Return to Transcripts main page


Coverage of the Iowa Caucuses; Awaiting First Voters of Election 2016; Caucus Sites Seeing Unusually High Voter Registrations. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired February 1, 2016 - 19:00   ET


[19:00:11] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: This is the moment when the presidential race begins in earnest.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: It is the first contest in 2016. And tonight Iowa really matters.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the heartland right now, one state has the power to shake up two parties and make or break the frontrunners.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The stakes are so high for Iowa and America.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Now, if I lose Iowa, I will never speak to you people again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: After months of campaigning, this is the first presidential contest that counts. It's Iowa's choice. Tonight in the fight for the Republican nomination.

TRUMP: We're going to win.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A critical test for Donald Trump in a showdown with Ted Cruz.

TRUMP: Guys like Ted Cruz will never make a deal. Because he's just striking -- no, you cannot have that.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think the people of Iowa deserve more than politicians insulting each other with schoolyard taunts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two GOP revels in a battle with conservative votes.

CRUZ: We need to take power out of Washington.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will Iowa strengthen Trump or dent his dominance and give other Republican candidates hope?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can't just nominate any Republican, our nominee has to be someone that can unite this party.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the democratic race tonight --

HILLARY: Let's go win for America.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A critical test for Hillary Clinton in a faceoff with Bernie Sanders.

BERNIE SANDERS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Together, we can transform America.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two Washington veterans in a battle about progress versus political revolution.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If that's the kind of revolution he's talking about, I'm worried, folks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who will prevail in a state that dashed Clinton's presidential hopes before?

SANDERS: Guess what. That inevitable candidate ain't so inevitable today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now it's time for voters to finally have their say.

CLINTON: You get the first chance to decide who should be the next president of the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In one of the most unpredictable campaigns of our time.

TRUMP: This is a strange election, isn't it? Man!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Iowa is choosing. The world is watching. And this night will change the course of the 2016 campaign.


BLITZER: Right now, Iowans are gathering across the street for the lead-off contest in a presidential race that's breaking all the rules. We want to welcome our viewers from the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in the CNN election center. Eleven Republicans and three Democrats in two very dramatic battles tonight to score the first wins of the 2016 campaign. We're less than an hour away from the start of the caucuses and the first clues about the outcome from our entrance polls. Democrats are bracing for a nail biter. Hillary Clinton is locked in a very tight race with Bernie Sanders.

She's fighting to hold off his unexpectedly strong, some would say improbable, presidential bid. Perhaps even more improbable the Donald Trump phenomenon. Tonight, Trump is trying to beat back his strongest challenger Ted Cruz and live up to his promise of being a winner. We're also watching very closely Marco Rubio and whether he can pull off a strong third place showing and be a real threat as the race moves beyond Iowa. Let's go right to Iowa right now.

Jake Tapper and Dana Bash, they're both in Des Moines for us with more. Jake?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that's right. And as we know, this is a night where anything could happen in an election where anything could happen. You mentioned the improbable candidacies and strength of both Bernie Sanders on the democratic side and Donald Trump on the Republican side. We've seen huge crowds here for them, Dana. And as we said, the pundits have been confounded. Nobody knows what's going to happen. And tonight the voters finally get their say.

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And even at this late hour, it is all about getting their supporters to the caucus sites. I'm getting texts and emails from all the campaign boasting about how many voters that they've touched. For example, the Hillary Clinton campaign says that they knocked on 188,000 doors just in the last three days. So, that gives you a sense of how critical it is to get everybody to the caucuses.

TAPPER: Correspondents are located at key spots across Iowa at the sites of actual caucuses and at the campaign headquarters with the leading candidates.

Let's go to CNN's Sara Murray. She's in West Des Moines at the headquarters of the Republican frontrunner Donald Trump. And Sara, one of the big mysteries of the Iowa campaign has been to Trump round game. They have been reluctant to talk about how they're getting their voters to the polls. What are you learning?

SARA MURRAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's absolutely right, Jake. And one of the things that's sort of haunting the Trump campaign tonight is this question of whether it might be all too good to be true. Now Trump adviser tell me, of course, they are pleased to see themselves leading the polls here. They look at that things like that latest "Des Moines Register" poll. The (INAUDIBLE) and polling. It has Donald Trump's up by five points.

And they feel like that, it seems like an awfully healthy margin from a news organizer that frankly Donald Trump does not trust and has feuded with in the past. So, they are trying to send this ground game into overdrive. As you guys know, they do not like to talk about their ground game. They're very secretive about it. But we are hearing that they were making calls, volunteers are making calls for eight hours yesterday. And advisers have been working with those volunteers to have them practice their speeches for the caucuses tonight to make sure that they have people ready to speak on Donald Trump's behalf and that they have the campaign talking points. But even though it might be happening behind the scenes, this is a ground game that they say that's kicking into overdrive -- Jake, Dana.

[19:05:52] TAPPER: All right, Sara. We've seen these huge crowds. And now the big challenge, of course, can Donald Trump turn these crowds into actual caucus attendees. Now, one of the other things you and I were talking about, Dana, has to do with polling. BASH: Yes. And it's not about where the numbers are. It's where

they're headed. And somebody who has been surging in Iowa this last week or so has been Marco Rubio.

Let's go to Manu Raju, he's at Rubio's campaign headquarters. Manu, what are they telling you at Rubio campaign headquarters about the Rubio surge?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Rubio campaign really expects a strong third place finish here tonight, guys. That's even higher than the Des Moines Register poll which had him at about 15 percent. And one of the key differences that I'm hearing about is that Donald Trump supporters, they've -- about Donald Trump supporters which has not really been the case for the Rubio campaign so far. They've been going after Ted Cruz and Ted Cruz supporters. But one of the things that a senior campaign official told me was that through the hundreds of phone calls, thousands of phone calls that volunteers have made, they have learned that a number of possible Donald Trump supporters were actually upset at the Republican frontrunner for not attending last week's debate. They believe that actually could change a little bit of the dynamics. They still expect to end in third place. But maybe with some more support from Donald Trump backers and potentially a closer first and second place race, so we'll see if that trend continues here tonight -- Jake.

TAPPER: Thanks, Manu. And Dana, as you know, the cliche here in Iowa is that there are three tickets out of Iowa for first, second, and third place. That third place if it goes to Marco Rubio is a strong showing, he could really have a claim at that establishment lame in the race.

BASH: That's right. It's what George H.W. Bush is to call the big mo coming out of Iowa giving momentum. But the fact that Manu was just reporting that the Rubio campaign feels that they are potentially picking up some Trump supporters, potentially, is interesting given the fact just anecdotally, I know, you've been spending a lot of time at campaigns event here I have as well. I heard a lot of well, I'm not really sure if it's going to be Trump or Rubio. That actually is a dynamic just anecdotally but I've heard just as well.

TAPPER: Yes. It's interesting and obviously, Cruz losing voters to Rubio in the last week which is why we've seen the Cruz campaign turning its attention in attacking Rubio not just in speeches, but also in television ads. Let's go back to the election center and Anderson Cooper -- Anderson.

COOPER: Jake, Dana, thanks very much. I want to talk to our panel here. Gloria Borger, David Axelrod, Nia-Malika Henderson, Michael Smerconish. It's anything but a first place finish for Ted Cruz in Iowa, is that devastating?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I do think it's devastating. I think his path to the nomination has always been right through Iowa. And he's never going to get any more evangelical support than he has right there in the state of Iowa. I think his campaign has raised expectations -- COOPER: Was that a mistake? Should he have tried to manage


BORGER: I think he's supposed to place, he was going to win. If he could win, this was a place he was going to win. And I think if he's a close second to Donald Trump, maybe. But if Marco Rubio, if this Rubio surge is real, turns out to be true, and there's kind of a close second and third, I think that's devastating for Ted Cruz.

COOPER: David, you do have Donald Trump trying to sort of lower expectations so much as in the last couple of days which is kind of unlike Donald Trump, but a lot of people didn't think he would kind of double down in Iowa as he has. He could have very easily, you know, been lowering expectations all along and just focusing on New Hampshire.

I think the expectations were pretty low for Donald Trump in Iowa. And then he saw the possibility -- the divided field really favors him. Ted Cruz is beating him by 18 points if they're going one on one in Iowa. But with a divided field and particularly all these folks aiming for the evangelical vote that Cruz is counting on, Trump has taken over the lead. And I agree with Gloria, Ted Cruz had a plan and that plan was to win Iowa, to survive New Hampshire with some style, and then overtake everyone in South Carolina. This really disrupts that plan if he doesn't win tonight.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes. I think that's right. And it would not only echo in South Carolina but throughout the SCC primary, throughout all those southern states, the Bible belt. I think it will be devastating for Ted Cruz's campaign if he doesn't win that. I think the expectations game has probably been played best by Marco Rubio. This idea that a third place win would actually be a win or a third place finish. So, I think and they've sort of pull of all the emphasis to Rubio's campaign on Ted Cruz saying, oh, they're the ones that really have to win. So, I think they've played it really great. And fascinating, amazing, that Donald trump could win Iowa and maybe even come in second. Early on, I mean, this is Two Corinthians. This is cracker.

[19:10:44] COOPER: What do you think about, I mean, on both sides of the aisle, this is a fascinating night.


COOPER: But, you know, who would have thought six months ago, we would be talking about Donald Trump potentially winning in Iowa and Sanders potentially winning in Iowa as well, although right now it seems like, you know, Des Moines Register poll puts Hillary Clinton somewhat in the lead, but still that is a very close race.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: It's a hugely significant night because it's the first domino that will fall on both sides of the aisle. We've talked thus far about the Republicans, but when you think about the Democrats, Hillary Clinton faces yet another improbable competitor.

COOPER: Right.

SMERCONISH: And if she should lose tonight to Bernie Sanders, I think there will be many who will say, these are shades of 2008. And maybe the inevitable is not inevitable in this cycle. So, there's a great deal of stake for both frontrunners.

COOPER: And yet, if Hillary Clinton, David, does win, does that help her significantly in New Hampshire where Bernie Sanders has been in the lead?

AXELROD: Well, I think it will help reduce his lead in New Hampshire. I'm not sure that she would win New Hampshire. But I think as a practical matter, Bernie Sanders needs a couple of wins here to change the fundamental assumption that Hillary Clinton is going to be the nominee. If he wins if New Hampshire to some degree, it will be discounted as a regional victory for him.


AXELROD: But if he wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, I think there's going to be -- I still think she becomes the nominee, but I think there's going to be a lot of nervousness among her supporters.

BORGER: You know, usually we say Iowa doesn't count. You know, we look at Huckabee, we look at Santorum, they won also what. Tonight matters in this presidential race in a way that we haven't seen in a while because if Hillary Clinton doesn't win, Bernie Sanders becomes a viable alternative. He could go on to win New Hampshire and then suddenly there he is.

COOPER: We've got a lot more ahead, a lot more with our panelists in the hours ahead. It's going to be a very long night, and a fascinating night. We're standing by to hear from some of the top candidates. Let's go back to Wolf.

BLITZER: It's very exciting, Anderson. And we're also getting our first information about turnout at these Iowa caucuses. That's a critical element. Once again, we're going to be standing by to hear from some of these top candidates, maybe even Donald Trump. They're making last-minute pitches to voters at caucus sites. We're standing by for that. We're also going to show you how the Republican and democratic leaders measure up poll for poll, dollar for dollar, ad for ad. Lots more coming up. We're only just beginning.


[19:16:52] BLITZER: We've got some breaking news. We're getting some initial reports of unusually high turnout. Registration at Republican caucuses in Iowa, potentially that's good news we're told for Donald Trump, but we're also getting some other important news on the democratic side. I want to go right back to Jake Tapper and Dana Bash. Jake, what are we learning?

TAPPER: All right, Wolf. We're here in campaign headquarters. The election headquarters in Des Moines, Iowa. And Dana we've been talking about the Republican race, let's turn to the democratic race. This is obviously a big, big race for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who eight years ago felt very good going into this night and ended up with a third place finish.

BASH: That's right. It was the beginning of the end for her here in Iowa, they've sort of realized that retrospectively at the end when she lost the nomination to Barack Obama. But I'm sure, you've seen this on the ground here as I have. It just -- it feels different. They've addressed this state in a completely different way when it comes to organization, when it comes to actually energy and the energy of course only comes from the candidate. She is a different kind of candidate certainly in the last few weeks.

TAPPER: And certainly eight years ago, there was this inevitability about her.

BASH: Uh-hm.

TAPPER: And she's been really really focused on trying to make sure that people don't think that she thinks she's inevitable. And this race against Senator Bernie Sanders has been a real challenge for her --

BASH: Uh-hm.

TAPPER: -- so I wouldn't call her the underdog, but certainly she's been fighting.

BASH: Yep. And you know, if she does ultimately become the nominee, and a lot of people early on were saying that, you know, it's not a good thing to not have a fight because it sort of gets her muscles ready for the general election --


It does. But I have to say, I've been seeing Bernie Sanders out on the stump here, you have the energy for him is also quite something, especially among young people.

TAPPER: Yes. Let's hit the voters. I mean, let's hit the campaign correspondents who are with the voters and the supporters of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

Let's go first to Brianna Keilar who is in Des Moines at Clinton campaign headquarters. And Brianna, how are the officials there feeling? Are they jittery? Are they confident? Obviously, they've been through this before and they don't want the same results that they had back in 2008.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's exactly right, Jake. And they're nervous, but it's not because of any indicators that should tell them that they're nervous. They actually feel confident looking at the trajectory of the polls. They're confident in their ground game. They think their messaging is good. They think that their candidate has done everything she can do. But they remember 2008 and that heartbreak of that third place finish here so well that it just creates this kind of anxiety that I don't think will dissipate until the results are actually in. The candidate Secretary Hillary Clinton is in her hotel room for the night as she awaits the results. She's in really good spirits. I actually bumped into her at her hotel in Des Moines a short time ago and she was all smiles. Actually wearing a parka and sunglasses. I've learned that she had come in just from a walk around Grace Lake with her husband, the former president. And they had gone walking around the lake trying to relax, trying to clear their heads ahead of a very big night here -- Jake and Dana.

TAPPER: All right, Brianna, we'll come back to you I'm sure many times throughout the night. And Dana, it really is remarkable. Not only is she a different candidate in terms of her approach to campaigning, but also she has taken a lot of the key advisers that Barack Obama had eight years ago --

BASH: She has.

TAPPER: -- and hired them and made sure that they do for her what they did for Barack Obama.

BASH: That's right. We were talking today both of us to her pollster who was on your show earlier talking up to him. And I was actually thinking just that. That, you know, what a brilliant way to try to win, to try to, you know, actually recreate the magic and also the mathematics from the Obama campaign.

TAPPER: Right now, if you're looking at the TV, you'll see that there are some caucus sites -- you're seeing Iowa voters going to the caucuses, registering, getting ready to make their cases. If it is a democratic caucus, you get into little groups and you make your case for the candidacies. The Republican caucus, it's a secret ballot.

Let's go to Bernie Sanders headquarters HQ here in Des Moines where Jeff Zeleny is. And Jeff, no matter what happens this evening, the Sanders people know that they have really pulled off something incredible here given that he was 50, 60 points behind her not long ago and now it's a dead heat.

[19:21:20] JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Jake, no question about that. I mean, Bernie Sanders will leave the state of Iowa tonight for New Hampshire in a vastly different position than he came in. He's been very popular among the liberal grassroots for years. But he has expanded that popularity. I've traveled with him throughout the state of Iowa here. And he is getting supporters who are very young but also some older supporters. But one thing that is going on tonight at this hour in Iowa, all those big rallies that he's been holding across the country for months and months and months, they're putting a lot of those people to work through an app. A specific app that was designed for the Sanders campaign.

It's a personalized text messaging app. And supporters in California all day long have been texting with supporters in Iowa. I talked to one voter in Fort Dodge, Iowa who said she had been called, e-mailed, she been received a phone call and a text message as well. So, that's what this campaign is trying to do. And it's a test of something we have not seen before. We've talked about how many volunteers for the Clinton campaign were knocking on doors. The sanders campaign are not doing some of that. But they are not doing a brick and mortar operation of this. They are doing a virtual operation of this.

So, it is the first social media test in today's age if you can organize for the Iowa caucuses. There are 1600 and 81 precincts across the state here. We talk a lot about those university towns, the University of Iowa in Iowa, City. Ames and Iowa State. Look at those smaller Iowa towns as well tonight. Watch Grinnell College, Luther College in Decorah. That's where Senator Sanders believes he will defeat Hillary Clinton, if he's able to, tonight -- Jake.

TAPPER: Jeff Zeleny whose roots with the Des Moines Register were apparent in that quick hit. Wolf Blitzer, back to you in Washington.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Thanks very much. We're following the breaking news. The initial indications we're getting from some Republican caucus sites, a much larger turnout than originally expected potentially voting. Good news for Donald Trump.

I want to go to Jim Sciutto, he's in Greenfield, Iowa right now. The Republican caucus site. Jim, what are you seeing?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're speaking to the precinct chair here. They are expecting record turnout here tonight in Greenfield. They're actually prepared even for record-shattering turnout. We'll be looking for that. But this in particular is interesting. About one in five -- this is a rough count, only in this precinct of the voters coming in are first-time voters. That's a combination of young people, never voted before, but also older people who voted before, but not in a GOP caucus like this one.

So, both of those early indicators they might -- that that precinct chair might be right. And I will tell you one thing, the precinct here, it is rural, it is agricultural, but they have correctly predicted the winner of the Iowa caucuses going back to 1996. That said, the precinct chair told me earlier today, this year, unpredictable. He doesn't know how it's going to go -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We'll stay in close touch with you. Jim Sciutto, thanks very much. Let's go to Ankeny, Iowa right now. Brian Todd is at another Republican caucus site. Brian, what are you seeing?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a very exciting scene here in Ankeny, Iowa. This is a fiscally conservative district, but four years ago they had 222 people show up to vote. It looks now Wolf that this is easily going to top that. Check out this line here. These are first-time voters and people changing party affiliations. We're going to show you this because the line just in the last minute or so has really started to get longer, out this door. Come on out here. Look at this. They're braving the cold weather, the possible snow later, to line up here outside this door. So, it's gotten longer and longer just maybe in the last minute and a half.

Again, we want to show you this line over here. This is the critical line. People changing party affiliations and people voting for the first time. Some of them told me that they're doing this to vote for Donald trump. But some of them also Wolf told me that they're doing this to vote against Donald Trump. So, we're going to see how this plays out when the ballot is counted. We'll of course going to bring that to you live when it is being counted. That's what makes it so much fun, Wolf, you're seeing this in real time. The voter dynamic here in Ankeny, Iowa with these lines. It's very dynamic now.

WOLF: It certainly is. Potentially once again good news for Donald Trump. And we shall see. I want to take a look at the democratic side. Democratic caucus site in Des Moines. Pamela Brown is there. Pamela, what are you seeing where you are?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, already some first-time caucus goers are arriving here at this caucus site. And Des Moines and all of them so far say they are feeling the burn. They are here to support Bernie Sanders. Also, several uncommitted people so far, they said they voted for Barack Obama eight years ago. This year they're not really sure. And so, already we're seeing the different people from campaigns give them swag, try to lure them over to their side. And there are also several people who are split who voted for Barack Obama eight years ago. This caucus site in particular went in favor of Barack Obama, but this year it is about half and half.

[19:26:18] Some of them are saying now they want to go favor Hillary Clinton. They feel like they want a continuation of Barack Obama's legacy. Now, others are saying, they don't like the status quo. They want something different. They feel like Bernie Sanders can bring up a little corroboration. What is clear here is that people here are ready to battle it out for those uncommitted voters and those in the groups that don't meet the minimum threshold. And they have various strategies. I spoke to one voter who said he is bringing a bag of snickers to try to lure in voters to her group. One other voters I spoke to said, he treats this like the final two minutes of a football game when it's a closed game. He said, you just do whatever you can to win. It's clear there's going to be a lot of action at this caucus site tonight.

BLITZER: There's going to be a lot of energy as well. Pamela, standby. Tom Foreman is at another democratic caucus site. The rules for the Democrats Tom are different than the rules for the Republicans. Explain the difference.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf. This is precinct 7. And as you can see, they're expecting 250 to 300 Democrats here to come and caucus. I think with a half an hour to go they're already hitting 200, maybe 250 with the line out the door. How they're going to decide among their candidates here is by actually gathering in areas that represent the candidate. For example, the Hillary Clinton group is over in this area. You can see it growing already. The Martin O'Malley section will be right in here. The Bernie Sanders section is over here. Once everyone is in place, our CNN counters will show you immediately how many people, what percentage, is in each area. Then comes a time when they can realign themselves.

So if somebody from the Hillary Clinton camp wanted to come across and go over this way, they could and join this group and the number would change accordingly. Likewise, this number would go down if somebody from the Sanders camp decided to go over here to the Clinton side. Through all of this Wolf, when everyone is trying to do is get any of the undecided voters who are back there to join in. And they're trying to make sure that if anybody doesn't get over 15 percent, for example, if the latest Des Moines Register numbers were correct and Martin O'Malley's group did not get over 15 percent, these voters would have to decide what they were going to do. Were they going to go home or branch off to the other groups over here?

Once that's all done, they're going through this a couple of times this evening, then Wolf, you will have the completion of the caucus. Everyone will be standing with the candidate's name that they want to back. Those percentages will be clear. They'll be mixed in with state percentages from all the other precincts, all over the state and we will know who exactly has been chosen in the first real vote of this presidential race for the Democrats -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Tom Foreman now standby. I want to show our viewers what's going on. Look at these various caucus sites at Greenfield, Iowa, Ankeny, Iowa, Coralville, Iowa, Des Moines, Iowa. A lot of people are showing up. Potentially good news for Donald Trump. Maybe good news for Bernie Sanders as well. They're showing up early. The doors are supposed to close at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, 7:00 p.m. Central. Anderson, looks potentially like a big night. The weather is holding up. A good night for people to go out and caucus.

COOPER: That's very true. There was concerns about a big storm. But it doesn't seem like that's going to be taking place. We're going to be herding people actually getting out to two caucus sites.

Gloria, David, I mean, when you look at a lot of people turning out, obviously the devil is in the details. Depends on who they are, are they new caucus goers?

BORGER: Right.

AXELROD: What age are they?

COOPER: But what do you make of these numbers?

AXELROD: I think you have to be careful Anderson in evaluating these kinds of reports. Because people, there maybe a lot of people coming out, but what matters is how is it relative to past caucuses?

[19:30:02] There are some precincts that will be very large turnouts in any given caucus, but are they exceeding the number of people who have appeared in past caucuses? So, I'd be very leery about extrapolating too much --

COOPER: We'll know more once we start getting some entrance polls, which we should be getting once the doors actually closed.

BORGER: And we know that each campaign has a model that they're working off of. Like Ted Cruz's campaign just wants a regular caucus. They don't want a lot more caucus-goers because they know that that would mean Donald Trump's passion and his fan base has translated into votes.

COOPER: And a lot of these people who have never gone to caucuses before are actually turning now.

BORGER: Exactly. And the flip side of that coin is Bernie Sanders who also wants a huge turnout because that would mean that his younger voters have come out to support him. And we know that from Jeff Zeleny's reporting that they believe 170,000 caucus-goers would be their sweet spot and they would be able then to overtake Hillary Clinton.

COOPER: But it's confusing. I mean, on the Democratic side, Bill Press was saying in the last hour, that for Bernie Sanders' young supporters, if they're going out in the town where they're going to college, that doesn't necessarily translate.

AXELROD: That's the problem. When Barack Obama was running in the caucuses, colleges were out. The caucuses were early. The kids were home. And they caucused in their hometowns.

COOPER: And why is that better for the candidate?

AXELROD: It's better because the way the delegates are distributed is across the state. So you can have 1,000 people at a caucus in a college town, but you're still going to get the same number of delegates, whereas you can get beaten in some of these rural areas where the kids aren't home.

COOPER: I do think school is out tomorrow in a lot of college in a lot of places because of weather concerns or at least initial reports were that they were going to be. So, that might help in terms of encouraging young people to go back to their home districts. We'll see.

A lot ahead. We're going to be following every minute, every hour, of this late into the night, early into the morning.

Coming up, we're getting more new information about turnout and how much it maybe helping Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders. Plus, we're standing by to hear from top candidates at visiting caucus sites. All that and the first results still ahead.


[19:35:54] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're following the breaking news right now. Looks like the crowds are gathering in full force at Democratic and Republican caucus sites throughout Iowa right now. Potentially, potentially if this holds up, good news for Donald Trump, for Bernie Sanders as well. They really wanted major turnout to develop.

I want to go to one of those caucus sites right now.

Jim Sciutto is at a Republican caucus site in Greenfield, Iowa.

It looks like you got a nice crowd behind you. What does it seem like inside and outside, Jim?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Let me set the scene for you right now, Wolf. We are -- this is inside the gym here -- small town, Greenfield, Iowa. There are about 250 people here so far. Doors have only been open about a half an hour. That's already edging up near their all-time record of just about 330 voters.

But this is the most important thing. We just asked for a show of hands of this crowd of 250 people. Fifty-seven of them raised their hands as first-time participants in the GOP caucus.

Now, to be clear, some of those are new voters, never voted before. Others are voters who have never taken part in a GOP part caucus. They could be Democrats coming from the other side, or people who are not registered as Republicans.

But that more than one in five, Wolf, here tonight are folks who have not voted before, not taken part before in a GOP caucus.

BLITZER: All right. Jim, stand by.

I want to go to Brian Todd. He's at another Republican caucus site. He's in Ankeny, Iowa, right now.

Brian, what are you seeing there?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPODENT: Wolf, an incredible turnout. They're easily going to top 2012. I can predict that right now.

This line going out the door. These are the first-time voters and also the voters who are changing their party affiliation. And look at them. They keep coming and coming.

This gentleman here, who is a volunteer, just allowed me to count the number of new voter registrations. I just went through this, and we've got more than 50 already.

I'm going to hand this back to this gentleman here. He was gracious enough to let me count them.

Here you go, sir. Thank you very much.

Also we're told, Wolf, just now that they've had to bring in some new ballots because they're starting to run out of them.

This is a Republican caucus site in Ankeny. It's one of the fastest growing towns in Iowa. They had 222 people show up to vote last time.

Look at this, this is going out the door. There are already probably more than 150 people in the sanctuary. And we're going to be bringing you in the ballot in real time.

We just talked to some of these people. Some of them are changing affiliations in order to vote for Donald Trump. Some of them are changing affiliations in order to vote against him.

I'm going to ask my photojournalist to come with me. We're going to try to get some slack and come out the door.

Sorry, folks. We're just trying to move through the crowd. We apologize.

Look how dynamic this crowd is, Wolf. They're all the way out the door here. Come on over here. Again, we are in just one Republican district.

Again, Ankeny is one of the faster growing districts in the state. This is considered a business conservative district, fiscal conservatives. Not a big evangelical presence here. So, it's going to be see how many votes Ted Cruz can pull in this precinct.

John, they want us to come this way. We're going to walk outside. Hold on one second. Opening the door.

Hi, guys. How are you?

OK. The line is going out to the parking lot there, Wolf. And people just keep filing in. They're predicting snow tonight later on, possibly freezing rain.

It doesn't matter to these folks. They want to come in here and participate in this caucus. We're showing you it in real time. We're having a great time here. t looks like these people are, too.

BLITZER: All right, Brian. I'm going to get back to you. Very enthusiastic Republican turnout over there in Ankeny, Iowa. Record numbers potentially.

Once again, that could be very good news for Donald Trump. New Republican voters registering as well. So, the Republican side looks like it is a big turnout. I want to check in with Tom Foreman.

He's at a Democratic caucus right now in Coralville, Iowa.

What does it look like over there right now, Tom?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it is packed and getting more packed by the moment here.

Take a look. This is out on the floor there where you largely see right now the supporters of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders facing off with each other. But look at this line here.

As you move down the line toward people, if I can ask people here, can you raise your hand for a moment if you're a first-time caucus-goer?

[19:40:04] You'll see the hands. First time caucus-goers, get them way up high where we can see them.

We've got a couple here. There were more up ahead.

I talked to the precinct captain a short time ago, Wolf. And the precinct captain, I said how many first-timers are you seeing? She shook her head, shuffled through this huge pile of papers and she said, an awful, awful lot. And watch the line here, just as I'm sure Brian was showing you a minute ago.

This line didn't exist at all about 30 minutes ago. And now, look, here it goes down the hall. All those people inside already. They thought they would get 250 to 300. I think they're easily going over that already. And we still have 20 minutes until time.

You can come all the way down here. It goes all the way outside and heading all the way out into the parking lot out here, Wolf.

So, a tremendous number of people out here. Look at the line outside.

And if I can ask you again, how many of you are first-time caucusgoers? Look at the hands, Wolf. Keep them way so we can see for a moment. All these first time caucusgoers here.

So, Wolf, this really is going to be an unusual night here for precinct seven. And they are already easily hitting the numbers they expected and going over them with no sign of it stopping yet.

BLITZER: Yes, big turnout on the Republican side. Now, we see at least where you are a big turnout on the Democratic side as well -- potentially, potentially very significant. They're supposed to close those doors in about 19 minutes or so. I don't know if they're going to be able to with all those people waiting in line where Tom Foreman is.

I want to check in with Pamela Brown. She's at a Democratic caucus site as well.

Pamela, you're in Des Moines. What does it look like there?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is already starting to be a packed house. People are filling in. We still have around 19 minutes to go before the doors close. The precinct captain said, I've never seen so many young voters here and first-time caucusgoers.

Already, there's a little more than a hundred people here. I'm right over here, these are the first time caucusgoers who are registering here and many of them we've spoken with are all Bernie fans.

We spoke to one 17-year-old who will be 18 come November. He said, I'm here to vote for Bernie because I feel like he really cares about my education. That is unique to this precinct. Here on the right side, these are all the people filling up the pews for Hillary Clinton here on the right side. On the left side, here you have people in clusters for Bernie Sanders.

And also, we spoke to many people who are still undecided. They said in these final days they've been talking a lot about it. They haven't made up their minds. And so, the different campaigns have been talking to those uncommitted voters trying to pull them over to their side.

Everyone I've spoken to said it's a competitive night. We see the polls. We see how it's neck and neck between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton and we're willing to do whatever it takes to bring those uncommitted voters to our side of the house.

BLITZER: Big numbers presumably at least in these caucus sites that we're seeing. Potentially very, very good news, very encouraging words potentially for both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. They want big turnouts. First time ever, the first people registering, they want that tonight in order to score a victory.

Let's go back to Jake and Dana in Des Moines -- Jake.


Well, CNN has learned some news about the man who at least according to polls is in fourth place here in Iowa.

Now, Dana, a week from tomorrow, we're all going to be doing this again for the New Hampshire primary. Almost every single candidate is going to be going directly from here to New Hampshire to campaign except for the man in fourth place, Dr. Ben Carson.

What have we learned?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. We should say that our Chris Moody is breaking this news, that Ben Carson is going to go back to Florida to his home regardless of how he does tonight here in Iowa. He's going to go there for several days.

And then afterwards, he's not going to go to South Carolina. He's not going to go to New Hampshire. He's going to come to Washington, D.C., and he's going to do that because the national prayer breakfast is on Thursday.

And people who have been following Ben Carson's career know that that's really where he got himself on the political map, attending that prayer breakfast and really giving it to President Obama at the time. He became a hero among conservatives, among evangelicals especially.

TAPPER: That's very unusual --

BASH: Very unusual.

TAPPER: -- to be announcing you're going to go home to rest for a few days, not going on to the next site. Plus, he's already announced that he's going to be coming out and speaking at 9:15 local and 10:15 Eastern no matter whether or not we know the results, because he wants to get home and get ahead of the storm.

BASH: Look, if you want to be president of the United States, you don't go home to Florida. I mean, that's just bottom line. That's the end of the story.

If you want to signal to your supporters that you want it, that you're hungry for it, that you want them to get out and campaign, you've got to be out there doing it too. And he's not doing it. It's very unusual.

TAPPER: Very unusual news that CNN has just learned.

[19:45:03] CNN's Chris Moody breaking the story.

Wolf, back to you in Washington.

BLITZER: Very significant news, indeed. Guys, thanks very much.

All right. We're standing by right at the top of the hour for the first time. We're going to be able to share with you, our viewers, the results -- at least some of the trends we're getting from the entrance polls we've been conducting. People going in to the caucuses. The doors are supposed to close right at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, 7:00 p.m. Central.

We're going to give you some trends. What's going on right now in this battle between Donald Trump, for example, and Ted Cruz, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders? The information we'll share with you for the first time when those caucus doors close at the top of the hour.


BLITZER: Iowans have only a few minutes left to show up in caucus rooms across the state, before the doors closed and the action begins. We're seeing early signs of a strong turnout at several key locations and reports of an unusually high voter registration as well. We're closing in at the same time as the first results of the night.

This contest in Iowa may be more important than ever. It's boiling down to a pair of very intense two-way matchups.

For the Republicans, it's Donald Trump versus Ted Cruz with Trump trying to show he can translate his star power into votes. And we're also watching Marco Rubio. He's counting on a strong third place showing tonight to be a major player in the contest ahead.

For the Democrats, it's Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders with Clinton fighting to protect her frontrunner status against a surprisingly powerful challenger.

Let's walk over to John King. He's over at the magic wall. We are getting results very soon.

John, what are you looking for?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Entrance poll results, too. And, Wolf, not too long before we start filling in the map with actual votes, what are we looking for? First, right now, they candidates are listed in alphabetical order on the Republican side because there are so many. Once the results start to come in, the magic wall will sort them.

In terms of winning, what are we going to look for? In a new election, you look at the last election. So, for Republicans, think about tonight's candidates, this is Santorum, Romney, Rand Paul, one, two, three, four years ago. Can Ted Cruz do what Rick Santorum did four years ago? Run it up in

the small rural counties with evangelical and Tea Party voters. That's what Ted Cruz has to do. If you don't see a lot of Ted Cruz out here, tonight, where you see this gold right now, that would be a warning.

Question number two: who wins the battle of the suburbs? Mitt Romney did, four years. Marco Rubio hopes to tonight, but this is an area where Donald Trump, you just saw Brian Todd at that polling site, a scenario where Donald Trump wants to prove he is not only winning with some evangelicals, but he's also winning among traditional Republicans. That's where we'll start in the Republican side. Cruz, Trump and Rubio we'll watch early one.

Also to see if anybody could replicate Ron Paul. Does Ben Carson win some counties? If he does, that's coming out of Ted cruise. Can Rand Paul replicate his dad? Early indications are now, but we'll keep an eye on that.

Now, let's switch to the Democratic side. We have to go back to 2008 for a match up. Let me clear this out for the Democrats. This is the map that put Barack Obama on the national political stage when he won here in eastern Iowa, he also won here in the middle of the state. The college students in Ames but more significantly where the people are, Wolf.

And so, the question for Hillary is, can she win the traditional Democrats here in Polk County? Remember last time the Democratic race had many candidates, but it was essentially a three-way race. Hillary Clinton came in third. People often forget the John Edwards factor in 2008.

But as we look for the first results tonight, how does Bernie Sanders do in these college towns? Like Barack Obama, Iowa City and up in Ames. Can Hillary Clinton keep her rural support? You saw that last night. The key though for Hillary Clinton, take Polk County. Barack Obama took it eight years ago, and do much better in the east. Bernie Sanders is strong out here, and Hillary Clinton, though, has to hold her own -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's get an update. John, good explanation. We're going to be getting those entrance poll results very soon.

We want to get an update on what's going on with some of those caucus sites, some of those other places.

Jake Tapper and Dana Bash are standing by -- Jake.

TAPPER: Thanks, Wolf.

And, Dana, obviously, nobody is looking at the turn out more closely than the campaigns that need good turn out or the ones that don't want to be out to be too good.

BASH: That's right.

TAPPER: And for the Clinton campaign, they want turnout to be under 170,000 about.

BASH: That's right. And for the Cruz campaign, they want it to be under 135,000. I was texting with the Cruz source who said that they are seeing turn out. It appears to be higher than normal, which is not good for them. But also, he was saying that they hope that things could change.

TAPPER: The theory, of course, is that for new voters, they will be coming to vote for the first time as caucusgoers for people like Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump.

Brianna Keilar is at Clinton headquarters in Des Moines. And, Brianna, obviously, the former first lady, former secretary of state has been preparing for this night for a long time. What is she doing right now as she watches and waits for the returns to come in?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: We understand that she has been relaxing in her hotel, Jake, but also preparing two speeches. One, in case she wins tonight here in Iowa and one, in case she loses. So, you can imagine this playing out like a scene from "West Wing" as she works with the speechwriter Dan Schwerin, having these two versions of a speech that she will get when she comes across town from her hotel.

This reflects the fact that she is prepared certainly for any outcome, but also the reality of just how much 2008 looms so large certainly in her mind and in the mind of those working for her and her campaign. It was a stinging loss here in 2008. They are prepared for anything. Although still I will add, confident that the indicators, the stability of the polls overtime in the last couple of weeks is working in their favor -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Brianna.

And obviously, if it's true that turnout is high, they have to be excited at the Trump campaign headquarters and the Sanders campaign headquarters.

BASH: That's right. And since we are talking about the Democrats at this moment, the Sanders headquarters, the reason why they wanted to be high is because he is appealing to so many young voters.

[19:55:07] And if you think about it, because President Obama was in office four years ago, there hasn't been a Democratic caucus in eight years.

So, a lot of the newer voters are younger.

TAPPER: The year that President Obama won the Iowa caucuses, then- Senator Obama, turnout was 240,000, an astronomically high number for the Iowa caucuses, for the Democratic caucuses.

Wolf, back to you in Washington.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Thanks very much. Once again, less than five minutes from now, the doors are going to be

closing at these caucus sites around the state of Iowa. That's when we'll be able to share with you the results of our entrance polls. We'll get some initial trends on what's going on.

In the meantime, I want to go back to Jim Sciutto.

He is at Greenfield, Iowa. He is at a Republican caucus site, where I take it there's a big number of people who showed up.

SCIUTTO: That's right, Wolf. Five precincts here at a high school. Let me give you a scene of that crowd here filling the high school auditorium's bleachers here. But let me give this.

We're going to ask them to raise their hands, the first time caucusgoers. Look at how many of them fall into the category.

So, folks, raise your happened if you are a first time caucus participant.

You know, early on, Wolf, I thought it was one in five, it looks like more than in five for me now. Some of them first time voters, young people, some of them folks who are participating for the first time in a GOP caucus. But we're seeing them here. Maybe meeting that prediction chair that they're going to break records with turnout here tonight.

BLITZER: All right. Stand by.

I want to go to Brian Todd right now. He's in Ankeny, Iowa. Also at a Republican caucus site.

You showed us those lines. Are people inside now or are they still waiting, Brian?

TODD: They are inside, Wolf. The place is filling to capacity very, very quickly.

You said a minute ago the doors are going to shut. In about five minutes, these folks are not ready for that to happen. Look at this, it goes all the way out to the parking lot. The parking lot is full.

We don't need a show of hands to show the first time voters and the people changing affiliations because they have been channeled over to this line. They are eagerly filling up their ballots. You can see them doing that right there before they even get to the table.

Now, our photojournalist and I are going to take you inside and show you a place that is bustling, filling up quickly. You've got to push past the folks here. Guys, bear with me.

Hi, sir. If I can shoot past you here.

This is one of the fastest growing districts in the Iowa. About 53,000 people in this district. I don't think this talk us is going to start on time, Wolf, because they are still getting people in here. Now, check this out. This is the sanctuary, bustling with people, standing room only here at the walls and, look, almost every seat is full.

They haven't even started just yet. People are still filing in. Then they've got to do the Pledge of Allegiance, then they're going to get representatives a chance -- representatives of the candidates a chance to get up and speak in favor of their candidate.

This is a Republican caucus, lots of first time voters here, lots of people changing affiliations. It's very exciting because that may bode well for Donald Trump, Wolf. But we're going to see. We're going to show that balloting in real-time tonight. That's what makes it so very exciting.

Really dynamic situation in the sanctuary hall here, Wolf.

BLITZER: It certainly is. All those Republicans sites, at least the ones we are checking in on, big numbers showing up.

Let's go to Tom Foreman. He's at a Democratic caucus site in Coralville, Iowa.

I take it, Tom, you have been showing us those long lines. Big numbers over there as well.

FOREMAN: Yes, absolutely, Wolf. They are trying to get the last people in here before they close the door. It is still out into the parking lot if you go this way and in here. As they work down.

I will point out something, Wolf, this is precinct seven up here. Right now, I have been told they may have as many as 100 more people than they expected. They felt they might have 250 to 300. They maybe more than 100 over what they expected, and there's another precinct down stairs that expected only about 50 and they may have twice as many people as they expected.

And, look at this, this is the big room where they're gathering, and they have to fit all the other people in here. All the seats are filled. On the left right now, you are looking at Bernie Sanders supporters over here.

If we pull over to the right, you can see those are Hillary Clinton supporters over there. And if we turn now to the end, we can see that's for the Martin O'Malley section is.

Wolf, this is absolutely, every person connected to the caucuses I've talked to, has experienced them, says this is a really astonishing number of people showing up, top to bottom here, and they're all saying a tremendous number of people who have never caucused before, who are saying they are here for the first time.

So, there really is, is really a remarkable turnout here, and I will tell you this, Wolf. If you point down there, we'll just point to this one way down, you see the one room down there that said uncommitted on the left? That room virtually empty -- Wolf. BLITZER: Virtually empty. All right, that's an amazing moment,

potentially once again good news for Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side. Potentially good news for Donald Trump on the Republican side.

But we're now about to get our first indications.