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THE SITUATION ROOM

In Missouri, Jim Talent and Claire McCaskill Are In Close Senate Race; North Korea May Be Readying To Test Second Nuclear Weapon; U.S. Population Over 300 million Today; Mitt Romney Interview

Aired October 17, 2006 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much Ali. And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Standing by, CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you today's top stories.
Happening now, a dangerous dance. North Korea may be making new nuclear moves in defiance of the United States and its allies. It's 4:00 p.m. here in Washington where President Bush is emphasizing global threats in the lead up to election day.

Also this hour, the showdown in the "Show-Me State." It's 3:00 p.m. in Missouri, home to a critical contest that could decide which party controls the U.S. Senate. We'll take you live to the CNN election express.

And a leading Republican governor sounds off on same sex marriage and adoption and stem cell research. Does Mitt Romney of Massachusetts think that's the ticket to winning the White House? Some very blunt comments from Romney in an interview with me, including a stunning admission of likely defeat.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up first this hour menacing new threats from North Korea. The communist regime today is calling the sanctions they got slapped with by the United Nations, and I'm quoting now, a declaration of war. And there are new signs North Korea maybe getting ready for a second nuclear test, that according to a U.S. official with access to intelligence information. This comes as the Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is heading to Asia to press for a united front against North Korea and its nuclear defiance.

Right now the Bush administration is juggling a number of international threats. President Bush signed a much debated anti- terrorism bill into law, saying it will save American lives. The measure sets guidelines for the interrogation and the prosecution of terror suspects. Let's bring in our White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux. She's joining us with more on all of these stories. Suzanne?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, as you know, of course, North Korea now officially being a nuclear power and possibly readying for a second test. This really makes the stakes even that much higher for the Bush administration and, of course, for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. She is headed to the region now. She is going to be meeting with her counterparts in Japan, South Korea, China, and Russia. The point of this trip, of course, is to try to convince those members of the U.N. Security Council that voted for tough sanctions against North Korea essentially to follow through. China has already said that it will go ahead and inspect cargo going in and out of North Korea but not intercept.

At the same time, Wolf, as you know, Bush administration officials and U.S. spy satellites keeping a very close eye on North Korea's nuclear testing site where there has been some activity. Now, the thinking at the Bush administration, at the White House, is if, if they were to conduct a second test, possibly a nuclear test, that this would actually embolden the Bush administration's argument that North Korea's neighbors have to get tough.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think the consequences of a second North Korean nuclear test would be the further isolation of North Korea. What you've seen already, in the case of the first test, is that the United States and the Chinese are working more closely together than ever before and I dare say that they would become even closer strategic partners in trying to guarantee safety in the Korean peninsula.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: And Wolf, of course, it's about the president, the Bush administration projecting this united front with North Korea's neighbors. A very important meeting that took place here early, at the White House, the, of course, the foreign minister of South Korea, who will become the new U.N. Security Council, general secretary that is. And that is something that is very important. The two leaders, of course, meeting to discuss what kind of steps will be next, Wolf.

BLITZER: And amidst all of this the president today signed into law the new terrorism bill. Give our viewers a sense of what that means and how that was accomplished.

MALVEAUX: Well, you know Wolf, there was very, very controversial. This is essentially -- gives the president the legal authority to carry out those secret CIA programs, those prison programs. Also, of course, it allows very tough interrogation techniques, and also military trials for suspected terrorists.

It was a lot of controversy, back and forth, as you know, over the Democratic leadership that did not approve of this. There was an all-out revolt within the Republican party. They wanted to make sure to retain the Geneva Conventions, but this has moved forward and it really is seen as a big plus for the White House just three weeks away from midterm elections, but we are already hearing from Democrats, human rights advocates, who say that this is down right inhumane. One of them, Democratic Senator Russ Feingold saying today, "The legislation signed by the president today violates basic principles and values of our constitutional system of government. It allows the government to seize individuals on American soil and detain them indefinitely, with no opportunity to challenge their detention in court. We look back on this day as a stain on our nation's history."

Now, we heard from Press Secretary Tony Snow, saying, look, to be able to try and detain and bring to justice those who have killed thousands of Americans cannot be considered a stain on history. Either way, they can go through this argument back and forth. This is considered to be a good thing for the White House because as long as they're talking about national security three weeks before midterm elections, they believe that's going to be a strong issue for the Republicans, Wolf.

BLITZER: Suzanne, thanks very much. We are going to have more on North Korea and the detainee legislation signed into law coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

But let's move on now to some new developments today in connection with a Mark Foley congressional page scandal. The House Page Board investigating Foley's inappropriate online messages appears to be casting a wider net. The only Democrat on the board disclosed yesterday that members had discussed allegations not involving Foley.

Now, the Associated Press is quoting congressional source as saying the Page Board discussed a 1996 camping trip taken by Republican Congressman Jim Kolbe of Arizona. Two congressional pages were on that trip, which also is being investigated right now by the Justice Department. Kolbe is the only openly gay Republican now serving in Congress.

We also have some new, brand new poll numbers on the Mark Foley scandal and the political fallout only three weeks, to the day, before election day. Let's go to our senior political analyst Bill Schneider, Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, in the past week some opinions have shifted on the Mark Foley scandal, some have not. Most Americans continue to believe that former Congressman Foley's actions were illegal, not just immoral.

Last week, 52 percent of Americans thought Dennis Hastert should resign as Speaker of the House because of the way he handled the Foley matter. Fifty percent still feel that way, but there has been a noticeable increase in the number who feel Hastert should remain as speaker, 31 percent last week, 39 percent now. Why? Because his fellow Republicans, led by President Bush, have rallied to Hastert's support. On the other hand, growing numbers of Americans believe Republican leaders in Congress were involved in a deliberate cover-up of the Foley matter. Fifty two percent last week, 57 percent now. That's coming mostly from independent, swing voters.

The more they read and hear about the Foley matter, the more they suspect a political snow job. Now how important is the Foley scandal to voters nationwide? Not as important as terrorism, Iraq, the economy, and North Korea, but the Foley scandal is emerging as a serious issue in specific races involving Republican congressional leaders and it fuels a larger concern about ethics in government and corruption. "Oh my god," many voters are saying. What is going on in Washington? Time for some changes -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider, thank you very much. Jack Cafferty, coming up, is going to have some more on those Iraq poll numbers. You're going to want to stick around for that as well.

Meanwhile, the top Democrat in the U.S. Senate facing some new legal and ethical questions today. The Minority Leader Harry Reid already was on the defensive over a land deal. Now he is dealing with a flap over tips and how he paid for them and it's definitely not helping Democrats make their culture of corruption argument against Republicans. Let's get some more from our congressional correspondent Dana Bash, Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, it's not a leading issue in this midterm campaign, but Democrats do, as you say, like to talk about what they call a Republican culture of corruption, both here in the capital and out on the campaign trail. Now, three weeks before election day, Republicans say Democrats have a problem of their own.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): Democratic leader Harry Reid lives in this Ritz Carlton in Washington. At Christmas time the Senator gave doormen and other employees $3300 in tips over three years, a generous gesture, but the money came from Reid's campaign coffers, a possible violation of election law.

SHEILA KRUMHOLZ, CENTER FOR RESPONSIBLE POLITICS: You do not use campaign donations for personal use, and tipping your doorman or, you know, the condo association just doesn't pass the smell test.

BASH: Reid said his lawyers had assured him it was OK, but to be safe, he is, quote, reimbursing the campaign from my own pocket. Damage control for the Senate's top Democrat, under fire for potential ethics violations three weeks before an election in which Democrats are slamming Republicans for a so-called culture of corruption. The Nevada Democrat is also battling questions about a Las Vegas land deal that earned him $700,000 in 2004.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEAD: I bought a piece of land, sold it six years later. Everything was reported. It was all transparent.

BASH: Reid did report to Congress he owned the land and paid taxes on it, but he did not disclose that three years before selling it, he transferred ownership to a limited liability corporation.

Aids say the senator wanted to develop the land and made that transfer for legal protection. Reid now says he'll amend four years of ethics reports to be more transparent about the deal. KRUMHOLZ: I would expect that a person who has been in Congress as long as Harry Reid has been would know better to provide as complete a picture as possible.

BASH: For a GOP under siege by scandal, from Mark Foley to new revelations about Congressman Curt Weldon, Reid's troubles give Republicans ammunition to return fire on the campaign trail. Republicans operatives are playing it up in battleground states, like on this Tennessee radio show.

DAN RONAYNE, NATIONAL REPUBLICAN SENATORIAL COMMITTEE: Harry Reid said this whole campaign is going to be about ethics. I think the voters can fairly look at that and say there is some hypocrisy there.

BASH: Experts say voters probably won't be swayed by more reports of scandal in either party because other issues are shaping the election.

ANDREW KOHUT, PEW RESEARCH CENTER: Iraq, the economy, health care and a sense that the country is not on the right course are the major reasons and President Bush himself, a discontent with his administration are the reason the Republicans are in big trouble.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Now when voters are asked which party they think is more ethical, voters do say Democrats, but it's not by a big margin, according to most polls, Wolf. And voters might want Republicans, or at least I should say might be fed up with Republicans, but as pollster Andy Kohut said, it's not like they are doing handstands over Democrats either, Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana Bash reporting for us. Dana, thanks. And Dana, Bill Schneider, Suzanne Malveaux, they are all part of the best political team on television. Remember, for the latest campaign news, at any time, check out our political ticker. Go to CNN.com/Ticker.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty for the Cafferty File in New York. Hi Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, how you doing. Three weeks to go now until election day, but who is counting? Well, I am. It looks like the Iraq war will be at the top of the list when Americans go to the voting booth. A new CNN poll, conducted by the Opinion Research Corporation, shows 81 percent of those surveyed say the war in Iraq is either extremely important or very important to their vote.

Compare that to how voters feel about other issues. Forty three percent say terrorism is extremely important. The same percentage as feel the war in Iraq is extremely important. That's followed by the economy, then North Korea. Only about a quarter of voters say the Mark Foley scandal is extremely important to their decision on election day.

Meanwhile, Iraqi police found another 64 bodies riddled with bullets today in Baghdad. They found hundreds of them in similar condition this past month. The U.S. military death toll keeps climbing as well. Since the start of the war 2,771 troops have been killed in Iraq; 55 of our soldiers and marines have been killed there so far this month. And today is just October 17th.

Here is the question, how important will the Iraq War be to your vote in November? E-mail your thoughts to CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile.

I understand the elections are important, but they're starting to wear me out. I'm ready to get them over with, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, three weeks to go and then it will be a long night November 7th until we get all of those returns coming in slowly, but surely. You ready?

CAFFERTY: I plan to watch you from home.

BLITZER: No, you'll be working.

CAFFERTY: I don't think so.

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty will be back in a few minutes.

Coming up, the battle for Congress. The CNN Election Express is in Missouri, where Republicans are making a stand in hopes of keeping control of the U.S. Senate. Our John King is standing by live.

Plus, I go one-on-one with Mitt Romney. Wait until you hear what the Massachusetts governor and possible presidential contender says about Republican chances this November.

And America passes a major milestone. That and much more all coming up. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There has been a development in the Ken Lay verdict. Ali Velshi is joining us in New York. He died in July, but what is happening today?

ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR: His conviction has been erased. Judge Sim Lake, who supervised the case, has today, just a little while ago, erased Ken Lay's 10-count conviction. He cited a 2004 precedent that said that because Ken Lay was convicted but died before he had a chance to appeal, the government could not go forward and punish him or his estate. You'll remember he was convicted along with Jeff Skilling.

Ken Lay's family moved immediately after he died to get the conviction erased. They've actually made a move to get the bond money back. This, of course, means that the $44 million that the Department of Justice was trying to claim from his estate will not be claimed. The convictions, the 10 fraud and conspiracy convictions against Ken Lay, have been erased from the record entirely, Wolf. And Jeff Skilling is due to be sentenced on Monday in Houston. BLITZER: So, he had 44 million in his estate? Do we know that he has that much money, or perhaps even a lot more?

VELSHI: Well, you know, he had properties. He had a number of things. The Department of Justice was trying to get this money and, in fact, before Congress left, the Department of Justice was trying to get Congress to change this particular law, to allow the Department of Justice to claim this money even though Ken Lay had died.

I'm not sure how they thought they were going to get it, but they were going to move against him to claim that money and hopefully provide some of it to investors. Remember, these investors, who had their life's income wiped out because of Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling's activities, now have one less source to be reimbursed from. So, for a lot of investors, who thought they had justice upon those convictions so many months ago, they are not going to see at least part of that justice.

BLITZER: And this decision doesn't effect anyone else involved in the Enron scandal?

VELSHI: No, Ken Lay's lawyers did make an attempt to say that since Ken Lay had died the same rules should apply to him, because they were tried together. The judge didn't buy that. So at the moment, unless something unusual happens, and this trial has seen many, many unusual things happen, unless something unusual happens, Jeff Skilling will be sentenced.

BLITZER: Ali, thank you very much for that.

Still to come, the slugging match for the U.S. Senate. The CNN Election Express is in Missouri today where the Republican senator there is fighting for his political life. We'll spotlight this crucial contest.

Plus this, Mitt Romney joins us here in THE SITUATION ROOM. You're going to hear what the Massachusetts governor and presidential hopeful has to say about same sex marriage and adoption. Much more coming up. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Three make or break weeks left until congressional elections. Democrats need to pick up six seats to regain control of the Senate and they are placing some of their highest hopes on the state of Missouri. The latest polls there show the Republican incumbent Jim Talent running slightly behind the challenger Claire McCaskill. Our chief national correspondent John King is joining us now from Missouri. He is with the CNN Election Express. What is the latest there, John?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, as you know, most Republicans strategists will tell you in private conversations that they think it is most unlikely they will be able to keep their majority in the House. In recent weeks the confidence they have had all year about maintaining their majority in the Senate has been waning somewhat, but for Democrats to take the Senate, they have to reverse their recent history in so-called red states. Missouri is part of what Republicans hope will be their Senate fire wall.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you turn your forms in? If you filled out a 72-hour form --

KING: Southwest Missouri is conservative country, the bible belt. The stakes of this year's Senate race lost on no one.

GARY NORDLER (R), MISSOURI STATE SENATE: This race will be decisive in determining who controls the United States Senate in the next term.

KING: Introduction over, incumbent Republican Jim Talent quickly draws distinctions he thinks will make a difference in these parts.

SEN. JIM TALENT (R), MISSOURI: I believe marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman. So I supported the Marriage Amendment to the United States Constitution and my opponent didn't. I supported the ban on partial-birth abortions. She's opposed to that.

KING: State auditor Claire McCaskill lost a close race for governor two years ago because big margins in St. Louis and Kansas City were not enough to offset a dismal showing in rural communities.

CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI SENATE CANDIDATE: Big mistake. I've been to rural Missouri constantly in this state. I've listened. They're frustrated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have a moment? I could ask you a couple questions.

KING: At GOP headquarters in conservative Joplin, calls to Republican voters do turn up evidence some are looking elsewhere this time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you support Senator Jim Talent or Auditor Claire McCaskill for the United States Senate? McCaskill? OK.

KING: At Joplin's First Presbyterian Church, pastor Cliff Mansley predicts talk of major conservative angst will be proven wrong come election day.

REV. CLIFF MANSLEY, JOPLIN FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH: There are going to be some people who are frustrated with what they see, but I think that's a fairly small percentage of people, in terms of how they vote.

KING: But in this race and similar Senate contests in Ohio, Virginia, and Tennessee, just a small shift in rural communities could be enough for Democrats and Talent's sharpening attacks reflect GOP jitters. At a debate Monday night in conservative Springfield he demanded McCaskill release her husband's tax returns. TALENT: We have reason to believe that maybe she and her husband haven't paid all of them.

KING: McCaskill called it a desperate smear. Four years ago, Talent and the president campaigned shoulder to shoulder in southwest Missouri. This year, not one mention of Mr. Bush in the senator's 15- minute stump speech.

TALENT: Because he's not running in the race.

KING: It's one of those little differences that could affect the margins in the Bible Belt and the balance of power in Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: This is also one of the races where Republicans hope the superior turnout operation they've had in the past several election cycles and where their significant financial resource will help. And Wolf, we're beginning to see that, more Republican money is coming into this state for TV ads, paid volunteers to help with get out the vote effort. We'll see if it makes the difference for Senator Talent. He is continuing to voice confidence, but Republicans are a bit worried here.

BLITZER: So what is the sense there, John? What does Claire McCaskill need to do during these final three weeks to become the next senator for Missouri?

KING: She needs to hit the 40 percent mark or come very close to it in southwestern Missouri. She got 33 percent in 2004. She lost a very close race for governor. The last time a Democrat won the governorship, won a statewide race here, he got 41 percent in southwest Missouri. If Claire McCaskill can get right around 41 percent, she will probably be the next senator.

BLITZER: John King reporting for us from Missouri. John, thanks very much. John is part of the best political team on television.

Up next I go one-on-one with Mitt Romney. You are going to hear what the Massachusetts governor and probable presidential contender has to say about Republican chances this November. You might be surprised.

And did the president pull a political punch today as he signed into law a bill on terror detainees. Find out when Paul Begala, J.C. Watts, they are standing by to team up live in our strategy session. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Zain Verjee now on assignment. She is traveling with the secretary of state on their way to Asia right now. Carol Costello though, filling in, joining us with a closer look at some other important stories making news. Hi Carol. CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Hi Wolf. Wait 11 seconds and another person will be added to the U.S. population. The U.S. Census Bureau says every 11 seconds, a person boosts the American population. And, earlier today, that population hit the 300 million mark. It's not clear if the 300 millionth person was a newborn baby or an immigrant. It's taken 39 years for the U.S. population to increase from 200 to 300 million. I will have more in a full report in the next hour.

In Upstate New York, the cleanup continues. But, unfortunately, so does the rising number of deaths due to a storm. Officials now say at least five people have died from last week's freak storm that dumped up to two feet of snow in or near Buffalo. In the meantime, there are still some 145,000 people without power.

In Pennsylvania, they were students and chaperones traveling on a field trip. Now some are recovering now from whiplash-type injuries, cuts and abrasions. Three of the buses they were on were involved in a chain-reaction crash. Officials say 42 people, including children and adults, were taken to hospitals. There are no reports of serious injuries.

In Texas, a train leaves its track, leaving two homes nearly destroyed. At least 15 cars on the Union Pacific freight train derailed near San Antonio. Officials are trying to determine where why the train derailed -- no one seriously hurt either.

And yet another train incident, this one in Italy -- more than 100 people recovering after a subway train slammed into the back of another during morning rush hour in Rome. At least one person died. Witnesses described a chaotic scene, with passengers screaming and running, some covered in blood, and others being trapped in twisted wreckage for many hours. Officials are trying to determine what caused that crash.

That's a look at the headlines -- back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. My heart goes out to all those people in Rome. Thanks very much, Carol, for that. Check in with you shortly.

Republican Mitt Romney is wearing many hats in these final weeks before the midterm election. He is finishing out his term as the governor of Massachusetts. He's the chairman of the Republican Governors Association. And he's a leading presidential prospect in 2008.

Now he is offering some very blunt talk about the GOP's chances next month and about the hot-button issue of gay marriage.

BLITZER: And joining us now, the Republican governor of the state of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney.

Governor Romney, thanks very much for coming in.

GOV. MITT ROMNEY (R), MASSACHUSETTS: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right.

Everybody assumes you want to be president of the United States some day -- nothing wrong with that. But tell our viewers why you would like to be president.

ROMNEY: Well, I'm not going to say that at this point. I think anybody, however, looking at that opportunity, would consider it an enormous honor.

This is the hope of the world, this nation is. But anyone looking at that race should certainly not look at it for personal ego gratification, but, rather, out of a sense of duty and obligation.

BLITZER: So, you have no...

ROMNEY: And I hope...

BLITZER: ... intention right now to do what Mark Warner, the former governor of Virginia...

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: ... did last week, and announce he wants to spend more quality time with his family?

ROMNEY: Sorry, Wolf, won't help your ratings today. I'm keeping the option open at this point, as are probably 20 or 30 other people, Republican and Democrat.

BLITZER: So, walk us through the process. You're keeping your option open.

After the elections, presumably, November 7, it's going to be a sprint to Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina. At what point do you make a decision, "You know what, I want to be president"?

ROMNEY: I think you will see most people who are considering '08 giving it some consideration, probably towards the end of the year, maybe the beginning of next year -- different people choosing different times.

But you probably can't wait too long, because the primaries and the early caucuses are starting even earlier this year. So, I think those that are really serious about looking at '08 are going to have to make up their mind pretty quickly.

BLITZER: Here is a sensitive issue that you are going to have to deal with, if, in fact, you want to be president of the United States.

Merle Black, the Emory University political scientist, referred to it "The New York Times" last week: "He starts out with a deck stacked against him. Obviously, he overcame this in Massachusetts. But he is going to be dealing with a different voting group on the national level" -- the fact that you're a Mormon.

ROMNEY: Right. BLITZER: How do you deal with that, because there are people out there, presumably, who don't like that?

ROMNEY: Well, I think fundamentally, this is America. And Americans recognize a wide variety of faiths.

But they do want a person who is a person of faith. And I think, as they look at people who will be running in '08, they are going to look for folks that share their values. And their values are what is most critical, for conservative Christian voters, as well as Jewish voters, and those that come from different backgrounds.

I don't think faith will become a factor, in the final analysis. But it may become an issue people talk about early on. But, ultimately, they put aside those differences, and focus on the capabilities of the individual candidates, their vision, their aspirations, where they take America, and why they're running.

BLITZER: The -- John F. Kennedy overcame that problem, the first Catholic president of the United States. when Joe Lieberman was running for vice president, he was Jewish. As you know, he -- that was not much of a problem in that campaign.

But I will read to you what Pastor Ted Haggard, the president of the National Association of Evangelicals, said the other day: "We evangelicals view Mormons as a Christian cult group. A cult group is a group that claims exclusive revelation. And, typically, it's hard to get out of these cult groups. And, so, Mormonism qualifies as that."

Is that a problem, as far as evangelicals are concerned?

(CROSSTALK)

ROMNEY: Well, it doesn't sound like I am going to get his vote.

(LAUGHTER)

ROMNEY: But I'm not going to worry about that, if I get into it.

The great majority of American people look at the character of the person, their track record, what they plan on doing, what their values are. I saw Jerry Falwell quoted the other day in a paper, saying: Look, if Mitt Romney decides to run, and if he's our nominee, I will be happy to work for him.

You are going to see most evangelicals support whoever they feel is closest to their values. And that may be me. It may be somebody else. But I don't think that people are going to ever disqualify someone and apply a religious test. The Constitution says that's prohibitive. We don't apply religious tests. And I doubt Republicans will either.

BLITZER: They will apply another test, which is, is the country moving in the right direction under President Bush or the wrong direction under President Bush? In our most recent poll, only 36 percent of the American public right now think the country is moving in the right direction. Fifty- three percent believe the country is moving in the wrong direction.

If that is, in fact, what it is, the president has to accept the fact that the buck stops with him.

ROMNEY: Of course he does.

But we also recognize, as a nation, that we're not happy with what is going on in the world. We're not happy about the fact that jihadists are intent on causing the collapse of our government and our military and our economy. But that's just the reality of what we're facing.

And the Democrats haven't pointed out any solution different than that which is provided by the president. So, they may not be happy with the fact that we're in a situation...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: well, a lot of Democrats say, get out; you know, it's time to see civil war unfold.

ROMNEY: Very few -- I think...

BLITZER: And it's time to...

ROMNEY: Yes.

BLITZER: ... start pulling out.

ROMNEY: Right.

I think very few responsible Democrats, including people like Hillary Clinton, say just turn around and get out. We all want to get out as soon as we can. But we recognize that Iraq is simply a front on the war on terror. Terror is going to continue. The jihadists are trying to take over modern Muslim nations.

BLITZER: Do you have any problems with the president's policy on Iraq?

ROMNEY: Oh, sure.

I mean, following the collapse of the Hussein government, we found that the planning level and the troop strength level were not adequate for the need.

But we are where we are now. And problems arise. And surprises occur in major international conflict. But now we're in a setting which is very challenging. But simply turning around and walking out now could lead to a humanitarian disaster.

BLITZER: So, you're part of the stay-the-course, as opposed...

ROMNEY: Well, I'm part...

BLITZER: ... to -- quote -- "cut and run"?

ROMNEY: Well, I'm not in favor of cut and run.

And stay the course should be amended to say, let's make sure we give al-Maliki the time he needs to establish the kind of security capability that will provide safety for his citizens, but, then, let's move out as quickly as we can, and defend our interests.

BLITZER: Do you have a time frame in mind?

ROMNEY: Well, you know, I think you do have to have, in your own mind -- whether you're a general or a secretary of defense or a president, you have to have a time frame that you're moving to.

BLITZER: What is yours?

ROMNEY: And -- well, I'm not going to -- I don't have a specific time frame today -- but a time frame and milestones along the way of what you would like to accomplish, when.

BLITZER: Here is a sensitive issue that has come up, because you raised it the other night, gay marriage.

ROMNEY: Yes.

BLITZER: Here is what you said: "Here in Massachusetts, activist judges struck a blow to the foundation of civilization, the family. They ruled that our Constitution requires same-sex marriage. Unless we adopt a federal amendment to protect marriage, what is happening here will unquestionably enter every other state."

ROMNEY: Yes.

BLITZER: This pits you at odds with a lot of people out there, including the daughter of the vice president, Dick Cheney, Mary Cheney, who was here in THE SITUATION ROOM not that long ago.

Listen to what she said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARY CHENEY, DAUGHTER OF VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: Same-sex marriage is obviously an issue that we can disagree on, and that this country needs to debate. But the notion of amending the Constitution and writing -- basically, writing discrimination into the Constitution of the United States is fundamentally wrong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. You want to tell our viewers why you disagree with Mary Cheney?

ROMNEY: Well, because marriage is a fundamental institution in our society. It's not primarily about adults. The challenge that people have who are staunch defenders of gay marriage focus on adult rights. But marriage is primarily not about adults, but about kids. A child and their development and nurturing is enhanced by access and by the nurturing of two parents of two different genders.

And, so, as we think about the development of children, and the future of our nation and its ability to raise a generation, we need to have homes where there are moms and dads. So, I favor traditional marriage, not out of any sense of discrimination.

BLITZER: Because?

ROMNEY: And I think we should show an outpouring of respect and tolerance for people of differences and people that make different choices.

BLITZER: But let me get this straight. Are you suggesting that children who have two fathers or two mothers, two gay men or two lesbian mothers, that those children are going to be growing up in some sort of weird environment? Is that what you're saying...

ROMNEY: No. I'm...

BLITZER: ... that this going to affect their ability to be normal kids?

ROMNEY: I'm saying that the ideal setting for raising a child is where there is a mother and a father.

Now, of course, we have a lot of homes where there is a single mom. And that's not ideal, but, I mean, there are some -- but there are some great families.

BLITZER: If there two loving -- two loving parents who happen to be the same sex...

ROMNEY: There's no -- Wolf, there's no question, but that having access to a mother and a father, people of both genders, is the ideal for the development of a child.

BLITZER: But what if there's -- what if there are two loving parents who are of the same sex? Can't they raise a kid...

ROMNEY: Oh, sure.

BLITZER: ... and make sure that that kid turns out to be a great kid?

ROMNEY: Sure, they can. And there will be circumstances of that happening.

But, overall, in a society, again, the right setting -- the ideal setting for raising a child is where they have access to a mom and a dad.

BLITZER: Should lesbians or gay men who are same-sex partners, should they be able -- should they be able to adopt children?

ROMNEY: Well, that's a state-by-state issue.

BLITZER: What do you...

ROMNEY: What I -- but my view is that we should have a constitutional amendment that says that marriage is defined as a relationship between a man and a woman.

And the reason it's so important to do at a federal level -- and I know some people say they are against gay marriage, but let the states decide. Well, if one state decides that they are going to have gay marriage, and they marry people from all over the country, then, every state ends up with gay marriage, because people move around this country.

And, ultimately, the Supreme Court may well say that, under the full faith and credit clause, if you're married in one state...

BLITZER: But...

ROMNEY: ... you're married in the other.

BLITZER: Well, let's get back to adoption for a second.

ROMNEY: Yes. Yes.

BLITZER: Should -- do you believe that gays and lesbians should be able to adopt children?

ROMNEY: Well, they are able to adopt children.

BLITZER: But do you think that's good?

ROMNEY: And I'm not going to change that.

BLITZER: Is that good?

ROMNEY: I'm not going to change that.

What I am saying is that marriage...

BLITZER: Well, what's the difference...

ROMNEY: What I mean to say is that...

BLITZER: What's the difference between children who are...

ROMNEY: Well, I will -- OK, let me...

BLITZER: ... adopted or children...

ROMNEY: I will give you an example.

BLITZER: ... who are born... ROMNEY: Once a court, as it is in Massachusetts, says that we're indifferent between same-sex marriage and traditional marriage, then, what you have on the -- in our schools is a desire to avoid what they call heterocentricity.

So, we have kids in a second-grade class in Massachusetts being taught from a book called "The King and the King," where a prince doesn't find a princess to marry, but another prince. And they become the kings.

We begin to say that we're indifferent between a marriage between a man and a woman and two men or two women. And we're not indifferent as a society. Fundamentally, as a society, overall, we want homes with moms and dads.

Now, if individuals want to do -- take a different course and enter into contracts with one another that are between same-sex individuals, they're free to do so. But marriage, as a term and as an institution, should be associated with men and women.

BLITZER: You know, Mary Cheney, when she was here -- and she is a lesbian...

ROMNEY: Yes.

BLITZER: ... she said that you -- she didn't know what your position was, but those who support what you -- you want a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage -- are on the wrong side of history, sort of like the old laws that would prevent African-Americans from marrying white people.

ROMNEY: I'm afraid that's not quite a good comparison.

It's not the wrong side of history, because, actually, in the whole history of the world, from the very beginning of recorded history, marriage has always meant a relationship between a man and a woman.

Look, if two people of the same gender want to live together and enter into a contract with each other, so be it. But don't pretend that it's marriage. And society, as a whole, will benefit by having its children, on the average, raised by moms and dads.

BLITZER: Let's talk about abortion rights, because, on this issue, you have changed your opinion.

ROMNEY: Yes. You know, I -- when I was elected governor...

BLITZER: You used to support a woman's right...

ROMNEY: Well, what...

BLITZER: ... to have an abortion.

ROMNEY: Well, when I was elected governor, I said that I didn't support abortion, but I wouldn't change the laws in Massachusetts. And people said, well, that is effectively pro-choice. I didn't argue with them. I didn't take the label pro-choice. But I did take the label pro-life, following the debate associated with stem cell research.

I sat into my office. And a provost of Harvard University and the head of stem cell research came in and said: Governor, this isn't a moral issue, because we kill the embryo after 14 days.

And that struck me as being a -- just a blow to the gut, because I recognized that we had so cheapened the value of human life, through the Roe v. Wade mentality, that I could no longer stand on the sidelines, if you will. I had to take sides.

And I call myself firmly pro-life.

BLITZER: So, you oppose embryonic stem cell research?

ROMNEY: Well, I favor using existing lines, as does the president, and using surplus embryos from in vitro fertilization. Those provide plenty of lines, as well what Dr. Hurlbut of Stanford describes as altered-state nuclear transfer, which is a type of embryonic development without actually creating a human embryo.

But I do not favor, if you will, what is known as embryo farming, taking donor sperm, donor eggs, putting them together in the laboratory, and creating new embryos.

BLITZER: And your current position on abortion rights for women is what?

ROMNEY: Well, I said I'm firmly...

BLITZER: Under what conditions should women be able....

ROMNEY: I'm firmly...

BLITZER: ... to have an abortion?

ROMNEY: I'm firmly pro-life. And my own...

BLITZER: Are there any exceptions?

ROMNEY: And the exceptions for me are with regards to rape and murder, and, of course, the risk of life, loss of life to the mother.

BLITZER: So, if the woman's life is in danger.

ROMNEY: That's right.

BLITZER: Her health is endangered?

ROMNEY: No, her life is danger, or in the case of rape or incest.

BLITZER: That's it? ROMNEY: Yes.

BLITZER: Let's briefly, because we're almost out of time, talk a little bit of politics.

You're out there campaigning for Republican gubernatorial candidates.

ROMNEY: Yes.

BLITZER: Right now, it does not look good.

ROMNEY: Tough for us.

BLITZER: ... for the gubernatorial...

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: ... candidates, the House candidates...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: ... or the Senate candidates, for that matter.

ROMNEY: Well, I think the House and the Senate look a little better. The governor's...

BLITZER: Not much, though.

ROMNEY: The governor's races are tough, because Republican governors are -- are not running for reelection in nine different states. Only one Democrat isn't running for reelection. So, the question is, will we lose six or eight governorships, or even more? But we will probably lose quite a few.

BLITZER: Right now, there are 28 Republican governors, 22 Democratic governors. What do you think is going to happen when the dust settles November 7?

ROMNEY: Well, I hope do better -- to do better than the math would suggest. We don't want to lose as many as -- as would be indicated by just the sheer mathematics. But we will certainly lose the lead.

Fortunately, among governors, there is no vote on the majority. It's done state by state. And some great states will have Republican governors. And I think you will see a number of states where Democrats are looking for a pickup; they won't get it.

BLITZER: So, there will be a majority of Democratic governors, as...

ROMNEY: Oh, sure.

BLITZER: ... as opposed to a majority of Republican governors?

ROMNEY: Oh, sure. I think -- I don't think there is anyone who has looked at the poll numbers that doesn't think that will happen.

You have got states like New York and Arkansas that are blue states that have Republican governors who are retiring.

BLITZER: And Massachusetts.

ROMNEY: And Massachusetts -- with governors not running for reelection. And, so, the math would say that is going to be pretty hard for us to hold on to all those states.

BLITZER: And what about the House and Senate?

ROMNEY: I can't make the prediction there. I don't see those.

But I understand that the president and Karl Rove are very positive. So, I'm adopting that same positive attitude.

BLITZER: I think they have to be positive...

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: ... at this point, make sure that they get out the vote, as much as they can.

Governor, thanks very much for coming in.

ROMNEY: Thanks, Wolf. Good to be with you.

BLITZER: And coming up: Don King steps into the campaign ring. But does the boxing promoter score a knockout? Find out in today's "Political Radar."

Plus: controversial comments from a mild-mannered, moderate Republican. We're going to live to Connecticut, as -- as a congressman there fights for his political life -- that story, lots more, coming up in the next hour, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: On our "Political Radar" this Tuesday: more evidence that Republican Senator Mike DeWine is in political danger in Ohio.

Two new polls show DeWine trailing Democratic challenger Sherrod Brown. Brown is 12 points ahead of DeWine in a Quinnipiac University survey of likely voters. Brown has a 7-point lead in the Ohio poll of likely voters.

The legendary boxing promoter Don King is helping Michael Steele's Senate fight in the state of Maryland. King appeared with the Republican candidate yesterday, trying to help him win votes from black Democrats. Polls show Steele trailing Democratic Congressman Ben Cardin in the race to succeed retiring Democratic Senator Paul Sarbanes.

A new poll finds Democrats have the advantage in some of the most hotly contested House races in the country. Voters living in 48 of the most competitive congressional districts were surveyed for National Public Radio. Fifty-one percent of those questioned said they plan to support the Democratic House candidate on November 7. Forty percent said they would vote for the Republican candidate.

And, remember, for all the latest campaign news, at any time, check out the Political Ticker. Go to CNN.com/ticker.

Up next: An arrest warrant is out for the actor Wesley Snipes. We will tell you why, and have the latest on efforts to try to track Snipes down.

And is North Korea close to conducting a second nuclear test, maybe even a bigger one? We will have a report from the Pentagon on some of the ominous signs coming from the communist regime.

That's coming up in our next hour, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Zain is on assignment.

Let's check in with Carol Costello once again for a closer look at some other important stories -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Wolf, Madonna one step closer to something she really wants. Today, the 1-year-old African child she hopes to adopt arrived at her London mansion.

Madonna says she hopes her adoption of the boy will become permanent. And she is defending her custody, issuing a statement, insisting she acted according to state law -- the country law, I should say. Some groups are concerned her celebrity status helped her bypass adoption rules. Malawi law bans adoptions by non-residents.

Actor Wesley Snipes is a wanted man. The actor is now the subject of an arrest warrant. That's according to officials with the Justice Department and the IRS. Authorities say they do not know where he is. Snipes is named in an eight-count indictment in Florida. He is accused of not paying tens of millions of dollars in federal tax income.

Wolf, I think he's in a little bit of trouble.

BLITZER: I think you're right, Carol. Thanks very much for that.

Still ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM: Will Iraq -- the war in Iraq, that is, be a decisive factor on Election Day? Jack Cafferty weighing in. And now it's your turn. He will be back with your e- mail.

And a half-a-dozen African-Americans are running for major offices on November 7. Are their races, at least in part, about race? Jeff Greenfield standing by with that.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack. He has got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question, with the elections in three weeks, is, how important will the Iraq war be to your vote come November?

Shirlee writes from Wilsonville, Oregon: "The Iraq war is the number-one reason that I, a registered Republican, will vote a straight Democratic ticket in November. It will be the first time in my 46 years of being eligible to vote that I will vote a straight party-line ticket for either side. We were lied and misled into this mess. And staying the course is not an option. It's past time for this administration and the rubber-stampers who have supported it to be held accountable."

Bruce writes: "Jack, of course, it's the war, stupid. What clearer example of Republican failure and deceit do we need? Whether by bad judgment or outright lies, we were guided down the road to the wrong war in the wrong place by the Republican administration and the Republican Congress. It's time now to throw the bums out."

Bruce in Hershey, Pennsylvania: "Being close to retirement, I'm pleased with the strength of the stock market and all the Dow records being set. I check my portfolio weekly. It has been rising steadily. So, the economy, to me, will also be a major factor in the upcoming election. Since the Democrats are notorious for raising taxes, I guess I don't have to tell you how my vote will go."

Deonna, Columbus, Ohio: "I am a product of the anti-war movement. I was a freshman at Kent State on May 4, 1970. So, for me, any and all wars are never a path to take. The war in Iraq is definitely a top reason for me to vote against all incumbents on November 7. Goodbye, Mike DeWine and Deborah Pryce, just to name a few."

And Byron (ph) in Hudson, Wisconsin, writes: "When is the flower- growing season in Iraq? Where are our flowers? The hell with your stupid questions. I want to know who has all the flowers. Dick Cheney has all of them, doesn't he? I know. I bet Clinton took all the flowers. That's it. Clinton did it."

Invite you to join Thursday at 7:00. We are going to do an hour- long look at what is wrong with our broken government in Washington, D.C. We would like your help in trying to figure out how to fix it.

Send your ideas to JackBrokenGovernment@CNN.com. Or you can send us your video at CNN.com/ireport. You decide. We will air on Thursday.

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: Wolf.

BLITZER: Good work, Jack. We will be watching. Thanks again. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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