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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Iowa Caucuses Arrive

Aired January 3, 2008 - 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: And it all begins only two minutes or so from now, the Iowa caucuses we have been waiting for weeks and months, almost a year, but, right now, the process is about to begin.
We are going to show you every step of the way. This is going to be a long night. And we're going to try to figure out what is going on, by no means easy.

I want to welcome all of our viewers in the United States and around the world. We're watching the Iowa caucuses tonight, the Democrats and the Republicans. The process is beginning right now.

Within a moment or so, they will be closing all the doors at these caucuses, about 3,500 Republican and Democratic caucuses around the state of Iowa. We have got pictures. These are live feeds coming in from five of these caucuses, Democratic caucuses, Republican caucuses, coming in right now from Iowa, in Persia, Iowa, also at a middle school in Des Moines, Iowa, the Merrill Middle School.

In fact, there are four caucuses, three Democratic caucuses and one Republican caucus, under way at the Merrill Middle School in Des Moines right now. They're beginning to take their seats.

Within a minute or so, you are going to see those doors are closed. No one will be allowed to come in anymore. The process will begin. It's much more complicated for the Democrats than it is for the Republicans. For the Republicans, they are basically going to take a straw poll. People are going to decide whether they want to vote for Mitt Romney, or Mike Huckabee, or any of the other Republican candidates.

On the Democratic side, it's much more complicated. We are going to explain it to you throughout the course of the coming moments. Once again, you're watching these live feeds come in from these five caucuses that are unfolding right now in Iowa.

This coverage that we're about to bring you is the result of a lot of hard work, including our correspondents and our analysts, the best political team on television. We're going to be here for the next four hours, four hours, watching this process unfold, at stake, the process -- at stake, potentially, at least, the next president of the United States, the Democratic and the Republican candidates.

I want to go right out to Persia, Iowa. This is a small caucus that is unfolding right now. About 53 people are there. It's a Democratic caucus. It's being held at the Raines (ph) family home in the living room. They're packed, they're jammed in there. Let's listen in briefly to see how it unfolds.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... not reduce the size of any refund you may receive. It will only help elect more Iowa Democrats.

We had great success with this check-off in 2006. And we want to build on that success in 2008. We made history in 2006 when Democrats held the governor's mansion and turned the Iowa House and Senate blue for the first time in 42 years. We also elected two Democratic members to Congress, creating a majority of Democrats in our Iowa delegation.

Because of your continued financial support, the Iowa Democratic Party has been able to utilize...

BLITZER: All right, they're reading the rules right now of what is at stake.

I want to bring in our senior analyst, Jeff Toobin. He's watching all of this unfold.

And, Jeff, explain, first of all, on the Democratic side, what is going on, because we're going to be dipping in to these caucuses throughout the coming hour.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, I think the most important thing to remember about the Democratic caucuses is, they are not an election. They are a caucus. They are more like a meeting. They are a public meeting.

In fact, there is no secret ballot here in Iowa on the Democratic side. And what happens, like what is happening in that living room in Persia, is that here we have a model of 100 question marks, 100 people, which is fairly typical for a caucus in Iowa. And people stand up and be counted. They actually walk up to their candidate's location.

They usually put a poster for each candidate. And in front of their neighbors, they decide who to vote for. So, we are going to do a demonstration. Come on, Wolf. We're going to vote here.

BLITZER: Randomly.

(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: Randomly. We are going to just throw them around. And let's knock that down. And here, we will just move that down.

And here we have everybody's voting. And now we come to the key rule on the Democratic side.

BLITZER: Because this is very different than the Republican side.

TOOBIN: This is very difficult -- different. Fifteen percent, any candidate who is 15 percent or more gets to go on to the next round. It's called the viability threshold. And any candidate who does not get 15 percent, they're out. And so here we go. We're going to get rid of, sadly, the candidates who didn't make the 15 percent threshold.

BLITZER: And all of their supporters now can go to the three candidates who did make that threshold.

TOOBIN: That's exactly right.

And what's a little -- even more tricky is, let's say we have seen Barack Obama eliminated in our mock caucus. Some of these people could get back together and get 15 percent for him.

But usually what happens is, the candidates then gather their support among the -- in the realignment, as it's called. And here you have the final result. And this is the result that's going to be called into headquarters.

BLITZER: From this one caucus.

TOOBIN: From this one caucus in our pretend caucus here.

And what's another peculiarity is, on the Democratic side, we will not get raw vote totals. We will only get percentages, because, under the Iowa Democratic peculiar rules, they do not release the vote totals. They only used the percentages, according to a formula that is frankly very complicated. And that is what we will get.

The Republican side is very different. The Republican side is simply a straw poll. There...

BLITZER: No viability.

TOOBIN: No viability. People will just go vote. And it's actually done in secret. They write it down on a piece of paper. And they -- they just decide who they're going to vote for and that's what is recorded. And that's the number we will get later in the night.

BLITZER: And this is just an example. This is just a mock example on the Republican side.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: It literally is a straw poll, if you will. And they will be reporting to us the actual numbers. Let's say 100,000 Republicans show up to vote. We will get a breakdown of how they voted.

TOOBIN: And we will never get a breakdown like that of the Democrats. It's really quite extraordinary that to this day we don't know the vote totals of historic Democratic caucuses.

BLITZER: They just give us percentages.

TOOBIN: Right.

And there remains some controversy, going back to 1988, when Richard Gephardt beat Senator Paul Simon. Some people think Paul Simon actually may have had more voters, but because of the peculiar rules, Gephardt was declared the winner. Didn't wind up doing him much good in 1988, but that's the kind of strangeness that you have.

BLITZER: All right, so let's just walk through what is happening right now. It's just after 8:00 p.m. on the East Coast, 7:00 p.m. in the Central time zone. People have gathered in these caucuses, 3,500 or so, across the state, Democratic and Republicans.

Let's focus in on the Democrats first right now. The Democrats, they're hearing the rules, and at some point the organizer, the chair, if you will, of this caucus, will ask everyone to go to respective corners and to identify their respective preferential candidate.

TOOBIN: That's right.

What we will do is -- they are getting -- they are simply in front of all their neighbors. They are standing around. There will be brief campaign speeches. They're supposed to be limited to one minute apiece. I don't think any politician in America limits themselves to one minute apiece. But basically there are brief speeches by all the candidates -- and then they...

BLITZER: Not the candidates, the surrogates, the supporters.

(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: The surrogates, the supporters.

And then they go to walk to their corners.

BLITZER: And they say, Obama supporters, go to this corner. Hillary Clinton supporters, go to this corner. John Edwards supporters, go to this corner.

TOOBIN: And everybody has got a mental calculator in their head for 15 percent, because everyone is looking to see which candidates are viable.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: So, if there are 100 people in that room, you got to get 15.

TOOBIN: You got to get 15. And what makes Iowa caucuses so unusual is that it's very important to be the second choice of the minor candidates. Based on the polls, we think that Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards will be the leading candidates. But all of them have been soliciting support from the other candidates.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: From Bill Richardson supporters or Joe Biden supporters.

TOOBIN: Dennis Kucinich, who had a very low-profile campaign, had said openly that his supporters, if they can't muster a viable group at any caucus, should go to Barack Obama. We don't know if any other side deals have been made. That's public. Sometimes, these deals are made in private.

BLITZER: You know what? You know what I want to do? Because I think this will help our viewers better understand what is going on.

We have a live picture, a live feed coming in from the Democratic caucus at the cafeteria at the Merrill Middle School in Des Moines. Let's watch this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can I have your attention? We have got about 30 or 35 people outside in line right now to register. That should take about another 10 minutes. And then we are going to be able to do the real meat and potatoes of the caucus, where we will divide into our preference groups and stuff. So, as soon as those people get in here, about another 10 minutes, then we will start that process. We all right with that?

(APPLAUSE)

BLITZER: All right. As we watch this Democratic caucus at the cafeteria at this middle school in Des Moines, I just want to update you on what we're learning from our so-called entrance polls.

As these caucus-goers went into their respective meetings throughout the state, we had sample precincts, and we asked them their preferences on what they thought they were going to do as they walked in. Normally, we have exit polls, but these are entrance polls.

And let me characterize the estimate, the estimates that we're getting. These are not by any means a done deal. These are by no means a sure thing of what we're seeing. But what we are seeing, based on the initial questions that we asked the caucus-goers going into these precincts, it looks right now like a tight race, a tight race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on the Democratic side, with John Edwards behind.

This is the initial estimate coming in from our entrance polls. On the Republican side, we see that Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee are leading the GOP field. These entrance polls historically have been more reliable, more accurate on the Republican side, where we just heard Jeff Toobin explain it's basically a straw poll. There aren't the very complex rules that exist on the Democratic side.

The Democratic side, the first choice is very important, but sometimes the second choice might be even more important in lifting someone up to first place at the end of the night.

So, let me just restate what our entrance polls are showing us, a tight race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, with Edwards behind on the Republican side. Huckabee and Romney are leading the GOP poll. Let's go back and take a look at what's going on at this caucus that's unfolding right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would like to give some opportunity for folks to do that before we divide into our preference groups.

So, I know we have some precinct captains here. Would folks like to stand and read? OK.

We have -- and I think you're our Edwards precinct captain, sir, correct?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, we have got a letter up here. Or I don't know if you have something as well.

You do? OK. Outstanding. And you can read from there. If you would prefer, you can come up here. Either way.

That way, the folks out here can all hear it, too.

Give me a chance to rest my voice for a moment here. I will sneak back this way, so I'm not blocking.

OK, please go ahead, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm Tom Wick (ph). I'm Marge's (ph) husband and the John Edwards precinct chairman.

"Dear caucus-goer, like a lot of people in Iowa, I grew up in a rural blue-collar town. My mother worked at the post office and my father earned his living in a textile mill. They didn't have a great deal of money, but they had family.

"Going to the mill alongside my father, I learned the value of hard work and perseverance. I will never forget where I came from. I was lucky enough to be the first of my family to go to college and since then Elizabeth and I have been blessed in so many ways. I'm running for president to make sure that every American can have the same opportunities in life that I have had, strong schools, affordable and universal health care, and a good job to support your family.

"We desperately need a president with the backbone to actually stand up to special interests that have rigged the system against regular people. I'm proud to be the only candidate who has never taken a dime from political action committees or Washington lobbyists, because I'm determined to be a voice for regular families..."

BLITZER: All right. We are going to break away from that caucus out in Persia, in Persia, Iowa. It's a small farmhouse. About 53 people have shown up for that Democratic caucus.

What you were hearing were surrogates, supporters for the respective candidates, begin to make what is supposed to be a one- minute presentation on behalf of their candidate. In this particular case, that individual was reading a letter from John Edwards explaining why he thinks he should be the next president of the United States.

We will go back.

By the way, if you ever want to see these caucuses unfold, you can go to CNNPolitics.com and you can watch it yourself on your laptop, on your computer.

Tom Foreman is watching all of this for us. He's at the Merrill Middle School, where there are four, repeat, four caucuses under way in various rooms there.

Tom, tell our viewers something about the -- I guess it must be pretty exciting in Des Moines, where you are.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I will tell you, a lot more people than they have out in Persia.

This hallway for more than an hour has been absolutely packed wall to wall with people jamming in. And this is where they are all now. There are people in the theater for the school. There are people who are in the cafeteria for the school down in the gymnasium and also in the library right over here.

Hundreds and hundreds of people have shown up. Now, right over here, if you walk this way is where the Republicans are meeting. This is the theater group we mentioned. We can take a quick look inside. And you can see how they are gathering and just getting started. Their conference will talk a lot less than some of the other ones.

But if we walk over this way, you can see the library where they have got one of the smaller Democratic groups just getting started right now. And you can see right now the leader of the precinct is up there talking to everyone. They're beginning to discuss things and work their way forward.

I will say, Wolf, that I heard plenty of people here for every candidate. And they were talking about how it's going to be interesting night to sort things out. And very much true to the polls, there were at least a quarter of the people I talked who said they are undecided, standing right in this hallway saying they don't really know who they are going to back tonight.

But the most dramatic moment of all came when one of precinct leaders, the fellow who is leading that huge group in the gymnasium right here, came rushing by. And he said, I will tell you the first headline, for this area, record turnout.

He expects he may more than 600 people in the room. Thought yesterday he might only have 400. Right now, he says, it's going to take me a half-hour just to count the people before we even get to the process of deciding who they are for -- Wolf.

BLITZER: They are about to break up into their respective camps on the Democratic side. At where are you, there are three Democratic caucuses under way, Tom. There's a Democratic caucus in the gym, a Democratic caucus in the cafeteria, and a third Democratic caucus in the library at the Merrill Middle School in Des Moines. There's a Republican caucus under way at the auditorium there.

And we're showing our viewers some of these live pictures coming in. They're still delivering their opening statements, the surrogates, the supporters. They're explaining they are hoping the caucus-goers will align themselves with their respective favorite, their respective candidate.

Once they start to break up and go into their respective corners, I'm going to show that to our viewers, because I think it's a fascinating element.

Where you are, Tom, at the Merrill Middle School, I guess you have got to multiply that scene by hundreds all over the -- what, 3,500 or so of these Republican and Democratic caucuses are taking place right now in Iowa.

FOREMAN: Sure, lots and lots of them.

And interestingly enough, Wolf, when you talk about the idea of when they break up and they pick camps, I have to tell you, if we look at what is happening in the cafeteria, what you see is jammed up here, I was talking to some of the people from the Edwards camp, for example.

And when they go into this room, they're not assigned to a place. They pick a place. And so they very strategically picked an area that put them alongside some people they thought might not be viable. And that way they can pick up those people before they can reach other camps.

BLITZER: These are not secret ballots by any means. Everyone has to go there, Tom, and they have to publicly announce, A, if they're going to be with a Republican caucus or a Democratic caucus. And then they have to announce who they're supporting, whether it would be a specific candidate. And if their candidate didn't get the 15 percent, then they have to change their minds, presumably.

Let's go to the cafeteria and watch Democratic caucus number 71 unfold. You see them counting right now, Tom. They're -- I guess they're trying to see if the viability, the 15 percent, on that first round really holds up for some of these candidates.

FOREMAN: Absolutely, Wolf.

And this is exactly what I'm talking about right here. This group right over here is where the Biden people are, and the Edwards people are right over here. This is an Edwards guy right here. And what he's doing right now is counting his own people, but he's also leaning toward the Biden people over here, saying if they're not viable, he wants to be right next to them to say, you should join us, because guess what? The Clinton people and the Obama people are on the other side of him. So for them to join their camp, they will actually have to walk through Edwards' territory. So, there is a lot of card playing going on here.

And one other point we should make, Wolf, you mentioned how people come in and declare whether they're a Democrat, a Republican or independent. One of the things people may not know is, you can walk in this door as a Republican and say, I want to register tonight as a Democrat, and I want to go in and caucus with the Democrats.

And I met a Republican who did this tonight. He walked into caucus with the Democrats. And tomorrow he can change back to Republican if he wants to. That adds another element of uncertainty to all of this in terms of predicting what might happen.

BLITZER: And they're getting ready.

As they're moving around, you can see at that caucus over there, it looks like they are moving into their respective corners to align themselves with their favorite candidates.

I guess what people in Iowa have to do on the Democratic side, Tom, is basically come in knowing that they support one candidate, but if their candidate doesn't meet that 15 percent threshold, they have got a second choice. So, it's almost as important to have a second choice, as opposed to a first choice.

FOREMAN: Absolutely. Wolf.

Let's walk down the hall. I will show you where that cafeteria is in relation to where we are. You saw where the Republicans were and the other Democrats over here. But everyone we talked to tonight, if they were decided, also said they have already thought about their alternatives.

So, look, here's that cafeteria we have been watching. You see the folks standing up in here and deciding what they're going to do and figuring out if they have to realign themselves, as they call it.

And I will tell you this. The folks we talked to who had candidates who might be considered on the cusp all said to me, it's a heart-wrenching experience. When you walk in and you have stuck a button on or a sticker on that says, I'm for Bill or I'm for anybody else, if you have to reach the point in the evening where you have to say, I now have to take this off and walk over to somebody else.

But here's an interesting strategic thing that people may not think about. People are not just trying to get delegates. They're trying to get a lot of them. So, for example, if you're in a camp that can't be viable, you feel like you can't make it, but you're within one or two people of being viable, you may look to the big camps and say to one big camp, you give us a couple people to make us viable, or we will take all of our people and go to your opponent to give them more delegates -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Tom, stand by, because we're going to be coming back to the Merrill Middle School, where you are.

But I want to check in with Soledad O'Brien. She's standing by with Bill Schneider, our senior political analyst.

The entrance polls, we're going to be hearing a lot, Soledad, about these entrance polls tonight. We're already getting some initial flavor from these entrance polls.

But talk a little bit about what we're seeing.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes.

And I'm sure Bill would agree with me. It doesn't hurt to caution a lot that these are early, early, early, early numbers. But there's some information to be gleaned.

So, let's first talk about what you're seeing on the Democratic side. Who are these people who are the early arrivers really at the caucuses?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: A lot of them are women. A majority of the Democrats who arrived early at the caucus, nearly 60 percent are women. They are older, which is traditional for a caucus. About a third are over 65. And half of them are first-time caucus-goers.

O'BRIEN: Is that a surprise for you?

SCHNEIDER: That's a very big surprise. That's an extraordinary number. Half the people there have never been to a caucus before. Even though they're older, a lot of them are new to the caucus process.

O'BRIEN: Who are the folks who are arriving early on at the Republican side?

SCHNEIDER: The Republican side includes a lot of older voters, just like the Democrats. About a third are over 65. Sixty percent of them are -- over 60 percent are born-again or evangelical Christians, a very heavy turnout of religious voters. And their top issue, immigration. Illegal immigration is the top issue to the Republican voters.

O'BRIEN: All right. Bill, thank you very much.

Let's throw it right back to Wolf.

BLITZER: And we are going to have a lot more explanation on these entrance polls. That's coming up.

Bill Schneider, Soledad O'Brien, they are going to be with us throughout the night, the best political team on television.

We're all standing by to bring you the results as they come in.

Our special coverage from the CNN Election Center continues -- right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our special coverage of the Iowa caucuses.

And now, for the first time, we're actually beginning to get some results coming in. The Democratic caucuses -- remember, in Iowa, 57 national delegates to the Democratic Convention at stake. Two percent of the precincts have now reported. And this is the initial results that we're getting, John Edwards coming in with 42 percent, Hillary Clinton 33 percent, Barack Obama 25 percent.

These are real numbers. But, remember, it's very, very early. Only 2 percent of those 1,700 or so precincts have reported. But the first precincts have reported, and Edwards so far with 2 percent in is atop with 42 percent to Clinton's 33, 25 for Obama.

I caution everyone, it's very, very early in the night. This process is only just beginning. Pretty soon, we will start getting some real numbers coming in from the Republicans as well.

And as soon as they come into the CNN Election Center, we're going to share those numbers with you. You are going to get every step of the way. You're going to get it right here throughout the night.

There's no doubt, also, that this process, the bigger caucuses are a lot more complicated than the smaller ones, because if you only have 20 or 30 or 40 people at a caucus, it's going to be over with relatively quickly. But if there are 700 or 800 people at a caucus, then clearly it could take a lot more time to get to see, to whittle down all of the candidates to see which ones reach that 15 percent threshold and then the second choice process begins.

This is a small caucus in Persia, Iowa, about 53 Democrats, caucus-goers, are there. It's at the living room at someone's house, the Raines (ph) family in Persia, Iowa. And you can see that they're now breaking into respective rooms, respective corners, to try to stand up for their respective candidates, whether it would be Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama or John Edwards or any of the other Democrats.

And if -- if some of the candidates don't have 15 percent of the 53 who have signed up at this caucus, then the wheeling and dealing begins, the cajoling. Neighbors will be encouraging their friends to join them for one of the candidates.

This is the cafeteria at the Merrill Middle School, by the way, in Des Moines, Iowa right now. And they're beginning that process of cajoling as well.

Maybe we can listen in and hear what they're saying. All right. So, that's the cafeteria. It's a Democratic caucus, caucus number 71 in Des Moines, Iowa. We will stay on top of this. We will see what happens there. Anderson Cooper is going to be with us throughout the night. He's got the best political team in television, analysts, our correspondents.

Anderson, it's going to be a long night, but it's an exciting night for all us.

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "ANDERSON COOPER 360": It is an exciting night.

Only 3 percent of precincts of caucuses reporting in. So those numbers obviously are going to change a lot. A lot of the folks here at this desk, though, have been on their BlackBerrys, checking with their sources, and crunching some of these entrance polling numbers.

John King, chief national correspondent, you were looking at basically kind of busting some of the myths about when people made up their minds.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's interesting.

One of the cliches about Iowa and New Hampshire is that people wait until the last possible second. And that's certainly true of a sizable number. And again emphasizing these are very early results from the entrance polls, but, if you look, only 23 percent of Democrats say they made up their mind in the last seven days.

Most of them -- that's a huge number -- said they made up their mind way before that. Now, 38 percent of Republicans say they made up their mind in the last week. So, that's a bigger group, more volatility on the Republican side. But that also means that 62 percent of Republicans had made up their mind a long time ago, in the last month or even longer than that, which leads you to believe, if such large groups in both parties made up their mind a long time ago, that all the late attacks in the mail, over the TV, in the speeches, perhaps not as effective as the candidates delivering them would have liked.

COOPER: Gloria Borger, senior political analyst, as you look at these entrance polls, what do you see?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I'm looking at some very interesting numbers on the Democratic side, Anderson.

First of all, more than half of these caucus-goers on the Democratic side say they are new. They have never been to caucuses before. That could be some news for Barack Obama that he would like to hear, because those are the -- exactly the kind of people that he tried to get interested in going to caucuses.

Also on the Democratic side, when you ask people why they went to the caucuses to vote for their candidates, change 51 percent, experience 20 percent. Again, cautioning this is very, very early but the argument on the Democratic side has been the change versus experience argument between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Those are some interesting numbers I'm going to keep looking at tonight.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: David Gergen, senior political analyst as well for CNN and also advisor to past presidents, Republican and Democrat, as you look forward to tonight, what should viewers watching for? What are you personally going to watch for besides who wins, who loses?

DAVID GERGEN, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right now, I see a need for patience. Because the number we have on our screens shouldn't say Edwards is trailing. The numbers we're hearing from the early returns say Edwards is ahead. I think we're looking at a microscopic sampling so far.

What I'm looking for and what I'm getting a sense of is the size of turn-out. With these early caucuses, a variety of reports that we're getting, large turn-out. Gloria says and Bill Schneider pointed out a significant number of new caucus-goers. That would seem to favor Barack Obama and might favor Hillary Clinton. Interesting question on the Republican side; does it favor Mike Huckabee? Does that mean a lot of evangelicals showing up who haven't normally come out in the past? And that in which case we could have a -- I thought Romney was favored with his organization but if Huckabee can turn him out with the evangelicals, that can be a big surprise.

COOPER: Look at the big board. We're now at 5 percent here. Joe Biden is now in the chart with 2 percent. John Edwards, 36 percent, Hillary Clinton 31, Obama 29; again, only five percent of these caucuses reporting. White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux, what are you looking for tonight?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well Anderson, when you look at the Democrats, I mean really the numbers it's very early but if you look at what their priorities are, bringing about change to experience, two to one, change over experience. When it comes to change, they like the ability five to one, when it comes to change over electability. That would really work in Obama's favor if these numbers -- if they're representative, as we see, as the evening goes on. It looks at issues, the economy and the war in Iraq, pretty much the same on par.

Interestingly enough, you take a look at this and they say people have decided at least the folks who have gone ahead with these entrance numbers, 70 percent, 70, 80 percent have decided within a month or even before that. So a lot of what happened in the last couple weeks did make a big difference. But they say Pakistan really did weigh in on the debate.

COOPER: The first Republican votes are in. I just want to show our viewers on the board. Two percent, again only 2 percent of caucuses on this pie chart. Here you see Huckabee with 33 percent, Mitt Romney 24 percent, Governor Thompson has 17 percent, John McCain, 11 percent. Gloria Borger?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think I can answer part of your question about evangelical Christians David because these very early polls do show there's a significant evangelical Christian turnout. That would be good for Huckabee.

GERGEN: We don't know where these numbers are coming there. What precincts we're looking at.

BORGER: Right and early numbers may be from the rural western part of the state which would favor Huckabee.

COOPER: Another key point about these entrance polls is that because of the way the caucuses are, people's opinions can change throughout the evening, I want to check in with our other analyst here, Bill Bennett, always good to have you, political adviser, I guess we can call it, what do you see tonight?

BILL BENNETT, CNN POLITICAL ADVISER: Well two things, Dave Gergen is calling for patience I'm calling for coffee along with that patience. We all need it. If I can, as former philosophy professor, we've been watching pictures out of Kenya of people with machetes killing each other. We've been watching pictures from Pakistan, the Bhutto thing. Some people want to make fun of Iowa. There they are in their homes, welcoming people in, talking. No killing, no violence, no imposition of will.

COOPER: It's an incredible process when you see strangers being allowed into another person's home. They don't know these people but they're there to take part of the process.

BENNETT: Two imminent American acts inviting people into your home and voting. I think the evangelical turnout will be big. That's my prediction. I predicted that Huckabee would still be on the rise although he made mistakes and it will hurt him.

COOPER: It's interesting though. In some of that entrance polling, more than 16 percent say they are evangelical or born again and they say immigration is the number one issue and yet it seems that's benefiting Huckabee where he's been attacked on immigration.

BENNETT: Well remember though that evangelicals don't neatly fall into the categories of conservative this, conservative that. They're all over the map on certain things. There are a lot of evangelicals who are strong on immigration that think the immigrant must be welcomed. He's another soul and that he should be welcomed in the United States. You get people all over the map on this so it's too soon to tell.

COOPER: Bill will have more on his radio show "Morning America" tomorrow. Donna Brazile, political contributor, what are you watching for tonight?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I'm looking at age of the caucus-goers on the Democratic side. Right now we see about 44 percent of the people are under 45 years of age. That tells me that Senator Clinton has been able to get out a lot of her older women. 56 percent of caucus-goers right now they are women. Again, that tells me why Senator Clinton might have a slight lead. On the other hand, 20 percent of caucus-goers on the Democratic side right now are independent. That's a sign that perhaps Obama has not been able to expand the universe. But it's still young. I agree with Bill. We need some coffee.

COOPER: A lot of coffee. Jack Cafferty, the best selling book, "It's Getting Ugly Out There," I think your official title of your book is loveable ...

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm not sure either, Anderson.

COOPER: What are you looking for tonight?

CAFFERTY: Well, a couple of things. I think we ought to let the people in Iowa just decide all of the elections from now on. Obviously, they spend more time and energy on this than any of the rest of us do. The rest of us drop by the local school house, complain if we have to wait in line more than 10 minutes to pull the lever in a voting machine. These people spend hours, take nights out of their lives, they visit and met the candidates. They're meeting out tonight. It will take several hours to determine what it is they're finally going to decide. I would be very content to just let their judgment decide it all for us.

The other thing I'm interested in watching is whether or not we see the first tentative steps by the American electorate down that road less traveled. There's a lot of dissatisfaction in this country. Look at any national poll, opposition of the war, hatred of the congress, disapproval of the president. 70 percent of the country thinks we're going in the wrong direction. This is the beginning of the process to change it, if we as a nation decide we want to change it. And it might be the last best opportunity to do meaningful change to the government in this country and so I am going to be excited to see what the people in Iowa think about those possibilities and whether or not those tentative first steps could maybe become a stampede by next November

COOPER: Registered independents outnumber Democrats in Iowa.

CAFFERTY: There's interest out there that never existed before and that's dramatic stuff and so it will be exciting to see where it goes from here. It's encouraging.

COOPER: We'll get some coffee for the best political team on television. Let's go back to Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Anderson, thanks very much.

Let's recap what we know right now. And these are early numbers, but they are real numbers. They are constantly changing.

On the Democratic side, right now with 10 percent, 10 percent of the Democratic precincts now officially reporting to Des Moines. Take a look at this. John Edwards leads with 34 percent; Hillary Clinton close behind with 32 percent; Barack Obama very close behind with 31 percent; Bill Richardson's got two percent. Everybody else so far not registering in significant numbers. Remember this is only 10 percent of the Democratic caucuses have now officially reported. You see a three-way race under way. Let's take a close look at the Republican caucuses. Only 2 percent have actually reported so far, a very, very small percentage but Mike Huckabee is atop with 33 percent, Mitt Romney 24 percent, Fred Thompson coming in third so far. Only 2 percent of the precincts have reported, 17 percent John McCain, 11 percent. Everybody else not really registering yet.

Let's take a close look at one of the caucuses that's under way right now. This is a Republican caucus in Des Moines. They're counting ballots as they do it. Republican caucuses, maybe we can eavesdrop a little and see what they're saying.

All right. They're still trying to get their act together over there. They're going to come up with their tally pretty soon. We'll go back there and see what the Republicans at that one caucus at the middle school in Des Moines what they came up with.

In the meantime, let's go back out to Persia, Iowa. There's a Democratic caucus underway out there. About 53 people have signed up there. They're cajoling. They're talking to each other, trying to convince their friends and neighbors to align themselves with one candidate. Let's see if we can hear any of this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey.

BLITZER: All right. We're getting a little flavor what's going on. One caucus in Persia, that's a Democratic caucus.

Jeff Toobin is our senior analyst. Talk a little bit about what these people are doing right now as we watch these pictures of a home, the Raines family home. They've opened up their homes to their friends and their neighbors and they're getting involved in this caucus process.

JEFF TOOBIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And we have a reporter in that room. And the reporter has reported back to us what the results of the first round of voting were. 49 people were in attendance. And that meant you needed 8 to be viable. You had 49 people and needed 8 to get to the 15 percent threshold. Of these people in this caucus, there were 16 for Hillary Clinton, 16 for Edwards, 10 for Obama and 6 for Biden. So Biden as well as the other candidates are not viable. What's going on now is what's called the realignment process. That's when they are deciding what to do next.

BLITZER: And trying to convince those six Biden supporters who didn't reach that 15 percent viability or 8, they're trying to convince them to support either Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama or John Edwards and that process is unfolding. We're watching it live. We're watching it unfold right here from the CNN Election Center.

It's a fascinating process and it's one that is unique, really, to Iowa. It's been going on for a long time. This is not -- this is not a primary. It's a caucus, it's different but it's critical right now. We're going to continue our special coverage from the CNN Center much more coming up. The numbers are coming in. We'll update you on the official numbers right after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to the CNN Election Center, a very exciting night unfolding. And we're going to show you why right now.

Take a look at this, 17 percent of the Democratic precincts have now officially reported. John Edwards is ahead so far with 34 percent; Hillary Clinton has 32 percent; Barack Obama 31 percent; Bill Richardson is down at two percent, everybody else even further below but remember, this is 17 percent of the precincts have reported. It's a three-man or three-person race I should say on the Democratic side.

On the Republican side right now, only 2 percent of the precincts have reported. Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas is atop with 33 percent; Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts 24 percent; Fred Thompson, the former senator from Tennessee 17 percent and the current U.S. senator from Arizona John McCain who really didn't campaign all that hard in Iowa is coming up fourth so far with 11 percent. Remember, only 2 percent of the precincts on the Republican side have reported.

We want to mention to you something that's important. From now on, through the rest of the night you'll notice a running vote tally board at the bottom of your screen. It will have up to date statewide and county results. For those of you watching in high definition, you'll see additional delegate information on the left and right sides of the picture. Consider it a little value added for your high def dollar. Remember, you can go at any time to CNN politics.com. If you want to see how these results are changing minute by minute. CNNpolitics.com will show you these results minute by minute. So stay with us here on CNN as well as CNNpolitics.com to get all of the latest information.

Let's go back to one of these caucuses out of the cafeteria at the Merrill Middle School. Let hear what they're saying.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And the only candidate who won in a red state. We need red states, people. This is not over tonight. This is not over February 5th. Am I right, people? It's not over tonight.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Elected in a red state.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.

BLITZER: All right. Let me just explain what they're doing. Surrogates are supporters of the respective Democratic candidates are trying to encourage some of the people there whose candidates whose first choice, didn't necessarily get to the 15 percent threshold, they are trying to urge them to come into their corner, to come and support their candidate. I believe this individual is trying to wean over supporters for John Edwards. But let's listen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: These special interests don't need to be negotiated with. The key word is not negotiated. They need to be punched in the nose a little bit. This man knows how to punch. We need a fighter, not a negotiator that against these special interests. You know I'm right. We need a fighter. John Edwards spent 20 years knowing who these people are. That's why I'm standing here tonight for John Edwards. All of you candidates other there, you have a fine candidate but not a fighter like John Edwards. That's the distinction. I want to look around the room and look at all of the signage. Shows the number of signs. Here's our leaders' signs. We may not have been 4-1.

BLITZER: All right. So that's it. We saw in the cafeteria that John Edwards' supporter urging the Democrats there whose candidate did not make that 15 percent threshold to come and support John Edwards. This is process is underway at that cafeteria in the Merrill Middle School in Des Moines.

Let's go out to Persia in Iowa right now, because we've got some results, and Jeff Toobin, it looks like that Democratic caucus is over with and results are in.

TOOBIN: It over with and just remember, this was the original results of the first round of voting. We had 48 people voting, 16 for Obama, 22 -- 16 for -- I'm sorry, 16 for Clinton, 16 for Edwards and 10 for Obama. So Biden who had 6 votes was not viable. So he and all of the other candidates were out. So what happened to the six voters who went for Biden? Well, Hillary Clinton didn't get any of them. John -- Barack Obama got one of them and all of the rest of them went to John Edwards. So the final results were 44 percent for Edwards, 23 percent for Obama, and 33 percent for Clinton. And this is an illustration of one thing that many people had anticipated which is that Hillary Clinton would not be a very popular second choice. People in America it said had already made up their minds of Hillary Clinton. If she wasn't first choice, she wasn't any choice. And at least in this small sample, that was born out because the second choice voters one went to Obama, all the rest to Edwards. At least in little Persia, Iowa right near the Nebraska border on the west.

BLITZER: Jeff Toobin, thank you and we're going to stay on top of this.

Let me update our viewers right now on the official tallies that we're getting first on the Democratic side. 23 percent, almost a quarter of precincts have now officially reported. And look a three- person race clearly under way; John Edwards still atop, 33 percent; Hillary Clinton 32 percent; Obama 32 percent; Bill Richardson 2 percent, everybody else even less. It's clearly a race for the Democrats out in Iowa. 23 percent of the precincts have reported now and last time we took a look only 2 percent of the Republican precincts had reported but now 15 percent. Fifteen percent of the Republican precincts have now reported and Mike Huckabee is still ahead with 36 percent; Mitt Romney 23 percent; Fred Thompson, 15 percent; John McCain, 12 percent. It's clearly a race out there although Mike Huckabee seems to be doing fairly well. He's atop, number one at least with 15 percent of the precincts.

I want to caution our viewers right now. We don't know which of the Republican precincts they are. But we do see that Mike Huckabee at least so far with 15 percent of the Republican vote in is coming out on top. We're going to continue to update you on these numbers and we're going to share them with you. You can always go to CNNpolitics.com and see these tallies change minute by minute.

Remember, we're showing you the activity in the Democratic caucuses, because it's more complex. People have to go out and cajole and convince.

The Republicans are basically a straw poll. People vote, people read the ballots. That's what they're doing at the Republican caucus at the Merrill Middle School in Des Moines. They're basically going through the old-fashioned way. People mark a ballot and that's, that. It's a lot simpler on the Republican side in Iowa than the Democratic side.

Bill Schneider and Soledad O'Brien looking at all of this and they've got entrance polls that are giving us a good indication of what's going on.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes I want to go back to the entrance polls and really what Donna Brazile said just a few moments ago, she talked about age and how critical that's going to be and I think we're really seeing that shaping up to be important in who is going to win is who is showing up, the age of folks who are showing up. So we'll take the first category. In the Democrats, you're looking at 17 to 29-year-old, Bill. How are they voting so far?

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We are seeing a clash of generations as dramatic as I've ever seen in politics. Look at the younger voters. They are showing up now. they are about a quarter of the voters. They are voting 57 percent for Barack Obama; Edwards, 13; Hillary Clinton, 11. Obama is getting 5-1 more votes than Hillary Clinton among the youngest generation of voters at these caucuses.

O'BRIEN: Completely flip if you flip the ages. 65-plus, different story.

SCHNEIDER: And they're the same in number at these caucuses as the young voters. Among those 65 and older, it's a totally different situation. Hillary Clinton is getting 45 percent of the vote and she's clearly beating, here it is. Barack Obama 17. That's better than two to one. Obama is coming in third among the oldest voters whereas he's easily winning the youngest voters. We've never seen a clash of generations.

O'BRIEN: It's really spelled out so clearly. The ideology of the people we've seen in the poll numbers are they very liberal? Are they very conservative?

SCHNEIDER: They're different. The Democrats are moderate. Only about 16 percent of them call themselves very liberal. There's a cliche that only liberal Democrats and conservative Republican show up. That's half true. Republicans are very conservative. Almost half of them say they are very conservative. But Democrats are pretty moderate voters.

O'BRIEN: Age is what we're watching now.

SCHNEIDER: We're watching that age difference. It's a class of generations of epic proportions.

O'BRIEN: All right. Bill Schneider, thank you very much. Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right. Guys, thanks very much.

And we're going to continue to go back to you guys to get all of the latest information we're getting on these entrance polls. And remember when Bill Schneider is not here with us at the CNN center, he's at CNNpolitics.com. He's giving some running commentary and analysis on what is going on.

Let's go out to Tom Foreman right now because I guess the Republican caucus there has broken up, Tom. You had an opportunity to speak with some of those Republicans?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, I'll tell you. It's just exactly as we promised, very quick for the Republicans here. John McCain got 59 votes here, Mitt Romney 39, Thompson 21, Huckabee 19, Giuliani 14, Ron Paul 13, Hunter and Tancredo each got zero. Let's walk over here real quick and we'll grab a couple Republicans and ask what they think of this whole thing.

Excuse me. Can I ask you a quick question? I'm with CNN. You came here as a Republican tonight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

FOREMAN: You're happy with the results?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I actually supported Huckabee. I don't think the precinct is one he would play very strongly. Yes, I'm encouraged with the numbers that were posted by our precinct.

FOREMAN: And were you happy with the comments you heard about overall obviously the concern for Republicans is also the next step.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the whole premise of this is to have each candidate have a representative speak for them. By now, I think everybody has pretty much made up their mind. Whatever that is worth. It was good to listen to but in the end I think people had pretty much decided by the time they got here who they are going to support.

FOREMAN: All right. Thanks very much. We'll ask somebody else real quickly if we can. Hi, you're here as a Republican?

BRADY HELM: Yeah.

FOREMAN: Hi, I'm Tom Foreman.

HELM: Hi, Brady Helm.

FOREMAN: Tell me what you thought about the voting tonight. Who were you supporting?

HELM: I was here for Huckabee.

FOREMAN: You're also here for Huckabee. So were you happy or not? He got 19 votes, McCain 55. That's a lot more obviously.

HELM: That's about how I wanted it to go.

FOREMAN: Now, obviously this is very early. You can move on to the next step but what do you watch for the rest of the night?

HELM: I'm just waiting to see what the outcome is for the rest of the state.

FOREMAN: Thanks, so much. Wolf, that's a little sense of what's going on with the Republicans, as promised very quick but a lot of horse trading going on down the hall. We'll tell but it when you head back to us later on. Wolf.

BLITZER: CNN can now project that Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, will win the Iowa Republican caucuses tonight. Based on all of the indications that we're getting, entrance polls and the hard numbers that are coming in, the official ballots coming in from the Republican precincts, we can now project that Mike Huckabee, Mike Huckabee who only weeks ago was seemingly coming out of nowhere, Mike Huckabee will win the Iowa caucuses; a dramatic development for Mike Huckabee, showing his support especially among evangelical Christians in Iowa, which is a critically important block among the Republican caucus goers. Mike Huckabee we can project will emerge from Iowa a winner. A huge win for Mike Huckabee but clearly a setback for Mitt Romney who spent a whole lot more money in Iowa than Mike Huckabee, was counting on a win in Iowa to propel him into New Hampshire next Tuesday. That apparently is not happening because based on our projection, our estimates on the entrance polls as well as hard numbers coming in and on the Republican side these entrance polls are much more reliable, more simple than the Democratic caucus- goers, Mike Huckabee emerges a winner in Iowa tonight.

Anderson Cooper has the best political team on television looking at this as well. Anderson looks like Huckabee did it.

COOPER: It's incredible. You look at the ad spending. Mitt Romney spent $6,565,000 on commercials on 8,000 spots, 8,107. Mike Huckabee, $1,042,000 -- some 1,371 spots. John King, Mike Huckabee really came out of nowhere just a couple months ago.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He is now the insurgent and the conservative favorite at least in Iowa in the Republican race. The question is, does he have staying power as he goes on? New Hampshire is not fertile territory for a Republican who is a former Baptist preacher. Republicans in New Hampshire are more pro choice on abortion rights than the country as a hole. So he has a tough sales job in New Hampshire and the question is not just Huckabee in New Hampshire, can he sell himself coming out of Iowa. What happens now that Romney, who was the front runner in both Iowa and New Hampshire in the summer, Romney loses Iowa, what is the effect on the former Massachusetts governor in his neighboring state of New Hampshire? If he drops down some, McCain is sitting there poised to win New Hampshire. It could dramatically reshape the Republican race. And remember, New Hampshire this time is only five days away.

COOPER: John McCain wanted Huckabee to win. If he wasn't going to win in Iowa, he wanted Huckabee to win in Iowa.

BORGER: The enemy of my enemy is my friend and that's exactly what happened here but I want to tell you, Anderson, I spoke with a Republican strategist who's unaffiliated but is in contact with every campaign and he's very upset about Huckabee win. He said look, this was the right kind of state, the right kind of structure, large Evangelical community but this is a quote. He said, "This is the equivalent of Pat Robertson winning. The idea Huckabee could mount a credible general election campaign is laughable. This is the establishment Republican party speaking right now."

COOPER: David Gergen, what is it that the establishment Republican party is worried about?

GERGEN: The splintering of the old Reagan coalition George W. Bush put back together for a while.

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