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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Standing By for Votes in Key Special Election; Sources: Trump Considering Wider Shake-Up Among Senior Staff. Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired March 13, 2018 - 20:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're just moments away from polls closing in this key special congressional election tonight.

[20:00:04] It will be a very important test for the president of the United States.

(MUSIC)

BLITZER: All right. We have our first key race alert of the night. Take a look at this. Too early to call. The polls had jus closed clearly in Pennsylvania. Too early to call between Conor Lamb, the Democrat, Rick Saccone, the Republican. But the votes will be coming in very, very quickly. We'll get the results.

In the meantime, let's go over to Anderson.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Wolf, thanks very much.

The special edition of AC360.

I want to get more reaction now from our panels.

Michael Smerconish, you know the state very well. What are you expecting tonight? What are the stakes?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I'm looking for margin, as much as I am the victor I don't know that it matters all that much if it ends up being a squeaker which side prevails because I think the storyline will be set, and that storyline will be one of disappointment and setback for the GOP. So, whether it's Saccone by two or Conor Lamb by two matters less to me than it's a four point margin or whatever and it might end up.

COOPER: So even if it's even if the Democrat loses despite all these expectations, if it's close, the Democrats are going to claim --

SMERCONISH: Yes, it'll be very difficult I think for there to be a success story even in a Saccone victory, that's by -- I'll put it at less than five given the propensity of this district.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: But I would just add that psychologically, there's a different impact for -- especially for Republican members. So, tomorrow morning if Republicans were to gather for their conference meeting, if they have lost this seat, there will be a different feeling inside that room about the real concern and panic about what November may bring versus, and I agreed you, the Democrats would have reason to claim some victory here if they get close, but the difference psychologically for Republicans tomorrow morning if they actually can hang on to this is very different from if they actually lose.

COOPER: Republicans have poured a lot of money into this, right?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Oh, yes. They poured a lot of money through PACs, the RNC has put about a million dollars into it, just under a million. And I think if they lose this seat, alarm bells are going to start going off and you're going to see more Republicans deciding to call it quits and retire and say, you know what, this environment is kind of tough for me if I'm in a suburban district, and maybe I don't want to go through this.

And so, I think we're going to have to -- we're going to have to take a look at that. I mean, yes, the margin is really important but also the fact of a loss will be important and we should also say, by the way, that this is a seat that's going to change in like what --

COOPER: November.

BORGER: A minute, in a minute. So, we -- you know, but so everybody's pouring all this money into this because they understand the symbolism. The Republicans would not have poured a lot of money into this nor would the Democrats that they didn't understand it's meaning.

COOPER: Nia?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: It's also going to mean if Republicans lose that they're going to have to figure out a new message, because the message they ran in this campaign was it first at least heavily around the tax cut, right? And in some ways it might have backfired, because they started to pull some of those ads that were up in that district. I think for a lot of the folks I talked to on the ground, senior citizens were a little bit nervous about this tax cut because maybe it would mean something in terms of cuts to the social safety net, a lot of older folks in this district, it's one of the oldest districts in the country.

So, they're going to have to figure out what this means. Also, it'll be interesting to see what union members do in this district, about 80,000 union households in this district. And if they vote differently than the way they voted in the past and it'll be a good night for Conor Lamb.

COOPER: Joe Trippi, I mean, if Conor Lamb wins, what is the message to Democrats because he's a different kind of Democrats really than a Bernie -- you know, Bernie Sanders who's obviously independent, or Elizabeth Warren. I mean, he's pretty centrist. You know, he was -- he's a veteran pro -- you know, he shots guns. He does a lot of things.

JOE TRIPPI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: He's built for the district which I think is the big lesson Democrats hope that other Democrats across the country get that when we have a Democrat with a D next to their name who fits the district, that we can win. And the significant thing I think about tonight is in every one of the races that we've had this year, there have been significant gains for Democrats.

For Doug Jones in the race and Alabama for instance where we saw Republican women, particularly suburban Republican women, younger Republicans and college-educated Republicans defect and start to cross over and vote for Democrats. The one thing we have not seen is working-class Democrats and Republicans who voted for Trump, that group, particularly the Republicans, move. And the only way Conor Lamb is close, if he's close tonight, that had to happen.

There are not enough younger Republicans, college-educated Republicans and suburban guns in this district. That gets them only so far he's got to significantly move Republicans who voted for Trump either stay home or they come for Conor Lamb or he can't win.

COOPER: If only on this panel we had somebody used to represent that district -- oh we do. Senator Santorum -- what are you looking for tonight?

[20:05:00] RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think the suburban Allegheny County area is going to be key. If Rick Saccone can and hold down counters vote there. I think Rick's going to do well in the -- in the and the out counties. The question is how much Conor is going to be able to roll it up in the suburban Allegheny County districts.

But Joe is right. I mean, Conor Lamb was the absolutely right candidate and he didn't get through a primary. This is really important understand. He didn't have to face the Democratic electorate and get through -- had he had to face a Democrat, he never would have won the primary.

Yes, some progressive would've won the primary, and I guarantee it, we wouldn't be sitting here tonight because this race wouldn't be closed. If you run a traditional Democrat in that district, a Bernie Sanders/Hillary Clinton/Barack Obama Democrat, it's not close. But they ran a guy who says, I'm a Catholic and I'm very pro-life, although I'm not going to vote pro-life, but I am personally pro-life and I'm with Trump on trade and I'm with him on guns and I'm Trump light.

And there's 25,000 more registered Democrats in that district. You'd say, well, they vote Republican all the time. They do for president, and they do for Congress but they don't forget any commissioner, they don't for their local offices. They still see themselves as Democrats. It's that the Democratic Party nationally has left them.

Conor Lamb says, no, we haven't, here I am, you can vote for me, it's safe. And so that's why Conor Lamb in this race. And I don't think that's a message that Democrats can win on across the country, because they can't win primaries. Guys like Conor Lamb can't win primaries, and that's the problem the Democratic Party has in the fall.

COOPER: Kirsten, do you agree that?

KIRSTEN POWERS, FORMER CLINTON ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, I mean I agree with both of them said I mean there is a prop there is an issue with the Democratic Party. You're right, even him saying that he is personally pro-life would have been -- it would have just killed him straight dead in his tracks.

So, there is this sort of debate going on in the Democratic Party of people who are saying, I think like Joe saying that, no, we have to have people that fits a district and other people saying, no, we're not going to compromise on our core principles and we're going to stick to it.

And, you know, I'm more in the camp of that you have to have somebody who fits the district. And I think Democrats are really watching this because, well, it's true there are more registered Democrats, it's still fundamentally a red district and there are 23 seats that are in moderate districts where, you know, Hillary Clinton had won but Republicans hold and I think Democrats are looking at those and saying, if we can win here, what can we do in a moderate district?

COOPER: Jason, is this a referendum on President Trump as the Democrats would like it to be?

JASON MILLER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't think -- not in the way the Democrats would like it to be. I mean, we're going to hear that the Chicken Little, the sky is falling and then 48 hours from now, nobody's going to remember who either of these two candidates are. We're going to go back to following everything that goes on with the White House --

COOPER: Who's being fired?

(CROSSTALK)

MILLER: I think Nia had it exactly right as far as different numbers that you can look at, with regard to union voting households. Keep in mind that nationally and I always say this is the biggest staff from 2016, President Trump only lost union voting households 51 to 42. That's usually it's 10 or 20 points higher.

And so, part of the question here is, can other Republicans not named Donald Trump do as well with union voting households? I think we're going to see that. Again, the Democrat in this race ran a really good race.

And a lot of times people forget, when you have these special elections and keep mine, I led the comeback campaign of Mark Sanford in 2013, so I've seen these special elections, what we think -- what all the smart people in Washington think is going on the district is much different than on the ground. People get to know these candidates. It's such an intimate direct level that we might think that we have an entire narrative and on the ground, they're like, you know what, I like that Lamb guy, it looks kind of conservative and the other guy has a goofy mustache. It could come down to something as basic as that, but we see it differently than people actually there. BORGER: You know, what's interesting about all this too is that the tariff issue. You know, here the president says I'm going to do steel tariffs, I'm going to do aluminum chairs, the point is the Democrat and the Republican both support this, and it's another -- it's another way in which the Democrat is running like a Republican and also he is anti-Nancy Pelosi.

He is -- he has got out there --

SANTORUM: That he won't vote for her.

BORGER: Right. He said he's not going to vote for here.

So, you know, here you have a Democrat on every sort of orthodoxy is saying no, no, no, no, no -- you know, I'm not with you on that. And, you know, if the Democrats have fortitude and want to win and nominate these kind of candidates, they can -- they can do it in these in these districts.

But I'm with you. I'm a little skeptical.

COOPER: When you hear Republicans talking to Manu saying, oh, he didn't run a good campaign, he couldn't walk and chew gum at the same time, is that true or is that just kind of setting the stage for a loss and an explanation.

SANTORUM: Another interesting dynamic in how Rick Saccone became the candidate. I mean, Rick -- there were -- there were three major -- three candidates in the caucus. Remember, this was a special election, there wasn't a primary and the two leading candidates -- two state senators sort of went after each other, bashed each other and Rick came from third to win the primary.

And so -- and he was he was considered sort of the hardcore conservative candidate, very socially conservative.

[20:10:04] That was his mantra and had that base and then grew it to be able to win it. And you can make the argument that someone like that probably doesn't win a primary.

So, yes, he probably wasn't our strongest candidate, I don't accept the fact that he was -- look, this guy is a decorated veteran. He'd written three books on North Korea. This is smart guy, a veteran, someone who --

COOPER: He's a state rep.

SANTORUM: He's a state rep, he's a good communicator. Did he raise any money? No, he didn't raise any money and that, of course, means more than anything in this town, and that's probably why they call in the back end.

COOPER: Let's take a quick break. Just said, we're standing by for votes from Pennsylvania. Can Democrats pull off an upset in Trump country? Plus, more on the chaos today in Washington as the president fires his

secretary of state. He might be looking to make big changes in the West Wing as well.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Once again, we have another key race alert. Clearly, still too early to call. The votes are about to start coming in in this Pennsylvania's special election. Conor Lamb, the Democrat, versus Rick Saccone, the Republican. We're going to bring you the results as soon as they come.

In the meantime, let's go back to Jake. There's been some dramatic cabinet reshuffling with apparently, Jake, more on the way.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: That's right.

[20:15:00] It's been a chaotic day here in Washington, even more so than normal.

The president fired his secretary of state with a morning tweet and that's how the secretary of state found out he'd been fired in fact, and he is looking to oust more of his top aides as he shakes up his staff and his administration.

Our chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto has more details.

And, Jim, what are you learning?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: And these changes could be coming very soon. Myself and my colleagues Pamela Brown, Jenna McLaughlin, Kaitlan Collins, we are told tonight that President Trump is considering a wider shake-up among senior staff as he seeks more like-minded advisors.

National security adviser H.R. McMaster appears poised to depart soon following months of speculation about his standing. People familiar with the matter tell us, outside advisors of the president have also felt out potential candidates to replace Chief of Staff John Kelly. This coming from a person who has been approached about this position.

Kelly's departure scene is less imminent than McMasters and Trump publicly praised his chief of staff on the stage in California on Tuesday, though he also suggested that Kelly might prefer life in the military. Officials said there is no solid sense of how long Kelly will last in the West Wing where he has though brushed up against members of Trump's own family including Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.

A senior administration officials said that a further shake-up of senior staff could happen as soon as this week, while other officials suggest a longer timeline saying Trump could execute changes over the course of the next two months. Of course, I should note that the president today also said that he might be nearing a cabinet more to his liking. TAPPER: And he's also been sounding out -- we've -- CNN has reported, the idea of replacing his V.A. secretary, his Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin with his energy secretary, former Governor Rick Perry. So, who knows?

SCIUTTO: That's right. A lot of movement.

TAPPER: Lots going on. Let's get more reaction from the former director of national intelligence, James Clapper.

General Clapper, thanks for being here.

One of the reasons President Trump said that he fired Rex Tillerson was because he's more on the same wavelength as Mike Pompeo, the CIA director who he has tapped to be the next secretary of state. Do you think Pompeo is on the same wavelength as the president when it comes to specifically the idea of meeting with Kim Jong-un?

JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I really don't know about that but I think in general terms, yes, I think it's pretty clear that Mike Pompeo is on the same page philosophically with President Trump. And so, in some sense I think the State Department has probably actually a better fit for him because he is, you know, policy activist and that's a better place to be than as director of CIA.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And General Clapper, you continue to be very outspoken about your concern about the threat that continues from Russia, vis-a-vis meddling in American elections. You know now the CIA director, former Congressman Pompeo, from his days as a congressman on the Intel Committee.

Based on what you know about him then and what you've seen now, do you believe that he shares your concerns about Russia?

CLAPPER: I think he probably does because he has been pretty consistent in his statements about the assessment and certainly in his congressional appearances and has pretty much reaffirmed that the Russians meddled. Now, you know, he -- one thing I sort of issue with him is on saying, well, it had no impact on the election. Well, there's no way to gauge that. I think actually it kind of stretched its logic to suggest that it didn't have some impact on some voter decisions, when you consider the election was settled by less than 80,000 votes in three states which the Russians targeted.

So, yes, we don't have any empirical proof of how voter decisions were made, but -- and we certainly didn't examine that in our in our assessment that we did in January 2017. So, that's one place I would disagree with him.

But I think he has publicly acknowledged the threat posed by Russia, which is what really concerns me because right now, Russia is actually waging war in information realm against the United States.

TAPPER: I'd like to ask you about the woman whom President Trump has tapped to be the first woman CIA director. She's the current deputy CIA director, Gina Haspel. She will presumably take over the intelligence briefings for the president which Pompeo had been doing, the presidential daily brief, which is reportedly how President Trump and Mike Pompeo, the current CIA director, how they've bonded so well.

Gina Haspel is controversial because of a lot of things in her past dealing with the CIA, including her role in torture at a black site in Thailand. But more specifically I want to ask you since you have worked with her and you do approve of her, how do you think she is at communicating and whether or not she might be able to form that same relationship with the president?

CLAPPER: Well, I think that that's obviously very personal. Certainly, the president has seen enough of her when she's filled in for Director Pompeo sufficient that he had he has confidence in her. Now, the relationship and the man are communicating is going to be very different because Gina is a very different person than Mike Pompeo.

But certainly -- and it's a great thing that should be the third woman in history intelligence community to head up one of the major agencies today and, of course, the first CIA. But that apart from her being woman is her competence. She's -- I think the world over her, I've worked with her and I think she's very good. I think the agency's rank and file will look very positively on her as director, and I think as well, she'll work very well with DNI Coates and his deputy Sue Gordon.

TAPPER: All right. Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: All right. Jake, thanks very much.

Back with the panel.

I mean, it is fascinating for a president who became known for saying you're fired to not actually fire anybody face to face, to fire his own secretary of state on Twitter and to just -- for the secretary of state, a guy who's been traveling all around the world for this president to discover it that way. I mean --

SMERCONISH: Not a body man. I mean, a secretary of state and I thought that the lack of decorum in the way in which it was carried out was stunning, even for this administration. What I'm reminded of is that we all tend to fixate on so much of this change on a day to day basis with the administration and I continually ask about the political dynamics and whether it resonates with his base, and if so, in a negative way and I'm not convinced that it does.

BORGER: You know, it didn't actually surprise me that much. Look at the way he fired. I mean, he really hated Comey. We understand that.

SMERCONISH: By dispatching Schiller.

BORGER: Right.

SMERCONISH: And he didn't really like Rex Tillerson much, and I think it's a reflection of the fact that the president's been thinking about this for a long time, it was rude and a bad way to do it, and --

COOPER: Think about it. Even though he was declined as his fake news, fake news when it's been reported for some time.

BORGER: Yes, it's been brewing. I mean, I was talking to a source today who said that the president believes that, you know, not only does he disagree with Tillerson on a bunch of stuff, but the guy doesn't treat him well. He's arrogant to him. He's rude. The president doesn't like it.

I mean, he may not get along with General McMaster I was told, but McMaster at least treats him with a certain amount of deference. He felt that was totally gone in his relationship with Rex, and as a result, he didn't show him an awful -- an awful lot when he -- when he decided to fire him.

But look --

CHALIAN: And Rex Tillerson didn't show him an awful lot back.

(CROSSTALK)

CHALIAN: It was so clear that there was no relationship in existence at all and I do think that that is probably one of the positions where that is just so untenable. You can't have on the world stage people know that the rep -- the person representing the president United States and the country to the world has zero relationship with the president.

BORGER: Right.

HENDERSON: Yes, and this was somebody that didn't know. It was somebody who came highly recommended from Condi Rice. He was kind of the establishment pick and somebody who people thought could be the adult in the room.

And now, Trump is saying he wants to cast other members of this second season of the Trump administration, and that's what he's doing with Pompeo in this new role if he gets confirmed. It's likely that he will. But we'll see. I mean, he is somebody who promised disruption. I don't know that he promised disruption of the people he put in place, but that's certainly what we're seeing.

BORGER: Also, I mean, let's -- he wasn't very well liked in the State Department either.

POWERS: No, I mean, we need to remember that, and I think that they're somewhat relieved to see him go. And he also so -- you know, I'm sorry if somebody who worked for me called me a moron and then went out and someone asked him about it and didn't recant it, I would probably have fired them long before Donald Trump did.

And he also reportedly gave him an opportunity to resign and he didn't. You know, so, I wouldn't do it on a tweet, but I also -- this is one of those cases where I feel like I kind of see where Donald Trump is coming from here. You should be respectful to your boss, especially the president United States, for whatever other people may think --

TRIPPI: From a total political thing though, why today? Election day in Pennsylvania.

(CROSSTALK)

TRIPPI: But the one thing -- I mean this, it seems like there's a big disconnect obviously, but the one thing that's moving those Republican women, those college-educated Republicans is that they don't like the sense of chaos. That's what -- it's not the policies. It's the chaos, they don't like it. They feel like they're on the edge of their seat. They're going to the polls today to vote.

Conor Lamb needs them and what's the president of the United States do after showing up on Saturday staying to vote for --

COOPER: We got to take a break.

We will -- can do talk about this because there's a lot more going on in the White House. That's not the only person leaving today. Well, one was actually escorted off very quickly didn't even have time to get his coat, according to reports. We're expecting the first vote from tonight's special congressional election in Pennsylvania. We'll have that ahead as well.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:28:49] BLITZER: Welcome back.

We're waiting for the first results to come in from the special election in Pennsylvania's 18th congressional district, the Democrat Conor Lamb, the Republican Rick Saccone. Those results -- the first vote should be coming in fairly soon. We'll share those results with you as soon as they come in.

In the meantime, let's go back to Jake.

TAPPER: Thanks, Wolf.

Joining us right now is the chairman of the Democratic national Committee Tom Perez.

Tom, thanks so much for being here. We appreciate it.

TOM PEREZ, DNC CHAIRMAN: Great to be with you, Jake.

TAPPER: So, huge race going on right now in the Pennsylvania 18th. I want I want you to take a look at some figures we have when it comes to spending in this congressional race. First, you see Conor Lamb has outraised the Republican Rick Saccone significantly, $3.1 million raised by the Democrat Conor Lamb, compared to not even a million dollar from Rick Saccone.

But if you look at the outside groups, the outside groups, it is significantly more on the Republican side. Ten and a half million dollars raised by Republican groups, compared to not even one million dollars raised by Democratic groups.

I guess the question is: if Conor Lamb wins tonight, are Democrats is going to do more to help Democrats running -- is the DNC going to do more to help Democrats running in traditionally Republican districts like this one?

PEREZ: Well, we invested in this district, certainly not as much as the Republicans in there. They had to invest $10 million because they had a really poor candidate. They had Trump in there, twice they have drag on across the finish line.

We've been investing everywhere. We're been helping candidates up and down the ticket, Pennsylvania and elsewhere. And so has the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. And so I think it's remarkable that a district where we didn't feel the candidate in the last two cycles we have a spectacular candidate and he is poised to perhaps get across the finish line.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: So I want to obviously, a lot of the money has been spent on Anderson. I want to give our viewers just a little taste of the ads that have been running. Here is one that is anti Conor Lamb. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His name is Conor Lamb. But in Washington, he'd be one of Nancy Pelosi's sheep. Lamb would join the liberal flock and follow Pelosi's lead, voting the straight Liberal Party line for Pelosi's extreme agenda.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: One that is pro Conor Lamb. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONOR LAMB (D), CANDIDATE FOR CONGRESS IN PENNSYLVANIA'S 18TH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT: My opponent wants you to believe that the biggest issue in this campaign is Nancy Pelosi. It's all a big lie. I've already said on the front page of the newspaper that I don't support Nancy Pelosi.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: So Chairman Perez, the question for you is given the fact it is clear Republicans are going to run against Nancy Pelosi again and this seems to be a winning strategy if we assume that Conor Lamb will win tonight to distance himself from Nancy Pelosi, will you as party chair encourage more Democrats and Red districts or swing districts to step away from Nancy Pelosi?

PEREZ: Listen, Democrats are going to do what they believe is best to win their races. And the reason why Conor Lamb is doing so well is he is talking about the issues. He is talking about pension security. That's why, coal miners support him. And he is talking about health care because there's so many people are suffering from opioid addiction and his opponent wants to try to talk about things on Washington. That's why Conor is winning and that's why other Democrats --

BASH: So you don't think that Nancy Pelosi is a drag on Democrats and top races?

PEREZ: Listen, Donald Trump won this district by 19 points in 2016 and Conor Lamb is poised to win tonight. Why? Because he is focused on the issues, He is fighting for health care. He is fighting for pension security. He is fighting for good jobs that pay a decent wage and his opponents was supporting bills to expand outsourcing of jobs. He's supported of having foreign steel be used to build buildings. I mean, he is anti-worker candidate. And Conor Lamb has been standing up to the issues that matter most to people. And that is why we are winning.

TAPPER: I want to throw it to Wolf Blitzer right now.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks Jake. We've got a Key Race Alert. The first votes are being counted very, very early right now. Take a look at this, barely one percent of the votes are in. And Conor Lamb is head, the Democrat, 52 percent to Rick Saccone, 47.2 percent. He is ahead 452 votes to 411 votes, only 41 votes.

These are the first votes that are coming in. We expect the trickle to explode fairly soon, more results coming in. Let's go over to John King at the Magic Wall. Still very, very early. What can we say, but Conor Lamb has at least at this point a slight lead.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right, that's about all we can say looking forward. But if you are in the Lamb campaign, look, this is just one precinct. It's fewer than 500 votes. Conor Lamb is ahead. And they slice this -- Allegheny County stretch all away up here. This slice a bit down here is in the district.

Senator Santorum said earlier in the Pittsburgh Suburbs here, Conor Lamb has to keep this blue and keep it blue all night and he has to win it actually by probably bigger margin than that. At the moment, one precinct in, you are happy in the Lamb campaign.

One other thing to know this is 40 percent of the districts here, 30 plus here, 20 plus here. Greene County is tiny. It's only about two percent of the district. Conor Lamb is ahead there right now.

And if this is blue at the end of the night, then this is a blowout. Do not expect this county to be blue at the end of the night. When you get out here in the rural areas this is reliably red Republican countries. This is one or two, precincts in this country. Again if that stays blue, we have a blowout but very early. We're just getting started here. When the votes started to come in and usually once they start to come in, well, the pace starts to pick up and throw this before (ph).

BLITZER: Right. Green County, that county is right on the border with West Virginia, right? And helps to explain why it's more conservative shall we say than the rest of the state. KING: Right. But just remember, so -- you know, again, very, very early. Conor Lamb is leading here and I will bet you a couple of dollars that doesn't last down there. Again if it does, it's a blow out but just remember this, this is where we are in the house race right now. I just want to take this off and just go back in time to the presidential race in this district.

Again, Donald Trump won huge down here in this county. Huge. It is a small county and not a lot of votes but runs it up huge here. And if you come back up here, this was the most interesting part of the district. Donald Trump won it by 20 points. Again, Hillary Clinton won Allegheny County by 16 points. But in this slice of Allegheny County this is a suburban area, south of Pittsburgh, you see it's stretch down here.

Donald Trump actually narrowly beat her by about four points right now here. This area where Conor Lamb is now ahead, that is the absolute key tonight. It's where you have the most Democrats, it's where you have the most people, it's where you also have suburban Republicans looking at Alabama, New Jersey, Virginia last year, those are the voters who left the President of the United States.

[20:35:15] So as we watch these numbers come up again, we're still stuck on this one precinct and it is down here. It's where you saw the southeastern part of Allegheny County, if you are the one precinct in this command. Down here if Conor Lamb needs to win, I would (INAUDIBLE) by a little bigger margin in this area here but it's off to the right start and a long way to go.

BLITZER: The South of Pittsburgh. Let's go back to the 18th Congressional District as a whole right now. So more votes have just coming, you see Rick Saccone, he takes a slight lead, 50.3 percent to 49 percent. Once again, very, very already but you can see what is going on.

KING: 14 votes he is ahead by again by dropping (ph) this. It will take a little awhile but what happened? More precincts came down here in Green County. And as Greene Country came in, this is a reliable Republican area. And as I predicted it switched back. I assume this one might clip once or twice the early the count but I assume this one is going to stay red as we go through it. The key is up here. The key is after Conor Lamb now ahead if the math is right there, yes, some more votes came in up here in the Allegheny County area. So if you go back to the district at large, now flip, here we go. Welcome. We're going to go through this in a little bit.

BLITZER: The results are going to be coming in a lot more quickly. We're going to have a lot more coming up. And live to the candidate headquarters in Pennsylvania as more votes come in. There are certainly a lot of states right now. Republicans in Trump country, they are trying to hold off a wave of enthusiasm from a fired up Democratic base and the Democratic candidate right now in a slight lead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [20:40:34] BLITZER: More votes were coming in. Let's go to another Key Race Alert right now, you can see two percent of the vote in still very, very early. But the Democrat Conor Lamb is ahead of Rick Saccone, the Republican, 58.7 percent to 40 percent. You can see is up by 523 votes, still very, very early.

Let's go over to John King. His leading has expanded Conor Lamb, but once again, I want to stress only two percent of the vote is in.

KING: Yes. We had a long way to go. Sometimes, you do get early close those things to come in. If you're in the Lamb campaign, number one, you know, we got lot of counting to do. Same in the Saccone campaign you're looking at. But if you're in the Lamb campaign and you're looking at this, the more votes that came in where here again the slice of Allegheny County at the southern most -- the northern most part of the district, the southern most part of Allegheny County, he is now ahead 62 percent to 37 percent. That is critical. That's a number to watch. We're early on, vote totals don't mark so much. If you talk to the Lamb campaign, Democrats in this state, they think depending on the turn out and the more rural counties, he needs to be above 55 percent.

Most likely, some of the vote mark at 55 percent when it comes to the Allegheny County slice of the district. Again, if you pull this out here and if you go back to the presidential campaign, President Trump actually carried this part of Allegheny County. Hillary Clinton won the county at large but red, red, red. So this tonight has to stay blue for Conor Lamb as it is right now. This is a smaller county. We expected this one, Greene County where we were before.

We expect Rick Saccone is win this? If Conor Lamb can stay above 40 percent, it's about the margins. You know, in the red county for Conor Lamb it's about the margins just trying to get above 40 percent, it's close to 45 as you can get. It's good for you, but this race will be decided right here. It's early, but it's blue right now for Conor Lamb. It has to stay blue through out the night. It could flip once or twice I mean as we go to vote. At the end of the night, this has to be blue and he needs to be 55 or above. If he is, he's got a good chance again for taking a district that President Trump get by 20 points just 16 months ago.

BLITZER: Some more votes came in. Conor Lamb is ahead by 1100 votes right now. This is significant district -- significant election because President Trump was just there over the weekend campaigning for Rick Saccone. So he's got a lot right again this as well.

KING: It was -- they were over the week and you heard him talk about, if the Democrats win, they're going to take it away. The President said they will take away your tax cuts. They take away your Second Amendment rights. The Lamb campaign will push back on that saying his force the Second Amendment, but again, what the President was trying to do is trying to recreate this.

Senator Santorum was saying earlier there's a lot of Democrats here, but they don't vote Democratic in federal elections. They tend not to vote Senator Casey wins them sometimes, the family history in the state of more conservative Democrat. But for the House, these last two elections the Republican was unopposed.

So President Trump trying to recreate this or as close as you can to it, but we're in a midterm election year this year. As President Obama learn twice, 2010 and 2014. President Trump learning now, midterm election year especially your first one tends to be tough climate at the moment. Conor Lamb is doing exactly what he needs to do. We'll keep counting.

BLITZER: All right, let's take another break. We're going to get more results coming in. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:47:37] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And welcome back to Special Election Night Edition of "AC 360" taking a look at the vote. Only six percent of the votes in, but right now, Conor Lamb ahead by 1829 votes, 60 percent to 39 percent for Rick Saccone again, only six percent of the vote in.

I want to check in with our correspondents before we go back to the panel at the candidate's headquarters first, Jason Carroll having the Democrat Conor Lamb. Jason?

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, a few cheers when you saw some of those early numbers go up at the Lamb campaign headquarters. So lots of excitement here on the room, but senior campaign adviser tells me, Anderson, that if they are able to pull off an upset here tonight, they're going to owe a great deal of gratitude to the labor community. There's been a great deal of outreach to try to reach out to members of the labor community, especially the builders, the trade unions, the steelworkers.

And just in Allegheny County the most populous part of the district, but also the outreach in the more rural part of the districts as well. And so, one of the goals early on the campaign was just to get within the margin of error with Rick Saccone. They feel so far they've been able to accomplish that. But still, a lot of crossed fingers in the room tonight. Anderson?

COOPER: All right, Jason, thanks, I'm checking with you shortly. Let's go to Alex Marquardt. He is coming to Republican Rick Saccone. Alex?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Anderson, it's a lot more muted here, much less cheering as people watching this returns coming. We just saw the chairman of the Allegheny County Republican Party just came out to try to rile up the crowd.

In addition to those results -- those votes coming in that you've seen, we also have heard of the turnouts in Allegheny County, the most important county of the four in this district. We are told by the spokesman for the county that it is high. That there are going to be long lines and that they are going to let anybody who was in line at 8:00 p.m. when the polls close continue to vote.

As for the mood at the Saccone campaign in Rick Saccone's mood in particular, we just spoke to one of his long time friend, she said he was anxious to see some numbers. They say they feel good, but that's just anecdotal, that is not based on any data, they have no internal polling, they have exit polling. They don't have any numbers frankly.

Anybody who might have data like the NRCC the campaign -- the campaign arm of the Republican Party, they're calling here asking for information. This is a very bare bones campaign. So for now, like us, Anderson, they're watching the official results coming.

COOPER: All right. Alex, thanks very much. I saw the eight percent that was put on the screen, eight percent of the vote is now in. Almost 2000 votes ahead. Conor Lamb is 57 percent to 41 percent.

[20:50:08] Let's go back to our panel. Joe, you've been looking at the numbers very closely and where the things are coming in, what are you seeing?

JOE TRIPPI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think when you look at the precincts that are actually in, Conor Lamb is running ahead of where he needs to be slightly, not by big margins, these are just a few precincts in, as John pointed out and well, they -- you've got -- a lot of these coming from Allegheny, but I think they're coming from a part of Allegheny where what Conor Lamb's doing is pretty impressive there.

And in Greene County, he's right with the GOP on this. I mean, he's really right and way ahead of where I think he should be. So again, they're early precincts, but --

COOPER: Right.

TRIPPI: -- right now, it looks like it's going well for Conor Lamb.

COOPER: Senator Santorum, you ran in these precincts?

RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. I mean, I'm not looking the precincts as closely as Joe is, but, you know, what I would say is that those numbers and they're primarily Allegheny County numbers, that's pretty much where he needs to be. But again, if they're from the western part of the district, western part of Allegheny County, those will be great numbers. I don't think he's get those numbers from there. So, it -- again, in all sort of depends. If they're from the south --

TRIPPI: But these are more south.

SANTORUM: -- if they're more south, those are good numbers, but Saccone is still in the ball game.

COOPER: Ten percent of the vote in now. Lamb 2400 votes ahead. You know, Jason, we saw President Trump obviously go there this past weekend, made a kind of a rousing speech, a lot of it off the teleprompter for the candidate also for himself. Do we know yet if President Trump can drive voters to the polls when it's not President Trump, you know, being voted on? JASON MILLER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think to kind of reorient the question. I think you're kind of asking the wrong thing. And the fact is so much depends to when the President or when people actually get involved, because so much of this race was determined before the President got involved. I mean, Conor Lamb did a really good job of raising money early, of defining the race. He got out there and presented this image --

COOPER: Well, is that a wise thing then for then for -- I mean, if that's true, shouldn't the President get involved earlier?

MILLER: Look, he's got to get out there and support Republicans. But the problem for candidates like Rick Saccone is you can't wait until the 11th hour to become a Trump Republican. If you want to get these Democrats, if you want to get these independents and support these more conservative messages, you got to get out there and do it. I mean, voters were pretty smart. The voters can figure out who is real and who is fake that are on this ballots. And so of course, the President got out there and supported him. But Conor Lamb had done a lot of this work well before the national media started paying attention --

GLORIA BORGER, CNN'S CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: How does Saccone wait? I mean, he brags he was Trump before Trump. I mean, I don't see him having been reluctant in any --

MILLER: I mean, look at his fundraising. And he was out raised 5-1 on fundraising it's fairly --

BORGER: OK, but there's got the money OK, but he's not a candidate who was kind of late to the Trump train. He is a trampy candidate. He is totally --

MILLER: He came across as establishment and I think that was part of the problem.

BORGER: How?

MILLER: He's in the state House. He doesn't come across --

BORGER: So he had elective office with --

MILLER: No, he very much sounds like he's already part of Washington. When you flip on the T.V. there wouldn't seen all the T.V commercials that are being run and a lot of it looks really cookie cutter like, real Washington where here to help.

COOPER: Joe?

TRIPPI: Yes, in Alabama, look, what happened is the President with Luther Strange, he -- Roy Moore wins, the President kind of like isn't sure what he's going to do. Then he decides he's for him. But he came to Tuscaloosa, excuse me, I think it was --

COOPER: Pensacola. TRIPPI: Excuse me, Pensacola, when he did, Roy Moore went up by four points. We know the intensity on the Republican side went up and it served Roy Moore. And so, you know, there's no doubt to my mind --

COOPER: So you say no doubt he can drive votes.

TRIPPI: Yes. And the thing that I worried about is like OK, he came in on Friday, you know, on Saturday we -- Moore was up by three, on Sunday he was up by two. On Monday up by one and on Tuesday, we win by 23,000 votes. What happens if the President came in on Sunday? Right? But he came in Saturday in this one. And the margin may have been -- we don't know what the margin was.

COOPER: Yes.

TRIPPI: But I don't know, the President does energize voters and does move voters, even for somebody who he wasn't -- I mean, we don't -- was he really for Moore I mean, that hold we got form at the end --

SANTORUM: He was for Saccone and Saccone was for Trump and I disagree with you, Jason. I mean, Rick Saccone is a conservative. He's been a very outspoken so he was running for the United State Senate by the way before he decided to switch and run for Congress. He was running as the most conservative guy running for the United States Senate.

So I don't think there's any question that Rick Saccone ran with Trump, ran as a conservative and was very vocal. The point is he didn't have a lot of money, so he couldn't get the message out. And the Republican Party was little late to the table, little bit about defining him as much as defining -- they were -- they spent all their money defining Conor Lamb and, you know, Conor had done a great job insulating himself.

And look, he's a marine. He's good-looking. He's got a great family name. He says, you know, I'm catholic. And says all the right things about, you know, coming down, the social conservative things. He didn't run around and talk about climate change in a coal area and a gas area. I mean, he ran the district and was the right candidate for them to run.

[20:55:12] And I keep coming back to the fact, 25,000 more registered Democrats, you can say during county it's a Republican area, yes it votes Republican in national elections and yes it voted for Tim Murphy for all those years, but there's still Democrats down there and he is a Democrat they can vote for.

COOPER: Kirsten and then we --

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: But the Democrat should vote for Republicans though. I mean, it's misleading I think to say that. Because, you know, the last time there was a Democrat in that seat was 15 years ago or something. I mean, it's not --

BORGER: Yes.

POWERS: -- you can't really compare those things. This wasn't even on the radar for the Democratic Party. This was not a place they even saw as being in play.

COOPER: We've got to take a quick break. We're tracking the votes in Pennsylvania. Conor Lamb with his largest lead yet. Votes are still coming in though. Still just 13 percent of the votes are in. We'll check with John King in the Magic Wall when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:59:59] BLITZER: Welcome back. We're following the Special Election in Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District. Let's get another Key Race Alerts. Take a look this. The Democrat Conor Lamb maintaining a significant lead, 16 percent of the vote is now in Conor Lamb.