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Election Chaos in Iowa. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired February 4, 2020 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:31]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: I'm Wolf Blitzer in the CNN Election Center.

We are standing by for the first official results from the Iowa caucuses, nearly a full day after the votes were cast.

About an hour from now, Iowa Democrats plan to release more than half of the results that they have been holding back because of a meltdown of the vote reporting system. We don't know if this will give the Democratic candidates any clarity about the outcome in Iowa, even as they move on to the next contest in New Hampshire.

They are asking a lot of questions about the limited release of results, the integrity of the vote count, and when this nightmare will end.

We have reporters in Iowa and with the candidates covering this truly unprecedented twist in an already unpredictable race.

Let's go to Jeff Zeleny in Des Moines right now.

What are you hearing, first of all, about these results we are about to get within the hour?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we are one hour away from some of the results, likely not all of the results, finally from the Iowa caucuses last night.

We are getting a sense here. You can see in the media filing center. They were doing a sound check moments ago. We are told that the votes are going to be coming in through the online system, as they were yesterday. But it's almost a sense of deja vu here. But so much has happened since then, controversy throughout the day.

In this very building, there are Democratic Party officials who have spent the day from the early morning hours right up until this moment going through those preference cards that we saw yesterday. They're trying to reconcile all these numbers here.

But it's unclear if tonight's results are going to be a full snapshot of the state or just a small picture. And that is what is worrying some campaigns.

Wolf, I have talked to advisers from every campaign today. To a person, they say they have lost faith in the Democratic Party here in Iowa. They're wondering if the results tonight will be fair and equitable. Will it be a statewide sample?

So, unlikely to have a winner of the Iowa caucuses this evening. Of course, Democrats wanted to be talking about the president. We're just a few hours before the State of the Union. Instead, they're talking about process and still counting votes -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jeff, we will get back to you. Stand by.

I want to go over to David Chalian right now.

David, it seems like almost Groundhog Day. Didn't we have this conversation 24 hours or so ago, when I asked you why this night would be different than all other nights in Iowa?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: It does feel like Groundhog Day. And that's appropriate for early February, I guess.

Listen, as I explained to you last night and I want to explain again now, because now, as we're going to see votes coming in, I think it's important to remember how the Iowa caucuses are performed.

This is the first time ever that the Iowa Democratic Party is -- well, is going to try and release the popular vote. They have never done that before. We look at the results of the Iowa caucuses on something called state delegates, state delegate equivalents. Those are the percentages. That's the important metric that determines who wins the Iowa caucuses.

But, for the first time ever, largely because Bernie Sanders and his allies fought for a change to the system, the Iowa Democratic Party is going to release the popular vote as well. And they're going to do it in two different state -- in two different rounds.

And let me explain why. There are two rounds of voting in the Iowa caucuses. When caucus-goers go into the room, they express their initial preference for a candidate. Then they do a tabulation to see which candidates aren't viable. If they don't hit 15 percent in most rooms, not viable.

Then their supporters have the chance to realign with a candidate that is viable, and we get a final round of voting. So you're going to see, if, indeed, the data works, and they can actually report results, Wolf, a first round popular vote, a final round popular vote.

And the all-important state delegates, those percentages, that's what we use to determine the winner of the Iowa caucuses.

BLITZER: David Chalian, thanks very much.

John King, I think we also had this conversation almost 24 hours ago or so. What are you going to be looking for as we get these first official results?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hopefully, Groundhog Day is about to be over. What are we going to look for? Number one, the scope of what we get.

Do we get results from all across the state, which is partial in some of these counties? Or do we get here, there, there?

That's one thing. How much do we get? What do we get? We will see when it fills in. Joe Biden is dark blue. Pete Buttigieg is green. You see some -- Amy Klobuchar is green. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Those are the candidates we expect to see at the top. These right now are listed alphabetically.

What happens when it comes in? What are you looking for? We talked about this yesterday. Senator Klobuchar went onto New Hampshire saying she thinks she did well. That's from her precinct captains. Did she?

One place to look -- she's from Minnesota -- these counties in Iowa right along the Minnesota border. That's one place to look. Doesn't mean it's the only place to look. That's one thing we will look at.

Mayor Buttigieg says that he was victorious. Is that true? We don't know that. But we do know one of the places he targeted, if you come through some of the counties here, is, he spent a lot of time in the 31 Iowa counties.

[16:05:08]

Look over here you see the gray. They're mostly in the eastern part of the state. You see over here Sioux City, see in the middle of the state.

But look at all these counties. There's 31 of them total that Barack Obama carried twice, then Donald Trump carried in 2016, so-called pivot counties. Mayor Buttigieg targeted those. He says he wants to win them to prove that he's the best Democrat to beat Trump.

We will look at those. Another thing we will look at -- we will take that off -- is, we will go back to the 2016 results. Bernie Sanders in this very close race four years ago. You see the light blue, that's Bernie Sanders.

Ran very strong in the progressive eastern part of the state, right? Let's just take a look at some of the counties here, Iowa City, college town, Johnson County, one of the most progressive or liberal counties in the state. You want to look there. Cedar Rapids is in Linn County.

And you come out here and you move over to Scott County, where Davenport is. This is the progressive, eastern part of the state. Is Bernie Sanders running away with the progressive vote? Is he in more of a tight race with Elizabeth Warren for those votes?

We will see that over here in the eastern part of the states. Just some of the dynamics, Wolf, but the main thing for me, in my mind, is, does it all fill in? Or do just parts of the state fill in?

Because, as Jeff Zeleny was noting, all of the campaigns now are on edge. Some of them are a bit suspicious. All of them are anxious. So we will watch the key parts of the state to see who's ahead. We will obviously be running. This is what matters most, the delegate count, but, as David noted, the popular vote as well.

The big question -- and we don't know the answer yet -- is, are we going to get votes from everywhere, and then the rest will fill in? Or are we going to get select places around the state? And then we will have still more mystery?

BLITZER: Because the question is, where is there the biggest question mark over the legitimacy of these ballots, of these votes that are coming in? And I assume they're going to release the ones that are not very questionable.

KING: Right.

They have said that they have gone back and double-checked and, we assume, triple-checked, given all the scrutiny now, the paper trail. So are they -- and I'm just picking these out randomly. Are they smaller, smaller rural counties that are just -- because of the mixup, because of the reporting issues, because people got impatient waiting on the phone, is that what it is?

Or are we going to get down into Polk County, where Des Moines is here, and bring this out?

I just want to go back to 2016. So you see it. Hillary Clinton won this. This is an establishment Democratic area, but the suburbs have grown even since four years ago. So does Biden perform here? Does Elizabeth Warren perform here because of the suburbs? Do we get all of it?

This is the most populous part of the state. I think that's a key question. Are we going to get some votes from everywhere, or lots of votes from pockets, and then still have some gray when those results come in?

And now, under an hour, we will get our first sense.

BLITZER: Because if they only release 50 percent of the vote in Iowa, some of the campaigns are going to start complaining that maybe it's not representative of 100 percent.

KING: Right. If a lot over here -- again, I want to go back to 20 -- just to show you, this is a two-person race, right? This is Clinton- Sanders. So this is not necessarily instructive, because we have so many candidates this time.

But we do know over here in the larger area -- Iowa doesn't have huge cities, but in the bigger areas, this is the progressive area where Bernie Sanders did so well four years ago. If this is still gray, and they have reported a whole bunch of results from other places and Sanders is struggling, guess what?

His campaign is going to be mad. Now, we suspect the Iowa Democratic Party is sensitive to that, and that will not happen. But that's one of the things we will watch. We will see what we get, where it's from. And then we will go back and see.

If we have a lot of gray after that first release, we can go back through history and look and say, what's this part of the state about? Who might have done well there? And we will see. Everybody is on edge because they don't know exactly what we're about to get.

BLITZER: Well, we will find out fairly soon, these first official results right now.

We see still a lot of zeros.

KING: A whole lot of zeros.

BLITZER: Yes, a lot of zeros right now.

The -- coming up, the first Iowa caucus results, at last. We're going to bring you the numbers as soon as we get them.

Round two of our Iowa coverage continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:12:40]

BLITZER: Want to go back to Jeff Zeleny in Des Moines.

He is getting some new information on the release of these first official numbers.

What are you hearing?

ZELENY: Wolf, one thing that's been clear really in the last 24 hours, the Iowa Democratic Party officials have been utterly silent.

They have had a few conference calls with campaign officials, one very brief overnight call with the reporters. Other than that, we have not seen them, despite the fact that we are in the same building as them. Their war room is in this building.

But just a few moments ago, an overhead announcement was made here that there is going to be some type of an announcement here at 15 minutes before the hour. So, at 4:45 Eastern time, we're told, there will be some type of an announcement, and there will be some type of a presentation.

So we do not know if the results will be rolled out like that. We believe they will be just rolled out, as they were planning on if it would be a normal Election Day.

But one other interesting thing. As this proceeds, the Democratic Party said they're going to keep adding results as they come in. So it's going to essentially be Election Day redo, if you will about 24 hours afterward, Wolf.

But we are waiting with anticipation of what this announcement might be, because they have been so, so silent, which has been frustrating to campaigns and Democratic voters here alike -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, we going to get back to you. And we will, of course, have live coverage of that announcement.

Jake, as we stand by and wait, an announcement from the Iowa Democratic Party at 4:45 p.m. Eastern. And then, at 5:00, presumably, they're going to start releasing the official results.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: That's right.

And there are three basic repercussions I see from this whole fiasco, Wolf. First of all is the question of the narrative that has been built or is often built after an Iowa caucus victory or loss. And it is possible that the candidates will only lose a day or so in this because of the result, depending on what we get today.

So that doesn't necessarily have to be the biggest story, as long as there is the full vote count and delegate count that is given to the American people by the end of the day or early tomorrow.

But there are other questions. One of them is, what happens to Iowa now? What happens to the Iowa caucus? Is the Iowa caucus going to continue to be the first-in-the-nation caucus. There are other states that envy that position that don't understand why such a homogeneous, small state gets that honor.

And they have really -- the Iowa Democratic Party has really undermined that. And then the other question is, what about the confidence in the vote?

We already see people online, people in the Trump campaign, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, some progressives on social media, questioning whether or not this is some sort of conspiracy, whether or not the system is rigged against Bernie Sanders, which is, of course, there's no evidence of that whatsoever.

[16:15:12]

There's evidence of a huge amount of incompetence by the Democratic Party of Iowa, but nothing beyond that.

So, those are the more longer lasting issues I think as long as the Iowa Democratic Party does step up, and the candidates will go on the fight another day. But questions about Iowa, and questions about confidence in the integrity of the vote, well, we'll see how long that lasts.

BLITZER: And there are a lot of questions about the nature of, you know, these caucuses to begin with. People have to take two to three hours off. They have to show up there.

People are working. They have babysitter issues. There are people with disabilities that can't necessarily go to one of these locations. And even a lot of folks in Iowa raising questions about the democracy.

Why not just simply allow people to go into the voting booth and cast a ballot?

TAPPER: I agree, and those questions are going to continue to be asked. And like I said, I mean, I would be astounded if the Iowa caucus in four years is as it always has been first and on its own and as a caucus, the way it's being run.

But I will say one thing about the Iowa caucus. The fact that it has done in the open, the fact that people advocate for their candidate or are swayed to join a different campaign in terms of who they support in the open means that it is completely transparent. There is no ability of anybody to cook these books, to rig a caucus, because everybody knows what is going on in the room.

I was at a caucus with Dana Bash last night. It was Des Moines 47, we know who won that precinct. We know that Elizabeth Warren had a slight victory over Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg. Those were the only three viable campaigns. We can go to look when they release the votes. We can see what happened and everybody in that room knows the result.

So, the fact that the caucuses are so transparent, so out in the open, I agree with those who criticize that it really is only, you can only participate in it if you live a certain lifestyle, if you have the money to afford child care or you don't have children, if you're not a shift worker, et cetera, and I get those criticisms. But the transparency of the Iowa caucuses is going to help Iowa and the Democratic Party withstand this huge imbroglio.

BLITZER: What do you think of the fact that President Trump has really been ridiculing the Democrats in Iowa as a result of what is going on?

TAPPER: Well, he ridicules everything. So, it's not a surprise. It would almost be malpractice for him not to ridicule it because -- let's face it, this is a huge self-inflicted wound by the Iowa Democratic Party.

This app was a disaster. They're -- they have one thing to do every four years, the Iowa Democratic Party, and Iowa Republican Party, on this level, and it is do a caucus and do it efficiently. The Iowan Republican Party had a fiasco in 2012, the night of the Iowa caucus, they said Mitt Romney won by eight votes, then two weeks later, they said Rick Santorum actually won by 34 votes.

So there's already a shadow over the Iowa caucus. The fact that President Trump is making fun of it -- well, we are all.

BLITZER: Yes. You know what? It's a serious, serious situation.

TAPPER: Yes.

BLITZER: -- we're watching unfold right now. Democracy, it's important.

We are expecting an announcement by Iowa Democratic Party officials very soon, within minutes, as they finally are about to release the first official results from the caucuses. We're going to carry it all live. We'll be back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:23:15]

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: You're looking at a live shot there in Des Moines, Iowa, where the media center is, where Jeff Zeleny has been for the last, I don't know, year or so. It feels like that for him right now.

We're waiting, obviously, the results that will be expected. We're expecting an announcement at 4:45. We'll obviously bring that to you live.

Back now with the panel.

David Axelrod, have you seen anything like this?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENATOR: I haven't. I'm so relieve. I mean, it says on the wall, too early to call, but I said earlier today, it may be too late to care.

But I am just getting blown up as many of us are today by people with the individual spins of numbers no one has seen. So, it will be good to see it, because there are real answers in those numbers. Did Pete Buttigieg in fact win or tie or, you know, how did that work out?

What was the situation with Joe Biden that caused him to be so quick to condemn the process, and did he finish fourth or perhaps fifth this race? And if so, what are the implications of that?

But what you can't get back is what they lost last night. Someone like Buttigieg wanted the momentum to raise money, to move forward, and there are downstream implications to that. He probably wants to be on the air in South Carolina right now. The money he was going to raise from the bump would have made that possible. He may not be able to do that. Now, there are real downstream implications --

COOPER: So, even today if it's announced he won or that Sanders won, the --

AXELROD: It's the dead cat bouncing thing.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And I go back to the, David, 2008, Senator Obama wins, I was saying earlier, I was on that flight with him and interviewed him on the way to New Hampshire. You wake up that next morning, Senator Barack Obama has won Iowa, and you ended up not winning New Hampshire.

[16:25:02]

AXELROD: Yes. GREGORY: But the moment where the first votes are in, it is a new campaign and the money flows and the media flows, and in this case, the social media narratives flow, and all of that has been halted in critical hours for these campaigns to get to the next stage.

BORGER: And for Joe Biden, however, I think in a way, it could have been a benefit. Because, because if he is placing fourth or fifth and we don't know, and when we see the results, then it kind of gets subsumed, right, into this whole story of Iowa, Iowa, Iowa, and so, maybe he catches a little bit of a break. The problem for him though, and I spoke to an ally of his today is the question of getting money.

AXELROD: Yes.

BORGER: Right, he is kind of broke, getting money, and you have Tom Steyer in South Carolina on the television all the time, and what is Biden supposed to do now to compete with him?

COOPER: And, by the way, Bloomberg has doubled the ad buy in targeted markets.

JENNIFER GRANHOLM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And the who has won this and even though he was not on the ballot is Bloomberg, because he is seeing the opportunity to swoop in and doubling the amount of money, and honestly, because the amount of money that he is putting on Super Tuesday, he can swoop over the top.

I just -- I think that Democrats up to this moment have really underestimated how successful he could be.

COOPER: Well, the another winner for it, this is also President Trump, no?

GRANHOLM: Never.

(LAUGHTER)

JESS MCINTOSH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: This is what -- this is what the Republicans need frankly. They need elections to look like they are a mess, because that will hide the fact that they are openly asking people to meddle in the 2020 election. If it seems like this is a thing that happens, then it takes away from their bad behavior.

GRANHOLM: And, and, I mean, he will continue to continue to beat this drum about how incompetent Democrats are, and again, that's sort of a sideway for Bloomberg, to say, I run things, I know how the run things. So, it could be an ancillary benefit.

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, the one person we don't talk about because we haven't seen any numbers at all is Elizabeth Warren. Warren put on a serious show. She had a major effort out there. It could turn out that she's, you know, number two or right below number two, and she gets an ability to stay in this race.

Part of -- part of the problem that we have is that people are literally just incapable of this point of letting nothing being nothing. Right now, we have nothing and it should mean nothing, but right now, nothing is everything, because it is all we have.

COOPER: I'm going to ponder that. We're going to take a break.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Not for nothing, but we need to take a break.

We'll be right back.

We're going to hear what the Iowa Democratic Party officials have to say.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:30:00]