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Romney Now the Runaway Favorite?; Interview With Texas Congressman Ron Paul; Republican Presidential Candidates Set New Hampshire Debate

Aired January 6, 2012 - 18:00   ET


JOHN KING, HOST: Good evening, everyone. I'm John King reporting live tonight from Martha's Exchange in Nashua, New Hampshire, four days now until the nation's leadoff presidential primary, and tonight, the stakes of that vote have escalated and dramatically so.

New numbers now suggesting Mitt Romney could open the race with back- to-back-to-back wins, which would make him the runaway Republican favorite.

Ron Paul is among those who warn nominating Romney would be a disaster for the GOP. Congressman Paul joins us tonight for a revealing conversation about his goals.

Plus, the U.S. Navy, get this, comes to the rescue of 13 sailors being held captive by Somali pirates in the Straits of Hormuz and draws the fury of the Iranian military.

Up first tonight, the enormous stakes of New Hampshire's presidential primary. Remember, it was in this state the Hillary Clinton comeback four years ago sent the Democratic race into the historic Obama/Clinton marathon.

Well, tonight, startling new numbers suggesting former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney could all but lock up this cycle's Republican race this month with a one, two, three punch. His Iowa victory was by a mere eight points, but consider this. A new WMUR poll just out tonight here in New Hampshire has Romney leading with 44 percent, Ron Paul at a distant second at 20 percent, Rick Santorum, Gingrich tied for third with 8 percent, Governor Jon Huntsman just one point behind them at 7 percent.

And the race moves next to South Carolina and this is eye-popping. New CNN/"TIME"/ORC polling shows Governor Romney leading 37 percent, a nearly 2-1 lead over the second-place Rick Santorum. Governor Romney is in the driver's seat and he knows it.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He not only wasted government money. He made it more difficult for entrepreneurs and innovators to come up with the new ideas in the future. This president doesn't understand how this economy works. It's time to get a president who does.


ROMNEY: This election -- this election is about the soul of America, folks.


KING: Let's crunch these dramatic numbers and their big meaning with "TIME" deputy Washington bureau chief Michael Crowley.

Michael, let's start here in New Hampshire before we move on to the big South Carolina numbers. The WMUR poll out tonight, they vote in just four days, Romney 44, Ron Paul 20, Santorum and Gingrich at 8 percent. Is the goal in these big weekend debates -- they can't assume they are going to beat him. How low do they need to knock Romney down?

MICHAEL CROWLEY, DEPUTY BUREAU CHIEF, "TIME": Well, a peg or two from where he is now.

And the remarkable thing, John, is that they also need to lift themselves up. I'm struck at how -- just low Santorum's number is. He got such a boost out of Iowa, this surprise dramatic win, tons of free media, people talking about how he gave this great speech afterwards -- 8 percent, I mean, he may be up from where he was, but it's still pretty weak.

These guys and Newt also, they really have to rise a lot. Also note that Huntsman is not moving in that poll. It's just great news for Romney all around, terrible news for the other guys.

KING: And assuming Romney -- look, he was the former governor of Massachusetts, he owns a vacation home here, he has campaigned here for six years -- assuming he can stay above 40 percent or in this ballpark, this has been a momentum race. Even though the Iowa -- win was eight votes, if he then wins New Hampshire, he moves on to South Carolina, and our numbers there tonight, the CNN/"TIME"/ORC polling are stunning, Romney at 37 percent, up from 20 in December.

Santorum did get a big bounce there, evangelicals rallying to his side. He's at 19, and that's up from 4 percent a month ago. Gingrich, though, Michael, a 25-point tumble, a 25-point tumble, Gingrich now at 18 percent, down from 43 percent.

A lot of people will say, wow, this is about delegates. But if Romney can do Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, can anyone stop him?

CROWLEY: No. If Romney can do those three, it's like he has gone from the little red caboose to high-speed rail. And I don't want to be standing in front of that train. I don't think anyone does.

And the problem for his rivals is compounded by the way the field is splintered. So maybe if you had Santorum trying to hold the line, present himself as the anti-Romney guy or if it was just Newt, one of those guys could make a stand, particularly in South Carolina, a conservative Southern state. You have got the two of them down there splitting up the vote, no sign that one is going to defer to the other. I just don't see how they turn it around, with the one caveat that, in 2008, we were all saying Hillary Clinton is going to win in New Hampshire and how is Barack Obama going to recover? It did not go according to script. So that is the big asterisk here.

KING: It is the big asterisk here. You have scrubbed the numbers very closely. Anything, anything, when you look at the subgroups, evangelicals, non-evangelicals, Tea Party voters, anything you look at in the South Carolina voters that, if you're team Romney, you see the opening, the spot you should be nervous about?

CROWLEY: I actually think that Romney's level in South Carolina is surprisingly high. I mean, I think there's really good news across the board for him.

When you look at him pushing 40 percent, I mean, he is, in South Carolina, basically where he is in New Hampshire, which is his home turf, which is his kind of -- what has become his backyard. I was really struck that his support is at that level. He is not just in first place.

He's in a clear, commanding first place, drawing from all directions. I don't want to overstate and things can change, but really this is great news for him across the board.

KING: It certainly is. Michael Crowley is "TIME"'s deputy Washington bureau chief. Michael, appreciate your insights tonight.

Now let's go to South Carolina. South Carolina prides itself as the place Republican nomination battles are decided.

CNN's Peter Hamby live for us in Greenville tonight.

Peter, you know the popular thinking, it has been South Carolina is conservative, a lot of evangelicals, a lost cause for a more pragmatic, moderate conservative like Mitt Romney. So what is behind these dramatic numbers?

PETER HAMBY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, it is starting to look like a lot like the McCain path to victory in '08, where he had a sort of divided conservative field, as we saw in Iowa with Romney this week, where Romney can possibly skate to win the primary.

But, like you said, this state has been perceived for a long time as being this hive of evangelicals in a really conservative state (AUDIO GAP) represent a (AUDIO GAP) cross-section of Republicans, I think, than some of the other early primary states.

Where I am in Greenville, yes, there are a lot of mega-churches, but there's also a lot of international companies. Romney is a business guy. If you go down to the coast, there is a strong military and veteran presence. He was there with John McCain today. Romney is running on a really strong national security platform. You have got a lot of commuters around the Charlotte suburbs, so it's a very, you know, broad cross-section of Republican voters in this state. And as you and Michael just pointed out, Romney is running well among all groups. He's running well among born-again Christians, college grads, downscale voters. He's doing fantastic here and a lot of people in South Carolina thought he was the front-runner coming into this poll, but they were surprised that it was this -- that he was doing this well, John.

KING: Peter Hamby on the ground in Greenville, South Carolina.

South Carolina considers itself the firewall. Peter, thanks for your help tonight.

Today, Newt Gingrich tried to put out a firestorm in the blogosphere, one that started with some remarks at a town hall right here in New Hampshire last night. The former speaker said people deserve jobs, not food stamps, and offered to explain his views to the NAACP.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm prepared, if the NAACP invites me, I will go to their convention and talk about why the African-American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps.


KING: Today, the NAACP president, Benjamin Jealous, suggested that Gingrich has his facts wrong -- quote -- "It is a shame that the former speaker feels that these types of inaccurate, divisive statements are in any way helpful to our country. The majority of people using food stamps are not African-American, and most people using food stamps have a job."

Well, today, a defiant Gingrich rejected claims his remarks were in any way racist.


GINGRICH: For the life of me, I cannot understand why having a conservative Republican who cares about young people having jobs should be seen as such a terrible idea or should be seen as somehow a racist characterization.

I think all young people of every ethnic background should have jobs. I just repeat, read the two paragraphs. I repudiate the kind of grotesque reinterpretation that some people have done.


KING: They're happy at the White House today, but the Republican candidates gave President Obama no credit for today's fairly upbeat report showing the country's unemployment rate going down.

Rick Santorum even claiming Republicans are responsible for the December spurt in job growth. Listen.


RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm very gratified to see that in spite of President Obama's numbers, that the job market is beginning to pick up a little bit. I think there might just be some optimism that maybe Republicans are going to take the White House and maybe that's spurring people to start taking some risks. And I will take that as a reason.


KING: Let's take a closer look at that solid jobs report for December, 200,000 jobs created and the unemployment rate falling to 8.5 percent.

That's the lowest level since February 2009.

CNN business correspondent Alison Kosik has been taking a closer look at the numbers.

Alison, a good showing, but if you dig deep, still some trouble spots, right?


And the way economists see it, John, is that it was a good report, just not good enough. Sure, things are moving in the right direction, they are improving, but that means expectations are rising, too. And these numbers that came out, they didn't really hit it out of the park.

And the way Wall Street sees it, they want to see the economy pick up steam. And then, of course, you look deeper into the report to see why we may not be out of the woods just yet.

You know, economists are concerned that people coming back into the work force are taking lower-paying jobs. And the reality is with that, it doesn't do much for consumer confidence. And then there's the worry that the bump in the number of jobs created was actually because of all that holiday-related hiring.

Now, many of those are temporary positions. We will know for sure in the next few weeks. Now, there is also that cloud from Europe still hanging over evening and worries that it could limit our economic growth this year. So, sure, we have got a lot of weights on the economy still. Nevertheless, that 200,000 number still on the headline looks pretty good -- John.

KING: And we will see if that can be sustained the months ahead.

Alison, if you look through the demographics, one group that stands out though as still having a particularly hard time in this jobs market is African-Americans. What's up there?

KOSIK: Oh, exactly. The unemployment rate didn't budge for African- Americans.

The black unemployment rate, if you look at it in December, was 15.8 percent. It's the same as it was at the start of 2011. You compare that to the rates for whites at 7.5 percent, and you know what? Economists say, unfortunately, it's nothing new. The black unemployment rate has been double that of whites since the government began tracking these figures 40 years ago.

And here's one of the reasons why: education. Fewer blacks have college degrees. But there's good news with some of these numbers at least. The jobs picture for black men is improving, but it is getting worse for black women, and that's because of all these government job cuts that are happening at the federal, state and local levels. Most public sector jobs are actually filled by women and minorities.

And you know what? These job cuts have really picked up steam in the last few year. Almost a quarter million state and local government jobs were lost last year and experts say the bleeding is likely to continue this year -- John.

KING: Alison Kosik live for us on Wall Street, an encouraging report from the White House perspective, but a sober analysis right there, still a long way to go.

Ron Paul brought his campaign to New Hampshire today. And after an initial rally, he sat down with us to talk about his rivals, including Newt Gingrich.


REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: People think he's real, real conservative and hasn't engaged in flip-flopping and spending money. I think we should talk to -- think about it.


KING: And later, the U.S. Navy comes to the rescue of some Iranian sailors being held by pirates.


KING: We're live tonight in Nashua, New Hampshire, Martha's Exchange. Look at it here. It's a bustling restaurant on Main Street in downtown Nashua.

If you look behind me, you might see some tanks. Yes, it's a microbrewery.

Funny we would end up here, isn't it?

It's also a sweet shop. Local artisans make these fabulous sweets, nonpareils, jelly beans, yogurt-covered Craisins. We've got some truffles. These are coming back to the staff back in D.C., courtesy of Laura Bernardini (ph). She's very nice.

We're here in New Hampshire, of course, covering the big political primary. The vote is four days away. Ron Paul's third place finish in Iowa, you know, since he's rising, his poll numbers, well, they make him a target. Lately, his rivals have taken to calling him and his views, especially when it comes to Iran, dangerous.

When the Texas congressman arrived here in New Hampshire this afternoon, he had an answer for those critics.


PAUL: You know, some of our opponents have labeled us. And I just want to talk about that for a minute. They call us dangerous.


PAUL: Boo.

And, you know, in a way, we are, to their empire. That's what we're dangerous to.



KING: Congressman Paul, thank you for your time.

Let's start with the state of the race.

Governor Romney wins narrowly in Iowa. He's well ahead here in New Hampshire. And we have a poll out just tonight that now shows him with a double digit lead in South Carolina.

If he goes 3-0 out of the gate, he's almost impossible to stop, no?

PAUL: It's going to be difficult, but not impossible. I mean it's still only two primaries after the two.

But history shows that if you do that you're in a pretty strong position.

But we haven't had the first primary yet. We've had a caucus. So we have to wait and see what happens on Tuesday so that...

KING: So you have two debates this weekend.

PAUL: Right.

KING: Do you view them as maybe the last opportunity to convince Republicans...

PAUL: In what?

KING: -- Romney is not your guy?

Why -- why would you...

PAUL: In New Ham... KING: -- why would...

PAUL: -- in New Hampshire...

KING: In New Hampshire and maybe beyond. People will be watching this.

Why would you say the wrong guy, Mitt Romney?

PAUL: Well, I don't think he's very Republican when you talk about being a conservative. You know, we put hats on saying he's a flip- flopper and people have called him that all along.

He's been on both sides of most of the issues. And right now, people are looking for somebody that will stick to their guns and -- and not capitulate and go along to get along.

So I don't think he stands out as somebody that will stand firm on conservative principles.

KING: Senator Santorum comes out of Iowa thinking he's the conservative alternative to Romney.

Is he?

PAUL: It depends on how you defend conservative. You know, I -- I'm a conservative. You know, I want to obey the constitution. That's the basis of conservatism. But that doesn't mean I'm a big government guy that wants to run people's personal lives.

I don't understand why conservatives think the more money you spend overseas, the more conservative you are. That doesn't make any sense. And the American people are waking up to this, because it's -- most of the time, it's money down the drain. It contributes to our debt. It hurts our economy.

So I'm a conservative across the board. I believe in small government. Republicans claim they do, but I want smaller government all the way across the board and protect personal liberties as well as getting the government out of running the economy and quit running up these debts.

That's why I proposed a trillion dollar cut in one year.

KING: Speaker Gingrich, in our South Carolina poll, has tumbled 25 points in a month. Your campaign seems to view him as a threat down there. A new mailing from the Paul campaign says this: "Newt Gingrich has a long record of liberal appeasement, flip-flopping on key issues and lobbying for insider millions. I have rarely seen a candidate who represents so much of what is wrong with Washington and what is wrong with our political system.

Is it personal between you and Newt?

You served together for a while. PAUL: You know, probably not, because I have never had a cross word with him. We've been on opposite sides of the political arguments, you know, forever. I mean he worked pretty hard against me in campaigns.

So this is nothing new. But I don't ever remember having a cross word with him.

As a matter of fact, there -- there were times when he knew exactly where I was coming from. He never bothered me when I was in Congress because he didn't think it was worth his time to twist my arm.

So, in a way, I thought that was respect.

But, you know, in -- in politics, if people think he's a real -- real conservative and hasn't engaged in flip-flopping and spending money, I think we should talk to -- think about it.

KING: As you know, you've been a target at these debates, because you're doing well.

PAUL: Right.

KING: Over 20 percent in Iowa. You're polling well here in New Hampshire. And those other guys who want to stay in the race, they need those votes. So they have come after you. And as you mentioned at the rally out here, they call you dangerous, they call you naive, especially when it comes to Iran and your views on the nuclear program. You say it's none of our business.

I want to ask you specifically about the recent events. Iran says it's going to have another round of naval exercises in the Strait of Hormuz next month. It has said it would respond, attack, we believe, if the United States sends an aircraft carrier through those oil shipping lanes to keep them open.

PAUL: Right.

KING: What would a President Paul do right now when Iran saber rattles...

PAUL: Well, I...

KING: -- like that?

PAUL: -- well, I think -- I think they are flexing their muscles, because I don't think they have anything else left. They can't defend themselves very well against America's power. So they're -- they're just hoping that we'll back off from bombing them and destroying their country and starting another war.

So -- but -- but it's not in their interests to start the war. They're trying to avert the war.

So they -- and they close the Straits or -- or attack an American vessel? No way that's -- that's going to happen. But they are verbalizing this because, as a matter of fact, even these sanctions aren't -- aren't wholeheartedly agreed to by the president. And Eastern Europe are quite worried about it. It's going to disrupt oil. Oil jumped up, you know, $4 the other day because of this -- this type of a problem.

So these sanctions are not an answer. I think that's an introduction to a real problem.

So I think they're -- we all do a lot of this talking, but I think they know what's in their best interests and for them to attack one of our vessels or close the Straits under these circumstances, I think it's utterly remote.

KING: We're going to take a quick break.

We'll continue our conservative with Congressman Ron Paul a bit later in the program.

Sir, stand by.


KING: And please stay here for more of that conversation. Among other things we discuss with Congressman Paul his take why he's so popular with young people.


PAUL: Amazing. They want you to follow the rules. You think the student -- that young people don't want to follow the rules, but they want politicians to follow the rules because they -- they suffer abuse if the government runs roughshod over them.


KING: Also, quick action in the case of that Texas teenager who was deported after lying about her name.


KING: Welcome back -- more live from New Hampshire in just a moment.


KING: And coming up here: more of our conversation with Congressman Ron Paul. His presidential campaign accepts donation from some groups that, well, are way outside of the mainstream. Does that bother him?


PAUL: I do not investigate them. There's no way I can do it. It happens to all the campaigns.

You want to go back and check everybody that ever donated to Obama? Maybe there was a communist that donated to him, maybe a socialist.


KING: And next: the word Rick Santorum said most when he was a U.S. senator from Pennsylvania.


KING: This half hour, we take you to Rick Santorum's old stomping ground. Pennsylvania voters tell us what they did for him, why they resoundingly voted him out of the Senate.

Sure, New Hampshire primary next week is on the second vote of the 2012 campaign cycle. But tonight's truth well, it is a painful history lesson for any candidate not named Mitt Romney.

And Charles Barkley just been reminded of something every politician and reporter needs to know. Watch what you say. That microphone, it might be on. And in this case, it was.

Mitt Romney's rivals insist the Republican party is courting disaster if the former Massachusetts governor becomes the nominee. Today, Newt Gingrich has been calling Romney the Massachusetts moderate and the weakest front runner history compared Romney with Michael Dukakis and John Kerry, whose general election campaigns didn't go so well.

CNN's chief political analyst Gloria Borger caught one senator Santorum today and asked him what he thinks.


GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Do you agree with Newt Gingrich when he says that Mitt Romney could be the weakest front- runner in history?

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I -- I'm not a political analyst. I'm a candidate for president.

BORGER: You were one on TV.

SANTORUM: I was. I used to play one on TV, but I don't anymore. And I'm -- I am a candidate for president and I'm going to talk about the things that I want to do for this country and why people should vote for me.

BORGER: You are not taking on Mitt Romney?

SANTORUM: I will take on Mitt Romney, rest assured, and I will take him on the issues. I'm not going to make judgments about his character. I'm not going to make judgments about whether he is going to be weak or strong, I will make the arguments and let people then make decision. I was found out it was the best way. That's what I did with the questions here. Is it right?

I just said there was an article written by -- I can't remember the name of the journalist but the title of the article, my final pitch to Iowa, was ask don't tell, a little spinoff of don't ask, don't tell. But my final pitch to Iowans was asked, don't tell. I'm asking them to lead and be bold.


KING: Senator Santorum there. You know, he's former Pennsylvania senator, known for his conservative opinions so it is no surprise he said abortion more than any other word in the Senate according to the sunlight foundation. That's a nonpartisan foundation.

CNN's Jason Carroll takes us to where Santorum's career began.


JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Those in the state who personally know him --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rick is what Rick is. He tells it s.

CARROLL: Or whether it's here who simply know of him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think he is trying to establish a Christian unity.

CARROLL: You're not likely to find a shortage of strong opinions in Penn hill, Pennsylvania, about Rick Santorum. His number two showing in Iowa, not so surprising to those who remember another race where he unexpectedly did well.

November 1990, as 32-year-old newcomer, Santorum upset the seven-term democrat, his campaign effectively raising questions about the incumbent's residency.

SANTORUM: We worked hard and, you know, that's how we won.

CARROLL: Phil English was one of Santorum's campaign managers.

PHIL ENGLISH, RICK SANTORUM'S CAMPAIGN MANAGER: The Rick Santorum of that time, outspoken, smart, aggressive, and willing to burp the candle at both ends, is essentially the same guy.

CARROLL: Rick Santorum's interest in politics was evidence even while he was a student here at Penn state. He majored in political science. He organized a group of college Republicans. And he was so successful at doing that, he was named coordinate over President Reagan's youth effort here in the state.

When Santorum was a sore more, went to work for state senator Doyle Corman who says even back then, Santorum was nope for expressing his opinions.

SENATOR DOYLE CORMAN, PENNSYLVANIA: If he disagreed with me, he told me. And we would debate it.

JAKE CORMAN, DOYLE CORMAN'S SON: This is a picture of senator Santorum and my parents.

CARROLL: Corman's son, Jake, worked for Santorum and now that Jake Corman is himself a state senator, his unique perspective on Santorum --

JAKE CORMAN: I was set up, right up his alley.

CARROLL: Why is that?

JAKE CORMAN: Well, first of all, he's hard worker. You know, he will -- never outwork Rick Santorum.

CARROLL: But, he has been outworked. In 2006, Santorum lost his re- election bid by 18 points, the largest margin of defeat for any incumbent Republican senator. Ironically, questions about Santorum's residency, whether he lived in Penn hill, Pennsylvania, or Virginia, led to that defeat.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Santorum never lived in our community. So, I wouldn't know what he represents. You know, he acts more like a hypocrite every day.


CARROLL: Also calls him safe cultural conservative and he says that Mitt Romney is the type of conservative that during a time of economic crisis can pull in a broad coalition to capture the White House. And John, that is why he is throwing his support behind Mitt Romney -- John.

KING: And Jason, I knew Congressman English when he was in Washington. He feels Santorum is not strong enough on the economic issues? And you think the social issues overshadowing his campaign? Where does he see the problem?

CARROLL: I think from English's point of view is that what has happened throughout Santorum's career is basically as it has developed has become more known for his views on issues such as abortion, such as gay rights, rather than economic issues.

And according to what English feels, he says this is a time now for a candidate who can speak to the economic issues, who has an economic platform on a national level that people can recognize. And I think that's why he is now throwing his support behind Mitt Romney.

KING: Great look there. Great reporting on the background of the record of Rick Santorum. Jason Carroll. Jason, thank you.

And more now, from our conversation with Congressman Ron Paul. This year, like Barack Obama back in 2008, the Paul candidacy has captured the imagine nation of many young voters. We asked the 79-year-old congressman why.


KING: You are the oldest candidate in the Republican race, yet that the rally we were just at in Nashua, New Hampshire, much like Iowa. You have a room packed, packed with young people, college students. Some people roll their eyes and say, it's because Ron Paul wants to decriminalize drugs. But why are they here?

REP. RON PAUL (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think they know what freedom means and that's what I talk about and they know when I talk about debt, they know they are getting a bad rap on this and they don't like war and they see we have gone into war too often and bear the burden financially as well as young people will be sent over. So, it is a message that I think is instinctively popular with a lot of young people.

People say where did I get my views and when I did develop them? I think when I was born with them but then I was - they were knocked out of me by the establishment, by teachers and government and TV and they teach you. Who knows, you can't be that free.

But young people are very principled. They like people to stand firm and they like the idea of -- amazing. They want you to follow the rules. You think the student -- young people don't want to follow the rules, but they want politicians to follow the rules because they suffer abuse if the government runs rough shod over them and they are very much into privacy. I talk a lot about the internet and they don't want anybody messing with the internet and I identify with them.

KING: Is great to see new voters, young people brought into the process of any political persuasion and that is a great asset for your campaign. On the other end of the spec trouble, you get endorsements from some people and some organizations, whose few views are pretty outlandish and sometimes pretty outrageous.

So, I just want to list a few. American free press endorses you. They market books like the invention of the Jewish people and march of the titans, the history of the white race, Don Black as the director of a white nationalist Web site, storm front, the militia of Montana says people should defend themselves against a new world order. You're comfortable that you get support from people and groups in government?

PAUL: No, no, no. Not comfortable for you making a big point out of it doesn't seem logical. You know one day, I got 46,000 new donors, in one day, on a money bond. And I don't know what these people think and do? All I know is if they come to me and they give me support, they have to endorse what I do and I'm very clear on what I do and I do not investigate them. There's no way I can do t happens to all the campaigns. You want go back and check everybody that ever donated to Obama? Maybe there was a communist that donated to him, maybe a socialist, you know, maybe a big government, maybe the military industrial complex donated to him sew would keep building weapons and run these cars.

So I mean, it's -- it's -- it's something that happens, but yes, I -- I denounce them automatically, I shouldn't even have to because it calls too much attention to it because I emphasize the positive, the things that I believe in and the constitution and individual liberty and a sensible for rip policy. So, that to me is so incidental that I -- I think it deserves a lot less attention.

KING: But sometime if a supporter says they are for you and they claims to be speaking your name, they cause trouble. This isn't about something like this but a New Hampshire supporter of you right now. Is it New Hampshire liberty for Paul? I want you to listen to a little bit. He put up a video on the internet that takes aim as Jon Huntsman. Let's listen a little bit.

KING: You hear the mandarin there the ad says John Huntsman, Manchurian candidate. He was the ambassador to China. What do you say?

PAUL: To me, that raises more questions, already admitted it had wasn't me, so why put it out there and say why do you have to defend this guy? Of course, I disavow him and he shouldn't do it, because you have one out of, you know, how many hundred, couple hundred thousand, 500,000 people, I don't know how many we have, because one does that to bring that up just doesn't seem like, you know, a fair thing to do of course I denounce him. I couldn't even hear, haven't looked at it, but people do that but they do it in all campaigns and that's why it is very unfair and you should help sort it out rather than putting people on the defense and say defend yourself against these bad guys out there. So obviously, I just disavow them and try to go on and do the thing I'm supposed to do.

KING: The thing you're supposed to do is campaign for the nomination. But I want an honest answer. You speak often about the movement. When Ron Paul wakes up in the morning, do you see a path to the nomination or do you see a chance to use this campaign as a platform for a movement that is critically important to you?

PAUL: Why can't I do both? And some people take it out of context because I emphasize the movement and the philosophy in what I've done for all these years. At the same time, I run. I mean I started off that way and was elected 12 times and we are having fairly good success right now.

So yes, it is a path to victory. How easy it is going to be? Obviously, it's not going to be easy. But to say it is one or the other and therefore, I'm discredited because I believe in something. I mean this is why I'm getting support, especially from young percentage is I do believe in something that is why that is one of the main reasons why I get a lot of votes. So, I would say believing in something shouldn't be a distraction as much as a compliment running for office and help from I get votes that doesn't hurt me.

KING: Let me close as this. Because the Republican rules you ran four years ago, you know the rules are different this time. And so, even if you don't win, Ron Paul with the strong showing 20 percent in Iowa, see what New Hampshire and South Carolina do used to be winner take all, don't get that many delegate, if any at all. Now, you get delegates. Is your posture, you hope to win the nomination. I understand that, it was very clear.

But, if you don't, look, I'm getting a big slice, I'm going to stay in for the long haul if I don't win, I'm going to go to the convention. A lot of people make the comparison. You could be like Jesse Jackson was for the Democrats in the 1980s, show up at the convention and say don't ignore my people, we want a speaking role, want to influence the platform. Do you see that?

PAUL: I guess that is a good point, and that sounds like a lot of fun. And also say might be a way for me to promote the things I believe in, and that is a political action. So yes, if we have something to say who knows, they might even have something in the platform that says, maybe we ought to look at the federal reserve and maybe we ought to reconsider and not going to war unless we have a declaration of war, which is very, very popular with the American people.

So, I would say that's one instruction I give others, I will give myself the instruction, we ought to have a little fun in this, too serious, hard work.

KING: Four days left until New Hampshire votes. Congressman, we appreciate you taking a break for us today.

PAUL: Thank you.

KING: Thank you very much.

PAUL: All right.


KING: Sure, the New Hampshire primary in four days is just the second vote of the 2012 cycle but tonight's truth, a painful history lesson for any candidate not named Mitt Romney.

And later, Charles Barkley apparently forgot his microphone was on. Yes, you will hear what he said about people who write his paychecks.


KING: Here is the biggest question in Republican politics tonight. Is Mitt Romney on the verge of inevitability? Foolish to even think such a thing, his rivals would assert, and many of you agree. After all, only Iowa has voted. And Romney has just a measly 176 percent of the delegate, 1.6 percent he would need to officially clinch the nomination.

But here's tonight's truth. Most nomination bats are settled by momentum, not marathon delegate battles, three consecutive victories and Romney's rivals have just dies stop him from beginning the race with those three consecutive victory.

He won Iowa. He is leading here in New Hampshire by 24 points. And in our new polling tonight, shows Governor Romney with a two to one lead in South Carolina. So what you say? Yes, it's true. After South Carolina, only about three percent of the Republican convention delegates will have been selected.

But consider history, in the past 32 years, no Republican incumbent, not an incumbent president, no Republican has won Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. In other words, no Republican in a contested open nomination battle has opened the season 3-0.

One more bit of history, since its inception in 1980, every winner of the South Carolina presidential primary has won the nomination. Locals there like to call it the firewall. Truth is, with New Hampshire voting in four days and South Carolina in 15, governor Romney's rivals are running short of time to change a race that at the moment is stacked exactly, exactly as he would want it.

Here with me to discuss the knoll nation fight, "Washington Post" political reporter Karen Tumulty, national political director and senior political analyst, Ron Brownstein.

If you look at these numbers, he is in the 40s in New Hampshire, Congressman Paul at 20, to 24 points behind. They all assume Romney will win New Hampshire. The question is how far can they try to bring them down?

Are these debates this weekend, Karen, maybe the last opportunity for a Gingrich or a Santorum, not only to assert them but to knock Romney down? I know it sounds ludicrous, so early in the process, but --

KAREN TUMULTY, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: But these moments can matter. I mean, say most famously four years ago, the democratic side, where, you know, New Hampshire voters looked at that debate, looked at everybody kind of ganging up on Hillary Clinton and decided, you know what, we are going to give her a little more running room.

So, I mean, there's always a possibility for that kind of moment. But you're right. The door does seem to be close.

KING: Doesn't seem to be anybody close enough to get them. And the question can they get them down?

RON BROWNSTEIN, EDITORIAL DIRECTOR, NATIONAL JOURNAL: And how they can bring him down? From the established an effective line of argument change the dynamic going forward in South Carolina. The problem is opponents based if the cascading effect or compound interest effect. He is now ahead in South Carolina, some people in the Romney campaign say maybe not quite as much that is poll has it, but still ahead. The only thing that the biggest thing that will happen between now and South Carolina is that he is almost certainly going to win New Hampshire by a big margin. So, you have the effect that will kind reinforce in South Carolina. What comes right after South Carolina? Florida. Where he is the only one spending money.

And again, if he wins each of these states, the only intervening event will be another victory for Romney. They need a change that story line by developing an argument against him.

TUMULTY: One of the best thing also he has going for him though is the fact that all these people are still in the race, still dividing up the vote. KING: But, if you look for -- their argument is the base love him, the base doesn't love him. But if you look at this new South Carolina polling, the CNN time ORC poll, it's stunning. He leads among born- again Christians by 13 points. Those who are not evangelicals he leads 24 points. On tea party Republicans, Romney leads by nine points. Among those identified as conservatives, he's up 15 points. Among Republicans he's up 13 points. Among independents, he's up 22 points.

BROWNSTEIN: The one silver ling in the poll for his opponents is that among the evangelicals and the tea party he's closer to a third of the vote even though he is ahead. He is still at lead and that kind of hauls out the fantasy scenario that if you can consolidate the more conservative voters who are still resisting him, you would have a shot.

But again, you run out of opportunities. South Carolina, as you point out, has picked the winner in each of the past five contested Republican races. Even though it's a conservative state, it has bended more toward the establishment than the conservative candidate.

KING: And you listen to Speaker Gingrich. He is trying to say I'm the conservative alternative to think of Romney if that is a joke. Let's listen.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think we'll do better in New Hampshire than people expect because when you start to describe a Massachusetts moderate and you remind people of his record, then suddenly they go, yes, he's not a conservative. It's a joke for him to call himself a conservative. It's a "Saturday night live" skit.


KING: The speaker keeps making that case. How long can you make it, though, if Romney is beating you? Especially if he's getting around 40 percent and you're getting around 15 percent?

TUMULTY: And direction too. Newt Gingrich is sinking in the polls really, really fast. So this is -- you know, he is starting to look like a product that's passed it's sold by date.

KING: And when you look here in this state, Ron Paul seems to be almost Mitt Romney's best friend. He's taking up a nice chunk of the vote, he's in second place. And all these Republicans who call him out of the mainstream, they're about to lose to him.

BROWNSTEIN: That's right. You know, four years ago John McCain was a plurality nominee. He won the nomination without a majority of the party ever affirmatively saying they wanted him as their - I know only about a third, I believe of self-identified Republicans. The situation is kind of developing for Romney perhaps to follow down that same track where even if you don't have an absolute majority of the party that says yes, he's who I want, as long as you've got Santorum, Gingrich, Paul and Perry, he doesn't need it. And you know, we started the day on starting point, Tim Scott was asked who's a better conservative for the tea party, Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum. He said that's a tough one. That's why this is looking so easy for Mitt Romney right now.

KING: Ron Brownstein, Karen Tumulty, four days until New Hampshire votes. Nice to have your help tonight.

Erin Burnett "OUT FRONT" coming up at the top of the hour. Erin is here with the preview. Erin, how are you?

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST, OUT FRONT: I'm good, John. Interesting hearing you talk about this and the economy, how a lot of candidates are trying to put it front and center, a little bit of an awkward day given the blowout jobs number.

Now, it's all relative. We have a big jobs problem in this country. But John, there is an amazing way of looking at this when we crunched the number that say we are going to share with everyone. And let me just tell you this. What it does is it puts Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama together. We're going to talk about that at the top of the hour and explain exactly what we mean. Why it would be morning in America for Barack Obama.

Also Michelle Parker, a mother in Florida who has been missing since November 17th, two little toddlers, her mother comes on out show tonight with a plea for her daughter and we hope that people will listen to her and hopefully help her out.

All that coming up at the top of the hour. Back to you.

KING: We'll see you in just a couple of minutes, Erin. Thank you.

And ahead here, today's spoof presidential debate that's lighting up the internet.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No lies invited. Sorry, lies. I work alone. For real?


Did Mike Tyson's performance as Herman Cain influence any voters? Stay put, the best moments next.


KING: Welcome back. Kate Bolduan is back with the latest news you need to know right now. Hello again.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there again. Here's one that's not just for the lawyers, everyone. The Obama justice department is changing the decades-old legal definition of rape. For the first time rape will mean any kind of nonconsensual penetration, no matter the gender of the attacker or the victim. In other news, authorities have a warning for southern California's homeless. Stay in groups. Don't sleep in dark secluded areas. There's a serial killer out there. They found similarities in the stabbing deaths of three people over a ten-day span last month.

And you can never say this too much. Oh, we know this so well on television. Be careful any time you're near a microphone, it may just be on. As proof, we give you NBA commentator Charles Barkley talking about life as a pitch man for weight watchers.


CHARLES BARKLEY, NBA COMMENTATOR: I've been on weight watchers for three months. I have to lose two pounds a week. I'm at 38 pounds now. They com and weigh me every two week. I never missed a weigh- in, never going to. I thought this was the greatest game going. Its weight watchers thing is the biggest scam.



BOLDUAN: Now, to be fair Charles Barkley wasn't calling weight watchers a scam, just the fact that he was being paid to lose weight. And Barkley has lost weight. Take a look at this. Here he is before and after. That's significant.

I guess, John, you remember his nickname when he played in the NBA, the round mound of rebound? That's new to me but of course you'll know that and he's not so round anymore, I guess.

KING: You know, I've known Charles for 10, 12 years and he does look a lot better but he's still the same. Sometimes the tongue gets out ahead of the brain. It happens. It happens. He's a funny guy. Alright Kate, stay put. Stay put.

Finally, tonight's moment you may have missed. We are going to help you here. We told a little about this last night. Out friend, Larry King moderated a mock debate among the Republican presidential candidates. Take a peek.


LARRY KING, HOST, LARRY KING LIVE: We give the candidates seven seconds and whoever can mention Ronald Reagan's name the most wins the round! Go!

ALL: Reagan, Reagan, Reagan, Reagan, Reagan, Reagan, Reagan --

LARRY KING: Time's up. And the winner of the Reagan's --


You get the point? How many times? Kate, how many times can you say Ronald Reagan in seven seconds? BOLDUAN: I don't know. But I've got one better for you. You know, last night I asked you who would you have play you in a mock debate? You did not have a good enough answer in my mind.

KING: Yes, you haven't.

BOLDUAN: So, I asked the twitter verse. Here's the top three that I got back today. Will Ferrell, Jimmy Fallon and the man on the $10 bill, good old Alexander Hamilton. Pretty palm prominent figure in U.S. history. So, that's not bad, have I?

KING: Last night, I've got to work on the hair to get that on the Hamilton thing down.

Have a great weekend. Will you Monday. Erin Burnett "OUT FRONT" starts right now.