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Minnesota, Colorado Hold Caucuses; Missouri Primary

Aired February 7, 2012 - 20:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And our coverage continues right now.

The action is getting under way right now on this very busy and important night in the Republican presidential race. Caucuses are beginning in Minnesota, one of three states holding contests tonight.

Our exclusive CNN caucus cameras, they are inside to show you the voting and the results in real time. Chris Welsh, Shannon Travis, David Mattingly, they are all inside caucuses right now. But let's start off with Shannon Travis. He's in Maple Grove, Minnesota.

Shannon, set the scene for us. We want to see democracy in action.

SHANNON TRAVIS, CNN POLITICAL PRODUCER: That's right, Wolf, democracy in action. As you mentioned, we're inside a caucus yet again. We're here in Maple Grove, which is a suburb of Minneapolis. The anticipation is building because the caucus is about to start just moments way from now. But I have my cameraman just kind pan over and show you a shot of the room. Just a few moments ago there weren't that many people in here, and now it's pretty much filled up.

They're actually starting the program right now. And we're expecting for Ron Paul to come in, in about 10 or 15 minutes to speak to these people. The campaign told me today that part of the new strategy going forward for the Ron Paul campaign, Wolf, is to have the candidate himself come to caucuses like this to try and shore up support. They realized that they have a lot of support, thousands of people a lot of times at rallies, but they want him to actually -- for that to translate into votes, and part of that strategy is to have him show up -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Shannon, we'll get back to you.

David Mattingly is over in Stillwater, Minnesota.

What's happening behind you, David?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is grassroots party politics at the local level. It can't get any more simple than this. You have friends and neighbors gathering here, all of them united only in one thing. And that's to see someone voted as a Republican into the White House.

They're going to be discussing issues. They're going to be having a straw poll a little later tonight. That straw poll is not binding but the winner of it will have some bragging rights moving out of Minnesota.

Let's talk to some of the people that are here.

Excuse me, sir, is this your first caucus?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, it is, sir.

MATTINGLY: Who are you voting for tonight?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm voting for Dr. Paul.



MATTINGLY: OK. That one vote for Ron Paul.

Excuse me, ma'am.


MATTINGLY: Who are you voting for tonight?


MATTINGLY: That's one vote for Rick Santorum.

And you, sir? Who are you voting for tonight?


MATTINGLY: There you go, Wolf. Three different people, three different candidates, three different votes. And to show you how basic this is, this is actually the ballot everyone is going to be using here. Now take a close look. Notice at the top, there's a space there, that's where Michele Bachmann would have been.

This was in alphabetical order. So now Newt Gingrich is at the top. There's a space below him where Huntsman dropped out, then we have Ron Paul. Rick Perry's name is still on there. They didn't get that crossed off but they crossed it off with pen. So it's very basic here and then following Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. So that's -- you can see how big it is. It can fit in the palm of your hand.

This is the ballot here tonight. This very grassroots level of national politics playing out right in front of us -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And they just have to put an X or a check in front of the name where that little line is? Is that all they have to do?

MATTINGLY: That's all they have to do. Just a little checkmark, a little X, it's all very non-technical here. This is all going to be examined with human eyes and handle with human hands. No computers involved. BLITZER: Yes, I'm surprised they still have Rick Perry's name. You would have thought they have enough time to print them some ballots without names.

All right. Stand by, David. We're going to get back to you.

But Shannon Travis, they've said the "Pledge of Allegiance." You got some folks you want to talk to, Shannon, over there in Maple Grope, Minnesota?

TRAVIS: That's right, Wolf. And I'm going to keep it down this time because they are starting up the program. It's interrupting with bursts of applause. But as you know this is a caucus site, this is a caucus site here in Maple Grove, Minnesota. After the speeches are done, again, Ron Paul has got to speak, there will be surrogates from the other three campaigns represented here and then these people, neighbors, family members, what have you, will break into different groups according to precinct and they'll caucus.

I want to take you over to two people that I spoke with just a short while ago. And they had some interesting things to say about -- well, we'll try and crouch down a little bit. We're here with Christine and we're here with Phil.

Christine, a moment ago, I asked you who you were here to support?

CHRISTINE, MINNESOTA REPUBLICAN VOTER: Ron Paul. All the way. I'm supporting for Ron Paul.

TRAVIS: And why Ron Paul?

CHRISTINE: Because we're for liberty. That's what we're for.

TRAVIS: And Phil? Obviously from your shirt?


TRAVIS: And why for Ron Paul?

PHIL: Because he's the only candidate who defends the Constitution and stands up for our civil liberties all the time.

TRAVIS: Ron Paul hasn't won a contest yet. What do you think his chances are for tonight?

PHIL: Very good. He's got great support in Minnesota.

TRAVIS: Hopefully -- Wolf, hopefully, Ron Paul has two supporters here, hopefully I'm sure the campaign thinks he has more. But we're going to send it back over to you now so that they can finish the -- the beginning of their program and start the caucuses -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Shannon. Thanks very much. And once Ron Paul starts speaking, we'll listen to what he has to say. We know -- as you know better than most, he's got a lot of devoted really ardent supporters out there. All right. Stand by. We're going to get back to Shannon.

Chris Welsh is joining us now from Minnesota as well.

Chris, tell our viewers where you are and what's going on.

CHRIS WELSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I'm actually in Shakopee, Minnesota. This is a suburb that's about 20 miles south of the Twin Cities. And Republican officials here in the state actually pride themselves on the fact that this is a conservative county --

BLITZER: All right. Looks like we got a little technical issue over there in Shakopee, Minnesota. But we'll fix that up and speak to Chris Welsh shortly.

Anderson, the democracy in these three states, at least two of them right now, is beginning and we're going to watch it unfold.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: That is certainly true. I just saw I think a Tweet from you, Donna, about you asking, is there an enthusiasm gap among Republicans this year. Do you think there is?

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Absolutely. Turnout was down, what, 15 percent in Florida, 25 percent in the Nevada race just recently. You know, one of the things that the Republicans thought they had going for them this year was that turnout will be higher because of all the candidates, all of the debates, all of the money, et cetera. But what we've seen over the last few weeks is that turnout is actually low. And this has to worry Republicans because several of these states are battleground states in the fall.

COOPER: Does it worry you, Ari?

ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY FOR PRES. BUSH: I think some of it you have to figure out. It could be worrisome. We initially began with Iowa's record-breaking, New Hampshire was record- breaking, South Carolina, record-breaking. Florida is unique because there was a ballot initiative four years ago that really brought people out, 400,000 more people voted in the ballot initiative than the presidential contest. But Nevada was a drop, so it's something to keep an eye on.

You know, I've said this before. I still think the unifying event for Republicans is going to be the desire to beat Barack Obama. Mitt Romney has a problem with the base. A lot of conservatives don't trust or believe in Mitt Romney and that could depress turnout.

The other issue, though, is what really brings people out we saw in the Obama-Hillary race, is that people think it's such a close race, who knows who's going to win. That's one of the reasons South Carolina was like that. To the degree people think Mitt Romney has got this sewed up, it depress turnout because it's not a close contest.

ERICK ERICKSON, EDITOR IN CHIEF, REDSTATE.COM: You know, I think there is to some degree a lack of enthusiasm which is suppressing it, but there's also this going into this season, there was an air of inevitability for a lot of people so a lot of people just decided not to go out.

I would disagree, though. And I hate to sound like a broken record on this one, but in Iowa, you take out the independents who came in for -- just for Ron Paul, it actually wasn't a record breaking turnout in Iowa and in fact I think one of the things that has got to have Republicans worried, and I know it does, I've talked to some who are very worried about it, is you look at South Carolina, you look at Florida, you look at Nevada, you look at Iowa, the counties that had lower turnout, Mitt Romney won but the counties that had higher turnout, Mitt Romney lost.

COOPER: Right. I want to bring in Jessica Yellin, who also -- the White House correspondent who also covered the Clinton-Obama race. Do you see a difference in enthusiasm. Jessica?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's no question. I mean the type of enthusiasm you saw between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama is unprecedented, I think, in modern history. There was this intensity that -- it's hard to rival that, Anderson. I mean I wasn't home for four months for a stretch at one people just covering them.

But it's also something in this instance that the Obama campaign is pointing to, which is what Eric Erickson just said, that it's in the states where Mitt Romney is winning that the turnout is the lowest. And this was a season when Republicans were saying their were so excited, their base was so excited to defeat Barack Obama that there was going to be a massive turnout.

And so there -- you know, should be some concern on the Republican side that there is not the kind of turnout that they were expecting. And certainly --

COOPER: What about concern by the White House about a lack of enthusiasm among Democrats? I mean there are a lot of first voters. A lot of people brought to the polls voting for then candidate Obama who hadn't voted necessarily before, hadn't been as involved. Do they feel that same enthusiasm exists?

YELLIN: They're doing everything in their power to get those people re-engaged. I mean have you noticed all the "we can't wait" initiatives they've rolled out in the past few weeks. There is the initiative to get summer internships paid for college kids who were just entering the workforce. Do you think that might energize the youth vote?

There is a bunch of contraceptive measures that are getting a lot of attention. Do you think that might energize the -- might be designed to energize the women's vote?

I mean I don't think any of this has been lost, the fear that these special interest groups might be demoralized is not lost on the Obama team, and they are finding ways to reengage them, Anderson, looking ahead. Bottom line for the Obama side is they think as soon as there is a nominee, that will lock in the enthusiasm. It's what each side says about the other.

COOPER: We've heard a lot about super PACs in the Republican side, though. News today about a super PACs supporting President Obama and his decision to send folks out to basically encourage people to race money for this super PAC. We're you surprised to hear that?

BRAZILE: Well, I'm sure they were alarmed by the tremendous amount of money that the Republicans are raising and the amount of money that Mitt Romney spent, and look, I'm sure they looked up and saw the negative ads against Gingrich down in Florida.

COOPER: Is it hypocritical of the president to be supporting this?

BRAZILE: Well, look, he had to make a decision, they had to make a fundamental decision. Do you go into the race with all of the super PACs, you know, stacked up against you, and you know, your little super PAC out there just, you know, trying to raise a few crumbs. And you have all these non-profit groups that will not disclose their contributors also raising money against you. They share --


COOPER: Are you afraid that the president's super PACs are only going to raise a few crumbs?

BRAZILE: Look --


BRAZILE: I'm not out there raising money, I'm up here with these young men.


ERICKSON: Is it hypocritical the president wasn't going to say, go to the super PACs?


ERICKSON: I've been on TV for a year with Paul Begala saying, he was helping a super PAC that was going to help Obama. Whether he said it officially or not, everyone knew the Democrats are going to do exactly what the Republicans are going to do.

ROLAND S. MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: But keep in mind, he'd made a mistake in -- in 2008 when he said we're not taking lobbyist money when he also said don't give money to outside groups, Democrats said, OK, fine, we're going to go your way with this one. What happens in 2010? They got their butt kicked when it came to raising money. A major Democratic donor said, look, we go to take the gloves off. You want to be purist, we can't play this game.

To answer your question, is it hypocritical? Yes. He'll get tagged on it. Do you have to suck it up and do it? Absolutely. Why? Because you cannot lose an arms race. You don't want to go to November and say, hey, I was a purist, I held my -- I held to myself. Democrats are saying, no, we got to play to win.

BORGER: You know the truth of the matter was that the Democratic super PACs weren't raising a lot of money, that Barack Obama's super PAC, correct me if I am wrong, Donna --

BRAZILE: Because it didn't have the blessing of the president.

BORGER: Exactly. OK. So they were sort of out there in the wilderness. And they had to get the blessing of the president.

MARTIN: That's right.

BORGER: Which they got because you see the kind of money that the Republicans super PACs are raising now.

It's interesting, because the Republicans are raising an awful lot of money. They don't have the large turnout to show for it but they're raising an awful lot of money and super PACs are doing the negative advertising which a lot of people would think could actually suppress voter turnout.

Now one thing about turnout, Newt Gingrich, it's his calling card, he came on TV I believe it was Saturday night, and accused Mitt Romney of suppressing voter turnout. As he said, everywhere he won, he suppressed voter turnout. South Carolina, Newt Gingrich won.

COOPER: David --

BORGER: Turnout was up 35 percent.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: OK. Look. Let's go back. This enthusiasm issue does matter. In 2006 and 2008, the Democrats were hungrier than Republicans and they won both elections. In 2010, it was the Republicans who were hungrier. So watching this turnout tonight does matter.

I think the difference, though, has been in the first three states that voted out of the five, independents could vote and turnout was up in all three states. In the last two states, in Florida and Nevada, it was Republicans only, and turnout was down. That is a sign that Republicans are watching with some distress.

COOPER: So who's hungrier, though, this year do you think?

GERGEN: Right now, right now the Republicans thought that their voters would be hungrier, they've been counting on that, and that gave them advantage going into this. It's one more the Republican advantages that now more clouded or more threatened.

COOPER: Although do you think -- Erick, to your point, in a general election when the focus is President Obama, that's where the hunger comes in? ERICKSON: I think there will be some. It's very difficult to sustain hunger against someone, you've got to have hunger for something.

BRAZILE: Absolutely.

GERGEN: Agree.

ERICKSON: But as well, you do have the Supreme Court with the Obamacare decision coming this summer. If it goes against the way conservatives was hoping it will go, if Anthony Kennedy sides with the liberal court, suddenly you're going to see an impassioned Republican base like we haven't seen in a very long.

MARTIN: And if they side with the side of it, the president on that, the left will be absolutely energized.

GERGEN: Yes, but what if the Chief Justice Roberts goes with the --

BORGER: Right.

GERGEN: With the majority and says it's constitutional. That is possible.


GERGEN: And people think that's possible.

FLEISCHER: You have a president doing a 70 percent job approval on inauguration day, he's now in the mid 40s. The Democrat base has lost a huge amount of enthusiasm. The turnout Jessica has alluded this point, that massive turnout in 2008 is not going to happen again.

BRAZILE: I think I'm the only person that --

FLEISCHER: So the president --


BRAZILE: -- that can speak on this stage about turnout in a presidential race. And let me tell you.

FLEISCHER: I don't think you're the only --


BRAZILE: We got more votes.


MARTIN: It's called a trump card.

BRAZILE: Don't do that. Please don't do that. I'm trying not to --

FLEISCHER: Electoral college.

BRAZILE: Well, the Supreme Court decided that one, too. I don't want to get back and (INAUDIBLE), OK?

COOPER: Let's discuss this over some drinks later.

BRAZILE: Please, lots of them.

MARTIN: Martini and wine.

BRAZILE: But you know -- I talked about Newt Gingrich trust problem. Mitt Romney has a trust problem with conservative voters. He needs people like Erick, and Erick, forgive me for saying people like Erick, I'm talking about he needs -- he needs campaign people who are enthusiastic, who will go door-to-door, and not just say vote against Obama, vote against America, vote against job creation, vote against all the things that this president has done over the last three years.

He needs people who are apostles for him and not just against Obama. And that's where Mitt Romney is having a little bit of difficulty at this hour. We'll see what happens later.

ERICKSON: That can't mean for dog catcher running against someone. You have to run for something. It doesn't matter whether municipal, state or federal. You got to run for something.

FLEISCHER: And virtually he's every poll he's run almost neck and neck with President Obama.

BRAZILE: Not recently.

FLEISCHER: This week the president has opened up a little bit more of a gap but (INAUDIBLE). So you can't dismiss the argument that Mitt Romney, even with his problems on the right which are legit, doesn't have appeal that gets him virtually equal with Barack Obama.

ERICKSON: Well, that's the economy, I think. And if the economy improves, Mitt Romney's sole rationale thus far has been, I'm the fixer for the economy. If the economy fixes without Mitt Romney, why do we need him? He needs something else.

COOPER: And we'll see how all that plays out tonight for Governor Romney and for all the other candidates -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Anderson, thanks very much.

The votes are beginning to come in actually in Missouri. Let's show you what we have right now. Two precincts have basically reportedly so far. Very, very early, these are the first numbers we're getting so far from Missouri in the primary there. Forty-one percent for Mitt Romney, 26 percent for Rick Santorum, 13 percent uncommitted. Ron Paul, 8 percent.

These caucus numbers coming in from Missouri, remember, Newt Gingrich not on the ballot in Missouri, this is a beauty contest. You see how few people so far have registered their opinions. We'll watch it very, very closely.

Minnesota, they're caucusing right now. We have caucus cameras inside. We're going to be getting ready to show you some of the numbers coming in from Minnesota.

Ron Paul also the Republican presidential candidate, he's in Minnesota, he's getting ready to speak. We'll go there live once he speaks, you'll hear from Ron Paul as well.

We're watching what's going on. Who's going to take the edge in these three contests tonight? Our special coverage from the CNN Election Center will continue in a moment.


BLITZER: Very early in the process. We're getting some actual votes coming in from Missouri right now. You see them changing right now. Very close between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, only 1 percent of the vote in. Thirty-seven percent for Mitt Romney, 35 percent for Rick Santorum, 10 percent uncommitted, Ron Paul, 9 percent.

Remember Newt Gingrich not on the ballot in Missouri. Very, very early.

We got caucus cameras, though, in Minnesota watching what's going on. Shannon Travis is in Golden Valley, Minnesota. Over there Shannon. David Mattingly is joining us as well. He's in Stillwater, Minnesota.

Shannon, first to you, we're waiting to hear from Ron Paul. I take it he's where you are, right?

TRAVIS: Yes, he is here. I just got off the phone a few moments ago with Ron Paul's campaign manager. He is here in the building. We expect him probably in about six, seven minutes now. They're letting surrogates for the other campaigns, with Santorum, with Romney and Newt Gingrich's campaigns speak first and then Ron Paul will come out.

I'll have my cameraman just kind of pan out and show you the room a little bit. A lot of caucus goers here in different precincts here. This city here, in this area of Minnesota, that's the stage right there where Ron Paul will be speaking, Wolf. He'll come up there. These are a lot of local elected officials that are speaking first.

I've been told by the main person who's presiding over this caucus site here that after the elected officials speak, after Dr. Ron Paul speaks, these people will basically break out into different groups, neighbor to neighbor, friend to friend, stranger to stranger in some cases, and either try and express who they're supporting and convince other people to come on board to that chosen campaign.

We will actually see the vote counting in this room. We'll bring that to you also, Wolf, as part of our democracy in action -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks. We'll obviously hear what Ron Paul has to say at this meeting. He's going to try to convince everyone there to support him. But the private conversations, as you say, among these citizens, friends and neighbors, will we be able to hear that as well?

TRAVIS: We'll try and definitely get up close to some of these conversations to see if some people are leaning, if some people are convinced, if some people came in here unconvinced. We'll definitely trying to get you inside these conversations. Because again, as you know, Wolf this is a process that a lot of people around the country are unfamiliar with. Most people are familiar with going into a ballot -- a ballot booth and casting a ballot and coming United States and no one knows the wiser.

Well, a caucus process is different so we're going to try and get up close, personal, intimate, to show you exactly what they're talking about, and how the process works -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll be fascinated, and we'll of course go back to you once we hear Ron Paul start speaking.

David Mattingly has got one of our caucus cameras in Stillwater, Minnesota.

David, you can hear me as well. What's the status of the situation over there?

MATTINGLY: Well, Wolf, everyone just got a briefing on the instructions and on the agenda. Now earlier, I showed you the ballot, this is the ballot to the straw poll they're going to be voting on later, just a little while later tonight. This is the list of instructions and explanations. Caucuses can be a little bit confusing. So they took a lot of time to make sure everybody knew how things are going to go tonight.

Most people are here to participate in the straw poll that's non- binding. They're going to becoming here to indicate their support for a particular candidate. Later, they're going to break up into small groups where they're electing delegates to go to a state level convention and from there, the delegates for the national convention will be elected.

So everything they're picking tonight in terms of a candidate is not binding. So Minnesota is going to be a place where a candidate is going to be getting bragging rights, and not so much of an actual delegate count tonight -- an official delegate count tonight.

But you see this room, it really filled up tonight. A couple hundred people here. There are over 480 something precincts throughout Minnesota where something like this is going on tonight. This room contains people from eight of those precincts. After they get their briefing, after they have their straw poll, they're going to break up into smaller groups and go talk about issues that are important to them in their communities.

Their voice is going to be important in determining where this -- Republican Party is going to stand on the issues, on the state level, and on the national level, in the years to come. But right now, it's just a lot of talking from the podium, a lot of explaining on how things are going to work tonight, and what tonight's participation from all of these people actually means.

And the one thing about Minnesota when you register to vote, you don't have to label yourself as a Democrat or Republican. All you have to be is eligible to vote in the November election to participate in this caucus, not only vote but actually run as a delegate for the November election.

So a lot of people here, some of them here for the first time, some of them a long time, political veterans. But a lot of people here looking just forward to what this represents. And again, that is grassroots party politics Minnesota-style -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's a good style indeed. All right, thanks, David. We're going to get back to you. We actually have some numbers coming in from Minnesota. The caucuses unfolding right now. Very, very early.

And you see how few the numbers are but 47 percent for Rick Santorum. Ron Paul, 40 percent. Newt Gingrich, 6 percent, Mitt Romney, 6 percent. You see only seven votes, six votes for Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, 1.

Let's take a look at Missouri right now. We got some more people that have already -- these are official numbers that have come in from Missouri right now. A few more people have voted.

Rick Santorum, doing well with 42 percent to Mitt Romney's 33 percent. Ten percent for Ron Paul, 8 percent uncommitted, Newt Gingrich not on the ballot in Missouri at all.

Let's go over to John King.

You know, John, I spoke a little while ago with Newt Gingrich. And he agreed that way back in 1976, when Ronald Reagan was challenging the incumbent Republican president, Gerald Ford, he took that contest not through Super Tuesday, not through Texas but all the way to the Republican convention that summer and Newt Gingrich said he's ready to do the same thing now.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And the question is, can he? Is he a viable candidate all the way through the convention? One worth -- point worth noting, there's no cable television back then. Political races tend to be accelerated because of the 24 hour news cycle.

This is what Speaker Gingrich -- this is one thing here that complicates Speaker Gingrich's strategy. If the map stays like this, Rick Santorum has won Iowa. You mentioned, it's just 1 percent in Minnesota, just 1 percent tin Missouri, so let's stay tuned, stay with us for several more hours.

But if the map turns out like this and Rick Santorum actually has three states at the end of the night, Missouri no delegates. But this is about momentum. This is about a statement --

BLITZER: That would be a huge upset and potentially a setback for Mitt Romney.

KING: Right. But just look at this. I want you to remember this, if Santorum takes a few states here -- this is the one Gingrich state so far down in South Carolina. Romney won New Hampshire and Florida. Romney won in Nevada. Romney is heavily favored. If anyone else wins Colorado, that would be the biggest upset of the night. Romney should win Colorado tonight. If he doesn't, that's trouble.

So now let's look at this Reagan race with Jerry Ford back in 1976. They didn't have magic walls back then, either -- Wolf.


KING: But this is how it played out. Jerry Ford, the incumbent president, he's the light color. Ronald Reagan challenged him. He's the darker the red. And look at this, 1187 to 1070. In those days, it took 1130 to win the nomination. The numbers a little higher this time. But let's go through this. Let's play this out.

And just remember this, remember this, Reagan won in the south, down in here, not all of them. Ford won Florida, Ford won in here. The Reagan took the south, he took Texas in the west, and up through the mountain west for the most part. Jerry Ford was from Michigan. He won the Midwest and he won what I call the Rockefeller Republican Party in the northeast.

So remember that map, and remember again, Jerry Ford in the end won. Reagan came up short.

BLITZER: He was an incumbent president, isn't he?

KING: He's an incumbent president challenged. Two candidates. Two candidates. That's why that Santorum vote matters. Two candidates in this race that went all the way to the convention. Santorum has one state already and we'll see what happens.

So let's look at our own delegate map. If you bring it up right now. Here's where we are tonight. We have three states voting. And let's just play this out. We can play this out and tap this out. This is what the Romney campaign wanted.

Let's say this happens tonight. And Santorum, change that to purple, there we go. Let's say Santorum does both of these state, he's leading right now. Let's say it turns out like that. Now some delegates -- we will award some delegates based on what we think will happen based on these results at later convention.

Let's, for the sake of argument, say Romney wins Colorado. Speaker Gingrich hasn't done anything yet. I'm going to fast forward thought this so we don't take all the time on it. Let's go to the next contest, Maine, want to give that one to Ron Paul, just for the sake of argument, just to take some delegates away from Governor Romney.

And you'll see everyone's delegate counts is going up. If you look up at the top screen because these are proportional states, most of them. So even if this plays out like this, now you get to Super Tuesday. This is when -- this is when Speaker Gingrich must make a statement. He's pink, he's only won South Carolina so far. I think I gave him Maine instead of Ron Paul. Let me go back. There we go to Ron Paul to give Maine.

Speaker Gingrich has won only one contest in this scenario so far, Wolf. It's early, you need 1100. But he's well behind. Santorum and Ron Paul -- Santorum is ahead of Gingrich in this scenario, Ron Paul almost even. So that if you played it out on Super Tuesday, remember, Gingrich is not on the ballot in Virginia. Remember the Reagan-Ford contest. You have to start winning states. Gingrich is not on the bell out there. So that will go -- this will most likely go to Romney.

It's a Romney-Paul race there. Assume Gingrich wins in the south even if you keep playing it out, we split these states, give him both southern states here, Missouri then comes back to the point where this is when it matters, the caucuses down the road.

The Romney campaign thinks in that environment, it will be more organized and you will see more spending. So for the sake of argument, I will give him that state. Remember, going forward, this in Missouri and here in Ohio, are the two places that Gingrich really wants to prove he's viable, Wolf.

That's where he needs to do it right there. He needs to not let Romney get Ohio that's why Gingrich is there tonight and do this.

BLITZER: All right, John, fascinating stuff. Ron Paul is speaking now in Minnesota. I want to hear what he's saying.

RON PAUL (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you. It sounds like there are plenty of friends of freedom in this audience. I'm delighted to be here. Thank you for inviting me and permitting me to come and visit.

There's an important election going on, as you know. I feel like I'm very honored that I can come and visit with you before this election occurs. But most people know a lot about me.

I thought I would start off by saying a lot of things people don't know. One is I'm an OB doctor and delivered about 4,000 babies over about a 30-year medical practice.

Also, I am the only candidate that's served in the military. I was in the Air Force for five years as a flight surgeon, both on active duty and in the international guard.

But I want to briefly, in the short period of time I have, is to go over in general the platform that I've been running on. I've been campaigning, of course, for what I call the cause of liberty for a long time. I got involved in politics in the 1970s because I believe we're embarking on something that would lead to an economic disaster. That was the destruction of our currency.

It was back then that we lost our last link of our dollar to gold. The predictions then, which have been carried out. The prediction would be it that would lead to printing too much money, spending too much money, running up too much debt, having an entitlement system out of control and also a foreign policy that would lead us to do more things overseas than we should be doing.

We've gotten ourselves into this mess because I think we have been too careless. The people have been careless. Our representatives in Congress have been careless and careless in this sense we have not taken the oath of office seriously.

I believe that most of our problems have come because we have violated the constitution and we would solve almost all our problems if we would only send people to Washington who took the oath of office seriously and obeyed the constitution.

Our deficit is over a trillion dollars every year, $1.4 trillion, $1.5 trillion a year. Now there's no serious attempt in Washington, and quite frankly, if you listen to the other candidates, there's no serious attempt to cut spending.

I believe if you want to get our house in order, our country back on track again, we have to cut spending, so I have proposed to cut $1 trillion out of the budget in one year.

You might say I heard they were going to cut spending, Congress was lax and turned it over to the "Super Committee" and they didn't do a very good so there's some automatic cuts of over a trillion dollars starting in the year 2013 and stretching out over a 10-year period.

And they are going to cut a trillion dollars out of a $10 trillion proposed increase. That is not a decrease. That's $100 billion a year over a 10-year period. We spend $100 billion in debt every single month. That's how serious it is.

We have a chairman of the Federal Reserve board who has promised that he would use your dollars to bailout all of Europe who bought too much Greek debt, and they're in trouble and he's promised to bail them out.

That is why I emphasize the Federal Reserve. We have to get control of the Federal Reserve. We have to get control of our money. We need sound money and we are not -- we should never allow an organization like the Federal Reserve.

They created in the midst of the big bailouts $15 trillion. Congress was derelict in their duty. They spent a trillion, but the Federal Reserve $10 trillion to $15 trillion and they did it in secrecy and resent it when I ask questions and say, we need to audit you and find out what you're doing and who you're baling out and who are the privileged customers.

This is certainly where we've made a lot of progression bringing attention to the American people the seriousness of the monetary system. The Federal Reserve has been around for 100 years. It's only been in the last three or four years it's gotten the attention it deserves. I will continue on that. I do not believe we can have a healthy economy with unhealthy money. Therefore we have to do something and the first thing we should do is have a thorough audit of the fed and make sure they're actually holding the gold they claim they're holding.

The reason the Federal Reserve is so important is it generates big government, the bigger the government, the smaller our liberties. Our government is way too big. That is why I believe we're at a point now where our liberties have been severely eroded and we need to curtail that trend.

We had various pieces of legislation that have been very abusive to our liberties. You take the Patriot Act passed in 2001. It sounds wonderful. If it had been called what it really was, repeal the Fourth Amendment Act, it wouldn't have been passed and it ought to be repealed, to tell you the truth.

Just recently the national defense authorization act was passed. Buried in that provision was a very, very serious provision that gives the president now the authority to use the army to arrest any American citizen, deny him a trial, deny him a lawyer and put him in prison indefinitely. That is not what America is all about.

BLITZER: We will break away briefly for a moment, Ron Paul. I want to go to Stillwater in Minnesota right now. The caucuses underway, David Mattingly, we see people mulling around. What's going on?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, remember that gymnasium full of people just a minute ago? Well, they've all cleared out. They're breaking into smaller groups now. There were eight voting precincts that were represented in this room earlier.

They're now going off into smaller rooms where they are going to discuss issues related to the Republican platform and they're going to have their straw poll where they will vote their preference for their Republican nominee.

There will be a few people standing by staying here in this room. This is going to be one precinct out of the eighth that is going to remain in this room. We will watch as they go through the steps here of this caucus, this grassroots democracy in action in party politics. We are going to be seeing every step of the way, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, David, we'll get right back to you and update our viewers on the actual votes that are coming in from Minnesota and Missouri very, very early in the process. Minnesota first 132 votes for Rick Santorum. It's very early, 1 percent of the vote in, 48 percent for Rick Santorum, 24 percent for Ron Paul, 16 percent for Mitt Romney, 12 percent for Newt Gingrich.

This is Minnesota very early in the process and these numbers no doubt will change, but we're watching very closely. We are going to have some votes coming in from Missouri right now. Let's take a look and see what's happening in Missouri, 1 percent of the vote in. Mitt Romney slightly ahead of Rick Santorum, 38 percent to 36 percent, uncommitted, 10 percent, 9 percent for Ron Paul. Once again, only 1 percent of the vote is in. These numbers will change as more and more of these numbers come in from Missouri, Minnesota-Colorado is getting ready to start their caucuses at the top of the hour.

We'll go there live as well. That's where Mitt Romney is located. At some point, he is going to be speaking to his supporters in Colorado as well. We will watch the caucuses unfold. They're getting ready to vote. Actually, they're voting right now in Stillwater, Minnesota. We'll go there. We'll watch it. We'll hear it. Stay with us.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to get back to our election coverage in a moment. But we do have breaking news tonight about the bloody government crackdown in Syria.

CNN has learned that the Pentagon has begun a preliminary review of its options if President Obama should decide to call for some kind of military action.

After many, many months of deadly violence at least 35 people reportedly were killed just today. Opposition activists are calling it a massacre. I spoke with a Syrian activist about the situation in his country and he broke down. Listen.


ZAIDOUN, SYRIAN ACTIVIST (via telephone): The entire world is watching us so silently. We are getting killed every moment. We are not able even just to get some basic medicine for injured people. Children are really hungry, I swear, children are hungry. No power, no fuel. So cold. It's too much, for God's sake, this is too much.


COOPER: Let's bring in CNN's Arwa Damon. She is covering the Syrian crisis from Beirut tonight. When you talk to activists inside Syria, remarkable, Arwa, is despite the violence and despite the thousands who have died and the many more been in prison, they continue to say they will continue to fight, that they cannot go back.

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Anderson. That is quite simply because they don't have a choice. You heard the emotion in that activist's voice right there, especially how he was breaking down in the end.

That is the same type of emotion, anguish and pain that we keep on hearing echoed throughout all of Syria. Activists will tell you that they are in this until the very end.

One has to remember that both sides in this current uprising, whether it's the government and those who support it or those who are so vehemently opposed to it, they are in this in a fight for their very survival.

Both sides are so hardened at this point against one another and both sides firmly believe that it is a situation where they either somehow have to survive it or they will be exterminated.

Of course, when it comes to the activist's position though they are at this stage no match for the might that the Syrian regime has at its disposal and we keep seeing these images that are really depicting the sheer horror of the bloodbath that is unfolding inside that country -- Anderson.

COOPER: Yes, you are just in inside Damascus. Obviously, now we are seeing increasing diplomatic pressure being brought to bear. We're seeing the U.S. closed its embassy and a number of countries in Europe throughout the Gulf region have taken out their ambassadors or kick out the Syrian ambassadors in their country, is any of that having an impact on the Assad regime itself?

DAMON: No, it's not because at every stage of the way despite those actions by various international players and despite various pledges we have been hearing from the Syrian government itself, the crackdown has not eased up.

And the issue, Anderson, is that as long as the Syrian regime knows it continues to have fairly reliable powerful international allies in the likes of Russia and China, it is unlikely to feel as if the international pressure is significant enough to need to alter its current course of action.

One has to remember, this is a regime that continues to approach this as being a domestic disturbance, a battle against so-called armed gangs and continues to approach this from a fairly confident position of power.

COOPER: Arwa Damon, appreciate you reporting tonight. Wolf, Russia and China as Arwa is saying continuing to block efforts internationally and the United Nations for stronger action by the U.N.

BLITZER: It's a dramatic situation unfolding in Syria right now. We are not going to leave this story long. We have other drama unfolding in the race for the White House in the United States.

Let me update you what's going on. First of all, in Minnesota, very early in the process, Rick Santorum with 1 percent of the vote now in, 44 percent to 25 percent for Ron Paul. Mitt Romney at least for now coming in third with 17 percent, 14 percent for Newt Gingrich, very, very early.

You see the few numbers of folks who have actually voted. But these are the first numbers really that are coming in from Minnesota from the caucuses in Minnesota. We will go back to those caucuses shortly.

Let me show you what's going on in Missouri right now because it's fascinating. Two percent of the vote is in Missouri. Look at how close it is. What a contest between Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney, 37 percent for Santorum and 36 percent for Romney, 11 percent for Ron Paul, 9 percent uncommitted.

Newt Gingrich not on the ballot in Missouri. But if Rick Santorum were to hold on it's still very early, that would be a huge upset for Rick Santorum. He needs a win either in Minnesota or Missouri.

Most people think Mitt Romney will do well in Colorado, that's where he's getting ready to speak later tonight. You see the caucus cameras that we have unfolding in Minnesota right now in Stillwater, and Shakopee, Minnesota and in Maple Grove, Minnesota as well.

They're getting ready to participate in this process. David Mattingly is still with us in Stillwater. What's the status over there, David?

MATTINGLY: Well, Wolf, come with me and take a look. At this table right here, people are signing in for this precinct. They have to sign in, that's the only requirement that they have to. They have to sign in. They have to be a registered voter.

Then after everybody signed in, they are going to go and handle their straw ballot. They asked everybody to pull their seats in a little bit closer. This is a very close, very personal experience.

You know, when you think about elections these days, it's very impersonal, you go to a voting booth. You have a computer ballot, you push a button and you're done.

Well, here, people actually get a chance to talk about what's on their mind and get to talk about who they're voting for. This is about to get started right here, but again, I mean, here's the ballot, very simple.

This looks like a ballot you would be voting for class president on. Instead, these people are expressing their choice for the Republican nominee. We will step back now and let this group get on with their work here -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, I want to listen in for a moment. Let's hear what they're saying.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's your temporary secretary for this caucus. A precinct is required to convene by Minnesota state law. The qualify goings of participants and business conducted.

We hope to operate in an informal friendly manner so that opportunity to express a point of view is available to everyone. A person may vote be elected to party officer delegate if you're eligible to vote in the next election in agreement of the principles of the party voted for or affiliated with the party at the last general election.

BLITZER: They're giving instructions out there in Minnesota. They're getting ready for this process to unfold. Shannon Travis is in Maple Grove, Minnesota. What's the status of the procedure over there, Shannon? SHANNON TRAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Similar as about to happen here as what's happening in David Mattingly's location, Wolf. This room has just emptied out from all the caucus goers. They've split up into the individual caucus rooms. We will be going into one of them showing you pretty much the same kind of process played out that you just showed.

A lot of caucus goers advocating for one candidate, some who are people who are undecided, trying to figure out who to actually caucus for. We'll take you inside to see will there be arguments or pretty much agreement who to coalesce around.

That starts in a few minutes. They will come back here. They'll tally the votes in those rooms, Wolf. They'll come back here and announce results. We'll show you all of that as part of our democracy in action -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We certainly hope so. All right, thanks very much, Shannon. Chris Welch is also in Minnesota, Shakope, Minnesota. Chris, what's happening where you are?

CHRIS WELCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, Wolf, you're looking inside a high school classroom about 20 miles outside of the twin cities metro area. This is a very conservative district. The room you're looking at right now. This is the room for caucus goes and there are about 14 of these different classrooms around the building and each of them has a different precinct.

Now this one right here, they passed out the ballots, each supporter has made their speeches for their chosen candidate. They're right now doing a little bit of local business before they get to the vote.

Now a couple of the other smaller precincts around the building have already cast some votes. I stuck my head into another room. Look like Rick Santorum was leading there. A lot of people watching this area, Wolf. A lot of people looking to see what happens in this bellwether part of the state -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Chris, thanks very much. Chris Welch in Shakopee, Minnesota watching what's going on. In about 8 minutes or so, they are going to be caucusing in Colorado as well.

We are going to go there and see what's going on. Mitt Romney is in Colorado. We'll update you when we come back on the actual votes coming in from Minnesota and Missouri, three contests tonight. We're all over the story. Stay with us. There could be a major upset in the works tonight.


BLITZER: We're counting down to the top of the hour. The caucuses will start in Colorado at the top of the hour in 5 minutes or so from now.

Jim Spellman is standing by over there, one of the caucuses where they're getting ready. Jim, what's happening right now as we meet?

JIM SPELLMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's getting really exciting here, Wolf. There's really an excitement here in these caucuses, much different than a primary. People are arriving here at Precinct 258 at Buffalo Ridge Elementary School.

They check in right here, show their I.D and they walk right into the caucus room. In just about 10 minutes exactly, they will begin filling out their ballots. The ballots here just arrived a short time ago.

You can see this is a classroom of the elementary school. It's such a local neighborhood feel. A lot of people caucusing have kids at this very school. Who are you here to caucus for tonight?


SPELLMAN: Ron Paul, definitely a bunch of Ron Paul supporters in the crowd tonight. Who are you here to caucus for?


SPELLMAN: Rick Santorum. Any Romney supporters here?

A couple of Romney supporters over here. People are excited to be part of this process here in Colorado. They had a rough midterm re-election here about two years ago and they're really trying to reunify this party.

Over here, this is Kendall, she is the precinct captain and she will be counting the ballots here. They're going to fill out just circling the name of the candidate they want, pass them to the front.

She'll do her precinct. Six precincts total here. They're going to tally all those up, send them up to the county and those go to the state and hope in a matter of a couple hours that they have their candidate, their preference for president of the United States in the Republican Party here in Colorado -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Let me see that ballot you have over there, that sample ballot? Does it still have names of candidates who have dropped out? Because I see Jon Huntsman, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, what's this matter with these people? Why can't they print up ballots without those who dropped out?

SPELLMAN: Wolf wants to know how come you still have old candidates on here. They have to print them up at some point here, but they can still vote for these people if they choose. But I haven't spoken to any planning to vote for Herman Cain or Michele Bachmann here just yet. So I think the ballot will work OK for them.

BLITZER: Could you ask the folks in that room, if they don't mind, if they are still open to changing their minds or 100 percent settled in on their candidate? Are they willing to hear their friends and neighbors? SPELLMAN: Sure. Does anybody here feel like their mind is not made up, they talked to anybody here tonight or they're open to changing who they will caucus for tonight? Anybody?

One or two people over here, raise your hand. Just a couple of people, Wolf. I think everybody here has pretty much made up their mind. A lot of Ron Paul supporters out front shaking hands, trying to do last minute, bringing people to their side. I think most people here have decided who they're going to vote for.

BLITZER: All right, we'll stay in close touch with you, Jim Spellman. He's in Castle Rock, Colorado. Let me walk over to John King. Maybe it's just me. In this day and age you can print out ballots very quickly without Jon Huntsman or Herman Cain's name on it. What's taking these folks so long to get a ballot with only the candidates who are still on the race?

KING: They're conservatives. They don't want to spend the money printing new ballots. They just trust those voters in the room to just circle the names as Jim noted. Not a protest vote, but they are Bachmann supporter or Cain supporter or Perry supporter can vote for their candidate, most people won't do that, most people won't waste their vote.

But I suspect it's because of the costs. I mean, one of the controversies about this Missouri primary tonight, which is meaningless in terms of delegates (inaudible) down the road it's going to cost the state in the ballpark of $6 million.

A lot of people say, why is the state wasting that money. Let's look closer. I am debating what we will call this. Rick Santorum won Iowa and very, very early results in Minnesota and Missouri so 1 percent of the voters. What will we call this if we get purple, Santorum?

Down the middle of the country, is it the sweater vest states maybe? We'll call it the Santorum divide. I'm not sure what we're going to call it right there, but let's take a closer look.

I will go back to the state of Iowa because I want to pull up the demographics and show you something. This is unemployment, but I want to bring you another one, Evangelicals. Why does Rick Santorum think he can match the Iowa magic in Minnesota and Missouri.

Well, look at this, the darker the area in the state and you see the borders of Iowa here. That's the higher percentage of Evangelicals. A lot of Evangelicals down in Missouri as well and a fair amount of Evangelicals up in the state of Minnesota.

This is why Rick Santorum feels very confident about the Midwest, Tea Party voters, rural Evangelicals. He put the magic together in Iowa. He's trying to match it tonight in Minnesota and in Missouri.

Then you go out west to Colorado, you also see a decent Evangelicals areas especially here in Colorado Springs. This is a very important state for Governor Romney though he did win it if you go back to the map to four years ago in the Republican race for president.

I want to turn off the demographics. That's the main race. Let's go to the Colorado Republican caucuses. Governor Romney carried this state with 60 percent. One of the questions will be asked tonight even if Romney wins, in a four-way race four years ago, he got 60 percent.

How close to that number is he get tonight. Obviously, you see the turnout numbers from four years ago, that conversation -- a lot of people in his campaign say it's not relevant to say why was turnout up or down but that is a conversation we'll continue as we go on.

We're watching the map four years ago. We will watch it tonight. Stay with us, our coverage continues America's Choice 2012 right now.