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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT

Countdown to CNN's Democratic Town Hall; GOP Caucusing Begins Shortly in Nevada; Clinton Leads Sanders By One Pledged Delegate; GOP Candidates Battle for Nevada, Caucusing Starts Soon.. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired February 23, 2016 - 19:00   ET

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


[19:00:17] ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Good evening, I'm Erin Burnett and welcome to a very special edition of OUTFRONT. We're following two breaking stories. Right now, Republican voters about to caucus in Nevada. The crucial fourth state in the race for the GOP nomination. And the democratic candidates are about to take the stage in South Carolina for a CNN town hall. They will be taking voter questions in less than an hour. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders will be on this stage that you see here in Columbia, South Carolina.

We'll be talking with top officials from both those campaigns coming up in just a little bit. Also an hour from now in Nevada, Republican voters will begin caucusing and we just learned that the GOP is actually signed up more new voters in advance of tonight's caucuses than the total number that caucused in 2012. That's a pretty incredible number. Will that surge in new voters help Donald Trump? The question tonight is whether a win in Nevada will make the GOP front-runner unstoppable. It's a big night for politics. We have all the angles covered right now for you.

Our reporters are spread out across the nation from Nevada to South Carolina with the candidates. And joining me here in our studio for the entire hour our expert panel as you can see.

I want to start though with Jeff Zeleny in Columbia, South Carolina at the site of the Democratic town hall. Jeff, obviously this is a crucial night ahead of the voting in that state. What do Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have to do tonight?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, I think first and foremost Hillary Clinton has to show that Nevada was not a fluke. If she is in command of this race. And another thing her advisors tell me that every one of these forums and opportunity to whittle away at those trust questions that have been with her throughout this -- throughout the campaign. But I think what she is really trying to do is show her commanding lead here in South Carolina is something that can continue. As she also looks forward to Super Tuesday. So she basically does not want to have any errors tonight.

But Bernie Sanders tonight wants to show that he has a message for African-American voters here in South Carolina. Who of course make up some 55 percent of the electorate or so particularly African-American women. He'll be talking about his economic message why he believes that's something that's for everyone and there's good reason to believe that he can make inroads even if he can't necessarily win that vote here. So, an opportunity for both of these candidates tonight to expand their base of appeal -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much. And as you can see with people out demonstrating very involved there in South Carolina, especially on the campus there at USC. And now to our another big story tonight, the Republicans, the all-important fight for Nevada, it's a huge night. Caucusing is about to start. It's in less than an hour. The question is, can anyone stop Donald Trump tonight?

Jim Acosta is OUTFRONT in Las Vegas.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If he pockets a big win in Nevada, Donald Trump is confident he will start running the table in the race for the GOP nomination. When it comes to the loyalty of his supporters, Trump brags he's killing it.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I mean, I have already 68 percent would not leave under any circumstances. I think that means murder. I think it means anything. OK?

ACOSTA: Trump's main rivals are not laughing. They are making the case that Nevada is a critical firewall needed to stop the Republican front-runner before it's too late.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Significant resistance to Donald Trump in the Republican Party.

ACOSTA: Marco Rubio is pointing to his growing endorsement from the GOP establishment noting there's a stampede in the party running away from Trump.

RUBIO: We can win if we're divided. If we're still fighting with each other, if half the people is in the Republican Party say, well, we nominated someone I don't like, I'm not going to vote. We are going to lose this election.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Look, I frankly don't care what position Donald decides to support today, or tomorrow or the next day. They change every day.

ACOSTA: While Ted Cruz argues Trump is not a reliable conservative.

CRUZ: Look, for me, it's real simple. I have two guide books the Bible and the constitution.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

And when you're starting from those guide books it's not hard to figure out where you end up.

ACOSTA: Trump's latest attack on Cruz is that he's an infant.

TRUMP: I've met much tougher people than Ted Cruz. He's like a little baby compared to some of the people I have to do. He is like a little baby. Soft, weak little baby. By comparison. But for lying he's the best I've ever seen.

ACOSTA: And his warning of what's to come for Rubio as soon as the Florida senator hits first.

TRUMP: I've been very nice. People say, why are you so nice? Because he hasn't hit me. When he does you will see what happens.

ACOSTA: Out of Nevada and trying to stay out of the fray, John Kasich is hoping voters will eventually opt for his less combative style.

GOV. JOHN KASICH (R-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not going down that rabbit hole. I just think it's time to end all the negative campaigning and all the dirt in politics. I think it's a bad way to pick a president. So --

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now lawyers for the Trump campaign have sent a letter to the Nevada Republican Party warning that Ted Cruz supporters may be attempting to videotape the proceedings at caucus side. The state GOP has also put out a statement instructing campaigns not to engage in any videotaping where caucusing is under way and a Trump campaign official tells me, they are now on lookout for this tonight as it could be seen as an attempt to intimidate caucus goers -- Erin.

[19:05:19] BURNETT: All right. Jim Acosta, thank you very much. More controversy on the GOP side.

OUTFRONT now, our special panel with me for the entire hour. Our contributors Hogan Gidley, a former senior advisor to Mike Huckabee and the communications director for Rick Santorum. Ben Ferguson, host of "The Ben Ferguson" Show. Tara Setmayer, served as communications director for our Republican congressman. David Gergen served as advisor to four presidents including Reagan and Bill Clinton, former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter. Hillary Clinton supporter Sally Kohn, a progressive activist and John Avlon, editor-in-chief of the Daily Beast.

Thanks to all of you. It is a night for everybody because there's so much going on. I want to start though with what's happening here the polling on the Republican side. In Nevada, I mean, this is the fourth state, it's a crucial state, David. But when you look at the polling, it's kind of -- there's not a lot of polls out of Nevada. They show Donald Trump far in advance with 47 percent, Rubio second at 19, close with Ted Cruz. But, you know, we don't know, there's not a lot of turn out for these caucuses. It could go anyway.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It could it. Trump is widely expected to win. The polls are not very reliable. The feeling on the ground, the sense of people who are experts and pros in this, is that he will win probably by a significant margin. You know, a big question mark all these new people showing up --

BURNETT: Right.

GERGEN: -- who are they really going to support. Who is drawing them out? There's a good chance if they were drawn out by Trump, but if they were drawn out by Cruz or Rubio unexpectedly, that could change the --

BURNETT: And Hogan, what about that number because David raises it. We got what more than 37,000 people registered. More than turned out last time. I mean, that's a really big thing that just happened. Is that all Donald Trump?

HOGAN GIDLEY, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER, 2016 MIKE HUCKABEE CAMPAIGN: A lot of it is. Look, we've seen this already in the early primary states. Right? Iowa, Donald Trump got 45,000 votes and you would think he would win it. He didn't. He lost it to Cruz who got more. That far surpasses everybody from the last election. In fact, it was about 120,000 more than the previous election. Same thing for South Carolina. I think we had 59,000 absentee ballots which is up from 27,000 absentee ballots in 2012. So, more than double there. This would be par for the course. He's turning out people in droves, people that aren't typical Republicans and that's why he's doing so well so far in the polls.

BURNETT: Tara, one thing though is, you know, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio both are looking at you got to win at some point. Of course Ted Cruz has Iowa. But they both need to win again in his, win for Marco Rubio. Nevada is important in many ways. One of which is Mormons. A quarter of the people who voted the last time around were Mormon. Not as a state population. But a quarter of a people who voted, Marco Rubio lived in the state for six years, his family was Mormon for a brief period of time. The senior Mormon leadership politically in the state has all endorsed Marco Rubio. Are they going to turn out and vote for him tonight?

TARA SETMAYER, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR FOR REP. DANA ROHRABACHER (R): Well, we'll see. I mean, they turned out -- voter for Mitt Romney, both in 2008 and 2012, he won there. Those key endorsements from Mormon leaders, from the senators --

BURNETT: Right.

SETMAYER: -- those are important things like this because they can also use their influence to help get those people out there. That's what happens with a caucus. Unfortunately the Nevada caucus is notoriously unorganized. There have been problems year after year. They are on the cusp of losing their fourth in the nation status, they don't get it together.

BURNETT: Yes.

SETMAYER: So, we'll see, if organizationally we even know tonight, who is going to come in, second or third. A base on what's happened in the past. So, but hopefully those folks will come out for Rubio. I know he's been working that angle quite hard. So, but that could make the difference. But interestingly enough we're talking about them going Rubio and not Cruz. I think Cruz has stumbled. He stumbled with the evangelicals, the Mormons and the more religious side of the voter, of the electorate, should have been his natural fit. What he seems to be stumbling there losing to Trump and Rubio. BURNETT: So, Ben let me go to you because I know, you know, you've

been a proponent of Ted Cruz here. Is it fair to say that he's been stumbling? Nevada should be -- he should be doing better there than he seems to be?

BEN FERGUSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think everybody thinks he should be doing better than he is. But he also has a very solid ground game. It's also tough to fight this election because it's so abnormal. I mean, I'm not even sure there's any Republican in the race now that's officially an American citizen if you're listening to the rhetoric coming from Donald Trump. Rubio is not an American citizen, Ted Cruz isn't an American citizen. They're not even eligible now. So, this is a year where I don't think endorsements matter as much as people thought they were going to. If you look at endorsements, Rubio should have been able to win South Carolina. He had the ultimate --

BURNETT: Well, it's the same thing in Nevada. Right?

FERGUSON: Yes, exactly.

BURNETT: I mean, he has not just the Mormon endorsements.

FERGUSON: Yes. All right. And I think this is about your ground game. I think you have to have a solid ground game and it's going to be about your messaging. Not near as much about -- this is almost a year where it's actually weird. Endorsements can almost be a bad thing because it puts you as that guy or that person you don't want to be.

BURNETT: Yes. Sir David?

GERGEN: Why this year is so different because it's always been understood that Donald Trump does not have a very strong ground game and everywhere the vote has been going up. It's not his ground game. There's something about him personally. And if we have a big huge turnout compared to last time in Nevada as we've seen in these other states, and Trump then wins it definitely fortifies his argument, went into Super Tuesday, that he is the one candidate who can draw out voters, Reagan type Democrats, or Independents and he can win that way. Otherwise people think Hillary will crush him.

[19:10:18] BURNETT: And whatever you think, we are all laughing when he said he's like a little baby, soft, weak little baby by comparison. He can make people laugh.

All right. Well, hit pause.

(INAUDIBLE)

I did. I did laugh out loud. You obviously hasn't met my daughter but --

(LAUGHTER)

All right. OUTFRONT next, Bernie Sanders hammering Hillary Clinton. He's just one pledged delegate behind her. Can he take the lead? So much at stake tonight.

Plus, with the Nevada caucus about to start, Donald Trump isn't letting anyone stand in his way of a third win.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: And we're not allowed, you know, the guards are very gentle with him, he's walking out like a big high five smiling laughing, I would like to punch him in the face.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: And we are counting down to the democratic presidential town hall right here on CNN less than an hour away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:14:38] BURNETT: Welcome back to special edition of OUTFRONT. We're just 45 minutes away from CNN's democratic town hall. Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders getting ready to come face to face with voters. And new tonight, a federal judge moving closer to issuing subpoenas in the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation. The judge ruling top aides to Clinton can be questioned over whether her private e-mail server was set up to intentionally bypass federal laws. This comes as Clinton is fighting to build her narrow lead in the race for 2016. She's got 52 pledged delegates. Bernie Sanders has 51.

Joe Johns is OUTFRONT.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BERNIE SANDERS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not indebted to Wall Street, I'm not indebted to the billionaires.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Tonight Bernie Sanders attacking Hillary Clinton but urging his supporters not to boo his rival.

SANDERS: One of the areas where my opponent Secretary Clinton and I have a strong disagreement. No. Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope. No. I respect Secretary Clinton. We can have differences.

JOHNS: Sanders today campaigning in Virginia, one of 11 Super Tuesday states that hold democratic contests next week.

SANDERS: All right, you guys are getting me revved up here. It's going to be a long afternoon.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

I'm beginning to work up a sweat here. I got going.

JOHNS: Sanders and Clinton will converge in South Carolina tonight for a CNN town hall setting the stage for Saturday's primary fight.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have to begin by facing up to the reality of systemic racism.

JOHNS: Both candidates have been working hard to build support among African-American voters who make up more than half the democratic electorate in the palmetto state.

SANDERS: Are we behind today in the African-American vote? The answer is, yes we are. But I would also tell you that we are making progress.

JOHNS: Sanders today picking up the endorsement of Spike Lee releasing a radio ad featuring the filmmaker.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bernie takes no money from corporation. Nada. Which means he's not on the take. And when Bernie gets in the White House, he will do the right thing. But polls show Clinton with a commanding lead among black voters in South Carolina and she has veteran South Carolina Congressman Jim Clyburn in her corner.

REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D), SOUTH CAROLINA: My heart has always been with Hillary Clinton.

JOHNS: Clinton spent Monday fundraising in California and spending a little time in Hollywood. Dropping by the set of the ABC show "Scandal." Even getting on a selfie with the show's president.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: And Hillary Clinton appearing tonight at an emotional gun policy event here in Columbia, South Carolina at an African-American church. Essentially tying her arguments about gun policy to racial equality an argument she's been making all across this state -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Joe Johns. And of course she's heading right over to that town hall across town in just a few moments.

OUTFRONT now, the campaign manager for Bernie Sanders Jeff Weaver.

Jeff, good to have you with us tonight. Let me just start with the question here of what Bernie Sanders is going to do. He's been sharpening his criticism of Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail. You know, one of the things obviously demanding she release those Wall Street speech transcripts. He claims she's been copying some of his ideas. Are we going to see more of this tonight?

JEFF WEAVER, BERNIE SANDERS CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Well, I hope we don't see more copying of his ideas tonight. I mean, this has really been a thing that's gone on from getting on this campaign. I mean, she was against the Transpacific Partnership -- she was against the Transpacific Partnership. She didn't know where she was on the Keystone Pipeline. And then she was against it when he was. I mean, I think you've seen in her language more and more and more she's trying to copy what Senator Sanders has been saying in this race because she know that what he's saying is resonating. We have a corrupt campaign finance system that's holding up a rigged economy. And his message on that is reaching middle income and working class people across this country.

BURNETT: All right. So, we will hear more about, that sort of talk tonight. And Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton essentially neck and neck among pledged delegates, that is something of course you know very well.

WEAVER: Yes.

BURNETT: One vote apart right now. The all-important super delegates though make it not even close. Right? Hillary Clinton has some 400 plus super delegates. David Plouffe, the man behind President Obama's game plan in 2008 says, if Clinton does well on Super Tuesday that you all would need what he calls surprising landslides in surprising places to win this. But do you agree and where do you think you'll going to win on this big Tuesday?

WEAVER: No. I don't agree. I don't agree at all. Look, this is just the game of the process. We had three contest so far. After Super Tuesday, we'll have 15 contests. We actually have 50 states in this country. A bunch of territories and District of Columbia and Democrats abroad, we have a long way to go, Erin. You can't call a race after the first 15, believe me.

[19:19:12] BURNETT: All right. Well, one thing you do need happen though in order to win is these younger voters. Right? It's been your big strength.

WEAVER: Absolutely.

BURNETT: But could it be potentially an issue. Right? If you look ahead to March, there are more than half a million college students. Half a million in 14 states and they're all going to be going on spring break. They are not going to be in their states, they're going to be in Florida, they're going to be in Cancun. Who knows where they're going to be? They may not be voting. Large schools in crucial states, Ohio State, Michigan, UNC, University of South Florida, all of those are names that come to mine. Are you worried about this? They are going to go away, they don't vote.

WEAVER: No, we're not worried about it. We've been reaching out the young people. You know, we have a vigorous absentee program going on. And, you know, I'm confident all those days won't line up exactly when those elections are, Erin.

BURNETT: Yes.

WEAVER: So, I'm very confident the young people are going to show -- no, people said young people wouldn't show up for Bernie and what we've seen in Iowa and New Hampshire and Nevada is in fact, young people do show up.

BURNETT: All right. Well, Jeff, thank you very much. I appreciate your time.

WEAVER: Hey, thanks so much, Erin. Glad to be here.

BURNETT: All right. Jeff Weaver as we get ready for that town hall tonight.

Back with me now, our political contributor and the former mayor of Philadelphia Michael Nutter, Hillary Clinton supporter. Along with our political commentator Sally Kohn and our political analyst and editor-in-chief of the Daily Beast John Avlon.

All right. So, Michael you just heard Jeff Weaver.

MICHAEL NUTTER (D), FORMER PHILADELPHIA MAYOR: Yes.

BURNETT: I think it's pretty clear Bernie Sanders is going to continue doing what he's doing, that is hitting her hard where he's been hitting, around things like Wall Street speeches, getting money from big corporations. Copying his ideas. Let me just play something Bernie Sanders said about that very issue in a TV ad that's airing in Massachusetts. Here it is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANDERS: I think I saw a TV ad and I thought it was me but it turned out it was Secretary Clinton's picture in the end. But the people of Massachusetts and the people of the United States need to know the difference between hastily adopted campaign rhetoric and the real record and the long held ideas of the candidates.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Does he have a point?

NUTTER: I think Senator Sanders is clearly feeling the heat. This is a classic campaign tactic, sometimes when candidates fall behind they get nervous and scared and suddenly go on the attack. With every respect to Senator Sanders he doesn't have a copyright on ideas and both the Senator and the Secretary have been talking about the same things. And language will change. I've run for office a few times. Language will change. The message has been the same for Secretary Clinton. She has a record, she's been strong on many of these issues and he's getting her information out. And clearly the Senator is feeling that pressure and he's now starting to attack her.

BURNETT: So, is she copying his ideas? I mean, you know, Jeff Weaver seemed to be very clear that they believe she is. Things that he has held dear for a long time.

SALLY KOHN, PROGRESSIVE ACTIVIST: I mean, first of all it's important we still maintain the fact that in the sort of Venn diagram of ideas, both of the democratic candidates are in general fighting to make the country work better for working people. And in distinction from the Republican Party which is trying to sort of polarized and push people out of the country, the 31 percent of Trump supporters in South Carolina who want to ban gay people from entering the country, I mean, at least they are talk about solution. Was there some overlap? Mostly, yes. Let's be honest though, Hillary Clinton has adopted some of Bernie's ideas. That was a win for Bernie. That was part of the reason for his candidacy in the first place. It's also gone the other way. I think she's made him better on gun control for instance. BURNETT: Right. Unless of course he wants to win the presidency John

Avlon which he does. He doesn't need to be helping her and moving her in his direction, he wants to win.

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, presumably. But I mean, this began as a progressive protest candidacy and there's no way that Hillary Clinton is going to out left Bernie Sanders on any issue but guns. That's a false Erin. And also as general election implications, if she thinks she's going to be the winner. And so, the question is, how much can she try to bridge that gap without alienating the senator and hurting her in a general. And she has a lot of progressive voter fights but she is not a democratic socialist. She is the son of the former head of the democratic leadership council.

BURNETT: Yes.

AVLON: Bill Clinton are (INAUDIBLE) and that worked very well for them in the country.

BURNETT: So, what about this news that we just gotten out about a federal judge ruling top aides to Hillary Clinton can be questioned about whether they were trying get around federal law with his e-mail server. They're going to go ahead with that.

NUTTER: Well, I mean, we're a nation of laws. Judges made a ruling and it proceed on, you know, through the process. But let me get back to John's point, I mean, Senator can't have it both ways. First he is complaining that Secretary Clinton isn't talking about certain things. Now language shift, she is talking about certain things. And he wants to complain about that. I mean, stop whining and complaining. Get on the campaign, put on your big boy pants and let's get it on.

KOHN: You know, again --

BURNETT: You just channeled a little Donald Trump there.

KOHN: It was a little Trumpian right there.

NUTTER: No, no, no. Nothing. (LAUGHTER)

KOHN: You know, what I have to say is, what I actually respect going to the question about email server, look, the legal process is going to work its way out and I think Senator Clinton has been very forthcoming about what she says was a mistake. So, you know, the process has to work as well. But what's been interesting again is at least Senator Sanders hasn't gone after her on this and you saw him earlier, you run a segment where he said, let's not boo each other. We can disagree about ideas, we don't have to be disagreeable. Again, at least they are both said in that kind of leadership.

[19:24:08] BURNETT: All right. Let me just get to --

(CROSSTALK)

All right, OK. OUTFRONT next we're counting down to CNN's town hall where the stakes

for Clinton-Sanders could not be higher. Both about stays tough questions from voters.

Plus, could it be a record night in Nevada? The big question for Republicans who are getting ready, heading to those caucus sites right now. We are going to be there live. And Donald Trump is Donald Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I love the old days. You know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this. They would be carried out on a stretcher, folks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Will things like that help Trump solidify his lead?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:28:39] BURNETT: Welcome back to a special edition of OUTFRONT. We are following two breaking news stories tonight. In just 30 minutes, well, it could be a game changer in the Democrats close race for the nomination, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders going before voters in South Carolina in an exclusive CNN Democratic Presidential Town Hall.

Let's go quickly to Chris Cuomo, he's going to be moderating the town hall in this final minutes getting ready. He's OUTFRONT in Columbia, South Carolina. And Chris, what are you looking for tonight?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Very exciting, Erin. Everything is starting to fill up in here. You have all these people, many of them are decided, many of them are undecided. So, that's always good. And the reason that we've fallen in love with these town halls is that we've seen the voters really benefit from them. They get a chance to see these candidates in a way that you don't when they are just throwing one liner at each other over there all alone just giving a stump speech. To look a real man or woman in the eye and hear what's going on in their life. And connect with them as people and show that you have the ideas to help them. Now, that's the real deal in terms of a candidacy.

And you see it distilled in this setting better than most. So, tonight we'll going to see a range of topics coming from these voters. You have a lot of educated people, a lot of passionate people. And again, some are undecided, some are not and that's a good dynamic. Some are open. How will that play to the candidate's strength. When will they choose to use a question as an opportunity to point out contrast at the risk of not answering directly a question that comes from someone who could be living through a very hard time?

[19:30:08] So, we've seen in the past and I believe we will see again tonight, this is a very good opportunity for people to measure these candidates in a way that they can in any other forum, Erin. So, hopefully, we get it done.

BURNETT: All right. Well, we're looking forward to it. We're very excited to see you hosting it. Thank you, Chris.

And our other breaking news story tonight is Republicans in Nevada preparing to vote. Those votes are going to be cast tonight. We're going to get the results. Doors are about to open in some caucus locations as Donald Trump hopes for a third straight win.

Brian Todd is OUTFRONT live at a caucus site in Las Vegas.

And, Brian, a big night. We already have 37,000 people who have pre- registered, which is more than people who caucused in 2012. So, it shows people are engaged, people are excited. What can we expect?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We can expect the spike in turn out, Erin. As you mentioned, a lot of energy, a lot of excitement building here in Nevada. Some campaign workers for Marco Rubio gathering here at Desert Oasis High School, the home of the Diamondback. This is going to be one of the busier caucus sites, one of the busier precinct sites.

Our photojournalist and I are going to take you inside to the preparations. These are all the poll workers that have been recruited to basically check people in, to make sure the vote is counted properly. What we were just told a minute ago to make sure that the vote count goes smoothly and the reporting goes smoothly. They're going to have three of these poll workers check each ballot. They want to make sure the reporting goes smoothly because in 2012, Erin, they had a lot of problems.

There were some poll workers who gathered up the physical ballots and actually drove them over to the central headquarters. There were others who emailed them in on Excel spreadsheets where the numbers didn't line up properly in the columns. They had to recount it. It took them three days to get the poll results in, to get the final results of that caucus in.

They don't want to go through that this time. They are hiring, recruiting all these poll workers to make sure that doesn't happen again, Erin.

MCLAUGHLIN: Right. They certainly don't want that happen again with the eyes of the entire nation of Nevada on them tonight.

With so much riding on tonight the candidates are pulling out everything they can in the final moments. It is Donald Trump, though, who continues to dominate the headlines this time going after a protester at a rally.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Here's a guy throwing punches, nasty as hell, screaming at everything else when we're talking and he walked out and we're not allowed -- you know, the guards are very gentle with him. He's walking out like big high fives, smiling, laughing. I'd like to punch him in the face.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Despite Trump's claim, a security official tells CNN the protester was not being violent, but that's not stopping Trump's tough talk.

Chris Frates is OUTFRONT.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRIS FRATES, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Whether it's bombast.

TRUMP: I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose any voters. OK?

FRATES: Or bluster.

TRUMP: I would bomb (EXPLETIVE DELETED) out of them.

FRATES: One thing is certain, Donald Trump does not mince words on the campaign trail.

TRUMP: He said (EXPLETIVE DELETED), that's terrible. Terrible.

FRATES: Trump repeating a vulgar word shouted by a woman in reference to Ted Cruz earlier this month.

TRUMP: It would be worst.

FRATES: Or using a crude Yiddish word to describe Hillary Clinton's loss to Barack Obama in 2008.

TRUMP: She got schlonged. She lost.

FRATES: And Trump doesn't limit his attacks to rivals. He leveled some tough talk at a protester on Monday night Las Vegas.

TRUMP: I'd like to punch him in the face, I'll tell you.

FRATES: Trump fully aware of the force behind his words.

TRUMP: It's amazing. You know whenever I want to knock out a protester I just talk about the wall, the place goes crazy and nobody ever hears the protester.

FRATES: Trump's coarse language has been a hallmark of the real estate mogul's campaign since the day he announced his candidacy, using charged rhetoric talking about undocumented Mexican immigrants entering the U.S.

TRUMP: They are bringing drugs, they are bringing crime, they are rapists and some, I assume, are good people.

FRATES: Such comments might have tripped up other candidates but Trump's inflammatory rhetoric hasn't seemed to hurt him with Republican voters.

LOU BAILEY, TRUMP SUPPORTER: He's not a politician. He owes nobody. I know he's brass and can sound rude, but he's saying the things that we want to hear.

FRATES: He's the favorite to win the Nevada caucuses tonight, which will give him a third victory in a row.

TRUMP: I can be more politically correct than anybody you've ever interviewed.

FRATES: Should Trump go on to win in November, he says a President Trump will sound different.

TRUMP: I can act differently for different people, but we don't have time to be totally politically correct in this country. Our country is in serious, serious trouble.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FRATES: (AUDIO GAP) presidential tone remains an open question. He's toned down his campaign rhetoric before, only to come back swinging even harder. But the supporters we talked to here, Erin, they love it. In fact, we talked to one man who says, sure, Trump may say things people don't like but they need to put their big boy panties on -- Erin.

BURNETT: Thank you very much, Chris Frates.

That's what Mayor Michael Nutter just said about Bernie Sanders. Big boy panties.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

[19:35:05] BURNETT: All right. Let me bring back my panel.

Hogan, this though is proof. I mean, people -- some people love what Trump says, some people laugh at it, some loathe it and some buy it when he says I'll talk the way I need to talk to the right person. It's not always going to be that.

HOGAN GIDLEY, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER, 2016 MIKE HUCKABEE CAMPAIGN: They do and they love the talk. I mean, they love the rhetoric. I think the RNC and DNC quite frankly either chose to ignore or refuse to acknowledge how angry people are.

And I've seen it. I've been to all 99 counties in Iowa. I live in South Carolina. I've been to New Hampshire. They are flat out furious because for the last eight years, we've seen rhetoric from the right and from the left saying the other party is the devil and the rage continues to go up and we have a president in office who refuses to calm it down, instead he stokes the fire, and this is the result. We have two people from the outside who are saying unbelievable things and the people in the Republican Party are watching this guy going, this is something different, he's not tethered to the big money and that's what I want to see.

BURNETT: Ben, you know, you talk about anger and you use the word "rage", you use the word "furious". When 92 percent of the people, Republicans in the exit polls in South Carolina say they are angry, 92 percent. Trump is the only person who seems to get that early on.

BEN FERGUSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: He got it and he capitalized on it and he's kept going with it, and there's something funny about a guy who is not supposed to say that I want to punch somebody in the face saying I want to punch him in the face.

He knows how to play the audience, because when you are there and dealing with a protester, most people say that is awesome. You want to punch him in the face. I would too.

But I think the bigger issue now is what Donald Trump has been able to do is say whatever he wants to say, whenever he wants to say it and his 30 percent love it. It doesn't matter how bad it gets, how nasty, now untrue it may be.

It has been -- I mean, literally today, I said on my show to one Trump supporter, I said, how do you still support a guy something we care about and people fight for with about American citizenship, how can you support him by saying Marco Rubio is not an American citizen. He said, I don't care what he has to say because we're going to win and we're going to take this country back and if that's what it takes to win, then let's win.

BURNETT: David?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think the guy he ought to be throwing a punch at who arranged the lighting tonight. Look at that hair. Can you believe --

(CROSSTALK)

BURNETT: You want to go there? Yes, it did look fluorescent.

GERGEN: Most people watch those clips tonight, that's the one thing they're going to be talking about when they get through with this.

BURNETT: More than a punch in the face.

GERGEN: The other thing, well, he hasn't turned many punches so far. How few times he's gone after Rubio. And we were talking earlier, you guys think he really is looking at him as a vice presidential possibility?

FERGUSON: Absolutely. I mean, he even gave a warning shot today when he said, look, if he throws a punch at me, I'll throw one back and he'll see what's coming. But I also think that's an arrangement where he says, out of all the candidates I got to pick from, that's -- Rubio is probably my guy.

TARA SETMAYER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Maybe. I don't know. I think the situation with Donald Trump is very fascinating to me. I said this from day one that it's the Jerry Springerization of the political process. There's a certain cult personality that people are attracted to because he's so brass and he's so in your face.

It's the polar opposite of what we have in the White House. We have such an impotent, incompetent president who has weakened this country internationally. People look at him and they say, we can't deal with this anymore. We want someone who's going to be strong.

So, but then you step back -- and as Republicans, we look at things that this man is saying that's polar opposite to what Republicans actually stand for and yet he's not held to account. So until -- the 30 percent doesn't care, but 70 percent of the rest of us who don't care for Donald Trump and looking at the future of this country taking this election very seriously are saying, listen, somebody needs to finally expose Donald Trump's record, particularly for in business, things he's done that's unsavory to other people. So, people go, do you really know who Donald Trump is?

BURNETT: OK. Quick final word, Hogan.

GIDLEY: They tried that with the governors and nobody bought it. The D.C. decorum is out the window. They don't want somebody who kowtowed to the money folks. We have Republicans in the Senate. They voted with the president as many times when they were the minority and the majority, and they don't care. Nothing ever changes. They want change.

(CROSSTALK)

SETMAYER: This is a point, this is a point. You have a crony capitalist businessman that is supposed to change crony capitalism in Washington? That doesn't even make sense, but people don't seem to make that connection.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you all. We'll be back to you in just a moment.

OUTFRONT next, Hillary Clinton's trust problem. A new poll showing one in five Americans associate Clinton with the word "dishonest". Can she change their minds tonight?

Plus, we'll go live to Columbia, South Carolina, where a Democratic town hall gets under way in less than 20 minutes.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:43:36] BURNETT: Welcome back to a special edition of OUTFRONT.

You are looking right now at the stage where the Democratic presidential town hall will begin in just a few moments. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders here on CNN, making direct pitches to voters in South Carolina.

For Clinton, it is also a chance to convince voters of her honesty, something she admits is a problem.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think there's an underlying question that maybe is really in the back of people's minds and that is, you know, is she in it for us or is she in it for herself? I think that's a question that people are trying to sort through.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: OUTFRONT now, the chief strategist for Hillary Clinton's campaign Joel Benenson.

Joel, good to have you with me on the program.

What does Clinton need to say tonight to address this issue of trust, which she acknowledges is an issue? A new Gallup poll asked voters what they thought of Clinton, the number one response was 21 percent, they said dishonest, liar, they don't trust her, poor character.

What does she do tonight to change their mind?

JOEL BENENSON, CHIEF STRATEGIST FOR HILLARY CLINTON CAMPAIGN: Look, I think she does what she's been doing throughout the campaign, Erin. And I think she summed up pretty well what she said. Nobody likes these numbers when they hear them. No candidate does.

And what you do is you go out and you address the question voters have. You make the case to them that you are in it for them. That's what she's been doing. The last few weeks in particular, you hear her make a forceful argument about our need to, of course, make sure that Wall Street doesn't wreck Main Street again.

[19:45:00] But we need to do much more than that. We need to create the good paying jobs that people need to get ahead. We need to break down the barriers holding people back, whether we're talking about inadequate education in urban or rural, low-income areas, where kids aren't being given the leg up that they need in life, whether we're talking about situations like Flint, Michigan, where a government decides to save money and ends up poisoning the water of people.

There are a lot of things holding people back and what we have to do is go out and keep making the case to them that every day, her fight is going to be making a difference in their lives and that's what she has to do tonight and that's what she has to do here on out. I think she's been doing it pretty well so far. We won two out of three states and we're looking forward to South Carolina this weekend.

BURNETT: So, Jeff Weaver was on the show a few moments ago. Obviously, Sanders campaign manager. And, you know, he said, look, you're going to see a little bit more of the same from Bernie Sanders. He's going to keep going aggressively on some of the issues he has in the past few days, including Clinton's speeches to Wall Street.

He tweeted today, "Voters deserve to know what she told Wall Street and big pharma behind closed doors." Joel, she said she has absolutely nothing to hide. Why not release those speeches, release the details, call on the banks to put them out there?

BENENSON: Look, this is an attack that Senator Sanders has been leveling for months through innuendo and insinuation that if people and a lot of Democrats have done this have taken money from different groups, they won't stand up to them. You know, there are people who took money from campaign donations, from Wall Street and then enacted the toughest reforms in history since the Great Depression. That includes President Obama, Barney Frank.

Look, the question is who's going to do the right thing for people when it comes time to stand up to them? Hillary Clinton has a track record of doing that. Senator Sanders who wants to keep running a more negative campaign, that's his option, we'll keep answering them.

The answers are perplexing for him. Progressive economists have said that her plan to rein in Wall Street, people like Paul Krugman, Ezra Klein, have said she's got the most far reaching plan to rein in Wall Street. I think that's what voters are going to know from these two candidates tonight, who's plan goes further. She will make a forceful case for that and backed up by progressive experts on it.

BURNETT: All right. Joel Benenson, thank you very much. Good to talk to you again.

BENENSON: Thank you, Erin.

BURNETT: And OUTFRONT next, what Clinton and Sanders have to do to win voters over tonight. We're just moments away from CNN's Democratic presidential town hall live from Columbia, South Carolina, and we're keeping a close eye on those Nevada caucuses just a few minutes away from opening there. A huge night for special election coverage right here on CNN. Our expert panel back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:51:15] BURNETT: Welcome back to a very special edition of OUTFRONT, just moments away from a major night, the start of CNN's Democratic town hall. And in Nevada, Republicans about to begin voting this crucial state tonight.

Let's get some closing thoughts from our panel.

All right. Let's start with the caucuses. Who's the winner or loser tonight? Hogan?

GIDLEY: I think Donald Trump wins tonight. What I'm anxious to watch and pay attention to is -- it's not so much the Rubio rise, but the Cruz collapse. He was up seven points ahead of Rubio in South Carolina. Just a few days out, ended up finishing third behind Rubio. Now, we're in another state where Rubio looks like he's doing well. He could beat Cruz there as well.

He started in the 40s, December 17th in Iowa and came really close to losing to Trump there. I mean, this has been a long, slow slide for him. He could be in trouble after tonight.

BURNETT: Ben?

FERGUSON: I think Donald Trump will pull this off tonight. I think the big question is, if you're a guy by the name of Dr. Ben Carson, how in the world do you say you have a viable chance of winning this? I think he's a really nice it guy, but if he pulls the "God is on my side" one more time, he might need to talk to the voters, because the voters are not getting the same message from God, and he keeps coming in last place, to be honest with you.

I think it's time for him to drop out of this one and say, you know what? I'm going to move on.

BURNETT: Tara?

SETMAYER: I don't think you're alone in that. As a lot of people say, thank you very much, Dr. Carson, but it's time to go.

I think I agree with Hogan, I think what happens with Cruz, it would be very telling as we move forward. I'll be curious to see there. And I also would like to see, this will be the first time we really get a chance to see Latino votes. Most of the other places haven't had minority populations. Nevada has a significant Latino population, and given all of the conversations about immigration and Trump thinking he's going to win Latinos, I would be curious to see whether they break for Rubio or Cruz even, or if Donald Trump performs well, that would be indicative of moving forward, I think.

BURNETT: David?

GERGEN: If Trump wins more than ten, more than ten gives him a lot of momentum. Less than ten, I think doesn't mean much for him.

Look, about Rubio, he's got to show he can win somewhere and this will be the fourth state. So, he keeps losing, what does he have to bring into Super Tuesday?

Just final point, I think having over the night tonight is this order by the federal judge regarding this Hillary's insistence having to testify under oath. It's notable that judge was appointed by her husband, Bill Clinton.

BURNETT: That's right. For those who want to say it's political, her husband appointed the judge who made the ruling tonight.

All right. Let's talk her about the town hall.

What has to happen tonight, Mayor Nutter?

MICHAEL NUTTER (D), FORMER PHILADELPHIA MAYOR: I think Secretary Clinton has to continue to remind folks of her long history and record, not only with South Carolina, but across America. Senator Sanders, also trying to put his record out there, I think it will be a good night for both and then we'll see what happens in the primary. SALLY KOHN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think Hillary Clinton has to

stop trying to pretend she's a progressive and instead trying to remind voters, Democrats especially, what's at stake. And, look, I think Democrats are inherently pragmatic. The more Trump looks like he's going to win, the more they'll be inclined to say, you know, we don't want a protest vote, we're going to support Hillary.

She can't say that, but that's the message she has to send.

And meanwhile Bernie, I think he has to stop this sort of attacking Hillary for taking on his positions and say, look, that is, if nothing else, the success of his campaign. His campaigns wants to be a movement. It's moving Hillary Clinton, and that's a victory.

BURNETT: John, town hall first.

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The town hall. Look, I think one of the Bernie's great strength has been his authenticity and his civility. And, frankly, that's one of the ways he really contrasts with Hillary Clinton. So, I think what Hillary needs to do is actually take the risk of intimacy to show -- not to retreat to policy, but show the person she is, and show empathy for the people who are asking the questions, not simply retreating to talking points.

The other big hurdle is exactly what David said, the subpoenas coming down today bring up all the bad memories of rough patches in the Clinton's history.

[19:55:05] You know, the political history of the Clintons is riddled with self-inflicted wounds, and subpoenas for aides, if it comes down today by a Bill Clinton-appointed judge, she's going to have to answer it tonight, she's going to have to answer it in a way that's decisive and not simply say it's the result of a right-wing conspiracy because there's a judge appointed by her husband behind it right now.

BURNETT: Which again, I think it's important to emphasize, that judge is a Democratic appointee, a Bill Clinton appointee who made that ruling today.

All right. John, you're also on the Democratic side, but you are a nonpartisan analyst. So, what is your take on Nevada? Win or lose?

AVLON: Look, if Donald Trump can pull off a big win, the momentum and the math --

BURNETT: The ten-point gap that David is talking about?

AVLON: Yes. I mean, Marco Rubio is making an electability argument based on everybody else not named Trump, but that's basically a fiction if Donald Trump keeps getting delegates, because what's the first state he wins. I do agree that Ted Cruz, if it's a distant third, that's going to be a real problem for his campaign. He's had a rocky, rocky couple days.

BURNETT: All right. Thanks very much to all.

We take a break, CNN's Democratic presidential town hall is just moments ago, and we'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: Thanks so much for joining us.

Stay with CNN all night for special election coverages. We're going to have the results of the Nevada caucuses throughout the night. Will Donald Trump get win number three by a big enough margin?

But first, the CNN Democratic Town Hall hosted by Chris Cuomo starts right now.