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THE SITUATION ROOM

Deep South Votes; President Obama Condemns Afghanistan Massacre; Did Alcohol Figure into Afghanistan Massacre?; Can Romney Win "Away Game?"; First Lady To Attend Olympics Opening; Dog Invited To Correspondents' Dinner; President, British PM Head To Ohio; Plane Goes Off Taxiway At ATL; Historic Day As Markets Rally; Candidates' Cash Goes To Alabama, Mississippi; Turning The Table With Viagra

Aired March 13, 2012 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: two closely watched primaries, two very close races. The Deep South votes on the Republican presidential candidates.

And one of them joins us live. Mitt Romney, what is at stake for him tonight? Mitt Romney, that is coming up in our second hour.

Plus, the civilian massacre in Afghanistan, blunt language from President Obama, while new information about the soldier suspect is revealed.

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

The Republican race for the White House is all tied up in Mississippi and Alabama. Most primary polls close in four hours. Those contests could go any way. The candidates are spread out. So are we.

Let's begin with our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta. He is Lafayette, Louisiana.

What is happening over there, Jim?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the primaries is Mississippi and Alabama are shaping up to be the ultimate version of presidential NASCAR. All three candidates leading the pack have a serious shot at taking the checkered flag, and all three are at risk for a maybe blowout.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): With the Deep South in his rear-view mirror, Mitt Romney raced ahead to the upcoming contest in Missouri.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: How many here in this audience called it Missouri, as opposed to Missouri?

ACOSTA: Confident that primaries in Mississippi and Alabama could put him in the GOP's driver's seat, Romney steered clear of his rivals and toured the president. ROMNEY: Under the Obama economy, it's been harder, and particularly with high gasoline prices. These gasoline prices are really crushing a lot of people.

ACOSTA: Romney has good reason to like his chances. Wins in Mississippi and Alabama would widen his delegate lead over Rick Santorum. And victories by Newt Gingrich could be just as damaging to Santorum's campaign. Santorum would at least like to walk away with a Southern split, so he's touting the vote he picked up from Alabama's Christian conservative governor and tearing into Romney's record.

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have pretenders and we have authentic conservatives. And here's the amazing thing. The pretenders are out there accusing the authentic conservative of not being conservative enough, which is sort of a joke.

ACOSTA: And in a sign Santorum is managing expectations, he's making the case that the race won't be settled in the South.

SANTORUM: It is going to be very difficult for anyone to get to the number of delegates that is necessary to go in with a majority at the convention.

ACOSTA: The Romney campaign laughed that off in an e-mail to reporters, saying "Senator Santorum has recently taken to arguing that he will lose a majority of states, but somehow magically win at the convention. This is pure fantasy or vanity, or both."

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I do not believe the other two candidates can beat Obama. I believe this race is the most important in our lifetime, and I will not leave the field.

ACOSTA: Gingrich isn't offering Santorum any help, going on Alabama's popular "Rick and Bubba" radio show to say he likes the idea of staying in the race to hurt Romney.

GINGRICH: There's a certain advantage I think right now in having both of us tag-team Romney, because neither one of us by ourselves can raise the money to match Romney.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Amy in Montgomery, Alabama, who you voting for?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Rick Santorum.

ACOSTA: But a Santorum Southern sweep could persuade Gingrich to drop out of the race, if only the primaries could match Rick and Bubba's informal poll of their listeners.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If it's not very scientific, where does it end up?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Santorum 21, Newt 9, Ron Paul 4, and Romney 2.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ACOSTA: As for that talk of a brokered convention, a Santorum adviser told me it's hard to predict what might happen in Tampa. The adviser went on to say a brokered convention is sort of like Bigfoot, no one has ever seen one before -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We will be in close touch with you throughout the night. Jim Acosta, thank you.

Our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is joining us now from Birmingham, Alabama.

Dana, tell me where you are exactly, what you will be looking for tonight.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you said, we're in Birmingham. This is Jefferson County, Alabama, and this where we will be all evening long.

We're going to be looking at the vote count coming in here. First of all, I just want to show you where we're going to be physically. This particular area is literally the loading dock where they will be bringing in the ballots and the microchips from all over the county, about 177 precincts.

They will bring it into this vault. It's closed right now but it will be open later. And come with me, we're going to go inside. I will show you exactly what we will see or actually what we will be looking at later. First of all, when they come in, they will go in to this window, and that's where they will be dropping off these microchips that will be going into computers and they will be reading the results from all around this county.

The reason why we're in this county I should tell you as we're walking here is because it is the most populous county in the state. So this is where Mitt Romney in particular will be looking to see if he can get his vote count up here. It could bode very well for him in the state.

As you know, as Jim was just talking about, it's kind of a dead heat between him and Newt Gingrich. I will come back here. I will show you. Ultimately what we're going to see here is we will be watching through this window. And this is where they're actually going to be reading, on these computers, reading the vote results as they come in.

We will be right here with them, with these election officials to try to get you the numbers as they happen to try to get a sense of just how well Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum will end up doing in this county, because again, talk to all the campaigns, party officials in this state, they say this is definitely one of the key ones to watch to determine how the state of Alabama will go.

BLITZER: I know we will get an edge because you're there. Here's another question. How unusual, Dana, is it for Alabama to be such an important state in a Republican primary?

BASH: It is.

I was talking to some election officials here, asking about, you know, trying to get a sense historically of how important Jefferson County has been for the Republican primary, and they didn't really have a good answer because it hasn't really gotten this far.

For example, the last contested Republican race, of course, was four years ago. It was just John McCain and Mike Huckabee in this state. It was pretty close, but it didn't have that much of an impact on the overall vote. You have to go back several elections to have a sense.

They're not really used to having this kind of attention when it comes to a Republican primary in the state of Alabama. It is definitely a new phenomenon. I should also say, as in other states where we have been, it is an open primary. That means that you don't really have a sense of the party registration because people don't have to say I'm a Republican or I'm a Democrat. They just have to choose which primary they're going to vote for. It's a little bit harder to track where these votes are coming from.

BLITZER: All those political ads on the local TV stations in Alabama and Mississippi good revenue for the folks are.

All right, thanks very much, Dana.

Let's bring in our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.

Gloria, how important are these races, the two in the Deep South tonight?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Very important, but important in different ways.

First of all, for Mitt Romney, as we know, he's had a lot of difficulty in the South, 2008, did not win a primary there. While he's won Florida, he hasn't won in the Deep South. If you want to prove you're conservative and you can attract the most conservative voters in your parties, which is the base of your party, it would really help him to win Mississippi or Alabama.

Newt Gingrich, you know, Newt Gingrich, also, his staff has said, look, we have to kind of win one of these. He sort of walked it back. So it's important for him. And if Rick Santorum comes in third, Wolf, in both of these contests, that could be a real problem.

BLITZER: Nationally, how these three candidates are viewed by Republicans is stark.

BORGER: Right. Well, the "New York Times"/CBS poll today is so interesting on this, because they asked about candidate qualities.

You see here who can beat Barack Obama. Look at Romney. It's not even a contest between Romney, Santorum and Gingrich. But who represents our values? Look at this. Only 25 percent for Romney, 47 percent for Santorum, so this is the quandary of the Republican Party. The person they believe can beat Barack Obama is not the person they think represents their values.

So that's why you see so many Republicans being kind of ambivalent about this race, because they're divided.

BLITZER: They certainly are.

As far as President Obama is concerned, we know Romney among Republicans in all these contests has not done all that great with so- called working-class voters out there in the Republican contest. How does the president of the United States do right now?

BORGER: Well, take a look again at the CBS/"New York Times" poll.

They seem to have the same exact problem. Look, Barack Obama, blue-collar voters, down 16 points since February, only 34 percent, but over $100,000, he's up one point. These are the voters that Mitt Romney does well with. These are the voters that Mitt Romney has problems with. If you're going to win in the battleground Midwest, and you're going to try to appeal to those very important voters there, you have got to start appealing to these voters.

And so far, neither of these candidates really has a lock on that. That's a problem for both of them, quite frankly.

BLITZER: The pain at the pump is really hurting the poorer folks out there. That's probably reflected in the significant drop in his approval.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: And the economy in general. If the economy is getting better and Wall Street may feel it, these are the people who don't feel it.

BLITZER: Not yet. Jessica Yellin will have more on this part of the story later here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Also, stand by for my interview with Mitt Romney. He's going to join us live in our next hour. I will interview him here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

More on what's at stake for Newt Gingrich tonight. Jack Cafferty has "The Cafferty File."

Plus, condemnation from President Obama, as new details are emerging right now about the civilian massacre in Afghanistan.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Today's Southern primaries in Mississippi and Alabama might be Newt Gingrich's last stand. Or not. But they probably should be because he's not going to be the next president. The former House Speaker has staked much of his campaign on the South. His only two victories so far coming in South Carolina and his home state of Georgia, and he's hoping to pick up two more wins today.

He should have an advantage in the South. But the polls say he doesn't. They show him virtually tied with Romney in both Alabama and Mississippi.

A piece in The Daily Beast suggests that even if Gingrich wins today it won't matter. Patricia Murphy writes that historically Republicans who won in the South alone were doomed. Candidates included Barry Goldwater and Mike Huckabee.

She describes a Southern strategy as a "recipe for disaster, not a path to the nomination."

CNN's Howard Kurtz also writing in The Daily Beast suggests that the media drumbeat for Gingrich's exit is growing louder because we want the race to go on longer. If Gingrich and Rick Santorum keep splitting the conservative vote, Romney is likely to wrap things up sooner, rather than later.

One top Republican, Senator Lindsey Graham, says the race is mathematically already about over. Graham says it's Romney's to lose now due to his commanding delegate lead. CNN estimates that Romney has 459 delegates, compared to 203 for Santorum and just a paltry 118 for Newt Gingrich.

But back to Newt, he says even if he doesn't have a good day today, he's going to stick around until the conviction in Tampa. Maybe not. If Gingrich loses in one or both of these Southern states today, money might be harder to come by. And without money, he goes nowhere.

So here's the question: Do Mississippi and Alabama represent Newt Gingrich's last stand? Go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile, post a comment on my blog, or go to our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

President Obama is vowing a full investigation and full accountability into the massacre of 16 Afghan civilians allegedly carried out by a U.S. Army sergeant. The president deplored the killings today in some of his strongest language yet.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Over the weekend, as many of you know, there was a tragic incident in which a number of Afghan civilians were killed. What I've made to President Karzai when I spoke to him is that the United States takes this as seriously as if it was our own citizens and our own children who were murdered. We're heartbroken over the loss of innocent life. The killing of citizen civilians outrageous and it's unacceptable. It's not who we are as a country and does not represent our military.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(MUSIC)

BLITZER: New information just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM about the alleged shooter. Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

Barbara, what are you learning?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, at this hour, CNN has learned that indeed alcohol may have been a factor in this incident. Two senior U.S. officials are confirming to CNN at this hour they are looking into the possible that alcohol was involved. One U.S. official telling us that when investigators searched the base, they found alcohol in the area where this man had been living, the staff sergeant, the suspect. Another official also confirming they are looking at alcohol as a factor.

Toxicology tests on the staff sergeant suspect have not come back yet. So we cannot say with certainty that they have been able to tie alcohol to this incident, but there are things that are leading them to believe that alcohol consumption may have been involved, including finding alcohol on the base. Alcohol is available in Afghanistan, but this is an Islamic country, and this will be something very difficult to explain to the people of Afghanistan.

Second thing that we have learned at this hours, there is imagery. At these small bases, as you know, for perimeter security, they have very high-powered cameras mounted around the base at an altitude above ground. This is called persistent surveillance, so they can monitor the area and see what's coming and going 24 hours a day. Those cameras picked up images of the staff sergeant both leaving the base and coming back to the base.

But we are adamantly told the cameras could not see although as far as the village, the nearby village where he conducted this alleged crime. There is no imagery of that being conducted, but they do have imagery of him walking out alone and coming back into the base alone -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I take it, Barbara, they still haven't released the identity, the name of this soldier. What's the story behind the -- I spoke to General Allen yesterday, and he said they were waiting to do that. But what's the rationale for delaying releasing his name?

STARR: Well, under the military justice system, Wolf, names of suspects are generally not released until the charges against them are formally made. And when those charges are made, those charges are made public and the names are generally made public.

There's a lot of concern in the military right now, though, that the name will leak out, and of course there is a good deal of concern about his family. As we said yesterday, his wife and children have been moved inside the base at Lewis-McChord at Washington state. A lot of hears going out to them, of course, and a lot of concern that everything is done to keep them safe -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. We hope they will be safe. Thanks very much, Barbara, for that.

And we'll have more developments in this unfolding story coming up in our next hour, including -- get this -- Taliban threats again American troops, threats of beheading, chopping off their heads in retaliation in revenge for what happened. We have more information coming up in our next hour.

Opposition activists in Syria say at least 36 people died in violence today. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Lisa, there's new danger to people trying to get out of Syria. What's going on?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf.

The U.N. says about 30,000 Syrians have fled this kind of onslaught since the government crackdown began a year ago. Now, the refugees face another threat. Human Rights Watch says Syrian forces are placing landmines near the country's borders with Turkey and Lebanon. The group says the opposition has cleared mines of Russian origin. Syrian President Bashar al Assad continues to blame violence on armed terrorist groups.

President Obama announced today that the United States is taking on China over rare minerals. The U.S. is joining the Europe Union and Japan in a trade case over China's growing export restrictions on the minerals. Known as rare earth, they are key to the production of many high-tech devices like flat-screen TVs. The U.S. says China is hoarding the valuable minerals.

And maybe add "author" to the word used to describe alleged Boston crime boss James "Whitey" Bulger. Court documents show he may have written two memoirs, one of which was titled, "My Life in the Irish Mafia". One manuscript was seized in 1995, and the other was found where he was arrested last June.

Bulger, who evaded authorities for 16 years, has pleaded not guilty to all charges against him, including 19 murder counts.

Fires on board military ships can be difficult to detect and control, but the U.S. Navy is hoping this guy can help. The Naval Research Laboratory is working with researchers from Virginia Tech and the University of Pennsylvania to create a human-like robot based on this one. It will be able to throw fire extinguishing grenades, maneuver up and down ladders and stay balanced at sea. Testing should start next year.

There you see the fire fighting robot, Wolf.

BLITZER: The robotic technology continues. All right. Thank you.

The Republican primary is also continuing. It is felt almost like a scorched earth campaign in some states. Just ahead, we'll ask two strategists how much harm this is doing in the GOP brand.

And state visits are all about diplomacy and protocol, but a visiting ally will get a state -- get this -- March Madness.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get to our strategy session. Joining us, our CNN contributor, Erick Erickson. He's editor-in-chief of RedState.com.

Erick, obviously you're very influential among these Republicans, these conservatives. But you don't -- you're not really thrilled by any of four, are you?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I'm not really thrilled by any of them. I talked to a reporter today, one of the local reporters over at "The Clarion Ledger," and he just said they're not hitting the sweet spot in the South. It doesn't seem like they're hitting the sweet spot among conservative across the board, and I think we're seeing that nationally. They're not exciting people.

BLITZER: So you think Romney, has he made some inroads in the Deep South? You live here in Georgia.

ERICKSON: I think he has actually. I think if Mitt Romney were to get either Alabama or Mississippi, if it's really close, that's a big story. He hadn't been able to win the South.

I think the movement is headed toward him, the momentum is headed toward him. I think he'll be the nominee. Santorum and Gingrich and Paul can probable make him drag it out a few more months. But I think he'll be the nominee now.

BLITZER: Clearly, the establishment Republicans want Romney. They're ready for this to be over with ands get out to the general election, but you're not an establishment Republican.

ERICKSON: No, I would love to find someone else to come in, but I don't think that's going to happen realistically.

BLITZER: Is it too late for that?

ERICKSON: I think it probably is. Unless something happens to drag this thing out until August and Romney can't seal the deal, but I think, particularly in Alabama, we see the poll numbers we mentioned there -- I think conservatives are starting to say it's time to get to the main event.

BLITZER: What happens if Gingrich loses in both states tonight?

ERICKSON: I think he needs to get out. He can't win the South, Gingrich needs to go. I don't think he will.

BLITZER: Why wouldn't he?

ERICKSON: Well, because he seems to be a man on a mission. So many people have counted him out for so many long. And he seems kind of like, someone said like Bruce Willis in "The Sixth Sense," he's the one guy who doesn't know he's dead.

BLITZER: Some Republicans have said to me, you know what? If he loses both of these states tonight, the money for his campaign, maybe not his super PAC, the money for his campaign will dry up and, you know, you can't use that super PAC money for day-to-day operations. And he personally doesn't want to go into deep debt by a few million dollars, because, you know, he has some money, but he doesn't want to emerge from this experience with $2 million, or $3 million or $5 million in personal debt.

ERICKSON: Yes, if his money dries up, and he's not -- he doesn't have a lot of money right now, after the last races, he shutdown his Web site with nothing but a donation. He needs the money, he's not getting it.

Ironically, Newt seems to want to stop Mitt Romney, but by staying in the race, when you look at the exit polls from last week, look at some of the polling trends for this week, he may be keeping Rick Santorum from being able to beat Romney, which he says Romney is going to be weak, he wants someone to beat him. But for some reason, he thinks he's helping Santorum. I think that's more of mental justification to say in.

BLITZER: Let's say he drops out. He loses both states, Alabama and Mississippi tonight. Santorum is in it. Next Tuesday is Illinois.

What happens?

ERICKSON: I'm not sure that Santorum will be able to make up ground against Mitt Romney's money in Illinois. But I really think it helps him when he moves into Louisiana and some of the other states, Kentucky, West Virginia, those states, it will help him.

BLITZER: Santorum says Romney and his super PAC are outspending him, what, 10 to 1? Is that true?

ERICKSON: Yes, it is. It is. In Ohio, Mitt Romney outspent him I think six to one. We've seen if you can get Romney to about a 3:1 spending ratio, you can beat him. But when he gets to four, five and six, it's harder to beat him.

And Gingrich and Santorum have a legitimate point, that he's not going to be able to outspend the president in the general.

BLITZER: Based on my conversation with Romney insiders, I wrote my blog post about this yesterday, they're getting increasingly confident that it's theirs, they can taste it, they can feel it, and they're already starting to think about running mates.

ERICKSON: You know, I think that's legitimate. If we get to June, and this hasn't wrapped up, with you Romney is inching ahead on races, there's going to be huge moment actual to get Santorum and Gingrich out, cutting their money. You'll see evangelicals who have been funding Santorum starting to pull back and say, we really want to beat Barack Obama, do we really want to damage the nominee? At the same time, I'm staggered that Romney has been running for five years and cannot close the deal.

BLITZER: What do you think of this theory that Santorum will stay in and he'll try to hurt Romney because there's a lot of bad blood now between the two of them, maybe Romney will lose, but this will establish Santorum as the front-runner for 2016, assuming Barack Obama's reelected?

BLITZER: I fear that, because I don't think Santorum is really a strong candidate. I think this year we're fighting over three weak candidates to beat Barack Obama. The Republicans typically go with the guy who didn't win last time. That's why I think Romney is doing so well. That troubles me for 2016, because you will have a man who would not very often in political officer since 2006 being rejected by Republicans this time, being rejected by his home state last time as a front runner.

BLITZER: Some of the Santorum supporters have raised this scenario -- this comparison, 1976, Ronald Reagan loses narrowly to incumbent President Gerald Ford for the Republican nomination. Ford goes on to lose to Jimmy Carter in 1980. Ronald Reagan runs again wins. Santorum sees himself as Ronald Reagan even if he loses four years down the road. He can do what Ronald Reagan did and win.

ERICKSON: Well, I would say that's a bit delusional because people who are rallying around Ronald Reagan in '68, '76 and 1980 were rallying around Ronald Reagan. People this year are rallying around Rick Santorum because he's not Mitt Romney.

BLITZER: Give me your prediction if you want to. You don't have to if you don't want to, but give your prediction of what happens in Alabama and Mississippi tonight.

ERICKSON: Actually I think it's too close to call, but I wouldn't be surprised if Romney is able to eke out a very, very narrow win ahead of Gingrich in Alabama. Mississippi, I would probably give Newt Gingrich largely because of the Evangelical vote --

BLIZTER: Because I'm the opposite. I suspect that Romney has a better chance of winning in Mississippi than he does in Alabama.

ERICKSON: He got a lot of elected leader support in Mississippi.

BLITZER: All of the established leaders, Republicans, and all the state-wide elected and Mississippi Republicans are going with Romney, right?

ERICKSON: That's true, but we haven't seen -- South Carolina is a good example with Nikki Haley, and a lot of folks that went with Romney and it didn't work for him --

BLITZER: So you don't think these endorsements mean a lot?

ERICKSON: I don't these endorsements mean a whole lot. The only endorsement that seems to have been a whole lot this year has been Bob McDonald and the only reason that meant a lot is because the other guys were not on the ballot in Virginia.

BLITZER: If Gingrich drops out, who gets his support?

ERICKSON: I think probably Rick Santorum gets the bulk of Gingrich's support because the bulk of Gingrich's support right now if you dig down into polls really is about not backing Mitt Romney at this point.

BLITZER: Where does Ron Paul fit in to all of these?

ERICKSON: He doesn't. I think that's probably the biggest untold story this year. Ron Paul has spent four years organizing. They've made big place, in fact, here in Georgia there were some hugely interrupted county conventions this past weekend with Ron Paul supporters trying to take control. But largely his plan to use caucuses and to use some of the primaries to get ahead hasn't panned out. He hasn't won a state yet.

BLITZER: I saw Ron Paul this morning on CNBC, "Squawk Box." I don't know if you were watching, but you know, he was asked about this conspiratorial theory that Santorum's folks have put out.

That's he's aligning himself in effect with Romney against Santorum. You know, he said that was baloney. It's not true at all, but he did say he has a very good personal relationship with Mitt Romney. He likes him. He has five children. Romney has five sons so they get along well. Have you heard this before?

ERICKSON: Yes, I have. They're all sorts of conspiracies here. I think Ron Paul just doesn't like Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. He does like Mitt Romney. There's nothing about trying to get Ron Paul a nomination as people speculated. It's just who he likes and doesn't like.

Interestingly enough I think Ron Paul could have made a pitch against Mitt Romney in Virginia. He decided not to. Today on the campaign trail, all the candidates were in the field except Ron Paul.

BLITZER: He got 40 percent of Virginia. That's not too bad.

ERICKSON: He did, which was a huge protest vote. He himself didn't campaign actively in Virginia.

BLITZER: Because there were only two candidates.

ERICKSON: Right, there were only two candidates. Mitt Romney and Ron Paul were only the people. Gingrich, Santorum, Perry, Cain people, they all went for Ron Paul. That should trouble Mitt Romney. That many people were willing to vote for Ron Paul.

BLITZER: -- should Republicans be if Santorum couldn't even get on the ballot in Virginia. How's he going to fight against an incumbent president?

ERICKSON: Look, across the field I think the Republicans are a fielding a very weak field this year. I've already got Republicans in Washington who are backing Mitt Romney saying, think about 2016.

That's not reassuring. The one comfort Republicans have right now is gas prices. As long as gas keeps going up and people pull out of other sectors of the economy. The economy gets hurt and Obama gets blamed.

BLITZER: You've seen President Obama's approval numbers go from 50 percent down to 41 percent, and I suspect gas prices is an issue. Erick, you'll be with us throughout the night?

ERICKSON: Yes.

BLITZER: Thank you. Standby for my interview coming up the next hour with Mitt Romney. He'll joins us live. I have some good questions for him.

Here's a look at some of the other political headlines making news on our Political Ticker.

The first lady Michelle Obama will head to London this summer for the Olympic games. She'll lead the United States delegation at the opening ceremony on July 27th.

She follows in the footprints of former first ladies who represented the United States at the Olympics, including Laura Bush in 2006 and Hillary Clinton in 1994, both at the winter games.

"The Washington Times" is taking a standard for celebrity guests at the White House Correspondents Dinner to a new level. The paper reports that its guest will be Oogie, the dog, from the Oscar winning film, "The Artist."

The dog and his trainer will join journalists, Hollywood stars, politicians for the annual party. That is April 28th. For complete political coverage, be sure to read the ticker on cnnpolitics.com.

President Obama introduces the British prime minister to March Madness, but there's more than basketball is going on in Ohio.

Also, off the runway at one of the world's busiest airports, and feeling abandoned by the world, some Syrians made a telling plea.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Obama and the British Prime Minister David Cameron are on their way to Dayton, Ohio, right now. They're going to see one of the first-round games in the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

Our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian is outside the arena. He's joining us now. Dan, this may not look like a political trip necessarily, but you know anytime the president nowadays visits Ohio, there are political overtones. DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You're so right, Wolf. But you know, first of all, a White House aide telling me that this trip is a chance for the president to show the prime minister a slice of American life, to continue to focus on that special relationship between the countries.

But as you point out, this is a key battleground state that is very critical to the president's re-election bid. He won here in Ohio in 2008, but not by a huge margin, 51 percent. Many people here believe it will be much more difficult for the president to win this time around because like other parts of the country, people are very concerned about the economy.

I spoke with the former governor of the state, Ted Strickland, he is an Obama supporter. He understands the politics of this state and he says because of the Obama infrastructure, the ground operation that they have here, he believes that the president can win in the upcoming election.

But he also pointed out that tonight's visit by the president is about more than just basketball.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TED STRICKLAND (D), FORMER OHIO GOVERNOR: I think this is a good political move for the president as well. Quite frankly, the president needs to be out among the people, and there's no better time and no better way to do that, in my judgment, as this tournament gets under way and as we fight for our favorite teams.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LOTHIAN: The president already taking some hits from the Republican Party. In fact the RNC putting out a statement saying while it's good to highlight college hoops, a lot of Americans out there who are struggling to find jobs, who are struggling to put gas in their cars would probably want him to spend more time focused on those issues.

And in fact, the chairman of the RNC in an op-ed is writing that it seems that the president spends more time thinking about the final four than some of the difficulties facing a family of four.

The White House response to that would be, look, sometimes the president does have some of these lighter fare events, but he spends a lot of time juggling a lot of different issues, like foreign policy or try to turn the U.S. economy around -- Wolf.

BLITZER: He certainly has a lot on his agenda obviously right now. Have the president and the prime minister already had a chance to talk about some of the major issues out there like the situation in Afghanistan?

LOTHIAN: They will get a chance to do that tomorrow in a (inaudible), Wolf. They'll be talking, as you pointed out Afghanistan where British forces are serving there along with U.S. forces. They'll talk about Syria. They'll talk about Iran. They'll talk about, I'm told by White House officials the wave of democracy across the Middle East and Northern Africa.

And also discuss the upcoming G8 and NATO summits, Wolf. So a lot of these two leaders to discuss and then they'll have a short press conference tomorrow.

Just two questions from both the U.S. side and then two questions from the British reporters traveling with the prime minister.

BLITZER: Not a whole lot of questions, unfortunately. All right, thanks very much for that.

Terrifying moments on an airliner in Atlanta. We're going to explain how this plane ended up, look at this, ended up on its side.

And on the battle over abortion, some lawmakers find a unique way to make their point by hitting some men where it hurts.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A plane goes off the runway at the Atlanta airport. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that, and some other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. So Lisa, what happened?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, first off, no passengers were aboard this Delta plane when it veered off a taxiway and ended up on an embankment.

A Delta spokesman zest two maintenance workers were on the plane testing its engine when the braking system failed. The workers were not injured, but the plane did sustain significant damage. The incident did not impact traffic at that always busy airport.

Syrians under siege from the government of President Bashar Al- Assad aren't just posting videos of attacks and victims online, sometimes they are resorting to sarcasm.

This video posted on YouTube from Homs shows an SOS painted on the ground, a cry for help directed at the citizens of Mars. The post says Syrians are reaching out to outer space as civilians remain under attack and quote, "The world watches and does nothing."

And a big day on the markets, for the first time the Dow ended the day above 13,000 on the same day the Nasdaq closed above 3,000. The market rallied late on an upbeat outlook from fed.

Just minutes ago, the fed announced a result of so-called stress tests. Four of 19 banks failed the test aimed at how they would hold up in a new economic crisis -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Lisa, thank you.

Let's bring in our chief economic and business correspondent, Erin Burnett. She is here watching the numbers for us. The numbers as far as the ad spending are pretty significant in the Deep South.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN CHIEF ECONOMIC AND BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: They certainly are. A quick follow-up on what Lisa was talking about with the banks, Wolf. The stress test, they had to do some pretty tough tests this time.

Assuming that Europe would actually implode, housing prices would go down another 21 percent, unemployment would go up to 13 percent, so the big banks in the country passed. Some failed, but most passed.

That's why you're seeing the big rally on Wall Street. A lot of them now say, OK, good, we're in the clear. We can increase our dividend. They're doing all of that today so --

BLITZER: Ending above 13,000 is very good. It was under 7,000 when President Obama took office.

BURNETT: It is. It's been a big increase and a lot of it has been due to those financials. So the banks coming through most of 15 of 19 passing that stress test.

So that's a really important headline and big banks like J.P. Morgan doing much better than expected on that. Ad spending, this is pretty amazing. Wolf, I guess we've gotten used to amazing numbers.

I want to emphasize. These are the national numbers so far. So this is for the candidates, what they have spent on broadcast ads only. So if you're watching NBC in your hometown and see an ad, that counts.

If you're watching Fox News Channel, it doesn't count. So this is not all in --

BLITZER: This is just broadcast.

BURNETT: That's correct, which is why you're going to get a double take because this is really big even though it's just broadcast. So far, Mitt Romney is spending $12.4 million.

When you add Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul together, Mitt Romney has spent twice the amounts that they had --

BLITZER: Is this their campaigns or including the "Super PACs?"

BURNETT: This includes their "Super PAC" spending and then 37.7 so all --

BLITZER: Since the beginning?

BURNETT: Since the beginning of the year so this is about 2.4 times all the rest of the candidates combined.

BLITZER: So when you take a look at how much money Romney has spent compared to all the others, way more than all the others combined. BURNETT: It is amazing. It's about 2.4 times. Now in some recent states he actually outspent, you know, in states where it's just him and Rick Santorum maybe four, five to one. So I guess it's a little bit less stronger ratio, but still stupendous numbers.

BLITZER: That's leading up to our 8:00 p.m. that's when the polls close in Mississippi and Alabama. You're going to have a special coming up at --

BURNETT: We got a special night tonight, Wolf.

BLITZER: It's going to be so special.

BURNETT: It is.

BLITZER: We look forward to it.

BURNETT: All right.

BLITZER: Today is a key test for the Republican hopefuls in the Deep South. Do Mississippi and Alabama represent the last stand for Newt Gingrich?

And Mitt Romney is downplaying expectations, but does he think he will win? He's live here in THE SITUATION ROOM. That's coming up in our next hour.

And some female state lawmakers want to legislate Viagra if women's sexual health stays in the spotlight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Women should have the right to choose. Whether it's contraception or abortion, it is between them, their God, and their doctors. They should not need a permission slip from government.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Jack is joining us once again with the "Cafferty File" -- Jack?

CAFFERTY: Wolf, the question this hour is do Mississippi and Alabama represent Newt Gingrich's last stand?

John in Pennsylvania, "Newt's ego wouldn't let him quit. He has 30 years of history bouncing from one thing to another, all focused around the central theme of I'm so wonderful, the whole world needs to know about me."

J.D. in Bellingham, Washington, "It ain't the little Big Horn, and he's not surrounded by Sitting Bull and warriors on horseback, but yes, you bet. This is where the Newt goes down, colors flying. He and Santorum will split the conservative vote tonight, leaving each of them with half a win and Romney with the bragging margin. Do the math, Newt."

Jenny in Nanuet, New York writes, "No, Gingrich's billionaire benefactor, Sheldon Adelson, holds the key to Gingrich's last stand. If he wants Gingrich to stay in the race, tonight's results as well as any future results won't matter. This is now citizens' united world. We just live in it."

Gary in San Jose writes, "No, jack, this will not be Newt's last stand, because the establishment wants Mitt to win, and Newt is the perfect Santorum spoiler."

Bill in Colorado, "No, I think even two close seconds will fan the embers of Mr. Gingrich's vanity enough to keep him in the race. I hope he does stay in. Every time he or Mr. Santorum opens their mouths, the Democratic National Committee has to order more Obama for president bumper stickers to keep up with demand."

Nancy in Tennessee writes, "Newt boarded the train late with his positive plan for energy and jobs in America. If he loses either Mississippi or Alabama, the conductor will not be speaking to the speaker when he yells all aboard. The train ride will be over for Newt."

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

BLITZER: All right, thank you, Jack. The controversy over contraception perhaps goes equal opportunity.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For far too long female legislators/abdicated their responsibility to tell men what they need to do with their bodies.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Details of proposed regulations on men and Viagra.

Mitt Romney joins us live in our next hour. We're going to talk about tonight's primaries, the Afghanistan massacre and more. That's coming up in our next hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here's a look at this hour's "Hot Shots." In Turkey, a young boy looks through the fence of a camp for Syrian refugees. In India, railway porters rally for better wages, housing and pension plans.

In Beijing, hostesses greet delegates on the last day of a leadership conference preparing for a handover of power in China. And in Australia, check it out, a Rugby player feeds a rhino during the visit to the zoo. "Hot Shots," pictures from around the world.> There's new back lash to the controversy over women's contraception. One lawmaker wants to turn the table and put some new regulations on men. CNN's Lisa Sylvester has the details for us. Lisa, what is this all about?

SYLVESTER: So Wolf, this has been as issue on the state and national level, a focus on contraception and abortion. But one Ohio lawmaker says if you're looking to have new legislation focusing on women's reproductive health, well, let's take a look at the men and whether they should have access to Viagra.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER (voice-over): Viagra, Cialis and Levitra, these erectile dysfunction drugs have taken the world by storm.

But if Ohio state senator, Nina Turner, gets her way, a man's access to these medications in her state would be restricted. Men would not be able to get a prescription without a signed affidavit by their sex partner.

They would also have to sit down first with a sex therapist to determine if the issue is medical or psychological, and be screened for underlying health issues.

NINA TURNER (D), OHIO STATE SENATE: It is patently unfair in this country that we simply only focus in on a woman's reproductive health. We have to show men that we care about them, too and for far too long female legislators have abdicated their responsibility to tell men what they need to do with their bodies.

SYLVESTER: There's more than a hint of sarcasm in Turner's voice, but she insists her bill is a serious piece of legislation. Turner is one of at least five state lawmakers who have recently introduced bills affecting men's reproductive health.

It's in direct response to a significant uptick in state legislation governing a woman's access to abortion and contraception. In 2011, there were 1,100 provisions introduced in the 50 states, up from 950 in 2010, according to the institute, which tracks the data.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To protect the life of the unborn baby --

SYLVESTER: One such bill has been offered in Ohio by State Representative Lynn Watchman. His bill would ban an abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected. That's usually about six weeks into a pregnancy.

LYNN WACHTMANN (R), OHIO STATE HOUSE: Up to 90 percent or so of the babies currently aborted would be saved due to this legislation. So the very short and quick goal of this is to protect the unborn babies here in Ohio.

SYLVESTER: Wachtmann is a member of the Ohio Right to Life Society.

TURNER: Even if cases of rape and incest, and only if she's on her deathbed --

SYLVESTER: But Turner sounds off on his bill and others like it.

TURNER: Women should have the right to choose. Whether it's contraception or abortion, it is between them, their God, and their doctors, and they should not need a permission slip from the government.

SYLVESTER: Getting her Viagra bill passed is a long shot, but Turner says that's not the goal, it's having the debate.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER: Now Turner is a Democrat, her party is in the minority in Ohio's House and Senate. She has found though a co-sponsor on the House side, and they're hoping to have hearings on these bills a little later this year -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Lisa, thank you.