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Super Tuesday Coverage; Battle for Ohio

Aired March 6, 2012 - 23:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from the CNN Election Center.

Ohio, Ohio, Ohio. We have been talking about it all night. It's the biggest prize so far tonight, 10 states on this Super Tuesday.

All right. Take a look at these official numbers. Eighty-six percent of the vote in Ohio in. You see Rick Santorum is ahead by 3170 votes, but guess what, guess what, these votes do not have the official numbers that we just received from our own Dana Bash in Hamilton County. That's Cincinnati. It shows a 6,000 vote lead for Mitt Romney right now. We haven't included those in the official numbers yet. They haven't been reported to Columbus, to the Republican Party headquarters.

Right now, by our estimate, Mitt Romney slightly ahead of Rick Santorum in Ohio, but still, plenty of time for stuff to happen. We'll see what's going on. We're watching Ohio very, very closely. You can see how close it is right there, by our estimate, once again, Mitt Romney slightly ahead of Rick Santorum.

Let's take a look at Idaho right now. We have not projected a winner in Idaho even though Romney is way ahead of everybody else with 12 percent of the vote in. Romney with 78 percent, 11 percent for Ron Paul, 8 percent for Rick Santorum, 3 percent for Newt Gingrich.

Let's go over to John King over here and talk about Ohio right now. The numbers here show Santorum slightly ahead, but for viewers who are just tuning in, we -- we say this, and we say it boldly, and we say it exclusively. Romney is really slightly ahead of Rick Santorum.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: By about 3,000 votes by our count because we're going to show you the numbers here. This is the official count, those released, 78 percent from Hamilton County shows Romney with this big lead. But guess what, we have from Dana Bash more updated numbers that get us well over 80 percent where Governor Romney got a huge jump. Another -- almost another 10,000 votes here. So you have -- you see here a 10,000 edge in the county. I just touched that by accident. We'll come back over.

We all know that he has a bigger edge by our Hamilton County numbers that give him a boost of about 3,000 state-wide. So now the question is, are there places where Senator Santorum can make that up, and are there more places where Governor Romney can get votes?

You're watching these counties start to fill in. This one was blank a bit earlier. Medina County, Governor Romney now with 6 percent of the vote in, with a slight lead there. Rough and tumble. So it says Romney might add a little. That's not a comeback place for Senator Santorum.

Here's the hard one right here. Cuyahoga County, where Cleveland is, still at 41 percent. It's been there for a long time, but look, a big Mitt Romney lead. Maybe we need to get Ricky Vaughn, remember him? The movie "Major League." Get him out of the bullpen, and get the Board of Elections to clean this one up.

We're still waiting for a lot of votes here. But again this is a place where we would expect based on what we have at 41 percent, Romney to get even more votes. So you start looking at the map and you say, is there anywhere elsewhere Senator Santorum can pick up? He could if things change up there, but it's unlikely. Look at what happened up here. So just start looking at places where Santorum is winning, 100 percent of the vote is in, 100 percent of the vote is in, even around, 100 percent of the vote is in.

You go just across the state, and so when you look at this now, only 4 percent of the vote in here in this county.

BLITZER: But it's tiny.

KING: It's so tiny. Very tiny county. So Senator Santorum, maybe a couple dozen votes to add to the count there. Doesn't look like it's enough. You start going across, more votes to come in here. There might be 20, 50, 100 votes in that area. That vote also what's come in. But then more in hundreds. So you come back out to the map and you're looking at a state where without question, Senator Santorum will win more counties in Ohio tonight, but where is Governor Romney winning? All the major population centers, Columbus, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Akron, Youngstown, Toledo.

You could note those are also places where you have the major TV markets, and he very much outspent on ads. Those ads of course run across the state. People live across the state see TV. Another parts of the states but as you look through, 98 percent of the voting here, not a place where Santorum is going to have much of a comeback. That's a Romney county. Again we're still waiting. This is the big question mark, why they're so slow counting? If you look around them we have --

BLITZER: What about Youngstown? Because that's near Pennsylvania. That's an area that -- and he grew up in Pittsburgh, which is not far away, Santorum. How does that look?

KING: This has to be a disappointment for Senator Santorum. If you look at the Youngstown mark right here, not as big a margin as we've seen in some of the other places, but Mitt Romney actually winning in the Youngstown area, 37 percent to 34 percent. If you pop up just a little bit here, Mitt Romney winning in Trumbull County, 36 percent to 35 percent. So if you -- another blue-collar area here. Akron where -- this is again, Summit County, I just showed you where Senator Santorum wanted to do better. If you look here you see the edge right here.

One way to look at this, Wolf. If you go back in time, this Republican race -- forgive me, Republicans -- is actually playing out a lot like the Democratic race did if you go back in time. Look at this -- go back, if we go to the Democratic primary, Hillary Clinton won Ohio last time. And look where Senator Obama did well. He did well in Columbus and in the suburbs, in Cincinnati down here, and right up here. Hillary Clinton won everywhere else.

Here's the key distinction, the key difference. Here. Here. Senator Clinton, not Senator Obama, did well in Akron and Youngstown. Now I'm going to fast forward to come back to 2012, and look at this Republican race. This was an area here where Rick Santorum who is the blue-collar candidate like Senator Clinton needed to do well, and he did not. Otherwise, Governor Romney's major vote centers are tracking Senator Obama's, in the suburbs. And this is the disappointment right here for Senator Santorum.

Again, by our numbers, Wolf, this is the count right here, you see it very narrow. Actually, Governor Romney now has passed into the lead in our count here at 86 percent. And we know it's actually bigger than that because we don't have all of the numbers --

BLITZER: All right. Let's go back to the big numbers. Let's put it up on the big screen over here because for the first time in a while, this is official. Let's go over here and take a look. Take a look at these numbers now.

KING: That's right.

BLITZER: And we're going to show our viewers what's going on. Eighty-six percent of the vote is now in, and Romney is ahead of Santorum, 1,425 votes ahead of Santorum. The first time in a while we've seen the official count. We're not surprised. CNN viewers should not be surprised because we saw what was going on. We had those exclusive numbers coming in from Dana Bash in Hamilton County in Cincinnati.

These numbers do not -- even include those numbers, we're told, the numbers in Hamilton County. So it would presumably be at least another 3,000 or 4,000 votes advantage -- vote advantage for Mitt Romney over Rick Santorum, but not -- Romney now taking the lead. It's growing, 1837 vote lead right now for Romney with 86 percent of the vote in.

So this is a significant development in Ohio. We're watching it very closely, and you're seeing it unfold even as we do ourselves.

Idaho right now, let's go to Boise. Shannon Travis is standing by.

Shannon, tell our viewers what's going on there. You got the huge Taco Bell arena. What do you got, 10,000 folks there that have gathered to participate in the caucuses? SHANNON TRAVIS, CNN POLITICAL PRODUCER: That's right, absolutely. Just under 10,000. Almost 10,000 there, Wolf. But it's packed. You know a lot of the people here, they have already voted, but let me show you what the next step in this process is. You see a lot of the volunteers lined up. They all have on white shirts and some kind of dark color pants. But in those buckets right there are coins. Coins for different candidates. You see on the top of that one, Mitt Romney. You see the two other there, Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich. There's Rick Santorum over there. They've got tape over the top of them now.

Basically, what the caucus-goers did here, Wolf, was they had a coin, and they dropped them into the buckets. Now those buckets will be called up to the stage, and there are some people upstage, up there, who are counting all of the tokens. This is not a paper ballot process. A little bit different from what we've been seeing in previous caucuses before. CNN has a camera trained on the counting of those coins exclusively.

And one last thing, the person who wins this caucus has to get at least 50 percent plus one. If no one gets 50 percent plus one in the first counting of these tokens, the process starts again. The lowest vote getter is dropped off, or if they have -- anyone who has 58 percent, and then all of these people in here, 9,000 of them, have to vote again -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Shannon, thanks very much. Shannon Travis on the scene for us, Boise State University, Taco Bell Arena there.

Let's update you on the maps right now. Show you what's going on there. You can see we're still awaiting for Ohio. But Mitt Romney now, we say, has a slight lead over Rick Santorum in Ohio. We're waiting for the final results to come in from Idaho. We don't have those results yet.

In Alaska, they close their caucuses at midnight Eastern, less than an hour from now. We'll go to Wasilla, we'll see what's going on in Alaska at the right moment as well.

Let me just put up Ohio right flow. Show you what's going on. Put it up on the screen. We'll show you what's going on in Ohio. Look at this. Eighty-six percent of the vote is in. Romney maintaining a slight lead, 1840 votes over Rick Santorum, 86 percent of the vote is in.

We estimate, though, that lead is more significant, that does not include the votes, that does not include the votes from Hamilton County, Cincinnati, where Dana Bash reported to us based on Republican Party officials, that Santorum is way behind in that county. There's a significant advantage for Mitt Romney.

We'll continue to watch what's going on in Ohio. If, if Mitt Romney manages to pull out a win in Ohio, great news for him tonight. He's going to certainly get more delegates in Ohio because Santorum couldn't get on the ballots in some of those congressional districts. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here's a picture of Rick Santorum watching the returns coming in. It was tweeted by Alice Stewart, his press secretary over there. You can see Rick Santorum watching what's going on. If he's watching CNN, he knew this about a half an hour or so ago, but the rest of the world now knows it.

Look at this, 87 percent of the vote is in. Romney is ahead by 5467 votes, 408,541 to 403,074 for Rick Santorum. So Romney has got 38 percent, 37 percent. These numbers finally do include Hamilton County, the Cincinnati area. Dana Bash showed us these numbers a while ago. And now they've been factored in. So you can see Romney has a lead of 5,467 votes with 87 percent of the votes in.

It's going to be very difficult for Rick Santorum to make that number up given what's going on in some of the populated areas like the Cleveland area, the Cincinnati area, the Akron area, some other areas as well.

Let's go over to Anderson Cooper. He's going to take us inside the decision-making process. At what point will we be able to project a winner in Ohio?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, that's always the question we ask around this time because we all want to get out of here. So let's go over the cube, talk to Mark Preston, our political director, try to get a sense of when we may be able to finally make a call in Ohio.

Mark, how does it look?

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL EDITOR: You know, you know, right now, Anderson, we don't know when we're going to call. We're not even sure if we'll be able to call it tonight. The fact of the matter is the race is so close, I just got off the phone with the secretary of State's Office of Ohio, I said look, why are we not seeing this vote total coming in from county-to-county quicker, they said they've had no problems, but they're just waiting for these numbers to come in.

COOPER: So they haven't actually gotten the numbers yet in?

PRESTON: They have, but it was very, very slow. It's a big population center. The question is, is that where Mitt Romney would do better than Rick Santorum? If this is too close -- this is less than 1 percent, perhaps we don't even call it tonight. This is could maybe go tomorrow. And let's not forget, there potentially could be absentee ballots and provisional ballots that could all play into the mix.

COOPER: So we're going to be on the air until at least 2:00 a.m. but we may not be able to call it by then?

PRESTON: I hope we're not on the air until 2:00 a.m.

COOPER: I think we are. (LAUGHTER)

PRESTON: No, I think we are. Look, we're on the air until 2:00 a.m.

COOPER: Right.

PRESTON: And we might not have an answer at the point.

COOPER: Right. Well, our coverage will just keep on continuing. Wolf, we'll keep following it.

BLITZER: All right. Let's take a closer look, Anderson. We're staying on the air.

I want to go to Cuyahoga County, John King, right now. That's the Cleveland area. Let's take a look at Cuyahoga County because it's significant -- what, only 40 percent or so of the vote is in?

KING: It's up to 60 percent.

BLITZER: Sixty percent. What's taking them so long? They closed at 7:30. Look what time it is now.

KING: Let's just say they're being careful. They're being deliberate. They also have -- part of their county is involved in a very important congressional race tonight. Two Democrats squaring off because of the redrawing of the lines. But look, we said earlier Mitt Romney winning in the population centers. When we were at 40 percent in Cuyahoga County, Mitt Romney was still trailing. When they went up to 60 percent, you see his lead right here.

He's got more than a 10,000 vote lead at 60 percent. That is -- that is essentially double his margin state-wide now. So what happened? When this vote came in, when they jumped from 40 to 60 percent, that jumped Romney up. And we already knew from Hamilton County which you noted is now officially updated at 99 percent.

This is the difference. I mean this is in the Hamilton County and Cuyahoga County are going to make the difference in this state tonight. Mark Preston says we can't call it because it's so close state-wide. But when you pull up, Wolf, and you look, again, in the middle of the state, Franklin County, still more votes to come in. Governor Romney winning in the major population center and the suburbs around it.

Down in the Cincinnati area, winning in the major population centers and the suburbs around it. Toledo, Cleveland, Akron, Youngstown, very familiar. Everywhere you go you find the suburban areas, he's winning. And if you start looking for places, can Santorum come back? You keep looking for places, 100 percent of the vote in, 100 percent of the vote in. In the counties he is carrying, 56 percent of the vote in here. Smaller areas, they could make up a couple hundred votes, but we're looking at almost a 4,000 vote margin for Romney right now. It will go up a little bit more. When that comes in, it will go up a little bit more. When this comes in most likely, assuming the percentages stay about the same, then it could go up dramatically when the other 40 percent of the vote comes in from the Cleveland area as well. So when you look at this map tonight, it is very hard, very hard, I would say, it's impossible looking at the places that are still out now, for in the vote count tonight, for me to see a path for Senator Santorum to come back.

I understand very carefully in making the calls, but if you're looking county by county for a place for it to happen, I can't find a mathematical road that gets Santorum back with 88 percent of the vote counted than Romney having than lead.

BLITZER: I think everybody wants to be cautious because it's 38 percent to 37 percent.

KING: Right.

BLITZER: But as you look close, it's really only a half of 1 percent state-wide difference between these two candidates, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. And I'm sure the Santorum campaign is asking themselves, why didn't they spend some more money in Ohio. They got outspent enormously by Mitt Romney. If they would have spent some more money, the delegate count might not have made much of a difference, but the bragging rights, the political momentum.

KING: Exactly.

BLITZER: The ability to use that to go out and raise a lot more money, to say I won Ohio, I got the most delegates in Ohio, I got the most votes in Ohio, that would be critical because Ohio is such a key battleground state.

KING: How many times in -- go back four years, eight years, 12 years, 16 years, 20 years, how many times as we say Ohio, Ohio, Ohio is a big state in general elections. It can be a big state in nominating contests. So I want to pull over this congressional district map to make your point about some of the -- some of the delegates are awarded on the state-wide vote count proportionally unless somebody gets 50, nobody will.

And then so essentially 38 percent, somewhere in this ballpark, delegates are going to go state-wide because that doesn't crack the threshold. They're going to go the state-wide delegates to Romney and Santorum. Then you go congressional districts. It's a little hard to see these lines. But you these other lines drawn on the map. These are the congressional districts but here's the problem for Santorum.

All these exclamation points from places where even if he wins the congressional district, you see all these counties in these congressional district, they're all for Santorum. He won't get all the delegates, though, because he either has no delegates or not a full slate of delegates in any county where you see -- any congressional district where you see this exclamation point. So the organizational shortcomings are going to cost Rick Santorum delegates tonight in Ohio.

To your broader point, Wolf, this is going to be a very close race. I look at this map. I look at where the vote is out, I see a narrow Romney victory. That's John King speaking, looking at each county. We have to be careful, let the votes come in, before CNN can make an official projection.

The difference is, if we end up tomorrow or whenever we have an official call with this Romney red, the psychological difference in this Republicans race.


KING: Yes, people will say it's close. Yes, people will say Romney outspent Santorum by so much he's weak.

BLITZER: He did.

KING: He will say, I won. He will say, I won. And he will say, if you look at this map right now, if things hold up like this, and Romney gets Idaho, Santorum has won North Dakota tonight, he's won Oklahoma, he's won Tennessee. Gingrich won only his home state of Georgia. What do you have here? You have almost half the states will have voted when we wake up tomorrow.

Romney now has 13 wins, Santorum has seven, Gingrich has two, Alaska is Ron Paul's only hope left tonight to get on the win board as we wait for the votes to come in there. And so Romney has more states than anybody else and he will end up with significantly more delegates than anyone else. When we wake up tomorrow, the question is, is it enough? He says he's staying in. You just heard Senator Santorum tell our Jim Acosta he's staying in.

Advantage Romney, but we're early in March. I think we're going to be saying hello in April, ordering breakfast in May.



BLITZER: And you heard Newt Gingrich in his speech tonight he sounds like he's a winner in the way he was speaking, following his win -- his win in Georgia tonight.

KING: Yes. He was talking about debating Barack Obama in the fall. President Obama. It is hard to look at this map tonight and see that. I'm sorry, Mr. Speaker. But, but, one of the reasons Speaker Gingrich is staying in is if you look at the regional impact of this race, he's doing very well in the south. And I'm going to make -- next Tuesday, we're going to be talking about Alabama and Mississippi. So if you're Speaker Gingrich, you think, OK, advantage Romney, Santorum, second place.


KING: But he's got some more business to do in the south. BLITZER: And Newt Gingrich is also looking ahead to Texas.

KING: Texas in May.

BLITZER: He thinks Texas, he could win.

KING: Louisiana, we still have Arkansas to go, North Carolina, the south is still in play as long as the south is in play, Speaker Gingrich thinks potentially there's a window to get back.

BLITZER: Dropping out yet of these four. All right. We're watching Ohio very, very closely right now. We'll see. Will we be able to make a projection in Ohio? There are still votes outstanding there. Stay with us. Our coverage will continue in a moment.


COOPER: And welcome back to our continuing coverage. An incredibly exciting night shaping up in Ohio. Incredibly exciting and incredibly close. Take a look at the numbers. Mitt Romney in the lead right now by 5,119 votes. He's got 38 percent of the vote to Rick Santorum's 37 percent, 90 percent of the votes in. You heard from John King saying that he does not see a path by which Rick Santorum can win in Ohio. Although that's not an official call yet by CNN.

Ari Fleischer, you have been talking to people on the phone as well. What are you hearing?

ARI FLEISCHER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Anderson, I just moments ago got a phone call from the chairman of the Ohio campaign for Mitt Romney, Senator Rob Portman, who's from Hamilton County, and he said to me they feel very good about things in Ohio. He predicted they're going to win. It's going to be a tight margin but he said we're going to win Ohio.

COOPER: And all of our contributors here on the left and right, Erick Erickson just joining us, Hilary Rosen as well as here Donna Brazile.

Erick, as you watch, it's your first time at the table tonight. You think it's going to be a win for Romney, but a painful one.

ERICK ERICKSON, EDITOR IN CHIEF, REDSTATE.COM: Yes, I think it's going to be a painful win. When you spend 5.5 times as much money as Rick Santorum and you eke out a win in Ohio, a rustbelt state that went overwhelmingly for the Republicans in 2010, and they're not quite sold on you and across the board tonight, you've lost evangelicals, you've lost self-described conservatives, you've lost the south.

Romney can be the nominee, and since the Michael Dukakis was the nominee for the Democrats in 1988, divided up the south and stuff, but is that the sort of candidate that we want as a frontrunner? He's having a real trouble with the base.

COOPER: And in terms of the states that are coming up next, they also don't look great for Romney.

HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: No, you know, when you look at those states that are coming up, it's probably several weeks before Romney pulls out another win, and you know, everybody is talking about Ohio right now, and that's important, but sitting in the back room, I was really focused on Virginia for two reasons. One, when you sit -- look at Ron Paul getting over 40 percent in Virginia, Ron Paul, that's an anti-Romney vote. And so when you think, if there were only two candidates in there, Romney and Santorum, Santorum would be taking more of the states. And that is such a critical issue right now for Newt Gingrich, for Santorum, and for the Republicans.

COOPER: And wasn't Virginia sort of an odd example because, A, voter turnout was incredibly low and also you did not have the others on the ballot.

ROSEN: They weren't on the ballot and that's exactly the point. So you only had one alternative to Mitt Romney, and that alternative nobody thinks could ever possibly be president, and he got 41 percent of the vote. So if you -- if that was a Santorum alternative, my view is then you would really have Santorum as a competitive alternative to Mitt Romney in more of these states.

ERICKSON: You know I think --


FLEISCHER: In Virginia, it's just -- Virginia is an anomaly this cycle. The turnout is dramatically down from what it was before. Nobody really showed up because Virginians have been told for months that there is no contest there, there's no campaign. I don't think that's -- Mitt Romney has not solidified things, he does have some problems, but I don't think Virginia is a real accurate indication of what his problems are.

ROSEN: No, no, no. Forty-one percent of the vote came out to actually vote against Mitt Romney. There was energy there against Romney, Ari. That's --


ERICKSON: There may be energy against Romney, but I do think with this messy win in Ohio, I do think he's largely becomes now in people's minds, the nominee. Whether or not I like it or not, and I'm no fan of his, I do think he's now start to slug at them. We're going to have several more weeks where he's going to have a very difficult time with it, with Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. But I think by and large everyone else's money starts to run out now.

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: You know, Anderson, I worked on a lot of campaigns in my day. I never thought I would be sitting up at night waiting for Cuyahoga County, Cleveland, to come in, urban cities, in order to help the Republicans figure out who their the nominee is. That's the problem with Mitt Romney. Even his supporters are holding his nose he has, as I mentioned before credibility problem, you know, he has enthusiasm gap, but you know what, at the end of the day, I went in to win. And you will likely pull it off if many of these urban cities, Columbus and others, continue to show support for him. But he spent -- what did you tell me?

ERICKSON: 5.5 to 1.

BRAZILE: That's lunch money for him, I understand, but that is still a lot of money to base barely win a state that is a must-win in the fall.

ROSEN: Donna raises a really good point about Ohio, which is obviously a key state in November. And you know Romney is not going to win the cities in Ohio in November. He's got to win rurally. And those are the counties that went against him tonight and it'd be interesting --


COOPER: Yes, and Gloria, I saw an e-mail from you. It's a very different electorate that's going to be coming up.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it is. It is. And to your point, I mean, Romney is winning in the areas where Republicans are likely to lose in the fall, and he's losing in the areas that Republicans need to win.

And you know, John King, can you make me honest on this? Because if you go back to 2008 --


KING: How much money do you got?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Now that's asking a lot, Gloria.

KING: Now let's -- let's hear -- this is --

BORGER: No, but if you -- if you go back to --

KING: This is Gloria's point. This is Gloria's point. Look down here. Let me make -- let me go around. Romney in the southwest corner of the state, Romney in the center of the state, Romney up here, Toledo, and then Romney up here along the lake, Cleveland, the suburbs, down into Youngstown.

Very impressive in terms of winning the major population centers tonight and the major suburban areas tonight which is where the votes are. This is your Republican primary tonight. OK?

Now we're going to go back in time. Go back in time here to the presidential contest right here in 2008.

BORGER: There you go.

KING: Barack Obama, 52, John McCain, 47 percent. Both senators at the time. Down here, Romney up here. But Democratic counties, Democratic counties, Democratic county, look at all this right here. And I understand if we go to Hamilton County right now, we can get the latest results from Dana Bash. So let me come back to 2012. Let me clear up the (INAUDIBLE) here, bring up Hamilton County on the map. We're at 99 percent here.

Dana, do you have us to 100?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: One hundred percent, John. That's what we've got. We have this more exclusive information for you. I want -- Phil is going to zoom in right here so we can give you the raw numbers.

Mitt Romney, 39,020. And Rick Santorum, 23,367. So we -- our Deirdre Walsh just crunched these numbers, and we'll give it to you. Basically, this is a net gain of 222 votes in this county for Mitt Romney. Overall, generally, that might not matter, but in this kind of razor thin margin, 222 votes could make a big difference in the big scheme of things in the state for Mitt Romney.

KING: That 222 votes do make a big difference when you're in this close of a race because if you pull back out and look right now, those numbers are going to shrink as I go state-wide. Add 222 votes. Mitt Romney will take it at this point when he's winning the race by a little bit five plus.

And Wolf, again, you start adding these numbers, 100 there, 200 there, 222 out of Hamilton County, and it gets hard even -- close as it is, it gets very hard now as the map fills in and you look at where the vote is still out, to see a Rick Santorum comeback. Very close race, he'll call it a tie, but Governor Romney will be happy no matter how narrow to call it a victory if those numbers hold up.

BLITZER: John, thanks very much.

I want to go to Boise, Idaho, right now because we haven't yet been able to make a projection in Idaho. The Taco Bell Arena at Boise State University. Shannon Travis is standing by.

Shannon, there's -- almost 10,000 people in that arena that have gathered. What a huge caucus in Boise. Tell us what's going on.

TRAVIS: Yes, it's a huge -- it's a huge caucus gathering. The largest in the state. Some people here are arguing that it's possibly the largest so far this season. We need to verify that or not. But however, we know -- we've been trying to ascertain the numbers of the vote counting that's been going on so far. We've talked to multiple people. They are keeping it a closely guarded secret right up on the stage.

We have a camera up there that's actually monitoring the vote count, Wolf. But they are not releasing numbers to us at all. Again, we've tried several times just to get a sense of where this 9,000 plus person crowd is moving, in what direction. They are saying, though, that they will start putting up numbers on the Jumbotron up there in about 10 to 15 minutes. So we're standing here, closely monitoring what that Jumbotron will say.

If you look at it now, they've just got some totals up there for some of the other states with some of the other primaries and contests tonight. So we're going to continue to monitor this, we'll continue to work our sources and see what kind of numbers we can get out of them. And obviously we'll continue to watch that board -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Shannon, as you were speaking, our experts here at CNN were crunching the numbers in Idaho. Get ready for this.

All right, CNN can now make a projection in Idaho. Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, we project he wins the Idaho caucuses. That gives him another win tonight. That is his fourth win of the night. The earlier one, Virginia, Massachusetts, Vermont, now Idaho. Four wins for Mitt Romney.

Take a look at the votes. You can see that yellow in the middle there to the right, that's Ohio. We have not yet made a projection in Ohio. Ten states were voting today. Ohio, we're waiting for. Alaska, they closed their caucuses at the top of the hour, midnight Eastern Time. We'll see what's happening in Alaska. But right now, we're waiting, we're waiting for Ohio.

We're getting very close to a determination on what's going on in Ohio. It's close, but Mitt Romney has a slight lead right now. You've been watching that lead expand exclusively. We're getting the numbers before anyone else here on CNN.

Stay with us. Our coverage will resume in a moment.


BLITZER: Let me update you on what's going on in Ohio right now. We have not yet made a projection in Ohio, but Mitt Romney is ahead, ahead of Santorum with 91 percent of the vote now in. Almost 6,000 votes ahead of Rick Santorum, 38 percent to 37 percent. Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, way, way behind. Still 9 percent of the vote outstanding. But it's going to be difficult for Santorum based on the counties where the vote is outstanding. It looks like it's going to be difficult for Rick Santorum to make up that difference. Right now, 5,862 votes. That's what Romney is ahead of right now.

Let me go to CNN's Jim Acosta. He's covering the Santorum campaign for us in Ohio.

What's going on out there?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it might be an indication of where the night is heading for Rick Santorum here in Ohio. We just heard from Hogan Gidley, the -- one of the senior advisers for the Santorum campaign. And he said that the Santorums are getting ready to leave their war room here in this high school in Steubenville, Ohio.

It was the high school weight room, as the -- as the campaign told us earlier this evening. But they were in the -- in that war room earlier tonight, watching those returns come in. Alice Stewart, the press secretary for the Santorum campaign, tweeted out a picture of Rick Santorum watching those returns come in.

Earlier this evening, not too long before that announcement from Hogan Gidley, we were told by Alice Stewart, that Santorum, there was a possibility that Rick Santorum could come out here later tonight and talk about what is happening here in Ohio. They advised us to keep this camera focused on this podium behind me just in case, but now they're telling us that that -- that that's not going to happen. Rick Santorum will not be making another speech here tonight, Wolf. They're heading home to get some rest -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Jim Acosta in Steubenville, Ohio, with us. Looks like the Santorums are leaving that high school over there. Let's go back to John King, talk a little bit more about Ohio.

Let's talk also about the delegates because it's delegates, delegates, delegates. As important as the popular vote is, the delegate vote, getting to 1,144, getting that Republican nomination at the convention in Tampa, that's key.

KING: And to the point -- I think it was Erick Erickson, was making a bit earlier, yes, a lot of Republicans don't like Romney, a lot of them view Romney as weak, at some point, you start -- the delegate map starts to become pretty obvious.

Let's just look at the state of play right now. Now we have not officially called Ohio, let's make that clear, but Romney is leading. Right? We have not officially called Idaho, but Romney is leading. If this map stays as it is right now, the only other Super Tuesday state still out is Alaska. We'll be -- while we're waiting for that --

BLITZER: We did call Idaho.

KING: We did call Idaho.

BLITZER: Yes. Romney wins. Yes.


KING: Romney wins Idaho. I'm sorry. So Alaska is our big question. We don't know much there and Ohio, we're still waiting to officially call. But if you look at the map right now, it's 13 states for Romney, assuming Ohio stays this way, seven states for Senator Santorum. A bit of an asterisk because Missouri is not for delegates. He won the beauty contest. But call it 13-7, to 2 for Newt Gingrich, none for Ron Paul as we wait for Alaska.

So then we say, what's the delegates? Well, guess what, if you've won 13 states, or you're winning 13 states, you're ahead in the delegate math. And so this is roughly where we were a little while ago. We assigned some Georgia delegates, Virginia delegates, the Massachusetts and Vermont delegates. Now I want to go out here and say -- we're going to say this was a Santorum state. So we turn that over there, and this is a Romney state. These are not exact numbers. This is based on a percentage. We will get exact numbers later in the night. So this is a rough estimate. If you're watching at home, you're going to find something you can take issue with. We're doing this just for a rough ballgame.

Look at this right here. This puts Romney somewhere in the ballpark of 315, Senator Santorum second, somewhere in the ballpark of 120, Speaker Gingrich running third, Ron Paul hasn't won a state yet, somewhere in the ballpark has 60 delegates. Again, these are ballpark numbers. Now a long way to 1144. No question. But if this is the finish line, Wolf, over here, Governor Romney is certainly a lot closer to it than anyone else.

Now that is still a long way to go. And so what do we still have on the board tonight? If this were to go to Romney, he would get at least that many. Might even get a little bit more out of Ohio because of the problem Senator Santorum had. Then what do you have? You wake up tomorrow, people will say Romney is weak. Then you have to say they are at the moment weaker. And if it's all about delegates in the end.

So the question is, how do you catch up? How do you catch up? And we can gain this out as you go forward. And you walk through here. If you want to keep going through states. I mean you just start going on in this way. You know, Kansas, who will win Kansas? Not a lot of delegates. If Santorum gets, he makes up a little ground. If Romney can get Kansas, he pulls out a little bit. But if you look at me as I switch this over, let's just say, you know, maybe Gingrich wins. You're not changing the delegate math a whole lot there.

And then you start to go down the road. I'm going to just play this out on a scenario. Essentially I'm going to give these -- let's give these ones down here to Gingrich. He's been winning in the south. Let's give these to Speaker Gingrich, come back in here. See, that would have him now jump over into jump passed Senator Santorum. We could be having this conversation a week from now.

BLITZER: That's a week from today.

KING: Right. We can have this conversation a week from now. But again, remember, proportional states, Romney still picking up delegates. Then you start going out here, Missouri, we'll leave that in Santorum's hands. That's a big question mark, but we'll leave that in his hand for now. They actually picks up the delegates.

Illinois we think would go for Romney. Louisiana, will it be Santorum? If it is, somewhere here. If it's Gingrich, then you have a southern issue fighting out here. We'll give it to Speaker Gingrich for continuity down here. Something like that, you start clicking this through, the question is, can Romney get to the finish line?

You know, this is our conversation with others earlier. I'm going to play this through, we'll give Santorum his home state of Pennsylvania. Romney has been winning in these areas, I think West Virginia would be the big question mark there. That could easily go another way. So let's, for the sake of argument, let's just say, OK, we don't want to be too pro-Romney in our calculus. He's been winning out West, we'll leave those like that. Just come through, giving those states.

This is a question, is Speaker Gingrich still a viable candidate? Arkansas and Kentucky. We're going give them to Santorum in this scenario. Governor Romney might say, wait a minute, I can play it down there. But let's give them -- let's try to be fair to the other candidates and play it out.

Look what's happening. Even as the other candidates, you're seeing a lot of purple filling in the map, right? Romney is still picking up delegates and the proportional states, can he get to the finish line? That's a great question mark. If he keeps winning out west, California will be big. This is where we're getting a bit ahead of ourselves. But to anyone sitting at home saying we're going to have a brokered convention, I filled in the map, we haven't done Alaska tonight, yes, it's possible. Look at that. He's about 30 short.

It is certainly possible. And so when you get out to those big states, you're getting ahead of yourself. So if you come back to where we are today, and you fill in what has happened today, then you get to -- you get to a more reasonable big Romney lead, we know that. Big Romney lead, long way to go.

BLITZER: We assume -- all of us assume that these four candidates remain. One of them or two of them --

KING: Right.

BLITZER: -- could potentially drop out at some point as well, depending on what happens. We don't know what's going to happening.

KING: They're having fun, Wolf. They're not going anywhere.


BLITZER: Stand by. Ohio. Are we going to be able to make a projection in Ohio? Romney slightly ahead of Santorum right now. After Santorum was leading for most of the night. The votes are still being counted. We'll update you on what we know right after this.


COOPER: And welcome back. Ninety-two percent of the votes now in in the state of Ohio. Mitt Romney well ahead with 6,365. It has not -- we have not called the state yet for Romney, although all indications right now seem to be looking very good for the former governor.

In terms of where this race goes next, what would you see down the road? I mean Mississippi, Louisiana --

BRAZILE: We're getting close to the Cajun primary, and I'm excited.


BRAZILE: Who knew, you know, at some point, I could take Ari home and we can have a po' boy. But --


BRAZILE: Newt Gingrich is going to Alabama tomorrow, Mississippi on Thursday, he's heading out to Kansas. He's clearly going to try to pick up more delegates. Mitt Romney of course has the money and the momentum as well as the organization that continue to just wait and accumulate even more delegate strength, but you know I think Rick Santorum tonight, I was surprised that he won North Dakota.

There's no question that Rick Santorum will be able, based on the tie, I mean, Mitt Romney might win Ohio, but -- and get most of the delegates, but Rick Santorum will have a lot of momentum coming out with three wins tonight.

COOPER: For Democrats watching tonight, and whether it's in the Obama White House or elsewhere, is this a good night, Hilary?

ROSEN: Well, it's a good night, you know, when Mitt Romney outspends the other candidates almost 5 to 1, and still loses half the states. And I think that that means two things, one, it's probably good for Democrats that this primary is going to keep going. That Rick Santorum, if you're Rick Santorum tonight and you're Newt Gingrich, there's really nothing that happened tonight that tells you to go home, and that's critical.

So that's the one thing that's good for Democrats. The other thing is the point we were talking about earlier which is, those places that Mitt Romney is weak are places that really a Republican -- Republican nominee are going to have to win come November. Because Barack Obama is going to win those urban areas, he's going to win significant states, and if you get -- look at some of these states where Romney is losing, that doesn't spell enthusiasm for a Republican nominee in November.

COOPER: I want to bring in Jessica Yellin also.

Jessica, from the White House perspective, they've got to be pretty happy tonight.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, as Hilary said, the longer this goes on, the happier they are that they get to stay out of it. One of the, you know, developing storylines that we see is that as much as the -- that Romney remains the toughest challenger in the general election, they still expect Romney to be the challenger, there is this emerging idea that if Santorum, you know, were to ultimately challenge him, he has certain attributes that could actually cause more problems for the president because he does play better with low college -- less educated voters, white, working class voters. He plays well where the president is weak. It looks like that is less likely to be the case, so the White House, you know, is going to be able to breathe a sigh of relief, they think. But there is, you know, a growing awareness that if Santorum were the candidate, they can't just shrug that off as something that would be an insignificant concern -- Anderson.

COOPER: And Democrats, they want this to go on and on.

FLEISCHER: Yes, and I get the feeling there's a real disconnect between the political class that's paying attention to all of this and what the public thinks. You know it feels to so many of us here that this is hurting Republicans, how could it not? But you know, a Gallup poll came out last week that showed by 53-45 Republicans are more enthusiastic about this election than Democrats are.

And as for whether or not Ohio performs for Romney is a sign of what's to come, remember, Hillary Clinton defeated Barack Obama in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida. And yet Barack Obama won all those three states. So performance in a primary is not necessarily an indication of what will happen in the general. And the final point I make about where Romney is running strong in Ohio or where he's running weak, the assumption is, because he's doing well in the urban areas he won't do well in the fall, well, that's based on the belief that those rural conservative voters aren't going to come home to the Republican Party. But of course they will.

BRAZILE: Well, look, first of all, I mean, Erick knows better than I know in terms of whether Republicans will finally land in terms of the conservative base, but I could tell you one thing. Given the turnout that we've seen across the board, and Ari and I have different numbers, but the Republicans are not turning out. They're not enthusiastic about the choices that they see on the ballot. They are not -- they are not really participating in some of the -- what we call the preprimary or pre-caucus activities that normally indicate that there's some kind of enthusiasm within the party.

I think this is a weak field, and once again tonight, we see in Ohio. Voters are basically holding their nose.

COOPER: Turnout has been up, though, in Ohio.

FLEISCHER: That's right.

COOPER: This year versus 2008.

ERICKSON: Right. It was down in Georgia. It was down in Ohio.

BRAZILE: By how much?

FLEISCHER: By 10 percent.

COOPER: About 100,000.

ROSEN: Ohio is the only state that's up.

COOPER: Right.


ERICKSON: You know, I'm interested in what Newt Gingrich does. Newt Gingrich, he's won South Carolina and he's won Georgia. He couldn't break 50 percent in his home state in Georgia or I guess what we're calling his home state in Georgia.

What does he do now? Does Sheldon Adelson stop giving him money? I suspect you're going to start hearing a lot of conservatives freely on the evangelical front referring to him as the spoiler now.

Remember, in South Carolina, Rick Perry dropped out, endorsed Gingrich, helped swing last-minute momentum under him. There are going to be a lot of people wondering, should he do this now for Santorum? He's looking at the map, saying, well, I've got Alabama, I've got Mississippi. Two weeks ago, he thought he had Tennessee and Oklahoma.

COOPER: But listening to the speech that Newt Gingrich gave tonight, there certainly doesn't seem to be any indication that he's about to bow out in order to --



COOPER: -- give something to Rick Santorum.

BORGER: No, no, no. He is not bowing out and he's not bowing to Rick Santorum, and he's not bowing to Mitt Romney, and I was just e- mailing with somebody in the Santorum campaign, and they're about to dump $1 million in ads, in ad money in Kansas, Mississippi, and Alabama. So they've got that cash on hand. They're pouring it in there. I think they might be wondering, gee, why didn't they spend more of their own money in Ohio since Ohio was so close and maybe they now think that wasn't such a great decision.

So we've got the Kansas caucuses coming up. Mississippi and Alabama, which are certainly ripe ground for Santorum, as well as for Gingrich. But neither one of them is going away.


ERICKSON: Anderson, does anybody if the Obama administration is counting all the job creators that were saved by the Republican primary. I mean if this thing dries out, we could really employ sizable numbers of people in these states.

BORGER: Go ahead.

GERGEN: Let's come back to this. I think by any objective measure, we would -- if we'd known two weeks ago Romney was going to win five states and more than half the delegates, you don't say he had a decent night. But it's the way it's played out. This long, drawn- out county in Ohio. Looked like he was going to lose it. I think psychologically and the way the media is interpreting it as, he dodged a bullet. That this should have had a night where he was going to have a decisive win and really begin to close this thing down.

And the bad new for Romney is this is going to play out and play out. And there are people around the country who agree with Barbara Bush, who made the argument, this is the worst campaign she's ever seen, and she thinks it's turning people off. And that is what I think he's got to come back.

BORGER: And -- you know --

COOPER: She was very critical that the idea that the word compromise has become a dirty word.

GERGEN: Absolutely.


BORGER: That's right.

GERGEN: Hold on. After all, who's -- you know, I was thinking about this the other day. She has been through six presidential campaigns as a wife or as a mother. Think of that. She's been deeply engaged in six of these campaigns and said, this is the worst.

FLEISCHER: But David, how do you square that with what Gallup found when they said Republicans are more enthusiastic than Democrats?

GERGEN: Well, how do you square that with what NBC just found which said enthusiasm among Republicans are going down like this and that about matches what the Democrats are. I think different polls tell you different things.


BORGER: It's a snapshot in time.


BORGER: I mean, you know, in the general election, Barack Obama could get Republicans enthusiastic again, right?

COOPER: We're going to have more on this. I want to go over to Wolf and John -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Anderson, thanks very much.

You know, John, if you take a look at what's going on in Ohio right now, the margin that Romney is ahead of Santorum right now is actually growing. It's 7549 votes, 435,457 for Romney, 427,908 for Santorum, 7500 margin vote. Ninety-three percent of the vote is in. It's going to be by my account and yours as well, it's going to be very hard for Santorum to make up 7,500 votes.

KING: I find it to be near impossible, if not impossible. Why did it happen? Santorum was ahead early on. Hamilton County, we've been lucky to have our exclusive reporting there from Dana Bash, here's your big difference right here, 13,000, votes, 16,000 votes, excuse me, right there in that county. That's a big cushion. Where else? Cuyahoga County up here where Cleveland is. We're still waiting for votes here. This is why I say in my view, my view, CNN has not called this, it would be impossible for Santorum to come back because Governor Romney is winning by a huge margin here, huge margin here, and we still have roughly 20 percent of the vote to come in just from this one county.

Assuming Governor Romney still wins, even if he doesn't keep that margin, if he stays ahead in that county, it's very hard to see the math. And that's the bulk of the vote that's still out, Wolf. Remember how big of an area that is. Twelve percent of the state population. That's the bulk of the vote when you come out state-wide. If 81 percent of that county is in, guess what, when the rest of that county comes in, it's going to push you up close to 100 percent.

Romney also winning 100 percent in here Summit County, again, relatively large area. Come down to Stark County, Romney winning again.

The story of the night is Santorum winning in the small, rural counties. Governor Romney with this narrow state-wide lead based on --

BLITZER: You know --

KING: In the urban areas and the suburbs around them.

BLITZER: And the major media market, Cincinnati, Columbus, Akron, Cleveland, Youngstown, that's where they spend all the money on the ads. And guess who is winning all those -- all of those markets?

Stand by for a moment. I want to take a quick break. We're going to get some more information. They're closing in Alaska in a few moments, too. We're going to tell you what's going on there. Stay with us.


BLITZER: Welcome back to our viewers in the United States and around the world. We're watching the tense battle for Ohio right now. Mitt Romney is leading Rick Santorum, but the dramatic race could keep going for a while. Right now, voting is winding down in Alaska.

All right. This is what we know right now. Let me update our viewers on what's going on.