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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

New Polls Show Tighter Race in Key States; GOP Lawmakers Reach to Trump's Town Hall Performance; NBC: Trump Adviser Kept Disrupting Intel Briefing; Gary Johnson On Syria: "What Is Aleppo?"; Pence Defends Trump's Praise Of Putin, Slap At Obama. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired September 8, 2016 - 20:00   ET

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


[20:00:04] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening.

The breaking news tonight: a new batch of battleground state polls that shows a tight race getting tighter in some very key states. John King is going to be on shortly to break it down by the numbers.

The presidential election now exactly two months away and the first debate in less than three weeks. The two candidates about as different as two people can be. We got a taste of that and what the debates may bring last night at a Commander-in-Chief forum.

And the reaction especially to the claims made by Donald Trump has been reverberating now for almost 24 hours. Both candidates spent the day on the campaign trail clarifying some of their positions, doubling down on others and most definitely taking aim at each other.

Our senior political correspondent, Brianna Keilar, joins us with the latest.

Clinton, Brianna, spending today defending what she said last night. What did she focus on?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. What she said last night, a promise, she's clearly sensitive to her Iraq war vote still and promised there would be no ground troops used in Iraq or Syria. And she's gotten some criticism from people who say she's taking an important option off of the table here, Anderson. She said the she would support American troops, special forces, doing reconnaissance, assisting indigenous or local forces and providing advisory roles which is the terminology currently used by the White House.

Some also thought that by not acknowledging that some Special Forces are currently in combat situations in Iraq and Syria, she was also, you know, sort of perpetuating this idea that there are no troops who are in harm's way. In fact, they are. Some of them have actually died.

Donald Trump hitting her on this, saying that she's telegraphing what she's doing to ISIS, but she hit back in that regard basically, commenting on Donald Trump not having a firm grasp of the facts when it comes to national security and the issues that were discussed last night. COOPER: Trump had an event earlier today. He also tried to address

some of things that were said in the forum last night.

KEILAR: That's right. This is the one that really bothers the Clinton campaign the most. It was his claim last night that he was totally against the war in Iraq. It is not true, and that went un- fact checked last night during the forum. Donald Trump, listen to this today, saying the same thing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I opposed going in, and I did oppose it. Despite the media saying no, yes, no.

I opposed going in. And I opposed the reckless way Hillary Clinton took us out, along with President Obama. Letting ISIS fill that big, terrible void.

But I was opposed to the war from the beginning. Long after my interview with Howard Stern.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: That interview in 2002 with Howard Stern where he said he was for the war, and what he really hangs his hat on, Anderson, is a 2004 interview with "Esquire" magazine where he says that he was against it.

Now, he in that article voices concerns about how the war had been conducted, but "Esquire," itself, has been very clear about the fact that he wasn't against it. In fact, there was an editor's note put out today saying that Donald Trump has repeatedly claimed to have been against the war because of this article that was in 2004 and this editor's note says this is 2004 during the article and also he doesn't actually say that he's against the war. It was 2003 when the war started, so they say the timeline completely nullifies his claim.

COOPER: Yes. Brianna Keilar, thanks very much.

One of Trump's most surprising remarks, perhaps inflammatory remarks to some was Russian president -- about Vladimir Putin, the man accused of war crimes, violations of international law, saying he's more of a leader than the current president of the United States.

When asked to elaborate, Trump said Putin called him brilliant so he'll take the compliment and say great things back, which poses a dilemma for Republicans on Capitol Hill, how to break with that view and still support their party's nominee.

Manu Raju reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER (voice-over): The reviews for Donald Trump were in a word, rough. Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker is a Trump supporter, but not so supportive of Trump's praising of Vladimir Putin.

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: I think, you know, one has to be careful to let flattery influence how you feel about someone. We obviously have tremendous differences in our two countries' national interest. There are things that we should be aligned with them on like the fight against terrorism, but, you know, he's been fairly ruthless.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Trump is making the mistake for the ages of thinking that Putin is a good leader and a constructive force.

RAJU: House Speaker Paul Ryan and other Republicans distancing themselves from Trump's remarks, but trying to avoid criticizing their party's nominee.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Vladimir Putin is an aggressor that does not share our interests and that is an adversarial stance and he's acting like an adversary.

RAJU (on camera): Are you concerned, though, about Trump praising Vladimir Putin?

RYAN: I made my points about Putin clear right there. I just leave it at that.

[20:05:00] RAJU (voice-over): Republican John McCain in a tough re- election in Arizona where he needs to win over Trump backers declining to weigh in.

(on camera): What do you think about Trump praising Putin last night?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I don't have any comments to make. I've been busy with the defense authorization bill and that's been the focus of all my attention and I did not observe what happened.

RAJU: But you obviously have been very critical of Putin.

MCCAIN: What's that?

RAJU: You've obviously been very critical of Putin.

MCCAIN: Of course, I have. He's a murderer and thug.

RAJU (voice-over): Ohio Senator Rob Portman in a battle back home to save his seat criticizing Putin and Obama.

SEN. ROB PORTMAN (R), OHIO: I think we have to restore American leadership.

RAJU: The fallout comes as Republicans debate Trump's temperament, namely whether he can be trusted with the nuclear codes. Some like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Nevada Congressman Joe Heck, who's running for the Senate, are behind Trump.

(on camera): You're completely supporting -- REP. JOE HECK (R), NEVADA: I am.

RAJU: Do you trust him having his finger on the nuclear button?

HECK: I do.

RAJU: Why do you say that?

HECK: Why wouldn't I?

RAJU (voice-over): Others won't answer the question.

(on camera): Do you trust him having his finger on the nuclear button?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I support the Republican nominee.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My race is about me.

RAJU: Are you comfortable with him as -- having his finger on the nuclear button?

(voice-over): And Ted Cruz who famously declined to endorse Trump at the GOP convention, avoiding talking about his former presidential rival.

(on camera): Senator Cruz, do you have concerns with Trump praising Putin last night? You want to weigh in at all?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

RAJU: Anderson, even though Trump continues to put his party in an awkward spot, many Republicans are simply feeling a lot better about his improving poll numbers. The number two Senate Republican, John Cornyn, told me that the tightening margin in battleground states gives their party a strong chance of keeping the Senate. They just are worried that if Trump continues to make controversial statements, it could make their re-election races even tougher -- Anderson.

COOPER: Manu, thanks very much.

RAJU: A lot to talk about with our panel.

Joining me tonight, CNN political commentator and former New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn who supports Hillary Clinton, CNN political commentator and former Trump campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, CNN political analyst, and "The New York Times" national political reporter, Alex Burns, national spokesperson for moveon.org, Karine Jean-Pierre, who supports Clinton, and former South Carolina lieutenant governor, Andre Bauer, who supports Trump.

It's interesting, Alex. I mean, we saw both candidates kind of doing cleanup today. Was the forum a home run for either one of them?

ALEX BURNS, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, NEW YORK TIMES: I don't think it was. I do think in this debate over Russia and Trump's comments about Vladimir Putin, you see which candidate added something new to the presidential debate.

Hillary Clinton was definitely on the defensive over her e-mails last night. Clearly, that issue has not been put to rest. But it was Trump both on Russia, his comments about American generals, his comments about sexual assault in the military I think provided more new material for Democrats.

And you saw Hillary Clinton really pouncing on the opportunity in a way we have not seen her do really since the Democratic convention.

COOPER: Corey, Donald Trump coming out today essentially fact checking Hillary Clinton, what she said about hl record on the Iraq war. He continues to say he was always against the war. There was this interview on Howard Stern where he said, Stern says, are you for invading Iraq? Trump says, yeah, I guess so, you know, I wish at the time it was done correctly, first time.

COREY LEWANDOWSKI, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: That's right. He also refers to a January 2003 interview he did with Neil Cavuto on FOX, which is two full months before the war started. His quote was, "Perhaps we shouldn't be doing it", that's his exact quote when asked about the Iraq war.

COOPER: That's not saying --

(CROSSTALK)

LEWANDOWSKI: Also saying, "Yeah, I guess so", isn't really an overall endorsement. The war started on March 19th, 2013. He was on Neil Cavuto in January of 2013 saying we shouldn't be doing this. To go on, Howard Stern says, I even favor, yeah, I guess so. Not really a ringing endorsement. So, he's been very clear that he has been opposed to the war and hasn't changed from that position.

COOPER: But that's not very clear.

Christine, to you, is it very clear?

CHRISTINE QUINN, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: It's not very clear at all. I mean, he said on Howard Stern, yeah, I think so.

LEWANDOWSKI: Is this our news source? Howard Stern is where we're getting our news from?

COOPER: That's what Donald Trump appeared on.

LEWANDOWSKI: But he said, yes, I guess so.

COOPER: That's the only one who happened to ask him at the time.

QUINN: He went on Howard Stern's show so it's really not fair for him supporters to say that's not a legitimate place to go. I wouldn't go on Howard Stern's show, but other people would. If you go on any show -- if you go on any show, you are stuck with what you said on that show. That's a validation of that reporter he went to. You can't throw it away. I think one of the most significant facts we heard tonight is the

stance that "Vanity Fair" taking. Donald Trump has repeatedly referred to that interview as the one where he made it clear, which he didn't. And for a magazine to go as far an editor's note --

COOPER: "Vanity Fair" he said the wars are a mess. That was five days after the invasion had begun.

QUINN: I mean, so that -- for them to take that step -- even Trump supporters have to accept he changed his position.

[20:10:06] That's a fact.

LEWANDOWSKI: Five days after the war started, he said to "Vanity Fair", the war is a mess. In January of 2003, he said to Neil Cavuto on FOX, quote, "Perhaps we shouldn't be doing it." When they asked if we should be going into Iraq, that was his answer.

(CROSSTALK)

QUINN: Talking about there we should go to dinner, perhaps we should get Chinese.

LEWANDOWSKI: Perhaps we should delete our e-mails. Perhaps we shouldn't. I don't know.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: He said, well, he also said on FOX, "Well, look, you have a lot of questions and a lot of people questioning the whole concept of going into the first place, Neil. But we are in, we went in, we had to find them. If he was alive, had to find him. You know they fulfilled the pledge. People are going to say we shouldn't be there regardless and have other visitors saying, well, we were there and have to do the best. I mean, we were there regardless of what should have been done."

I mean, he's not exactly, you know, making a brave, clear stand, I'm against the war.

LEWANDOWSKI: But he's also not taking a steadfast position where I voted for the war and support it 100 percent. Look, there's no question, it's unequivocally. Hillary Clinton supported the war. She's admitted to supporting the war.

COOPER: Right. When you're not in a leadership position, you're able to vacillate back and forth and say, well, perhaps we should, perhaps we shouldn't have. Aren't you, Andre?

ANDRE BAUER, DONALD TRUMP SUPPORTER: What the other thing I was going to say is, he was a private citizen then. He wasn't getting intel briefings. So he didn't have all the information, anyway.

COOPER: So, I get that, but why now say this is what I said when, in fact, that's not what you said? He speaks to gloss over the Howard Stern thing completely. BAUER: Well, I think his feeling is that, when you look back at it,

he wasn't for it. On when he says, well, yeah, I guess, even then he really didn't even get a resounding endorsement to go. It sounded like even then he didn't feel comfortable in going.

QUINN: But it's, again, I appreciate what you said about not having the briefings. I think that is a fair point. But it's not what he felt he said. It's what he said. And it's on the record and even reaffirmed by "Vanity Fair" on record.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Let's just listen to what he said.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

HOWARD STERN: Are you for invading Iraq?

TRUMP: Yeah, I guess so. You know, I wish it was -- I wish the first time it was done correctly.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

COOPER: OK. You can take it as -- Karine, how do you take it?

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, NATIONAL SPOKESPERSON, MOVEON.ORG: I think that's the main problem with Donald Trump, he can't apologize or at least say I made a mistake. I understand he didn't have the briefings and wasn't an elected official. And just say, I was wrong, I made a mistake and let's not move on. He's not in the business of apologizing.

COOPER: He's also, Corey, saying, you know, he also was against the way the U.S. pulled out but he also was on Larry King's show and other shows saying we should get out, who cares, it's going to be civil war, somebody worse is going to come in. Declare victory, what they did in Vietnam, declare victory and get out.

LEWANDOWSKI: Again, but you have is you get a private business owner who has no other information than what they're reading on "The New York Times", "The Wall Street Journal" or something, being asked a question about national foreign policy and weighing in --

COOPER: I get that.

LEWANDOWSKI: And what you have instead was you have Hillary Clinton --

COOPER: I get that. Just why now say I said something else when, in fact, that's not what they said?

QUINN: He could say, you know, I was a private business person at that time. Maybe I shouldn't have answered because it didn't have full information.

JEAN-PIERRE: That's right. QUINN: I have more information, this is what I think now. That would

be fine. One could accept that.

They could also have accepted him saying I don't have enough info answer but let's talk about real estate, I have info. But to pretend and almost think the American people aren't smart enough to follow the record is insulting and really, I think, offensive to voters who see that record and it's okay to change your position, but it's not OK to kind of exist in this gas --

LEWANDOWSKI: His position on Neil Cavuto in January of 2003, perhaps with we shouldn't be doing it, and perhaps we should be waiting for the United Nations to go in there first. That's what he said. That doesn't mean he supports it.

(CROSSTALK)

QUINN: You used that as proof he was against --

LEWANDOWSKI: You heard his own audio on the Howard Stern Show. This is not a ringing endorsement, "Yeah, I guess so". Right?

COOPER: You're pointing to, saying perhaps this, perhaps that. You know --

QUINN: I can I just --

COOPER: Right. He goes on to say I think the economy is a much bigger problem than the Iraq situation. That's what our focus should be. That's what he's talking about. Something he knows more about as a business owner. He's saying we should be focusing more on the economy than this Iraq issue.

QUINN: You know what's curious to me, very similar to the way he answered the Howard Stern question, if we go back to when Chris Matthews asked him about whether women who have abortions should be held criminally accountable, he gave that same kind of wait a second, think it through and answer -- an answer that was completely outrageous targeting women who had abortions and had to backpedal that.

COOPER: Let her finish.

QUINN: He has a record of answering things that he hasn't thought through then moving forward in --

COOPER: I want Corey to respond.

LEWANDOWSKI: As a business executive, Donald Trump did not have the authorization to put our troops in harm's way, which Hillary Clinton did by authorizing the Iraq war.

[20:15:02] People died because of her vote. That's the bottom line. That's the bottom line.

QUINN: What led him to say he supported it then in the same Chris Matthews case, led him to say --

COOPER: Karine, then we got to go.

JEAN-PIERRE: To Christine's point, another example is the birther movement. He was asked about it a couple of days. He was like, no one cares about that. Why can't he say, I apologize, right? He's having this faux African-American outreach. He can never do this. He said, nobody cares about this --

LEWANDOWSKI: This is like saying I turned over all my e-mail, right? Oh, I was honest, I turned over all my e-mail, oh, not those 15,000, this is about yoga, and Hillary, I mean, Chelsea, you mean the Benghazi ones?

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Hillary Clinton has said, perhaps I turned over all my email, perhaps I didn't, you wouldn't really know where she stood.

LEWANDOWSKI: What did she say, what, did I wipe the server clean with a cloth?

QUINN: This is actually about --

(CROSSTALK)

QUINN: This is actually about --

LEWANDOWSKI: Then she hammered 15 devices with a hammer to make sure --

COOPER: Actually, again, for the record, it was -- somebody on her staff did, yes.

QUINN: I understand why the Trump campaign wants to constantly pivot back to emails. I get it. But this is about what Donald Trump -- this is about Donald Trump's record on the Iraq war. And what he said, when he wasn't a candidate and he was a candidate. And you know what, he has to bear up to those statements, those words, not twist them and manipulate them into a pretzel.

COOPER: We got to take a quick break. There's a lot to talk about coming up in the next two hours.

After Trump said he could tell by body language that officials at intel briefings weren't happy with President Obama, there's new breaking news about what went on behind closed doors at that briefing. That's next.

Later, new polling from key battleground states showing Clinton's lead shrinking. We're going to take a look at the numbers, how we got there and whether Clinton's strategy will have to change and what Donald Trump is doing.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:20:19] COOPER: Hey, welcome back.

Today, there's breaking news about what went on behind closed doors at Donald Trump's recent intelligence briefings and it's kind of a doozy.

NBC News reports one of the advisers he brought to the briefing, retired General Mike Flynn, kept interrupting and was so disrupted that another of Trump's advisers, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie had to step in to try to get him to calm down.

This news is coming on the heels of yet another of Trump's controversial claims when he was asked to characterize what he learned at the intelligence briefings.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: What I did learn is our leadership, Barack Obama, did not follow what our experts and our truly, when they call it intelligence, it's there for a reason, what our experts said to do. And I was very, very surprised. In almost every instance, and I could tell, I have pretty good with the body language, I could tell they were not happy. Our leaders did not follow what they were recommending.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Jake Tapper asked Foreign Relations chairman, Senator Bob Corker, about this today. Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CORKER: I certainly have not been involved in those briefings, and I, again, I -- you're putting me in a sort of a personality referee position which is not a position that I should be in or want to be in, and really I'm more of a public policy person, as you know. Typically, I will say, with intelligence briefings, they really attempt not to try to give you a direction. They try to keep it to, you know, the facts of the intelligence gathering.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: And joining me now is former CIA intelligence officer, David Priess, author of "The President's Book of Secret: The Untold Story of the Intelligence Briefings to America's Presidents from Kennedy to Obama." Also with us, CNN counterterrorism analyst, and former FBI and CIA senior official, Philip Mudd.

Philip, I mean, for a presidential candidate to say what Donald Trump said last night, were you surprised? What do you make of it?

PHILIP MUDD, FORMER SENIOR OFFICIAL, FBI AND CIA: I wasn't surprised. I was offended. There's a simple way, Anderson, the intelligence business is done. And, Mr. Trump was suggesting that the intelligence officers who spoke to him violated a fundamental principle.

Let's take Iran as an example. As a briefer, you walk into a candidate, Trump or Clinton, and you say, here's our picture of the Iranian nuclear program. The White House has options, sanction Iran, bomb Iran, try to negotiate with Iran. It is not the job of the CIA to either explain to Mr. Trump what the White House is doing, or to defend what the White House is doing.

What Mr. Trump suggested was that those briefers violated the principle that any intelligence officer lives by. You explain the problem, the policy guys explain how they're solving the problem. Anybody who saw that from the CIA, the FBI, elsewhere, has got to be offended.

COOPER: I mean, it sounds like, I mean, if NBC's report is correct, that General Flynn was upset. I don't know if Donald Trump was talking about General Flynn's body language rather than the briefers who were actually giving him the data.

MUDD: I don't understand what happened here, but let me explain the process. This is not a requirement that Clinton and Trump receive a briefing. This is historically a courtesy.

The White House over decades has said each candidate receives information from the CIA. So, an officer walks in to someone who is a candidate of a party and says, here's how to understand China, here's how to understand Russia.

To suggest that an individual in that room is aggressive enough to start interrupting a candidate repeatedly suggests to me the candidate doesn't understand what this is about. This is about an information briefing. It's not about violating the courtesy of the room.

COOPER: We should point out that Chris Christie and General Flynn have issued statements denying NBC's reporting that -- they're both denying that it happened, that it isn't true.

David, what do you make of what Donald Trump said? I mean, are you surprised? Are you offended as Phil is?

DAVID PRIESS, FORMER CIA INTELLIGENCE OFFICRE: It's certainly a surprise. As a former intelligence briefer, myself, that is a fine line you don't cross. It is an ethical responsibility to brief the intelligence assessment, the best analysis you have. You do not cross the line into policy.

To state that that has happened in some way, whether verbal or nonverbal, that's not the way we're trained.

COOPER: So as a briefer, would you give body language clues about how you really felt about something?

PRIESS: No, in fact, we do the opposite. There are few career tracks within the CIA more aware, self-aware, than briefers. People who have to be aware of the message they're sending, the messages they're not sending.

That includes both the spoken work, it includes handouts and graphics. But it also includes things like expressions. You make sure you're not communicating one message via one medium, and another medium via another medium. [20:25:02] That would defeat the purpose of an intelligence briefing

being neutral and objective.

COOPER: Hillary Clinton went after, not surprisingly, went after Donald Trump on this today. She actually spoke about briefings she was given in 2008 from the Bush White House about Iraq withdrawal plans. She went so far as to say, it was cursory, I don't think that the White House wants there to be much planning.

The Clinton camp for their part pushing back on the point today saying there's a difference between an intel security briefing and an Iraq policy briefing by then-President Bush's Department of Defense.

Phil, do you agree with that?

MUDD: Yes, I do. There's a fundamental difference between going in and saying here's the picture, for example, of opposition to American forces in Iraq. That might be conducted by the CIA. In the military coming in and saying here's our military posture in Iraq, and how we're responding to a buildup of opposition. Very different, what's going on on the ground, how does U.S. respond to that problem? Two different briefings, Anderson.

PRIESS: Anderson, let me add to that, too.

COOPER: Yes, go ahead.

PRIESS: Let me add, it appears that the briefing Hillary Clinton was talking about back in 2008 was the briefing from the Department of Defense on policy and she got that because of the fact she was a senator. This is not the customary intelligence briefing that Phil was just talking about.

COOPER: All right. David Priess, Phil Mudd, thanks very much.

Just ahead, new polls show a tightening race in four battleground states. John King breaks it down by numbers.

Plus, does Clinton's shrinking lead signal it's time for a strategy reset? Details ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:30:17] COOPER: Got more breaking news, with the general election now just 61 days away, there's new polling tonight shows the race is tightening and some key battleground states. Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party candidate, now polling in the double digits in two key states, as we mentioned earlier, whether that support holds after his stumble today remains to be seen, a stumble about Aleppo.

During an interview on MSNBC, he was asked about the crisis in Aleppo. Here's how that went.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE BARNICLE, MSNBC "MORNING JOE" PANELIST: What would you do if you're elected about Aleppo?

GARY JOHNSON, (L) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: About?

BARNICLE: Aleppo.

JOHNSON: And what is Aleppo?

BARNICLE: You're kidding.

JOHNSON: No.

BARNICLE: Aleppo is in Syria. It's the epicenter of the refugee crisis.

JOHNSON: OK. Got it. Got it.

BARNICLE: OK.

JOHNSON: Well, with regard to Syria, I do think that it's a mess.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Gary Johnson was pretty secured over that gaffe. Too early to tell if it's going to affect his poll numbers going forward. John King, though, is here to break down tonight's new poll.

So four new major battleground state polls. What are the number show?

JOHN KING, CNN INSIDE POLITICS HOST: They show us, Anderson, as our national poll did the other night that we have a tightening race as we go into the final 60 days. Quinnipiac University, let's pull up the numbers and stretch about a little bit. In Pennsylvania, a blue state for the Democrats in presidential politics going back to the '80s. Yes, Clinton leads but by just five points.

In Ohio, Republicans don't win the presidency without it. Donald Trump up four points in this new Quinnipiac polling. North Carolina, one of the closest state last time, Obama won it in 2008 and lost it to Romney in 2012. A four-point Clinton lead there. Another tough close competitive race. And in Florida, the closest of all the states in 2012, 43-43, a tie. Now, the third-party candidates are included here as you noted, Gary Johnson, gets 14 in Ohio, 15 in North Carolina. We'll see if his lack of Syrian knowledge gets him in trouble in the poll, and you see right now Anderson, one thing to both third party candidates are doing is lowering the finish line, the leaders in this states in the mid 40s, that could affect the dynamics.

COOPER: For weeks we've been talking about the advantage that Clinton has when it comes to the state-by-state outlook. So is that no longer the case?

KING: It is no longer as greater advantage. There's no question especially when you look at some of the other battleground states, places like Colorado, places like Virginia, it still advantage Clinton. But just look at the trend line in the race as we go into the final months and as we lead up to that first debate. This is the RealClearPolitics average. Back on August 15th, just a couple weeks ago in Pennsylvania on average, she was up by nine. Now it's six. In Ohio, she was up by two on average. Now it's a tie. North Carolina, it was two. Now it's one. In Florida, it was three. Now it's a tie.

So in four very important battleground states, you might argue, the four most important battleground states at least from the Trump perspective, the race is tightening without a doubt.

COOPER: And you called this Trump path "A" what is that?

KING: I call it path "A" for Trump, because it is inside his campaign, when you talk to his advisers, day view this as his most plausible, some think is his only path to 270. Here's how we have the race right now, Anderson. We've been through this before, if the election were today, CNN believes Secretary Clinton would win. She would get at least 273 electoral votes, those the dark blue and lighter blue on this map right here.

But look at the gold tossup states. They include three we just talked about. If Donald Trump can win Florida, if he can win North Carolina and if he can win Ohio, those are big ifs. I'm not saying it would be easy. But he's competitive. If you just saw that polling. If he gets those three, then he's up to 253. The fourth state we just talked about, Pennsylvania. Clinton goes over the top now because we lean Pennsylvania in her favor. Five-point lead for Clinton.

If Donald Trump can find a way to flip that one, that's 273 for Donald Trump. That's the presidency, Anderson. That is plan "A" in the Trump campaign. And they quickly acknowledge plan "A" is their most viable plan, not easy, but easiest.

COOPER: Does all this suggest that the Clinton campaign needs a correction course? John is going to stick around. I want to bring in CNN's chief political analyst Gloria Borger and CNN political analyst and "USA Today" columnist, Kristen Powers.

Gloria, I mean if the Clinton campaign, how concerned are you by these tightening polls?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I think you're very concerned. And what you're going to see them do is kind of try to reach out now beyond what they've been doing. What they've been doing is going on the attack against Donald Trump. You saw Hillary Clinton do that this morning after the commander-in-chief forum saying that, he was scary and that he's dangerous.

And what they are thinking, though, in the Clinton campaign is, OK, voters who don't like Trump now know why they don't like him. They get that. They now believe they have to give voters an affirmative reason to say, OK, I'm going to cast my ballot for Hillary Clinton.

So she went to the National Baptist Convention today, talked about her faith. She's going to have a bipartisan foreign policy, national security forum trying to reach out to kind of more moderate voters. And we also saw her in a couple of blogs today talking about her personal side, about how her husband is a more natural politician than she is and she has to work a little bit harder at it, kind of opening up a little bit and they're hoping -- that hoping that this will help them with those persuadable voters out there.

[20:35:11] COOPER: You know, Kirsten, from the beginning of this Clinton has always said, and she said it again today, they've always expected a close race. She feels that she's in a strong position, those were her words. But would the campaign be trying to sort of recalibrate or opening up to the press, for instance, in the way they had if they, indeed, felt she was in a strong position?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yeah. Well I think the fact that they did that shows us they feel they had to do something a little bit different. She was also under a lot of heat for that. And I think finally was worn down by it and I think they realized as well that that probably fed into the feeling that she wasn't trustworthy, if you're not going to make yourself available to the media, then you're not going to seem very trustworthy.

But I think they also, you know, have been spending a lot of time, it's been pretty negative in terms of attacking Trump, and getting in arguments with Trump, frankly over things that don't really make sense. It doesn't make sense for her to be getting into arguments with him about whether he supported the Iraq War or not because she supported the Iraq War. And it's one of the things the Democrats don't like about her.

So the fact that he supported it, she brought that up last night at the presidential forum, and gets in this back and forth with him, it doesn't really do anything to help her because it just reminds people that she supported the Iraq War and, frankly, his criticism of the Iraq War is much more -- is much stronger than any criticism you hear coming from here.

COOPER: John, when do races basically kind of lock in or start to lock in? Is there time which wherever they are is where they're likely going to be on Election Day? Do some remain volatile all the way to the very end?

KING: Right, we've been talking about this for months. There's a danger in taking this race and comparing it to any race we had for because of both candidates not just Donald Trump, but because of Hillary Clinton, both candidates have strength. Both have very weaknesses.

One of the remarkable things about this race is some things are pretty locked in. If you look at the polling data, for example, Donald Trump struggles with nonwhite voters, seems to be locked in. Donald Trump's success with white voters seemed to be pretty locked in. The education gap is startling. She does very well with those who have a college education. He does very well with those who don't.

Those seem locked in. Even when you go state by state, is just comes down to a percentage of those groups and each of the states that moves the polling numbers, but independents are swinging. Since the conventions, Hillary Clinton had them after the two conventions. They're swinging back toward Donald Trump right now. And Anderson this one, again she has an advantage when you go state by state, but it's a shrinking advantage, and you say are they locked in.

Remember, John McCain did not wake up in Election Day 2000, I think he was going to win, that race was locked in. Mitt Romney woke up on Election Day in 2012, thinking he was going to win, it was that close. Florida was very close, North Carolina is very close, Ohio was very close. Even Pennsylvania was only five points. There's the -- who's going to win part of this race is not locked in.

COOPER: It is interesting, Gloria, I mean I mentioned this a little bit. Clinton wrote something today on this blog, "Humans of New York" and I want to read a bit of it. She wrote in part "Sometimes I think I come across more in the walled off arena, and if I create that perception, that I take responsibility. I don't view myself as cold or unemotional. And neither do my friends. And neither does my family. But if that's sometimes the perception I create, and I can't blame people for thinking that."

This is clearly, I mean as we just discussed part of -- of I don't know, it's a recalibration or just an effort to kind of win over some people who are undecided. Or dubious.

BORGER: You know, it's difficult to be on the attack all the time, all the time, all the time. When you're trying to convince skeptical voters to effectively like you. She knows what her trust numbers are. She knows that's a problem. And I think that they've really decided to take this turn to a larger context. To provide her vision for the presidency. To provide her vision for the nation. To move it to a different level here because I think they understand that voters are sick and tired of it and that they believe she can do this a lot better than Donald Trump can do this, who would like to be battling all the time.

And I think she does understand that she needs to figure out a way to, if you will, humanize herself. I mean, that happened at the convention through her husband and her daughter, but they understand that she still needs to continue to do this for whatever reason.

COOPER: You know, Kirsten, as we look at these tightening poll numbers, I mean it just, again, reaffirms how important these upcoming debates are going to be.

POWERS: Definitely. Well, look, if you look at when she was doing well after the Democratic Convention, and there's a combination also that I don't think things went so well for her at the Republican Convention. But remember, that was a very aspirational message. It was, you know, when they go low, we go high. And I think that they need to try to get back to that message a little bit.

Her problem, of course, is that a lot of her voters, lot of voters, frankly, on both sides, are motivated by their dislike of the other candidate. So, you know, more than an affirmative vote for the person that they're choosing and so she does need to still highlight the negatives about Donald Trump, but needs to find that balance of also being aspirational and upbeat and talking about herself and I hate that word, but humanizing herself the way she did ...

BORGER: Yeah, me too.

POWERS: ... at the convention.

[20:40:01] COOPER: Kirsten Powers, thank you, Gloria Borger, John King as well.

Just ahead, we have breaking news on the upcoming presidential debates, a new polling on which candidate voters expect to do better and what that says about how both candidates might want to prepare for their face-offs.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: The first of three presidential debates is now less than three weeks away, and tonight there's breaking news on who voters expect to do best. In a new CNN/ORC poll, 53 percent of likely voters said they expect Hillary Clinton will do a better job in debates. 43 percent said Donald Trump will do better. Keep in mind the poll was conducted before last night's presidential forum which was kind of a preview of the game they might bring to the actual debates.

Joining me now, our two debate pros. CNN senior political commentator, former Obama senior adviser, David Axelrod. Also former Romney campaign adviser, Stuart Stevens.

So David, while Trump's often criticized because of his tone, you actually thought Secretary Clinton could use prepping in that respect after last night's forum.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, what clearly happened there, she got hit with a number of questions right at the top about e-mail and then they went to the first questioner who also asked about e-mail and I think in a half-hour show, she felt that too much was being placed on that one question and she was irritated and her irritation showed throughout as she was asked answering the other questions.

[20:45:09] And I think it hurt her and I think there's a lesson in that for her as she prepares for these debates. You have to be able to shake those things off.

COOPER: You can't allow irritation even if it's justifiable in some cases to kind of impact your performance overall.

AXELROD: No, I think it's really, really important because she was there to address this room of veterans and when you start answering questions in an irritated tone, it says as if you're speaking to them in irritation and that's very counterproductive. I thought she got thrown off her game by the way that whole forum opened.

COOPER: Stuart, what'd you see last night with Donald Trump, I mean, in terms of vulnerabilities heading into the first debate or strengths?

STUART STEVENS, FORMER ROMNEY CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Well, I think the debate dynamic will be very different. You know, there's bee a lot of talk about him not being challenged by Matt Lauer on facts. Personally, I think in a debate, it's up to the other candidate to challenge that, and I'm sure that Hillary Clinton is going to come well equipped to do that. She knows her stuff. We saw that.

Donald Trump still kind of floats on these -- this sort of ether of just promises and no specifics.

COOPER: David, what stood out for you on Trump?

AXELROD: Well, look, I thought tonally he was actually a little bit better. He was a little measured in the way he spoke, but, you know, on substance, he was bizarre and as Stuart mentioned, you know, he didn't get challenged in the way that he will in a debate. He benefited from the fact that it was kind of a truncated format and he's going to have to be more rigorous in his -- in his choice of words and his presentation and he's not going to get away with the top-line answer because you're going to have 15-minute segments in which issues are going to be discussed in greater depth than he's had to discuss them before. So he's got a big challenge ahead of him.

COOPER: Stuart, I mean, we know Trump's not prepare -- we're told he's not preparing for these debates like a standard candidate would, not dive into briefing books, necessarily doing mock debates. His reasoning is I guess that he did great in the primary debates, in his opinion.

I mean, these are obviously very different debates. I know you -- you've been involved with candidates who have done mock debates but also candidates who haven't liked them.

STEVENS: Yeah, I think if I was doing the Trump things, I would encourage him or try to force him to do some mock debates only because the one-on-one dynamic is so different than group debates. You can kind of slide a punch a lot easier when there's a number of people on stage. One-on-one is just a slugfest. And I think the key for him is to be able to articulate what he wants to do with the country without saying these kind of outlandish things.

COOPER: I found it fascinating, Stuart, I was reading you said that with George W. Bush practicing for his debate against Al Gore, that there was a moment when, I think it was Portman who was playing Gore, walked over to Bush and sort of startled Bush or Bush kind of laughed and you guys were kind of -- what is the story? You guys were betting whether or not Al Gore would actually do that?

STEVENS: Well, you know, Rob Portman, then-Congressman Portman, had really studied Al Gore and in this mock debate we had, it was for the town hall debate where they were both standing up which was held in St. Louis.. And Rob went over to Bush while he was talking and just stood next to him and Bush broke character, as you can imagine, and kind of laughed and said, what are you doing? And Rob said, no, he will do this. I've watched him. He will try to intimidate you physically. And, you know, they made a little side whether or not that was going to happen. And, you know, in that famous moment, it did happen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL GORE, 45TH VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I believe I can.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEVENS: And you never know exactly what George Bush is going to do in that situation. It wasn't like we practiced it, it came to, you know, I'm going to do this. But just the fact that it occurred I think made that moment easier to handle and it handled it brilliantly. Just going to looked over at him and laughed.

COOPER: Yeah and sort of laughed and nodded and everybody else kind of laughed as well.

STEVENS: Yeah. And that's the kind of thing that in a mock debate, you want a comfortableness of being on stage in this situation. And in that moment, he had it.

COOPER: David Axelrod, Stuart Stevens. Thank you.

STEVENS: Thank you.

COOPER: We'll have more from them. In the next hour, there's more breaking news, one-on-one with Republican vice presidential nominee, Mike Pence. He talked to Dana Bash today in an exclusive interview.

In a moment, his take on Trump's latest Putin comments and why he believes Trump has humility like former President Ronald Reagan, when we continue.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. MIKE PENCE, (R) VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That's exactly right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:53:28] COOPER: More breaking news tonight. Mike Pence is defending Donald Trump's latest comments about Russian president Vladimir Putin. The Republican vice presidential nominee also says like Ronald Reagan, Trump has a "Core of humility."

That and more was discussed when CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash got an exclusive interview with Pence at the Reagan Library, she joins us from there tonight. So what did Pence have to say today?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLTICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, Pence was here at the Reagan Library to give a speech comparing Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump and even though Ronald Reagan faced down the Soviet Union, calling them the evil empire, after I pressed Mike Pence a few times on the question of Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump embracing Putin, Pence said that's just fine.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Donald Trump said that Vladimir Putin has been a leader far more than the president of the United States. Do you share that view?

PENCE: Well, remember Ronald Reagan spoke boldly ...

BASH: I'm talking about Donald Trump if you can answer the question about the current ...

PENCE: ... on the world stage even about the Soviet Union. But it was Ronald Reagan also who met with Gorbachev and demonstrated that you can as Teddy Roosevelt said. You can walk softly and carry a big stick. You can speak boldly and plainly but you can have relationships.

BASH: Do you personally think that Vladimir Putin is a stronger leader than the current president?

PENCE: I think it's inarguable that Vladimir Putin has been a stronger leader in his country than Barack Obama has been in this country. And that's going to change the day that Donald Trump becomes president of the United States of America. I mean look, you've seen incidents ...

[20:55:03] BASH: I mean I don't need to tell you, because you were in Congress. He has -- Barack Obama has a true democracy here with a Congress that pushes back because there's checks and balances. Vladimir Putin doesn't have that.

PENCE: That's exactly right.

BASH: So is it hard to say ...

PENCE: And Donald Trump said last night he doesn't particularly like the system.

BASH: While we are on foreign policy I have to ask, you mentioned last night that Mr. Trump said that the generals, "have been reduced to rubble under President Obama and Hillary Clinton."

Do you agree with that? And is that how a potential commander in chief should speak about the military brass?

PENCE: Well, I think the American people are deeply troubled at a foreign policy, a military policy of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton that has caused the wider Middle East to literally spin out of control. We've seen civil war in Syria, civil war in Libya. We've seen entire areas of Iraq that we're one by the American soldier be compromised.

BASH: But Governor, Mr. Trump was specifically talking about the generals. The generals have been reduced to rubble. He wasn't talking about ...

PENCE: But Dana, I think -- I actually think in all due respect, I think he was talking about the commander-in-chief reducing the influence of generals to rubble. I think the truth is that the leadership that we have had at the top and you heard Donald Trump talk about that last night.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: But Dana, I mean, the whole reason Pence was there was to do the speech comparing Reagan and Trump. He explained some of that comparison to you. Where does he see the parallels?

BASH: Really, he says that they are all over the place. He talked in his speech and in our interview about the fact that they are both straight talking outsiders. They were accused of, these are his words, of being simpletons and they ruffled establishment feathers. But the comparison that gave me pause and our colleagues here is talking about the fact that he believes both Reagan and Donald Trump are humble, that they have humility.

I had to ask him about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: So you talk about him being humble. I know that on the campaign trail, you talk about that as well. And you do it as you compare him to Donald Trump. I think even Donald Trump would say that there are a lot of things that you can say about him, humble is probably not one of them.

PENCE: Well, I would take -- both men were very broad-shouldered leaders.

BASH: Yes.

PENCE: I mean both men have been successful not only ...

BASH: But humble? The guy who has his name on every building that he ...

PENCE: But also an entertainment. Well, Ronald Reagan had his name on a lot of marquees. I think at the very core, both men are the kind of leaders that have a core of humility.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: And as matter know about you, but, you know, I don't know about you, but humble is probably not on the top 5 or 10 list of characteristics that ...

COOPER: Right.

BASH: ... most people would use to talk about Donald Trump.

COOPER: I mean any example? BASH: I asked him for specifics and he finally said that when they're in private, he is seeing the crowds if they're going in the motorcade, you know, through the battleground states on the campaign trail and that he says you know, this isn't about us, this is about a movement. That was the one example that he gave me.

But it certainly was noteworthy. One thing as I toss it back to you, I will tell you, you were talking about debates before. He says he is working very, very hard on his debate prep and he actually does have a stand-in for Tim Kaine who of course he'll be debating unlike Donald Trump who is doing it quite differently.

COOPER: Right. All right Dana Bash. Dana, thanks.

In the next hour, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump taking aim at each other on the campaign trail today, each attacking the other in tough language. We have the latest from out on the road.

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