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THE SITUATION ROOM

Romney's S. Carolina Hopes Go South; Six Marines Killed In Afghan Helicopter Crash; Afghan Soldier Guns Down French Troops; Former Colleagues Have Mixed Feelings on Newt Gingrich as Speaker; President Obama Channels Inner Al Green

Aired January 20, 2012 - 17:00   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: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, the last full day of campaigning in South Carolina is almost over. Mitt Romney appears to be losing steam. Now, he's making a demand of his most threatening rival, Newt Gingrich.

Plus, CNNs Arwa Damon is inside Syria just as news is breaking of the U.S. potentially closing its embassy there. We're live in Damascus.

And your own body heat can reveal if you're hiding a gun. Police say it will keep the streets safer, but we're going to show you why privacy watchdogs say we all should be afraid.

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: This probably isn't where Mitt Romney hoped he'd be just hours before the voting begins in South Carolina. He not only appears to be losing ground in the first southern primary state, his lead nationally is shrinking as well.

Romney is 10 points ahead of Newt Gingrich at the new tracking poll of registered Republicans around the country, but he was 16 points ahead a day earlier, and it's all adding up to a much more competitive contest tomorrow than Romney, a lot of other folks had expected.

So, he's taking a new jab at one of Newt Gingrich's vulnerable spots. CNNs Jim Acosta is joining us from Charleston with the latest -- Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, inevitable no more. Mitt Romney appears to be downplaying expectations for tomorrow's South Carolina primary, but he is ratcheting up the rhetoric on Newt Gingrich just in case he can eke out a victory.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Here comes the rain. Oh, my goodness!

ACOSTA (voice-over): When it rains, it pours for Mitt Romney. This morning, shower that greeted Romney was a chilly reminder that not everything has gone his way in South Carolina. His sizable lead over Newt Gingrich has all but evaporated.

ROMNEY: Got to get it out now. Of course, he should.

ACOSTA: That's why team Romney tried a new line of attack on Gingrich calling on the former speaker to release any and all documents from the ethics investigation that led to his downfall in Congress.

ROMNEY: I would have released things piece (ph) bill. I'd do it all once.

ACOSTA: In 1997, Gingrich became the first speaker to be penalized by Congress when he was reprimanded and ordered to pay a penalty for violating a House ethics rule. Gingrich spokesman said the Romney attack was all wet, noting the report is already available online.

NEWT GINGRICH, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I refuse to take seriously any requests from the Romney campaign to disclose anything.

ROMNEY: My taxes are carefully managed, and I pay a lot of taxes.

ACOSTA: But Romney is facing disclosure questions of his own after he was booed at the CNN debate for his answer on when he would release his tax records.

(on-camera) you were booed and jeered during that --

(CROSSTALK)

ROMNEY: -- are in the audience, and so, different campaigns cheer and boo at different people based upon the interest of their campaign.

ACOSTA: If I could finish my question, sir.

ROMNEY: Yes, sir.

ACOSTA: Are you concerned, though, that the varying ways that you've answered that question might feed into the feeling that some Republicans have that you are a waffler?

ROMNEY: No. At the very beginning, I indicated that I haven't (ph) any plans to release my tax returns and that became clear that that was of great interest.

ACOSTA (voice-over): For the first time, Romney told reporters he will release multiple tax returns in April. ROMNEY: We'll have more than one year. I don't know the exact number, but we'll have more than one year.

GOV. NIKKI HALEY, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: And we are going to ride the wave, which is Mitt Romney for president.

ACOSTA: But Romney's top surrogate in South Carolina, Governor Nikki Haley, chastised the media for repeatedly raising the issue.

HALEY: I've heard more people wondering why you guys aren't asking about ethics, reports in ethics problems with the Gingrich campaign. Nobody is talking about tax returns.

ACOSTA: It was on this rainy that Romney seemed to dampen expectations for the upcoming primary, noting Gingrich's advantage as a southerner.

ROMNEY: Speaker Gingrich is from a neighboring state, well known, popular in the sate. And so, I knew we'd -- we have a long road ahead of us, and frankly, to be in a neck and neck race at this last moment is kind of exciting.

ACOSTA: And if the race, somehow goes the distance, Romney argues he's the best prepared.

ROMNEY: We're going to go on for a long race, and I think I got the staying power and a message that I believe connects with people.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (on-camera): Earlier today, Romney reminded reporters that he finished fourth in this state four years ago. He's not going to repeat that performance, but Wolf, he's not going to drive the other rivals out of this race either -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta, on the scene for us. Let's dig a little bit deeper right now. Joining us to talk a little bit more about Mitt Romney, our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger. The whole issue of releasing his tax returns, he says he'll do it in April, release more than just one year. How is that playing? You're out there. You're watching what's going on in South Carolina.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, what's very interesting to me, Wolf, is when you talk to people in the Romney campaign, even they admit that Mitt Romney seems to be having a very difficult time when discussing his personal wealth, whether it's a question of disclosure on the tax returns or just talking about how wealthy he is. You know, the issue of the wealth gap, the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer is clearly going to be a central issue in the general election.

Yet, Romney is having a very difficult time finding his own comfort level in how he talks about wealth with other Republicans. I mean, he's already disclosed that he paid a 15 percent top rate in a Republican primary. You would think that wouldn't be a terrible thing to admit, because Republicans want to lower tax rates after all, but he just can't seem to figure out a way to get it out that actually works to his advantage.

And as Jim was saying, look, what he's done now is try and turn the tables on Newt Gingrich to talk about Gingrich's personal ethics, but I don't think that's going to stick.

BLITZER: You know, it looks like the whole Romney campaign is trying to lower expectations, Gloria, right now. That they might not necessarily win in South Carolina. They're suggesting this is Newt Gingrich's home turf, that South Carolina is to Georgia what maybe New Hampshire is to Massachusetts, but what are you hearing out there? What are they saying to you?

BORGER: Well, what they're saying is, they are lowering expectations, first of all. And, what they say is, look, if there's a blip in South Carolina, that is, if we lose South Carolina, we are the only campaign with the resources and with the organization to continue all the way through to get the delegates we need if this is a contested primary.

They make the case that you head onto Florida, which is a very diverse state, which is a very expensive state. And, they are the ones who have already been investing resources in that state, and that after that, you have a whole slew of state that they believe they are much more prepared to go into than Newt Gingrich, for example.

So, they say, long haul, even if there's a blip here, as they put it, we are going to go the distance, and in the end, we're going to be the dominant once and win the nomination.

BLITZER: Gloria, hold on for a minute. I'm going to come right back to you.

Gingrich is surging campaign, not only getting slammed by Romney, but also hitting a few surprise road bumps of its own earlier in the day, at least, despite that fiery debate performance right here on CNN last night.

First, a speech scheduled to be held in a giant basketball arena was scrapped at the lat minute when hardly anyone showed up. Then, a town hall meeting at a Charleston children's hospital suddenly changed to a media tour only that was followed by a visit with some of the kids where the former speaker's wife, Callista, not her husband, had the spotlight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CALLISTA GINGRICH, WIFE OF NEWT GINGRICH: Was a smart little guy with a curly gray trunk and a twinkling eye. He liked asking questions. He was eager to see how America became the land of the free. Ellis went to the library and amazing --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Later in the day, though, a very strong high-energy turnaround Newt Gingrich noting at an event. Only moments ago, he was astounded by the size of the crowd. Our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, is back with more analysis right now. What do you think in the strategy on the day after a very important debate?

BORGER: Well, I think it was kind of odd. I was with him at his Charleston event at that hospital. There was a whole scram of reporters, and all you could do was sort of walk around with Newt, but he wasn't meeting voters in the morning. He wasn't having a large rally in the morning.

You would think that he wanted to capitalize on, you know, his newfound popularity and this kind of a surge. Instead, Wolf, what I felt was so strange was that he put his wife, Callista, in the forefront, and I would argue --

BLITZER: All right. I think we lost our connection, unfortunately, with Gloria, but we got the point, Gloria. We'll get back to her as well. She's on the scene for us in South Carolina.

Tomorrow's primary in South Carolina, by the way, is going down to the wire. We're going to have full coverage starting here in the SITUATION ROOM at 6:00 p.m. eastern. Our coverage of the contest begins at 7:00 p.m. eastern.

A deadly day in Afghanistan leaves four coalition troops dead. Now, one country is threatening to pull its forces out.

Plus, Big Brother in the Big Apple. Could New York City police soon look under your clothes for hidden weapons?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can argue that's an invasion of privacy, but in the world we live in, that's something that we just have to live with. The alternative is intolerable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're following the breaking news out of Syria that the U.S. is considering closing the embassy, but first, a warning to our viewers that this next segment contains graphic images, disturbing video surfacing today. Video that allegedly shows an activist detained by governmental forces several weeks ago.

This man appears to be badly beaten and dazed with a bruised and swollen face. It's estimated more than 5,000 people have been killed in the bloody government crackdown since March, and Syria could be edging closer to a civil war. CNN's Arwa Damon is on the streets of Damascus.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And here, we have the weekly pro-government demonstration, singing (ph) their support for the president. And in the conversations that we have been having here, there does seem to be a genuine level of passion when it comes to people expressing their love for the president, but also when it comes to expressing their fears for the future.

And there are very grave fears that the country among these people, at least, could descend into some sort of sectarian warfare should the president be removed from power. And they do seem to firmly believe that they are the victims of some sort of conspiracy. But what we're hearing here when it comes to the government could not be more starkly different than what we continue to hear from the opposition.

The opposition firmly believing that the president is out to massacre all of them. We continue to hear these two diverging narratives and what seems to be becoming an increasing polarized nation, but if there is one thing that both sides do agree on, and that is the Arab league.

People here believe that it is also dead set against them, that it has no intention of uncovering the truth. The opposition feels that the Arab league quite simply bought the president and the government more time.

There are growing fears among both sides about what the future is going to bring, and there is very little faith that the Arab league or the international community is going to be able to come up with a solution to save Syria.

Arwa Damon, CNN, Damascus.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And Arwa is joining us on the phone right now from Damascus. Arwa, the breaking news we're following here in the SITUATION ROOM, two U.S. officials telling CNN the Obama administration may recall its ambassador from Damascus, Robert Ford, actually shut down the U.S. embassy out of enormous security concerns. What's it like on the streets there, because they're really worried about the safety of the limited number of U.S. diplomats who remain in Syria.

DAMON: Well, Wolf, the situation is fairly tense, and I was last allowed into Syria around six months ago. And, you can really feel as if this dark cloud has descended on the capital. Both sides are trying to grapple with various challenges that they're facing, and in that report you saw earlier, I was asking about how both sides are being polarized.

They're not just being polarized against one another. They're also being polarized along a more global access with those people who are in regime believing that the regime is a victim of this international conspiracy (ph), also includes the United States. When it comes to Ambassador Ford's role in Damascus, he, himself, has been viewed as being fairly controversial amongst that (ph) support the government.

And when it comes to the government, itself, if you remember, he took that strip over the summer to Hama that caused the government to come out and directly accuse him of dealing with they were saying terrorism at that time. The U.S. embassy was attacked in October by government supporters.

They managed to even breach the walls at one point, tear the flag down. No one was harmed in this incident, but then, there was also the direct threat that caused the U.S. to pull Ambassador Ford in Damascus for his own safety. He then came back in December, but it would seem as if the situation here is slowly escalating towards being an increasingly more violent one.

And so, it's quite natural that the U.S. would be viewing this through the prism of a concerned force security (ph) for its operatives on the ground, especially given how much the staff has dwindled down at the states (ph). This is literally a barebones operation right now, Wolf.

BLITZER: And priority number one is the safety of the U.S. diplomats, including the ambassador, of course. Arwa, we'll stay in close touch. In the meantime, be careful yourself in Damascus. We're glad you're on the scene reporting for us.

A deadly day in Afghanistan as well, starting with six marines killed in a helicopter crash in Helmand Province. Military officials say there was no enemy activity in the area. However, the Taliban have claimed responsibility. The cause of the crash, under investigation.

And an Afghan soldier guns down his fellow French troops, followed by a swift reaction from France, and it's shedding light on a very troubling increase in attacks by local security forces on coalition troops, including American troops. Our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, is joining us with details.

This very disturbing development, Afghan soldiers are supposedly aligned with the U.S. and the NATO allies, beginning to kill Americans. What's going on?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Even more disturbing, wolf. A Pentagon official tells me that the frequency of these attacks are going up, not down. The Taliban have been found to only be behind about 20 to 23 percent of these attacks. Some are caused by combat stress, but, really, even something so simple as U.S. troops reprimanding the Afghans for mishandling their weapons has been found to cause resentment.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE (voice-over): The French troops fighting in Eastern Afghanistan never saw it coming. On Friday, their partner, an Afghan army soldier, turned on them and gunned down four French soldiers.

PRES. NICOLAS SARKOZY, FRANCE (through translator): All training and combat operations involving the French army are suspended.

LAWRENCE: French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, was furious. He dispatched his defense minister tore to Afghanistan and threatened a full withdrawal. SARKOZY (through translator): If security conditions are not clearly reestablished, we will consider the early return of French soldiers to France.

LAWRENCE: When a partner kills an allied soldier, the military calls it a green on blue incident. There have been at least 52 of the attacks in the last six years, and that was before the number recently spiked. A Pentagon spokesman says they're concerned the numbers have increased in the past few months, but the White House downplayed the surge.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There is no indication that these incidents are linked or part of any larger coordinated effort.

LAWRENCE: But the attacks could complicate President Obama's withdrawal plan.

JEFFREY DRESSLER, INSTITUTE FOR THE STUDY OF WAR: What it's going to mean is coalition forces are going to have to be more on guard, more cautious about their Afghan counterparts, and that's going to inhibit the type of genuine partnership that you need to move forward.

LAWRENCE: Adding to the confusion, there's no one motive behind these attacks.

BRIGADIER GENERAL CARSTEN JACOBSON, ISAF SPOKESMAN: That makes it more necessary to look into every individual case, the reason behind it, the background behind the story, so that we can take precautionary measures, be it recruitment or in leadership to take steps that these cases do not happen again.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE (on-camera): Now, both the U.S. general in charge of the war in Afghanistan and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta have offered their condolences to France. Secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, says they've been in close contact with the French and have no reason to believe that France is going to pull out of the coalition -- Wolf.

BLITZER: There's still about 90, 95,000 U.S. troops, where another 20 or 30,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan.

If the French start leaving, I suspect, other European NATO allies will start leaving, and there's going to be increased pressure to accelerate the U.S. withdrawal, especially, as you know, Chris, it's costing U.S. taxpayers $2 billion a week to maintain that U.S. presence, more than $100 billion a year. I guess, the pressure is going to mount. Is that pressure being felt at the Pentagon?

LAWRENCE: Somewhat, Wolf. Again, they're having a hard time trying to discern exactly what if anything -- what specifically is motivating all these attacks, but again, you made a good point. You still got 2012, 2013 and 2014 until this war is planned to be wound down. So, yes, there's a long way to go and a lot of potential problems down the road.

BLITZER: Yes. When I was in South Carolina the past few days, I heard a lot of Republicans who don't like necessary Ron Paul, but they like his recommendations that all U.S. troops come home not only from Afghanistan or Iraq, but from Korea, Japan, Germany. He wants them all to come home. That seems to be resonating with some voters out there as well

Chris Lawrence, thanks very much.

Rick Santorum taking aim at Newt Gingrich saying grandiosity has never been his problem.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Four years into his speakership, he was thrown out by the conservatives. It was a two against him in three. I served with him. I was there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Why Newt Gingrich is under renewed fire for his long history in Congress and in Washington?

And with two strong finishes under his belt so far, what should we be expecting from Ron Paul in tomorrow's South Carolina primary? Stay with us. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Rick Santorum reigniting the battle for South Carolina today, fresh off a debate that many are calling his strongest of the campaign. Our senior Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is traveling with the former senator. Dana, there was one brief setback today. What happened?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. A little bit of a mishap in the car, let's just put it that way, but look, he was 40 minutes late for that first event. It didn't seem to stop his spirits from being pretty high because of what you mentioned. That he felt like he did really well last night in the debate.

The question, though, is whether or not that would translate into enough votes tomorrow to keep his campaign viable.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): Rick Santorum's harried day got off to a bumpy start, thanks to two flat tires on the way to the first stop.

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: Metaphor alert here.

SANTORUM: There's no metaphor alert. We're doing great. Life is good. BASH: The delay didn't dull his sharp attacks. Comparing the GOP field to Goldilocks and the three bears.

SANTORUM: You have one candidate that's just a little too radioactive, a little too hot. We want the race not to be about our candidate. We want the race to be about Barack Obama.

BASH: Talking there, about Newt Gingrich, here, Mitt Romney.

SANTORUM: And then, we have another candidate who's just too darn cold, who doesn't have bold plans, who doesn't have that clear contrast because of the inconsistencies and flip-flops. We need someone who's just right, someone who's a strong conviction conservative.

BASH: Meaning, him. His final pitch here, heavy on values, family and faith, calling himself the only true social conservative. This voter appeared to agree.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The kind of man who will be a Jesus candidate.

BASH: And teeing him up about Newt Gingrich's ex-wife's new allegation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is your stance on what was spoken about over marriage? OK, Rick, rum (ph) with it.

(LAUGHTER)

SANTORUM: Personal matters are personal matters, but they are matters that particularly when you are in public life, as he was at the time, and the people involved were also in a sense in public life, those issues are issues that people will look at.

BASH: Santorum came from way behind in Iowa, making appearances just like this, but third in most South Carolina polls, he hasn't had time or organization to make that connection here yet. He's trying hard.

SANTORUM: Do not compromise. Lead. You want to be first in the south? Lead. Do your part. Help us out, take a bump sticker. You only have to put it on for 24 hours.

BASH: It worked with Barbara King who came in undecided.

BARBARA KING, VOTER: I'm sold. I wasn't when I walked in, but I'm sold now. And I'm going home, and I'm going to get on the phone, Facebook, and tell everybody.

BASH: How high are South Carolina stakes? Santorum won't go there.

How well do you have to do tomorrow to have a viable past forward? SANTORUM: I've won one of two primaries. We're in a great position to be the conservative alternative. And, we're going to continue to go out there and make that case.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (on-camera): Santorum also noted how much has changed just in the past day, the fact that he officially won Iowa, the fact that Rick Perry dropped out of the race, those and what he called other issues that have come up in the campaign. The question, he said, is whether or not all those things will penetrate with South Carolina voters enough to make a difference for him in tomorrow's primary -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana, thanks very much.

Santorum certainly didn't hold anything back last night. He unleashed a blistering attack against his rival and former colleague in Congress, the former House speaker, Newt Gingrich.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANTORUM: Four Years into his speakership, he was thrown out by the conservatives. It was a two against him in three. I served with him. I was there. I knew what the problems were going on in the House of Representatives, and Newt Gingrich was leading there. It was an idea a minute, no discipline, no ability to be able to pull things together.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: We asked our Lisa Sylvester to take a closer look at the former House speaker's controversial days on Capitol Hill. Lisa is joining us now with more. Lisa, a lot of our viewers probably don't know or don't remember what it was like then, but you've gone back and done some work?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf. You know, Newt Gingrich was around Washington for a number of years, and that past record is now fair game in the presidential race. Mitt Romney is accusing Gingrich of being not so Reaganesque. Santorum is accusing Gingrich of being grandiose.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our new Speaker, the gentleman from Georgia, Newt Gingrich.

SYLVESTER (voice-over): Newt Gingrich was in Congress two decades. Four of those years as House Speaker. His former congressional colleagues give him this -- he could get things done -- the 1994 Republican takeover of Congress, a balanced budget amendment, and welfare reform. Bus his leadership style and personal many found abrasive.

Among them, Representative Peter King. REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: He's too erratic, he's too self- centered. The time he was Speaker, it was one crisis after another, and they were almost all self-inflicted. He puts himself at the center of everything.

SYLVESTER: Gingrich was lambasted for the now infamous 1995 Air Force One incident, the House Speaker loudly complaining for having to sit in the back of the plane on the way back from Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's funeral. Gingrich also took heat for the government shutdown that same year. There was an ethics investigation. Gingrich overwhelmingly reprimanded by his House colleagues over federal tax law violations, and disappointing returns in the 1998 congressional election where Republicans lost seats.

RICH GALEN, GINGRICH'S FMR. PRESS SECRETARY: That led to a lack of faith in his strategic thinking at that point. Also, some of them told me that they were just tired of having to defend him every day.

SYLVESTER: GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum is now dredging up the past.

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Grandiosity has never been a problem with Newt Gingrich.

SYLVESTER: But Gingrich's supporters say his leadership style has evolved to a softer, gentler version.

BOB MCEWEN (R), FMR. U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: There is no doubt about it, he's much better than he was at being able to stroke folks, but he is a man that sees over the horizon, he knows what needs to be done.

SYLVESTER: If Santorum is hitting up Gingrich for being too brash, Mitt Romney is criticizing the former House Speaker for not being quite so bold, or certainly not the bold Reagan conservative that Gingrich has branded himself to be.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And I looked at the Reagan diary. You're mentioned once in Ronald Reagan's diary. And in the diary, he says you had an idea in a meeting of young congressmen, and it wasn't a very good idea and he dismissed it.

SYLVESTER: CNN contributor and presidential historian David Gergen says it's not quite so black and white.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Does he deserve credit for the Reagan revolution? No. But was he there, a loyal foot soldier helping Reagan? Yes, and he learned a lot from Reagan. And I must say I think he's been rather consistent in his support of Reagan ever since.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER: Now, going back to that criticism of being grandiose, well, Gingrich doesn't disagree. His reply was, "Yes, I think grandiose thoughts. This is a grandiose country of big people doing big things, and we need leadership prepared to take on big projects." So you can call it confidence or bravado, but it is classic Newt Gingrich -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It certainly is. All right. Good report. Thanks very much for that. It brought back some memories of when I covered Newt Gingrich back in the '90s.

An adviser to Mitt Romney says he might not win South Carolina tomorrow. Is he playing down expectations, or does he really thing he'll lose? We're going to break it down in our "Strategy Session."

And you may be OK having your body scanned in an airport, but what about on the streets of New York City?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my God. It's Fantasyland. It's Orwellian. It's "1984" coming to New York City, and if it takes hold in New York City, it will ripple all across America.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: They're going to start voting in a few hours in South Carolina. Let's discuss what's going on with Democratic strategist and national Democratic editor of GoVote.com, Jamal Simmons, and Republican strategist, former Michele Bachmann spokeswoman, Alice Stewart.

Guys, thanks very much.

Listen to Mitt Romney today. He's sort of lowering expectations about what we're going to be reporting tomorrow night out of South Carolina.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: We have a long process ahead of us, 1,150 delegates to get. I sure would like to win South Carolina, but I know that if those polls were right, regardless of who gets the final number, we're both going to get a lot of delegates. So I want as many delegates as I can get, I want the most delegates coming out of South Carolina. But I don't know what the numbers will be. I'm pretty confident, cautiously optimistic.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Would you be surprised if he loses in South Carolina, Alice, tomorrow?

ALICE STEWART, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, to be honest, I wouldn't be too surprised given simply the way that the -- the huge gap that he had last week has dwindled to where Gingrich has surged ahead of him in the polls. And not only that, what's key any time you get to a caucus or a primary is, who has the momentum? And as we saw going into the Iowa caucuses, Santorum had the momentum. And as we learned just yesterday, he won. And right now it appears that Gingrich has momentum going into the primaries tomorrow. And that will be a big factor. He also did very well in the debate last night, so those two factors right there will help to -- I think whether it's Gingrich or Santorum will do well, but I think Romney is in trouble, and it's smart right now for him to downplay the expectations.

But if you look at the big picture, we're looking at, with one win in Iowa for Santorum, and Romney in New Hampshire, even if Gingrich wins here, we look to the next state, Florida. And Romney really has the upper hand heading into Florida.

BLITZER: Jamal, say what you will about Newt Gingrich. He was written off months ago after a lot of mistakes, and then he surged, did really well, until he was crushed in Iowa by all those super PAC pro-Mitt Romney commercials on television. But now, all of a sudden, he's coming back, and he might in fact win in South Carolina tomorrow. That would give him some momentum going into Florida.

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: You know, Wolf, I really learned most of what I know about politics doing politics in the South, in Georgia and across the South. And I've got to tell you, Bill Clinton always said it's better to be strong and wrong and weak and right.

Last night, Newt Gingrich took that straight to heart. I mean, when John King asked him that question, he came back as strong as he possibly could, attacked the questioner, attacked the question's very basis, scared everybody else away from it.

On the other hand, you had Mitt Romney, who, when he was asked questions about his tax questions, you could kind of family him squealing around inside of his suit coat trying to find a way out of it, and the audience starts booing, he's looking for a way out. That's just not the kind of leadership I think people respond to.

And so Romney has got to get more comfortable with these questions about his wealth and his taxes and all these issues if he thinks he's going to be the nominee.

BLITZER: Why does he seem so uncomfortable talking about that, Alice?

STEWART: I think he truly could have had a better response on the tax issue. He certainly has been out there for a few days. Like it or not, I think he should just go ahead and get them out there, put it behind him, and move on to more important things.

But what I do think he did do well last night is make a case for capitalism. He didn't apologize for being successful, working hard, and making a lot of money. So he made a really great point on the issue of capitalism.

The taxes issue, it's something that's been thrown out in the past week. He needs to put it behind him, and let's focus on the issues that people here in South Carolina are very concerned with, and that's jobs and the economy. The unemployment rate here in South Carolina is near 10 percent, and they want to elect someone that has real solutions for how to create jobs and help the economy here in South Carolina and across the country. And that's what they're looking at. That's what they're trying (ph) to these candidates, who has the best solutions in order to put these people in South Carolina back to work?

SIMMONS: Well, you know, Wolf --

BLITZER: Jamal -- hold on, Jamal, because when I was in South Carolina yesterday, several people who said they were going to vote for Newt Gingrich, you know what they said to me? They said, I want to vote for Newt Gingrich because I want to see a debate between Newt Gingrich and President Obama. They think he could handle President Obama.

What do you think of that argument you hear on the streets of Charleston, where I was?

SIMMONS: You know, I heard that when I was in Iowa also from people who said they didn't know if Newt could get elected, but they did want to see him in a debate with the president. And I think that, you know, the thing about Newt Gingrich is he's a big personality, he knows how to fight, he knows how to get in and there and do debates.

I think over time, he would not actually be able to take the president, his negatives are so big, but Democrats do need to be wary, because, unlike Mitt Romney, who doesn't quite have the personality, I think, to be a compelling presidential candidate -- Maureen Dowd called him the Tin Man the other day because he just doesn't seem to have the principle inside that guides him -- Newt Gingrich does. He's a big personality, he knows how to fight, and I think he's willing to fight a little bit -- hit some blows under the belt if that's what it takes to win, and the president would have to be mindful of that.

BLITZER: And Alice, very quickly, how is Ron Paul going to do tomorrow?

STEWART: Well, we'll see. Of course Ron Paul has a very, very strong following. A lot of young folks come out here and support him.

He's not doing very well in the polls. He did not do very well last night in the debate. I think those will be the key factors.

I think what we need to see, what we need more than anything, is to see a unification of the faith community, whether it's Santorum and Gingrich, or however we do. We need to have not necessarily the anti- Romney, but we need to unify behind the candidate who best represents the views and values of people here in South Carolina and conservatives across the country. Whoever that may be, time will tell.

But it's exciting, and this vetting process we have is great, because we're weeding through important issues. But what we're going to see, whoever comes out of South Carolina, going into Florida, it will be key. Florida is a very big state, it's a very expensive state. Right now, certainly Romney has the upper hand on that in terms of you need the money to do paid ads, you need the organization. He certainly has that.

SIMMONS: One thing --

In terms of what this will mean for Ron Paul, certainly he can stay in it for the long haul.

BLITZER: Hold on, Jamal.

Hold your thoughts, guys, because unfortunately, we're all out of time. But we get the point, and it's a good point, indeed, from both of you.

Jamal, Alice, guys, thank you.

So what has the president been doing about singing?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (singing): I'm so in love with you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Wow. What's behind the president's musical debut over at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem?

Also, police make a break in the gruesome case of those severed body parts found in the Hollywood Hills. We'll update you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now, including an update on a story not for the faint of heart.

What do you have, Lisa?

SYLVESTER: Yes, you got that right, Wolf.

The Los Angeles County Coroner's Office has identified the man whose severed hands, head and feet were found in the Hollywood Hills this week. The man's name is not being released.

He's said to be between the ages of 40 and 60. The body parts were found in a plastic grocery bag near a dirt trail.

And police are charging four members of the Florida A&M University's marching band with hazing. According to the arrest warrant, the four students punched, slapped and paddled other band members.

The arrests are not related to the November death of band member Robert Champion. According to Champion's lawyer, he collapsed after a hazing ritual. No one has been charged in Champion's death. The college says it is addressing the hazing problem.

And the entertainment world is mourning the loss of a legend. Blues singer Etta James has died from poor health relating to leukemia. Here she is singing her classic song, "At Last."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ETTA JAMES, SINGER (singing): At last, my love has come along. And my lonely days --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SYLVESTER: Oh, that is beautiful. We are certainly going to miss her. Stars from will.i.am to Mia Farrow to Maria Carey are taking to Twitter to remember her.

Etta James was 73 years old.

BLITZER: Yes. I could just listen to it all night. Thanks very much for that. She was a remarkable, remarkable singer.

President Obama, he is channeling in his own inner Al Green.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA (singing): I'm so in love with you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The president of the United States channeling in his own inner Al Green. And it's a side of him we rarely get a chance to see and one he hopes will help him keep his day job.

Our White House correspondent Dan Lothian is joining us. He's got more on this story -- Dan.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And Wolf, as part of trying to keep that job, the president has to raise a whole lot of money. He was at it again today at a fund-raiser here in Washington, a small group, 20 people. The ticket price, $35,800.

But even as the president is pushing to not only raise additional cash and line up supporters, there are questions about how the president is dividing his time between governing and campaigning.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN (voice-over): As the final four Republican presidential hopefuls tangled on CNN Thursday night, President Obama was making his musical debut at the Apollo Theater in Harlem.

OBAMA (singing): I'm so in love with you.

(APPLAUSE) LOTHIAN: This was just one of four campaign events the president attended in New York, including a fund-raiser at the home of movie director Spike Lee. The script at each stop was a tick-tock of his accomplishments sprinkled with sharp jabs at Republicans.

OBAMA: We have not seen a choice this stark in years.

LOTHIAN: That theme is being reinforced in the first major TV commercial released by President Obama's 2012 re-election team. Even though the White House insists the president is not in campaign mode yet, he spent more time on the trip raising money than he did at Disney World touting a plan to increase tourism.

Senior CNN political analyst and former Bush presidential adviser David Gergen says over the last few presidencies, the balance has swung heavily toward more and more campaigning, especially in the fourth year of a first term.

GERGEN: That's exactly what President Obama has done. He's shifted his attention more and more away from governing day-to-day and campaigning day-to-day. So far, the American people are giving him a pass on it.

LOTHIAN: But Republicans have not. They've criticized these dual- purpose trips as taxpayer-funded campaigning. Even the president's post-State of the Union tour to five states is being viewed with skepticism by House Speaker John Boehner.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE SPEAKER: If the president wasn't campaigning, why next week, after he gives his address to a joint session of Congress, is he traveling to five battleground states?

LOTHIAN: When reporters pressed White House spokesman Jay Carney on the matter, he pushed back.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Do you guys get that you're totally obsessed with campaign politics? I would challenge you to look at what the president does on any given week, including this week, and many weeks going backward, and not come to the conclusion that he spends a relatively small amount of time at this stage on campaign events.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN: Carney says that the president spends the majority of his time doing what he was elected to do, and that's working to engage with Congress to fix the economy and create more jobs -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dan Lothian at the White House for us.

Thank you.

Crime fighting or an invasion of privacy? Using a brand new tool, New York City police may be able to peek under your clothes to look for weapons. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The government will not only know where you are, who you're associating with, but also know what's in your pockets, what's in your body.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It could be coming to the streets of New York City, body scanning technology meant to hunt out concealed weapons. But the police department's plans are already raising red flags with critics who worry about an invasion of privacy.

Our own Mary Snow is joining us now from New York. She's got more.

Mary, what's going on here?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as you know, the streets of New York are already under an unblinking eye with cameras throughout the city. But new technology being considered would go much further.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): In the movie "Total Recall," there was nothing Arnold Schwarzenegger could conceal. Now the stuff of science fiction is edging closer to reality on New York City streets.

If you were carrying a gun, it would look like this with technology the city's police force is developing with the U.S. Defense Department. The device would read the energy of a person's body.

COMM. RAY KELLY, NEW YORK CITY POLICE: Terahertz is a radiation that, in essence, comes from lots of things, but can come from the human body. What it doesn't penetrate is metal or objects similar to metal.

SNOW: And the commissioner says since the radiation can't penetrate metal, it makes the outline of a gun visible. The detector looks like this, and the plan is for it to be operated from inside a vehicle.

(on camera): Right now these devices only work from a couple of feet away, and the NYPD is hoping to stretch that to about 80 feet.

(voice-over): Just the possibility of using this technology is setting off alarms among veteran civil liberties advocate Norman Siegel.

(on camera): Your first reaction when you heard about this?

NORMAN SIEGEL, ATTORNEY: Oh, my God. It's Fantasy Land. It's Orwellian. It's "1984" coming to New York City.

And if it takes hold in New York City, it will ripple all across America. And that's not the America that I grew up in.

SNOW (voice-over): But the New York Siegel grew up in has changed dramatically. Police surveillance cameras blanket the city following 9/11 and continue to expand.

SIEGEL: If this goes forward, the government will not only know where you are, who you're associating with, but also know what's in your pockets and what's in your body.

SNOW: The city's mayor sees it is differently. He's been a strong advocate for cracking down on illegal guns and defends the technology.

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I), NEW YORK: You can argue that's an invasion of privacy, but in the world we live in, that's something that we just have to live with. The alternative is intolerable.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Wolf, challenges over privacy issues are not new to the NYPD. Concerns were raised over surveillance cameras and bag searches on subways. The department says then, as now it's working with its lawyers to address those concerns -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary, thank you.

And that's it for me.

Thanks for joining us.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The news continues next on CNN.