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GOP Primaries; Interview with Representative Michele Bachmann; Crisis in Syria; Interview with Newt Gingrich

Aired February 7, 2012 - 19:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The presidential race has been won by Governor Ronald Reagan of California.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: George Herbert Walker Bush, 41st president of the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor Clinton is now President Bill Clinton.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's too close to call.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There it is. George W. Bush reelected.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Barack Obama, president-elect of the United States.



WOLF BLITZER, HOST, "THE SITUATION ROOM": We haven't seen anything like this round of voting in the 2012 presidential race.

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "AC 360": Get ready, a very business night and maybe some upsets.


ANNOUNCER: Tonight the Republican candidates compete on three battle grounds at once.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This president has failed. That's why he has to go. And we need a new president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It isn't good enough to nominate Obama (INAUDIBLE).

ANNOUNCER: This could be a moment when the underdogs steal the show.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not a household name like Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sounds like the revolution has already come to Minnesota!

ANNOUNCER: Will there be a dramatic upset in Minnesota, Colorado or Missouri? It's "America's Choice". Mitt Romney's been on a winning streak but his momentum could stall again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I will stand for our rights and I'll stand for our values.

ANNOUNCER: Newt Gingrich is angry and determined to hit Romney where it hurts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have never before seen a person who I thought of a serious candidate for president be that fundamentally dishonest.

ANNOUNCER: Rick Santorum and Ron Paul may be Romney's biggest threats tonight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Money is not going to buy the presidency.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Once you become a Ron Paul supporter, you remain a Ron Paul supporter.

ANNOUNCER: Who might surge or stumble once the results are in tonight?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The contrast between Obama and Romney is just not going to work for us.

ANNOUNCER: All four candidates are signaling a bitter fight to the finish.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am a candidate for president of the United States. I will be candidate for president of the United States.

ANNOUNCER: Three states are voting, big contests are around the corner and this race is spreading all over the map.


BLITZER: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer at the CNN Election Center. We're counting down the contests, results and maybe surprises in three battleground states. The first important event begins about one hour from now when caucus doors close in Minnesota.

More delegates are at stake for the four Republican presidential candidates than on any other night in this campaign so far. CNN caucus cameras are inside sites across Minnesota where voters should be gathering very soon. We have the most crews in the most locations. Our correspondents are certainly out in force, including Jim Acosta and Joe Johns.

Let's go to Jim first over at Romney headquarters. How are they feeling over there tonight looking at these four contests -- three contests? JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Mitt Romney is sounding very confident that he will score a victory here in Colorado. But Team Romney is not predicting a trifecta. Instead, there is talk of a long haul to the nomination -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Joe Johns is over at Newt Gingrich headquarters at least on this night in Ohio, doesn't have a contest there until Super Tuesday, March 6th. But what's your sense? How are people in Ohio Republicans assessing the former speaker?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Honestly, Wolf, much smaller crowds. We're seeing with the speaker, the former speaker of the House here in Ohio, certainly than just about three weeks ago when he was in South Carolina, where he won it all. Very interesting today, though, up in Dayton, Ohio, we got to see the former speaker being the historian and giving a history lesson to the crowd that was well received.

BLITZER: We'll check back with you. I'm going to be speaking live with the speaker, the former speaker, in Columbus, Ohio. That's coming up very, very soon. As always, Anderson Cooper is with us throughout the night -- Anderson.

COOPER: Yes, there's a lot happening just in the next few hours. At 8 p.m. Eastern Minnesota caucuses begin. That's also when polls close in the Missouri primary. Not a binding voted but it is an important test for one of the top swing states in the fall election. At 9 p.m. Eastern Time tonight, caucuses begin in Colorado, another important general election battleground.

And as the results come in, John King is going to be at the "magic wall" with all the results. Erin Burnett is going to show us how money is influencing tonight's presidential battlegrounds. John what are you looking for tonight?

JOHN KING, HOST, "JOHN KING USA": Anderson, the first thing we're looking for is can the front-runner Mitt Romney hold down the state he must win tonight, as Jim just noted, Colorado. This is an absolute must win for Governor Romney, but look here in the middle. How will underdogs do tonight? Senator Santorum is counting on recreating his Iowa magic with evangelicals and small town rural voters both in Minnesota and he would like to do it in Missouri as well to send a signal that this is not a Romney/Gingrich race, so a huge night for Rick Santorum. And we ask this question, with caucuses, that's where Ron Paul is supposed to be the strongest.

Will he make a showing tonight? One more thing; no entrance or exit polls tonight, but we've done something uniquely here at CNN. We've gone back to the five states that have voted so far and we've put the results all together. So we can say so far, for example, 57 percent of those who voted in the five states so far say, no, they're not evangelical Christians, when you add it all up Governor Romney winning big among that constituency. Throughout the night, Anderson, we'll not only look at these races tonight, but we'll look deep into the Republican race through our polling into what we've learned so far. COOPER: All right, John, we'll be checking in with him throughout the hours ahead. Erin, what are you watching for --

ERIN BURNETT, HOST, "OUTFRONT": All right, well obviously we've been talking about how much money has been spent. Really the numbers have been stupendous. We've got these three states we're going to be focusing on tonight, but first you are getting familiar with some of these numbers and just how enormous they are.

So far Mitt Romney, alone, $22 million, just shy of that, on ads, broadcast ads, this election season. Of the three states tonight the one that got the most spending, Minnesota. And let me just show you this, shockingly, tiny, not very much money spent at all and a very different tenor in these ads. I'm going to be playing some of them as we go state by state tonight -- back to you.

COOPER: All right. Erin and our analysts are going to break down the results tonight like no one else can. Gloria Borger and David Gergen are working their sources in the hours ahead along with "The Best Political Team", they're all here in the Election Center along with Wolf Blitzer, who is identically dressed as I am.

BLITZER: You know it's amazing. You came from New York. I came from Washington, but great minds think alike.

COOPER: It's as if we were up late last night discussing what --


BLITZER: -- talking about our wardrobes. Jim Acosta is over at Mitt Romney headquarters. Joe Johns is covering Newt Gingrich in Columbus. Let's go back to Jim right now. It's an important night because this era of inevitably was so important for the Mitt Romney folks. If Rick Santorum or Ron Paul for that matter surprises him tonight that could set it back a bit.

ACOSTA: Well Mitt Romney has not spent a whole lot of time talking about his GOP rivals this is week, Wolf. Ever since he left the state of Nevada with that big victory in those caucuses, he has mainly focused on President Obama and the president's record on the economy. And that's what he did earlier this morning at an event here in Denver. Here's what he had to say.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This has been a really failed presidency. He was on TV on the "Today Show" just yesterday morning saying that he deserves a second term.


ROMNEY: No I don't think so. No, as a matter of fact, you remember he said in his very first days in office that if we let him borrow $787 billion, that he would keep unemployment below eight percent. It has not been below eight percent since. We've now gone 35 straight months with unemployment above eight percent. It's time to get a president who understands how to get this economy working again.


ACOSTA: But make no mistake, Team Romney is thinking about Rick Santorum. They are bracing themselves for the possibility that the former Pennsylvania senator will win one of these contests tonight. And earlier today, a campaign, political director for Romney put out a memo to reporters talking about the path ahead to the nomination. I'll just sum it up this way. You win some, you lose some -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good point. How is he handling this very sensitive issue? All of a sudden it surfaced in the last several days of contraception?

ACOSTA: Well as you know, the Obama administration's recent announcement of a regulation to require Catholic hospitals to provide contraceptive services has come under fire in this GOP race. But earlier today, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum tried to tie Mitt Romney to that issue, pointing out that when Mitt Romney was governor of Massachusetts back in 2005, he also required hospitals to provide emergency contraceptive care to rape victims.

It's a very sensitive subject. Mitt Romney did not talk about this particular issue that happened back in Massachusetts when he was out on the campaign trail earlier today. But he did say that if he becomes president, he will end that Obama administration regulation. So, this is becoming an issue for Mitt Romney out here, no question about it, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Joe thanks -- Jim, thanks very much. Joe is over -- Joe Johns is covering Newt Gingrich in Columbus, Ohio, Columbus, Ohio far away from the three contests that are happening actually tonight. He's speaking right now before a group in Columbus, Ohio, Joe, but I take it he and his folks don't expect to do very well in Colorado, Minnesota or Missouri. He's not even on the ballot in Missouri.


JOHNS: Right -- right. That's pretty clear that he decided he was going to come over here to Ohio, the "Buckeye State", and just try to get a head start on Super Tuesday. That obviously is part of the strategy here to both do well in the state of Ohio and also in his home state of Georgia, which is seen pretty much as the big apple, if you will, on Super Tuesday. We also got to see the speaker in Dayton, Ohio, today Wolf and it's very interesting how it was sort of a different side of him, frankly. This time it was the historian.

We know he's a history professor. Giving something of a history lesson to the crowd there in Dayton, which is the birth place and the hometown of Orville and Wilbur Wright, who are the pioneers of aviation, so while he was giving that lecture he was also frankly sort of tying himself to their legacy. Let's listen to what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And they knew they didn't have enough smarts to get a heavy airplane off the ground. So they for five years (INAUDIBLE) minute ago was that there were 500 flights that didn't work. Now can you imagine in the modern era the cynicism, the number of Congressional hearings that would be held?


GINGRICH: I mean, this is why you can't have a government bureaucracy do this because around flight number four you start having bad newspaper stories about flight number 11. You have a Congressional hearing and they fire everybody who was trying to develop the plane.


JOHNS: Newt Gingrich really connecting there with that crowd in Dayton, Ohio and it's hard not to, considering the pitch and the people he was talking about -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I'm going to be speaking live with Newt Gingrich shortly, Joe. Thanks very much. Rick Santorum and Ron Paul certainly have a good shot at doing well tonight, possibly even scoring a win. Dana Bash is covering the Santorum campaign there in Missouri. Shannon Travis is with Ron Paul's campaign in Minnesota. Dana, first to you, why is Santorum in Missouri if this is really just a beauty contest? The delegates won't be given out tonight.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh, it is a beauty contest. There will be zero, zero delegates given out tonight. And the reason is because he has been looking for a way to show conservatives that he is the conservative to go head to head with Mitt Romney. People are looking for someone who's an alternative to Mitt Romney. In fact one of Santorum's senior aides told me tonight that this is a place where they feel that they can show that they have credibility and viability against Mitt Romney.

So, that's why they're here. I'm saying this because, of course, Newt Gingrich is not on the ballot here. He was not able to do that, so he's not even a factor here. Now they realize that this is effectively a glorified public opinion poll but they say, so what? That matters in terms of what they're trying to achieve, which is getting momentum and getting off the ground and finding a path to stay in this race for a long time, which they hope to do this month.

Let me just also show -- we're in the "Show Me" state -- let me show you also what they're doing here that is different from what we've seen just even last week, Wolf. You remember I was at their headquarters in Nevada, Santorum's headquarters. It was a shoe string. They had just opened it a couple of days before. They had barely turned the lights on.

Look at where we are here. This is a big ball room. It looks much more official, much more like an official campaign, not so much of a shoe string like campaign. That can't be an accident. They haven't spent a lot of money on things, but this is the kind of setup where they want to give off a certain vibe. In fact, just come over here.

I mean this is minor but I think it tells you something. This is where the reporters are. We didn't even have anything close to this before. There are even little signs here that say, have Santorum's placard here, reserved for radio. This is the kind of thing that you do see. You know. You've been on a lot of campaigns. You've seen a lot of this before.

But this is the kind of thing we haven't seen at the Santorum campaign before. Before I let you go, I just also want to of course mention that this is just one of the states that he is hoping to do very well in tonight. Another is Colorado and Minnesota. Earlier today Rick Santorum was in Colorado and he was kind of chastising Mitt Romney for suddenly trying to downplay these three contests.


RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Colorado is a state that four years ago Governor Romney won 61 percent of the vote. He wanted to campaign hard here. He didn't push it -- pass it off like he's doing the last couple of days and saying, oh, well, these are just nonbinding caucuses. They don't really matter much. Well, they mattered four years ago when he came out here and he campaigned in these very same states. You have an opportunity to reset this race. You have an opportunity to put the best person forward who can defeat Barack Obama tonight.



BASH: That is what you're likely to hear right here tonight. Whether he actually wins this state, this beauty contest, so to speak, in Missouri or any other, he's going to still make the case, Rick Santorum, that he is staying in this race and -- but he certainly does hope and his aides hope that I've talked to tonight, Wolf that he does well enough that he can raise more money and keep the campaign going even easier.

BLITZER: We'll hear what he has to say later tonight as well. Dana thanks very much -- Anderson, back to you and I know you can resolve this burning question for all of our viewers out there, because you're a New Yorker. Is it Missouri or Missouri?

COOPER: As a New Yorker I feel fully qualified to. We can alternate between the evening depending if we want to act as if we're from that state.


COOPER: If Rick Santorum is to have a path forward, I mean, is tonight critical?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, this is it and this is why they have got the big ballroom, as Dana was showing. Look, they have to win one or two states tonight in order to get enough juice to continue. Minnesota is very fertile ground for them, for example, because there are evangelicals there, they've organized there, and they feel like they have a real shot with those conservative caucus goers.

Missouri without Newt Gingrich you know running, they say OK, this is a match-up for those conservative voters. We're the alternative to Newt Gingrich. We're the true conservatives in this race, which is why he's been going after Mitt Romney all week long saying you know what, on health care he's not the guy to go up against Barack Obama.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Anderson, it's fascinating that only a week or two ago we all thought this was going to be a sleepy night. Romney would roll through three more. And he'd be on his way to Super Tuesday as the inevitable nominee. And tonight, you know, he could lose two out of these three. And suddenly he could be rolling toward Super Tuesday with two flat tires. This is -- the dynamics could change tonight in ways that I think are very unpredictable and unexpected and we'll just have to wait and see how the night comes out. I think the story is partly going to be if Santorum wins both --


GERGEN: -- it's going to be about his elevation, but the story is also going to be wow, Romney really lost a couple of them --

BORGER: And where is Newt Gingrich, third or fourth?

GERGEN: Yes, that's true.

BURNETT: There's also the question of how long people stay in. I mean if Santorum doesn't have a big win tonight or he doesn't win at least one of them, what happens to him?

GERGEN: I think Gloria is right.


GERGEN: If he doesn't win anything tonight then I think he's got a real problem --

COOPER: But nobody gets out before Super Tuesday.


COOPER: I mean if you're Rick Santorum there's no reason to get out --


BORGER: Particularly if you have a super PAC and a sugar daddy who's going to keep funding you. Rick Santorum has a sugar daddy super PAC so --

GERGEN: He does but he's going to be hitchhiking a lot too -- BORGER: Well, but in this way --

COOPER: Does he call them his sugar daddy?



COOPER: OK, I just wanted to make sure.

BORGER: But in this race, because of super PACs there's less incentive to get out, because if you can still use the money for advertising in those states, why not -- why not stay --

BURNETT: (INAUDIBLE) sugar daddy (INAUDIBLE) he had, the Las Vegas magnate (ph) who's given all that money to Newt Gingrich's super PAC, he's also now made it very clear behind the scenes, hey Mitt, I'm going to give it to you.

GERGEN: Well listen, if you run a casino, you know how --



BURNETT: Right. And you know we've done this -- it was amazing. You know you look at the $10 million to him, it's, you know average American worth about $100,000, that's about $40 campaign donation equivalent to (INAUDIBLE) to give $10 million --

COOPER: Yes, but he's also --


BURNETT: Unbelievable to contemplate.


COOPER: The caucuses in Minnesota tonight might have been a shoo-in for Michele Bachmann if she were still in the race. The Minnesota congresswoman is going to join us live to talk about the battle for her home turf tonight. And a new snapshot of how Mitt Romney might do against President Obama if he's the nominee.


BLITZER: As we await the first official results to start coming in from these three states, let's talk with U.S. Congresswoman Michele Bachmann. She's joining us now live from Washington. Congresswoman, thanks very much for coming in. Now you represent an important district in Minnesota. I guess the key question, why aren't you today in Minnesota participating in these caucuses?

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), MINNESOTA: Well I wish I was. I would be if I could. But I'm here doing my job in Washington, D.C. We were voting tonight, Wolf, and so I was here on the House floor of Representatives and doing my job. But my family members and friends and all the great people back in Minnesota, they're out in mass. This is a fun night in Minnesota because our state, with our caucus system is very grassroots, very bottom-up. It's politics at its best and that's what you'll find in Minnesota.

BLITZER: You haven't publicly endorsed anyone yet. You still have a little time. Are you ready at this moment, Congresswoman, right now to reach out to your fellow Minnesotans and tell them whom you support?

BACHMANN: No, I'm not; I'm not endorsing anyone yet. I reserve the right. I yet may at some point but I haven't made that decision to do it. What I really want to be, Wolf, is a unifying voice for our party. But we have a lot of factions that are out there. We need to all come together. And Minnesota tends to be more of a Democrat state. We have a lot of Independents in our state. But there's a lot of disaffected Democrats and a lot of disaffected Independents.

They're looking for an alternative to President Obama, someone who actually can turn the economy around and keep the nation safe. So, they will -- are looking very strongly at these four candidates. They want someone who can defeat Barack Obama. And, honestly, I think that it's wide open tonight. Any of the candidates have a possibility of winning. For instance, Mitt Romney is endorsed by former Governor Tim Pawlenty and also former Senator Norm Coleman. But then look at Newt Gingrich, he has a lot of his former staff that have organized for him in Minnesota.

Rick Santorum, very strong evangelical base. He appeals to that base. And if you look at Ron Paul, Ron Paul and I held a joint meeting at Northrop Auditorium (ph) at the University of Minnesota campus. We had over 3,000 people come out that night. So there's a lot of support across the state of Minnesota for all four candidates. I think that the results may actually be fairly close.

BLITZER: Well, give us your assessment because you're a Minnesotan, you know the Republicans in your home state. Who do you think will win?

BACHMANN: Honestly, I do think it's a toss-up. Ron Paul has a very strong base of support in Minnesota. And they are very well organized. They've been organizing in the caucuses really for the last several years. So, this is not a late item for them. But also Rick Santorum has also demonstrated in the last PPP (ph) poll that he's actually number one, but within the margin of error of Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney is very well organized.

I had mail coming to my house, for instance, from Mitt Romney. Television isn't as important in the Minnesota market because it's so very grassroots. You have to get exactly to the people who are likely to come out. And Newt Gingrich has been to Minnesota many, many times as a speaker. And he has a lot of deep roots there. So, when I say that it's up for grabs, I mean it. It literally could go to any of these four candidates.

BLITZER: We're out of time, but do you wish you would have stayed in the race?

BACHMANN: Oh, I wish I could have. What I like most of all were the debates that you moderated. They were -- CNN did fabulous debates. And I miss the debates most of all.

BLITZER: All right. Well you still got your -- you're still a very young woman, four years from now, eight years from now you've got a lot of time to rethink your strategy down the road, Congresswoman. Thanks very much.

BACHMANN: Thanks. That's nice for a 55-year-old to hear.

BLITZER: OK. Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, she's a pretty young lady still -- Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: Wolf, we're keeping our eye on a big problem for the current president and possibly the next one, the deadly crackdown by the Syrian government. We have new information about the possibility of U.S. military action. We'll look at that ahead.






COOPER: We're going to take a pause in our election coverage for some breaking news about the crisis unfolding in Syria. After a new blood bath today U.S. officials are making it clear they have lost patience with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr. Barbara what have you learned tonight?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well good evening, Anderson. There's no question the focus is on diplomatic and economic action, but for the first time, two administration officials are confirming to CNN that the administration, the Pentagon and the U.S. Central Command, are now conducting a preliminary review of possible military capabilities for Syria. Now, here's what they tell us.

They tell us that they're basically looking at what could be possible if the president was to ask for some ideas. One official saying to me that this is what we do. We will put ideas on the table, but emphasizing no decisions have been made about what he calls military support for Syria, but still, Anderson, today this is the first time we're even hearing about the concept of military support for Syria.

Think of it as scoping things out. What is out there? What military options are out there? What could the military do if the president was to ask? You know, it's what the military does. They plan ahead. They don't wait for the president to ask. And this is a signal of the growing concern, even as they pursue the diplomatic and economic options, they are very concerned about what they are seeing unfold -- Anderson.

COOPER: Barbara, most experts I've talked to say it's unlikely that there would be direct NATO military involvement, but the possibility of, for instance, arming the so-called Free Syrian Army, which has begun by defectors from the Syrian army who are now operating in some area in Homs and elsewhere throughout Syria. That might be an option.

STARR: Right. There are a lot of possibilities, a lot of military capabilities before you would ever get to that ultimate one of any kind of strikes. Humanitarian assistance, the situation is getting very serious. As you say, arming the opposition, providing any kind of aid that they can to the movement that is opposing the Syrian regime -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Barbara Starr, appreciate the breaking news. Thank you.

The situation on the ground in Syria is becoming desperate. It's been desperate. It's been desperate for months frankly. But it is escalating.

An opposition activist named Danny has been giving us a remarkable look at what has been going on. He's been posting videos on YouTube.

Here is outside a medical clinic in Homs.


DANNY, OPPOSITION ACTIVIST: Look at these houses. These are civilian houses. This is a clinic, a doctor's clinic. They're treating civilians.

We're asking for humanity to help us. We're asking for the U.N. to help us. We're asking for the Arab League to help us. Anyone. Anyone.

If you got any kind of humanity in their heart, do something about this. This Assad animals, this Assad regime are killing us, are abandoning us. Our promise as people, pieces of people in the street.

Snipers shooting us like we're animals. We have to cut the street, we have to run to cut the street so we don't get killed by snipers.


COOPER: Danny joins us now via Skype.

Danny, we've talked to you for several days now. What you have seen is just been horrific, as the people in Syria have seen for the last 11 months. What is the latest? What did you see today? DANNY: The army was actually surrounding these two areas, (INAUDIBLE) where I'm living right now. What the army is doing is going to civilian houses. Everybody, the civilians still are living there. Then they take the houses and they break wall by wall so they can move from building to building. They do not move in the street because the Free Army is protecting these areas.

And what the Syrian army is doing, they go in buildings, breaking wall to wall so they can go from building to building. They've been bombarding us from 5:00 a.m., like yesterday, with rockets.

But what's new today, they're hitting us with anti-air tanks, four anti-air tanks have been shooting at buildings -- tanks, with shells, T-72 tanks. The army's been shooting with mortar bombs and rockets like yesterday as well.

We have only one hospital. No one can leave. No one come in. As usual, no doctors can leave, no doctors can come in.

They shot at two ambulance today as well, Red Cross ambulance. This is how, the setting in Bab al-Amr.

COOPER: You were in a makeshift hospital the other day in a report that I saw that people can see on YouTube right now. There were bodies laying in the hallways in this makeshift hospital. Explain why you can't bring the wounded to actual hospitals, to real hospitals.

DANNY: OK, I'll explain to you why we can't do that. We have one private hospital in an area called Insha'at right next to Bab al- Amr. We used to take the really strong injuries there so we can do operation in that big private hospital.

Now, the army has took it. They took it today morning, and it's become their barracks. They're sitting there. The army is posted in that hospital.

Before they went to that hospital, they hit the operation room while doctors are doing operations. They kicked all the doctors out of the hospital and all of the nurses out of the hospital and left all of the people in there.

And now, the army, the Syrian Assad army are living in that hospital. And if we want to take bodies to any government hospital, we have enter the hand -- you come out with injury in the head or leg, you have injury in head, they will shoot you in the head, or you'd be taken by security forces and you would be tortured to death or they just let you bleed to death.

COOPER: What do you want the world to know about what is happening in Homs right now?

DANNY: OK. Well, what has happened in Homs, we have for the last six months is massacre. People are saying 6,000 dead, 7,000 dead. Our promise is more than 40,000 people dead, everyone who's missing, dead. Today, over 64 mass graves -- people from the Free Army know where those mass graves are. But they can't tell us where they are exactly. They do think that they are -- the Syrian army yesterday say we are lying.

What's going on right now, we're going to be kidnapped. (INAUDIBLE) brought across the street, you have to run. You can't walk.

COOPER: Danny, I appreciate the risk you're taking in talking to us and the risk you have taken over the last several days to inform people what is going on. Continue to stay safe. Thank you for talking to us tonight.

Again, the situation is changing rapidly. It seems to be intensifying in the city in Homs in particular, in this one neighborhood where he is saying that he is now.

That's the neighborhood, Wolf, we've seen over the last several days being bombarded in a way which is far more aggressive than we have seen in the weeks and months before.

BLITZER: Yes, Anderson, we're going to continue to update our viewers throughout the night on what is happening in Syria. These are critical moments. And we just heard Barbara Starr report that the U.S. military now beginning the process of considering, considering some military options as well.

That young Danny, a very courageous young man.

Now, we'll stay on top of this story.

Also what's happening here in the United States. We'll return to our political coverage, that's coming up.

Newt Gingrich is looking ahead to a Super Tuesday battleground state. We're talking about Ohio. We'll talk to him in our next hour about his hopes tonight and strategy for staying in this contest.

Also, we have new information on how the ad war is changing the race tonight. Stay with us.


BLITZER: It's "America's Choice" on a very busy night in the Republican presidential race.

We're back at CNN Election Center. And we're counting down to the contests and the results in three battleground states.

Less than half an hour from now, caucuses begin in Minnesota. Also at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, the polls close in the Missouri primary. One hour later, the caucuses begin in Colorado.

We'll be watching the voting as it happens inside these important caucuses. We have caucus cameras inside. Minnesota Republicans are starting to show at sites across the state right now.

Let's go over to John King. He's watching all of this.

You know, a lot of focus in the calendar right now because what -- we're in February. So, it's relatively early in the process. But sometimes Republicans have wrapped it up by now.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, four years ago, you could make the case they wrapped it up by now. But what is so dramatically different this time, look at this -- by the end of the night when we fill in Minnesota, Missouri, and Colorado, eight states would have voted by far, right And Missouri actually doesn't really count tonight. There's another process down the road when they do the delegates.

But let's just say eight states. By this date in 2008, 30 states had voted, eight by the end of tonight, 30 four years ago.

Here's another way to look at it because the calendar was so advanced. Super Tuesday was February 5th four years ago.

Here's another way to look at it. Let's go back in time to the 2008. John McCain essentially wrapped up the nomination in 2008 when he won the Florida primary, 36 percent to Mitt Romney's 31 percent, Governor Huckabee was behind that.

But after Florida in 2008, a lot of people are asking the question tonight, what if Governor Romney loses one of these three states? What if he loses two of these three states? Is he punctured as a front-runner?

Well, yes, it would hurt him. But, no, it won't kill him.

After Florida in 2008, Wolf, John McCain lost 13 of the next 28 states to vote. He actually lost 15 states after the big Florida win. Look at these states. Huckabee won in the South. Huckabee had already won Iowa, but he won in Oklahoma. Mitt Romney won out there in Colorado, won out here, won out here, one up in the Mountain West.

Look at all this up here. This is Romney. This is Romney.

So, I guess it's important that Governor Romney keep his momentum, but a little history, a little context again. Again, John McCain wrapped it up four years ago in Florida and went on to lost 13 of the next 23 states, 15 states at all, in all, after Florida.

So, yes, Governor Romney hoped, he had hoped to sweep the month. Let's not put that under the carpet. He hoped to win them all. But if he loses one or two tonight, it's a wounding, it will raise question about whether the Republican Party will rally around him. But John McCain's own history tells you, you can recover and still be the nominee.

BLITZER: The Romney folks would love to start focusing in on President Obama, but they don't have that luxury, at least not yet.

KING: No, they won't after tonight.

BLITZER: Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: Yes, one of the things that's been so fascinating is that almost every round of primaries and caucuses has affected the candidates' standing among voters nationwide. Newt Gingrich, obviously, was the leader in national polls more than two weeks ago after he won the South Carolina primary. That was two weeks ago.

The race tightened after that. Gingrich and Romney were running neck and neck nationally. Then Romney jumped back into the lead, boasted by his primary victory in Florida week ago. He still has a double-digit advantage. Electability, though, is a big issue in this Republican presidential race.

Take a look at President Obama comes out ahead of Mitt Romney when registered voters nationwide were asked whom they'd vote for if the election were held today. Does Newt Gingrich do any better? No, he does worse -- trailing a little farther behind the president.

Then Mitt Romney, the Romney campaign took issue with that latest poll.

But it was interesting, when we asked you guys earlier how many think this may actually go all the way to the convention, I think Roland was the only one who said, well, when do you see somebody dropping out?

ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think March 6th, Super Tuesday. That's the big one. The next several states, here's how it goes. Romney probably has a bad night tonight. It gives Santorum a second -- or a chance.

The next two states you go to, Arizona and Michigan, are probably going to be very good states for Mitt Romney. That takes you to March 6th. Ten states vote that night. The night Newt is hoping for a Southern strategy.

Here's the problem with it. There are only two Southern states that he's competing in, out of 10.

COOPER: Right.

FLEISCHER: Virginia is on, but Newt didn't make the ballot. So, the two Southern states that he's competing are going to be Georgia and Tennessee. You got other states that are non-Southern and I don't even accept that Newt necessarily is a winner in Southern states. He has to fight for it.

So, I think after March 6th, either Newt has to drop or Santorum has to drop if a conservative, viable opponent can emerge to take on Mitt Romney. That's the key date, March 6th.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: After March 6th, there are 34 other states left to vote. I mean, so I understand the point there, but you still have Texas, you have Illinois, you have New York, you have Pennsylvania, you have Indiana, North Carolina, you have other states there.

And so, I just don't see with Newt Gingrich absolutely -- look, the guy is showing us he can run with no money. So, let's not act like, you know, if he has no money he's going to drop out. He could -- with his ego, he'll keep saying, I'll go.

Santorum has evangelicals backing him. We might see in Minnesota how they are, all of a sudden, using their infrastructure to keep him going.

And Ron Paul, his folks are going nowhere. And so, I think it goes on after March 6th. I think all four stay in.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I believe that the Republicans will close this down after April 3rd, after Texas. Again, later on in April, when you have New York, and Pennsylvania, and some of the other large states.

Look, you can run a campaign without money, but you need media. You need other forms of momentum.

MARTIN: Debates.

BRAZILE: Absolutely. And there's only one debate this month in February.

FLEISCHER: And you need one contest a night instead of 10 on one day or five on one day.

BRAZILE: We have three tonight.

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think when we stretch it out further, my sense is, it's going to be a while before anyone drops out next. My guess would be that Santorum would be before Gingrich because when you look at the states, Gingrich has Texas that he thinks he can win in. The governor has endorsed. He's got a lot of the state legislators.

So, yes, the governor is no fan of Mitt Romney so he thinks he can drive this up. I'm not sure Santorum can sustain himself as long as Gingrich running a live off the land campaign. Can any -- either of them sustain themselves? Probably not over the long haul, but can they keep Romney from getting to 1,144? That's what they want.

FLEISCHER: That's why tonight is so important to Rick Santorum. Let's say he wins Minnesota and let's say he wins Missouri. He needs to create a springboard. He needs to convince conservatives, I'm the only one who can stop Mitt Romney.

Tonight is his chance to get that springboard.

COOPER: Yes, let's go to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, we're going to be watching the ads as well.

And, Erin, you've been watching all these ads in these three battleground states unfold. A significant amount of money, not necessarily by Florida or Nevada for that matter.


BLITZER: But they just spent a little bit.

BURNETT: That's right. I mean, $32 million in broadcast ads spent so far this election is pretty stunning.

When you look at Colorado and Minnesota, not as much. I mean, just to make the point here, Colorado, obviously, everyone talking about important state. Zero, zero, zero. Just about $24,000 for Mitt Romney.

So, this has been a very different campaign up. You heard Michele Bachmann talking about how broadcast ads were not as important in Minnesota. And you can see that as well when you look at the numbers here. It was really a Romney versus Santorum race. And not a lot of money in the context again of that $32 million.

But I wanted to play a couple ads because they really say a lot about the tenor of the race. Rick Santorum, obviously, trying to position himself as the real conservative, the person who can really be the conservative against Mitt Romney. And this ad says it all airing in Minnesota.


NARRATOR: -- supporting big government that strangles our nation's ability to create jobs. Bailouts, government-run health care.

Who can we trust? Rick Santorum.


BURNETT: So, that's Gingrich, Romney and President Obama all on the screen together. Which is just -- you know, makes the point there.

Mitt Romney, of course, trying to set this whole tone as he's running against Barack Obama and you see that in Minnesota.


NARRATOR: How many jobs did Barack Obama create as a community organizer? As a law professor? Maybe now you see the problem.

Mitt Romney turned around dozens of American companies and helped created thousands of jobs.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BURNETT: So, obviously, that really shows you the tone of what we're seeing. But also, Wolf, just the numbers here were very different, 136 plays. You know, remember when we were talking in Florida, that ad where they were using Tom Brokaw reporting on the censoring of Newt Gingrich and it had only aired a couple days and it was almost 2,000 airings. So, different.

BLITZER: These are super PAC ads, Restore Our Future.

BURNETT: That's right.

BLITZER: That's a pro-Romney super PAC, and the Red, White and Blue is pro-Santorum super PAC.


BLITZER: So, they're using unlimited sums that they can get to try to at least score some political points.

BURNETT: Absolutely.

BLITZER: And we see that unfolding all of the time.

All right. Erin, thanks very much.

We're watching all of this unfold. We're going to go back to John King shortly.

Much more of our special coverage right after this.


BLITZER: We're only eight minutes away. You can see from the top of the hour, that's when the caucuses will start. We got three battleground states competing tonight. We're going to -- we have cameras, caucus cameras in some of these caucuses. We're going to show you democracy in action on this important night.

But right now, joining us is Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House. Mr. Speaker, thanks very much for coming in.

Correct me if I am wrong, you have basically given up on these three important battleground states, is that right?

NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: I haven't given up on them. We were in Colorado yesterday and we were in Minnesota last night. We had a huge crowd in Minnesota. Over 700 people showed up. We gave an energy speech at the College of Mines in Golden, Colorado yesterday and also had a town hall meeting and a rally.

But I think we're looking forward to Ohio, which is where I am now, which has started early voting. Arizona, which has began early voting. Tennessee starts next week with early voting. So we are trying to look at the whole country at the same time. I stayed in Florida and fought it out. Senator Santorum decided to go to other states. So each of these campaigns is making its own decisions about what to do right. But we're having a great time here in Ohio, and we, I think, have a very real chance of winning Ohio. So it's very exciting to be here.

BLITZER: March 6th, Ohio, part of super Tuesday, an important battleground state as all of our viewers know. But you really -- your campaign or even the super PAC supporting you really didn't spend any money at all in these three states, Missouri -- you're not even on the ballot there -- Minnesota, or Colorado. Is that right?

GINGRICH: Well, Missouri, this is entirely a beauty contest. Has no effect at all, and was actually in some ways an accident of the legislature. Missouri, will be caucuses in March, and we'll be very aggressively in Missouri for the caucuses, and we're working very hard in Missouri to get as much support as we can.

But we did -- we came in second in Nevada. We came in second in Florida. We came in first in South Carolina. I think we're going to do very well on super Tuesday. We are going to compete very intensely in Arizona and Michigan. So I think everybody has got to figure out their own campaign strategy on a nationwide basis. And I think the big story coming out tonight is going to be that it's very hard for the elite media to portray Governor Romney as the inevitable nominee after tonight is over. I think you have seen a steady decline in turnout wherever he's been dumping his negative ads. You saw even in Nevada a real drop in the number of votes he got. I came in second, as I said. We're delighted.

We split the total delegates between the Romney-not Romney side in a state he was supposed to carry. I think tonight, he may be as much as 20 points behind in Colorado where he was four years ago. I think he may be similarly behind in Minnesota from where he was four years ago.

So I think after tonight, you will see, this is a wide open race and you are going to see a lot of people out there campaigning.

We have had a great time. We were in Dayton today and visited Orville Wright's home and talked about the development of the airplane as an example of American ingenuity, all of it done in the private sector, all of it done for a total cost of $500. And it was great fun.

BLITZER: So everything you're saying is, you're not going anywhere. You're staying in this contest as long as it takes. You have no intention, no matter what happens tonight or in Arizona or Michigan, super Tuesday, you're in this race.

GINGRICH: We're in the race all the way. I just talked to Governor Rick Perry today. We have a very strong operation in Texas. We have a very strong operation in Georgia. Our goal is through super Tuesday, we then go to Alabama and Mississippi, and then we go to Texas. And our hope is by the time we get to Texas on April 6th, that we'll basically be pretty close to a tie with Governor Romney. I think the positive ideas we're developing, the dramatic contrast. He talks about not caring about the poor because they have got a safety net. I want to create a springboard to help them all get jobs and to help them all work and to help them all have a chance to pursue happiness. They ridiculed my ideas about us competing in space. I don't want to let the Chinese and the Russians dominate space. When you go to the Wright Brothers' home, you look at what they did and how they did it. And you realize they discovered how to fly for 500 bucks, while the U.S. government was throwing away 50,000 in the same cycle failing to fly. It's a pretty good model for what I want to do, liberating space from the bureaucracy, getting entrepreneurs to come in and do exciting positive things for America's future. By the way, things which will create jobs in America and make us once again the technological leader of the world, which is, I think, what we have got to be.

We are only going to be a successful country if we are consistently the most innovative and the most technologically advanced country in the world.

BLITZER: I don't know if you have seen these stories over the past few days about you suggesting that you want more debates or you want no more debates. I wonder if you wanted to clarify. Do you want a lot more presidential debates or are you over all these debates?

GINGRICH: Look, I'm happy either way, Wolf. As you know, we did very, very well. I think most people believe that I won 15 out of 17 debates and tied one and probably you could argue I lost one. I think that's a pretty good track record. I'm happy to debate. I'd much rather have a Lincoln-Douglas style debate. I would love the opportunity to have head-on with Romney, with no moderator, just a timekeeper. Let's take a couple of big ideas, let's talk about them together.

I have a very bold tax plan to create jobs. "The Wall Street Journal" said the boldest plan. He had a plan so timid, "The Wall Street Journal" said it was comparable to Obama. It would be great to have a tax debate with Romney, or have a debate over his attitude towards the very poor and my idea of trying to create a springboard to give them a chance to become middle class, to work hard, to have a better future.

I'd love to have those kind of debates. But you call one, Wolf, I'll show up, whether he does or not. I'm happy to do it either way.

BLITZER: All right, good to know that. Let me ask you about Syria right now. We're spending a lot of time looking -- the slaughter is continuing right now. It's a brutal situation. I don't know if you heard John McCain saying the U.S. should start thinking at least of some -- providing weapons to the opposition to Bashar al- Assad. Barbara Starr is reporting from the Pentagon tonight that the U.S. military beginning to think of some potential contingencies out there.

If you were president of the United States and you saw thousands of innocent people, protesters, simply slaughtered by this regime, what would you do?

GINGRICH: The first thing you have to ask yourself, Wolf, is what has happened to the Obama administration? We are months into this and they're starting to think? You would have thought by now they would have covertly worked with our allies in the region to be funneling all sorts of assets into the rebels. It's clearly in our interest for Assad to drop -- to be kicked out of power. This is clearly an ally of Iran, and we frankly want to get him replaced if we can. So I'm amazed that they're starting to think -- something they should have done about five months ago.

BLITZER: So if you were president, would you actively start providing at least weapons to the opposition?

GINGRICH: Well, I would actively have -- first of all, as president, I wouldn't tell you. I would seek to have genuinely covert operations in which we worked with our allies in the region that had people who are fluent in Arabic, who were deeply engaged in helping them. And I would ensure that those folks had adequate weapons.

But you know, weapons in that part of the world aren't hard to get. And that's pretty easy to attain. The trick is to also have advisers. I don't think they should be American, but I think it would not hurt if we were helping a group of advisers from the region go in and help organize to defeat Assad. It is definitely in our interests to get rid of Assad as a dictator, because he is an ally of Iran. It would be a major blow to the Iranians if Assad were kicked out of power.

BLITZER: One final political question, Mr. Speaker, before I let you go. You remember 1976, Ronald Reagan challenged Gerald Ford, went all the way to the convention. You remember what happened. Are you in this at least until the convention? Do you think that it will go that far?

GINGRICH: Well, I don't know yet. I mean, I think -- I'm certainly in it all the way to the convention. We'll see what happens. You could have -- at the rate we're going, you could have the first open convention since 1940, which would give you something to cover that you would just love.

I have no idea how this is going to evolve. I know that I stand for the growth-oriented Reagan wing of the party that wants to see us be very dynamic and very different. And I think that fight with the establishment, as you pointed out, just like Reagan-Ford in 1976, I think that we are going to probably go a long way in distinguishing between Governor Romney's position and my position over the next couple of months.

But in addition, I think it's not harmful -- remember, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were in a contest all the way up to mid- June. It didn't seem to hurt them. John McCain won early, didn't seem to help him. So I think having us out here testing out ideas, showing people that there are genuine -- not just personality differences, there are philosophical differences about how we approach America's future. I think that's very healthy for the Republican Party, and I think we're going to be a party of better new ideas and better new solutions as a result of this process.

BLITZER: Mr. Speaker, as usual, thanks very much for joining us.

GINGRICH: Thanks. Good to see you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you.