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THE SITUATION ROOM

Romney's Rivals Fight for his Turf; Interview with Reince Preibus; Interview with Rick Santorum; Santorum's Own Family Values; Unlikely Star of Iowa Caucus; Romney Surges In South Carolina; Huge Swings In South Carolina; Race For Second In New Hampshire; Chilling New Twist To Syria Violence; How Much Money Gets Your Vote?; New Belt, New Shoes, And a Real Climb?

Aired January 7, 2012 - 18:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Just three days to go to the next Republican presidential contest in Mitt Romney's backyard. This hour, the state at play in New Hampshire and our new poll from a much tougher ballot round for Romney potentially, at least, South Carolina.

I'll ask the Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus about the bitter primary attacks under way right now. Are the GOP candidates giving a gift to President Obama?

And the Iowa women applauded by our own election team and caucus watchers around the country. Stand by to learn more about Edith and Carolyn, who solved the case of the missing votes.

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

Tuesday's New Hampshire primary is just around the corner. But get this, the dramatic anticipation is building for the Republican presidential candidates. The first southern showdown will take place on January 21st. Our new CNN/Time/ORC Poll is the first snapshot of support in South Carolina, taken after the squeaker in Iowa this past week.

And look at this, Mitt Romney now has an 18 point lead in the State of South Carolina, which wasn't seen necessarily as all that friendly of a place for him. Rick Santorum has shot into number two in South Carolina after his near victory in Iowa. Romney has an even wider lead in New Hampshire, where his closest rival at least right now is Ron Paul. Rick Santorum has gained ground there in New Hampshire as well, his support climbing into the double digits.

CNN's Dan Lothian is joining us now from New Hampshire. He's covering the story for us. What's the latest, Dan?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the latest is that Romney continues to have that strong lead here in the State of New Hampshire. And as you pointed out, Ron Paul right behind him, Rick Santorum, getting a little bump coming out of Iowa. But the number that you can also pay attention to - 15 percent of the voters here still remain undecided. They're still shopping around, trying to figure out which candidate they'll align themselves with.

And as we've been talking to voters and others here in the state, we find two things. First of all, there is that sense that they don't feel overly enthusiastic about the overall field, and secondly, there's a little bit of frustration that the candidates have not been spending enough time here on the ground doing that retail politicking.

Yes, they've been here prior to the Iowa caucuses but some of the voters don't believe they've seen enough of them out there on Main Street. So in these final days, what you will see from the candidates, they'll be out there on the street, trying to shake hands, holding even larger events, town hall meetings trying to make that final pitch to those undecided voters - Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll see how they shake things up in New Hampshire. Dan Lothian on the scene for us. Thank you.

We've also seen some very, very bitter infighting in this Republican primary while President Obama is out there campaigning but he's also doing his day job.

We're joined by the Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus. Reince, thanks very much for coming in.

I want to talk politics in a moment. But I want to get your reaction because on the economics front, the jobs front, the numbers are moving definitely in the right direction on Friday. We saw that 200,000 jobs were created in December. It's moving up, six months in a row, at least 100,000 new jobs created. That's a dramatic improvement. What do you say?

REINCE PRIEBUS, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Well, I mean, the numbers speak for themselves, Wolf. And, you know, personally, and I think in all objectiveness here, they're just not where they need to be, though, Wolf.

I mean, the fact of the matter is, you know, the Chairwoman and Nancy Pelosi were the same people three or four years ago saying that five percent was unacceptable and now they're cheerleading 8.5 percent.

So I'm not dismissing your comment. But what I am telling is that long term unemployment is still a disaster, where we're at today is nowhere near where the president promised that this country would be at. We spent over a trillion dollars trying to stimulate this economy.

And here's the bigger problem. Americans don't feel better off today than they were a few days ago just because the Department of Labor tells us things have ticked just ever so slightly better. The fact is people are hurting out there. This economy is not where it should be and 70 percent of Americans that are polled say that we're on the wrong track in this country. We've got a lot of work to do.

BLITZER: Now, there's no doubt that there's an enormous amount of work that has to be done.

But look at this chart - and I don't know if you will see it, but it shows the unemployment numbers month by month, going into the Obama administration, the last six or seven months of the Bush administration, dramatic, every month, 600,000, 700,000 jobs lost and the first few months of the Obama administration, it continued. But then it starts picking up and then it's in the positive now for all of this past year, as I said over the last six months, at least 100,000 new jobs every month created. That show as pretty dramatic improvement since the president took office.

PRIEBUS: Yes. Well, what you don't see in the numbers, though, Wolf, and I can't see the chart. But I can tell you that what you don't see in the numbers, and I think many astute observers know this is that you're only seeing the percentage of people that are actually looking for work that are reflected in those numbers.

What you don't see are the hundreds of thousands of people that are saying, I'm not even going to look for work, so they're not even actively looking for work and they're not even tracked by the Department of Labor. If you combine the people who are, first of all, looking for work and not finding it, and then you add on to that number the people who have said, look, I can't even find a job. I'm not even going to look for work and the underemployed, we have numbers that are beyond any comprehension here in this country that are going on.

So while those numbers - I'm not - I can't see it, I'm not doubting your actual figures there, but they're only reflective of the amount of people that are actually looking for work.

And let's face it, you know, I think the idea of cheerleading for 8.5 percent unemployment in this country, even of that number I think is a joke. Now, we can agree that it's an uptick, but certainly, I couldn't possibly take it any further than that.

BLITZER: No. Well, obviously, we have to see where they go in the coming months between now and November what impact it will have.

But let me talk politics a little bit, Republican Party politics. And you're the chairman of the Republican Party. As you know, Reince, it's been very bitter over these past few weeks. A few examples, Newt Gingrich calls Mitt Romney a liar. Rick Santorum says Ron Paul is disgusting. Ron Paul says Newt Gingrich is a chicken hawk.

What's going on here among your - these are not Democrats blasting each other. These are Republican presidential candidates. What are you doing about this?

PRIEBUS: Well, you know, listen - you know this maybe even more so than I do, Wolf. I mean, primaries are tough. History shows that tough primaries, usually for the opposition party, I mean, they're usually a good thing. I happen to think the opposite, Wolf.

I think that a tough primary, a little bit of drama, everyone is talking about it, even David Axelrod is talking about our primary, I think it gives us a lot of horsepower. The interest and the intrigue is great. Voter registration, both in Iowa and New Hampshire are out- pacing the Democrats 2 to 1. We've closed registration gaps in both of those states where actually 8,500 votes ahead in New Hampshire.

So what I'm telling you is that although tough primaries can cause some people to wring their hands and be concerned, at least on our side of the aisle, in reality, and the history shows, and you look at Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, tough primaries usually equal winners in American politics. I'm excited about it.

BLITZER: How worried - how worried are you that Ron Paul, if he doesn't get the Republican presidential nomination, might run as a third party candidate, dividing up a lot of that conservative vote, if you will, and could almost certainly guarantee, at least potentially, President Obama's re-election?

PRIEBUS: I'm not worried about it, Wolf. Obviously I have to worry about where we're at on the Republican side here. I think Ron Paul's a good Republican. I know he loves our party. And his son is a great leader in the United States Senate. So I don't see that at all.

I know that he believes that Barack Obama, and I do, too, is squandering the very idea of America, the idea of personal and individual and economic freedom, that this president is flushing down a toilet, and I know he believes that and I know that he is a Republican, and I'm not worried about it at all.

BLITZER: We're just - we're out of time. But economic - he's flushing economic freedom down the toilet. What do you mean by that?

PRIEBUS: Well, what I mean is that when you - when you have a federal government that's on a pathway here under Barack Obama's watch, to spend 42 or 43 cents on every dollar made in America, that's a battle for freedom, that's a battle for freedom between governments insatiable appetite to grow and it's also - and a battle for everyone's individual and economic freedom.

And, you know, we've created a government that is so big, Wolf, that we can't afford it anymore. That's the problem. We have created something that is so big that if we don't get in control of our spending and the size of government we're going to lose our freedom here in this country.

BLITZER: Reince Priebus is the Chairman of the Republican Party. Reince, thanks so much for coming in.

PRIEBUS: Thank you, Wolf. Happy New Year.

BLITZER: Happy New Year to you, too.

And just ahead, brand new poll numbers from the South Carolina. We're going to tell you who's the favorite there.

And all in the family, Rick Santorum says his family brings him strength. Others though are pointing to some controversy. We'll explain. And the Iowa women who became big-time Internet sensations after CNN's all-night caucus conference. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Rick Santorum capped his stunning surge in Iowa with an extraordinary showing in that state finishing second to Mitt Romney by a grand total of eight votes. If not a victory, it was certainly a virtual tie. I spoke to Santorum, right after the votes were counted.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, you know, this is the first step in the process and we're going to be on to New Hampshire. We're going to work hard and compete there.

You know, I'm a little bit behind the curve in the sense that Governor Romney has been spending a lot of money and a lot of time up there, and has been running for six years. But we feel like we can go up there and compete. And we've got a great team on the ground.

We have - my campaign manager is from New Hampshire. He started out as my New Hampshire guy. And so, he knows how to win races. He managed Frank Guinta's campaign up there. And we've got a lot of Frank's organization that was able to win a top congressional seat up there. And we have about 25 state reps already. This is before tonight, who signed up. And they haven't just signed-up, we've got some hard-working state reps up there. And you know that New Hampshire is all about grassroots politics and we feel really good that we're going to climb that ladder just like we did here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And what about John McCain's endorsement, though, of Mitt Romney, which came a few hours after the Iowa results.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

R. SANTORUM: Yes. That's fine. You know, I would have expected that. I'm actually surprised that he hasn't done it earlier.

But, you know, John McCain is a great man, he's someone who it's an honor to serve with. He has served this country and sacrificed more than frankly anybody I've had the privilege to know in any way.

And so I commend Governor Romney for getting his endorsement, but I'm not surprised by it. I mean, you know, John is a more moderate member of the Republican team and I think he fits in with Newt's - excuse me, with Mitt's view of - of the world. You know, I wish him the very best. And, again, I have nothing but respect for John McCain.

You know, look, people are going to make -- John McCain is not paying me back. I mean, John McCain is doing what he thinks is right for the country. And I respect that. He's always done what he think is right for the country. And I respect that with him. I've had my disagreements with John McCain over the years and I'm sure I will in the future. But John is a patriot. John will do what he thinks is right. And I commend him and certainly encourage him to do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Santorum made family values a key theme as he doggedly campaigned for months in Iowa and it was a key them as he enjoyed the rewards of his hard work after the caucus votes were counted.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

R. SANTORUM: Six of my kids are up here, Elizabeth, John, Daniel, Sarah Maria, Peter and Patrick.

They have not seen much of their dad over the past several months. Yet, they have stood by me every step of the way, encouraged me and loved me unconditionally.

There's another little girl who is not here tonight. She is with a little buddy. She's our little angel. That's Isabella Maria. Isabella Maria, we don't take her out in crowds, she has a disability.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Brian Todd has been taking a closer look into Senator Santorum's own compelling family story. Brian, tell our viewers what you're finding out.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, that family story has now become a huge part of the campaign narrative. It is a story of a family that has drawn controversy in recent days, but also a real volume of compassion, especially when they speak of their youngest member.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): In the glow of his dazzling performance in Iowa, Rick Santorum speaks of the strength he's gotten from his family. The six children with him and one absent, who he calls their little angel.

R. SANTORUM: She has a disability that has a - according to the records, the statistics, has a one percent chance of survival after one year. She is 3-1/2 years old.

TODD: That's Bella, Isabella Maria Santorum, born with a genetic disorder called Trisomy 18. It's a chromosomal defect that causes brain damage. The odds have been against her from the start. And sometimes with his wife, Karen, weeping alongside him, Rick Santorum has spoken of fighting for Bella and children like her who he says are on the margins of life.

R. SANTORUM: She is the most able (ph) of all of my children because she is pure love. She is a little girl who shouldn't be here.

TODD: Dan Santorum, Rick's younger brother says the family often has to leave Bella at home while they're on campaign travel, a painful ordeal.

(on camera): How challenging has it been for them to care for Bella during the rigors of the campaign?

DAN SANTORUM, RICK SANTORUM'S BROTHER: As difficult as it is when Bella is healthy, but when she develops pneumonia which she's susceptible to, it's very difficult. Because to see your child just gasping for air is not pleasant. It's heartbreaking.

TODD (voice-over): Dan says Karen Santorum, a former Neonatal Intensive Care nurse often has to treat Bella with a nebulizer, an inhalant device.

(on camera): While they've spoken passionately about their daughter Bella on the campaign trail, the Santorums who are devout Catholics have also had to defend their actions regarding another child they had in the mid-90s.

(voice-over): A boy named Gabriel who died only two hours after he was born. Karen Santorum wrote in a book that she and her husband took the deceased child home, slept with him and showed him to their other children who were then very young.

Liberal pundit Alan Colmes said on FOX News Channel voters wouldn't respond well to that.

ALAN COLMES, LIBERAL RADIO HOST: Once they get a load of some of the crazy things he's said and done, like taking his two-hour-old baby who died right after childbirth home and played with it for a couple of hours so his other children would know that the child was real.

TODD: Rick Santorum addressed why they brought the child home.

R. SANTORUM: It was so important to recognize for the family, to recognize the life of that child, and for all the children to know they had a brother and sister. And -

TODD: Colmes later apologized. I asked Dan Santorum if that episode traumatized Rick's other children.

D. SANTORUM: Not at all. I mean, if you know Rick's family, being as close as they are, very loving family, they needed that. And Rick and Karen did the right thing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Others who know Rick Santorum say those episodes have given him strength on the trail and that they'll help him with evangelicals and other conservatives so crucial in the GOP primaries. As one of his friends told me, he genuinely walks the walk of what he calls his pro- life convictions and that will earn the voter's respect - Wolf.

BLITZER: Pretty compelling stories you got over that. All right, Brian, thanks very, very much.

They got out of bed in the middle of the night in Iowa. Now, Edith and Carolyn are famous. We're going to show you how they helped all of us clear up some caucus confusion.

Plus, outrageous amounts of campaign cash. We're now on track for a billion - with a B, a billion dollar race for the White House.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Some rather unlikely stars emerged from this week's Iowa caucuses. Their names - Edith and Carolyn and they were one of the highlights of our caucus coverage.

Lisa Sylvester is here with more on this part of the story. These ladies, they were pretty amazing.

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They certainly were, Wolf. And now, they are big-time stars of YouTube and Twitter.

Carolyn and Edith, two charming women, who provided the best moments on Iowa caucus night.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER (voice-over): It was the closest GOP caucus ever, a nail biter.

BLITZER: RICK Santorum, look at this, he's 13 votes ahead of Mitt Romney.

SYLVESTER: One minute Rick Santorum up, five minutes later, it was Mitt Romney.

BLITZER: Mitt Romney is 13 votes ahead of Rick Santorum.

SYLVESTER: On and on throughout the night.

BLITZER: OMG. Look at this. Look what's going on. One vote.

SYLVESTER: It finally came down to Ward Two, Precinct Two in Clinton County, Iowa, midnight and no results yet. Carolyn Tallett heads the Clinton County Republican Women's Club.

CAROLYN TALLETT, CLINTON COUNTY REPUBLICAN WOMEN'S CLUB (via telephone): It's late here, they were in bed and the chair was also in bed. And so -

BLITZER: So what you're saying - what you're saying is -

TALLETT: -- they needed the information so I came to Edith's home and pounded on the door and woke her up.

SYLVESTER: That would be Edith Pfeffer, the Clinton County, Iowa Republican Women's Chairwoman. Pfeffer says she reported the numbers to the State GOP offices much earlier in the night, but there was some kind of a glitch and the State Office still had not received them.

CNN was able to get her on the phone where she officially called the election. JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Who won?

EDITH PFEFFER, CLINTON COUNTY REPUBLICAN WOMEN'S CLUB CHAIRWOMAN (via telephone): Mitt Romney won with 51 votes. Rick Santorum and Ron Paul tied with 33 votes each.

KING: So that's 51 to 33. If this is the missing precinct, Wolf -

BLITZER: Yes.

KING: -- add it up there, Mitt Romney wins.

SYLVESTER: And as John King did a little quick math, Edith showed off her feisty size at 2:00 A.M.

KING: If this is what's missing, and we need the State Central Committee to clear this up, but the numbers we're receiving from the state do not match the numbers we just received from the County chairwoman right here in Clinton County. If these are the final numbers -

PFEFFER: What do you mean the numbers don't match?

BLITZER: Well, I'll explain it - I'll explain it to you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You do go ahead and explain it.

BLITZER: It looks like the math that we got from Edith and Carolyn, our ladies in Clinton County, Anderson, who would have thought -

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That was the best live phone call ever.

BLITZER: That was it. Edith Pfeffer and Carolyn, you know, they knew what they were talking about.

SYLVESTER: Edith and Carolyn started blowing up on Twitter.

STEVE KRAKAUER, CNN SENIOR DIGITAL PRODUCER: They took the Twitter- verse and really media by storm last night at around 2:30 in the morning when they came to the rescue of everyone and solved the mystery of the missing votes in Iowa.

COOPER: You're trending worldwide apparently on Twitter, I just learned from Ali Velshi. Are you big on the twitter?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not so good. I just got an iPad for Christmas, but I don't know how to work it yet.

KING: Would you ladies like to be the co-anchors of a new CNN program, "CNN AFTER DARK"?

SYLVESTER: Edith and Carolyn joined CNN for a second time of the night after the results were finalized, getting an ovation from CNN's top anchors and contributors.

BLITZER: Guess what, joining us now on the phone, Edith and Carolyn. Let's give them a big applause.

Let me start with Edith. Edith, thank you so much on behalf of all of us, on behalf of the American people, we want to thank you for clearing up this mystery. Tell us how you feel right now, Edith.

PFEFFER: I am just overwhelmed with all of this.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER: And the two have become media superstars, much to the amusement of their kids and grandkids.

Carolyn, in fact, has been referred to as a modern day Paul Revere for her role in driving to Edith's house to get the information that the whole country was waiting for - Wolf.

BLITZER: And so many other. I these two women. They were great.

SYLVESTER: Very, very charming.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Lisa, for that.

Next, New Hampshire, this coming Tuesday, then on to South Carolina, two weeks from - we're going to go inside that critical contest with our Political Analyst, Gloria Borger and Ron Brownstein.

Also, campaign cash, who's spending and how much? We're following the money trail.

Plus, chilling new allegations by a Syrian defector. He says the government in Damascus spent so much money slaughtering its own people, it was forced to make huge budget cuts.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: What happened in Iowa seems to have had a big impact on Republicans in South Carolina. Take another look at our brand new CNN/"Time"/ORC poll.

Mitt Romney's support in the southern primary has shot up to 37 percent from 20 percent last month. Rick Santorum now is in second place with 19 percent, climbing his way out of single digits. Newt Gingrich is a close third but his way, way down from the big lead he held in December.

CNN's David Mattingly is joining us now from South Carolina. Set the scene there for us, because right after New Hampshire, New Hampshire is on Tuesday, all eyes will certainly be on South Carolina.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And what a difference a month makes, if I was standing here the first week of December, we would have been talking how great Newt Gingrich was doing, what a commanding lead he had in the Republican pack at that time.

It just shows you how quickly things are changing after Iowa and soon after New Hampshire. Mitt Romney is now at the top, doing well among conservatives here. This is a huge conservative test for the entire field.

Mitt Romney with these poll results showing he's appealing to conservatives as well as to Born-Again Christians, to Evangelicals, almost across the board.

I spent a lot of time the last couple of days, talking to evangelical voters and they were telling me that they were looking at the field and they're seeing that all of the candidates here are saying all the things they want to hear when it comes to their positions on gay marriage and abortion but they're also looking for someone who has electability.

So they're not only casting their vote for a Republican candidate, they're trying to cast a vote for someone they believe will beat President Obama in November. These poll results suggest to you is that with a couple weeks to go, Mitt Romney might be the person benefitting from that point of view.

But at the same time, observers here are telling me that when you have that kind of thinking going into the voting here, that the support right now could be considered soft, particularly for a frontrunner. So with two weeks to go, it still could be anyone's race. What I think some of our poll results showing a lot of people here still possibly willing to change their minds before they go to the polls -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You make an excellent point on that. David, thanks very much. Let's dig a little bit deeper right now with our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger and our senior political analyst, Ron Brownstein of the "National Journal."

Let's dig a little bit dip deeper. Look at the numbers in December and now, and obviously what jumps up at me, Romney went from 20 percent to 37 percent. Santorum from 4 percent to 19 percent. Gingrich collapsed from 43 percent to 18.

Ron Paul, he's doubled from 6 to 12 percent. Rick Perry collapsed as well, didn't have much to begin with, 8 to 5 percent. Here has the question. And I'll start with you Gloria, everyone assumes on that on Tuesday, Mitt Romney will win in New Hampshire where you and Ron are right now. If he goes and then wins in South Carolina, is it over?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think you'd have to say it is. I mean, if he wins handily here in New Hampshire and his opponents are trying to keep that margin, down but he's still expected to win.

And then he goes to South Carolina, where he's got the support of the governor and he looks like he's doing well, you know, nothing succeeds like success, Wolf.

If he wins South Carolina, you know, in modern history, no republican has been nominated without winning South Carolina. You'd have to say, with his resources as he heads into Florida, a very big diverse state, Romney could have it locked up after Florida.

BLITZER: Yes. He's been campaigning this week in South Carolina with John McCain who won the state, the Republican primary four years ago. But a lot more important, Ron, is probably Nikki Haley, the governor of South Carolina, someone very supported by the Tea Party Movement. How important is that for Mitt Romney?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, by the way, not only is he campaigning in South Carolina, he's already advertising on television in Florida, which may be as significant a reflection of the financial advantage that Gloria talked about.

Look, every, as Gloria suggested, every contested Republican race since 1980, there have been five of them have followed the same pattern. One candidate won in Iowa and a different candidate won New Hampshire and one of the two won South Carolina and that person was the nominee.

Romney is in position potentially given his strength here to do what no non-incumbent president has done in the Republican side under this modern system, which is win Iowa and New Hampshire. He then can go on into South Carolina.

And your poll shows how much the effect is, how profound the effect is on the states down the calendar, once states start voting, I mean, you see how much he moves up not only with natural constituency, college graduates, non-Evangelicals, non-Tea Party.

But he's also leading among self identified Born-Again Christians. He only got 11 percent of those votes in South Carolina last time. He's now at 35.

It really underscores the urgency for the conservatives or skeptical of Romney of finding a way to kind of unify that vote against him. Because as Gloria says, I think if he wins South Carolina, he's in a position to win big in Florida and it's hard to see where anybody else goes from that.

BORGER: Well, you know, and the internals of this poll look very different from Iowa. You know, you have Mitt Romney doing better with Tea Party, Mitt Romney doing better with conservatives.

What this tells me is that voters in South Carolina may be saying, you know what, we want to look for somebody who's electable, who can take on Barack Obama, and maybe they're coming to that decision that it's Mitt Romney.

BLITZER: One cautionary note when I look at the poll, 49 percent say they still might change their minds over the course of the next two weeks before the South Carolina primary. So they're still open to changing their mind potentially.

BROWNSTEIN: That is important to note because, you know, we really have not seen to a remarkable extent, Mitt Romney has avoided the crossfire even though he's the frontrunner. I mean, the candidates have mostly -- the people chasing him have mostly been going after each other.

Whether it's Rick Perry or Rick Santorum or Ron Paul calling Newt Gingrich a chicken hawk, you are beginning to see I think inexorably more focus on Mitt Romney and there is an audience theoretically in South Carolina particularly that large block of Evangelical Christians, 60 percent of the electorate in 2008.

They could be open to it, but there is one caveat there, which is that in South Carolina, even the Evangelical Christians have been more pragmatic voters and less ideological than they have elsewhere. Although it's a conservative state, it has really functioned as the firewall state for establishment candidate in most races.

BLITZER: And one note about New Hampshire, as we take a look at New Hampshire right now, coming in second potentially, Gloria, could be important. Who comes in second?

BORGER: Well, at this point, I think it could be Ron Paul. What's interesting is that Ron Paul attracts independent voters, as he did in Iowa, and independents, as you know, Wolf, can vote in the New Hampshire primary.

It depends how many of those voters turn out. Some of them are very young, some are anti-war and they would be attracted to Ron Paul here. I think what all of the candidates are trying to do is take Romney down from the stratosphere, from the 40 percent level.

And if they can split the vote and get him down where he normally is, in the 25 range, then they'll be able to say that he's a weak frontrunner. That's, I think, the best they can hope for.

BLITZER: Gloria and Ron, guys, thanks very much. So how much is your vote worth? Backed by anything goes "Super PACs," the candidates are ready to spend their way into your hearts.

And the shocking cost of the slaughter in Syria. A government defector say the regime is spending so much on its brutal crackdown, it's running out of money.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A chilling new development in Syria's bloody domestic conflict, as a suicide bombing takes place right in the very heart of Damascus leaving dozens of people dead and many more wounded.

CNN's Arwa Damon is following all these developments for us from Beirut. Arwa, you filed an extraordinary report on a Syrian government defector on an inside review of the regime's brutal crackdown. I want to play this report for our viewers. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the Syrian capital, the Defense Ministry is the nerve center of the regime's efforts to stamp out unrest. MOHAMED SULEIMAN AL-HAMAD, SYRIAN GOVERNMENT DEFECTOR (through translator): My office is on the 12th floor of the Ministry of Defense.

DAMON: Mohamed Suleiman Al-Hamad worked at the ministry for years. His official I.D. describes him as a financial inspector. Not part of the regime's inner circle, but in a position to see the wheels of repression at work.

AL-HAMAD: During protests in Damascus, armed gangs filled the green public transport buses and dispatched from our offices flanked by four-wheel drive vehicles, filled with weapons.

DAMON: And those they didn't kill, they brought back.

AL-HAMAD: On a daily basis, I used to see them bringing in blindfolded and handcuffed detainees on buses. They were kept in underground prisons. Some even built under streets.

DAMON: And he makes this chilling allegation.

AL-HAMAD: What's more horrific is the intelligence vans carrying the red insignificant labeled Red Crescent drive through the protests as ambulances and fire at the protesters.

DAMON: Al-Hamad said he oversaw spending at the Defense Ministry. He tells CNN that the regime hired hitmen paying them $100 a day. It spent so much on the security crackdown that the budgets of other ministries had to be cut by a third. Al-Hamad said for a while he hoped there would be compromise.

AL-HAMAD: We were hoping the killing would stop and the regime would understand that the revolution will win and maybe find a way to appease the people. There was no hope.

DAMON: As a climate of fear took hold, he decided to get out.

AL-HAMAD: So I traveled to Egypt through the airport normally with the excuse of registering my son in college in Egypt. When the rest of my family followed me, I announced my defection in protest of what is happening in Syria.

DAMON: Much of the carnage he blames on the intelligence services and armed gangs, not regular troops.

AL-HAMAD: Bashar Al-Assad is no longer able to control these human monsters.

DAMON: Two weeks after he fled Syria, Al-Hamad has this message for the outside world.

AL-HAMAD: We have received a phase of genocide and this can't be tolerated under any circumstances.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: Arwa is with us. He talks about genocide. But on Friday, we saw another suicide bombing right at the heart of Damascus, the capital. Give us a sense of what's going on.

DAMON: Well, that particular bombing, the government is blaming on a terrorist suicide bomber. It took place at a traffic stoplight. The casualties were mostly civilian. There was according to one activist, a police station nearby. Let's remember the Syrian government from the onset said it's targeting armed gangs and activists are saying this particular bombing was carried out by the government itself to discredit the opposition.

And also to try to deceive the Arab League observers that have been in country for around two weeks. And activists are saying this particular neighborhood was targeted because it is one of the few central Damascus neighborhoods where activists have been going out on a daily basis.

The government wanting to make multiple points here, but again, using another strategy to get people off the streets. That's what activists are saying and the government says it's after armed gangs.

BLITZER: The bloody violence continues and more suicide bombings there as well. Here's the question, only a few weeks after all U.S. troops have left Iraq, is that country potentially right now on the verge of a civil war?

DAMON: It almost certainly seems like the government is on the verge of crumbling apart on various fracture lines whether it's defined as Sunni, Shia, Kurd or whether it's even within each of those sect and ethnicities. That's the big danger that Iraq is in.

Because everybody very well knows that as long as there is political instability in that country, there is going to be violence. I can tell you, Wolf, there are great concerns amongst many Iraqis who have helplessly been bearing the brunt of violence that they could be moving towards a bloody, bloody sectarian war.

No one wants to see that happen. When you look to the politics and politicians inabilities to come to any sort of agreements and various arguments that are taking place, the disputes, the Sunni-backed block that has walked out of parliament and cabinet.

The Sunni vice president who has accusations of running terrorist gangs levelled against him who is now hiding up in the Kurdish north, as an ordinary Iraqi, it does not give you much hope about your future -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Arwa Damon watching all of this unfold. It looks like it's going from bad to worse in Iraq and Syria. We'll stay in touch. Thank you.

Tens of millions of dollars the Republican candidates are hauling it in, but how far does money really go in winning an election?

Is it real or is it fake? The answer may surprise you. Jeanne Moos talks to the woman behind this dizzying rock-climbing ad.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The Beatles sang "Money Can't Buy Me Love," but can the same be said for votes? Republican presidential candidates are already finding out.

CNN's Mary Snow has been doing some of the math for us. Mary, what do you see?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know, the Iowa results raised questions about the money in this race, with Rick Santorum operating on a practically shoe string budget losing by only eight votes to Mitt Romney.

But a closer look at spending by outside group shows he was helped not only by supporters, but by money not spent targeting him.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): Rick Santorum is blanketing New Hampshire with a $2 million boost. Money his campaign says raised in the 48 hours after his razor-thin second place finish to Mitt Romney in the Iowa caucuses.

Still, his cash pales in comparison to camp Romney, which is expected to have raised $20 million in this past quarter alone. In Iowa, Santorum trailed his Republican contenders in cash flow, but instead invested in his ground game, campaigning in each of the state's 99 counties. He also got some late help from outside groups.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rick Santorum is ready to take on Barack Obama.

SNOW: "Super PACs," groups that have no limits on spending, but more than $600,000 in ads touting Santorum in the final days leading up to the caucuses.

That's according to the watch dog group the Sunlight Foundation. The group's Bill Allison says Santorum also benefited from the lack of money spent targeting him in negative ads.

BILL ALLISON, SUNLIGHT FOUNDATION: And Santorum did kind of squeak through. I mean, in a sense, he was the last man standing in the carousel of candidates other than Mitt Romney to get popular support in Iowa.

SNOW: Newt Gingrich had been leading the polls until a barrage of negative ads deflated that lead. The Sunlight Foundation reports "Super PACs" have spent $13.1 million so far, groups supporting Mitt Romney make up one-third of them.

Also high on the list were backers supporting Rick Perry, but as political watcher Stuart Rothenberg points out, money only goes so far.

STUART ROTHENBERG, THE ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT: He didn't seem smart enough, knowledgeable enough, serious enough, and that proves an important rule. Money can get you attention and visibility and put you before the public, but the candidate has to sell himself or herself and he just didn't do it.

SNOW: Candidates have plenty of selling to do. And with nine months until November, it will likely result in unprecedented spending.

ALLISON: Outside groups spent about four and a half times more in 2010 than 2006. I'm not saying we'll see that with presidential candidates, but if we do see that same kind of explosion, you can be looking at about $1.2 billion spent by outside groups to influence the election.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Wolf, that eye-popping estimate of potentially, just an estimate, $1.2 billion spent on campaigns doesn't even include spending by candidates and political parties.

BLITZER: Huge, huge number. Mary, thank you.

All right, here is a warning to all of you. It might make you dizzy. Jeanne Moos takes a look at a rock climbing commercial that's got everyone talking. But here's the question, is it real, or is it fake?

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BLITZER: You've probably seen the ad, a woman climbing a terrifyingly high rock formation. But here's the question, is it real or is it fake? CNN's Jeanne Moos finds out.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): These days when seeing is no longer believing maybe you've seen this commercial and wondered if you can believe what you see.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I used my Citi Thank You card to pick up some accessories, a new belt, some nylons, and what girl wouldn't need new shoes. I flew us to the rock I really had in mind.

MOOS: The reaction online has been -- this can't be real.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, it's real.

MOOS: Thank you for making viewers physically dizzy and sick. I just can't help getting wiggy when she gets to the top and the camera angle is pointed at her feet and all you can see it imminent death.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is actually not very technically difficult.

MOOS: This is a rock formation called ancient art near Moab, Utah. But who is that hot ad girl?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I had a camera on my helmet. So it is me like looking out my feet as I walk. MOOS: The feet belong to Katie Brown. She became one of the top female climbers after she began competing at the age of 15. Citibank hired her and Alex Arnold to do the commercial.

You might recognize Alex from the jaw dropping piece "60 Minutes" did on him. Alex is famous for free soloing, climbing incredible rock walls without ropes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is no adrenalin rush. Like if I get a rush, something's gone horribly wrong.

MOOS: In the Citibank commercial, the two climbers were using ropes, no one fell. Though Katie says she had a few scary falls. Like this one caught by photographer, Carlos Mason.

Viewers of the commercial are almost as curious about the lyrics to the song. Is it "Somebody Likes Potatoes"? Somebody lego my ego. No, a band called LP is singing.

You got to give Katie credit for being honest about it felt up there at the tippy top.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a little intimidating.

MOOS: The spot's even been parodied by someone using footage from a Swedish diaper commercial. That high up, who wouldn't need a diaper. Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: That does it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Please be sure to join us every weekday from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. right here on CNN and at this time, every day on CNN International. The news continues next on CNN.