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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Rep. Ron Paul's Remarks Continued; Nevada Caucuses Coverage - 1900 Hour

Aired February 4, 2012 - 19:00   ET

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


(REP. PAUL'S REMARKS IN PROGRESS)

REP. RON PAUL, R-TX, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Therefore, instead of thinking cutting government spending by $1 trillion is a detriment, it's a blessing. It's a help. It would be spent -- the money would be spent more wisely. And the allocation of credit would be the same thing.

Today, the Federal Reserve does everything to say that they will allocate credit to their friends in the bubble formation and to their friends when the bubble bursts and they need their bailout. At the same time individuals, middle class people, people who don't want to speculate in the stock market and they want to assume responsibility and save money.

So, what do they do? They put their money in a C.D. And Bernanke literally laughs at people and says, well, the fact they only get 1 percent or 2 percent, that's unfortunate. But we have to take care of those of those who are going to stimulate the economy and give the money to the bankers.

So, what we need -- the allocation of credit should come from the marketplace. And people should be encouraged to save, but there's no encouragement today. What do they do? They take money and say, we are going to take care of the elderly when they retire and we're going to have Social Security benefits. At the same time, they were wishing for and they deliberately debase the currency, which is a moral and economic issue.

So the people receiving benefits right now, are they keeping up with the cost of living? No. They're losing. But if you ask Bernanke and crew over there, they say, oh, no, inflation is only 1 percent or 2 percent. Don't worry about it.

But what if your inflation is 6 percent or 8 percent? Somebody's stealing from you. It's theft. The Founders called it counterfeiting.

(APPLAUSE)

PAUL: But because the government is too big, we have to ask a couple of questions. We have to ask, what should the role of government be? Should it be to operate an entitlement system?

A lot of people in this country have come to believe that entitlements is equivalent to having a right. And we should sort that all out. You have a right to your life in a natural way. You don't get your life or your liberties from the government. You get them in a natural way.

And we should say that the entitlement system is not a moral right. Entitlement means the government is going to give you something for free. Oh, the government can give you free education, free food, free housing, free medical care.

But where is the government -- where is the government getting -- they never produced a thing. The only thing government can do is steal it from productive individuals and give it to another one. It's totally destructive.

(APPLAUSE)

PAUL: Where we have a right to our own life and should have the right to the products of our labor, you don't have a right to your neighbor's wealth. You can't go in and steal from your neighbor just because they have more than you do.

(APPLAUSE)

PAUL: But you shouldn't have the right to send a politician or a congressman to go into your neighbor's house and take what they have because you want it. It's not right. It's not fair. And it doesn't work.

(APPLAUSE)

PAUL: But if we want to give those who want the redistribution of wealth, you know, the benefit of the doubt many of them are well- motivated. They really care about the poor and they don't understand economics. They don't understand how government destroys the production of wealth. So, they really want to help people.

And take for instance the housing. Well, it's nice -- everybody should have a house even if they can't afford it, you know? So, they devised a system, print a lot of money and pass out the money and have you know affirmative action programs, you force banks to give loans to people who don't qualify and then give special benefits to organizations like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac where their executives make hundreds of millions of dollars. And then everybody will get a house.

And the number of people who had houses actually went up. But also, there were a lot of people making a lot of money on this, the people who were churning the credit, the people in the mortgage markets, the people in the building trades, the people that got into the derivatives business. And they were doing great and the houses kept going up in prices. It's like a perpetual money machine.

How could it ever go wrong? The people could keep borrowing against the rising prices.

Except for one thing -- the Austrian free markets knew exactly what was going on. They understood it clearly and say it will not last. This is an artificial bubble created by the Federal Reserve and the U.S. Congress and it would collapse and it did.

(APPLAUSE)

PAUL: A characteristic of systematic debasement of a currency if that's all you are dealing with is just a debasement of a currency and devaluations the middle class suffers, the wealthy benefits because there's a transfer of wealth. The people in the middle class get to use the money last when it has less value and the prices go up and they pay the inflation tax.

But to the people who get the money first -- the government, the politicians who get to use it, big business and big banks and the military industrial complex, they get to use the money first, so they have an advantage.

But what happens when the bubble collapses? Because they are so in charge, because the special interests have so much charge of the monetary system and the system of our foreign policy, they will yell and scream and they say there's a depression coming, there's a depression coming, and we need bailout. If you don't do this, we'll have a depression.

And they were right about one thing, there would have been a depression for the rich people. They would have gone bankrupt. And instead, they got the bailouts and we got the bankruptcy.

(BOOS)

PAUL: So the middle class bore the burden of assuming the debt and the big banks got bailed out. But it's still in process. They still want to do this. The only limiting factor right now is the fact that there's going to be an economic limit to how much -- how many dollars can be printed.

We are -- we did in the bailout, you know, the Congress appropriated $1 trillion. That's getting to be a fair sum of money.

But the Fed was involved with $15 trillion or $16 trillion of churning credit and bailing out their friends, domestic and international -- international governments and banks. And they're still in a position to do this and they're behind the scenes promising Europe, well, we'll be there. The dollar will take care of it.

The dollar is -- and our credit is devalued once already. It's getting ready to devalue again. And people are starting to wake up and say, you can't keep printing money and spending money on our own debt and think you can bail out the world -- no more than we can be the policeman of the world, we can't be the financial caretaker of the world either.

(APPLAUSE)

PAUL: So, we have to be prepared for what's happening and, fortunately, the people in this country are steering. And this election is changing a tone. It's the first time in 100-year history of the Federal Reserve that the Federal Reserve has become an issue in this campaign.

(APPLAUSE)

PAUL: But if we reject the notion of the failed policy of the entitlement welfare state which we are in the midst and people are realizing it's failing. Even those on the receiving end are getting pretty worried, too, because they know this can't continue.

But we also have to ask our question about the foreign policy. The Constitution is rather clear. The president is the commander-in-chief and we should have a strong national defense. We should defend our country. We should have -- you know, protection of national security. And that is a precise function that we should have.

But that is one area where we don't have to worry very much right now because we have the strongest military in the history of the world. There's no power in the world even if they all got together, we are so powerful because we have more weaponry than everybody else put together. So, we are not going to be attacked. Nobody is on the verge of invading us.

And yet what are we doing? We have distorted things by distorting our defense, because not only do we allow our presidents to go to war, we're allowing our presidents to go to war under NATO and U.N. resolutions. That's wrong.

(BOOS)

PAUL: But what we have to do is decide that how much engagement we should have around the world. I think we should have plenty. It should be engagement with trade and friendship and travel and expressing of ideas.

(APPLAUSE)

PAUL: I always find it interesting that those who will challenge our views on nonintervention in foreign policy will say, oh, you guys are a bunch of isolationists.

Actually, it's the opposite of isolation. We don't want to build fences and borders and terrorists (ph) and all this. They usually are the ones who want to put on the sanctions and the terrorists. And then they call us the isolationists.

Matter of fact, I don't know if you have listened to the debates, I have been very explicit about who the real isolationists are. It's the ones who are resisting our efforts to open up diplomatic relationships and trade with Cuba. That's what we need to be doing.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Listening to Ron Paul as he is speaking to some of his supporters far, far away, like 1,300 miles away. He's happy today but not necessarily of these results that we're going to see tonight as he continues to move the race forward into another state. Maria Cardona joins us our panelists who are filling us in on what to expect. So, let's talk about Ron Paul to this race because while we're not talking about him a lot, he actually polling-wise, has been third, sometimes fourth. But early results are showing he's doing better than the polls expected.

MARIA CARDONA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think that's right. And that's one of the things that I've talked about leading up to Nevada is to what do we expect out of Ron Paul. And the fact is it's easy to write him off, but we know he has a strong and passionate base of support.

And he -- we always knew, he talked about this, that Nevada was one of the places where he could surprise people. And actually think that if he wins second place, obviously, that is news. If he wins third place, that's also news because of the fact that he does have that level of support and that he always talked about Nevada.

So, I think that Ron Paul is going to continue to be an issue. We all know that he's going into go into the election. And one of the reasons I think that a lot of Republicans, libertarians, conservatives really like him is as opposed to Mitt Romney, he is somebody who has never changed his position on anything. He is somebody who can be trusted with that core, with principles.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I'm sure there are folks at home, they are saying, OK, what's the big deal of second and third place. Remember, 1988, Reverend Jackson comes in second to Michael Dukakis, goes to the convention, significant power when it comes to the platform of the Democratic Party when it came to giving a primetime speech. Also, after '88, they changed to proportion of delegation as a result of that election.

So, when you come in second or third when it comes to delegates, the power comes in when you go to the convention in terms of placing your people in particular positions in the party, so, it matters when it comes to the convention this summer.

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: There's something else going on here as well. If Ron Paul has really made Nevada where he was going to make a stand, if he comes in third behind Gingrich --

O'BRIEN: That's a problem.

ERICKSON: -- I think that's a problem for him. But there's a dynamic here the media has yet to pay attention to, and that is a lot of Ron Paul supporters around the country have shown up and gotten involved as delegates to go to the convention even if supporting another candidates. And the Ron Paul campaign theory is that --

O'BRIEN: Done in the past.

ERICKSON: -- if they keep Mitt Romney from going to a majority, those delegates are only locked in on the first place person on the first ballot at the Republican Convention.

MARTIN: Trojan horse. ERICKSON: They could throw in (INAUDIBLE). And this is an organized effort in Virginia, in Pennsylvania and Georgia and other states who try to make it happen. Whether or not they can pull it off is an indicator of how well he does in these caucuses. If can't do well in the caucuses, the odds are his other ground games and his other --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: You call him an insurgent?

(LAUGHTER)

ERICKSON: He doesn't look like he's surging anyway.

O'BRIEN: Surging is not exactly the word I would use.

Wolf, let's send it back to you.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Soledad.

Still ahead, there are some still very, very interesting results to come for a crucial voting block for Mitt Romney.

Plus, we're awaiting new numbers as the Nevada count continues. We're getting new information. Stand by.

We'll also take you back inside the Nevada caucuses.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Tonight, Nevadans have their say in the increasingly bitter race for the Republican presidential nomination.

O'BRIEN: And right now, Mitt Romney has the early lead. We are here to watch the caucuses and the candidates.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: The first Republican presidential contest in the West, it's a new frontier for the angry showdown between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We are going to beat a big lie campaign with a big truth campaign.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He's been flailing around a bit, trying to go after me for one thing or another.

ANNOUNCER: Will Romney score a third win or will the voters surprise us again?

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Republicans can do better. This campaign went downhill.

ANNOUNCER: It's Nevada's choice. Romney had his day in the sun in Florida and he wants to keep the momentum going. ROMNEY: And I will lead us back to prosperity.

ANNOUNCER: Gingrich vows to fight on no matter how he does tonight.

GINGRICH: We are gong to contest every place and we will be in Tampa as the nominee.

ANNOUNCER: The final four candidates in a marathon race for delegates.

PAUL: We are in third place when it comes to delegates, and that's what really counts.

ANNOUNCER: One step closer to the convention in Tampa and their party's big prize

ROMNEY: Ours will be a united party with a winning ticket for America.

ANNOUNCER: Will Republicans rally behind a single candidate soon, or will the infighting last for months?

GINGRICH: I don't believe the Republican Party is going to nominate a liberal.

SANTORUM: I think they're going to be looking for a different conservative as an alternative to Mitt Romney.

PAUL: It's grassroots up. It's the cause of liberty and we will prevail.

ANNOUNCER: The stakes are high.

ROMNEY: We need new leadership in Washington.

ANNOUNCER: Every contest matters.

GINGRICH: We're going to beat money power with people power.

And in Nevada, right now, all bets are off.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer at the CNN Election Center.

We are about an hour, actually less than an hour away from the first big release of raw votes, the four Republican candidates are eagerly awaiting the results from the first state that hold caucuses since Iowa.

CNN caucus cameras have been following all the action at several voting sites across Nevada. And we're going to bring you all the results, all the highlights as they happen.

We have the most crews in most elections. Our correspondents on this night are out in full force, including Jim Acosta and Brianna Keilar.

Let's go to Jim Acosta over at Mitt Romney headquarters right now.

Folks haven't started arriving yet but they will fairly soon.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: They will fairly soon. They were just polishing up the glass on the teleprompters for Mitt Romney. So, it looks like it will be a formal speech tonight. And perhaps, the deck was stacked in his favor with so many Mormons participating in today's Nevada caucuses.

But Mitt Romney is on the verge of doing something he has failed to do throughout this campaign, and that is win two in a row. And if Newt Gingrich finishes third, all the better for Romney who again today sounded like a candidate who would like his sights away from the GOP field and towards President Obama -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Brianna Keilar is over at Newt Gingrich's headquarters at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas.

Set the scene for us, Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Newt Gingrich keeping a low profile today, Wolf. His best care scenario is to hang on to second place and to be able to point to support from conservative voters.

He has admitted, February will be a tough month for him. He's hoping to stay relevant until Super Tuesday in March when a number of conservatives, specifically in Southern states, head to the polls, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Brianna, thank you. We'll get back to you.

I want to check in with Soledad O'Brien. She's with us, of course, throughout the night -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Now, Wolf, as you know, most caucus sites across Nevada has closed and we expect the Nevada Republican Party to release a lot of the results in about 45 minutes.

There is one final caucus that's planned for 10:00 p.m. in Clark County for those who could not attend for earlier caucuses for religious reasons.

Also, at 10:00 p.m., most of the remaining vote totals will be released. And that is when we could learn the winner.

And Mitt Romney heads into the contest with two victories under his belt. Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum have one win apiece. Ron Paul is still searching for a win.

As the results come in, John King is going to map out those results and the magic wall, and bring us entrance poll data.

John, what are you looking at tonight? JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Soledad, we knew Governor Romney was leading coming into the race. There's an entrance poll because it's a caucus state in Nevada. As people go in, we are asking them not only who they voted for but what's on their mind.

Look at this -- 54 percent of the Republican caucusgoers today, no surprise, 12.6 percent unemployment in Nevada, the economy is their number one issue. And look at this, this would back up the early results -- 63 percent of the voters who say the economy was number one to them back Governor Romney. A distant second, Speaker Gingrich at 17, Congressman Ron Paul at 15.

So, that's one glimpse of the electorate in Nevada today.

Let's come over, the candidate quality. Remember, Nevada will be a swing state in November, 44 percent, by far, topping the other issue, voters said today they want a candidate who can defeat Obama. Again, if you look at this right here, Governor Romney: 74 percent of that vote, a big chunk of the electorate there. Speaker Gingrich way behind.

So, on the big issue and the candidate quality. Governor Romney running well ahead.

Why do we care so much about Nevada? Well, number one, it's an important contest for the Republicans right now.

Let's go to the national map. We started in Iowa, went to New Hampshire, down south to South Carolina and Florida . Now, as you know, the first contest out in the West.

And as we await the results to come in tonight, we'll see what Republicans think. Let's go back in time and just remind ourselves -- President Obama carried Nevada, yes, with 55 percent back in 2008.

But why does this state matter? In '04, a narrow victory for George W. Bush. And, Soledad, in 2000, a narrow victory, too. Nevada, a swing state. Republicans thinking tonight maybe their state will matter in November.

O'BRIEN: All right. John, thanks.

So, our analysts are going to break it down tonight like nobody else can.

Gloria Borger and David Gergen are working their sources tonight, along with "The Best Political Team" here in the election center. And John Avlon at the Romney headquarters in Las Vegas -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Soledad, thanks very much.

The battle between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich got a lot more pointed and personal this week. Both men are in Nevada right now, they're awaiting the results of the Nevada caucuses.

Ron Paul and Rick Santorum have move on to states with contests this coming Tuesday.

Jim Acosta, once again, is over at Romney headquarters. Brianna Keilar is with the Gignrich campaign. Gary Tuchman is over with the Santorum campaign in Colorado.

Jim, first to you.

Mitt Romney -- he's zeroed in on the economy on this day. Clearly, the most important issues for voters in Nevada, dare I say all over the country.

ACOSTA: That's right, Wolf. We've seen a different playbook from Mitt Romney all this week. He has spent a lot less time talking about Newt Gingrich, a lot more talking -- time talking about President Obama.

And at an event earlier today in Colorado Springs, the former Massachusetts governor did just that, going after the president on his handling of the budget deficit.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I will get America finally on track to have a balanced budget.

(APPLAUSE)

ROMNEY: I just think it's -- I mean, I know it's bad economics to keep borrowing at this level. I know it puts America in danger. I know the level of borrowing we're carrying out slows the economy and makes it harder for people to find work.

But I also believe it's immoral. I believe it's wrong for our generation to pass on to our kids and to their kids, burdens that we haven't paid for -- knowing that we can't possibly pay them. I will not allow this nation to continue to spend our kids' future and their kids' future.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: A side note on those comments from Mitt Romney. He made them at a metal works factory in Colorado that received stimulus money -- that's right -- stimulus money, part of the president's stimulus program. Mitt Romney commented on the stimulus, criticizing it, saying it has failed to keep unemployment below 8 percent.

But you'll note, Wolf, that the unemployment rate has dipped to 8.3 percent. It is very close to that boundary line that Mitt Romney has again and again drawn throughout this campaign as perhaps a threshold as to whether or not voters will reelect him -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We're going to hear a lot more about the economy, I'm sure, later when he actually speaks. Jim, thanks very much.

Brianna Keilar is over at the Newt Gingrich headquarters also in Las Vegas. It really got nasty -- a lot of bad blood between these front runners right now, Brianna.

KEILAR: That's right, Wolf. And you could hear this last night when Newt Gingrich at an event at a church here in Las Vegas was bristling really from the TV ads and the mailers that the Romney campaign has put out here in -- pardon me, here in Nevada, questioning the speaker's ethics. In turn, Newt Gingrich questioning the character of Mitt Romney.

Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRICH: I am ashamed of the negativity and dishonesty that has characterized this campaign. It is unworthy. These young people deserve leaders who care enough to tell the truth. And they deserve leaders who don't shave corner and don't play games and don't take things out of context because we are in trouble.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: It's a sign, Wolf, that this bruising style of politics will continue out here on the trail. And as you know, a lot of establishment Republicans are not happy about it. They feel this just gives President Obama a chance to watch from the sidelines as the Republicans beat up on each other.

BLITZER: What's Newt Gingrich up to today? We didn't see a whole lot of him? What's his game plan for tonight?

KEILAR: Yes, we haven't seen him at all today, nothing on his public schedule. And we won't see him until this evening. No rally, Wolf.

This is an event where he will be talking to the media. Perhaps a sign that he's all but ceded Nevada to Mitt Romney. So, he'll be talking to reporters. We know last night he did concentrate on some fundraising. A source telling CNN that he met with 60 donors, including Sheldon Adelson who owns the casino that I'm standing in front of, and who, along with his wife, has donated $11 million to Newt Gingrich's cause through a super PAC, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Brianna. Brianna Keilar is in Vegas.

Gary Tuchman is with Rick Santorum's campaign.

They are getting to hear from Rick Santorum at a dinner, and not in Las Vegas, anywhere in Nevada, but in Colorado.

Gary, tell us what's going on.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Rick Santorum does not expect to do well in Nevada, so he is moving on.

He'll be coming to this huge ballroom at the University of Northern Colorado, in the city of Greeley, which is about an hour north of Denver, where he'll be making a speech at a Weld County Republican dinner, an annual event. It's going to be a huge thing. There's about 600 people expected to be here. This is the kickoff of the Western primary and caucus season.

You can tell that by the fact that the roses are put in a vase or a vase, depending on how you pronounce it, in a boot. And we can all pronounce boot the same way, cowboy boots and the vases here to honor the beginning of the Western primary and caucus season.

I almost dropped the roses. They would be mad at me about that.

One thing right now that Rick Santorum is dealing with -- an endorsement by the "Denver Post" today. "The Denver Post" endorsed Mitt Romney, said that Rick Santorum knows the issue as well but is, quote, "short on real world experience". He didn't expect to get that endorsement. Nevertheless it hurts because he does think he can do well here in Colorado. He thinks he can do well in Minnesota, Missouri which all have their caucuses and primary this Tuesday.

And while Santorum has been on the stump, he's been saying that he is a serious man who is going to be dealing with serious issues when he's president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANTORUM: I know this is not a rally speech. But this is not a rally time. This is a time for big things. This isn't a time for happy talk. This is a time to think about what's at stake and to be inspired, not by lofty words, but by inner strength and conviction of doing the right thing for your country.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TUCHMAN: Rick Santorum is expected to be jovial when he speaks here about an hour and a half from now, but it will not be a celebration. He hopes to celebrate a little more Tuesday after those three caucuses and primary.

Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right. Gary Tuchman in Greeley, Colorado. We'll expect to hear from Rick Santorum tonight at some point tonight as well.

You are about to get a fascinating inside look at an actual caucus in Nevada. Chances are, it's not like anything you've ever seen or done in person.

Also, we are waiting more results as the caucuses wrap up. These are the numbers everyone is watching. Stand by, new numbers about to come in.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Within a half hour or so we're going to get another round of caucus results. The latest numbers coming in right at the top of the hour.

In the meantime, let's check back with Soledad. Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right, Wolf. You expect secrecy when you step into a voting booth. But a caucus is a very different animal. The public events even our cameras are allowed to watch. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN: Paul Steinhauser in Las Vegas. We are in Becker Middle School. There is a caucus going on here. We're in the cafeteria. Three precincts going on right now at the same time. This precinct they just voted and they're collecting the ballots as we speak.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have for Rick Santorum three votes cast, for Newt Gingrich three votes cast, for Ron Paul eight votes cast, for Mitt Romney 36 votes cast. Thank you for your participation.

PETER HAMBY: I'm Peter Hamby in Henderson, Nevada. These ballots were just counted here at this precinct again. Four candidates on the ballot. And Mitt Romney wins this precinct substantially. They just finished counting the votes. Ron Paul got five votes. Newt Gingrich five votes. Rick Santorum one. Mitt Romney 31 votes. Again, only 42 ballots cast in this precinct where there are over 300 registered Republicans. Turnout is very low in this precinct but this is definitely Mitt Romney territory right out here in Henderson.

PAUL VERCAMMEN: I'm Paul Vercammen here at the Carson City caucus. Where there expect more than a 50 percent turnout. Here are four of the precincts. Twenty four of them all in Carson City. This county does lean Republican. One theme that you hear here it's like their Super Bowl their game. They say in the end they've got to get behind one Republican candidate and beat Barack Obama in November. I'm Paul Vercammen reporting from Carson City.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: Heading into the Nevada caucuses today, Mitt Romney had a 20-point lead over Newt Gingrich in the most recent poll of likely Republican caucus goers. Rick Santorum and Ron Paul were lagging even further behind. Romney hasn't had a huge advantage in surveys voters around the country. In fact, Gingrich was the leader in national polls two weeks ago after he won the South Carolina primary.

The race then tightened after that. And Gingrich and Romney were running neck and neck. But Romney jumped back into the lead in the past week, boosted by his primary victory in the state of Florida.

Back over to our contributors. Will Cain, if you look at the state of Florida you saw that Mitt Romney lost who said they were very conservatives, lost those who said they were strong tea partiers. You look at the entrance polls in the state of Nevada, it seems completely different.

WILL CAIN, COLUMNIST, THEBLAZE.COM: Right. One of the narratives that's been going on here is that Mitt Romney is the establishment candidate, right? And Newt Gingrich is the anti-establishment candidate. But after we looked at the numbers in Nevada, I don't know how indicative Nevada is going to be to the rest of the nation, as Mitt Romney wins Tea Party, very conservative. I think (INAUDIBLE) wrote this on the "National (INAUDIBLE)," said "the only thing that is defining establishment these days are those who made peace with their disappointment prematurely." Everyone is making peace with Mitt Romney.

O'BRIEN: That sounds sort of sad and not like it's a way to win a general election in November.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: And look you want to beat President Obama in November you better have some enthusiastic votes coming out to the polls. It's kind of hard for somebody to say, yes, my first choice of the person who can beat Obama versus I'm really excited about this candidate. Romney needs that. He is going to need that. And when you look at, you talk about Hispanic voters in Nevada and Arizona and Colorado and you hear Republicans talk about illegal immigration. That is not polling at the top.

(INAUDIBLE) sent me an e-mail about the Latino decision at the polling deal. They are showing economy and jobs and majority Republican and Hispanics even support the Dream Act. They need to figure out what their messaging is going to be to attract those voters from New Mexico, Colorado, North Arizona.

O'BRIEN: Ron Paul who is actually talking to Latinos in the state of Nevada. I know that Gloria, you want to join us?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, on the enthusiasm question I mean I think that what's going to happen is that Republicans hope and the Romney campaign hopes that eventually Barack Obama himself will be the person who rallies Republicans and in the end they are all going to join together. I mean it might not have been as enthusiastic about Mitt Romney as they might have been throughout this entire process but if he becomes the nominee what the Romney people believe is that their voters will get out to the polls because Barack Obama will unite Republicans and in a way -

MARTIN: If you are betting on the other guy (INAUDIBLE)

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN:: David Gergen.

CAIN: No, I totally agree with you. I think every Republican wants this to be an election about Barack Obama. It needs to be a referendum on Barack Obama. So I'm not worried about Romney's enthusiasm level.

O'BRIEN: But doesn't that change? Can that be a flawed theory though when you look at the job numbers, right? Really, this is the first time we had a contest since those job numbers came out on Friday. If they keep going that direction doesn't that have a little problem on your theory on that, David? DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely. If the job numbers continue to improve the way they have, yes, Barack Obama is going to be extraordinarily a strong candidate in the fall. We have had two false dons on job numbers in the last two years. They start out very strong in the beginning of the year and then they tail off as the year goes on. So you have to wait and see how it comes out.

But I think tonight yes there is still an enthusiasm gap but I think it is really significant tonight that in a state which is - like Nevada which has such a high turnout of very conservative people as well as strong Tea Party supporters, Mitt Romney for the first time is breaking through with those groups. And I think that's significant.

O'BRIEN: Well, hang on a second. It will be interesting to see what that actual turnout number is and if it really is high because (INAUDIBLE).

GERGEN: We do know about the percentage of people who said they are very conservative who voted.

O'BRIEN:: Right. The high percentage of people but the actual turnout number is another thing -

ERICK ERICKSON, EDITOR IN CHIEF, REDSTATE.COM: The problem with the enthusiasm issue. I ran campaigns for a number of years. It's really hard to keep the side motivated, keep your side motivated by the other side. You have to give them something to vote for other than just replacing the guy. Basically, everything we say here tonight is to some degree, in my mind, a little bit irrelevant if the economy improves -

(CROSSTALK)

ERICKSON: If the economy improves, Barack Obama wins the election. If the economy does not improve, Barack Obama loses. I'm not a Mitt Romney fan. But if the economy goes further in the tank then Mitt Romney is going to win. If it improves, he's not going to win. Mitt Romney does have one enthusiasm trump card though, the Supreme Court will issue its decision on Obama care before the election. That will inspire Republican voters if they go against them to remember the Supreme Court.

O'BRIEN: We're lacking inspiration. Go ahead.

MARIA CARDONA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: If you look at Nevada and you talked about the consolidation vote. It wasn't really a consolidation vote. Conservative voters didn't really have anywhere else to go because no one else was really competing for Nevada and he won on the strength of having come off the Florida win. He won in Florida because he put 13,000 ads up against -

(CROSSTALK)

CARDONA: Yes but 13,000 ads against Newt Gingrich's 200. Look, if you have the best car against a bunch of lemons, it doesn't mean you're going to win the Indy 500. MARTIN: John also said that earlier in his polling. Fifty seven percent of the people said they made up their mind before January. OK. It's not like Santorum and Gingrich are setting the house on fire in November, December. Right. So this really is a home win for Romney. This is a well (INAUDIBLE) plan whatever that (INAUDIBLE)

O'BRIEN: I want to ask a question about Ron Paul he polled in third sometimes fourth place but could be in second place in this. What's the implication for that?

CAIN: I want to be clear, this is a bad night for Ron Paul. Nevada is teed up for him. This is a caucus state. It's a western (INAUDIBLE) state.

(CROSSTALK)

CAIN: Eighty seven percent of land in Nevada is federal. These people are bumping up against (INAUDIBLE)

ERICKSON: (INAUDIBLE) for Ron Paul. Because this is a delegate race. This isn't a polling race. It's a delegate race.

MARTIN: And President Obama lost Nevada to Hillary Clinton. One more delegate. It's just a question also of how many doggone total votes you get.

O'BRIEN: Do you day doggone total votes?

MARTIN: Doggone (INAUDIBLE) Sure did.

CARDONA: The GOP electorate in Nevada is not indicative of the overall Nevada electorate.

O'BRIEN: All right. Wolf, let's send it back to you.

BLITZER: Thanks Soledad, very much.

I want to show our viewers the vote tallies that we have. We are the only news organization that is actually going out to various caucuses around the state and heard the official numbers coming in. That's why we can share with you what is going on. No one else can right now.

Three percent of the vote. That is what we estimated is in. A very impressive win so far. At least three percent only, very early. Fifty two percent for Mitt Romney to 20 percent for Ron Paul and 19 percent for Newt Gingrich, only nine percent for Rick Santorum. These are numbers that we have gathered ourselves, we have the most reporters, producers, at various locations throughout Nevada right now. Many more numbers are expected to come in right at the top of the hour. John.

But we got some better appreciation of why this is happening based on the entrance polling data that we're getting.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: You take an entrance poll on your way in to a caucus and Wolf, every state is different. We talked about it. They were just talking over there. The west, land rights is a big issue out in the west. You also find more members of the church of the latter-day saints. More Mormons. Mitt Romney is a Mormon. Twenty six percent of the caucus electorate today in the state of Nevada described themselves as Mormon.

And look right here, this is all winning big. Again, one in every four votes said I'm a member of the church of the LDS, Mitt Romney getting 91 percent of that vote. That is a huge slice of a very important piece of the electorate. So that helps there. But if you look though, Mitt Romney is winning the Catholic vote. The Catholic vote is 21 percent. Mitt Romney winning that with the majority, 53 percent of that.

Protestants, mainland Protestants, 27 percent of the electorate. And guess what? Mitt Romney also with a comfortable lead over Speaker Gingrich. So he's winning across the board. The only interesting one among those who described themselves as having no religion.

Take a peek at that. Ron Paul with 55 percent, keeping the government out of your life, 27 percent for Governor Romney and Speaker Gingrich but a smaller slice of the electorate. One more point to look at here. They were just talking about this. The smart people over the other side of the room 74 percent of the electorate today described themselves as supporters of the Tea Party.

This is important because it's a different Tea Party in different states. That's one of the lessons we learned in 2010. It's a lesson we're learning again in 2012. The Tea Party is a little different in every state. But in the state of Nevada tonight, a majority of those who say they support the Tea Party, Wolf, supporting Governor Romney, a two to one lead over Speaker Gingrich. That bodes very well for Mitt Romney.

Now, we should be careful. Sometimes when you're running away with an election, you win across all groups. So is there a lesson for the next stop but opening this month that is so important for his momentum. Governor Romney at least at the moment looks like he is heading for a very convincing night.

BLITZER: Do you think he is at the same Tea Party activists that got Sharron Angle the nomination for the Republican senate? She lost to Harry Reid as you know.

KING: She did but it was in the Republican Party. We were just in Florida. The nominees in Florida were not the nominees the establishment wanted. The nominees in Nevada in 2010 were not the nominees the establishment. One of the tea party very influential. So if Governor Romney is not only getting a fair shape but 51 percent of those who supported the Tea Party that means the recent energy in the Nevada Republican Party is going Governor Romney's way.

BLITZER: Good point. I really have a lot more coverage coming up including my one-on-one interview with Ron Paul. We are about to speak with the Texas congressman, the Republican presidential candidate. He and Newt Gingrich right now, in a neck and neck race for second place. You saw the numbers as they are coming in.

Also something you need to know to understand why Nevada's voters are so angry today. The state leads the nation in an economic category that is just devastating.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're at the CNN election center. We actually have votes that our producers, our reporters at various locations in Nevada had counted at these caucuses. Three percent of the vote, we estimate now with Mitt Romney ahead with 52 percent. There is a fierce battle though under way between Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich. Ron Paul right now with 20 percent. Newt Gingrich 19 percent. Only nine percent for Rick Santorum. Once again, only three percent of the vote, the caucus vote so far in.

Let's talk to Congressman Ron Paul right now, the Republican presidential candidate. He's joining us from Arden Hills, Minnesota.

Congressman Paul, thanks very much for coming in. Would you be satisfied with a third place, a second place. It doesn't look like you are going to win but we haven't gotten official results yet.

REP. RON PAUL (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes I think I will come in second but it is still pretty early to make any declarations. But we have a few other numbers and they are looking pretty good. But we have to be a little bit patient and find out what the final number is later on in the evening.

BLITZER: Because a lot of people thought Nevada was well-positioned for you, the libertarian element out there, west. You are from Texas. It looks like Mitt Romney is going to have a strong night though.

PAUL: Yes, I think so. But I think everybody does recognize that the Mormon vote is significant and he picks up a lot of vote and they're good turnout. That would play a role in it too. But I still think it is a very libertarian state and a very friendly state. We had, you know, good reception there. But think we just have to wait and just see how these numbers come in and see if we do have a good second place coming up.

BLITZER: Give us your feeling looking ahead to Tuesday. You are already in Minnesota. There will be caucuses in Minnesota on Tuesday and caucuses in Colorado on Tuesday, also a primary although it is not binding in Missouri. What is your assessment?

PAUL: Well, I'm feeling pretty good about it. We have some good reports on what is happening in Maine and the Colorado reception was fantastic. We got really good support here in, you know, Minnesota. So I think we're going to come out pretty good on this. But I don't usually make wild predictions or claim anything. But I have felt very good about it. The reception has been excellent.

BLITZER: Because I know you've been in Maine. Maine is a week from today. They wrap up their caucuses which continues over several days. You are watching what is going on. But I just want to make sure, get you on the record. You're in this contest at least through super Tuesday if not much further right?

PAUL: Yes, certainly. I mean it would be pretty difficult even if I had a personal desire not to continue. There would be a strong rebellion with my friends. But I think we are doing so well that there is no reason to even think about that. We are starting to se the accumulation of delegates. After tonight we're going to have more delegates. And after next Tuesday we're going to have significant number more. And then I think other people will be starting to think about our position and we may well by that time be in second place.

BLITZER: But at some point you have to win a state, right? Congressman, you have to win one state. Give us your prediction, which state will you win in first?

PAUL: Well, I - probably not the best person. Because I don't look at the numbers carefully. I see myself as responsible for delivering a message and trying to motivate people. So I don't think I'm very good at saying that the very best state is going to be this state and this is the one we're going to win. So I'm going to defer because I don't have the numbers in front of me to make that prediction.

BLITZER: And I just want to clarify your reaction to the controversial comments that Mitt Romney made earlier in the week when he was on CNN. He spoke with our own Soledad O'Brien and he made those awkwardly phrased comments about he's not really concerned about he's not really concerned about poor people because they have a safety net, maybe you need to tweak that. He said he misspoke. He later said it was a misstatement. What was your reaction when you heard that?

PAUL: Well I've been asked about that and I kept thinking about the last time he had a statement and I think it was taken out of context. And you know, I try to give people the benefit of the doubt. I know Governor Romney well enough he just doesn't come across as the person that I don't care about poor people. And I thought maybe that was a distortion what his real beliefs are. Actually when I listened to his statement, I mean, it wasn't like he was saying that.

But my contention is people say, "Well, what is your concern?" Well, see, I think he's a victim of his own economic policy. So when people ask me about that, I'm really a strong defender of the poor and middle class and see how monetary policy destroys the middle class and how all these programs back fire on the middle class, how they use their jobs and their houses. So in many way I have deep concern about the middle class and the poor.

And I think Mitt and others are, you know, thinking in terms well if we have a program in place, an entitlement system and a welfare system, we've done our job. I just look at this a little bit differently. We can only do our job to maximize the wealth for the middle class and the poor is by having a better economic system balancing our budget and having a sound monetary program.

BLITZER: One final question before I let you go, Congressman. The defense secretary Leon Panetta was reported this week, he believes there's a strong chance Israel might launch an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities either in April, May or June. If you were president of the United States, what would you do in a scenario like that?

PAUL: You mean if they did it?

BLITZER: Well, what would you try to do? If you were president right now and your intelligence people said to you it looks like Israel is about to preemptively destroy, try to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities, what would you do as president?

PAUL: Well, you know, there's a healthy debate in Israel right now. So the fact that they're, you know, in a consensus over there, I think it's more of a debate over there one what to do than sometimes in our own country. Now if I had any say or they asked me my opinion, I would try to discourage them doing it. Why start a war? You know, besides, I've heard the head of the Massud say even if they got a nuclear weapon, they would not be an existential threat and heard (INAUDIBLE) just the other day, making comments similar to this that you don't go to war over this kind of thing. So I will try to use the foreign policy and the military experts who say that this would be a fallacy and use the people in Israel who are saying these things as well to show that people should stop and think before they start a war.

BLITZER: There is a healthy debate and it's well under way on this very subject you correctly point out. All right. Thanks very much, congressman. Appreciate your coming in.

PAUL: Thank you.

BLITZER: We're approaching a critical moment, stand by for new raw numbers from the Nevada caucuses. They're about to come in. Plus Rick Santorum, he will also join us live. He's out on the campaign trail. He's in Colorado. Stand by for that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We expect to get a major inflow of information of actual voting from the Nevada caucuses right at the top of the hour. Stand by. New numbers about to come in but I want to go over to John King over at the magic wall for us. John, you correct me, it's a race to 270 electoral votes. That would be in November. But you're getting a sense of what's going on.

KING: Well, at the moment it's a race to 1,144. That's the delegates you need to win the Republican nomination but the winner of the Republican nomination will compete in a very different map. This is the 2008 map, the electoral votes have changed a bit because of the census.

Let's take out the states that we assume will be swing states, New Hampshire will be a swing state, Virginia will, North Carolina will, Florida will be, Ohio and Indiana, maybe Michigan. Let's take it out for the sake of argument.

We know Iowa where the campaign started this year, will be in play, Colorado, maybe to New Mexico, state of Nevada. Now there could be more states. Some Republicans they can do better up here in the northern mid west. Let's just take this for the sense of argument. At home, this is a hypothetical. People get mad sometimes. I assign your state to somebody else. This is a hypothetical.

Let's watch this play out. Let's assume, for example, the Republicans take Ohio and Indiana. Let's assume President Obama, especially because of his help for General Motors and Chrysler can keep Michigan in his column. Let's assume Florida goes Republican in this scenario and let's split these two. These are big states, big swing states. Let's give the president, Virginia, let's say he pulls that out again, say the Republicans keep North Carolina.

So we come west, look at this. At this point 25t to 253, you need 270 to get there. Let's say New Mexico, let's say because of the Latino vote, President Obama keeps that one. What about the state of Iowa, well, for the sake of argument, let's just say the Republicans grab that one. And then Wolf, we're going to come out here to Colorado. OK. You know what, why don't we do that and we'll come out here and we give this to the Republicans. Look at this, 267 to 262 as you come to the west, you have to get here. The line is here. The line is here.

That doesn't want to work at the moment but the state of Nevada could decide the presidential election. Now last week we showed you a scenario where Florida could do it. But that's because of this. I should know better, right? If you do that the Republicans win. If do you that the president wins. Nevada could be key not only tonight but on a late night in November.

BLITZER: That's why we're watching Nevada very closely. You know, they're also watching it Nevada closely over at the White House. Jessica Yellin is our chief White House correspondent. What are the Obama folks looking at as far as tonight is concerned?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you won't be surprised to know they're looking at something you were talking about earlier, turnout. They will be interested to see if it's any higher than it was four years ago, 44,000 GOPers turned out at that caucus four years ago. They point out that Florida's turnout was way down. They'll also be looking to see if there's any organization on the ground there tomorrow.

They're intrigued that, you won't surprised to know that in New Hampshire just three weeks after the polls closed there, the president in a new poll is 10 points ahead of Mitt Romney in New Hampshire. So they want to see how Nevada looks just a few weeks from now. Wolf.

BLITZER: John, as we see, both of us former White House correspondents, we know what they're doing.

KING: We know what they're doing. I'm going to switch maps. I have a question for Jess. I want to pull up the national map right now because I want to and show Nevada, and I just want to bring up the current unemployment rate right now. (INAUDIBLE) state of Nevada, the darker it is, the higher the unemployment rate. Jess, Nevada has the highest unemployment rate in the country the president did get some encouraging news this week. The economy roared back and created a lot of jobs last month. The unemployment rate went down a bit. Obviously, they're happy with that but do they have any fear at all that this is perhaps happening too soon and that as people get encouraged about the economy, some people who have been on the sidelines might come flooding in and looking for jobs and that could actually cause the rate to go back up?

YELLIN: Right. That's one concern. The other obvious concern, John, as you pointed out is there's outside forces that could drive those numbers down. Sudden shock in Europe could drive the forces down. There could be ricochet effects here and even if the saber rattling that we've talked about in Israel, between Israel and Iran, turns into some military action, that could drive oil prices up, which would cause gas prices here to go up, and that could cause our economy to take a hit, and that would affect jobs numbers.

So the posture here will not change from cautious optimism into any lind of victory lap, they're just going to continue on the messaging we've heard so far, John.

KING: Jessica Yellin, our chief White House correspondent. Jess, thank you.

Looking at the map here, this is current unemployment. The darker the green, Wolf, the higher the unemployment rate, so there's some encouraging news for the president. But still a long way between now and November.

BLITZER: All right, John, thank you.