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Republican National Convention; Interview with Senator Rubio

Aired August 27, 2012 - 21:25   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We've just gotten a rare glimpse into Mitt and Ann Romney's personal live. There's certainly a lot to discuss.

I'm Wolf Blitzer at the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And good evening, everyone. I'm Anderson Cooper in New Orleans. Where politics is taking a back seat to personal safety. A big storm is on the way.

Want to give you the latest here from the ground in New Orleans. The latest on Hurricane Isaac, what will be Hurricane Isaac. Right now it's a tropical storm. The National Hurricane Center says it will be a hurricane very soon. The storm's maximum sustained winds are 70 miles an hour. Just four miles an hour under hurricane strength.

A hurricane warning stretches from east of Morgan City, Louisiana, right now to the Alabama/Florida border. Isaac's forward speed is only about 10 miles an hour and is expected to slow down even more over the next day or so. It means a lot of rain here in New Orleans. Because of that and the normal high tide a significant storm surge is expected along the northern Gulf Coast.

Mandatory evacuations have been ordered along the coast of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. Low-lying areas, thousands of people headed inland today.

There's a lot to talk about, Wolf. We'll be covering it all over the next hour and a half. Let's go back to you right now in Tampa.

BLITZER: Anderson, thanks very much. We also got a remarkable look at Mitt and Ann Romney's faith, their struggles, their triumphs in Gloria Borger's excellent documentary.

Gloria is here.


BLITZER: You also in that sit-down interview that you had with Mitt Romney, you've got into some other sensitive political issues with him as well.

BORGER: Yes. We're going to show you some outtakes tonight. And one the questions I asked him about is one that really has been dogging him his entire political career, and that is this question of flip-flopping on issues like abortion. Take a look.


BORGER: One of people's big concerns about you overall is that they take a look at Massachusetts. They take a look at health care reform in Massachusetts. You were pro-abortion rights when you were in Massachusetts, for example. You are not now. And they look at how you've changed over the years on issues and they say what do you stand for? Where -- what is Mitt Romney's -- what is at Mitt Romney's political core?

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: At my core is keeping America the strongest nation on earth. With the best homes in values, the best schools, with an economy second to none, and the capacity to defend liberty with the military that's also second to none.

I want to keep America strong. I love this country. I love the principles this country was based upon. Those principles applied honestly and consistently will help families, will help working people, will grow a permanent middle class with better wages, and better prospects. I want to do that for the American people and for this country which I happen to believe is an exceptional nation, unlike any other on earth.

It was founded on the principle that our rights come from the creator and that we can pursue happiness as we choose. This exceptional beginning leads to an exceptional role and mission.

BORGER: So the people who say you've been on both sides of issues or you've changed too much, what do you say to that charge?

ROMNEY: Look, the president just changed his position on gay marriage. No one has any comment on that. It's just, oh, that's fine, because that's President Obama. We all say that's fine. He changed his position. Oh, that's fine. He changed his position on a lot of things.

A lot of things he said he was going to do he decided not to do. In my case, when I ran for office, I said I'm not going to change the laws as they exist on abortion. I'm going to keep them the same. Then a bill came to my desk which would have expanded dramatically the capacity of individuals to create embryos and then destroy them. And this was for scientific purposes.

I said, I can't sign it. I simply can't sign it. And I realized that what sounded good in a campaign, when I actually became the governor and was going to be the person who would sign a piece of legislation which could take human life, I simply couldn't do that. And I wrote an op-ed in the Boston paper. This was I think what, seven or eight years ago. And said, look, I'm pro-life. And I understand that. I'm going to be consistently pro-life.

And I have been in the seven or eight years that have passed since then.

BORGER: People say you're kind of too secretive. You're out of touch. You play by a different set of rules.

ROMNEY: Well, I know that the Obama campaign is going to do everything they can to try and deflect from the economic record of the president and his failure to come up with a plan to get the economy going in the future. So they try to attack me on a personal basis, and frankly, distort my policies in remarkable ways, saying things that I do not believe.

But nonetheless, one of the things they've come up with is to say, oh, he won't release more of his tax returns. They didn't have that problem when John McCain was running. He released two years of tax returns. That wasn't an issue. They didn't make that an issue at that point. But, boy, they're making it an issue now.

Why? Only one thing's changed. President Obama's now president and his record is not good. And he's looking for something else to try and make it the issue. And you know what? The American people care about good jobs and good schools. And they know that's what I can deliver.


BLITZER: Gloria's here. Gloria, this whole issue of flip- flopping, that's hurt him so far.

BORGER: Well, I think it goes to the question of what's in his core. Can Mitt Romney be trusted? And I think it comes at him from both sides. It comes at him from the conservatives in his own party who were looking for anybody but Romney during the primary race. And I think it comes from Democrats and from women who are -- who are pro- abortion rights.

And I think -- as Erick Erickson pointed out in the documentary, he said, if you got a bunch of conservatives together in a room, you know, they would not trust him to repeal Obamacare for example, as he called it. So I think it does go to this question of what does Mitt Romney believe.

BLITZER: David Gergen is here. David, what can he do, if anything, in the speech that he will deliver here, the acceptance speech Thursday night, to deal with this problem?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think the most important thing he's done so far, Wolf, is to pick Ryan as his vice presidential candidate. He really doubled down. I think that was the most important signal he could send to conservatives. He has to decide in the speech, does he play to the base, in which case that reinforces their belief, their conviction?

Or does he broaden his message, and does he try to reach for some of these independents who are still out there, some people who are still wavering?

BLITZER: Because the president's most vulnerable on the economy, John. Any day that they're not talking about the economy is a wasted day as far as the Romney campaign is concerned. JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: It is. However, who you are as a person is critical to how the American people pick a president. In every election there may be a different number one issue. And this issue, without a doubt, it is overwhelmingly the economy.

Governor Romney has an advantage on the economy right now, but it's a pretty narrow advantage, Wolf. If you look at our most recent national poll, it's about five points. That's not good enough if you're look at this race from an idea that the American people for a couple of years now have had serious, profound questions about the president's economic stewardship.

They are looking to see if there's a viable alternative out there. To be ahead is not a surprise. To be ahead by only five points I think is a bit of a disappointment from the Romney perspective. You need to stretch that out a little bit.

But why isn't he ahead more? Because people aren't sure he understands their struggles. He has this empathy gap. Does he understand the middle class? Will he fight for them? As Bill Clinton used to put it, I'm on your side. Is Governor Romney on your side?

That's his big challenge here. Because if they trust him as a person, then his gap on the issues where he has the advantage, his business experience is more of an asset. He will be trusted more on the economy if they don't think, as the Obama campaign -- and they've spent millions of dollars convincing the American people he's this cold-hearted guy who cares more about money than about your community.

So he has to get at the empathy gap. If he can close it, it will help him enormously on the issues portfolio.

BLITZER: Easier said than done. It's not that easy.

Donna Brazile is here, Ari Fleischer is here at well. Donna, do you accept the notion that he -- his position on abortion changed as a result of moral factors as opposed to strictly political considerations?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No, of course not, Wolf. You know, we've seen on a host of issues, not just abortion, but, you know, gay marriage and you can look at taxes. Mitt Romney health care is on -- you know, supporting individual mandate, not supporting individual mandate.

I think this week, the challenge is for Mitt Romney to demonstrate not just to those in the audience, his base, but also to those undecided voters that, as John said, he's on your side, that he cares about issues that you care about, and that the positions that he's espousing now are the positions that he will espouse if he's entrusted with the presidency.

He faces an authenticity gap. People don't know if he's for real.

BLITZER: Ari, the Obama team, they've done a pretty good job in defining Mitt Romney the way they want him defined, as opposed to the way he'd like to be defined.

ARI FLEISCHER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, they've thrown a lot of flak out there. Sometimes it gets through. I don't know if I'd say they've done a good job. If they've done a good job, why is the race so close?


FLEISCHER: But flip it around. If I'm Barack Obama, I'm looking at the polls saying I'm very likeable. People think I'm popular. They really done like Mitt Romney that much. So why is he so close to me?

And I think the biggest dynamic in this race, what's going to determine who wins and loses, is Barack Obama has very little room to go up or go down. Everybody knows him, known quantity. And the economy is not going to change between now and November and get better for Barack Obama.

The one big variable that can change is whether people like Mitt Romney. He has tremendous room to grow. I think if he grows on the popular front, which happens as the result the convention and debates, Barack Obama is dead in the water. That's why it's so close right now. It's the one thing pulling him down.

BLITZER: Guys, stand by for a moment. We have more to discuss. By the way, next Monday, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, CNN will bring you "Obama Revealed." That's the documentary. Jessica Yellin has been working on that. You're going to want to see "Obama Revealed." It debuts next Monday, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.

The Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has decided to skip this Republican convention and stay back home in Louisiana to cope with the storm. Coming up, we'll be joined by another one of the Republican party's truly rising stars, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. He's next.


BLITZER: Looking at like pictures here in Tampa. We're getting ready for the Republican National Convention. Technically it began today, but only ten minutes. The real thing begins tomorrow night. Senator Rubio is going to be talking to us in a moment.

But let's go to John King first. John is standing by. He has new poll numbers that he wants to share with us. John, especially in Florida. That's where we are right now.

KING: Wolf, our convention is in a battleground state. You have a guest who has won statewide. So he knows how difficult it is to win statewide in Florida, how complicated the state is.

So let's look first at our new poll numbers. This is the 2008 map, by the way, as you're looking at it. President Obama won Florida with 51 percent of the vote. But John McCain was competitive in Florida, but he did not win it in the end. Here's what our latest polls is -- this is likely voters. For the first time, we have likely voters, not just registered voters, 50 to 46, so within the margin of error, slight advantage to the president right now, in a state that the Romney campaign will tell you -- I know Senator Rubio will tell you Romney has to win. You can have other mathematic scenarios, but to win the presidency, Governor Romney almost certainly needs to win the state of Florida.

So let's look at what's at play right here. We see this in many other states. It's very important here in the state of Florida as well. Among men, Governor Romney has the lead, about a four point lead there. A much bigger lead, though, for the incumbent president of the United States, Wolf and senator, among women, a 12 point gap now.

That is one of Governor Romney's challenges at this convention. He needs to keep his standing. Republicans typically win among men. He needs to narrow this gap here.

Let's take a look at one other thing. I'll move these out of the way. If you look at the state of Florida -- I'll show you more closely in a moment, but among independents right now, the two campaigns are tied. Again, you have rough parity in terms of registered voters here. Whoever can win the independents likely to win the state.

Here's another challenge, this is a conservative convention, a conservative party. There are a lot of moderate voters in the state of Florida. At the moment, the president has a big edge among moderates.

Wolf, let me just push the polls out of the way before you get to your guest. You know this state very well. As the old saying goes, the further south you go in Florida, the further north you get, in the sense that you have a lot of northern transplants down here. You see the blue counties around Miami. Those are Democratic counties.

Retirees up here, although Senator Rubio lives in one of those counties. You go to the top part of the state, you see much more conservative voters here. You're in the more, if you will, the southern part of the state, bordering Georgia and Alabama.

Where we are for this convention is right here, right here in this corridor in the middle. A lot of independents live in the I-4 corridor, from Tampa across to Orlando. You see the split here between Senator Obama winning the big areas near Orlando, especially the suburbs and Tampa. I just want to go back in time, just to show you, before you get to the senator, when George W. Bush won the state, those areas were red. When President Obama won it, they were blue.

That's your battleground within the battleground.

BLITZER: No one knows the state better than the current senator from Florida, Marco Rubio. Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: I got to get me one of those screen, play around with it. Change the results.

BLITZER: Go to You can do it over there as well; 50 to 46, Obama's doing well. If he gets 50 percent, he's going to win 51 percent.

RUBIO: You know, I recall in 2008 where for a period of time Senator McCain was in a significant lead in Florida. That evaporated pretty quickly. Florida's going to tighten up. Again, these polls -- you will have a different poll tomorrow that says something else.

I wouldn't feel great about it if we were four points up. I'm not going to feel bad about it if we're four points down. I think that's what this convention's about, at the end of the day, is explaining to people here in the state and the country what's at stake in this election.

It is not just a choice between a Democrat and a Republican. This election is a referendum on our identity. It's what role we want government to play in our country. It's what kind of country we want to be. I think that's what we need to accomplish this week here in Tampa.

BLITZER: How much of a complicating factor is this Hurricane Isaac, that tomorrow night, when Mrs. Romney is speaking, there could be a disaster along the Gulf Coast, whether in New Orleans or elsewhere.

RUBIO: Well, you know, complicating -- the bottom line is that's more important, you know, the lives, the safety, the welfare of people. We can always have a convention at some other point. We have plenty of -- many, many weeks to run this campaign.

BLITZER: If there's a disaster, would you recommend postponing?

RUBIO: Look, I don't want to speculate about what the decision will be here. I don't make that decision. All I can tell you is that what's the most important thing of all is the safety and well being of these folks that are in harm's way. You just pray that things will work out for them.

We hope that they will. We know they're better prepared than they were seven years ago, for example, when Katrina hit that region of the country. So let's just hope that we don't have to face that.

And then moving forward, we're going to have a convention and an election that's going to be a very clear choice between two very different views of America.

BLITZER: I asked because you're speaking Thursday night. By Thursday night, we'll know what would have happened. But if you were speaking tomorrow night and had to make a decision, do I speak at a time when a hurricane is hitting the Gulf Coast, maybe on the seventh anniversary of Katrina, or do I say, you know what, maybe it's not the best time for me to speak -- what would you do? Because there are plenty of speakers lined up for tomorrow night. RUBIO: Again, let me wait and see what the intensity of the storm becomes or whether it's current path continues -- whether that continues to be the path. But let me say this, the convention's not just a big party. It's a working session. There's business to be transacted here.

Part of it is the important business of electing the next president of the United States. It's one of the unique and rare opportunities that the people of this country are going to get to see not just members of our party tell people what we're about, but the next -- hopefully the next president of the United States talk about his story and his vision of the future.

BLITZER: I think it's one thing to do a roll call, which is obviously critically important. That's the legal, technical things you've got to do. It's another thing for people to go up there and start bashing, let's say, President Obama at a time when there's a national crisis.

RUBIO: Well, again, I think this convention's going to be a lot more about the choice that the American people are facing. We're still going to have an election this November.

So look, I hate to get into the speculation. What I'm hoping for is at this time tomorrow, the storm is significantly weakened and found some part of an unpopulated region in the Gulf.

BLITZER: Here are some other poll numbers. Let's take a look at why Mitt Romney may be in trouble in Florida and elsewhere. We asked in our CNN poll likely voters, who's more in touch with women; Obama had 60 percent, Romney 31 percent. Who cares more about people, Obama 53 percent, Romney 39 percent. Who's more in touch with the middle class? Obama 53 percent, Romney 39 percent.

Those are pretty startling differences.

RUBIO: Look, I'm not a political analyst. So I'm not going to go through this poll and analyze it for you. What I am going to tell you is what this election is about. I think at the -- when we are done with this election, when this campaign is concluded and we are done putting out our case of why Mitt Romney should be the next president of the United States, those are not going to be the numbers.

BLITZER: What does he need to show the voters out there he's more in touch --

RUBIO: Be Mitt Romney. First of all, Mitt Romney's an extraordinary person. I think at the end of this convention, that's going to be clear to the American people. This is a person that is a father and is a husband and is a grandfather and is a member of his church, is a member of his community, has done extraordinarily special things, I mean really important things.

I said it the other day, that the man and the way he's lived his life is a role model for younger men like myself that are trying to balance work and family and responsibilities at home with responsibilities on the job.

So I think irrespective of how you may feel about him on the issues, that's an important thing to tell people, who he is as a person. Second, I think it's important for people to understand the choice here. It's a pretty big difference between President Obama, who believes that the way the economy grows is when the government spends money, and Mitt Romney, who believes knows that the way the economy grows is when people take their own money and have the confidence to invest it in starting new businesses or growing existing businesses.

When that choice becomes clear to the American people, those numbers are going to look very different on election day.

BLITZER: Quick question. Your former governor, Charlie Crist, has just not only endorsed President Obama. He's a former Republican, as you well know. But he's now going to speak at the Democratic convention. How do you feel about that?

RUBIO: As any American does, he has the right to change parties and do anything he wants to do. He's running out of parties to run under. But look, I think, at the end of the day, he has any choice he wants to make. That's fine. He -- Wolf, be interested to see what he says at the convention. But this week's about the Republican convention and what we stand for.

And I think at the end of this week, what's going to be clear to the American people is that we off a vision that will return us back to the exceptional policies that made --

BLITZER: Are you finished with your speech that you're going to be delivering Thursday night, introducing, in effect, Mitt Romney?

RUBIO: Sure, Actually, what I'm nervous about is I hardly ever write my speeches. You know, I don't -- I usually just kind of go in with some notes and talk. But this is important that it be written. I'm very confident about the man I'm introducing. I'm very confident about what he's going to do for our country. And I'm very honored to be able to do it in my home state in front of so many friends.

BLITZER: Give us a line or two --

RUBIO: I'm not going to give away my lines. You've got to come Thursday.

BLITZER: We'll be here. We'll watch it.

RUBIO: Nice try. That's a veteran move Wolf Blitzer pulled on me.

BLITZER: A little flavor what do you have --

RUBIO: a little journalistic Jujitsu. No, I'm not going to give away my lines. Let me just tell you, I'll be giving a speech on Thursday. It's about 15 minutes long.

BLITZER: Fifteen minutes, that's pretty long.

RUBIO: Yes. Well, there's a lot to say about Mitt Romney and a lot to say about this election. So I'm looking forward to it.

BLITZER: It's all done, you're ready to go?

RUBIO: Yes, I'm not going to give it tonight though.

BLITZER: Have you practiced yet?

RUBIO: I need to.

BLITZER: You got a teleprompter?

RUBIO: I've never used a teleprompter.

BLITZER: You want to stick around after the show?

RUBIO: Use some of yours? Sure. We'll see, maybe.

BLITZER: You know what I could do, if you want to read the teleprompter for the next little plug.

RUBIO: Depends what it is, yeah.

BLITZER: How's your eyesight over there?

RUBIO: It's getting worse.

BLITZER: It's not that hard to do. You can do that.

All right, never mind. We're moving into some serious stuff. But you know what, later if you stick around, we'll let you practice the teleprompter. It's not as easy as it looks.

RUBIO: I know it isn't, I know.

BLITZER: Senator, thanks very much.

RUBIO: Thank for having me.

BLITZER: Appreciate it.

All right, we're going to a serious subject indeed, New Orleans. It certainly isn't the only place that suffered catastrophic damage during Hurricane Katrina. Parts of the Mississippi literally were washed away by the storm surge. But residents say they'll be ready this time.

We're going to show you what's going on in New Orleans. Anderson Cooper is standing by.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We'll have more from the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, shortly with Wolf Blitzer. But first, I just want to give you an update of what is happening here on the Gulf Coast and in New Orleans.

I am at the 17th Street Canal. This is an area which seven years ago, during Hurricane Katrina, the levies failed here, allowing water from Lake Pontchartrain to pour into the city of New Orleans. They have spent billions of dollars to shore up these levies here, to build floodgates all around this area, all-around New Orleans.

This may be the first test of those floodgates, of the system that is now in place. There is a lot to tell you over the next hour or so. I just want to show you the current track of the storm.

We anticipate feeling the effects of this storm in less than 24 hours here in New Orleans. It is a slow-moving storm, so we do expect it to be very wet conditions, a lot of rainfall, a lot of storm surge, for even a 24-hour period or so in this area, but also along Mississippi Gulf Coast there, bracing for the storm,

I want to go to CNN's David Mattingly, who is in Gulfport, Mississippi tonight. David, what have you been seeing in terms of preparations there?

DAVID MATINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, I can tell you that people here have been through these storms many times before. When they look back seven years at the lessons that they learned from Katrina, the biggest lesson of all is it pays to be prepared.


MATINGLY (voice-over): Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, battered and splintered by Katrina. Bay St. Louis today is still rebuilding.

Gulfport, Mississippi, ocean front destroyed. Gulfport today, sea side lots still vacant and for sale.

The scars of Katrina are subtle, but plentiful. As Isaac now bears down the same path, due to hit the same day. But Mississippians, acting on tough lessons of seven years ago, stand ready.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You look at what's happened the past 200 years, this house should be high enough to sustain anything which has happened in the 200 years.

MATINGLY: Corky Haddens (ph ) home on Bay St. Louis was stripped down to its foundation by Katrina. So, like others, he rebuilt stronger and higher.

MATINGLY (on camera): Twenty four feet?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's 24 feet above sea level.

MATINGLY (voice-over): More than enough, it is believed, to handle Isaac.

MATINGLY (on camera): But nowhere are the changes to Bay St. Louis more obvious than right here on the waterfront. When Katrina hit, the city's old sea wall stood at about eight feet high. That wasn't nearly enough to stop the storm surge.

So when they rebuilt, this is what they put in its place. In some places a pile of cement and steel more than double what it used to be.

MATINGLY (voice-over): The U.S. 90 Bridge, a lifeline on he Mississippi Gulf Coast, broken into pieces by Katrina, also restored stronger and higher. And Gulfport's new 42 million dollar harbor now bracing for its first test.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The one that was here before Katrina was built out of wood. This one is concrete and built like a fortress.

MATINGLY: That confidence is everywhere. Ben Stone rebuilt in Gulfport when all his neighbors did not, a chance he is willing to take for beachfront living.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It gets angry from time to time, but it's the most beautiful sight I can see.

MATINGLY: This is what happened to Stone's house in Katrina. The new one built with the next big one in mind. Windows that can withstand 200 mile per hour winds and cement walls, six inches thick.

MATINGLY (on camera): Could this house stand up to Katrina?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not with me in it.


MATINGLY: Now he is making a bit of a joke there. But there is wisdom in that comment, because people here know that there is no such thing as a truly hurricane-proof building when you live right here on the gulf coast. Anderson?

COOPER: We are going to be talking a lot about the preparations folks in New Orleans and all throughout the Gulf Coast have been having. Right now, let's go back to Wolf Blitzer, who is live in Tampa. Wolf?

BLITZER: Thanks, Anderson.

All five of Mitt and Ann Romney's grown sons stopped by the CNN Grill here in Tampa. They spoke with our own Piers Morgan. You are going to hear what they had to say about their dad's personal life as well as his politics. Stay with us.