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Interview with Mitt and Ann Romney; Ron Paul Targeted by Negative Ads in Iowa; Newt Gingrich's Wife Callista Profiled; Six Days Until Iowa Caucuses

Aired December 28, 2011 - 17:00   ET



Happening now, Mitt Romney wants to know why Newt Gingrich is so angry. Stand by for my candid interview with the republican presidential candidate and his wife, Ann, on their campaign bus here in Iowa.

Also, our new poll shows Ron Paul and Romney are the front-runners here on Iowa only six days before the caucuses. There is new evidence though that Paul is having a tough time dealing with the limelight and the harsh attacks by his opponents.

And Newt Gingrich's wife is usually seen, rarely heard. Now, she's breaking her silence.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Dubuque, Iowa. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Just six days to go before Iowans cast the first presidential votes of 2012. We're seeing more dramatic swings in the republican race for the White House. Look at the new CNN time/ORC poll we unveiled just a short time ago. It shows Mitt Romney now leading the PAC here in Iowa with 25 percent. Just three points ahead of Ron Paul, but get this. Rick Santorum has soared into third place with 16 percent. Narrowly edging out Newt Gingrich, who's fallen to fourth place. Almost all the republican candidates are campaigning here in Iowa today knowing anything could happen when voters have their say come next Tuesday night.

I sat down earlier today with the front-runner, Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann Romney, on board their campaign bus here in Iowa. First, we talked about the presidential race in depth, substantive issues, the politics of what's going on, but the conversation also got personal. I got to see a side of them and their marriage many people have not seen.


BLITZER: Let's talk about politics. I want to talk about the two of you, got a lot to discuss. But, you're going to do well here in Iowa. Only six days to go. You think you're going to win? MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I hope to win in every state, but I'm really not going to join in the expectations game. I don't know what's going to happen here, but I'd like to do well here.

BLITZER: How does it feel?

M. ROMNEY: The feel is very good.

BLITZER: Better than four years ago?

M. ROMNEY: Better than four years ago. There's a lot of enthusiasm. People are very, very animated. In our party, they really want to see Barack Obama out of office. They want to get America back on track and so they're taking a close look at the candidates.

BLITZER: You were first lady of Massachusetts.

ANN ROMNEY: That's right.

BLITZER: You ever think about being first lady of the United States?

A. ROMNEY: You know, honestly, I don't. I think about what we have to do for Mitt to get the nomination and then what a difficult step it would be for him to run against Barack Obama. So, I got really project myself that part. I think that's a little presumptuous.

BLITZER: But, you haven't said I would like to be like x or y or Hillary Clinton or Laura Bush or anything like that?

A. ROMNEY: The thing that's wonderful is every first lady has always brought something special, whether it's their personality or initiatives or whatever. And so if you look back on our history, we can all be proud of all of our first ladies and you know, each will bring the uniqueness. And I expect that I would bring my uniqueness as well.

BLITZER: Did you like being first lady of Massachusetts?

A. ROMNEY: Very much so. I very much did. I worked with at-risk youth for a lot of my adult life and it was nice to be able to have more attention brought to some of the issues that I care about.

BLITZER: So, if you're -- you'll be an activist first lady, that's in fact. First you've got to get if nomination.

A. ROMNEY: Right. There's a lot of the others --

BLITZER: There's a lot of steps. But if you were, you could see yourself getting involved in helping other people.

A. ROMNEY: I totally could see doing that, yes.

BLITZER: After seeing that.

A. ROMNEY: Yes. And you know, I think a lot of people are aware that I have multiple sclera and I think, you know, bringing awareness to people that are suffering, that have difficulties in their lives, not only I think what I bring more awareness to people that have to dealt with a lot in their lives. But put out some love to try to move the ball forward a little bit in trying to find a cure.

BLITZER: Tell us about that, if you don't mind sharing. What does that mean, MS, for you?

A. ROMNEY: Multiple sclerosis for almost everyone that has it has an enormous amount of fatigue in their life. And it's like starting over. When you're diagnosed, it's like OK, the rules of life have changed now and you aren't operating the same way. Your memory isn't as good. You get fatigued. You lose, often times, you might lose function in a leg, an arm, an eye. I mean, it is all these bad things happen with MS and it's a progressive disease. It also is a relapsing remitting disease, where you can go in remission, which I fortunately in right now. But it's a difficult thing to deal with. And everyone that does MS, it's pretty universal, that they deal with a lot of fatigue.

BLITZER: Because I know people who have it. But medication can really help.

A. ROMNEY: Yes. It's been enormous progress in the last, since I've been diagnosed, really, enormous progress in keeping people, their exasperations, not as severe and not as frequent. So, that's where the medicines have been very, very helpful, but we're right on the cusp of finding all sorts of new ways to deal with multiple sclerosis.

BLITZER: The story you've told and I don't know if our viewers have heard, you tell them, when you suspected that Mrs. Romney was getting sick, you weren't sure what it was and you had no idea what was going to happen, but I wonder if you would share that story with us, when you first suspected that something was wrong.

M. ROMNEY: Well, we knew that something was awry and our doctor said we need to see a neurologist. We went to Massachusetts General Hospital, where the folks assigned us a superb neurologist. We went to his lobby and on the table there were brochures that described ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease, and multiple sclerosis, those looked to be the things this neurologist was treating.

A. ROMNEY: And actually in reading the symptoms, they were my symptoms.

M. ROMNEY: Same symptoms?

A. ROMNEY: Similar.

M. ROMNEY: That symptoms are very worth in Ann's case, similar for either one of those diseases and we then went to his office and he did a series of neurological tests on Ann. Had her stand on one foot and so forth and it was clear she didn't have feeling or she should have, she didn't have the balance, she should have. And something was seriously wrong. He left the room and we embraced each other, we were very emotional and I said to Ann, we can deal with anything as long as it's not terminal. You know, Ann's my life. We live for each other and it was a difficult time for us. It's been challenging since then, but we are very fortunate that her condition is not terminal and that she's been able to be strong and that this trial came and we were able to confront it.

BLITZER: You know, you've had an amazing marriage together and that one commercial that you've done, it's a powerful commercial. You know all the pundits, what they said.

A. ROMNEY: I actually don't know what they said because I'm on the road.

BLITZER: They said that you what, you've had a wonderful marriage, great kids and you can see the two of you together right now, that it was in marked contrast to Newt Gingrich and his three marriages. Was there a political background to what you were trying to do there?

A. ROMNEY: You know, not at all. I think, you know, whenever I speak about our life experience, it is ours. This is our story. It's not anyone else's story. Everyone else has their own story and for me to be able to talk about my life and how I feel about my husband is my story and it was never intended to be seen in the lens of anything other than our story.

BLITZER: Tell us how you feel about him.


M. ROMNEY: Don't blurt out the truth, honey.


A. ROMNEY: I will say that for me, it's so comforting to know that Mitt was always by my side and sticks with me in the hardest times. When you just described what it was like to have that diagnose sis, it was Mitt that got me through my darkest hour. It was also Mitt that got me through those really tough years raising five - really quite naughty boys, where he would call home and remind me when I would be quite exasperated if he was traveling, that what is was doing is more important of what he is doing, that my job, in his eyes, was more valuable that his. It's like my job is temporary and yours is going to bring lifelong happiness and even eternal happiness for the family. And so, I had that - we have that kind of partnership and that kind of support system that's always been there on long time. And you know, when it gets really tough, it's nice to know that Mitt's there for me.

BLITZER: Tell us something that we may not know about the governor.

A. ROMNEY: Well, I think people don't appreciate actually his sense of humor. That he actually plays a lot of tricks all the time and that he's actually laughs most of the time. I mean, as soon as you turn these cameras off and we'll be there, he will be telling a joke and we'll be laughing. We will be sitting back and telling jokes.

BLITZER: You're saying he's a funny guy. A. ROMNEY: He actually is a very funny guy.

BLITZER: Because you know the image of the governor, very stiff, very proper.

A. ROMNEY: It's funny how that is. And it's like that maybe he's public perception but that is not who he is privately at all.

BLITZER: Is she right?

M. ROMNEY: Yes. I live for laughter. But, you know in debates, you ask the questions, you answer the questions. You don't tell jokes. And - as a matter of fact, my sons are little tired of my jokes. I actually like jokes as well as things that are sort of fun. My sons like spontaneous humor, not joke, but I like it all. Anytime you could laugh -- may I go back? I used to watch laurel and hardy, the three stooges, you know even Keystone cops. I mean, I like old --

BLITZER: I thought you want "I Love Lucy" because there's come up of a bad thing.

M. ROMNEY: I watched "The Honeymooners." I love humor.

BLITZER: Tell us what were you thinking when you - that Newt Gingrich didn't get on to Virginia ballot and you made the comparison to I love Lucy, Lucy and the chocolate factory.

M. ROMNEY: Well, I think his campaign manager said, him not getting on the ballot in Virginia was like Pearl Harbor. And my reaction was no, no. This is not at all like Pearl Harbor. This is more like, you know, Lucy at the chocolate factory. Things are coming at you very fast, you're not always as organized as you'd like to be and sometimes, things don't work out the way you'd like to work out. And that happens to me, in our campaign. That's happened in my life various times. It's a humorous image but it many respect, it reflects what happens in a campaign.

BLITZER: It's very funny. But the serious part is if he couldn't even get on the Virginia ballot, couldn't get the 10,000 signatures he needed, what does that say about his campaign?

M. ROMNEY: Well, you know, I can't speak to his campaign, but obviously that's his home state. And we knew what the rules were when we got into this. We had to organize our effort in each state to get on the ballot. You've got to be able to play by the rules if you're going to become the nominee that beats Barack Obama.

BLITZER: I interviewed him yesterday, Newt Gingrich. So, let's go through a couple of points he made and give you a chance to respond. Because he wanted to really challenge you to a one-on-one no holds barred, no moderator like me. You know, just a full debate. Just the two of you and I said to him, you know, I'm going to speak with Governor Romney tomorrow. Look in the camera. Tell us what you said to say. He looked in the camera and said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: All I'd say, Mitt is, if you want to run a negative campaign and you want to attack people, at least, be a man enough to own it. That's your staff and that's your organization, those are your millionaire friends paying for it and let's be clear. I'm willing to fight for real job creation with a real Reagan Kemp style job creation program. You are a moderate Massachusetts Republican who in fact is very timid about job creation. Let's get it on together. Let's compare our two plans.


M. ROMNEY: I don't know why he's so angry. Look, this is a campaign about the things we believe in. I believe the country's being led in a very unfortunate and destructive way by a president that doesn't really understand our economy or America. I can get America working again. That's why I'm working.

As for a one-on-one with Newt Gingrich, if he and I end up being the two finalists, we'll have this opportunity. But right now, I don't know, we debated maybe ten times. We'll do more debates in January, but until he and I are the other two finalists, why there are others who so deserve to be on the stage. Ron Paul, I think, is leading here in Iowa as of today, so the idea that is all about Newt or all about Mitt is just not right. We have a field of candidates out. I'll debate all of them and when it comes down to the finalists, I hope I'm one of them. And if I am, I'll debate with others finalist is.

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

M. ROMNEY: You know, I have already crossed that river if you will by saying on the stage a number of times as I believe speaker Gingrich ask, that all the people on the stage would be superior to the president we have. So, yes, I would vote for --

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

M. ROMNEY: I don't agree with a lot of things that Ron Paul says. And I would imminently oppose many of his initiatives and I believe we'd be able to move him in a direction that's more productive. But I can tell you this president, in my view, is taking America in the wrong direction in Iran and 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?

M. ROMNEY: I have said that and I think Newt Gingrich has said the same thing on the stage when we've 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. In my race, it's about getting me to become the nominee and taking the Republican banner and making sure that we get America back on track.

(END VIDEO TAPE) BLITZER: Alright, stand by for much more of my interview with Mitt and Ann Romney. I asked Mitt Romney why he won't release his financial records and Ann Romney explains why she had to convince her husband to run for president again.

Much more of the interview coming up, here on THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: We're here in Dubuque, Iowa. You're seeing the Mississippi River here in Dubuque. It's lovely. Little chilly outside, but didn't rain, not too cold, not too bad. So, it's good to be in Iowa. Only six days, six days before the Iowa caucuses. I had a chance to sit down with Mitt and Ann Romney earlier on the day.

We were on their bus. We spoke about a whole bunch of issues involving this presidential campaign, and their decision to take a second at the Republican presidential nomination.


A. ROMNEY: You know, it's funny. This is our second time around, and the first time at the end of the last campaign, I turned to Mitt, and I said one thing I know for certain, I'm never going to do this again because it is hard. It's hard to hear these things. It's hard go through this.

Mitt laughs because he says I said that after each pregnancy, and I think most people know I had five kids, so he didn't take me that seriously, maybe, but going through it the second time gives you a different perspective. You recognize, and we didn't get into this the second time without really believing that Mitt needed to actually be the president of the United States.

Running is difficult. But we're running because we love America and because we believe America's heading in the wrong direction and because we truly believe Mitt is the right one to lead this country back to the prosperity and to the job creation and everything else. So, going through the process, I feel it's funny this time. I don't feel anything when I see those things. I --

BLITZER: It doesn't bother you when they make --

A. ROMNEY: It's, it's an interesting thing. That last time, I took it more personally, and this time, I just not, and it's part of the process. And I don't like all of the process, but it's worth it, and we're not doing this -- we're doing this for a reason that all Americans feel. I think so many Americans out there are saying please, somebody, help turn this country around.

And that's my focus, and that's Mitt's focus, and we are running our campaign, and others are going to run theirs. We're going to stay in our lane, and we're going to go forward and we're going to say what needs to be said. And I think people recognize that, especially when it comes to the (INAUDIBLE) there's a lot of things going on. You know, I think they learn what to believe and what not to believe. BLITZER: Is it true that you had to talk to Mitt into running again?

A. ROMNEY: It is true.

BLITZER: Walk us through what happened.

A. ROMNEY: You know, because the ironic thing was --

BLITZER: He's a very ambitious politician. And he wants to be president of the United States.

ANN ROMNEY: Well, you know, he's in it for the right reason, I will tell you that. But after the last campaign, it was kind of ironic that I was the one that said I'd never do this again, and now, this time around, I'm saying, you know what, Mitt, you've got to do this again. And it's not if you look again, the whole process and if you look at it logically, I think Mitt was like, you know what?

He didn't forget as much as I forgot. He remembered like how difficult it is and, you know, what -- what the hurdles were going to be that we'd have to get over, and you know? I mean, it's not just campaigning. It's raising money. There's so much more to this than people would imagine. It's very difficult.

BLITZER: Did she talk you into running? Were you reluctant to run again?

M. ROMNEY: Yes. I was -- I mean, I was open to it, but we ran before, gave it our best shot.

A. ROMNEY: I think also Mitt, you wrote your book. I mean, I felt like at that point, after the last campaign, I think he was frustrated because he didn't get to say or people didn't understand where he came from. And so, I think it was more of a cathartic thing for him to actually write a book and to lay it out what he thought.

And I think he's in it at that point, felt, OK, I've done it now. You know, I've written a book, I've gotten to say what I wanted to say, and you know, I think this time, it was much more a thoughtful process about running again.

M. ROMNEY: Yes. For me, Ann was convinced that I ought to run again. She said look, no one else can beat President Obama. No one else has the background to actually get the economy going, understand the economy in a very fundamental way, and she said you've got to run again, and she pushed that for a long time.

And I was open to her thoughts, but very much undecided, and then, after several months, came to the same conclusion, I had to look at the other people who are running, think about their prospects and beating the president, I looked at their backgrounds and felt that there really wasn't someone who had the private sector experience that I had to know that it would take to get the economy going again.

A. ROMNEY: And that's the lens I looked when I was making my decision. It's like, yes, there's this whole other thing over here that's running, and then, there's this whole other thing over here that's actually being president. And I knew that Mitt actually being president would be a very good thing.

BLITZER: Is it -- they asked (ph) you this time around?

M. ROMNEY: I don't know if I can compare that. Campaigns are by definition, entities that point out distinctions between candidates. I mean, you go back to the days of Jefferson and Adams. My goodness, they were going back and forth with various attacks. People took a look at it.

Some things they discounted, other things they believed, but it was informative, and ultimately, people made the decision. And I'm not going to complain about a political process. It's been this way for a couple hundred years.

BLITZER: Politics.


BLITZER: So, when Newt Gingrich says it's baloney when you say you can't control the Super PACs that are attacking him on a daily basis, what do you say?

M. ROMNEY: We understand, of course, that Super PACs have to be independent of campaigns, and campaigns can't tell them which advertisements to run. I, of course, could get up and say, oh, I decry all of the negative ads and so forth --

BLITZER: Do you?

M. ROMNEY: -- but I don't. This is part of the process. I'm not -- we could all wish that we had a utopian-type political process, but the campaign process that exists is the way it's been for a long time. I hope that the ads that go up despite showing contrast and distinction or attack or whatever you want to say, I hope they always tell the truth.

I would -- you know, I would vehemently say that all these PACs that running independent ads as well as campaigns stick to the truth, and as they stick to the truth, you know, then that's the nature of the process we're going to have. But I recognize if you're going to get in a campaign like this, you've got to have broad shoulders.

And if you can't take on the negative that's part of a primary, you're sure as heck not going to be ready for what's going to come from Barack Obama. If you can't handle the heat in this kitchen, wait until Barack Obama's hell's kitchen.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about -- I guess, it's a sensitive issue, but it's an important issue, transparency and you. You say you're not going to release your income tax returns. You're not going to release the name of people raising money for your campaign. Why would you want to do that? You want to be president. You got to -- the American people are expected to know everything. M. ROMNEY: Well, I said, I don't have any plans to release my income tax returns at this point. No other candidates have released their income tax returns at this point. I'll keep open. What will happen down the road, never say never, but with regards to other disclosures, we'll follow the law. And the people who have contributed and participated in our campaign expect us to follow the law.

BLITZER: Because the question comes up, what do you have to hide? Why wouldn't the American public need to be able to know who's raising money for you --

M. ROMNEY: There's nothing particularly to hide. It's just when people say what disclosures have you made, you say, you follow the law, and you provide that information. I don't put out which tooth paste I use either. It's not that I have something to hide.


M. ROMNEY: It's not that I have something to hide. It's just that, you know, those things we disclose and those things required by law, and by the way, it's a pretty complete review. I mean, ultimately, your medical records, you get all of your assets, all of your investments are all made public. It's a process, a revealing process, most people don't want to go through, and as to doing more than what the process requires, never say never. We'll see what the future holds.

BLITZER: If you want to be president, you've got to expect everything to be open. You can't take the heat, you've got to get out of the kitchen.

M. ROMNEY: That's true. That's true.

BLITZER: You want to be president of the United States, I covered presidents now for a long time and very little that remains secret as you well know.

M. ROMNEY: I'm sure you're right.

BLITZER: But at this point, you're not ready to say --

M. ROMNEY: Well, I'm not ready to release anything at this stage. We'll see what the future holds.

BLITZER: Is there a timeline when you might want to do that?

M. ROMNEY: Well, I presume I'd have to be the nominee, and I haven't gotten that yet.


BLITZER: Mitt Romney says he can't wait to debate President Obama, but he has some surprisingly nice things to say about him as well. Stand by for the rest of my interview With Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann. And something you rarely hear from Newt Gingrich's wife, Callista. She's now speaking in public. We'll share with you what she's saying.





BLITZER: We're here in Dubuque, Iowa, counting down to the first votes of the presidential race only six days from now. Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann, tell me they're focused right now on the fight for the Republican presidential nomination, but he's clearly itching to face off against President Obama.

Right now, Mitt Romney is in a very close battle with Ron Paul here in Iowa. Here now, more of my interview on the bus today with the Romneys.


BLITZER: You think, and I sort of nail this down, that Ron Paul, given what he wrote presumably 20 years ago, 10 years ago, and all the positions he takes, you'd feel more comfortable with him in the White House than with Barack Obama?

M. ROMNEY: Yes. Yes. I've indicated that. Again, as I recall, every Republican on that stage has been asked whether they would support who ever our nominee is and all of us have said yes.

BLITZER: All right. I just want to nail that down, because that's going to cause some news as you well know.

M. ROMNEY: Well, Wolf, we've had debates, and you've heard me say, you've heard Newt Gingrich say, you've had everyone on stage say the same thing. That anyone on that stage would be a better president than President Obama. There's nothing new about it.

BLITZER: If he's so bad for business, the president of the United States, when he was sworn in, the Dow Jones was around 7,900. It's now over 12,000. Big businesses are doing well. Why is he so bad for big business?

ROMNEY: I didn't say big business. I said he's bad for the economy. He's bad for small business.

BLITZER: He's good for Wall Street, is that what you're saying?

M. ROMNEY: He's good -- he's not good for entrepreneurs. The president's policies have not encouraged our economy to recover at a time we've gone through tough times. The president's policies have made it harder for our economy to come back. And that's why you have today 25 million people out of work or stopped looking for work or who are underemployed. This president's policies have not worked for the American people. And I'm concerned about the American people, particularly those in the middle class.

Now, the business community, small business in particular, feels that this administration has been awfully hard on them. It's been very difficult for them to recover in part --

BLITZER: Lately, it looks like things are moving better, though, right?

M. ROMNEY: I think the economy's getting better. I sure hope so. There's never been a time when our economy has not recovered from recession. We will recover, but it will not be thanks to the president's policies. It will be in spite of the president's policies. But this is the slowest recovery we've seen since Hoover. And my view is we need to get ourselves ready to have a strong and vibrant economy going forward.

BLITZER: So when the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says this stimulus package increased employment by 1.4 million to 3.3 million jobs, do you buy that?

M.ROMNEY: I'll take a look at their analysis, but I can tell you that throwing money out of a window will create a stimulus. If you just throw money on the ground, people will pick it up and spend it and that will create additional jobs in some cases. But that will not create the permanent change to our economy that allows America to be globally competitive, to create the permanent economic vitality that America expects and needs. We've seen the median income of Americans drop by 10 percent in the last four years. That's the definition of a failed economic policy.

And his stimulus by almost any measure was far less successful than the stimulus should have been had it been focused on creating private sector jobs as opposed to protecting government.

BLITZER: We're almost out of time, but tell me one thing you like about President Obama. What has he done right?

M. ROMNEY: Well, I'll tell you more than one. He's been a good model of a husband and a father. I think that's important in our country today. I think some of the things he said on education about bringing more accountability into the classroom, I support that. I'm glad that he ordered the killing of Osama bin Laden. So some of the things he's done I would certainly recognize as having been properly done.

BLITZER: You're ready to go head to head in a debate with him?

M. ROMNEY: I can't wait to go head to head in a debate with President Obama. He has failed the in American people. He has failed to get this economy going. He's failed the middle class of mechanism. He's trying to make us more like Europe. I want to make us more like America, the America in the vision of the founders, which is the land of liberty, freedom, a land of opportunity where people are free to pursue their dreams.

BLITZER: Has Michelle Obama been a good first lady?

A. ROMNEY: I think so. As I said earlier, I think all first ladies bring something unique and clearly, she has, too. I agree with Mitt. I think it's wonderful to see a family in the White House and the devotion they have to their daughters. And I think she's done a very good job.

BLITZER: A lot of people think it's his to lose. Can you taste living in the White House? Have you thought about that?

A. ROMNEY: I really am thinking more about what we're doing right now. And one step at a time. The first step is to get the nomination. The next is going to be a very tough race.

BLITZER: More vacations between now --

A. ROMNEY: I've got to have vacations. I'm not going to make till next November.


BLITZER: What about you?

A. ROMNEY: Maybe not him.

M. ROMNEY: Every summer, we get a week or two with all of our kids and our grandkids, and I would hope to be able to do that as well. But other than that, I think it's going to be a pretty full year.

BLITZER: Good luck to both of you. You've got your work cut out for you. Nice bus ride we took over here. Thank you very much. I think our viewers Got a little bit better appreciation of you as well, which is one of my objectives.

A. ROMNEY: Good. Thank you very much.

BLITZER: Thank you very much.

M. ROMNEY: Thanks, Wolf. Good to see you.


BLITZER: All right, there's certainly a lot of dissect and digest after my interview with Mitt and Ann Romney. Does she make him more likable? What's going on? We'll discuss in our strategy session coming up.

And stony silence from Ron Paul. We're taking a closer look at how he's dealing with the kind of scrutiny and attacks you get when you're a front-runner.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Let's get some analysis right now. What we just heard from Mitt and Ann Romney in my extensive interview. Joining us, the CNN contributor and Democratic strategist Maria Cardona, also joining us Republican strategist Nancy Pfotenhauer. She used to work for the McCain presidential campaign, as many of you probably remember.

Let's talk a little bit first of all, and I'll start with you, Nancy, Ann Romney, a very compelling woman I think in her own right, but certainly in an interview like that where she opens up, speaks about her MS, the failed campaign four years ago, how much she loves her husband. That's bound to help his campaign, don't you think?

NANCY PFOTENHAUER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think it must. We were talking earlier about how there's almost Tipper Gore syndrome here where you've got a principal or the candidate himself who might be stiff or appear to not have a most natural connect with the audience. And then you meet the spouse and just melt. I think Ann Romney is a definite asset, and I hope that she's deployed more frequently to the extent her health allows her to be deployed over the coming year.

BLITZER: Do you agree, Maria?

MARIA CARDONA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I couldn't agree more, Wolf. We were talking about it in terms of just how likable she is, how sincere she came off, which frankly is something that Mitt Romney needs desperately, because clearly one of the things that he is lacking is that a lot of voters don't see him as somebody who's genuine. I think she has added to that and makes him seem a lot softer. Makes him seem more human. You even joked about how he can sometimes come off as stiff. I think she really helps him in that department, too. I think she will help him with women. I think that she will help him with those who don't necessarily understand where he is on certain things, on certain principles, and I think she'll help him with the conservative voters he's had a lot of trouble convincing that he could be their nominee.

BLITZER: There's no doubt she's a very likable person, has a very compelling story. Very, very nice, by the way. We had a chance to speak privately on that bus, and she was even nice enough to give me one of her own homemade welsh cakes. It was very good. Maybe we'll do a little piece on how she bakes these cakes personally.


But it's -- she refused to say that that commercial, it's a pretty strong commercial, Nancy, where she goes on television, speaks about her husband, how much she loves him and what they've gone through. She refused to say that was done for political purposes, to contrast their marriage with Newt Gingrich's three marriages. Do you buy that?

PFOTENHAUER: I certainly buy her answer, which was that it was about their story. Because I thought that the devotion that they had for one another was really apparent. It almost came right through the screen. I always thought that was borne out by when they were asked about positive things about President Obama, that you saw the first step was the fact he is a devoted husband and father. So I think it's something that is it's emblematic in part of their character and their chemistry and they were trying to communicate that. It's inevitably going to have a political consequence when you have one candidate who is kind of not like the others in this regard.

BLITZER: All right, unlike Newt Gingrich, he said he could vote, he could vote for Ron Paul if Ron Paul were to get the Republican presidential nomination, even though he disagrees with Ron Paul on a lot of stuff, especially national security. Were you surprised that he said he would rather vote for Ron Paul than Barack Obama?

CARDONA: No, not at all. In fact that was the strategically politically correct answer. I was very surprised by Newt Gingrich's answer. it made him sound petty and angry and insolent. And Mitt's answer was the answer, and he's right about this, that all of the candidates during the debates have given in terms of where they are versus President Obama. And if I were a GOP operative, I would certainly have said yes, this is the correct answer.

Can you imagine, for example, as this contest moves forward and it becomes a Gingrich-Romney contest, where are the Ron Paul supporters going to go? You think for a second they're going to go and support Newt Gingrich after what he said? Absolutely not. But I think they would easily go and think about supporting somebody like Mitt Romney.

BLITZER: You obviously haven't seen all those Ron Paul commercials, those attack commercials going after Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. I've been here in Iowa for two days. You can't help but see if you just turn on the TV.

All right, guys, we'll leave it right there. We'll continue this conversation down the road. Thank you.

PFOTENHAUER: Thanks, Wolf.

CARDONA: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: Republican presidential hopeful Ron Paul is under fierce political attack. Up next, why he's suddenly a major target in the battle for the White House.

Plus, the woman behind Newt Gingrich, and does she have what it takes to help him win the race? We're taking a closer look at Callista Gingrich.


BLITZER: Here in Iowa, Ron Paul is running neck and neck with Mitt Romney, and apparently he's feeling the stress of the front- runner right now. Take another look at our brand new poll, Ron Paul trailing Romney by just a few points only six days before the Iowa caucuses. Rick Santorum is now a surprising third, Newt Gingrich sinking to fourth place. Our Joe Johns is joining us now from west Des Moines, Iowa. Joe, you've been following Ron Paul on this day. How is he handling all of this new red hot scrutiny?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Wolf, he was campaigning in and around the Des Moines area today, getting all the attention he is due as a top tier candidate. I asked him several times about the attacks on him by Newt Gingrich right here in "THE SITUATION ROOM," but he apparently for now is letting his paid television ads do the talking about Newt Gingrich and, by the way, Mitt Romney.


RON PAUL, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It does look like there are more cameras than there used to be.

JOHNS: Welcome to the big time Ron Paul, a candidate who until recently has spent much of the race for the nomination running slightly under the radar. Paul climbed out of an SUV at the Iowa speedway in Newton, and was suddenly getting treated like a top tier candidate. Stone silent, though, when I asked him to respond to attacks from Newt Gingrich just last night in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

(on camera) Mr. Paul, Newt Gingrich is very tough on you. He said you had no idea what you were making money on in our newsletter, that it was racist, anti-Semitic. What do you say to that?

(voice-over) The Texas congressman's rise to the top tier in the polls here in Iowa has made him a target. Check out Gingrich's ferocious attack in "THE SITUATION ROOM," starting with Paul's questionable claims that he did not write and never read racially charged newsletters printed under Paul's name in the 1980s and 1990s.

NEWT GINGRICH, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As people get to know more about Ron Paul, who disowns ten years of his own newsletter, says he didn't really realize what was in it, had no idea what he was making money on, had no idea that it was racist, anti-Semitic, called for the destruction of Israel, talked about a race war, all of this is a sudden shock to Ron Paul? There will come a morning people won't take him as a serious person.

JOHNS: Mitt Romney joined in on the Ron Paul attacks also, slamming him for his foreign policy, specifically his previously state position on Iran, though Romney never actually mentioned Paul's name.

ROMNEY: The greatest threat that Israel faces and frankly that the world faces is a nuclear Iran. And I -- we have different views on this. Some of the people, actually one of the people running for president, thinks it's OK for Iran to have a nuclear weapon. I don't.

JOHNS: At his racetrack event in Iowa, Paul took a number of questions from the audience, but none about the attacks from Romney and Gingrich.

PAUL: How long do we have to stay in Korea? We've been there since I was in high school. We've been in Japan since World War II. We've been in Germany subsidizing their defense since World War II.

JOHNS: What the campaign did do is release a new ad, criticizing the politicians of the so-called Washington machine, including pictures of both Gingrich and Romney.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Washington machine is strangling our economy, politicians who supported bailouts and mandates, serial hypocrites and flip-floppers.


JOHNS: I asked Ron Paul about that new television ad as well. Not a word from him. The campaign clearly trying keep the candidate above the fray as we go into the final days before the caucuses. Wolf?

BLITZER: He's doing well. He's almost number one in a brand new poll here in Iowa. Joe, thanks very much.

Afghanistan signs its first major oil deal. Just ahead, you're going to find out which country beat out the United States to win the contract despite all the U.S. has done for Afghanistan.


BLITZER: We have live pictures from Des Moines, Iowa, the state capitol. You can see the state capital in Des Moines. We're watching what's going on closely with six days to go before the Iowa caucuses.

But there's other news we're watching as well. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the top stories in "THE SITUATION ROOM" right now. What else is going on, Lisa?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there, Wolf. We told you last hour, Rick Perry says he's undergone a transformation in his views on abortion. He seemed to say he opposed the procedure in all cases, including rape and incest. But now Perry says his does support one exception, when the mother's life is at risk. Perry making that distinction a little while ago on the campaign trail in Iowa.

Afghanistan has signed its first oil deal with China. The deal is worth around $400 million, goes to China's national petroleum corporation to develop a small oil field in the relatively stable northern part of the country. It's expected to generate billions of dollars. Afghanistan chose the company over first firms in the U.S., Britain, and Australia, saying the Chinese offered the most favorable firms.

Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez says the U.S. could be to blame for his recent bout with cancer, suggesting Americans may be infecting the region's leaders with this disease. These very provocative comments come just after news that Argentina's president has been diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Chavez says he's not accusing anyone, just putting it out there.

And mayhem inside the church Christians believe marks the birthplace of Jesus. You have to take a look at these pictures. It started during the annual Christmas cleaning of the church of the nativity in Bethlehem. Authorities were called in when Greek Orthodox and Romanian police began fighting, throwing brooms and mops and beating each other with them. Police didn't make any arrests, calling those involved "men of god." Judge that from the video, Wolf.

BLITZER: That's sad, very sad. Thanks very much, Lisa, for that.

Often seen but rarely heard -- up next, the woman behind Newt Gingrich.



GINGRICH: I do apologize to all of you for running late. We got on Wolf Blitzer and we couldn't get off. Literally, we said we had to be out at 4:00. And by 4:20, we're walking off if you don't cut this out. I've seen somebody else walk off a show recently and I didn't want to follow them. So I felt sort of constrained.



BLITZER: The Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich having a little fun at my expense yesterday after his interview with me here in the situation room.

Meanwhile, he's not the only Gingrich making headlines in Iowa. Let's bring in our own Mary Snow with a closer look at Callista Gingrich. Mary, what are you finding out about this woman?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Callista Gingrich doesn't step up to the mic very often, but she is increasing her visibility in her husband's campaign.


SNOW: She's considered a central part of her husband's presidential campaign, but Callista Gingrich is more often seen and not heard. On Tuesday she made an exception.

CALLISTA GINGRICH, NEWT GINGRICH'S WIFE: I believe he is the best person to lead our country. Let's give a warm welcome to my husband and best friend, Newt Gingrich.


SNOW: Newt Gingrich credits his wife for persuading him to stay in the presidential race after he considered dropping out more than once, and he often referred to her --

C. GINGRICH: I need you to be with us, Callista and I, are both delighted. SNOW: The campaign website features the 45-year-old Callista. Outside of what she posts on her Facebook page, she's largely lived a private wife. She is Gingrich's third wife and began a relationship with him while Speaker of the House and still married to his second wife. Callista worked at the House Agriculture Committee.

The couple married in 2000, founded immediate company, and Callista is its president. Her children's box was a "New York Times" bestseller. She plays the French horn in a Fairfax City band and sings in the choir for Washington's Catholic basilica. Gingrich says his conversion to Catholicism was largely inspired by Callista.

Out on the campaign trail those close to team Gingrich say her presence go beyond a supporting role.

LINDA UPMEYER, GINGRICH SUPPORTER: To give him that honest feedback that we all need when giving speeches and doing that sort of thing, she's able to do that very effectively.

SNOW: But early on Callista Gingrich was seen as distracting from the message. Her jewelry made headlines when Newt Gingrich's Tiffany credit line of up to $500,000 became public, with critics suggesting he was out of touch. The couple's cruise to Greece at a time when the campaign was just launching also drew attention, and publicized friction in the campaign led to more than a dozen staffers quitting.

Now, campaign aides refer to her as the chief morale officer. And in a rare interview this month with the Christian Broadcasting Network, she talks about her role in having her husband stay in the race.

C. GINGRICH: And there were several critical moments where I said to Newt "If we can just get to the debates, if we can just get to September," and at that point, you know, anyone who helped our campaign, one dollar was worth five dollars.


SNOW: Don't be surprised to hear more from Callista Gingrich. Word from the Gingrich campaign is that they are encouraging her to do more. --Wolf.

BLITZER: Alright, well, we'd love to have her here in THE SITUATION ROOM as well. Thanks Mary, thanks very much. That's it for me, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. The news continues next on CNN.