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Interview with Dick Durbin; Interview with Kelly Ayotte

Aired July 29, 2012 - 09:00   ET


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR: The economy falters at home, Romney tries to regain his footing abroad. Today, Mitt Romney campaigns with photo-ops an unofficial talk on the world stage.


MITT ROMNEY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: The relationship between our nations is strong.


CROWLEY: And Barack Obama pushes back from home.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have made it a top priority for my administration to deepen cooperation with Israel.


CROWLEY: The campaign for commander in chief with Obama ally and confidante Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois and one of Romney's possible VP picks Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire.



ANNOUNCER: Mitt Romney's company were pioneers in outsourcing U.S. jobs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Barack Obama: worst job record since the depression.


CROWLEY: Those nasty everywhere ads with campaign media analyst Ken Goldstein, TIME magazine's Michael Shearer, and CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein.

I'm Candy Crowley, and this is State of the Union.

A slew of disappointing report signals a nation still in economic distress and an incumbent president still in political peril. Consumer confidence which measures optimism about the economy fell to the lowest level this year and personal spending cooled as shoppers cut back on items big and small from cars to groceries. And the broadest measure of economic health, the Gross Domestic Product, grew at an anemic 1.5 percent in the second quarter.

Not good news for President Obama. We are just 100 days before the election.

Joining me now from Chicago, Senate majority whip Dick Durbin. Thank you so much senator for joining us this morning.

I want to put some GDP figures, that the gross domestic product over the last couple of years for our audience just so they can see that it has been -- it has been up, but it has not been to the point where it can bring down unemployment. That's a 3 percent growth rate. We've got about a 1.5 in the last quarter.

No president in modern history has been re-elected with these kind of numbers. What is your level of concern?

DURBIN: Well, I say this, we've had more than 26 straight months of private sector job creation. And the jobs -- many that we've lost in the public sector the president has appealed to congress to help him to make sure that there are firefighters and policeman and teachers and we have no cooperation from the Republicans. They are determined.

CROWLEY: But doesn't the buck stop with the president?

DURBIN: To keep the employment numbers low.

CROWLEY: I understand, but you know how this works...

DURBIN: Well, of course it does. He's the president.

The president accepts responsibility, but he also believes that we are on the right track. returning to the economic policies of the bush administration, which Mitt Romney endorses, would just plunge us back again into a recession situation where we are giving tax breaks to the wealthiest in America, seeing a deficit out of control and not creating strength in the middle-class, the working families of America, that is really our future and that's where we ought to pin our economic policies.

CROWLEY: So you are not concerned about the president's re- election prospects?

DURBIN: Oh, no. Let me tell you, this is going to be a very close election. We take it very seriously. And it's going to have its ups and downs in the next 100 days that are left.

But the bottom line is the American people know we are moving in the right direction. They want to keep us moving forward. And that, I think, is the key to it.

Look at just what happened this week, the president's tax cuts in the United States Senate passed with a 51/48 vote to make sure that families making less than $250,000 a year have no increase in taxes at the end of the year and every single Republican senator voted against it. They said if you won't give tax breaks to the wealthiest 2 percent in America, then the middle income families won't receive any tax cuts at all.

That is a policy which Mitt Romney may think is wise, but from our point of view is not sensible when we know so many working families are struggling paycheck to paycheck.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you about this fiscal cliff of which part of it is what to do about these Bush era tax cuts. Everyone in Washington right now is talking as though they had nothing to do with the deal the so-called sequestration by which there is across the boards huge cuts in the defense -- $500 billion in defense, a $500 billion in non-discretionary domestic budget. Everybody acts as though this was not their doing, and yet the fact of the matter is that this deal passed 74-26 to put the sequestration in place, 46 of those were Democrats, including yourself. So there is responsibility here, is there not, to fix this since you all voted for it?

DURBIN: Absolutely. And let me tell you, there is a case of Republican amnesia on the floor of the senate. We have the Republican senate leaders coming to the floor blasting sequestration that they voted for. They said that the super committee failed...

CROWLEY: But you did as well, right?

DURBIN: Of course I did, because here was the alternative, the Tea Party of the House of Representatives and their followers in the senate said we're prepared to shutdown the economy of America, default on our debt for the first time. Instead we came up with a bipartisan approach that was brokered with Republican leaders and the president that said we will put together a super committee, give them the responsibility to cut the deficit by over $10 trillion in ten years. And if they fail, then automatic spending cuts.

We voted for it to avoid an economic shutdown. Now we face it.

But here is the good news. With the president's leadership, we can come together. There is a bipartisan answer here that will reduce the deficit and still create an environment for economic growth.

CROWLEY: Well -- there hasn't been much public indication of that, but let me ask you, given that, 74 Republicans and Democrats voted for this bill which now puts the country at this fiscal cliff that Republicans and Democrats for different reasons say will be disastrous, isn't that incumbent on those who voted for this to stay in town and to fix it? You know what the schedule, senator, you guys are gone all of August, barely working. You are out campaigning in September and October. Don't you guys have a responsibility to stay here in town and fix it?

DURBIN: I can tell you Candy, meetings are taking place this last week and before. Our gang of eight equally divided Democrats and Republicans sitting around a table working on that solution. We are going to continue to. We believe there is a responsible, reasonable way to move forward. And we are going to try to put something on the table to be considered.

Now let me be honest with you as well, in the next 100 days before the election, the political environment is not one for compromise and negotiation, but if we are prepared the day after the election to move forward with a plan that restores confidence in the economy and the able of congress to react to it, it is going to be a positive thing for us. I think that we can do it.

CROWLEY: And the truth is both sides see this as a pretty good campaign issue, correct? DURBIN: Well, maybe. I'm not sure I view it as a campaign issue so much as a desperation that we have not successfully addressed the deficit and economic growth. And many of of us, Democrats and Republicans, about 46 of us as a matter of fact in the senate have come together and said there has got to be a way out of it.

I voted for the Bowles-Simpson approach, puts everything on the table, balanced approach which includes revenue which is an important part, which keeps programs like Medicare strong, but takes an honest look at how to make them stronger. These are the things that we need to do and I think we can do.

CROWLEY: Let me turn you to foreign policy and the role of commander-in-chief. As you know Mitt Romney is overseas today in Israel. And in advance of that trip, one of his advisers, Dan Senor, had this to say about -- the subject was Iran and the development of nuclear weapons. And Dan said this, "if Israel has to take action on its own in order to stop Iran from developing that capability," meaning nuclear weapons capability, "the governor would respect that decision."

Do you have it now -- now they emphasized diplomacy, that this is a last resort, but do you have any problem with that statement?

DURBIN: Well of course, the object of the Romney trip was to show how sure-footed he was when it came to foreign policy. He came stumbling out of London after the statements on the Olympics, now he is headed to Israel for a political fund-raising event which he has closed to the public.

In the meantime, the statement that was made that you just quoted really I think puts in perspective what President Obama has achieved. He has put together the strongest coalition of countries around the world to put pressure on Iran not to develop a nuclear weapon, it includes China and Russia. He has invested American resources in the iron dome to protect the Israeli people. And he has worked closely with them to make sure our unshakeable alliance is going to be there for Israel for years to come.

So I think that our position from the president's point of view has been a solid one.

CROWLEY: But do you think in the end that if diplomacy is, as Iran moves closer and closer and there is a window after which Israel can't do anything about it, should the U.S. stand with Israel if Israel makes that decision that they can no longer wait? DURBIN: The United States will stand with Israel. But this president has understood that the two choices between all-out war and Iran having a nuclear weapon are choices we don't want to face. And that is why he has put the strongest economic sanctions in the history on Iran. And they are working. We believe they are putting pressure on them to move toward eliminating this threat in the Middle East and working toward peace this that region. And it is the president's leadership in this that has really made the difference. I understand Mitt Romney is on this political tour doing this fund-raiser in Israel, but the point is the president has had to sit down as he has over and over again with Prime Minister Netanyahu and work out a sound policy to avoid the prospect of war.

CROWLEY: Illinois Senator Dick Durbin. Thank you so much for joining us this morning.

DURBIN: Thank you.

CROWLEY: What would Mitt Romney do differently from the president on the foreign policy front? One person floated as his potential VP pick, Senator Kelly Ayotte, is next.


CROWLEY: Joining me is Romney supporter and New Hampshire Republican senator, Kelly Ayotte. Thank you so much for being here this morning.

AYOTTE: Thank you, Candy. Appreciate it.

CROWLEY: I want to review the bidding for our viewers that have maybe been locked into the Olympics and have not been watching politics. In London, Mitt Romney held a fund-raiser with executives of a bank that is under investigation for rate fixing. He talked about the disconcerting news about London security around the Olympics and caused a mini-tempest over there. He talked publicly about his meeting with the secret intelligence -- with the head of MI6, and his adviser, which Mitt Romney has repudiated, talked about how the former governor understands the Anglo-Saxon heritage that President Obama does not. This is not how you thought this foreign policy trip would go so for?

AYOTTE: Well, I can tell you that certainly, Mitt Romney is going to be strong on American exceptionalism, and strong foreign policy for America, and he won't go around and apologize for America.

Think about it. The president's first major foreign policy speech in Cairo was to apologize for our country, and he's actually made us weaker around the world, as opposed to stronger, and Mitt Romney will stand strong with our allies.

CROWLEY: But let me just take you back to the question, which is -- this wasn't -- this did not help, this London leg of the trip?

AYOTTE: Well, you know, Candy, we all know stuff happens on the campaign trail. Governor Romney subsequently said very clearly that he was confident in London's readiness, but what is really missing here is the real story about the Olympics. When Salt Lake City was in trouble, Mitt Romney stepped in, served his community. And let's face it, he had to go in there and clean up somebody else's mess. It was not a sure thing. There were financial scandals. He went in, he served his country. Salt Lake City was a success. America was proud. And now we need someone to clean up Barack Obama's mess, and Mitt Romney is the person to do it.

CROWLEY: I know that is the message you want to get out. Let me move on to something you just said, talking about that President Obama, you believe, has conducted a weak foreign policy. We are talking about a man who upped the drone war to get at Al Qaida operatives both in Pakistan and Yemen well beyond what George Bush ever did. This is the man who gave the OK to go get bin Laden, now of course deceased. He wound down the war in Iraq, he is winding down the war in Afghanistan, and more importantly for Americans, I think, there have been no attacks on U.S. soil since President Obama took office. What is weak about that?

AYOTTE: Well, I certainly give him credit for getting Osama bin Laden and the drone attacks, but Candy, let's be clear where we are. Let's look at the situation right now in Syria, where essentially he has outsourced leadership to the United Nations, and is it a surprise that China and Russia don't want to support freedom in Syria? I mean, look at his reset policy. Here we have Russia basically thumbing their nose at the United States of America, continuing to provide arms to the Assad regime, and in addition to that, this week there was a report at the end of the week that the Russian naval chief, that Russia was actually looking at opening additional bases, including one in Cuba.

We are not stronger. The relationship with Israel -- when the people of Teheran stood in the streets of 2009 and asked for freedom, the president did not speak up for them. And I can tell you when Mitt Romney is president--

CROWLEY: They imposed sanctions.

AYOTTE: -- he will speak up for freedom.

CROWLEY: They certainly imposed sanctions--


AYOTTE: He was dragged to the table, to the economic sanctions. I mean, you can, the congressional leaders of both sides of the aisle are the ones that pushed stronger economic sanctions. It took years into his presidency to get those tougher economic sanctions in place.

CROWLEY: Let me show you the NBC-Wall Street Journal poll, the question to voters who would better to handle foreign policy? Obama, 47 percent; Romney 32 percent. Clearly American voters see something they like here.

AYOTTE: Clearly, again, I think that certainly, on the Osama bin Laden issue, I give him great credit for that. But if you look overall, to start your major foreign policy initiative by apologizing for America in Cairo -- ask the Israelis, do they feel safer today? Iran is closer to the capability of having a nuclear weapon than when this president came into office, and actually we haven't been as tough as we can be on sanctions. He could have done this sooner, and certainly to try to think of negotiating with Teheran, which is how he came into the presidency, that has obviously not worked. CROWLEY: In the fiscal cliff category, you voted against the bill that actually set up this --

AYOTTE: I did.

CROWLEY: -- sequestration that now everyone is saying, oh my gosh, this will be Armageddon if we do this. But right -- you have warned that for defense spending, this would be terrible, for our veterans and that sort of thing. If it comes down to, because certainly the Democrats seem very dug in, as does the president -- it may come down to are you worried about the defense cuts or more worried about tax increases on wealthier Americans, at least the income, you may have to choose between that. Which is it, defense spending cuts or tax -- keeping the tax levels where they are?

AYOTTE: Well, Candy, I have to tell you, it makes me sick that some in Washington, particularly some of the Senate Democrats want to play -- and even our president unfortunately -- want to use our military as a bargaining chip. And last recently, Mitch McConnell, Eric Cantor, John Boehner, wrote a letter to the president, asking him to come to the table to resolve this issue of sequestration for our military. And I'm calling on the president to do it. I am willing to sit down with members of both sides of the aisle, and let's resolve this before the election, because you know, if we wait until after the election, it is not just our national security, which Secretary Panetta has said we would be shooting ourselves in our head, I mean, awful. Undermining our national security. But also in terms of our defense industrial base, nearly a million jobs that are at stake.

CROWLEY: But aren't those the stakes for you all? The Democrats look at it, and I asked the same question of Democrats, here are the stakes for you. Aren't the stakes for Republicans, do you want these horrible, awful defense cuts, or do you want to protect the tax cuts for the wealthier income, the $250,000 and over?

AYOTTE: Candy, that is not the choice. And where is our commander-in-chief on this? Really, I mean, seriously. Here he is talking about -- you know, giving a speech to our military, why isn't he right now at the table with members of both sides of the aisle resolving this?

And he could lead this effort and he has been AWOL on this. And so I'm calling on him...


CROWLEY: ... him to, right?

AYOTTE: ... to do this. Yes.

CROWLEY: You guys are going all -- August, right.

AYOTTE: We are going on tour. We are going to be going to -- we're leaving. And right now why isn't he in Washington? This is too important to put off until after the election.

CROWLEY: Let me just turn you to some politics. Beth Myers, you may or may not know her, may or may not have spoken with her recently. She is heading up the search for V.P. She put out two tweets recently, really does not tweet very often, in fact, this is only her second or third tweet, and listing possible V.P. picks.

And I don't know if you can see these, but the first name on that, Kelly Ayotte. Have you been vetted by the Romney campaign? Is this something you are interested in?

AYOTTE: Well, Candy, it is certainly an honor to be mentioned, but, again, we've talked about the grave issues facing our country right now. And servicing New Hampshire in the Senate, addressing these fiscal issues, that is where my priority is.

And Governor Romney will pick who he thinks is best, and he is in charge of that process, rightly so.


CROWLEY: ... turned down.

AYOTTE: Again, honored to be mentioned, but the best honor I can have is serving the people of New Hampshire.

CROWLEY: You are a Penn State alum, I know...


CROWLEY: A lot of sadness up there about the penalties against Penn State, too -- just in a short time, too rough, about right?

AYOTTE: You know, I think very tough on Penn State, but you have got to be tough on sexual abuse. And when I was attorney general I had to go after the Catholic Church on this. You know, you cannot allow institutions to condone this kind of behavior.

CROWLEY: Kelly Ayotte, thank you so much for joining us, Senator.

AYOTTE: Thanks, Candy, appreciate it.

CROWLEY: Appreciate it.

AYOTTE: Thanks very much.

CROWLEY: We will have live coverage of Mitt Romney's foreign policy speech in Jerusalem at noon Eastern.

But next, President Obama and Mitt Romney going for broke in the campaign ad wars. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: If you live in one of eight swing states where most presidential ads are running and running and running, we apologize in advance.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (singing): Oh beautiful for spacious skies for amber waves of grain, for purple mountains' majesty...


CROWLEY: The amount of money being spent, the number of ads running all mind-boggling. Bottom line, you are looking at the most expensive ad campaign in history in a presidential race, but it is not just about the money, it's about the negativity.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Friends, donors, campaign supporters, special interest groups, where did the Obama stimulus money go?


CROWLEY: Of the 11 individual ads aired by the Romney side this week, nine were negative. All told 99.5 percent of Republican ad spending this week was for negative ads. On the president's side, 21 ads ran this week, 17 were negative, making up 91 percent of Democratic ad buys.

It would be easy to question the bang for the buck in a race that has remained essentially is stagnant. But the overall numbers don't tell the whole story. Consider that turnout rules on Election Day, and that voters go to the polls for two reasons, they are either passionate about their candidate winning or passionate about the other candidate losing.

Now, look at these numbers from The Wall Street Journal poll, over to the course of the last three months, the number of voters who have very negative feelings about President Obama is up 6 percent. Likewise, a 6 percent jump in those who feel very negative about Mitt Romney.

Next up, Ken Goldstein of Kantar Media's Campaign Media Analysis Group; Ron Brownstein, CNN senior political analyst; and Michael Scherer of TIME magazine.


CROWLEY: Joining me is Ken Goldstein, president of Kantar Media's CMAG and a CNN campaign ad consultant; TIME magazine White House correspondent Michael Scherer; and CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein. Ron is also editorial director at the National Journal. So basically a pretty qualified group to talk about ads. Ken, let me start with you. I know that the assumption here with all these ads and only in swing states, that both sides are trying to gain voters. My hypothesis is they are trying to galvanize their own voters. Which is it?

KEN GOLDSTEIN, PRESIDENT, KANTAR MEDIA'S CMAG: Well, I think it is a little bit of both, but I'm not going to disagree with the host here. You are right.


CROWLEY: That is a smart man.

GOLDSTEIN: You know, in a two-person race, people don't have to love Mitt Romney to vote for Mitt Romney, people don't have to love Barack Obama to vote for Barack Obama. And what the campaigns are doing a little bit, we've talked so much about swing states and swing voters, but they are also trying to mobilize their base.

And what the Obama campaign especially is trying to do, even though this election is very, very much about the president, like all presidential elections are when you have an incumbent running. This campaign is very much about Mitt Romney. So even if the president is in a difficult situation, if the economy was doing a little bit better, he would probably get re- elected, if it was doing a little bit worse he probably definitely lose. Mitt Romney needs to reach a threshold level of credibility. And Barack Obama is trying to define Mitt Romney before Mitt Romney has a chance to define Mitt Romney. CROWLEY: Let me play a quick clip. This is an RNC ad that totally fascinated me the first and all of the times I have seen since being near Virginia. Let me play a clip from it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ANNOUNCER: President Obama came to the White House with big plans. He'd halve the deficit, strengthen the economy, lower unemployment, what did we get?

National debt over $15 trillion and climbing, unemployment above 8 percent for 40 straight months, an ongoing economic crisis with no end in sight.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CROWLEY: I feel like this is sort of therapy for voters in some way, right? I know you really, really like him, but it is okay to vote against him.

BROWNSTEIN: And that's what it's about. Nook, the North Star as Ken was suggested, in a race involving an incumbent president, the North Star is his approval rating. Barack Obama is going to be tethered to that. He could probably run as much as maybe three points above it, but probably not much more than that. Ultimately it is primarily a referendum on him.

But the other half is, as you suggested, is the challenger acceptable? Can Obama get a few million people who are disappointed in him to say that I would prefer Mitt Romney even less. That is certainly the focus of the Obama campaign's advertising and why they are so heavily focusing on trying to disqualify Romney. But what you see in reverse is exactly what you said, Obama's favorable ratings are above his approval ratings. So there's a certain amount of voters who like him personally and don't think he's doing a good job. And the RNC is trying to say, it's OK. You can still think he's a good person, but not a good president. And that's what ads like that are designed to do.

CROWLEY: Michael.

SHEARER: I mean, what you have here is the Republicans saying we know you like the president but it's OK to vote against him. And then you have the flipside of that, Republicans we know you don't really like Mitt Romney, but he'll do a better job. And Obama has kind of won that likability match right now. And both sides are acknowledging that. The question is whether voters when they go to the polls will think they are going to get a better result out of Mitt Romney.

BROWNSTEIN: It is somewhat an unusual circumstance. You know, it's not -- we had a couple of pollsters a couple weeks ago ran for me their views of the undecided of Romney and Obama. If you go back to '08 and '04, pretty -- undecided voters were pretty favorable on both Kerry and Bush and McCain and Obama. What's unusual this time is not only are they down on the president's performance, which is not surprising -- that's largely why they are undecided, but they're also pretty unfavorable toward Romney. And that, I think, is a reflection of the unusual dynamic here. And it's the one that is probably the strongest read for Obama trying to hold on to his job.

CROWLEY: You know, Ken, let me bring you in here, because I am reminded of a Romney adviser saying to me at one point we don't need voters to hate President Obama, we need them to like us a little more. When -- and yet, the ads are 99.5% negative, which is not a way to get people to like you. So when is this following a rhythm at all? Do you expect to see the more positive ads at some point? When does that all click in

GOLDSTEIN: I guess that's one of the things that surprised me about the campaign. It does not surprise me that the Obama campaign has gone so uniformly negative on Mitt Romney, but I expected little bit more of a positive message track also coming from Romney and the Republicans.

If you go back to look at 2004, and many people have said and it's accurate that this is in some ways a replay of the 2004 election, the Kerry campaign actually almost solely aired positive ads. They left the negative advertising to the Democrat outside groups there. And in fact, if you talk to the Kerry people from 2004, what they will say is they think the mistakes that some of those the Democratic outside groups made was going so negative on George W. Bush.

Because as Ron was saying, listen you are not going to change Barack Obama's approval numbers by much. And to the extent that Barack Obama's approval numbers are going to be changed, it is going to be changed by reality not seeing ads. So I would expect very soon, and certainly in the lead-up to the Republican convention and then after the Republican convention, to see a significant positive Romney track.

CROWLEY: A more sunny Romney.

Let me now play -- this Obama ad that I have seen I can't count the times.


ROMNEY (singing): Oh beautiful for spacious skies for amber waves of grain for purple mountains majesty above the fruited plain. America, America.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CROWLEY: So you get the point here. We should add by the way that while the ad is true and we have seen it in Mitt Romney's tax returns, nothing illegal was done. So that is what all of the fact checkers are saying.

It struck me at first that this was a pretty good memorable ad. SHEARER: It is probably one of the best of the cycle, the best sound design of any of the cycle. And the message there is this guy is not on your side. He fights for other people. And that is what they are trying to push.

I think it is interesting that some of these polls, the negatives for Romney have gone down, but you haven't seen as much of a move who will do better on the economy. And there is a little slice here in which an ad like that which an ad like that, which says Mitt Romney, you know, is parking his money in the Cayman's and uses all these fancy tricks that you don't have access to, doesn't necessarily automatically argue against his ability on the economy.

If I'm looking for a banker, I'm not looking for Mr. Smith, I'm looking for someone who is cut throat, who is going to be able to get the job done for me. In a similar way you could argue that voters when they go to the polls in November if the economy is the only issue are going to be looking for the guy who knows how this game works, is willing to play tough, you know, to push the rules as far as he can when it gets there, maybe not a guy he wants to like, because Mitt Romney is not going to win that battle, but Romney could still win on the economy.

BROWNSTEIN: You know, the tag line of that ad, crystallizes Obama message. The tag line of that is Mitt Romney is not the solution he is the problem, that is the core argument they are trying to make in their portrayal of him, that he is not somebody who can fix the economy, he embodies why you are less economically secure.

And an ad like that in theory is aimed primarily at working class voters who are the most responsive to kind of an economic nationalist message. Obama is facing dismal numbers with those voters even with this kind of ad campaign. He is probably going to have the weakest performance among white, working class voters since Walter Mondale in '84 for a Democrat.

The real question that I think the pivotal of this election are more white collar, upper middle class white voters. And I just don't think we still know how they respond to that. Obama leads, as you say, on who will be better for the middle class. Romney is leading who is better for the economy overall.

CROWLEY: Ken, let me give you the last quick answer here I need from you and that is from your knowledge of how these things go at the end of the day in November, the day after the election, how much money will have been spent on ads?

GOLDSTEIN: We will have over $3 billion spent on just spot local television. That is in all races from dog catcher to president. When you ad in the cable buys, the national cable buys, that number will be more like $3.6 or $3.7 billion.

CROWLEY: Somebody somewhere...

GOLDSTEIN: Most of it is going to be negative in the presidential race. CROWLEY: Somebody, somewhere is getting really, really rich. I guess it's supposed to be us, right?

Thanks, Ken, so much today. We will continue this conversation in a few minutes. But next, a look at today's top stories, plus an update on U.S. military veterans and service members lost in the system.


CROWLEY: Time for a check of the morning's headlines.

Mitt Romney took a break from meeting Israeli officials today to visit the Western Wall, one of Judaism's holiest places. The Romneys were joined by the same rabbi who also accompanied President Obama's visit to the site during his 2008 trip to Israel as a presidential candidate.

We will have live coverage of Mitt Romney's foreign policy speech in Israel at noon eastern.

Syria's opposition leaders are warning that a may occur in Aleppo, the country's largest city. The military is using tanks and helicopters there to pound rebels. Meanwhile, Syria's foreign minister met with his Iranian counterpart today with both of them criticizing what they called an international plot against the Syrian regime.

Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio was supposed to appear at a campaign rally for Mitt Romney in Iowa, but he could not because the plane he was on made an emergency landing in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Rubio who has been mentioned as a potential Romney running made did address the Iowa rally by phone. And Albuquerque airport spokesman says Rubio's plane may have had an electrical issue.

Some advice from the U.S. top diplomat in Afghanistan, American policy makers should heed the lessons of the recent past while weighing military options for the future -- Syria and Iran. Ambassador Ryan Crocker who is retiring this month tells the New York Times that U.S. leaders should remember the law of unintended consequences and recognize the limits of America's actual capabilities.

And those are your top stories.

The secretaries of Defense and Veterans Affairs testified this week on Capitol Hill about a problem we have tried to focus on here at State of the Union: our military men and women lost in the system.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) LEON PANETTA, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: The reality is that not, not all of them, not all of them are getting the kind of care and benefits that they should be get. (END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: And that is true of both veterans and active military.

We first heard of Iraq war soldier Josh Elza in May when his family contacted us. They said Josh had suffered nerve and frontal lobe injuries after an explosion in Iraq. A med board took up his case in January of 2011. After a year-long wait, it was determined Josh was not fit any more for combat, but could serve in other roles. He was ordered redeployed to Korea. His family think Josh should be disqualified from active service and has been working its way through the system to get help.

They report this week that Josh has been transported from temporarily from Fort Carson, Colorado to the National Intrepid Center of Excellence in Bethesda, Maryland where Josh is being evaluated. The message from his brother, Ricky Burke, the fight now is for yourself.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RICKY BURKE, BROTHER OF JOSH ELZA: Our soldiers join the army voluntarily to serve this great nation and protect its people, yet when it comes time for the United States Army to stand up to protect and serve one of its own, they turn their back. There are soldiers and family out there going through the same thing as my family is, but they don't know who or where to go to for the help. They don't even know if there is help out there.

For Josh's story, the soldiers who aren't getting the right medical attention and the families who feel lost will now have a voice and will now know they can speak out and get the help they need and deserve.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CROWLEY: On the veterans front, the VA says it is putting in a new procedure in place to increase and speed up processing of benefit claims. As of last month, almost 870,000 cases were backlogged at the VA, more than two-thirds have been pending four months or more. The VA says its new process will be fully in place by the end of 2013.

We will keep following the stories of Josh Elza and others and continue to pursue a time VA Secretary Shinseki to join us for a conversation.

Next up, will Mitt Romney's overseas trip make a difference in November?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CROWLEY: So with us is TIME magazine's Michael Shearer and CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein. The foreign trip for Mitt Romney, does it make a difference?

BROWNSTEIN: So far it's not going well for him. He only had to do one thing on this trip, which was to show he could perform the world stage. He hasn't done that. He has got a couple of other countries, maybe things will get better in Israel. They're doing slightly better then they were in England.

In terms of the Israel trip, I don't know how much it makes a difference it makes in the end. You know, the thing that is not being talked about is that the Jewish vote, with the exception of Florida, is not very large, not very influential. And it tends to go overwhelmingly to Democrats. That will probably happen again.

When you talk about Israel as a Republican, though, you're really talking to the evangelical base. And that is a place where Romney needs help. And I think that part of this trip could help him.

SHEARER: I thought Friday encapsulated the campaign in one difficult day for both sides. On the one hand, you have "Mitt the Twit" in headlines in London. You have a candidate who in many ways has kind of just slightly or significantly at points underperformed really throughout this entire campaign.

On the other hand, you have got economic numbers of only 1.5 percent growth in the second quarter of GDP, showing why Obama remains vulnerable. I mean, clearly if you look at the overall economy it would be, as Jackie Calmes once said, as historic for Obama to get re- elected in this economy as it was for him to get elected as the first African-American in the first place.

On the other hand you have in Romney a challenger who really has not yet shown he can seize that opportunity. And this kind of difficult trip for him is just another example of that slight to significant underperformance.

CROWLEY: So what changes this mix?

SCHERER: The debates probably. I think we're -- we're sort of coasting at this point, and you're going to have these negatives, both campaigns say, look, the floors are very high for both candidates. There's not much to move.

You know, one Obama campaign person told me that he thinks in swing states the number of persuadables could as low as 3 million people. So you've got, we just talked about it, billions of dollars in advertising, we're talking 3 million people...

CROWLEY: Just call them up and send them a check and be done with it. Listen; let me end where we began, which is on the ads and where they're playing, because this tells you so much about strategy: North Carolina, Virginia, Florida, Ohio, New Hampshire, Nevada, Iowa, Colorado, eight states. Is that what this race is about? BROWNSTEIN: Pretty much. You know, when I first started looking at presidential politics in the 1980s, the tipping point was always the same. It was the Rust Belt behemoths of the Midwest: Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa.

There are now two paths to 270. There are still those Rust Belt states, they still matter a lot. But if you look at that map, you now have kind of a "southeast conference" and a "southwest conference." You have Virginia, North Carolina, Florida; Colorado, Nevada -- New Mexico isn't on the list.

Those were states that, except for New Mexico, were solidly Republican in the '70s and '80s, really even into the '90s. Now they are swing states because of changing demography. More minorities, more college-educated whites. And that is the reality.

There are -- it is not only that kind of monsters of the midway that decide the race. There's also a Sunbelt path to 270. And probably one that's more accessible for Obama given his difficulties with working class whites.

CROWLEY: Interesting to me, Pennsylvania no longer on this list. Mitt Romney not spending any money there that we can see, especially this month. Minimal money, but still money from the Obama campaign. Is Pennsylvania done?

SCHERER: Unless something changes. But Democrats have a huge registration advantage in Pennsylvania. That's probably going to be decisive. I think the Cliff's Notes version of the swing state calculus right now is Obama needs to pick up Ohio, Florida, or Virginia. And if he doesn't, he's going to have a very difficult time. If he's able to get one or more of those, he's in a pretty good position.

BROWNSTEIN: If Pennsylvania is off the table with Michigan and Wisconsin also, they are part of what I've called the "blue wall." 18 states that have voted Democratic in at least the past five consecutive elections, the most they've won that often since Roosevelt and Truman. That's 242 Electoral College votes.

If Romney can't chip away, anything in that list and then -- and Obama can add those two southwest states where he's probably strongest, Colorado and Nevada, all you need is one more thing after that.

CROWLEY: I need one-word answers from both of you because we have got 15 seconds. What state that's not on this list might come into play?


BROWNSTEIN: You know, for Romney, I think looking -- I think he needs to put one of the 18 blue wall states in play, probably Michigan is the most likely or Wisconsin.

SCHERER: Tough. I just don't see it happening. I mean, like it could -- there could be another state added. But right now you have a race that's static, that's going to be narrowing. It's not going to be getting broader. I just don't see it going in that direction.

CROWLEY: Michael Scherer, TIME magazine; Ron Brownstein of our very own CNN staff, and assorted other titles, thank you both.

BROWNSTEIN: My real job at National Journal, yes.

CROWLEY: That's right. Thank you so much.

Up next, what's old is new and what's new is old in politics. A look at the first campaign ad ever filmed.


CROWLEY: And finally, if you think politics are nastier, the issues are tougher, that generally things are altogether different now than the good old days of high-minded democracy in action, then you need to visit the Library of Congress.


MIKE MASHON, HEAD, MOVING IMAGE SECTION, LIBRARY OF CONGRESS: What we're looking at now is the oldest campaign ad. This was a film that was shot in 1912 for the Democratic National Committee on behalf of Woodrow Wilson. This is the earliest political ad in our voluminous collection of motion pictures and television. We have over 1.5 million items in our collection.

The title of it is "The Old Way and the New." And in this film, the Republican Party are the party of the wealthy, the party of the moneyed interests. And the Democrat, Woodrow Wilson, is portrayed in this film as the champion of the working man.

The interesting thing about "The Old Way and the New" is it really proves the more things change, the more that they stay the same.

We're in the Members Room of the Library of Congress, next to the Congressional Reading Room. I think this is one of the most beautiful spaces in the library. And we're delighted to have this presentation here today.

MICHELLE KROWL, HISTORIAN, MANUSCRIPTS DIVISION, LIBRARY OF CONGRESS: And this was a telephone poll that the Republicans did in 1952 trying to gauge -- just get a sense of what people's issues were, and how many people were paying attention to what issues.

And what's interesting about it is that you essentially could ask the same questions today because they're asking, do you feel that there's too much -- that there's dangerous waste of taxpayer dollars and government spending? How often do you actually think about these things?

So a lot of the questions are very similar to what you'd probably be asked if you were taking a telephone poll or an online poll today. (END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: Yes, but we all know some things have really changed. Now on election nights we track red states and blue states and any statistical breakout you'd like to see on high-tech, interactive gadgets, the very latest at your fingertips. Top that. ((BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MICHAEL BUSCHER, HEAD, GEOGRAPHY & MAPS DIVISION, LIBRARY OF CONGRESS: One over here that's produced by Newsweek magazine in 1948. It's quite large, and you would probably put this up in your school or your -- even at home. And probably came with the magazine. And you know, you'd sit and keep track of the electoral votes. Things are a little bit faster then, you've got radio and everything.

But, again, the idea is you're actually there writing down to see who -- keeping score, and see who wins.


CROWLEY: A map and a pencil and no chance either one will crash. I'm in.

Thanks for watching STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Candy Crowley in Washington. Head to for analysis and extras. If you missed any part of today's show, find us on iTunes, just search STATE OF THE UNION.

Coming up in our noon hour, live coverage of Mitt Romney's speech in Jerusalem.