFRONT now, U.S. senator from New York, Kirsten Gillibrand. She's a supporter of Hillary Clinton. Senator, it's great to have you with me.

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D), NEW YORK: Great to be on.

BURNETT: All right. So, you're a -- support and you know, look, you evolved on some issues, some issues you change your mind, some issues you react to the polls. That's the reality of life as a politician. But let's start with the perception here, that trade deal as one. She negotiated it. She fought for it, she travelled the world for it. She spoke out for it for 45 times, how can she now say she's against it?

GILLIBRAND: Well, a lot of us have concerns about the trade agreement so she's not alone. And I think being a candidate for president is very different than being part of an administration where you actually going out and doing negotiations. I think she shares the concerns I have that it might cost a lot of jobs. If you look at the record of trade agreements over the last two decades, it hasn't gone well, certainly it hasn't gone well for my state of New York. So, I think there's a legitimate concerns. And I think we'll hear a lot from her today about what she does think is important for the economy, what will create growth for the middle class, how do you handle this bread and butter issues, some affordability that the families are struggling with.

[19:21:10] BURNETT: So, on this issue though of how it's perceived, you know, this memo that we were just talking about from 2008 of the Obama campaign authored, they at -- at that time it was NAFTA, the trade deal, they talk about how she changed her view on that. HRC is driven by politics not conviction from the war to NAFTA, they list a few more. Clinton is constantly shifting, dodging, changing positions to satisfy the politics of the moment. That perception is still the perception of her now. Why is that perception wrong? It doesn't go away.

GILLIBRAND: Because Hillary is exactly who she's always been. She's been a person who cares deeply about the well-being of families and women and children. You look at her upbringing, you look at the life her mother live and what lessons that taught her about hard work and never giving up. That's who Hillary is. And whether she has a different view about whether this trade agreement is going to help the economy or hurt the economy, that is a legitimate substantive issue that needs debate. It needs debate amongst all Democrats frankly because we're going to have a decision about where they're going to vote for against that agreement.

BURNETT: So, how does she convince people that she is not the three words that they currently associate with her as we have talked about, both overall voters, Democrats and Republicans, but the top three words, were liar, dishonest and untrustworthy?

GILLIBRAND: She just have to be herself and talk about what she cares about. What I love about her campaign right now is she's talking about a whole host of issues that weren't on the top ten list. She's talking about drug problems among teens. About overdoses of prescription medicines. I haven't heard that as a national campaign issue. She's talking about a national paid leave program. Something that would absolutely help our economy grow. So the more she talks about the things she's really passionate about, her determination, her fighting spirit will come through, and that's what I love about her. And that's what so many people love about her.

BURNETT: So you also love a lot about Vice President Joe Biden. You've said if you were betting women, you bet he would run, you said a lot of really nice things about him talking about him as --

GILLIBRAND: He's a great public servant. Cares deeply about many issues.

BURNETT: All right. So, when you say that, it makes me think, I mean, that sounds like something you'd said about someone you were endorsing. Would you consider switching your support?

GILLIBRAND: No. No. I support Hillary Clinton. I think she's the most qualified for this job. I think her experience will really turn this country around. I think her focus on the last several years on fighting terrorism, on foreign policy only enhances her abilities and her experience. I think Hillary is the right choice. That's why I support Hillary. But I think more candidates are always good for a primary. I think if Vice President Biden wants to run he should run. He's a person who's dedicated his career to public service and helping people. And I think it just makes our candidate stronger, but Hillary's my candidate and I think she makes the best president.

BURNETT: All right. Senator, thank you very much. I appreciate your time. The senator of course will be here throughout the debate.

And behind me the debate stage as you can see it is -- it will be the site of tonight's showdown between democratic front-runners Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. And when we return, the debate moderator Anderson Cooper will take a break from his preparation to come OUTFRONT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [19:27:58] BURNETT: Welcome back to OUTFRONT. We are live inside the Wynn Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, where in just about an hour, one of the most important debates in the race for the White House will begin. The podiums are in place, the crowd is now taking their seats. You can hear them behind me as they're chatting. The candidates will soon be making their way backstage.

Anderson Cooper is the moderator of tonight's debate and taking a break from your preparations to come talk to us. All right. So, what's your goal for tonight?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: You know, the goal is to have a good, tough debate. I mean, to get the candidates talking to each other, but also to have tough questions put to the candidates and that's what we have been working on for quite a while now. And you know, we'll be as -- you know, aggressive and pointed and get the candidates' answer.

BURNETT: So, what do you do when Bernie Sanders says well, I'm not going to mention Hillary Clinton's name? I mean, you obviously don't look at that to be the case.

COOPER: Well, look, I mean, it's not my job to force somebody to fight. You end up looking bad if that's what you're trying to do. If candidates aren't going to address each other, that's fine. But then they need to address the facts and they need to address their past statements and they need to address their policies. And we're certainly prepared to make them do that tonight.

BURNETT: So one person not in the room and he is getting a lot of attention tonight -- Donald Trump. He said, due to popular demand, so many people have been asking him, he's going to live tweet --

COOPER: It's been huge. It's been huge.

BURNETT: So, I know that you're going to be, you know, there are some questions that could come in from Twitter or Facebook or if Donald Trump asks one, would you consider asking or what?

COOPER: I don't think so. No, first of all, if I'm checking social media during this debate then everybody is in trouble. You know, I hopefully will have a lot more to do. Look, we have been talking to thousands of people around the country on Facebook, we have a camper going out, people giving us video questions. So, we have a ton of social media questions themselves from viewers already. You know, I don't think I'm going to be checking my Twitter feed during this two hours or so.

BURNETT: All right. Well, Anderson, thank you --

COOPER: But I'm looking forward to reading his tweets afterwards.

BURNETT: Yes. They will be entertaining.

COOPER: No doubt about it.

BURNETT: There's no question about that. All right. Anderson, thank you very much. Anderson is finishing his final preparations as he gets ready for the debate that he is hosting.

And I want to head outside, the candidates are making their way back to the debate backstage in these final moments. That is where Brianna Keilar is standing by for us right now. And Brianna, who is here? Who isn't here? How does that work there? They come by you and come to their rooms to prep?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Take a look. We actually have Governor Martin O'Malley arriving here at his green room trailer. These are all in alphabetical order. So, on the left, you have Lincoln Chafee, Hillary Clinton, and then you have Martin O'Malley, Bernie Sanders on the other half of this trailer. And then over here, you have Jim Webb who has arrived.

And so, now, you have O'Malley, you have Webb, you have Lincoln Chafee who are here. We're still awaiting Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders -- of course, the front runners in this race.

But this is part of the logistics that go into pulling this off. You have CNN crews who are here. And they are actually here to mic up the candidates. So, they have to make sure they're ready to be heard when they take the stage here in about an hour.

BURNETT: All right. Brianna, I love that shot behind you with the trailers. There's something kind of neat about that. Like spies -- you get a trailer.

All right. Thank you, Brianna.

Michael Smerconish is back with me, Ana Navarro, Dan Pfeiffer, and Van Jones.

You know, you have been behind the scenes in these debates. Dan, what are they doing in these final moments as they get ready? Are they --

DAN PFEIFFER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Hopefully relaxing, because what you really want to do -- like sitting in that trailer, the walls start closing in on you. You get nervous.

For Barack Obama, we would have the first lady be with him or the two aides who would most relax him because they could joke around him. Robert Gibbs, the former first press secretary, and Reggie Love, who is his body guy, they'd just kind of laugh. And if someone's in there, I mean, do you remember what the GDP of Finland is -- that's not -- that's bad for them.

And the other thing I'd say is, this is a very -- this is a big stage. And you may have done -- been in the Senate for years, but when you get here, these are the klieg lights. The Vermont public access debate, that's little league ball. This is the major leagues tonight.

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: If Hillary Clinton takes Paul Begala's advice, they're taking a couple of shots vodka? I just hope that the mayor --

(LAUGHTER) VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It is really hard to imagine a level of pressures. Listen, even just those of us who are just commenting, we're stressed, we're nervous. We're excited.

Can you imagine being any one of these people, knowing whatever you do is going to be on YouTube forever? It's not just tonight. If you make a mistake, if you make an "oops" like a Rick Perry, your career is over. It's a huge --

(CROSSTALK)

JONES: Well, Van, let me tell you something. It turns out when it's the opposite team's debate and you don't have a candidate that you're worrying about his performance, it's not stressful whatsoever. This is a lot of fun.

PFEIFFER: I remember that feeling a few weeks ago.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's funny what runs through our minds and all of their minds. I had a brief conversation with a son of Bernie Sanders who looked at the stage and he said to me, geez, those podiums are close together. You know, dad is a very evocative person. I think he's worried what if he bumps into Hillary inadvertently, that could be an issue tonight.

(LAUGHTER)

BURNETT: That would actually be great. Those are the moments we talk about the unscripted moments that can create an opportunity for something nice.

NAVARRO: One other thing that I think is very interesting in this room is their crowd. I remember being in the Cleveland debate, the first GOP debate in Cleveland, where there was a big, big crowd. And it was frankly the crowd could have had a podium on the stage, because it was such a part of the state. It was a big factory.

Today, there's 1,300 people here. Each campaign got something like 60 or 70 tickets, plus a lot of people from Nevada, from the party. And I think, you know, they could have a huge role.

BURNETT: It was a podium backstage yesterday. Everyone was joking because it was an extra podium. Who was it for? It was Joe Biden who was going to show up?

I got to ask all of you this, this whole Joe Biden, let's just say he's really thinking of jumping in -- I know some are skeptical whether he is at this point. But everyone says, he's got to do it by now or else it's too late. October 3, 1991, October, Bill Clinton jumps in the race, wins, beats a sitting president.

SMERCONISH: But, you know, that timetable --

BURNETT: It's a fake deadline?

SMERCONISH: No, that timetable has been extended in the last several cycles beyond where it's been in the past. I think he needs to get in soon.

I have to say that in between all of my CNN appearances in my hotel room, all I keep seeing today is that 90 second commercial of the Draft Biden campaign. Not the one that he thought cross the line, but a more tame version of it, and it's compelling.

NAVARRO: But, also, look, there's a huge level of expectation and enthusiasm for Joe Biden. But expectation and enthusiasm can quickly turn into fatigue. So, you know, I think he's got a window of time. It's closing. He also has some filing deadlines that are coming up that you just can't ignore.

JONES: Looks like he's just waiting to see if Hillary blows up in the October hearing. Then I think the bloom comes off the rose.

[19:35:00] I think it's fine for him, take a step back, look, if Hillary Clinton mops the floor with everybody, I don't need to get in. If she stumbles badly, he can jump in.

But he's got another week or two of this and then it starts to be disrespectful. It starts to be disrespectful.

NAVARRO: This decision is not about Hillary Clinton. This decision is about Joe Biden.

(CROSSTALK)

PFEIFFER: I think Joe Biden is thinking a personal decision, a political decision, but the political realities are coming to bear here. Every day Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders are recruiting more organizers, more volunteers in the states, they're raising more money. And so, like October 1 was late, November 1 is even later. And he can still get in and still make a very strong race, but I think the window is closing quickly.

NAVARRO: Joe, if you still want to do it, we know people. We can talk about it.

BURNETT: So, here we are in Vegas, you walk by the sports betting areas. So, go ahead. Do all of you think that Hillary Clinton has the best shot? Is there some way that somebody could come out of this the winner? Of winning tonight?

SMERCONISH: I think she's the prohibitive favorite for the nomination. I still think it's even money in terms of the general election. Do I give her an edge this evening? I give her an edge this evening.

She's comfortable in this forum. I mean, by this stage in 2008, 13 debates had already taken place. So, she's got the notches in her belt.

PFEIFFER: Look, she may not win on points tonight, like maybe Martin O'Malley will have a more exciting performance or something. But at the end of the day, what matters is she goes into this the largest front-runner in the history -- not incumbent frontrunner, of the Democratic Party, and if she comes out of that same spot, she won this debate, regardless of what the judges give the scores.

(CROSSTALK)

NAVARRO: -- highest expectations, because everybody knows she's a seasoned debater who's done well.

BURNETT: The only thing is if you're in her position and you're thinking all of the things you are saying, right? You just don't want to come out a loser. You end up playing it safe. And playing it safe exhibits the exact Hillary Clinton that doesn't win over new voters, right? It's the sort of catch 22.

JONES: I think this time tomorrow we'll be talking about Martin O'Malley. I'm going to say that right now, because I think first of all, you can't have zero political skills and be a governor, be a mayor. He's at zero right now.

BURNETT: You know, I grew up in Maryland, he was a popular governor. People like him.

JONES: Very popular governor. He actually got things -- I think, listen, right now, he comes on, nobody has seen this guy before. I think he says, look, I'm an executive, I've done stuff.

He says to Hillary Clinton, look, how are you the front-runner? You follow me around on the issues and I think he comes up five or six points. I think some of the Biden enthusiasm might go toward him. I think that right now, we are all Sanders and we are all Hillary. I think O'Malley has the biggest opportunity tonight.

CABRERA: Well, Van, coming from Miami, Florida, I can tell you, you can be mayor and governor and have zero political experience.

SMERCONISH: I think Jim Webb is a wild card. I mean, here's a guy who was a marine combat veteran who was Ronald Reagan's secretary of the Navy, an acclaimed author, gets elected against George Allen and yet we don't know what to expect when he gets on that stage tonight. He's nuanced, he defies labels. You can't call him a liberal. He's population on economic matters. I don't know. I'm intrigued by what he may bring.

BURNETT: That maybe the exciting part. I think everyone is watching for that. To your point. You want to see the new faces.

SMERCONISH: Bring it on.

NAVARRO: I think the exciting part is Bernie Sanders. That guy has brought excitement to this campaign from day one.

BURNETT: There are people rallying outside. Got traffic, people feel the Bern as they say.

All right. Thanks so much to all of you.

And next, we are live here in Las Vegas tonight. It's less than an hour now until the candidates for president take that stage behind me in their first televised debate right here on CNN. Bernie Sanders drawing those huge crowds. Polls have been doing incredibly well.

Can a self-described socialist though win the White House? Sanders campaign manager is OUTFRONT next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:42:26] BURNETT: You're looking live at the debate stage inside the Wynn Hotel right here in Las Vegas. We are less than one hour away from the first Democratic debate. We are awaiting the arrival of Bernie Sanders, the main challenger right now to Hillary Clinton. He is expected at any moment. They go into those trailers. They each have one for the final preparations.

I joke it's because that way they want to make sure that no one can hear, put their ear against the wall. Anyway, but Bernie Sanders will arrive there any moment.

OUTFRONT now is Senator Sanders' campaign manager, Jeff Weaver.

Jeff, so obviously, Bernie Sanders is going to be arriving right there to those trailers any minute. Any last minute preparations he's doing? What is he doing in these final minutes?

JEFF WEAVER, BERNIE SANDERS CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Well, you know, I think he's been sort of relaxing this afternoon, just sort of gathering his thoughts. You know, probably working a little bit on his opening statement a little bit at the end.

BURNETT: Opening statement?

WEAVER: Yes, just a little bit. I mean, he worked on it over the last couple of days, and I'm sure he put a few final touches on it.

BURNETT: And he wrote it himself?

WEAVER: Oh, absolutely, 100 percent, absolutely.

BURNETT: So, you know, Bernie Sanders has been doing so well, there's all been these people here in Las Vegas, I saw nurses for Bernie, feel the Bern. I mean, he gets a lot of passion from people.

Bernie Sanders does not run away from being honest about who he is. One of the things he said he is, he's very honest about the word socialist. Let me just let our viewers hear him say in his own words.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

INTERVIEWER: Are you a capitalist?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, I'm a Democratic socialist. Democratic socialism is about is having a government which reflects the interest of ordinary people.

As a Democratic socialist whose view is similar to many governments throughout Europe, no, I do not believe that government should control everything, but I do believe that health care should be a right of all people. I do believe that college education should be affordable to all people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Democratic socialist. So, a Gallup poll recently said half of Americans would not vote for a socialist and to a lot of people whether you put a -- you know, an adjective of Democratic in front of it or not is almost irrelevant. Will he back off that word if he comes off tonight?

WEAVER: I think -- you know, you can talk about that poll, but I think if you look at what's going out in the world, people are really not concerned about the labels. But what they're concerned about is the substance of what people are talking about. But if you look at the most recent polls in Iowa and New Hampshire, Bernie Sanders does better against Republicans in general election match-ups than Hillary Clinton does. So, obviously, the Republicans are not bothered by the, quote/unquote, "Democratic socialist" label.

So, I mean, at the end of the day, people are concerned about his willingness to deal with income inequality, to deal with the high cost of college education, to deal with the need for universal health care than they are silly labels.

[19:45:00] BURNETT: So, he'll stand by that term if someone comes after him tonight, which they might. You never know, right?

WEAVER: You never know.

BURNETT: You never know what's going to happen.

And these passionate supporters and huge crowds. This has taken the country by storm.

WEAVER: Everybody by storm.

BURNETT: Right. People just -- that are his fans are passionate about it. A new poll today though came out. He was trailing Hillary Clinton by 20 points, it was a little bit of drop about a five point drop in his support. Would he consider running as an independent if he doesn't get the nomination, even on the able?

WEAVER: Absolutely not, 100 percent zero chance that he's going to run outside of the Democratic Party.

BURNETT: But why, he's not registered as a Democrat in the Senate.

WEAVER: Well, there's no --

BURNETT: He's an independent. I mean, he's an independent.

WEAVER: Right. But he's caucused with the Democrats for 25 years. He was the Democratic Veterans Committee chairman in the Senate. He is currently the Democratic ranking member of the Budget Committee.

So, he has worked within the Democratic Party structure in the Congress since he's gotten there. In terms of the poll, it's interesting you mentioned this poll that

came out. The difference between he and Secretary Clinton now is more narrow than the same margin of President Obama and Secretary Clinton back in 2007 on this same date. So --

BURNETT: When she was in the lead?

WEAVER: Yes, exactly. Yes. Another candidate who couldn't win.

BURNETT: All right. Well, thank you very much. Yeah. We shall see. It will be fascinating to watch tonight.

WEAVER: Thank you, yes.

BURNETT: I know you've got to have your butterflies in your belly right now.

WEAVER: Absolutely. Well, I'm not up there, but --

BURNETT: Yes, right. All right, thanks so much. I appreciate it.

WEAVER: Appreciate it.

And OUTFRONT next, the first Democratic presidential debate just moments away. The Republicans are going to be watching very closely tonight. Donald Trump live tweeting the debate. Could Trump steal the thunder?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:50:15] BURNETT: Tonight Democratic voters, everyone around the world actually is going to get their first look at all five people running for president on the Democratic side of the aisle. The big showdown is less than an hour away. And final preparations are under way. Republican front-runner, Donald Trump, says he's going to be watching, live tweeting his thoughts. This comes as a brand new poll shows Ben Carson within one point of Donald Trump, among Republican voters. Obviously, statistically, that's more than a tie.

OUTFRONT now, chief strategist and communications director for the Republican National Committee, Sean Spicer.

Here you are.

SEAN SPICER, RNC COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: It's exciting to be in a Democratic debate.

BURNETT: Is this like being some kind of a spy and you're on the other side, they don't notice?

SPICER: It is weird. It's interesting to finally be at a Democratic debate. We're getting ready for our third. This is their first. I think this week, you've seen the controversy erupt over how many debates the Democrats have had.

And so, this will be the first opportunity that America's had to see their candidates. We've been at this for a while.

BURNETT: Yes, that's right. You guys are getting ready for your third. How about that poll, Ben Carson? Is he going to be the one that finally top Donald Trump?

SPICER: Look, I've said it before. I think we've got a historic number of qualified candidates. I expect to see volatility in the races, as is historically the case.

So, who knows where we're going to end up? We're still about three months away from the first vote being cast, and we'll see where we end up.

BURNETT: So, Donald Trump is going to be live tweeting tonight. And Hillary Clinton has been -- she got here to Las Vegas. She went straight to the Trump Hotel. There's Bernie Sanders, by the way, everyone arriving at his trailer. Hillary Clinton will be there any moment.

She went straight to the Trump Hotel. She made a comment about Donald Trump. Donald Trump made a comment about Hillary. She tweeted back saying the debate is going to be huge. She's enjoying this.

What do you think about Donald Trump live tweet this? It's going to bring a lot of attention.

SPICER: Sure. I think it's great. I will be live tweeting this. We have a huge war room set up at the RNC. We're going to be doing fact checking, going after her and the other candidates. I'm glad Donald Trump is doing it. And I expect the other candidates will be doing it as well.

But the more attention we bring to her record, to her untrustworthiness, to her flip-flops, the better.

BURNETT: So, let me ask you about the fundraising. Marco Rubio was here in Las Vegas last week and, in fact, everyone has been else. I'm not exaggerating. He met with casino owner Sheldon Adelson. He was one of the largest donors obviously in the nation, for the Republican Party. There's a new report that Adelson and other major donors are about to jump behind Rubio, that they're ready.

Do you think that this is an attempt to push Donald Trump out of the race and does it surprise you that Jeb Bush seems to have fallen so far so fast?

SPICER: Well, look, I think you're going to see a lot of big players start to make up their mind as we get closer to Iowa and New Hampshire. And so, the rumors that Mr. Adelson and others are finally picking a horse isn't necessarily against anyone. It's for somebody else.

And I think that's part of the process. There are times when people start to line up behind the person that they think is going to do the best job.

BURNETT: Are you surprised? Six months ago, you got to admit, would you assume it would have been Jeb Bush.

SPICER: Look, I think six months ago, people were talking about Scott Walker, Chris Christie. No one thought Donald Trump would get in. I think the volatility on our side and the intensity has brought record number of people watching our debates, a ton of interest in it.

I think it's great for our party and the candidates. Each one of them gets exposure, they get name ID, they'd never get otherwise. Tonight, I really think it's going to be a tough night for Hillary, because you've seen the memo pointed out that was broken earlier today, this untrustworthiness is going to be forefront.

BURNETT: All right. Sean, thank you very much and good to see you.

SPICER: Thank you.

BURNETT: And now, our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.

Obviously, there's pressure on everyone tonight.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.

BURNETT: For all of them.

Who do you think is going to stand out? I didn't say when. I said stand out.

BORGER: Well, first of all, there are the wildcards. So anything could happen with those folks, with Webb or Chafee. I mean, they could stand out just by being outrageous and getting noticed, right?

BURNETT: Right.

BORGER: I think Bernie Sanders is the one here who really has to stand out, though. Because Bernie Sanders is doing very well, but he has to prove that he's a president. That he's electable. That somebody who calls himself a Democratic socialist can actually win an election and appeal to a broader base of people.

Democrats will be watching this debate, but independents will also be watching this debate. But I think Bernie Sanders has to stand out.

BURNETT: He has to stand out. But Hillary Clinton has to stand out as authentic. Sean is referencing the poll that we've brought up, a poll of all voters, Republicans and Democrats, liar, untrustworthy, dishonest. It's happened three weeks. We have the memo here from 2008. The Obama campaign, they said those very things about her.

BORGER: Sure.

BURNETT: That was her own side of the aisle.

BORGER: Right.

BURNETT: Saying that she was "shifting, dodging and changing positions" to satisfy the politics of the moment. [19:55:01] How does she change that?

BORGER: Well, it's very difficult. First of all, when you've been in politics for 30 years, you have to convince people to be excited about you. If it's your -- a new thing. She's not a new thing.

The advantage that Hillary Clinton has in a Democratic primary is if you look at the polling, 68 percent of Democrats actual little do think she's trustworthy. They don't think the e-mail issue is a big issue. When she gets into a general election, if she's the nominee, then Sean is right. Then that will become a big issue and continue to be a big issue.

I don't expect it to be a big issue on stage tonight because why would these fellows attack her on her trustworthiness when Democrats like her, right? They want to get her vote.

BURNETT: Wrong audience.

BORGER: It's the wrong audience to do that.

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

BORGER: Sure.

BURNETT: And we will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: And the room is filling up here. In just a few minutes, we're counting down to the debate.

Anderson Cooper, of course, is going to be your moderator for that debate. Thank you so much for watching OUTFRONT.

"AC360" with Anderson begins right now.