Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

Interview With Kentucky Senator Rand Paul; Family Affair On the Campaign Trail; Decision In Iowa; U.S. Rejects Iranian "Warning"; Powder Sickens Florida Mail Workers; What To Look For In Iowa Caucuses; New GOP Ad Attacks Obama

Aired January 3, 2012 - 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: Happening now: a final frenzy of campaigning as the countdown, including the last hours before the Iowa Republicans vote for their presidential favorites. We're going to show you what to look for tonight when we bring you the first results of 2012.

Slammed by negative ads, Newt Gingrich lashes out, calling Mitt Romney a liar. Yes, he's calling him a liar. So, what's behind all the bitterness?

And President Obama, promises broken or kept? Powerful new campaign ads as both parties are already looking ahead to the showdown in November. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

This is decision day in Iowa. Just four hours from now, Republicans will gather in caucuses across the state and cast the first votes in the 2012 campaign. The candidates have spent months on the trail paving the way with millions of dollars in campaign cash.

Much of that money has gone towards a barrage of negative advertising. Now, in a final flurry of appearances, the rhetoric has reached a new peak or maybe a new low.

Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: You said of Mitt Romney, "Somebody who will lie to you to get to be president will lie to you when they are president."

I have to ask you, are you calling Mitt Romney a liar?

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes.

QUESTION: You're calling Mitt Romney a liar?

GINGRICH: Well, you seem shocked by it. Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Why are you saying he's a liar?

GINGRICH: This is a man whose staff created the PAC. His millionaire friends fund the PAC. He pretends he has nothing to do with the PAC. It's baloney. He's not telling the American people the truth. It's just like his pretense that he's a conservative.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Wow.

Let's go live to our chief political correspondent, Candy Crowley.

She's in Des Moines right now.

Candy, you got a chance to speak to Governor Romney today at his event this morning in Des Moines. Did he react to this very strong accusation by Newt Gingrich that he's a liar?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: There was a progression across the day, Wolf. This was in the morning. He completely ignored it when a reporter said to him, Newt Gingrich calling you a liar, what do you have to say to that?

He just acted as though the question was not out there. He's quite happy to talk by the way about how he thinks he's going to come in the top three, but he totally ignored that question. But on throughout the day, he told one interviewer, well, I don't know why Newt is so angry. I don't know what he's angry about.

Then he said, look, I understand that people are going to come after me, and I get that. But I have got big shoulders and I can take this. For heaven's sake, you have to be ready for what President Obama will unleash.

In one interview, he said, listen, it is against the law, election law, for me to have any coordination with this PAC. And, yes, people I used to employ are at this PAC, but I have nothing to do with them.

That's to the substance of it. But let me tell you something. At this point, as you know, it's a lot easier to be Mitt Romney than it is to be Newt Gingrich. And Mitt Romney has stuck with the same M.O. largely throughout this entire campaign, for the past year or more. This has been a cautious, a careful campaign.

What Mitt Romney has to do, he is like a doctor in politics. He has to do no harm to his campaign. There is nothing in it, Wolf, for Mitt Romney to engage with Newt Gingrich about who is a liar about what, and so he is brushing this off. And he is really -- even on the campaign trail, his rhetoric is sort of months past Iowa. It is aimed right at the White House. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The president said he wants to fundamentally transform America.

I don't want to transform America. I want to restore the principles that made America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: It's just very safe stuff as this point.

Again, Mitt Romney, they are so hoping to pull this out here today -- tonight in the Iowa caucuses. They would love a first-place win, but they think anywhere in the top three gives them a push into New Hampshire. They truly believe inside the campaign that they are sitting right where they need to be sitting at this point.

It's why the rhetoric is aimed at the president, because you don't offend any other Republicans that you want to have come on board when this is all over. And it's why he's running this very safe, cautious campaign, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, we will see what happens. Certainly, if he were to win in Iowa tonight, he's almost certainly going to win in New Hampshire, that would set the stage for South Carolina and Florida. We will see what happens there.

Candy's going to be with us throughout the night.

Thank you, Candy.

Ron Paul, meanwhile, is also hammering Mitt Romney today. His last-minute ad calls Romney a liberal who has supported government bailouts, health care mandates, and big government. The ad calls that a recipe for defeat in November.

Our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is out on the campaign trail in Iowa.

Dana, how's the Ron Paul campaign feeling just hours before these caucuses?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I can maybe show you an answer to that and as well as tell you. We're here at what will be Ron Paul headquarters this evening. And you can see they're already putting up the balloons.

We see that they are getting ready to have what they say, they hope, will be a celebration here. In fact, Wolf, there's even a camera here set up to a future ad for Ron Paul that they're calling a -- quote -- "hero camera" to get a wide, nice shot of him, they think, they say, being very happy and victorious at the end of the night.

Now, obviously, what is going to be the big question today is whether or not the fervent galvanizations they have got for young people and for people who maybe haven't traditionally gone out to the caucuses, whether they will actually go to the caucuses tonight, and specifically on the question of young people.

Earlier today, I was at what they call a rock the vote event and several candidates spoke, including Ron Paul. There were lots of people, hundreds of young people there who will be first-time caucus- goers. And I talked to several of them. And they actually said that they are going to go out and caucus for Ron Paul. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NATE MARSHALL, RON PAUL SUPPORTER: I'm supporting Ron Paul.

BASH: How come?

MARSHALL: Well, he has a lot of experience from Congress. And I like how he's stood behind his values the whole time. He hasn't flip- flopped on anything. And I think he's just a really nice guy overall.

BASH: Who are you going to vote for?

SARA BROWN, RON PAUL SUPPORTER: Ron Paul.

BASH: How come?

BROWN: Because I really like his views on gay marriage and how it's just really about the people's choice, not really government.

HALEY WIREMAN, RON PAUL SUPPORTER: He doesn't believe that the government should be involved in certain things, which I really like.

BASH: Now, one of the questions for the Ron Paul campaign is whether young people like you who support him are actually going to go out and caucus. Are you actually going to go out?

WIREMAN: It's an assignment for my A.P. government class, so I really have to.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Obviously, not everybody is going to go to the caucus tonight hoping they will get an A. in their class, Wolf, but that gives you a flavor of some of the new voters that the Paul campaign are certainly relying on.

They have been very -- you and I have been talking about this over the past few days. They are very secretive about their organization, but talking to Iowa Republicans, again, who are not necessarily involved with the Paul campaign, they all tell me that they really believe that the Paul campaign has done a good job really over the past four or five years, since the last time he ran for president here, mapping out a really good organization statewide. We will see if it pans out tonight.

BLITZER: Yes. You and I have assignments tonight, too. Everybody seems to have an assignment tonight.

All right, Dana, you had a chance to speak to four of Mitt Romney's five sons as they were campaigning for their dad today. How did that go?

BASH: Well, you played at the beginning of the program the Newt Gingrich comment on CBS News this morning saying flat-out that Mitt Romney is a liar. So of course that was the first question I asked his four sons, to respond to the fact that his opponent is flat-out calling their father a liar.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Newt Gingrich flat-out called your father a liar.

Do you guys have any response to that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Newt's a great guy. We're winning against a lot of great candidates that are running for president all their own way. But we're here to focus on my dad and talk about my dad and why we think he's the best candidate for the presidency of the United States.

BASH: Anyone else?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think Josh said it pretty well.

BASH: To hear, especially -- look, this is not easy on any family member because you guys didn't ask for this. You're not the candidates, but to hear, as sons, to hear somebody call your dad a liar must not be fun.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You get thick skin throughout this whole process. We know what our dad's all about. We love him. We know he's a man of integrity. He's a great example as a father for us. So it really doesn't -- we don't take anything personally.

BASH: I was here with you, spending a lot of time with your dad and with the campaign four years ago. And, obviously, he finished a disappointing second after spending $10 million here and having really an incredible organization. Why do you think it's different this time around?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a lot of enthusiasm for him right now. There's a lot of people at his events that we have been going to the last few weeks. They have all just been oversold, tons of people, a lot of excitement. And we're still just hoping for a great finish here, not expecting necessarily a win, but just to have a great finish.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I also think the most important issue right now is the economy. And there's no question. If you look at all the candidates on the stage, my dad is best equipped to help fix the economy. And his message is resonating with people.

And so as they get to know him, he's rising in the polls. And I think his message of getting Barack Obama out of the White House and getting someone in there that really has had a job and knows how to run the economy and fix things is really resonating with people.

BASH: Your dad made a pretty bold prediction last night which I think kind of defies politics 101 of lowering expectations. He said he's going to win this thing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The nomination. He's going to win the nomination is what he's talking about. We have lots of paths to win the nomination. We're hopeful that that will be the case.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: So, there you see, as you said, four out of the five Romney sons out on the campaign trial.

Very interesting, Wolf. Look, this is another part of politics 101 for candidates, particularly running for president, to get their family out to humanize them, but we're certainly seeing a lot more of that here from the Romney campaign than we did four years ago. His sons have been out and about with him, without him, campaigning for him to try to make him more into kind of a real person, because that has been one of the issues for Mitt Romney, that he seems too standoffish and not accessible as a person.

And they're certainly trying to change that.

BLITZER: That will help him. Certainly, Ann Romney, his wife, she's been exactly doing the same thing very effectively as well.

Dana, thanks very much.

Meanwhile, hard feelings and harsh rhetoric as the campaign winds down in Iowa. Let's take a closer look at that Gingrich claim that Romney is a liar.

Joining us now, our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, also joining us, our senior political analyst, David Gergen.

It's amazing how four weeks, things can change. Today, Newt Gingrich says Mitt Romney is a liar. Four weeks ago, when I interviewed Newt Gingrich in Washington, I asked him if he would consider -- he was then very high in the polls -- if he would consider Mitt Romney as his running mate. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think there are circumstances where he'd certainly be on the list, whether he would want to or not, but he's a very competent person. This is a serious man. I could see -- I would certainly support him if he became the Republican nominee.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What a difference four weeks makes. Liar today, a very competent man four weeks ago.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Newt Gingrich is clearly venting here his frustration. He's been attacked with almost $4 million worth of ads, most of it run by Romney's super PAC, which Romney says he cannot control and does not control. That's legal.

So, he's frustrated. He feels like his record has been maligned. He is trying to fight back. His problem is that Newt has promised to run a positive campaign. And now he's calling Mitt Romney a liar. I mean, that's even worse than Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, if I recall.

BLITZER: It's a lot worse than being called a flip-flopper or a serial hypocrite or whatever. Liar is a pretty tough word.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It cuts right to the issue of integrity and can you trust this person in office, and so coming from a fellow Republican, it's very, very tough.

Newt told me about four weeks ago, he expected very tough scrutiny from the press. And he wasn't sure if he could survive that, but that is what he was looking toward. What he did not expect was this onslaught of ads coming from a fellow Republican.

And I think he's really angry. And the interesting thing to me is, I think this is just the first chapter in what may be a fairly longish book of where he goes after Romney. He is really angry at him. It's so clear.

BORGER: It's going to be interesting to see in the next debate how Newt Gingrich behaves, because the debates are his forums. He loves them. He does well at them. They're responsible, I would argue...

BLITZER: And he's always tried to take the high road.

BORGER: And they're responsible for his rise in the polls.

Now, the question is, will he go on the attack against Mitt Romney? Will he go on the attack against Rick Santorum?

BLITZER: I assume he will.

BORGER: Well, I would assume he will.

GERGEN: I think it just started.

BORGER: Yes. I think we saw the...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Speaking of Santorum, he's spent very little money advertising. He's doing well. Should we conclude that money is necessarily all that important?

BORGER: It's interesting. I was talking to one of his advisers this morning. And I said, how much money have you spent in Iowa? He said, well, if you count radio, if you count TV and direct mail, $120,000.

Rick Perry, just for comparison, his campaign, $3 million. Now, this doesn't mean they're not going to need money going forward if they do well tonight. Of course they will, but they have somebody who's a strong ally of theirs who ran a super PAC that raised $25 million. Or it was just a PAC at that point, a PAC that raised $25 million in 2010 against the Democrats.

That will be very, very useful to Santorum.

GERGEN: You can win a primary, you can win a caucus especially, living off the land, but you can't win the nomination.

I want to come back to this other point though about Newt Gingrich. The whole Newt Gingrich-Mitt Romney flap I think also underscores something else we haven't really talked about. And that is Mitt Romney himself has run a high-tone campaign, but his henchmen have run this really tough thing.

BORGER: Oh, yes.

GERGEN: And I think what it shows is that, at base, Mitt Romney is also very ruthless. He's got a ruthless quality, just like Barack Obama.

BLITZER: But I think that's what the Republicans want looking down the road.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Do you think Newt Gingrich just cost himself a place, if Romney were to win, in the Cabinet there, do you think?

GERGEN: That wasn't going to happen.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Liar's a lot worse than voodoo economics, if you recall that.

BORGER: Or you're likable enough.

BLITZER: Right.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: All right, guys, thanks very much. They're going to be with us throughout the night, David and Gloria.

Jack Cafferty's back. He is standing by. He will join me next with "The Cafferty File."

Then Ron Paul's son, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, he's standing by to join us live from Iowa, where his dad is spending his final hours campaigning before tonight's caucuses. But he's not the only candidate's son or daughter making a last-ditch effort in Iowa.

How about this pitch from Michele Bachmann's daughter? Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She's normal. She's an every day mom.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Great news for our viewers. Jack Cafferty is back and he has the "Cafferty File."

Jack, happy New Year. Welcome back.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Wolf. Happy New Year to you.

Rick Santorum, the latest Republican candidate to get a surge in Iowa says he would bomb Iran if it doesn't scrap its nuclear program. Santorum says, as president, he would insist Iran open its nuclear facilities to inspectors and dismantle them. Otherwise, Santorum promises to, quote, "degrade those facilities through air strikes" -- in other words, bomb them. Santorum vows Iran will not get a nuclear weapon on his watch.

Apparently, a little saber rattling couldn't hurt. With all eyes on Iowa today, Santorum has jumped up in the polls there. In the latest, he's in third place behind Mitt Romney and Ron Paul. Santorum says Iowa is, quote, "moving his way and that he's very confident he will finish well."

The former Pennsylvania senator says he has enthusiasm and momentum, which are vital to the caucus process.

But how much might Santorum's tough talk about Iran have to do with his Iowa surge? Iran's been making a lot of noise lately, finishing up 10 days of test-firing missiles during naval exercises in the Strait of Hormuz. Last week, Iran threatened to close down the strait -- the strategic shipping channel through which one sixth of the world's oil passes.

Iran's threat comes on the heels of planned sanctions by the West targeting its oil industry. The sanctions are meant to force Iran to cut back its nuclear program. But so far, no dice. Iran insists its program is for peaceful purposes and refuses to halt its production of enriched uranium.

A recent report by the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog group found credible information that Iran is working toward nuclear weapons.

So, the question is this: will Rick Santorum's vow to bomb Iran help or hurt him in Iowa?

Go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile. Post a comment on my blog or go to our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much. Good to have you back -- Jack Cafferty with the "Cafferty File."

Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, the son of presidential candidate Ron Paul, is joining us now live from Iowa.

Senator, always good to have you here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

I just want to be precise on the issue of Iran. When it comes to Santorum saying he's ready to bomb, he's ready to bomb Iran to prevent it from getting a nuclear bomb -- your dad has a very different position. Just outline what your dad's position as far as Iran is concerned.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: You know, Ron Paul doesn't want Iran to have nuclear weapons. He thinks it could destabilize the Middle East. But should they get nuclear weapons, he thinks there are some choices, that we shouldn't box ourselves into a war.

Interestingly two days ago, the head of Mossad, Tamir Pardo, said exactly the same thing. If we keep saying it's an existential threat to Israel, we box Israel and the United States into a cataclysmic war without a choice and I think people like Santorum are dangerous in the sense that I don't think they're thinking through the issues of what the unintended consequences of war are.

And I think what the American people need and what Republicans should think about is, you want a commander-in-chief who's in charge of nuclear weapons who will not use them carelessly, who will not take the nation to war carelessly, and who also understands that Congress gets to vote on declaring war. One man should never decide for our country to go to war.

BLITZER: When you heard Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, tell me last week that if your dad got the Republican presidential nomination, he couldn't get vote for him. What was your reaction?

PAUL: I guess the thing is that I'm worried about the rest of the nominees in the sense that I don't want to have a commander-in- chief who would recklessly take us to war, so when they say Ron Paul's dangerous, I think completely the opposite. I think what would be dangerous would be to have a commander-in-chief who is reckless, who would talk us to war.

Interestingly, they try to paint Ron Paul's position as outside the mainstream. The three previous heads of the U.S. Central Command, Generals Zinni, Abazaid and Fallon, all have warned against an attack. Meir Dagan, the former head of Mossad, has warned against a preemptive attack.

People think Israel is this monolithic body of people that all want the same thing. Israel has divided opinion on this. Two heads of Mossad, the previous head of Shin Bet, the previous head of the military intelligence, Gabi Ashkenazi, there are a lot of people who have expressed some doubt about whether or not it's a good idea to invade or have a war with Iran.

BLITZER: You know, some of these latest ads that your dad's campaign is doing in Iowa, one of them suggesting Mitt Romney is really a liberal. Do you consider Romney, the frontrunner, together with your father right now, a liberal?

PAUL: You know, I'm unaware of that.

I know that the campaign is putting out some things on Rick Santorum, talking about how he voted to double the size of the Department of Education, how he voted for No Child Left Behind, how he voted for Medicare Part D, the largest entitlement program in the last decade, and how Rick Santorum has also supported foreign aid repeatedly.

You know, I came from the Tea Party movement. I don't know any conservative Republican or any Tea Party member who thinks foreign aid is a good idea when we have this massive debt. And Rick Santorum, I don't think has ever voted against foreign aid.

BLITZER: So you go so far as to call Rick Santorum a liberal?

PAUL: What I would say is that as you rise to the top, you get more scrutiny and welcome to the top tier, maybe for Rick Santorum. If he does well here tonight, he's going to have some explaining to do. He's going to have to explain these votes.

Foreign aid is not something the vast majority of Americans support, but definitely not conservatives. Most conservatives thought Medicare Part D, the expansion of Medicare when Medicare was already short of money, wasn't a good idea and most good old Reagan conservatives think we should be eliminating the Department of Education, not doubling it in size.

So, Rick Santorum on a lot of economic issues has been I think most charitably described as a moderate, but you could say a moderate to liberal. Look, he supported Arlen Specter not only for Senate but for president. He supported him against Pat Toomey, who most of us think of as a good conservative.

So, I think these are choices that show that really Rick Santorum running as a conservative may not be all it's cracked up to be.

BLITZER: Just to be precise, as far as the other six Republican candidates out there -- as far as you know, you're father would vote for any of them over President Obama, is that right?

PAUL: All I can say is that I pledge to support the Republican nominee. And I -- my dad will have to speak for himself on what he's decided. I think he would like if the nominee weren't him, but right now, it looks like we have a real chance of winning. But if it weren't him, I think he would like to see a nominee who doesn't want to go war recklessly, who understands that the president doesn't go to war unilaterally, that the president needs the approval of Congress and that most Americans or many Americans are growing weary of war and would like to see us begin to come home from Afghanistan.

So I think if he had a nominee that were willing to accept some of those positions, I think he would consider supporting the nominee. But, ultimately, I think right now, we're trying to be that nominee.

BLITZER: How's he going to look tonight, do you think? What are you internal poll numbers tell you?

PAUL: You know, very good. I traveled around the state with my dad yesterday. We made five stops, hundreds and hundreds of people at every stop. Every room was overflowing. I mean, the excitement is contagious.

We finished up the night last night about 9:00 at our headquarters just outside of Des Moines. Over 250 kids, all between the ages of 20 and 30. I mean, the excitement is electric.

It's amazing that my dad really gets these young people. I mean, the young people are really excited over him and I think it's because they see a genuineness, that he's not always politically correct. He doesn't always try to tell you what you want to hear. He just tells you the truth as he sees it.

BLITZER: What does he need to do in terms of finishing tonight, next Tuesday, in New Hampshire, to continue this struggle?

PAUL: You know, I think he's getting a good amount of the Republican vote. But what puts him over the top is that he appeals to independents. Most recent CNN polls have shown that when you poll independents, Ron Paul is beating all other Republican candidates.

And that's what you need to win. That's why I think a lot of these pundits who are saying, oh, he can't win, he's not electable -- I thought getting elected was about getting independent vote. He's doing quite well with that. He actually attracts independents and Democrats at a higher rate than any other Republican candidate. And when you put him up against President Obama, you find that he does about equal to Romney and head and shoulders above every other candidate.

BLITZER: Senator Paul, thanks very much for coming in. Give our best wishes to your dad. Good luck out there.

PAUL: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky.

We'll have a check of the day's other top stories, that's coming up next.

Then, it's not just Rand Paul, children of other candidates who are out in force ahead of tonight's caucuses. We're going to hear what some of the other children are saying about their parents.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My dad is extraordinarily cheap. He is as cheap a human being as you have ever met.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: The last minute campaign push in Iowa has become a family affair as the candidate's kids flood the state in these, the hours before the caucuses. Here's a sampling beginning with Michele Bachmann's son, Harrison.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: People pick on your mom and they do on every candidate, frankly. Does it make you angry?

HARRISON BACHMANN, SON OF MICHELE BACHMANN: You get used to it I think after a while and realize it isn't so because you know the real individual.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Lisa, you're very quiet there. What would you say people don't know about your mom?

ELISA BACHMANN, DAUGHTER OF MICHELE BACHMANN: I think they don't know exactly what we know. She's normal. She's an everyday mom. We were talking about earlier, she's home for Thanksgiving, she's home for Christmas.

One of the first text messages I got was from my mom, you know, happy New Year. I think if a lot people knew that about her, they maybe would change their view on her and they would understand that she is normal.

JACKIE GINGRICH CUSHMAN: He began running for Congress when I was 7 years old, and obviously much smaller scale. It's Congress and not the presidency. But we live in a very small town where everybody knew everybody.

So it was very similar in terms of the impact and if you have questions, if you see these ads, please go to newt.org to get the answers. Because for instance, the Nancy Pelosi couch issues, he did sit on the couch with her, but he's against cap and trade.

TAGG ROMNEY, SON OF MITT ROMNEY: He decided he was going to work with his five sons and his wife and he was going to build this fence on his own. So I think he probably thought it was going take a Saturday or two get that done.

It ended up taking us six Saturdays and I'll never forget. I was out there cutting the wood together. And my mom, he actually had my mom mixing the cement in the wheelbarrow.

He was digging the, or I was digging the holes for the posts and he was sticking them in. And I learned a lot about my dad during those six weekends. The first was that my dad is extraordinarily cheap. He is as cheap a human being as you've ever met.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Let's talk about this and a lot more. Joining us from Des Moines for our "Strategy Session," a pair of CNN political contributors, Republican strategist, Mary Matalin and Democratic strategist, Donna Brazile.

Mary, first to you. Getting the kids out there, humanizing these candidates. That's always effective, isn't it?

MARY MATALIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: It's hugely effective. Meeting people here in Des Moines there are friends of the Bush kids from the 1980 campaign, so there are a force. They cover more territory.

But there is nothing that can express what the essence, the soul of a candidate more than their families starting with their wife. The kids, fair or unfair, you're judged by your product even though any parent would tell you. Your kids don't listen to you. But they turn out good, you can get the credit.

BLITZER: A wife or a spouse, Donna, can really be effective. Ann Romney, for example, she's been very visible over the last several days. But looking ahead, Michelle Obama, she's going to be pretty active on the campaign trail and presumably she'll be pretty effective as well.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: There's no question that a candidate's spouse, their kids, even their mother. Back in the 1988 cycle, Dick Gephard's mom would come up here and campaign on his behalf.

Of course, we won the caucus that year, but they help to humanize the campaign, to spread the message and you know, voters in the day, they love personal contact. They like to meet the candidate because tonight, when they stand up and those precincts caucuses and declare their support.

They want to say, I met Mitt Romney's kid or I talked to Ron Paul. This is a very personal exercise. They really want to talk about the candidate they've gotten to know over the last couple of months.

BLITZER: Mary, put on your strategist's hat for a second. Is it a problem for the president that all the attention really in the political world is on the Republicans right now? He's sort of out of it at least right now.

MATALIN: No. The president of the United States is never out of it and if you listen to all of the candidates, they were all pivoting to the president. The RNC put out a great thing today, a video.

Failed promises and they have their special Iowa edition, but as this thing unfolds, the paradox is the candidates do better when they're making the contrast with Obama.

Rather than each of their competitors, so it will keep going, moving towards being against Obama and less about against each other. He's never out of it is the short answer.

BLITZER: No, of course, he's never out of it, but certainly not as visible as some of these Republican candidates, Donna, right now. BRAZILE: Well, I'm sure the president is delighted that he's not in this circus of candidates. Look, the Democrats have eight campaign offices all across the state.

When the Republicans leave tomorrow morning, the Democrats will still be here. We're going to campaign throughout the next couple of months. President Obama will win this state in the general election.

Volunteers are here. Not only on the ground from the state of Iowa, but they're here from other states to ensure we got our votes tonight as well. We got our precinct caucus book, Wolf, and I can tell you this much. The Democrats are ready for victory here in November of 2012.

MATALIN: We'll see, Wolf.

BLITZER: Are you just challenging Donna to a $10,000 bet?

MATALIN: No, we don't bet. We'll do gumbo.

BRAZILE: We'll go to Sunday school together.

BLITZER: Much better than $10,000. All right, ladies, thanks very much.

BRAZILE: Amen.

BLITZER: We'll have a check of the day's other top stories that's coming up next. Then, social conservatives in tonight's Iowa caucuses, what should we expect? Will they back Rick Santorum? Our own John King is standing by live.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A deadly day in southern Afghanistan, Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Lisa, what do you have?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there, Wolf. Well, troops patrolled the streets of Kandahar in the wake of three explosions across the city. They killed at least 14 people and injured dozens more.

The first was an IED blast that injured no one, but when people gathered, a suicide bomber on a motorcycle blew himself up near the crowd killing nine people.

An earlier suicide bomber on a motorcycle killed five people at a police check point. So far no one has claimed responsibility.

And U.S. officials are rejecting a warning from Iran and another threat that it could close the Strait of Hormuz. Iran warned the U.S. today not to send this aircraft carrier, the USS John C. Stennis back to the Persian Gulf region.

The U.S. Navy moved the Stennis to the North Arabian Sea last week during Iranian naval exercises. After Iran's statement, the Pentagon said deployment in the region will continue as it has for decades.

And a city spokesman in West Palm Beach, Florida, says initial tests were inconclusive on a white powder in the mail room of state attorney's office. Three mail room workers reported getting sick after exposure to the suspicious powder.

All were taken to a local hospital for treatment. The spokesman said the powder was in an envelope, but he did not say who's name was on it or where it came from.

And Wall Street is kicking off 2012 on a high note. At the closing bell, the Dow Jones Industrial average had jumped over 180 points to close at 12,397.

Today's year opening surge came after a purchasing survey showed U.S. manufacturing activity grew at a faster rate in December. Weekend manufacturing reports also were better than expected in China and India -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Lisa, thank you.

Social conservatives in tonight's caucuses. CNN'S John King, he's standing by with a closer look at what we can expect.

Plus, the battle over President Obama's record is starting to heat up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In just a few hours, Iowa Republicans will gather in about 900 locations, 1,700 precincts all together, to vote for their favorites for the presidential nomination. The state has a strong base of social conservatives, the party supporters and Tea Party supporters, Evangelicals. So what should we be looking for tonight?

Our chief national correspondent, John King is joining us at the magic wall. It's going to be a fascinating look, John.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We're going to learn a lot tonight, Wolf. The first official votes of 2012, what will they tell us? They'll tell us not only who will win Iowa. They'll us who in the Republican coalition is excited, is the party intense?

This is the 2008 map. Watch because it's instructive for tonight. This is where Mitt Romney did very well. The more mainstream moderate part of the Republican Party is over here in the eastern part of the state, Dubuque.

You see Governor Romney also did well out here in the west. This is a much more conservative area. Big test for Governor Romney, can he match this tonight. But look at the big middle here. This is where Mike Huckabee won the states.

Small, rural towns, communities where you find Evangelical voters. This is the big test for Senator Santorum tonight. Can he get the bulk of these voters or will they peel off, some of them voting for Bachmann, some of them voting for Perry, some of them voting for other candidates. That's the big test.

Let's take a look. I want to clear this out. I want to bring you fast forward now to campaign 2012. The map is clear. This will fill in tonight and how it fills in will decide who wins in which constituencies are most powerful. What do I mean by that?

Let's take a look. These are Evangelical voters in Iowa, the darker the color, the stronger the Evangelical presence in that part of the state, down here, up here in the corner, down here in the southeast corner.

So we watch these areas tonight. If Senator Santorum, if his color, you see it here in our map, he's the purple candidate, if these areas are filling in purple, that means Santorum is matching the Huckabee experience of 2008, winning the Christian conservative voters.

That would put him on a path to a stronger performance, perhaps even victory. But the Republican coalition is a little bit more complicated this time. In 2008, we looked for establishment voters and the Evangelical voters to see how they split. The Tea Party is a new presence since that campaign.

So let's take a look. You'll notice some of these areas overlap. Again, remember the key, the darker the area, the higher percentage of voters in that county, in that area that say they identify with the Tea Party.

So you see pockets here, up in the northern part of the state, down here in the southwest corner, a lot of this overlaps with where the Evangelical voters are. So who will come out in the Tea Party in the Republican coalition tonight?

Will we have overall intensity? That's what Republicans hope for if they want to beat Barack Obama next November here, they want to see everybody come out tonight, mainstream conservatives, Evangelicals, Tea Party voters.

The key test though, Wolf, is what pieces of the coalition turn out in higher numbers and then do they coalesce? Do those pieces coalesced around one candidate? That was the Huckabee key back four years ago when he coalesced the Evangelical voters here.

Easily defeating by 10 points Governor Romney. Evangelicals vote turnout was way up then. They liked Mike Huckabee. Remember, he was the former preacher, the former Arkansas governor. Are Evangelical voters turning out in big numbers tonight?

If so, probably help Santorum. Is overall turnout high? That's what the Romney campaign is counting on. They want more women, more senior citizens to come out and play.

They think it's the Evangelical numbers are down from four year ago, but overall turnout is up, works out for them. So it's not just how many people vote, Wolf, which pieces of the coalition turn out in bigger numbers.

BLITZER: John's got major interviews coming up at 6 p.m. Eastern. Just to remind our viewers, three big ones tonight right, John?

KING: We have three big ones tonight. We talk to Governor Rick Perry and Senator Rick Santorum just before the voters vote. We'll also get some perspective from a man who just a few weeks ago, he might win the Iowa caucuses. Herman Cain, he's now out of the race, but he'll give us his thoughts on this big night.

BLITZER: John will set the scene for us on our special coverage begins, 7:00 p.m. Eastern. John King, thanks very much.

Meanwhile, duelling adds over President Obama's record. We're taking a closer look at the battle that's only going to get hotter.

Plus, the latest candidate to surge in Iowa, Rick Santorum. You'll hear what he said to CNN's Jim Acosta only a few moments ago.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The most talked about candidate in Iowa isn't even there. It's President Obama. The candidates are all talking about him. They're taking aim at him.

The Republican National Committee has a harsh new strategy to try to defeat him in the fall. Our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is in Des Moines. She's joining us now with details. Jessica, what's going on?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. The Republican National Committee is using all the attention these Iowa caucuses are getting to unveil a harsh new message against President Obama.

They're using his campaign promises from 2008 to argue he hasn't made good on them. Take a look at some of this web video they released just today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: That's why I'm in this race! To offer change that we can believe in! Jobs that pay, health care that's affordable.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Millions of people living in conditions where they go hungry every single day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have 49 million Americans living below the poverty line.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why do you think he deserves to be re-elected?

(END VIDEO CLIP) YELLIN: Now the candidates have clearly gotten the memo. Mitt Romney frequently quotes the president, saying in a 2009 interview that if the economy has not made progress in three years, he's going to be a one-term proposition. And Romney says, well, Mr. President, I'm here to collect and he repeats that line on the trail frequently -- Wolf.

BLITZER: As you know, the president had his own message, right back at you, if you will. What was it?

YELLIN: Right, well, it's hardly an original idea to use a candidate's words against him. And now, so not surprisingly, the president's campaign is using the president's words to argue he has made good on his promises.

We will play for you a bit of new video the president's campaign has leased. And it's all about the president's accomplishments. All over the speech the president delivered when he was here in Iowa the night it began for him in the 2008 caucuses four years ago. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I'll be a president who finally makes health care affordable and available to every single American. I'll be a president who ends the tax breaks for companies that ship our jobs overseas and put a middle class tax cut into the pockets of working Americans who deserve it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: That web video goes on to point out that the president ended the war in Iraq as he promised and has reduced the U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

Republicans have already taken issue with one of those claims and they'll use some of the accomplishments like passing health care reform against the president, but that video, Wolf, is designed to appeal to and energize the president's Democratic base -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So, what are the Democrats doing tonight, Jessica?

YELLIN: The Democrats do have their own caucus tonight and the president will be addressing them through a video that's interactive. He'll even take a few questions from caucus goers -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jessica will be monitoring that for us. Thank you, Jessica. So, will a tough stance on Iran help Rick Santorum in Iowa?

Jack Cafferty is back with the "Cafferty File." Then, Newt Gingrich comes out swinging today's polling. Mitt Romney a liar and Herman Cain never made it to the Iowa caucuses, but he has a lot to say about tonight's contest. He speaks to our own John King. We'll check in with him.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Jack's back with the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Wolf, the question this hour is, will Rick Santorum's vow to bomb Iran help or hurt him in Iowa?

Carl says, "It will help in Iowa, but hurt him in the real world. Remember, Iowa Republicans aren't your run of the mill human beings. They are super Evangelicals with warmongering tendencies. With them, bomb and bible are synonymous and can cause the same adrenaline rush when either word is spoken out loud."

Tom, "Rick 'The Mad Bomber' Santorum has torpedoed any chance he had in getting the nomination." Gordon in New Jersey writes, "Coming from one who has never served in the military, Santorum's casual bellicosity is disturbing.

I'm sure these remarks are popular among Iowa's dominionists and other magical thinkers, but they ought to scare the hell out of rational Americans. It sounds to me like he's trying to channel Cheney, Rumsfeld and all the other armchair generals who never got any closer to combat than strapping a 45 on their G.I. Joe doll."

Lauren writes, "What an idiot. Why do politicians continue to make such stupid statements while running for office? In any case, the way Iran is behaving, he will get the chance. President Obama will have done it already."

Jenna writes from California, "So, Rick Santorum, a Christian, vows to bomb Iran. How Christian of him." Joy in West Palm Beach in Iowa, "It will probably help him, for a general election, not so much. Maybe he doesn't realize it, but Americans are sick of war and threats of war and talk of war. Besides, aren't we broke? Don't wars cost money?"

Mark in Oklahoma City writes, "I don't know about Iowa, Jack, but it will sure give him a boost in New York and Florida." and Ed in Texas writes, "If it helps him, then God help us."

If you want to read more about this, go to my blog cnn.com/caffertyfile or through our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jack, thank you.