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STATE OF THE UNION WITH CANDY CROWLEY

Interview with Rick Santorum; Interview With Eklil Hakimi; Interview with Zalmay Khalilzad, Dennis Blair

Aired March 18, 2012 - 09:00   ET

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


CANDY CROWLEY, HOST: Mitt Romney has math. Rick Santorum has momentum. Neither is inevitable.

Today --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANTORUM: It's pretty sad when all you have to do is math instead of trying to, you know, trying to go out there and win it on substance.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Presidential candidate Rick Santorum on Mitt Romney, Illinois and the rugged road to Tampa.

Then, mixed messages in a war zone with Afghanistan's ambassador to the U.S. Eklil Hakimi.

Getting a grip on a complicated with former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad and former Director of Intelligence Dennis Blair.

Then, the push toward November with former White House Communications Director Anita Dunn and former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie. I'm Candy Crowley and this is STATE OF THE UNION.

Rick Santorum has a sharper edge to him these days, the sign of a candidate who understands he needs to change the dynamic.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANTORUM: The problem is, the Republicans in this country are thinking about putting someone who has the same positions as President Obama up. If this election is about Tweedledum and Tweedledee, we lose.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Mitt Romney holds a sizable lead in the delegate count as the focus turns to Tuesday's primary in Illinois, where polls are close and Romney is loaded for bear.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Santorum's real weakness is the economy. He's never run a business or a state. His plan: economic illiteracy, inexcusable, the worst idea of any GOP candidate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Joining me now, former Senator Rick Santorum. Thanks so much for being with us. I want to start out by asking about the new ad that Mitt Romney has up and running in Illinois, where you will next meet after Puerto Rico.

And in it, he basically says, listen, you've got -- you've never run a business and you've never run a state. And so how can you possibly be an executive? And both those things are true, are they not?

SANTORUM: Well, I have never run a state, that's for sure. I have worked in business. I worked in -- with a small technology company for three years after I left the United States Senate.

CROWLEY: This is about running, you know, sort of managing something.

(CROSSTALK)

SANTORUM: Well, no, I was the number two guy at a small technology company and did, in fact, help manage and get this company off the ground and as a startup. And it was a great experience and one that I learned a lot through that process. So that's not completely accurate.

I served on the board of a public company. So I, you know, I have some -- obviously was a lawyer and practiced law for a while. So I've had a fair amount of experience in the private sector.

But the real issue is, you know, the -- running a business is not the same as being President of the United States.

You know, what -- look at what Governor Romney did when he was governor of Massachusetts, 47th out of 50 states in job creation. Raising taxes by $758 million. Imposing a huge government-run health care system on the people of Massachusetts with taxes and fines and fees and mandates. That's a record that I understand he's running from.

But it's the public record that really is at stake here, and if Governor Romney thinks that is he the CEO of America and can run and manage the economy, he doesn't understand what conservatives believe in.

We don't want someone in Washington, D.C., to manage the economy. We want to get Washington out of our lives, to reduce these mandates, get rid of things like RomneyCare at the federal level, which we call ObamaCare, and do some things to get this economy going by believing in the private sector, something that Governor Romney showed no indication he's in favor.

CROWLEY: Let me ask it to you this way, because you do have to manage a very large executive branch. You are kind of the CEO of that. So when we look at Illinois, you are ineligible for 10 of the 69 delegates that are at stake on Tuesday, because you didn't file enough signatures.

You're not going to be on the ballot in the District of Columbia. You weren't on the ballot in Virginia. There were not full slates in Tennessee and Ohio where you could have picked up some more delegates. So what does that say about your ability to manage if you can't get these process things done to run for president? SANTORUM: That's pretty funny, Candy. You know, Governor Romney spent about $70 million, had huge amounts of resources, huge staff. You know, during the time that these delegates had to be filed for these states, I was driving around in a truck with a guy named Chuck in Iowa, you know, breathing through a swizzle stick and running a marathon.

And, you know, it's amazing, thing is, we're on as many states as we are, given the resources that we had and the lack of attention we had from the media. And yet we devoted resources in December.

When I was sitting at 2 and 3 percent in the national polls, I decided not to spend money in Iowa. I decided to file -- to get on the ballots in all of these states, use the very scarce resources we had, not to put television ads or do anything to invest in Iowa, but to invest in getting on the ballot.

And we had to use volunteer efforts in some states where they required a lot of petition signatures and you know what? We did an amazing job with -- except for the small handful of states where we came up a little short in some delegates, you know, we were able to get volunteers and organize a campaign.

Can you imagine -- think about what we've done in this campaign with the limited resources. We're now here. No one gave us a chance.

We didn't have any of the resources that any of these other candidates had, and yet because of our organizational ability, our ability to take limited resources and turn them into votes and winning 10 states, that's amazing, with the fact that we've been outspent over 10 :1 just in our campaign and with the super PAC, more than 10:1.

And here we are. The real question you should ask, Candy, is Governor Romney, why with tens and hundreds of millions of dollars hasn't he been able to do anything to get this nomination even close to cemented away.

CROWLEY: But that's a political question as opposed to a -- that's a political question --

(CROSSTALK)

SANTORUM: No, it's not. It's not a political question at all. No, I disagree with that. When you have this amount of resources and this amount of advantage, you can't manage and deliver the mail and win this nomination, that shows a real weakness in his ability to be able to govern.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you -- move you to this delegate race, that we're now in the race for the nomination. If there comes a point that it is clear you cannot get 1,144 delegates before the end of the primary process, would you stay in to deny Mitt Romney that nomination? If he could still get it and --

(CROSSTALK) SANTORUM: Well, first up, as you know, Candy, number one, our calculation of the delegate count is very different than what is out there. I mean we --

CROWLEY: Sure. This is just a hypothetical.

SANTORUM: -- we are undercounted.

CROWLEY: Sure. No, I mean, I take it that you --

SANTORUM: Well, we'll wait and see how the --

CROWLEY: -- is different than his counting. But just if you -- if you should get to a point where you no longer -- you look at it and your math says to you, I can't get enough delegates in this process, would you say, but I'm going to stay in and deny it to Mitt Romney and go for that brokered convention?

SANTORUM: Well, obviously, you know, we are in this to win. We're in this because we think that we're the best candidate to take on President Obama, and we believe that Governor Romney is not.

And in fact, he's uniquely disqualified as some of the biggest issues of the day, like ObamaCare and bailouts and cap and trade and government control of your lives, that in fact there's very little difference in some of the big issues of the day and that's a great vulnerability.

And so I think -- what I'm hearing is, from people across this country, is we want a conservative nominee, that the establishment is trying to push a moderate, like they did in 1976 against Ronald Reagan, like they did in 1996 with Bob Dole, and what they did four years ago with John McCain.

And I think conservatives would like an opportunity to nominate a conservative and we're going to give them that opportunity.

CROWLEY: So is that a yes, that you would stay in it to force a brokered convention, rather than get out when your chances of winning through the primary process is over?

SANTORUM: Well, you know, if -- I guess you have to -- the hypothetical also presumes this, that Governor Romney cannot get there. If through -- if through running this entire process, and if he can't get there with the huge advantages he has, I think it tells you something about his support within the Republican base, which is vitally important to be energized, and his likelihood that he will be successful, with the overwhelming advantages that he had in this primary, for him not being able to be successful, he's not going to have those overwhelming advantages in the general election.

He's not going to be able to outspend and pound his opponent into the ground with a 10:1 money advantage. And if he can't win a state without doing that, that tells you that he may not be our strongest candidate. In fact, it tells you he would not be our strongest candidate. CROWLEY: So I'm not real sure I'm going to get a totally direct answer to that so I want to move you to something that's been on your website, that's gotten a lot of buzz and it's your position on pornography and one of the things you say in promising a tougher crackdown on pornography is that, quote, "The Obama Department of Justice seems to favor pornographers over children and families."

I just need to ask you to back that up. Do you honestly believe there are people in the Department of Justice who favor pornographers over children and families? Do you believe that?

SANTORUM: You have to look at the proof that's in the prosecution. Under the Bush administration, pornographers were prosecuted much more rigorously than they are under existing law, than they under the Obama administration. So you draw your conclusion.

CROWLEY: Well, what's your conclusion?

(CROSSTALK)

SANTORUM: Whether the administration has not put a -- my conclusion is they have not put a priority on prosecuting these cases.

SANTORUM: And in doing so they are exposing children to tremendous amount of harm and that to me says that they're putting -- they're putting the un-enforcement of this law and putting children at risk as a result of that.

CROWLEY: I want to play for our listeners something that you said at a rally last night. This was in Mt. Vernon, Illinois, talking about the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANTORUM: We need a president that's going to go out and -- presidential nominee is going to go out and draw a clear contrast between President Obama and his failed policies here at home and, of course, his failed policies where he's been the weak horse, the appeaser in chief around the world with evil.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Appeaser in chief around the world with evil. Where is, for instance for that, for our listeners.

SANTORUM: Well, Iran is --

CROWLEY: Where do you think the president has been an appeaser with evil?

SANTORUM: Iran is the principal place. That is the principal problem that we're facing on the national security front right now. A nuclear Iran. And he has repeatedly sided with the government of Iran.

In the Green Revolution in 2009 when people were pleading on the streets, holding signs and asking President Obama to help overthrow this theocracy that's developing, a nuclear weapon that's killing our men and women in uniforms with improvised explosive devices made in Iran that's attacking American troops through the surrogates and terrorist organize and yet --

CROWLEY: But isn't the tough sanctions, there'll be new sanctions?

SANTORUM: -- we have an opportunity to overthrow and side with the Persian people.

CROWLEY: There's new sanctions coming up, he's gathered world opinion. Isn't that better than, you know, going in with troops or whatever? What is it you're suggesting he should have been doing?

SANTORUM: Well, first off, he should have been aligning himself with the Persian people and the pro-democracy movement in Iran to topple this regime. This radical theocracy that's developing a nuclear weapon and spreading terror around the world. And he did not do that and here he says, you know, I'm going impose tough sanctions after he denied that and tried to stop those sanctions from going in place.

Only his own party got him in the Senate and the House got him kicking and screaming to oppose and oppose these sanctions. What has he done since then? This U.N. resolution that say there will be no negotiations with the Iranians until they stop processing their nuclear material. And what did the president do? He overstepped those things. He ignored that precondition and has been negotiating directly with Iran as Iran is continuing to develop their nuclear weapons.

CROWLEY: Senator --

SANTORUM: Buying time. This is doing exactly what the Iranian want to do. This is the weak horse that's in this region and the Israeli people, Benjamin Netanyahu came here and said, time is up. We need your help. The very next day he started negotiating with to this country and said Mr. President, time is up. We need your help and he the very next day started negotiating with Iran without precondition and allowing them the opportunity to continue to develop their nuclear weapons. That is weakness.

CROWLEY: Senator Santorum, I always wish there was more time. But thank you for joining us this morning.

SANTORUM: Thank you, Candy.

CROWLEY: Afghan President Hamid Karzai says there are two demons in his country right now. The U.S. and the Taliban. But his words aren't doing anything to ease an angry public. His ambassador to the United States . Next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: The American soldier who allegedly killed 16 Afghan civilians has been flown to a maximum security military prison in Kansas. In his wake, a U.S.-Afghan relationship at the breaking point. When army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales allegedly went on a door-to-door killing spree through two Afghan villages, it further poisoned the relationship already strained by 10 1/2 years of U.S. in Afghanistan and the accidental burning of Qurans by U.S. personnel at Bagram Air Base north of Kabul.

Afghan president Hamid Karzai met with U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta Wednesday and said he was at the end of his rope with the United States.

In a statement after the meeting, Karzai wrote, Afghanistan is ready right now to take all security responsibilities completely to speed up this process authorities should be given to Afghans. But the U.S. is not on the same page.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEON PANETTA, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We need to stick to the strategy that we've laid out for the future. The campaign, as I've pointed out before, I think, has made significant progress.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: It's an alliance in trouble. Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States, Eklil Hakimi is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Joining me now is Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States, Eklil Hakimi.

Welcome, Mr. Ambassador. We appreciate your time.

EKLIL HAKIMI, AFGHANISTAN AMBASSADOR TO U.S. Thank you very much.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you a question. Do you believe -- does the president of Afghanistan believe that Afghanistan is a better place now than before the U.S. came?

HAKIMI: Well, if you compare Afghanistan today to Afghanistan in 10 years ago, a lot of things happened. From the support that we receive from our international allies, including the United States of America and the taxpayers' money that was invested in Afghanistan.

Whatever you name it, from economic growth to education, to health, the participation of women in different walks of our society, the free press, our national security forces, our police forces, and infrastructure projects, the (INAUDIBLE) that Afghanistan has within the region, within our neighbors, and also the role that we play as an active member within the international community, all that happened within 10 years' time.

Having said that, we have been suffering for the last 30 years after the invasion of the Soviet Union. So a lot of things happened, but I'm not saying everything happened perfectly, but we have a lot of challenges and we have a long way ahead of us.

CROWLEY: So I ask you that question because this morning The New York Times had a story in which they kind of synthesize to everything that has been said by President Karzai over the past couple of days and in response to the Quran burnings, and they said, "the Americans in Afghanistan are demons," a direct quote.

"They claimed they burned Qurans by mistake but really those were Satanic acts that will never be forgiven by apologies." The massacre of 16 Afghan children, women, and men by an American soldier was, quote, "not the first incident, indeed it was the 100th, the 200th, and 500th incident."

You know that I know many Afghans have died, and these civilians, this is heart-breaking what happened. But Americans have died as well, I think, with very good intentions.

And so we are looking at over 2,000 -- about 2,500 coalition deaths over the course of 10 years. The U.S., at the end of this year, about $550 billion. Can you see how Americans would read this this morning and think, they don't even like us, why are we there?

HAKIMI: Well, of course, these recent very tragic incidents, especially this massacre of 16 civilians that killed, and also burning of Quran, those are very tragic incidents. But meanwhile we do understand the sacrifices that our allies, especially our main allies, the United States, that they have suffered quite a lot, those men in uniform and women in uniform, those are the things that we are grateful and we are appreciating that. But let's not forget the bigger picture. We are an ally in war against terror. And we are an ally to make Afghanistan a safe place to not allow terrorist groups to use Afghanistan as a base to threaten the security of other countries from there.

So having said that, we have a strategic partnership and now we are working on another partnership to define our relationship for the years to come. So this is the bigger picture. We should not forget that. But down the road, it's a bumpy road...

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: It is. And you mentioned that Afghanistan is grateful for some of the help that the U.S. has done and that it's an ally. And yet when you see the president of Afghanistan talking about the U.S. in the same breath as the Taliban, as a demon, there's a disconnect. Why is there a disconnect?

Is this something -- I understand the anger in Afghanistan about these women and children and men, the innocent people that were killed. But is the president of the country in those words, I would think, undermine American support which was very much there at the beginning of this war.

HAKIMI: Well, our president is doing whatever any legitimate president would do. He's reflecting somehow whatever our people are saying, the situation there, especially with this very tragic incident, is not that easy.

So meanwhile he understands very well the relationship and also the partnership that we have with the international community. Mainly, with the United States of America. He attaches great importance to that.

So that's why we are working on a very important strategic partnership with the United States, to define our relationship for the years to come. But to whatever he said, I think sometimes in media they are putting that out of the context.

But other than that, he is committed to this relationship. And he will continue to work and serve as a president to the country.

CROWLEY: As a last question, do you trust the United States -- I know you're unhappy that this alleged gunman has been taken out of the country. But the U.S. has promised to follow this investigation, to find out what went on and to deal with it with U.S. justice. Do you trust the United States to handle this properly?

HAKIMI: Well, we do trust the United States. And we do know how important this relationship is. And we are working as a partner to resolve all of the issue as a partner. We should coordinate and cooperate with all of these issues, like as I described.

And the bigger picture is very important. We are in the right direction but down the road, things are happening that we should manage it in a way that should not deter us from our main objectives. CROWLEY: Afghan Ambassador Eklil Hakimi, thank you for joining us this morning.

HAKIMI: Thank you very much.

CROWLEY: Does the U.S. need to drastically alter its strategy in Afghanistan? Obama's former intelligence director and President Bush's point man on Afghanistan are next.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEON PANETTA, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: War is hell. These kinds of events and incidents are going to take place. They've taken place in any war. They are terrible events and this is not the first of those events and it probably won't be the last.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Joining me now, two men familiar with the complicated U.S.-Afghanistan relationship. Zalmay Khalilzad, who was the first U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban; and Dennis Blair, who was President Obama's first director of national intelligence.

Welcome both. Let me ask you first what you made of the ambassador's interview.

ZALMAY KHALILZAD, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO AFGHANISTAN: Well, he has a hard job to do given the situation. I think it shows that Afghanistan wants to maintain a partnership, relationship with the United States, and that's what is reflected in opinion polls in Afghanistan, and in the Loya Jirga that took place a few weeks ago, that Afghanistan needs the United States.

And since we haven't finished with the job of finishing the terrorists in Afghanistan, making sure that the terrorists do not come back to Afghanistan, that we also need to -- yes, it has been a difficult few weeks but would like to continue to cooperate with each other.

CROWLEY: But, you know, what is the effect on U.S. troops? I mean, I know when you read some of these things that the president of the country is saying, comparing the U.S. to the Taliban or putting it in the same sentence and calling them demons, it just seems to me that it not only undermines faltering U.S. support for this war, but it must do something to the troops?

DENNIS BLAIR, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: It does, Candy. We have to go back to basics, I think. The United States and the Afghanistan, because it's in the American interest, we sort of have to get off this idea that it's a favor to Afghanistan. That 9/11 attacks were planned in Kandahar, that's where Osama bin Laden. We don't want that to be a place again. So that's basic. But from the point of view of the American troops, I think what's more important is, are we as a country committed to finishing the job that we set out to do. And we knew it was going to be hard.

BLAIR: We knew it was going to take persistence. And American troops will fight and die if they feel the country is behind them, if they feel they are making progress, if they feel they are well-led, and that's what we have to emphasize.

CROWLEY: Since you bring that up, I want to show you a poll that we have. This was taken after the shooting spree. And the question was, which of the following would you prefer to see happen in Afghanistan?

Stick to the current timetable and withdraw by 2014 -- 24 percent supported that. Speed up this timetable for withdrawal -- 50 percent of Americans. Keep the troops as long as it takes to accomplish -- close to 21 percent. So can you conduct a war, which this still is very much, without the support of the American people, which I don't think is going to go back up any time soon.

KHALILZAD: Well, the American people, I think, appreciate the importance of Afghanistan in terms of what the admiral said, 9/11, thought that -- I think there is a loss of confidence in the strategy. Do we know what we are doing when these incidents happen and President Karzai makes the statements that he has done? It raises questions in the minds of the people, do we know what we are doing? Are we succeeding?

And I think that this poll, in my view, reflects a crisis of confidence, a momentary one, and whether we know what we are doing, are we achieving our goals, are our goals clear?

I think it reinforces the point that the admiral made, which is we need to be very clear about what it is that we are about in Afghanistan, and what it is that we are doing, and are we achieving our goals? That needs to be communicated far more effectively than at --

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: That's the president's job, is it not, to say, well, OK, folks, I know this is shaky.

Let me ask you, I've heard My Lai, I've heard the words My Lai a lot since the shooting spree. For those too young to remember -- now, there are huge differences here. My Lai was a much larger scale, there were more people involved than apparently this one lone gunman. But really that was, in so many ways, was a turning point against this war. Do you see this shooting spree, allegedly by this U.S. soldier, as being a definitive time in U.S.-Afghan relations?

BLAIR: Not even close. Not even close. And I -- and I both hope not and I -- and I believe not. My Lai, as you know, was covered up by the chain of command for years. It reflected a fundamental rot in the chain of command at that time in that part of Vietnam.

This was immediately discovered, all of the right things done in view of the tragic incident. So I just don't think they are comparable.

I think the ambassador is right. We went in -- the decision made in 2009, that I was a part of, we put in the resources that were the bare minimum of what the experts, who are asked to look at it and make recommendations, we were asked to minimum in security troops, minimum in the civilian reconstruction force, minimum in time.

And if you actually look at the real measures of effectiveness, which is how are in individual local areas in Afghanistan, how is prosperity, how is justice, how is governance, the progress is being made, it's --

CROWLEY: In fact, the ambassador said that, too, right? Yes. Yes.

BLAIR: But it's not going to be done by 2014. Let's be -- let's be honest. This is a longer-term resourcing and, yes, I think 24 percent is remarkable number to support what we are doing, given the fact that we have not been clear on our objectives, the progress we're making, the fact that we did it with minimum resources. And that really gets to this question that you asked about what the American armed forces think. They don't mind putting their lives on the line if it's something that is important, that's going to be carried through and it's going to be finished the way it was started.

We have to get back to that if we are to follow this strategy. If not, let's look at the consequences. Afghanistan in civil war had a minimum. At a maximum, the Taliban coming back, violent extremist groups coming back into the country the way they were before, and able to freely plot attacks against their enemies, who will include the United States.

And if we want that kind of a future and we have to -- that means we have to increase our homeland security. That means the risk of a bomb flown up here into New York goes up, OK. I'm going to have that discussion. But don't pretend that pulling out will give you the safeties that you have now.

CROWLEY: I just want to make sure I'm really clear on a yes or no, do you mean it's going to take beyond 2014, for ground troops, for U.S. to be there in combat or just a U.S. presence there beyond 2014?

BLAIR: A U.S. presence involved in this delicate business of shifting the combat lead, the security lead to the Afghan forces, that doesn't happen by setting an arbitrary date and pulling out. That happens by, valley by valley, getting competent Afghan troops in, gradually reducing our presence and then Afghanistan taking it over. That's not going to be done by 2014.

CROWLEY: And Mr. Ambassador, quickly if you can, do you feel some sympathy for President Karzai, who really has two audiences here. He has grieving countrymen and he has an ally that they blame for what has happened.

KHALILZAD: Well, absolutely. And I think when he talks to the victims' families, he reflects their feelings in immediate public statement, and I'm sure that, today if you asked him the same question about, do you believe that the United States and the Taliban are the same two demons, he would say, well, no, of course not.

And when I used to have conversation with him five, six times a week, when I was U.S. ambassador there, in one hour --

CROWLEY: Different times --

(CROSSTALK)

KHALILZAD: -- a very hostile statement but -- and I would say sometimes, Mr. President, I didn't hear that. And then hours later he would -- he would be the charming good ally that he was, in those years.

CROWLEY: Thank you so much, Ambassador Khalilzad, Admiral Blair, we really thank you for your time.

Mitt Romney has twice as many delegates, but he still can't put Santorum away, and some say it's time for Mitt Romney to change his tactics.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FORMER GOV. MITT ROMNEY, R-MASS., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I understand how the economy works, not because I debated it in Congress, but because I worked in the real economy. I want to use that skill.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: The president and vice president are settling into a familiar election year M.O., the top of the ticket takes the high road,. albeit one that takes him through swing states, but there's no travel really necessary. While Republicans scramble state to state, the president can walk a few steps to command the bully pulpit and the headlines.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to make a few announcements about some steps we're taking to help responsible homeowners.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: The rough is in the vice president's portfolio. He spoke to U.A.W Local 12 in Toledo, Ohio, about as critical an election state as it gets and a good place to remember the auto bailout.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They argued that our plan to save the industry was just a giveaway to union bosses and the unions.

Senator Santorum says it was -- and I quote -- "a payoff to special interests," end of quote.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: While Biden was on his maiden attack dog voyage, the reelect committee released a 17-minute video, a gauzy look at the presidency through the Obama prism, narrated by Hollywood power player, Tom Hanks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM HANKS, ACTOR: Time and time again we would see rewards from tough decisions he had made.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Paying for all this is the president's job. Friday, the fundraiser in chief raised more than $4.5 million in five stops. Oh, to be an incumbent.

Obama team insider Anita Dunn and former RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie are next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Joining me now, Ed Gillespie, former White House counsel and former RNC chairman; and Anita Dunn, former White House communications director, albeit for different parties.

Let me start first with the Republican scenario now. I don't know if you heard Rick Santorum kind of dodging the question of whether he would stay in to make sure that Romney didn't get enough delegates even if he, Santorum, couldn't. What do you make of this? Because we know Newt Gingrich at this point is kind of saying the same thing.

GILLESPIE: Well, if I were Rick Santorum, I wouldn't have answered that question in any other way. The fact is he's trying to get people in Puerto Rico to vote for him today in the primary. He is trying to get people in Illinois to vote for him on Tuesday.

And so to stay on national television, yes, I might get out, that dispirits your potential voters. So I thought it was an understandable response on his end. That's not to say, you know, he might not stay through the whole thing even if he is mathematically eliminated.

But, you know, I think the pressure from the voters would be pretty tough at that point.

CROWLEY: Right. I mean, is it a bad idea to have a brokered convention?

GILLESPIE: Well...

CROWLEY: Is it necessarily going to hurt the party?

GILLESPIE: Well, I don't think it would be healthy. I mean, I think that it's fractious. I mean, I think we'd be better off to have a nominee clearly identified and making the case against President Obama for as long as we can.

But, look, I think the process is healthy. I think having a competitive primary is going to result in a nominee who is stronger at the end of the process. I support Governor Romney. I think that he's the likely nominee. And I think that this challenge that he's facing right now in the vigorous contest is making him a better candidate.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you just to look at Mitt Romney for minute before I ask you about the president versus whoever they come up with. And that is, what do you think Mitt Romney is doing wrong?

DUNN: Well, you know, it's not for me to judge...

CROWLEY: As an analyst. DUNN: As an analyst, you know, Mitt Romney's inability to really close the deal and not to get stronger as the primaries goes on I think speaks to his inability to connect with voters. And part of this process -- this presidential nominating process, is really to give these people an ability to get out there and connect with voters.

And I think that the difference between Romney and some of the other candidates who have had that ability is sort of an authenticity, a willingness to actually stick to some principles and say what he believes.

And since he has not done that during this campaign. People have problems connecting to him personally. That's what this primary process is supposed to do for candidates, is kind of let them grow, and he has actually shrunk in this process.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you about a Bloomberg poll taken between the 8th and the 11th of March. This is about independent voters, as to who they would support. Mitt Romney, 49 percent. Barack Obama, 41 percent.

I mean, everything at this point seems to me would make you believe those numbers would be reverse. There is this messy sort of icky primary going on, economic numbers seem to be getting better. And yet the president is polling considerably below in independents what gave him the race last time.

DUNN: Well, Candy, there are other polls out there that show different results. But I'll tell you -- the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, which was in the field at roughly the same time. But here's the thing, polls are going to bounce around. It's going to be a close race. But I think the poll figure that I find very interesting in many of the public polls is the one that talks about the -- which candidate understands your life.

And there President Obama consistently polls far ahead of Governor Romney. And, again, it speaks to an inability of Governor Romney to really convince people that he gets what they go through every day when they wake up, have to go to their jobs, juggle their schedules, get their kids' homework done.

CROWLEY: You know, Ed, the conventional wisdom actually lately has been from some people like, OK, you know, conservative George Will, like, OK, this race is done, the economy is getting better, we need to concentrate on the House and the Senate.

But these independent numbers would suggest you might have a real race come September.

GILLESPIE: Oh, I think the Republican nominee is likely to be the next president. I think the odds are against President Obama. The unemployment rate has been above 8 percent for over three years now. It's unlikely to be below 8 percent I think by November.

People are very frustrated by the "Obama-care" bill, which is his signature accomplishment. I think he's in real trouble. CROWLEY: Let me ask you both to hold here a minute. We'll continue with Anita Dunn and Ed Gillespie in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R), ALASKA: I think that my party is in an unfortunate place right now as viewed by many, many women in this country who are feeling very anxious about what they believe to be attacks on women's health.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Ed Gillespie, Anita Dunn, let's start with you, Ed.

CROWLEY: I mean, you can't win unless the women are with you, frankly, in this country, because they vote more than men do, and they vote in larger percentages and numbers.

So this is Lisa Murkowski, who is a Republican from Alaska, voicing a concern among Republican women that either the -- even though the Democrats have been very good at spinning their message, or Republicans have been very bad as they have approached some of these issues about contraception and about women's health care.

GILLESPIE: I think she was responding to a lot of the media coverage, which I think was quite overblown, to be honest with you.

CROWLEY: Sure, but it's out there.

GILLESPIE: Well, but, Candy, if you look at the CBS/New York Times news survey, not a right-leaning news survey at all, 57 percent of Americans agree that there should be a religious exemption.

I'm on the Board of Trustees at the Catholic University of America. You know, we teach students in the -- you know, in our courses that it's a sin, according to our faith, to -- you know, to have abortion-inducing pills or sterilization procedures or contraception.

And then to say but the university must pay for that, I think most people say, no, they shouldn't be compelled to do that. It's not a ban on contraception, not that contraception should be denied to people at all, but should you require a Catholic institution to violate the tenets of their faith? And 57 percent of Americans agree with that in the CBS/New York Times survey.

CROWLEY: But in the political realm, it would seem to me that, at the moment, the Democrats have, sort of, seized this conversation in a way that has framed it as an anti-woman thing rather than a religious versus private -- religion versus the government.

DUNN: Well, Candy, and there's a good reason for that, which is, you know, Barack Obama agrees with Ed Gillespie on this. He does not believe that religious institutions should be forced to do something, and that's why, when they originally proposed the rule, they had a one-year period where they were going to look at ways to make sure that the concerns of schools like Georgetown University...

CROWLEY: But, politically, are you going to gain from this, do you think? DUNN: Well, but what has happened, of course, is that it is an issue of woman's health and basic preventative care that every woman in this country should have a right to. We're not going to force people to have them.

And I think that the -- the compromise position that President Obama put forth, which was saying that these schools don't have to pay for it if it's against their beliefs, but that women should still get access to it, is one that the Republican candidates attacked. Rick Santorum attacked it. Mitt Romney has attacked it. And, of course, you have the Blunt amendment in the Senate, and that does appear to be against women's health.

CROWLEY: On the sheer politics, Ed, in the last 30 seconds, are Republicans on the losing end of this so far, just in terms of how women are viewing this argument?

GILLESPIE: The data don't support it. And the fact is, I'm sorry, but the -- these institutions will be required, in the Archdiocese of Washington, the schools, the hospitals, the -- Cardinal Wuerl will be required to pay because they self-insure, as do many other archdiocese around the country.

CROWLEY: I've got to -- you're a good (inaudible), but you need to come back...

(LAUGHTER)

... because I like this conversation because I do think that the women's vote is going to be key, as it always is, but I've got to cut it off there. Anita Dunn, Ed Gillespie, thank you both so much for coming in.

GILLESPIE: Thank you.

DUNN: Thank you for having us.

CROWLEY: Fareed Zakaria is at the top of the hour, but first, is it pandering or just politeness?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FORMER GOV. MITT ROMNEY, R-MASS., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What a beautiful island. What a beautiful place. What a wonderful culture you enjoy. What a wonderful people you are.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: While campaigning down South, Northerner Mitt Romney took a lot of grief for his use of "y'all" and his appreciation for what he called "cheesy grits."

All the fuss was inspiration for today's "On the Campaign Trail," a look at the pander.

Bill Clinton's ability to relate to voters is legendary, but sometimes there's an invisible line between relating and pandering, as Clinton rival the late Paul Tsongas tried to point out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FORMER DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE PAUL TSONGAS: From today on, he's "Pander Bear," P-A-N-D-E-R, "Pander Bear."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: An attempt to relate or a pander, however you see it, it's as time-honored a tradition as kissing babies. There is Rick Santorum in Alabama, where he has no known personal history or family ties.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FORMER SEN. RICK SANTORUM, R-PA., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't consider this an away game. This is -- this is home for me, just like it is everywhere I go in this country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Newt Gingrich, in his Southern backyard, on the subject of grits. Just because you're at home doesn't make it less of a pander.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FORMER REP. NEWT GINGRICH, R-GA., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have had some acquaintance, in a variety of forms...

(LAUGHTER)

... whether it's with shrimp, with cheese, with gravy. I get it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: And forget the grits. If this is Friday, it must be Puerto Rico, and Mitt Romney loves apparently everything.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: What a beautiful island. What a beautiful place. What a wonderful culture you enjoy. What a wonderful people you are.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Loving what your voters love is a bipartisan activity, and sometimes no words are needed, maybe just a couple of hot dogs. Attending to matters of state, in this case a visit from the British prime minister, President Obama flew the two of them to an early round of NCAA basketball in Ohio, about as critical a state as it gets in presidential elections. And the next day he appeared on ESPN to unveil his tournament brackets. His final four picks were a testament to caution, all high seeds. It's probably just a coincidence that three of the four are from battleground states.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(UNKNOWN): In the Midwest, North Carolina, Kansas, Roy Williams against his former team?

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I'm just a sucker for the Tarheels.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: And, finally, when panders go wrong. Massachusetts senator and then presidential candidate John Kerry ordered a Philly cheese steak in an un-Philly way, with Swiss cheese. Cheez Whiz is apparently the more relatable choice.

A footnote, despite his pander faux pas, John Kerry won Pennsylvania. No pander here, just a big thank you for watching "State of the Union." I'm Candy Crowley in Washington. Find today's interviews, some analysis, and web exclusives at our website, CNN.com/sotu.