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THE SITUATION ROOM

Interview With Rick Santorum; North Korea Holds Funeral for Kim Jong-il; Six Days Until Iowa Caucuses; Gingrich Falls In Polls; Iran Threatens To Block Strait Of Hormuz

Aired December 28, 2011 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S THE SITUATION ROOM: We have got two big SITUATION ROOM interviews with Republican presidential hopefuls Rick Santorum. He joins me live this hour. And, in our next hour, it's my in-depth conversation with Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann. They open up about their personal lives, her illness and the rigors of a rough-and-tumble campaign.

And wailing mourners line the streets of North Korea where the hard-line regime puts on an elaborate funeral for its late dictator and marks the transfer of power to his son.

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

Let's begin with the breaking news. Our latest polls on the Republican race, they are just coming out this very minute. And here in Iowa, the survey shows a stunning change in fortune for two of the Republican hopefuls.

Mitt Romney still leads in Iowa with 25 percent in our brand-new CNN/"TIME"/ORC poll. Ron Paul is right behind at 22 percent. But look at this. Rick Santorum has jumped into third place with 16 percent, tripling his showing just three weeks ago. Meantime, Newt Gingrich has fallen off a cliff. At least it seems like it right now.

He's now at only 14 percent, down from 33 percent in our last poll. Rick Perry is at 11 percent, Michele Bachmann still in single digits, followed by Jon Huntsman, who, as you know, has written off campaigning here in Iowa.

There's less drama in Mitt Romney's backyard of New Hampshire. He's at 44 percent there, followed by Ron Paul at 17 percent, Newt Gingrich at 16 percent. The rest of the poll in single digits.

Joining us now from Des Moines, our chief political correspondent, Candy Crowley.

Candy, I guess the headline here is not necessarily that Mitt Romney is number one in Iowa, although he is, even though he really hasn't spent a whole lot of time here. He's just ahead of Ron Paul. But all of a sudden, Newt Gingrich is fourth and Rick Santorum is third.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. Newt Gingrich dropping 19 points in less than a month, which people say why do people do negative advertising, this may be part of the reason. He has been blasted, Wolf, as you know. Sitting here in Des Moines just watching the commercials come up, they are time after time after time, whether it's a pro-Romney group or whether it's Ron Paul just blasting Gingrich, and it may well have taken some effect here.

He's also had some very pointed interviews, which may have caused people some second thought. I think the other thing that these polls show that is interesting is, number one, when you say who's got the best chance of beating Barack Obama, Mitt Romney wins by a fairly large margin among the Republican contestants.

So one of the things you always know is, when we get down to the very last moments and people go into vote or to talk about who they're going to vote for, they vote for the person if you're a Republican who's going to defeat the Democrat and in that particular figure, Mitt Romney wins by a large margin. To me, that's pretty fundamental as you go in.

But you're right. Rick Santorum has always said I think I'm doing better here. He has been the only one that has been to all 99 counties. He's basically set up camp here. If he cannot do well here, it's over. He has said that. So, if he should come in third coming out of here, then obviously, he has a ticket to go on to New Hampshire, which he would not have if he finishes lower than that, so it's great news for Rick Santorum.

BLITZER: I'm going to be speaking with him live here in Dubuque this hour. I'm sure he's going to be a happy guy, seeing these latest poll numbers.

But how do you explain all of a sudden Rick Santorum moving up so impressively over these past few weeks?

CROWLEY: Well, it does seem that the fall of Newt Gingrich, we have been up and down with everybody from Michele Bachmann to Rick Perry, now to Newt Gingrich, who is now seeing a fall in the polls.

Perhaps it's Rick Santorum's time, but he would tell you, I have been here working for more than a year. He has been to all these counties. He has set up precinct captains who will speak for him. He has put in a lot of effort here and has always said I'm doing better than these polls show.

So -- and what we know is that voters have sort of gone back and forth through all of these -- the conservative wing of the party have first settled on one candidate. That candidate didn't prove to be exactly who they wanted. Now perhaps it's Rick Santorum's time in the light. He needs to take advantage of that, but he has run this campaign on a shoestring, so the question is, can he get them all out to vote?

They're very confident in the Santorum camp that he is going to do very well here and have one of those three tickets. I think it is the fall of Newt Gingrich. Some of that support has gone to Santorum. Some of it has gone back to Romney. And it's the sheer amount of time that Rick Santorum has spent here in this state. And, boy, if you're going to start an upward movement, now is the time to do it, with a week away. Now is the time you should be showing some life in the polls and that goes for Santorum.

BLITZER: Yes, we're going to be digesting these numbers a lot more. Candy, thanks very much. Candy Crowley on the scene for us in Des Moines.

Ron Paul is going after his closest rivals in a new campaign ad which accuses Newt Gingrich of serial hypocrisy, slamming Mitt Romney as a flip-flopper. Yesterday, Gingrich told me here in THE SITUATION ROOM that Ron Paul is not a mainstream candidate. He said he wouldn't be able to vote for him.

Today, I sat down with Mitt Romney. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: If Ron Paul were to be the Republican nominee -- it's a big if, but let's say he wins the Republican nomination -- could you vote for him?

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have already crossed that river, if you will, by saying on the stage a number of times, as I believe Speaker Gingrich has, that all the people on the stage would be superior to the president we have. So, yes, I would vote for him if he were the...

BLITZER: Could you vote for someone who says that if Iran had a nuclear bomb, it wouldn't represent a threat to Israel?

ROMNEY: I don't agree with a lot of things that Ron Paul says. And I would vehemently oppose many of his initiatives. And I believe we would be able to move him in a direction that's more productive.

But I can tell you that this president, in my view, is taking America in the wrong direction in Iran, in Israel, and with regards to our policies internationally and here at home.

BLITZER: So, you think Ron Paul would be a better president than Barack Obama?

ROMNEY: I have said that, and I think Newt Gingrich has said the same thing on the stage when we have spoken about our Republican contenders.

But, look, this is not a race of course about people on the stage I don't think should become the nominee. My race is about getting me to become the nominee and taking the Republican banner and making sure that we get America back on track.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, the full interview with Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann, that is coming up in our next hour. We're only just getting started.

Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich has slumped in our brand-new Iowa poll. It comes after he tried to distance himself from some of the nastier aspects of this campaign. He's walking a very, very fine line here in Iowa.

CNN's Jim Acosta is looking in to this.

Jim, does mean no more Mr. Nice Guy once and for all for the former speaker?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I think it's pretty clear Newt Gingrich's vow to stay positive may have cost him dearly in this state according to our new CNN poll.

Support for him in Iowa has tanked. And so now the former speaker has a new strategy which can be summed up as having it both ways.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): At a mall in northern Iowa, Newt Gingrich was shopping for voters and trying to sell a positive message.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You're going to see ads from us for the next six days and they're going to be positive. You're going to see ads from so-called a super PAC that favors me and they're going to be positive.

ACOSTA: But not so fast. Yes, the Gingrich campaign is running a new ad touting his plan for the economy.

GINGRICH: We can create millions of jobs right now.

ACOSTA: And, yes, the pro-Gingrich super PAC Winning Our Future points out the former speaker is the subject of a slew of attack ads.

NARRATOR: They outspent Newt Gingrich 20-1, attacking him with falsehoods.

ACOSTA: But then there's this negative mailer distributed by another pro-Gingrich group called Strong America Now and obtained by the Web site Catholic Online. It refers to Romney as the second most dangerous man in America after President Obama.

GINGRICH: I would discourage them from sending out that kind of negative information. I think that is wrong.

ACOSTA: But that is no condemnation. And the former speaker is all too eager to slam Ron Paul, who just hit Gingrich with a new attack ad.

QUESTION: Aren't you trying to have it both ways?

GINGRICH: The question's a very direct question. Do you feel comfortable in terms of my two grandchildren and everybody in the city with somebody who believes that an Iranian nuclear weapon is irrelevant?

QUESTION: Why not just coming out fighting for this nomination?

GINGRICH: I think if you saw the crowd here -- I know this is hard for some of you to cover. You can fight in a positive way. You can be very strong in a positive way.

ACOSTA: It's a talking point tailor-made for undecided voter Arlene Roberts, who says she's sick of the negative attacks.

(on camera): You don't appreciate what you're seeing on TV right now.

ARLENE ROBERTS, VOTER: No, we hate it, we hate it. You learn nothing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: The controversy surrounding that anti-Romney mailer is only getting bigger. As it turns out, the chairman of the Iowa Republican Party, Matt Strawn, was also the co-chair of Strong America Now, but we learned today from the Iowa Republican Party that Matt Strawn has resigned from Strong America Now, Wolf.

BLITZER: I suspect though that in these final six days, before next Tuesday's in other words, caucuses, if we think it's been rough and tumble so far, it's only just beginning.

ACOSTA: That's right. And Newt Gingrich is really caught in a box at this point and it may have something to do with his poll numbers. He would desperately -- I got the sense today -- like to strike back at his opponents.

But how do you square that with this insistence of his and this vow that he's made over the last several days to stay positive in this campaign? And it really fights against the Newt Gingrich branding.

Part of the reason why so many conservatives like the former speaker is because he comes out with the gloves off, with the brass knuckles at times when they come in handy. And what Gingrich is trying to do in the final days of this campaign is say wait a minute, I'm going to wage a positive campaign, but at the same time, when I need to respond, I'm going to respond. And you can, Wolf, and you heard this yesterday in your interview with the former speaker, he responds sharply.

BLITZER: He certainly does.

And the earlier -- the last several weeks when he was not responding, that was not the Newt Gingrich that I have covered and known for many years. Jim Acosta, thanks very much.

Back in the pack, Rick Perry will need the votes of social conservatives if -- if he's to make a good showing here in the Iowa caucuses. Just days before the voting, he says he's undergone a transformation, that's a direct quote, a newly found and very tough stance on abortion.

Lisa Sylvester taking a closer look into this part of the story for us.

Lisa, what happened?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf.

Well, Rick Perry says he watched a documentary and was so moved by it that he actually changed his position on abortion. And this transformation as he calls it is being well received by Christian conservatives in the state.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER (voice-over): Texas Governor Rick Perry in Urbandale, Iowa, jockeying for a top spot in next week's caucuses. With the competition so tight, Perry in Osceola drew a new line in his position on abortion. Perry now says he opposes abortions in all cases, even rape and incest. What accounts for the change? This DVD called "The Gift of Life."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My mom was raped. And I was almost aborted. My life was spared for a purpose.

GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When the lady who's in the DVD was looking me in the eye and saying you need to really think this through. She said, I am the product of a rape. And she said, my life is worth. It was a powerful moment for me.

(APPLAUSE)

SYLVESTER: The powerful documentary was produced by the conservative group Citizens United and narrated by former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. It's a collection of stories with a strict pro-life message.

GOP candidates vying for Iowa's evangelical vote, including Perry, attended a viewing of the movie last week. Conservative radio host Steve Deace says he believes Perry's shift boosted his standing among the Iowa Christian community.

STEVE DEACE, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: It did not sound rehearsed, it did not sound contrived. It did not sound staged. It sounded very heartfelt and very sincere, which would indicate to me he has internalized that conversion.

SYLVESTER: Perry also signed a group by the group Personhood USA that calls on candidates to support life from the moment of conception. Fellow GOP contenders Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum have also signed the pledge, but abortion rights advocate NARAL sees this as GOP candidates attempting to out- extreme each other.

(on camera): This is essentially the first act. Still more to come, still a general election. Are these positions going to hurt them down the line?

NANCY KEENAN, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL ABORTION RIGHTS ACTION LEAGUE: Absolutely. These positions are so extreme and so out of touch that moderate and independent voters are not going to vote for these kinds of candidates on that side of the aisle.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER: And moral issues are very important in Iowa. According to the latest CNN/"TIME"/ORC poll, 54 percent of likely caucus participants say issues like abortion and gay marriage are either extremely or very important. Only 19 percent are saying not that important -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Lisa, thank you.

And please be sure to join us in the CNN Election Center for the first votes in the Republican presidential contest on January 3. That's next Tuesday. Anything could happen. Our coverage of the Iowa caucuses begins at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

You just saw it here in THE SITUATION ROOM, Rick Santorum now in third place in Iowa. Is he ready to handle a potential front-runner status? I will ask him when he joins me live. That is coming up in a few minutes.

Plus, an historic day in North Korea, the so-called Dear Leader laid to rest in a ceremony that came with a very strong message.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: All right. We're here live in Dubuque, Iowa. Six days before the Iowa caucuses. We're watching what's going on.

Standing by for a live interview with Rick Santorum. All of a sudden, he's in third place. Just ahead of Newt Gingrich. In the next hour, we'll speak with Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann Romney.

Lots of political news coming up, but there's other important news happening elsewhere around the world.

The streets of North Korea's capital were lined with wailing mourners today as the hard-line regime put on an elaborately produced funeral for its late dictator, a ceremony which also marked the transfer of power to his young son.

CNN's Paula Hancocks brings us a little bit closer.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Walking alongside his father's coffin, the message could not be more clear. Kim Jong-un, the supreme leader, leading the funeral procession for his father, Kim Jong-il, the dear leader.

Key military and political leaders surround him, showing publicly at least Kim Jong-il's wish for a smooth succession has been granted.

The coffin preceded by a giant portrait of a smiling Kim Jong-il was then driven through the snow-laden streets of Pyongyang.

Tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of mourners lined the streets. Soldiers bowed their heads, their caps in hand. Men and women alike wailed and beat their chests as the coffin passed them by, at one point rushing forward to get closer to the procession.

Well-choreographed event filled with pomp and ceremony, adverse weather only adding to the occasion. The country's state-run news agency saying it reminds the North Korean people of the snowy day, the leader was born.

A thunderous military salute to send off their leader who ruled his people with an iron fist for 17 years, a man who developed a regime based on a cult of personality and terror.

As Kim Jong-un watched the final military parades of the day, the question being asked around the world is how closely will he follow in his father's footsteps.

CHUNG MIN LEE, YONSEI UNIVERSITY: He has to basically make sure that all of the key places, all of the key forces will be loyal to him. Number two, he's got to provide basic economic means to his citizens. And, number three, he's got to reach out to the Chinese and to the Americans, and to have much more of a stable relationship with the outside world. So, those are very huge challenges for a young and still yet inexperienced leader.

HANCOCKS: The assumption is that little will change in North Korea in the short term while Kim Jong-un works to consolidate power.

(on camera): But looking longer term, anything is possible depending on which expert you speak to, from a power struggle within the elite, to a provocative act to prove the new leader's strength to further negotiations with the outside world.

Paula Hancocks, CNN, Seoul.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Every day, nations along the Persian Gulf ship millions of barrels of oil along a narrow passage way. For some, it's their only outlet to the open ocean.

Now, Iran, though, is threatening to block the Strait of Hormuz. U.S. and Iran have come to blows here in the past. The latest threat is backed by a show of force.

Our foreign affairs correspondent Jill Dougherty is standing by.

Jill, what's going on now?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Wolf, you know, there's more bluster coming from Iran today. The head of its navy, the commander, boasting that it would be easy for Iran's naval forces to block the strait. But would they really do that?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DOUGHERTY (voice-over): Just 34 miles wide, the Strait of Hormuz is one of the world's most strategically important choke points. One-third of all oil carried by sea is shipped through it. Now, Iran is threatening that not one drop of oil will pass through if the U.S. follows through on tough new sanctions aimed at stopping its nuclear program. But the U.S. is warning Iran any disruption will not be tolerated.

GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: Any miscalculation could mean we're drawn into conflict. That would be -- that would be a tragedy for the region and the world.

DOUGHERTY: World oil prices are spiking. Upping the tension, Iranian naval vessels lurk nearby in the north Iranian sea, holding a 10-day military exercise.

MATTHEW KROENIG, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Having the strait closed would be disastrous for the global economy. I don't think any U.S. president would let that stand.

DOUGHERTY: Matthew Kroenig served as special adviser on Iran at the Pentagon. He says any attempt by Tehran to close the Strait of Hormuz could mean war.

KROENIG: I think the United States would be compelled to re- open the straits. That's something that we could do. Our military is obviously much stronger than Iran's. But it would mean attacking Iranian navy, attacking Iranian ballistic rocket sites. So, that -- that's war.

DOUGHERTY: Kroenig thinks it's likely Iran is bluffing, trying to stop President Obama from carrying out the new sanctions. The State Department, too, is downplaying Iran's threat, calling it an attempt to distract the world's attention from the nuclear program.

But Iran has been increasingly belligerent and unpredictable, including allegedly hatching a plot to kill a Saudi diplomat on U.S. soil. But just their threat alone to shut the straight is making Washington and the world nervous.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DOUGHERTY: But so far, the Pentagon says there has been no hostile action, no hostile moves by Iran. A U.S. aircraft carrier and also a guided missile cruiser got through the strait without incident -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jill, we'll be watching together with you. Thanks very much.

In the world of politics, though, a win here in Iowa could add to Mitt Romney's heir of invincibility. Just ahead, I'll speak with the Republican presidential candidate about his run for the White House. My interview with Mitt Romney, his wife Ann Romney, that's coming up in our next hour.

While Romney's campaign in Iowa seems steady, Newt Gingrich's is flailing right now and a dark horse has emerged who could claim a top three finish in next week's caucuses. We're taking a closer look at that, our new poll numbers. Strategy session is coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Our new poll released this hour could reshape the race for the Republican presidential nomination right here in Iowa. Newt Gingrich is in trouble. Mitt Romney's new push could pay off. Rick Santorum could claim the conservative vote if he can finish strong. He'll join me in a little while right here in Dubuque. He's standing by.

First, though, let's get to our strategy session. Joining us: the Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons and the Republican strategist Nancy Pfotenhauer.

Nancy, what do you make al of a sudden of Newt Gingrich in this brand new poll that we have, the CNN/"TIME"/ORC poll? He's in fourth place here in Iowa. It wasn't that long ago he was doing really, really well.

NANCY PFOTENHAUER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, now, it's been kind of that flavor of the week deal to this entire race all along and I think Gingrich -- Gingrich's time lasted a little bit longer than others who have been up on top and then plummeted -- primarily because of his command of the debate floor. But essentially, he has not had the organization that other candidates have had and point-blank to quote Tom Hanks, volunteers hasn't put any hours in Iowa.

BLITZER: You know, Jamal, not only is Newt Gingrich in the last poll we did out here, he was at 33 percent. He was number one. He's now down to 14 percent.

But look at Rick Santorum. He was relatively recently only at 5 percent. He's now jumped to 60 percent. That's quite an impressive jump for the former Pennsylvania -- for the former Pennsylvania senator.

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: What this proves that the laws of presidential politics, that physical laws still exist. I know there are a lot of people in the media, not you, Newt -- I mean, not you, Wolf -- a lot of people in the media who believe that -- everyone knew all the negatives about Newt Gingrich. But people didn't know negatives about Newt Gingrich. So in a lot of TV ads on television talking about them, it hurt him.

Rick Santorum, he's been doing what you're supposed to do. He's been there. He's been going to door to door, town to town, holding town meetings. People have gotten to know him. it would be very interesting to see how he finishes, because that's the way you traditionally win in Iowa. Organization and shoe leather and he's doing it.

BLITZER: He's doing a lot of that. What do you make of that Rick Santorum surge, Nancy?

PFOTENHAUER: Well, I think we've all been waiting to see whether the evangelical vote will coalesce behind one of the three or four candidates who are splitting them -- splitting it right now, and I count Gingrich in that category. It doesn't surprise me there might be coalescing behind Rick Santorum for the reasons Jamal articulated, but also because he really has been consistent throughout his career on the positions he's taken.

So, there aren't the gotcha moments, that there are four candidates like Gingrich and frankly for Romney as well.

SIMMONS: Wolf, according to a CNN report I just read a little bit ago, Newt Gingrich has only spent $213,000 in TV ads in Iowa. That's just not enough money to get your message through when some people are spending $5 million and $6 million.

BLITZER: Yes, a lot of people are saying he should have gotten tougher earlier, that this positive notion was not necessarily going to be successful when he was being bombarded with all these negative attack ads.

You watch TV here in Iowa, as I have over this past couple of days, it's amazing how he's being slammed. But I'll play this little exchange. He was in Mason City here Iowa earlier today. He had this exchange with a reporter. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: Why not just come out fighting for this nomination? I think, when you saw the crowd here, I know this is hard for some of you to cover. You can fight in a positive way. You can be very strong in a positive way. You can talk about positive ideas.

It's OK. You don't have to have a nasty, negative mud-slinging, consultant-driven campaign. And I refuse to engage in that politics and I think it's good for America to see somebody fight in a positive way and not degenerate into the kind of junk you're seeing on TV recently.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Well, can you -- can you succeed, Nancy? You worked in campaigns. Can you succeed if you're being hit with a lot of negative attack ads, can you just be positive and not fight back?

PFOTENHAUER: I don't think you can this day and age. I mean, the bottom line is that negative ads work. I mean, they drive up your negatives among approve, disapprove folks in the poll and I have to say the stuff sticks.

I mean, you had Gingrich stepping and saying I am Ronald Reagan. I deserve that mantle. He invokes the names all the time of great figures of history.

And the bottom line is he has been let's just say more than nuanced on several issues that are important to Republican voters. I think the interesting thing in Iowa here is that you've got the poll contention that's out there.

You don't have to be a Republican to vote and you know, to participate in the caucus and you've had some fairly controversial opinions working for him because he has never claimed to be a traditional Republican.

BLITZER: Let's not forget Rick Santorum may have an impressive surge in our brand new CNN/TIME/ORC poll. And we're going to be speaking with him live in a few minutes.

But Ron Paul is still number two, just behind Mitt Romney right now, Jamal. Ron Paul is a serious factor in this state, even though some are taking a second look at him based on all these newsletters and all these comments he apparently made many years ago.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, Wolf, what Ron Paul may have is a ceiling he just can't get over, but for the people who really like him, they really love him and they're going to show up to support him.

It sounds like he's got a lot of organization. I've been reading reports about field offices opening up in small towns and very detailed instructions for his volunteers and organizers.

And that's the way things work out in Iowa and many primary states. You've just got to do the work. I just think what we're seeing now is all those small things that aren't sexy and don't get on television very often, but really do matter in a presidential campaign.

BLITZER: Nancy, you're a Republican strategist. Yesterday, Newt Gingrich told me right here in Dubuque, he couldn't vote for Ron Paul if, it's a big if, if he were to get the Republican nomination.

Today, Mitt Romney told me he could vote for Ron Paul because he thinks Ron Paul would even be better than Barack Obama in the White House for another four years. What's the smarter strategy if you're a Republican and you want to win the nomination?

PFOTENHAUER: It's probably Romney's position taken today although I have to say if one were going to say I could not vote for Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich articulated the single reason, most important reason for that for not supporting him.

Obviously, the news of that we're looking at today in the Strait of Hormuz as it pertains to Iran, I mean, it really is troubling to many people who are not necessarily defense hawks.

It's just troubling that Ron Paul appears to have such a simplistic view of the threats we face right now. So I think Gingrich might have given the accurate answer, while Romney gave the smart, political answer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's obvious that Mitt Romney would say he'll vote for Ron Paul because that guy has proven that he will say or do anything to try to win this nomination. And of course, he'll even say they will vote for Ron Paul if he's nominee. It just proves that Romney's --

BLITZER: All right, guys, thanks very much.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was too easy.

BLITZER: Thanks very much. I knew you were going to do that. Thanks very much.

After falling short four years ago, could this be Mitt Romney's year? My conversation with the Republican presidential candidate, that's coming up in our next hour.

But coming up right after this break, I'll speak live with Rick Santorum who's campaign has new reasons for some optimism here in Iowa. He's standing by live. We're in Dubuque and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Our top story, a sudden turn around here in Iowa. Our latest CNN/Time/ORC poll shows Rick Santorum surging to third place with 16 percent as Newt Gingrich fades badly and falls into fourth place.

Santorum has covered just about every inch of this state of Iowa. He's taking his campaign on a strong showing here among social conservatives and others and it certainly seems to be paying off with six days to go until the caucuses.

The former senator, the White House hopeful is joining us now live in Dubuque. You've got a big smile on your face. You've always been pretty upbeat that things were eventually going to move in the right direction. That they have to more in the right direction for you. This is the good time for those directions to be moving.

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, we've always felt like, you know, we could trust the people of Iowa, that when they got down to the time they were going real serious and look at all the candidates and measure up to people they've had the opportunity to see, that they would do well.

That we had the right message. We had the bold plans. We had the consistent track record and we would be the best contrast with Barack Obama to win that election and I think that's the decision they're moving on making. Well, I'm very encouraged by that.

BLITZER: Now, you've done it the old fashioned way. You've been on the road. You're the first candidate to visit all 99 counties here in Iowa. You don't have a lot of money. You don't have a huge staff, so now that you've moved up a little bit, what are you going to do to take it to the next level?

SANTORUM: Well, I mean, we've been fortunate. Our fundraising has picked up here in the last couple of weeks and we're up on television right now. We're doing some radio ads. We're doing some mailing and you know, it's like any small business person, Wolf.

If the money's not coming in, you've just got to work harder and that's what we're doing. We're continuing to work hard. We're going up in the morning doing radio shows at 6:00 in the morning here and going until 9:00, 10:00 at night.

And town meeting after town meeting, 357 town hall meetings I've done in the state of Iowa. You know, hard work pays off.

BLITZER: As you know, the organization is critical. This isn't just going into a voting booth and spending a minute or two here and there.

You've got to make a commitment to spend a few hours in a church or a school, civic center and go out there. That's why Ron Paul's got that organization. Do you have that organization?

SANTORUM: Yes, we're up over 1,000 caucus captains. People who have agreed --

BLITZER: There are 1,700 locations.

SANTORUM: Well, there's actually -- there are 1,700 precincts. There are not 1,700 caucus locations.

BLITZER: How many caucus locations?

SANTORUM: Got a little less than a thousand that's what we're told, but we have a thousand caucus captains. Not every caucus. We have some cases, we have four, five, six people at a caucus who are going to be caucus captain for us.

And you can go into a caucus and you give a three to five minute speech for your candidate. You can wear the badge. You can go and talk to people, and you know, gently twist a little arm.

We've seen from a lot of the polls that a large number of people are still, you know, moving around. As you've seen from all these polls, there are a lot of movement.

BLITZER: In six days, a lot could happen --

SANTORUM: A lot could happen and so we feel that we're best prepared with having people on the ground who have met me, committed to me and are going to be there saying he came to independents, he came to Rock Rapids.

He came to Red Oak and I -- we met him and you can help me in Montgomery County or Line County. Those are the kinds of interactions that are really important come caucus time and we think we have the horses on the ground to deliver that message.

BLITZER: You said yesterday if you were to come in last in the Iowa caucus, you'd drop out.

SANTORUM: But what I said if I came dead last way behind the pack, yes, I would, but I'm not going to do that. Our campaign's moving the other direction.

BLITZER: I'd say that do you think whoever does come in last, let's say, I don't know, Michele Bachmann or Perry or whoever -- Huntsman obviously isn't even playing here. He's spending all of his time in New Hampshire. Should they drop out after next Tuesday?

SANTORUM: A lot of people trying to get candidates to combine and get together and do this. Let the process work and you know, I was told by one of the stages in coming here to Iowa that the only reason that political candidate drops out running for president is because they run out of money.

You know, if you aren't doing well, you're going to run out of money and you can't continue to campaign and that's what's going to happen for those who don't do well.

BLITZER: Newt Gingrich was at 33 percent in early December. He's now at 14 percent. You're at 16 percent. You were at 5 percent in early December. What happened to Newt Gingrich here in Iowa?

SANTORUM: You know, look, I've been pretty focused on just trying to deliver our message and we've got a strong message on made in the USA plan, which is really resonating with folks here in Iowa trying to revitalize the manufacturing sector of the economy. Our plan about how we're going to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.

BLITZER: This is a huge issue for you, Iran and nuclear weapons. Apparently, it's not a big issue for Ron Paul.

SANTORUM: You know, that's one of the dangerous things that I'm concerned about is that Ron Paul is in a position -- I've talked to folks here who like Ron Paul and you know, see him as someone that you know, as bold and trying to take on Washington and clean things up and shrink the size of the federal government.

He has a lot of appeal to folks not just here in Iowa, but across the country. Here's the problem. You've got to get Congress to work with you to do those things and Ron doesn't have a long record of actually passing anything in Washington, D.C.

But when it comes to national security, a lot of folks in Iowa even though they like him are concerned about you know, we're not really crazy about his national security. We like him on this other stuff. The problem is as you know in the constitution and the president's powers are really national security.

BLITZER: Are you worried he could be dangerous?

SANTORUM: My concern is that Ron Paul would walk in there, day one, pull our troops back and bring them back to this country and leave an enormous void around the world. He can do that day one without congressional approval, without any oversight.

He can as commander in chief, move our troops anywhere in the world, disengage from every place from Europe to the Middle East, to China, abandon the Strait of Hormuz, pull the Fifth Fleet back that's something he can do.

That's one of the reasons I think you see folks who are having second thoughts about putting him in a position where he could be --

BLITZER: But he says he wouldn't only bring troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan, from Korea, Germany and Japan, which raises the question, I've been asking it to your colleagues, if he were the Republican nominee for president, would you be able to vote for him?

SANTORUM: Absolutely.

BLITZER: You would?

SANTORUM: Yes, look --

BLITZER: Even though --

SANTORUM: I have serious concerns about that, but I also hope that enough pressure can be propped to bear on if he becomes president, he won't make these horrific decisions.

BLITZER: Is he the kind of you guy that could be pressured? You know Ron Paul. I know him, too. I don't think he's easily pressured.

SANTORUM: I'm nervous about it, but Barack Obama is this far away from Ron Paul on national security. No, he doesn't want to bring everybody back, but he's bringing a lot of folks back and he has promised to slash our military.

Not as much as Ron Paul, but a lot and I think a second term with Barack Obama, I'm not sure will look that different than a Ron Paul administration when it comes to national security.

BLITZER: A few months ago, I had Ron Paul in THE SITUATION ROOM with Barney Frank. They were jointly introducing legislation to cut about $100 billion in defense spending right away. And you say you would support him more than you would support the current president of the United States on national security?

SANTORUM: I'd have to take a lot of antacids when I go into the voting booth and vote for him, but I'm serious about this. I think in a second term, Barack Obama would not be markedly different than Ron Paul on a lot of national security issues.

He would be free to do whatever he really wants to do and I think it's pretty clear from President Obama's track record he wants to disengage the world, turn over that job of national security to the United Nations, which is not where I want to go.

BLITZER: In the first four years, he's been very tough with drone strikes, accelerating those in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Ron Paul would do none of that.

SANTORUM: He's been awful on Iran. He had an opportunity during the green revolution to assist as he did in Egypt against our ally. He didn't do in Iran against our mortal enemy. That to me is a president who doesn't understand the world and is a very dangerous to keep --

BLITZER: He sent Navy SEALs in to kill Bin Laden.

SANTORUM: Well, again, that's continuing and existing policy, but when contingencies came up on his watch, he'd blew it.

BLITZER: Would Ron Paul as commander in chief has sent the Navy SEALs to kill Bin Laden?

SANTORUM: No.

BLITZER: But you can still vote for him more than --

SANTORUM: Because I don't think he will be markedly different other than the Bin Laden situation. I don't think he will be markedly different than Barack Obama.

BLITZER: Hold your thought for a moment because there's much more to discuss. Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator, he is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're reporting live from Dubuque, Iowa.

All of a sudden, Rick Santorum is third in our brand new CNN/Time/ORC poll. Newt Gingrich is fourth. Much more to discuss when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're here live in Dubuque, Iowa with Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, the former senator from Pennsylvania.

And this new poll, we've been showing it to our viewers. You're now third, but Romney is still first 25 percent, Ron Paul 22 percent, you're at 16 percent, why should let's say Mitt Romney supporters flip and support you? Why you instead of Mitt Romney?

SANTORUM: I think we present the clearest contrast with President Obama and the best chance to win. Back in 1980, we had the choice between someone who is a little bit more moderate Republican and someone who is a strong conservative against Jimmy Carter. And the Republican Party chose the clear contrast.

BLITZER: The national polls show he's more electable than you are.

SANTORUM: Look at the polls three months ago, everyone said I was dead in Iowa. Polls change. Convictions don't. If you're a conviction politician, you're not going to bob and weave and squish.

You're going to stand up when someone says you know, attacks you for a conservative position, you're not going to bob and weave, you're going to stand up and say, that's right, that's what I believe and here's why it's better than what the president believes.

BLITZER: So, the biggest criticism of Mitt Romney that you have is --

SANTORUM: Well, I just think we have a better track record of being strong on the issues and creating that clear contrast against Obama.

BLITZER: Is there anything wrong with him?

SANTORUM: Well, obviously his position on Romneycare, his position on marriage, his position on cap and trade, there's a whole laundry list of issues where Mitt's been all over the map.

BLITZER: He opposes gay marriage.

SANTORUM: Well, but he didn't when he was in Massachusetts. He actually issued marriage licenses.

BLITZER: He changed his mind.

SANTORUM: Well, yes. I mean, like I said --

BLITZER: He's always opposed to gay marriage, but had no choice when you're governor of the state like that.

SANTORUM: Now he did have a choice and that's the issue. He and I disagree on that, but I think it's pretty clear he had a choice and he made the wrong choice. That's again, if you're looking at someone who is a conviction politician, who's not going to move around on the issues and present a clear.

And this is important Mitt Romney's never proven to win in an election where he had to get Democrats and independents as a conservative. When he ran in Massachusetts, he didn't run as a conservative.

I've run as a conservative in a blue state of Pennsylvania and won two elections. Yes, I lost one in an election year where everybody lost, but in the election years that were contested that are going to be more like 2012 than 2006, those are the elections I won in Pennsylvania and we can win them again.

BLITZER: Rick Perry, he's certainly competing with a lot of your supporters, Michele Bachmann, but Rick Perry's got an ad running right now that's lumping you in with so-called Washington insiders because of the years you spent as a senator in Washington?

I'll play a little clip, watch it and we'll discuss.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If Washington's the problem, why trust a congressman to fix it? Among them, they've spent 63 years in Congress leaving us with debt, earmarks and bailouts. Congressman get $174,000 a year and you get the bill. We need a solution.

RICK PERRY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That's the reason I've called for a part time Congress. Cut the pay in half. Cut the staff in half. Send them home. Let them get a job like everybody else.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: All right, what do you say? You were a congressman. You were making $174,000 or $180,000? You were in the House then the Senate.

SANTORUM: I was in the House, then the Senate, but I think what we've seen as experience actually is a valuable thing. Now, we have a president who came in with very little experience and didn't do a very good job in most people estimates.

And I think having someone, particularly I particularly if you go back and if you have a senator who has some experience in the United States Senate, which Obama really didn't. I did and if you look at the track record, I got a lot of things done when we were in the Senate and that experience helped Lyndon Johnson to be a pretty effective president.

Not that I agree with his policies, but he was able to understand the dynamics. The other thing is you know, if you look at someone who's, who has the experience of being able to go out and communicate that message, being able to lead the American public, again, we've got a good track record on those things and I like our chances here.

I really do. I think, you know, Rick has some great ideas, but these ideas they're going to require constitutional amendments and members of Congress are going to cut their salary in half and limit their time.

First off, our founders would be spinning in their graves. Congress is supposed to be a main body of power, not the president. What he would do is propose really a much of an imperial presidency, which I don't think is a good idea.

BLITZER: Stand by. We got one more segment. We want to talk to you a little bit more. Much more with Rick Santorum. He's doing well in the Iowa polls. Our brand new poll shows he's third now, just ahead of Newt Gingrich. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're here with Senator Rick Santorum, the former senator from Pennsylvania, the Republican presidential candidate. Very quickly, Rick Perry now says he no longer supports abortion, even in the case of incest or rape. He's moving towards your position. Is that going to help him?

SANTORUM: Well, I think a lot of people are moving toward my position, trying to get into the conservative primary, if you will. Again, I think someone who's been there consistently, someone who has those convictions at their core, is going to get the trust of the people more than folks who are moving on election time conversions.

BLITZER: What about life of the mother?

SANTORUM: Life of the mother is choosing between one life or another and the government has no role to play there. BLITZER: So you would accept an abortion to save the mother's life.

SANTORUM: If it's a choice between two lives then that's a decision that --

BLITZER: That's where you draw the line.

SANTORUM: If the mother's life is not in danger, then you can't take another life.

BLITZER: Obviously, these issues are very important to caucus goers in Iowa. There are three million people in Iowa and maybe 120,000 or 150,000 will show at these caucus. That's a small percentage.

SANTORUM: Yes, and that's why organization matters, that's why getting out and pressing the flesh as I'm sure that happens in your polls.

Your pollsters are focusing in on more and more people coming. As you get closer, people have pretty much made a decision on whether they're coming or not.

And you're catching a small universe of folks, which gives you a better understanding of what's the real dynamics on the ground here.

BLITZER: Senator, thanks very much for coming in. Good luck.

SANTORUM: My pleasure, thanks.

BLITZER: Senator Rick Santorum, he's doing well in the polls.

Newt Gingrich says his third marriage is as strong as they come. Can Calista Gingrich help her husband win the White House? We'll have that.

Plus, my interview with Ann Romney and Mitt Romney. We were on their bus here in Iowa earlier today. The interview coming up in our next hour.

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