CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER starts right now.
Good evening, Ari.
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chuck. And we will see you out here.
We are live on the ground in New Hampshire tonight. And it`s all happening right now, new polling, a debate tonight that might be do-or-die for several candidates, and some new signs about what New Hampshire voters want in policy and in their stance against Donald Trump.
And let me tell you something as we kick off our coverage tonight. If you have watched this show, you may have heard me say it before. The early polls don`t matter much. National polls hardly ever matter. I saw that myself traveling the country working on a presidential campaign in 2004.
You have probably seen it yourself following campaign cycles where Obama trailed in early polls for months and months, or Rudy Giuliani and Herman Cain were allegedly number one in national polls.
You know what can matter? What the voters say and do in the homestretch, the way Iowans helped Pete Buttigieg surge this week and the way New Hampshire voters are making up their minds right now.
And that brings us to some developing news you can see right here in our NBC/Marist poll released just this past hour, Sanders and Buttigieg tied now, leading in the low 20s. That`s within the margin of error at 25 and 21 percent, Elizabeth Warren there at 14 percent, statistically tied for third with Joe Biden.
A couple of straightforward implications here. One, these numbers are in line with the trend since Iowa, a top three emerging in the race, Sanders, Buttigieg and Warren, with Buttigieg gaining the most.
In fact, another poll, "Boston Globe," finds him going up right -- you see right there, up 12 points.
Also, serious trouble for Joe Biden`s campaign. He`s flagging in both states. And it`s not just that he`s running behind. But the more concerning trend for his campaign is this continuing collapse, falling from 18 to 11,and new signs that his team is making emergency moves.
"The Washington Post" calling all of it a last-ditch effort as they move around advertising.
Now, polls are just a snapshot. You know that a candidate is really making a dent if more famous candidates suddenly feel a need to take them on, and that is what makes what you`re about to see here pretty striking, Bernie Sanders today going right at Pete Buttigieg.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I`m reading some headlines from newspapers about Pete Buttigieg.
Pete Buttigieg has most exclusive billionaire donors of any Democrat,
I like Pete Buttigieg. he`s a nice guy. But we are in a moment with billionaires control not only our economy, but our political life.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: I`m joined by "Boston Globe" political correspondent Victoria McGrane, New Hampshire Public Radio political reporter Lauren Chooljian, and Ruth Marcus, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for "The Washington Post."
And we`re all right here in Manchester, a big night. Nice to see all of you.
RUTH MARCUS, "THE WASHINGTON POST": You promoted me to winning, but I was a finalist, but thank you.
MELBER: A finalist.
MARCUS: Yes. Yes. But I`m sure I deserved it.
MELBER: I appreciate you fact-checking yourself of your own awards.
MARCUS: I self-fact-check.
MELBER: Your attention to detail is part of why you`re here.
The new numbers don`t tell us everything, but they tell us something.
MARCUS: They tell us actually -- they reaffirm something I think we already knew coming out of Iowa, that this is a very different race than we thought we had, or that we thought we had a few weeks ago, Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg at the top.
I was at the event today, a politics event, at Saint Anselm College, where Bernie Sanders, whoa, all of a sudden, he was going after one billionaire, Mike Bloomberg, and then all of a sudden he started going after the person who also takes money from billionaires, though, in fact, probably one of the less wealthy candidates, if not the least wealthy candidate in the race.
That tells you where the top of this ticket is. I think it`s fascinating that the latest NBC poll has Vice President Biden and Senator Warren tied. It`s going to be really critical for both their fates to be able to hold on to that third place.
Lauren, you`re New Hampshire public radio.
LAUREN CHOOLJIAN, NEW HAMPSHIRE PUBLIC RADIO: You got it.
MELBER: You can`t get much more New Hampshire than that.
CHOOLJIAN: No, you cannot.
MELBER: How are people greeting these candidates this week? And what really matters on the ground here?
CHOOLJIAN: Well, I think it`s been interesting, with impeachment going on, with all the news that`s been happening in Washington this week, and with some of the senators having to rush off for that impeachment vote.
It`s been a little slower, I think. I have only been around for a few cycles. This is my first cycle as a reporter, but I grew up here. And I know from reporters who`ve been here for decades and decades it`s usually a little bit busier, but it`s -- certainly, for people who are showing up, they are making their presence known.
But you talk about the polling. One thing that I noticed in the "Boston Globe" poll is that there are still a lot of people who say they might change their mind before the primary.
And I think, in New Hampshire, that is always a key thing to watch, where people may say this is who they`re supporting now, but they will watch the debate tonight. These are things that mean a lot to them, may change their mind. And that could really change what we`re seeing.
VICTORIA MCGRANE, "THE BOSTON GLOBE": Yes, I think the degree of volatility in this race just really can`t be understated.
I have been struck by the number of longtime activist I have talked to over the past -- since the summer, who have had such a harder time. These are the kind of people who don`t make up their mind at the last minute, that they pick a candidate early and go all in for them.
And the number of them that have been filled with agony, is how they describe it, trying to make a decision, because it all comes down to, who can beat Donald Trump? And it hasn`t been clear, and because it`s been such a big field with so many compelling candidates.
And now, on top of that, Iowa is such a mess, that there has been no real clear signal that has come out of that. And I think that`s one of the reasons why tonight`s debate is such a big deal. It could really make or break a bunch of these candidates.
MELBER: But is it unsettled because Democratic voters and undeclared voters here feel that no perfect candidate has emerged? Or is it unsettled be because of him?
There is so much anxiety about him.
MCGRANE: I think the second one more.
I mean, I think it`s always a mix of the two, but it`s this, like, existential angst that you get talking to these voters. They want him gone so much, Trump gone so much, that they -- this isn`t fun. This feels so important and weighty that they can`t -- they don`t trust -- nobody trusts themselves.
MARCUS: It`s that the two go together, isn`t it?
That you can`t go with your heart as much, if your head is worrying about electability, electability. And, also, each of these candidates is flawed.
I was wondering, since you have been on the ground here, it strikes me as I was driving around in the yucky rain today...
MARCUS: ... the absence of -- it seems like much fewer yard signs.
CHOOLJIAN: I don`t think there`s fewer yard signs than normal. Maybe it was the weather.
MARCUS: I was wondering if that -- it feels fewer to me.
And some colleagues of mine reported that in Iowa, and I was wondering if that was another indication of the unsettled nature of things.
CHOOLJIAN: I don`t know about that.
I mean, I have certainly seen yard signs. I have put a lot of miles on my car this week, but I will say...
MARCUS: I defer to your expertise.
CHOOLJIAN: No, no, that`s fine.
And if you drive around, you probably see a lot of billboards for Tulsi. Those have been around a long, long time. It`s very interesting, absolutely.
CHOOLJIAN: But to talk to your electability point, I mean, I think, when I ask voters on the trail, like, what is your number one issue, what they always say is, I want someone who beats -- who is going to beat Donald Trump.
And when we didn`t get those results out of Iowa right away, my first thought was, I wonder if anyone`s going to get that momentum that we always talk about Iowa and New Hampshire, like the big mo`, as we all call it, right?
But it`s actually still developing. Of course, we`re seeing Sanders and Buttigieg moving up higher, and it`s really reflected in the conversations I`m having with voters. I had someone tell me, a veteran who is active duty military, actually, at a veterans event for Buttigieg yesterday, and he said he`s torn between Sanders, Buttigieg, Warren and Klobuchar.
And I was like, man, how are you going to make that decision? And he said seeing Sanders and Buttigieg do well in Iowa actually is helping me like look at them closer.
MELBER: You hear that more than usual and that`s partly because there are so many new and untraditional candidates.
And I also think something we haven`t discussed a ton is seeing some big name brand candidates be out before Iowa also punctured things. Cory Booker and Kamala Harris being gone and Yang and Buttigieg being in may have voters feeling like, well, OK, everyone`s got to keep a more open mind.
If you`re trying to settle on four people, I mean, that`s like being at brunch and thinking about do, what, the eggs or the pancakes or the waffles, or the fried chicken and waffle. That`s a lot to try to narrow down.
MELBER: The electability point, though, we`re hearing that a lot.
And I think it`s because also Donald Trump has beat expectations. People have watched him persevere. And then you have folks like James Carville, right, who is from the more Clinton new Dem moderate wing of the party.
But we were talking to him recently, and he just laid it out, and there was tremendous response to what he said, which was really an attack on Sanders, who he views as too -- in his view, too progressive. Now, he has also, of course, endorsed Bennet. He`s got a different horse in this race.
But take a look at James Carville.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I will get behind him, but -- of course I will vote for him. We don`t have any other choice.
But look at the British Labor Party. I mean, we`re like talking about people voting from jail cells, right? We`re talking about not having a border. I mean, come on, people. The everyday people are out there struggling.
We don`t win elections, because we talk about stuff that is not relevant.
These campaigns have got to be more relevant. It matters what a party chooses to talk about.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: So, Lauren, where we came all the way out here to New Hampshire. Here you are.
CHOOLJIAN: Well done.
MELBER: When you hear that, does that sound to you like something that resonates with actual people here, or is that more of a projection of what the heartland, what these states want?
CHOOLJIAN: Well, here`s what I will say.
I mean, as you mentioned, James Carville has backed Senator Michael Bennet from Colorado. And Michael Bennet is trying to do it the old-fashioned New Hampshire way, right? He`s trying to get 50 town halls before Election Day.
He`s trying to shake as many hands as possible. And I certainly think that there are people with an appetite for more moderate candidates. But I met a guy yesterday who said the pragmatic part of me wants to go with a moderate because I think it`ll have a bigger appetite in the heartland or across the country. But there`s a big part of me who wants a big ideas person and said that the election of Donald Trump shows that there`s an appetite for that.
So I think, like, I`m glad we talked about undecided voters and people who are between four people, because I really think that there are a lot of people still making up their minds.
MCGRANE: When you look at those poll numbers, and it shows as much as 50 percent or more of people who say they`re, right, open to changing their minds.
Now, what`s different is, Bernie Sanders supporters are not open to changing their minds. And then you see some of the entrance poll data from Iowa suggests his voters are more liberal. He doesn`t have this broad coalition, necessarily, that people you`re going to need to be able to again perform really well against Donald Trump.
MELBER: Well, and, Ruth, doesn`t that go to the Biden of it all? We`re having this whole conversation without Joe Biden.
CHOOLJIAN: The Biden of it all. I just thought that was hilarious.
MELBER: The Biden of it all, yes.
And we`re having this whole conversation without Joe Biden.
In Iowa and New Hampshire, he`s looking forth or worse. And unlike Bernie Sanders, who whatever you think, I mean, Bernie Sanders is someone who evoke strong passions in people, but let`s be clear. He ran before and did very well. He`s running now and doing well. He does well in Democratic primaries.
Joe Biden -- and I should mention we have an official in the campaign on later this hour. Joe Biden, as a factual matter, doesn`t do well in Democratic primaries. He ran twice. He didn`t do well. And here he is again.
Is this last stand, as "The Post" put it.
MARCUS: Very well could be a less stand.
He may limp out of here and make it to Nevada and South Carolina. South Carolina, with the African-American community there, is supposed to be the firewall. But it is hard to explain, especially when you are the former vice president, why you just can`t -- and with the name recognition that he has, with the experience that he has, why you can`t seem to make that sale with voters and why you can`t seem to energize voters.
That`s a big, big problem.
MCGRANE: I think, tonight, the stakes are the highest for him because -- and clearly his campaign knows it, because he just spent two days sequestered in Wilmington, Delaware, instead of on the trail.
That`s very different than what you saw Bill Clinton, the comeback kid, where he just did...
MELBER: You find that unusual to go into hiding in the homestretch between Iowa and New Hampshire?
MCGRANE: I don`t know if unusual..
MELBER: I was being facetious.
MCGRANE: Oh, sorry.
MELBER: I flip it and then hand you the mic back.
This is the time when people have the most events, the most fund-raising. And Joe Biden, for whatever reasons -- we will find out -- went dark for a whole day in New Hampshire.
MCGRANE: Presumably, to be two days, two days. He had no events yesterday, if I remember correctly.
And debate prep -- so, he clearly sees -- his campaign sees this as a key moment to be able to turn the tide of what we`re seeing in those polls, which is a downward trend.
CHOOLJIAN: And I would also add that, when he was in New Hampshire, he was really on offense. Right?
I mean my colleague Josh Rogers was there. He talked in a piece that he did about how that Biden went right for Sanders, went right for Buttigieg. And then later, when my colleague talked to him, he talked about how, yes, all right, fine, get punch in Iowa, as we all saw, but he consistently talks about how he is focused on the first four gates, right, the first four states.
So I think he`s trying to make the case, if I don`t do well here, I`m looking at South Carolina.
A fantastic panel to kick off our coverage. Some of you are going to stick around for more in the show. So, everyone, please stay with me.
Coming up: The Trump White House is now openly retaliating against one of the key witnesses in uniform who testified about the facts in the Ukraine plot in the impeachment probe.
We also have tonight my special report for you on the New Hampshire primary, why it is so pivotal and everything you need to know.
Also, as mentioned, a live interview with the top official from inside the Biden campaign leading up to this critical debate.
So, a lot more in tonight`s hour. I hope you stay with us.
You`re watching a special edition live from Manchester, THE BEAT on MSNBC.
MELBER: We are live in New Hampshire tonight.
And I can tell you right here today`s headlines are all about how this state is ready to handle the first-in-the-nation primary, no repeats of Iowa, they`re saying.
In fact, one headline says -- quote -- "We got this."
Now, those delayed and mixed results in the Iowa caucus could actually make New Hampshire more pivotal. And out on the trail, the candidates are talking up the Granite State.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: New Hampshire is New Hampshire.
REP. TULSI GABBARD (D-HI), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: New Hampshire.
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We`re out here fighting for every vote in New Hampshire.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Manchester, New Hampshire.
ANDREW YANG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It`s a thrill to be here in New Hampshire.
SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We are bringing this ticket to New Hampshire.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: So, with the political world watching New Hampshire, do you ever stop and wonder, why is this all considered so crucial in the first place?
Well, history suggests that candidates don`t ever get close down the road to the White House, they don`t get very far without New Hampshire. And a strong finish here could actually launch your entire campaign.
Take Clinton in `92, who managed to benefit from this state by playing up his comeback when he came in second place?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think we know enough to say with some certainty that New Hampshire tonight has made Bill Clinton the comeback kid.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: For Democrats, the saying is, there are only two tickets out of New Hampshire.
And that is actually a lot more than a saying. No Democrat has ever won the nomination unless they finished in the top two in New Hampshire in the modern era.
So think about that tonight. For candidates like Biden or Warren, history would suggest this race could make or break their campaigns.
Now, history just gives us clues, not guarantees. This year is already different, with Mike Bloomberg funding a strategy that skips New Hampshire entirely. But the state is still very clutch for underdogs, because they can deploy grassroots politics, instead of money, to win over voters, to win over voters, and then get out and do a national campaign.
In fact, that was the model used by someone who was really not that well known at all, peanut farmer Jimmy Carter. He stacked Iowa and then a New Hampshire win.
History also has a warning here for Mr. Joe Biden, because big names who falter here, they rarely recover. Howard Dean got a lot of energy. He was leading in those polls from his anti-war stance, but he had an Iowa disappointment. And then he said maybe he would rebound here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HOWARD DEAN (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Not only are we going to New Hampshire, Tom Harkin. We`re going to South Carolina and Oklahoma.
And then we`re going to Washington, D.C., to take back the White House. Yes!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: And this is where the impact can be so fascinating.
Howard Dean began on the national stage as an obscure governor. A year before, it might have been celebrated that he made it to second in New Hampshire. Remember, we talked about it, two tickets out.
But the expectation game here is tough, and that second-place finish was seen as a big letdown. It was John Kerry, who I was working for at the time, that excelled in this state near his home turf.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TOM BROKAW, NBC SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: For the second week in a row, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts has scored an impressive victory in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. He is our projected winner tonight in this first-in-the-nation primary.
JOHN KERRY, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I love New Hampshire.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: So, no matter what you think of this small state having so much way, the historical fact is, it has sway, it has juice.
And, interestingly, the dynamic does apply to both parties, which is funny, right? I mean, Democrats and Republicans are increasingly polarized and they`re campaigning in very different ways. But New Hampshire has still had huge impact for both fields.
It narrows the Democratic race two, as discussed. And it`s more pivotal for Republicans. The winner of the New Hampshire primary has gone on to be the Republican nominee in six of the last eight contested Republican primaries.
Now, narrowing is not the same as selecting, and we can remind you there are also candidates you will see right here who did carry this state, but not the nomination that year.
Now, with all the growing criticism of how a couple small states have so much power, these primaries certainly could be reformed. And there`s talk about that, but these small states do enable a contest that basically demands more than just TV ad buys.
In fact, critics say that`s why Bloomberg is skipping New Hampshire entirely. Voters in both parties also look to what happens here, to this independent undeclared voter tradition, to see who may have what it takes.
For newer names, whether that`s an Obama or a Buttigieg or a Warren, winning here can really say something. And the voters here don`t really start out in very partisan corners. We were just discussing this.
Right now, about half say they`re still deciding who to support, many voters deciding at the last minute. Those who have decided do appear right now to be for Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire. He`s resonating as authentic, and these voters have seen all the moves, all the political tricks, like candidates coming in and try to do photo-ops.
Do you remember when the sitting Vice President George Bush wanted to convince everyone what he really loved (AUDIO GAP) lumberyard here in New Hampshire?
It looms large, voters here talking about more than what`s on Twitter or who had a hot month in national polls. There are a lot of signs that people here want a leader who can pull off the trick of not only handling Trump, but delivering on results for their lives.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It comes down to who can beat Trump.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think that there are so many more issues in this country that can be talked about, veterans being homeless, Flint, Michigan, not having clean water. Women should have the right to choose what goes on in their bodies.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have become disgusted with the rancor in the system now, everybody, both sides, just hurling insults at each other. There`s nothing positive coming from either side that I can see.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That`s what we`re hearing from some of the real voters on the ground in New Hampshire. Those are anecdotes.
The broader data tells us one struggle looms above all, voters concerned about health care. And now we`re seeing candidates speaking to that agenda.
Here were several making the case in New Hampshire.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KLOBUCHAR: Both rural and urban areas need better housing and need better health care, need mental health help, need opioid treatment.
BUTTIGIEG: Let every American every the choice to walk away from the corporate private plans and towards something better.
SANDERS: Under our administration, we will end the international embarrassment of being the only major country on Earth not to guarantee health care to all people as a human right.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: So people here care about health care. They care about who can deliver and who seems ready for Trump.
Now, we don`t know if past will be prologue, to quote Shakespeare, just like we didn`t know Iowa would be so different and chaotic this year.
And if, in this very different political era, voters may take a bet on a candidate who`s not top two on Tuesday, we don`t know that either. Or they could even take a bet on someone who`s not competing here.
But I will tell you, I think we do know that a lot of people in this state think of themselves as having grit, and they expect the same of their leaders.
To quote John Stark -- that`s the New Hampshire-born general who gave the state its motto many people still believe in -- live free or die. And to take on an incumbent like Donald Trump, many are looking for a brawler who is ride or die, who will fight as hard for working people as he or she will fight Donald Trump celebrating his so-called acquittal, a man who outlasted 16 Republican primary opponents, a Democratic nominee who happened to win more votes, who outlasted a probe led by none other than Bob Mueller, and a new one, another one led by none other than Adam Schiff.
Who do voters here think is up to that task?
We`re going to get into it with two great experts to break it down when we`re back in just 30 seconds.
MELBER: And we`re back with David Corn, Washington bureau chief for "Mother Jones," who is at the New Hampshire debate site tonight, and Lauren Chooljian back with us.
David, we have laid out those issues. What do you think is so important, especially heading into the debate?
DAVID CORN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: ... have spoken to voters find that there`s a lot of people still not knowing what to do.
And their choices sometimes, to those of us who follow this closely, seem a little peculiar, like either Buttigieg or Tom Steyer, Warren or Joe Biden. I mean, they`re not looking at this, I think, in terms of an ideological framework.
And a lot of the case history that you just did such a great job of presenting often followed along ideological lines, and often it was the establishment candidate and the more progressive candidate. And certainly we see that in the Biden and Buttigieg vs. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. There is a divide there.
But I don`t think that`s what is pulling a lot of voters here. And it`s going to be very different if you have two winners, but they still are under our close to only a quarter of the vote. We could have sort of this very beaten Democratic crowd with a few winners crawling on to Nevada and South Carolina, and even crawling on past that to this Michael Bloomberg political science experiment.
We have no idea what that`s going to be like when he enters the picture with hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign ads in the Super Tuesday states.
MELBER: Well, as mentioned, the history goes and gives us -- the history gives us a little bit of a background, David, but Mike Bloomberg seems to offer something that everyone can relate to, which is, by not really running here yet, he`s like the person you could swipe right on in imagination, but never have to actually sit down with yet.
Does that help him as kind of a potential white knight with some voters?
CORN: Well, right now we have the idea of Mike Bloomberg. And that idea is really only defined by his own ads, which, of course, are very pro- Bloomberg.
He hasn`t been on the debate stage. He hasn`t had to mix it up.
MELBER: They are pretty pro-Bloomberg, yes.
CORN: He hasn`t done a lot of interviews.
I don`t -- you have not been -- he`s not been on your show. He hasn`t had to answer a lot of tough questions.
So the idea of a guy coming in is a lot different than him being in the mix. But he will be there on Super Tuesday with his bank account, and not having gone through this bruising battle that we have seen for the last few months and that we will see get even tougher in the next three weeks.
MELBER: Stay with me, David.
Lauren, bringing you back in, I want to get into some of the other stuff, including Biden, but your thoughts there on what we laid out, that New Hampshire has been determinative in the past?
CHOOLJIAN: Ari, you really laid out like the classic quintessential what New Hampshire primary used to do. I mean, I don`t know if that story is still out there that about a Bill Clinton, a Jimmy Carter, a Gary Hart, if you can be a longshot candidate.
I mean, think about it, when people say, the big moment when we all met Pete Buttigieg was on a CNN town hall, not at some diner. And so I think that the moment for the New Hampshire primary now is a really complicated one, where I think -- I meet voters all the time who say they have had one- on-one communications with candidates, and it means a lot to them.
But on the whole, this debate situation tonight is a great example. Not every candidate running is going to be on that stage because the DNC has set these thresholds so high, and so that kind of takes that winnowing effect away from New Hampshire in a way.
And if you talk to somebody like Michael Bennet, somebody who`s dropped -- another candidate was dropped out from Maryland, Maryland Congressman John Delaney, these are kinds of people who put a lot of stake in that longshot style of campaigning, hoping that they could overcome their low name I.D. by doing all these house parties.
But they have got to compete with the TV name brand like Elizabeth Warren, a Bernie Sanders, people who can draw hundreds of people to rallies. And those hundreds of people then go home and tell all their friends.
So I just think that we`re in a very different moment in New Hampshire primary history. But I also think that, with Iowa, I mean, you thought that the attention was on us. I think it`s on us even more, if it`s humanly possible, because for us we`re kind of closely linked with them.
And we`re always under threat. There are a lot of other states who would love to be first, right? We do a podcast called "Stranglehold." I`m one of the hosts. We talk about this a lot, because like you said in your piece, people ask that question, why is New Hampshire first? Even people in New Hampshire ask us that question.
And the answer is, we have been holding onto it for a long time.
MELBER: And I think there`s -- there`s participation, diversity and then size.
You certainly could find other states or rotate to deal with the diversity. And I have said before I think that`s a good idea. Size, though, is still really important, because if you just go to some giant states, and it`s all the TV ad buys and Twitter.
And a lot -- what`s interesting is a lot of Americans and certainly a lot of Democrats don`t like the TV Twitter presidency that they`re living through.
I want to play for you, and then bringing David back in, so for both of you, take a close listen to Joe Biden doing something that he may not have thought he would have been doing five, 10 years ago, which is focusing all his firepower on trying to prove that he is the better choice than Bernie Sanders. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Senator Sanders, God love him, and the others who have attacked my health care plan. Bernie has talked about the single-payer Medicare system for -- health care system for the country for 30 years now. Hasn`t moved an inch.
I`m the only one in this race who`s ever gotten a big health care reform through the -- bill through the Congress. It is called Obamacare.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
BIDEN: If Senator Sanders is the nominee for the party, every Democrat will have to carry the label Senator Sanders has chosen for himself.
And he calls himself a Democratic socialist. Well, we`re already seeing what Donald Trump is going to do with that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Lauren, how does that play here, in your view?
CHOOLJIAN: Well, I mean certainly giving us a preview of what I think we`re going to see on the debate stage tonight.
I mean, we`re seeing a lot of them kind of go on the offense like this. I think that there are a lot of voters here who were interested to see what Vice President Biden as a candidate in 2020 was going to look like.
And now I talk to a lot of people who are checking out Pete Buttigieg who say that they like him because he`s younger. So there`s a big question here. I think people are still very -- we talked for a long time about how people are undecided.
And I think tonight`s debate is going to really crystallize things for people in New Hampshire.
CORN: I think that`s right.
I mean, I do believe that New Hampshire is the place -- well, South Carolina and Nevada, to a lesser extent, where those personal interactions still matter a lot.
I`m not sure that`s a good thing or not, but I think it does count. And I do think that health care remains a big issue. I have spoken to a bunch of people say that they like Bernie, but they are worried that they would lose their own private health insurance, no matter what -- even though they are not enamored with it.
And I have heard of people supporting Warren saying the same thing. Listen, Bernie`s done great. I saw him this morning at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics. I thought it was the best case I have ever seen him make for his campaign. He didn`t yell. He was earnest. He said, we got to get America thinking outside the box.
And he talked about wealth inequality and social inequities here. It was marvelous.
Now, the thing is, that gets them up to 25, 26 percent of the vote. But it doesn`t get much beyond that so far. Can a win here, if that`s what happens, get him to beyond that quarter of the Democratic Party, while five other candidates fight for the other 75 percent?
I don`t know.
Well, that will be fascinating to watch tonight.
MELBER: David, stay with me, because you and I are both in New Hampshire covering a big story. Fair?
CORN: Yes. Yes, we are.
MELBER: But, if it were any other night, you and I would also be discussing something else that also hangs over tonight`s debate with all these Democrats, which is, the president just got acquitted of allegations that he was trying to shake down a foreign power to get potentially illegal help in this very election with Joe Biden on the stage.
And Senate Republicans, David, making news back in Washington targeting Joe Biden`s family with the same plot that was at the center of all this.
I want to play for you something important. I know you`re there at the debate. Maybe this will come up tonight. I want to play you something we have, which is historical, archival, factual records of what Republicans had said about Donald Trump and his fitness for office, and what they`re saying now, having acquitted him.
Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R-ME): It was wrong for President Trump to mention former Vice President Biden on that phone call.
SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER (R-TN). I think he shouldn`t have done it. I think it was wrong.
SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R-AK): The president`s behavior was shameful and wrong.
ALEXANDER: The Constitution does not give the Senate the power to remove the president from office.
MURKOWSKI: I cannot vote to conduct.
COLLINS: I believe that the president has learned from this case.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): It`s time to move on for. As I`m concerned, it`s in the rear-view mirror.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Your view on where that fits in as a substantive story for the United States? It`s all just shaking out, and if you think it`s relevant at all to tonight`s debate, and voters hearing these Democrats, who, as the president would tout, he says he won another battle with them.
CORN: Well, you just played what I call the tsk-tsk caucus, people who said the president did something wrong, but don`t believe in a single consequence for him.
They`re not even introducing bills of censure. OK? So they`re just wringing their hands. This is terrible. Let`s move on.
Now, the Democrats tonight, they`re playing for a crowd that already has made up its mind and has reached a verdict on Donald Trump. And so I don`t think they need to pound the pavement on this. They need to advance their own story, their own selling points.
That`s what they`re going to focus on. But I do think there`s a bit of a disconnect between this, what`s happening in Washington with Trump on this rampage of revenge, and senators giving up on their constitutional oath, while we`re up here in New Hampshire, and sometimes talking about who`s shaking whose hands and getting sometimes caught up in what might be fun, but also the trivial side of politics.
This is a very major week for the future of American democracy. I don`t think it has fully resonated with the public.
MELBER: Yes, and partly because there`s just so much mashed together and the calendar, which is partly the calendar the politicians set for themselves on both sides.
MELBER: David Corn and Lauren Chooljian, really interesting to hear from both of you. Thank you so much.
Still ahead, we`re going to dig into what`s happening in that retaliation campaign, including breaking news involving the man on your screen, Lieutenant Colonel Vindman.
Also, a Biden official joins us for his side of the case and a whole lot more -- when we come back.
MELBER: Some breaking news we have been following.
A key impeachment witness against Donald Trump, you may remember him, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, has been formally removed from his job at the White House, and he was escorted out of the White House grounds.
All of this relates to a retaliation campaign for what he testified about in November. Here`s what Trump had said hours before this move:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Would you like to see Alexander Vindman out of your White House?
Do you want Alexander Vindman out of your...
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I`m not happy with him. Do you think I`m supposed to be happy with him? I`m not.
QUESTION: Is he going to leave?
TRUMP: They will make that decision. You will be hearing. They will make a decision.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: "The Washington Post" reporting Trump eager to make a symbol out of Vindman. This is coming after the Senate trial acquittal.
Today`s news is striking, given -- remember what Vindman talked about in his testimony, recounting what he told his immigrant father worried about the retaliation for speaking out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LT. COL. ALEXANDER VINDMAN, DIRECTOR FOR EUROPEAN AFFAIRS, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: You made the right decision 40 years ago to leave the Soviet Union, come here to the United States of America, in search of a better life for our family.
Do not worry, I will be fine for telling the truth.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That`s an update out of Washington.
Meanwhile, Republicans making news about trying to demand records for Joe Biden`s son Hunter Biden and his travels, all of this raising a lot of questions about what the end of the acquittal means and whether there is still an effort to use government power to go after the Bidens or other people that Donald Trump considers on his enemies list.
We`re going to get into that in a whole lot more right now.
I`m joined by deputy campaign manager, communications director for Joe Biden`s campaign Kate Bedingfield.
Thanks for joining me.
KATE BEDINGFIELD, BIDEN DEPUTY CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Hi. Thanks for having me.
As mentioned, I want to get into all that, but let me give you a quick clean opener.
Where has Joe Biden been the last few days, and what does he want to get across tonight at the debate?
BEDINGFIELD: Yes, so he`s here today in New Hampshire. He was sitting down with local media, meeting New Hampshire voters where they are, in their living rooms.
And, tonight, he`s really going to lay out the case for his candidacy. He`s going to raise some really tough questions that voters need to ask themselves about who they want to put forward to face Donald Trump.
We have candidates in this race who are professed socialists, who are putting forward health care plans that cost $30 trillion in Medicare for all and take away the right people to choose their own health care. We have candidates in this race who lack the experience and the steady hand, the kind of leadership that Joe Biden can bring, that he has throughout his career.
He has a long record of progressive achievement. And there are other candidates in this race who simply don`t have that experience and are -- and I would argue would not be ready on day one.
So, you`re going to hear Vice President Biden make a very fiery, forceful case for his candidacy tonight, and that he is the right person to put up against Donald Trump next November.
MELBER: In terms of the pressure on him and other candidates, we spoke tonight about how historically, you know it, there`s usually two tickets out of New Hampshire. He was fourth in Iowa. He`s polling forth here now, or tied for third with Warren, depending on how you count it.
Take a listen to what some people are saying about Joe Biden`s prospects.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mayor Pete is the alternative to Joe Biden, and you have got him taking up votes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a critical moment for Joe Biden. He cannot afford to do poorly in New Hampshire, and he cannot afford to do poorly in Nevada, and go on.
KEVIN SHEEKEY, BLOOMBERG CAMPAIGN MANAGER: I`m saying that anyone that hasn`t won at least one of those states is toast after next week. That`s correct.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: The last remark coming from the campaign manager for Mike Bloomberg, as you know, who clearly is gunning for your potential lane and your supporters.
What do you say to people who say, look, Joe Biden is not on pace to be top two here, and, if he isn`t, he`s on pace to lose?
BEDINGFIELD: Joe Biden is a fighter. He`s resilient. He has taken some lumps in his life, and he knows what it means to fight.
And I think you saw him this Wednesday here in New Hampshire really give a strong case for why he`s the guy who should go up against Donald Trump. He made a really forceful, kind of fiery case on Wednesday morning.
And then -- and he drew some sharp contrasts. And, like I said, you`re going to hear him make some of those contrasts on the debate stage tonight as well.
BEDINGFIELD: But then he also that evening did a town hall where he was asked about overcoming a stutter as a child, and gave an incredibly empathetic, open, kind, honest, and raw answer that I think everybody watching that town hall felt sort of moved by, and I think folks who saw that clip online felt moved by.
BEDINGFIELD: It was an incredibly powerful moment. And it reminds people who Joe Biden is.
And it couldn`t be a stronger contrast with the president who currently occupies this White House. And I think voters who are looking for somebody to restore a sense of empathy...
That goes the last thing I promised I would ask you about and I mentioned in the lead. Do you view, does the campaign view Senate Republicans now all of a sudden requesting the records for a Biden family member, do you view that as a potential abuse of their power to meddle in 2020?
BEDINGFIELD: I think it is a grotesque political attempt to try to smear the person that they most don`t want to face.
They have been very clear from the outset. I mean, you saw Senator Ernst in Iowa last week just flat out saying the whole impeachment process has been about trying to smear Joe Biden, because we don`t want to have to face him in November.
So I think it is, again, a grotesque abuse of our political process, but it`s also a reminder to voters that they have the opportunity to put the person up against Donald Trump who he most fears and who he knows is the biggest threat to his reelection.
MELBER: I wanted to get you on the record on that. I am short on time.
BEDINGFIELD: So I think, more than anything, it reminds voters that that is who...
MELBER: And we have a slight satellite delay.
I`m short on time.
BEDINGFIELD: No problem.
MELBER: Kate, good luck tonight. As I say to all the candidates, thanks for joining us. We`d love to have you back.
And if you are in Manchester or nearby, I want to tell, you can actually join us on MSNBC here live Monday. I`m going to be anchoring at 1:00 p.m. Eastern in Manchester, broadcasting from Penstock restaurant, 700 Elm Street. That`s in downtown Manchester.
So, if you`re local and you want to come by, join us at 1:00 p.m. We will say hello. Maybe we will have some coffee together.
And we will be right back with a very special 2020 New Hampshire conversation at this table after the break.
MELBER: It`s Friday. And you know what they say in New Hampshire, live free or fall back.
And look who`s here. "Washington Post" columnist Ruth Marcus is back with me. And we want to bring in a local legend, New Hampshire comedian Nick Lavallee. He was named the top underground comedian in all of New Hampshire by Thrillist.
Thanks for coming by.
NICK LAVALLEE, COMEDIAN: I`m excited to be here, Ari.
MELBER: I`m excited to have both of you.
This is something special we do, and now we`re taking it on the road for 2020.
Who needs to fall back, in your estimation?
LAVALLEE: I think we need to fall back on New England stereotypes. yes, yes.
One big one is, we`re not all New England Patriots fans, you know?
MELBER: Let`s do it.
LAVALLEE: Unless we`re traveling, maybe.
But, otherwise, it`s like, we need to break some New England stereotypes. The first thing has to go, not all of us have a Boston accent.
LAVALLEE: No, no, unless we have about...
MARCUS: A lot of you have a Boston accent.
LAVALLEE: We don`t have a Boston accent. It takes about five or six beers, and then the Boston accent comes out. That`s when everything is like wicked Dunkin` Donuts, and we try to talk about Tom Brady any chance we can get.
MELBER: What is the deal with Patriots fans, while you bring it up?
LAVALLEE: I think it`s just the beer talking most of the time. I think that`s what it is.
MELBER: Is there more pride there than there are for other groups, other teams?
LAVALLEE: I think that -- I think New England Patriots fans have just sort of become like Yankees fans of football. That`s kind of what it`s turned into.
So not all of us are New England Patriots fans here in New England.
MELBER: Ruth, when you look at 2020, what do you think needs to fall back?
MARCUS: So I think we need to fall back on Iowa. I know we`re in New Hampshire, but the Iowa fallback is not that things got messed up with the count and the app and everything else.
But all this talk about state delegate equivalents, this is just silliness. OK? If you`re rounding up and calculating this and calculating that -- what you really want to know from Iowa was that we actually did find out, and we found it out on the first night, is, there was one declared loser. I`m sorry. That was Joe Biden.
And there were two declared winners who were very, very close to each other. That was Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg. And all the rest of it and the tenths of a percentage point calculations didn`t really tell us anything more, because this wasn`t a fight about who was going to have two more delegates, so, in the end, they were going to have enough.
It`s about who`s popular with the voters.
MELBER: I really appreciate you bringing that up.
I agree. We in the media need to fall back from trying to put everything on some sort of political calendar. The facts keep their own schedule. We will keep reporting on them, keep our eye on them.
But when we act like it`s a big deal that is something`s a few hours or a few days late, so what?
MARCUS: The facts keep their own schedule. That is, like, very deep, very deep.
LAVALLEE: I didn`t get that. I didn`t get that same...
MARCUS: Well, you got to earn it.
MELBER: You guys can do this. You can dap Ruth right now.
LAVALLEE: There it is.
MELBER: You have something in common with these retail politicians.
LAVALLEE: What is that?
MELBER: Which is putting yourself in front of a live audience day after day. So you see what works. You see where people`s heads at.
Do you have any sense of where people`s heads at are in New Hampshire? Because you were talking about to me when you sat down people feel like, OK, everyone comes into their state around this week.
Well, I`m excited that you`re here in Manchester, New Hampshire, because normally this place is a ghost town. But every four years, like, handsome people like yourself come through with a couple cameras and some lights.
MELBER: Oh, that`s so sweet.
LAVALLEE: Honestly, you can walk up and down the street. You are like the Justin Bieber of Manchester, New Hampshire, right now, Ari. That`s a compliment.
MELBER: Wait. In the sense of a young and overrated?
LAVALLEE: You`re yummy. That`s what my aunt Diane told me.
MELBER: No shade on Bieber.
MARCUS: You should have seen the middle-aged ladies around Chris Matthews, if you want to see the Justin Bieber effect of MSNBC.
MELBER: I`m worried this segment is going off the rails. And I blame both of you.
LAVALLEE: That`s what we`re here to do.
MARCUS: You`re welcome.
MELBER: What does everyone need to try when they`re in New Hampshire?
LAVALLEE: Everyone needs to try the chicken tenders. This is the chicken tender capital of the country.
MELBER: Didn`t know that.
LAVALLEE: You do know that?
MELBER: I didn`t know that.
LAVALLEE: And if I could, if I could, since I`m on national television, can we remove potato skins from the sampler platter?
We need to do that. We need to make room for chicken tenders and mozzarella sticks.
MELBER: You want to make the sampler splatter great again.
LAVALLEE: That`s what I want to do.
MARCUS: Wow. I thought your answer was going to be Dunkin` Donuts.
LAVALLEE: Not a Dunkin`s guy.
I`m telling you, I`m breaking New England stereotypes everywhere I go.
MELBER: I allow my -- I`m getting personal. I allow myself two doughnuts whenever I`m traveling for work. And I love Dunkin`.
LAVALLEE: You have earned it.
MELBER: Thanks for being here, Nick Lavallee.
MELBER: We always learn something new when we`re on the road.
Thanks to everyone for watching this special edition of THE BEAT live from Manchester.
As mentioned, I will be back here anchoring 1:00 p.m. Eastern and 6:00 p.m. Eastern from THE BEAT Monday night.
But don`t go anywhere. "HARDBALL" is up next.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END