Return to Transcripts main page

STATE OF THE UNION WITH CANDY CROWLEY

Interview With Jon Huntsman; Interview With Sen. Ayotte, Rep. Bass; Interview with Former Governor Sununu, Former Senator Sununu

Aired June 12, 2011 - 09:00   ET

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


CANDY CROWLEY, HOST: Welcome to a special "State of the Union" from St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, where tomorrow night CNN will host a debate between seven candidates all hoping to be the Republican Party's nominee for president in 2012.

Traditionally, New Hampshire holds the nation's first primary, and routinely the results have shaken the steady and steadied the shaken. Think 1992. After weeks of questioning about womanizing and draft dodging, Bill Clinton places second in New Hampshire and dubs himself the comeback kid. 2000, when the high-flying Bush campaign is brought back to planet earth by a crushing 18-point loss to John McCain. 2008, when the third place winner from the Iowa caucuses finds her voice in a New Hampshire win. Hillary Clinton, comeback woman.

In presidential primaries, momentum is the name of the game, and this is where it happens -- or doesn't.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: Today -- on the eve of the Republican debate, a party wild card biding his time. Jon Huntsman.

HUNTSMAN: We're about a week and a half out.

CROWLEY: Then, New Hampshire's Washington representatives, Senator Kelly Ayotte and Congressman Charlie Bass. And New Hampshire's family team, former Governor John Sununu and his son, former Senator John Sununu. And analysis from Philip Rucker of the Washington Post and Neil King of the Wall Street Journal.

I'm Candy Crowley, and this is "State of the Union."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: We begin with the unknown. He's the father of seven, a motorcycle riding Mormon with an eclectic professional resume, including former governor of Utah and former ambassador to China for President Obama. In the past months, Jon Huntsman has been in New Hampshire for more events than any declared candidate.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HUNTSMAN: We're in a deep funk in this country. CROWLEY: He looks, walks and talks like a presidential candidate. Why isn't he? We tracked down former Governor Jon Huntsman Friday after a getting-to-know-the-candidate house party in North Salem. So the big question is, why is taking you so long?

HUNTSMAN: Well, we've only been at it about a month, a little over a month. And when you consider --

CROWLEY: But at it with a vengeance.

HUNTSMAN: With a vengeance. So if you look at our zero to 60 speed, I think we've -- we've broken some land-speed records in getting to where we are. I think we've been to about 12 separate states, some of them multiple times over that month and a bit.

CROWLEY: Thirty-six times in less than a month in New Hampshire, someone told us -- 36 events.

HUNTSMAN: That's -- that sounds -- I've lost count.

CROWLEY: Yes. Well, someone counted it for you.

HUNTSMAN: Yes. So that -- that sounds about right. And we have a lot of --

CROWLEY: So why not just go, yes, I'm running, you know? I'm talking to donors, I'm getting money, I'm -- we just got finished with a house party. What do we -- what's the, you know, where's the balloons and the band and the speech?

HUNTSMAN: Yes, we're -- we're -- we're about a week and a half out.

CROWLEY: A week and a half. OK. Here?

HUNTSMAN: Well, I'll keep that for another time.

CROWLEY: You're not playing.

HUNTSMAN: But we're right at the end point.

And is your family supportive? Yes, check that box.

Do you think you can rally enough financial support to make it happen? Yes, you check that box.

Do you think on the ground in the key early states -- New Hampshire and South Carolina and Florida -- you can create the presence and the excitement and enthusiasm that will work? You can check that box.

That's -- we've basically checked all the boxes, and now we're kind of moving towards a --

CROWLEY: Now you got to write the speech.

HUNTSMAN: Well, yes, and have probably another meeting with the family just to say, here's where we are --

CROWLEY: Speak now or forever hold your peace.

HUNTSMAN: That's right. That's right.

CROWLEY: Well, when you -- let me ask you like a hometown question for CNN, which is, we've looked at the polling, 70 percent of folks nationwide, as well as in New Hampshire, don't know enough about you to say whether they approve or disapprove. So why not just get into a debate and do it?

HUNTSMAN: Well, there will be plenty of debates. We'll be in more debates than I think anyone will be able to stomach at the end of the exercise, when we have finally checked that last box, and we're ready to go.

We've only been at it five weeks, and we've moved about as fast as you can move. And then you cross that -- that -- you pass that mile barrier, and then you're in, and then you do everything that needs to be done from there.

CROWLEY: And then it's 24/7.

HUNTSMAN: That's right.

CROWLEY: Do you think, looking at -- looking way down the line, do you think that Barack Obama has had a failed presidency?

HUNTSMAN: On the economic side, there are no signs of success, very little. You look at unemployment, you look at the environment in which jobs supposedly can be created, when you look at the debt level, you look at all the economic indicators, and it would suggest that we're in bad shape.

And certainly, over the course of two years, there's been insufficient movement. And now people kind of back away, and they say, let's look at and assess the last two years and make a judgment about that.

I found in politics, you've got about two to two and a half years after you've been elected to get something done and to move out in a positive direction on something as important as the economy. And here we are.

CROWLEY: And so you -- you think it has failed on the economic side?

HUNTSMAN: Failed on the economic front.

CROWLEY: How about on the foreign policy front? How do you think he's done?

HUNTSMAN: Well, we -- we have different world views. I worked the China relationship, which for 40 years has been a bipartisan relationship. It's been America's interest, there's security, they're economic, they're cultural. And it was a great honor to serve my country in that capacity. But when you look at Afghanistan, can we hang out until 2014 and beyond? When you look at the Middle East -- CROWLEY: Can we?

HUNTSMAN: Well, I would argue you can if you're willing to pay another quarter of a trillion dollars to do so. But if it isn't in our direct national security interest and if there isn't a logical exit strategy and if we don't know what the cost is going to be in terms of money and human lives, then I think you have to say it's probably time we reevaluate this if we can't make that strong argument with the American people.

CROWLEY: So President Huntsman would want to be out of Afghanistan earlier than 2014?

HUNTSMAN: Well, my -- my hunch is the American people want to be out of there as quickly as we can get it done. You're going to have to leave behind some presence, probably not 100,000 or 120,000 troops, but some presence.

CROWLEY: Bringing you back to the race, when you -- if -- when you get in, in a week and a half or so, you'll be number eight -- well, there will be about number 138, but of those, you know, that show up in the polling. What do you bring to the table that Mitt Romney doesn't bring to the table?

HUNTSMAN: First of all, you have to look at our records as governor. Every governor governs a little differently. They all have different track records. Some speak to economic success, some speak to education or healthcare success. We all try to do what's best for our state. All you have to do is compare and contrast.

Second, I think the citizens of this country are going to be very interested in a president who understands the world for what it is. It's complex, it's confusing, it is uncertain, and it's not going to get any -- any better in the years to come.

CROWLEY: So foreign policy experience?

HUNTSMAN: I think foreign policy and national security experience will be -- will be in -- in great demand in years to come. No question about that.

CROWLEY: A lot of people -- and I -- I know you'll interrupt me when I say these things, and I'll -- I'll let you explain. But a lot of people look and they say, OK, Jon Huntsman, at one point he looked favorably upon mandated healthcare insurance; at one point he favored cap-and-trade. He is for civil unions. He looks a heck of a lot like a Democrat.

HUNTSMAN: Well, look at -- look at my record in the state of Utah. Healthcare reform without a mandate -- of course you've got to talk about all the options. Any --

CROWLEY: Did you ever favor it? Because there have been stories out there that you did. That you wanted it-- HUNTSMAN: You'll -- you'll read in here everything. What is important is you look at what you put your signature to. We debated it enthusiastically as a state, private sector, public sector. We've looked at every conceivable option. We came up with a model that I think deserves some national recognition, I really do.

When you look at economic development -- historic tax reform, flattening the tax, creating a state that was the number one economy in America, the best managed state in America according to the Pew Foundation -- there's a lot there that I think anyone on the conservative side would look at and like.

Now, am I perfect in all the categories? Do I favor civil unions? Yeah, I favor civil unions. I don't think we have done enough in the name of equality in the area of -- or reciprocal beneficiary rights. Will some people --

CROWLEY: Hospital visitation, and --

(CROSSTALK)

HUNTSMAN: Sure. Sure, it's -- whatnot. Will some people hold that against me? It's OK. You got to be who you are and march forward. Some people will like it.

And I believe that in the end, people will look at the totality of what it is you stand for, the totality of what you've done, and then make an informed decision.

CROWLEY: Couple of other quick policy questions. You -- I know you're opposed to ethanol subsidies, which helped frame your strategy going forward. Are you also against oil and gas subsidies? Would you phase those out as well?

HUNTSMAN: I think phasing out all subsidies. Some will have to be done on a faster track than others. But moving towards a phase-out of all subsidies is going to be very important for budgetary reasons in this country.

When you look at the -- the tens of billions of dollars that we've built our economy on that create artificiality in the marketplace, they have to be addressed at some point. And I know they're politically sensitive, but we're at a point in time where for budget reasons we can't wait a whole lot longer.

CROWLEY: And finally, Haley Barbour, who as you know, is a pretty good strategic thinker, was on TV the other day and said, listen, Ronald Reagan was very good at taking 80 percent of what he wanted and calling it, you know, a good deal.

CROWLEY: So he, Haley Barbour, could see supporting a candidate who said, fine, if I could get 80 percent of the spending cuts I wanted, I could see some tax increases. Can you say a similar thing? Could you see a deal as a President Huntsman where you would say, I'll give you this much in spending cuts, I can see a tax increase? HUNTSMAN: I don't think the nation is ready for that and I think it would be the worst possible thing we can do when our nation needs to begin to grow. That is not a pro-growth strategy. We found that in our own state of Utah.

I mean, all around us we can see the carcasses from the last industrial revolution. We've been good at launching industrial revolutions in this country. You grow your way out of it, you create jobs, you expand revenue, and you pay your bills by doing that.

I think tax increases would likely stand in the way of that kind of positive economic growth that we so desperately need now.

CROWLEY: Jon Huntsman, thank you for spending some time with us.

HUNTSMAN: Thanks, Candy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: Up next, will Congress reach a deal on the debt ceiling before that August deadline? We'll ask two New Hampshire Republicans who are driving a hard bargain.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Joining me now, two Republican members of the U.S. Congress from here in New Hampshire, Senator Kelly Ayotte, a member of the Armed Services Committee; and Congressman Charlie Bass, who is on the Energy and Commerce Committee.

Welcome both.

AYOTTE: Thank you, great to be here with you, Candy.

BASS: Good to be here with you.

CROWLEY: Let me start out with some Washington business, and that is the debt ceiling, which we are told by August the treasury secretary will run out of ways to move the money around and we're going to begin to default on some of our debts. Are you all willing to go into default on some debts if you do not get budget cuts or a balanced budget amendment?

AYOTTE: Well, Candy, here's the issue. We can't continue to kick the can when it comes to the fiscal state of this country. And I think what Republicans are saying, nobody wants anyone to default, but what we're saying is we need real spending reforms. I think that's what the American people want to get us on a sustainable trajectory so spending cuts, dealing with the issue of entitlements to preserve them, and some reforms on Congress, like spending caps.

CROWLEY: So far it's looking like a game of chicken. It's looking as though the Democrats are saying there is never -- the Republicans are not going to let us default. And you're saying it looks like the Democrats are not going to let us default and there doesn't seem to be anybody kind of working toward getting an agreement.

BASS: Well, this isn't like the continuing resolution where midnight on Friday is it. Default is defined as being unable to pay a bill because you don't have cash. But that doesn't necessarily mean that we can't make payments on Treasury bills or other obligations. It means that the U.S. doesn't have enough money to meet every obligation.

And this is probably our only best or greatest opportunity in this cycle to do anything significant about changing the direction of spending in Washington, which is what Kelly alluded to.

CROWLEY: So, to the question, are you willing to let default happen in some places or they begin to move around and money gets very tight, are you willing to go into that phase if the Democrats just say, look, no cuts?

BASS: There is a difference between strategic or technical default and default where you really don't have the economy to support the spending. We are not at that point yet. We could be. We could be, like some European nations.

But I think the global economy will understand that the United States has the ability to meet its obligations. But it's not going to be able to do it over the long term if we can't control the growth of government.

CROWLEY: Isn't the risk that -- the risk is the signal to the rest of the world, isn't it? The risk is the signal to Wall Street.

AYOTTE: Well, Candy, I think that the real -- what we've heard is that the president really needs to step forward here. Where's the presidential leadership? We've got signals from Washington. We heard from the S&P, the negative outlook on our credit rating.

It is time for him to step forward and come up with real reforms that are going to address this fiscal crisis and he has the opportunity here. This is an opportunity for us to come together with real reforms to reduce spending, to deal with entitlements, to get this country on the right track. So I think this is his time.

BASS: By the way, there's plenty of precedent for that. Most of the major increases in the debt ceiling have been accompanied by structural changes in the way we raise and spend money.

CROWLEY: Congressman, let me ask you specifically, because you heard Jon Huntsman say, yes, he thinks all subsidies ought to be phased out. He's against ethanol subsidies. I asked him specifically about subsidies to the oil - or tax loopholes, tax breaks for the oil and gas companies.

Republicans have been against that. Isn't it time to re-look at some of these things? I mean, given the state of our budget, given that the Republicans want to make some major changes to try to do savings with Medicare, isn't it time to look at these oil and gas subsidies? BASS: Well, first of all, if you really segregate oil and gas subsidies alone, just those, not other taxes, it comes to about $1.9 billion a year in savings. We're running a $250 billion a month deficit. So I'm perfectly...

CROWLEY: Have to start somewhere, though, right?

BASS: Yes, exactly. And I'm willing to vote to end that subsidy if it's part of a recognition on the part of the Democrats or those who support this, that they're willing to look at the real issues, which is getting from $250 billion a month of deficit down to 0. They have no plan for that. There's plan out of the Senate, there's no plan out of the White House.

CROWLEY: Senator, oil and gas?

AYOTTE: Well, I have to tell you, first of all, ethanol, that is going to come up for a vote this week, I think, in the senate. And there are many of us on the Republican side, Tom Coburn is leading that effort to repeal that subsidy.

On oil the gas, here we are, the Democrats brought up oil and gas subsidies at a time when we have skyrocketing gas prices. I think the timing of this, we should review all subsidies and not single out any one industry, and particularly when we know that that's going to cause an increase in gas prices. So that was one of the concerns I had about it.

But, again, I'm going to vote to repeal the ethanol subsidy this week.

CROWLEY: Another thing, and sort of turning to foreign policy and related to the budget, and that is, you heard Jon Huntsman say he questioned the Libyan effort from the very beginning, what's our strategic interest here, that everything needs to be looked at in terms of, is there a strategic interest and do we really have the money to do it?

CROWLEY: So far about $664 million, it is estimated, we've spent in Libya. How long are you willing to go ahead to keep that going?

AYOTTE: Well, I'm actually co-sponsoring a resolution brought forward by Senator Cornyn. I think that the president should have come to Congress to seek approval for Libya, and in addition to that, I think we haven't had a clear plan from the administration on what is it that they're hoping to accomplish. The last thing we want in Libya is stalemate, so I think it is time for the administration to come forward with a concrete plan, how much is this going to cost, what is it that you hope to accomplish, especially since --

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: -- pull out and leave the rest of NATO there? Let me put that to you, Congressman.

BASS: We have stalemate for all intents and purposes in Libya. This is the third or fourth engagement that we've had with an Islamic nation. We don't -- we never had a plan to begin with. We never had an exit strategy. And now NATO and tangentially us are involved there. We should not be there.

CROWLEY: And are you willing to pull out and leave the rest of NATO there?

BASS: I'm willing to make -- I'm willing to make Libya a European problem, not a U.S. problem.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you about Afghanistan, because we've got Osama bin Laden, there are now voices in the party, among them Jon Huntsman, saying it's time to get a speedier pull-out. Should there be?

BASS: I voted for that very idea last week. I think that the time has come with the assassination of Osama bin Laden and all these other -- for which, by the way, the president deserves significant credit. It's time for a new mission in Afghanistan, and it can't be about nation building, it can't be about establishing a western-style representative democracy. It has to be about limiting the terrorist threat without having the kind of cost and forestructure there. And I would support an exit strategy that is as quick but organized and safe as possible for our troops.

(CROSSTALK)

AYOTTE: Candy, I would say, first of all, conditions on the ground have to dictate this, and we've already --

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: You've had Petraeus and Gates saying--

AYOTTE: We heard Petraeus and Gates say this is premature. And the last thing we want to do is to pull out prematurely and to lose all -- any progress that we've made there. And with all the sacrifice that our troops have made.

So I believe that we need to listen to our military leaders on this, and I think that we captured and killed Osama bin Laden, that was very, very important. But there are other terrorists who are still out there and obviously in Pakistan, the Taliban, we have the Haqqani network, we have members of al Qaeda there still out there. We have to continue our mission right there.

CROWLEY: And finally, an issue that's consumed certainly the House, Congressman Anthony Weiner at this moment saying I'm going to go get treatment, and he wants a kind of a leave of absence. Is that acceptable?

BASS: Well, I haven't made any comments about Congressman Weiner. He's got to sort out his own life. I can't -- I find it hard to believe what's -- I just can't -- it's beyond anything I can comprehend what's happened here with him. And if I were he, I would resign from the Congress and make -- try to rebuild my life and move on.

CROWLEY: Congressman Bass. I'm going to give you a pass on that, Senator.

AYOTTE: Oh, OK. That's fine.

(LAUGHTER)

CROWLEY: Unless you have something you want to say. You think he ought to leave?

AYOTTE: I think that, yes, because he is a distraction from the issues that we should be focusing on.

CROWLEY: Thanks so much, Senator Kelly Ayotte and Congressman Bass. Thank you so much for joining us.

BASS: Thank you.

AYOTTE: Thank you so much, Candy.

CROWLEY: What's more important to Republican voters? A presidential candidate who agrees with them or one who can beat President Obama? We'll ask the father and son team who know New Hampshire Republicans better than just about anyone else.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CROWLEY: New Hampshire voters are a bit spoiled and a lot demanding in the political arena. Hosting the first presidential primary means they expect and get unprecedented and repeated access to question candidates. Their votes shape the race before it even begins for most of the rest of the country, even if the state isn't like most of the country. 94 percent of New Hampshire's residents are white. The unemployment is tied for the nation's third lowest, at 4.9 percent, and the average household in the state makes over $60,000 a year, $10,000 more than the national average.

But even though residents here are better off, their concerns are the nation's. In a poll of New Hampshire residents released this morning by the Boston Glob, 56 percent consider the economy or unemployment the most significant challenge facing the country. When we come back, the father and son who know best when it comes to New Hampshire politics, former Governor John Sununu and former Senator John Sununu.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: We are back at St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, site of CNN's Republican presidential debate tomorrow night. Joining me now, New Hampshire's former Republican Governor John H. Sununu and his son, former Republican Senator John E. Sununu. We're going to let them figure out which one is the father and which one is the son.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I hope they can do that.

CROWLEY: So let's just start with the basic question of either -- have either one of you picked a candidate so far?

JOHN E. SUNUNU: No.

JOHN H. SUNUNU: No, I have not.

CROWLEY: Really?

JOHN E. SUNUNU: No.

CROWLEY: Who are you looking at? Let's do that.

JOHN E. SUNUNU: I think it's important people understand fundamentally why that is. It's because, by an large in New Hampshire, very few Republican activists have picked a candidate. Even those activists that might have been with a candidate four years ago have been pretty patient. Let the field develop. Let's let it get set, and then listen, over the summer, and then get engaged.

JOHN H. SUNUNU: I narrowed it down to about four, the four governors, former governors, the -- Mitch Daniels, Haley Barbour, Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney. And two of them have dropped out, so it's down to two. If Rick Perry decides to get in, I'll feel comfortable putting him in the mix.

JOHN H. SUNUNU: But my support will probably go to one of those.

CROWLEY: A former governor.

JOHN H. SUNUNU: A former governor.

(CROSSTALK)

JOHN E. SUNUNU: If you noticed, he's very biased towards former governors.

CROWLEY: He is biased. Are you as biased?

JOHN E. SUNUNU: Well, there is a lot of historic precedent, you know, for former governors being both successful as candidates and you have to argue relatively successful, regardless of party affiliation, as president. I mean, President Clinton, President Reagan.

JOHN H. SUNUNU: Roosevelt.

JOHN E. SUNUNU: Roosevelt. You know, it's chief executive experience, leadership, decision-making, handling all of the aspects of the budget, dealing with different political constituents.

JOHN H. SUNUNU: You really need more experience than being a community organizer to run this country.

(LAUGHTER)

CROWLEY: But I noticed that in that list of governors, no Jon Huntsman.

JOHN H. SUNUNU: Well, I only support Republicans.

CROWLEY: OK. Them's fighting words.

Do you agree with him?

JOHN E. SUNUNU: Well, you know, when you get to a certain age you can say pretty much anything you want, any time you want. And if it goes a little too far, people say, well, you know, he's getting on there just a little bit. But...

CROWLEY: Is that a little too far?

JOHN E. SUNUNU: Everyone knows that Jon Huntsman has weaknesses on some substantive issues, but the fact that he served in a Democratic administration makes it a little tough in a Republican primary, and he understands that himself.

CROWLEY: But...

(CROSSTALK)

JOHN H. SUNUNU: But, look, he fawned over -- fawned over Obama to the point where he sounded like he should have been on MSNBC.

CROWLEY: Really, there he goes again.

(LAUGHTER)

JOHN H. SUNUNU: But, you know, you've got to give him credit, it sort of sums up the problem very clearly in a way that people in New Hampshire and across the country can understand.

CROWLEY: But do you think Republicans feel that way? Are you telling me that there is no room in the Republican Party for someone to look and say, my president asked me to be ambassador to China and I said yes? That's service, isn't it?

JOHN H. SUNUNU: No. I think the problem isn't so much that he served as ambassador, but that he just gushed over policies that made no sense. And, frankly, his position on things like cap-and-trade, on health care, on issues associated with civil unions...

CROWLEY: Mitt Romney has a problem with health care.

JOHN H. SUNUNU: They all...

CROWLEY: And Pawlenty has a problem with cap-and-trade. He supported it.

JOHN E. SUNUNU: Every one of the candidates has got an obstacle to overcome.

JOHN H. SUNUNU: But everybody has an issue -- but he seems to have a collection of issues. Look, I don't want to dwell because it because I think the most important candidates are the ones I mentioned, the Pawlentys, the Romneys, and if Perry gets into it. I think the party will make a decision amongst those three.

CROWLEY: Let me show you two polls that are out here today, it's a CNN/Opinion Research poll. The first one is, would you rather see a Republican -- the Republicans nominate a candidate who can beat Obama? 75 percent, or one who agrees with you on issues? 24 percent. It is all about electability. Isn't it? I mean, in the end...

JOHN H. SUNUNU: This is all about fixing the country. The Republican Party across the board, from the tea party members to, frankly, the most liberal members of the party are scared to death about what's happening to this country. And I think they recognize we have one chance to fix it and I think that poll reflects it. JOHN E. SUNUNU: I think you'll also see a transition though in those numbers. So early on when very -- relatively few have committed firmly to a candidate, they're going to say, I'm looking for the candidate that's going to win, that's going to succeed, that's going to beat President Obama.

As more and more get committed in the late summer and early fall, I think you'll see an increase in the number that says, it is about the issues, because they'll be backing a candidate that they're committed to substantively that they agree with on the issues and that resonate.

JOHN H. SUNUNU: That's almost right.

(LAUGHTER)

CROWLEY: Well, let me tell you -- let me let you tell him why he's almost right, right after break. We'll come back with the Sununus and I've got another poll to show you about who the Republicans think is the most electable. Right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: We are back with former New Hampshire Governor John H. Sununu, and his son, former Senator John E. Sununu. When last we spoke, you were just about to tell him why he was "almost right."

JOHN H. SUNUNU: I think the poll number of 75-25 will stay all the way through. But I think what will happen...

CROWLEY: The people want -- wanting someone who can win.

JOHN H. SUNUNU: A winner.

CROWLEY: As opposed to totally agrees with them on issues.

JOHN H. SUNUNU: But what I think will happen is out of the field of seven, they'll identify two or three that they think will win or could win. And then they will make the choice on the basis of ideology amongst those three.

CROWLEY: OK. Let me show you the second half of that poll where the question was, who can beat President Obama? Romney, 65 percent. Giuliani, 56 percent. Palin, 44 percent. Gingrich, 43 percent. Paul, 27 percent. Ron Paul, congressman from Texas.

First of all, let's go off that. Mitt Romney, the conventional wisdom here now is that he has a problem with the tea party, that his support for mandated health care insurance in the state, that going -- that his swinging on social issues hurts him with the tea party that doesn't trust him.

I know you don't believe that.

JOHN H. SUNUNU: Look, I think there's a fixation in Washington on tea party. I think the tea party is the traditional conservative Republicans. I don't want to dwell on Romney, but if you go to the election, state election, in New Hampshire where a chairman that was strongly supported by the tea party was elected, the winner, by far, in the straw poll amongst those folks was Romney. And the second was Ron Paul, a distant second.

So I think the three governors I have talked about are sufficiently strong on the conservative side of the issues that they'll get support from the full spectrum of the Republican Party all the way over to the right.

JOHN E. SUNUNU: There's also the fact that the most conservative voters tend to be disproportionately important in a relatively low turnout election. This is not going to be a low turnout election. We have a Republican primary with a wide-open field and no primary on the Democratic side in the New Hampshire Primary.

CROWLEY: So going to draw a lot of independents.

JOHN H. SUNUNU: There are going to be a lot of undeclareds, a lot of Republican interest. I mean, it is going to be relatively high turnout, and that means you've got to appeal across a pretty broad swath of the Republican primary electorate.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you about Rudy Giuliani. In or out?

JOHN H. SUNUNU: I don't think he's going to run. And I don't think he's -- I think his performance last time will be representative of his performance this time.

JOHN E. SUNUNU: Yes. I don't think he'll run.

CROWLEY: This is just daydreaming by the Republican Party?

JOHN E. SUNUNU: Well, look, everyone wants to help shape the message, you know. The -- the primary, broadly speaking, in New Hampshire, provides a platform for anyone with national interest or aspiration or something to talk about from a substantive standpoint.

JOHN H. SUNUNU: We even attract -- we even attract network coverage.

(LAUGHTER)

CROWLEY: Yes, you do. (LAUGHTER)

JOHN E. SUNUNU: Donald Trump -- it was a very popular place with Donald Trump for a while.

(LAUGHTER)

CROWLEY: And Sarah Palin -- in or out?

JOHN H. SUNUNU: I don't think she's running.

JOHN E. SUNUNU: I don't think so. I think she can probably, from her standpoint, be as effective or more non-effective as a non- candidate.

JOHN H. SUNUNU: I think she wants to shape the message.

JOHN E. SUNUNU: Sure, you know, shaping the message. She has a PAC. She will make endorsements at the congressional and even the Senate level come 2012. And, you know, she's got an opportunity to do something that resonates with her constituents.

JOHN H. SUNUNU: She can have her cake and eat it, too, through the process. She can be visible; you will cover her; she can be heard; and she doesn't have to do the hard work.

CROWLEY: How about Rick Perry, former -- you brought him up, former -- current Texas Republican governor?

JOHN H. SUNUNU: I don't know. I honestly, up until last week's resignation from the Gingrich camp, was absolutely, positive he wasn't going to run, because all the people that he would use to run were working for Gingrich. They're not working for Gingrich anymore.

CROWLEY: Is Gingrich toast?

JOHN E. SUNUNU: I don't think he's going to be able to do a whole lot in New Hampshire. He's the type of figure that already had very high name I.D., and, for better or for worse, it was pretty hard name I.D. In other words, people had pretty much made up their mind about him; hard to break out of that, to start with. And, you know, it was badly organized rollout.

You know, Newt's a smart guy at times and has an idea every minute, but the problem is sometimes he can say things that he ends up having to explain. And you start right out with Ryan on Medicare and the way he criticized the House Republican plan and it just got worse from there.

CROWLEY: And, really quickly, like 15 seconds, who has to stand out in the debate tomorrow night?

JOHN H. SUNUNU: Nobody. It's got to be...

CROWLEY: Survive?

JOHN H. SUNUNU: I think tomorrow night is introduction night, not decision night.

JOHN E. SUNUNU: I think it's an opportunity for Tim Pawlenty to try to move himself into a one-on-one campaign with Mitt Romney. It's still early. No one has to bedazzle. But it's an opportunity for Pawlenty to pull out of that pack a little bit and show that this has the potential to be a strong two-man race.

CROWLEY: Senator Sununu, Governor Sununu, thank you. Some time I'm coming for Thanksgiving.

(LAUGHTER)

JOHN E. SUNUNU: Thank you.

CROWLEY: Up next, Congressman Anthony Weiner's leave of absence, Newt Gingrich's campaign implosion and the rest of the week's political news with our panel.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: We are at St. Anselm's campus. I think you can hear the bells here. Nobody's quite sure why they're ringing. But, nonetheless, they're gorgeous.

Tomorrow night here, a big debate, the first presidential Republican debate of the season, right here in New Hampshire, sponsored by CNN.

Joining me now, political reporters Neil King of The Wall Street Journal and Philip Rucker of The Washington Post.

I feel as though we should head off to church or something, but I... (LAUGHTER)

So let's start out with the Newt Gingrich implosion, the most overworked word, but that really is what describes it. I mean, I compared it to John McCain, except for it was so much broader and deeper than that. Can he survive this?

KING: I mean, this was an implosion. This was not only the loss of his campaign manager and his senior spokesman but all of his field staff everywhere. So we have never really seen anything like it. Tonight he's giving a speech in L.A. It's going to be a foreign policy speech. He hopes that will be, sort of, his relaunch. But he has no real staff.

As the Sununus were pointing out, he's already well known in American political life. He was hoping to have a kind of second act. Now he's going to try to have a third. I think it's going to be very hard.

RUCKER: I think the key for Newt Gingrich is really to stand out in these debates beginning Monday night and then the future debates through the fall. That's really where he's going to have an opportunity to rebuild some sort of a campaign or get himself back in the game. But it's really unclear where he goes from here. CROWLEY: Plus, I think the other problem is the reason that these senior folks are saying they left -- they don't think he actually wants to be president. I think that's almost as damaging as all of them leaving, when you see polls like, OK, we want electability, and now Republicans are being told, you know what? This guy doesn't really want to win.

KING: I think he actually does very much want to be president. He spent the last two years basically laying the groundwork. I think what they found is that he was essentially unmanageable and that he sees himself as a markedly different person than the average candidate and he doesn't really want to do the retail, kind of, grinding, you know, campaigning that Pawlenty and these others are doing, that it's beneath him in a way.

CROWLEY: Yeah, I mean, I've seen -- I've seen presidential candidates before who wanted to be president; they just didn't want to campaign for it.

RUCKER: And one thing to remember, Candy, is he's been in American politics for decades now, but he's only ever run a campaign as a congressional candidate in Georgia. He's never been through a national campaign like this. He's never even been through a statewide campaign, so it's different for him.

CROWLEY: So in the debate, you think he has to stand -- I mean, if he's going to -- you know, at some point, he has to start out. And the debate may be a chance for him to, kind of, do a make-good. Who else has to do what? Or is this just the scene-setter?

RUCKER: I think what -- in your last segment there was a lot of talk about Tim Pawlenty. This is really an opportunity for him to break out of this pack, to really establish himself as a front-runner, to go up against Mitt Romney.

And it's also an opportunity for these several candidates appealing to the Tea Party base and the evangelicals, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Rick Santorum. One of them is going to try to break out. And I think tomorrow night in New Hampshire, we're going to see who that might be.

CROWLEY: And how do they break out, go after Mitt?

KING: I think, for Mitt Romney, this is going to be a moment where -- I think he is literally center stage. Isn't he in the middle podium? I thought...

CROWLEY: I'll go with you on that. I'm not sure.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: But, anyway, there's going to be incoming fire. He's going to have to deal with that. I think it's going to be a big moment for Michele Bachmann. This is her first moment on the, sort of, national campaign stage. I think, for people like Tim Pawlenty, he's still trying to introduce himself and catch fire. I think Herman Cain -- a lot of people said he won the last debate in Greenville. I think this could be a moment where he, maybe, also extends that a little bit.

KING: But I think -- I agree with the Sununus that this is really an introductory moment for most of the people on the stage.

CROWLEY: And what do you make of Huntsman skipping the debate? I mean, because everyone -- we always say, oh, New Hampshire takes this very personally and this will hurt him in New Hampshire. I'm thinking, "Gee, it's June. There will be other debates." Does it palpably hurt Jon Huntsman, assuming he's going to run, which we all do?

RUCKER: I'm not sure. I mean, he's not a declared candidate yet. He's said they're just not debating because he's not in his race yet and he also doesn't quite seem to be ready. He's only been back in the United States from China for six weeks. He's been out in New Hampshire a lot talking to voters. He's made it clear that this will be the centerpiece of his strategy here. So I'm sure he'll be back in a debate here. I'm not sure it will hurt him that much. But it does -- you know, the others are getting a chance to get started in this race without him and, in that sense, it could be...

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: Of course, they've been starting for a while. What's your take on Huntsman?

KING: Well, I talked to him last night about that question. I sensed that there was a little bit of regret in some ways. I agree with Phil that he's still honing his message, still trying to figure out exactly what ground he's going to occupy. Interestingly, I went to a house party last night hosted in Nashua, oddly enough, by a Obama supporter, voted for Obama the last time, still more or less likes him. That's kind of the interesting, weird...

CROWLEY: You're not doing Huntsman any favors here.

KING: That's sort of the hybrid realm that he's trying to occupy, and it's going to be unclear whether -- you know, he's not going to jazz up a lot of their true conservatives. So can he, you know, carve something out of the middle that helps him move forward? It's a little unclear.

CROWLEY: Right. I mean, you heard Sununus. He was, like, brutal about Huntsman. Basically, you know, he's Obama, he's a Democrat, I only vote for Republicans. Is it that deep, do we think, the kind of -- look, we assume that conservatives don't like anything to do with President Obama. They really want someone to go out there and beat on the president's policies. Is Huntsman able to do that, do you think?

RUCKER: I don't know. You know, we saw him at some house parties this week, and he -- he would talk for about 30 minutes and never even mention President Obama by name or attack him. No other candidate is taking that approach in this race. And you know, his campaign, they think that that's going to work. They think it'll make him different, make him stand out, make him seem a little bit more reasonable and measured. But it's really unclear whether that's what Republican primary voters want in a nominee this year.

CROWLEY: And what about Romney in Iowa? Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, spent $10 million or something in Iowa and got -- last time around and got very little to show for it, in terms of either the straw poll or the caucus results. Now he's saying I'm not doing the Iowa caucuses, they're not important. They were quite important last time around. But this time around, he says they're not important. Does that hurt him?

KING: I don't -- I mean, he's playing the expectations game in Iowa. He's going to stay out of the straw poll. He could in the end do moderately well even with not really playing in it. I still think there's a chance -- and I think his campaign sort of secretly thinks there's a chance that he could win the caucus.

Because the other side, the kind of Tea Party social conservative side of the spectrum, is going to be so carved up by so many people in a way that it wasn't the last time around, when Huckabee pretty much occupied that to himself. So if Romney were to keep the same share of the pie, slice of the pie that he had the last time, he could possibly win with that, and that would be an upset victory that would really propel him forward. I don't think he's a total loser in Iowa, myself.

CROWLEY: And -- and when you look at it, he could do well in the straw poll in August without doing anything and look better than coming in second, having spent a lot of time doing it.

RUCKER: And, actually, a third in the straw poll in August. And if he's not, you know, technically competing and playing there, it's a victory for him.

CROWLEY: Right.

RUCKER: And I think they're going to make a game-time decision sometime in November or December about whether they're really going to go all in with that caucus, because there is a possibility that they could win it.

CROWLEY: OK. And I know you'll be overjoyed to hear we have less than a minute left, so I'm going to bring up Anthony Weiner. Can he survive with literally the Democratic hierarchy in the House saying, "You need to get out"?

RUCKER: It doesn't appear he can. I don't know. I mean, he could drag this out for a few more weeks. He could even stay on a leave of absence for a much more extended period of time. But when you've got your whole party leadership telling you to go, I don't know where you turn to for support.

KING: Yes, I agree, more or less. I mean, my original feeling of a couple of days ago was it's typical in Washington, if you survive the first, you know, incoming fire for three or four days, and I was saying, if he survived the week, he'll survive altogether, but I think it's looking a little less likely now.

CROWLEY: And he's -- I mean, he thought he could wait it out, and it just got worse and worse and worse. And it's not so much that they want him to get out so he can get treatment. They want him to get out so they can get on with business.

KING: I think that's fair to say.

CROWLEY: All right. Thank you both so much for joining us.

KING: It's a pleasure...

(CROSSTALK)

KING: ... have the bells.

CROWLEY: I know. Now that the bells have stopped, we're finished.

RUCKER: (OFF-MIKE)

CROWLEY: That's right. Up next, a check of today's top stories, and then "Fareed Zakaria GPS" at the top of the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Time for a check of today's top stories.

Some 200 military helicopters armed with machine guns stormed a town in northwest Syria today, local activists said. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned Syria's use of force against its own civilians. Syrian state television says military units entered the town to cleanse the national hospital of armed gangs.

A top Al Qaida operative in East Africa has been killed in a gunfight at a checkpoint in Somalia. Fazul Abdullah Mohammed is believed to be behind the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The United States was offering a $5 million reward for his capture.

Iraq says a U.S. congressional delegation visiting the country is no longer welcome there, this after California Congressman Dana Rohrabacher reportedly suggested to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al- Maliki that Iraq repay some of the costs of the war. The U.S. Embassy in Iraq is distancing itself from the congressman's comments.

Gabrielle Giffords' office today released new photographs of the recovering congresswoman. The pictures were taken May 17th and published on her Facebook page. Giffords is scheduled to leave a Houston rehab facility later this month. And those are today's top stories. Thank you so much for watching "State of the Union." We want to remind you once again to tune in tomorrow night at 8 p.m. Eastern for CNN's Republican primary debate live from New Hampshire. And we hope you'll join us next week when our guest will be outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Up next for our viewers here in the United States, "FAREED ZAKARIA: GPS."