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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With Rick Santorum; Rick Perry Drops Out, Endorses Gingrich; Newt Gingrich Under Fire
Aired January 19, 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: Just two days before the South Carolina primary and hours before tonight's CNN Southern Republican debate, Rick Perry drops out of the race and throws his support to Newt Gingrich.
And while Gingrich is charging hard in South Carolina, he is also now facing explosive charges from his second wife. She says Gingrich asked her for an open marriage so he could continue an affair with the woman he's married to now.
And Rick Santorum trails his rivals, but a final count in Iowa now shows he actually won there. Could that help him in South Carolina and beyond? I will have an exclusive interview with Rick Santorum this hour.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in Charleston, South Carolina. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
An extraordinary day out on the campaign trail today. Just hours before our CNN Republican debate, only two days before the crucial primary here, the Texas governor, Rick Perry, bowed to reality and bowed out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. RICK PERRY (R), TEXAS: Today I am suspending my campaign and endorsing Newt Gingrich for president of the United States. I believe Newt is a conservative visionary who can transform our country.
We've had our differences, which campaigns will inevitably have, and Newt is not perfect, but who among us is? The fact is, there is forgiveness for those who seek God, and I believe in the power of redemption, for it is a central tenet of my Christian faith.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's bring in our political reporter Peter Hamby. He broke the story here on CNN today.
When I say he was bowing to reality, he was, what, 5 percent, 6 percent, 7 percent in the polls here in South Carolina. Either he would do it gracefully today or be humiliated on Saturday. Basically, that was the bottom line. PETER HAMBY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that was the calculation after Jon Huntsman left the race. He was at 1 to 2 percent in the polls. Perry was on pace to finish dead last here.
They wanted to avoid that embarrassment, that spectacle. After the Iowa caucuses, he went for a revelatory jog the morning after and decided I'm going to go all in, in South Carolina.
And I asked the campaign today what changed between now and then? They said they just saw no viable path forward. The real answer is they didn't want to do finish dead last and really do more damage to his brand than has already been done.
BLITZER: Were you surprised he then went ahead and endorsed Newt Gingrich? He referred to he's made mistakes, he's not perfect, I believe as a Christian in redemption. We know what he's talking about.
HAMBY: No, exactly. He did couch his endorsement in the Christian themes.
Newt is the one guy that I thought he would endorse. They do have a friendly relationship. Governor Perry does not have a good relationship with Governor Romney. Newt Gingrich wrote the introduction to Rick Perry's book last year. Yes, they have tangled over the fact that Gingrich is a Washington insider and Perry is the outsider guy, but he is the one candidate in the race that he has a good relationship with.
And Perry sources told me today that they just frankly don't think that Mitt Romney is a conservative. They think Newt Gingrich is a conservative.
BLITZER: Perry did say about Newt Gingrich, and I'm paraphrasing, if you're not faithful to your wife, how can you be faithful to your business, be faithful to your country? We will get more on that coming up.
Peter Hamby broke the story here today on CNN. You broke Huntsman's announcement on Monday. Pawlenty, you broke. What happened with Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain? Why didn't you break those stories for us?
HAMBY: I'm sorry I couldn't do that.
BLITZER: You have to work a little bit harder.
BLITZER: Peter Hamby, our excellent political reporter, thanks very much.
Let's turn now to the allegations from Newt Gingrich's second wife that he wanted an open marriage so he could continue an affair with the woman who is now his current wife.
Our Brian Todd is joining us. He has got the latest details.
Brian, what's going on here?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, with Newt Gingrich surging in South Carolina and potentially making this race even tighter, the timing of these interviews by Marianne Gingrich is damaging.
Today, while he wanted to talk about the differences between himself and Mitt Romney, the candidate had to spend part of his time fending off questions about it.
TODD (voice-over): She said more than a decade ago she could end her then husband's career with one interview. Since then, Marianne Gingrich has become Newt Gingrich's ex-wife and she's now given at least three interviews that are personally and possibly politically damaging to him.
The latest to ABC News and "The Washington Post." ABC reports Marianne Gingrich's claim that the former House speaker once asked her if he would share him with a woman he was having an with, Callista Bisek, a young aide who would later become Gingrich's third wife.
Marianne Gingrich spoke with the program "Nightline."
MARIANNE GINGRICH, FORMER WIFE OF NEWT GINGRICH: I said to him, Newt, we have been married a long time, and he said, yes, but you want me all to yourself. Callista doesn't care what I do.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What was he saying to you, do you think?
M. GINGRICH: He was asking to have an open marriage. And I refused.
TODD: Campaigning in South Carolina, Newt Gingrich was asked to respond.
NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Look, I'm not going to say anything about Marianne. My two daughters have already written to ABC complaining about this as tawdry and inappropriate.
TODD: In a so-called memo to ABC News leadership, sent well ahead of the planned airing of the interview, Gingrich's daughters from his first marriage, Kathy Lubbers and Jackie Cushman, said: "We will not say anything negative about our father's ex-wife. He has said before privately and publicly that he regrets any pain he may have caused in the past to people he loves. ABC News or other campaigns may want to talk about the past just days before an important primary election, but Newt is going to talk to the people of South Carolina about the future."
We tried to reach Gingrich's daughters to comment about the story after ABC released a preview, but did not hear back.
Marianne Gingrich has made similar comments about Gingrich asking for an open marriage in a 2010 interview with "Esquire" magazine. Analyst Ron Brownstein says the latest interview comes during some crucial final hours for Newt Gingrich before the South Carolina primary, but:
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The general trend is that the public is more forgiving, more understanding that you can't judge people only by what they do at their worst moments, but you have to see them in a larger picture. My guess is this will be something of a headache for Newt Gingrich, but not a decisive factor in this race.
TODD: I asked Brownstein if this might hurt Gingrich among evangelical voters so crucial in the South Carolina vote. He said that's possible, but he also pointed out the case of Republican Senator David Vitter, who won reelection in Louisiana, where there's a strong evangelical presence, after becoming embroiled in a prostitution scandal -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Brian, has Marianne Gingrich said anything about why she's giving these interviews right now?
TODD: She has said a couple things, actually. She told ABC she's saying this now so that voters can know what she knows about Newt Gingrich. She told "The Washington Post" that she had had so many requests for interviews that was -- quote -- "unavoidable."
Also, she said she also wanted this told from her point of view rather than being seen as a victim or suffering from apparently what she referred to as a whispering campaign by Newt Gingrich's supporters. So she's kind of spinning this a few different ways.
BLITZER: Brian Todd, thank you.
We told you it's an extraordinary day in politics, so let's bring in our chief political correspondent, Candy Crowley. She's the host of CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION."
Candy, this interview with Marianne Gingrich, is it enough to change the outcome here in South Carolina on Saturday?
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Listen, my feeling is as much as Ron expressed in that piece, and that is, first of all, these voters know who Newt Gingrich is.
They know his past. He's not unfamiliar to them. I do think there's a difference between getting a divorce and wanting an open marriage, but perhaps there's a definitional thing that the ex-wife is getting into here, but I think that in the larger picture people know who Newt Gingrich is, that he has come out and sort of drawn the sting a little bit, saying, listen, I have hurt people, but I have, you know, made it right with my lord and my current wife. Now I'm a grandfather, so judge me now.
So I think he's done a pretty good part of that. Will it maybe cause some people to vote for Rick Santorum or Mitt Romney? Perhaps, but I don't think in the main this will be a big mover and shaker in South Carolina.
BLITZER: As far as Rick Perry is concerned, dropping out today, he clearly saw the handwriting on the wall. He never recovered from those early stumbles in those debates.
CROWLEY: He truly didn't.
What's interesting to me is that we are talking about sort of two opposites here, Rick Perry, who pretty much was buried by the debates, and Newt Gingrich, who was resurrected by them. That's how important these debates have been, because Newt Gingrich was running on fumes as of last summer, and the only thing that gave him any kind of energy going forward were these debates.
And just the exact opposite was true of Rick Perry, who came in and he was like almost immediate and overnight placed first in Iowa. And, boy, that first came and the second and the third, and even though he got better on the down the line, it was too late by then. There were just poor debate performances. And people sort of stepped back and said, ooh, may not be ready for prime time.
You have sort of the yin and the yang of the debates, one guy who really rose on them, Newt Gingrich, and one guys who really fell by them, and that's Rick Perry.
BLITZER: Mitt Romney, what does he need to do tonight?
CROWLEY: He needs to put in a better debate performance than he did in the last debate.
He needs to not get ruffled, but most importantly I think that they will come at him for a couple of things, one, this whole issue of how much he paid in taxes. He needs to have a succinct answer for that. There is an explanation, and he needs to have some way to explain to people in a short period of time his finances, because what's happened here is that every time something comes up about finances, Mitt Romney tends to get further and further away from the average voter.
He needs to come back down and explain to folks about his taxes, about what Bain Capital did in a way that is understandable and acceptable to voters, and, most of all, he can't look under siege. One of his great strengths throughout these debates is after every debate we have always said, you know, they really didn't touch Mitt Romney. He's still the front-runner and they really didn't touch him.
He has to maintain that kind of calm exterior while he fights off people that are really in this looking for the jugular.
BLITZER: He certainly does.
All right, Candy, thanks very much.
The four Republican survivors will meet tonight here in Charleston, South Carolina, the Southern Republican presidential debate. Our own John King moderates 8:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.
Iowa makes political history by rewriting political history. Officials now say Rick Santorum won the caucuses, not Mitt Romney. Rick Santorum joins me for an exclusive interview this hour.
And for a while, he was basking in a historic victory. Now we're going to find out what Mitt Romney is saying about losing Iowa two weeks later.
BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is here with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: President Obama has a serious problem with independents, and it just might cost him a second term.
A new CBS News/"New York Times" poll shows only 31 percent of independents have a favorable opinion of our president. Compare that to 2008, when Mr. Obama defeated John McCain by winning 52 percent of the independent vote.
According to this poll, two-thirds of independents say the president has not made real progress in fixing the economy, the nation's top issue. More than half say they don't have a clear idea of what Mr. Obama hopes to accomplish if he's reelected. And six in 10 independents say the president does not share their priorities for the country.
None of this is good news for the president, needless to say. It's no coincidence Mr. Obama is out with his first major TV advertising campaign today in several battleground states. One of the targets of this campaign: the crucial swing voters.
The news isn't all bad here, though, for Mr. Obama, there could be an opening for the president to win back some of these independents, although Republicans think Mitt Romney has the best chance of defeating President Obama and it's looking more and more like he'll eventually become the nominee, almost half of the independents say they have not formed an opinion of Romney as yet.
Nevertheless, for the time being, many independents are disappointed and disillusioned with President Obama and the state of the country. They think the president has failed to deliver on many of his promises four years ago and they say if the election were held today, a lot wouldn't vote for him.
Here's the question -- can President Obama win the reelection without the support of independents?
Go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile, and post a comment on my blog, or go to our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.
BLITZER: He needs those independents. There's no doubt about it. Jack, thank you.
An unprecedented event in Iowa where Republican officials now say Rick Santorum actually won -- won this month's caucuses, not Mitt Romney. A final certified count released today shows Santorum finished 34 votes ahead. He'll join me in a few minutes and we'll talk about this.
But first, CNN's Jim Acosta has been out on the campaign trail.
You're back here in Charleston right now. What is Romney saying about coming in second in Iowa?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it was curious. Mitt Romney refused to answer questions about what happened out in Iowa. And he had few words to say about Rick Perry's departure from the race. It all adds up to the Romney campaign playing damage control here in South Carolina.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Mitt Romney wasn't just ignoring the elephant in the room, but the whole zoo. In his only remarks to his only crowd of the day in Charleston, Romney made no mention of the fact that he did not win the Iowa caucuses after all and that one of his rivals, Rick Perry, was out of the race. Instead he poked fun at President Obama's trip to Disney World.
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And it's obviously appropriate, because he's been living in a sort of fantasyland for all these year.
ACOSTA: And he worked in a dig at the man who may snatch South Carolina out from under him.
ROMNEY: He may bump into Speaker Gingrich down there at fantasyland.
ACOSTA: After his speech, reporters tried.
(on camera): Any thoughts, sir, on how Rick Perry dropping out changes this race? Are you disappointed that you're not getting his endorsement?
ROMNEY: He's a good man. He did a nice job.
ACOSTA (voice-over): And tried to get Romney to comment on any of the news of the day. Finally, a small breakthrough on Perry.
ROMNEY: Governor Perry, a terrific guy, a terrific conservative and a great governor, was great in the race. And we're going to -- we're going to miss him on the stage tonight.
ACOSTA: But no comment on Perry's endorsement of Gingrich.
As for Iowa earlier in the day, Romney spun his apparent 34-vote loss to Rick Santorum with a statement calling the result a virtual tie.
Contrast that with the Santorum campaign press release declaring Santorum wins Iowa.
(on camera): How about those final results in Iowa, Governor? Is it fair to call it a tie when Rick Santorum came out on top?
(voice-over): Romney had a different take on Iowa when he was on top, by just eight votes.
ROMNEY: My goodness what a squeaker, but it's sure is nice to have a win.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: We forgot to congratulate him on his landslide victory last night.
ACOSTA: With polls showing the race between Romney and Gingrich tightening, the former Massachusetts governor has had trouble at times drawing business crowds. A few voters at his events told CNN they're just not sold on him yet.
TYLER PROCTOR, SOUTH CAROLINA GOP VOTER: He would say things like he didn't believe in Obamacare, but he never said -- mentioned what he did in Massachusetts, which was basically the same thing, socialized medicine.
EMILY PATTERSON, SOUTH CAROLINA GOP VOTER: I think there's several strong candidates. And I kind of wish he'd addressed his pro- life stance. And he didn't, you know, but I know about his stance. I'm still undecided.
ACOSTA: Back in Charleston, one voter pressed him on when to release his tax returns. He got a terse response --
ACOSTA: Earlier in the afternoon, a Santorum campaign says Mitt Romney called to concede the results out in Iowa, but the Romney campaign fired back, saying, no, he only congratulated Senator Santorum. Contrast that with the statement earlier this morning from the Romney campaign that Iowa was a tie. Wolf, Mitt Romney could afford these types of missteps up in New Hampshire where he was way out in front of the Republican field. He can't do that here in South Carolina. It's just too close.
BLITZER: Jim Acosta, thanks very much. We'll talk later about these relatively small crowds for Romney as opposed to Newt Gingrich. He's getting very enthusiastic, much larger crowds.
ACOSTA: It would be a difference.
BLITZER: It could bode something for Saturday. Thanks very much.
We're going to stand top of the political story. We're counting down to the debate tonight.
But also other news we're following, including some dramatic new video of the cruise disaster, the rescue operation.
Also, my exclusive interview with new Iowa caucus winner, Rick Santorum. That's coming up.
BLITZER: We'll get to my interview with Rick Santorum shortly.
But other news we're following, including the Italian rescue officials who have just released new video of their operation in that cruise ship disaster. You can decree rescuers being lowered from a helicopter on to the upturn side of the Costa Concordia.
Despite the massive effort, 21 people are still missing. Officials are now talking of changing the rescue mission to a recovery operation.
Meanwhile, survivors of families of those who died, they find themselves in an uphill battle when it comes to recovering damages.
CNN's Lisa Sylvester is working this part of the story for us.
Lisa, what are you finding out?
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.
Well, 11 people are now dead. And as you mentioned, about two dozens still missing and unaccounted for, including a couple from Minnesota. And the survivors and their families will likely want to be compensated by the Costa Cruise Line and its parent company Carnival. But what they'll find out is that maritime law limits the cruise line's liability.
SYLVESTER (voice-over): The 1920 Death on the High Seas Act is a U.S. law that allows family members to sue a cruise line. But damages are limited to lost wages and funeral expenses. There is no compensation for pain and suffering, grief or bereavement.
For Americans on the Costa Concordia who suffered injury or mental trauma, their claims are also limited -- when you sign a cruise ticket, that's a binding, legal contract, says maritime lawyer James Walker.
JAMES WALKER, MARITIME LAWYER: There's a number surprises, if in and out outright shocks contained in the fine legal print, the legal mumbo jumbos.
The cruise lines have spent literally decades and they have their defense lawyers to limit the ability of injured passengers to pursue their remedies.
SYLVESTER: Read the fine print and you'll find that passengers are not able to file a class-action lawsuit. Each claim against the Costa Cruise Line must be brought individually. Lost baggage claims are limited to more than $500 per passenger, unless the traveler pre- purchased insurance. Death and personal injury claims are limited to $70,000 under maritime law, as spelled out in the Athens Convention of 1976.
The statute of limitations is only a year after the incident, and passengers or their survivors have only six months to notify the cruise line of their intent to file a lawsuit.
And when it comes to jurisdiction, lawsuits against the Costa Cruises are not heard in the United States, but in Genoa, Italy.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: The standard form contracts that passengers signed are incredibly slanted in favor of the cruise companies, because they count on the fact that nobody reads them. In fact, if these cases actually go to court, sometimes those contracts can be overcome, but it is a long and difficult legal process.
SYLVESTER: But companies engaged in crisis management often do above and beyond what is legally required, if nothing else for P.R. reasons. Carnival in a statement said it is committed to providing full support to those impacted. The company CEO Micky Arison saying, quote, "I give my personal assurance that we will take care of each and every one of our guests, crew and their families affected by this tragic event. Our company was founded on this principle, and it will remain our focus."
The captain of the Costa Concordia is currently under house arrest. The chief prosecutor in the case says toxicology tests are being done on samples of his hair to see if he might have been under influence at the time of the accident.
SYLVESTER: Now, lawyers may try to apply wrongful death lawsuits under other U.S. or Italian statutes, particularly if it can be proven that the captain acted with intentional recklessness.
As more details come out, Carnival may be eager in fact to resolve these claims out of court, Wolf.
BLITZER: Lisa, thank you.
Rick Santorum is calling his belated victory a huge upset. You're going to hear him talk about that a lot more, including why he hasn't released his own tax returns yet. My exclusive interview with Rick Santorum is next.
BLITZER: Rick Santorum certainly worked longer and harder than the other candidates did in Iowa. He left there this month thinking he had a strong second-place finish, only eight votes behind Mitt Romney. But now, the Iowa vote has been certified and by a razor-thin margin, Rick Santorum actually won. And that's a boost he certainly can use going to Saturday's vote here in South Carolina. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
BLITZER: Senator Santorum, thanks very much for coming in.
RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's great to be back with you, Wolf.
BLITZER: First of all, congratulations. Apparently you won in Iowa.
BLITZER: Have they officially told you?
SANTORUM: Yes. I got an e-mail at 4:51 this morning saying the certified vote we won by 34 votes. If they include these other very, very small precincts that have not been officially certified, but we're phoned in election I actually won by more than 35, 34 votes. So either way you tally it, we were successful, and we feel good about that. We have a strong plan to continue that momentum and take it here to South Carolina now, and off to Florida.
As we saw from today, with the race narrowing eventually it will get down to conservative versus a moderate. And we, you know, we have won one of the two primaries. We hope to do well in South Carolina. We are running right now and according to the polls we're running second in Florida. So again, you know, we've beaten Newt Gingrich twice in two races. So, we feel like we're in pretty good shape coming out to South Carolina. We go to Florida beyond.
BLITZER: You must feel bad, though, that they took two weeks to make this official. If you had it won originally in Iowa, it may have given you some momentum going into New Hampshire.
SANTORUM: Well, with an eight vote. Look, I don't blame Iowa. I mean, you know, they had to go through the process. Actually, if you think about it, it moved from 8 votes to 34. Usually in an election that kind of change is insignificant, so I don't -- the state of Iowa did -- the Republican Party did a good job. I'm very happy that they got, you know, 99.9 percent of the polling places in. And we feel very, very good that we not only won, but we pulled off a huge upset.
BLITZER: I'm sure you're happy that Rick Perry dropped out of the race, because presumably he could have taken votes away from you, but you're probably not happy he's gone and endorsed Newt Gingrich.
SANTORUM: Yes. Look, I've grown to be fond of Rick Perry. I think he's a good man. I really like his wife Anita. Not that he is the good guy, but his wife, Anita's son, Griff with the kids to know. And the family's, you know, I think we were bonded in some respect. So, I know it's a tough decision. It was a tough day for him. And I just wish him the very, very best. And he came out. He did the best he could. And he had little bubbles at the beginning and then he was able sort of regain that.
As far as his endorsement, you know, that's his opinion. I feel very strongly we're the strong conservative in the race. We are the one that's been out there talking about a real solid conservative vision, and we're the one that can contrast with President Obama on really the key issues of the day. And Newt and Mitt, the other two left in this race that have a chance of winning this nomination, are bad matchups. You know, you talk about matchups. It's a bad matchup in the fall.
BLITZER: Bad matchup because --
SANTORUM: Because if you look at, for example, the three issues that the tea party started around, one was Obama care, the other was the Wall Street bailouts. And the third was cap and trade, and global warming. On all three of those issues, Romney and Gingrich are horribly compromised. You have Romney care and Newt supporting individual mandate of the federal level which is what Obamacare is based upon, you have both of them supporting the Wall Street big bank bailout, which I did not. And then, you have Newt sitting on the couch with Nancy Pelosi on global warming and Mitt Romney supporting a former cap in trade.
I mean, here, if we need the tea party to get excited about our candidate, the very existence of the tea party was motivated by three issues that our candidates are on the same side as Barack Obama. That's a very bad way to start a general election.
BLITZER: You have one ad that says Mitt Romney is just like Obama. You obviously approved that ad.
SANTORUM: Well, yes. I mean, absolutely.
BLITZER: He's just like Obama?
SANTORUM: He put the plan together in Massachusetts. That was the basis for Obamacare. It's blown health care cost to the roof. It's not Massachusetts now the most expensive state in the country for health care. Its added $8 billion to the cost of health care in Massachusetts, which all had to be paid for because they balanced budget amendment in their constitution like every other state does. Guess what? They've had increased taxes by $8 billion.
So, we saw, I didn't increase taxes. Yes, you did, because you dramatically expanded spending when taxes went up, in addition to the taxes he raised while he was there. So, if you look at Romney care and compared to Obama care, it's the same model, one on the state level, one on the federal level.
BLITZER: So, can Mitt Romney beat President Obama in November?
SANTORUM: I'm hoping any Republican can beat Barack Obama, but there are two issues here. Who has the best chance? Because the idea that the political situation is going to stay as it is today, we don't know. I mean, the economy can get better, it can get worse.
National security issue may come off and I have the best record on the national security and the most experience. There are a lot of things that can change. What we need is to put the strongest candidate out there that makes Obama the issue n the race, not the problem that your nominee has on the variety of different very important high profile issue, that, you know, lessen the wedge between the two candidates.
BLITZER: So, if Jon huntsman drops out this week, endorses Mitt Romney. Rick Perry drops out this week, endorses Newt Gingrich. Newt Gingrich says you should drop out so as not to divide up that conservative vote against Mitt Romney.
SANTORUM: That's pure and simple arrogance. I mean, the guy lost two races already. I mean, I won Iowa, he finished in fourth. I finished ahead of him in the state of New Hampshire where he finished fifth, and as a result of that, I should drop out of the race.
BLITZER: So, it is in South Carolina, he seems to be surging right now.
SANTORUM: You know what; we'll wait and see what happens on Saturday. But, you know, I've already got a win under our belt. You know, if he's fortunate to do better here in South Carolina, that's you know, we'll wait and see. But we feel very good about how things are going here. And I think that, again, the more people look at this race and realize the strong conservative, the one that presents the best contrast and the best chance of winning this election is Rick Santorum.
BLITZER: So you're definitely, no matter what happens Saturday, going to Florida.
BLITZER: You got the money? You got the money?
SANTORUM: Actually we're starting our buy today.
BLITZER: But when you say, they starting buy, what is that mean.
SANTORUM: Well, we're starting to buy in Florida bail on television.
BLITZER: You're starting to buy advertising?
SANTORUM: Yes, we are starting to buy advertising.
BLITZER: You have enough money?
SANTORUM: We do. We've done very, very well since the Iowa win. And we feel very good that the actual certification of our win, and the energy and the fact that the field is narrowing, that's a bunch of other people supporting the candidate, who was conservative, that hopefully will come on our, at least some of them. If not all of them will come on our team and help us out.
BLITZER: Because I understand that poll shows, you're trailing here in South Carolina behind Romney, Gingrich and even the Ron Paul and some of these polls. You have seen a whole bunch of polls though. If you come out last in South Carolina Saturday, what does that say?
SANTORUM: You know what? We'll work harder and do our best to win this, and, you know, we came in first in one state. Someone else came in first and another. Newt Gingrich -- this is sort of natural state for him to do well. He's from a neighboring state of Georgia. And he's invested a lot of time and money down here, certainly a lot more than we have. We are going to afford. Right now, your CNN poll says we're running second.
So, I feel pretty good that we'll do better than expected. We've always done better than expected. No one expected us to win Iowa. No one expected us to finish ahead of Gingrich in New Hampshire. And guess what? We did it twice. And so, let's wait and see who has the energy enthusiasm heading into Saturday and who is going to turn out the vote.
BLITZER: Let's talk about some of the issues that plague Mitt Romney. For example, the refusal to release his tax returns in recent year. You haven't released yours, either?
SANTORUM: No, I haven't particularly sexy returns. First up, I think it's not unreasonable for someone to say, you know, you don't want to release your tax returns, they are private issues. You do fill out a financial disclosure form. I don't know of any tax form that was ever, ever foot forward after an ethics disclosure was done. That was any kind of newsworthy item.
So I think it's a lot about gotcha. I've said when I get back home -- and I haven't been home for a few weeks -- I do their own taxes, they're on my computer. I'm not going to fly home to get my taxes to release them. Eventually when I get home, I'll do that, and be happy to release them and let me assure that you there's not a lot of sexiness in my taxes.
BLITZER: But in terms of the percentage of taxes paid, apparently Mitt Romney paying 15 percent, because a lot of capital gains, long- term capital gains. Newt Gingrich says his is about 31 percent, his federal income tax rate. What about yours?
SANTORUM: I don't know. I'm sure I know it's more than 15. I don't know if it's 30. I've got a bunch of kids. That does lower your rate because you get the deductions. But, I can't tell you off the top of my head. But I do, I know it's more than 15. I have no idea whether it's 30 or somewhere in between.
BLITZER: But you will release them?
BLITZER: OK. Let's talk about that other issue that's come up. When Rick Perry endorsed Newt Gingrich today, he said, I support him. He's a conservative. He is not perfect. But as a Christian, he said, I believe in redemption. I think he was referring to this new allegations that's about to come out in this ABC interview about his second wife, Newt Gingrich's second wife making suggestions. You know all about this. This is a real issue that should be discussed in this campaign at this late, late date.
SANTORUM: You know, look. I always believe when you're an electing a leader, your character counts. And, you know, particularly when you are serving in a public office, the things you do in public office matter. And I don't know the specifics about what she is alleging, but certainly anything that interacts and interferes with your role as a public official and what you did in behaving in that office with people who you work with, that's an issue that's certainly one the public should consider.
BLITZER: But when he says, yes, I made a lot of mistakes. But I'm a 68-year-old grandfather right now, and Rick Perry says I believe in redemption, I assume you do too?
SANTORUM: Of course I believe in redemption. I believe in forgiveness. But I also believe that you are accountable for what you did, and it does provide insights into what's goes on up here and what's in here.
And, you know, when I see Newt Gingrich, you know go off the handle and say things, like attacking the private equity business and attacking capitalism, when I see him propose a brand-new entitlement program and fund it the way Obamacare was funded, by taking money from here and shifting it over here to create a brand-new entitlement program.
When I see he's out there saying to me, after having lost two elections to me that I should resign. I think that just shows that, you know, we don't need a nominee that every day you have to worry about picking up the paper and seeing what he's going to say. And that's the concern with Newt Gingrich that he simply is not the kind of reliable, consistent, stable -- not just conservative, but candidate.
BLITZER: One final thought on Ron Paul, where does he fit into this whole Republican primary election?
SANTORUM: Well, Ron Paul has already admitted he's not going to win the presidency. He's already said that, I don't think I'm going to win. He's trying to change the Republican Party. He's on a mission to try to move the Republican Party toward a more libertarian bent. And that's his right to do that, but it's not a serious run for the presidency.
It's a run to try to change the party. And people run for different reasons. And I think Ron Paul is going to be in this race probably to the very end, because he has folks who want to realign the Republican Party in a different way than the part of Ronald Reagan. He has every right to do that, but I don't see him as someone who is seriously competing for the nomination.
BLITZER: You've got a fashion statement. You're wearing it right now. How does it feel to be sort of a fashion guru?
SANTORUM: I'm not too sure this is necessarily avant-garde kind of stuff here. We - you know, again, I go back to if you want someone who will make Barack Obama the issue in this race, you want the stable, solid, consistent conservative with a proven track record that been able to attract Democratic votes to win key states. That's what I've been able to do in my political career. I'm not the flashiest guy, not the guy getting the big applause lines. I'm the guy who is going to go out there and make him the issue, not me the issue, and that's what we want in this election.
BLITZER: Good luck.
SANTORUM: Thank you very much, Wolf.
BLITZER: Thank you.
SANTORUM: Appreciate it.
BLITZER: Rick Perry drops out, and endorses Newt Gingrich in the Republican race for the White House. So, what impact will it have on the bitter battle here in South Carolina, Florida and potentially beyond?
Donna Brazile and Ari Fleischer. They are here with me, standing by for our strategy session.
BLITZER: Let's get to our strategy session. Joining us right now, our CNN contributors, the Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and Ari Fleischer, the former Bush White House press secretary.
Ari, Santorum won in Iowa. You think voters here in South Carolina will care?
ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think he's had the bump that he deserved and he got that coming out of Iowa. I think at this stage, the media focuses on its trails more that the actual voters especially in South Carolina where they take their voting very seriously and they have a strong track record of elective of whoever the next president is on the Republican side.
BLITZER: He was pretty tough in that interview, Donna, going after not only Romney, but obviously, you know, he has no great love for Newt Gingrich, either or Ron Paul for that matter, four candidates left.
DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I believe the retroactive victory could have give him a little bit more minimum in New Hampshire but it really will not help resolve one big problem that Rick Santorum have. And that is viability. Is he electable? One third of the voters wanted to pick someone who could beat President Obama. Right now, Rick Santorum problem is that he lacks resources and most voters don't believe he could beat Barack Obama.
BLITZER: I think you could make the case and I haven't heard a lot of people make it, but see what you think. That South Carolina for Newt Gingrich, since he's from neighboring Georgia, is what New Hampshire was for Mitt Romney, since he was from neighboring Massachusetts. So, Newt Gingrich should do well here. FLEISCHER: Demographically, of course there's a lot to that. And he the southern fits the southern mold. He is a southern politicians fits a southern mold Newt, Mitt Romney of course, New England there for Boston, not quite South Carolina. But the difference is, Wolf that Mitt really capped out in New Hampshire. Did awful lot in New Hampshire for months of action and Newt have not done that here. But still you have to look at this race and really think Newt has a slight edge right now. When we get to Saturday --
BLITZER: Two days to go, he might still win here in South Carolina. We are talking about Newt Gingrich.
BRAZILE: It's possible that he has a momentum. Of course he now has an endorsement by Rick Perry, and if Perry turns over his some of his dollars and some of his supporters, I think like the four winds they'll be scattered because Rick Perry didn't get a lot of attraction here. But, Newt Gingrich is clearly a candidate who understands how to use the debate to build momentum for himself.
BLITZER: Who's the big winner from Rick Perry suspending his campaign?
FLEISCHER: Well, Newt Gingrich is. And Mitt Romney is --
BLITZER: You think that six percent or so that he was getting here in South Carolina, most of them, will go to Newt Gingrich? Why not Rick Santorum?
FLEISCHER: Because I get the sense, as Donna said, that voters are picking someone who they think can actually win the nomination. And I think there's a lot of admiration to Santorum --
BLITZER: He's getting a lot of evangelical support, Rich Santorum right now.
FLEISCHER: Yes. Still my view is most of the Perry votes will go toward the more established figure and that's Newt Gingrich. And Romney has become visibly vulnerable as this race becomes a one on one race. That's why it's so important for Mitt Romney to deliver the knockout punch here, because the last thing Newt - Mitt Romney wants is for this race to go on and be against only one person.
BLITZER: Even if it's close, there are four candidates left. I don't think I mean, Santorum shows no signs he's not going to campaign. He told me, he started advertise in Florida. Ron Paul, you know, he's got his own agenda. He's going to stay in the race. Newt Gingrich will stay. It looks like these four candidates are in for a while, at least through Florida.
BRAZILE: And you know, back in 2008, on the Democratic side, we shouldn't throw candidates off before the voters make their own selection. So, I think the Republicans will do quite well, if they go the distance, give voters an opportunity in all these key states to make their own selection, and perhaps we'll end up with somebody we don't know.
BLITZER: On paper Rick Perry when he first came in, he looks so strong. He immediately was atop the field, but then he collapsed.
FLEISCHER: There's a lesson here. The presidency is a higher level than anything anybody has ever done before and it's hard. You have to be substantively ready. You got an organization ready and you cannot get in late. When you get in late, you are in for as long-serving governor like Rick Perry, you're off and hand in above year head.
BLITZER: Ari and Donna, you'll be with us through the duration at least Saturday for our coverage of this primary. Guys, you're not going away, right?
BRAZILE: It's warmer here.
BLITZER: It's not the usual backdrop for a speech by the president of the United State. But today, President Obama was in front of the Cinderella's castle. What he was doing in the state of Florida, where the Republican battle is really heating up. Stand by.
BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now, including a very sad day in the world of sports. Lisa, what do you have?
SYLVESTER: Yes, that's right, Wolf. It's a tragic day as free-style ski champion Sarah Burke has died. Burke died from injuries she received during practice in Utah last week, regarded as one of the best free-style skiers in the world. She was considered a favorite to win gold for her home country of Canada at the 2014 Olympics. Sarah Burke was 29 years old.
And the snow is tapering out with severe weather is still making life miserable in the Pacific Northwest, freezing rain and ice have shut runways at Seattle's airports, and about 50 families are being evacuated from Turner, Oregon, due to flooding. Washington's governor is declaring a state of emergency as a precaution. Winter storm warnings remain in effect for a portion of eight western states.
And some good economic news, new jobless claims hit the lowest levels in four years with only 352,000 people filing for first time unemployment benefits. Claims below 400,000 are typically seen as a positive sign.
And on Wall Street, all three major indexes closed at the highest level since July. The Dow added 46 points with the S&P rose six points and the Nasdaq gained 19 -Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Lisa.
Jack's questions after President Obama win re-election without the support if independent. Your e-mail and posts, that's next.
And in our next hour, Herman Cain promised an endorsement today. Who will it be? You're going to find out. He'll join me live.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is back with "the Cafferty File" - Jack.
CAFFERTY: The question this hour is can President Obama win re- election without the support of independents?
He's not doing nearly as well right as he was three years ago in the election of 2008.
Bradley writes in Philadelphia. "I don't think any presidential candidate can win without the support of a large portion of independents. The question is whether anybody can win the Republican nomination without causing the independents to run away screaming."
Robin, North Carolina. "No. But, it's nothing money can fix. They will spend more than the national debt telling us how awesome he is, all that he's done, how terrible his opponents would be. The ship will fall in the line like always.
Rick writes. "The poll would indicate Obama would be hard pressed to win again period. Only staunch Democrat who always votes Democratic, will vote for him and even some of those may abandon the sinking ship. Most other voters will vote for his opponent, whoever that is, figuring if change was ever needed, it's now."
Phil in Georgia writes. "No. If independents are smart, they will know that Obama has ruled a lot from the middle, and it's the Republicans who have moved away from a majority of their views. You can't bargain with someone who keeps moving the gold posts. You just have to hope that people will be on top on what's going on and reward the president for sincere attempts."
Bob in Pennsylvania writes. "I don't think Obama has enough of his base, let alone independents."
And Larry in Denver, "under normal circumstances, I would agree that independents like me would be unlikely to vote a second term for President Obama. However, based on the most-wanted list of Republicans, I can now vote for the candidate who will do the least damage, Obama. There is not one clown coming out of that tiny Republican car I would even consider. Most independents will feel the same way come next November."
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: Will do, Jack. Thank you. And let's go to the next hour.