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Clinton, Sanders Wrap Up CNN Town Hall; Campaigns Complaining of Irregularities Across Nevada Caucus Sites; Can Anyone Stop Donald Trump? Aired 10-11p ET

Aired February 23, 2016 - 22:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[22:00:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Jake Tapper in the CNN election center.

It is a big, big night in the presidential race. Two pivotal events that could go a long way in determining who is the next commander-in- chief.

Moments ago, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders just wrapped up a special CNN town hall. More on that in a moment. Our other top story tonight, a bumpy start.

Everything in Nevada is reportedly not going according to plan. A republican source telling us the campaigns are complaining of irregularities at some caucus sites across the silver state.

A source says the state party was not ready for this big of a turnout. Our reporters who are on the ground checking, trying to verify all of this.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump has put GOP brass on notice. The Trump campaign sending a letter to the state party warning that if they see evidence of what they call intimidation tactics inside precincts, it will, quote, "will not be tolerated."

This is just the latest development. In an open brawl between Trump and Senator Ted Cruz. Trump has accused Cruz of lying, he even called him sick yesterday after Cruz's campaign resorted to what Trump and others have labeled dirty campaign tactics.

We'll make sure to keep a watchful eye tonight in Nevada.

But let's turn back to the democrats now. You just saw it right here on CNN, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders navigating a mine field of tough questions from our own Chris Cuomo and undecided voters heading into South Carolina.

A state she hopes can permanently take the air out of the Bernie Sanders balloon. Clinton sounded every bit the frontrunner this evening, while Sanders try to recapture his momentum. Listen to Sanders right now talking about the issue that's taking over the campaign, the U.S. Supreme Court and getting in a shot at Senate republicans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, (I-VT) DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What you are seeing today in this Supreme Court situation is nothing more than the continuous and unprecedented obstructionism that President Obama has gone through.

(APPLAUSE)

And this -- and this is on top of the 'birther' issue, which we heard from Donald Trump and others, a racist effort to try to delegitimize the President of the United States. Can you imagine that? They say, well, he's not really the president; he wasn't born in the United States, which is nonsense. You know, it's a funny thing on that issue.

I was -- my dad, as I mentioned, came from Poland. I'm running for president. Guess what? No one has asked for my birth certificate. Maybe it's the color of my skin. I don't know.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[22:05:10] TAPPER: When it was Hillary Clinton's turn, she did not get any time to ease into this town hall. Right after she took the stage, Chris Cuomo asked her whether she would release transcripts of her speeches to Wall Street. Here's how she responded.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Why is there one standard for me, and for everybody else, Chris?

(APPLAUSE)

I mean, you know, at some point, at some point, you know, look, I'm on record, I have a record, it's certainly is far different from the republicans because they think actually and have said that the cause of the great recession was too much regulation on Wall Street, which is an absolute joke.

I have been up front and strong on this issue for a long time, as strong, I would argue, as my esteemed opponent. So, you know what, if people are going to ask for things, everybody should be on a level playing field.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Let's bring in CNN chief political correspondent, Dana Bash and CNN political director David Chalian to talk this over. David, Hillary Clinton saying -- asking more questions about this, this is a one standard for Clinton and nobody else is being asked to do the same.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: This is not an uncommon theme that you hear from the Clinton campaign and, quite frankly, there's some truth to it. I do think that Hillary Clinton probably is held to a different standard at times.

But my question to her answer there is, why do you have to follow on this? Why can't you lead and put out these speeches and have others come behind you.

Listen, Bernie Sanders was asked about it as well. He clearly was inviting this contrast, that he'd be willing to put stuff out, knowing that Hillary Clinton's previous answer was she wanted everybody to put it out and she made it clear, tonight, Jake, that includes all the republicans.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. And now there are only two people running for the democratic nomination, were giving speeches where you're paid a lot of money to Wall Street banks, doing so just months before you announce is a really big deal.

And so, you know, Bernie Sanders didn't do that, she did. So, as much as she wants to make it all about other people, and that's completely understandable, she does have a point that she, in many cases, is held to a different standard. In this case, her actions make her -- probably make it so that she has to be held to a different standard.

TAPPER: And later on, Wall Street was speaking Bernie Sanders sending out a tweet saying that republicans are not the standard by which the democrats should set themselves.

I want to go to Chris Cuomo. As you saw, he moderated the action tonight, doing a great job. He joins me now. Chris, what was your impression? What do you think of Clinton's answer and what do you think of Bernie Sanders?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST, "NEW DAY": I think Dana is making a good point and you're asking the right questions, Jake, as always. I think this is a tricky one. I have to be honest with you. The Secretary is still here working in the crowd. A lot of people waiting to take pictures.

Senator Sanders is tweeting but, you know, he already left, so she's out here alone right now. I think that this is tricky. I think that the idea of asking everybody to put out their speeches sounds right, sounds fair.

However, not everybody is receiving equal scrutiny for cause. And I think that matters. I think that has to be said here. There are real question, there was a judge today, there are things that the secretary herself has admitted as mistakes.

So, to imply an equal standard would also have to require equal basis for that standard and I don't think that's the case. Whether or not these questions are fair or not or are there too many, is it too much, that's for people to decide.

For Senator Sanders to put out that's not our standard, look, if you want to lead, you can go first. Secretary Clinton's point is, Jake, I don't think these are real questions. I think these are just designed to undermine me, they're not real. Now that definition of real is subjective.

TAPPER: And then of course, Bernie Sanders raising some eyebrows by saying that tying the questions of republicans trying to block an Obama picked Supreme Court nominee, tying that to racism and efforts to delegitimize resident Obama, to suggest that he wasn't a citizen -- obviously he was a citizen, we don't have to go into that again -- but the question is, is that really what's motivating republicans who are trying to block a U.S. Supreme Court nominee?

CUOMO: Certainly a loaded response, certainly will create division and anger and response, you know you can expect that. The Senator was given an opportunity to refine that point chose not to. He did go a little bit deeper into not understanding Trump's motivation, for example.

But seeing and underlying and undertone of racism in these judgments, that's going to be a very incendiary comment to be sure. Race always is. The senator's statement seems to be that's what I think. Some people will like it, some people won't.

[22:10:02] In these town halls, Jake, as you've seen as well, a different dynamic often emerges. When they're talking to real people who are living situations, they often say things differently and to different degrees than they would to you or to me, and certainly to each other. That is once a blessing and a curse of these town halls for the candidates and I think we saw that play out once again tonight.

TAPPER: Yes. Certainly Bernie Sanders' answer about this would not be unpopular with democratic voters in South Carolina who will head to the polls in four days. Great job, Chris. Super, super job.

You're looking right now at some live pictures out of Nevada. We've gotten reports from sources that there have been irregularities at caucus sites, state party reportedly overwhelmed, some say holy unprepared to deal with this massive flood of voters.

We're seeing these reports, we're seeing if it will impact the results tonight. Stick with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to CNN's coverage. Campaigns are not happy. That's the word out of Nevada. You're watching live pictures where the republican caucuses are already underway.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and indeed around the world. I'm Jake Tapper in the CNN election center.

[22:15:04] Our caucus camps are watching the action play out throughout the silver state tonight. Five candidates are vying for votes in the Wild West. The real question of course is, can anyone stop Donald Trump?

Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz say this is a three-man race. Rubio arguing that he's the candidate who gives republicans the best chance to unify. Cruz insisting that he's the conservative who can get the Reagan coalition to the polls in November.

But Donald Trump is again the polling favorite in Nevada. And after stomping the competition in South Carolina and before that New Hampshire, Trump looks, frankly, unstoppable.

Let's go to Anderson Cooper right now who has a panel there to talk.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Yes. We're going to turn from Nevada, we're going to go back there shortly, check in with all our correspondents who were at polling locations. We're again as Jake was reporting, campaigns say they are not happy based on what they are seeing, high voter turnout. But a lot of confusion that a lot different polling stations. We'll have the latest for you.

But let's discuss a little bit about what we just saw in South Carolina, the democratic town hall that CNN just put on. I'm joined by first our analyst's table, Michael Smerconish, CNN host of Smerconish, also CNN political commentator, Nia-Malika Henderson, senior political reporter, David Axelrod, senior political commentator and former senior Obama adviser, of Gloria Borger, chief political analyst.

Michael Smerconish, lets's start with you. Do you think any minds were changed tonight in South Carolina based on what they saw on the democratic town hall?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No. I don't think there was any blood drawn. And the surprise to me and maybe not a surprise because it's the way that he's played his hand thus far all along, is that we're sitting here on a day when a federal judge appointed by Bill Clinton said it's OK to question some of the aides to Secretary Clinton about whether public access to her e-mail server was thwarted.

Whether public access to Freedom of Information Act records were thwarted. It's an issue of transparency. Bernie Sanders has no problems raising issues of transparency pertaining to dark money, the whole 501-C4 Koch brother issue. But he just won't go there with regard to, quote unquote, "the damn e-mails." I think he makes a tactical mistake when he does it. I don't think it would be cheap shot if he were to raise it. And from her perspective these are questions she needs to answer.

COOPER: Nia-Malika Henderson, how did you see it?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: You know, I thought in some ways Bernie Sanders was a little flat tonight. There are moments that he missed it. I think he could have made of a human connection with the people in that audience and beyond. The question that someone asked she knew a relative in the Charleston shooting.

He then started to cite his rating from the NRA instead of sympathizing with her. And even when a young man sit up and talk about his own father who died from cigarette smoke. He did talk about his dad and the experience of way he's not into smelling smoke.

But he didn't really show compassion I thought in that moment. So, I thought he missed that. To me, it seemed like in some ways, the audience was stacked for Hillary Clinton but it was only because she used those moments and those interactions so well I thought when...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: There was a particularly effective moment for Hillary Clinton talking to a young law student who is not voting for her.

HENDERSON: Right.

COOPER: He's leaning toward Bernie Sanders, said her mom was going to vote for her, but she was leaning to Sanders. And Hillary Clinton was interesting got very specific and almost seemed to know more about the loan program that this law student was facing than she herself knew. I think that was...

(CROSSTALK)

HENDERSON: I think that's right. I thought it was fascinating. You wonder if that young woman there even changed her mind in terms of who she wanted to back. Because, again, as you said, she was so detailed, Hillary Clinton, in terms of -- and I also thought that the woman who stood up, the African-American woman who stood up and talked about natural hair, talked about Ferguson, talked about Black Lives Matter. You saw Hillary Clinton turn that moment and then those five women who lost sons. I thought that was a very interesting moment.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. I think the whole subtext of this debate -- of this discussion was race.

HENDERSON: Yes, totally.

AXELROD: And that is very important in the South Carolina primary. Half the vote is going to be African-American. Hillary Clinton got three quarters of that vote in Nevada and she stands to do the same in South Carolina.

I think it's why Bernie Sanders was so animated in talking about the Supreme Court issue and the indignity that with which he felt the Congress was treating the President of the United States, this is something that resonates deeply with African-American voters.

And I think she had a great moment. I actually think the best moment she had in the whole evening was when that young African-American woman addressed her. And she spoke with race in a very I think honest and comfortable way that reflects a life time of example in dealing with that issue. I think that was her best moment of the night.

COOPER: Gloria?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: And I think Bernie Sanders came into this knowing that he has a problem that the only won 22 percent of the African-American vote in Nevada and he has to do better.

[22:20:05] And I think he embraced Obama the way we've seen Hillary Clinton embrace Barack Obama, particularly as she talk about the way republicans are trying to delegitimize his presidency.

And I thought he was as passionate about that as he was about anything else and I think it plays into your point about South Carolina and what he's facing there.

COOPER: Let's turn to our commentators, Van Jones, former Obama administration official, Paul Begala is joining us well, democratic strategic, adviser to a pro-Hillary Clinton super PAC as she point put, Kevin Madden, republican strategist, Amanda Carpenter, former communications director for Senator Ted Cruz.

Van, what did you make of tonight?

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I thought they were both more in a Zen mode. Yes, at different times both of them but sometimes they've been...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Does that mean tired?

JONES: I don't want to say tired.

COOPER: Or you're putting a nice spin on it.

JONES: I'm not trying -- I'm not being ageist, none of that.

COOPER: OK. All right.

JONES: I'm just saying it just seem a little both intense. Sometimes they both can be kind of shrill and a little -- maybe they have found an inner peace. That said, a couple of things. One is, I do think Bernie sticking up for the president was important. I think he's been defined as anti-Obama. Because one time you really see him protecting the president.

I don't think her answer when it comes to the speeches is going to work for a bunch of people. You saw her...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: She's saying not just Sanders turns over speeches but republicans as well.

JONES: But now she's saying, you know, I don't know, Ben Carson has to turn over -- I mean, so, I don't think it's going to work for a bunch of people who frankly already don't like her.

But that said, I think Sanders wasting a bunch of time on that doesn't help him. Because the people who are already mad at her on that are already with him. A lot of people just don't care. I think he missed an opportunity to contrast on things that might actually matter. You're in South Carolina, you've got a lot of African-Americans in the military, talk about peace and keeping people - keeping these kids out of war.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Van, very briefly, Paul Begala I want to get in.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. Bernie's challenge was to broaden, I thought he did broaden. His embrace to the president was very not worthy. Hillary challenge was always been to connect. She connected better tonight than I've seen her in this whole campaign.

COOPER: We want to talk about what's happening in Nevada. We will take you there with all our correspondents. We're going to take a short break. We'll be right back with the latest from the Nevada caucuses.

[22:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: You're looking at live pictures from Nevada, republican campaigns there are reportedly not happy. Several reports are rocky starts at caucus sites spread across Nevada. Campaign sources saying the state party has been apparently caught flat-footed and a rush of voters is seemingly overwhelming some precincts.

The Nevada State Republican Party is refuting this, they just tweeted that there have been no official reports of any problems or violations. We will keep checking these reports.

I'm Jake Tapper in the CNN election center. Our caucus cams are watching and we're chasing down reports of irregularities in Nevada the stakes tonight for the five candidates are big. If Donald Trump wins, he could ride that momentum all the way to the GOP presidential nomination.

Right now, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, however, say, this is a three-man race. Donald Trump is of course, again the polling favorite in Nevada. And after stomping the competition in South Carolina and New Hampshire, Trump, to many, looks unstoppable.

Our team of reporters is staking out this over state at caucus site and campaign watch party. Jim Acosta is in the thick of it at Trump campaign headquarters in Las Vegas. Jim, tell us about this letter that the Trump campaign sent.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right. Jake, Donald Trump is feeling confident but he is warning his supporters to be on the lookout for dirty tricks. He sent out a tweet earlier tonight saying Ted Cruz campaign forces are, quote, "bad, watch out."

Trump's comment likely stems from his letter his lawyer sent to the Nevada Republican Party earlier today complaining about reports that Cruz supporters were planning to videotape some of the proceedings at caucus sites.

Now let's put up a quote from that letter. It says, quote, "We further urge the Nevada Republican Party to ensure the rights of all registered republicans who seek to exercise their right to cast a vote in the upcoming caucus are maintained, including those of first time caucus goers and those who may be unfamiliar with the process and make clear that voter intimidation tactics will not be tolerated."

Now that did prompt the state GOP to warn these campaigns no videotaping at caucus sites. So, officials with the trump campaign tell me, Jake, they are on the lookout for these dirty tricks. They have not offered to any proof of any yet. But as to the results campaign is feeling confident.

The state director or the state campaign director, Charles Munoz, told me earlier this evening, this is a caucus so you have to be careful, they are not taking any chances, they are not getting too over confident here.

But one state GOP source told me, Jake, they are getting reports of confusion at caucus sites across the state saying they just don't think Nevada was prepared for this big turn out that they are seeing tonight.

So, you know, is this one of those situations like we saw in Iowa where, you know, there are report of dirty tricks and it becomes the story of the campaign for the coming days, or is it something like we saw in New Hampshire or South Carolina, there are reports but it didn't really seem to interfere with any kind of results in the end. And I think in the days to come we'll get the answer to that, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Jim Acosta with the Trump campaign headquarters in Las Vegas. Let's go to Sunlen Serfaty. She is with the Cruz team in Las Vegas as well. Sunlen, how is the Cruz team managing expectations?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, the Cruz campaign is really setting the expectations really low tonight. The Cruz adviser tells me that they'll be satisfied with a third place win tonight.

Of course, the Cruz campaign is watching like a hawk where Marco Rubio comes in tonight. If they say if he avoids a win, if he comes in second place or below, they'll be basically breathing a big sigh of relief because that will keep their argument up that they are the only candidate, Ted Cruz who has scored a win against Marco -- or against Donald Trump.

If Marco comes anywhere above that, if Marco Rubio is able to beat Donald Trump, of course that really destroys the core argument that the Cruz campaign largely thinks is working and wants to ride all the way into Super Tuesday. Jake?

[22:30:01] TAPPER: All right. Sunlen Serfaty with the Cruz campaign in Las Vegas. You can see the caucus goers casting presidential votes in their precincts right now. We have caucus cams throughout the state.

Let's check in with Brian Todd. He is at Desert Oasis High School. So, Brian, are there a lot of first-time caucus goers there tonight?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, first-time caucus goers were out in force tonight. Just in the first 30 minutes after the doors opened, I took an informal survey, I counted 119 first-time caucus goers between 5 and 5.30 p.m. local time outside the door. The overwhelming majority of them supported Donald Trump. But again,

that's why they're coming to the caucuses, that's just an early read. A lot of people are coming here to see if their minds can be changed. This is what's really cool about covering caucuses. You're seeing these people caucus here in real time.

This some intense debate going on at these tables here. Look over here, our photojournalist Ken Boylen (ph) and I are going to take a sampling. Some people are bringing their little kids here. This is a family event for so many people.

I'm going to sneak over here. What's really interesting is that a lot of these people in this room, Jake, have the option to just come here, cast their ballots and leave between 5 p.m. and about 9 and 9.30 p.m. Pacific Time, you can come in here, cast your ballot and you can stay and caucus or you can leave.

And at least 50 to 70 people in this room have stayed to caucus. This is the Hanson family, they brought their 11-year-old son Liam, their 10-year-old son, Roland here to see this caucus in action. That's really cool.

In about an hour, the ballots are going to be brought to these tables over here, and then we're going to show you the counting, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Brain Todd, thank you so much. Things seem to be going smoothly at the Desert Oasis High School in Las Vegas at that caucus. But there are reports of confusion at other precincts in the caucuses, reports of turmoil in fact, in Nevada as republicans they are making their choice tonight for President of the United States.

We're starting to get a sense of how things are shaking out. We're going to get a glimpse at our entrance polls just ahead after this quick break. Stay with us.

[22:35:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: I'm Jake Tapper in the CNN election center. You're looking at some live pictures out of Nevada. It has been a busy night for the state Republican Party caucusing far from over and already many sources complaining of irregularities across the state due to an unexpectedly high voter turnout this evening.

How will that impact tonight, will the big turnout benefit Donald Trump? Our entrance polls are providing the first indications of how things could play out in Nevada.

Let's bring in Dana Bash and David Chalian for more. Dana, what are the entrance polls saying?

BASH,: Well, one of the things that we like to look at when we're doing entrance polls for caucuses and of course exit polls is, when did the voters decide. Because that gives us a clue as to where this could go based what we have seen with the polling. Nevada is very hard to poll especially for caucuses, but what do we seeing on this entrance. CHALIAN: And we should remember, these are early arrivers to the

sites right now, this entrance polls. These numbers will change throughout the course of the evening.

But one really key thing that we're seeing is that Nevada has fewer late deciders than we saw in Iowa, New Hampshire or South Carolina. Take a look at this. When did you decide to vote? In the last week, 31 percent of voters showing up to caucus sites tonight. Those that decided earlier than that, 69 percent.

So, this was not as fluid of a race, Dana, as we saw in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina where it was nearly half the electorate or more than 4 in 10 said they've decided in the last week. Here people had really already made up their minds.

BASH: Which if the polls have been accurate leading up to today could be beneficial to Donald Trump. A big if. All the caveats.

CHALIAN: All the caveats in play.

BASH: But another thing that we should maybe sort of hit home is that the Nevada caucuses are a relatively new phenomenon. This is only the third presidential election that the republicans have been doing this.

And a big reason why they wanted to add this was to have an opening to the West and to try to build back the republican ability to lure and appeal to Hispanic voters. How is it going tonight?

CHALIAN: Well, this is the most diverse electorate, thus far, that the republicans have faced. So, take a look at the breakdown by race. Eighty six percent of caucus goers tonight are white, 1 percent black, 8 percent Latino, 2 percent Asian, and 3 percent of another race. That 8 percent Latino, that's higher than we saw in 2012, in the Nevada caucuses it's back to the 2008 levels in the republican side.

Obviously this is not as diverse as the electorate that we saw on the democratic side when we saw the caucuses there over the weekend. But the republican primary electorates in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina were in the mid-90s in terms of the white population of the electorate.

Now it's down to 86. So, this is a more diverse electorate that these candidates are facing than they face so far. And how that plays out, it will be interesting to see who had that appeal. It's only 8 percent. But this is a new conversation now that republicans are having with a more diverse electorate.

BASH: Right. And you have candidates who are Hispanic. I mean, you have two people, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz who are of Cuban dissent. And you know, in the case of Marco Rubio, in particular, he's been playing that up big time.

CHALIAN: And he's from Nevada, I mean, he spent some of his youth years in Nevada.

BASH: yes. CHALIAN: So, yes. Looking to see how they appeal to Latinos, how Donald Trump appeals to Latinos with his messaging the cycle is going to be one of the key things to watch tonight.

TAPPER: There's actually democratic state senator in Nevada who is Marco Rubio's cousin and for what reason has not endorsed any of the democrats because his cousin is running for president on the other side.

Let's go to Anderson Cooper for more discussion about all this.

COOPER: Yes, Jake, thanks very much. We'll start with our republican commentator, Amanda Carpenter and Kevin Madden.

Kevin, how do you see the fact that so many republicans seem to - who are coming out of the polls - seem to have made up their minds much earlier.

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think that means if we have seen so many of the polls over the last few months, Donald Trump has been leading them.

So, one of the things that I would have been worried about if I were on some of the opposing campaigns was that Donald Trump supporters seem to begin -- they seemed to begin to calcified in their support for him months ago, they seem much more dug in. They seem heavily invested in seeing his campaign succeed. So, I think if these entrance polls start to hold up, that is going to be -- it could end up being a very big night for Donald Trump.

[22:40:11] COOPER: Which is interesting. I mean, what that sort of translate into his, no matter what happens in the interim, comments that will be made, a lot of commentators will say, oh, look, he's crossed the line this time, it doesn't seem to matter to those who are have made up their minds a long time ago.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. And this is why the battle for the second place is really so important. I mean, we kind of presume that Donald Trump is leading the polls who will be the frontrunner. Kevin is right. His supporters are very hard for someone else to peel off.

So, that fight for second place, the fight to be the Donald Trump alternative is even more intense. And especially going into the debate on Thursday where the field is completely reset with the absence of Jeb Bush now. You know, it is essentially a three-person race.

And so, the dynamics between Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz for the best way to take on Donald Trump and all the background battling for who ultimately other people coalesce behind is so intense.

COOPER: Do you think, I mean, I'll open up to our contributors as well. I mean, do you think these attacks by Rubio, by Trump against Cruz that calling him a liar, do you think they are having an impact?

BORGER: Yes. I do. Well, we'll, you know, we'll have to see tonight, but I don't see how they don't have an impact. And there a lot of people who believe that, you know, Cruz should just take on one person at a time instead of taking on both Rubio and Trump. You're not a yes, Amanda. Are you one of those people?

CARPENTER: I think they had a time together. I think you're absolutely right.

BORGER: Right. And he's -- so what he's been doing and he's been getting back from both of them, both of them are calling him a liar. He's attacking both of them. And who does it hurt? But Ted Cruz.

AXELROD,: Basic rule of politics, Anderson, if you -- if you have to fire your spokesperson the day before a major event...

BORGER: Not a good sign.

AXELROD: ... not a good sign.

BORGER: Right.

AXELROD: And I think that speaks to the level of distress that the Cruz campaign feels about all these charges about his duplicity and his tactics.

HENDERSON: Remember, he' fine when you go to a Ted Cruz rally, it's trust Ted, right? That was supposed to his -- that was supposed to be his brand, that was supposed to be his strength, that he was the true conservative and the pure bred conservative and the Evangelical truth teller and the fact had you have everyone piling on, not only Trump and Rubio but also Ben Carson.

COOPER: And, Michael, it was interesting, Donald Trump even attacked Ted Cruz for firing his spokesman.

SMERCONISH: He did an about face on that issue. You know, he said something different last night.

COOPER: Right.

SMERCONISH: I think the proof that Cruz is being harmed by these charges is that he did fire Rick Tyler because I don't think Rick Tyler deserved to be fired for what he did.

COOPER: Yes.

SMERCONISH: If you really get into the tick tock from the Daily Pennsylvanian, which is my al mater of what went on, minute by minute with regard to that video, I think it's defensible. And Tyler was completely apologetic and entirely appropriate immediately after and still he got canned. That tells me that Cruz is worried about this issue.

BORGER: Well, he also made the story last longer. I mean, you know this that he gave it legs.

SMERCONISH: Yes. BORGER: It might have gone away, right?

SMERCONISH: That was a huge mistake.

COOPER: Amanda, you used to have basically that job. Was it a mistake?

CARPENTER: Yes. I do think it was an exercise in poor judgment. I do believe Rick Tyler is a good guy. I think it was the hard decision probably for the Cruz campaign, but ultimately was the right one in this environment. Those mistakes can't be made when all this other ones, the allegations have happen.

But I do have to say even though Ted Cruz is being piled on by so many people with charges that I think largely unfair, it is quite remarkable that he's still in the top three. I mean, he is having everything thrown at him by everyone and he's still tied essentially for second place in South Carolina.

COOPER: Let's take a quick break. You're seeing the cams, the caucus cams right now, they're still going on. We're going to continue check in with our correspondents on the ground in Nevada. A lot more ahead. Stay with us.

[22:45:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back. I'm Jake Tapper in the CNN election center. We're watching to get the first hard votes out of the state soon. The caucuses sites are open for a little while longer, which could possibly spell some trouble for the state Republican Party.

Reports claim that the silver state GOP apparatus was perhaps not ready for tonight's big turnout. There's been a lot of chatter by the campaigns and others about irregularities, and about caucus workers some of them decked out in swag from some of the campaigns. We're learning more about all of this.

Let's go now to Alina Machado, she's at a high school in Reno, Nevada. Alina, what's going on there? Is it smooth sailing there?

ALINA MACHADO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is smooth sailing here so far, Jake. I want to show you the scene here. These are several precincts that are still meeting right now. Most of these precincts have already voted. And they're just waiting to see if anybody else shows up who wants to vote.

So far, the site manager here said they've seen a higher-than-expected turnout. And they had, they were prepared for that. They had about 1,200 ballots on hand here. So far, they tell me that they have had enough ballots. So, there are still people who are showing up, struggling in last-minute stragglers who have shown up here to cast their vote.

And it's worth noting we've been talking to people here all night, people who many of them saying they're first time caucus goers, people who have never been a part of anything like this. A lot of those people telling me that they are here to vote for Trump or Rubio.

We have seen some chatter about Cruz and also about Carson. But so far things are going very smoothly, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Good news at Reno High School in Reno, Nevada.

Let's go now to Tom Foreman who's at about camp at Centennial High School in Las Vegas. Tom, how are things proceeding there?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, they were ready for the storm here when all of these caucus goers, but it was a big one. They had a ton of people come storming in here, they filled this floor up entirely. And now they've had so many ballots used. Right now they are rationing ballots. They're down to just a few at each little station here now for people to choose among the candidates.

[22:49:59] They think they have enough. But they're being very careful trying to make sure they get them to all the people and that is the problem. A lot enough caucus goers. I went in to three different caucus rooms here.

By the way, there are 45, 44 or 45 precincts. In this high school alone more than 2,000 voters. I went in to three different caucus room and asked people there how many of you are new? In each room I had half to two-thirds of the people raise their hands as new voters.

So, we'll see how that adds up. What it really has added up to right now is a lot of scrambling here. They were ready for the crowds, they did all they could to be prepared and they registered them and moved them out fast, but clearly more people than they imagined could be possible here on the west side of Las Vegas. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Rationing ballots at Centennial High School in Las Vegas. Let's go across town to Desert Oasis High School where we find our Brian Todd. Brian, how are things there?

TODD: Going very smoothly here, Jake. Now we do have to report you a big question that's been raised tonight about volunteers at this site, poll workers, caucus workers wearing candidate gear. On social media there have been questions, some people are raising the issue, are volunteers, people who are managing these sites, helping to manage these sites, are they allowed to wear candidate gear because they have been seen doing that.

Well, just a moment ago, the Nevada GOP issued a very important clarification. Here is what they said in a tweet. "It's not against the rules for volunteers to wear candidate gear. Volunteers went through extensive training and are doing a great job."

That is consistent with what the precinct captain here told me when I ask them about it. He says as long as the volunteers here do not distribute materials on behalf of the campaign or do anything like that, then they're fine.

Here are two people who have been volunteers here all night, they've been doing a very good job wearing Trump t-shirts. So, it is going on here. But again, the Nevada GOP saying, that's OK as long as they're not distributing leaflets or anything like that on behalf of the candidates.

And the Nevada GOP saying that is definitely not against the rules that these people have all gone through extensive training, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Brian Todd, some Nevada republicans of course expressing concerns about whether or not their votes will be honored and respected by these individuals who obviously have a horse in the race, but that of course is a matter for the Nevada GOP to take charge of.

We're going to take a very quick break. When we come back, we're going to have some entrance polls and much, much more from the Nevada republican caucuses. Stay with us.

[22:55:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to CNN's live coverage of the republican caucuses in Nevada. You're looking at live pictures right now from Las Vegas, one of many precincts where republican voters are coming in and casting their ballots for one of five candidates. Although many more on the ballot.

In about one hour and three minutes, the caucuses are going to officially shut down and when that happens, we're going to bring you hard numbers. But we're getting an idea of who turned out to vote this evening from the CNN entrance polls.

And let's turn to David Chalian and Dana Bash to talk about that. One of the things that we look for is what are the candidates looking for -- I mean, I'm sorry, what are the voters looking for in the candidates?

BASH: Right. And that is such a fascinating variable that really helps us figure out who is potentially -- potentially going to end up on top. And we look at the candidate qualities and you have over the past three contests so far, it really has varied in determining who is actually going to win.

CHALIAN: But you can see where each candidate sort of draws their strength from.

BASH: Exactly.

CHALIAN: One thing that is consistent right now is what is the most important candidate quality, it shares my value. So, take a look at this, shares my values, 30 percent of the voters were looking for a candidate that meets that criteria, 25 percent are looking for a candidate who can win, 22 percent looking for a change candidate and 21 percent looking for the candidate who tells it like it is.

Now shares my value was up there top rank again. It was so in the earlier contest. What's interesting to me here and then I'm looking where electability can win a little higher here in Nevada than we saw in the previous contest in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. Electability is not usually not the most, like, suddenly a voting

issue, it doesn't drive people to the polls. But it's a little higher here. I guess as we get deeper in the contest perhaps, if this holds, early numbers, if this holds, I wonder if as we get deeper in the contest, we're going to see republicans care more and more about somebody who can win in Nevada.

TAPPER: What's interesting about that shares your values is that is traditionally one of the poll questions where Donald Trump does not do well, one of the few where he does not do well, although he is polling very, very, a heavy favorite in this race.

CHALIAN: That's right. And he hasn't completely been wiped out in that category but you're right. It's not necessarily a strong suit like telling it like it is.

BASH: You know, before we get to your next entrance poll information, I just want to say that I just got from a republican source that it looks like it could be record turnout. Because the preregistration for the caucuses 42,000 people, which is almost as high as the overall turnout the first time they did these caucuses.

But again, it was just back in 2008, it wasn't that long ago. So, that could be feeding some of the frenzy frankly, that we're seeing on social media about how intense the turnout is.

And as I mention that, I should also say that this republican source who I spoke to insisted that although there is a lot of talk on social media about worries about double balloting and so forth, they insist -- insist from the perspective of the party that they've got no official calls, nothing officially, but they obviously going to be watching for it tonight.

CHALIAN: Dana, that 42,000 numbers is pretty huge. I mean, those are new registrants that they signed up before the deadline to participate. Now, we'll see if they all turn out and participate actually. But the fact that just new participants is ahead of turnout in '08 or '12. That's a -- that's a big deal. And again, if you're Donald Trump campaign first then you're looking at that and thinking that may be a good sign for us since obviously he's been drawing new people in the...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: And also more largely a good sign for the republicans because that would be the fourth contest in a row, if this actually happens to bear fruit, where it is record registration for republican voters.

BASH: That's right. And it speaks to their enthusiasm. That there's a big enthusiasm in a place like Nevada which has in the general election has gone more, you know, republican lately.

[23:00:01] But you know, you never know. I mean, it is moving toward swing state territory.

CHALIAN: Yes, Barack Obama won it twice. BASH: Right.