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THE SITUATION ROOM

New Presidential Polls; Millions Without Power; Government Fines Drug Company $3 Billion; Obama Camp Battles for Campaign Dollars; What's Next For Obamacare?; Life Saving "Equipment" With Fur; New Leader In Mexican Drug Wars; Study: Coffee Cuts Skin Cancer Risk; Anderson Cooper: "The Fact Is, I'm Gay"; U.S. Student Mauled In Vicious Chimp Attack

Aired July 2, 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: President Obama and Mitt Romney, they are locked in a dead heat right now. But when it comes to battleground voters, the numbers aren't so close. Our brand-new CNN/ORC polls are just in. We're breaking them down for you. Stand by.

Also millions still without power, baking in record heat right in Washington, D.C., across the mid-Atlantic, days after being clobbered by a deadly monster storm. Is there any relief in sight?

And an American grad student fights for his life after being violently mauled by two chimps in South Africa -- ahead, the horrifying details of the attack.

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

These numbers just coming in. Let's go to the battle for the White House. A brand-new CNN/ORC poll is just being released right now. Take a look at just how tight the race is. Among registered voters nationally, nationally, 49 percent say they are for President Obama vs. 46 percent for Mitt Romney.

That's with a 2.5 percent sampling error. Despite last week's landmark Supreme Court health care ruling, there's been no change in the number for either candidate since our last poll and that came out in May. But look at this. When it comes to voters in the so-called battleground states, about 15 of them, the numbers aren't so close.

Let's go straight to CNN's Joe Johns. He's breaking down the numbers for us. He's in Des Moines, Iowa, right now.

Tell our viewers what we're seeing, Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there's certainly a lot more to this than meets the eye. The main takeaway is that Mitt Romney is running ahead of the president in some of the states that matter most.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS (voice-over): Conservatives are still shaking their heads. REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), MINNESOTA: It was really a shock.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I'm disappointed in their decision. They came to a decision. I respect it.

JOHNS: How could one of their own on the Supreme Court side with liberals onto uphold the constitutionality of the Democratic president's health care plan? But in many ways it was still a conservative decision.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This was a conservative judicial philosophy that says the role of the courts is to be the last resort, not the first resort. We only strike something down when it's a big piece of economic regulation if we absolutely have to. That's still quite conservative.

JOHNS: And this type of thinking shouldn't be a surprise.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: Wolf, wrong piece there running, obviously.

The takeaway on our poll is that even though the president maintains a slight edge in our nationwide polling, it's a different story in the 15 battleground states, including Iowa, where I am right now.

According to the latest CNN/ORC poll, Mitt Romney is out to an eight- point 51/43 percent advantage among registered voters in the 15 states that we can consider in play, the seven tossup states and the eight states leaning towards either the president or his Republican challenge. The news not all good for the Republican challenger. As the election approaches, few things are seen more important than voter enthusiasm.

And the polling indicates that in March only 46 percent of Democrats said they were enthusiastic about voting in November. And now it's up to 59 percent. So that's a 13 percent increase in enthusiasm on the Democratic said, certainly not so on the Republican side. It's been consistent since March and really hasn't moved above 52 percent or 51 percent -- Wolf.

BLITZER: There's still a significant number of Americans out there, Joe, who haven't made up their minds yet. They're maybe leaning one way or the other, but they're open to changing their minds down the road. Still four months to go.

JOHNS: That's true. You're talking about one in five, about 20 percent or so.

But also important to know that 79 percent of voters and that's on both sides say they have already made up their mind. A lot of people out there are pretty much locked in. The president and Mitt Romney clearly vying for that one in five who have not made up their minds yet.

BLITZER: Yes, 79 percent say they have made up their minds and 20 percent say their minds could change right now. There, you see the numbers. Joe, thanks very much.

Jeff Zeleny is here from "The New York Times." He's one of their political correspondents, one of the best out there.

What do you make of this, that Obama is doing relatively well, 49-46 nationally among registered numbers, the same numbers he got back in May, but when it comes to these battleground states, 14, 15 of them, 15 by our count, that aren't definitely Romney, definitely Obama, it's 51 percent for Romney right now, 43 percent for Obama?

JEFF ZELENY, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": There's generally a slightly higher margin of error when you combined states like this.

But it confirms one thing. It confirms that we know this race will be tight until the Election Day over the next four months. But the race is being fought in battleground states. In some respects, it's much more helpful to look at that number than the national number because Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are going head to head in these states.

But what we don't know is how it breaks down specifically, Ohio vs. Pennsylvania vs. Florida. But it confirms that's why the candidates are traveling to these states. They're spending money there. That's where the race is going on.

BLITZER: Yes, I totally agree. What's happening in the battleground states is a lot more important than what's happening nationally.

Because we know President Obama will carry California. We know he will carry New York. We know Mitt Romney will carry Texas. But it's the battleground states like Florida or Ohio or Virginia or Pennsylvania, some of these battleground states that will make all the difference.

ZELENY: No question. And that's why the Romney campaign is bursting a little bit in the last month. Because the Obama campaign, for all the talk about how Republicans are outspending the Democrats, and it's about equal overall, President Obama is spending considerably more money, four times as much money than Mitt Romney in the battleground states.

In an Ohio, for example, he's really assaulting him on the air with some negative ads on his time Bain Capital, what type of businessman he was. If the president was in a better position, he would not be spending so much money at this point of the summer. I think these polls confirm what we know. It's a tight race.

BLITZER: Look at this little clip from a new Obama campaign ad. Want to discuss it with you. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR: "The Washington Post" had just revealed that Romney's companies were pioneers in shipping U.S. jobs overseas, investing in firms that specialized in relocating jobs done by American workers to new facilities in low-wage countries like China and India. Does Iowa really want an outsourcer in chief in the White House? (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: You wrote a strong piece in "The New York Times" saying these ads in these battleground states like Iowa, for example, where they're airing these ads, they are working.

ZELENY: They are beginning to work. Because what this poll confirms is people still don't have their minds made up of Governor Romney yet. They're not quite sure exactly his record, what he's done.

So the Obama campaign is trying to use a story from "The Washington Post" calling him an outsourcer, saying he basically would not be fair to the middle class. The Romney campaign has said, whoa, these aren't fair. But they haven't responded on television yet through a paid advertising campaign. I think the ads that have been playing for a few weeks now are probably going to have an effect. That's what the Romney advisers told us, which is exactly why the Romney campaign is pushing back with some negative attacks of their own, the first of the campaign against President Obama.

BLITZER: I have a clip of one of those ads. Let me play it right now, because a familiar voice and face is in that ad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR: Barack Obama's attacks against Mitt Romney, they are just not true. But that's Barack Obama. He also attacked Hillary Clinton with vicious lies.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: He continues to spend millions of dollars perpetuating falsehoods.

NARRATOR: Mitt Romney has a plan to get America working. Barack Obama, worst job record since the Depression.

CLINTON: So shame on you, Barack Obama.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That's a pretty strong ad right there as well.

ZELENY: It's hard to believe it was four years ago when we all saw that ad the first time around. But it is a strong ad. It's going to directly at independents, perhaps women voters who aren't quite sure about Barack Obama.

But in the whole, the Obama campaign is looking at this to see if this type of ad is going to work. They're not quite sure. But she's probably raising doubts in the minds of some people. But at the end of the day, she's one of the most popular Democratic figures in this administration. It's hard to believe it's going to move a lot of minds.

I think one thing it is doing, one thing inside the poll is the intensity. Democrats now are much more intense and enthusiastic about the race because they are starting to believe that Barack Obama could lose this race. And that's something they didn't think a couple of months ago.

BLITZER: And in fact in our poll are extremely or very enthusiastic about voting in November, Democrats now 59 percent say they are. And 51 percent of the Republicans say they are very or extremely enthusiastic.

ZELENY: And that's a big challenge.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: That's a very important number.

We're just getting this confirmation and I think "The New York Times" may have broken the story that Mitt Romney now has decided he will visit Israel this summer, make a trip over there to go see the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Now, this is not an accident.

ZELENY: It's not an accident at all. He's going to be taking a foreign trip. He's going to the Olympics. It's similar what President Obama did, then Senator Obama four years ago.

But he's going to Israel because he is trying to benefit domestically, politically back here at home with some Jewish voters who still have deep questions about President Obama. It will be fascinating to see exactly what he does on that trip. But no accident at all. Proper planning. I would have been surprised if he hadn't gone during his foreign trip...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Because I remember when President Obama went to Israel four years ago in July of 2008, he was the candidate. He went to Israel. It was well received obviously there. But there are a lot of Jewish voters and other supporters of Israel are concerned that as president of the United States, he has not visited Israel. I'm sure the Romney campaign will be making that an issue.

ZELENY: No doubt about it. They will probably make the issue on television ads and certainly when he goes there. And who knows? Perhaps the president will visit. I would be a little bit surprised during the rest of his general election campaign. But who knows?

BLITZER: I'm sure he will meet with the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, while he's there as well, but we will wait and see.

Jeff, thanks for coming in.

ZELENY: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: The fierce race for the White House doesn't just come to poll numbers. It's also about raking in the cash.

Also, new signs President Obama made be losing that battle. Also, a major drug company is hit with the largest fraud settlement in U.S. history, $3 billion. It involves safety concerns about some very popular drugs that may be in your medicine cabinet.

And they're willing to die on the battlefield for their handlers. But the military may not necessarily be giving these dogs the credit they're due.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It's now the largest fraud settlement in U.S. history, the Justice Department fining drug company GlaxoSmithKline $3 billion after failing to report important safety information on some of its most important and popular drugs.

Among the charges, the company will plead guilty to selling some of those medications as treatments for conditions they hadn't been approved for.

CNN's Alison Kosik is joining us now with some details.

Alison, what exactly did GlaxoSmithKline do?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: OK.

So, GlaxoSmithKline, Wolf, is paying that $3 billion fine for marketing nine separate drugs off-label. And when they do that, that's when a pharmaceutical company markets the drug as a treatment for conditions that are different from what the FDA has approved. So, when you look at that fine, you break it down, $1 billion of that is to settle criminal wrongdoing, $2 billion is covering civil liabilities. And the fine amounts to the biggest fraud settlement in U.S. history.

The government said that what GlaxoSmithKline did was market Paxil to children. But the thing is that drug is indicated for adults, to treat depression and anxiety.

Wellbutrin is another drug. It was marketed as a weight loss drug, but it's really an anti-depressant.

And those aren't the only drugs. Glaxo is also accused of promoting drugs liked Advair, Lamictal, Imitrex -- Imitrex is a migrane drug -- among others off label. And, Wolf, even paying kickbacks to doctors to prescribe these drugs -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I'm sure, Alison, this is pretty alarming to a lot of folks out there who are taking these drugs, especially young people.

KOSIK: It really is. You know what? I talked with an attorney who represents a lot of whistleblowers from these pharmaceutical companies.

And he said that this Glaxo case is really an example of what he calls a corporate culture that went off the tracks, meaning the fact that so many drugs were involved, it shows it wasn't just a few rogue employees trying to up their profits. That this is -- it's more of a business plan of fraud that came from the higher ups. And just -- you know, from the average American standpoint, it certainly doesn't sit well.

BLITZER: Three billion dollars coming into the U.S. treasury. I assume the money will be used to cut down the deficit or something else.

Thanks very much for that, Alison.

New signs President Obama may be fighting a losing battle against Mitt Romney when it comes to raking in the big dollars. Now, there's a major new push under way to keep that from happening.

Our White House correspondent Dan Lothian is over at the White House. He's joining us now with the very latest.

What's happening on the money front, Dan?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you remember back in 2008, President Obama far outspent and outraised Senator McCain. It's a different story this time around. The cash is not piling up as quickly. In part, Wall Street is not there for the president like they were in 2008.

So the president is pushing very hard, letting his supporters know just what is at stake.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN (voice-over): It's an urgent presidential pitch for campaign cash that his critics call a sign of desperation.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: From now until November, the other side will spend more money than at any time in American history.

LOTHIAN: A drastic change in tone from his 2008 campaign. In this recent e-mail, President Obama pleaded for $3 donations with a bleak forecast. Quote, "I will be the first president in modern history to be outspent in his re-election campaign if things continue as they have so far."

In case supporters didn't get the message, deputy campaign manager Julianna Smoot connected the dots in this e-mail. Quote, "If we're drastically outspent in this election, there's a very good chance, we will lose to Mitt Romney."

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You may well be the county that decides who the next president is. And if you are, it will be me.

LOTHIAN: Super PACs have helped former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney catch up and pull ahead of the president's fundraising efforts -- a big concern for the Obama campaign, which is turning up the heat on small and big donors. On his way back from surveying the devastating Colorado wildfires last Friday, President Obama reached out to supporters from Air Force One, using a phone a campaign official tells CNN is dedicated to political calls and is not funded by taxpayers.

"The Daily Beast," which received an 18-minute audio recording, first reported on what it described as a, quote, "rambling" conference call where the president sounded "weary" and "a tad worried" as he begged for cash.

DANIEL STONE, THE DAILY BEAST: We don't know how many people were on this call. But people who have been hit up for money from this campaign several times at least, we know they were hit up in 2008. Many of them gave the maximum amount you can to a campaign back then. And this time, the president very anxious about these fundraising deadlines coming up.

LOTHIAN: CNN has not heard the recording, but a campaign official characterized the appeal as a routine fundraising call.

CNN political editor Paul Steinhauser says this urgent tone is about more than the bottom line.

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: This maybe a wakeup call, maybe it's an alarm bell across the country to Democrats who maybe been a little too complacent and haven't actually, you know, given -- contributed to the president's re-election campaign.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN: And it's not just about the money, as the president makes this hard sell. It's also about the votes. And so, the president is reaching out, not only to his base but also to independent voters, letting them know that this will be a very close election and that he will need every vote -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Is the White House suggesting, Dan, that the president routinely uses that specific phone aboard Air Force One to do political fundraising?

LOTHIAN: They didn't specifically say routinely, but an official told me they do have that phone. It's only used for these political events, for campaign phone calls. It's not paid for by taxpayers. It's paid for by the campaign. It is a phone that he has at his disposal, unclear how often he uses it.

BLITZER: Dan Lothian over at the White House -- thanks very much.

Bill Burton, by the way, will be joining us in our 6:00 p.m. Eastern hour later today. He runs one of the pro-Obama super PACs that are being crushed financially by the Republican pro-Romney super PACs. We'll talk about that and a lot more in our 6:00 p.m. Eastern hour later today.

Warnings are up in at least 18 states today because it's dangerously hot. The trouble is, there's no way to keep cool. Standby for an update on the massive power outages caused by a powerful killer storm. Also, a pair of would-be robbers use trash bags to disguise themselves. You're going to want to see what happens when they ask the clerk to open the cash register.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Lots and lots of people here in Washington, D.C. and the neighboring area still can't use their air conditioners today, and it's hot outside. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Lisa, what's going on?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. A lot of folks don't have electricity, from Illinois and Ohio to the East Coast, at least 2 million people are enduring another scorching day without electricity because of Friday night's wave of storms. The heat wave isn't going away. And the power in some areas may not come back until Friday.

The storms are blamed for at least 19 deaths, mostly from falling trees and limbs. We will have much more on the storm damage and continuing misery during the next hour of THE SITUATION ROOM.

And tens of thousands of Colorado residents who fled one of the state's most destructive wildfires now have the all clear to return home. But tragically now, some have no homes. The Waldo Canyon fire near Colorado Springs destroyed at least 346 homes. Firefighters say it will be the middle of the month before the blaze is under control.

And July got off to a lackluster start on Wall Street. Investors spooked by a new survey indicating the global economic slowdown is starting to hurt U.S. manufacturing. The Dow Industrials closed slightly lower, while the broader S&P 500 and the tech heavy NASDAQ posted modest gains.

And finally how not to rob a donut shop. Well, a couple of women in Albuquerque asked to borrow the clerk's cell phone to call a taxi. They then went out, they came back wearing trash bags. That's what you see there, and demanding money.

The clerk chased them out into the waiting cab -- it looks like she's got a stick there. A few blocks later, the cabbie, he threw them out also because they were broke. And no one has seen them since.

It does not sound like a smart idea at all, Wolf.

BLITZER: Not smart to do a robbery to begin with. But especially not smart like these people apparently tried to do. Thanks very much, Lisa.

Mitt Romney may have problem right now. Our strategy session is getting ready to take a close look at why he has some careful explaining to do now that people understand the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on President Obama's health care reform law. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer. Here are some of the stories we're working on for our next hour.

Our weather experts explain what caused the deadly storm with an unusual name that roared through the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic states.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tells CNN exclusively whether she thinks the Russians are able or even willing to convince Syrian's leader Bashar al-Assad that he has to go.

Plus, the e-mails behind those explosive new allegations that more than a decade ago, high ranking Penn State leaders knew they had a serious problem with the coach, Jerry Sandusky.

Standby. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(MUSIC)

BLITZER: Just days after the Supreme Court issued its historic ruling upholding what they call Obamacare, the debate may only be just getting started.

Our chief political correspondent Candy Crowley has a closer look at why the final verdict may come down to the court of public opinion -- that would be the voters.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): You can't go higher than the high court. So the way the White House figures it, health care is the law of the land, period.

JACK LEW, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: It's time to get over the debate and to implement the law.

CROWLEY: The problem is that settled law is one thing and settled politics is an oxymoron.

CARLY FIORINA, VICE CHAIR OF THE NATIONAL REPUBLICAN SENATORIAL COMMITTEE: I find it amazing when the governor and others in her party dismiss the difference between the state having a plan and the federal government having a plan. There's all the difference in the world. You can have states alone --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Supreme Court just dismissed it.

CROWLEY: Across the Sunday talk shows the health care debate moved from the secret chambers of the Supreme Court back across the street to where it began, the hallowed, but divided halls of Congress.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: This has to be ripped out by the roots. This is government taking over the entire health insurance industry. The American people do not want to get on this path.

CROWLEY: After the Fourth of July recess -- UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a 15-minute vote.

CROWLEY: The house is planning to vote on repeal of health care law. Blow it up. Even the popular parts, like banning insurance companies from setting lifetime caps on benefits or refusing coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.

And that's why even though repeal will pass, the Republican denominated House, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi is smiling.

REPRESENTATIVE NANCY PELOSI (D), MINORITY LEADER: Repeal of all the things I said that help children, help young adults, help seniors, help men or women who mayb have prostate cancer, breast cancer, whatever it is, any pre-existing condition.

And everybody will have lower rates better quality care and better access. So that's what we want to repeal, we're happy to have the debate.

CROWLEY: Pelosi can afford to be mellow. She and everybody else know repeal will never pass a Democratic majority Senate. Speaking of which, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell may be in the minority now, but he happened to mention Sunday that November could change things.

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MINORITY LEADER: If I'm the leader of the majority next year, I commit to the American people that the repeal of Obamacare will be job one.

By the way, I think we will also be insisting that we have a vote on Obamacare again before the election. But in terms of achieving it, it would take a different Senate with a different majority leader and a different president.

CROWLEY: Which brings us to where the Supreme Court really sent the health care debate --

REPRESENTATIVE PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN: It's beyond Congress, the president and even the Supreme Court. The American people will be the judge and jury of this law come November.

CROWLEY: It turns out, you can go higher than the high court. Candy Crowley, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, let's take a look right now at the "Strategy Session." Two of CNN political contributors joining me, the Democratic strategist Maria Cardona and Erick Erickson, he's the editor in chief of the conservative political blog, redstate.com.

And in our brand new CNN/ORC poll that's coming out this hour, registered voters nationwide, we asked the question, who would better handle health care. Look at this, Erick, 51 percent said President Obama, 44 percent said Mitt Romney. Were you surprised by that? ERICK ERICKSON, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: No. Democrats typically always have a lead in this particular question. I'm actually surprised it's that close.

I mean, throughout the CNN poll today, a lot of the data is 50/50. One of the also consistent strains in the CNN poll is that a majority of the Americans want to see Obamacare repealed in full.

In fact, if you take the polling averages out there right now, it's a 10-point gap. CNN has it closer than that, but yes, I mean, nothing has changed in America today after last week's Supreme Court opinion.

BLITZER: Do you think anything has changed, Maria?

MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I actually do think something has changed, Wolf. And I think that's people are really starting to understand what Obamacare is going to bring them, their families, especially those families with children, with pre-existing conditions, seniors who can now afford prescription drugs, kids who can now stay on their parents health insurance policies.

I think the White House now has a terrific opportunity that I don't think that they did good enough the first time around. That is really talking directly to the American people about all of those terrific benefits including the fact that the Republican spin on the health care act is just wrong.

Because this will actually be one of the greatest tax cuts to middle class families in history so I do think things have changed.

BLITZER: All right, hold on, hold on, Maria.

CARDONA: There's a poll out there that actually says that the American people are looking more positively towards this. So we're going to move forward and continue to talk about those good things.

BLITZER: Eric, why were you laughing?

CARDONA: Truth hurts.

ERICKSON: The Congressional Budget Office shows as the law stretches out over -- remember, it's not just the next 10 or 15 years -- the middle class is going to share the burden overwhelmingly.

It's not going to be the top 1 percent that pays the biggest cost here. It's going to be middle class that's going to pay the biggest cost. You know, these are the same Democratic talking points we had in 2010 before the law was passed.

This is the same Democratic talking points we've had in 2011 after the law passed. You know what has been consistent other than the Democratic talking points that a majority of Americans want this law gone.

BLITZER: Hold on, Maria. Because the poll does show, this is a poll that we took completely after the U.S. Supreme Court decision. And back in May, Obama was ahead 49 percent to 46 percent among registered voters nationally.

Right now, after the Supreme Court decision, Obama is ahead nationally 49 percent to 46 percent. So it looks like nationally among registered voters, the Supreme Court decision on health care had absolutely no impact.

CARDONA: Well, I think what you have to look at though is those people who are actually it is impacting now. Clearly, I don't think enough time has passed in order for this to really sink in.

There's no question that there's still a huge challenge for the White House. Not just on health care, but in the campaign in general. The president has said from the beginning and I said this time and again.

This is going to be a tremendous challenge for President Obama because of the economy. But what I'm saying is that this law now gives this president and Democrats and all of those families who are now enjoying all of those benefits to talk about what it is that this health care law gives them.

And let's remember, in all of the polling where a lot of the percentages, and it's probably 50 percent of people who don't like Obamacare, around 15 percent to 20 percent of those are very liberal Democrats who don't like it because they don't think it went far enough. They don't want it repealed.

BLITZER: A lot of them wanted a public option. Here's a number, Erick, that you and a lot of other conservatives, Republicans should be worried about. Are you extremely or very enthusiastic about voting in November?

Back in March, look at this, 46 percent of the Democrats said they were extremely or very enthusiastic about voting. Right now, it's jumped up to 59 percent among Republicans.

It's basically stayed the same, back in March, 52 percent now 51 percent. That number should be a little worrisome to some Republicans out there, don't you think?

ERICKSON: No, not necessarily, Wolf, largely because when you look at poll data including on CNN's poll overall today. If you look going back to the primaries, going back to 2010, what we saw is when news like this came out, it took about 10 days to sink into the public consciousness.

Whether Maria is right in the polling and favorability will go up or I'm right that it will go down. It's going to take us another couple of weeks for it to sink into the American consciousness.

As for an enthusiasm gap, I'm not necessarily sure that there's a huge enthusiasm gap in going out and being pro-Mitt Romney.

I mean, everyone knows most of the Republicans going out there right now are not enthusiastic about Mitt Romney. They're enthusiastic about beating Barack Obama. BLITZER: There's a lot of them out there to be sure. Here's another number about the president's job approval number, Maria. It shows how President Obama handling his job as president, 51 percent say they approve, and 47 percent say they disapprove. That number has been pretty consistent in these recent polls.

CARDONA: It has been. But we've also seen in past polls that it's been reversed where the disapproval is bigger than the approval. So I think it's going in the right direction.

But again, I'll go back to the tremendous challenge that this is going to be. It's going to be a very, very close election. It's going to be fought in those battleground states.

And the people who matter in the battleground states are both the base for both parties as well as the small independents. And in terms of the base, that number that you just showed for enthusiasm for Democrats is hugely important.

Because several months ago, people were talking about -- Republican strategists were talking about how Democrats should be worried that we didn't have the enthusiasm as large as the Republicans and it's now the other way around so going in the right direction.

ERICKSON: Romney is winning in the battlegrounds.

BLITZER: I was about to say, Maria, let's not forget that in these 15 battleground states in our brand new CNN/ORC poll, right now, Mitt Romney is ahead 51 percent to Obama 43 percent. That's a number that should deeply, deeply concern the Obama campaign.

CARDONA: There's no question, absolutely. I go back to the challenge. No one knows the challenge better than President Obama himself. This is going to be a very close, heated, hard fought election.

The president is going to continue to go out there and talk about the message of working for middle class families and workers while Mitt Romney's policies are basically going to help the richest in this country and the biggest corporations.

BLITZER: We've heard that many, many times. We'll hear it many times down the road.

CARDONA: Yes, you will.

BLITZER: Thanks so much for coming in. According to U.S. military rules, some of the bravest dogs you've ever seen being treated like pieces of unneeded junk. This is a shocking story. Stay with us to see who is trying to change things.

Also new details about a horrifying attack by chimpanzees in a wildlife sanctuary where it's supposed to be safe. They actually dragged them then into their enclosures.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: You're going to see some absolutely amazing dogs in our next story. Then you may get angry at how they're being treated basically like inanimate objects.

Some members of Congress are among those who are most upset right now. Here's our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence.

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CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The bond between soldier and search dog was forged the day Nushka discovered her first IED.

SGT. DAVID VARKETT, MILITARY WORKING DOG HANDLER: That right there was the moment that the relationship went from OK, you know, I care about her, I love her, to this dog is absolutely amazing.

LAWRENCE: It was a remote village in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Sergeant David Varkett's patrol was headed right towards a hidden bomb. But Nushka sniffed it out, embedded in a wall and alerted them in time.

VARKETT: I am a soldier and he saves my life. We would be best friends for life. It's the same thing with this dog.

LAWRENCE: There are nearly 3,000 military working dogs and 600 are serving in war zones. They eat, sleep and fight alongside their handlers 24/7, but the military classifies them as equipment right along with the rifles and rucksacks.

So if a dog gets old and retires on a base overseas, he's considered excess equipment. Not entitled to transport home. Someone who wants to adopt him has to pay the shipping costs, which can run thousands of dollars.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get it.

LAWRENCE: So when dog handler, Robert Mather left the Army, he couldn't afford to adopt his partner, named Nushka because it meant flying to an overseas base to get her.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was going to be in the couple thousand dollars between the ticket for myself, the ticket for the dog and the short notice of it all.

LAWRENCE (on camera): You want to bring her back but I mean, that's a lot of money.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Exactly. Right now, I'm a full-time student. My wife works part time at the local mall here. We have our son to raise. So there's not always a lot of extra money laying around to just go up and get a dog.

LAWRENCE (voice-over): Despite her four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, Nushka could have been left behind. Now there's a push in Congress to give the dogs their due.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're looking for a classification that's higher than equipment.

LAWRENCE: Representative Walter Jones co-sponsored a bill to make them canine members of the armed services. It would allow the military to honor courageous dogs. Make sure they all get flown back to the states and set up a private fund for lifetime health care.

(on camera): Some people would say you guys need to be watching every penny that you spend.

REPRESENTATIVE WALTER JONES (R), NORTH CAROLINA: The cost is not going to be astronomical. We can find $10 billion and spend it in Afghanistan. Then certainly we can find a few thousand dollars to say that the dog is more than equipment.

VARKETT: You ask any handler, this is a soldier, there's no doubt about it. The bond we have with these dogs is absolutely amazing.

LAWRENCE (voice-over): Nushka is 12 years old now and still feels the effects of her four deployments.

VARKETT: Even still today she's apprehensive towards loud noises like doors slamming.

LAWRENCE: But thanks to a local school that raised the money, Robert Mather brought his partner home to become a part of his family.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So she doesn't have a whole lot of life left. What life she does have left deserves to be comfortable for all that she's given. She's given just as much as all the soldiers have.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE: She's an amazing dog. Got a chance to play around with her a little bit. Got to say, honestly, Wolf, not many critics out there of this legislation, but the ones that are, say, look, it's not the taxpayer's responsibility to ship something to you if you bought it.

In other words, if you buy a truck at a military auction, it's not the military's responsibility to ship it from the base in Germany to your house in Virginia.

BLITZER: Chris Lawrence, thanks for doing the report for us. Eye opening for me at least and I'm sure for a lot of our viewers. Appreciate it very much.

If you're thinking of having the extra cup of java in the morning, you may want to go ahead. Up next, we have details of one new study's surprising link between coffee and skin cancer. Standby.

And our own Anderson Cooper makes a very personal announcement.

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BLITZER: After more than a decade in the political wilderness, the party that ruled for more than 70 years may be returning to power. That country's presidential election is also hugely important for the people of the United States especially along the U.S./Mexican border.

Let's go live to Mexico City. Right now, CNN's Miguel Marquez is joining us with the very latest. Dramatic developments happening just south of the border, Miguel, tell our viewers.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is absolutely dramatic. The PRI, the Institutional Party of the Revolution is back in power here. That vote will be OK'd on Wednesday, we expect, and Mexico will see a leader like we've never seen before.

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MARQUEZ (voice-over): In his first address to the nation, the projected president-elect Enrique Pena Nieto struck a humble tone. Mexico has given us something new today, he says. They've given our party a second chance.

A second chance for his Institutional Party of the Revolution, politically humiliated in 2000, it struggled to survive. Many believe the authoritarian, corrupt and good old boy PRI was on its death bed.

When we met him on the campaign trail, he said a Pena Nieto administration would mean close ties to the U.S. and emphasized today's PRI as a different party, learning the lessons of the past.

We're a political party that's changed because Mexico has changed, he says. We prepare for this election, and we'll be judged by our results.

The 45-year-old former governor has reinvigorated the party by winning on a promise of change. What's expected, major reforms to the energy sector, bringing competition to the government-run oil monopoly.

A close second taking aim at drug violence and the cartels. He's already hired Colombia's top cop Oscar (inaudible) as an adviser. The fight against drug crime will continue, he says. We'll reduce violence and we will not negotiate with cartels.

During a bitter campaign, he was criticized. His motorcade even attacked over his closest association with media giants that controlled 90 percent of the broadcast market here.

He also came under fire for the heavy handed approach in clearing protesters from a public street in 2006, when he was governor of the state of Mexico.

During the bruising election, he admitted fathering two children out of wedlock, and after his first wife died suddenly in 2007, the future candidate with Hollywood good looks married a former soap opera star, Angelica Rivera.

He's unlike any Mexican leader we've ever seen, the expectations, enormous. Now he must prove he's up to the job.

(END VIDEOTAPE) MARQUEZ: And he just might be able to, Wolf. Unlike the current administration, he's going to have pretty much a lock on power. He'll outright control the lower House and he'll at least have a working management in the upper House, the senators -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We're looking forward to getting to know him a little bit better. Miguel, thanks very much for that report.

Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now including a new report on a possible medical benefit of drinking coffee. What's going on, Lisa?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf. It's enough to justify drinking two or even three cups of coffee in the morning.

A new research suggest the more caffeinated coffee you drink, the more you protect yourself from skin cancer. The study says that it's the caffeine that seems to do the trick. There's also cancer fighting punch in tea, cola drinks and chocolate.

And our colleague Anderson Cooper's publicly sharing word that he's gay. In a letter posted on Andrew Sullivan's blog on "The Daily Beast," Anderson writes, quote, "While as a society, we are moving the towards greater inclusion and equality for all people, the tide of history only advances when people make themselves fully visible.

There continue to be far too many incidents of bullying of young people, as well as discrimination and violence against people of all ages based on their sexual orientation. And I believe there is value in making clear where I stand. The fact is, I'm gay, always have been, and always will be, and I couldn't be any more happy, comfortable with myself and proud."

Anderson hopes though that this doesn't mean an end to what he calls his personal space -- Wolf.

BLITZER: He deserves his personal space like everyone. I appreciate exactly what he said. Thanks very much, Lisa, for that. Anderson is off this week, but he'll be back next week here on CNN.

As of tonight THE SITUATION ROOM, by the way, is expanding a third full hour starting at 6:00 p.m. Eastern. It's all new. You're going to notice some important differences. Some tweaks, as we say. Stick around.

Our new 6:00 p.m. SITUATION ROOM starts in a little bit more than an hour from now. Meanwhile, a lot more coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, a U.S. graduate student fighting for his life after chimpanzees in a wildlife sanctuary where it's supposed to be safe dragged him into their enclosure.

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BLITZER: An American grad student is fighting for his life this hour after being violently mauled by two chimps in South Africa. Lisa Sylvester reports.

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SYLVESTER (voice-over): Friends are taking to Facebook to raise money for 26-year-old Andrew Overly. He was mauled by chimpanzees at the Jane Goodall Institute Chimp Eden in South Africa.

The University of Texas student was there doing research for his master's degree. Overly was showing tourists around when he crossed into an off-limits area, between two fences.

No one knows why. When he got close enough to the inner fence, the chimpanzees grabbed him.

NEVILLE PILLAY: Chimpanzees are known to be violent. They can kill other animals so male chimpanzees are particularly strong so violence with chimpanzees is not unusual.

SYLVESTER: Eugene Cousins, Chimp Eden's director and host of the "Animal Planet" escape to Chimp Eden show reportedly rescued Overly after firing rounds from a hand gun in the air and ground.

Chimpanzees are known to be extremely territorial and very strong. With five times the strength of an adult male, they can inflict horrendous damage.

DAVE SALMONI, "ANIMAL PLANET": The arms and legs are very damaging because they're so strong, but the main impact is their teeth. They can bite out softball sized chunks of flesh. They can bite right through bone. The jaw strength is incredible. So certainly when they really want to inflict serious damage, it's the mouth you have to worry about it.

SYLVESTER: The Jane Goodell Institute's mission includes protecting chimpanzees who have been left orphaned by poachers or kept chained as pets.

In a statement the institute said, quote, "This is a terrible tragedy that should never happen. All our thoughts and prayers are with this young man and family."

Overly is now recovering at a Johannesburg Hospital with injuries to his hands, legs and torso. His friends say they're shocked this happened. They said he was very knowledgeable and had worked in zoos for many years.

ANTHONY REIMHEUR, ANDREW'S FRIEND: He loves chimps. It's his passion. It's what he loves to do and he really cares about animals and really wants to help them and learn about them. And teach other people about them.

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SYLVESTER: Andrew Overly is now in stable, but critical condition. We're learning more details about the rescue by Eugene Cousins. Cousins apparently fired those two shots in the air and in the ground, but that caused the chimpanzees to turn their attention on him.

So he got into his vehicle where they continued charging at him. He then one of the chimpanzees in the abdomen and at that point, the other chimpanzees, they backed off and finally then they were able to rescue Overly.

BLITZER: What a heart-breaking story that is.

SYLVESTER: My heart goes out to him and his family.

BLITZER: Me, too. Thank you, Lisa.