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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
America's Choice 2012: Arizona, Michigan Primaries
Aired February 28, 2012 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The presidential race has been won by Governor Ronald Reagan of California.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: George Herbert Walker Bush, 41st president of the United States.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor Clinton is now President Bill Clinton.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Too close to call.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There it is, George W. Bush re-elected.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Barack Obama, president-elect of the United States.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST, "THE SITUATION ROOM": We may be in for another jaw-dropping night in the Republican presidential race.
ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "AC 360": The results could hit one of the front-runners painfully close to home.
ANNOUNCER: Tonight, Mitt Romney's toughest test since Rick Santorum's surge.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you want a fiscal conservative, you can't vote for Rick Santorum, because he is not.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does the word hypocrisy come to mind?
ANNOUNCER: It is a two-state showdown with one front-runner trying to avoid an embarrassing defeat.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor Romney is discovering you cannot take your home state for granted.
ANNOUNCER: Will Romney prove his staying power or will he suffer a crippling setback in Michigan or Arizona? It is "America's Choice". Santorum climbed his way to the top, now he wants to win a valuable prize, the state where Romney was born and raised.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is laughable for Governor Romney to suggest that I am not a conservative.
ANNOUNCER: Romney is waging a fierce battle in two states that should have been shoo-ins.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator Santorum hasn't been as carefully viewed by the American public as have the others.
ANNOUNCER: The two leaders struggling to erase voters' doubts, fighting each other and under dogs who are ready to pounce.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Those other two at the top now doesn't mean they're going to stay there.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the wildest strangest nominating process.
ANNOUNCER: Will there be a split decision or will one candidate take it all?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who is authentic? Who is believable?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look, my team is the people of Michigan of America and I'm going to fight for you.
ANNOUNCER: The momentum keeps shifting, controversies keep coming, and tonight kicks off a blockbuster round of contests that could change everything.
BLITZER: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer at the CNN Election Center. We expect the first raw votes to come in from Michigan about one hour from now, and it is hard to overstate just how important this night is for Mitt Romney in his battle against his main rival Rick Santorum. Voting is under way right now in Michigan and Arizona, and the results could turn the Republican race upside down.
CNN (INAUDIBLE) cameras are strategically positioned in those states to show you the action and bring you the results before any other network. We have the most crews and the most locations. Our anchors and correspondents are out in full force including Candy Crowley and Jim Acosta. Let's go to Candy first. She's over at Romney headquarters -- Candy.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, name recognition, money and organization has been in place for years and now here we are in Mitt Romney's home state. What could go wrong? Plenty could go wrong, but the Romney organization will tell you that if they lose tonight, yes, it would be a big blow, but it won't be fatal one -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Jim Acosta is over at Santorum headquarters, not all that far away. What is the scene?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, officials with Rich Santorum's campaign feel they have already won the Michigan primary because they have forced Mitt Romney to fight like crazy to win his state, his home state that he should have had wrapped up days ago. We will find out later tonight if a Santorum robo call was a misfire, the one that encouraged Democrats to crossover and vote for Rick Santorum or whether it was a direct hit on the Romney campaign -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We will get back to both of you. Stand by. Anderson Cooper of course is with us throughout the night -- Anderson.
COOPER: Yes, it could be a very long night. We're going to know more in the next few hours. Most of the polling places across Michigan are going to close in less than an hour from now, but voting will continue until 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time in parts of Michigan that are in the Central Time Zone. Also at 9:00 Eastern all polling places in Arizona are going to close. That hour clearly is going to be exciting because we might, might be able to project winners then. Romney heads into tonight with four victories under his belt, New Hampshire, Florida, Nevada and Maine.
Santorum also has four wins in Iowa, Missouri, Colorado, and Minnesota. Newt Gingrich has that single victory in South Carolina, Ron Paul still looking for a win in any state. Now as the votes come in tonight John King is going to map out the results at the "Magic Wall" as he always does, bring us exit poll data. Erin Burnett is going to show us how money and campaign ads are influencing the presidential battlegrounds. First to John -- John, what are you looking for tonight?
JOHN KING, HOST, "JOHN KING USA": Well, Anderson as we wait for the votes to come in, obviously the big question is can Mitt Romney hold his home state? We're starting to learn from our exit polls about who is voting tonight and why. Let's take a quick look.
This is the state of Michigan. We'll get to Arizona a bit later, but the economy issue number one. Fifty-four percent of the voters say the economy is the most important issue as they make their choice for a Republican nominee. We look at this in every state, 62 percent of those in Michigan are not born-again Christians, 38 percent identify themselves as evangelicals. That's a critical constituency for Senator Santorum.
What about the Tea Party? It was big in Michigan in 2010. Just over half, 53 percent, that's a relatively low number of people voting in a Republican presidential primary say they support the Tea Party movement. One other big question tonight, will there be Democratic mischief? Are you a union member? Fourteen percent of those voting today say, yes, they are members of labor unions. That's exactly the same as four years ago, but here's an interesting question.
Are you a Democrat deciding to vote today in the Republican primary? Ten percent say yes. That was seven percent four years ago. Of that 10 percent, Anderson, half voting for Senator Rick Santorum. Many of them saying they want to embarrass Governor Romney in his home state, 19 percent voting for the congressman Ron Paul. One quick note, footnote at the "Magic Wall", part of tonight is about bragging rights. Romney has four wins. Santorum has four wins. Gingrich just one, a candidate tonight looking, looking for momentum, Anderson, heading into the very big Super Tuesday contest next week.
COOPER: It's going to be fascinating, John. Thanks. Erin, what are you watching for?
ERIN BURNETT, HOST, "OUTFRONT": All right, well obviously the money, when you look at the money, all that money in terms of ads Mitt Romney spent in Michigan, not in Arizona. The question is, is it really going to matter? You look at the economic situation here in Michigan, Mitt Romney's home state, look at Detroit. Sixty-one percent drop in houses, that -- in housing prices -- that ties for the worst in the United States of America since the peak of the housing market. An incredibly grim economic picture still in Michigan despite some improvements in the past year in manufacturing. The question is will his ad money be enough to make up for the difficulty he has faced here in the past couple of weeks with Rick Santorum on his heels? We shall see. We will look at all those ads in a few moments -- Anderson.
COOPER: All right. Our analysts are going to follow every twist, every turn tonight; Gloria Borger and David Gergen are working their sources, along with "The Best Political Team". They're all here in the Election Center and they're going to break it down for us like no one else can. We're also going to be looking ahead to the Ohio primary, one of the most crucial of 10 contests on Super Tuesday next week. Tom Foreman is in Columbus with a group of undecided Republican voters. They're going to watch tonight's results, give us instant feedback about the candidates' speeches, what did they think about it.
BLITZER: All right. We are also getting results in Wyoming. The Wyoming caucus has actually been going on for several days right now. The final results not expected until tomorrow, but the Republican Party in Wyoming already publicly releasing some of the results. Let's take a look. Let's see what is happening in Wyoming right now 26 delegates at stake in Wyoming.
Eighty-three percent of the vote is now in. The precincts reporting in Wyoming, not a whole lot of people have voted in Wyoming, but look at this, Mitt Romney with 41 percent. Rick Santorum, 31 percent, Ron Paul, coming in third with 20 percent, seven percent for Newt Gingrich. We will get the final results tomorrow, but it is interesting that Wyoming already shaping up with 83 percent of the vote in.
Looks like it's going to be a good night tomorrow for Mitt Romney, but we will wait and we will see tomorrow what the final results are, but let's get back to Arizona and Michigan right now. Candy Crowley is over at Mitt Romney campaign headquarters in Michigan. Candy, what would it mean for Mitt Romney if, and it is a huge if, if he were to lose in the state where he was born and where his father served as governor? CROWLEY: Well, he would have a lot of explaining to do, and I can tell you that we are seeing bits and pieces of that at any rate, not that they think they are going to lose or at least are admitting they think they're going to lose at this point. But what -- in the day after, if Mitt Romney should lose either the delegate count or the overall count in Michigan, what you will hear is a couple of things.
First what you heard today that Rick Santorum ran a dirty race, that he got Democrats to come vote against Mitt Romney, and that is not democratic, et cetera, et cetera, but you are also going to hear a lot of what we talked about at the top of the show, and that is delegate count. Mitt Romney will focus on who is in the lead in delegates and they clearly expect that will remain Romney. Listen to him today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If we do well in Arizona we will pick up all of those delegates. Here though, we've got to make sure each one of those 14 districts we get as many of them as possible and get the delegates I need.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: It's beginning to sound a lot reminiscent of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in this way. But after each and every race we heard from the winner or the loser of that race how what really matters if the delegate count, not the overall voter count at the end of the day, so you will hear a lot of that from Mitt Romney should he lose tonight -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Candy thanks very, very much. Other candidates we'll check in with Jim Acosta in a few minutes. He's covering the Santorum campaign. Kate Bolduan though is covering Ron Paul's campaign in Virginia. Joe Johns is covering Newt Gingrich's campaign in Georgia.
First to you Kate, the candidates are all in Michigan, at least two of them are in Michigan right now. Ron Paul is in Virginia where you are. Virginia does not vote until next Tuesday, Super Tuesday. Explain what is going on.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the reason that they are in Springfield, Virginia, one of the -- they're not in Michigan is that there are a couple of reasons, I will tell you, Wolf, that I am hearing from the campaign. One is from the campaign, they say that Congressman Paul, he needed to tend to his day job. He was on Capitol Hill today. My colleague (INAUDIBLE) saw him on the House floor earlier today, and also another reason that they're spending time here in Springfield, Virginia, which is about 25 minutes outside of Washington, D.C., the campaign is -- very much acknowledges that come Super Tuesday, this is going to be a very interesting primary race.
There are only two candidates on the ballot in Virginia come Super Tuesday. That is Ron Paul and Mitt Romney. They are on the ballot. The other two candidates Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum they were not -- they do not have their names on the ballot. They did not get their petitions in or they were contested. They sued. A judge denied that lawsuit and so they will not be on the ballot come Tuesday.
And obviously Ron Paul's campaign, they see a good opportunity come Tuesday to pick up a good number of delegates if they can, and so they also know that they need to spend some time on the ground here and that is part of the reason they are in Springfield tonight -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I know that Ron Paul is getting ready to speak where you are. We'll have live coverage of that. Kate thanks very much. Joe Johns is in Georgia. They vote a week from today, the home state of Newt Gingrich. I suppose that's why Newt Gingrich is where you are, Joe?
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely right, Wolf. And this is West Georgia University. This is a school where Newt Gingrich taught back in the 1970's, so it is really quite a scene. Hundreds of people in this room, I talked to some of them, students, some others actually coming to see whether they think they're going to vote for Newt Gingrich on Super Tuesday.
So what is going on with this campaign? The first thing is, the most important thing for them perhaps is they just got another infusion of cash from Sheldon Adelson, the casino billionaire who has given so much money to actually the Super PAC that supports Newt Gingrich. That money, we are told is being used by the Super PAC to buy television ads in the Super Tuesday states as well as radio ads and national radio campaign, mostly on conservative radio.
The other thing is people close to Newt Gingrich tell me to look for him to try to make more news. That is talking to individual news operations to try to get his message out that way, because there won't be so many debates where he seems to do so well. One of the big things he has been talking about is his $2.50 gasoline policy promise. They think that's big for them -- Wolf, back to you.
BLITZER: Yes, Newt Gingrich though at the same time, he has acknowledged and certainly to me, I spoke to him earlier, he is acknowledging if he does not win Georgia next week, it potentially would be a disaster for any hopes that he might still have.
JOHNS: That is absolutely right, and I talked to one Gingrich insider today, and asked frankly, is Georgia's Newt Gingrich's last stand. He said he doesn't think it's Newt Gingrich's last stand, but it would be very hard for him, because Georgia, as you know, is the state which has the largest number of delegates coming out of Super Tuesday. Second would be Ohio. It is very important for him because he lived in this state. He worked in this state. He represented this state in Congress much as Mitt Romney in Michigan. It is a real test for him there, Georgia a huge test for Newt Gingrich -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And we will be hearing from him fairly soon, is that right Joe?
JOHNS: I'm sorry, I didn't hear that. It's a little loud. BLITZER: He is getting ready to speak where you are, Newt Gingrich --
JOHNS: Yes, yes, yes, Newt Gingrich is at a fund-raiser right here in the building trying to raise some more cash and then we are expecting him to come in and address this crowd. It will be very interesting to see how personal it gets given the fact that he has a real connection with West Georgia University.
BLITZER: He certainly does. All right, thanks very much, Joe Johns. We will have live coverage of Newt Gingrich as well -- Anderson.
COOPER: A lot of coverage tonight indeed. Gloria, one of the things you wrote today about is sort of allegations of class warfare and these allegations have been flying based on both sides of the aisle.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. You know we hear a lot from Republicans about Barack Obama's class warfare. What we're seeing play out in this Republican primary process is class warfare within the Republican Party. You have got Mitt Romney who is the establishment kind of old-line conservative Republican versus somebody like Rick Santorum who sees himself as more of an insurgent, more conservative he says and more values-based. And when we look at these exit polls tonight, it will be interesting to see how the votes break down.
Does Mitt Romney win as he's done in the past with people with more education versus people with less education, and remember this week Rick Santorum accused the president of being a snob because he wants everyone to go to college and that was clearly geared towards the blue-collar voters he is trying to win. The Republican Party over the years has gotten a larger contingent of blue-collar, non-college educated voters and those are the people that Rick Santorum thinks can give him the nomination.
COOPER: We have a couple of symbols by Mitt Romney just in the last couple of days, you know talking about his wife has several Cadillacs, that his best friends own NASCAR you know teams --
BORGER: Playing into Santorum's hands.
COOPER: Do you think that -- I mean do you think reporters are making more out of that than is justified?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No, I don't. I really think he is having a hard time breaking out of his sort of world, if you would. You know he's been extraordinarily successful in everything he has done, but I think it has become clear that he lives in a certain kind of universe that is not shared by a lot of working people in this country --
COOPER: Just in fairness, don't all of these guys live in their own universe? I mean --
BORGER: Exactly -- exactly.
COOPER: -- various forms, maybe not that level of money --
GERGEN: Yes, but there is a language problem that he is having, and I think it is -- I think it is something that I have talked with some of his friends and they say this goes way back in those earlier days. He simply has a harder time communicating with people of sort of everyday lives.
BORGER: Well he wouldn't be the first wealthy person to be elected president, but remember when George H. W. Bush went to the checkout counter and he did not know what the cost --
BORGER: -- of a quart of milk was and people said wait a minute. He doesn't understand my life, so in a bad economy, I think it is worse. I think it hurts him more.
GERGEN: But the flip of that was Franklin Roosevelt who was very rich --
GERGEN: -- but he spent a lot of time especially with polio getting to know people who were disadvantaged. It changed his whole life. It changed his outlook and Mitt Romney has never had that kind of crucible experience which has really allowed him to sort of break beyond. He is a good person. He's a good family man. He's a good churchman. He's a good businessman. But he has a hard time by his own admission he said today at a gathering, these gaffes have really hurt me.
BORGER: You know and when he talks about people's struggles, he sounds somewhat inauthentic very often when he says I know what it is like to be worried about a pink slip. Really? You know that sort of didn't ring true to people given the fact that he is a man of great wealth who also came from great wealth, so he needs to find a different way to talk about his wealth in particular than he has been doing.
GERGEN: If you watched that clip tonight from Barack Obama when he went out and talked to the --
GERGEN: -- and the kind of language he uses, I think it just shows how tough a race this was going to be for any Republican. They have been talking to each other. Soon they're going to have to pass -- crossover and start in a conversation with Barack Obama, and he knows how to talk to people who are hurting and to make the case, you auto workers, you've been accused of having --
COOPER: Yes. GERGEN: -- you know you have all this favoritism in the bailout, but look how much you had to give up.
COOPER: Yes, there is a populist streak to Rick Santorum --
COOPER: -- that he has been able to use effectively --
GERGEN: Exactly. Absolutely, that's right --
COOPER: -- and Wolf, what a difference it has made for Rick Santorum in the past month. It's been extraordinary when you think of how he entered this month and where he is right now.
BLITZER: Yes, seemingly coming out of nowhere. He's doing remarkably well. Anderson thanks very much. In fact the word "surge" has been used a lot to describe Rick Santorum, but has his primary season support peaked? We're going to talk about that and more. Also whether Democrats will help Santorum's chances of winning Michigan tonight, Mitt Romney says it amounts to in his words "dirty tricks."
COOPER: And we are standing by right now for the first raw vote to this important primary night as we have watched Rick Santorum become a threat to Mitt Romney in Michigan, possibly in Arizona as well. We've also seen him make gains among Republicans across the country. Romney was way ahead in national polls just a month ago after his win in the Florida primary. Then Santorum surged within striking distance of Romney after his sweep, a contest in Colorado, Missouri and Minnesota, Santorum kept on making gains pushing past Romney in the Gallup daily tracking poll.
But in just the past week Romney had a rebound. He now has a slim advantage over Rick Santorum among registered Republicans across the country. A lot to talk about ahead. Let's check in with our contributors, Paul Begala, Maria Cardona, Ari Fleischer and Alex Castellanos. We asked you guys before if Romney -- this question if Romney loses Michigan, is his bid over, all of you said no. You have no doubt this -- I mean Michigan matters, but it is not going to end things for Mitt Romney if he does not win tonight?
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Right. Because he has got talent as David Gergen pointed out which is not nothing. He's got a ton of money. He's got a good organization. It is a huge embarrassment. I can't even begin to describe -- I have been asking around, actually maybe our viewers, I've been asking political reporters has anybody ever had this much trouble in their home state in a primary, nobody can think of a time, but even if he loses it ain't over for him, no.
COOPER: In fact in an interview on another network I think tonight he has kind of been distancing himself from Michigan really kind of saying Massachusetts --
COOPER: Well that Massachusetts is really --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Come on.
COOPER: -- his main state that you know -- that's where -- that if the voters in Massachusetts rejected him that would be something.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK.
MARIA CARDONA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: It is not done for him, but he clearly will be limping with crutches out of the contest, because, yes, to everybody's point here, we should not even be talking about whether Michigan was contested for him. He's been campaigning for more than two years and Michigan is his home state. The fact that we are even talking about a possible loss is a loss for him.
ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I thought February was going to be a really strong month for Mitt Romney and then low and behold Rick Santorum took the three states and the two- week old primary, and he has made a battle out of Michigan. But if Mitt Romney loses Michigan, he has got enough strength, enough organization, enough money and he is still the shaky front-runner, he will of course go on. It is not even an issue.
ALEX CASTELLANOS, 2008 ROMNEY PRES. CAMPAIGN CONSULTANT: And even if he loses, there still has to be someone out there to beat him. You still need someone to actually get the nomination, and Rick Santorum has hurt himself this week, I think marginalizing himself as a candidate who, you know, the party that is against sex and other things that are somewhat popular throughout America.
BEGALA: But doesn't that though if he loses, doesn't it set off a firestorm about we've got to get someone new --
BEGALA: -- brokered convention.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, it's way --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think they will go crazy --
CASTELLANOS: By the way --
CASTELLANOS: By the way, there is a big difference between a party being split and a party at odds with itself and a party that can't agree on a nominee. The Republican Party has not -- is not united around a candidate, but the party is not divided. This is not a party where one end hates the other right now --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a great point.
CASTELLANOS: And it will come together against Barack Obama, and by the way, when you ask people in a general election as Gallup just did, who is the most extreme, Barack Obama extremely liberal or Mitt Romney extremely conservative guess what? Barack Obama, about half of the electorate thinks he is too liberal. Only about a third think Romney is too conservative.
COOPER: David and Gloria.
BORGER: Well, yes I was talking to some Republicans today, and they were saying to me that even if Mitt Romney were to win tonight in Michigan, they are still worried, because --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
BORGER: -- it is a close race and in order to win a presidential campaign, you have to be able to win in the Midwest. And if he can't, doesn't have a strong showing in Michigan, what about Ohio, which a Republican would need to win, so they are -- they are sort of saying OK too early to panic even if he pulls it out we still have real problems, because the Midwest is where elections are won.
GERGEN: I think -- I want to go back to Paul Begala's point because I think that is what is going to happen. You're going to have -- if Mitt Romney were to lose and I would imagine he is still going to win this, but if he were to lose, you're going to have a drum beat that is going to steadily increase among Republican pros, can we find somebody else and get him in here because they do not think Santorum can win in the fall, and if Mitt Romney loses in Michigan, it will underline they got a very weak alternative in Mitt Romney, and so why don't they look for somebody else. Can you get anybody else in any primary?
BORGER: But that person would lose --
COOPER: Do you believe that Rick Santorum could be the nominee?
CASTELLANOS: I think there is a chance he is the nominee, but I think it is a slim chance. I think right now, he has -- he has focused on the Republican base, but at the expense of his appeal in a general and his electability, so he has narrowed his message. I think he's hurt himself. But there's just isn't enough time really for another candidate to get in right now. Even if another candidate jumped in, you would skip the primaries. You'd just hope for a brokered convention.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right. CASTELLANOS: You wouldn't put yourself through that. But Republicans don't want an unvetted candidate, somebody who just takes the stage for the first time. The news media would devour him, eat him up, define him in two weeks. It would be a nightmare. We've got the field we've got. We are going through the stages of death here. We are up through anger, denial --
CASTELLANOS: Anger, denial, bargaining, I think we are now up to depression.
CASTELLANOS: The next step is acceptance and I think that is where we are. It does get tougher, though. I think Gloria is right, it does get tougher from here. Ohio is Michigan where your dad is not governor for Mitt Romney. It's a tougher state.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right.
COOPER: Romney has outspent Santorum about two to one in the state of Michigan.
CASTELLANOS: He is winning all these states tactically one by one by crushing his opponent, negative ads, money, negative message and manpower --
CASTELLANOS: He's not winning big.
FLEISCHER If Rick Santorum had not had a bad debate performance, which he did, I think you'd be really be looking at a very different race. Now I thought last week that Rick Santorum for the first time had a real chance, a road to winning this primary. He set himself back. Can he get back there? If he does not take Michigan, it is going to be a lot harder for him to get back there. He really needs this state if he's going to go on and propel himself into Super Tuesday.
BEGALA: He's tied. He's still tied. He had a bad debate performance.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right.
BEGALA: I think not quite as bad as you would think, Santorum, but -- and he terrible gaffes. He insulted the memory of President Kennedy. He said these crazy things about sex and yet he is in a hunt, in a dog fight --
BEGALA: -- with a guy who grew up there. Have I mentioned this is his home state (INAUDIBLE).
BEGALA: You will never stop hearing me talk about that because I cannot wrap my mind around it.
COOPER: Wolf, we are counting down, Wolf, waiting for those first votes to come in.
BLITZER: Only about a half hour or so away, we're going to get the first votes coming in from Michigan. Stand by for that. Also Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich they are getting ready to address their supporters. They are both appealing for votes in Super Tuesday's contests one week from today. We will have live coverage of both of their remarks. We'll also hear how these Republicans in Ohio will be reacting to their speeches. Stand by for that and will Democrats help decide who wins Michigan's Republican primary tonight. Rick Santorum certainly hopes so.
BLITZER: All right. Less than 30 minutes away from the first official votes being counted in Michigan. Actually, 28 minutes from now and we will have live coverage of that. They are coming in. We already have some exit poll results that we have been going through, and John King is over taking a closer look at the exit polls closer.
John, what is going on in Arizona and Michigan, because we spoke to the voters in both states as they were leaving.
KING: Well, let me show you the difference of the two states. I want to go out to Arizona first and click on the map and bring up the issues here. One of the key issue here and I want to make that one go away so you don't see it. It won't confuse you here.
Let's look at this. The most important issue right, the most important issue will come through and we will find it right here. In Arizona, the most important issue is the economy and let me clear up the clutter there. Most important is 48 percent, Wolf, of those voting in the Republican presidential primary saying that the economy is number. But look at this, perhaps not a surprise the issue of illegal immigration getting 12 percent in the state of Arizona and in Michigan, barely registered on the flip. So you have a different set of voters.
The economy is more than 50 percent in Michigan, just under 50 percent here. The budget deficit is always comes in second in every state so far. Abortion, a relatively small issue in the state of Michigan. If you come along the map a little bit here, you see in Michigan, you have illegal -- that is a wrong number, sorry, that came up the wrong way.
Let me switch the map, and show you a little issue with the map on occasion, let's bring up Michigan results now and look by important issues here, and coming back down and I want to bring up two things to you. I'm going to move this one to the side in the state of Michigan, you know what, that is going to cooperate -- well, here we go. The most important issue in Michigan, the economy 48 percent, budget deficit at 32 percent, and another issue as we watch, Wolf, this is one of the interesting things that we are going to watch throughout the night, 10 percent of those voting - this is Michigan. Arizona is closed primary. Only Republicans can vote. Ten percent of those voting in Michigan tonight are Democrats.
WOLF: And look at how many are independents two, three percent.
KING: Yes. And I get there in just a few seconds. Fifty percent right now, 50 percent -- there is a problem with the graphics and this is Michigan and not Arizona. There is something happened with the graphics, but 50 percent of those who are Democrats in the state of Michigan are voting for Rick Santorum.
So, that is -- could be in a close race and perhaps minor mischief, but in a very close race, perhaps it will just be minor mischief in a very close race. This could be something that we are watching late into the night. Nineteen percent of those Democrats are voting for Congressman Ron Paul, and 15 percent of the democratic vote is going to Governor Romney. But Wolf, if it is very close at the end, the participation of the Democrats is higher in Michigan than it was four years ago, it could have an effect.
WOLF: It certainly could. And that's way Rick Santorum has been doing - what he's doing, he is defending his bold move in Michigan formally asking, publicly asking Democrats to vote for him in today's Republican primary. That is allowed because Michigan has what's known as an open primary. But Mitt Romney is accusing Santorum of dirty tricks.
Our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash is in Michigan. She is joining now. You spoke to some Democrats, Dana, who are very open about it. They are no excuses. They say, you know what, they are holding their noses, they are voting for Santorum, because they want Romney in affect to lose.
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That is right. Rick Santorum engaging in so-called dirty tricks. Democrats I talked to, they admit that they are doing this. They are openly and aggressively trying to get Democratic voters to go out for Rick Santorum, and they have very politically crass specific goals. Help President Obama by throwing the Republican contest into more chaos, and also embarrass Mitt Romney right here in his home state of Michigan.
TONY TRUPIANO, PROGRESSIVE RADIO HOST: Do not forget to vote today especially if you care about the future. Every single person who touched the show today, every single person said they were voting for Santorum.
TRUPIANO: I'm Tony Trupiano and I'm a radio talk show host.
BASH: A liberal talk show host. TRUPIANO: I am a liberal radio talk show host.
BASH: You are a proud liberal?
TRUPIANO: I am a proud liberal.
BASH: And here you are telling Democrats to go vote for somebody who has the most conservative in the Republican race?
TRUPIANO: Absolutely. Unequivocally, yes. Do I think that Rick Santorum is a weaker candidate, yes.
BASH: You are making a little mischief? You can admit that.
TRUPIANO: Absolutely. I love making little mischief.
Off we go. Let's go vote and play Republican for three minutes. Just checked of the Republican party on there, yowsah, yowsah.
BASH: So, how many Democrats are actually going to come to a voting place like this and vote for Rick Santorum? We are not sure but we did run into somebody who name to do exactly that.
CRYSTAL LARSON, DEMOCRAT VOTER: My name is Crystal Larson. I'm a Democrat.
BASH: You voted in the Republican primary?
LARSON: I sure did.
LARSON: You know, it is my way of protecting Obama.
BASH: You voted for Rick Santorum?
LARSON: I did, yes.
BASH: The look on your face?
LARSON: It kind make me feel like I made a deal with the devil. Voting for Santorum goes against everything that I believe in and everything that I have ever stood for my life.
JOE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I am Joe, a democratic strategist in the state of Michigan. For the past seven days we have been organizing and creating a list of Democrats who are committed to vote for Santorum in the election today. We believe we have 14,000 solid commitments to work to turn out today in the primary. When we are done, they are going to have to buy Pep to Bismol by the gallon the RNC.
BASH: This is Gary Zulinski. And you are a Democrat.
GARY ZULINSKI, DEMOCRAT VOTER: Yes.
BASH: And You went in there, and you voted for --
BASH: Obviously not a Democrat. Why did you do it?
ZULINSKI: I am fed up with things.
BASH: Why do you consider voting for Rick Santorum a protest vote?
ZULINSKI: Because it is going to throw the GOP into some turmoil. It is my way of saying, hey, I've had enough.
BASH: Now, we spent some time this morning with the Democratic chair of this state Mark Brewer, and he said that the official line and the official policy is not to encourage Democrats to cross over and make mischief, but they are also not activity discouraging it either.
He, also, Wolf, made the point that it is actually is a probably valid point that the Democrats would not even have the ability to create any kind of mischief if Mitt Romney didn't have a tight race on his hands if Rick Santorum were not so close nipping at the heels here.
WOLF: You know, it is interesting that I saw some tweets in the core of today, Michael Moore who is a resident of Michigan, a very well known resident of Michigan. Even he, is getting involved in this Republican contest. Have you seen those reports, Dana?
BASH: Yes, I have. I have seen the tweets just exactly what you are talking about. And it is certainly it is not surprising, because this is very much been going on and in fact for about a week or even more that has been the active campaign, but even longer, there has been a lot of buzz on the internet, and still is on a national level, Wolf. It is not just going to be Michigan. Even at "the Daily Post," the liberal blog there saying start in Michigan, but there are several other contests coming up with same kind of open primary rules and encouraging the Democrats to get out and do it in other states. But in this particular state, it has a long history of crossover voting and some mischief.
WOLF: If it is close and we fully expect it is very, very close this democratic crossover of the independents that are showing up as well, that could be decisive right now.
Dana, thank you very much.
Let's go back to Anderson. You got more on what we are calling the mischief vote out there, Anderson.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Mischief. Yes, let's check in with Brooke Baldwin over there at the social media area that she is monitoring. What are you - what have you been looking at in the last 24 hours.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Again, I'm surprised that the word mischief is yet to trend, and I'm predicting now that it might. So we are looking on twitter with the trend of possibly Democrats voting and might this seen how change things for Santorum versus Romney.
Take a look at this. And this is initially the story. This is essentially from 8:00 this morning to now, and if you advance the graphic, and not a huge difference between your Santorum and Romney here. But I want to clear this and I want to pull up a couple of tweet, because I know Dana talked to someone who said, you know, a democrat in Michigan wanted to take a shower after voting for Santorum.
This person voted for Santorum. "I just voted for Santorum here in Michigan.
COOPER: This person is a cat with a hat.
BALDWIN: This person is a cat with a hat, and we dot no judge. We are quoting a cat, because this person is a voter in Michigan and that person counts. Every vote count, Anderson Cooper.
BALDWIN: I said loudly that I was a Dem, but I wanted to vote GOP just this time turnout was just awful. Hopefully not another cat on this one. Can we - we'll through this. Here we go.
This person, "I can see why Democrats would vote for Santorum. He seems less capable of defeating Obama. I would be too scared that he might actually win."
So perhaps, some Democrats wondering, if I vote for Santorum, might that ultimately lead to a nomination.
And finally, Mr. Begala --
COOPER: And this guy, you trust on twitter.
BALDWIN: We do trust this guy. Hi Paul Begala. And this point is. And this is really all adds to the question, "only 10 percent of the voters in Michigan are Dems, down from 17 percent in 2000. Hardly raiding or mischief." So, he is maybe debunking our mischief thinking process here. "Big news, Romney is so weak in his home state."
BALDWIN: So weak. So - but as we learned in Iowa, every vote counts, right. So who knows how this could translate coming into the night.
COOPER: Brooke, thank you very much.
And as I said in an earlier interview, Mitt Romney tonight, which Paul loves, kind of distancing himself from Michigan and kind of saying, well, if Massachusetts is really where I have spent most of my time.
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Sure. It is like one of Newt's wives. It's just like well, I don't remember, I didn't have anything to do with it. It is crazy.
COOPER: We ask you a second question, has Santorum peaked and two of you said yes and two of you said no, and one said, well, it was a maybe from over there, and another. Do you think that he has peaked?
BEGALA: I don't know that he has. Frankly, because in part, because Mitt Romney is weak. He didn't have the best debate of his life, but he has a message, it's social conservatism, and when he gets around to it, some economic populism, and there is clearly an appetite for it.
Plus, the calendar in the system is going to reward him for staying in, at least until April 1st, every primary -- most of the primaries are proportional representations. So, just however -- even if he does not win, he gets delegates. And so, I think he is going to stay in this for long.
COOPER: The reason that he has peaked.
MARIA CARDONA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I talked about that he has peaked, but he could peak again because given Romney's weaknesses and look, Romney going into this has handed Santorum and all of the other opponents the fire to hit him with.
The gaffe about NASCAR, the gaffe about his wife having two Cadillacs. I mean, these are not things that are not going to connect with the average voter that you are going to need in the general election. So, the gaffes are his own doing and that is not going to stop I don't think, and that is one of the worries for the Republicans.
COOPER: What do you think, he's peaked?
ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Because he has chosen a path I think on social issues to define himself, that is what he is banking on in Michigan where it will give him some votes, but it is going to make him less e electable in the fall. And the Republicans seen that and they want a candidate who can beat Barack Obama.
Now, in the short term, we got Super Tuesday coming up, and there are a lot of states there that do not auger well for Mitt Romney. Georgia is going to go probably Gingrich. You got Oklahoma, you got Tennessee and Ohio, as we were just talking about, is a state much like Michigan, but where Romney does not have that institutional support from the family and the father.
So, he has some tough times ahead. But right now, I think that Santorum has put himself on a path that narrows him to just a hunk of the Republican electorate, not the broader candidate that he really needs to be. ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I don't think that there is too much primary to go if he peaks or not. If he wins in Michigan, maybe another peak in front of him, but if he loses today, it could prep a decline on super Tuesday and Mitt Romney becomes the nominee. He just -- it is like a baseball game --
COOPER: All the way through. I mean, are we still going be here in the summer in June?
FLEISCHER: Let me - here's what make it so different this year, and in addition to Mitt Romney's problems where he can't shore it up, it is really not super Tuesday. It's somewhat Super Tuesday next Tuesday. They are only ten states voting.
In 2000, there were 16 states who voted on March 6th, the Super Tuesday. In 2000, it was also winner takes all, and now it is proportionate. I think this thing keeps going. And you know what, the next time after Super Tuesday or somewhat Super Tuesday, March 6th, the next time you have a multiple state primary more than two states, is not until April. It slows down again and then picks up and this goes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I think that at times, it is time for another debate. What do you think. Let's do it.
Anderson is giving me a look. Sorry, Anderson.
CASTELLANOS: But Mitt Romney, his gaffes are not politically fatal gaffes. I mean, we are sitting here talking about whether a guy had a press conference in an empty stadium and whether he said he had two Cadillacs.
Now, Mitt Romney talking about the wealth is like putting a mink coat on a mink. It is like making something slick even slicker. He does not do it well, but in politics people don't ever care as much about someone else's money as they do their own. We still have an economy that is going down the toilet. Fewer people are working in America than ever. Unemployment is only down because people have given up working for work, only six out of 10 people are working, and a little less actually.
So, in a general election, Mitt Romney looks like an attractive candidate against Barack Obama and that is enough to get him through the convention.
CARDONA: But here is the problem with that which it is not one gaffe or two gaffes. I mean, we have a whole list of those kinds of gaffes and the reason that it matters is that when the voter goes into the voting booth to vote, they want to vote for somebody who they think gets what they are going through. They vote with the gut. Mitt Romney right now does not represent somebody who understands what working class Americans are going through.
COOPER: And do they want somebody they can have a beer with or I mean, isn't there something to be said about the smart guy who, you know, has run companies? (CROSSTALK)
BEGALA: And the two degrees from Harvard and President Obama only has one. It's clear brilliant guy and yet, he keep saying these really dumb things I think . It is because he means it. I don't really care about the poor people, they have a social safety net. And if it needs repaired, I will fix it, right? I was worried about getting a pink slip. I'm unemployed myself.
I mean, he keep saying these things. He is terribly bright. So, I don't think it is because he is dumb.
FLEISCHER: Real quickly, but Barack Obama gets what he is going through, because Barack Obama is largely the guy who got them through. He has presided over the economy that has it.
COOPER: And we are going to let them sort it out through the break. We are standing by to hear Newt Gingrich speak to his supporters in Georgia. We are going to carry his remarks live. And we will get the first votes, the first raw votes from Michigan primary very soon. Stay tuned.
WOLF: Ten minutes before the first raw votes will be coming in from the state of Michigan. You can see right now, we are counting down to that. We will bring them to you as soon as they come in. Lots and lots at stake in Michigan tonight, Arizona as well.
Let's go to the John King right now. John, Michigan, Michigan, Michigan. As important as Arizona is, we suspect that Michigan is very tight.
KING: Well, because it is Mitt Romney's home state, because his father was the governor there and because Mitt Romney has anchored his campaign on saying that I'm the best candidate argue the economy in the fall. This is a great laboratory for the fall campaign of the economy. That's why the state is so important. Not that Arizona is unimportant, but Wolf, it is also important to us at the moment, because the polls are about to get some of the results.
Now, some of the counties up here, few of the counties right up here. There are open for another hour. So, we need to be careful about that during the central time zone. They are open for another hour. But, the bulk of the state is going to start coming in momentarily.
And what are going to look for. Well, we know the major population center is down here. This is largely democratic. The county that you want to look at that out here in the west, the Grand Rapids, the Kalamazoo area tends to be more conservative out here. Gritty blue collar down the south, a lot of ruler up here that is critical to Senator Santorum.
Let me blank this out and go back in time to help get some perspective. This is the Republican presidential primary 2008. Mitt Romney won the state by beat in beating John McCain. The irony, and we talked about this a bit in previous primaries, Mitt Romney's campaign was that he was the conservative alternative to John McCain.
What has Senator Santorum argued this week, that he's the conservative alternative to Romney. If you see, it was just the McCain/Romney race. We want to see tonight, can Gingrich or Congressman Paul break through on Michigan.
Four years ago, it was a McCain/Romney race you see. Let's watch this tonight. Because you see here, this is Mitt Romney the darker red. See his areas of strength tonight? Can he hold what he had last time? That would be critical to a win tonight. Because remember, these delegates are not awarded to the state-wide winner. It will awarded by congressional districts. So, you would be carried the state, doesn't necessarily get all the delegates.
Let's go back in time for the race we talked about before. George W. Bush was running away with the Republican nomination or so everyone thought back in 2000. John McCain got 56 percent of the vote by the Democratic and independent crossover in 2000. So, also worth remembering, Wolf, as we prepare to start counting votes.
We will get some of them just nine minutes or so from now that this state does have a history of saying to the front-runner, not so fast.
WOLF: Not so fast. It's a good slogan. All right. John, thanks very much.
We are also going to be standing by momentarily, both Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich will be speaking to their supporters. We'll have live coverage and hear what they have to say. Stay with us.
WOLF: Getting ready to hear from Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul. They are going to be speaking to their supporters. We are going to have live coverage on that. Remember, at the top of the hour within five minutes, we are going to have the first raw votes coming in from Michigan. Stand by for that. Once the candidates are speaking, all four of them will be speaking to their supporters, you will be seeing squiggly lines at the bottom in your screen.
Let's go to Tom Foreman right now. He is with the group of Republican voters in Columbus, Ohio. The super Tuesday state one week from today, they will be voting in Ohio, a key battleground state.
Set the scene, explain, Tom, what those lines at the bottom of the screen will mean for viewers out there, who will be hearing shortly from Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Hey, Wolf, all these voters have gathered in Ohio state, the Ohio state University, are going to help us out with that. They will be producing those lines, Wolf. They are going to do with these devices right here. As you can see, there's a dial on this. I could dial it up or down depending on their reaction to what the candidate is saying. So, you will see lines going across the screen. You will see red lines for all of the male voters here. You will see green lines for all the female voters here. You will see a white line which is the average of them.
We've been watching here, Wolf, some political campaign ads beforehand. And from very interesting to see what this group responds to, what you like and what you don't like and where they diverge. Where the women like one thing, the men like something else.
And wolf, you asked earlier on, there is an undecided group of voters here. But let me see a show of hands, once you what it's going to be earlier, how many of you are leaning towards Mitt Romney in this race? Hands up high where we can see them. So, not a whole lot. How many of you are leaning towards Rick Santorum?
Now, I will tell you something interesting about all of this, Wolf. Earlier, when we checked the lines against this, when we were waiting for Newt Gingrich to come out, we asked this very group, who do you think will win? There's more support here for Rick Santorum. But who do you think is going to win? Mitt Romney.
This is the thing. We've seen this in all our focus groups, Wolf. Time and again, you get the undecided republicans together. They tend to lean towards the conservative candidates. They like them. But then, you just like, who do you think will win, they keep coming back to Mitt Romney and say they generally will vote for him if he wins although there are some here who suggest they may not. It will be interesting to watch their reaction to Newt Gingrich when comes on in a few minutes here and see how they respond to his message -- Wolf.
WOLF: I'd be curious if you want to ask some of those folks with you, Tom, what they want to hear from Newt Gingrich who will be speaking momentarily.
FOREMAN: That's a good question. What do you want to hear from Newt Gingrich when he speaks?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to hear about jobs. He's been speaking about jobs. I want to hear about national security.
FOREMAN: What about you? What would you like to hear from Newt Gingrich? What could he say that would make you think differently about him?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would like to see him get more in detail about making the gas price down to $2.25. I want him to get more in depth in that instead of just saying it to be saying it.
FOREMAN: All right. Let me ask all the way down here at this end. What do you think about this? What could Newt Gingrich say that would make a difference to you? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'd like to see him talk about the budget and how he plans to reduce that.
FOREMAN: All right. So, it's all a question about the economy. Our coverage continues right now.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The presidential race has been won by Reagan of California.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor Clinton is now president Clinton. Too close to call.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: George W. Bush re-elected.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Barack Obama, president-elect of the United States.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN.
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WOLF: This could be a turning point in the Republican presidential race.
COOPER: We're standing by for results from two states where the battle between the GOP front runners has gotten very personal.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tonight, Mitt Romney's toughest test since Rick Santorum's surge.
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you want a fiscal conservative, you can't vote for Rick Santorum because he's not. He's the word of hypocrisy comes to mind.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a two state showdown with one problem, trying to avoid an embarrassing defeat.
NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Governor Romney is discovering, he cannot take his home state for granted.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will Romney have staying power or suffer a crippling setback. Michigan or Arizona. It's America's choice.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Santorum climbed his way to the top. Now, he wants to win a valuable prize, the state where Romney was born and raised.
RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's laughable for governor Romney to suggest I am not a conservative.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Romney is waging a fierce battle in two states that should have been shoo-ins.
ROMNEY: Senator Santorum hasn't been as carefully viewed by the American public as the others.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The two leaders trying to erase voters doubt, fighting each other and underdogs who are ready to pounce.
RON PAUL (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Those are other who like at top now doesn't mean they are going to stay there.
GINGRICH: This is the wildest strangest nominee process.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will there be a split decision or will one candidate take it all.
SANTORUM: It's authentic. Just believable.
ROMNEY: Look, my team is the people of Michigan of American --