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THE SITUATION ROOM

President Obama Holds Press Conference; Super Tuesday Showdown; Financial Fallout for Limbaugh?; Obama Hits GOP Rivals On Iran; Dow Suffers Biggest Drop Of 2012; Gas Prices Break 27-Day Rise; High Stakes For Gingrich; North Korea Shows Off Military Drills; 81-Year- Old Wins $336.4 Million

Aired March 6, 2012 - 16:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S THE SITUATION ROOM: Happening now: The Super Tuesday showdown, it's a 10-state extravaganza that could clear a path to the GOP nomination or it could make the road even more rocky. We have full coverage.

President Obama steals some Super Tuesday thunder, slamming Republicans for what he calls a lot of bluster, big talk, and beating the drums of war with Iraq.

And Rush Limbaugh, Inc. -- he's got a contract worth hundreds of millions, but as more advertisers jump the ship, has the radio icon put his own empire at risk?

I'm Wolf Blitzer at the CNN Election Center. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

It's called Super Tuesday for a reason. Even in this year's slimmed-down version, there are GOP contests in 10 states today, and 419 delegates are up for grabs, more than in all the primaries and caucuses so far combined. After five straight wins, three of them last week, Mitt Romney could certainly leave some of his rivals in the dust with a strong Super Tuesday, but the most important prize today is Ohio.

Our latest CNN poll shows Romney is neck and neck there with Rick Santorum who needs a big day of his own.

Let's go straight to our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta. He's on the scene for us in Ohio.

What's the latest there, Jim?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Ohio might be the marquee state in the Super Tuesday states that are up for grabs, but you wouldn't know it out on the campaign trail. None of the candidates were really out in the state today looking for votes, but Rick Santorum will be here in Steubenville, Ohio, later tonight with the hope that Mitt Romney's past will finally catch up with him.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm sorry my Super Tuesday travel schedule prevents me from being with you in person.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Add the Israel primary to the 10 states up for grabs on Super Tuesday. Mitt Romney appeared via satellite before a conference staged by the pro-Israeli lobby AIPAC, slamming the president's record on Iran's nuclear program.

ROMNEY: Hope is not a foreign policy.

ACOSTA: Not to be outdone, Rick Santorum went in person and issued an ultimatum to Iran: Stop pursuing nuclear weapons or else.

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If they do not tear down those facilities, we will tear down them ourselves.

ACOSTA: While the candidates were off the trail, the ads did some trash-talking for them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mitt Romney.

ACOSTA: And no surprise, in the air war over the Super Tuesday battleground of Ohio, Romney has a clear advance.

NARRATOR: Would you have voted to let convicted violent felons regain the right to vote? Rick Santorum voted yes, joining Hillary Clinton.

ACOSTA: According to estimates from ad tracker Kantar Media, roughly 87 percent of Romney's ads and 84 percent of the Romney super PAC spots have been negative. Pro-Santorum and pro-Gingrich PAC ads have been 100 percent negative, same goes for a pro-Obama super PAC attacking Romney.

But Romney has other advantages. Santorum and Gingrich don't appear on the Virginia ballot. And as the Romney campaign noted, Santorum is missing some delegates on the ballot in Ohio. Newt Gingrich has given up on Ohio, and instead he stopped at the Space and Rocket Center in Alabama, which holds it primary next week, a sign the pro-moon base Newt Gingrich isn't ready to abort the mission.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have opponents who are in a normal period adequate, but they don't have anything like the scale of change I just described to you.

ACOSTA: Where Romney really lucked out is that Santorum is only now pointing out the former Massachusetts governor has in the past voiced some support for a national individual mandate to buy health insurance. Romney indicated as much in this interview with CNN in 2009.

QUESTION: Do you think this plan, the Massachusetts plan, could be a model for the country?

ROMNEY: I think there are number of features in the Massachusetts plan that could inform Washington on ways to improve health care for all Americans. The fact that we have portable insurance and that we were able to get people insured without a government option is a model I think they can learn from.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Mitt Romney said in the past he did not want a one size fits all plan for the entire country when it came to national health care reform.

That is a claim that Santorum and Gingrich could challenge if they do well tonight. But if Romney wins big, it's a debate that may just have to wait for the fall.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: We will see how that unfolds. It could be a very, very long night in Ohio.

President Obama meanwhile stole the spotlight on this Super Tuesday to a certain degree with a news conference over at the White House, and he lashed out at Republican candidates for all their tough talk on Iran. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now, what's said on the campaign trail -- you know, those folks don't have a lot of responsibilities. They're not commander in chief.

And when I see the casualness with which some of these folks talk about war, I'm reminded of the costs involved in war.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The president went on to dare his rivals to openly support war, if that's their wish. His full comments on this coming up in a few minutes. We will discuss it with Ari Fleischer and Donna Brazile.

But, first, let's turn to our chief political correspondent, Candy Crowley. She's in Boston right now, and that's Mitt Romney's home turf.

Candy, what is the Romney camp looking for tonight?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Listen, you ask them that and you know what they say? They want more votes than the other guys.

That's it down to its baseline. But more than that, this is now a campaign that understands that winning a state means winning the headlines, but winning the delegates means winning the nomination. Obviously they would love to win those states. But right now, as most of these campaigns are, they're really focused on where they can pick up all these delegates. Obviously, Massachusetts and Virginia seem like very good territory for him. And they're looking, as we all are, at Ohio. They feel momentum is on his side. There's certainly some similarities between Mitt Romney's position in Ohio and Mitt Romney's position a week ago in Michigan.

They really believe that this could be a repeat and that he could indeed take the state and with it the bulk of the delegates. While their bottom-line answer is we want a lot more votes than the other guy, they can't ignore a state win, but they as tacticians within that campaign they're looking at those delegates and just counting up to that 1,144.

BLITZER: Are we expecting any major changes in strategy looking ahead after tonight?

CROWLEY: I can tell you that two states they think are very important coming up Illinois and Missouri. They say, look, we have got ground operations in all the states coming up, but those two states in particular are very important to the Romney campaign.

Message, absolutely not. We have seen in the past 10 days, past week or so Mitt Romney getting back to and sticking with I'm the guy with the experience that can create jobs, I can create a smaller government, and therefore make the economy healthier. That's where they want to stay and they don't want to get sidelined with a lot of these social issues that sort of ate up a lot of the campaign right before the Michigan primary.

They have stuck with that jobs message all the way through, and that's where they're going to stay as they move on to states beyond.

BLITZER: Are there concerns about the damage being done by this very, very brutal kind of primary?

CROWLEY: Yes.

Listen, they don't even acknowledge it to a certain extent, but they say, our answer is we're the only candidate in this Republican primary with the wherewithal to go the distance, meaning they have the money and they have got the machinery, and they have the backing to go all the way to the convention with this.

They do feel once this dies down, they point out, look, it's early March here, and the election is in November. So much can happen between now and then. They think like they have time to make up with the indies, the independent votes, so many of whom have fallen away from Romney over these past couple of months. They think they can come back, by not as quickly as they left, but they certainly think they can bring them back by November once this primary season is over. And it's a primary season they very much believe they will win.

BLITZER: Candy is with Mitt Romney in Massachusetts right now.

Candy, thanks very much. Super Tuesday stretches to just about every corner of the country, but the epicenter, let's get back to it, is Ohio, in part because it's always a crucial battleground state in November.

Let's discuss what's going on with our chief political analyst Gloria Borger and our senior political analyst David Gergen.

I want you to listen to both these front-runners earlier today. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I hope that I get the support of people here in Ohio tomorrow and in other states across the country. I believe if I do, I can get the nomination. And then we can start organizing our effort to make sure that we replace President Obama.

RICK SANTORUM: So much is always at stake in Ohio. It's always the make or break. And I would make the argument while it may not be make or break, it's going to be a huge, huge deal. We are out here competing here in the state of Ohio.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Are we overemphasizing, David, how important Ohio is today?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Not at all. This Could be the climactic night of the primary season and Ohio is right at the center of that.

And we have a situation with Santorum and Romney that if Romney loses tonight, he can go on, and he has a very strong path still to the nomination. If Santorum loses tonight, it's hard to see. This could well be fatal to his overall chances of getting the nomination.

BLITZER: Given the nature of what is going on, Gloria, even if Santorum were to win the popular vote in Ohio, Romney might win the delegate count in Ohio.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure, because Santorum has failed to qualify in a few areas, and that it would cost him a whole bunch of delegates. You know, that speaks to the organization...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Or lack thereof.

BORGER: Or lack thereof of the Santorum campaign and the question of how do you move forward? I think Ohio is key. No Republican presidential candidate has ever won the presidency without winning the state of Ohio.

It would be good if you wanted to be the nominee to actually win the primary there. Mitt Romney is outspending Rick Santorum by a phenomenal amount, some people say it's 4, 5, 6-1. If he doesn't beat Santorum there, it will be a real blow to his campaign. I think the question also, though, is whether Mitt Romney can do well in the South. He didn't win a Southern state last time he tried to win the presidency. This time, his opportunity is in Tennessee. The early voting there does not look like it's going his way. But if he can do well in Tennessee, then he can say, you know what? I'm a national candidates.

They have liked to win it.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: I know you don't count Florida as a Southern state.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: I'm sorry, I don't.

BLITZER: I believe it's in the South.

GERGEN: Northern Florida is a Southern state.

BLITZER: That's correct.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

BORGER: Deep South, how about that?

BLITZER: What does it say though about Santorum's campaign? He couldn't get on the ballot certain congressional districts in Ohio, even though our own Peter Hamby has reported it was relatively simple to get on the ballot, not as complicated as Virginia. He didn't get on the ballot in Virginia, where you needed thousands and thousands of authorized signatures, but in Ohio, it was a simple, severely simple process, and he didn't get on the ballot in some of these congressional districts in Ohio.

GERGEN: It doesn't exactly speak to your managerial skills, does it, or to your skills in organizing a team. But he's been operating on a shoestring. No one ever thought Rick Santorum would be here at this stage.

I don't think anybody thought he would be in Ohio as a serious contender some months ago. But I do think if your plan -- this is the first time out. It's one of the reason why Romney benefits from having run once before. He knows how to do these things. His team knows...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Because you hear from the Romney folks -- I'm sure you hear the same thing -- you want this guy, they say, Santorum, to run against Barack Obama? He can't even get on some of ballots in Ohio or Virginia. How do you expect him to stand up to Barack Obama?

BORGER: That's right.

And don't forget, the Romney team is even worried about their own team standing up against Barack Obama because Barack Obama has gone the distance once before, has a huge research team out there in Chicago waiting to pounce on Mitt Romney should Mitt Romney become the nominee.

GERGEN: I think it's really interesting, even as we go into this tonight, that Obama has opened up this second front. Over the last couple of weeks, he's really been nimble.

This thing what he did in his press conference today -- you will discuss more of it later -- but I thought, wow, that was pretty interesting. That was a very interesting political move.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: It was impressive, I got to tell you.

All right, guys, stand by. We have got a long, long night ahead of us.

BORGER: It helps when you're president, by the way. You do have the bully pulpit.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: If you love politics, as we do, it is a great place to be.

All right, guys.

President Obama speaking out about a growing scandal. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I don't know what's in Rush Limbaugh's heart, so I'm not going to comment on the sincerity of his apology.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The exodus by advertisers though is growing. Will Rush Limbaugh himself feel any of the financial fallout? Stand by.

We're also standing by for the first exit polls on this Super Tuesday, critical clues about what voters are thinking on this, the biggest primary day yet.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is here with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: There's an old saying, Wolf, that goes, "It's better to be lucky than good." Well, it turns out that saying could even apply to presidential politics.

Take President Obama. A few weeks ago, it seemed that reelection could be a real uphill struggle for the president -- a weakened economy, extended high unemployment, failure to deliver on some of his major campaign promises. The polls all indicated the public wasn't nearly as enamored with the president as they once were.

And then the Republicans began their primaries. They have turned out to be a gift that keeps on giving to President Obama. Mitt Romney was expecting a coronation. Instead, he spent months in a mud fight with the likes of Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, and now Rick Santorum. Even if Romney wins the nomination, and he probably will, he'll enter the general election campaign bloodied.

At the same time, the tide has begun to turn for the president. In a political piece called "Obama luckiest in his enemies," Roger Simon writes that a presidential candidates needs luck more than anything else. Simon says Mr. Obama has gotten very lucky. Boy, has he?

Rush Limbaugh went on the radio, called a Georgetown law student a slut and prostitute for her position on birth control. About two dozen advertisers, including AOL, have pulled their commercials from the Rush Limbaugh show. Two radio stations have taken him off the air. My guess is there will be more to follow.

The biggest gift to President Obama, Limbaugh's comments and the pathetic response by the Republican candidates could wind up driving women away from the Republican Party. Probably should.

Of course, luck can come and go. If the economy takes another turn for the worst before November, all bets are off. Limbaugh aside, it's still the economy, stupid.

Here's the question: when it comes to being elected president, is it better to be lucky than good?

Go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile, post a comment on my blog, or go to our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page. I'll be hitting that no doze later, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, we're going long tonight, all the way, all the way. Jack, thanks very much.

CAFFERTY: I want you to stay on until Alaska's returns are in.

BLITZER: I know, that's going to be a while. Stand by.

CAFFERTY: OK.

BLITZER: And let's get -- dig a little bit deeper on the whole Rush Limbaugh controversy. Two radio stations, as Jack said, have now dropped Limbaugh syndicated talk show. They join a growing list of advertisers fleeing amid the uproar Limbaugh sparked when he lashed out at that woman advocating health care coverage for contraception.

Today, the president was asked about the controversy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, I'm not going to comment on what sponsors decide to do. I'm not going to comment on either the economics or the politics of it. I don't know what's in Rush Limbaugh's heart, so I'm not going to comment on the sincerity of his apology.

What I can comment on is the fact that all decent folks can agree that the remarks that were made don't have any place in the public discourse.

And, you know, the reason I called Ms. Fluke is because I thought about Malia and Sasha, and one of the things I want them to do, as they get older, is to engage in issues they care about, even ones I may not agree with them on. I want them to be able to speak their mind in a civil and thoughtful way. And I don't want them attacked or called horrible names because they're being good citizens.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: CNN's Lisa Sylvester is looking into the financial implications of the scandal for Limbaugh.

Lisa, what are you finding out?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, on Rush Limbaugh's show today, he didn't bring up the controversy, and Clear Channel's Premiere Radio, which syndicates the show, continues to stand by him. Clear Channel won't say the financial impact this has had on advertising revenue, but Limbaugh continues to lose a number of corporate sponsors.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER (voice-over): The exodus continues with more than two dozen advertisers dropping "The Rush Limbaugh Show". Limbaugh has apologized for derogatory comments he made about Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke, who has been advocating for women's access to birth control on Catholic college campuses.

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute.

SYLVESTER: The issue has gone viral on social media, with liberal groups campaigning for companies to boycott Limbaugh show, among them, blogger John Aravosis.

JOHN ARAVOSIS, AMERICABLOG: If you're going to go on radio, if you're going to talk to a national audience, you have to have some responsibility for your own words. It doesn't mean we police you like some kind of nannies, but at the same time, you know what? Don't call women sluts.

SYLVESTER: Limbaugh's conservative opinions, occasional rants, and insights have made him a wealthy man. His show is syndicated to nearly 600 radio stations. He signs an eight-year contract with Clear Channel Premiere Radio in 2008 for $400 million.

Limbaugh has a sprawling estate in Palm Beach, Florida. When he married for the fourth time, singer Elton John performed at his wedding, at the cost, according to press reports, of $1 million.

The question: will this pullback in advertising hurt Rush Limbaugh financially?

JOE WILLIAMS, POLITICO: Long term, I think it's going to sting. Certainly, Clear Channel has committed to stand by him for the near term. How much longer that will last, nobody knows, especially if the momentum keeps building. Advertisers are falling away. And that's where the rubber meets the room. It's not always about whether or not you can continue saying what you say, it's about whether or not the advertisers will continue to pay your station their money to get their products on the air.

SYLVESTER: But many conservatives, while not condoning Limbaugh's comments, question whether there is a double standard at play. Comedian Bill Maher, who last week gave $1 million to a super PAC supporting President Obama, has said nasty things about Sarah Palin, calling her the "c" word and other names without repercussions.

BILL MAHER, COMEDIAN: She says, "The Tsunamians will not get away with this" -- oh, speaking of (EXPLETIVE DELETED) did you --

SYLVESTER: Media critic and host of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES," Howard Kurtz says conservatives do have a point.

HOWARD KURTZ, CNN'S RELIABLE SOURCES: There is a bit of a double standard. When Ed Schultz of MSNBC used the same word, slut, to talk about radio host Laura Ingraham, there was a bit of a controversy, but nothing like this. Bill Maher has also used some very graphic language in taking on people like Sarah Palin.

So I think that because -- part because Limbaugh looms as a large figure, but also because he's a conservative, has a lot of enemies on the left, this seems to have been blown up more than some of these other cases.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER: We should mention that Ed Schultz did call Laura Ingraham personally to apologize for his remarks.

On Sandra Fluke, she is an activist on this issue and she did put herself in the public arena by testifying at a Democratic congressional hearing. So, on one hand, she can be considered a public figure, but she isn't a household name. She's never run for office like Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann, which is one reason Limbaugh's attack might have been perceived as being something a little bit more than just the usual political mudslinging, Wolf.

BLITZER: Do we know, Lisa, whether Rush Limbaugh has actually called this Georgetown University law student to personally apologize directly to her?

SYLVESTER: You know, as of yesterday, she -- he did not call her. And, you know, this is what she said on "The View." She said that actually she wasn't even welcoming a call from him. Certainly she's not a fan of Rush Limbaugh and I don't think she's sitting by the phone waiting for that phone to ring. You know, we'll see if that happens. But so far, it hasn't happened, Wolf.

BLITZER: Lisa, good report. Thanks very much.

President Obama takes a dig at the Republicans who want to replace him in the White House, accusing them of casual talk about war with Iran.

Plus, the president's message to Mitt Romney on this Super Tuesday. Donna Brazile and Ari Fleischer, they are both standing by live to talk about all of that in our strategy session.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: What would you like to say to Mr. Romney?

OBAMA: Good luck tonight.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get right to our strategy session.

Joining us now are CNN contributors, the Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, and a former Bush White House press secretary, Ari Fleischer.

At the news conference, the president didn't mention any of the candidates by name. But he clearly I think had Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich in mind, not Ron Paul, when he said this when he was asked about what they're saying about Iran and its nuclear program.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Now, what's said on the campaign trail, you know, those folks don't have a lot of responsibilities. They're not commander-in- chief.

And when I see the casualness with which some of these folks talk about war, I'm reminded of the costs involved in war. I'm reminded of the decision that I have to make in terms of sending our young men and women into battle. The impact that has on their lives, the impact it has on our national security, the impact it has on our economy. This is not a game and there's nothing casual about it.

You know, when I see some of these folks who have a lot of bluster, and a lot of big talk, but when you actually ask them specifically what they would do, it turns out they repeat the things we have been doing over the last three years. It indicates to me that's more about politics than actually trying to solve a difficult problem.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He makes a fair point, don't you think?

ARI FLEISCHER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Partially --

BLITZER: It's a lot easier to be tough on the campaign trail, as opposed to sitting in the oval office as commander in chief?

FLEISCHER: Partially, Wolf, but he missed the bigger point that presidents should always keep their eye on. He took the political path, which he did not have to by making a difference between him and his opponents that there's so much on his mind.

I think he had been better off -- the nation would have been better off if he had said there are differences, we'll settle them in this fall, but there's a reason that everybody in America feel so strongly.

Because what Iran is doing is wrong and he should turned his sights to Iran and send a signal to Iran that whatever differences we have here. We are united as Americans that you will not get a nuclear weapon. Why did he turn his sights or articulately on the Republican field instead of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

BLITZER: That's a fair point, Donna?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, first of all, the Republicans have just spent the last, as you well know, six, seven, eight months trying to discredit everything this president has done as it relates to foreign policy, on the economy.

Yes, there's an election this fall. We've known that is the last four years that there was going to be another election, but President Obama, over the last 48 hours, has made it very clear that this is not about containing Iran, but preventing Iran from having a nuclear weapon.

He was answering his critics who prefer to score political points not just on Iran, but on every issue and basically saying, you just want to have bluster, you want to talk casually about this, fine, give us your ideas and if you want to take us to war. I thought he was perfect today.

BLIZTER: The president I think the most feckless president since Jimmy Carter. That's Mitt Romney the frontrunner.

FLEISCHER: That's not a bad point. But the other thing, President Obama is trying to have both ways here is he can talk tough in "The Atlantic." He can talk tough when it comes to AIPAC, but then the very next day, he starts talking soft again. I'm the only one that knows how to tough talk, that's what Barack Obama was trying --

BRAZILE: I was at AIPAC, and I tell you. I think I can listen very well and what I've heard was that, you know what? This is not just a president who is talking tough, but a president who's delivered for Israel, delivered on military issues, delivered on training for Israel military, and he's delivered on Iran in terms of tough sanctions.

So, no, it's not just talk tough on tough talk on President Obama's behalf. This is a president who is committed as every president to Israel's security. Israel is our ally, and the president has made that quite clear.

FLEISCHER: Well, I think that's partially right. The president has continued the Bush memorandum -- which increased military assistance to Israel. He's continued that and he deserves credit for --

BRAZILE: What else should he be doing? Stop talking the talk.

FLEISCHER: What the president missed was two major things. One, as Hillary Clinton said don't sit down and directly negotiate with Ahmadinejad. He wasted a year and let Iran get a year ahead start because he said I can talk to Ahmadinejad.

Ahmadinejad, of course, wouldn't talk to him, and then the president sat silent when the Iranian people took to the streets. That more than anything was the biggest mistake he made.

Ronald Reagan would have taken the side of the people. That could have led to a Persian spring that predated the Arab spring. That was a huge missed opportunity.

BRAZILE: Once again, all this talk is bluster. Well, first of all, do you really believe that the United States intervening and the internal conversation that was taken place in Iran would have given Ahmadinejad reasons to stop his program? No, it would have solidified --

FLEISCHER: It would have given people hope.

BRAZILE: I totally disagree.

BLITZER: Donna, I want you to weigh in. The president had an opportunity to more directly and more robustly go after Mitt Romney. He was asked this question and he offered this answer. I'll play the clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Today is Super Tuesday, so I wonder if you might weigh in on some of your potential Republican opponents. Mitt Romney has criticized you on Iran and said hope is not a foreign policy. He also said that you are America's most feckless president since Carter. What would you like to say to Mr. Romney?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Good luck tonight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, really.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Really.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He didn't want to talk politics at all. Smart or not so smart because he had an opening if he wanted to really go after Romney.

BRAZILE: You know, Republicans are doing enough damage. They're doing enough damage, not only in their primary --

BLITZER: You mean doing enough damage to themselves?

BRAZILE: They've shown to the American people that when it comes to foreign policy, when it comes to domestic policy, all they care about is destroying President Obama.

Discrediting the president, and basically they haven't come up with anything that we can talk about, because all they talk about is President Obama failed to do this and that. I thought it was right to make jokes, but who cares?

FLEISCHER: He handled it well, but that goes to my point he wants it both ways. On that one, he said, I'm not going to be political, but on the Iran question, he missed the opportunity. He got political.

BLITZER: What do you think of the timing of this White House news conference today on this Super Tuesday.

FLEISCHER: You know, people who know him, and I don't, people who know him say he's very thin-skinned. I think it shows that he needs to be so in the middle of it, but that's his right. He's the president.

BLITZER: Is he thin-skinned, Donna?

BRAZILE: You know, again, this is what the Republicans do very well. They deliver these cheap shots because they don't have solutions. No, he's a problem solver. He's tough, determined, pragmatic leader and I'm glad he's the president of the United States of America.

BLITZER: We'll going to have much more on his news conference today. The Republican response coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Guys, thanks very much.

BRAZILE: You know what, as an American, I don't want there to be any difference between Ari and I when it comes to protecting Israel and protecting the United States, and I think that's the message the president of the United States is trying to deliver.

BLITZER: Guys, thanks very much.

We're standing by for the first exit polls of the day on Super Tuesday. Our first clues about what's in the minds of voters on this important election today.

Also some surprising remarks from the sister of the House Speaker John Boehner about the Republican race for the White House. She tells us how she may wind up deciding who to vote for. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Tough day on the market. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. What do you have, Lisa?

SYLVESTER: Hi, Wolf. Well, it was a down day on Wall Street as the Dow, Nasdaq and S&P all fell sharply. The Dow dropped more than 200 points. It's the biggest loss stocks have seen so far this year.

Though has not been a good month so far, it's still been a solid year. Since the start of 2012, the Dow is up more than 4 percent.

For the first time in nearly a month, the nationwide average price of gasoline did not go up today. AAA says the average price of a gallon of regular unleaded dropped slightly to $3.76.

That's up 4 cents from last week and almost 30 cents from a month ago. Gas prices have followed oil prices, which has surge 10 percent in a month.

A federal jury has found former financier, Allan Stanford guilty of running a Ponzi scheme. Three years ago, the Securities and Exchange Commission accused Stanford and three of his companies of orchestrating a $9.2 billion investment in sales fraud. Most of his victims have not gotten any of their money back. He now faces nearly 20 years in prison -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Lisa, thanks very much. He's now looking for votes today, but you won't see Newt Gingrich actually voting. Joe Johns is standing by to tell us what's going on.

Then Super Tuesday is drawing yawns from some Republican voters. Dana Bash goes into an Ohio bar and talks to the sister of the House Speaker John Boehner.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The stakes are especially high for Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich on this Super Tuesday. He hasn't had a primary or caucus win since South Carolina and he's banking just about everything on a very strong showing in his home state of Georgia.

CNN's Joe Johns is over at Newt Gingrich's headquarters in Atlanta. Joe, what's the latest there?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Newt Gingrich is predicting he will win Georgia by four or five times the margin that Mitt Romney won Michigan.

He's been able to fight his back to relevance at least twice in this campaign so far. But the question now is what he's got to do to remain a credible candidate after Super Tuesday.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS (voice-over): The voting status of Newt Gingrich on this most important day yet in the race pretty much symbolize the confusing upside roller coaster ride that has been the Republican nomination process so far.

The former speaker isn't voting on a Super Tuesday when every vote counts. Not voting in Georgia, which he used to represent in the Congress, even though getting 50 percent of the vote here would mean winner take all in the state with the most Super Tuesday delegates.

The reason, Gingrich doesn't live here anymore. He isn't voting in Virginia, either. In a state he now calls home. He failed to get his name on the ballot there, but as voting got under way in the 10 Super Tuesday states, Gingrich, who's taken on the role of elder statesman in the race, was issuing a warning to his party that Mitt Romney.

The guy with all the money and organization in the primaries right now might not have the same advantage in November should he get the nomination.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Anybody who thinks Romney can out race Obama, it isn't going to happen. I mean, you had better be prepared to wage a campaign of ideas this fall because the only hope we have to beat Obama is to have better ideas, to communicate it clearly and cutting through his billion dollar campaign. Because he will be relentlessly negative.

JOHNS: Despite stumping for votes almost exclusively in Georgia over the last week, but still seemingly in striking distance in neighboring Tennessee, Gingrich still managed to carve out a few minutes in the schedule to make remarks at AIPAC via satellite, talking tough on Iran and slamming the Obama administration as he has before.

GINGRICH: In a Gingrich administration, we would not keep talking while the Iranians keep building. We would indicate clearly their failure to stop their program is in fact crossing a red line. The red line is not the morning a bomb goes off. The red line is not the morning our intelligence community tells us they have failed once again.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: Gingrich has shown no signs of planning to leave this race. In fact, we have been getting pretty persistent hints from the campaign that he is going to get secret service protection and very soon. That, of course, would suggest Gingrich is planning to keep going with this campaign. Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: He's counting on a big win in Georgia tonight. Joe, thanks very much.

Even on a major voting day like Super Tuesday, some Republican voters are having a hard time getting excited about their party's presidential contenders.

CNN's congressional correspondent, Dana Bash spoke to one Ohio resident with a very famous last name, the last name being Boehner.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This critical corner of southwest Ohio also happens to be Boehner country meaning this is where House Speaker John Boehner is from.

In fact, we are actually in the bar that his family used to own. He worked here. His family started it about 75 years ago and this is the House speaker's sister, Linda Meineke.

It's nice to see you. You also happen to be a Republican voter in this critical primary. You're not that enthused with the candidates, are you?

LYNDA BOEHNER MEINEKE, HOUSE SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER'S SISTER: No, not at all.

BASH: How come?

MEINEKE: There's too much bashing going back and forth. They need to say some positive about what they're going to do. Flip of a coin, you never know.

BASH: That doesn't sound like a lot of enthusiasm.

MEINEKE: Talk to lot of people in here, they all feel the same way.

BASH: Any of you decided who are you going to vote for?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not yet.

BASH: None.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No one catches my attention.

BASH (voice-over): We did find some enthusiasm here. Volunteers gathered to get out the vote for Rick Santorum.

(on camera): Why is it important enough for you to take your kids out and go door to door especially in this freezing weather?

CYNDI WILKERSON, SANTORUM VOLUNTEER: I think with the Obama administration we're seeing our freedom stripped away and that Rick Santorum is the best person for fight for American families.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am Margaret Delfabro. I'm a Rick Santorum volunteer.

BASH: This is a list of known registered Republican voters. Not entirely sure if they're Santorum voters.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right. Yes!

BASH: They didn't want to be on TV so we don't have it on camera, but you just got two Santorum voters. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, ma'am.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm Ryan Williams, spokesman with Governor Romney's campaign. We're trying to reach out to voters in all 88 counties. We have named county chairs in every single county.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm calling from Mitt Romney's campaign.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're up and running every night. We have a very strong organization here. We've spent a number of weeks and months reaching out to supporters talking about why Governor Romney is the stronger candidate to face Obama and why he supports tax cuts, pro- growth policies that will get our economy moving again.

BASH: We're in Butler County, Ohio, this is rock-solid Republican country, conservative country and it's where Rick Santorum has to win and win big likely in order to win the state of Ohio. We have here the chairman of the party, Dave Kern. You have come out for Rick Santorum.

DAVE KERN, BUTLET COUNTY GOP CHAIRMAN: I have personally, and I don't know how it's going to turn out.

BASH: Mitt Romney has a much better operation.

KERN: No question about it. I have to be candid. He has a better operation.

BASH (voice-over): Back at the Boehner family bar.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Santorum.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Santorum.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Romney.

BASH: But --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No matter who has an "R" behind their name, I'm going to vote for him.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: That's an important dynamic that we have found in talking to voters here in Southwest Ohio, Republican voters, that is. Even those who are less than enthusiastic about the Republican field are highly enthusiastic in their intense opposition to Barack Obama -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I think there's a pattern across the country on that among Republicans. Thanks very much, Dana. Good report.

We're expecting the first exit polls that will tell us what was on the minds of voters, as they cast their Super Tuesday ballots. Stand by for that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Jack joins us again with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Philosophical inquiry here. When it comes to being elected president of the United States, is it better to be lucky or good?

David in Virginia writes, "Unfortunately, the best candidate can be sump with a bit of bad luck and the worst can be saved with a bit of good luck. In our flash news Twitter dependent inch deep information society, a bad day in the spotlight can cause you the election. On the other, Al Gore, his billions to a couple of hanging chats, we should be so unlucky as that."

Dave writes, "When it comes to being elected president, the only thing that matters is that if you're rich. Nothing else matters to the rich people that get you there except you better be one of them."

Susan in New Jersey says, "So many lives are at stake both here and abroad, one would think it's better to be good. From Israel to the United Kingdom, they all say the same thing -- your elections affect us too. We just can't vote."

Jane in Wisconsin, "Lucky is clearly the rule of thumb when it comes to President Obama. He's definitely not a good president, but he has the luck of having most of the mainstream media behind him cheerleading for him, as we saw in 2008, and giving him cover when it comes to his many broken promises and his radical agenda."

Joe in Florida says, "Jack, at this point we know what lucky gets us and good may not be enough. I just hope someone good gets lucky."

Carl, "In the current race, they'll have to be lucky, because none of them are any good. In November, President Obama will win because he's good and was lucky to get whomever the GOP decides to finally sacrifice."

And Jessie writes, "If you're a Republican, it's better to be crazy than good, at least you have a chance of being nominated."

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

BLITZER: We always want to. Jack, thanks very much.

We're only minutes away from the first exit polls of this Super Tuesday. Clues as to what may be happening tonight as the results of this critical contest come in.

Plus, meet the newest lottery multimillionaire claiming the third largest Powerball jackpot ever.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: North Korea is broadcasting a new show of force against South Korea. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Lisa, what's going on?

SYLVESTER: Hi, Wolf. New video on North Korean television shows a military unit carrying out live fire drills near a disputed border with the south. The video shows troops moving tanks and artilleries into position. The U.S. in South Korea are currently carrying out annual joint military drills.

And the U.S. military is unveiling the fastest four-legged robot ever developed. It can gallop up to 18 miles an hour. The robot's movements are modeled after animals. Notice you can see how the flexing of the back with each step. So far it's only been lab tested, but trials are expected later this year. Look at that thing go.

And an 81-year-old Rhode Island woman won't forget a recent trip to pick up some Rainbow sherbet. That's because she also came home with a winning lottery ticket.

Today, Louise White, who kept the ticket in her Bible claimed more than $330 million. It is the third biggest jackpot in Powerball history. Congratulations to her and her family -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good for her. Lucky Bible indeed, thank you.