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CNN America's Choice 2016; Final Hour of Voting Underway in South Carolina; Clinton Returns to South Carolina After Campaigning in Alabama; South Carolina Polls About to Close, Results Minutes Away. Aired 6-7:00p ET

Aired February 27, 2016 - 18:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:00:07] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: This time, it's the Democrats' turn to choose in South Carolina.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Can Hillary Clinton close the deal, or will Bernie Sanders surprise again heading into Super Tuesday?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Right now the democratic candidates fighting for their first primary victory in the south.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The fight goes on, the future that we want is within our grasp.

ANNOUNCER: It's the last chance for triumph before the race goes national on Super Tuesday.

BERNIE SANDERS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You have a chance to make history.

ANNOUNCER: Who will have the advantage heading into the biggest round of voting yet? It's South Carolina's choice. Tonight in the battle for the democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton re-energized by her win in Nevada working to knock out her opponent and take control of the race for good.

CLINTON: Going to wrap up the nomination and then we're going to win this election.

ANNOUNCER: Bernie Sanders trying to spread his political revolution to the South and prove he can go the distance as the campaign moves cross-country.

SANDERS: We are actually listening to the American people, not the one percent.

ANNOUNCER: It could be a game changing contest in a state where African-American voters are a powerful force and both Democrats urgently need their support.

SANDERS: Stand up, take back your own government. CLINTON: I don't want to rant and rail. I want to get things done.

ANNOUNCER: Now, it's time for voters to have their say as Clinton aims to be the only star on stage.

CLINTON: That is why I need you, my friend, more than ever!

ANNOUNCER: And Sanders battles to steals the show.

SANDERS: We are gaining steam every day.

ANNOUNCER: South Carolina is choosing. The race is anything but predictable. And it's moving into overdrive right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in the CNN Election Center. We're counting down to a little under an hour from now when the Palmetto State polls will close and when we could get some hard results and some initial indications of who could take this state. Hillary Clinton is hoping South Carolina's Democrats show up today. The polls heading into tonight show Clinton with a strong lead. She'll need to maximize turnout to claim victory here. A South Carolina win would boost Clinton's campaign into the all-important Super Tuesday when more than a third of all the democratic delegates needed to win the democratic presidential nomination will be up for grabs.

It's so important Bernie Sanders is spending a primary night right now in a Super Tuesday state instead of South Carolina. He's in Minnesota one of the states his campaign thinks he can pick up in a few days. CNN is standing by with both Clinton and Sanders' campaign. Tonight, we're watching tonight what's going on.

I want to go right to Brianna Keilar, she's over at Hillary Clinton's headquarters. Brianna, they feel pretty upbeat, pretty confident over there.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: They sure do, Wolf. Hillary Clinton was actually in Alabama today. She touched down in South Carolina a short time ago ahead of this key primary tonight. And you know, she and aides are pretty relaxed about this idea that they are going to secure a win here. But make no mistake, they are watching the spread. What they would really love to see is Hillary Clinton give Bernie Sanders a shellacking like he gave her in New Hampshire. And they feel that if she can achieve that, she will be very well positioned to open up a big lead coming into Super Tuesday by the end of Super Tuesday, a Bernie Sanders by about 100 delegates, that is their aim at this point.

But if she can win and best Bernie Sanders by as much as 22 points, that is something, Wolf, that is going to be sweeter than the strawberry cupcakes that Hillary Clinton bought in Alabama, in Birmingham, today, which were I understand promptly devoured by her staff which has spending many, many hours on the ground here and in Super Tuesday states -- Wolf. BLITZER: It sound delicious, Brianna. All right. Stand by over

there. Brianna Keilar with the Hillary Clinton campaign. Jeff Zeleny is with the Sanders campaign tonight in Rochester, Minnesota. Jeff, what are his advisers telling you?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Senator Sanders is going to arrive here in a few hours, about three hours or so. He's actually still outside Dallas where he's been rallying supporters. But there's no question they wanted to get as far away from South Carolina as possible. Their advisers do not believe a win is possible, is within reach. They're hoping to minimize a massive defeat there. But they are going to forward. They are saying that this is a delegate fight. How Democrats pick their nominees are all by delegates. It's not winner take all. It's not how many states you win. It's the delegates.

So they are looking at Minnesota, at Colorado, at Massachusetts, at Vermont, at Oklahoma. But, Wolf, the reality here is that this race may change tonight. The dynamic of this Democratic race may change tonight. Just a week ago, it's important to remember, the Sanders campaign and thought they had a potential win on hand in Nevada. That didn't happen here. So, this is the end of the beginning of the first of four contests. This race is about to go national so quickly here. So, the Sanders campaign is trying to say that look, next week will be much better than tonight. But Wolf, that matters in this campaign. So, if tonight is bad, the Sanders campaign is going to have to remind their supporters that they should stay in it for a long time to come.

[18:05:34] BLITZER: All right. Jeff Zeleny in Rochester, Minnesota. I want to go to our anchor, Chief Washington Correspondent Jake Tapper. He has got more. Jake?

JAKE TAPPER, FOX NEWS CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. You know, it's so interesting, and let me bring in Dana Bash and David Chalian just to talk about this along with you, Wolf. Is that, this is such an indication of the day is night, night is day contest, comparing Hillary Clinton in 2008. She lost South Carolina by almost 30 points to Barack Obama.

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right.

TAPPER: But now we don't know the results are, but now it looks as though Bernie Sanders doesn't feel he even can compete in the state so much that he has not spent much of the week in South Carolina.

BASH: That's right. It is completely different. And in large part because Hillary Clinton is running to effectively be the third term of Barack Obama.

TAPPER: That's right.

BASH: You know, in years past, when you say you're running as a third term, it was a negative. But she's embracing it wholeheartedly. In and South Carolina it's one place where it's definitely a big plus. And David, as I bring you in to talk about the exit polls, what are you seeing about the issue that we have seen debated back and forth between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, which is race and specifically how they appeal to African-Americans?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN PRODUCER: Right. So, you remember last Saturday when we were talking about the Nevada caucuses we talked about it being the first big test of a less white electorate for Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. We saw that played out. That gets much more dramatic today in South Carolina. We have some early exit poll results. These numbers will change as more exit pollsters, the results get back to us. These are the early indications right now. Take a look at the racial breakdown of the electorate today in South Carolina. It is 61 percent black. We've talked before about majority African-American electorate in South Carolina. In 2008, it was 55 percent black.

Today so far 61 percent Black, 35 percent White. That is obviously a dramatically different electorate, makeup of the electorate racially, than we've seen anywhere in the other three earlier contests. The other question that we asked today, which was getting a sense that people felt that race relations better, worse, about the same than they were over the last few years. And take a look at this. Nine percent of Democrats in South Carolina say race relations have gotten better over the last few years, 34 percent say they've stayed the same. And 46 percent say that race relations has gotten worse over the last few years. That's everyone, Dana. But when we look at just Black voters, it's the same. Forty five percent of African-American voters today in South Carolina say that race relations have gotten worse over the last few years.

TAPPER: It's staggering. In 2008 the racial breakdown was 55 percent of the voters, democratic voters, were African-American. To vote for Barack Obama in large part.

CHALIAN: Right. I mean, the first Black president or you know, potential president on the ballot in 2008. And now we see it even a greater, blacker electorate among the South Carolina Democrats today than in 2008.

BASH: The other part of the poll that you were looking at, which is race relations, it might not be that much of a surprise given the tragedy that we saw there. You were down in Charleston covering it.

TAPPER: Right. There have been a few tragedies in South Carolina.

BASH: A few. A few, that's right. But, you know, the big one that we remember, you know, a white man going in and shooting up a black church. So perhaps it's not, you know, for those of us who don't live there, it's not that much of a surprise.

CHALIAN: And remember, these candidates, both of them have been campaigning on improving race relations.

BASH: Right.

CHALIAN: That's been a big thrust of the campaign in South Carolina. So you're right, perhaps it's not terribly surprising when sort of all the message is about how to improve something that people would feel that race relations have gotten worse. TAPPER: And it's also just in terms of differentiation, if you look

at Clinton and Sanders and the messages that they were conveying at the beginning of their campaigns and how they're talking now, they have adapted to where the electorate is, to where the Democratic electorate is. That is not the case when it comes to the Republicans with the exception of Donald Trump -- Anderson.

COOPER: Jake, we're going to come back to you shortly.

We've got our panel here, Donna Brazile, CNN political commentator and Democratic strategist. Nia-Malika Henderson, CNN Senior political reporter. David Axelrod, CNN senior political commentator and former senior adviser to the Obama White House. Gloria Borger, CNN chief political commentator. Also Van Jones, CNN political commentator, former Obama administration official. Paul Begala, CNN political commentator, democratic strategist and advisor to Priorities USA Action a Super PAC backing Hillary Clinton. Bakari Sellers, CNN political commentator, Hillary Clinton supporter and former South Carolina State Representative. And S.E. Cupp, CNN political commentator.

Bakari, let me start off with you. From South Carolina, what do you make of the South Carolina turnout, 60 percent of the vote African- American compared to 55 percent last time? Is it more enthusiasm, or is it just greater population turning out? And also, the belief among African-Americans and the general electorate in those exit polls of racial tensions being worse?

[18:10:41] BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think that Dana hit the nail on the head. In South Carolina we have extremely heavy hearts talking about the African-American populations. One of my good friends was murdered while he was pastoring Bible study just in July of this year.

COOPER: You think it's affected --

SELLERS: Not only that, but you've had Walter Scott. I mean, we've just had this cascade of racial issues going on in the state. We just took the confederate flag down recently. We're not that far removed. So, yes, I think African-Americans, I think that there is this new vein that we are more participatory. We are more eager to play our role in this election. And I think that Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders actually saw that in this race because African-Americans were really tuned into this race because of all the heartache, because of all the tragedy that we felt in South Carolina. So this is a unique cycle. It really is. And I'm very proud of the 61 percent number. I can't lie. That makes me smile, that makes my heart joyous.

COOPER: Van Jones? I mean, do you think, there's obviously greater discussion about race in America, has been over the last several years. Do you think that contributes to a feeling of things that is worse or the other way to look at it is it's actually getting better because at least folks are talking about it.

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, you know, it's hard to know. I do think a couple of things we've got to watch. We know the percentages are more, but we don't know if the numbers are more.

COOPER: Right.

JONES: So, I'm very, very interested to see Hillary Clinton may be able to win over the Black vote. I'm curious, has she really been able to energize and elevate the black vote? We just don't know yet. I do think though this has been a very, very tough year for the African-American community. I think it's -- this is the first time that I've seen, though, a politician really in both parties being responsive in some way. You did have in the Republican Party, give some credit where it's due, Republican leaders who said, I'm concerned about some of these videos that we're seeing. I'm concern about criminal justice. That's a very good thing. And you've now seen a very vigorous conversation in the party both with Bernie and with Hillary about some of these underlying issues. I think that's a positive thing. You've got to be able to identify the problem before you can fix it.

COOPER: We don't know turnout numbers yet at this point, Paul Begala but what we do know is that in past primaries and caucuses on the democratic side, the turnout has not been more than it has been, say, in 2008. But on the Republican side it does seem like voter turnout is elevated. I mean, is there more enthusiasm on the Republican side?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: There is. And that keeps me up at night.

COOPER: It does?

BEGALA: Oh, man. We're not on the air, I was going to --

(LAUGHTER)

I mean, yes. Turnout -- not turnout. The enthusiasm gap is really serious. I saw a survey a few weeks ago. Seventy one percent of conservatives say they're excited about this election. Seventy one. Only 40 percent of millennials, the heart of -- a heart, one big part of the democratic base, it's a 30-point gap between some of my parties' best voters and Republicans best voters. But the campaigns are doing their job, though. They're going in and they're targeting Bernie Sanders but they had 200 staffers in South Carolina.

COOPER: Right.

BEGALA: More staffers in South Carolina than he had in Iowa. He spent a million dollars. He may not win. He may shock the world. But what he's doing is he's going to the base and the heart of the party. It's -- the Republicans are looking to the establishment, which no longer exists, to save them. The Democrats are looking at the grassroots base to reenergize us. And I think it's terrific.

COOPER: That sounded good.

BEGALA: Yes.

(LAUGHTER) COOPER: Donna Brazile, what do you make of tonight? What are you going to be looking for?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, as you all know, eight years ago South Carolina turned the tide in a democratic race. It was a remarkable show of support where previously they were supporting Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama spoke to the issues that galvanized African-American voters. South Carolina is important because next week you have at least six states that have a large percentage of African-Americans. And so if South Carolina, if Clinton has a firewall, the question is, will Bernie Sanders be able to break it? I'll be looking to tonight to see how tough, how strong, how incredible, remarkable that firewall is.

COOPER: Does the firewall hold? Does it rise?

BRAZILE: Yes. We'll see. And that's what I'm looking for tonight.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes. And I think that firewall depends largely on what Black women decide to do.

COOPER: Right.

HENDERSON: Do they show up? Do they back Hillary Clinton or do they back Bernie Sanders? Bernie Sanders has been in South Carolina. He's been there trying to connect with the younger black voters on the campuses of HBCU. But I do think Hillary Clinton probably made a more targeted effort towards black women after she -- one of her first speeches after she left the State Department was before a black sorority, the Delta's. And she also one of her first trip when she went to South Carolina in May was before black women, entrepreneurs. So I think that's going to be interesting to see what Black women do in this race.

[18:15:19] DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, one of the things that we should point out and Donna is an expert on this because she's been involved in the democratic structure for a long time, our party and now I speak in my role as a former democratic operative, awards delegates according to the performance of districts. So, if you have a super democratic district, Congressional district, you get more delegates in that district. So if you have an advantage among African-American voters, you get a bonus there because those districts are going to have more delegates than less democratic districts. So if Hillary Clinton performs well tonight as is expected among African-Americans and especially turnout would be good news for her there. She's also going to come away with a big catch of delegates.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I think if she wins and wins by a wide margin, it will be really momentum building for her, as you head into Super Tuesday. Couple of things that I want to look at, though, are the young voter turnout, see whether it's enthusiastic as we saw for Bernie Sanders in the past or not. Also for Hillary Clinton, I think you have to look at how White men and White women vote because she has historically -- and you can certainly speak to this -- had a problem with White male voters. And we'll see how they turn out.

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, and surprisingly in this election she's had trouble with women.

BORGER: Right.

CUPP: Bernie Sanders has been really clobbering her with women. We saw in coming out of Nevada was really the first time she was able to walk away with the support of women Democrats. I'm very interested to see in South Carolina if she can sort of double down and say, I can win with women, as the woman who's campaigning to be the first woman president.

BORGER: Younger women.

COOPER: Yes. A lot -- our panelists are going to be looking for in the hours ahead. Let's go back to Jake.

TAPPER: Thanks, Anderson. One of the big issues that Hillary Clinton has been able to differentiate herself from Bernie Sanders on and one of the rare ones she's able to do it from the Left has to do with gun control, further restrictions on gun ownership. And that has been a salient issue in South Carolina as our panel was just discussing, especially in light of the shooting of Walter Scott, an unarmed African-American shot in the back by a policeman who was charged with murder last April and then the June 2015 shooting at the church. I'm interested to know what effect Hillary Clinton's argument that gun control is necessary before this democratic electorate has had on the people turning out for the polls today.

BASH: That's right. And you have some numbers on that. What do they show?

CHALIAN: I do. First, let's look at gun owners versus non-gun owners in the electorate overall. So, take a look at this. Among South Carolina Democrats today, 41 percent tell us in our exit poll that they are gun owners, 59 percent do not own a gun. Then we asked, which is more important to you, reducing gun violence or protecting gun rights? Take a look at this. Eighty four percent say reducing gun violence is the higher priority. Fourteen percent say protecting gun rights. And guys, here's where it gets really interesting because that doesn't surprise you in a democratic electorate. You would expect numbers like that. Among the gun owners here, seven and ten -- 70 percent of them say reducing gun violence is the higher priority than protecting gun rights. That's among gun owners.

BASH: It's so amazing because those of us who have covered democratic politics for the past, what, 15 years know that Democrats have not wanted to talk about guns at all because they've been worried that it would hurt them in red states, South Carolina is a red state. So, the fact that gun owners even there are saying that they are open to gun restrictions kind of remarkable. It shows you why Hillary Clinton has been saying the kinds of things she's been saying.

CHALIAN: I mean, Jake, I remember back on your show last summer, early on in this contest, when you had Bernie Sanders on and had a real lengthy conversation with him about his gun record. From that moment on basically, I think it sort of became the defining differentiating issue for a large part of the time of this democratic campaign between Clinton and Sanders.

TAPPER: And it's one -- like I said it's one of the only areas where Hillary Clinton is actually the Bernie Sanders' left. And his explanation is that he is from a rural state, Vermont, where there is very little gun control and also very little gun violence. His argument is also that he has generally voted in favor of gun control, which is true. But there are four or five votes that Hillary Clinton has been able to point to and say, well, what about when you voted for immunity for gun manufacturers or ammunition manufacturers? What about your support for bringing guns on trains? And no matter how small the legislation is, she has been able to point to it.

[18:20:14] BASH: She has. And clearly it is one of the areas that has been successful for her. It is kind of remarkable when you think about it that she has taken such a strong stand against Bernie Sanders as you said from the Left, given how terrified frankly Democrats have been, not of the democratic electorate per se but in looking in trying to bring in Democrats from more rural areas because they have been very pro-gun historically.

CHALIAN: This is part of Hillary Clinton seeking out not just in the primary process but also looking ahead to the general the Obama coalition as her path to victory, right? And so, where she may have taken positions let's say in the 2008 primary she would look ahead to the general and then sort of be afraid of certain position --

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: When the president called her Annie Oakley.

TAPPER: Yes.

BASH: Right.

CHALIAN: But then looking up to the general, now it's the same. She is looking at the primary and the general the same but it's all about the Obama coalition.

BASH: That's right.

TAPPER: Democratic presidential nominees have not made a big issue about this, Wolf. Not Al Gore, not John Kerry, and it wasn't until after the shootings in Connecticut, Sandy Hook, which was after he was reelected that President Obama started talking about it in a major way.

BLITZER: Right. And Bernie Sanders kept saying, he has a D-minus rating from the NRA, the National Rifle Association. Not enough but a D-minus rating on that point.

We're only minutes away from the polls closing in South Carolina. State officials there have described the turnout as steady at some precincts. So, will enough voters turn out to give Bernie Sanders a chance to narrowing the gap with Hillary Clinton? We're about to find out. This is CNN special coverage.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:25:36] BLITZER: We're counting down a little bit more than half an hour from now. The polls close in South Carolina, the Democratic Presidential Primary. That's when we'll be able to share some hard numbers with you and also share more information from the exit polls we've been conducting all day.

I want to go over to CNN's John King, he's over here. Well, South Carolina very important state right now for Hillary Clinton. She has to win but she wants to win decisively if possible.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: She does because we're turning now. This is the last stop in what I call the momentum phase of the campaign. You have Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, now South Carolina. Then we get into the packed busy primary nights like Super Tuesday. So, this is the last one-state stop. And Hillary Clinton wants to win big. Why? Let's come back out for just a second. Right now, in terms of the pledge delegates, those you win on primary day, those you win on caucus day, essentially even. Hillary Clinton up one because of her win in Nevada. She had a healthy win in Nevada where she wants a huge win in South Carolina because this as Donna was just saying a few moments ago, often is a decisive state in the nominating process. What is she looking for here?

The most important thing for Hillary tonight is how did she do? What are her percentages and what are the turnout among African-Americans. The deeper the shading in the different parts of the state, the higher the percentage of African-American voters in those areas. So, you can see in South Carolina, in the Democratic Primary, we know the African- American population will be a majority, the question is how much of a majority in the voting today. That's one of the things we'll be looking for. And then, why is South Carolina so important? Well, let's just pull the map out a little bit, let's close this down.

After South Carolina, the race essentially is played out down here. And you see a significant African-American population. Hillary Clinton wants a big win in South Carolina, get the margin, get the biggest basket of delegates. And why is this so important? Well, let's turn of the demographics for a second and take you back in time to 2008. Obama Obama Obama Obama Obama. This is where the race changed. Once we got into the state where the African-Americans are the majority of the population, Obama won, let me turn this apart off -- Obama won South Carolina with 55 percent.

He came next door and won in Georgia with 66 percent. He came over and won Alabama with 56 percent. He won here in Mississippi with 61 percent. And he won Louisiana with 57 percent. So winning and winning by a healthy margin and as David Axelrod and Donna were talking about earlier in those democratic districts with African- American voters, you start to pick up big delegates. And that is Hillary Clinton's big goal tonight. Because she knows Bernie Sanders says, he's in it until the end. He wants to stay in the race. What she's hoping is, after South Carolina tonight, she proves that she can win the most African-American votes, carry that momentum through the South on Super Tuesday to convince Bernie Sanders, you're not going to be able to catch me. Tone it down. That's her biggest goal.

BLITZER: In addition to the earned delegates, he has got a lot of super delegates. She starts off with a huge advantage.

KING: But the last thing she wants is to get to the end of this race and need those super delegates to put her over the top. She wants to win a majority. And the way to get a majority and I'll show you this a little bit later. As we get the results, and we can make some guesses as we look forward, the way for her to pull away we expect a lot of these contests where we move on to be relatively close. If she has an advantage among African-American voters in South Carolina, if she can keep it as she moves through the South, that's where she can start to get a healthy delegate lead that she will need when you have more competitive contests later on.

BLITZER: Good point. All right. John, thank you. Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: Wolf, thanks. Let's turn to our reporters and our analysts, Gloria Borger, David Axelrod and Nia-Malika Henderson. When we see 60 percent of the voters in the polls right now are African-American, the other possibility is that there are simply fewer White voters turning out. We don't have actual numbers yet, but that's another possibility for why the percentage of African-American voters would be higher.

AXELROD: Could be. It also could be proportionate. We'll wait to see. What's so interesting to me as someone who was involved in that Obama campaign in 2008 and looking at the map was that you can almost reverse the colors in this race.

BORGER: Right. Yep.

AXELROD: This time, it's the African-American vote that is making Hillary Clinton such a formidable candidate. And it's interesting to me that she's cleaved so closely to Barack Obama. You might say Barack Obama has become her firewall in this campaign.

(LAUGHTER)

COOPER: And if she dominates in South Carolina among African-American voters, does that have carry over effect in this other southern --

BORGER: Yes.

AXELROD: I think it's very predictive.

BORGER: Yes.

AXELROD: I think that if I were the Sanders campaign and I looked at these numbers, I would be concerned about Super Tuesday because what's going to happen is she's going to start, if it goes -- if she has a good night tonight and it's reflected again Tuesday in the states that John mentioned, she's going to start building an inexorable lead. And the way the democratic system is set up, you know, you get proportional delegate. So it's very hard -- nobody leaves empty- handed so it's very hard to catch up once you fall behind. BORGER: You kind of do get an effort grade in the democratic --

AXELROD: That's how Democrats roll.

BORGER: Right.

COOPER: So, what does Bernie Sanders do, then?

[18:30:09] BORGER: Well, he goes to Minnesota, Colorado, Vermont, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, and says that he's going to keep rolling up the delegates. But I think at a certain point you can't say, OK, I'm going to lose among African-American voters by such a huge margin and win the democratic nomination. And you know, you have to see what happens on Super Tuesday. He has to prove that he can have a more diverse support, and that's what he almost did in Nevada, tried to do in Nevada, did not succeed but came close, and he has to show that. Or else you want to talk about establishment and parties going crazy like they are in the Republican Party? Then the democratic establishment is going to say at a certain point, if you can't show that you have a diverse base, you can't become the nominee. And you're only taking down Hillary Clinton.

HENDERSON: Because the path that Democrats have taken to the White House has been through African-American communities and Latino communities. Obama did I think 80 percent, 90 percent of non-White voters and only 40 percent of White voters. So, if you're Bernie Sanders, I mean, the narrative that, listen, I want to start a political revolution, but that political revolution only happens in White States, that's a bit of a problem.

AXELROD: There's also -- there's also -- there's also --

(CROSSTALK)

HENDERSON: -- on college campuses.

CUPP: That's the thing. Is his strength among millennials going to match her strength among African-Americans? And you know, historically millennial turnout, youth vote turnout, is not very good. It was huge for Barack Obama, as I've said before. They could have all stayed home and he still would have won. That's how little the turnout is. I don't think Bernie Sanders can make the argument, that I'll see your African-American vote and I'll raise you a millennial vote. They're just not the same numbers.

COOPER: Right. Because one of the arguments Bernie Sanders has been making is, well, I'm bringing all these people -- look at my rallies, we've got all this enthusiasm.

CUPP: Right.

COOPER: But again --

AXELROD: It's not showing up --

COOPER: Right. AXELROD: It's not really showing up in the turnout numbers. One

thing that's going to be interesting to look at tonight is, is he showing progress among younger African-American voters? Are African- American millennials responding to him? That would be something he'd be hoping for. If it doesn't happen, that's the toehold he needs in the --

COOPER: And you have killer Mike, you have Spike Lee, you have others who have turned out for Bernie Sanders trying to kind of mobilize and you see this kind of generational almost divide.

JONES: Yes. I think we have to start asking why. Why is Hillary Clinton able to achieve this? I remember in 2008, you know, my relatives were furious with Hillary Clinton because they felt she was being so unfair to Barack Obama. And yet those same church mothers who were so protective of him have turned to her. There is a reason.

COOPER: Don't they teach forgiveness?

(LAUGHTER)

JONES: Well, you know more about forgiveness in South Carolina.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Forgetfulness.

JONES: Forgetfulness Saturday. Don't forget what this is.

(CROSSTALK)

Yes. But there's also strategy and there's also philosophy. The Black community is very sophisticated. The one that -- Bernie Sanders thinks he's running against Hillary Clinton. He's actually running against someone named Kimberly Crenshaw, the African-American academic legal scholar who coined the term "intersectionality." She has made the point, you can't just talk about class or just race or just gender. You have to talk about them all of altogether. Hillary Clinton has taken that insight and built a brilliant campaign around that. So she says, listen, it's not just about class it's about all of this together. Well, that argument has been going on in the black community -- has been won in the Black community for a long time. She tapped into it. Bernie has not.

SELLERS: Part of that to highlight it, in 2008, I say that Hillary Clinton is pro-choice, I'm going to go in and get every pastor I know. Barack Obama and David Axelrod they went in and took the congregation from right up under her. But Hillary Clinton this time she went and she studied the quarter of shame. She talked about the environmental injustices, the educational injustices and mixed it all up. And that's the intersectionality. And Bernie Sanders has had a hard time pivoting from Wall Street to these other issues that the African- American community has been clamoring to hear about.

BRAZILE: All right. It's also about relationships. And the one thing that I think we should also point out is that Hillary Clinton's relationship with Black women, Black voters, Black pastors go back decades. SELLERS: Decades. Before I was born.

BRAZILE: Well, of course.

SELLERS: You had to say that.

BRAZILE: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

You know what? Really? But these ties --

(CROSSTALK)

SELLERS: -- Over there.

(LAUGHTER)

BRAZILE: But her relationships, her ties, her bonds -- I don't want to say they're unbreakable because they're breakable, of course.

BORGER: They broke in 2008.

BRAZILE: In large part because we had a superstar who understood as Bakari said, how to go and get the congregation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

[18:35:05] BRAZILE: And so, this battle here I think that Bernie Sanders will learn from tonight because he has to learn when you go into Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi, et cetera. You have to go in there not trying to break those ties but to build some new ones. You can do it.

HENDERSON: Yes. And it's partly, if you look at the people Hillary Clinton has surrounded herself with, yes, it's Kimberly Grenshaw's philosophy and the people like my heiress who is a policy aide, Karen Finney as well, she's put together a really --

SELLERS: Of all Black women.

HENDERSON: A lot of brilliant Black women.

SELLERS: Brilliant.

HENDERSON: Exactly.

SELLERS: Brilliant Black women I give you credit.

COOPER: We have to take a quick break. We are minutes away from the polls closing in South Carolina. Hillary Clinton's campaign obviously banking on a very big win there. Can she generate enough momentum to run the table on Super Tuesday when a third all democratic delegates can be up for grabs? We'll check in with the campaigns after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:39:42] BLITZER: We're only about 20 minutes or so away from the top of the hour. That's when we'll be able to share with you for the first time some hard election numbers coming in from the South Carolina Democratic Presidential Primary. Also exit poll results. Stand by for that. I want to go over to Bernie Sanders' headquarters.

Jeff Zeleny is standing by over there. I see a microphone behind you, Jeff. I assume at some point we'll hear it tonight from Bernie Sanders.

ZELENY: We absolutely will, Wolf. He's in the air right now flying from just outside of Dallas, Texas, here to Minnesota. And it's -- when we analyze these numbers, elections are of course all about the numbers. A couple of numbers stand out to us today, 17,000. That is the number of people he addressed today in two rallies in Texas. First was in Austin, then it was right outside Dallas. Of course, he's keeping an eye on the Tuesday, Super Tuesday primary in Texas. And then he is flying here to Minnesota. He believes that Minnesota is a place where he can do well because of the liberal nature of the state.

Of course it's a state of Paul Wellstone, it's the state that has, you know, deep liberal tradition that fits his politics very well. But also looking at the numbers today, Wolf, how much he's spent in South Carolina is something to absolutely take into account. He spent nearly $2 million in television ads. Spike Lee was on the radio there for him. You could not watch TV, you could not drive across the state without seeing Bernie Sanders on television or listening to Bernie Sanders. We'll find out if the investment paid off tonight. He also had almost 200 staffers on the ground there. So it's not that Bernie Sanders was not making an investment in South Carolina.

The question we'll find out tonight is if it's worth it and what that means going forward in these other southern primaries in the other primaries across the country here. But when you talk to his advisers, they will say, look, this is a delegate fight. He will do very well in convict tests in March here. But there's no question here, Wolf, this is a turning point. Democrats realize this is a turning point. And the question for Bernie Sanders is, will he change his rhetoric at all? He was pretty aggressive on his rival today throughout his rallies in Texas, across the board on issues. Will he change his tone at all as his campaign goes forward into March? When some 56 percent of the delegates are picked in the month of March -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Super Tuesday only a few days away. That's why he's heading to Rochester, Minnesota, where you are. We'll of course have live coverage of his speech later tonight.

I want to go over to Clinton Headquarters right now. She's over in South Carolina, that is where the election is taking place today. We're about to get results coming in at the top of the hour. Brianna, what is she doing right now?

KEILAR: Yes. That's right, we actually understand, Wolf, I'm told by an aide that she is at her hotel and she's relaxing. She's basically sitting tight waiting for results to come in, and they do expect that to happen sooner rather than later. But she's been joined by people that she certainly considers to be very special guests. And those are some friends back from the days when she was first lady and her husband was in the White House. I'm not told by the campaign exactly who they are. They wouldn't say. But they just said these are some old friends who are in town and they're canvassing for her in South Carolina. You can look behind me.

The crowd here already getting excited. You can see that there are people already seated behind the podium there, which is key. That actually tells you that maybe it won't be too long before we hear from Hillary Clinton and that she will be giving her speech. I'm also told, Wolf -- and this is pretty interesting -- the campaign stopped polling a week ago. They actually thought it was a waste of time. They feel like they were going to win and all they really needed to do was take the time that they had left to really try to squeeze out every last vote that they could out of South Carolina. And that includes a little help from Secretary Clinton's friends of decades back.

BLITZER: And at some point we'll hear from her later today. And of course we'll have live coverage of that, Brianna. Thanks very much.

I want to go back to Jake. Jake, this is an important state tonight for Hillary Clinton coming on the heels of what's happened so far. She has got to really do well.

TAPPER: That's right. And Hillary Clinton has really embraced President Obama throughout this election season but especially in South Carolina, Dana.

BASH: That's right. Because of what you have just mentioned before, about how well Barack Obama did. He really, it was a blowout in 2008. And she was on the bad end of that blowout. Tell us about what you're seeing in these exit polls, specifically about how the electorate feels about the President.

CHALIAN: Right. So, it's no surprise that Hillary Clinton is hugging Barack Obama slightly as she is.

BASH: Let me guess, they like him.

CHALIAN: Take a look at this. Seventy percent of South Carolina Democrats today say, they want to continue Barack Obama's policies with the next president. Nineteen percent of the voters in the South Carolina democratic primary today tell us they want more Liberal policies in the next president than Barack Obama has had and seven percent want less liberal policies. Now, let me just explain to you what that was like compared to Iowa and New Hampshire.

BASH: Uh-hm.

CHALIAN: It was about 55 percent wanted to continue Obama's policies in Iowa, 40 percent in New Hampshire, 50 percent in Nevada. So again, we are dealing with an electorate here that is much more interested than we've seen in the previous three states in continuing Barack Obama's policies. Now take a look at the ideological makeup of South Carolina. This is really interesting, too. Fifty one percent of voters in the South Carolina Democratic Primary today call themselves liberal. Forty nine percent call themselves moderate or conservative. This also compares interestingly to the previous three states. This is a much more moderate/conservative electorate than we saw in Iowa, New Hampshire or Nevada.

BASH: Which is the kind of electorate you're going to see going through the whole South, which is why Hillary Clinton is really looking forward to the Super Tuesday contest because there are a lot of Southern States even though there are also some state in the Midwest and in the North that Bernie Sanders is hoping to get, more liberal democratic voters there.

TAPPER: That's right. Bernie Sanders is getting some criticism, Anderson, from the Clinton campaign after he suggested that one of the reasons she was embracing President Obama literally and figuratively was to win over black voters in South Carolina. Whatever you think of the comment, looks like it was good politics by her.

COOPER: Yes. No doubt we'll going to see more of that given those kind of numbers tonight. And moving forward, there's no reason for Hillary Clinton not to continue with that strategy.

BORGER: No. Until she becomes the democratic nominee, then at a certain point she'll going to have to do what we call a pivot and she's going to have to go etch a sketch, go a little bit more to the center because Independent voters in particular, Republicans, moderates, aren't so excited about a third Obama term as are voters apparently in states like South Carolina.

AXELROD: You know, one of the things that we should look for tonight is, when you see that number that David put up there about this being a more moderate electorate, you would expect her to do better among White voters than she's done in some of the previous state that's were more liberal.

BORGER: Uh-hm.

AXELROD: If she does and that would a source of concern long term that I would look at if I were her campaign.

COOPER: No. Pope Begala earlier were saying that sort of this enthusiasm gap between the Republicans and Democrats keeps him up at night. I mean, is that something you're watching closely?

AXELROD: Well, absolutely. I've noted this every single contest, that the Republican turnout has been record everywhere --

COOPER: Yes.

AXELROD: -- and the Democratic turnout has been significantly less than, you know, at the peak in 2008. Now, that was an extraordinary year. But you see still an enormous gap between Republicans and Democrats. Some of it is explained by Donald Trump but not by any means all of it. COOPER: How do campaigns or the DNC, I mean, how they go about trying

to alter that?

JONES: Well, let me just say something about this thing around Obama and Hillary Clinton's close embrace. One of the things you could really fault the Bernie Sanders campaign for is never really contesting that. Hillary Clinton has her own differences with this president. Hillary Clinton doesn't agree with him on trade, doesn't agree with him on health care. You know, she says that the Cadillac tax is bad, he says it's good. And on foreign policy. The key difference the Syria no fly zone. That would be a huge thing to point out. You never heard Bernie Sanders ever say, I'm the guy that loves the President. I'm the guy holding on to the President. The trade issue would be tougher.

(CROSSTALK)

But look, one of the things that has helped Bernie Sanders is that he comes across as thoroughly authentic. And it is not authentic to say that he has been a consistent supporter of the President. He tried to get an opponent --

JONES: I disagree. I disagree with you.

(CROSSTALK)

CUPP: But Van -- Van, I think you will hear maybe her talking about that in more progressive states and states unlike South Carolina. Maybe Massachusetts, Washington, Oregon, where there's like hotbeds of progressivism. She might start to point out that more.

COOPER: Van, then we have to go.

JONES: Look, I just think there are areas, is he Barack Obama's best friend? But no, frankly, I think that that's not the point. The point is that there are key differences and on the question of peace, on the question of war and peace, where he gets closer to the President and to the base than Hillary Clinton, he never made it an issue.

AXELROD: You think Bernie Sanders is closer to Barack Obama than Hillary Clinton?

JONES: On Syria. Yes. On peace.

AXELROD: In life. In life. In the real world.

JONES: On real soldiers dying. On real soldiers dying? Yes. On stupid wars? Yes.

AXELROD: On life.

JONES: Yes. Why is Hillary Clinton -- why is Hillary Clinton opposing our president?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the game we're having in the base of the party right now.

(CROSSTALK)

[18:49:01] COOPER: We'll get Van a cool cloth for the break.

(LAUGHTER)

Standing by, polls are to close in South Carolina. At the top of the hour, CNN could be on the verge of making a major projection right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:53:01] BLITZER: Democrats in the Palmetto State have been voting since just after sunrise. But right now we are counting down the minutes until polls close in South Carolina. Information from the exit polls. That information is coming in at the top of the hour. We could make a major projection. Hillary Clinton's campaign is hoping to celebrate here tonight. They have the big advantage in the polls. But if Clinton doesn't match those lofty expectations, Bernie Sanders could springboard into Super Tuesday with new momentum.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in the CNN Election Center. This is special live coverage of the South Carolina Democratic Presidential Primary. CNN is positioned across the country right now, plugged into both the Clinton and Sanders campaigns. We're watching what's going on. Let's get right to CNN's Brianna Keilar, she is over at Hillary Clinton headquarters right now. There is a nice crowd already gathering. They are anticipating exit poll results coming in pretty soon.

KEILAR: That's right, Wolf. In fact they are getting more amped up by the minute. I'm sure you can hear them. It's getting a little louder here. Hillary Clinton I'm told worked on her speech that she is expected to give in not too long. Her expected victory speech on the airplane back from Alabama today where she had a campaign event earlier in the day. And I understand that it is certainly a much sweeter feeling for her to be working really in earnest on one speech instead of having two. One for a loss. One for a win. It's unsure which one she is going to get, which was the case in Nevada but is not the case here in South Carolina. One of the big question, is she going to take on Donald Trump in this speech?

Campaign aides believe he is going to be the Republican nominee. And we saw today some of her sharpest rhetoric against Trump. She said and really slammed him for what she said is spending half of his time insulting people. She stressed the importance of a presidential candidate and a president being very careful with what they say and how they say it. She said markets rise and fall based on what a president says. So really a volley there at Donald Trump who she seems to be expecting will be her adversary should she clinch the democratic nomination.

BLITZER: Brianna, thanks very much. We're going to go to Jeff Zeleny. She's over at Bernie Sanders's headquarters. At least for tonight, Rochester, Minnesota. A Super Tuesday state. What's the latest over there, Jeff? ZELENY: Wolf, Senator Sanders advisers, some of them are still in

South Carolina watching these results come in very closely. But they know that this will not be a strong night for him. But I just talked to one adviser a short time ago who said any calls for Senator Sanders to start thinking about or re-evaluating his candidacy isn't going to happen. They said no chance of that. And one adviser told me Senator Clinton did not re-evaluate her candidacy after South Carolina when she lost by 28 points. Why should we? So interesting, Wolf, that the Sanders campaign is remembering exactly how much the Clinton campaign lost by eight years ago.

And this is such a strong win for Secretary Clinton. If she does win tonight, we'll find out shortly when those votes are counted. But she of course was not in South Carolina some years ago on election night either. So the Sanders campaign is saying, look, this is not out of the ordinary. This is normal. We're looking forward here. And only four percent of the delegates have been counted now, have been picked now. We have Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, now South Carolina.

Now the race really begins in March. So some 56 percent of the delegates are picked throughout the month of March. The Sanders campaign say they have a very strong online fund-raising operation. And in fact, they have shown that they can actually raise more money in defeat as we saw in Iowa and Nevada here. So, there's no question the Sanders campaign going full steam ahead here, Wolf, regardless of what happens in South Carolina.

BLITZER: Well, at some point we will hear from him as well. Jeff Zeleny, thanks very much. We want to go back to Jake. We are getting close to the top of the hour. That's when the polls close. Potentially, we could make a major projections.

TAPPER: Absolutely. And it could be a very strong night for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. And at that point it would be two very close calls in Nevada and Iowa, and then one dominant state for Sanders and one dominant state for Clinton. I can understand why the Sanders' folks would think it would be premature. They are much more competitive if you remove the super delegates from the equation than on the Republican side. But Dana, what are the voters -- what are they caring about as they head to the polls?

BASH: To me, this is one of the most interesting pieces of information that we get on an election night which is finally the people who are going to vote, what is most driving their vote? What is the issue that is making them decide between candidates X and Y and what did you find out?

CHALIAN: Just like we saw with the racial breakdown, with the ideological breakdown, this state looks a little different than where the previous contest took place this cycle so far. Same thing on the most important issue facing the country. Forty three percent say the economy and jobs is the most important issue facing the country. Twenty two percent health care. Twenty one percent income inequality, and 10 percent terrorism. The economy and jobs has always been the most important issue in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada but not by this big of a margin. Forty three percent is a much bigger number than we have seen in the previous states.

[18:58:16] How about worried about the direction of the nation's economy. Take a look at this. Fifty percent of people going to the polls in South Carolina today are very worried about the future of the U.S. economy. Thirty three percent are somewhat worried. Fifteen percent not too worried. Two percent not at all worried. I want you to look at that 50 percent number and compare it to New Hampshire where we asked this question in that primary. Only 29 percent of people that voted in the New Hampshire Democratic Primary were very worried about the nation's economy and the direction they're taking. Here, half of the electorate is worried.

So, again, it is another slice to show us this is a different makeup of voters, issues, racially, ideologically that we've seen in this other contest. And so, if you're Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders campaign, you look ahead now to the states and say, well, so, if states coming up look a lot more like South Carolina and if Hillary Clinton does well tonight, they're going to want to repeat that kind of --

BASH: It is also a little bit curious because, you know, traditionally when people are worried about the economy, they are not that satisfied with the current president. But not in this case, right? I mean, they are worried about the economy and yet by hey, very, very big majority. They say they want to continue President Obama's policies.

TAPPER: Tremendous amount of anxiety out there in the Democratic side and the Republican side. And it makes you wonder when the Republican candidates other than Trump and when the candidates, Hillary Clinton are going to realize that the reason Sanders and Trump are having the success they are is because there are so many people so worried about their economic future -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It is a huge issue as we see from these exit polls, guys. Thank you very much. We are counting down. We are only seconds away right now from the top of the hour. This is the moment that Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have been waiting for. The polls were officially close at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. That's when we're able to report the exit poll information that we have. We are also getting hard numbers right now. Stand by for this.

And CNN makes this major projection, Hillary Clinton is the winner of the South Carolina Democratic Presidential Primary. Based on the exit poll information, we got -- we have projected that the former Secretary of State, the former U.S. Senator, the former First Lady of the United States will win the South Carolina Democratic Primary.