Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
Primary Election Night Coverage; Who Can Take on Trump?; Sanders Campaign Awaits Results. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired March 15, 2016 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: So much at stake.
Our special coverage continues right now.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The presidential race has been building for weeks to this moment.
COOPER: Will tonight's contest guarantee the front-runners are unstoppable? We're standing by for the first results.
NARRATOR: Right now, from the Chicago lakefront to South Beach in Florida, big state primaries that will change the state of the race.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You will vote for Donald Trump. Yes?
NARRATOR: Who will hit the jackpot in Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Illinois, and Missouri?
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I need your help, your support, your guidance, and your vote.
NARRATOR: On this high-stakes Super Tuesday, it's America's choice. Tonight, in the Republican race, Donald Trump is arguing it's all over if he wins Florida and Ohio, defending his message as his rallies turn ugly.
TRUMP: My people aren't violent. My people want to do one thing, make America great again.
NARRATOR: Marco Rubio and John Kasich facing do-or-die battles in their home states.
GOV. JOHN KASICH (R-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We are going to win the state of Ohio.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We are going to win Florida and we will win the nomination.
NARRATOR: Ted Cruz vowing to be the last Republican standing to take on Trump. SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: People are waking up
and help is on the way.
NARRATOR: In the Democratic race tonight:
CLINTON: I want to be the president for the struggling and the striving, for people who have a dream.
NARRATOR: Hillary Clinton counting on this Super Tuesday to widen her lead after her shocking loss to Bernie Sanders in Michigan.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Our job is to create a large, huge voter turnout.
NARRATOR: Now it's time for voters to have their say.
TRUMP: Little Marco, I think he's gone.
NARRATOR: As candidates in both parties blast the GOP front-runner's rhetoric.
GOV. JOHN KASICH (R-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald Trump has created a toxic environment.
CLINTON: That is political arson.
NARRATOR: America is choosing. The campaign is taking stunning new turns, and more surprises may be on the horizon right now.
BLITZER: You're looking at live pictures at a polling place in Ohio right now, one of five critical battlegrounds tonight.
We're also watching a late dash to the polls in North Carolina. This may prove to be the most decisive round of voting yet in the 2016 race for the White House.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in the CNN Election Center.
Four Republicans and two Democrats, they are competing in this mega- state round of primaries, but after tonight, the GOP field may shrink. For the Republicans, 367 delegates are at stake on this Super Tuesday. That's 30 percent or so of the number needed to win the GOP nomination. The winners in Florida and Ohio will get all of the state's delegates.
These are the first winner-take-all contests in this primary season. Donald Trump heads into the night looking to add to his win column, strengthening his chances of locking up the nomination and avoiding a contested convention. His closest competitor, Ted Cruz, is likely to increase his all-important delegate count.
Tonight, the spotlight is also squarely on Marco Rubio and John Kasich. Rubio is an underdog in his own home state of Florida, but Kasich may be positioned to topple Trump in the governor's home turf. That would be Ohio.
Democrats also have a lot at stake right now with a whopping 691 delegates on the line. That's nearly 30 percent of the total needed to clinch the Democratic presidential nomination.
Hillary Clinton hopes to grab a large slice of those delegates. She's favored to win the night's big prize, Florida, but after Bernie Sanders' surprise victory in Michigan last week, he's looking to keep that momentum going in tonight's Midwestern battlegrounds. We're going to get all the first indications of how the night is going at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, when the first votes are posted in Florida.
We will also have our first chance for project winners at 7:30 p.m. Eastern. That's when the polls close in Ohio and North Carolina. A half-hour later, we're going to get fresh results when all the polls close in Florida, Illinois, and Missouri.
Let's go to Jake Tapper now for more -- Jake.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, on this incredibly important night in the presidential race, we have correspondents standing by at all the candidates' headquarters across the nation.
First, let's go to Jim Acosta. He's at Donald Trump's headquarters in Florida -- Jim.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Jake, a top Trump campaign official here in Florida says Donald Trump will win Florida.
And you're going to hear a lot later on tonight and tomorrow about how Donald Trump did so well in the state against Marco Rubio on his home turf. This top official says it's not very well known, but Trump has been laying the groundwork quietly for four to five years, traveling the state, meeting with top Republican officials.
They point to his name recognition in this state, owning properties worth tens of millions of dollars like Mar-a-Lago behind me, employing thousands of workers. this official also points to those rallies that have been in the news so much lately because of the unrest in Chicago and over the last week.
Those rallies have also, by the way, according to the source, turned out tens of thousands of people at events here in Florida. Those supporters are now volunteers getting out the vote across the state. The question, Jake, is what happens in the state of Ohio? Can he beat John Kasich and send him packing?
He's looking for one knockout punch tonight. Not clear at this point yet, even inside the Trump campaign, whether Donald Trump will get a double knockout. That's what he wants. May not get it tonight, Jake.
TAPPER: Jim Acosta in Florida, Florida, a key battleground state, not only for this evening's results, but also for November's election, as is Ohio. And that's where we find Brianna Keilar.
Brianna, the idea that Hillary Clinton might not win Ohio is not one that they expected, not a problem they expected to be facing at this point, but, boy, it looks like it's a tight race.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and they're actually downplaying the expectations there, Jake.
They're feeling good, the Clinton campaign is, about North Carolina and about here in Florida, but, with Ohio, they are downplaying it, and specifically this is why they say why. They say they're looking at Cuyahoga County, which is Cleveland area, and they are looking at what affiliated Democrats are doing.
They say when you look at early votes and you look at absentee ballots, 15 percent of Democrats, affiliated Democrats have requested Republican ballots. So you can see they're making the case here that you have people who are Democrats in a really liberal stronghold, but also that supported John Kasich in his reelection.
They're making the case that he is -- they're bleeding off Democrats trying to support John Kasich and stop a Donald Trump surge. Of course, they're managing expectations. We don't know exactly what those voters are doing at this point. They're trying to get out the vote with Democrats and certainly they're trying to lay the groundwork in case she does lose Ohio and it becomes a Michigan 2.0 upset for Bernie Sanders.
TAPPER: All right, Brianna Keilar in West Palm Beach, Florida, at Clinton campaign headquarters.
And, Dana, these are two states, Ohio, which Brianna was just talking about and which the Clinton campaign is worried about, and Florida, where Donald Trump could win this evening, these are two states that we're going to cover a lot coming up long after tonight.
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Imagine if we logged how much time we have actually spent, the two of us, and probably everybody in this studio in those states. It would be quite stunning.
There's no question that these are always important states. And I think tonight the key question is going to be whether or not those two states mean that, from here on in, we're going to be looking at more of a general election campaign, or whether we're still going to be in a primary fight on both sides of the aisle.
It seems as though it's probably the latter. It's still going to be a primary fight, you know, for the Republicans and the Democrats, but you never know. We have had surprises in both of those states.
TAPPER: And these battles that they're fighting today, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, in both Ohio and Florida, they're laying the groundwork for what will be a very, very -- it looks like it will be a very, very difficult election, no matter who gets the nomination, but certainly those are the two front-runners.
BASH: Oh, absolutely, no question about it.
And the fact that Hillary Clinton earlier today was sort of signaling that she is ready to start to turn her attention to the Republican side, and not fight as much on the Democratic side, kind of gives you a signal of where -- I mean, it's probably no surprise that her campaign, they're sort of done with the primary, but it also gives you a sense of the pickle that she is in, maybe more so than the Republicans would be going forward.
TAPPER: Let's go to David Chalian now, our political director. He's in the election center. He has some information from the exit polls specifically having to do with Republican voters -- David.
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: That's right, Jake.
Now that we're getting deeper into the election season, we can sort of look back and see how today's voters in Republican primaries, for example, compare with what Republicans have been doing before.
We're going to dig in on few states here to see about how angry the Republican electorate is right now with the federal government. Take a look at this. In Florida, 47 percent of Republican voters today say they're dissatisfied; 39 percent say angry.
Let's move ahead to the next state of Ohio. OK? Take a look at that angry number again, 39 percent; 53 percent, a majority, say they're dissatisfied; 39 percent say they're angry at the federal government. Now to North Carolina. You will see again here, 40 percent say that they're angry.
Now, here's what's interesting, guys. If you look at that angry number, 39 in Florida, 39 in Ohio, 40 percent in North Carolina, we averaged up all the polls, exit polls and entrance polls, in the election season thus far. And on an average, Republican voters, 42 percent of them have said that they're angry.
So, tonight, at least across these states, we're seeing some of the anger in the Republican electorate tempered a bit. And that's an interesting trend that we're going to look into throughout the evening.
TAPPER: The presumption, of course, being, David, that the angrier, the more likely it is that they will vote for Donald Trump.
Wolf Blitzer, let me throw it to you.
BLITZER: All right, thank you, Jake.
We're closing in on the first votes from the big prize of the night. We're talking about Florida. Does Marco Rubio have a chance against Donald Trump? We're going to get early clues just ahead.
BLITZER: We're counting down to the first votes actually being posted at the top of the hour, only, what, about 45 minutes away from that. We will share those numbers as soon as they are officially posted. Those are the numbers coming in from Florida.
But, in the meantime, I want to go to Ohio; 66 Republican delegates are at stake, winner-take-all, a critical race under way right now. We're getting some new information.
Phil Mattingly is joining us from Ohio right now over at Kasich campaign headquarters.
Phil, what are you learning?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Kasich advisers are telling me that they're growing increasingly confident about the state of this race, and part of the reason why is the numbers they're seeing from their primary target areas, the suburbs.
Now, these are counties surrounding Ohio's biggest cities, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, and Cincinnati. These are the backbone of Kasich's support in this state. They were during his two gubernatorial races. They have been the primary targets of his efforts over the last week.
Wolf, what they're seeing right now is very positive from those areas. And if those areas are turning out in a big way, that's very good news for John Kasich. As of now, it looks like that is the case. And for his advisers right now, that's a positive sign as we head into the rest of this night, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, Kasich really needs to win his home of Ohio. Phil, thanks very much.
Let's go over to John King over at the magic wall.
John, Ohio, Ohio, Ohio, they us used to say, critically important on this night.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Critically important on this night in both primaries, critically individually to Governor Kasich.
As Phil just noted, this is make or break. Let's just illustrate what he was just talking about. This is the map. The results will fill in a bit later tonight. I'm going to circle up here in the Cleveland area, down here around Columbus, and down here around Cincinnati.
Why are they so important? Let's go back in time to the 2012 Republican presidential primary. Look at this. Mitt Romney just barely won Ohio, right, one point over Rick Santorum, but he won big here, Cuyahoga County, Cleveland, in the suburbs of Cleveland, Romney getting a 19-point win there, a huge margin in the Cleveland area, in the suburbs, Lake County just to the north as well, critical to Mitt Romney, ran up the numbers.
Phil also mentioned down here. You come, Franklin County, the middle of the state. Columbus is the state capital. Tends to vote Democrat in November in a tough race, but a five-point lead here for Mitt Romney in the Columbus area and the suburbs around it, the suburbs very important in a Republican race.
And then most importantly, Hamilton County down here in the southwest corner of the state, Cincinnati and the suburbs around Cincinnati. Again, look, a 20-point win for Mitt Romney there. A big win in the Cleveland suburbs. A decent win in the middle of the state, the Columbus suburbs. A huge win in the Cincinnati suburbs.
Why is that important? Because if somebody else, like Rick Santorum did to Mitt Romney, wins the rural areas of the state, to win the state, you have to run up the numbers in the population centers and the close-in suburbs. That is key -- was key to Romney four years ago. It's critical for Governor Kasich tonight.
BLITZER: Good point. All right, thanks very much.
We're going to check back with you in a little while.
Let's go to Anderson -- Anderson.
COOPER: Yes, Wolf, thanks very much.
Let's check in with our panel, our analysts and our reporters.
Nia-Malika Henderson, you're just joining us.
What are you going to be looking for tonight? Because Donald Trump has, particularly in Ohio, he has been going very hard after John Kasich, really attacking him for the first time in this campaign.
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, calling him the absentee governor.
I think he also took a pot shot at Chris Christie when he was making the same remark about Chris Christie. But, you know, I think what do these white voters do in this state, not only for the Republican primary, but the Democratic primary?
Is he resonating with those union voters? Are Democrats switching over from the Democratic ranks to vote for him? And I think, if Kasich wins, it's going to be about his ability to really have something of a broad coalition, which is what he was able to do in his last reelection campaign, did very well with African-American voters.
Looks like African-American voters might be 19, 20 percent of the overall electorate there. So it's going to be really interesting.
COOPER: David, so far, Kasich has been able to do well in states where he's been able to spend a lot of time. We saw that in New Hampshire, where he did more than 100 town halls. Clearly, he's been putting everything into Ohio in order to win there.
When I talked to him yesterday, and every time I have talked to him, I have asked him, OK, say you win Ohio, what changes? I mean, he says, well, he thinks he will do well in Illinois. Exactly whatever that means, he won't be specific. But also he says that he will just get more interviews and the narrative will sort of change if he wins Ohio.
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I do think that if he wins Ohio, the aura around him will change. The people will -- the press will start to pay much more attention to him.
He will get a lot more scrutiny. And he continues to stand out in the race as the different candidate, the one who's more positive, who sort of has -- is more optimistic about the country and who actually has executive experience in government, which is missing in the rest of the Republican field.
So there's a lot about him that could become attractive. And certainly the next state like Pennsylvania, we can ask Mayor Nutter about that here in just a moment. But I think this is a big, big night for Kasich. Overall, I find -- this may be inappropriate, but this is the Ides of March. This is the Ides of March.
And so the question tonight is whether the leaders are going to get cut down or not. And that is going to have a lot to do with how this race goes.
COOPER: Beware of the Ides of March.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.
BORGER: And the question is whether we get the sort of clarity that we all seem to be thinking we're moving towards tonight, because we could conceivably wind up with Donald Trump still the front-runner, a conservative candidate, Ted Cruz, and the establishment candidate, John Kasich, which are kind of the three lanes that we have been having all along in this race.
And we could wind up there very much tonight if, for example, Cruz were to win Missouri and Kasich were to win Ohio and Trump were to win just about everything else.
COOPER: Yes. All right, a lot to talk about, a lot to watch for.
Florida election officials are getting ready to release the first votes of the night at the top of the hour. The question is, will the front-runners will the top prize of this Super Tuesday?
The numbers ahead.
BLITZER: We're closing in on the first votes of the night out of the critical state of Florida. We're going to get our first sense of who's in the lead, who may be struggling on this high-stakes Super Tuesday.
I want to go over to Sara Murray. She's over at Marco Rubio campaign headquarters right now in Miami.
What's the latest over there?
SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, what sources are telling me is that even if Marco Rubio does not pull out a victory tonight, even if he loses here in Florida, he is going to face immense pressure to stay in the race, at least officially.
And this is part of a delegate strategy. What people who are opposed to Trump and even some Rubio supporters want is they want a way to ensure that Marco Rubio's delegates are still bound to him. And they say if he ends his presidential bid, these delegates go unbound, they could potentially support Donald Trump at the convention.
Now, this could put Marco Rubio in a little bit of an awkward position, but one person who is familiar with the discussion says he's already under an enormous amount of pressure to consider this route. This is as people are beginning to realize that if they want to stop Trump, the only way to do is going to be at the convention -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Sara, thanks very much.
Let's go over to John King over at the magic wall.
You're looking at the all-important delegates. And I know there's an effort to stop Trump from getting to that 1,237, that magic number he needs to be guaranteed the nomination.
KING: And Marco Rubio's Florida, and John Kasich's Ohio are critical to that.
To Sara Murray's point, pressure on Marco Rubio to stay even if he can't win. But, Wolf, if the margin is big tonight, there's also a lot of conversation in the Rubio campaign that he would get out. Here's the state of play as we are right now.
Donald Trump with 100-delegate lead over Ted Cruz. Rubio and Kasich far behind. What happens tonight? Can Donald Trump in this scenario run the board? If he wins all five of the big states tonight, Wolf, he will inch way out here. Not unstoppable, but much harder to stop.
If he's out here at the end of the night if he runs the board, Donald Trump would need in the 42 percent, 43 percent of the remaining delegates to clinch, very doable, especially if you have a wounded Kasich probably out of the race and a wounded Rubio probably out of the race. But that's why this would be so important. Because it's 99 winner- take-all, if Marco Rubio could take this, you see Donald Trump goes back already. Then if John Kasich can take his home state of Ohio, again, 66 delegates, winner-take-all, boom, look, Donald Trump then is back behind the halfway point.
The expectation is, though, that Kasich, maybe close race there. Most of the polls heading in suggested that Donald Trump was going to get the state of Florida. It makes such a big difference in the math. So if you're the Cruz campaign, you're looking to pick up delegates in Missouri, pick up delegates in North Carolina, pick up delegates in Illinois.
What the Cruz campaign hopes for, let's make it in Missouri, is take one of those states and actually eke out a victory, essentially split the delegates with Trump, but get a little bit more. Let's say the night ends something like this. Number one, would Rubio stay? If Kasich is the new establishment favorite, even only with one win, does he still stay in the race?
That's one calculation. Number two, at this point, Donald Trump, let's say he's right around 700 at the end of the night, needs then about 47 percent of the remaining delegates. Is that doable? Yes. The big question will be Cruz certainly would claim momentum if he picks up delegates and maybe gets a win tonight.
Kasich wouldn't go anywhere. So, then we do have a three-way race, do we have a four-way race going forward? Donald Trump would need about 47 percent of the delegates in the remaining contests. This is -- the conversation is, maybe they could stop him then, but, Wolf, it's, you know, he ends up out here and not across the finish line, you going to take it away from him?
BLITZER: Let's say he gets that 40 percent number you were talking about. How long -- or 47 percent -- how long would it take him to clinch that nomination?
KING: It would really depend on is he running the board? Does he win in Arizona and Utah next week, and does he win big?
Is he winning in New York, and New Jersey, and Maryland? Does he get there early? Most people think it's going to take a while, especially if you have a close race with Cruz. The misconception is that all of these Republican states become winner-take-all. That's not the case.
A lot of them have a hybrid formula where if you win by a decent margin, you might get them all, like Trump did in South Carolina. He won them all, even though it's not a winner-take-all state. It would really depend on how many candidates in the race, what are the margins, and is he splitting delegates or winning states? A while. Not as long as the Democratic race, but it would take a while.
BLITZER: Could go on. All right, John, thanks very much -- Anderson, over to you.
COOPER: Yes, Wolf, the clarity that so many people had hoped to find tonight, the question is, will there really be that?
Because Marco Rubio, everybody is saying, look, he has got to win in Florida. It's obviously his home state. But he has never said, yes, I will drop out. He could very easily, if he doesn't win tonight, say, I still want to stay in, in the hopes of being part of the effort to stop Donald Trump.
Same with John Kasich if he doesn't win. He's always said he's got to win in Ohio, but perhaps he would change his mind.
MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think there's a great chance at more clarity tonight. But I like that Gloria has been arguing for a little bit of chaos. It's just fun times.
COOPER: You like chaos. It's not very conservative of you, though, is it?
HAM: You know, I live on the edge, Anderson.
HAM: No, but if this is Ides of March, I think yon Cruz has a lean and hungry work here.
He can make some inroads here. He can make the argument that I can go forward. Rubio is right that the map was better for him moving forward, but if he can't do Florida, then that doesn't matter. And Cruz will say, I can take this guy on one-on-one.
And then the question becomes, can the establishment and the conservatives get together, the only thing than could unite us is Trump, and get behind this guy?
[18:30:10] Because the never-Trump contingent is real. Even in some of this exit polling, you're seeing 30, 40 percent saying, "I would consider a third-party ticket."
COOPER: Kayleigh, can you see some of these folks staying in, even if they clearly can't get the nomination?
MCENANY: I could see it. But I just think it's demonstrative of why people are so frustrated at the Republican Party, because if you have Rubio stay in, when it's very evident he's not a viable contender for the presidency, it looks like he's trying to gerrymander the will of the people and stop the people from voting on a certain candidate. And I understand he had every right to stay in, of course he does, this is a personal decision. Nevertheless, it still seems like this is an attempt to keep Donald Trump from getting the nomination, which I don't think will play very well at all.
The point is Marco Rubio can't even win his home state, and every time the establishment endorses a candidate, be it Jeb Bush, who was their first choice, falls precipitously. Rubio falling precipitously. Now, if they pivot to John Kasich, I predict the same: he'll fall precipitously.
COOPER: And Mayor Nutter, I mean, for a party, for the GOP, where so many of the voters feel betrayed already by their leaders, I mean, if Donald Trump is in the lead and there is this cabal that meets to come up with an alternative, that's just going to inflame them.
NUTTER: Well, Anderson, I mean, as I think we've all said, the race may not be determined tonight but there will be more definition. And this idea -- I mean, I've run for office; and this idea that you just keep running to stop someone else just seems very strange to me.
I mean, there are rules here. Everyone knows what the rules are. They're all laid out. They didn't just start. At some point in time, you know, the race has to shrink for the candidates. You're running still to win. And this idea that somehow in football, I'm running to be the blocker, to stop someone else, I mean, the voters see right through that. And I mean, look, the rules are the rules; and you just deal with it.
BORGER: Rules can be changed.
PRESS: I think at some point -- we've said this before. At some point people have to realize the only way to stop Donald Trump is to stop him with one candidate, not with three candidates. And if we do end up, as Gloria said, with three different lanes, you know, then Donald Trump is just going to keep winning these states with 35 or 40 percent.
COOPER: But as you said, Gloria, the rules can change.
BORGER: The rules can change and, you know, I don't know who's going to get on that rules committee at the convention, but it's going to have to be on television and out in the open, because this would be about the worst thing you could do.
COOPER: The idea that Donald Trump wouldn't have people on the rules committee at the convention, that seems hard to imagine.
BORGER: But he will, because it's going to be determined by the number of votes you get in each state. And it's complicated and arcane and ridiculous, but he will have people on that.
The thing that I'm having a hard time getting my head around is that the establishment is now trying to figure out a way to rally around the man they loathe, right, Ted Cruz, the man who shut down the government, whom they really don't like, and Manu Raju has just done this amazing story for us on CNN.com, where you have people in the Senate urging Ted Cruz to apologize to Leader Mitch McConnell, because Cruz called him a liar. It's like, "You have to apologize to Daddy before we can actually endorse you." Right? And that's what's going on.
GERGEN: I think why we're heading to crisis in the Republican Party, Anderson, is we've had brokered conventions in the past. A lot of brokered conventions in the history of the political party. This is the first time we are looking at a brokered convention in the age of primaries.
The primaries really took over in the 1960s. Since then, one person has won and just gone on and taken it, except in '76, and Ford went ahead and took it. But this will be a time when the establishment really is trying to stop somebody who's the voters' first choice. Not only has a plurality but the voters' first choice. In the past, we've never had the voters in a brokered convention. And that's what makes this such a wildcard.
HENDERSON: And Trump keeps talking about that. In our debate, his opening statement was about the millions of voters, and his closing statement was the same thing.
GERGEN: Right. He said, "Be smart and unite."
COOPER: We are just minutes away from the first votes of the night out of Florida. It's going to be our first real glimpse at how the Trump/Rubio grudge match is unfolding in the crucial states. Super Tuesday results ahead.
[18:39:00] BLITZER: We're now just minutes away from the first votes of the night. We'll get an early look at both the Republican and Democratic contests in Florida. That's the top delegate prize on this Super Tuesday.
And we're less than an hour away from the first results out of another major battleground, Ohio. Polls close there and in North Carolina, by the way, at 7:30 p.m. Eastern.
I want to go over to Bernie Sanders' campaign headquarters. Joe Johns is standing by over there. Joe, what are you hearing?
JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I talked to a top official of the Sanders campaign and asked where is it we should be watching to measure the campaign's performance this evening?
And interesting, he told me, one of the places they think they're showing strength is in the state of Missouri. This is a state where Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, apparently, the polls say they've been running neck and neck as we move toward the primary today.
This top official the campaign also told me take a look at the state of North Carolina. While they don't feel they're going to predict a win in the Tar Heel State, they do believe that, when you measure them against past expectations in other Southern states, they think they'll do well there. Regardless of a win or loss, they say the point, of course, is to keep the delegate count close, Wolf.
[18:40:13] BLITZER: All right, Joe, thanks very much. Joe's over at Bernie Sanders' headquarters on this night.
Let's go back to John King over there. On the Democratic delegate count, which is critically important, the Democrats, unlike the Republicans, their states are proportionately distributed, the delegates.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And Joe Johns just made the fundamental question in the Democratic race: can Bernie Sanders stay close enough to say, "I'm still a viable candidate for the nomination, not just a protest candidate"? And that's why tonight is so important. The big Michigan upset last week.
Here's what Hillary Clinton wants tonight: all five of tonight's states to fill in with the deeper blue, that would be a Hillary Clinton sleep. She would say, "Michigan was an aberration. Look at me, Missouri, Illinois, Ohio; I've got my Midwest chops back. Sorry, Senator Sanders."
And a big Hillary Clinton win would make the math pretty convincing that she's on a glide path to the nomination. Will take a while, because of proportional rules, but that would do it.
But listen to what Joe just said. What if, for example, Bernie Sanders surprises Hillary Clinton in the state of Missouri? No. 1, it would give him a Midwestern win. You see he's already been popular in Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska. He's had popularity out there. So it's not unreasonable to think it could happen.
Then where else? Bernie Sanders would very much like to get the state of Ohio. If could take that away from Hillary Clinton, you see the delegate math doesn't change dramatically because of those rules, but what a message that would send, right? And Bernie Sanders also hoping Hillary Clinton's birth state, Illinois.
If the map at the end of the night included three Sanders wins in the Midwest, Hillary Clinton would still likely be well ahead in the math. There's no question about the delegate math. But what message? What would the message of the Democratic race be if Bernie Sanders could make the case Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, November battlegrounds, Democrats have to win? White working class voters coming to me. What's Donald Trump's greatest strength, Hillary Clinton's greatest weakness?
So Sanders hopes two or three light blue in the middle of the map to change the psychology of the race. Then he'll work on the math, which is heavily in Clinton's favor.
BLITZER: If that happened, he'd raise a lot of money, keep this thing going and going.
Anderson, over to you.
COOPER: Thanks very much.
David Axelrod is now joining us. Would the psychology of the race change a lot, you think, if Bernie Sanders was able to get some more wins?
DAVID AXELROD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, if he were to win three of five the psychology of the race might change, but the delegate math would inexorably move on. And the chances are, given the nature of the states involved, if she
were to win Florida, for example, and North Carolina, she could lose the other three; and under the Democratic rules she'll come -- she'll net out ahead on delegates, and it will just add to her delegate lead.
COOPER: Does it wound her as a candidate, though?
AXELROD: Well, I think it -- in the long run, I don't know. In the short run, it's going to create a lot of angst and hand wringing of which they do a lot in the Democratic Party, so I'm sure there will be some of that.
But their message tonight is going to be focus on the delegate math, because she's got a larger lead among delegates now than Barack Obama ever did in 2008. And given the rules of the Democratic Party -- we've discussed it before -- you know, everybody goes home with a prize. Nobody goes home with nothing. It's very hard to catch up once a candidate gets a large lead. And he would have to win a huge number of the remaining delegates in order to actually be the nominee.
BORGER: And you'd really have to look at how Hillary Clinton does with white working-class voters. That's her sort of...
COOPER: Which in Ohio is --
BORGER: Is a lot of voters, right. And that's kind of her Achilles' heel. And I think if you look at -- we'll look at these states tonight and see how Bernie Sanders does with these voters.
And we'll also look at these states tonight and see how Donald Trump does with these voters. Because if it winds up a matchup between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, those voters are going to be really crucial.
AXELROD: That's true, though, I look back at the 2008 race, and she crushed Barack Obama...
BORGER: With like -- yes, she did.
AXELROD: ... with those very same voters. And he regained enough of them to win a fairly sizable victory in the fall. So I don't know if it's...
BORGER: And her margins with African-Americans -- you know, her margins with African-Americans are huge.
HENDERSON: He was able to -- he was able to swell the African- American vote, too.
HENDERSON: Maybe she would be able to, as well. But it will also, I think, be interesting to see the white working-class vote, as well. And witness her reaction to this. Oftentimes you hear from the Clinton campaign sort of an overcorrection. It will be interesting to see what they do. COOPER: Yes. We are just moments away now, we're about 15 moments
away -- 15 minutes away. We'll get the first votes out of Florida. Which Republican will claim the state's winner-take-all prize? Closing in on our clues, followed by our first chance to project winners.
[18:48:57] BLITZER: We're just minutes away from the top of the hour. The top of the hour when the first votes of the night will be out, out of the crucial presidential battleground of Florida.
There' a lot happening in the next hour. At 7:30 p.m. Eastern, voting ends in Ohio, as well as North Carolina. That's when we'll have our first chance at projecting winners. Remember, about 30 percent of the delegates needed to win the Republican nomination, they are on the line.
And for Republicans, Florida and Ohio winner take all, making those prizes even more rewarding. We'll see if Donald Trump that is a clearer path toward the nomination or if he's more likely to face a contested convention. A lot of that will depend on his face-off with Kasich and Marco Rubio. Marco Rubio struggling against Trump at the senator's home state of Florida. Kasich in a possible squeaker with Trump in the governor's home state of Ohio.
In the Democratic race, the candidates also were battling for about 30 percent of the delegates they need to lock up their party's nomination. Ohio will be the first test of whether Bernie Sanders is running strong against Hillary Clinton, a week after his major upset victory in Michigan.
[18:50:07] Let's go over to Jake for more -- Jake.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Wolf.
It is such a momentous evening. What happens tonight could really shape the rest of the race. Let's check in with some of our correspondents who are standing by at the candidates' headquarters. We're going to start with Jim Acosta who is at Trump headquarters in Palm Beach, Florida.
And, Jim, Trump is going into this hoping to have a good night. Does the campaign think he might actually run the table?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, we'll have to wait and see. I did talk to one top Trump campaign official, top Trump campaign official who said John Kasich may have a good night in Ohio. This is sort of the first concession from inside, not an official concession, but first acknowledgement from inside the Trump campaign that John Kasich may win Ohio.
How does that change the race? Well, according to this official, you know, Kasich stays in, but the question becomes, where does Kasich go from here? Where does he win after Ohio? They're not convinced inside the Trump campaign that Kasich can win anywhere else but in Ohio.
But they still feel like even a win in Florida and a loss to Kasich in Ohio accomplishes something. They feel that still drives Marco Rubio out of the race and one knockout, if it's not two knockouts, at least one knockout accomplishes something, and narrows the field which is what Donald Trump wants, Jake.
You know, Donald Trump has said, he would like to have -- and Ted Cruz has said, they would like to have the one-on-one contest with each another. They just may not get that later on tonight. But, of course, votes have not been tabulated, we don't have all the official results. But at least acknowledgement starting to surface inside the Trump campaign that perhaps he may not win Ohio tonight -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right. From the Republican frontrunner in Palm Beach, to the Democratic front-runner in West Palm Beach.
Brianna Keilar, you are with Clinton. And I can't help but notice that there are no polls that have been taken in the state of Florida in March, in which Clinton isn't ahead of Bernie Sanders, just in that state, by at least 20 points.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they are pretty confident that they are going to win, and win big here in Florida. And the unofficial indication of that, Jake, is I'm told by folks at Clinton headquarters in Brooklyn that they are ordering in Cuban food as we speak, that hey are ordering Cuban food as we speak in honor of Florida, because they are expecting to win big. They're expecting this to be their biggest success tonight.
And they think this is something that will help them make their case, that Hillary Clinton is the one who attracts a more diverse electorate than Bernie Sanders. This will be a test of whether Bernie Sanders can attract minority voters, and they also are expecting that a blowout here in Florida will counteract any sort of gains that he may make in the Midwest. Missouri being among their primary concerns, because it is not winner-take-all when you look at Ohio and Florida, Jake. So, they think this will help them make their case, that whatever happens tonight, Hillary Clinton is widening her delegate lead, and Bernie Sanders cannot catch up.
TAPPER: All right. Brianna Keilar at Clinton campaign headquarters in West Palm Beach, Florida.
And, Dana Bash, one reasons why the Clinton campaign might be doing better in Florida is because it is a state with a lot of older voters with whom she does well, and about a third of the Democratic voters there, at least according to the last primary there, minorities, she also tends to do well with those groups.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And I just look back, she actually won Florida back in 2008. So, this is kind of fertile ground for her.
We were just listening across the room to David Axelrod talking about how so far the demographics have kind of flipped. That last time around, she did better with the kind of voters that Bernie Sanders is doing well with now, but no so much.
Look, I think that Brianna, her sources are -- have a right to be happy, if she does well as expected in Florida. But the reality is, if she doesn't win Ohio, if she doesn't do well in some of these Midwestern states, it does give Bernie Sanders bragging rights.
BASH: And the ability to say to his donors, to people out there, and to, you know, sort of the poobahs of the Democratic Party, I still have a place in this race.
TAPPER: Yes, absolutely. And the Clinton campaign is very worried, as you know, about losing potentially, who knows potentially losing Missouri, Illinois and Ohio this evening.
Let's go to our political director, David Chalian, who's in our election center.
And, David, you've been looking at the numbers from the exit polls specifically about Democratic voters in Ohio, and Missouri. Tell us who these people are.
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Right, exactly what you guys were just talking about. What Bernie Sanders did in Michigan you remember was sort of have a real appeal to his economic message. So, we looked at how people are feeling, Democratic primary voters are feeling about the economy.
Look at Missouri here, 81 percent tell us today that they are worried, very or somewhat worried about the direction of the U.S. economy.
Take a look at Ohio. We asked that same question in Ohio. It's a little less there, 75 percent of Democrats there say they are very or somewhat worried.
And then we went back to the trade issue that Bernie Sanders rode to success in Michigan. Look here in Ohio -- 28 percent say trade with other countries creates U.S. jobs, 53 percent, a majority of Democrats in Ohio say it takes away U.S. jobs.
[18:55:07] Now, that's not as big as it was in Michigan. It's down about four points, guys.
But, clearly, in states like Missouri, Ohio, Illinois, that Sanders populist economic appeal, there is a big electorate that has opened his argument. I'm sure that's why the Clinton campaign is very focused on those Midwest states.
TAPPER: David Chalian, thank you so much.
And, Dana, that's one of the things on my show earlier, Mayor Nutter, a Clinton supporter, was pushing back when Bernie Sanders was talking about why Bernie Sanders e does better with voters that don't like NAFTA, don't like CAFTA, don't like the Pacific trade deal. And Mayor Nutter saying, well, Hillary Clinton was not in office. She was just first lady during NAFTA. She opposed CAFTA. She now opposes the Pacific Trade Deal. This is a real area of sensitivity for the Clinton team.
BASH: No question. And it should be, given the fact that she -- it hurt her, at least the perception that she has been a free trader has hurt her in some of these industrial Midwest states.
The one thing that I will say, and Brianna talked about this earlier, when it comes to Ohio, the Clinton campaign is calling -- I'm sure they called you, I got a call insisting that if she doesn't win Ohio, that what we should be looking at is crossover votes. People who thought she was going to do great, who are registered Democrats, but wanted to affect the Republican race against Trump and voted for Kasich.
Unclear how we could even track that, if we can, but that is one of the ways that the Clinton campaign is going into today has been trying to lower expectations and give us some data points to how to do that.
TAPPER: It doesn't matter. A win's a win, a loss is a loss.
Wolf Blitzer, back to you.
BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much.
We're only less than four minutes away right now from the first votes being posted in Florida. I want to go over to John King at the magic wall.
We're going to get the official posting of these votes in Florida, even though the polls are still open.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's do or die for Marco Rubio in his home state. You're looking at the blank map now because we're waiting for the results to come in. We should get some votes pretty early, a decent chunk of votes, because there's a tradition of early voting in Florida.
Those voters are counted. They release them right at the top of the hour. Let's go back in time a little bit. Let's go back to 2008, to look number one for what to look at in the Republican race. Here you had two establishment type candidates, McCain and Romney, Rudy Giuliani by then was petering out, even though remember he invested, he said, I'm going to wait in Florida for the race. Well, he waited. The race never came to him.
But you have two establishment candidates much like you could say in the case of a Rubio and Donald Trump. Where does Marco Rubio have to do well to win in his home state?
You can do the same example if you look at 2012. Remember, Newt Gingrich won big in South Carolina. Mitt Romney ran it up in Florida and turned the race back around. So, let's come back to the state and take a peek at that, Wolf, it should come out.
If you're Marco Rubio tonight, number one, across the I-4 corridor, used to be a swing area in November. Not so much anymore. Democrats because of the growing Latino vote in Tampa, in the Orlando area, it's more of a Democratic area. But in a primary, can Marco Rubio get Latino votes here? Other Republican votes?
This is his home area down here, Miami-Dade. He has to run up the score here. If you look at Miami-Dade, look at what Mitt Romney did against Newt Gingrich. If Marco Rubio has any chance of surprising us tonight with a comeback, the numbers down here need to be huge. We'll watch as that plays out. Trump has led consistently in the polls.
Let's switch over and look at the Democratic side here. Let's go back to 2008 for that. David Axelrod was just talking about this. Hillary Clinton won the state pretty handily in 2008.
You know it, Wolf. You know this state well. The old saying is, the further south you go, the further north you get, because of all the transplants down here. People from the northeast who have retired down here, you can see how well Hillary Clinton did down here in those days.
So, again, critical for her down here. Also critical, she's done well with Latino voters, especially in the middle of the state. Here you come in Orange County, where Orlando is, this is a big area for Hillary Clinton to run it up among Latino voters in the state. We'll see how that plays out as well.
And for Bernie Sanders, if there is going to be a surprise in Florida, if you look at the 2016 map so far and pull out the Democratic primaries, this has been, North Carolina is tonight, Florida is tonight, Secretary Clinton wants to essentially fill the rested of this in tonight to make a point about her appeal in states with a diverse electorate. If you're looking for Bernie Sanders in Florida tonight, you might look again down in the areas where Hillary Clinton is strong, a lot of northeast transplants down here. Can Bernie Sanders make the case to voters there?
And up here, you have more blue collar voters, conservative counties up here. But you have a lot of white working class voters, Wolf. So, that would be key for Bernie Sanders.
But, again, if you look back at the 2008 Democratic primary, Obama had a little support up here, mostly African-American voters up here. But this was largely Clinton country. A little John Edwards in here. She ran it up big in the state eight years ago, she expects very much to do that tonight with a big win in Florida.
She's hoping to use that, Wolf, she's hoping to use the big win in Florida, and what she hopes will be a big win in North Carolina to offset what could be much more competitive races out in the Midwest.
BLITZER: All right. John, thanks very much.
Right now, we're standing by for the first votes out of Florida on this Super Tuesday. This could be released at any moment now. That's when the state of Florida will start releasing official votes, even though the polls remain open in the state of Florida.