Return to Transcripts main page


Democratic Presidential Town Hall Starts Soon; Marco Rubio: Establishment Candidate; Sanders, Clinton, Fight Over Who's More Progressive; What Voters Want To Hear Tonight; Democratic Presidential Town Hall Moments Away. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired February 3, 2016 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:07] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, good evening. Thanks for joining us from the historic Opera House in Derry, New Hampshire. What a night. Just an hour from now, down there on the stage behind me, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton will face the voters in a CNN Town Hall. I'll be moderating. It promises to be a high point of a very high-drama day out on the campaign trail, for Democrats and Republicans.

Today the campaigning in both parties ramped up. Rand Paul, Rick Santorum, they dropped out. Donald Trump accused Ted Cruz of stealing the Iowa caucuses, in part by playing dirty tricks on Ben Carson. Cruz fired back at Trump.

Meantime, on the Democratic side some sparring over who's a progressive and who isn't. It began yesterday, with a question to senator sanders about whether his opponent truly is. Listen.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, (I-VT) DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Some days, yes, except when she announces that she is a proud moderate. And then, I guess, she's not a progressive.


COOPER: Well, today Secretary Clinton took exception.


HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So I was a little disappointed to be honest, yesterday. It was kind of a low blow.


COOPER: That was followed quickly by this from Senator Sanders, talking with CNN's Wolf Blitzer.


SANDERS: What I said is simply repeating what she said. I believe, if I'm not mistaken, she was in the Midwest, and what she said, "I'm a moderate," I'm not -- that's what she said. Some days she says she's a progressive. On that particular day, she said she's a moderate. You can be a moderate, that's fine. You can be a progressive, but you can't be a moderate and a progressive. Second point, Wolf, is most progressives that I know really do not raise millions of dollars from Wall Street.


COOPER: Well, Bernie Sanders drawing a contrast, obviously, between himself and Secretary Clinton, and maybe throwing a little shade as well.

Joining us now with more on how the rivalry is playing out and what each hopes to achieve tonight is CNN's Jeff Zeleny. Jeff?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Anderson, I can tell you, it was a chaotic and intense day on the Democratic side of this race. I've never seen it so escalating. These tensions between the two have gotten so heated. But I am told that Secretary Clinton, once she heard Bernie Sanders say that, she was, indeed, furious. And we heard one of her allies just a few minutes ago, Senator Barbara Boxer of California, she said, Bernie Sanders is a Democrat, some days. So this is where this race is heading.

Here tonight at the town hall, she is going to point out that, that he in fact is a -- has been a democratic socialist. And Bernie Sanders, of course, is raising the stakes, saying he's been a progressive all of his life. He's going through all the issues from the Iraq war to taking money from Wall Street, even gay marriage. So he says he's been a progressive so much longer. So this is where this fight is heading between the two of them, Anderson.

COOPER: And the town hall here in New Hampshire, I mean just under an hour away, what have these two candidates been doing to gear up for this all throughout the day?

ZELENY: Anderson, one thing they've been doing is taking questions from New Hampshire voters. At least Hillary Clinton has. She's had four campaign events today. I was out there with her today, and she was taking tough questions from voters. And that is the interesting thing about this New Hampshire primary. More than most states in the country, the questions from voters can be the most revealing of all. She was out there doing some batting practice, if you will, today, and Bernie Sanders was out there hitting back.

He had a preference just a couple of hours ago. He was saying, you know, pointing out some of these issues that she is not as progressive on. But both sides, both campaigns, you know, were preparing for this moment. Only six days away from the next contest here. So not much time here in New Hampshire for either side, Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Jeff, also, the primary here just under a week away. I mean the two candidates, Jeff, they're not only focusing, obviously, on New Hampshire, they've also got to be looking ahead. ZELENY: Absolutely. That's one reason Bill Clinton is in South Carolina tonight, holding a rally just a few minutes ago, as well. After New Hampshire, this race is going to heat up very quickly on to Nevada and South Carolina.

The month of March is critical. A lot of liberal states where that progressive message is important are going to come up. Bernie Sanders' very strong there, but Hillary Clinton is very strong in the south. So this race is going to go on for a long time. It's going to be a delegate fight, likely reminiscent of that 2008 contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Anderson?

COOPER: Yeah, it's been a fascinating day for Democrats out on the campaign trail, it promises to be here in this Opera House in about an hour, as well.

Joining us now, someone who knows what it's like to jostle with Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail, also work with her in the White House, former Obama adviser and senior political commentator David Axelrod. Also joining us, CNN senior political reporter, Nia-Malika Henderson. And with my hair, you'd think I'd be a senior something as well, but no such luck. It's great to have you both.

David, what do you make of this jostling between Sanders and Clinton over progressive issue? It's not the first time this is come up but it's definitely heating up today.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATTOR: Yeah, and I don't think it's just about the progressive issue, because really what Bernie Sanders is doing is questioning her reliability, her trustworthiness.

[20:05:02] Remember, in the Iowa caucuses, he won huge with people who had doubts about trustworthiness ...

COOPER: In the Iowa caucuses, among Democrats, who said trust -- being trustworthy was the number one quality, 80 percent.

AXELROD: And, you know, this is the fight. He thinks she's not pure, he thinks she's not consistent. She argues that he's a gadfly, not a pragmatist that doesn't get anything done. I think you'll hear more of that tonight.


NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: I think that's right. I don't think average voters necessarily care about these labels, who's progressive, who's moderate, who's centrist. Probably in Bernie Sanders' mind, Barack Obama is probably more of a centrist and moderate as well. But I think David Axelrod is right. It's about, who is Hillary Clinton? Has she been in this fight as long as Bernie Sanders has been in this fight?

And I think technically, one of the things you see Hillary Clinton doing is trying to make it seem like Bernie Sanders is going negative on her. So she says, "Oh, this is disappointing, to be hearing this from Bernie Sanders, who's been arguing all along that he's not going to want a negative campaign. I think she's trying to turn it into that because she looks better when she's sort of on the defensive and not going on the attack.

COOPER: One of the other things they've kind of been tussling about is who has a better advantage here in New Hampshire? Hillary Clinton's campaign have been trying to, essentially say, "Look, Bernie Sanders is from a neighboring state. They're not the underdogs, we're the underdogs." Basically keeping expectations as lows possible, raising them as much as possible for Bernie Sanders.

AXELROD: I think this is a problem for Senator Sanders. The polls -- and we've already seen that the polls can be wildly wrong -- but the polls have him with a huge lead in this state. And so, if she walks out of here and can cut that lead under 10 percent, everybody will say she had a good night. And I think this is a -- this is what she's aiming for and this is what he has to be concerned about.

COOPER: And Sanders is calling her out on that, saying, "Look, this is ridiculous, they're trying to unreasonably raise these expectations."

HENDERSON: It's true and he sounds more like a political strategist in some ways, when he says that. And that's not really his brand. People kind of like that he's above the fray and doesn't get in the weeds in terms of his political strategy. So when he says that, I don't think it's a good look for him in some way.

AXELROD: But it is true that she won the state in 2008.

HENDERSON: It's true, yeah.

AXELROD: I still have her footprint on my back, so I remember it very well. We came in here with a big lead when I was working for Senator Obama. 11 points up five days out. And she ended up winning by two points.

COOPER: The other thing Barbara Boxer, a supporter of Clinton was saying today, that Democratic -- Well, Bernie Sanders is a Democrat on some days. I mean he ...

AXELROD: That's a little bit unfair because he, you know, the fact is, yes, he's an independent, but he does organize with the Democrats and, you know, I'm sure he's supported Barbara Boxer on many, many things. It is true, though, he is -- now, there's one issue on which that hasn't been true, and I'm sure you're going to hear about it again tonight. And that's guns ...


AXELROD: ... where he has voted has stayed and not his progressive principles. And so, she has the right to ask him, "Does that make you an insincere progressive?" And you know, so he may get a little return fire, as it were.

COOPER: What do you expect to see here tonight here on this stage? I mean do you expect this kind of sniping to continue? HENDERSON: I think so. I think in the last town hall we had, Bernie Sanders very much taking to Hillary Clinton. It seems like Hillary Clinton is a little bit more weary of being seen on the attack. But this is, i think, a fantastic environment for them to connect with real people. We're going to have real people in the audience, asking them questions. And so I think sometimes Sanders struggles with kind of turning his kind of big theory ideas into kind of the human connections. I think he's going to try to do that. Show more of his personality, too, and humor and charm.

COOPER: Is there a danger in Hillary Clinton seen as going after Bernie Sanders, turning off some of his loyal followers?

AXELROD: Yeah. He's very popular here. And I think she has to be careful about the smart thing for her to do would be to honor his principles and sort of paint him as an ineffectual gadfly. And say, "I'm the one who knows how to get these things done." The wrong thing to do would be going at him so sharply that she looks like a politician, just trying to cut another guy off at his knees.

COOPER: What's the bigger deal at this point, the setback of a loss in New Hampshire for Hillary Clinton or something else?

HENDERSON: You know, I think she's probably going to lose this. She's been behind 20 points, they're kind of setting up that expectation that she's going to lose anyway. I think they're looking pass New Hampshire, looking at South Carolina.

COOPER: Right.

HENDERSON: Even when they bring up the socialist tag, that plays in South Carolina. I think it's a disadvantage, in a state like South Carolina, to be a socialist, because they're much more moderate, and much more conservative. Socialism is kind of a dirty word in some ways there. So I think they're looking at the long game. And in some ways, setting the expectations that they'll lose here.

COOPER: All right.

AXELROD: She talked yesterday for the first time about the great center, you have to return to the great center of politics. I assume painting him to let them -- to me, that was something that sounded more like it was aimed at South Carolina than it was aimed at New Hampshire.

[20:10:00] COOPER: David Axelrod and Nia-Malika Henderson, thanks very much. A lot ahead. We've got a lot more from everybody just later on. Again, we're less than an hour away from tonight's CNN's Democratic Town Hall here at the Derry Opera House in Derry, New Hampshire.

And next, if there's sparring on the Democratic side, it's nearly defcon one between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. A closer look at their war of words and tweets that erupted today over the outcome in Iowa.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: Well, Donald Trump says Ted Cruz stole the Iowa caucuses. Ted Cruz says trump is throwing a tantrum, today after about 24 hours of seeming befuddled at his second-place Iowa finish, Trump came out tweeting. "Ted Cruz didn't win Iowa. He stole it, when his first shot. That is why all the polls were so wrong and why he got far more votes than anticipated." Then this, quote, "based on the fraud committed by Senator Ted Cruz during the Iowa caucus, either a new election should take place or Cruz results nullified."

The Iowa winner replied with these two tweets. First this, "Bernie is contesting IA results, maybe Donald should go back to Iowa and join the Ds. Bet they'd love TrumpCare." We follow that with this, yet another Trumper tantrum. Real Donald Trump very angry with the people of Iowa. They actually looked at his record.

Somewhere twitter executives are no doubt smiling. Trump's fraud accusations are largely based on two items. That official-looking letter that Cruz campaign sent to Iowans, suggesting they could clear up their voter violation, whatever that means, by caucusing. He's also objecting to Cruz's precinct captain, suggesting on precinct night that Ben Carson was quitting the race.

[20:15:04] Now Trump says, and i'm quoting, "Many people voted for Cruz over Carson because of this Cruz fraud." Monday night, CNN reported that Carson would go to Florida after the caucuses and not New Hampshire or South Carolina directly, but CNN did not -- I repeat, did not report that he was ending his campaign. To the contrary we reported that Carson would continue campaigning after taking a break at home, that's it.

This afternoon, the Carson campaign sent out a fund-raising e-mail, inaccurately accusing CNN of spreading false or misleading information. Cruz Campaign also weighed in, inaccurately blaming CNN. And again, this network did not report that Carson was dropping out, only that he was going home. The Cruz campaign has apologized to the Carson campaign. No apologies, though, in either direction between Trump and Cruz.

Joining us now is Cruz communications director, Rick Tyler. Rick, so, how do you respond to this? Because Senator Cruz keeps saying that it all stemmed from a CNN report, which is just not factually correct.

RICK TYLER, TED CRUZ COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Well, no, Anderson, that's not right. CNN was factually correct, and we haven't disputed the CNN reporting, we have continued to back up and I've defended CNN's reporting. What CNN's reporting is, if I may, is that Chris Moody reported that Dr. Carson was not going on to New Hampshire or South Carolina, that is a fact. In fact, he didn't do that.

So the reporting is accurate. He still hasn't been in New Hampshire or South Carolina. He went to Florida. Today he was in Washington, D.C. and so that is a newsworthy story ...

COOPER: Actually, I was on the air -- right, but I was actually on the air, and what we reported is that he was going down to Florida, and then actually, we followed up with a statement from his campaign saying he was going down to Dlorida because he need a change of clothes. That might sound ridiculous, but that's what we reported.

TYLER: Yeah, OK, well, I don't -- a change of clothes, I don't -- well, Chris Moody had also said R&R, which I took to mean rest and relaxation. So look we never disputed the CNN reporting ...

COOPER: We also reported that he was going to speak at the national prayer breakfast.

TYLER: Right, and we -- right. So he went to the national prayer breakfast. The whole point is, in the political world, this is playoffs. This is it. Nothing else. Skipping the playoffs and expecting to go to the Super Bowl is just -- it doesn't make sense.

So that -- so Dr. Carson made a strategic decision that he wanted to go to Florida instead of New Hampshire. That tells the people of New Hampshire that -- that sends a message. Look, that's just not what you do. You come to New Hampshire. That's why we're all here. That's why Ted Cruz is here. That's why the other candidates are here, not all but most of them.

COOPER: But what you're quibbling with is Dr. Carson's strategy ...

TYLER: Yeah.

COOPER: ... which is obviously, something a lot of people would quibble with, but what your candidate is actually saying is misleading. What he's saying that CNN reported that the campaign was being suspended, and that's not what was being reported.

TYLER: We never said the campaign was being suspended. There's no shred of evidence that it's being suspended. By the way, there's no shred of evidence that a single Cruz caucus campaign stood up on a stage in front of caucus goers and said any of this. And there's been no -- there's been caucus goer who said, "Gee, my vote was so persuaded by the testimony of a Cruz surrogate that I changed my vote."

Because more than likely, it didn't happen, Anderson, because you know, Chris Moody reported it out at 6:43, which was 15 minutes before the caucuses, and I learned of it while I was watching results. And then the e-mail went out to our campaign, telling people about Dr. Carson not going to New Hampshire and Florida, during the caucuses.

So, it had little -- it had no impact on the campaign. And by the way, we report things that in the campaign about candidates all the time. When Senator Rubio said that he would allow illegal aliens to stay in the United States, even though they were criminal illegal aliens, we shared that with the campaign. Now, are we not supposed to report things that CNN has report ...

COOPER: But you did send out an e-mail -- but you did send out an e- mail to precinct captains, not only saying that he was taking a break, but also that he would making, quote, "a big announcement next week". Doesn't that sound like ...

TYLER: And the big announcement ... COOPER: Doesn't that sound kind of misleading?

TYLER: The big announcement was that he was speaking at the national prayer breakfast. Now, look, again, no caucus goer has said they were influenced by anything -- any missive that Cruz sent. And I'm unaware of any surrogate at any of the caucuses who even presented the argument because if you look at the timing, it just didn't happen.

So the idea that we're stealing the election -- look, Donald Trump is a sore loser. He can't stand to lose. And when something goes wrong, it's always somebody else's fault. Everything he does. Even, you know, two Corinthians, that wasn't his fault, that had to be somebody else's fault. I lost the Iowa caucuses, that couldn't have been my fault, it must have been somebody else's fault. It's just ridiculous, you know. He's ...

COOPER: But look ...

TYLER: ... winning New Hampshire.

[20:20:00] COOPER: Right. You send out an e-mail from your campaign to precinct captains saying that he's taking a break and he's going to make a quote/unquote big announcement. You could have said in the e- mail, he's speaking at the national prayer breakfast. Saying he's going to make a big announcement does imply -- right after saying "he's taking a break," you are sort of implying that he is dropping out, no?

TYLER: We never implied he was dropping out. He continue to -- we continued to report what CNN had reported. And the CNN report was accurate. He did not go to New Hampshire. He went to Florida. He did not go to South Carolina, he went to Washington, D.C., where he was today. And I hear he's going to be here tomorrow. But, you know, look, this is -- this has -- this actually has nothing to do with Donald -- with Ben Carson. It has to do with Donald Trump losing.

Donald trump, you know, is starting a Twitter war to get attention, because he can't stand it when he's not part of the conversation, which he hasn't been since he lost the Iowa caucuses. So he's ginning this all up, to make something to do about nothing, and we're all covering something -- we all agree. The CNN reporting was accurate.

I want to bring in conservative writer and Rubio supporter, Mona Charen, and also bring in Trump supporter and CNN political commentator, Jeffrey Lord. Jeffrey, is any of this going to get any traction, or have most people already moved on from Iowa? I mean these calls by Trump to redo the caucuses in Iowa.

JEFFREY LORD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I'm sorry -- first, Anderson, let me start with this. I was sitting right next to you on that set. CNN reported this story absolutely 100 percent accurately. You talked about it on-air. Wolf was standing there. I heard Jake Tapper and Dana Bash talking about it. CNN was 100 percent correct. And to be portrayed as otherwise is just a bunch of bunk.

Now that I've said that, I think Iowa will -- that this whole issue -- I mean, Dr. Carson is specifically accusing Senator Cruz -- and I have to say, I'm sorry to say this, because I like Senator Cruz, a lot. But Dr. Carson is accusing him of not having integrity, of being corrupt. And unfortuunately, we've got two incidents here.

This one with CNN, with this whole CNN story, and the other story about the flyer or the mailer that was sent out. And I think that is going to be a bit of a story here, because it goes to the larger issue of, you know, trust.

And let's remember, that the senator's sort of motto there is "Trusted." And, you know, when you get two of these issues back to back, and it's not just Donald Trump, it is Dr. Carson. Dr. Carson is really pretty upset about this and I can't say as I blame him.

TYLER: Actually, Dr. Carson sent out a letter ...

COOPER: I want Rick to be able to respond but first ...

TYLER: ... for raising money, but he blames CNN, not -- not -- he didn't blame Cruz, he blamed CNN. He sent out a fund-raiser letter blaming CNN. He didn't mention Ted Cruz. He didn't mention Ted Cruz in the press conference until he was asked about it.

LORD: Well, CNN is not at fault.

COOPER: I don't ...

LORD: CNN is not at fault. And I see this narrative being pushed on Fox network ...

TYLER: I agree with you. I agree with that.

LORD: ... that it is absolutely untrue and I was there.

COOPER: Mona, what do you make of all of this? Donald Trump and Ben Carson both now going after Ted Cruz over his Iowa tactics. Do voters, do you think, care about this kind of thing?

MONA CHAREN, RUBIO SUPPORTER: Well, you know, you had -- this is the year where everyone just said, "We don't want political professionals, you know, we want outsiders." And what you saw this week were two outsiders making rookie mistakes. Right? Ben Carson made an announcement that he wasn't going to New Hampshire, kind of a big mistake to make in this environment. And it was seized upon by the Cruz people, perhaps a little illegitimately. That's between Dr. Carson and Mr. Cruz. You could call it Carson's wardrobe malfunction.

But -- and then at the same time, you have Mr. Trump, who has never been in politics before, and who said that -- when he was asked about his loss and he was trying to make sense of his loss in Iowa, he said that, yeah, he supposes now that he might have spent more money on a ground game. He said, I didn't know what that was, a ground game. So there you have it.

You know, he doesn't really know the game of politics. He made mistakes. He regrets it. But in classic Trump style, he is able to do one thing super well. And that is seize press attention. And he has done that. He has gotten everybody talking about this business of the wardrobe malfunction.

COOPER: Rick, i just want to give you one last shot on this thing. Again, if your campaign sends out an e-mail to precinct captains saying, he's taking a -- Carson's taking a break down in Florida. Oh, and he's going to make a big announcement. And not say it's for the prayer breakfast. If CNN -- if i had gone on the air and said, "Hey, Ben Carson's taking a break and going to make a big announcement in a few days," and left it at that I would be hammered for that.

[20:25:00] Isn't it totally disingenuous if you say, the big announcement we're talking about is he's going to speak at the prayer breakfast. An e-mail is not Twitter. You have more than 140 characters. You could have just said, Carson's speaking at the prayer breakfast. Instead you leave it this mysterious big announcement, which it sounds like he's dropping out, no?

TYLER: You know what, I'm amazed by, Anderson, is that the story here is Ben Carson, instead of going to New Hampshire or South Carolina went to Florida and Washington, D.C. If Ted Cruz has decided ...

COOPER: I know and we talk about that ...

TYLER: ... that would have been the story.

COOPER: Right.

TYLER: And everybody would have pointed it out and it would have been the story. But somehow it's different, though ...

COOPER: But the story is also your candidate, who's an evangelical, who talks about the Bible and his belief in Christianity, perhaps lied and was completely disingenuous. That's also a story. And so that's why, you know, we're asking about it. That's what the accusation is.

TYLER: No, no, Anderson, let's be clear. The point is, when you don't immediately leave Iowa and go to New Hampshire and South Carolina, you know this, it means you're to the serious about winning the presidency, right? So if people only have -- if people of Iowa need to know that if you don't have a plan to be the nominee, then why should I caucus for you?

He didn't have a plan to be the nominee, because he decided he was going to go to Florida and D.C., not new Hampshire and South Carolina. You know that. Everybody in the business, every practioner knows that.

COOPER: He's been on a book tour for weeks. We've all talked about that. We've got to leave it there, because we're so over time. Rick Tyler, always good to have you on. Jeffrey Lord, Mona Charen, as well.

Just ahead, Marco Rubio weighs in on the group that helped him win his senate seat. Does he still consider himself a Tea Party guy? And why he doesn't like to be called an establishment candidate. Details ahead.


[20:30:41] COOPER: Welcome back. We're live from Derry, New Hampshire, tonight. About 35 minutes from now, I'll be moderating a CNN Democratic Town Hall at Derry Opera House.

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders will be taking questions from the audience. With just six days to go until New Hampshire's primary, the campaign trail, well, it looks like a freeway.

Here's what the day was like for Marco Rubio. Four town halls, in four different cities and that's just one candidate.

Rick Santorum had dropped out of the race today, endorsed his former rival Rubio after his strong showing in Iowa. Senator Rubio is facing sharper attacks from other rivals though, who worry he may be widening his appeal even as he dodges the labels may he be trying to pin on him. Gary Tuchman reports.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORESPONDENT: Marco Rubio entering an overheated jam-packed room in Laconia, New Hampshire, to the sounds of AC/DC, not exactly a establishment music. From a man who is increasingly being mentioned a as the GOP establishment candidate.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO, (R-FL) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you vote for me and I am our nominee, I will unite the conservative movement and the Republican Party.

TUCHMAN: Many are mentioning him as establishment in part because they feel he's the most electable Republican. But in this race for the White House, establishment has been a dirty word on the GOP side. And many of his supporters at this rally don't like that word applied to him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't use the word "establishment," because nobody wants to be in an establishment Republican. Or Jeb Bush would be an establishment Republican. Here's the man who's mother has come out to help him right now.

TUCHMAN: Over the decades, when you think of a establishment candidates, names like John McCain, George H.W. Bush, and Bob Dole immediately come to mind. Marco Rubio has only been on the national stage a short time. He's still in his first term in the U.S. senate.

When Barack Obama entered the white house, Marco Rubio was still in the Florida legislature.

Rubio doesn't seem to want to be called establishment either.

RUBIO: So we've always taken on the establishment, whether it was in my senate race in 2010 or in this race now.

Hi, thanks for having me. TUCHMAN: Indeed, Rubio owes a lot of thanks to the Tea Party for his win six years ago. He was part of the wave of political candidates the Tea Party enthusiastically supportive.

Do you still consider yourself a Tea Party guy?

RUBIO: Yeah, I never -- by the way, ever claimed to own the Tea Party. I'm very proud of the fact that they helped me in 2010 and the work we continue to do with the Tea Party groups around the country.

TUCHMAN: Cordial words.

RUBIOI: Thank you New Hampshire.

TUCHMAN: But he is clearly not relying on the Tea Party as he tries to get to the White House.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I believe in the Tea Party. I think some of their ideas were very good, but that's not what attracts me to him.

TUCHMAN: Rubio is being careful to avoid being labeled, but whether voters are anti-establishment or establishment or none of the above, Marco Rubio would like the support of all of them. Gary Tuchman, CNN, Laconia, New Hampshire.


COOPER: A lot to discuss. Joining me again, CNN Senior Political Commentator and Former Obama Senior Adviser, David Axelrod. Also, CNN's Senior Political Reporter, Nia-Malika Henderson. It's interesting, you hear Marco Rubio saying, look, he's not an establishment candidate. No one wants that label this time around.

AXELROD: Yeah, well, it's a toxic label with the base of the Republican Party. The truth is, he was part of the political establishment in Florida.

In fact, Jeb Bush's establishment. But he more than any other candidate in this race has tried to appeal to all the factions of the Republican Party to the social conservatives, to the Tea Party, and the establishment. And the big question has been, can he ride all those horses at once, or do you end up as everybody's second choice? And that's what we're going to find out.

COOPER: Right and we should just say, people are applauding, there's a couple of people on stage, talking about how this evening is going to unfold here at the Democratic Town Hall. So that's what the applause, the occasional applause is happening. How many lanes are there outside of -- out of New Hampshire for -- I mean, obviously, Rubio, Donald Trump, Marco Rubio, and then -- but he's competing against an awful lot of ...

HENDERSON: Establishment ...

COOPER: ... candidates who don't want to be called establishment.

HENDERSON: That's right, that's right. Other than Jeb Bush who seems to embrace that label.

At this point, I think -- I keep thinking about someone like Ted Cruz, who might benefit from all the jostling in that establishment lane. He might have a ticket out of there.

Marco Rubio going into this race has essentially set himself up to say, if I come in second, that would be good enough. That's part of his three, two, one strategy. Third in Iowa, second in New Hampshire, and first in South Carolina.

Interestingly enough, in South Carolina, they asked voters, Republicans in December about this Tea Party label, whether or not they consider themselves a member of the Tea Party not only 11 percent said yes.

[20:35:02] So it isn't necessarily a label that people want to embrace, necessarily. But I do think, in some ways, Marco Rubio is grabbing the part of the Tea Party that is about the younger generation, the sort of new generation of Republicans coming up. So in that way, I think he's playing into that kind of idea.

COOPER: Another thing for Marco Rubio, obviously, he got a lot of credit for coming in third in Iowa. The downside is, there is now a lot of guns pointed at him from Bush, from Kasich, from ...

AXELROD: Absolutely. Because Chris Christie, John Kasich, Jeb Bush they have to finish ahead of the others to be the establishment candidate, to be the center-right candidate. Marco Rubio gets out of the coral, they're gone. This is the end for them.

COOPER: A lot of folks dropping out. David Axelrod and Nia-Malika Henderson, thank you. Just ahead, more on the night ahead. More on the back and forth that has happened between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton today, even before they take the stage in tonight's town hall.


COOPER: We're about 20 minutes away from the Democratic Presidential Town Hall. The excitement is building here in New Hampshire. Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton will be taking the stage behind me on a day that's already been somewhat contentious.

[20:40:02] Sanders called Clinton part of establishment politics and also questioned whether she's a progressive saying, "Most progressives don't raise millions of dollars from Wall Street." Clinton characterizes the question itself as kind of a low blow.

Joining me now is CNN Political Commentator, Radio Host and Bernie Sanders Supporter, Bill Press and CNN Political Commentator, Democratic Strategist and 2008 Senior Clinton Campaign Adviser, Maria Cardona.

So, Maria, can you clear this out because it seems to be a matter of obviously a lot of contention today. Is Secretary Clinton, a moderate as she once said, or a progressive, as she also says? MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, she is absolutely a progressive, Anderson. And it's kind of laughable to those of us who have endured what she went through in the 1990's.

I worked at to the DNC under Ron Brown when the right-wing organizations were relentless in attacking her as a radical lefty liberal communist woman who was going to take over our country and completely ruin it.

So let's remember, in the 1970's, Jimmy Carter appointed her to an organization called the Legal Services Corporation. This entity worked for the rights of cocktail waitresses who were complaining that their outfits were too skimpy, who worked for the rights of trans males who were looking for help from welfare agencies for gender operations, who worked for Indian tribes and suing Maine and New York to give back some of the land and who did some of the earliest work on reproductive health for women and rights for gays and lesbians.


CARDONA: We already know all the work that she's done ...

COOPER: Maria, then how do ...

CARDONA: ... for SCHIP, et cetera.

COOPER: OK. Maria, then how do you respond to Bernie Sanders who says, "How come she's taking all this money from Wall Street? How come she's taking $675,000 for three speeches from Goldman Sachs? Is that a progressive?" That's what Sanders is saying.

CARDONA: What progressive means is actually what you do when it comes to either legislation or issues that you're going to push.

None of that money has kept her from being one of the toughest critics of Wall Street and from focusing on legislation that actually cracks down on Wall Street and from many economists ...


CANDONA: ... and other columnists have said, "She has the toughest program that would crack down on Wall Street, even tougher than Bernie Sanders.'' So that's where the rubber meets the road, Anderson.

COOPER: Bill, do you believe Hillary Clinton is a progressive? Because, Barbara Boxer is firing back at Bernie Sanders saying, "Well, you know what, on some days Bernie Sanders is a Democrat.

BILL PRESS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, first of all, let me just say to Barbara Boxer, who's a friend of mine. Barbara Boxer's a friend of mine. That was a cheap shot at Bernie Sanders.

Democrats got a lot done in the house. Democrats got a lot done in the senate, because Bernie Sanders voted with the Democrats when he was a congressman in the house. And he has voted with the Democratic caucus in the senate. Barbara Boxer has worked with Bernie Sanders on legislation. I thought that was a low blow, to use Hillary's term.

But let me tell you, Anderson. First of all, as a liberal, proud to be a liberal, I love this debate and now the two Democrats debating over who is the more progressive, right? I mean, frankly, I find that very comforting.

But, to Maria's point, look, Hillary, I think has been a good -- she's a good person. She's got a great record. But if she's going to question Bernie's record, look at her record. A progressive would not have voted for the war in Iraq. A progressive would not have supported the Trans-Pacific Partnership. A progressive would not have supported Keystone Pipeline. A progressive is for single-payer legislation.

So this is fair. This is fair. Everything is fair.

I think from Clinton to be whining about this, I mean, come on, this is campaign. It's fair for her to say that Bernie voted against the Brady Bill. It's fair for him to say that she has not always taken a progressive stand on very important issues. Let the voters decide. But stop whining about it.

CARDONA: Oh, I don't think she's whining. I think ...

PRESS: You are.

CARDONA: ... if anybody -- if anybody, Hillary Clinton knows how to take incoming better than anybody else. I think what she'll do tonight, though ...


CARDONA: ... is focus on those progressive values, but also on making sure that you actually have to get things done for the voters, which is something that Sanders has to explain on how he plans on that.

COOPER: All right. We will see ...

PRESS: And I think she should also stop bragging about being a moderate and a centrist.

CARDONA: Those are tactics, Bill.

COOPER: Let's leave it there. Bill Press, Maria Cardona, we'll see how they handle this tonight.

Just ahead, our CNN Democratic Town Hall now, less than 20 minutes away.

What do New Hampshire voters want to hear from Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders tonight? What did they tell Randi Kaye? Oh, might surprise you.


[20:48:10] COOPER: And we're just 12 minutes away from our CNN Democratic Town Hall here in Derry, New Hampshire. It's now a two- candidate race. I'll be moderating, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders will also be taking questions from the audience. Erin Burnett joins me now. In a couple of minutes, she's going to take the reins while I make my way down to the town hall. In the place is already packed. There's a lot of excitement here.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR, "OUTFRONT": It is pack and, you know, we were I was just talking to the man who manages this Opera House. You know, it's a treasure to them. It's a small, very New England quintessential building.

COOPER: It's incredibly intimate.

BURNETT: And which is going to be wonderful for you, because you're going to really get a chance to interact with the people you're talking to. I know it was only about 200 or so a little bit more people here.

COOPER: Yeah. And what we have here o are, we have Democrats, obviously, registered Democrats, also registered Independents, all of whom who have indicated to us they are going to be voting in next week's primary. So this is really an opportunity for them or maybe their only opportunity to directly ask some of these candidates and for everybody around the country and frankly around the world who will be watching to see a much more kind of intimate side of both of these candidates.

BURNETT: It is incredible. And even getting ready behind stage, there's a little room for Hillary Clinton, a little room for Bernie Sanders, and they are small. It is intimate. It's right where our production crew is.

COOPER: Right. And it was going to be the same today we've seen sniping on the campaign trail between these two campaigns. Interesting to see if we hear that tonight.

Now, before I head downstairs, I want to look at a report that Randi Kaye. Did she talk to some voters about what they would like to hear from both candidates tonight? Here's what they told us.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Breakfast time at the red arrow diner in Manchester, New Hampshire. And again, the conversation turns to politics. After all, we're just days away from the New Hampshire primary.

UNINDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, honey. French Fries, hash browns.

KAYE: We found voters hungry to talk politics.

UNINDENTIFIED MALE: How do you get any consensus ...

KAYE: And full of questions they would like to ask Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. [20:50:02] VALERIE ENDRESS, VOTER: Will the question I would ask her is, is, is what she's promising on the campaign trail in Iowa and New Hampshire something that she really is going that we're going to see on her presidential agenda?

KAYE: In other words, can we trust your ideas and your promises?

ENDRESS: That's right. That's right.

KAYE: The issue of trust came up again over Mrs. Clinton's private e- mail server.

SYDNEY WEBB, VOTER: I really don't trust her.

KAYE: Would you want to ask her about those e-mails?

WEBB: I would, just to say like, you're hiding them, or something of that, because that's what I've heard.

KAYE: And Benghazi.

If you could have a conversation with Hillary Clinton about Benghazi, what would you ask her?

ROB BLUBAUGH, VOTER: Well, I would like to know if she really thought it was terrorism from the beginning.

KAYE: Sanders' supporters ...

ALYSSA WILLEY, VOTER: We make your own omelet. I do American cheese.

KAYE: Wondered how he'd pay for his ideas like universal health care and free public college.

WILLEY: I want to know why, if he's going to raise taxes, and how high the taxes are going to be.

KAYE: For Clinton, there were questions about Iraq.

MARYANNE EVERS, VOTE: I'd like to know how she's going to get us out of Iraq as quickly as possible. And I would be interested in hearing more about how we're going to learn how to be in -- I don't know, in a different kind of a relationship with the Middle East.

KAYE: This same woman also wondered if Sanders could run the country successfully as a self-declared democratic socialist.

EVERS: I would say, how are you going to move this country, which most of it is very conservative, into such a forward-thinking kind of a model?

KAYE: For this Diner, Sanders' experience was top of mind.


KAYE: Steak sauce? KAY ISRAEL, VOTER: The question on my mind would have to be, how are

you going to get up to speed on foreign policy? Your national positions are rather clear. But foreign policy becomes a major issue, as well, in this time and period.

KAYE: Randi Kaye, CNN, Manchester, New Hampshire.


BURNETT: Anderson is heading on to the floor right now, getting ready for the town hall, getting ready to moderate this crucial night, just moments away.

Up next, more about what we can expect to hear from the candidates tonight.


[20:56:03] BURNETT: All right. We are moments away from the Democratic town hall right here in New Hampshire. Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton answering questions from voters in the audience and from Anderson Cooper.

You see the audience getting ready with the applause. And before we go to Anderson, I want to get a little bit more of a sense of what we can expect from the candidates tonight.

And for that, let's bring back our Senior Political Commentator, Former Obama Senior Adviser, David Axelrod, along with our Senior Political Reporter, Nia-Malika Henderson.

OK. This is a very intimate format. My voice comes quieter, because it's quite down there to the final seconds.

What can people expect? This is different for a candidate to sort of face to face with the voters?

AXELROD: It is, but it's still a message exercise at the end of the day. They'll push the messages they've been pushing. Hillary Clinton will push the message because she's a pragmatic progressive and a hopeful realist who knows how to get change from the system sort of an evolutionary.

Bernie sanders is the revolutionary, who said, he will say he wants to challenge a system that's let everyday people down and that he will more fundamentally confront it.

And I think that will be the theme that will run through their answers throughout the night.

BURNETT: Oh, I get revolutionary versus evolutionary. What should we expect tonight?

HENDERSON: I think at some of that and I think some of the local issues might come into play here as well. As we know, New Hampshire facing a heroin epidemic here, 400 people in 2015 died of heroine overdoses in these Town Halls. So, he'd been confronted with these issues.

So, I think that will certainly come up and how they will deal with it. And those are the kinds of moments that I think provide candidates with a real chance to connect to individual voters and also show of their policy chops.

BURNETT: It also gives them a chance to be human, right? When you have a debate, right, it's the moderators, it's very -- I don't want to use the word "contrived" but it's very controlled.

AXELROD: The interaction between them and the folks, the questioners is very important. There's a chance to show empathy, there's a chance to show connection for both these candidates, that's very important.

BURNETT: Right. And how do you do that and come across as authentic?

HENDERSON: Yeah. I think that's a challenge. You know, we always say, Bill Clinton, the kind of "I feel your pain" moment. You know, people kind of talk in anecdotes often. Talk about the stories they've heard on the campaign trail. But also try to translate that into policy while still embracing and sympathizing and empathizing with the human dimension.

AXELROD: Yeah. Having worked with candidates, I can tell you, it's very, very hard. Much harder than it looks, because if you overdo, it comes across as cloying and as you say, inauthentic. So, it's tougher than it looks.

BURNETT: I'm sure it is, right. Even what might be the natural thing to do doesn't always necessarily translate it in front of the cameras.

The other thing about this room, and as we were talking about, this is a quintessential New England ...


BURNETT: ... a small -- it's an Opera House, but it sort of like a Town Hall feeling. It looks like there's 100 people, but there's over 200 that are down there. It feels very intimate.

How do you deal with -- there's independents in here, too. That changes things, doesn't it? This is a town hall unlike any other.

AXELROD: Yes. Well, this is a state that's unusual in that regard, because independents can go to either Primary Republican and Democrats. You're not only soliciting them for your candidacy, but you're soliciting them to come over to your party and vote in your primary and when they could go to the Republican side as well. So, it's a really interesting exercise.

BURNETT: And their questions become even more important.

HENDERSON: That's right. They're talking to folks in this room and also talking to the people who are watching, they're talking to South Carolina voters as well, and Nevada voters, and those in general election voters.

So, they've got a lot of things to kind of juggle here in terms of connecting on the one hand, but projecting beyond New Hampshire as well.

BURNETT: And having prepped candidates for this before, is this the sort of -- do you prepare even more or the same as opposed to a debate?

AXELROD: It's a little bit different. But it has more to do with how you're going to approach the people who remember to say their name, remember their story. Don't talk past them, talk to them. You know, it's those kinds of things.

It's a little bit different than a candidate debate, where you really sort of fire off that line, when they fire that line at you, you know? It's a different exercise.

HENDERSON: Yeah. I think a challenge for Bernie Sanders is because he's used to those big crowds, those lectures, the oration and not the kind of intimate setting.

AXELROD: Especially about Hillary ...

BURNETT: Hillary.

AXELROD: ... Hillary Clinton exercise.

BURNETT: We will see.

[21:00:00] It's going to be a very big night for both of them and thanks so much to both of you.

It is time now to hand it back over to Anderson, who of course is moderating tonight's Democratic presidential Town Hall. Anderson, let me hand it off to you.

COOPER: Good evening everyone. What a night. Here is the nation's first presidential ...