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AT THIS HOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA

Democratic Candidates Gearing Up for First Debate Tonight; Strategies for Winning a Debate; Trump to Live-Tweet Debate; Debate Rules. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired October 13, 2015 - 11:30   ET

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


[11:30:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: 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.

Brett, it's great to see you once again on debate day in America. Let's talk strategy here. First to Hillary Clinton. Everyone says that she obviously is a seasoned debater. She has loads of experience. We wanted -- we had asked you what was her best debate moment that you can remember. And you pointed out to this one, in the 2008 cycle, a CNN debate in Texas, when she was asked to describe a moment that tested you the most. A moment of crisis. Here's what she said. I want to get your take.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Now, no matter what happens in this contest, and I am honored, I am honored to be here with Barack Obama. I am absolutely honored.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Honored to be here with Barack Obama. And then she goes on to say, though, when describing moments of crisis in her life, that nothing though compared to what she sees happening in the lives of Americans every single day, Brett. Why is that such a breakout moment for Hillary Clinton, do you think? What does it say about tonight?

BRETT O'DONNELL, LINDSEY GRAHAM'S DEBATE COACH: Because it was a moment of authenticity and that's really the central question for Hillary. She's got a very big task tonight and that is to overcome this notion that she's not trustworthy, that has been fueled by the e- mail scandal with her and her personal server and her personal e-mails for really the last year.

And so for her tonight, she's got to have moments where she appears real, where she appears to get what the American people are going through; rather than making this about her, about making it about them. So authenticity is a very big task in front of her tonight, to appear she's real. Because Bernie Sanders is feeling that; he has got authenticity on his side. He really kind of is the Donald Trump of the Democrat Party. He represents the angst amongst Democrats that they're feeling toward Washington, and he represents that for them. But for Hillary it's about answering that e-mail scandal and then moving past that to appear trustworthy and to appear real to the American people.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: So you said Bernie Sanders has authenticity. That's what his supporters say as well. But his team says one thing he wants to prove tonight is that he can be presidential. So, how do you do that on a debate stage, Brett?

O'DONNELL: Yes, that's a tough task. I mean, I think it's a lot of intangibles. First, it's appearing competent. You have to know what you're talking about. You have to be able to know issues and discuss them intelligently on the stage. And so I think Bernie Sanders could pass that test, but he's a relatively unknown quantity.

You know, Bernie Sanders is an interesting character because he's almost symbolic rather than real to many Democrat voters. And tonight he's going to become a real person. And so his challenge is to appear more than just representative of the angst voters are feeling, but actually to appear someone who can represent them. And that's a very big challenge for him.

BOLDUAN: Now, as we mentioned at the very top, Brett, you have been advising Lindsey Graham on debate prep, and many gave him very strong reviews for many of his -- for his breakout moment in the undercard debate in the most -- in the CNN debate in California.

I want to get your take on what the three lesser known candidates need to do on the stage tonight. A lot of folks are saying they need to have breakout moments to put themselves on the map. How do you plan that, though?

O'DONNELL: Well, it's hard to plan it, but I think all of them have to come up with a message that is memorable. And they also have to come up with moments where they seize competitive advantage over their opponents on the stage.

Debates are really about being the alpha person, being the leader on the stage. And so they have to be able to take command of the stage and show that they're just as competent, just as ready to be president, as the two front-runners. And so that's going to mean going after the front-runners in some respect. I don't think that they will attack them hard, but it certainly means showing they're leaders on the stage, showing that they're up to the task. I think for Jim Webb, that means seizing the moment on foreign policy. I think for Martin O'Malley, that means advancing a message that overtakes Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

BERMAN: If they let this debate pass without a moment, they may not get another chance. Brett O'Donnell, great to have you with us. We appreciate your insight. Hopefully we'll get it after the debate as well.

BOLDUAN: And how to thread that needle, attack, don't attack, play nice, don't play nice. That's tough. BERMAN: Especially because both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders

have very high favorability among Democratic voters and that's the people you'll be attacking them before, so it does pose a really big challenge there.

All right, Donald Trump, you will be watching this debate.

[11:35:02] But where will your hands be? Twitter, Twitter. The Republican front-runner live tweeting during the debate. What could possibly go wrong?

BOLDUAN: I don't know. When John Berman writes the copy, that's what goes wrong.

Plus, the candidates are getting ready to head to the debate site for walk-throughs on the stage. We are going to bring you live coverage as soon as that begins. Their final tweaks before the big night. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:40:08] BOLDUAN: We're back here live at the Wynn Las Vegas where, tonight, in case you weren't aware, look at that massive screen in front of the hotel, the Democrats will be squaring off tonight. One stage, five candidates, millions of people watching. And political fortunes at stake. What happens here won't stay here even if you want it to, folks. It could change in the 2016 race.

BERMAN: And the clock is ticking. We put it on the screen. Hillary Clinton hoping --

BOLDUAN: We're good at that.

BERMAN: -- to open up a bigger lead in the polls, Bernie Sanders hoping to raise the enthusiasm among his supporters beyond just New Hampshire, beyond campaign rallies, too a national audience. The other candidates hoping to do essentially what Carly Fiorina did in the first Republican debate -- have a breakout moment that will have people Googling them tomorrow.

Want to talk about this more with CNN political commentators Dan Pfeiffer, Kevin Madden. Dan was a senior adviser to President Obama; Kevin, a top adviser to Mitt Romney's presidential campaigns, both presidential campaigns.

BOLDUAN: Dun dun dun.

BERMAN: Gentlemen, let me give you the context right here. We have a new poll out from Fox News. Hillary Clinton, 45 percent. Bernie Sanders, 25 percent. Joe Biden, 19 percent. As the candidates sit in their rooms today, are they looking at those polls? Are they looking away? Are they watching Pokemon reruns on TV?

Dan Pfeiffer, how are they getting ready for this?

DAN PFEIFFER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I was not expecting a Pokemon reference in 2015. That's good.

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Dating yourself, Berman.

(LAUGHTER)

PFEIFFER: Well, I think, look, they are trying to relax, trying to get their head in the game, probably going over two things. One, broader strategic objectives for the debate. Not what is every specific answer but what are they trying to get out of this? And hopefully they are going through moments. Because in our sort of new social media age, what's going to matter most are the moments that are going to get shared on Twitter and Facebook and to sort of game plan those out and rehearse those. But mainly the thing is get your candidate in the right mindset and don't get them all nervous right before the debate.

BOLDUAN: How do you do that? I mean, you -- obviously you know your candidate. You know your candidate at this point, but eight hours and 48 -- oh, there -- 47 --

MADDEN: What would we do without that?

BOLDUAN: I don't know, I really just don't know. At this point, how do you learn that about your candidate? How do you know Mitt Romney likes to be around Ann and the kids. He wants to stay by himself. He wants a massage. Like --

BERMAN: George W. Bush.

PFEIFFER: And John Berman.

BOLDUAN: Let's not get into that.

MADDEN: Look, these -- the campaigns have been working on this now. You become a close unit when you're working on a campaign for this long of a time. They know their candidates very well. They know the big themes that they want to drive. They know where the candidate's strengths and weaknesses are. So Dan's right, at this point right now, one of the big risks is overpreparing and you want to spend the rest this day just thinking what are the big ideas that I want to leave the audience after when this debate's over tonight ? And then concentrate on driving those big themes.

BERMAN: You know, I was struck, Dan, the debate isn't just now a two-hour moment on TV. I mean, we've been here for days. There are big billboards out here, getting national coverage. Hillary Clinton last night swoops into Las Vegas and goes to the Donald Trump hotel and goes to a Culinary Union rally and calls out the Republican front- runner. I think we have some sound from that. Let's play that right here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: Some people think Mr. Trump is entertaining, but I don't think it's entertaining when somebody insults immigrants, insults women. If you are going to run for president, then you should represent all the people of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: To me this seemed like a smart political move. You whack the GOP front-runner and you also try to build support among a key, key organizational group right here. And it's not about just winning the debate; it's about winning sort of the debate week.

PFEIFFER: Right. You need to -- two things here. One is a micropolitical objective and macro. The macro is Donald Trump is a great foil for Democrats. We're here. The Trump Tower is behind us.

MADDEN: Literally looming over the debate site.

PFEIFFER: And, but also the Culinary Workers are the most important constituency group in Nevada. And in 2007, in 2008, they endorsed Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton. So it's important for her to get this endorsement over Bernie Sanders who will have potential because of his position on the income inequality, et cetera, to garner some support with them.

But also the debate is about not -- as you point out, just two hours on the stage, it is the entire week, the time afterwards, and you can't go dark the day before the debate. You don't want to cede that to someone else.

BOLDUAN: That poses an interesting kind of -- maybe a challenge in the way campaigns are in this day and age. Do you know immediately after the debate, we won it, we didn't, let's go to the spin room? You don't even need to go to the spin room anymore because everyone is tweeting about it.

MADDEN: Yes, nowadays with Twitter, it becomes a virtual spin room, and that -- the handicapping of who won or lost is taking place while the debate's going on.

[11:45:05] I remember in Denver in 2012, probably 30 minutes into the race -- into debate, we knew the Romney campaign had won that debate.

BERMAN: Not according to Dan Pfeiffer.

(CROSSTALK)

PFEIFFER: We were in Chicago. We knew.

ROMNEY: They knew. See? So, that is something -- and what you want to do is capitalize on that.

I think the big challenge for Hillary Clinton will be in the days after this debate, because something is going to be said about the e- mail, something is going to be said about the Benghazi committee, that may not add up. And Republicans are going to move very quickly to fill that void and to really start drawing, again, a negative frame around Hillary Clinton and anything she said and fact-checking it. So that will be I think something I'm going to be watching is the 24 hours after this debate. BOLDUAN: Absolutely. We're all going to be watching, not just

because we have to. Just kidding. We want to.

Dan Pfeiffer, Kevin Madden, it's great to see you.

MADDEN: Great to be with you.

BOLDUAN: Thanks so much. They were at the craps table, not going to lie.

All right, so he is not here tonight but he is sure going to try and make sure he is part of tonight's debate. How Donald Trump is promising to make to make his voice heard. Any guesses on what Donald Trump is likely to think of the Democrats' debate performance?

BERMAN: Plus, keeping the candidates in line. No notes allowed. Don't you dare break the rules or you will feel the wrath of Anderson Cooper.

BOLDUAN: Ouch, that would be crazy.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:50:57] BERMAN: Welcome back to Las Vegas. Donald Trump will not be on the stage tonight -- you can see the stage, it's a live look at it right now -- but he wants to be part of the debate. This morning he announced on Twitter, "At the request of many, and even though I expect it to be a very boring two hours, I will be covering the Democratic debate on Twitter."

BOLDUAN: The man who has shown that he has an opinion about most everyone and most everything, something that the supporters love and his rivals poke fun at, well, a running commentary from the GOP front- runner, it should noteworthy at the very least.

Dylan Byers is here with us now, CNN's senior media and politics reporter. Dylan, it's great to see you today on another debate day.

DYLAN BYERS, CNN SNEIOR MEDIA & POLITICS REPORTER: Hello, how are you?

BOLDUAN: So what are you hearing and do you think of this latest Donald Trump move? Is it a genius way of making -- inserting yourself in the conversation?

BYERS: Oh yes, totally, I mean it's like his reality television savvy. So the first two debates are really about him, and he brings all of the ratings. And if there's a debate --

BOLDUAN: According to him.

BYERS: According to him. And if there's a debate that he actually just can't go to, well, why not just tweet about it and bring some of the attention back on himself? I mean, I think the real savvy media move would have been to show up here in Vegas rather than do it in the comfort of his home, but whatever. BOLDUAN: Whatever.

BERMAN: But, you know, it speaks to the current television watching generation. This is how the people watch the Oscars. This is how people watch the Super Bowl. You sit there and you tweet during it. So Donald Trump is just like all of us.

BYERS: He's just like you.

BOLDUAN: Just like "Us Weekly" magazine, just like that.

BYERS: Just like you.

No, look, I mean I think that Donald Trump knows that he has this huge fan base out there who's just -- whether they love him or hate him, they're just waiting to see what he says. He says the debate's a boring debate, but I'm sure he'll be there tweeting for all two hours of it, and it'll be interesting to see what he says, and interesting to see if the media picks up on any f it.

BOLDUAN: In talking about tweeting, and we were talking about this actually in our last segment about how to capitalize on this moment carrying forward, how important are not just pushing your message and pitching to voters but making a viral moment so it carries past tonight into the rest of the campaign?

BYERS: So I would say that's especially important in this debate because the ratings are going to be significantly lower than the Republican debates, right? And you've got a lot of people on stage who aren't named Hillary Clinton and there's a lot of things at stake for them. Conventional wisdom is they stay in their lanes, they just sort of present their policies, and we have a boring debate, as Donald Trump would say.

But if you are Bernie Sanders and especially if you're Martin O'Malley, Jim Webb, or Lincoln Chafee, you have to do something here that's going to carry over to tomorrow and through the rest of the week that all the Americans out there who aren't watching this debate are going to see and pay attention to. I mean, you have to sort of have that one-liner, you have to land that punch that drives headlines and drives the conversation for the next 72 to 96 hours.

BOLDUAN; You need to go viral and for a good reason on this debate. Great to see you, Dylan.

BYERS: Good to see you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much.

So no phones, sorry John, no notes, no props --

BERMAN: It's all right.

BOLDUAN: But what about the poker chips? The rules are always an important part of any debate,. Ahead, we're going to lay out those very important debate rules for you. BERMAN: And I should also tell you, at the top of the hour, we're going to be answering your questions live from the CNN Facebook lounge. You can go over to facebook.com/cnn, send us any questions you have.

[11:54:20]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: The first Democratic presidential showdown to take place just hours from now.

BERMAN: Here's one piece of free advice to the candidates: Do not mess with Anderson. There are rules. Tome Foreman has the details.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Five candidates are expected to be on the stage when the debate begins and they will be arrayed according to their strength in the polls right now, so Hillary Clinton with the biggest numbers will be in the middle. The others spread out on either side. Their strength in the polls will also determine their order in terms of opening and closing statements.

Candidates cannot bring anything like a phone or a tablet or notes or a prop onto stage of any sort. They will each have a pad of paper and a pen and they will some water if they need it.

And what are they going to face? It will be an all-CNN panel this time around. The moderator will be our own Anderson Cooper,. Dana Bash and Juan Carlos Lopez will also be on stage with him. Don Lemon will be watching Facebook and Instagram, fielding questions there and presenting those to the candidates.

They will each have one minute to answer a direct question of any sort. And if they're brought up in somebody else's answer or accused of something, they will have 30 second rebuttal. However, they will also get a warning from a light to tell them they're running out of time. And if Anderson feels like they should be able to go on a little further for clarity, or some other reason, he can let them do so. And you can bet these candidates out here on the fringes in particular will want every second they can get to try to make an impression, rise in the polls, and be closer to the middle next time around.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[12:00:05] BOLDUAN: Tom Foreman, thank you so much. Just as easy as that. Thank you all so much for joining us AT THIS HOUR. We're going to back here tomorrow live from Vegas again with all the drama from the debate.