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AT THIS HOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA

Counting Down to the Democratic Primary Debate; What are Candidates' Strategies Tonight?; DNC Controversy: Interview with Rep.Tulsi Gabbard. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired October 13, 2015 - 11:00   ET

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


[11:00:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm John Berman.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello everyone I'm Kate Bolduan. We are live from Las Vegas, the site of tonight's presidential Democratic debate. John Berman, can you smell it?

BERMAN: Viva Democratic presidential debate.

BOLDUAN: Not just the all you can eat buffet. It's debate night in America. Here we go, just hours from now, five presidential Democratic candidates will be facing off on the very same stage for the very first time in the 2016 race to make their pitch to voters, spell out their differences, and for the candidates not named Clinton or Sanders, they're going to get their names and faces out there to millions of Americans.

BERMAN: This is the perfect place to do it, at the Wynn Las Vegas, where fortunes can be won, lost, or squandered. We will find out how real Bernie Sanders' insurgent campaign is. Will Hillary Clinton reaffirm her status as front-runner? Will the two go after each other in front of America? And can the three guys at the bottom of the polls get any kind of boost for their campaigns?

And how many snarky tweets will Donald Trump send out in two hours? All these will be answered during tonight's showdown. Our team putting the finishing touches on the debate stage. Inside the debate hall, the candidates, no doubt, making their last-minute preparations as well.

I want to go inside the debate hall to the suddenly very famous senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta. Jim.

BOLDUAN: We knew you when, Jim.

BERMAN: We knew you when.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONODENT: Well, you know. I always remember the little people, that's what I have to say.

But let me tell you, guys, these podiums behind me are empty right now. They will not stay that way for much longer. We're going to see these candidate walk-throughs later on this afternoon. At least we hope so. Hillary Clinton, we know she's in town. One of the very first things that she did is she went over to the Trump Hotel, looking past her Democratic rivals, and was trolling the real estate tycoon, going off on Donald Trump right in front of his hotel here in Las Vegas.

She has a lot at stake in this debate tonight. Remember she has not debated in anything like this since 2008. So she has to avoid make anything big mistakes. Her campaign says her strategy goes like this. They're very aware of the fact that people have been focusing on this Benghazi controversy, this e-mail controversy. She was using a private e-mail server when she was Secretary of State. That has cut into a lot of public confidence in her and her candidacy. So she wants to get around that tonight, she wants to talk about the issues that she's been dying to talk about in front of a big audiences and certainly in front of a big television audience. So that's what Hillary Clinton wants to accomplish.

As for Bernie Sanders, the knock on Bernie Sanders inside the Democratic Party is that a lot of people don't think he can be President of the United States. So, he wants to come across as presidential, come across as serious. His campaign says he wants the viewing audience at home, the audience here in the debate hall, inside the Wynn hotel, to see his campaign ideas as being serious, as being mainstream.

And you mentioned the other three candidates, Lincoln Chafee, Martin O'Malley, those candidates, Jim Webb, basically their mission is to have one of those breakout moments so they can somehow gain some traction in the polls. And we saw something like that take place during the last GOP debate that was on CNN. Carly Fiorina, Marco Rubio, they had those breakout debate performances and that translated into higher poll numbers.

But I have to tell you guys, the most surprising thing that's happened so far, I think, is Hillary Clinton showing up here in Las Vegas and then going straight to Donald Trump's hotel to go after the GOP front- runner. That tells you where her head is right now. She's almost waging a general election campaign before the very first Democratic debate of this cycle. Kate and John?

BERMAN: That was a big move, too. Key support here in Nevada, the culinary union, the most important factor in Democratic politics in the state.

ACOSTA: That's right.

BERMAN: Jim, briefly, the audience in that room, some 1,300 people, could be a crowd that makes some noise, especially compared to the first -- the second Republican debate, the one hosted by CNN.

ACOSTA: That's right. My understanding is that the DNC, the planners of the debate, CNN, they've been conscience of the fact they don't want a Hillary Clinton crowd or a Bernie Sanders crowd here in the room tonight. So I would imagine that this room will be, you know, very respectful of the candidates on this stage. It may not be as raucous as we saw with these GOP debates. And keep in mind, we have not seen these Democratic candidates go after each other. They have somewhat, but not in the same way, not with the same sort of tooth and nail viciousness that we have seen on the Republican side. And in many ways these candidates may be starving to finally dish it back at people like Donald Trump, dish it back at people like Ben Carson. That has not really happened at this point. The Democrats have been sort of lying back, keeping quiet. They have not had this big television audience up until this point. So we might see a lot of zingers aimed at Republicans, not just at each other, when they square off in just a few -- several hours from now. Back to you.

BOLDUAN: Counting down, 9 hours, 25 minutes, just a few seconds. Watch that clock. Watch that clock. Thank you so much, Jim. We'll be getting back to you.

[11:05:01] Let's talk about all of this and about what voters are going to see tonight with Brad Woodhouse and Patti Solis Doyle. Brad is the former communications director for the Democratic National Committee and Patti worked as campaign manager for Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign. It is great to see both of you.

BRAD WOODHOUSE, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIR, DEMOCRATIC NAT'L COMMITTEE: Good morning.

PATTI SOLIS DOYLE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Good morning.

WOODHOUSE: Beautiful here in Vegas.

BOLDUAN: That's the energy.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: Brad brought it. All right.

DOYLE: Wow.

BOLDUAN: My goodness, you can be my wake-up call every day.

WOODHOUSE: Having a debate in Vegas was a varsity move.

(LAUGHTER)

BOLDUAN: They were debating who was going to steal that. So that's why we all know, to steal that line.

DOYLE: Right out of the gate, he took it.

BOLDUAN: No time like the present. Let's talk about strategy, what we're going to see on the stage. Hillary Clinton as we've heard -- we've lost. This has already gone off the rails.

Hillary Clinton has said -- her campaign said that she wants to cut through the politics. Brad, what does that look like on the campaign -- on the debate stage? WOODHOUSE: Well, the first thing I think it is is to be substantive.

And I don't think there's a candidate running for office -- for president on either side of the aisle that has been as substantive as she has. I mean, she's come out with just recently a really substantive proposal to deal with gun violence. I mean, it goes farther than just about any candidate. It certainly goes farther than anything Republicans have proposed, which is nothing, but it goes farther than any other candidate on the Democratic field. It actually goes farther than what President Obama has proposed. And she's done that on a whole score of issues -- college affordability, equal pay for equal work. So, I think substance is the strong suit for Hillary Clinton. I think you'll see a lot of that tonight.

BERMAN: You know, Patti, it's interesting. The Sanders team itself says one of the things it wants to do is show their candidate, Bernie Sanders, as someone who could be president. So that's one goal. Another goal has got to be to reach people of color. Because some of the poll numbers that have been coming out have been breathtaking. There's a new ABC News/Washington poll out today which talks about favorability among non-whites. Hillary Clinton is plus 53. Plus 53 if you look at the favorable-unfaovrables. Bernie Sanders is plus seven. I mean, that is staggering difference. He's nowhere in this.

DOYLE: It really is, and with those kind of numbers, if they stay that way, it's impossible for him to win a general election. You know, Barack Obama proved that in '08 and then expanded on it in 2012. We need women. We need Hispanics. We need African-American. And we need young people and we need white liberals. But he needs to do something to reach out to a broader sector of people.

The problem for him is, the reason he's been doing so well is his authenticity. Bernie's going to be Bernie. And if he's anything but Bernie tonight, it's going to cost him. So he's got to figure out a way to reach out to more folks but still being Bernie Sanders.

BOLDUAN: But that poses an interesting, maybe, challenge for Bernie Sanders in terms of the debate prep. You say just let Bernie be Bernie. If he's anything but authentic, then he's going to lose folks. But, at the same time, his campaign is saying that he needs to look presidential on the debate stage. What does that look like, then?

WOODHOUSE: Well, it's a good question. And the interesting thing coming out of his camp is he doesn't really do debate prep. He doesn't do -- he doesn't do mock debates. So I think that's a fascinating wild card in tonight's debate and how he deals with -- how do you deal with the moderator questions that are critical? How do you deal with the back and forth with other candidates?

But I -- I think the challenge for all of these candidates tonight. is not just Bernie Sanders, is to appear presidential. The advantage Hillary Clinton has --

BOLDUAN: What does that look like? Is that just a word we use?

WOODHOUSE: No, look, I think it really is having stature. And I think if you look at the debates in 2008, and there wasn't a debate that Hillary Clinton didn't come across as having the stature to be President of the United States, and I think there's no doubt that she'll exhibit that again tonight. We just don't know about the other candidates, we don't know about Bernie Sanders. We haven't seen them in this type of debate.

I think stature is going to be a very big issue. Really, right now, if you look at the way this campaign has played out, the differences on the issues are fairly mild. I mean, I know that other candidates would like to say they have vast differences with Hillary Clinton, but they're pretty much in the same place on the big economic issues.

BERMAN: They really are, especially now after she shifted it a little bit. I mean, they're relatively in the same place. There could be a debate about where people stood years ago on different issues. I expect we'll see something there.

You said we don't know what we're going to see from the candidates, meaning I think the other three candidates on the stage -- Jim Webb, Martin O'Malley, Lincoln Chafee. These guys are going to be on stage and have plenty of time to talk. I mean, there are only five candidates on this stage and it will be a long debate.

I am just so intrigued by how Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders, too, prepares for these candidates they really haven't dealt with at all yet.

DOYLE: Right, well, Hillary Clinton has a lot of experience debating. And she does prepare.

BERMAN: But it's one thing debating Barack Obama, John Edwards, even Joe Biden and Chris Dodd, than Lincoln Chafee.

DOYLE: But she has a killer debate prep team. She really does. So they're throwing questions at her from the most reasonable, rational to the crazy, wacky ones. She's going to be prepared. She's going to expect, I think, most of what's going to happen tonight.

WOODHOUSE: I think --

[11:10:00] BOLDUAN: Do you expect crazy wacky to come?

WOODHOUSE: I actually don't expect crazy wacky. This is not -- well, maybe from Anderson, I don't know, but on the stage --

BOLDUAN: If I was moderating, you would definitely get crazy wacky --

BERMAN: We're getting plenty of that already. We don't have to wait till tonight.

WOODHOUSE: You know, Governor O'Malley, I think, more than I would Webb or Chafee, you know, he's kind of telegraphed some of his beefs with Hillary Clinton. So I think she'll -- I think she'll be prepared. It's anybody's guess what Senator Webb might want to -- what mark he might want to make or Lincoln Chafee, who's been a Democrat for a hot minute. BERMAN: Isn't there currency going after Bernie Sanders for these

guys? And we've been talking about maybe directing fire at Hillary Clinton but couldn't they pick up some ground by saying they're the alternative to Hillary Clinton?

WOODHOUSE: I don't think there's any upside in Democrats attacking each other in this debate tonight. I think we saw --

BOLDUAN: Let me explore that, though, really quick. Why? I mean, we've heard from Bernie Sanders, we've really heard from all of them, but Bernie Sanders has said over and over, I'm not going to get personal, I'm not going to do personal attack. I'll only attack if I'm attacked first.

Why? What is the difference though? Because on the debate stage with Republicans, we saw -- they attacked each other, they went after each other. And a lot of folks will say, that's a little bit of what voters want to see. They want to see leadership, they want to see people not being politically correct. That's what at least Republican voters are looking. What's different about Democratic voters?

DOYLE: Bernie Sanders has a really strong, loyal following. These people who love Bernie Sanders love Bernie Sanders. So anybody who goes after Bernie Sanders on that stage is going to risk alienating those voters. They don't want to do that. They want to get those votes.

WOODHOUSE: I'll say this. Carson has not been an attack dog in the debates and he's at the top of the Republican polls. Fiorina was not really an attack dog in the debate. She had her moments where she had to respond to attacks and she's at the top of the Republican polls.

I don't think necessarily being on the attack is what gets you -- and I would say this, that Hillary Clinton still has -- Democrats have great feelings for Hillary Clinton. So if someone thinks they're going to make their mark tonight coming in and attacking Hillary Clinton in a Democratic primary where she has so much Democratic support, I think they're barking up the wrong tree.

BERMAN: Brad Woodhouse, Patti Solis Doyle, thanks so much for coming. Appreciate it. And I think you sort of endorsed Ben Carson, so we --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: We're waiting for it.

Brad also said he was going to jump in this pond behind us. I'm just saying.

WOODHOUSE: I am!

BERMAN: Do not miss a minute of the action. The CNN debate, the very first Democratic debate, it begins at 8:30 p.m. Eastern Time only on CNN.

BOLDUAN: And very soon the candidates themselves, they will begin arriving right here at the debate site for final walk-throughs on that stage. We're going to bring it to you live. And it is a beautiful debate stage. I was walking through there this morning. Don't tell anybody.

Plus, a top Democratic party official says her invite to tonight's debate was yanked. The strange controversy surrounding this big moment for Democrats. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, she's going to be joining us live.

BERMAN: And if Donald Trump cannot be on stage, he will troll it. What the Republican front-runner is promising to do during the presidential debate tonight as the Democrats face off.

This is CNN's special live coverage in Las Vegas, Nevada.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:17:20] BOLDUAN: We're live in Las Vegas, Nevada, the site of the Democratic debate. An unexpected controversy is brewing here in Las Vegas.

Ahead of this first debate, top Democratic party officials are sparring over whether or not they're having enough debates. Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, she's the vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, she's been vocal in calling for more debates for their candidates than the six that have been scheduled.

BERMAN: That is not what the Democratic National Committee apparently wanted to hear. Apparently not at all, so Representative Gabbard says she was disinviited to tonight's debate. Don't come. And, again, she is the vice chair of the DNC.

Representative Gabbard joins us now from lovely Hawaii, in Honolulu. Thank you so much for joining us by remote, since you're not here, since you were apparently disinvited. This is not "let's hold hand and celebrate party unity". What's the party so afraid of?

REP. TULSI GABBARD (D), HAWAII: Good morning and aloha, John and Kate. It's good to talk with you, as always.

For me, this is really about two things. This is an issue about our democracy and it's an issue about making sure that the American people have the opportunity to hear from our presidential candidates. The major issue of disagreement that I have here is based on two points.

And the first and most egregious is the policy of retribution. We have some very serious candidates running for president, and the policy that the chairwoman put in place basically says that if they participate in any other debate outside of the DNC's six sanctioned debates, then they'll be punished. They won't be allowed to participate in any of the DNC debates. So if people in New Hampshire or in Iowa or any other state in the country, in my State of Hawaii, want to host our presidential candidates for a debate, those candidates would be punished if they chose to participate. This is just wrong, in my view. And the second point is this policy of limiting debate decreases the opportunity that the American people have to hear from our presidential candidates, to challenge them, and have them debate about the vision that they are laying out to take our country forward.

BOLDUAN: So the other party officials, like the Democratic chairwoman, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, they say there are absolutely enough debates and we haven't even gotten to the first one, and there going to be six. But on this back and forth that has really blown up in public ahead of today's first debate, I do wonder, have you had an opportunity to speak directly with the chairwoman yet about this -- not just the invitation, but the fact this has really blown up in such a public fashion?

[11:20:06] GABBARD: You know, we've had discussions in the past. First thing I want to say about all of this that's gone down, and I want to make it very clear that the chairwoman had claimed a month ago that she had spoken with -- communicated and consulted with officers of the DNC about her decision to limit debate to six and to put this retribution policy in place, this exclusivity clause, and that never occurred. I can tell you, speaking for myself, that I didn't find out about her decision until after the fact. There was no consultation and no communication.

Saying that, I think if we look at this going forward, I think it's important to recognize how this policy is really undemocratic. Yesterday, I had a chance to spend some time here in Hawaii at the Punch Bowl National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. And as I looked out on the thousands of sons and daughters of our nation who sacrificed their lives for our democracy, I reflected about what is so important here? What is really at stake here? We're talking about who will lead our country, who will lead our nation as commander in chief, and the importance of our democracy and engaging the American people as much as possible in this process so they can make the best decision on who will take us down that path.

BERMAN: There are people who speculated the debate schedule was set up to benefit the front-runner, Hillary Clinton. She was the front- runner even by more when the schedule was set up. I suppose my question to you is why aren't you ready yet to endorse Hillary Clinton?

GABBARD: You're talking about me?

BERMAN: Yes.

GABBARD: As vice -- as officers of the DNC, I remain neutral with all presidential candidates and not taking any position with any of them. I think that my job, my responsibility is to represent the views of the American people ad Democrats all across the country in increasing and opening this debate process so they have more opportunities to be able to hear from our presidential candidates.

I think this is a simple issue of democracy, a simple issue of freedom of speech, and really invigorating our process here. When you look at when these debates -- the limited six debates that have been scheduled, they're scheduled on weekends or holidays, or days that people are going to be busy, very likely, doing other things. So by opening up this process, by getting rid of this retribution policy of punishing our candidates for participating in events being hosted by, you know, whether they be state parties or local chambers of commerce or whomever, I think it's not good for our democracy. And it really take away the opportunity the American people have to be able to be exposed to our presidential candidates.

BOLDUAN: Well, there are six debates and maybe the best one yet is tonight, hosted by CNN right here. And we know you'll be watching.

Before we let you go, though, Congresswoman, we do want to congratulate you. Just yesterday -- this has been a big week for you -- you were promoted by the Hawaiian National Guard from captain to major. I know we have some pictures of that. Very special congratulations to you. I know that's a very, very important moment for you.

BERMAN: Incredible honor.

GABBARD: Thank you. Thank you. It was a very moving ceremony and a responsibility I take very seriously.

BOLDUAN; Absolutely. Great to see you. Thank you so much. I know you'll be watching the debate, albeit not from the debate hall.

BERMAN: On TV.

BOLDUAN: Tonight. Thank you so much, Congresswoman.

Coming up for us, we're going to have much more of our debate coverage. And a special note to all of you, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who we were talking about just here, she's going to be joining Wolf today at 1:00 p.m. Eastern. You want to see that.

BERMAN: The subject of invitations and disinvitations sure to come up.

BOLDUAN: You are invited to watch that.

Also coming up for us, the excitement is building and the candidates are working through their final debate preparations. How does a candidate win tonight? We're going to find out from one of the most prominent debate coaches in the country. That's ahead.

BERMAN: Plus, we will speak live with two men who advise presidential candidates, a key adviser to President Obama, a key adviser to Mitt Romney. We're going to talk about what the candidates today are doing behind the scenes. What is debate day like for an actual candidate?

This is CNN's special coverage live in Las Vegas.

[11:24:39]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BERMAN: All right, the first Democratic presidential debate is just over nine hours away. Nine hours, one minute, and a few seconds to be exact. Some people thought we would never get to this moment. The candidates, they need to strike the right balance between substance and personality. And the top two candidates, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, they are by no means novices on the debate stage. Look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am prepared and ready on day one.

I'm not playing, as some people say, the gender card here in Las Vegas. I'm just trying to play the winning card.

If I knew then what I now know, I would not have voted that way.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is a serious problem. We got to rethink our trade policy.

Is there a problem? Yes. And you described what the problem is. Does that mean there's a crisis? Does that mean today we've got to privatize Social Security tomorrow? Absolutely not.

Mr. (INAUDIBLE), like the president, thinks the economy is doing just great. I don't.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Joining us now to talk all about this is someone who knows all about this. Brett O'Donnell, president of O'Donnell and Associates, he's also advising Republican presidential candidate Lindsey Graham on debate strategy and has helped prepare Mitt Romney and John McCain in past presidential races.