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U.S. Pays Afghan Families; President Obama Warns Pyongyang; Cheney Gets Heart Transplant; Santorum Celebrates Southern Victory; Santorum Faces Uphill Battle; GOP Rivals To Face Off In Three States; Romney Talks Government Regulations; Santorum Touts Himself As True Conservative; Health Care Law Heads To Supreme Court

Aired March 25, 2012 - 16:00   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. Thanks for joining us. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. We're going to look at the 2012 presidential contenders in this political hour, but first an update on today's top stories.

Two weeks after a U.S. soldier kills at least 16 Afghans, the United States government makes a payment of more than $800,000 to the victims' families. A U.S. official says the money is not compensation, but is meant to help the families.

Sergeant Robert Bales is charged with the killings in Kandahar. The investigators believe the soldier made two trips to carry out the attacks.

President Barack Obama is in South Korea today. But he is delivering a strong message to North Korea about its plan to test-fire a long- range missile. Pyongyang claims it will launch a rocket-powered satellite next month, not a missile. South Korea says regardless, the technology being used is a violation of a U.N. Security Council resolution.

And former Vice President Dick Cheney is recovering today after undergoing heart transplant surgery. Cheney, who is 71 years old, was reportedly on the transplant list for over 20 months. He has had at least five heart attacks since 1978. No word on the identity of the heart donor, but Cheney's family says they will, quote, "be forever grateful."

Now to the 2012 contenders and the impact of the latest big contest in the presidential race. Louisiana's Republican primary, Rick Santorum easily won, capturing 49 percent of the vote. Mitt Romney came in a distant second with 27 percent.

Newt Gingrich's southern roots, it didn't help him in this state. He got just 16 percent of the vote. Ron Paul trailed the pack with 6 percent. Louisiana hands out its 20 delegates proportionately, and Santorum walks away with half of them.


RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you very much. You have come through, and come through in a big way. And on behalf of my family, and all the people up here who have gathered with us tonight here in Green Bay, Wisconsin, just let me thank you for making a very clear and crisp statement. And that is that you don't believe as the pundits have said that this race is over. You didn't get the memo that the rest --


WHITFIELD: All right, but Santorum's convincing win in Louisiana doesn't do much to change the overall delegate map. Here's a look at where things stand right now.

Mitt Romney has 568 delegates, more than double Santorum's count. Gingrich has 137 and Paul has won just 71 delegates so a big catch-up game for Rick Santorum in the weeks ahead.

Let's go to New Orleans right now. CNN's political contributor and Republican strategist, Mary Matalin. All right, Mary, good to see you.

I love the bright colors there. So does Santorum's win, you have put him in a better position to get more Republican support overall headed into the next round of primaries nine days from now?

MARY MATALIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, not really. Governor Romney got five delegates and Senator Santorum got 10. So this is a game. It's a contest of gaining delegates and Governor Romney continues to gain them.

In the entire month of April, half of the states are winner take all and not proportional as the past contests have been. All of the states all favor Mitt Romney. In fact, all of the states, but the senator's home state of Pennsylvania favors Mitt Romney in the next month.

So it does become increasingly difficult. But Republicans are fine to have the race keep going, and they continue to say, no matter who they voted for, that Mitt Romney will be the nominee, and will be the strongest candidate against Barack Obama.

WHITFIELD: Is that really true, that Republicans overall are OK with this, as opposed to Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul conceding and saying, OK, Mitt Romney is handily out front?

He's likely to get to 1,144 before anyone else? Let's just throw in the towel? The Republican base the party OK with this long drawn out, what seemingly is a long drawn out process?

MATALIN: I personally, and a number of my friends and colleagues and professional friends are -- think it's not only strengthening the ultimate nominee, but it continues to visit the conservative message to all of the states.

I was just given poll numbers that say upwards of 70 percent of Republicans do not want anybody to drop out. They do want the contest to continue. But they feel that the -- no matter who they voted for, that Mitt Romney's going to be the nominee and he is the strongest candidate against Barack Obama.

So yes, there are hand-wringers, you're right about that, in the party, and in Washington, I guess, and in the media and some of the large major donors. But Republican voters like the contest to go on.

Again, I think bringing in the conservative message to as many states as possible, with good candidates -- they're all good candidates and they all deliver these messages well stood.

WHITFIELD: Doesn't your view of the party look like it's divided as opposed to being unified? We heard from Florida Governor Jeb Bush who said it's his hope as he's throwing his support behind Mitt Romney that the party will finally come together and be more unified? Is there a big problem with the party right now?

MATALIN: No. The party is unified. And they're unified in state after state and poll after poll with wanting to defeat and roll back Obama's policies for the last three and a half years. So they'll be united in their voting activity.

By philosophically, they're united. Primary contests are always like this. It didn't hurt Senator Obama, and then Senator Clinton in the last go-around. The history is shorter primaries don't auger a better result in the fall.

WHITFIELD: And perhaps the unity comes in the Republican contenders want to see Obama out. Rick Santorum's campaign just released a new online video called Obamaville. It uses pretty provocative images. In fact, it really is one that's kind of laced with a lot of fear. Take a look at this clip.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Small businesses are struggling and families are worried about their jobs and their future. The wait to see a doctor is ever increasing. Gas prices through the roof and their freedom of religion under attack. And every day --


WHITFIELD: So is this kind of fear mongering? Is this a unified message? Is this a message that the Republican Party embraces, they think is representative of what their campaign overall is?

MATALIN: I promise you that it is dark and it's powerful. The reason it's powerful is because it is tracking precisely with what people, voters and voters of all stripes are saying, are there concerns about where we are, and the future of the country, the direction of the country.

They are raising their concerns, and they are in great anxiety and great fear over energy prices, and the reach of Obama care and the other issues that Santorum spot has run. It's provocative, but it's not off from where the polls are.

WHITFIELD: I mean, the gas pump to the head making it look like somebody's shooting themselves or the baby that looks like it's dead. I mean, pretty gruesome.

MATALIN: It's -- people are feeling pretty anxious about the direction of the country and they have for the last couple of years. So again, I'll say it's reflective of where people's sentiments are, and I'm pretty confident about the outcome in the fall.

WHITFIELD: All right, Mary, before I let you go. Dick Cheney getting his heart transplant. What do you know about how the family's doing, how he's doing? And did you see this coming? It's been an incredible journey for him with a lot of heart problems.

MATALIN: Well, it's a testament to the miraculous improvement of heart issues, heart treatment, heart disease treatment in this country. It's amazing. He's doing really well. He's doing well.

He's with his family and it was a huge success. And they're so grateful to the donor. They don't know who it is and very, very grateful for all the prayers and well wishes out there. So thank you for asking.

WHITFIELD: All right, Mary Matalin coming from New Orleans, thanks so much. We're going to, of course, get the flip side of the view for the race to the White House.

Mary's counterpart, James Carville, there he is. He's got a different point of view on the home state of his Louisiana and the race to the White House. He's joining us from Washington right after this.


WHITFIELD: Welcome back to the special hour of the CNN NEWSROOM. We're taking this time out every Sunday to let you hear from the 2012 presidential contenders, in their words, out on the campaign trail.

Fresh off his win in Louisiana, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum is campaigning today in Wisconsin. The state holds its primary April 3rd, along with Washington, D.C., and Maryland.

Joining us right now live from Washington, CNN political contributor and Democratic strategist, James Carville. Good to see you, James.


WHITFIELD: OK, so Santorum wins your home state. No surprises there, yes?

CARVILLE: No, no, not any surprise at all. The composition of that electorate is really telling. It's 95 percent of it was white, and 65 percent was over 50. The Republican Party actually looks more like me than it looks like America. It's all the white males.

WHITFIELD: So how does this White House benefit from the way this contest for the Republican nomination is shaping up with four candidates bound to stay in it until the end, even if it appears there seems to be one furthest out in front? CARVILLE: I think that the Republicans inflicted a considerable damage on their brand in this process. I don't know that it really matters if they stay with Santorum or Gingrich or Paul stays in. It's inevitable that Romney's going to get to 1,144.

I don't know how much it helps if they start dropping out now anyway. You know, Louisiana was sort of tailor-made for Santorum. Just a lot of high percentage of Catholics, Evangelicals, you knew he was going to do very well there in the Louisiana Republican Party.

But Romney's going to be their nominee. The damage has already been inflicted. I'm not very --

WHITFIELD: Damage in what way? What do you mean?

CARVILLE: Excuse me?

WHITFIELD: What do you mean the damage has already been inflicted?

CARVILLE: Well, I think their brand has taken a big hit during this whole process.

WHITFIELD: The party?

CARVILLE: Yes, the party's brand. When you have Michele Bachmann and Cain and Trump and everybody else as your frontrunner you don't look very good to other voters.

WHITFIELD: Well, it's interesting because your wife, Mary, just said before the break that she says this battle for the Republican nominee strengthens the overall nominee. That the remaining four are in it, you know, as long as they can. You disagree?

CARVILLE: We disagree on a lot of things. I do agree that it doesn't hurt -- I think she's right. It doesn't hurt Romney if it goes on any longer. It's not going to help him very much if Gingrich or Santorum or Paul would get out tomorrow.

I actually think that the damage has already been inflicted. Romney's, you know, got so many convoluted positions here. I expect the president's people are going to jump on him pretty soon.

WHITFIELD: Well, in fact, I'm wondering, how do you suppose the White House does that? How does the Obama White House capitalize off those missteps, or seemingly this infighting within the party for that nomination?

CARVILLE: Well, I mean, first of all, the White House is just going to -- they're going to point out what Romney's position is on immigration, his position on contraception, on Title 10, point out the fact that he proposes to add $3.3 trillion to the budget deficit, sing the most fiscally irresponsible thing any presidential candidate has ever done.

I think they're going to come at that from the get-go, and really, you know, try to put him in a corner of the position that he's had to take during the course of this primary. And some of them, you know, according to campaign communications director he would like to shake them off and hit the reset button.

WHITFIELD: Quickly before I let you go, do you think the White House is going to have a hard time boosting its donations apparently? At least reportedly donations are down for this president. Compared to the phase in which he was able to get money in the 2008 run.

CARVILLE: Look, compared to anything in 2008 for the president, things are going to be down. We have to keep in mind that he won by eight and a half points. I don't think he's going to win this election by -- I don't know, eight points, I don't think he's going to win by eight, but I think he's going to win.

There's obviously going to be some falloff. But in his defense, his numbers seem to be going in a better direction, which is really good news for them. I think he's pretty well positioned right now, particularly from where he was three or four months ago.

WHITFIELD: All right, Democratic strategist, James Carville, always good to see you. Thanks so much from Washington.

CARVILLE: Thank you so much.

WHITFIELD: All right, as gas prices soar the contenders are all talking about natural resources, oil and what America needs to do to become more self-sufficient.


WHITFIELD: We continue to delve into the issues on the presidential campaign. Every Sunday we'll spend this hour of the CNN NEWSROOM to allow you to hear from the contenders as they spell ought their ideas for the future for the United States.

One thing you often hear from the GOP candidates is smaller government. Frontrunner Mitt Romney says it's not just overspending, but it's over regulating that's really hurting the economy.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I hear day in and day out, how regulators are crushing our capacity to develop our energy resources. I mean, the regulators and the president said no to the Keystone pipeline for Pete's sakes. Bringing in oil from Canada, how in the world did we miss that test.

This is just -- the president said he's going to build the bottom half of that, all right? Let's connect it to the oil. Let's actually connect it to the oil in Canada. You know, I mean, most people in this room don't give a lot of thought to something known as Dodd/Frank, this financial regulatory bill.

You don't think it affects you on a direct basis. You all, I'm not trying to pretend like I'm from Louisiana, all right? It does not affect everybody in the room -- but you know what, it does affect everybody in the room on a personal basis.

Because it makes it harder for community banks to make loans, and to renegotiate loans. If you've looked over the last few years, the big New York bankers are getting bigger and the community banks as they look at all these regulations have pulled back.

And it's the community banks that make loans to small business people that are starting enterprises and small businesses that pull people out of recessions. One of the reasons this recession is so hard to pull out of, is community banks have had a hard time making loans to businesses that would be starting businesses.

Business startups under President Obama have decline 100,000 a year from what it was at the time before he came into office. So these regulators, whether it's on banking, or whether it's on energy, whether it's on health care, these folks are making it harder for this economy to get going again.

And as a result, you've got all these people out of work and people who are seeing sliding paychecks. I say sliding, I mean downward. The median income in America has dropped by 10 percent in the last four years. People in this country are having a hard time.

Their incomes are down. At the same time, you're seeing the cost of gasoline up, and the cost of health care up, and food costs are up. People are having a hard time. Pardon, I missed one. Yes, government spending is up. Yes, you can be sure there's no recession going on in Washington, D.C., all right?


WHITFIELD: All right, Rick Santorum is looking ahead to the next round of the GOP contest, April 3rd. But after winning in Louisiana last night, he's still way behind Mitt Romney in the overall delegate count. Santorum claims he is the true conservative who should go up against President Obama.


RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The best way we can make sure that our environment is going to be clean, is to make sure our economy is prosperous and people are doing well. Then those issues can and are taken care of. So that's sort of the approach.

And that's the differentiation, if you will, between me and going up against Barack Obama, where there are real contrasts on the issues as opposed to a lot of these candidates, it's a race in some cases between tweedle dumb and tweedle dee.

That's not the way you win. In the last century, there's one person, one Republican candidate that ever defeated a Democratic incumbent running for re-election. One in the last century and that was Ronald Reagan. Every other time -- almost every other time we ran a moderate because we had to win.

Republicans and conservatives were so worried about, you know, getting control back that we have to win. So we have to nominate someone who can appeal to -- no, you win by giving people a choice. You win by giving people the opportunity to see a different vision for our country.

Not someone who's just going to be a little different than the person in there. If they're going to be a little different, we might as well stay with what we have rather than taking a risk of what may be the etch-a-sketch candidate for the future.


WHITFIELD: The U.S. Supreme Court takes up health care tomorrow. The Republican contenders weigh in.


WHITFIELD: Welcome back to the special hour of the CNN NEWSROOM. We're focusing on politics, allowing you to hear from the 2012 presidential contenders.

So Mitt Romney and the other GOP presidential candidates are slamming President Obama's health care law as it turns to the former Massachusetts governor is under fire on the campaign trail for providing the model for the law, with Romneycare. But he says he'll repeal Obama care. We begin now with Mitt Romney.


ROMNEY: The critics were right and the advocates were wrong. Obamacare is massively more expensive than had been originally estimated. And we cannot afford more government spending. We also can't afford more taxes.

SANTORUM: I remind everybody four years ago, in the Republican debates, there was one question on health care. One, no one thought that was a major issue in the race. It is the major issue in our country right now.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is the anniversary of Obamacare. The Obamacare does to health what Obama's done to the drilling industry of Louisiana. It strangles them in paperwork.


WHITFIELD: So as the health care law heads to the U.S. Supreme Court this week, several aspects of the Affordable Health Care Act will be under fire. Let's bring in our CNN political contributor, and "National Journal" editor, Ron Brownstein. Good to see you, Ron.


WHITFIELD: OK, what does it do to the White House's promise made to the uninsured, the underinsured, that it's finding its way in the Supreme Court?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, the heart of the question before the Supreme Court is this idea of the individual mandate in the bill, a requirement on those without insurance to purchase it, along with subsidies to help them do so.

It's an idea with a very tangled political history. It was originally proposed by Republicans as the alternative to bill and Hillary Clinton, Bob Dole and John Chafey. When that went away, it kind of went -- disappeared for 10 years until Mitt Romney brought it back, passing it in Massachusetts.

And then in 2007, you had Arnold Schwarzenegger adopting it in California. And then Hillary Clinton as a Democratic candidate, ironically Barack Obama opposed it in 2008, but was convinced it was needed for reform.

If the individual mandate is struck down, it would have big policy and political implications. Policy point of view, it makes it harder to get the universal coverage. Democrats I think are beginning to think about what is plan B if the individual mandate is knocked down, what could they do as an alternative?

Politically, I think it's hard to predict how this would affect the election especially if it is struck down on a 5-4 vote down party line in the Supreme Court.

WHITFIELD: Well, you know, that's very interesting. So, you know, President Obama, the White House is underscoring that there isn't a whole lot difference between what he proposed, what is in place on a federal level, than what Mitt Romney did for Massachusetts.

In fact, the president says Mitt Romney is pretending, quote/unquote, "pretending the health care plan instituted in Massachusetts is different than the national plan."

So how will the Obama White House kind of hit hard on this point over the next few months or does it even have to?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think, look, I think they do have the better of that argument, as most conservatives will tell you that the Obama -- the federal plan has a tremendous amount of similarity with what was passed in Massachusetts.

The basic model is a mandate to buy on individuals that we've been talking about, coupled with the mandate to sell for insurers, where you have to sell insurance to people regardless of their prior conditions. You give people subsidies to afford insurance and send them on to exchanges to buy it in a competitive marketplace.

The White House will say Romney is hypocritical for opposing plans similar to his state plan. But the fact is he is insisting that he will repeal it, as president, I think there's no reason to doubt him on that.

Even though there's a lot of commonality in the paths, going forward the paths could not be more different. Clearly one of the big issues in this campaign if the Supreme Court doesn't do it first, whether the next president will support or try to overturn the health care reform passed in 2010.

WHITFIELD: But it will still come back to Mitt Romney in many big ways. In 2009, he wrote that the Obama White House should require Americans to buy insurance as part of a federal health care plan imposing what Romney at the time called tax penalties, as a back drop.

In other words, he said Washington could learn a lot from his own state. So it will be harder than ever, would it not, for Romney to try to distance himself, distance his plan from the federal plan, from the plan of the president?

BROWNSTEIN: It's really just a reminder, Fred, that the individual mandate as we said a few minutes ago was originally a conservative idea sold as a way to promote personal responsibility where people like Newt Gingrich in 1993 or Mitt Romney in 2005 and 2006 argue that it was unfair for individuals to go uninsured, and to in fact shift the cost to everybody else. Because when hospitals have to provide uncompensated care, they raise the prices on those with insurance to compensate for that.

So this was originally an idea sold as promoting personal responsibility. In the post Obama, the Obama age and the post-Tea Party age, Republicans have come to argue that it's a threat to personal liberty. So that the party's point of view on this has really done 180-degree turn from the 1990s until now. And you have Romney who's kind of caught on the wrong side of the ship. There is no question the message he had in Massachusetts was unpopular in the primary electorate at this point. And as you say it complicates this argument against the president but there should be no doubt as I said going forward, there's a very big difference on what these two men would do on health care.

WHITFIELD: So if the justices render at least one decision, and say they do overturn any portion of this affordable Health Care Act, and we hear that decision by June, is this a nail in the coffin for President Obama and his pursuit of re-election?

BROWNSTEIN: No, I don't think so. Look, I think it is very hard to -- people, when I asked them in Washington, how this would affect the campaign, you get a really diverse range of view points. A lot of people saying, I don't know. My guess is, if you had a 5-4 verdict, which is the most likely if it's overturned, a 5-4 verdict overturning this with all five Republican appointed justices voting to overturn it, it would probably energize the base of both parties.

You would have the Republicans conservatives saying they were right al along and this was unconstitutional, over reached by the federal government. And you would have Democrats I think being energized by the sense this is once again a five-member Supreme Court majority that is overturning a Democratic initiative and taking it back in some ways to the controversies in December of 2000 when a five-member Supreme Court ended the recount in Florida. So I think you would see both sides being energized by that decision.

WHITFIELD: OK. Ron thanks so much. I will see you again in a few minutes. We're going to talk about the primaries still ahead, Wisconsin, Maryland, and D.C. All that right around the corner.

All right. Meantime, President Obama is in South Korea today. He's not far there the campaign trail, where he has been talking about energy, natural resources and America's reliance on oil.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, "SITUATION ROOM:" Vice President Joe Biden is now willing to name names in going after Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. President Obama is now increasingly willing to go after them as well but he's still avoiding naming names. Here's how he characterized Romney on health care mandates this week in an interview with Public Radio International.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We designed a program that actually previously had support of Republicans. Including the person who may end up being the Republican standard bearer, and is now pretending like he came up with something different.


BLITZER: President Obama certainly in full campaign mode right now, he is raising lots of money in fund raising events across the country. And he is speaking out in key battleground states like Ohio. But he also wants to take the high road. He's leaving the harder hitting campaign rhetoric to Biden and other aides and supporters. That's the way it is for an incumbent president. It's also smart, at least for now.

I remember covering President Bill Clinton when he was up for re- election in 1996 and President George Bush when he was up for re- election in 2004. At this stage of the process they were both wisely seeking to take full advantage of being in the White House, acting presidential, and leaving the more blatant political activity to their supporters.

The so-called rose garden strategy can be very effective, but at some point the presidential gloves really come off. That will certainly happen by the time of the Democratic Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, in early September. But I suspect it could happen a lot earlier.

Wolf Blitzer, CNN, Washington.


WHITFIELD: All right. CNN brings you politics each Sunday during this hour. We're bringing you the 2012 presidential contenders in their own words.

All right. Mitt Romney has almost 50 percent of the delegates needed to clinch the GOP presidential nomination. Twice as many as Rick Santorum, and way more than Newt Gingrich. Santorum won big in Louisiana, but he likely won't be able to catch up with Romney. CNN senior political contributor and "National Journal" editor, director Ron Brownstein back with us now from Washington. So, Ron, how will what happened in Louisiana potentially influence the races coming up? Wisconsin, Maryland, and D.C.

BROWNSTEIN: Well here is one thing we have clearly learned over the last two months of this Republican race is the demography trumps momentum. Really, each state as it occurred is not having a lot of impact on the states that follow. What is really affecting each state is whether they are tilted to the sort of voters who have been consistently preferring Mitt Romney or those that consistently preferring Rick Santorum, Romney runs best with more affluent voters, better educated voters, some are more moderate voters and more secular voters.

Santorum, the core of his support have been Evangelical Christian voters and other social conservatives. So as we look at the calendar over the next few weeks, a really kind of fascinating dynamic. April is shaping up as a very good month for Mitt Romney. Because it is tilted heavily towards states with the kinds of voters that have favored him, the one exception might only be Pennsylvania, Santorum's home state. If Santorum can keep his campaign viable when he gets to May, he's got a very good calendar with states where Evangelical Christians in most of them are a majority of the electorate and you saw Fredricka again in Louisiana how strongly they preferred Santorum over Romney.

So you're going to have a very kind of odd dynamic in the Republican race where Romney looks very good over the next four weeks, but even as you get to May, he might be closer to the nomination and go into a kind of a very rough stretch on the last few weeks of the campaign.

WHITFIELD: Well, it is definitely an odd dynamic. You've heard so many people who have asked Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich within the party saying it's time to get out. Go ahead and concede. They're digging in their heels. Does this kind of exemplify what our Gloria Borger has said and she wrote on dotcom, saying that Gingrich and Santorum just don't know to lose? Is that an issue here?

BROWNSTEIN: Well I think there's something else going on that is more systemic. Which is that the way in which presidential primaries have ended in the past doesn't seem to be operative anymore. The way you run for president really seems to be changing. In the past, what forced candidates out of the race, who were behind, was a deficit of attention and a deficit of money. They kind of ran out of news media focus and they ran out of cash.

Well now in this modern world of 24-hour cable and the internet, there's virtually infinite attention. Between small donors on the internet and these big donors with the super Pac, there's more ability to raise money, even when you have very little chance of winning overall. Even though Gingrich and Santorum are now playing a very long shot hand which is just denying Romney the 1144, they have no hope of getting there themselves; their only hope is if he doesn't get there, maybe the convention will look in a different direction. There is just enough oxygen to keep going. Where as in the past, it would have been much more likely that both of them would have been forced out of the race, certainly sometime in April.

WHITFIELD: So despite the fight between the four, for that nomination, Mayor Madeline said earlier in this hour that she believes the Republican Party is indeed unified. But then you hear from Oklahoma Republican Representative Tom Cole who says, you know, there is a lot less party loyalty. And that is in large part why these candidates are staying in. They're not doing this for the party, for that cohesiveness, but they're out for themselves.

BROWNSTEIN: Well Tom Cole is a very shrewd observer and in this case he is right. I mean you are talking about the individuals who are making calculations about what they think is best for them. I think it's hard to argue that this process overall has been beneficial to Romney. All the polls are clear that he is favorable/unfavorable ratio has been declining especially with independent voters. He's been forced to take positions on a variety of issues particularly immigration issues which could hurt him with Hispanics in the general election. And some of these social issues especially contraception which had been causing problems in the polls with college educated white women who are more socially liberal.

You know, the prospect of another ten weeks of this, I think, is not an overall favorable one for Republicans. But again, if Santorum can hang on through April, May is going to be a very strange month, when the kind of the commentary and the media is going to be that Romney is the inevitable nominee. But the potential is there in states like Arkansas, Kentucky, Indiana, North Carolina, and above all, Texas, crowded with the kind of voters who resisted Romney all the way through, he may kind of stumble over the finish line.

WHITFIELD: Wow. This is going to be a fascinating race. It has been from the very beginning. Hasn't it? Very unpredictable. Ron Brownstein thanks so much. Always good to see you from Washington.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Former Vice President Dick Cheney gets a new heart. But how much of a new lease on life is it. In the next hour of the NEWSROOM I'll talk to the cardiologist about the risks of a heart transplant and why Cheney is considered a good candidate.


WHITFIELD: We continue to delve into the issues on the presidential campaign every Sunday. We are spending this hour of the CNN NEWSROOM to allow you to hear from the contenders as they spell out their ideas for the future of the United States. Newt Gingrich is getting a lot of attention for his pledge to bring gas prices down to $2.50. This week he spoke in Port Forchon, Louisiana. It's an area that provides the nation with about 15 percent of its oil. Gingrich says the way to cut costs is more drilling.


NEWT GINGRICH, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We want drilling offshore. We want to make America the number one oil producer in the world. It's really amazing, World War II, we produced 83 percent of the oil in the world. The reason we beat Germany and Japan so fast is they literally ran out of oil in both countries and we were literally supplying our allies, ourselves, and we had a huge volume of production.

Since the 1970s, we've had a national strategy of trying to solve scarcity by reducing consumption. And trying to rely on foreigners. And it's essentially the wrong strategy on both sides. The way to reduce consumption is they raised prices. The average American drives a fairly good distance to get to work. They drive a fairly good distance to see their relatives and their friends. We have trucking systems that bring us food and clothing at a time when it's the most efficient in the world but it uses petroleum.

It is totally to our interest to have the largest possible petroleum producing system in the world, with the new technologies as many of you know that is up around Shreveport now, they're discovering huge quantities of natural gas. They have new technology for developing it, much of which originally started with offshore development. Many of the horizontal systems that they're building started, first of all, at sea. Because it's so much more expensive to drill at sea, that once you get a good deposit, you want to go out as far as you can without having to put in another rig.

That stuff's all been taken to shore. It's opening up enormous capability both in oil and gas. So I'll just give you one number that folks in this business will appreciate. In North Dakota, we thought we had 150 million barrels of oil in reserve. We now believe we have 24 billion barrels in reserve. Because the new technology is opening things up. Guess what, the same is true offshore. We're going to find over the next decade dramatic new resources that we didn't know was there. All of that's going to create jobs which is my final point.

You all know this because you're living it. A vibrant American energy industry creates jobs. If you took the $500 billion we're sending overseas, and you spend it in the U.S., you'd create an amazing number of new jobs. There's a reason that North Dakota is at 3.5 percent unemployment.


WHITFIELD: President Obama insists there is no quick fix to bring down steep gas prices. Now he's taking aim at GOP candidates. He says offshore drilling isn't the only way to lower prices.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So I just -- you know, if you guys are talking to your friends, your neighbors, your co-workers, your aunts or uncles, and they're wondering what's going on in terms of oil production, you just tell them, anybody who suggests that somehow we're suppressing domestic oil production isn't paying attention. They are not paying attention. What you also need to tell them is, anybody who says that just drilling more gas and more oil by itself will bring down gas prices tomorrow or the next day, or even next year, they're also not paying attention. They're fought playing it straight. Because we are drilling more, we are producing more. But the fact is, producing more oil at home isn't enough by itself to bring gas prices down. And the reason is, we've got an oil market that is global, that is worldwide. And I've been saying for the last few weeks, and I want everybody to understand this, we use 20 percent of the world's oil. We only produce 2 percent of the world's oil. Even if we opened up every inch of the country, if I put an oil rig on the south lawn, if we had one right next to the Washington Monument, even if we drilled every little bit of this great country of ours, we'd still have to buy the rest of our needs from someplace else if we keep on using the same amount of energy, the same amount of oil.

The price of oil will still be set by the global market. And that means every time there's tensions that rise in the Middle East, which is what's happening right now, so will the price of gas. The main reason the gas prices are high right now is because people are worried about what's happening with Iran. It doesn't have to do with domestic oil production. It has to do with the oil markets looking and saying, you know what, if something happens, there could be trouble, and so we're going to price oil higher just in case.

Now, that's not the future of that we want. We don't want to be vulnerable to something that is happening on the other side of the world and some how affecting our economy, or hurting a lot of folks who have to drive to get to work. That's not the future I want for America. That's not the future I want for our kids. I want us to control our own energy destiny. I want us to determine our own course.


WHITFIELD: What a candidate does or says can often get them in hot water. Our Candy Crowley shows how an iconic child's toy got caught up in the political cross fire next.


WHITFIELD: Iconic child's toy got caught up in the political cross fire. CNN senior political correspondent Candy Crowley has today's "Trail Mix."

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN HOST, "STATE OF THE UNION:" Hey, Fred. Our inspiration for this week's "Trail Mix," the Etch a Sketch, the 1950's toy is enjoying a boom after a Romney's adviser compared campaign strategy to the erasable slate. It got us to thinking about props in politics.

On Capitol Hill, charts and stacks of paper are, let's face it, are readily available and the preferred prop for lawmakers, especially while arguing a proposed law is too onerous and complicated. When spending gets out of control, nothing beats a pig prop. The newest porker on the scene, Mr. Favors cradled in the arms of Senate candidate Mark Newman, protesting, what else, Washington's pork barrel spending. In 2004 John Kerry flip plops were all the rage among President Bush's supporters. The sang song different decade, in 1992 with then President Bush, the elder, accused Bill Clinton of waffling on his support of the first Gulf War.


FMR. PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You cannot waffle. You cannot make the White House into the Waffle House.


CROWLEY: And here-in lies a political lesson, fight prop with prop. The Clinton campaign laughed it off and handed out fake Waffle House menus featuring rare delicacies such as Iraq of lamb and pay raise souffle. And try as politicians do with flags and statues and even back drops, nobody can out prop a president. State with that presidential plane, impressive silent symbol of power. And nothing supports the commander in chief like a speech from an aircraft carrier. But even when you're president, the best props --


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Oops. Was that my -- oh, goodness.


CROWLEY: -- can fall flat. That's today's "Trail Mix."


WHITFIELD: Thanks so much, Candy.

All right. Tune in every Sunday morning for "State of the Union" 9:00 a.m. Eastern to catch more of Candy.

All right. Three more contests in the next nine days. The contenders go back on the trail, next.


WHITFIELD: On the heels of the Louisiana primary, Wolf Blitzer interviews Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich tomorrow; they will break down their game plans for the next contest in Maryland, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia. Watch "The Situation Room" Monday 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time.

All right. Following that interview, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich will go to Maryland on Tuesday. Ron Paul will be there on Wednesday. Mitt Romney is in California. He'll be appearing on the "Tonight Show" with Jay Leno on Thursday. On Friday, Romney heads to Wisconsin.

Thanks so much for tuning in to this special hour of politics. Join us every Sunday at 4:00 Eastern Time. Now stay right here for the latest news in the NEWSROOM.

Sergeant Robert Bales accused of killing at least 16 civilians in Afghanistan slipped away from base, not once, but twice. New details straight ahead.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have to be proactive and say, hey, listen, my brother, my son, my cousin, they served in Iraq. They're exhibiting erratic behavior.