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Conflict in Syria; New Hampshire Battle; Presidential Poll Numbers; Fresh Bloodshed in Syria, Peace Prospects Dim; NFL Commissioner Speaks Out About Concussions; Unemployment at Lowest Level in Eight Years. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired February 5, 2016 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: And breaking now, exclusive new poll numbers on their race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Bush's league. Jeb Bush deploys his mother and former president brother in an effort to bolster his campaign just days before the crucial New Hampshire vote, Barbara Bush taking some not-so-veiled swipes at Donald Trump. I will talk to one of Trump's key supporters this hour.

Syrian slaughter. Fighting intensifies in one of the world's most brutal conflicts, the U.S. saying Russian bombs are killing women and children in large numbers. Tens of thousands more people displaced on top of the millions who have already fled. Are Saudi forces about to join the fighting on the ground?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following the breaking news in the Democratic race for the White House.

A just-released CNN/WMUR tracking poll of New Hampshire voters who head to the polls just four days from now shows Bernie Sanders the clear favorite, enjoying a commanding lead over Hillary Clinton, who's accusing him of what she calls an artful smear in their latest debate.

And on the Republican side, our new poll shows Donald Trump maintaining his double-digit lead, while Jeb Bush comes in fourth. The former Florida governor hoping his mother might win over some voters. Barbara Bush taking several swipes at Donald Trump as she campaigns for her son today, and telling CNN she's -- quote -- "sick of him." That would be Donald Trump.

We're covering all of that, much more this hour with our correspondents and our guests, including a key Trump supporter, and our expert analysts are also standing by.

But let's begin with our exclusive new CNN/WMUR tracking poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center. It shows Bernie Sanders the choice, get this, of 61 percent of likely Democratic New Hampshire voters in Tuesday's primary. Hillary Clinton is 30 points behind with just 31 percent right now.

CNN senior Washington correspondent Joe Johns is in New Hampshire for us tonight.

Joe, Bernie Sanders obviously the clear favorite right now. What's the latest?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, and they're hoping they saw some evidence of that on the campaign trail here just today. Here in Exeter, New Hampshire, a very large crowd turning out for Bernie Sanders in spite of a big snowstorm. He says he sees momentum in the crowd.


JOHNS (voice-over): The calendar might show four days until the New Hampshire primary, but Hillary Clinton is already looking beyond the fight for the nomination.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will call Senator Sanders, the first call I will make, if I'm so fortunate as to get this nomination. We have a lot of work to do. I look forward to working with him as a partner in the Senate.

JOHNS: And, today, Bernie Sanders is decrying the role of money in politics.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: People are obsessed with raising money. It is getting worse because of Citizens United. So I think we need to move toward public funding of elections.

JOHNS: The fight between these two Democrats is growing more intense. Hillary Clinton airing an ad in New Hampshire jabbing Sanders for his idealistic proposals.

CLINTON: The American people can't afford to wait for ideas that sound good on paper, but will never make it in the real world.

JOHNS: And in their final debate before voters head to the polls Tuesday, Clinton and Sanders engaging in a series of feisty exchanges.

CLINTON: I think it's time to end the very artful smear that you and your campaign have been carrying out in recent weeks, and let's talk -- let's talk about the issues.

JOHNS: Continuing to trade barbs over which of them is a true progressive.

CLINTON: If we're going to get into labels, I don't think it was particularly progressive to vote against the Brady Bill five times.

SANDERS: One of the things we should do is not only talk the talk, but walk the walk. I am very proud to be the only candidate up here who does not have a super PAC, who's not raising huge sums of money from Wall Street.


JOHNS: Clinton calling out Sanders for repeatedly saying her campaign takes money from big banks and special interests.

CLINTON: Enough is enough. If you have got something to say, say it directly. But you will not find that I ever changed a view or a vote because of any donation that I ever received.

JOHNS: And assuring voters there will be no more surprises in the e- mail controversy hanging over her campaign.

CLINTON: Before those e-mails, it was Benghazi, and the Republicans were stirring up so much controversy about that. And so I think the American people will know it's an absurdity. I have absolutely no concerns about it whatsoever.


JOHNS: Sanders will step off the trail and onto the "Saturday Night Live" stage this weekend, where he will appear alongside host Larry David, who impersonated the candidate earlier this season.

LARRY DAVID, ACTOR: I own one pair of underwear. That's it.



JOHNS: In just about an hour, Sanders and Hillary Clinton attend a dinner sponsored by the New Hampshire Democratic Party. That, of course, will be the dinner that comes after two days of a vigorous face-off between these two candidates, Sanders also announcing the endorsement of Ben Jealous, the former head of the NAACP, hoping that endorsement will help him when this road show moves to South Carolina, where African-American voters are so critical -- Wolf.

BLITZER: They certainly are. All right, thanks very much for that, Joe Johns.

I want to show our viewers this national poll released today by Quinnipiac University. Look at this. In December, Hillary Clinton nationally among Democrats was way ahead, 61 percent to Bernie Sanders' 30 percent. But, right now, Hillary Clinton is at 44 percent, Bernie Sanders 42 percent, within the margin of error. Look at how those numbers have changed since December.

On the Republican side, Donald Trump remains the man to beat in New Hampshire. He's at 28 percent, with Marco Rubio 11 points behind in second place. Ted Cruz, who won the Iowa caucuses, he's tied for third place with the Ohio governor, John Kasich. Jeb Bush is back in fourth place.

Our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, is covering the GOP race for us tonight. The stakes really are high for these Republicans.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They sure are very high, especially since four days out, the majority of voters say they're not entirely sure who they're going to vote for, and it is Donald Trump who has the most to lose because he's sitting so high atop the polls, which is why being absent in the Granite State today is the last thing Trump needed.


BASH (voice-over): It turns out being a billionaire with your own plane can be politically perilous.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm number one in New Hampshire. Will you please keep me there?

BASH: After last night's rally, Trump went home to New York. He said his plane couldn't get back to New Hampshire this morning because of the snow, tweeting: "Big storm in New Hampshire. Moved my event to Monday. Will be there next four days," and posting this on Facebook:

TRUMP: The great slogan of New Hampshire, live free or die, means so much to so many people. All over the world, they use that expression.

BASH: But Granite State voters expect to see candidates in person. Being absent for a day this close to the primary is not ideal, especially since Trump has been stepping it up with more traditional retail campaign events.

Jeb Bush trolled Trump about it on Twitter, saying: "My 90-year-old mother made it out to campaign."

Jeb Bush did bring out his mother, and the popular former first lady also had a thing or two to say about Trump during an interview with Jamie Gangel.

BARBARA BUSH, FORMER FIRST LADY: He sort of makes faces and says insulting things. I mean, he's said terrible things about women, terrible things about military. I don't understand why people are for him, for that reason.

BASH: Jeb Bush suddenly seems to be embracing the Bush brand, not only campaigning with his mother, but even releasing a new ad with a more controversial family member, his brother.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know Jeb. I know his good heart and his strong backbone. Jeb will unite our country.

BASH: But Jeb Bush's former protege, Marco Rubio, could be standing in his way. He's sharpening his criticism to try to slow Rubio's rise with this new ad.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Jeb Bush ran Florida. Marco Rubio -- finish the sentence. RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I would just say the

this is a guy who's been able to, number one -- the bottom line is, he didn't get accomplishments done, and neither did President Obama.

BASH: Rubio is taking a lot of incoming. The publisher of New Hampshire's conservative "Union Leader," who endorsed Christie, wrote: "Young Rubio must make New Hampshire a bunch of rubes. He hasn't spent much time here, but is trying to sell himself with TV ads as someone who can go to Washington to clean up the Washington mess."

And Chris Christie, who's been camped out in New Hampshire for months, is hitting Rubio and Ted Cruz as Johnny-come-latelies.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Two guys who have spent the least amount of time in New Hampshire, by far. And because they came in second and third in Iowa, you're going to let them come in second and third in New Hampshire?


BASH: That appeal to Granite State voters' pride and being independent, not to mention their contrarian sensibilities, shows how much Christie has been spending in New Hampshire. He really gets them.

But what he and others have to overcome is another phenomenon we found in talking to voters there all week, and that is a lot of people said, Wolf, that they want to vote for a winner, and that's why they said they're taking a look at Marco Rubio since he did so well unexpectedly in Iowa.

BLITZER: We will see how he does in New Hampshire right now.

All right, Dana, thanks very much.

Let's get some more on all of this with a key Donald Trump supporter.

Scottie Hughes is a Tea Party leader. She's chief political correspondent for USA Radio Networks.


Scottie, thanks very much for joining us.

You take a look at this poll. Our new CNN/WMUR poll shows Trump still in the lead, Rubio steadily rising. He's in second place, but Kasich and Cruz are now tied in third place. Your reaction.

SCOTTIE HUGHES, USA RADIO NETWORKS: Well, the poll is exactly the same way since Iowa.

These are great numbers for Mr. Trump. That means they're unchanged. AKA, Iowa has already forgotten, just like Mr. Trump has already forgotten Iowa. Going forward, I agree with Dana. It is focusing on New Hampshire. And this would have been ideal for Mr. Trump to hold his rally today. But it's not like he's just at home sitting on his couch. He's down in South Carolina holding a rally.

A few days ago, he was in Little Rock, Arkansas, and did have plane troubles. Everything is legitimate reaches why he's not in New Hampshire. He rescheduled the event for Monday and will be back in New Hampshire for the next four days.

So, the Granite State is not being ignored by Mr. Trump. If anything, he's doing everything he can to get back there and probably spending more time with the people because of this and not necessarily putting their lives at risk by holding these large rallies that other candidates obviously don't care for their safety in making them get out to be at.

BLITZER: But, Scottie, you have heard the criticism. He was in New Hampshire yesterday. He did four or five separate events. He moved about very rapidly. Why didn't he just stay overnight in New Hampshire last night like the other candidates, get up this morning and do some more events before flying down for tonight's event in South Carolina?

HUGHES: Well, because -- I mean, look at the weather reports today, Wolf. This morning, we have seen blankets of snow that might have been there last night, but have gotten worse today, the weather conditions. Why not take advantage of this, go down to South Carolina?

It's a very important state, and then he will be back up there tomorrow. So it's not like he's trying to do anything like insulting. He's been there the past few days. He's going to be back. He's holding all of the rallies he promised. He just wants to do it when it's safe for all of those people to get there.

Listen, he's not like the other candidates that just have like 20, 30, 100, 200 people showing up at his events. He has thousands. Those are thousands of people that he has to care for and make sure that they get there safety. And by sitting there and taking the chance and say, you know what, get out on these icy, snowy roads to come to my event, it's actually kind of selfish of some of these candidates, in my opinion.

BLITZER: Thirty percent of likely Republican voters say in our new poll that they're still considering which candidate they will vote for, they're still undecided, and it's only a few days from the primary. I guess that's a big number. A third -- about a third of the voters there still haven't made up their mind.

HUGHES: And that's something that can happen tomorrow night during the debate. That is something Mr. Trump is working very hard in preparing for. He is definitely going to be on the positive and optimistic in tomorrow night's debate, hoping that they are going to be talking more about policy and leaving some of the child's play that's been happening in the past few weeks behind.

That's where you're going to sit there and impress those Granite State voters. It's not like by sitting there and shaking their hands for two seconds. It's by actually being able to discuss these policies, which is what he's hoping to do tomorrow night. And that should win them over.

The other thing about that poll I find interesting is, it looks like Rubio is gaining ground, which is wonderful. But he's taking it away from Christie, who's been there, like the reporter there, for the past -- he's basically lived there more than he has in New Jersey.

So at this point, I think that's something that is to be said, that, you know, it's Chris Christie and you have got Jeb Bush with his mommy there having to stick up for him and call him a nice guy in order to be elected president that isn't working with a message.

I think the people of the Granite State are smarter than that. They want to hear policies. They want to see actions. And it doesn't matter necessarily about how much time you invest in New Hampshire, it's about the quality, not quantity.

BLITZER: Who do you think represents among the Republicans the biggest threat to Donald Trump winning the nomination?

HUGHES: I honestly don't think it's any of them. I think it's the pettiness of the GOP that is the biggest threat to any of the candidates winning the nomination.

Listen, we saw a good debate last night on the Democrats' side. If you're a Democrat, you are high-fiving each other, because you saw good jabs. You saw policy being discussed. We have not had that opportunity really amongst these GOP candidates yet, because there's been too many of them on the stage to have a thorough discussion.

So I think at this point, nobody is a threat to Donald Trump. None of the candidates are a threat to him, except for the overall GOP and the party itself and these politics that have continued to be played that only damage the brand of the Republican Party. It's time for them to start acting like adults. And if you can win, stay in the race. If you can't, get out and let the voters really get a chance to hear candidates who potentially could be president.

BLITZER: Yes, I think there's going to be seven Republicans on the stage tomorrow night on that debate.

Scottie, stand by. I want to show our viewers live pictures coming in from Florence, South Carolina, right now. You see another big Trump rally about to get under way. Donald Trump is in South Carolina. We're going to cover that story obviously as well.

Much more when we come back.



BLITZER: The republican presidential candidates, they are out in fullf orce tonight there campaigning in New Hampshire, most of them at least.

Take a look at these live pictures we have. There's Marco Rubio. He's in Derry, New Hampshire, campaigning there. Chris Christie, he's in Salem. There's Chris Christie in Salem, New Hampshire. Jeb Bush is in Concord, New Hampshire. All live right now. Donald Trump getting ready for a big rally in South Carolina right now right now. There's Florence, South Carolina, a Donald Trump rally. They're getting ready for that.

The breaking news tonight, our exclusive new CNN/WMUR tracking poll shows Donald Trump with an 11-point lead in New Hampshire, which holds the first primary of the 2016 election in only four days.

We're back with Trump supporter Scottie Hughes. She's a Tea Party leader, chief political correspondent for USA Radio Networks.

Scottie, Trump has certainly toned down, at least over the past 24 hours or so, his rhetoric. He released this live free or die video aimed at New Hampshire voters. Does he think, shall we say, a less blunt, less angry Donald Trump is a better strategy right now to win New Hampshire?


HUGHES: Well, I think he's showing how diverse he is.

I mean, some -- there are some times, Wolf, that you get angry and some things that happen in this world need someone who can get angry. We just don't need the nice guy all the time. I think that's one of the reasons why people like Mr. Trump, is because they can relate to him.

People aren't just angry all the time. People aren't just nice all the time. It's whatever the situation deserves. And there has been times in this campaign that he has needed to show you just -- need to stick up for himself and show that he is angry, but there are times like right now where he actually needs to talk to the people.

And the people don't make Mr. Trump angry. The people are the reason why he's in this campaign. And you have to sit here. And constantly we're talking about the grassroots and Mr. Trump, and maybe he should be in New Hampshire tonight, instead of South Carolina.

Listen, this is his first campaign. He doesn't have a bunch of D.C. staffers or consultants that are telling him where to go, so maybe he's not doing it the traditional way, but it's obviously working, because it's getting him in front of the people, which is who he cares the most about and who he puts his message to focus on.

BLITZER: Well, after New Hampshire, the next big contest is South Carolina. That's not too far down the road, as you pointed out. He earlier in the week was in Little Rock, Arkansas. They have got a big contest coming up on Super Tuesday, March 1 as well.

You also -- now, Scottie, he dropped the line about Cruz stealing the Iowa caucus. He longer says that. He says he's moved past that. What happened? Why has he decided at least on this specific issue to make peace with Cruz?

HUGHES: It's because it's done with, Wolf.

That's the key is, what he does, if you have noticed his track record over the past month, he brings it to the public's attention and then he lets the public decide and he goes on, he moves on. It does no good to show this infighting happening between him and Cruz, and he knows that.

And I think Senator Cruz also should know that, because the reason why -- one of the reasons why Rubio is gaining in the polls is he's gaining people from that fight. So that's the best part about this is that Donald Trump can let things go. He doesn't sit there and try to hold grudges. He moves on and he moves on to what's important.

At this point, it's the people of New Hampshire and, after that, the people of South Carolina and the rest of the states in the SEC.

BLITZER: And Nevada in between as well.

HUGHES: Yes, that's true.

BLITZER: All right, Scottie, thanks very much. We will continue these conversations down the road.

We will stand by, once again, Donald Trump getting ready for his big event in South Carolina tonight.

Let's get some more on all of this.

Joining us, our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash. She's still with us. We're also joined by national political reporter for RealClearPolitics Rebecca Berg, and CNN politics executive editor, Mark Preston.

Mark, Trump, as you know, skipped that event at that Londonderry town hall in New Hampshire due to weather. He couldn't get out of New York earlier today. Jeb Bush tweeted this. "My 90-year-old mother made it out to campaign. She met Destiny, age 5," a little girl you see over there.

Do you think skipping this event today is going to cost him?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: Look, I think it was a mistake for Donald Trump to leave New Hampshire and go back to New York to sleep last night and then, of course, we had weather issues here in New Hampshire all day. He has an 11-point lead right now.

He doesn't have a 30-point lead here in New Hampshire. We have seen in past campaigns deficits like that be overcome. We saw that happen in 2008 when Hillary Clinton came into New Hampshire. She was supposed to lose New Hampshire and she overcame it and defeated Barack Obama, even though Barack Obama was doing so well in the polls.

But to the point now of Jeb Bush tweeting that out right now, I was talking to a source very close to Jeb Bush today about tomorrow night during the debate, what does Jeb Bush need to do? Two things I was told. First thing is he needs to compare and contrast himself with Marco Rubio, specifically when it comes to leadership and as far as resume.

And in terms of Donald Trump, he needs to go after Donald Trump. We have seen Jeb Bush in past debates be very subdued. That is not his personality. But to the point with Donald Trump potentially going after Jeb Bush tomorrow night, saying that he had to have his mommy defend him, maybe that's going to be the button that needs to be pushed that these Bush supporters want to see Jeb Bush step up and take on Donald Trump.

BLITZER: Let me ask Dana about that.

All of a sudden, Barbara Bush, 90 years old, she's out there campaigning, God bless her, with her son in New Hampshire. Should she have been there earlier? Because the suspicion was that Jeb was running away from his last name.

BASH: I mean, possibly, but I don't think that it's probably that easy to get a 90-year-old woman out on the campaign trail with regularity.

Look, it seems to me that Jeb Bush has realized that he can't run away from his name. Even if has just has Jeb on his placard, even if he talks extensively about his record in Florida, how he's his own guy, he's still a Bush. And so why not own it, especially in a place like New Hampshire, especially if you have a mother like Barbara Bush, who is beloved?

And I thought that was interesting. I thought a more interesting tactic was using his brother in an ad, in a brand-new ad. I mean, that's just going all in. He's going full Bush on New Hampshire right now. So why not?


Because, especially, you know, in New Hampshire and other places, among Republicans, George W. Bush is still popular.

BLITZER: Yes, I think that ad, they want to run it in South Carolina.

BASH: Of course.

BLITZER: Where former President Bush, I think, is a lot more popular among Republicans.

BASH: But just even to use him anywhere at this point.


Rebecca, there's another ad the Jeb Bush campaign is releasing going after Marco Rubio and citing a rather awkward interview with Rick Santorum who has endorsed Marco Rubio. Watch this.


QUESTION: What do you list as Marco Rubio's top accomplishment that made you decide to endorse him? RICK SANTORUM (R), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: I its guess it's hard to say

there are accomplishments.

QUESTION: And I will ask it one more time. List one accomplishment that Marco Rubio has achieved in four years in the United States Senate.

QUESTION: Jeb Bush ran Florida. Marco Rubio -- finish the sentence.


BLITZER: Pretty awkward, that moment there, if you take a look at the rest of that ad.

I guess Jeb Bush sees Marco Rubio as his biggest threat right now; is that right?

REBECCA BERG, REALCLEARPOLITICS: Well, Jeb Bush has a lot of big threats right now. Marco Rubio is certainly one of them.

In the case of that ad, it pretty much wrote itself, didn't it? But the question we have to ask ourselves at this stage in the campaign, just a few days until the New Hampshire primary, is whether this attack is going to work for Jeb Bush and some of the other candidates, Chris Christie making similar points, when it hasn't worked to this point?

Jeb Bush and Right to Rise spent millions of dollars in Iowa trying to make those very points, that Marco Rubio didn't have experience, that he hadn't actually accomplished anything, that he wasn't ready to go to the Oval Office. And obviously that fell flat.

Marco Rubio did better than expected in Iowa. The concern for Jeb Bush is, does that also happen in New Hampshire?

BLITZER: Yes. We will see what happens. Right now in our new poll, he's number two, but these numbers could clearly change over the next four days. The most important poll is the actual voting on Tuesday.

Mark, Chris Christie, he is also really going after Rubio right now. Chris Christie is at an event. We can show our viewers some pictures right now. He's in Salem, New Hampshire. But he's nonstop going after Rubio, blasting him on all sorts of issues, saying he basically accomplished nothing in the Senate, criticizing his stance on abortion with no exceptions for even rape, incest, the life of the mother.

What's his strategy now, Chris Christie?

PRESTON: Well, first of all, some of the things that Chris Christie has said about Marco Rubio are amazing. He calls him the boy in the bubble.

The reason why we have seen that is because the Christie campaign needs to break through this media chatter right now that seems to be focused on Donald Trump. We're spending a lot of time talking about Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Chris Christie needs to do well here in New Hampshire. And tomorrow night, I'm told by someone very close to him that he's being advised not to be so nice during the debates.

In the previous debates, we have seen Chris Christie focus all of his energy on Hillary Clinton and telling others, look, we're Republicans. We shouldn't be attacking one another.

However, heading into tomorrow night, he needs to start attacking people. But it comes at risk with Chris Christie. They want to make sure that Chris Christie is sharp and he executes it correctly. They don't want him to do basically the full Christie, where he just unloads, because he still has to show that -- that CEO kind of mentality that he's trying to exude as a governor.

BLITZER: Dana, listen to Jeb Bush. Here he's talking about Marco Rubio's attitude, his complaining about attack ads. Listen to this.


JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm being attacked by Marco Rubio's super PAC. And I don't feel -- that's so unfair. You know, that's just not -- look, I mean, get over it, man. He spends all his time complaining about people doing advertising. This is politics.


BLITZER: The point he's trying to make is that Rubio has trouble dealing with criticism; is that right?

BASH: Well, and not just that.

It's because, as you talked about earlier, Jeb Bush's super PAC has unloaded on him, really in a remarkable way, to the point where you have a lot of chatter behind the scenes of the so-called establishment Republican figures, saying like, you know, cut it out, because we actually think that Marco Rubio is the only chance at this point we have to stopping a Ted Cruz or Donald Trump, who they don't like.

But I thought that that was actually quite effective, because he said a lot, you know, with his words, but even more so with his mannerisms, which you don't actually see a lot from Jeb Bush. He clearly was trying to say that he has thin skin, but the way he made fun of him as if he was pouting, he was also saying he's a young kid, basically.

BLITZER: Our new poll, tracking poll in New Hampshire, you saw it, Rebecca, it still has Donald Trump way ahead. And there he is, Marco Rubio, in second place. Look, a tie for third place, 13, 13 for John Kasich and Ted Cruz.

There are some out there -- maybe this is wishful thinking on the part of some Republicans who don't like Ted Cruz -- who are already suggesting he's going to turn out eventually to be the Santorum who won Iowa four years ago, or the Huckabee who won Iowa eight years ago.

[18:30:10] BERG: Frankly, that's wishful thinking, Wolf, because Santorum had no organization when he won Iowa in 2012. He had no money. It was a complete fluke. And so he didn't have the organization in place to make anything of that.

Ted Cruz is the exact opposite. And in fact, he has one of the most organized campaigns among any of the Republicans. He has the most cash on hand. He has staff who know what they're doing, aides who are really, really smart about this and know strategy, know political strategy. And Ted Cruz himself is actually a very adept political strategist.

And so I would not expect him to just fizzle into the background. He has a plan in place, and he's executing on that place.

BLITZER: He's not Santorum, and he's not Huckabee. We'll see how he does in New Hampshire and then moving on to South Carolina.

All right, guys. Stand by. We're awaiting Donald Trump. He's at a rally down in Florence, South Carolina, right now. The crowd -- I assume it's a big crowd; he always gets a pretty big crowd wherever he goes. He had a huge crowd in Little Rock, Arkansas, earlier in the week. We'll have that, a lot more. Stay with us.


[18:35:47] BLITZER: President Obama today touting the economy, the latest unemployment numbers. The Republican presidential candidates continue to hammer away at his record. The jobless rate is now at its lowest level in eight years.

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Michelle Kosinski.

Michelle, you were there for the president's appearance when he went into the press briefing room to speak to reporters.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: President Obama clearly relished this good jobs news today, so much so that he did himself go into the briefing room to announce that the U.S. economy created more than 150,000 jobs last month. That's enough to push the unemployment rate over the edge, drop it below 5 percent for the first time in nearly eight years.

On top of that, there's also news on points where there's often criticism. I mean, these are wages going up, as well. Workplace participation is up. These are full-time jobs so the president got political, saying that news of progress on this front and other fronts is, quote, "inconvenient for Republican stump speeches, as their doom and despair tour plays in New Hampshire."

Just yesterday the president jokingly implied that he doesn't get enough credit for his record. Today he talked about that in all seriousness. Listen.


KOSINSKI: Fifty-seven percent of Americans in polls say they don't think things are going well in this country. Why do you think that is? BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's still anxiety

and concern about the general direction of the economy. If you look at some of the surveys, people feel better about their circumstances, their finances, but they're not sure about the future.

And part of it is there's still a pretty big carry-over from the devastation that took place in 2007-2008. If your home value drops in half or you lose a job that he thought you were secure in or your pension suddenly looks vulnerable, you're going to remember that. Had we adopted some of the policies that were advocated by Republicans over the last four or five, six years, we know that we probably would have done worse.


KOSINSKI: And the president acknowledged there's plenty of room for improvement. And workforce participation is low compared to the past. And the unemployment rate for African-Americans, that's also been dropping. It's still close to 9 percent.

But the point that he wanted to get across is that what his administration has been doing is working, maybe giving himself some of that credit that he might feel is lacking, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. He inherited an awful situation seven years ago. What, unemployment rate was around 10 percent at that time. Hundreds of thousands of jobs were being lost every month and things have clearly turned around. Four point nine percent unemployment is very good right now. Michelle, thanks very much.

Mark Preston, these positive job numbers in an election year, they have political ramifications. If the economy is good, if people have jobs, presumably, that would be good for the Democratic nominee.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: Presumably, but we're talking about eight years of a Democratic president, so that is stacked up against whoever the Democratic nominee is.

And to what the president said about the anxiety people are feeling, you walk around the streets of Manchester here, this is an old mill town, you know, where folks are making a living. This is a blue collar town that has had the bad effects of an economy. There's an incredible drug problem here, Wolf.

And again, you have to look at the economy. How did this spur on? So President Obama has a very fine line to walk as he goes through his final year right now. At some point there will be a Democratic nominee, and he has got to protect that person's flank. He has to continue talking about the good things his administration does. But he's got to make sure he doesn't suck up all the oxygen, because the new head of the Democratic Party, that Democratic nominee needs to chart their own course.

BLITZER: Yes. Good point. Dana, take a look at this Quinnipiac University poll among Democrats, likely Democratic voters nationwide. Back in December, not that long ago, Hillary Clinton had 61 percent, Bernie Sanders 30 percent. Right now it's neck in neck, 44 percent for Hillary Clinton nationwide among Democrats, 42 percent for Bernie Sanders. Amazingly close, within the margin of error. You've got to give Bernie Sanders a lot of credit for doing that.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You absolutely do. I mean, again, it bears repeating that, a, he's not even officially a Democrat or hasn't been historically. He's an independent. He's a self-described Democratic socialist.

[18:40:09] But this is exactly why, in last night's debate, Hillary Clinton went so hard against Bernie Sanders, trying to, from her perspective, expose that he's not just Mr. Rosy out there saying that he's going to do everything for college kids and for people across the board to give them health care, but he also, again from her perspective, is playing like a regular politician. And she said he was insinuating things about her, and so on and so forth. That is exactly why you saw her go so hard, because of those polls.

BLITZER: And in New Hampshire it's even worse. What is our poll, 61 percent -- 31 percent for her in New Hampshire.

A lot of Democrats, including people close to the Hillary Clinton campaign, Rebecca, are saying this is no longer a slam dunk for Hillary. This could go on and on. Eight years ago it went all the way till June before then-Senator Barack Obama wrapped it up.

REBECCA BERG, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: It certainly can. The Clinton campaign is hopeful, of course, that in the south they're going to do better. That when they move on to South Carolina, to some of these SEC primary states on Super Tuesday on March 1 that they will start to do better because the proportion of African-Americans will be higher. Clinton tends to do very well among those voters, minority voters in general.

But I think we need to take another look at that, because we've seen Bernie Sanders with a lot of momentum. He's going to have more momentum coming out of New Hampshire, and momentum helps in these races.

BASH: Can I add one thing to that? He also has money. And he has money that just comes at him without him really having to do very much to get it.

BERG: Three million in one day.

BASH: And Hillary Clinton really has to work for it when she raises her money. They actually do fundraisers. She, her husband, her daughter, they've got to do it. So the money will help him big-time to keep going.

BLITZER: One thing that she has that he doesn't have, because he doesn't want it, is that super PAC. They raised millions and millions of dollars there. That clearly is going to help her, even though technically, legally there can't be any direct coordination between her campaign and that super PAC. Dana, let's talk a little bit about SNL, "Saturday Night Live."

Because we today learned that Larry David is going to be hosting "Saturday Night Live." We knew that. But we today learned from the Sanders campaign that Bernie Sanders is actually going to make an appearance there.

Larry David, as you know, does an amazing, an amazing Bernie Sanders. But Bernie Sanders, he's got a little comedic instinct himself. Years ago -- we discovered this, but others have been watching it as well, -- he played a rabbi in a film. This was back in 1999. This is Bernie Sanders playing a rabbi. Watch this.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My name is Rabbi Manny Shevitz, and I am very pleased that you invited me to be with you today and I've prepared a few words.

By the way, that free agency, free agency crap, that really gets me. That's $2 million here. They spent $12 million there. What's so free about that free agency? I can't take that anymore.


BLITZER: Very funny if you watch the whole thing.

BASH: I've been watching it on a loop on my phone.

BLITZER: I mean, that's Larry David over there. That's Bernie Sanders. You don't know the difference.

BASH: And he had that deadpan answer to Anderson Cooper the other night at CNN's town hall, where he said -- he asked about -- Bernie about Larry David, and he said, "I am Larry David." You know, without cracking a smile. So...

BLITZER: And usually these appearances, Mark, on "Saturday Night Live," whether it's Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton and now Bernie Sanders, usually it works out pretty well for them, doesn't it?

PRESTON: It absolutely does. And look, Rebecca and Dana and I have covered Capitol Hill for a very long time. We know the players up there. We know their personalities. I never knew Bernie Sanders had a personality, it just didn't exist.

Look, what we've seen in these town halls, I mean, look at Wolf, he's probably going to be very funny tomorrow. And then during that town hall just a couple of days ago, at the very end of the questioning, he sat in a chair. He didn't sit upright. He slouched back. He was comfortable. It was almost like, "Hey, I'm in a living room right now."

Who would have ever thought that he was a musician, that he was an actor and now that he's a serious presidential candidate?

BLITZER: He says -- Larry David says, "I don't have a backpack. I don't have a super PAC. I don't have a backpack."

He's funny, Rebecca, isn't he?

BERG: He is funny. And like Mark said, it's kind of a surprise. No one expected this of Bernie Sanders. No one expected him to do as well as he has.

BLITZER: You covered the Senate for a long time. Did you know that Bernie Sanders was funny?

BASH: I did not.


We'll see him on "Saturday Night Live" tomorrow night.

All right, guys, we've got a lot more news coming up. Let's take another quick break. We'll be right back.


[18:49:06] BLITZER: Fresh bloodshed in Syria now complicating an already tenuous peace process in the war-torn nation. Thousands of civilians are fleeing the fighting right now. There are new fears that foreign powers like Iran and Russia are making the crisis even worse.

Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, has details on this deteriorating situation.

It's awful what's going on. What's the latest?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: U.S. officials barely hiding their anger. U.S. officials livid in public comments today on Russian airstrikes packing the Syrian offensive. U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power calling the bombing indiscriminate. Secretary Kerry says it is killing civilians in large numbers and must stop, and now, the campaign is emptying Aleppo of thousands of civilians.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): Syrian forces closing in on the key northern city of Aleppo, backed by Iranian fighters in a relentless Russian air campaign.

[18:50:00] The intense fighting is sparking a massive exodus of thousands of civilians fleeing for their lives.

Today, Secretary of State John Kerry accused Russian air strikes of slaughtering civilians.

JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: In some cases, after the bombing has taken place, when the workers have gone in to try to pull out the wounded, the bombers come back and kill the people who are pulling out the wounded. This has to stop. Nobody has any question about that. SCIUTTO: The Syrian advance on Aleppo is a dramatic turnaround for Bashar al Assad, whose regime appeared to be in danger of toppling only months ago, before President Putin joined the fight. And it comes at the expense at the moderate Free Syrian Army backed by the U.S., compromising the peace process in hopes of a cease-fire.

JENS STOLTENBERG, NATO SECRETARY GENERAL: Intense Russian airstrikes mainly targeting opposition groups in Syria is undermining the efforts to find a political solution to the conflict.

SCIUTTO: Now, Saudi Arabia may soon join the fight. Saudi officials announcing a massive military exercise with some 20 Arab countries, in preparation for military action on the ground inside Syria. It's a move U.S. officials say they would welcome.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: They have a pretty advanced military in Saudi Arabia and they have special operations forces that do have unique capabilities that could advance the goals of our counter-ISIL campaign.

SCIUTTO: Still, Saudi ground forces would make an already crowded battlefield even more complex.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: The complexity of the Syrian civil war is beyond anything we have seen in the last 50 years. By comparison, Vietnam, Gulf War I, Gulf War II, all of them are cake walks compared to what's going on in Syria now.


SCIUTTO: Next week, Defense Secretary Ash Carter will travel to Brussels to sit down with the anti-ISIS coalition. They will discuss the Saudi offer of a ground offensive. However, U.S. officials making clear, Wolf, of course, any actual deployment of ground forces can't happen overnight. This is beginning with exercises. There are a lot of steps between now and seeing this happen.

BLITZER: It's hard to believe as bad as the situation over these past four years or so hundreds of thousands of people killed. Millions made homeless. It's getting worse.

SCIUTTO: The bloodshed every day -- I mean, it's a slaughter every day. It's really unconscionable to watch.

BLITZER: Jim Sciutto reporting, thanks very much.

Much more news right after this.


[18:57:30] BLITZER: Ahead of this Sunday's Super Bowl, there's more awareness than ever of concussions and the degenerative brain disease that they can cause. And the NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell spoke out about the issue at this annual state of the league speech today.

CNN sports anchor Coy Wire is in San Francisco. Coy, Roger Goodell said if he had a son, he would still encourage him to play football. You were there. Tell us what else he said.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Wolf, you remember last also week the league revealed 271 players suffered concussions this season, a new four-year high. That's up 200 from 206 just a year ago.

So, earlier at this afternoon, at that press conference, Goodell addressed several questions regarding concussions and gave his thoughts about them. Listen.


ROGER GOODELL, NFL COMMISSIONER: I played the game of football for nine years through high school. I wouldn't give up a single day of that. If I had a son, I'd love to have him play the game of football. I'd love him to play the game of football because of the values you'll get. There's risk in life. There's risk of sitting on the couch.


WIRE: Moving on, we've heard the question all week. Is Super Bowl 50 Peyton Manning's last game? He's 39 years old. Peyton is set to become the oldest starting quarterback in Super Bowl history. Eighteen years, that's a long time to play the game when you consider the average career is about three and a half years.

Peyton has taken a lot of hits. He missed six games this season with a foot injury. He's had three neck surgeries. Wolf, I have a titanium plate and four screws from playing the game, too. And let me tell you -- it is not fun.

But Peyton Manning can still destroy you with his decision making. He's making his fourth Super Bowl appearance. Manning finds himself in position to hoist a second championship trophy and potentially ride off into the sunset of an historic career.

BLITZER: Coy played for six years for my Buffalo Bills, and I remember those days well, Coy. Who do you think is going to win on Sunday?

WIRE: Being an AFC guy, a former Bill and also a defensive guy, I have to go with Denver, Wolf. They're the number one ranked defense this season. And being the underdogs in this game, they're going to have a huge chip on their shoulders. Underdogs have won six of the last eight Super Bowls. I think the Broncos are going to shock the world and beat the Panthers. What do you think, Wolf?

BLITZER: I'm an AFC guy myself. We're on the same page. Coy, thanks very, very much. We'll all be watching. And please join us tomorrow. A CNN bleacher report special "Kickoff by the Bay", hosted by CNN's Chris Cuomo and Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino, with special guest, Joe Montana. That's Saturday afternoon, 2:30 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.

Thanks for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.