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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT

Awaiting Historic Clinton-Trump Debate on CNN; Polls: Clinton and Trump Enter Debate in a Dead Heat. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired September 26, 2016 - 19:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

[19:00:20] ANNOUNCER: Tonight a must-see debate. Two bitter rivals going head to head for the first time.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Donald Trump is not qualified to be president.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Hillary Clinton is unfit to be our president.

ANNOUNCER: Donald Trump, still trying to convince voters he can be presidential. While staying unpredictable and on the attack.

TRUMP: She doesn't have the strength, the stamina, or the ability.

ANNOUNCER: Hillary Clinton trying to rebound from setbacks. Arguing that experience and steadiness count.

CLINTON: The man you can bait with a tweet is not a man you can trust with nuclear weapons.

ANNOUNCER: Both candidates fighting to seize momentum in the final stretch of a close and polarizing race.

CLINTON: We need to stop him conclusively in November.

TRUMP: She's been there for 35 years.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN's coverage of Clinton versus Trump in their first presidential debate.

CLINTON: It's a game to him. Everything is a game.

ANNOUNCER: Offering starkly different visions for the nation.

TRUMP: She's done nothing but mistakes. She's got bad, bad judgment.

ANNOUNCER: Two nominees. One stage. And America's future up for debate.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: And this is the stage where Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are about to compete face to face for the first time. It is the most important moment yet in this campaign, and arguably, the biggest night in modern American political history. We are coming to you from the spin room which is right next to the debate hall on the campus of Hofstra University here in New York.

Welcome to all. I'm Erin Burnett with this special edition of OUTFRONT on this debate night in America. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are heading into an extremely high-risk task tonight with the presidential race now according to polls a dead heat. Every word, every gesture they could potentially win or lose vote and there are only six weeks left until the election. With so much riding on one night, on 90 minutes, we are told that both Clinton and Trump were involved in last-minute debate prep just earlier today. Now, this is expected to be the most watched political debate ever. Ever. And we here at CNN are covering it like no one else can.

Wolf Blitzer is inside the debate hall with more on what to expect. Wolf?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Erin, the candidates take the stage in two hours. Two hours from now. They'll stand there behind those lecterns for the entire 90-minute debate. There won't be any commercial breaks at all. Viewers will see Trump on the left. The candidates' positions were determined, by the way, by a coin toss. Hillary Clinton will to the right. Right of your TV screens. Her lectern is shorter than Trump since he's considerably taller than she is. The moderator, NBC News anchor Lester Holt, will be seated in front of them.

His first question will go to Hillary Clinton. That was also determined by a coin toss. Outside the debate hall, people are gathering for this historic debate. As we countdown to the introductions and the first questions. We're going to talk to Senator Bernie Sanders about Hillary Clinton's debate strengths and her weaknesses. He knows firsthand what it's like to mix it up with her on the debate stage. Also this hour, we'll speak with Donald Trump's vice presidential running-mate, Mike Pence, about the challenges the Republican nominee faces tonight.

Let's bring in Jake Tapper. Jake, maybe 100 million Americans will be watching this, millions more around the world will be watching it. The polls right now, the national polls, the battleground polls show this is neck and neck across the country.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: That's right. And the big question for Donald Trump is, can he reassure the American people that he has the temperament and he has the knowledge and experience to be president? Hillary Clinton has really tried to make this election a referendum on him, and voters have really concerns about his temperament and his background. So all night she's going to be trying to delegitimize him. Meanwhile, he's going to be trying to show the American people that a President Trump can be something that they're comfortable with.

BLITZER: It's fascinating. Dana Bash is with us as well. Dana, this is going to be a real challenge for Hillary Clinton after Donald Trump for that matter. One-on-one. He had several debates with a lot of Republican candidates. Hillary Clinton, I don't know if she's ever faced someone like Donald Trump in a one-on-one debate.

[19:05:02] DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right Wolf, few have. You're absolutely right. There are going to be huge challenges, first time challenges for both of these candidates starting with Trump. The only time he has had a small number was four opponents which is not so small and that was in CNN's debate in Miami. For the most part he has debated on crowded stages and he was able to kind of recede into the background when he didn't want to engage on an issue for whatever reason.

He obviously can't do that tonight. It is one-on-one. And for Hillary Clinton, she has had a number of one-on-one debates in this campaign, alone, and of course in 2008 against Barack Obama. But nothing, nothing compares to the wild card that is Donald Trump.

BLITZER: And as we say, the stakes could not be higher, indeed. Erin, back to you.

BURNETT: All right, Wolf. And we're getting some new information from inside the Trump campaign right now. For that, let's bring in Sara Murray. Sara, what do you have?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, right. Now as we are preparing for the debate, Donald Trump is taking a little bit of time to relax. He's at a hotel near the debate site. He's with his family. Taking, you know, a few moments to himself before the debate starts this evening. But make no mistake, the campaign even as they have mocked Hillary Clinton for how intense her debate prep has been is taking this very seriously. Donald Trump did a walkthrough of the debate hall earlier.

That's something he tended to skip during the Republican primaries. And he also fit in another session of debate prep earlier today at Trump Tower before he came over to the debate site and while there's all this expectations, management, all of these mind games going on leading up to the debate, privately, some in the Trump campaign admit that they do believe that Donald Trump will be graded on a curve, they do believe he'll be graded on different standards and that voters don't necessarily expect him to know quite as much as Hillary Clinton does about national security or about the inner workings of the government, so that is something that could certainly work to his benefit tonight -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right, Sara. I just want everyone to know, you know, here in the spin room, there's been a couple of big gaggles as we call them. Mike Pence actually just walked behind me. He's obviously going to be on later this hour with us. And Mark Cuban, the celebrity star guest of Hillary Clinton also was here. I had a moment to speak to him briefly. Very excited to be here. Says he was invited directly by the Clinton campaign, of course.

And Jeff Zeleny has more on Clinton's last-minute preparations today. Jeff, you have just learned as, of course, Mark Cuban and his celebrity, you know, star hood just come here through our press spin room. JEFF ZELENY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Erin. Hillary Clinton is also

at a hotel just a short distance from here at Hofstra University, and like her opponent, she is using this opportunity to sort of collect her thoughts and rest. I just talked to a senior adviser who's been in touch with her and she's not practicing anymore. She is refining her points and really, you know, looking for a couple moments to make a standout in her fight with Donald Trump.

No presidential candidate in modern history at all has had as much debating experience as Hillary Clinton. They know she will need all that. But right now, at this hour, she is with her husband, the rest of her family. Thinking about this big moment ahead tonight. She is actually not doing a walkthrough of this stage we're told, at least that is her plan right now. She has seen what it looks like.

Some of her aides have looked at it there, but she has been doing these debate practice sessions standing in front of a podium at the very same hour the debate will be tonight, 9:00 Eastern Time. She is ready for this debate, her advisers believe, but they also are saying, look, she's going to use this as an opportunity to make her case to 100 million people. Don't necessarily look for as many fireworks as Donald Trump might be expecting -- Erin.

ZELENY: All right, Jeff Zeleny. Thank you very much. And now let's go to Anderson.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Erin, thanks very much. We got a complete panel here to my left, I've got all our Trump supporters and our Clinton supporters. And also to my right, I have our analysts and our reporters. Let's start with them.

Michael Smerconish, host of "SMERCONISH" and the "MICHAEL SMERCONISH" program. Nia-Malika Henderson, CNN senior political reporter. Gloria Borger, CNN chief political analyst. And David Axelrod, CNN senior political commentator, former senior Obama adviser and host of "The Axe Files" podcast. Just in terms of historic events, I mean, it's an overused word. But I mean, this really is history in the making tonight.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Absolutely. We've never had a reality show star in a presidential debate before. That's history, but honestly --

COOPER: And a female candidate of a major party.

AXELROD: I was joking.

COOPER: I know you were.

AXELROD: But really, this -- it's also historic because this is a very close race. It's been tightening in the last several weeks. It's now in the average about 1.6 separating the two and in the battleground states, it's been tightening and people are going to be looking at this debate for cues. It will probably be the most-watched debate. The first debate often is. And this is the -- this is going to be a very important test for both of them. For Trump as was mentioned, to show that he has the presidential meddle, the temperament, the command, but for Hillary Clinton to connect with people and give them an authentic sense of where she wants to lead and why she wants to be president, and so I think they're a test for both of them.

COOPER: Not just enough for Hillary Clinton to know lots of facts and have, you know, talk about her policies, she's got to sort of I think Paul Begala talked about this the other day, kind of paint a picture, kind of an overview of what she wants for her presidents.

[19:10:23] GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: And why she should be president because she cares about you. And how her presidency would affect your life. I mean, when you step back and you think about this, on paper she is the most qualified person probably in my lifetime ever to run for the presidency. When you look at her resume. Donald Trump is the first presidential nominee, I think, since Ike Eisenhower, not to have been in elective office before.

So they couldn't be more different even on that score. And I think for him, he's got to prove that he's qualified. We all know what the polls show. People wonder about his qualifications. But for her, it's more about your life and how she can fix it. Because everybody kind of knows that she's got the resume.

COOPER: It's almost, I mean, Michael, is it an easier bar for Donald Trump, because if he just shows people that he can be president, that they can imagine him president at the end of this debate, if this is a change election, I mean, he has an advantage there.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR, "SMERCONISH": The fact that you're asking me that and I do agree with the proposition, i think it shows that the Trump campaign has succeeded in adjusting the bar to their specifications before this debate even begins. I would say that the big challenge for him is to remind himself that all of those debates in which he succeeded in primary and caucus season matter not now. This is a completely different audience. And that which got him here could also prevent him from going further. Because those red meat stirring one liners I think will not play well for the type of general election audience that he needs to reach this evening.

COOPER: And also, the audience in this hall is probably very different, I mean, they're asked not to clap, not to kind of voice their support or their disdain one way or the other.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, and he feeds, as Gloria said, feeds off of the crowd. He is great dispensing red meat, he's very funny at times but he has said this before, and I think he said it in an interview with you, a town hall, he said that he can act differently for different people. And that's what he'll need to do tonight. And we've seen him do that. He's done it mainly by reading off a teleprompter. He won't have a teleprompter tonight.

But I think, you know, he's a performer. He understands. I think the stakes here. And listen, he comes in here with the momentum, right, he comes here -- in here with a lot of upside where he can come out of this debate continuing this momentum. I think if you're a Democrat, you're worried tonight, you're worried about the high stakes for Hillary Clinton, and can she meet those? Can she pull away from Donald Trump? So, I think, you know, he comes in with a head of esteem.

COOPER: You know, David Axelrod, I think back six weeks ago and to John King at the magic wall looking at the path to 270 electoral votes and he had a tough time finding a path for Donald Trump. I just talked to him in the last hour, there's now a very clear path.

AXELROD: Yes, that's why they call the magic wall, you know, it changes. But the -- look, I think that's -- these races are very changeable. The intense coverage has an effect on these campaigns. We said last summer after she had this very strong convention, it was going to take a while to have this settle in and he made changes in his campaign --

COOPER: Right, which were effective.

AXELROD: He's become a much more disciplined candidate. The question in this debate is once he gets past the first two-minute question and they get into that discussion period, can he carry on a prolonged discussion on, you know, complex issues? And if the answer is yes, he can take a big step forward here. If the answer is no, it will reconfirm some of the concerns that people have about him.

BORGER: And, you know, the audience he's going to be feeding off of tonight is one person. It's Hillary Clinton. He's going to have to be responding to her directly. It's not going to be the energy from the audience. It's going to be what Hillary Clinton says about him. And we haven't really seen that dynamic before one-on-one with him.

COOPER: Interesting.

BORGER: And so it's different.

COOPER: We're going to talk to our partisans I guess you would say coming up a little bit later. Trump supporters and Clinton supporters. We'll talk to the last person who debated Hillary Clinton, Senator Bernie Sanders. He'll share his unique take on the potential pitfalls Clinton needs to avoid tonight and what he's expecting. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:18:43] BURNETT: And we are less than two hours away from the start of what may be the most anticipated presidential debate ever. I don't even know if we have to say "may." I think it fairly is. Hillary Clinton versus Donald Trump. But first, a female presidential nominee of a major party going up against one of the most unconventional White House contenders in American history.

We're back with special edition of OUTFRONT live in the debate site here at Hofstra University. Just outside New York City which of course is the home base of both of the nominees. It is local for both of them tonight. Senator Bernie Sanders is the last person who debated Hillary Clinton.

And he joins us now from Vermont. And Senator, thank you very much for being with us.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: My pleasure.

BURNETT: You know what it is like to stand on a debate stage with Hillary Clinton one-on-one. What -- what do you say, what was the hardest part about debating her?

SANDERS: Well, I think the hardest part is understanding that despite what the media may think, this is not a night of entertainment. It's not a Super Bowl. It's not the World Series. Tonight, the American people are going to be looking at somebody who will have enormous power in influencing the direction of our country, 320 million people, and the rest of the world. And I hope that we focus on the issues. The differences between the candidates. One candidate, for example, Donald Trump, wants to give hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks to billionaires. The wealthiest people in this country. Is that really a good policy for working families? Donald Trump does not believe that climate change is real.

He thinks it's a hoax. Despite what the entire scientific community says. Is that a very good approach for the future of this planet and for the lives of our kids and our grandchildren? Donald Trump will appoint another conservative, he said, to the Supreme Court which means that Citizens United, the disastrous Supreme Court decisions that allow billionaires like Sheldon Adelson and the Koch Brothers to buy elections and undermine American democracy. That will continue. Hillary Clinton wants to overturn Citizens United. So I think what we have to do is focus on the issues, and not see tonight as an entertainment show.

BURNETT: All right. Now, you did say recently, though, you had some criticism for Secretary Clinton on one thing. And perhaps it's related to what you're talking about now, Senator. You said she needs to, in your words, get away from all of this personality stuff, and, in your words, start talking about the real issues which actually sounds like what you were just saying there. Your frustration. What did you mean when you said --

SANDERS: Well, I think the criticism was more --

BURNETT: This personality stuff?

SANDERS: Well, that's what media does. They make this what kind of shoes will Donald Trump be wearing? Who is he huddling with right now? How is his hair going to look tonight?

BURNETT: Right. But you have this criticism of her. This was a criticism of her.

SANDERS: No, it's not a criticism. It's the criticism of the media. Let's talk about which candidate is going to be better for working families. Now, I know, in my state and all over this country, you got millions of people trying to make it at nine, 10 11 bucks an hour. I think, Hillary Clinton thinks we need to raise the minimum wage to a living wage. That's not Donald Trump's position. I believe that as a nation we have struggled for a long time to overcome bigotry and racism. Donald Trump is making the cornerstone of his campaign, in fact, bigotry. Dividing us up.

Latinos and Blacks, and Muslims. Trying to divide our nation up. I don't think that that's good for the future of this country. So my hope is that we can focus tonight and in the future on the differences of opinions, very real differences between the two candidates and when we do that, I think most people will perceive that Clinton is the superior candidate.

BURNETT: As you know, though, Senator, you know, appearance and style matter a lot in a debate. Right? It's not just the ideas, it's the art of it.

SANDERS: No. No, I don't know that.

BURNETT: And perhaps, the entertainment.

SANDERS: Let me just say this. Let me just say this. Because I, with all due respect, I disagree with you. When I debated Clinton, it was a very interesting phenomenon. Most of the time, not all of the time, the media seemed to think that Clinton looked more presidential and she, quote-unquote, won the debate. But you know what, you go online, we did much better because people listened to what I had to say. So I do not agree that style and looks and how you comb your hair is what the important issue is. I believe --

BURNETT: Okay.

SANDERS: -- that it is what the candidate thinks. I'm sorry.

BURNETT: So, let me ask you though, on one thing. I just want to ask you on one thing. Because in terms of the style, Hillary Clinton obviously is the first woman to ever be on the stage like we're going to see tonight. And you obviously were debating her in that capacity as well. There was one time as you remember when you were talking about people shouting and after that, she came back and said, that's how people talk about women but not about men. And there was another time when she was talking and you kept saying, excuse me, excuse me, excuse me and were interrupting her and people interpreted that as sexist. Is that something you think could happen to Donald Trump tonight?

[19:23:40] SANDERS: I have no idea. I mean, I think, you know, I what we look at is Hillary Clinton is a candidate for president of the United States. And I would hope that both of the candidates are respectful of each other. I don't believe that when I participated that I was rude. Others may disagree, but, you know, I would hope that there is a thoughtful, intelligent debate on the real issues of facing the families, working families, of America.

BURNETT: And a final question to you in terms of your advice. What is your final piece of advice to her tonight going up against Donald Trump? SANDERS: I would simply say, she doesn't need my advice. She does

these things very well and has a lot of experience in them. I would -- she understands that she's up against an entertainer. Donald Trump is an excellent entertainer. He's had successful TV shows. And that's his campaign. It's entertainment. I would say that in contrast, what she has got to do is focus on the real issues. Stay focused on the issues impacting the American people.

How do we raise the minimum wage to a living wage? How do we get pay equity for women? How do we make colleges? She has a proposal that would provide free tuition at public colleges and universities for any family making less than $125,000. That's a big deal. Stay on message. Keep talking about what impacts the average Americans.

BURNETT: All right. Senator Sanders, thank you very much for you time tonight.

And next, Donald Trump's poll comeback. He has been rising in the polls and the race for the White House tonight is now in a formal dead heat.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:29:18] BLITZER: As we countdown to tonight's historic debate, we have a brand new snapshot of the presidential race showing Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in a dead heat. As they get ready to debate here at Hofstra University tonight. Clinton now leads Trump by only two points in CNN's poll of polls. That's an average of the five most recent surveys of voters nationwide. The race also is a virtual tie in the critical battleground state of Pennsylvania.

A new CNN/ORC poll shows Clinton just one point ahead of Trump among likely voters. It's equally close in Colorado and that's another key swing state where our new poll shows Trump one point ahead of Hillary Clinton.

John King is over at the magic wall for us. He's looking at the shift in this election map.

[19:30:02] What are you seeing, John?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, what we are seeing is just remarkable as we get ready for this first very consequential presidential debate. Look at the map of 2012, this is the Obama/Romney race.

Now, if you're Donald Trump, the only way to win is turn several of the blue states red, right? He has to take away wins that Obama had. If we looked at this map five weeks ago, I could not circle one blue state and tell you Donald Trump was ahead or in a tie.

Here's the situation today, let's use green for a minute. Donald Trump is ahead in Iowa. Donald Trump is a little bit ahead in Nevada.

Let's switch colors. Donald Trump is either a little ahead or in a tie in battleground Ohio. He's keeping North Carolina which is a red state for Romney last time. As you just noted, he's very competitive in Pennsylvania, it's a dead heat. He's very competitive, a dead heat in Florida and he's now competitive out in Colorado. Up one point in our poll, down a point or two if you average out all the polls.

Look at that right there. Six or seven states carried by Obama where Trump is now competitive. What does that mean? Still advantage, Clinton, Wolf. We look at this map and we say, if the election were held today, we believe Secretary Clinton would get at least 272 electoral votes. You need 270 to win the White House.

But we need to watch this very closely now. We have Pennsylvania leading Democratic. Another poll or two showing a tight race. Might have to reconsider that.

Let me show it to you this way. Let's assume Trump keeps that Nevada lead, can win Florida, can hold North Carolina and can win Ohio, look how close that would make this race -- 272 to 264. At that point, a month ago, we were saying Donald Trump has so few paths, so few options. If he can get to 260, 264, Pennsylvania could do it. Michigan could do it, even just Colorado could do.

So, a month or so ago, Donald Trump had to throw to an inside straight, now he has more menu options as he looks to the path to 270.

Now, I just talked to Joel Benenson, the top strategist of the Clinton campaign. He disputes some of these state numbers, but he does acknowledge this is a tighter race now that it was four, or five weeks ago.

How does Hillary Clinton counter this? Wolf, the most important thing for Secretary Clinton is try to take a couple big prizes away from Donald Trump. If she can win North Carolina, for example, forget about it, Donald Trump can't get to the presidency. If she can hold Florida, 29 electoral votes, forget about it.

So, out of these first debates, they'll see how things go tonight, then they'll go state by state. Look for Clinton to spend a lot of time in North Carolina, to reinforce Pennsylvania and get out to Colorado to check a state they think they're going to win but are a little nervous, Anderson, because of new poll numbers. No question, very competitive going into tonight. The winner tonight has a different map tomorrow.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Very competitive, indeed. John King -- John, thanks very much.

Let's talk to our panelists. Trump supporters, Clinton supporters as well. How pleased are you where Donald Trump is, and what do you attribute the fact that things have changed so much in some of these states for Donald Trump in the last six weeks?

JEFFREY LORD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, he really has (INAUDIBLE) one of the things when you go back and look at other presidential elections, 1968, 1992 for Bill Clinton, events beyond the candidates' doing, riots in 1968, both after Dr. King's assassination and at the Democratic convention, Richard Nixon was running on a law and order theme.

In 1992, the riots in Los Angeles seemed to play against President Bush and then-Governor Clinton was out there saying I'm the one who cares, these riots happen because of Reagan/Bush budget cuts, et cetera. It fit the Clinton narrative.

What we're seeing here I think with the terrorist attack in New York, with the events in Charlotte, I'm talking television pictures here, the images. Let's not forget the image of Secretary Clinton, herself, and her health scare there on September 11th. I do think those things make an impact watching an electorate on television.

COOPER: Van Jones, is that do you think what's changed?

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's some of it, and frankly, Donald Trump stopped doing dumb stuff every day. Let's not forget (AUDIO GAP)

He was slipping on a banana (AUDIO GAP) and marbles every day the whole summer. So, he stopped doing that. That let some people get more comfortable with him.

Hillary Clinton has got to not fall into a particular trap, though. She's so interested in stopping Donald Trump from dragging us backwards she forgets to tell us how she's going to take us forward. She actually has plans.

It's not just a personality thing. They both got bad personalities according to a lot of people. But they have plans.

If you look at her plans, she should talk about them more. Economists at Oxford looks at both their plans, they said Donald Trump's economic plan will cost us 3 million jobs, Hillary Clinton will get us 10 million.

I want to hear her talk more about how she's going to take us forward. Most people got the memo that Trump will take us backwards.

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Bu here's the problem about Hillary Clinton when she talks about policy, Hillary Clinton is the embodiment of the status quo. I go back to an interview I saw in June, where she was asked what will you to that differs from what Obama has done for the economy? Her answer was, create more green jobs.

That is not a viable answer of how you will change --

JONES: I like that answer a lot.

(CROSSTALK)

MCENANY: How you will change and this is an electorate that really is craving change.

A poll stuck out to me last week, the CBS battleground poll of battleground voters, 55 percent wanted big change, and 43 percent wanted some change.

[19:35:06] That's 98 percent of voters saying they want some sort of change. Tonight on the debate stage, you're going to see the embodiment of change in Donald Trump and the embodiment of he status quo in Hillary Clinton.

JONES: Kayleigh is right in this regard. She's been I think afraid to make the case we need change because it might offend Obama. I think the way she can handle that is say, look, Obama got us out of the ditch, we're now ready for takeoff and I can tell you someplace beyond we were able to go.

But she doesn't make that case. She sounds like she's for the status quo when she's not.

COOPER: Mayor Nutter?

MICHAEL NUTTER, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it's interesting. I mean, Kayleigh says having policy ideas is somehow representative of the status quo. This is a policy job. The job is to lay out a vision, lay out policies and then implement them. That's what you do when you're an executive.

So, that's not the status quo. That is a job. That's what happens when you get elected to an executive job. You have policies, you have a vision and then you implement.

MCENANY: When your policies are a duplication of the administration's policies, that is, in fact, the status quo.

NUTTER: Nowhere near --

MCENANY: Donald Trump has given novel idea, a novel economic plan and that is what we're going to see tonight is change.

NUTTER: He has ideas, he has no policies, and he has plans. He has ideas.

COOPER: We're going to take a break here. We're going to have more with our panelists. We're going to go inside the candidates' playbooks with two former debate coaches and talk to the vice presidential nominee, Mike Pence.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:40:17] ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Millions of Americans will be watching what happens on this stage tonight with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton face off in their first debate. Right now, at this moment, we are getting new information about how Clinton and Trump have been preparing for tonight's historic event. Of course, now they're just both nearby getting ready to come over for the actual main event.

Let's bring in our Jeff Zeleny.

And, Jeff, what have you learned about how Clinton is spending these final moments?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Erin, tonight, we're getting new details about these practice sessions she's been having. Now, they build a scaled debate stage inside a conference room near her home in Chappaqua where she's gone the last three nights to simulate the exact time of the debate.

Now, playing the role of Donald Trump, her longtime aide Philippe Reines, a sharp-tongued New Yorker. He's been throwing insults at her but spending the most time on that private e-mail server that's caused her so much grief. But he's also brought up a long list of topics that Trump might use. From Monica Lewinsky, to her paid Wall Street speeches.

Now, others in the room include her debate coach, Ron Klain, a former adviser to President Obama, of Vice President Biden and Al Gore and Karen Dunn, Clinton's longtime lawyer. Her team of advisers so small and intimate, even Bill Clinton was not included for most of those sessions, Erin.

But Hillary Clinton has been instructed above all not to lecture tonight. But search for moments of levity instead -- Erin.

BURNETT: Very interesting. Interesting when you say Bill Clinton wasn't there for most of it.

Let's go Sara Murray now and the other side of it, details on how Donald Trump has been preparing.

And, Sara, I know you have some new details. Of course, we know it was unusual in terms of his preparations. But what else have you learned?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Well, that's right. Donald Trump hasn't been playing by the old rules throughout the presidential race and true when it comes to debate prep also.

Now, Hillary Clinton, other candidates, they like to do full mock debates wearing make up, using a podium, but Donald Trump really prefers more of this rapid fire roundtable. That's included his campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, as well as his campaign CEO Steve Bannon. They're helping Trump shape both his messaging and tone. Ousted FOX News executive Roger Ailes has also been weighing in on this process.

But Trump is also relying on New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, as well as former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Both of these men are practiced politicians. People he sees as his peers. People that can help him both on substance but also the showmanship that comes to debate and as to some recent sessions, they've added RNC chairman Reince Priebus to the mix as well.

Now, Jared Kushner is Trump's son-in-law and taken an active role in basically all aspects of this campaign. No surprise to see him involved in debate prep as well. Now, of course, their goal is to ensure that Donald Trump is prepared for whatever comes tonight, but that he's not over-rehearsed.

BURNETT: All right. Sara, thank you very much.

Now we're here on the practice debate stage. We're going to prepare you for the history-making matchup.

I'm, of course, Erin. Here along with Paul Begala and Lanhee Chen. Lanhee prepped Mitt Romney in 2012 and Marco Rubio to go against Donald Trump earlier this primary season. So, you have prepared someone to go up against Donald Trump and, of course, Paul Begala, you're the head of super PAC, but you also were preparing Bill Clinton.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right.

BURNETT: So you've both been in these positions before. Okay. So candidates take debate prep incredibly seriously. We've seen that with Hillary Clinton, right? I mean, she's been doing it at the same time every night so that she's ready, getting her mind completely in this.

President Obama actually got John Kerry on a replica stage in Nevada so that he would have the exact same stage. Donald Trump, though, has not done it this way, right? It's been people sitting around a table getting him ready. Paul, is that a mistake?

BEGALA: Well, we'll see. I think, yes. I think familiarity matters. OK? If you're going to -- I can go out in my driveway and shoot hoops and lower the basket down to six or eight feet. It would be great, you know? I'd look like Kevin Durant. But at some point, they're going to tip it off and the hoop is going to be ten feet high.

So, I think preparation that mimics the authentic event matters.

LANHEE CHEN, FORMER ROMNEY PUBLIC POLICY DIRECTOR: To be fair, though, Paul, I think it's a very individualized process. You have to know the candidate. You have to kind of figure out what is it she or he wants to do, what are their weaknesses, what are their strengths? And playing to that I think is very important as well. So, the process really can't be cookie cut. You really have to get in there and see, what do they need, what do they not need and go from there.

BURNETT: All right. So in terms of what we know of each of them, how they have done this so far. Let's take a look at the attacks, the Donald Trump attacks --

BEGALA: My favorite part.

(LAUGHTER)

BURNETT: Senator Sanders was lecturing us a few moments ago about this isn't entertainment, of course, he's right, this is a very, very serious moment. Part of the reason people watch these debates is to see who can score the point and win and that is why people are so mesmerized by them.

[19:45:02] Here is how Donald Trump has taken down some of his competitors earlier in this process.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I never attack him on his look, and believe me, there's plenty of subject matter right there, that I can tell you.

JEB BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm talking right now. I'm talking.

TRUMP: You can go back. You're not talking. You interrupted me.

Don't worry about it, little Marco.

So far, I'm doing better. You know, you started off over here, Jeb. You're moving over further and further. Pretty soon, you're going to be off the end.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: But you're not beating Hillary.

TRUMP: If I can't, hey, if I can't beat her, you're really going to get killed, aren't you?

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

BURNETT: OK. All right. So Paul, how does she prepare? Even if that isn't the Donald Trump who shows up --

BEGALA: Right.

BURNETT: No matter what, Donald Trump is clever with the quick line that comes to his head. It isn't a rehearsed putdown. It just will come to him. How does Clinton prepare for that?

BEGALA: Well, I think, she's got to play her game. She's not an insult comic the way that Trump is, but I tell you what, she's pretty tough. This is a woman who faced down Ken Starr, who faced down that Republican committee who's investigating Benghazi. But some of them seemed quite partisan.

I think she's pretty ready for Trump the insult comic. I think the greater challenge is going to be the sedated Trump. I guarantee you, his debate prep is 100 CCs of Thorazine, a powerful antipsychotic sedative. That is what she's going to have to deal with. Boring Trump. Can she -- that's why she's got to play her game, not hers.

BURNETT: So, Lanhee, when Senator Clinton plays offense, she does it very differently than Donald Trump, OK? Here's a little taste of her during the primaries.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Senator Sanders voted against the Brady bill five times.

When you got to the Senate in 2007, one of the first things you did was vote against Ted Kennedy's immigration reform which he'd been working on for years before you ever arrived.

Senator Sanders, you're the only one on this stage that voted to deregulate the financial market in 2000.

With all due respect, Senator, you voted for regime change with respect to Libya. You joined the Senate in voting to get rid of Gadhafi.

We had Republican support, we had a president willing to sign it. I voted for that bill. Senator Sanders voted against it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: All right. She knew every single voting record. In this case, it's going to be knowing every negative detail she can find about Donald Trump's business record, right? How will that play?

CHEN: Well, she's very good at the delivery of information. She knows the facts. She knows the record.

Now, that can be important to a certain degree. But she's got to be able to demonstrate the human side of all of this. If she's going to attack on Donald Trump's record, she's got to be able to say, look, you have this record on Trump University, and here's what it means for Sally May and Jimmy -- for whoever, right, that had been affected by this. To humanize it. I think it' very important.

It's not just about delivering the information which she can do, it's about personalizing it and demonstrating she understands why Donald Trump might be bad for the American people.

BURNETT: And they each have a catchphrase that they use all the time that we notice by watching this again and again, that they would each use. "Believe me" is Donald Trump's and "just the facts" is hers. We'll see how of course that all plays out tonight.

All right. As we get close to the start of tonight's historic debate, we're going to be looking at some of the biggest names in the audience tonight and who is actually staying home. We'll be joined be Donald Trump's running mate, Mike Pence, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:50:46] BLITZER: We're just over an hour away from a presidential debate that promises to be unlike anything we've seen in modern American politics. We're live here at Hofstra University. We're counting down until the first time Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will go head to head on issues. What happens tonight could tip the balance to what is now a dead heat just 43 days until the election.

Tonight, both candidates will have close family members in the audience. Donald Trump will be looked out, he'll see his wife, Melania, along with his adult children, Donald, Jr. Ivanka, Eric and Tiffany. Trump's 10-year-old son, Baron, won't be attending the debate tonight. As for the Clintons, Chelsea Clinton will be in the audience to

support her mother. We're told Bill Clinton will be on site, doesn't sit in the audience when his wife debates. There could be a last- minute decision for him to be here in the debate hall.

The Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence is with us right now.

Jake, you have some first questions for the presidential nominee.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Governor, thanks so much for being here. We appreciate it.

GOV. MIKE PENCE (R), VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: You bet. Exciting night.

TAPPER: So, we've all watched the Republican primary debates and during those debates, Donald Trump -- I know he considers himself a counterpuncher, but he certainly threw a lot of insults out there, whether it was choke artist or basket case, little Marco, et cetera. I'm wondering, does he consider the general election debates to be different than the primary debates in terms of tone and tenor?

PENCE: Well, I think what you're going to see the same Donald Trump that we've seen throughout this campaign. He's going to be -- he's going to be told truth teller, he going to speak plainly. But, I think, tonight, it's an opportunity for him in a real sense for him to lay out that vision to make America great again.

I mean, the crowds that we see, the momentum that's showing up in polls that is all evidence of the fact that he's really given voice to the frustrations and aspirations of the American people and I think tonight is a night when he can in front of the vast majority of this country literally lay out those policies that he's been laying out in speech after speech and share a positive aspirational vision for the country.

TAPPER: So, we should not expect to see same kind of zingers that we saw during the primaries? Is that how to interpret that? Or who knows?

PENCE: I think, who knows. We'll see where it goes.

Look, Donald Trump's got broad shoulders. You know, he's able to make his case and make a point. I think what most Americans want to see is both candidates take the platform, maybe in front of 100 million people in this country, and really lay out their vision.

And they're such different visions for the country and I think they're two different visions for the future. Hillary Clinton, it's status quo, it's more of the same, policies that Donald Trump and I and millions of American think have weakened America's place in the world, stifled America's economy. Donald Trump has a vision to have American standing tall in the world again, rebuilding our military, restoring our country with the policies that Ronald Reagan used, that John F. Kennedy used. That's the contrast I hope that after 90 minutes, the American see and that they can make their choice.

TAPPER: So, let me ask you. You referred to him as a bold truth teller. I'm sure fact checkers would take issue with the concept of truth teller. Has the candidate, has the nominee familiarized himself with some of the issues that fact checkers and others have pointed out he's not accurate on and will he adapt accordingly to what the facts are, what the truth is?

PENCE: Well, I think Donald Trump always speaks straight from his heart and straight from his mind. That's why he's made the connection with millions of Americans he's made, Jake.

But you bet. I think going into this campaign as a busy campaign schedule has allowed, he's taken some time, talked to the team, thought through these issues and in speech after speech around the country, ever since the convention, you've heard the details of these policies be laid out and I think he'll be reflecting on all of those things tonight. But my hope is as the debate goes forward, these two candidates and especially my running mate is going to have an opportunity to lay out that positive vision for the country because I truly do believe -- I truly do believe it's the right course for America, he has the right leadership qualities and I'm looking for a great night.

[19:55:03] TAPPER: Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONENT: I want to ask you, Governor, about your own debate prep, because it's a week from tomorrow. You talk about Donald Trump having broad shoulders.

PENCE: I do.

BASH: What do you mean by that?

PENCE: I just -- I think Donald Trump embodies the American spirit. He's strong, he's freedom loving, he's independent-minded, he's willing to fight for what he believes in. I think that's why you saw him, you know, roll through a 17-way Republican primary in one debate after another. And it's that kind of strong leadership I think that the American people I think are really looking for here in home and abroad.

BASH: So you're not referencing his masculinity there?

PENCE: Oh, not a bit. Not a bit.

BASH: OK.

PENCE: Look, I -- you know, what I'm referring to Donald Trump is really someone who I think has made a connection with the American people because he represents the kind of leadership that we want to see once again in the Oval Office.

BASH: You have your own debate a week from tomorrow.

PENCE: I do. BASH: You told me a couple weeks ago you are practicing pretty hard,

you're doing mock debates, you're studying. You have some differences on Donald Trump on policy issues. So when you're asked questions, are you going to talk about your position or Donald Trump's?

PENCE: Well, we're going to talk about our positions. We're going to talk about the agenda of the Trump/Pence team. I am doing a little preparation for it and a little bit more traditional than my running mate.

Look, he's preparing for tonight for his entire life. I mean, to be around him is to be around a man who's been a builder. He's built a -- he's someone who loves -- his family loves this country and I think tonight, people are going to see that life time of experience and that authenticity come through.

And for my part, my focus the last four years has been and continues to be on leading the state of Indiana. So I've been brushing up on all those Washington issues I used to deal with full time when I was in Congress, but I'm looking forward to a good debate next week.

BLITZER: The candidates will be on the stage in about an hour from now. Any last-minute advice you have for Donald Trump?

PENCE: Well, my only advice to him is be yourself. I mean, I've come to know him over the last several months. We talk every day. We campaign often times a few times every week together.

And, you know, I've seen him when the klieg lights are off. This is a good man who I believe will make a good president of the United States and going on to the stage tonight I think is the best opportunity he's had in the course of this campaign to present himself to the American people and I'm excited about it.

BLITZER: Governor, what has surprised you the most as you've gotten to know this man?

PENCE: Well, you know, I didn't know him at all. I'd met him once in a meeting shaking his hand one other time. I will tell you he's a bigger-than-life personality, he's a great, successful businessman.

But the thing I saw when we were down in Baton Rouge, the thing that I see backstage, he's simply one of the most kind and gracious people I've ever been around in my life. He takes time with people. He takes an interest in people and I expect he has the mind, he has the leadership to be a great president.

But make no mistake about it -- he's got the heart of a great president, too.

BLITZER: Ask one more question.

TAPPER: One last thing. We're going to hear I'm sure tonight something about Hillary Clinton asking about Donald Trump, why hasn't he released his tax returns. And perhaps even the moderator will bring it up. He, is as you know, the first major party presidential nominee since 1976 to not release his tax returns.

For somebody who has made his life as a business, for somebody about whom there are questions about where his ties are and whether or not that would affect his job as president, doesn't he have an obligation to the American people to release them?

PENCE: Well, I think Donald Trump's made it very clear, Jake, that he will release his tax returns when the routine audit is complete.

TAPPER: What about the ones before the routine audit, 2008 or before, which were not covered in this for audit which satisfy critics?

PENCE: I mean, the information about his finance life is available online right now. We both, as all the candidates have in this race, fully complied with what the federal law requires about financial disclosures. And people can take a break, even before the debate starts and go and read over 100 pages of his filings. But --

TAPPER: It's not the full disclosure that every other candidate since 1976 has offered the American people.

PENCE: Well, as I said, I think those tax returns are going to come out in due course, but I think the reason why he's made the connection that he's made with millions of Americans, I saw it again today when hundreds of people gathered to just hear little ol' me up in Milford, New Hampshire. I see it in the thousands that turn out for rallies for Donald Trump.

You see it in the momentum that's even evident in polls now because he's talking about the issues the American people are most passionate about and that is the security of this nation, the safety of bringing law and order back to our streets, getting this economy moving for every American again and having a Supreme Court that will uphold our Constitution and ending illegal immigration. Those are the issues I expect you're going to hear a lot about tonight.