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THE SITUATION ROOM

Arizona Race Heats Up; GOP Battle Over Faith; NATO Troops Burn Islam's Holy Book; Santorum's "Spiritual War"; Sheriff Forced To Admit: "I'm Gay"; Healing Wounds In Hiding; Dow Crosses 13,000; Romney Close To Becoming Toast?

Aired February 21, 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: On this, the eve of the CNN Arizona Republican presidential debate, we have brand-new poll numbers just out that show, guess what, a very, very tight contest in this critical primary state.

Also, Satan at war with America? Some old and controversial remarks are now coming back to haunt Rick Santorum.

Plus, President Obama's vow to the middle class and his message to Congress. Does he really expect Republicans to take up his agenda? We will go inside his strategy.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in Mesa, Arizona. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

But this just coming in THE SITUATION ROOM on the eve of the Republican presidential debate here in debate. New numbers showing just how tight the race is between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum in this very important state.

Take a look at this new CNN/"TIME"/ORC poll of registered Republicans getting ready to vote in this primary -- 36 percent say they're supporting Mitt Romney and 32 percent say Rick Santorum, but with the sampling error, that effectively is a statistical tie. Newt Gingrich trails with 18 percent and Ron Paul coming in at 6 percent.

Let's go in depth right now with our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger and the deputy Washington bureau chief for "TIME" magazine Michael Crowley.

Gloria, first to you. Arizona we all thought was supposed to be relatively easy for Mitt Romney, but this a week before the primary is a horse race.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Nothing succeeds like success. Rick Santorum has had an awful lot of success lately.

And what we see is him building upon that and defining himself as the cultural conservative in this race. As you point out, this was supposed to be an easy state for Mitt Romney. He could win this state, of course, but there's a substantial number of Mormons in the state and he has moved way to the right on the immigration issue, to the right of Newt Gingrich for example. And he also has an organization in the state dating back to 2008. Rick Santorum coming from nowhere in this race shows you that Republican voters can still not get their arms around Mitt Romney as their nominee.

BLITZER: It wasn't that long ago, Michael, that everyone thought that Michigan and Arizona, they were gimmes, effectively, for Mitt Romney. But we know in Michigan, based on all the polls there, it's a real race, and now in Arizona as well. What's going on?

MICHAEL CROWLEY, DEPUTY BUREAU CHIEF, "TIME": As Gloria said, Republicans just aren't ready to settle down with Mitt Romney.

The really interesting thing about Arizona right now is that everyone has been talking about Michigan. It's an easy state to focus on. Romney's father was governor there and he grew up there, and so people have been saying if he loses Michigan that is a big embarrassment.

But substantively when you look at the delegate count, Michigan is a proportional delegate state. So whoever finishes second can get a bunch of the delegates, even finishing third. But Arizona is winner take all. So Romney, I think there was something thinking could have lost Michigan, it would be embarrassing, but if he won Arizona he does pretty well with delegates.

He loses Arizona, he can't even come out of Tuesday saying, hey, I got a bunch of delegates, that's what really matters, on to the convention. This could be a real disaster for him.

BLITZER: Let's go deeper, Gloria, into these numbers. We asked this question. Among Tea Party supporters, which candidate do you support? Look at this -- Santorum gets 35 percent of these self- described Tea Party supporters, 32 percent for Romney, 21 percent for Gingrich, Ron Paul 7 percent. It's a real battle among Tea Party supporters as well.

BORGER: It is. And Mitt Romney has always had difficulty with Tea Party voters.

Our producer Kevin Bohn went to a meeting of Tea Party supporters last night. Take a listen to what they told him about Mitt Romney.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't like Romney because he's just like Obama, as far as I'm concerned. He's acting like Obama.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He just doesn't seem to have that personality that clicks with the people like some of the candidates do. I think that's one thing that's getting with Santorum now. I think he's really clicking with the people in his values and everything.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BORGER: You know, Wolf, when you look at the polls, Republican voters have really warmed up to Rick Santorum. They like him. They can identify with him.

He presents himself as a populist who understands their economic problems. I think these voters, what we have seen during this entire primary process is they don't see Mitt Romney as somebody who can understand what they're going through. And I think that's what we heard from those voters last night.

BLITZER: How much of a setback, Michael, would it be if Romney lost one or even both of these states a week from today?

CROWLEY: Wolf, I think it would be a huge setback.

As I mentioned before, just losing Michigan, the symbolism of it would be terrible. I think there's a sense that if he can't win there, it just raises the question of, you know, when can he win when it's really a clutch vote?

But then also to suffer the lost of all the delegates in Arizona additionally would be so hard, and where is the clear comeback strategy for Super Tuesday, moving ahead into March? Those are not very friendly states for him overall. And I don't that will be an opportunity for a big bounce-back for him. March in general does not look good for Romney. So really he's got to make a stand here or he will be deep in a hole.

BLITZER: A fierce battle here in Arizona, as well as Michigan. Guys, thanks very much.

As the battle at the front of the race heats up, faith is once again becoming a hot button issue, Romney's, Santorum's, as well President Obama's.

Our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, is also here in Arizona. He's got more on what's going on.

What is going on, Jim?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, one day before the crucial CNN debate, voters watching the race for the GOP nomination may be wondering whether they're watching a clash of candidates or a clash over religion.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): After days of stirring up culture controversy that included calling the president's value system a phony theology, Rick Santorum's lesser known speeches blending his faith with his politics may be coming back to haunt him.

Splashed across the conservative-leaning Drudge Report were excerpts from a speech that Santorum gave in 2008 when he said Satan was at war against the U.S. RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The father of lies has his sights on what you would think the father of lies, Satan, would have his sights on, a good, decent, powerful, influential country, the United States of America.

And Satan has done so by attacking the great institutions of America, using those great vices of pride, vanity and sensuality as the roots to attack all of these strong plants that have so deeply rooted in American tradition.

ACOSTA: It was too much for comedian Stephen Colbert to resist.

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE COLBERT REPORT": If Rick Santorum is commander in chief, he will do what no other president has had the courage to do to: Declare war on hell.

ACOSTA: All that fiery talk of the underworld could singe Santorum at exactly the wrong time, just as he is inching toward what could be game-changing upsets next week in Arizona and Mitt Romney's boyhood state of Michigan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce the comeback kid, Mitt Romney, the next president of the United States of America. Bring it on.

ACOSTA: Michigan could well be Romney's firewall. A loss there could send his candidacy up in flames.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I care about Michigan. This is personal for me.

ACOSTA: That may explain why Romney is now borrowing a page from Santorum's playbook with a more religious appeal to conservatives, including a vow to pick a running mate who opposes abortion.

ROMNEY: My vice presidential nominee will be pro-life, all right? If I'm fortunate enough to become the nominee, I will also choose someone who is conservative to the core.

ACOSTA: And he accused the president of being hostile toward religion.

ROMNEY: And, unfortunately, perhaps because of the people the president hangs around with and their agenda, a secular agenda, they have fought against religion.

QUESTION: Reverend, what about Mitt Romney?

REV. FRANKLIN GRAHAM, SAMARITAN'S PURSE: I like him.

QUESTION: Is he a Christian?

GRAHAM: He's a Mormon.

ACOSTA: But questions of religion may hang over Romney as well, after a leading Christian conservative leader, the Reverend Franklin Graham, declined to recognize the former Massachusetts governor as a Christian. That's contrary to the view of Mormons, who do see themselves as Christians.

GRAHAM: Most Christians would not recognize Mormonism as part of the Christian faith.

QUESTION: So he's not a Christian?

GRAHAM: I'm just saying most Christians would not recognize Mormonism. Now, of course, they believe in Jesus Christ, but they have a lot of other things that they believe in too that we don't accept.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Unlike some of his other events in the last few days, Rick Santorum did dial down the religious rhetoric at a speech here in Phoenix earlier this afternoon.

Asked about the controversy surrounding that speech in which Santorum talked about Satan back in 2008, a Santorum spokesman told me, Wolf, the controversy is -- quote -- "ridiculous" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It may be ridiculous, but people will be talking about it in this political season. There's no doubt about that. Thank you very much, Jim Acosta.

President Obama is certainly pushing Congress to work with him to help America's struggling middle class. He praised lawmakers for extending the payroll tax cut, but he said there's so much more that needs to be done.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This may be an election year, but the American people have no patience for gridlock and just a reflexive partisanship and just paying attention to poll numbers and the next election instead of the next generation, and what we can do to strengthen opportunity for all Americans.

Instead of spending the coming months in a lot of phony political debates, focusing on the next election, I hope that we spend some time focusing on middle-class Americans and those who are struggling to get into the middle class.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's dig a little bit deeper with our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.

Dana, what's the president's goal in using the bully pulpit right now to preach bipartisanship at this sensitive political moment?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the payroll tax issue was such a big win for Democrats politically and on a policy level that the president clearly wants to capitalize as much as he can.

And it's no accident he did this when Congress is in recess. They're not in Washington. He has the stage to himself. He also is trying very hard in this election year to bring back independents into the fold, and those voters very much want to see Washington work. And Obama is trying to position himself of course as the solution, not the problem.

BLITZER: Do the Republicans -- did their caving in, in effect, on the payroll tax signal a change, a broader change in tone and strategy by House Republicans? Might they themselves benefit more with the president by cooperating?

BASH: Well, it certainly appeared to be a pivot, especially by House Speaker John Boehner. He knew that delaying the extension of this popular tax cut was very bad politically and decided to push it, even though it really annoyed many of his own rank and file, who wanted it paid for.

Democratic and Republican sources I talk to tell me to look for other issues like this, for example, tax cuts for small businesses, where Congress is most likely to work together to get something done. But some of what is stuck, Wolf, is not because of partisanship. It's because of fighting within the parties.

Take, for example, the transportation bill. This is a huge, $250 billion-plus, with a B, piece of legislation that Congress is dealing with right now. It stalled in the House because of differences among Republicans over issues like the size, how to pay for it and policy issues like drilling for oil in Alaska.

BLITZER: Give us a reality check, Dana. What significant legislation do you see on the horizon that potentially could pass Congress during this election year?

BASH: I asked that question to Democratic and Republican sources today in light of what the president said, and what they said is the one example I gave, tax cuts for small businesses. They're probably the most likely. Tax cuts to promote American manufacturing, legislation to help small businesses go public.

And another issue that generally doesn't get caught up in the partisanship of taxing and spending is a bill to crack down on cyber- security. But the major issues contributing to the debt and deficit in this country, like entitlements, don't expect that, not in an election year. It didn't happen last year. Don't hold your breath on those big issues.

BLITZER: I'm not holding my breath at all. I'm sure most of our viewers aren't either.

Dana, thanks very much.

You won't want to miss the high-stakes contest right here tomorrow night. Please be sure to watch the CNN Arizona Republican presidential debate, 8:00 p.m. Eastern here on CNN, John King moderating the debate for us.

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a politically charged case about race in college admissions. The lawsuit was first filed back in 2008 by a young white woman whose application to the University of Texas was rejected. The school considers applicants' race as one of the many factors designed to create a diverse campus. Next hour, we will speak to Jeff Toobin about what might happen.

A new warning, meanwhile, from Iran threatening preemptive action against it enemies. A top Iranian general of the country's armed forces says Iran won't necessarily wait for a first strike before attacking, and I'm quoting now, "enemies who want to endanger our national interest." The remarks come among amid heightened with the West and Israel, which is weighing a military strike against Iran's nuclear program.

Outrage in Afghanistan after Muslim holy books are burned in an American airfield. Now we're learning why those copies of the Koran were destroyed.

Also, doctors in Syria arrested, even tortured, but still risking their lives to treat victims of the regime's brutal and bloody crackdown.

Also, signs of weakness in these critical days for Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. Jack Cafferty wants to ask you about the Romney campaign and what's next. That's coming up in "The Cafferty File."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is here. He has "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, there is growing concern among Republicans that Mitt Romney cannot deliver. And if he loses his home state of Michigan next week, expect what are now whispers to become shouts. Rick Santorum has opened a 10-point lead over Romney in one national poll, his largest ever. Gallup's latest daily tracking poll shows Santorum leading Romney 36-26. Santorum is also leading Romney in Michigan where his father was governor, and in the key swing state in Ohio.

And all the money in the world doesn't seem to matter much. The Romney campaign spent $19 million last month, plus the super PAC supporting him spent another $14 million, and he's still fighting off the likes of Rick Santorum. What's more? Romney spent nearly three times more than he brought in last month.

One of the few things still in Romney's favor is electability. A "USA Today"/Gallup poll shows that Americans think Romney is nearly twice as likely as Rick Santorum to defeat President Obama.

Meanwhile, some senior Republicans are so nervous about the state of the race they're circulating a plan B, a scenario where another candidate who's not even in the race yet wins the nomination, and then goes up against President Obama. Some of the names out there including the usual suspects, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. While none of them seem all that interested, there is also Sarah Palin. The half-term dropout governor of Alaska says if there's a brokered convention, she would, quote, "do whatever I can to help." All that prospects ought to help Republicans sleep real well at night.

Here's the question: How close is Mitt Romney to being toast? Go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile, post a comment on my blog, or go to our post in THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I'll be anxious to hear what our viewers think about that question, Jack. Thank you.

"I apologize," two words coming from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in the face of rather angry protests in Afghanistan. NATO troops there admitted they burned Korans at the Bagram Airfield. The commander of NATO's International Security Assistance Force says, and I'm quoting him now, "It was a mistake. It was an error."

Our own Brian Todd is taking a closer look at this history.

First of all, Brian, what happened?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, military officials in Afghanistan say there was an effort to dispose of some documents, documents containing extremist inscriptions that could possibly have been used by militants to communicate. But in trying to do that, some copies of the Koran were mistakenly burned. And officials are now trying to contain the fallout.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Fires, angry chants, fist-waving, a response to what military officials say was the inadvertent burning of Koran at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan. One official says some of the material was removed from a detainee center at the American base because of inscriptions indicating the official says that the documents may have used to facilitate extremist messages.

U.S. military officials apologize for what they call an error. But experts say even an accidental mishandling of the Koran is dangerous.

PROF. AKBAR AHMED, ISLAMIC STUDIES CHAIR, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: We don't want this to happen, because this is going to start affecting the own troop withdrawal over the next couple of months.

TODD: Akbar Ahmed is chair of Islamic studies at American University. He says an understanding of these protests and other violence associated with reports of the Koran being desecrated has to involve an understanding of how the book is viewed in the Muslim world.

(on camera): Akbar Ahmed says the Koran is so revered, that the only time Muslims really take it out is around the time of prayer, and before that, hands should be washed from hands to elbow, face three times and the feet. When it's time to place it down, it should always be placed, he says, at the highest point in the room. And when you're in the same room, you should not even point your feet toward the book.

(voice-over): That's the key to physical purity Ahmed says on par with the spiritual purity of the Koran. He says Koran are passed between generations in families. One Muslim scholar says if a Koran is damaged, burning, burying or shredding it is acceptable, otherwise --

(on camera): You're never supposed to dispose of them in any way. Is that right?

AHMED: Not Muslims. Not Muslims. Muslims, they can't tear it up throw it to the dustbin.

TODD: What about non-Muslims?

AHMED: Non-Muslims, again, it's entirely in the United States, it's a free country, free speech, free actions. And no one can stop anyone doing anything. I would say that if as American is not a Muslim has copies of the Koran, he wants to dispose of them, bring up a Muslim friend or bring up to an Islamic center or mosque and say, look, I've got a couple of these copies, you know, I don't know what to do with them. I don't want to insult your faith by throwing them into the dust bin, would you come and collect them?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: But Ahmed emphasized he does not excuse the violent reactions to incidents involving the Koran, like what happened last year after a Florida pastor ceremoniously burned a copy of the book and crowds attacked a U.N. facility in Afghanistan, killing 12 people. Ahmed says Muslim leaders have to talk to their followers about appropriate responses that do not involve violence -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, did he speak about people possibly misinterpreting what's in the Koran, in these kinds of situations?

TODD: He did. Professor Ahmed says there is a verse in the Koran saying that if you're attacked, you must defend yourself. He says for many Muslims, that's enough for them to look at situations like this and say, look, we are being attacked. But he says, in their responses, they often do things that go against the tenets of Islam, so things get out of control.

BLITZER: A very sensitive, important story. More on this in the next hour, coming up. Thanks very much, Brian.

Rick Santorum hints that Satan has his eyes set on the United States. Will his spiritual war as it's called resonate with voters or push them away? We'll discuss that and more in our strategy session.

And a gay Republican says he's a victim of a political plot to destroy his reputation. My revealing conversation with Sheriff Paul Babeu is the something you can't must. We have a follow-up on what's going on, the must-see interview. And the latest developments and a lot more, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get right to our strategy session. Joining us, our CNN contributor and Democratic strategist Maria Cardona. Also, our CNN contributor Mary Matalin, she's a Republican strategist, as well as the former assistant to President Bush.

You know, for hours now, it's been leading the "Drudge Report," Mary. This story about what Rick Santorum, he gave a lecture at Ave Maria University in 2008. And among other things, he raised the whole issue of Satan targeting the United States.

I'll play a little clip of what he said then.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is not a political war at all. This is not a culture war at all. This is a spiritual war.

And the father of lies has his sights on what you would think the father of lies, Satan, would have sights on: a good, decent, powerful, influential country, the United States of America. If you were Satan, who would you attack in this day and age?

(END AUDIO CLIP)

SANTORUM: Mary, how is this going to play for Republican voters here in Arizona, in Michigan, a week later, Super Tuesday?

MARY MATALIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know, Wolf, he was at -- he's a devout Catholic using the language of the well-versed Catholic at a Catholic University. That was not a campaign event.

I've known Rick Santorum for decades. I've campaigned with him. When he's a political event, he uses language that is more familiar and connective with an audience larger than the Catholic population. But there's also nothing particularly over the top to use that language right now, or for Catholics to hear this because they are 30 percent of the electorate, they're in the swing states, and Obama has lost the support that he enjoyed among that Catholic demographic in the last go around.

So, I get everybody is trying to read more into this than it is there. But this isn't necessarily a bad thing for Rick Santorum.

BLITZER: It does Maria come on the heels of a lot of other social issues that have come to the floor, his views generating some concern among independents, moderate Republicans. How do you think, Maria, this is going to play, this latest "Satan targeting the United States" statement that is now once again come to life?

MARIA CARDONA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think it should certainly hurt him, Wolf, because to your point, it's not the first time that we've heard him speak recently about his -- what I would call out of the mainstream views when it comes to how religion should be involved in our politics and in our government.

And the problem with this, even though Mary was right, he was speaking in context to a Catholic university, in front of a Catholic audience, the people who hear this out of context or just in the snippets are not going to understand that. And they're going to connect it with the other out-of-the-mainstream comments that he's made about women not being able to get in combat, about seemingly comparing the Obama administration policies to the rise of Hitler. Those are all things that taken together write a picture, show a picture of Rick Santorum as a candidate completely out of the mainstream, not addressing today's critical economic issues for middle class families. And that's a real problem for him.

BLITZER: You know, Mary, Stephen Colbert last night has some fun at the expense -- listen to what Stephen Colbert did to Rick Santorum last night then I'll let you respond. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, THE COLBERT REPORT: But raising the U.S. marginal tax rate on the top 1 percent, folks, that's why the serpent got into this game. Satan loves big government. I mean, what was the apple, but the original food stamp.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, so you know, Mary, he's going to be ridiculed for bringing into the whole discussion of Satan even though it was done four years ago at a Catholic university. When Drudge has this on a top its front page now for hours, you know this is going to be a potential problem.

MATALIN: I'm going to disagree with you. I'll say that Colbert is a brilliant comedian. He's also a brilliant Jesuit. I've had the opportunity to have some Jesuit conversations with him.

But that's a completely separate thing. I'll say again, tactically there are a lot of Catholics in Michigan, let's not forget that, but they voters understand the language of the pulpit and the language of the campaign.

This isn't just about the economy. This is people understand the expansion of government in many programs has resulted, but in the degradation of the culture. We have more out of wedlock births. We have more infidelity.

We have all kinds of cultural problems that concern voters. Not just Republicans and conservatives, but mainstream Americans so just continuing to keep calling Rick Santorum out of the mainstream when he served in the Senate.

He served in Congress. He served in the swing state for as many years as he did. It's not going to put off mainstream voters. They're going to listen to what he says and the policy positions that follow his philosophy.

CARDONA: It's already put off mainstream, though.

BLITZER: Maria, when the race is already effectively, according to our new CNN/"Time"/ORC poll within the statistical margin of error here in Arizona. It looks like Santorum is slightly ahead in Michigan. You know, Santorum is going to get a whole lot more scrutiny for all these comments. It comes with the territory I should say.

CARDONA: There's no question about that, Wolf. I'll say that the devil is going to be in the details in terms of what he has said, either now or in the past. Now I do agree with Mary that this might not be a problem with him in the nominating contest.

Because what we have seen from Mitt Romney is he's not been able to seal the deal. So now they're looking at Santorum and for those incredibly conservative, both socially as well as culturally and religious voters, Santorum might be speaking their language.

So he might be in dead heats in these upcoming contests, which will help him get to where he needs to be towards of competing for the nomination.

But in terms of a general election candidate, this is not somewhere that he needs to be going, and he's going to continue to get scrutiny for what he has said and what he'll continue to say on the trail.

BLITZER: All right, Maria and Mary, guys thanks very much. The stakes clearly enormous for tomorrow night's debate right here in Mesa, Arizona.

He was tortured for trying to help people. CNN is about to take you inside Syria with a physician who's now risking his own life to save the lives of others.

And a banner day on Wall Street. Erin Burnett will tell you just how big it was, what it might mean for President Obama and his re-election.

But up coming next, my reviewing interview with a gay Republican sheriff in Arizona, and why he says he's been threatened.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Arizona Sheriff Paul Babeu says he's the victim of a political plot. He's vowing to stay in the race to represent his congressional district, as he fights the accusation that he threatened to deport a gay ex-lover.

Now his opponents are calling for an investigation, did the sheriff spend money, taxpayer money pursuing sex? Did he abuse the power of his office? In an exclusive interview with me, he opened up about what it was like to reveal he's gay. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: A lot of the gay men have said to me over the years that when they finally did go public and come out as they say, they were relieved and it's made their life easier. How is it been for you in the last couple of days?

SHERIFF PAUL BABEU, PINAL COUNTY, ARIZONA: Wolf, I can tell you that throughout my adult life I've been threatened.

BLITZER: You've been hiding this all your life? Did anybody know?

BABEU: Absolutely. Close friends and my family and this is where who I am. It has affected anything. This is it's been so awful to have my family and my friends and my agency go through this. I define myself by my service.

I've had countless people in my life that have gone even to the military, my chain of command to report that I am gay. This is outrageous that any American should have to suffer --

BLITZER: While you were serving in Iraq?

BABEU: While I was serving even right here. I started as a private, worked my way up to be a major, a commissioned officer, a field grade officer.

This is where I've even had other officers. As we progress in society, and evolve, that of course any man, any woman, if they love their country, want to put the uniform of our country.

And risk their own personal safety to defend our freedoms, absolutely they should be allowed to serve. I've commanded soldiers that are gay, and they were exemplary in their performance.

BLITZER: You know, you want to be a member of the House of Representatives, right?

BABEU: Yes.

BLITZER: So people are going to ask you political questions about gay --

BABEU: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Gay marriage, for example. Should gay men and women have the right to get married?

BABEU: This is where I go Ron Paul on people, in terms of the libertarian. I believe in less government at the federal level. They should get out of people's lives, unless it's an enumerated power in the constitution. It falls to the states. This is where it falls to the states.

We had Washington. We have had a number of other states, Massachusetts, and now we have Maryland, and they have all made decisions. Arizona has made the decision. That's the law of the land. I enforce the law.

I can tell you my personal beliefs and my political beliefs are I believe in freedom of religion. There are faiths and religions that our government shouldn't get involved in that absolutely do not condone gay marriage.

The government shouldn't tell those faiths and those religions that they have to. At the same time, I don't believe they should tell other faiths that they can't. This is where our government needs to get the heck out of the way and if it's not harming somebody else then what does it matter? You can't legislate love.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: But the problems for the sheriff may just be beginning. CNN's Miguel Marquez, he is getting ready to take a closer look at how all of this is going to play out in the sheriff's race for Congress. That's coming up in our next hour, special report.

Also we're taking a closer look at the numbers -- the numbers on Wall Street, Erin Burnett is standing by live to explain the market's milestone day and the political ramifications.

Plus the son of the famed Evangelist, Billy Graham, the son is now questioning Mitt Romney's faith, analysis of the controversial comments and a lot more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Opposition groups say more than 100 people died across Syria today, 10 of them children, including a baby boy. The International Red Cross is begging the Syrian government and the opposition to stop fighting for at least two hours a day so they can deliver and evacuate the wounded.

CNN's Ivan Watson is seeing the injured firsthand and how doctors are struggling to treat them.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Movie time at the neighborhood mosque. Dozens of teenage boys stare mesmerized at the screen. This isn't a cartoon or Hollywood action movie. It's a first aid video.

Locally produced, it instructs people how to bandage bullet wounds and carry victims, wounded in the government crackdown in Syria. Hiding their identities, doctors give instructions while treating real-life victims of the Syrian security forces.

(on camera): The cycle of violence in Syria has been so bad and so deadly for so long that opposition activists are taking matters into their own hands. They're offering free first aid courses in trauma treatment. And they're also setting up an entire parallel shadow system of health care for their communities.

(voice-over): Several doctors we talked to say they have to hide their work from the Syrian authorities.

(on camera): He says they shoot you if you treat somebody who's hurt. He says they'll shoot somebody who's a doctor before they'll shoot somebody who's got a gun.

(voice-over): This Russian-trained doctor knows from firsthand experience. Last summer, he says soldiers arrested him and six other doctors from the area and tortured them. They beat me and said who did you treat?

I said I helped an old lady then they beat me harder and said, you're lying, I said, I treated a little child and they beat me even harder.

According to the organization doctors without borders, this is not an isolated case. A recent report concluded that the Syrian regime is conducting a campaign of unrelenting repression against people wounded in demonstrations and the medical workers trying to treat them.

The Syrian government says it's fighting armed terrorists and insists it's not targeting civilians, but the doctor says he emerged after 45 days in prison traumatized by torture. He's now determined to do more to help him community.

(on camera): The doctor tells me they have distributed throughout this community several hundred bags like this with the basic supplies like serum and bandages to homes throughout the community in the event that there's another battle, another military incursions.

(voice-over): Activists in Idlib Province are learning from the regime's ongoing bombardment of the city of Homs. Since the government controls the main hospital in Idlib, doctors are building underground field clinics, stockpiling medicines, making a bliss of blood donors and of course, teaching residents how to treat the wounded. They are preparing for the worst.

WATSON: Now, Wolf, the doctors there are incredibly organized, incredibly committed, but simply don't have resources. For example, this underground blood bank, they're trying to setup. They only said they had about 100 blood bags. That's all they could secure for a community of tens of thousands.

One of the only ways to try to get fresh medicines and supplies in is I cross the border from Turkey on smuggling trails. We saw people carrying, literally carrying stacks of shotguns on their backs across that border.

And that is the lifeline that these people are to try to get in crucial medicine and the bullets and guns they need to protect their communities -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ivan Watson on the scene for us on the border with Turkey, Turkey and Syria. Thanks Ivan for your great reporting. His opponents are now raising questions about his use of taxpayer, so what lies ahead for Paul Babeu. We have new information coming in standby.

Up next, the Dow Jones hits a number it hasn't hit for a very long time. Erin Burnett is standing by to explain the markets milestone day.

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BLITZER: The Dow crossed 13,000 today for the first time in nearly four years. After hitting the milestone around noon, it ended the day 35 points just shy of 13,000.

But it's certainly a long way from where the Dow was when President Obama took office. CNN's Erin Burnett is joining us right now.

Erin, no one's better than you. Give us a little perspective because I remember in March of 2009, only a few weeks after the president was sworn in. The Dow Jones was around 6,500, now almost double at 13,000. What's going on?

ERIN BURNETT, HOST, CNN'S "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT": Yes, it's pretty amazing, when you look at it since the bottom, 97 percent higher for the president. That is obviously almost doubling if anyone had the courage to get in.

As we all know at that deep and scary moment, it took a lot of courage. Since he became president, Wolf, 1,127 days ago, he ranked as the fifth best-performing president when it comes to the stock market behind FDR, Calvin Koolidge, Bill Clinton and Eisenhower.

So it's a pretty good record up 63 percent. Obviously that's very important, because the Dow, even though it's the market that a lot of our mutual funds, our 401(k)s are really linked to, it's psychological important.

We all know this will be a headline everywhere tomorrow. So it's psychology important. It creates a feeling that the economy is on the right track and getting better. That feeling in turn actually turns into literal hiring and it can all be very good for the president's re-election.

Wolf, one other statistics that I think you'll find interesting because I know you love numbers. But as the president tries to win over that crucial group of independents, 40 percent of the electorate, it might be something that he's looking at today, this number.

People who make $75,000 or more, 87 percent of them own stocks. That's a lot of people who are feeling a lot better than they were just four years ago.

BLITZER: Their 401(k)s and their IRAs and all of their portfolios, obviously a lot better. You talked to some of the top CEOs all time. Are they giving President Obama credit for this? BURNETT: I don't know that they would give him credit. I mean, a lot of them are very frustrated with what they see as the rise of regulation that they think has been negative. They think that we could be in a lot better of a position now than we actually are.

But that being said, the numbers or the numbers and they are wealthier. Their companies are doing better and that hopefully will lead the hiring, which of course, though, Wolf, it's one of the big conundrums that we have, which is rising corporate profits.

And we have not seen hiring come along anywhere close to the same degree and that is obviously the thing that's got to happen if we're going to get the hiring numbers that the president needs for re- election.

BLITZER: Erin certainly will have a lot more "OUTFRONT" tonight 7 p.m. Eastern on CNN. Thanks, Erin.

Let's go to Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack?

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is how close is Mitt Romney to becoming toast? Greg says, "Butter his back side and call him a biscuit. He's done. But I hope he doesn't give up just yet, because the millions of dollars the candidates are pumping into the race are good for the economy."

Jim in San Antonio, "He loves trees, lakes and cars. How can such a people person possibly be toast?" Brian in San Diego, "For the nomination still a long way away, it will take a whole lot to fully knock Romney off his inevitability pedestal.

But for the general election, the toaster's crackling and Romney's going to feel the heat before long. Every week, he fails to seal the deal, every four swing to the right, he'll have to try and gloss over later. Every strong monthly jobs report, every uptick in the Dow, each of those another electoral vote slipping away."

Allison on Facebook writes, "Toast? He seems more like plastic. I don't think Romney should be ruled out just yet because Santorum keeps going too far out there with religious issues. Romney is a much safer choice, especially with the threat of Palin on the horizon."

Michael writes, "I think Mitt Romney is toast. His political positions are all over the place. Independents like myself don't like and don't trust anything Mitt Romney says. I also think Mitt Romney has some explaining to do about the Mormon Church that he's a member of.

And David in Tampa writes, "We haven't gotten to Super Tuesday yet, Jack. All four of the lock luster gang still have a shot at the Republican brass ring unless Kermit the Frog enters the race. The Kermit/Miss Piggy ticket is the only way I would vote Republican."

If you want to read more on this, go to my blog cnn.com/caffertyfile or through our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

A former boyfriend claims Arizona Sheriff Paul Babeu threatened to have him deported. You'll see how the sheriff and candidate for Congress responds. More with my exclusive interview coming up. Miguel Marquez standing by. He's got new information.

Also, a 30,000 years old flower is brought back from the dead. We're going to tell you what else from that time period scientists are hoping to resurrect.

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BLITZER: Lisa is back. She's monitoring some of other stop stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Lisa, what else is going on?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Well, French police are questioning former International Monetary Fund Chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn about an alleged prostitution ring that organize sex parties in Europe and the U.S.

His attorney has acknowledged that Strauss-Kahn went to the parties, but says he didn't know there were prostitutes there. Strauss-Kahn has been accused of a string of sexual allegations he calls the latest accusations a, quote, "media lynching."

A 4.0 magnitude earthquake jolted folks out of bed this morning in south eastern Missouri. But people across 13 states and more than 800 miles east felt the earth move, too. The quake carved through pavement and some walls, but there was no major damage.

And Russian scientists have tapped into an ice-age squirrel's nest to bring a 30,000-year-old plant back from the dead. They took what was called placenta tissue from seeds found in the Siberian (inaudible) and eventually grew them into flowering plants in a lab. You see them there. The successful experiments are now giving hope to scientists who hope to produce a baby woolly mammoth from frozen animal tissues. That will be something to see, from flowers to a woolly mammoth -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It certainly will be. Lisa, thank you.