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Pence, Kaine Prepare to Debate. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired October 4, 2016 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: the face-off here in Farmville, the one and only vice president debate with millions watching.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Also tonight, high-powered help and maybe a little heartburn on the side, Democrats rolling out the biggest surrogates around, including Bill Clinton, who raised eyebrows with his remarks on Obamacare.

BLITZER: And presidential prepping, the very latest on how Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are getting ready for their next debate this Sunday here on CNN.

COOPER: I'm Anderson Cooper.

BLITZER: And I'm Wolf Blitzer. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Welcome to Longwood University here in Farmville, Virginia, the site of the only vice presidential debate of campaign 2016. Safe to say neither Indiana Governor Mike Pence nor Virginia Senator Tim Kaine will outshine their respective running mates in terms of raw star power. That's not their role.

That said, each has a potentially very important job to do. We will talk about it tonight.

Let's check in first with CNN's Sara Murray. She's joining us.

Sara, Trump speaking to a crowd at his rally in Arizona just now, what was his message?


It seems like Donald Trump wanted to get a couple more digs in himself before his V.P. takes over. He went after Hillary Clinton, saying essentially, if she has a problem with the way I followed the tax laws, she should have changed them. He also took a shot at Bill Clinton over his comments about Obamacare.

But he did manage to squeeze in some well-wishes for his running mate, who will take the stage here shortly. Take a listen to what Trump had to say.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want to send our best wishes to our great Governor Mike Pence as he prepares for his debate tonight. Great guy.


TRUMP: The debate will be a contrast between our campaign of big ideas and bold solutions for tomorrow, vs. the small and petty Clinton campaign that is totally stuck in the past.


MURRAY: So, you see there, even though it is not going to be the two at the top of the ticket on the debate stage tonight, it is clear it is at least going to be a battle between the vision Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are holding out for the country, Wolf.

BLITZER: Sara, how confident is the campaign feeling about Mike Pence ahead of the debate tonight?

MURRAY: It's interesting, because in the run-up to the first presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, a number of people told me they were not convinced Donald Trump was prepared to take the stage.

We are not hearing that when it comes to Mike Pence. The Trump campaign feels very confident that he will be prepared, not only to parry any attacks that are coming from Tim Kaine, but also his record as governor of Indiana and also to defend Donald Trump's vision and really debate about that vision.

They acknowledge where there are areas where Donald Trump and Mike Pence don't necessarily agree, but they feel like Pence will be ready for that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Sara Murray reporting for us, thank you.

CNN special correspondent Jamie Gangel joins us now with her insight on how the Pence camp has been preparing.

Jamie, I know you have spoken to several sources. What are they telling you about expectations from Mike Pence tonight?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the expectations are very high.

Mike Pence is surrogate in chief tonight. Wolf, he needs to make up for the fact the campaign knows that Trump had a really bad debate and he has had a rough week, between the women's issues, Miss Universe, his taxes. So they are counting on Mike Pence to stem the tide, to hopefully stop the slide in the polls and turn things around.

I think you're going to hear him defending Donald Trump. And you're going also to see him pivoting and turning on the issues and attacking Hillary Clinton and the Clinton campaign on policy, as opposed to personal things -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jamie, how important is Pence' performance tonight for the overall Trump campaign?

GANGEL: You know, I think it is very important, especially looking forward to the next debate, Wolf.

The campaign is hoping, actually, that Donald Trump will learn something from Mike Pence tonight. And that is discipline and practice and to be prepared to answer a question in two sentences and then pivot if necessary.

But we just found out Donald Trump went on Twitter and announced he will be live-tweeting tonight. So this raises an interesting problem, because, as we know, he's had a couple of tweetstorms recently, the one in the night at 3:00 a.m.


Is he going to steal show from the number two on his ticket, who the campaign is hoping is really going to help him tonight? Or is Trump going to get in the way and overshadow him? So it is a very tricky night tonight.

BLITZER: I suppose this will be a first, a presidential nominee live- tweeting a debate.

Jamie, thank you very much.

I want to check in now with our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash.

Dana, Tim Kaine, he has been in synch with the Clinton message while he's been on the campaign trail. What does he need to do tonight?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, just to sort of go to the basics, they don't expect that there will be anywhere near the eyeballs on this debate than there were on the presidential debate.

But they do realize that this is an opportunity for Tim Kaine to use the forum to get across what the Clinton-Kaine economic message is, which, of course, that is back to basics, that voters by and large say it's about jobs and what can these candidates do for me on that.

But then when you're talking -- when I talk on some folks inside Clinton-Kaine world about what his strategy is vis-a-vis Pence, it is very specific. It is whatever opportunity Tim Kaine has to show that there is a wedge between Mike Pence and Donald Trump -- and there are many -- but to sort of try to illuminate that through this debate. It will allow the Clinton campaign after the debate to say, you see, Donald Trump says X, Y or Z. Even his own running mate doesn't agree with that.

That's part of the strategy that the Clinton team are going to be hoping Tim Kaine accomplishes as part of his debate tonight. BLITZER: What are the challenges, Dana, that both Kaine and Pence are

going to face tonight?

BASH: Well, first and foremost, obviously, it's not to mess up. That's just the bottom line. And to do right by the candidates at the top of the ticket.

But one thing that I found really interesting in talking to sources close to Mike Pence and working through his process, really since he was picked about three months ago, is that they realize that this is one of, what, two or three big moments for him. And in the case of Mike Pence, he's been doing a lot of national issue -- interviews, rather, over the past three weeks or so.

And that was to be a surrogate for Donald Trump, but also to give him some training grounds. It was kind of a work in progress for him to be with national reporters, national anchors, to get the tough questions, and to prepare him in large part for the big stage tonight.

So I found that fascinating, that that was intentional as part of his debate prep process.

BLITZER: Very interesting. I know you interviewed him. I interviewed him. A lot of people interviewed him.

BASH: Exactly.

BLITZER: He was very available. But you're pointing out this was good training for him going into tonight's debate. Right?

BASH: That's exactly right.

Again, they believe that he is a very good surrogate for Donald Trump because he has successfully tried to massage his very rough edges at times rhetorically, maybe cleaning it up, but also try to kind of set the stage for the Trump campaign to shift with regard to its message, but, more importantly, it's to be really prepared for tonight.

BLITZER: Dana Bash, stand by. We will get back to you.

Much more ahead, including Hillary Clinton. She is speaking out moments just ago about Donald Trump's remarks on veterans, post- traumatic stress and suicide. We will take quick break. We will be right back.



COOPER: And welcome back to debate nation.

The debate tonight is at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia, where, in just a few hours, Tim Kaine and Mike Pence will try to give their running mates a big boost.

Before we talk about that, though, Hillary Clinton just spoke with reporters. She focused especially on what Donald Trump said yesterday about veterans' post-traumatic stress and suicide.


TRUMP: When you talk about the mental health problems, when people come back from war and combat and they see things that maybe a lot of the folks in this room have seen many times over, and you're strong and you can handle it, but a lot of people can't handle it.


COOPER: Donald Trump yesterday.

The campaign is defending what he said and his good intentions, accusing the media of taking the words out of context.

Here's what Hillary Clinton said about it a short time ago in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.


HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And part of his response was that post-traumatic stress happens to troops who -- quote -- "can't handle it." He said, if you're strong, you can handle it.

Many people are now standing up and speaking out against Trump, because post-traumatic stress is not something that strong people can handle and weak people can't. Some of the strongest men and women any of us will ever meet have experienced post-traumatic stress. Donald Trump's comments are not just ignorant. They're harmful, because they give voice to the stigma that has led generations of veterans to hide their struggles, instead of getting lifesaving help.


COOPER: We're back now with the panel, S.E. Cupp, Kirsten Powers, David Gergen, Gloria Borger, also Corey Lewandowski, Mike Rogers, Maria Cardona, and Michael Nutter.

Gloria, do you think it's fair for what Hillary Clinton said tonight? You can interpret what Donald Trump said...


Look, I think what Donald Trump did was probably inartfully stated. But I think, of all the issues that you could be raising in this campaign at this moment, particularly given the fact that a report just came out today saying that the veterans in Arizona are not getting the care that they need.

COOPER: Their waiting lists are still incredibly long.

BORGER: That's right. And Drew Griffin just reported that.


That the discussion ought to be not about what Donald Trump said today or whether he meant to sound the way Hillary Clinton said he sounds, but how do you fix the VA system? And I think that becomes the substantive argument.

And, look, we're at a point in the campaign where the candidates will take shots at each other like this. You just have to expect it. But at a certain point, the veterans are probably not well-served by it. And the veteran who asked the question didn't interpret it the way Hillary Clinton did. So there are differing views among veterans organizations about it.


In terms of tonight, David, how important -- I asked this question to Mayor Nutter earlier. Does tonight really matter? It is certainly an opportunity for the vice presidential candidates to get their names out there, get themselves more well-known and also to try to maybe appeal to some people who don't like the top of the ticket.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: These vice presidential debates tend to be footnotes in campaigns. They're pretty forgettable very quickly and they don't change things.

I think this one is different in one fundamental sense. Whoever gets elected as president is going to be one of the oldest people we have ever had coming into office. And in those circumstances, you do need someone who can fill in well.

I think both men have been impressive for that, but also because the campaign has taken such a turn here in the last 10 days, especially since the first debate. I think there's heavy pressure on the Republicans to reverse the momentum, stop the bleeding, reverse the momentum. That puts a lot of pressure on Mike Pence.

And you have got in Tim Kaine a man who so far in the stump and on television has been a very likable, winning personality.

COOPER: It's interesting. You don't have a situation which we have seen in the past vice presidential debates where there was real questions about one or the other of the candidates. I think everybody would agree both these men have leadership experience, both in Washington and in their states.


The question is really about the people who are at the top of the ticket. And so these people will sort of have to vouch for them and say that you can trust them.

But I think it also is an important thing because -- I think this is more important than normal probably because this is a more volatile election. You have people who really are looking at third-party candidates who probably will eventually migrate to one of these three people.

One of the major votes that is kind of in play right now where you see Trump really underperforming are white Catholics. And these are both people who were raised Catholic. Now Mike Pence has become an evangelical. But they both have a Catholic background.

And I would expect them to do some sort of outreach on that, to listen to Tim Kaine talking about really a lifelong faith as a Catholic, and Mike Pence at the same time can kind of reach out to those people that I think are really looking for a home between these two candidates.



If you're undecided, you're undecided for a reason. It is because you don't like either of the candidates. You don't like these choices. What these guys can do tonight, I agree, I think it is a really important moment in this campaign.

What these guys can do is sell that undecided voter on their candidate, because I'm a good -- I can vouch for this person. If you're that steelworker, an unemployed steelworker in the Rust Belt and you feel like the Democratic Party has left you, but Donald Trump is maybe a little crazy, this is Tim Kaine's opportunity to say, all right, maybe she doesn't get you, but I get you.

Or this is Mike Pence's opportunity to say, I'm smart, I'm sober, I'm conservative. I'm just like you. And he is going to get job done. That's the sell they have to make. Tim Kaine has to make the sell that Donald Trump is terrifying, and Mike Pence has to make the sell that Hillary Clinton is a politician, and we don't need four more years of 30 years of failed policy. We just don't need that. And that's the audience.

COOPER: Let's just get in our partisans.

Corey, it wasn't Mike -- Mike Pence was sort of brought on board initially to appeal to I guess more establishment Republicans, whatever that means today. But lately in polls, we have seen white -- kind of slip for Donald Trump in white working-class voters and even white college-educated voters, although he is still leading I think in both those categories. Has Pence done his job? And what does he need to do tonight?


What you have seen with Mike Pence is a very talented, very charismatic person who has a long history of serving his country both as a congressman, now as a governor. His son serves in the military.

Look, what he wants to talk about tonight, what is important for Mike Pence to talk about, immigration reform. It's been the hallmark of Donald Trump's campaign.

COOPER: Right, something not talked about in the last debate.

LEWANDOWSKI: That's right, not talked about at tall.

Trade. Obamacare. An agent of change. These are the things that Mike Pence has to hit on tonight if he's going to be successful. The reason for that is because those are the exact opposite things that Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine want to talk about.

COOPER: It's interesting, Mayor Nutter, the whole agent of notion is something that Donald Trump kind of went after Hillary Clinton on early on in the first debate, but didn't really carry it through for the entire debate.

MICHAEL NUTTER (D), FORMER MAYOR OF PHILADELPHIA: Well, it is tough to position your as an agent of change, when you have never really done anything, other than make money for yourself.

There is no record here. There is nothing to talk about. It's why he doesn't talk about issues. He hasn't done anything, other than either make money at times, which we don't know because he won't release his tax returns, or lose money, which he has now been benefiting from.


So, where is the change? This guy is 70-some years old running as an outsider? And a governor and a congressman 15 years himself, there is no outside here. He's as much as insider as anybody.

COOPER: But, Maria, the argument is that Secretary Clinton has had -- they say 30 years. She obviously was not in power there.


MARIA CARDONA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: She has not only not been in Washington 30 years. When she was here, she wasn't the all-empowered emperor, queen of the world.


COOPER: Isn't it easier for Donald Trump to make the -- that he is a change agent argument more than Secretary Clinton?

CARDONA: He can certainly try, but then the counter is, sure, there is change, but there is absolutely the wrong kind of change, which is what Donald Trump represents.

And, look, I think tonight, this is more of a run-up, kind of setting the football in the perfect place that the V.P. candidates have to do for their candidate for the upcoming presidential debate, which will have fabulous moderators.


CARDONA: But I also think that, to the extent that the records of these particular -- senator and the congressman are going to be talked about, I think that it is an opportunity for Tim Kaine to point out that Mike Pence is actually a pretty extreme pick for Donald Trump.

He has not a very good record in Indiana on immigrant issues. He has a horrible record on women's issues. He wants to defund Planned Parenthood. Horrible record on LGBT issues that actually led to businesses fleeing Indiana. So, I think if Tim Kaine is able to bring that up and couple it with

the top of the ticket, he can say, look, this is a ticket that is wrong for America, because it is anti-woman in word and deed, it's anti-immigrant in word and deed, and anti-worker in word and deed.

COOPER: Chairman Rogers, there is always this kind of tension between a vice presidential candidate and a presidential candidate when they differ on issues.

And, clearly, there are differences between Donald Trump even just on some of the issues. Donald Trump isn't talking about defunding all of Planned Parenthood, unlike many of the Republicans who ran in the primary.

He actually -- he's not for abortion services, but certainly he has actually said positive things about Planned Parenthood. How does Mike Pence walk kind of that line?

MIKE ROGERS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, first of all, when you look at what voters are attracted to in this election, it is a change agent. It's somebody from the outside, number one.

Number two, the core issues of what this is about, lower taxes, growth opportunity, even in urban communities that haven't seen that certainly under Barack Obama, and you're going to have a candidate who will be able to pivot on some of these issues of which they are trying to sideline the bigger issues.

What is going on with the economy? How do you get 94 million Americans who have opted out of work force back to work? How do you improve the lot for urban America? Trump has actually talked about all of that.

I'm going to give you one quick example. And I think this will hurt Hillary Clinton along the way. She keeps talking about the tax issue. He lost a billion dollars. You're right. He lost probably a billion dollars of his own money.

There is an I.G. report that just came out that said that the State Department lost $6 billion, most of it when she was secretary of state. And guess what? That is our money. This is that change agent. And what you're going to see with Mike Pence, he is more seasoned at being able to pirouette on these issues. And you will get that counterbalance.

Right now, it's a pretty one-sided set of attacks. I think, you will see with this debate a more counterbalance to the issues.


NUTTER: We don't know whose money he lost, actually.

BORGER: But we have seen Mike Pence.

But Mike Pence has sort of pirouetted, to use your word, throughout this campaign, because after the Khan family, the Gold Star family incident at the Democratic Convention, he praised the Khan family. When Donald Trump refused to endorse Paul Ryan at first, Mike Pence met with Ryan, endorsed, endorsed Ryan.

He has acknowledged that the president was born in Hawaii.

COOPER: He's released his taxes.

BORGER: He's released his taxes.

So, he's managed to kind of walk this fine line. And he does disagree with Trump or has in the past on lots of issues, like trade or the Muslim ban.

CUPP: But Tim Kaine will have to make a decision here. You can't do both. You can't tie Trump and Pence together and say they're both extreme, they're both offering these crazy proposals, they're both far right-wing, and then say, even Mike Pence has disagreed with Trump on X, Y, Z. He's going to have to pick.


CARDONA: I don't think that is how he will do it. I think what he will do is say, Mike Pence, do you agree Donald Trump that fat-shaming Miss Universe is the right thing to do? Do you think that's presidential?

Do you think that going after a Gold Star family is the right thing to do? He already said it wasn't, but he can bring it up again. Those are the challenges of Mike Pence.

COOPER: Corey, and then we have got to go.

LEWANDOWSKI: You know what? Tim Kaine can point out all the flaws, but they're not laying out their vision for America.

Eleven percent of the American people think Hillary Clinton is honest and trustworthy. They have to answer for that. There is no plan moving forward. They want to belittle and make pejorative statements about Donald Trump. But there is no Clinton plan, no Clinton-Kaine plan to move the country forward.

We're in more debt now than we have ever been. There are more people in the African-American community living in poverty now than there were when Barack Obama took office. That's a fact. They have to answer it. They were part of the administration.


NUTTER: Corey, you may have missed the recession, which...


LEWANDOWSKI: Oh, now we're blaming that eight years ago on Bush, right? When does Obama take responsibility?

NUTTER: I listened to you. I listened to you. LEWANDOWSKI: Seven-and-a-half years.

NUTTER: I listened to you. Let me finish.

COOPER: Very quickly.

NUTTER: A lot of things happened over the last few years, but unemployment is at 4.9 percent.

There are 20 to 25 million more people who have health care now than before. That's what President Obama did. The country is moving in the right direction. And this team has plans.

And if you go on the Web site, you can read them.

COOPER: All right. We got to take a quick break.

With tonight's debate fast approaching here on CNN, a reminder: So is the second presidential debate Sunday. ABC's Martha Raddatz and I will be moderating from Washington University in Saint Louis. I hope you join us. Coverage begins at 4:00 p.m. Eastern time on Sunday right here on CNN.

Just ahead tonight: Donald Trump counting on Mike Pence to make the case for him in tonight's debate here on CNN. We will hear from Republican National Committee chief strategist Sean Spicer next.


BLITZER: Two and a half hours until the first and only 2016 vice- presidential debate right here on CNN. Donald Trump saying he'll be live tweeting throughout the debate.

[18:30:51] Here's what he said a short time ago at a rally in Arizona, portraying himself, as Anderson and the panel were discussing the last segment, as the change candidate.


TRUMP: We are change. She is for four more years of Obama, and we can't take that. Clinton can't talk about real problems facing our country, because she's the one who helped create all those problems in the first place. They're not going to be able to do anything about it.


BLITZER: Hillary Clinton, as you just heard, and her surrogates, they were also hitting the campaign trail hard today in North Carolina. The first lady, Michelle Obama, she slammed Obama for mocking women's appearances. She also said he can't be trued with the military codes and doesn't understand military service members and their views.

Earlier, I asked Sean Spicer, the RNC's chief strategist and communications director, for his response.


SEAN SPICER, CHIEF STRATEGIST/COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, RNC: I think the White House realizes that this -- they are worried that Hillary Clinton has an enthusiasm gap. People are not excited the way they were for Obama, especially the first time, never mind the second.

They have a problem on their side getting young voters and minority voters excited about a Hillary Clinton thing. I think in general, there's a problem with voters who don't trust Hillary Clinton.

BLITZER: Since that first presidential debate, her numbers have gone up. She's gotten a nice little boost.

SPICER: Right.

BLITZER: Trump's numbers have gone down.

SPICER: Right. I think we've seen a back and forth the last week. We've got two polls out this week -- the "L.A. Times" poll and the UPI -- that show Donald Trump ahead 2 and 5 points respectively.

But I'll admit, I mean, we're in a neck-and-neck race. And I think not just nationally but statewide. So I think tonight gives us an opportunity to draw that contrast. I think that's what Mike Pence is really going to do tonight, is get in there and talk about the differences of accomplishment between him and Tim Kaine. And then, frankly, the difference in philosophy between him and -- he and Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine. I think that's a big difference.

You know, the first lady, it was interesting when she was talking, was reading off a litany of how long, basically, Hillary Clinton's been in Washington. And one of the things that's interesting is they believe that that's a strength. They believe that 30 years of Washington insider is a positive thing, and that's the same thing with Tim Kaine. Governor, senator, mayor of Richmond. They've come into this believing that more time in government is good. I think the Pence- Trump [SIC] team believes that being the agent of change, talking about shaking things up, is actually what voters are looking for. And I think that's where the disconnect is right now.

BLITZER: Mike Pence, the vice-presidential running mate, he's spent a lot of time in government, too. He was a member of Congress for a long time, a governor now.

SPICER: Member of Congress, one-term governor. But the difference also is they don't talk about how long they've served. They talk about the accomplishments they have. And when Tim Kaine was governor of the commonwealth of Virginia, taxes went up and unemployment went up.

Under Mike Pence the last four years in Indiana, taxes have gone down; unemployment has gone down.

BLITZER: Take a look at this, Pennsylvania, Monmouth University poll just out this hour, in Pennsylvania, a state he has worked hard, thinks he can turn that state in his favor, Hillary Clinton 50 percent, Donald Trump 40 percent. A 10-point advantage in Pennsylvania.

SPICER: Well, I don't think it's that much. It's probably an outlier poll. I do think she's probably a couple points ahead right now, but he is putting in more and more time. You're going to continue to see him and Governor Pence out there.

I think the ground game that we have put together in Pennsylvania ensures that we know who our voters are, where the potential persuadable voters are.

And there's a reason that Pennsylvania is where it is on the map. The really interesting thing is, because it's an election day. They don't have a robust early vote program, is that we know that we can go in there and continue to fight hard all the way through election day.

BLITZER: Is Donald Trump doing a better job this time, getting ready for the Sunday night debate?

SPICER: He is. But I also would take issue that he did do a good job last time. He has spent a lot of time with his issue advisors and his political advisors preparing for the debate. I admit that I think there's a lot of things that we probably could have hit her harder on last time, or some missed opportunities.

But I think when you look at, by and large, what the Clinton campaign wanted out of that last game, they wanted him to make a gaffe. He came in, he looked strong. He talked about where he was on the issues. He stood firm on trade. She didn't.

[18:35:04] I mean, look, I think it's being -- if anyone was graded on a curve, it was Hillary Clinton. Donald Trump came in, stood firm, talked about where he was on the issues, direction and changing...

BLITZER: But all the serious polls. Not these online polls that are not scientific and they're not even polls, they're surveys, really. All the serious polls, as you well know, the state polls, the national polls, show that she won that debate decisively.

SPICER: OK. But I think if you're going to look at that, then you'd have President Kerry and President Gore. President -- I mean, John Kerry won every single one of those debates against George Bush. Three in a row. Most of them by fairly wide margins. It didn't turn out too well.

I think if Donald Trump continues to deliver the message of change and make sure that Hillary Clinton is continued to be tagged as the candidate of the establishment and the status quo, that's the contrast we want to drive. And there's a reason that this enthusiasm gas [SIC] exists, because people are tired of Washington politicians and want something...

BLITZER: In our new poll, that enthusiasm gap has diminished.

SPICER: But we still have the advantage in that. I get it. But again, part of it is some of her folks coming home. They continue to have that problem with minorities and youth that are part of that niche coalition that they have to tie together to win.


BLITZER: We're now here inside Willett Hall, where 500 people will soon gather for tonight's big vice-presidential debate.

Just coming up, Hillary Clinton is getting a boost in the polls after her first debate. Now it's Tim Kaine's job to try to build on that momentum. Up next, I'll talk to Clinton campaign chair John Podesta. We'll talk about what he's hoping to see at tonight's debate.


[18:41:15] BLITZER: Donald Trump says he'll be live tweeting tonight's vice-presidential debate. It starts at 9 p.m. Eastern right here CNN.

Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, has made no such promise, but she will presumably be watching this debate very, very closely.

Secretary Clinton and her surrogates, they kept up attacks on Trump today as new polls showed Clinton expanding her lead in Pennsylvania and North Carolina, two key battleground states.

Joining us now is Clinton campaign chair John Podesta, who was the White House chief of staff under President Bill Clinton. John, thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: So clearly, the Trump campaign, they have a chance to try to shake up the narrative tonight. How worried are you that Mike Pence is really going to not necessarily go after Tim Kaine as much as he's going to go after Hillary Clinton?

PODESTA: Well, this is a little bit unusual for a vice-presidential debate, because usually, you're looking at did the presidential candidates select somebody who can step into the shoes if called upon to do it.

Tonight, the issue is really, is Donald Trump qualified to be president of the United States? And I think Mike Pence has a hard road to hoe in trying to make that case. We're going to see whether he stands behind the bigoted statements that Trump's made. Will he have something to say about the fact that he won't release his tax returns?

So he's got to both defend Donald Trump and, of course, I'm sure, he's going to try to prosecute the case against Hillary Clinton.

BLITZER: I assume you helped Tim Kaine get ready for this debate. What's going to be his strategy? Is he going to go after Mike Pence? Or is he going to go right after Donald Trump? PODESTA: Look, I think he's coming in here tonight, we're in an historic place in Farmville, Virginia, birthplace of some of the civil rights movement in the commonwealth of Virginia, and argue that we are stronger together. We've got to expand the circle of opportunity. We're going to build a stronger economy.

So he wants to make the positive case that Hillary Clinton did today in the suburbs of Philadelphia, when she did the children and family town hall, talked about childcare, equal pay, et cetera.

But he's also going to take on and contrast the kind of campaign that Donald Trump has run. And he's going to contrast the kind of proposals that he's put forward, going back to trickle-down economics. Big tax cuts for the wealthy. I think it will be a lively debate.

BLITZER: Is Tim Kaine ready to strongly defend Hillary Clinton? Because you know he's going to go -- that Pence is really going to go after him. Have you been rehearsing all of that?

PODESTA: Look, he doesn't need rehearse. I think he's been out on the trail. He knows Hillary well. He knows that she can get the job done. He knows that she's a person of deep, loyal conviction, who's fought all her life for families and children. You know, that's been the story of his life, as well. That's why they're such a great team. And so I'm sure he's prepared to go in and defend her. But most importantly, talk about the future of all of our American families and our children.

BLITZER: What was former president Bill Clinton thinking today? You were his White House chief of staff. You know him well; you understand him. When he said that the legacy issue of President Obama, the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, in Bill Clinton's words, quote, "the craziest thing in the world"?

PODESTA: Well, look, I think...

BLITZER: The craziest thing in the world.

PODESTA: He has a way of trying to walk around and teach about what the problems are. But I think he started that, and you have to understand the context, which is that the Affordable Care Act has been a great success. It's expanded health coverage to 20 million people. Donald Trump wants to rip that all away, rip away the protections, to make sure that people with preexisting conditions still get insurance; that women aren't discriminated against.

And what he was saying was it's a little bit -- I think what he was saying was that there are still holes. That's what Hillary has said. Small business need tax credits. They'll be able to cover their employees.

[18:45:02] What he was particularly talking about is if you're over the bar for getting subsidies, that is hard for you to get insurance. And that's why Hillary's proposed expanding protection, making sure out of pocket costs are covered, and lowering the price of prescription drugs. And that's what she's been talking about on the campaign.

BLITZER: You would have used a different expression than the craziest thing in the world, exactly five weeks.

PODESTA: He can be colorful. But I think that really, the point he was making is we've got --

BLITZER: He can make that point without --

PODESTA: We've got to keep what's good and we've got the fix problems. And one of the problems is making sure that we have coverage that small businesses can afford and people who are just above that line can get affordable insurance so that they get protections as well.

We've already made tremendous progress, 20 million people.


PODESTA: That's what Donald Trump wants to rip away. What we want to do is make sure we get to 100 percent.

BLITZER: Yes, that's what you wish he would have said. He could improve it. But, you know, you clearly don't wish he said what he said.

All right. Thanks very much, John Podesta. We'll be watching this debate closely.

Let's go back to Anderson and our panel.

COOPER: Wolf, thanks very much. Let's turn to reporters and analyst analysts.

I mean, David, to hear former President Clinton going after President Obama's signature accomplishment was pretty startling today and using the words that he did.



COOPER: Sort of the last thing that the Clinton campaign I imagine wanted to hear today.

GERGEN: Yes, I think that's right, and it -- Bill Clinton makes very, very few mistakes these days when he's out on the trail. That was a mistake. But I think John Podesta, to his credit, he handled with it, you know, some humor and by the fact.

But I must say, the professionalism of the Clinton team really shows in moments like this. And eight years ago, 2008, when Hillary ran, she had a campaign. People were just as each other's throats. There's a lot of internal rivalries. This has been a much better managed campaign.

John Podesta has a lot to do with that. She's got a real pro --

COOPER: But, S.E., former President Clinton brought up many of the criticisms which Republicans have been making about Obamacare all along, essentially that -- what the president was saying, specifically, for small business owners and those who have a certain amount of income, that their premiums have been, in the words of former President Clinton, more than doubled in some cases.

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, it was damning. And that combined with a report today that millennials just aren't signing up for Obamacare in the numbers that they need to continue this program would seem to give Trump and Mike Pence some fodder. However, I'm just seeing now in Arizona, Trump is talking about how Bill Clinton probably went through hell last night because of these comments and he said, quote, "But, you know, honestly, there have been many nights where he's gone through hell with Hillary in all fairness."

Again, choosing to avoid the obvious opportunity and instead swinging for sort, I would call it the gutter, but swinging for the opportunity that just distracts from the bad thing that Bill Clinton just said.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's not gong to help him with women voters.

CUPP: Right. No, it's not.

BORGER: And let's just say that, you know, Mike Pence, if he handles this debate well, could potentially help with women voters, because the last week has really turned off a lot of women voters, our polls shows that.

CUPP: Right.

BORGER: So, we'll see what Mike Pence can do to --

CUPP: To clean it up.

COOPER: But Mike Pence, I mean, has, as we discussed, I mean, he's done an efficient job of trying to, I don't know if "soften" is right word or sort of explain some of Trump's comments?

KIRSTEN POWERS, USA TODAY COLUMNIST: He has a context to do it. It is a little different to have to do it one question after another through an entire debate. If you're just being asked about one question and you can give your pat answer and move on. But what if you're being asked over and over? What if you're asked, you know, these questions -- I mean, they also have some pretty selling policies.

This isn't a difference about, you know, temperament. This is about -- they actually disagree on some pretty serious issues that are of concern to Republican voters, to conservative voters. You know, he's -- Donald Trump is by no means a conservative.

COOPER: Yes. We're going to take a quick break. We've got a lot more ahead as we prepare for debate night. I want to thank everyone. Up next, what a difference a week makes in terms of polls. How the president then, the presidential race looks now. New polling ahead.


[18:54:12] COOPER: As we count down to tonight's vice presidential debate just two hours from now, I want to continue the conversation with our panelists.

I mean, this really does, this debate comes at a critical time for this campaign. I mean, not only this debate but also, obviously, the presidential debate on Sunday. We're starting to see a shift in polls toward Hillary Clinton. But still, I mean, we've seen shifts before.

GERGEN: We've seen shifts before but these are crucial moments in the campaign because when one opponent starts to pull away, the way she's doing right now, it -- that changes the whole momentum, the confidence, the way the press covers it. The confidence, Hillary Clinton came out today and gave this press conference. She looked like she was being the president. You know, it wasn't like a campaigner. You would see a distinct change in her demeanor.

All those things matter. So, if there's pressure now on the Trump campaign. Maybe they thought they can be rescued by WikiLeaks, that turned out to be a bust when they went forward.

[18:55:02] They've got to find a way to reverse momentum. They've got to change the conversation. They've got to get off talking about women and about the foundation, about its taxes, and talking about the future of the country.

Corey Lewandowski has been absolutely right about this. They need to get back to the fundamentals. That is the best thing they can do.

COOPER: How to do they do that, Corey? Because Donald Trump had, when new management came in, Kellyanne Conway came in and others came in. I mean, he was much more -- he was, you know, not speaking as extemporaneously and he seemed to grow in the polls. We've seen that shift since this debate certainly.

COREY LEWANDOWSKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: What we've seen with Donald Trump is when he's talking his core message of the immigration reform, tax reform. He's talking about trade policy, that is where he wins. He wins in those issues because there is a clear dichotomy between him and Hillary Clinton and the disaffected blue collar workers who think that Washington, D.C. for 30 years has been broken, understands that Donald Trump is going to do go change that.

When he's talking about his own taxes or he's talking about other things, he's on the defense. You can't win when you're playing defense. You need to play offense. Everybody knows that. That's the way sports work.

And what we're going to see tonight is that Tim Kaine is going to be held accountable for things Hillary Clinton has said, just like Mike Pence is going to be held accountable. That means the deplorables comment. That means the basement dwellers in fact the secret tape of the Bernie Sanders supporters. That means all the things that she has that weren't supposed to get out, he's going to be held accountable for, what his reaction going to be? Who knows?

COOPER: We'll see you tonight.

I want to bring in John King. We want to look at the specifics of this polling trends for that.

Let's go to John.

John, so, at this hour, eight days ago I think it was, we were discussing Trump momentum in the national polls and in key battleground states as well. It's amazing how much he's changed.


To David Gergen's point, Donald Trump better try to fix this by the second debate and not wait for the third. Look, eight days ago, we were saying Donald Trump had taken a lead in Nevada. In eight days ago, we were saying Donald Trump had either pulled into a tie, maybe was ahead, certainly closed in in Colorado.

Eight days ago, Florida was a tie or a Trump lead. He was holding North Carolina. He was winning in Ohio. He was closing in in Pennsylvania. He was closing in in Michigan.

He was doing what he has to do, getting in shape to turn blue states from the Obama/Romney race red. That is what we were saying going into the debate.

Now, forget about it. Just wipe it out. These are just some of the state polls since then. Hillary Clinton up five in Florida, up three in North Carolina, up four in Pennsylvania. Other polls show her up more there.

Trump is holding Ohio. That's the one piece of good news for him here. Double digits in Colorado, near double digits here in Virginia.

So, Anderson, in those eight days, Donald Trump went in for that first debate with that the wind at his back. Now, he's looking up a steep hill again.

COOPER: It's obviously a different state to state. But are there clear reasons why the race has shifted?

KING: Yes. She's making gains among key constituencies. Let's start here. Donald Trump will win white voters without college degree on Election Day. But in early September, he was up 43 points with these voters. Now, you see, he's just up 20 points.

So, Hillary Clinton is still losing but she's changed the margins a little bit and that's critical in a close race. Donald Trump had this close race. Donald Trump had this huge edge. It was helping him. Now, look at that, she's come back. One other thing that's worth watching, when we were saying Donald Trump was ahead in the national polls, the big swing toward him was among independents. Early September, Donald Trump with a 20-point lead among independents. This is nationally.

Now, look, Hillary Clinton ahead by 7 points. If Hillary Clinton wins independents on Election Day, she's the next president of the United States, period.

COOPER: If things moved so much in just eight days in the polls, is it possible they can just move back?

KING: Yes they can. We've had this swing. There is no question. But I want to make a point here, Anderson, to bring up the most recent national poll. We now have Hillary Clinton up plus five, 47, 47, 7, 2.

I just showed the swing in eight days. So, can Donald Trump swing it back? Yes. But he better not wait very long.

If you look at these polling right here. From this point on in 2012, President Obama was never ahead by more than three points nationally. She's ahead five points nationally now in our poll. It was tied on the day of the second debate, the Obama/Romney race. It was tied one week before Election Day, the Obama-Romney.

We'll move this out of the way. We all know how it turned out -- Democrats have more infrastructure on the ground. Democrats at least proven otherwise, we should think are gong to be better at early voting, better at turning out to vote.

If she's up five points nationally, if this lead stays longer then it does translate into the key swing states. If Donald Trump can turn one state, maybe two states. If you have go into the final few weeks and you have to turn three, four, five states and they are big and diverse and complicated like Florida and Pennsylvania, you're fighting for Nevada, Anderson, it's just too steep of a hill.

COOPER: And just very briefly, I mean, does this all from the debate? Do these numbers shift from debate?

KING: The debate started it. If you talk to people who have done focus groups, they say that Donald Trump simply didn't look like a president, a side by side contrast help her a lot. But certainly, in the polls that have been taken in the last 24, 48 hours, or at least in the field for some of those days, I think some of the comments since have certainly contributed to it but it started with the debate. No question.

COOPER: All right. John King -- John, thanks.

Our CNN debate countdown continues right now with "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT".