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THE SITUATION ROOM
Santorum Soars; Carnage in Syria; White House Feels Conservatives' Fury; Interview with Newt Gingrich; Weak Turnout For GOP Triple-Header; 911 Call In Powell Murder/Suicide
Aired February 8, 2012 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S THE SITUATION ROOM: Happening now: The dust clears after Rick Santorum's stunning sweep, revealing a new reality for the GOP campaign. Mitt Romney draws up a new battle plan for a race that may turn into a marathon.
A look at the horror and the carnage inside the Syrian army's ring of steel. As the slaughter intensifies there, are desperate appeals to the outside world going anywhere? What will America do? Will America answer these pleas?
And picture this. You're walking through the airport checkpoint with your shoes on and your belt on, and your laptop still in its case -- how you could speed your way through the security line. New information coming in.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Suddenly, a brand-new campaign. Rick Santorum's stunning sweep of the GOP triple-header has turned the Republican race into a real race. He's grabbed some delegates and more importantly right now, he's grabbing the momentum. That's enabling him to raise lots of cash and it's raising a big question for the Republicans. Now what?
Let's begin our coverage this hour with our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Mitt Romney says he's focused on the contests ahead. And that's probably a good thing, because the rest of them may count like never before.
(voice-over): Moments after the Secret Service pounced on a man who tried to throw glitter on Mitt Romney, it looked like a scene straight out of "CSI," with agents checking out the shiny blue evidence on the party floor. But the real postmortem of the night was on Romney's caucus collapse.
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: The Romney bandwagon just went in the ditch.
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So I want to congratulate all my fellow Republicans, particularly Senator Santorum. And I look forward to the contests to come. ACOSTA: The stunning losses in Minnesota, Colorado and Missouri may have changed everything. While he goes into the upcoming contests holding a big delegate lead over his rivals according to latest CNN estimate, he faces a resurgent Rick Santorum, who is savoring his surprising sweep.
RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: One of the great gifts that I have had in my political career is that no one ever thinks that I could ever win anything.
SANTORUM: The gift of being underestimated is a wonderful gift.
ACOSTA: Then there are the contenders' differing battle plans, that could lead to a long, protracted war to the GOP nomination. as Romney looks to winner take all Arizona, Santorum is eying states that award delegates on a proportional basis, as Newt Gingrich zeros in on Super Tuesday contests in the South.
That's if Santorum can withstand what team Romney is about to dish out.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All the attacks have been on Newt. But now if Rick is going to be rising in the polls, I think he will start getting negative ads too.
ACOSTA: At his first post-caucus event, Gingrich had nothing to say about his disappointing night.
CLINT EASTWOOD, ACTOR: It's halftime, America, and our second half is about to begin.
ACOSTA: He was only talking about Super Bowl Sunday.
NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: While there's some controversy about it, I have to confess, I liked the Clint Eastwood halftime ad.
ACOSTA: Perhaps because the former speaker is already gaming out a whole new scenario, one in which no GOP candidate has the delegates needed to clinch the nomination.
As the Democratic Party is putting it to the Massachusetts-based Romney campaign, Boston, you have a problem.
GINGRICH: At the rate we're going, you could have the first open convention since 1940.
ACOSTA (on camera): Romney's advisers say they will be more aggressive in pointing out their differences with Santorum in the days ahead. In other words, batten down the hatches -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jim Acosta in Denver, thank you. As his campaign plots its next move, Mitt Romney is looking ahead to what could be a pretty rough battle with Rick Santorum. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: We think we can beat Senator Santorum where we compete head to head in an aggressive way. We obviously didn't do that in Colorado or Minnesota, to the extent that the other campaign did.
But there will certainly be places where he wins and there will be places where I win. There's no such thing as coronation in presidential politics. It's meant to be a long process. It's not easy to get the nomination. It's not easy to get reelected president. And this is a testing, a testing approach and so far we're doing pretty well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's dig deeper with our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.
Gloria, last night I remember very vividly, you said at a minimum this could be embarrassing for Mitt Romney, but it could be a lot more than that.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It could be a lot more.
And I think it probably is, because what it has done, as Jim Acosta points out, is that it really has stalled Romney's momentum. It's also exposed the problems that he has within his own party. And what we saw last night was really a cautionary tale for the Romney campaign, because you look at the low turnout that we saw in the states that we were looking at.
And what does that tell you, Wolf? It tells you that there's not a lot of enthusiasm for Mitt Romney as the Republican nominee. It doesn't mean he won't eventually become the nominee, but voters are not enthusiastic about getting out there and supporting him. And that's the problem.
BLITZER: Because he has got some other problems as well. Go a little bit deeper into that.
BORGER: Yes, it's really the problem with the base of the party. We have been talking about this a lot now for months, which is those Tea Party activists, the evangelicals, and the most conservative people in the party.
And we went through sort of a compendium of all our exit polls last night. And there was a couple numbers that really just jumped out at me. We asked the question what is the most important candidate quality? And of the people who said that being the true conservative was the most important quality, look at this. Santorum and Gingrich both get 30 percent of those voters, but Romney only gets 6 percent. And that really goes to the skepticism of conservatives about just who is Mitt Romney, how conservative is he, can we trust him? One more thing, Wolf, is when you look at all of the polls, they don't really like him enough. They haven't warmed up to him, which is why I think last night we heard him start talking about his life story and his father, because he understands he needs to warm up the crowds a bit and get those voters in.
BLITZER: But I wrote in my SITUATION ROOM blog today, still Romney has the most money, the most cash on hand, the best organization.
BORGER: He does.
BLITZER: He's positioned to go nationally in all these states.
Here's the question, though, does he focus his attack ads, the super PAC and his own campaign, on Santorum or on Gingrich?
BORGER: I think he has to do a little bit of both. And that's exactly what we heard him do today. Take a listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: And frankly Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich were a big part of the "we" that spend too much, borrowed too much and earmarked too much. Under Newt Gingrich, earmarks doubled. Rick Santorum was a major earmarker, continues to defend earmarks. Under Rick Santorum, he voted to raise the debt ceiling I believe five different times to the tune of about an additional $3.5 trillion.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BORGER: So it's just a couple Washington insiders, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. That's how he's going to portray them. But here's the problem. If he continues to pound away, his own negatives will go up and independent voters, they don't like all this bickering and he could continue to suffer with independents.
BLITZER: Guess what. There will be a lot of bickering and there's a lot of negativity.
BORGER: Really? You think so?
BLITZER: Yes. I'm sure. Thanks very much, Gloria.
BLITZER: The shattering explosions come every few minutes in the besieged Syrian city of Homs. Residents say government troops are using rockets and heavy artillery in a bombardment that's gone on for days. As the shells fall, the slaughter mounts. Another 60 men, women and children were reported killed today. But residents say they cannot even count the dead anymore, and the international charity Doctors Without Borders says the regime is now attacking the wounded, with the staff who treat them risking arrest and torture.
By phone and through social media, we're learning more about the desperation as those trapped in the city look into the cameras and simply cry for help.
CNN's Arwa Damon reports.
ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): "I beg you, please, stop the rockets," this doctor pleads at one location in Homs, directing his plea at the leaders of Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia.
He adds, "We are begging you. We can't do anything for them."
CNN has spoken with opposition activists across Syria. And as one, they ask the same question. How is it that the world can watch and continue to fail them?
ZAIDOUN, SYRIAN ACTIVIST: I want to thank the entire world for watching us so silently. We are getting killed every moment. We are not able even just to get some basic medicine to injured people. Children are really hungry. I swear, children are hungry. No power, no fuel. It's too cold. This is too much. For God's sake, this is to much.
DAMON: Thank anguish is painfully clear. The way to end it is not.
Arwa Damon, CNN, Beirut.
BLITZER: The United States ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, had a very strong message for the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, when she joined me in THE SITUATION ROOM yesterday.
She said, and I'm quoting her now, "Your days are numbered." Since then, Obama administration officials say the U.S. is focused on diplomatic and economic pressure, but a preliminary review has indeed begun of U.S. military capabilities.
Let's go to our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian, who is joining us.
Dan, update us on what we know.
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, Wolf, the White House really hopes that this situation in Syria can be resolved either through diplomacy or some political solution. Having said that, top aides here tell me that all options remain on the table. They won't specifically address talk about whether or not the U.S. or its allies could be involved in arming the opposition, but as Barbara Starr up at the Pentagon has been reporting, military officials there are conducting an early review of military contingencies or military capabilities, rather.
This does not mean that this is something that President Obama has asked for, I'm told, but this is a kind of preparation, the strategy that the military will conduct in case the president does ask for that. In addition, the United States continues to work with its allies to look at providing humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people, all of this taking place as the pressure continues for President Assad to step down and officials here believe that the noose is tightening.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There's no question that because of the efforts of the international community to put the squeeze on the regime financially, that his assets and his capacities are dwindling, and there's no question that those around him among -- within the military and governmental leadership are beginning to doubt the wisdom of sticking by him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LOTHIAN: Carney says that he believes that Assad's days are numbered. They will continue, the U.S. and it allies, on this path to pressuring and isolating Assad. As to what the White House will do next, one White House official telling me -- quote -- "This is a process that is moving" -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Dan, this time last year, and I remember it well, President Obama went before the cameras to talk about the revolution in Egypt. Why aren't we seeing him do the same thing as far as Syria is concerned?
LOTHIAN: You're right, Wolf. That's a very important point, because the president took every opportunity to either pop into the Briefing Room or elsewhere to make that strong condemnation.
We have not seen that kind of thing, at least in person from the president. The White House, what officials are telling me when I ask that question, the president for so long has been calling on Assad to step down. He put out the statement over the weekend, and the language was very strong saying -- quote -- "He must step aside now, Assad has no right to lead Syria."
As for whether or not the president will be making specific appearances before the camera, rather than on paper, with strong language for Assad, that's still unclear, Wolf.
BALDWIN: Dan Lothian at the White House watch this story, thank you.
The battle over birth control, the White House is in a fight with the Catholic Church. Now Republican lawmakers jump into the fray.
And Newt Gingrich may have been the big loser in that Republican triple-header yesterday, but he says he's in the race all the way. My one-on-one interview with Newt Gingrich, that's coming up.
And coming up at an airport near you, a new way potentially to breeze through the security checkpoint. But that convenience comes with a price.
BLITZER: Let's go right to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The Santorum sweep of Missouri, Minnesota, Colorado, once again raises serious question about why so many conservatives cannot stomach Mitt Romney. One, it wasn't even close, and two Romney failed in places where he was successful four years ago. Santorum more than double Romney support in Missouri. Romney came in third in Minnesota, a state he won in 2008. And worst of all for Romney, losing Colorado, where he got 60 percent of the vote last time out.
Writing for "The Daily Beast," my buddy, CNN political contributor Paul Begala, points out that Romney has more national experience, more staff, more money and better hair than Santorum. Begala described the losses this way, quote, "There's a technical term in political consulting for a performance like that. It's called sucking," unquote.
Although Romney is still the GOP's likely nominee, yesterday's thumpings are now going to make people wonder about his electable. Santorum is now out to convince Republicans that he, not Newt Gingrich, is the strongest conservative challenger to Romney. And the convergence of recent events are a conservative's dream come true, from the Komen/Planned Parenthood uproar, to the Proposition 8 ruling in California, to President Obama's dust-up with the Catholic Church over birth control.
As for Gingrich, his showing pretty much confirmed that it's a wrap for him.
For Republicans, none of this can be very encouraging. Low turnout in yesterday's races suggesting Republican voters aren't overly thrilled with any of their choices.
And President Obama, well, he must be watching all this the way NASCAR fans enjoy a multicar pileup at the racetrack.
Here's the question: How does Rick Santorum's sweep change the race?
Go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile, post a comment on my blog, or go to our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Great question, Jack. Thanks very much.
I write about it on my blog today as well.
Conservatives were thrilled with Rick Santorum's vocal opposition to a new White House decision on birth control. The policy forces religious institutions across the country to provide contraception in health care plans. Members of the religious right are vowing to fight the policy.
Our White House correspondent Brianna Keilar is joining us now with more.
Brianna, what is the White House doing to try to bridge this really, really sensitive divide?
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney says that discussions are going on. Not many details, though. And it appears those discussions are largely internal administration discussions, because there are a number of progressive Catholics who have told CNN that they have not been consulted thus far on any possible compromise.
We do know that the White House is looking for support, trying to shore up support among women's groups and women's health advocacy groups, as this political battle over this heats up.
KEILAR (voice-over): The Obama administration's decision to make employers, including religiously affiliated ones, provide insurance coverage for contraception has spawned a game of political tug of war. On the campaign trail, Republicans are taking aim at the policy that would apply to employers, like Catholic universities, hospitals and charities.
RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Look at what Obamacare is already spawning.
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is a violation of conscience. We must have a president who is willing to protect America's first right, our right to worship God.
KEILAR: White House Press Secretary Jay Carney fired back at the a man the Obama campaign is preparing to face in the general election.
JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The former governor of Massachusetts is an odd messenger on this, given that the services that this rule would provide for women around the country are the same provided in Massachusetts and were provided under when he was governor.
KEILAR: On the Hill, Republicans piled on. Speaker John Boehner took to the House floor.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: This attack by the federal government on religious freedom on our country must not stand and will not stand.
KEILAR: Shortly after Boehner vowed to repeal the policy, Senate Republicans held a press conference.
SEN. KELLY AYOTTE (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: It violates our First Amendment to the Constitution and really, it's an affront to what we stand for as Americans.
KEILAR: They're echoing an argument about religious freedom that Catholic leaders have been hammering home for more than two weeks now, the goal to simultaneously chip away at the president's support from Catholic allies, while rallying the Republican evangelical base, like followers of Rick Warren who gave the invocation at president's inauguration. He tweeted, "I'd go to jail rather than cave into a government mandate that violates what God commands us to do."
(on camera): Are you worried that that rallies the Republican base?
CARNEY: We're not worried about Republicans or Democrats, the political component. We're concerned about making sure that women get access to these important services.
KEILAR: Now, Wolf, Democrats on Capitol Hill who are supportive of this HHS possible also spoke out today. House Democratic women in support held what they called an emergency conference call to talk to reporters, saying that this policy is essentially for guaranteeing women access to this contraception, saying the exemption for churches, but not church-affiliated employers should be enough, and at this hour, Senate Republicans holding a conference as well, Wolf.
BLITZER: What are you hearing, Brianna, about a possible White House compromise on this extremely sensitive issue?
KEILAR: I will tell you, Wolf, they're playing it very close to the vest. I think that's part of the reason you're not seeing some of the outreach to some of these progressive Catholics.
But some of the ideas being floated include a law that Hawaii uses, where someone, if they're employed by a religiously affiliated employer, they could purchase their contraception out of pocket, but then they would play a lesser premium for the insurance coverage, so that it all comes out in the wash. It appears there may be some issues, though, implementing that on a national level.
And another idea that certainly some progressive Catholics say they may be open to is the idea of these religiously affiliated employers provides coverage that does not include birth control coverage, but allowing the employees to get it on the exchanges, these health care exchanges, that would be created under the health care reform law.
BLITZER: Brianna, thanks very much. Fascinating story, a very important story. We're going to continue to stay on top of it.
Meanwhile, the Newt Gingrich campaign certainly has lost its momentum, but the candidate himself has some ideas on how he can push forward to victory. My interview with Newt Gingrich is next.
BLITZER: Rick Santorum's sweep in the Republican contest was a big setback for Mitt Romney, but the big loser may actually have been Newt Gingrich. He finished third in Colorado, finished fourth in Minnesota, wasn't even on the ballot in Missouri.
But a new ARG poll taken before those results shows Gingrich leading the GOP field in Oklahoma, less than a month before the Super Tuesday primary there. I spoke with Newt Gingrich last night. He outlined his strategy and told me where he's focusing his efforts.
NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think we're looking forward to Ohio, which is where I am now which has started early voting. Arizona, which has begun early vote, Tennessee starts next week with early voting. So, I mean, we're trying to look at the whole country at the same time.
I stayed in Florida and then fought it out. Senator Santorum decided to go to other states. I mean, each of these campaigns, they're making its own decisions about what to do right, but we're having a great time here in Ohio and we think have a very real chance of winning Ohio. So, it's very exciting to be here.
We're on the race all the way. I just talked to Governor Perry today. We have a strong operation in Texas. We have 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 that the positive ideas we're developing, the dramatic contrast, he talks about not caring about the poor, because they have 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 Russians dominate space.
And 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've got to be.
We're only going to be a successful country if we are consistently the most innovative and most technologically advanced country in the world.
BLITZER: I don't know if you've 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 want 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 report.
I'm happy to debate. I'd much rather have a Lincoln/Douglass- style debate. I would love the opportunity to have head-on with Romney, no moderator, just a time keeper. 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 would love those kind of debates, but you know, you call one, 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 providing weapons to the opposition. 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: Well, first thing you have to ask yourself, Wolf, is what has happened to the Obama administration that we are months into this and they're starting to think?
You would have thought they would be covertly working with our allies in the region to be funneling all sort of assets into the rebels. It's clearly in our interests for Assad 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 about 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 allies in the region and had people who are fluent in Arabic, who are 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. That's pretty easy to attain. The trick is 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 that from the region go in and help organize to defeat Assad. It is definitely in our interest to get rid of Assad as a dictator because he's an ally of Iran. It will 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 at least until the convention? Do you think it will go that far?
GINGRICH: Well, I don't know yet. 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 involve. I know that I stand for the growth-oriented Reagan wing of the party that wants to see us to be very dynamic and very different, and I think that fight with the establishment as you point out.
Just like Reagan/Ford in 1976, I think we're probably going 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. It 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, 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.
So will the Republican race for the White House remain undecided all the way to the August convention in Tampa? We're taking a closer look at the tea leaves. That's coming up in our "Strategy Session."
And you'll hear that chilling 911 call that led police to the unspeakable scene of the Powell murder/suicide.
BLITZER: Let's get right to our "Strategy Session." Joining us the Democratic strategist, Jamal Simmons of billvote.com along with the Republican strategist, Alice Stewart, a former Michele Bachmann campaign spokeswoman.
Alice, let me start with you. You agree with Newt Gingrich, this Republican contest could go all the way to the end of August, the convention floor in Tampa?
ALICE STEWART, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I agree, and I think every candidate has the right to stay in until the nominee receives the magic number 1,144. Back in '08 with Governor Huckabee, he stayed in until John McCain received the exact number of delegates.
It's important to do this because certainly the way this delegate process works. Voters in all states should have the opportunity to vote until someone has gotten the magic number of votes.
And the key is this is an important part of the process, it's important to make sure that all the candidates are going after each other on the issues. And once that person is the nominee of the party then all the other candidates should vow to stand behind that person because job number one is to defeat Barack Obama in November.
BLITZER: Are you among those Democrats, Jamal, who believes a long- drawn-out fierce Republican battle bodes well for the president's re- election chances?
JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I do think it bodes well for the president's re-election and it's bad for Mitt Romney because the difference between this year and 2008 is that, in 2008 Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were fighting each other to get to the center.
They were going after moderate voters in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin. I mean, Pennsylvania, Ohio, maybe West Virginia, right now the Republicans are battling to the right. They're trying to get the religious right voters.
The more right wing Tea Party activists to get along so Mitt Romney, instead of fighting to get to the center of where most of the electorate is he's fighting to hold on to his right flank. That's going to hurt him.
BLITZER: Alice, how big of a setback was -- what happened yesterday in the Santorum sweep for Mitt Romney?
STEWART: Well, I think -- you know, hats off to Rick Santorum for receiving the hat trick last night. These are three very good states for him, socially conservative states, and they're right up his area of constituency.
But for Mitt Romney, even though he has the largest war chest, they're playing strategically and they're playing for their strengths. He didn't campaign very much in these states because he knew that he wanted to look ahead to the other states. Next, we have Arizona and we have Michigan.
Arizona being a winner take all state. Those delegates are important and obviously, yesterday, Missouri being more of a beauty contest. It really just didn't seem worth the investment of the time and resources.
What I think the Romney campaign is doing and what we're hearing is that they're looking more long term. We still have a long way to go to reach that magic number of delegates and the key for him is to continue doing what he's doing, using the resources where they can be best used.
And what he is doing is appealing to certainly the moderate, but also reaching out to the more social conservative. He knows that everyone is out there to try and vote maybe be the anti-Romney candidate. He's doing what he can to appeal to all voters in the Republican Party.
BLITZER: Jamal, let's look at the turn out yesterday in these three contests. Yesterday's turn out compared to four years ago in the Republican side.
In Colorado four ago, 70,000 plus, yesterday, 66,000. In Minnesota, almost 63,000 yesterday, only 47,696. In Missouri, look at this, 588,000 compared to 251,000 yesterday.
There's a lot less people showing up at these contests, and I know you as a Democrat say that is good news for the Democrats because it shows a lack of Republican enthusiasm.
SIMMONS: It does show a lack of Republican enthusiasm and it's not just those states. If you go back and look at Nevada, the same issue there. I think in Iowa, in fact, I think the only state where they over perform versus 2008 was in South Carolina.
And obviously Mitt Romney didn't win South Carolina. If you look at the map, what's interesting to me, if you look at the map what you're seeing is you can see a real possibility of Newt Gingrich doing well.
Get Georgia, Tennessee, those states. Rick Santorum has a big block in the center of the country. What if Mitt Romney a few weeks from now has only one on the east coast and on west coast and he hasn't done very well in the middle. That could be a very interesting --
BLITZER: Very quickly, Alice, what do you think?
STEWART: Well, I think -- one little point there. Actually in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, voter -- higher turn out than was in '08 and the key here is to make sure we turn out voters all across the board.
And they're going to wax and wane, but the most important thing is with the unemployment rate continuing to hover over 8 percent, the CBO saying we're going to top a trillion in debt this year, and Barack Obama's war chest isn't as great as he claimed.
Otherwise, he wouldn't have flip flopped on the contributing to "Super PACs." He's in trouble and he knows it. What the Republicans need to do is elect a candidate who will be the best person to go against Barack Obama, because he will be a very vulnerable candidate. We're well on the way to vetting the right person that can do that.
BLITZER: Alice and Jamal, guys, thanks very much.
Before a house exploded killing Josh Powell and his two young boys, the social worker made a panicked call to 911. Her chilling call about what could happen to the two little boys. That's coming up next.
And most travelers rarely have anything good to say about the TSA. This time they do.
BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. What else is going on, Lisa?
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there was a call to police that began somewhat confused and worried the Josh Powell's two boys were in danger.
As the minutes ticked by, you can hear a woman, she tells 911 that she can hear one of the boys crying inside and she can smell gasoline and that she is desperate for police to help her.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED SOCIAL WORKER: OK. How long will it be?
UNIDENTIFIED DISPATCHER: I don't know, ma'am. They have to respond to emergency life-threatening situations first.
UNIDENTIFIED SOCIAL WORKER: Well, this is -- this could be life threatening. He went to court on Wednesday, and he didn't get his kids back, and this is really -- I'm afraid for their lives.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SYLVESTER: During that phone call, just over 6 minutes, Josh Powell took a hatchet to his children and then set fire to his house. From the driveway, the horrified social worker made another call to 911.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED SOCIAL WORKER: People are saying there's not somebody here, but I was just there. There is somebody here. There are two little boys in the house. They're 5 and 7, and there's an adult man. He has supervised visitation, and he blew up the house and the kids.
UNIDENTIFIED DISPATCHER: The kids and the husband -- the father were in the house?
UNIDENTIFIED SOCIAL WORKER: Yes. Yes. He slammed the door in my face. I kept knocking, and then I called 911.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SYLVESTER: Before the inferno, Sunday, Powell's sister, Alina, called police dispatchers to say that she was worried about what she called weird messages she had received from her brother.
In other news, a Ugandan lawmaker recycles a wide reaching bill that would make some homosexuality punishable by death. Rights groups also say the law forces citizens to report gay people or face criminal charges. The bill was tabled in 2009 after outcry from the international community including from U.S. President Barack Obama.
For the first time in more than three decades, the government is at the time to green light two new nuclear reactors. The plant about 170 miles east of Atlanta is home to two older reactors.
Although there are more than 100 of them operational across the country, the Three Mile Island incident in 1979 and the high cost the nuclear power kept utilities from using them -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Lisa, thank you.
Are Americans easily manipulated? That seems to be what Syria's government thinks at least if you believe a stunning new report, and we've all been stuck in lines at the airport. Those delays could soon be a thing of the past. Stay with us.
BLITZER: Republicans are fighting to win the White House, but inside the executive mansion, a different kind of contest went down between the first lady and a late night talk show host.
In the end, Michelle Obama beat Jimmy Fallon. It was all, of course, in good fun to celebrate the second anniversary of the first lady's "Let's Move" initiative to fight childhood obesity.
MICHELLE OBAMA, U.S. FIRST LADY: We're going to start with a stair race. Ready to do this?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was born ready.
OBAMA: Well, Jimmy, that was fun. Thank you so much for coming to the White House and raising awareness for "Let's Move."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was my pleasure. I think the most important thing for the kids to learn is it's all about being active and having fun. It doesn't matter if you won or if you lost, you know?
OBAMA: It matters.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Double or nothing?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's go to Jack. Very funny stuff, but important stuff too.
CAFFERTY: It was cute. She has a lot of personality, doesn't she?
BLITZER: Yes, she does.
CAFFERTY: She should loan some to her husband for the campaign. The question -- how does Rick Santorum's sweep change the Republican race?
Carol writes, "Anybody but Romney. Connecting and charisma are not in his DNA. Compared to Mitt, Barack seems like Mr. Warmth.
Emmett writes from Alabama, "Mr. Santorum's recent wins in three states may only delay Mr. Romney's nomination, but they indicate he'll probably have to name a conservative as his running maid in order to clinch the deal at the convention."
Mike in Minneapolis, "If anything, I think it will further divide the GOP. There's Romney's camp who wants to keep the government out of the boardroom so big business can do anything it wants. Now there's Santorum's camp who wants to put the government in the bedroom. So that people can't do what they want in there."
Tom in Virginia writes, "Think of this as a distance race on a small track. If lap leaders change throughout the race, the commentators glorify the battle and fan interests will peak at the finish."
David in Missouri writes, "Until Santorum tells us what his plan, we can't know what a sweep of three minor contests means, besides the fact that he's the poster child for massive pork barrel spending."
Ed in California says, "It just shows President Obama is in." And Gary in Michigan, "No surprise that the right-wing nut jobs are all running toward a Santorum, though there isn't that much difference."
If you want to read more about this, go to my blog, cnn.com/caffertyfile or through our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks, Jack.
Saying that mistakes were made seems like an understatement for Syria, but it appears some officials thought that was a perfect excuse for the brutal violence. At least these Syrians thought it was good enough for Americans. Also a new expanded program will make traveling a little bit easier for some airline passengers.
BLITZER: The Transportation Security Administration is changing the way you go through security. In exchange for providing information about themselves, thousands of travelers can speed through lines.
Aviation and regulation correspondent Lizzie O'Leary is joining us now in THE SITUATION ROOM with more. This is a fascinating and important stuff.
LIZZIE O'LEARY, CNN AVIATION AND REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and this is really an expansion of something they tried to do, they tested it on you. Now tens of thousands more people will be able to do this. It's changing the way not just how quickly you go through security, but how the TSA looks at risk.
O'LEARY (voice-over): Keep your shoes on, check. Even a jacket? Check. This is precheck.
PERRY DAVIS, PRECHECK PARTICIPANT: If you're in a hurry, the benefit is you get through security a lot faster. You don't have to take your computer out of the bag or your liquids or, you know, your shoes off. That saves some time.
O'LEARY: It's a fast-track route complete with a dedicated security lane that will be in 35 of the busiest U.S. airports by the end of the year.
The idea is that travelers who give the government more personal information, name, birthday, gender, and are well known to the airlines like frequent fliers are less of a security threat. TSA administrator, John Pistole, calls it reducing the haystack of risk.
JOHN PISTOLE, TRANSPORTATION SECURITY ADMINISTRATION: It's a significant paradigm shift both for TSA and the traveling public. The way we engage in a partnership to say, let's work together to say, if you're willing to share information about yourselves, then we can work with you perhaps to have those we know less about and focus on the higher risks.
O'LEARY: To join precheck, you either sign up for a special customs program or be a frequent flier and get invited by your airline, but we found no shortage of people who would like to move faster and more fully clothed.
NANCY TOPING-TAILBY, TRAVELER: It would make my line shorter, and you if I get out of the line it make everyone else's line shorter.
O'LEARY: The TSA won't tell us exactly the criteria is for an invitation, but it's pretty clear this is offered to their most frequent fliers. If you're an airline there's an incentive to get those people moving quickly.
There are some random checks. It's not as if you always good for this special line, but most of the time you get an expedited breeze on through.
BLITZER: Good to know. Lizzie O'Leary, good to have you here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thank you.