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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Millions Casting Votes In Pivotal Primaries; GOP Slams Bill Clinton For Attacking Obama; First Exit Poll Results Coming In Soon; Final Hours Of Voting Underway In Key States; Higher Turnout Expected In Missouri Than In 2012; Final Hours Of Voting Underway In Key States. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired March 15, 2016 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:01]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back to a special edition of THE LEAD.

It's Super Tuesday III, or you could call it survival Tuesday, because, in just a few hours, the results could literally end the campaigns of several candidates.

On the Democratic side, millions are casting their votes in five states, nearly 700 delegates at stake. And that's why both Senator Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are pleading with their supporters to get out and vote.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (VT-I), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think that if there's a large voter turnout, we're going to do just great.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Sometimes, you know, the public reporting of polls, you know, somebody might say, well, my candidate is so far ahead, I don't need to come out. Everybody should come out. There's so much at stake in this election.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Ryan Young is in Chicago, where Bernie Sanders held an event earlier today. Brianna Keilar is live at Clinton campaign headquarters in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Brianna, Hillary Clinton is really, really still shell-shocked about losing Michigan last week, where people -- the polls had her up and she actually lost. She's trying to make sure her supporters head to the polls.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's exactly right.

I think her campaign is feeling pretty optimistic about Florida here, North Carolina, the overall delegate count, but not overly optimistic that she is going to stage a shutout of Bernie Sanders today. Like you mentioned, Michigan, they're worried, this campaign is, that the polls showing she's ahead in Ohio, for instance, really can't be trusted.

They're saying the polls are wrong, that what they're seeing is, it's a much closer race. You heard Hillary Clinton there. She was in Raleigh, North Carolina, really imploring voters to get out and vote. She was warning against complacency and the idea that voters will say, oh, I see my candidate is up in the polls and I don't have to go out and vote for them.

All eyes on Michigan, as you said, the campaign worried that Bernie Sanders' attacks on Clinton's past support for trade pacts like NAFTA, like, while she was secretary of state at least, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, are resonating with voters, particularly in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Brianna, thank you.

Let's go back to Chicago, where Bernie Sanders just wrapped up a rally and that's where Ryan Young is.

Ryan, you have been talking to voters there. What are they telling you?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, just a lot of energy here.

In fact, we have been talking to some people who have been going inside to vote. We hear a lot of people talk about they have made the switch over to Bernie Sanders. That's what we have been hearing throughout the day, especially young people. There are people who said they have been very energized by what they have been seeing all day long in terms of Bernie Sanders coming back to Chicago, hitting the streets, especially when you think about that Trump event that happened on Friday.

People were screaming, Bernie, Bernie, Bernie. They're not talking about Hillary. And that has been the split that we have seen. Now, older African-American voters, we have heard a lot from them saying they still plan to vote for Hillary, but the groundswell that we saw, especially with lines that stretched from where I'm standing all the way down the block yesterday for early voting, 90 percent of the people that we talked to who were voting Democrat were telling us they were voting for Bernie Sanders.

So you can see a tide shift going on in this city.

TAPPER: All right. Thank you so much.

Let's bring back the panel.

Bill Press, Bernie Sanders' campaign in Illinois, where we just heard Ryan Young, is basically running against the mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel. He's even running a TV ad going after Rahm Emanuel, who obviously has very long and deep ties with the Clinton campaign and with Hillary Clinton herself. This seems to be working very well.

PRESS: I was going to say, if I were running in Chicago, I would be running against Rahm Emanuel, too. He's probably the least popular person in Chicago right now.

But I'll tell you what else is working. I was in Chicago just a couple of days ago talking with union leaders and union members. What else the -- the other thing that is working is trade and jobs, his message there.

You know, and I talked to several union leaders who said, first, their union had endorsed Hillary Clinton. They were driving cars with Bernie Sanders stickers on them. Their members on the floor, they said, voting for Bernie Sanders over NAFTA, CAFTA, and TPP, and Hillary Clinton on the wrong side of those, that's the number one issue for them.

So I think, look, tonight, we have said this is a pivotal night. I think it's particularly pivotal for Bernie, that he has to prove that Michigan was not an aberration, that this is his home territory now, and if he wins one state tonight, I think that's really big for him. If he wins two states, to use his word, it is huge.

Now, if he wins three, which is possible, Ohio, Illinois, and Missouri, it's Mount Vesuvius. This whole night changes. The race changes.

TAPPER: Mayor Nutter, I want to bring your attention to something that former President Bill Clinton said that Republicans are jumping on.

Hillary Clinton has been very, very assiduously hugging President Obama, but Bill Clinton has been speaking a little bit more candidly. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Why is there so much intensity and anger and confusion and anxiety? Because that beautiful picture of the future the president painted, millions of Americans can't look at that picture and find themselves in their families in it to save their lives.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[16:35:01]

TAPPER: What do you think, Mayor Nutter?

NUTTER: Well, I don't know what was in front of the president's comments.

But I think the reality on the ground, there has been the greatest recession since the Great Depression. There has been some recovery in many, many communities all across the United States of America, certainly in Philadelphia as well.

But if you don't have a job or if you're in a job that is very different than the job you had before, the recovery doesn't mean a whole lot to you. It's like, when I was mayor, I said, we had 37 percent reduction in homicides. But if you heard gunshots last night, those numbers don't mean anything to you.

If your relative was injured, your reality is your own reality, not the overall reality. I do want to go back to one thing that Bill said.

TAPPER: Sure.

NUTTER: He talked about NAFTA, CAFTA, and TPP.

You know for a fact that Hillary in office voted against CAFTA and came out against TPP and was not in office when NAFTA went into place. That was her husband, Bill Clinton, 20-plus years ago.

PRESS: Mayor, I'm not voting in Illinois and I'm not a union member nor in Illinois, nor in Michigan, nor in Illinois, nor in Ohio, but those issues are resonating in those states.

NUTTER: No question.

(CROSSTALK)

PRESS: Bernie Sanders has been running ads just on trade and on jobs in Illinois, Ohio, and Missouri. Watch out for tonight.

BORGER: Can I say one thing about Sanders?

He not only has to win, but he has to win big, because these are not winner-take-all states. If he wants to really cut into Hillary Clinton's margins with delegates, these have to be, to use your word and his word, huge, huge wins.

One benefit that he's got is that these are open contests, and so he does very well with independent voters. She does better with Democrats.

TAPPER: Independents.

(CROSSTALK)

NUTTER: Right.

BORGER: And so we will have to see what kind of a crossover...

(CROSSTALK)

GERGEN: Gloria, I would normally agree with you, but I must tell you, if Bernie Sanders wins three tonight, I don't care if he wins by two votes in each one, that is going to be very, very big.

BORGER: Huge?

GERGEN: Well, I think it will be -- it's going to cause a rupture or it's going to cause a rupture within the Clinton camp. What the heck is going wrong here?

(CROSSTALK) BORGER: There's an emotional rupture, and then there's mathematics.

I agree with on that.

GERGEN: I agree.

HABERMAN: The emotional rupture is, there's two things going on. One is that the calendar that is coming up before New York is not great for Hillary Clinton and her campaign is aware of that.

There are a bunch of states where she's basically going to be saying, look, I'm leading in delegates, as I'm losing and losing and losing, and that is what they are worried about. She has actually held it pretty together since New Hampshire, which was a pretty big loss.

But there are going to be two questions. One is, can she win over white working-class voters in the fall against a Donald Trump? And then can she essentially wrap this up soon enough, so that the Democrats are not fighting while the Republican contests, ironically, could be resolving?

TAPPER: It's the big problem that Marco Rubio has had, not to compare the two. Obviously, Hillary is in a much better position.

But Rubio making the argument about delegates and this and this, and he's losing and losing and losing and losing, and nothing succeeds like success.

We're going to take a very quick break.

Coming up next, who are late-deciding voters turning to in Missouri? We will go live to Saint Louis.

And just minutes from now, some of those first exit poll numbers are expected. So, don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:42:27]

TAPPER: Welcome back to a special edition of THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Today could prove to be one of the most pivotal days of the campaign so far. One state that Senator Bernie Sanders is looking to for a possible upset is Missouri.

And that's where we find Brian Todd in Saint Louis.

Brian, let's start with the Democrats. What are you hearing from voters there?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right.

Talked to a lot of Democratic voters, Jake, and, so far, in this voting place, they are favoring Bernie Sanders. It's pretty evenly split here. I sampled personally more than 80 voters total and it's evenly split among Democrats and Republicans.

Bernie Sanders has the distinct advantage. The Sanders campaign, Jake, had told CNN earlier today they feel pretty good about Missouri. This was seen as maybe his best chance to win today, and that's playing out in this district.

Also, we can tell you that people who are late-deciders and first-time voters are coming out for Bernie Sanders. That's a place where he also was seen to have an advantage. The core voters who are, you know, traditional Democrats, those go for Hillary Clinton.

But the secretary of state of Missouri today had predicted a higher voter turnout than there was in 2012. That advantage goes to Bernie Sanders, we're told, and that is playing out right now, Jake.

TAPPER: What about on the Republican side?

TODD: Interesting there on the Republicans, too, because there are a lot of late-deciders here in this precinct, and, again, it's split between Democrats and Republicans.

We were told this actually was a Democrat-leaning precinct. But, right now, as far as the sampling we have taken, it is pretty much evenly split. A lot of late-deciders today that we have talked to, and they're going for Ted Cruz, and so far, among those we have polled today, Ted Cruz has the advantage.

This was a place where Ted Cruz was seen to really have maybe his best chance at a win today, a very strong ground game here in Missouri. He sent his father here. He sent his wife here. He has been here a couple of times, and also a very strong infrastructure, with people canvassing the neighborhoods, making robocalls, knocking on doors. Seems to be paying off for Ted Cruz, at least in this district, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, thanks so much.

Let's go back to my panel.

Mary Katharine, that's interesting, obviously completely unscientific, but in that one precinct, late-deciders, who usually go -- or at least in recent weeks have gone to Marco Rubio, in this case going to Ted Cruz.

HAM: I think Cruz is probably taking the late-decider crown from Rubio at this point because of the momentum shift.

Cruz has performed well in this region, in Iowa and Kansas, so there is a chance for him here. This is also an open primary, where he is not as successful as he is in closed ones. So, we will see what happens. But it does look like, if he's going to pull something out, this would be a good place to do it.

And the fact that he shifted his focus to Ohio makes me think he feels better about other parts of the map.

TAPPER: Hmm. And, Kayleigh, what is your take on this? And why do you think Donald Trump is -- I mean, he's obviously winning, so if I were a Republican, I would rather be him than the others, but why do you think he doesn't do as well with late-deciders?

MCENANY: Look, I think, if you like Donald Trump, you know pretty quickly that you like him. He's in some ways a polarizing figure so you either like what he does or don't.

People who are late deciders say I like this guy, I'm not sure, maybe in the end decide the other way. That's what I think the late deciders. But as to Missouri, this is really big for Ted Cruz because he risked the narrative changing tonight.

Ted Cruz takes a few states, Donald Trump wins the night. That's the narrative. But tonight it's going to be Donald Trump and perhaps Kasich winning Ohio and Ted Cruz risks not even being a part of the narrative or discussion unless he has a strong showing in Missouri a state that he should do very well in.

MARY KATHERINE HAM, SENIOR WRITER, "THE FEDERALIST": Because we haven't been talking about Illinois and Missouri and North Carolina that much the entire week, that if he over performs at all, he can exceed expectations.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Don't forget, Cruz performance is critical to the overall delegate math. You have Florida and Ohio winners take all. If Trump takes Florida, that's 99, that's a big basket of eggs to start the night.

Cruz has to take away from Trump. Even if he doesn't win statewide he has to take some delegates in all three of those states, Missouri, Illinois, and North Carolina to keep Trump's math from getting overly prohibitive.

TAPPER: And John, as somebody who is an expert on each county by county, what is there in Missouri that would make Ted Cruz think that's a good state for him?

KING: It's the birthplace of the right-to-life movement, large Evangelical. The funny part, Missouri is the only one of the states with a Democratic governor, Jay Nixon, but it is a more conservative state than many of the other states if you look in the Democrat (inaudible), plenty of congressional districts, several in the state that Cruz can win and get delegates.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Open primary aside, tonight is the first test whether Donald Trump has had a rough week, this is the first time that we're really seeing whether this has had resonance with voters, to the point you like him or don't like.

People have decided early and didn't move from him. But those who decided late did not go with him. We have normally seen people who have won 12, now 13 this morning, start to move up in terms of the percentage of the vote they're taking. We haven't seen that with Trump. We saw a couple of states, places like Oklahoma and Arkansas, where the club for growth airing ads against him. His numbers stayed below 35 percent.

Tonight is telling whether he has growth potential in this primary and how much of the Republican Party might cleave away from him if he's the nominee.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: When you think about Missouri, in particular, don't forget Rick Santorum won in Missouri and won 55 to Romney's 25. The Evangelicals, as you were talking about, I think Milwaukee a difference.

This would be an opportunity for Cruz if he doesn't pick up delegates here, substantial number or win, then you could say he's got problems in his whole thing that I'm the alternative to Donald Trump. People may say, wait a minute, you are? I don't think you are.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Go back to the late deciders and the question, it's relevant, how much of an impact has the rallies have, the question of violence. This issue will go on with this.

Anecdotal, it solidified among the Trump supporters. On, of the reports out of the Chicago area suggests it's bringing out Bernie people because they're mixed up with this now. My own sense is it's going to help him in the primaries but hurt him in the general.

TAPPER: All right, let's take a very quick break. And next, we'll check back with our panel of experts, what are the keys experts are looking for this evening? And the first exit polling on the crucial Super Tuesday III is just minutes away. This is a special edition of THE LEAD. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:50:00]

TAPPER: Welcome back to a special edition of THE LEAD. At this hour, voters are voting in five states, they can make or break the final four Republicans and two Democrats running for president.

We are just moments away from when the first CNN exit polls will be released. Quick, closing thoughts from the panel. John, you're going to be at magic wall looking at key counties and states. What are you looking for in particular?

KING: Number one, see if there's a dramatic impact from the negative press coverage of Donald Trump since the Chicago even last Friday. Plus add in you've had a couple of weeks of sustained advertising against him, is Donald Trump bulletproof or does negative advertising finally bring him down some.

TAPPER: Maggie?

HABERMAN: Does Hillary Clinton's number with working class white voters improve and younger voters improve. Those are the main things. With Bernie Sanders, whether they can do better with African-American voters and counties where there are heavy concentrations of black voters.

TAPPER: He's had struggles with them?

HABERMAN: Not very much so. That's part of the argument against him, re-creating the Obama coalition, which is really the coalition that's available to a Democratic nominee at this point.

TAPPER: David?

GERGEN: As I've been saying for a couple of weeks, the man to watch is John Kasich. If he wins, it changes the race. If he loses, it changes the race.

BORGER: I'm going to look for Republicans freaking out, basically, if -- if Donald Trump wins both Ohio and Florida. They've got real issue on their hands because they're going to have to decide to grin and bear it and going to have to understand the reality that a contested convention will not be reality if he runs the table tonight.

TAPPER: Mayor Nutter, I'll go to you because you're my former mayor. What are you going to be looking?

MICHAEL NUTTER, HILLARY CLINTON SUPPORTER: Certainly looking at Ohio, Illinois, and I think it's probably close in Missouri. I was in Missouri yesterday.

TAPPER: You think it's close there?

NUTTER: A lot of activity there. We've seen polls on -- that are favorable to each of the candidates both Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders. I think those three for me tonight are the key to watch.

TAPPER: Bill?

BILL PRESS, BERNIE SANDERS SUPPORTER: I'm going to pick up on Gloria, looking forward to the Clinton campaign freaking out tonight. Bernie Sanders wins three states and they have to say, my God, we've better retool again. They realize Bernie's not a message candidate, he's a serious contender and super delegates start thinking, we better get ready to move.

HAM: On the Republican side, does more than one non-Trump hang on after tonight? Can the money they've spent on advertising go up against according to a "New York Times" study $2 billion in media coverage of Trump?

[16:55:11]On the other side, Bernie doesn't have to do that much to keep momentum and news cycle going on and she has to run the table. The other side of delegates, it's the opposite way.

TAPPER: Give me a number of how many contests you think Donald Trump will win tonight?

MCENANY: Four.

TAPPER: Four out of six including Mariana?

MCENANY: Including Mariana, five.

TAPPER: That's a bold prediction. Counting down to the last few hours of voting on Super Tuesday III. The first exit poll results are just minutes away. We'll be right back. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Thanks for watching. That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I will be back 6:00 Eastern with our special coverage of Super Tuesday III. I turn you over to Wolf Blitzer and Anderson Cooper right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, decisive day. Will the third Super Tuesday be the last for some candidates or will it be the first step in their comeback campaigns?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: No place like home. John --