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Mitt Romney is still Leading the Latest Poll; Rick Santorum jumped up to Nine Percent; Jon Huntsman Interview; U.S. Rights Groups Raided In Egypt; Michele Bachmann Interview; Bachmann Adviser Jumps Ship

Aired December 29, 2011 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, happening now, Mitt Romney enjoys bigger crowds and stronger poll numbers awhile his fellow Iowa front-runner Ron Paul gets hammered by his rivals. This hour, major drama in these, the final days before Iowans vote.

I'll ask Michele Bachmann about a startling defection from her campaign. She's accusing Ron Paul's camp of offering money to her former Iowa campaign chairman, so he would switch sides. But key figures are disputing that. We'll have more on that coming up.

And I'll also speak with Jon Huntsman this hour about his New Hampshire gamble. He's taking his campaign on the leadoff primary state, but is not necessarily seeing a big payoff in the polls, at least right now.

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

Five days before the Iowa caucuses, the ground is shifting underneath the Republican presidential candidates and they're bracing for another shake up before voting begins.

In a matter of week, we've seen the Newt Gingrich bubble burst and the field rearranged. Our new polls showing Mitt Romney on top, Rick Santorum In third place. He has made a big impression as the candidates scramble across the state looking for some last minute support. The Romney campaign is riding high right now and enjoying his new momentum in Iowa. Or "Mittmentum" as some people are calling it.

CNN's Jim Acosta is joining us now from Mason City in Iowa with more on this part of the story - Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's fitting that Mitt Romney stopped at the music man museum here in Mason City, Iowa earlier today. A win for Mitt Romney in the state would spell trouble, and we mean big trouble with a capital "T" for his GOP rivals.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Mitt Romney has the wind at his back.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's a fair wind that blows in Iowa today.

ACOSTA: A new air of confidence, Romney is riding high on the polls in Iowa, putting him within striking distance of a stunning victory, a state he's only visited eight times in this campaign, far fewer trips than nearly all of his rivals.

ROMNEY: Sure, I want to win Iowa. Everybody wants to win Iowa.

ACOSTA: Mason City, Iowa, Romney stopped at a museum dedicated to the musical of the music man. He was singing the tune of a front-runner.

ROMNEY: I feel like breaking into 76 trombones.

ACOSTA: And just as the music man might put it, a Romney win in Iowa could be trouble with the capital "T" for the rest of the field. That's because no Republican presidential candidate since Gerald Ford has ever won both Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, where Romney also has a commanding lead. The other contenders have made that potential too for all too easy in recent days. Michele Bachmann going after Ron Paul --

MICHELE BACHMANN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe that Ron Paul will be a really dangerous president for the United States.

ACOSTA: And Rick Perry going after a resurgent Rick Santorum with negative ads.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Santorum voted for the bridge to nowhere and a highway bill full of pork.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I made a big mistake in the spring.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Haven't we had enough mistakes?

ACOSTA: For months, Romney aides and a pro-Romney super Pac have carried out a shrewd strategy. Selectively attacking rivals scene as a greater threat like Gingrich, while saying little about contenders like Paul. That's freedom Romney to keep his eyes focused on the president.

ROMNEY: It's not just about replacing the president. It's about saving the soul of America.

ACOSTA: He's also had time to work on his tea party street crepe by taking on one of the conservative movement's favorite targets, federal funding for public broadcasting.

ROMNEY: I like PBS, Public broadcasting, alright. Those are wonderful -- but I'm not going to kill big bird, I promise, but there are going to be advertisements on PBS to help pay for big bird.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Boy. Its days like this that makes me happy to be a bird.

ACOSTA: Never mind the fact that "Sesame Street" and many PBS shows already have a type of advertising called sponsorships. Big bird has brought to you in part by McDonald's and Fiji's resorts.


ACOSTA: And another side of Romney's confidence campaign has announced, the former Massachusetts governor is planning a big swing through Iowa and the days leading up to the caucuses and then Romney will be in Des Moines on caucus night to watch the returns come in. Wolf, if the returns are good, he could be very hard to stop.

BLITZER: When I was with him yesterday in Iowa, his crowd seemed to be quite impressive. Is that fact continuing tonight?

ACOSTA: That's right. He has had big crowds al all of his stops since he's gotten back to Iowa and his campaign is looking to seize on that momentum. You can also get the sense from watching his campaign operate, watching his aides behind the scenes, that they are trying to pack as many people into these events to create that aura, that momentum that he really has right now. He is on the move and you can get a sense of it when you're following on the campaign trail.

BLITZER: Yes. His internal poll numbers I'm told with are looking pretty good in Iowa for himself right now. I read about that in our SITUATION ROOM blog.

All right, thanks very much, Jim Acosta in Mason City. Let's get to the other candidate on the upswing in Iowa right now. We're talking about Rick Santorum. I interviewed him yesterday in Dubuque and I suspect even he's surprised by how well he's doing right now. Like all the GOP candidates who have surge though, Santorum is now about to get a whole lot more scrutiny.

Lisa Sylvester is taking a closer look into his personal and political history. What do you finding on?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf. Well, Rick Santorum is a devout catholic opposed to gay marriage and abortion and he represented Pennsylvania in congress, but he was defeated, in fact Romney in 2006 by Bob Casey.

Now, he's back on the campaign trail running for president and for the moment, he's the GOP's latest rising star.


SYLVESTER (voice-over): Rick Santorum has a gaggle of news cameras following him around these days, a packed room of eager listeners and rising poll numbers. The former Pennsylvania senator describes himself as steady Eddie, not the flashy as sky round. But the guy you would take home to meet mom or dad. He has visited all of Iowa's 99 counties. That's paying off at the right time.

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We got a game plan in place. We stop to it in spite of people saying, it's not working. We believe it will work, we believe we have the strongest message out there. SYLVESTER: That message is firmly rooted in faith and family. His political convictions are interwoven with his personal story. He was raised in butler, Pennsylvania, by a mother who was a nurse and father who immigrated for Italy. He and his wife, Karen, have seven children. Another child was born and lived only two hours. His youngest daughter, Isabella, has a fatal genetic element. Santorum recounts a moving story of one day when his daughter stopped breathing.

SANTORUM: I never forget seeing her expel, not be able to breathe. We had a monitor. She finally stopped breathing. I put her on the bed and I tried to do everything I could to try to get her to start breathing. The next thing I know, Karen comes knocking me out of the way with a bag and does CPR and she comes back again. I prayed that moment, please, please, let her live. I'll do everything to commit to her and not just her, but to every child like her.

SYLVESTER: His daughter survived and is now three and a half years old. Santorum is being embraced by evangelicals in Iowa.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Self-identified evangelical where 60 percent of the vote in 2008, Rick Santorum throughout his congressional career was defined as a staunch social conservative.

SYLVESTER: But his record has also earned him the Eyre of women and progressive groups.

TERRY O'NEILL, NATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR WOMEN: Mr. Santorum is in favor of restricting women access to birth control. Let alone abortion rights, a majority of people in this country don't want us to go back to the days where abortion was criminalized, so Mr. Santorum is drastically out of step.

SYLVESTER: That may not bode well in a general election, but at this point, Santorum has his sights set on winning Iowa.


SYLVESTER: And Santorum is trailing behind Ron Paul and Mitt Romney in Iowa, but his poll numbers have tripled in the last month. He is clearly piquing at the right time, Wolf.

BLITZER: He certainly is. We will see in five days to go. See how it does in Iowa. Basically put all of his bets on Iowa. Thanks very much for that.

Our chief political correspondent Candy Crowley is in Des Moines right now. She had a chance to speak with Rick Santorum a little while ago. How did that go, Candy?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It was interesting. Obviously, these are great times for him. I congratulated him on his new poll numbers. He said, yes, but we've got a long way to go. And they certainly do particular, Wolf, I pointed out some other numbers in our polling to him because as you know, the closer we get to the caucuses or in the case of New Hampshire, to that primary vote, the more voters are saying to themselves, what is the key and critical thing to Republicans and that is who can best beat President Obama. Forty one percent of likely Iowa caucus goers' republicans, say Mitt Romney is the most likely to only four percent say that about Rick Santorum, so I asked him about that.


SANTORUM: Well, that's because most of the media says that Mitt Romney's the guy that can beat President Obama. But what history does Mitt Romney have --

CROWLEY: There's polling poll as well.

SANTORUM: Well, yes. But you realize that polling - you know polls change. Convictions don't change and what we need is a conviction politician who's authentic that the American people can trust. That's what we need in this election, someone who draws a clear contrast.


CROWLEY: We also talked about some of the things why Rick Santorum thinks he has staying power rather than being just the next suit too sure. And he said look, this isn't my first rodeo. Everybody is looking at my back. Well, we know with out there, I'm not perfect, but it's all out there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Candy Crowley reporting for us from Des Moines. Candy thanks very much.

I've been interviewing the Republican presidential ca contenders all this week. Stand by for my conversations with Michele Bachmann and Jon Huntsman. That's coming up.

She is tuning by the way with the campaign, the fact that he struggling to make headway in New Hampshire.

And, a dramatic increase in gun sales across the United States being pegged to the presidential race. We'll explain.


BLITZER: Take a look at our new snapshot of the Republican presidential race in New Hampshire. The CNN/Time/ORC poll shows Mitt Romney's lead has widened since early this month. Newt Gingrich's support has tumbled, Ron Paul has held steady.

Jon Huntsman, who's focusing like a laser beam on New Hampshire, he hasn't been able to climb out of single digits. He's now at nine percent.

Joining us now from Manchester, New Hampshire, the former US ambassador to China, the former Utah governor, Jon Huntsman. Governor, thanks very much for coming in.

JOHN HUNTSMAN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hi, Wolf, great to be with you, thank you.

BLITZER: All right, so you're basically ignoring Iowa, you're spending all your time in New Hampshire. In order for you to survive New Hampshire, how well do you have to do?

HUNTSMAN: We have to beat market expectations. You have to have a message that connects with the people here on the ground, and that we have.

I'm the only candidate in the race who, by virtue of background and by virtue of real ideas that I put forward to the American people, will be able to tackle the two deficits that we face in this country.

One is an economic deficit, $15 trillion in debt, the need to fire our engines of growth, as I did as governor in our state of Utah, taking it to number one as a job creator.

But just as importantly, Wolf, we need someone who can tackle the trust deficit. Because I believe our trust deficit in America is as corrosive as the economic deficit, and that means we've got to have a candidate and, ultimately, a president who can work for term limits in Congress --

BLITZER: All right.

HUNTSMAN: Who can work toward closing the revolving door, and who can deal with the banks on Wall Street. We've got banks that are too big to fail, Wolf, and we're setting ourselves up for another bailout, and the American people deserve better than that.

BLITZER: Here's what an editorial in the "New Hampshire Union-Leader" said today about you, I'll put it up on the screen.

"Huntsman says he's a conservative, and on some issues, such as tax policy, he's pretty good. But he constantly signals to moderates that he's really one of them when he goes in for global warming and a show weakness foreign policy. He often comes across as saying what the audience wants to hear."

Go ahead and respond.

HUNTSMAN: Well, they -- the editorial board, there, at the "Union- Leader," they have their opinion, and they take their shots at all the candidates, and I would simply ask them to do what other newspapers in New Hampshire -- and we just got our fourth newspaper endorsement in this state. We picked up half of all the newspapers that have endorsed, now, in this state.

Take a look at my record, and they're going to find that I'm really the only consistent conservative in this race. Pro life, I always have been. Pro second amendment, I don't vary. Pro growth, I delivered the largest tax cut in the history of my state.

Health care reform without a mandate, the second voucher for education reform signed in this entire country. I support the Ryan plan on debt and spending. The list goes on and on and on. And also, one reason, Wolf, why a lot of conservatives are coming around, those who may have glossed over me at the very beginning because I crossed a partisan line to become US ambassador to China, and they're saying, "We missed something. We've gone on, now, to look at everybody else, not to our liking, by the way. And we're now looking at Huntsman again, because his record does suggest that he is the real consistent conservative in this race."

So, we had that going forth --


HUNTSMAN: -- while at the same time, we're moving in the right direction here in New Hampshire. I can feel it with every passing town hall meeting.

BLITZER: I seem to remember that the editorial page editors of the "Wall Street Journal" gave your economic policy program a pretty good review on their pages. But let me ask you this question. Are you a moderate?

HUNTSMAN: Listen, I am a consistent conservative. I was reelected in one of the most conservative states in America with almost 80 percent of the vote. It would be hard to look at my record and suggest that I'm anything other than a consistent conservative.

And don't mistake a moderate temperament for a moderate record. I'm one who also believes in bringing people together in making a decision.

And let's not forget that this nation is crying out, Wolf, crying out for our people to be brought together. We've got to be reminded that we're all Americans at the end of the day, and we've got to come together at some point to solve our problems.

We're going to have our differences in terms of the pathways that we choose, but we've got to have a leader, like I was in the state of Utah, who believes in bringing people together and believes in leading based upon the real American spirit.

BLITZER: Here's a radio ad that Rick Santorum has just put up. I'm going to play a little bit of it, because I want you to respond. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Simple question. Which candidate gives us the best chance of defeating Barack Obama? The answer? Rick Santorum. Rick Santorum has more foreign policy credentials than any of the candidates.


BLITZER: All right. You want to disagree with him on that last point? HUNTSMAN: Well, I'd have to draw the spirit of Pat Buchanan in saying this, Wolf, but I'm not sure the time spent in an International House of Pancakes necessarily qualifies for foreign policy experience.


BLITZER: Well, wait a second --

HUNTSMAN: I've lived over --

BLITZER: In fairness, he spent, what? A long time as a member of the Armed Services Committee in the US Senate.

HUNTSMAN: A lot of people can claim that, and Rick's a terrific guy, and I respect his service. I've lived overseas four times. I've been an ambassador for my country three times, including managing the most difficult, challenging, and important relationship of the 21st century, that of China.

I've been on the ground as a practitioner of foreign policy, and I think the American people will recognize that.

And in the end, I think that will be an important consideration on their part, because the world is complex and confusing, it's not getting any less so, and I think the American people are going to want someone who knows intimately well the Chinese.

When you look at our most important economic relationship going forward, and our most significant economic opportunity, and where our strategic challenges lie, and that will be in the Asia-Pacific region, where I've spent a whole lot of years.

BLITZER: Your foreign policy is vastly different than Ron Paul's. Here's the question I've been asking to the other candidates as well. If he were to get the Republican nomination, would you be able to vote for him?

HUNTSMAN: That's a hypothetical, Wolf, and I ain't going there.

BLITZER: It's a simple question, it's a yes or no.

HUNTSMAN: No, it's not a simple question, if you feel you're going to be the nominee, and I feel I'm going to be the nominee.

BLITZER: Newt Gingrich said he couldn't vote for him.

HUNTSMAN: Listen, if Ron Paul --


BLITZER: Mitt Romney said he could, Rick Santorum said he could --

HUNTSMAN: -- if Ron Paul can get to the finish line --

BLITZER: -- so, you think you'd be a yes or a no if he were to get the nomination? HUNTSMAN: If Ron Paul can get to the finish line, I'd be happy to support him, but he won't get to the finish line because he's unelectable, and in part, he's unelectable because of his worldview based -- some of it based on pure isolationism.

And the American people are simply not going to support that at a time when the most transcendent challenge of this decade is Iran and whether or not they acquire weapons of mass destruction.

The American people aren't going there, so I think it will remain a hypothetical question for the rest of the campaign cycle.

BLITZER: But obviously, I think -- from based on everything you're saying, you wouldn't be able to vote for him. It's not -- it's not that complicated of a question.

HUNTSMAN: I can't buy the isolationist views. I can't buy somebody who's not going to be engaged with the world when the world is crying out for American leadership. The world is crying out for the values that we project when we are strong as a country.

And right now, we're weak, our core is crumbling, and when our core is crumbling, we are not projecting the values of liberty, democracy, human rights, and free markets.

I want to fix that core. I want to get back on our feet, I want our economy strengthened and our manufacturing muscles strengthened, as well. I want to get back in the game.

BLITZER: Governor Huntsman, good luck.

HUNTSMAN: Thank you, Wolf. It's a pleasure to be with you, as always.

BLITZER: Thank you. Growing outrage here in Washington following surprise raids targeting US human rights organizations working in Egypt. Up next, the prominent American who figures in behind these groups and how they're responding.

Plus Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney is credited with helping turn around the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. Just ahead, why some say it set the stage for his White House run.


BLITZER: Bitter intensifying outrage here in Washington following a series of surprise military and police raids targeting U.S. human rights groups based in Egypt. We're just getting this picture in showing Egyptian soldiers standing guard in front of one of the organizations, all of which, are very close ties to prominent American diplomatic and political leaders.

Let's bring in our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty, with the latest. Jill, the Obama administration, Democrats, Republicans on Capitol Hill, a lot of folks here in Washington are furious about what's going on in Cairo right now by the military leadership there. Tell our viewers what we know.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Wolf, that is precisely the word. They are furious, and at the briefing today with Victoria Nuland, the spokesperson to the state department, you really heard it. Here's what she said.


VICTORIA NULAND, STATE DERPATMENT SPOKESWOMAN: We call on the Egyptian government to immediately end the harassment of NGO staff, return all property, and resolve this issue immediately.


DOUGHERTY: OK. So, the two organizations that we're talking about are NDI, which is the National Democratic Institute, and IRI, the International Republican Institute. They're both NGOs. They deal with educating and training people to monitor elections, basically, with the nuts and bolts of democracy in other countries.

And you know, Wolf, if you look at the list, this really the heavy hitters of Washington politics who are on the boards of directors. I'll give you some examples. NDI, the National Democratic Institute, has Madeleine Albright as the chairman, Tom Daschle, vice chairman, Chris Dodd, Mario Cuomo.

And then, over at IRIR, Sen. John McCain is the chairman. Sen. Lindsey Graham is there. Rep. Kay Granger and Brent Scowcroft. And remember, just back in November, Hillary Clinton gave a major speech on democracy and Egypt, democracy in Egypt at NDI.

Also, Wolf, I have to tell you, I called over to NDI, and they said that they have been swamped with calls from White House, Capitol Hill, everyone. So, this is -- these are not just NGOs that you might think of. These are some important NGOs.

BLITZER: Yes. In addition to NDI and the IRI group, the freedom house, what Egyptian military, they just stormed these offices in Cairo, took the laptops, took all their files, started arresting people because they're what, promoting democracy, want to monitor elections in Egypt

Here's a question that a lot of folks are going to be asking. I have no doubt about this. The U.S. gives Egypt billions of dollars in foreign aid every single year. I suppose that's very much going to be on the line if this continues, if they don't fix this very quickly.

DOUGHERTY: You know, it could be, and certainly, I was talking again with some people in this business who were saying that maybe the Egyptians wanted to pick a fight. That, maybe, they are angry about the strings that are attached to the aid that goes to Egypt.

That could be a theory, but you know, one of the people who is from NDI, Les Campbell, who has been with it for a very long time said that, maybe, they didn't know who was on the board. Maybe, they didn't really know what was happening, but as he putted, they're going to get a backlash they weren't expecting.

BLITZER: Yes. Situation in Egypt going from bad to worse. All right. Thanks very much, Jill Dougherty, over the state department.

One analyst says a new defection from Michele Bachmann's campaign will pretty much kill her presidential bid. Is that going to happen? I'll ask her. She's standing by. My interview with her only minutes away.

And find out why a jump in the demand for guns is being linked to the presidential campaign.


BLITZER: A huge distraction for Michele Bachmann's campaign right now. She's caught in he said/she said controversy with a defector from her campaign. Her former Iowa chairman, Ken Sorenson, has stunned everyone, everyone, by showing up at a Ron Paul event in Iowa last night.

He switched sides just hours after standing at Michele Bachmann's side at a rally. Now, Sorensen and Bachmann are telling very different versions of what happened. I'll speak with Michele Bachmann in just a few minutes. We'll get her side of the story, but first, let's bring in Shannon Travis, one of our CNN political reporters. He's in Iowa.

Shannon, you were there for Sorensen's bombshell at this rally for Ron Paul. First of all, what's going on? What's the very latest in this saga?

SHANNON TRAVIS, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf. This isn't October, but this may be the biggest surprise just days before the Iowa caucuses. Let me give you the latest that we're just learning just moments ago. We're learning that Wes Enos, he is a key player in this drama basically, Michele Bachmann's Iowa political director, that he was just let go from the campaign. I learned that because Ron Paul's campaign released a statement saying he was fired. I then got through to Michele Bachmann's campaign. They're telling me only that he was no longer with the campaign.

Now, let's back into the story. As you just explained, Kent Sorenson dropped this bombshell last night at a Ron Paul rally, saying that he's now endorsing Ron Paul. Michele Bachmann today came out and addressed reporter questions about this, and here's what she said about a conversation she says she had with Kent Sorenson.


MICHELE BACHMANN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I had a conversation with Kent Sorenson, and in the direct conversation that I had with him, he told me that he was offered money. He was offered a lot of money by the Ron Paul campaign to go and associate with the Ron Paul campaign. No one else knows about that conversation other than Kent Sorenson and myself, and I know what he said to me about that.


TRAVIS: Now, that was Michele Bachmann from earlier today. Take a listen at what Kent Sorenson had to say about that alleged conversation. He was also on CNN earlier today, Wolf.


KENT SORENSON, QUIT BACHMANN TEAM TO JOIN PAUL CAMPAIGN: That conversation never happened. And as much respect as I have for Michele, the fact of the matter is it just didn't happen, and I think it's unfortunate they're resorting to these type of tactics.


TRAVIS: Now, as you just mentioned, this is a case of he said, she said, Wolf. The person that I just mentioned that no longer with the Bachmann campaign, he sided with Kent Sorenson. He was earlier today the Iowa political director for Michele Bachmann. Apparently, he's no longer with the campaign. But he released a statement saying it's not true that Kent Sorenson went to the Ron Paul campaign for money.

BLITZER: What's Ron Paul saying about this?

TRAVIS: Great question. I caught up with him also. You may be seeing some video of that. We tried to ask the congressman that question, that Michele Bachmann's campaign says he needs to answer for this. He did not say anything but, his campaign manager did deny it once again and said that the congresswoman needs to speak with her campaign. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, let's speak to the congresswoman right now. Shannon, thanks very much. Michele Bachmann is joining us right now from Iowa out on the campaign trial. You just heard Shannon's report, congresswoman. What do you say?

BACHMANN: Well, we need to tell the whole story on this because the part that you left out is the fact that Kent Sorenson's former campaign manager went on record with the AP saying that Kent Sorenson also told her that he had received a request to give a lot of money to him from the Ron Paul campaign. And also he told it to a number of other people who are starting to come out. It wasn't just me. And I got the phone log on my phone that I had the conversation with Kent.

But the bigger story in this is why did it happen? It happened because at the last debate in Sioux City, Iowa, I took on Ron Paul over his very dangerous position stating that he would do nothing to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. That makes him a very dangerous person to be our next president.

The very next day, we started our 99 county tour. I'm standing here in Neveda, Iowa. This is our 99th county that we're visiting. This is the last stop of the tour. For 99 counties, Wolf, this has been the huge story. We've seen literally thousands of people after that last debate come out in all of Iowa's 99 counties and say, Michele, I'm now voting for you. I was undecided. And it's over this whole issue of Ron Paul coming out and being exposed for the dangerous president he would be in not preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

That happened. We saw incredible momentum including the fact that last night, we had 150 new people call us saying they want to stand up for me in the caucuses. We literally have had thousands over the last 10 days. And that caused the Ron Paul campaign to be very nervous because they saw the momentum shifting here in Iowa to my campaign. So they came up with this plan to offer a lot of money to Kent Sorenson.

And so our Iowa director is Eric Woolson. He's now talking to the press about what Kent Sorenson said to him, too. But this is all about the Ron Paul campaign seeing the floor drop out, and this is what happened.

BLITZER: All right, because Kent Sorenson, he flatly denies there's money involved. He put out a state basically saying, I'll read a little bit of it for you, "Even Congresswoman Bachmann's political director issued a statement defending my character. Since then he's been fired by the Bachmann campaign for daring to tell the truth." Is that the correct version?

BACHMANN: Well, that's absolutely not true, because I did have the conversation with Kent. Kent talked to a number of people in my campaign. And again, the reason why this is happening is because we've seen unbelievable, remarkable momentum in the last week. And it's because I took on Ron Paul in the last debate over his failure to keep Americans safe and free and sovereign from a nuclear Iran. That's what this is about, pure and simple. Now you saw this huge offer of money.

BLITZER: Just clarify the political --

BACHMANN: So there's a lot of people --

BLITZER: The political director quit today as well. Is that right?

BACHMANN: He quit. And we've had Kent Sorenson's former campaign manager say Kent told me flat out that he was getting money. He flat out told also Eric Woolson, who is the Iowa director as well. He told a lot of people. There's people a mile long that he told that he was getting money, and all of those people are coming out of the woodwork, making themselves available. So Kent Sorenson and I had the conversation on the phone.

And yesterday, Kent even came out to our stop in Iowa and he was there with me yesterday. He left our event and then went to the Ron Paul event. This is about money. This is about money.

BLITZER: The political director left for money, too?

BACHMANN: -- seeing that the floor is coming out.

BLITZER: Did the political director quit because of money? BACHMANN: You'll have to talk to him. You'll have to talk to -- you'll have to talk to him about it. But, clearly, there are other people that Kent Sorenson talked to who he told that the Ron Paul campaign is offering him money. Now, that's a very serious issue and that's one that only the Ron Paul campaign and they can deal with. But I've got my phone, my phone log that shows I had a conversation with Kent Sorenson. That's when he told me, a number of other people on our campaign, that he was offered money by the Ron Paul campaign.

And clearly, this is about the Ron Paul campaign very nervous because people see that he'd be very dangerous for the country on foreign policy, but also people are figuring out Ron Paul would legalize drugs that are illegal now. He wouldn't stand up for marriage between a man and a woman. I would. That's what this is about. People are making their decisions. About half the people in Iowa are undecided, and this overflowing number of people in recent days have been flipping and they've been going in my column. That's why you see this controversy right now.

And we would love to make available to CNN Susan Gettis, the former campaign manager for Kent Sorenson, Eric Woolson, our Iowa director. There's a lot of people he talked to. And even Eric Woolson said he would go under oath and he would give his statement about what Kent Sorenson told him in response to the Ron Paul campaign offering a large amount of money for Kent Sorenson to defect to their campaign.

BLITZER: We'll get our reporter, Shannon Travis, on the story with you and follow up, obviously. I want to take a quick break, but one quick question before I do, and we're going to continue this conversation on the other side. If he were to get the nomination, Ron Paul, could you vote for him?

BACHMANN: It's never going to happen, Wolf. Ron Paul is not getting the nomination. We see this unbelievable momentum for me and Iowa. Americans want an American iron lady, and they're flipping to Michele Bachmann. I intend to be the nominee that defeats Barack Obama because we've got to get the country back on the right track and repeal Obamacare. That's what I'm going to do as the next president of the United States.

BLITZER: I know it's a big if, but if he were to get the nomination, I've asked the other candidates --

BACHMANN: He's not going to, Wolf. It's never going to happen. Never going to happen, Wolf. It is never going to happen.

BLITZER: But can't you say yes or no?

BACHMANN: Put that baby to bed. Yes, I'm giving you the answer, Wolf. He is never going to be the nominee, right, you guy?


BACHMANN: There you go, straight from the -- here in Iowa.

BLITZER: In our new CNN-"TIME"-ORC poll, he's doing a lot better than you are in Iowa. How do you explain that?

BACHMANN: Well, because the polls don't determine what is going to happen on January 3rd. Everyone said that I didn't have a chance to win the Iowa straw poll. I'm the only candidate in the presidential race that's won a statewide election. I won the Iowa straw poll. We're going to see a miracle happen on Tuesday, I have absolutely no doubt. The people here in Neveda, Iowa know that, too, and we're going to see that miracle next Tuesday. So we're excited.

BLITZER: Stand by for a moment. I want to continue this conversation. I want to get some substantive national security foreign policy issues, including a new $30 billion F-15 arms sale from the U.S. to Saudi Arabia. We'll continue our conversation with Michele Bachmann, the Republican presidential candidate, in just a moment.


BLITZER: We're back with Congresswoman Michele Bachmann joining us from Neveda, Iowa. Congresswoman, let's talk about a few national security foreign policy issues on the agenda right now. You're a member of the House intelligence committee. So first of all, the White House announcing today a $30 billion F-15 sale to Saudi Arabia. You OK with that?

BACHMANN: I find it a little bit concerning. We're at a very volatile time now in the Middle East and there's a very delicate balance that needs to be maintained. It's a complicated situation. I understand in part the motivation for the president of the United States, but I also have great pause about that, because I think in some respects a person could say we're adding fuel to the fire. And again, it's a very delicate, complex situation and I can be a little bit circumspect about my remarks because of my position on the intelligence committee.

BLITZER: Let's talk about Afghanistan for a moment. The U.S. is continuing to spend about $2 billion a week maintaining 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The other day, Hamid Karzai's government announced that they were granting an oil drilling project potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars if not down the road billions of dollars not to a U.S. company, not to a European company, but to China. Is that OK with you?

BACHMANN: No, of course not, because this is what we're seeing. China is becoming on in the Middle East region, and it's because they're continuing to become an economic powerhouse. We also can't forget that China has enabled a lot of the missile delivery systems to Iran that will enable them in their quest to obtain a nuclear weapon. Their working with North Korea, and it's a Russian nuclear scientist also that worked with Iran to help them gain this nuclear weapon that is impending and potentially on the horizon. This is all very serious.

China's been a bad actor. They've engaged in commercial espionage against the United States. That's in open source documents. They've also engaged in military espionage against the United States. That's in open source documents. And it's concerning because they completed, this was in the "Wall Street Journal," they completed 3,000 miles of underground tunnels that contain nuclear weapons. And they stated in that article in the "Wall Street Journal" that they no longer feared the United States of America. This should give great pause. To go back to the previous question, we're looking at across the world with national security. We need to be very careful about these decisions.

BLITZER: But would you continue to spend 2 billion a week, $100 billion a year in Afghanistan if they're doing this?

BACHMANN: There's no audio.

Congresswoman, can you hear me? I think we just lost our connection, unfortunately. Let's see if we can reconnection. Can you hear me, congresswoman? Unfortunately, we just lost our connection with Michele Bachmann in Neveda, Iowa.

All right, so we were almost done anyways. Let's thank her, Michele Bachmann joining us in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

Also, stand by to find out why a jump in demand for guns is being linked to the presidential campaign. Much more news is coming up right here on "THE SITUATION ROOM."


BLITZER: Let's turn to another hot button issue gaining traction in Iowa right now. We're talking about gun control. Michele Bachmann is just the latest White House hopeful reportedly planning to show off her pheasant hunting skills in an outing with Iowa Republican Congressman Steve King. But voters' interest in guns also soaring nationwide, and it may have something to do with politics. Let's bring in our Barbara Starr. She's working the story for us. Barbara, what are you learning?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as you said, gun ownership in this country is always a political hot potato, but this time around something very significant appears to be going on.


ANDREW RAYMOND, GUN SHOP OWNER: These are like $3,300 rifles. We sold three of these over the weekend.

STARR: In this holiday season of peace on earth, good will to men, gun sales are on the rise. Maryland gun shop owner Andy Raymond says people are buying everything from assault rifles to handguns.

RAYMOND: We're totally sold out of almost all of our glocks.

STARR: It's a nationwide trend. The FBI is reporting 1.5 million background checks in the month of December alone. That is an all-time record.

Raymond says many customers already own guns and are buying more. RAYMOND: There's the political aspect of it because we have an upcoming election. So a lot of people are once again concerned about that. They're concerned about what Obama is going do if he is re- elected. So they are trying to get stuff while they can.

STARR: Criminal justice experts are not surprised by the chatter.

JACK MCDEVITT, CRIMINOLOGIST, NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY: There is a set of groups out there that every time there's a Democrat going to be elected or reelected say you should go out and get guns because they're going to ban guns.

STARR: There's no indication of a new ban, but Republicans again are making sure the photo-ops show them at pro gun ownership.

GOV. RICK PERRY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am actually for gun control. Use both hands.


MCDEVITT: This is the largest increase we've ever seen. It's something we have to look to public safety officials and say why is this happening?


STARR: Some of the customers we talked to in that shop, Wolf, said they're buying guns for reasons we heard in the past -- hunting, sport shooting, personal protection. But it was a little odd this time of year of people buying multiple guns to give as presents. We hear about electronics and TVs. People this year are buying guns to give as presents.

BLITZER: Barbara, what a story that is. Thanks.

Stand by. We have a lot more coverage coming from Iowa as we count down to the caucuses Tuesday night. For our viewers here in North America Candy Crowley will be live at the top of the hour on "JOHN KING, USA."

And he survived combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Up next, how one U.S. marine ended up getting shot after coming home.


BLITZER: Be sure to join us in the CNN election center for the first votes in the Republican presidential contest. Our coverage of the Iowa caucuses will begin at 7:00 p.m. eastern Tuesday night. You'll want to see it all unfold right here on CNN.

Here's a look at this hour's hot shots. In Kyrgyzstan a security guard stands next to a jumbo jet that flipped over, injuring six people.

In Edinburgh, a man prepares five tons of fireworks for an upcoming celebration.

In Moscow, a child plays in a park full of snowman.

And at a zoo in Germany, a zoo keeper tries to keep a baby elephant onto the scale. They have the daunting task of weighing almost 5,000 animals.

Hot shots -- pictures coming in from all over the U.S. and the world.

A U.S. veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is recovering from bullet wounds he sustained not overseas but right here in the United States of America. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring this and other stories in THE SITUATION ROOM. Lisa, what happened here?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the marine is expected to make a full recovery. He says he was meeting men who answered his wife's Craigslist selling jewelry. They allegedly robbed him and then fired.


LT. COL. KARL TRENKER, U.S. MARINE CORPS: I go to Iraq Afghanistan multiple times and I haven't been shot or blown up. And I'm here at home in Florida and here I am riding away in an ambulance with a bunch of gunshot wounds.


SYLVESTER: He reportedly plugged the bullet holes with his fingers until the police arrived. Two suspects are being held without bond.

Two people are dead, more than 50 are injured following a horrific 40 car pileup that shut down a major interstate New Orleans. Some of the victims had to be transported to hospitals while others were treated at the scene. Forecasters say heavy fog was the area at the time.

And there appears to be a tiny new island in the Red Sea following an underwater eruption that left lava cooling after breaking through the water's surface. NASA captured the image last week showing the new mass with the plume. NASA says the so-called island is forming along islands between Yemen and Eritrea. There you see the image there.

And just months after that devastating Japanese earthquake and tsunami, there are new reports of wreckage from the disaster washing up on the shores here in North America. In British Columbia some have reportedly seen lumber with U.S. exports stamps and everything from Japanese bottles to toothbrushes they're also beginning to emerge. Wolf?

BLITZER: That's pretty amazing when you think about it, Lisa. All of that stuff, junk, whatever, going all the way across the Pacific. Those currents must be really powerful. SYLVESTER: Yes. They predicted that at about this time we would be seeing this. And this is probably only one wave of this debris. I'm sure there will be more waves to come, Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll see what else comes over from Japan, the slow wave. Everybody's OK with that. Lisa, thanks very, 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.