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THE SITUATION ROOM

President Obama Visits Ohio; Romney Losing Ground in Ohio; Passengers' Battle to Stay Connected; Interview with Newt Gingrich; Romney Slipping in the Polls; Gingrich's Debate Advice for Romney; Gingrich Supporting Akin in Missouri Senate Race; Refining the Romney Message; Romney's Lagging Poll Numbers; Newly Repaired and Still a Mess

Aired September 26, 2012 - 16:00   ET

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


JOE JOHNS, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: a new poll in a vital swing state shows one of the presidential candidates with a clear and growing lead.

Also, what it's like to debate Mitt Romney. Newt Gingrich knows, and he will tell us about that and more.

And after a multimillion-dollar makeover, what's supposed to be one of Washington's most beautiful sites is an ugly eyesore.

Wolf Blitzer's of today. I'm Joe Johns. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We begin with one of the states that in just 41 days could decide the presidential election. Ohio is so important. Both President Obama and Mitt Romney are campaigning there this afternoon. And there's more of a backdrop than just the early autumn trees.

A brand-new Quinnipiac/CBS/"New York Times" poll has the president a full 10 points ahead of Romney in Ohio, 53 percent to 43 percent.

Let's begin with CNN White House correspondent Dan Lothian.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Joe, even though a new poll shows the president with a double-digit lead in Ohio, Mr. Obama continues to push hard in the state. It's a huge priority for the campaign, according to a top aide. By our count, the president has visited Ohio at least 13 times so far this year, this time ahead of early voting, which by the way begins next Tuesday.

Now, today the president was again selling his policies and his record in a state that he says has benefited from the auto bailout. He talked about the thousands of jobs created, but also hit China and went after his GOP opponent.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's been talking tough on China. He says he's going to take the fight to them. He's going to go after these cheaters. And I have got to admit, that message is better -- is better than what he's actually done about this thing. It sounds better than talking about all the years he spent profiting from companies that sent our jobs to China.

So, when you hear this newfound outrage, when you see these ads he's running promising to get tough on China, it feels a lot like that fox saying, you know, we need more secure chicken coops.

(LAUGHTER)

LOTHIAN: As for the polls, traveling campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki says that they always operate as if they're five points down. She stressed that there are always ups and downs in a campaign and that there could be many downs between now and Election Day.

Now, one other point, something you don't see every day, it took two tries for Air Force One to land in Bowling Green, Ohio. White House spokesman Jay Carney was briefing reporters on in when they were coming in and then suddenly pulled up. They finally landed a short time later safely, the problem, bad weather.

By the way, I don't think this is what the campaign was referring to when they said there would be ups and downs, Joe.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: That's Dan Lothian reporting in Ohio.

Mitt Romney's riding his campaign bus through Ohio today. And with the latest poll showing he needs to play catchup, Romney's trying something new.

CNN national political correspondent Jim Acosta is following the Romney campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Joe, Mitt Romney woke up today to more bad poll numbers here in Ohio on the very day he is racing across the state with a new message that can be summed up as, I can feel your pain too.

(voice-over): Across the critical battleground state of Ohio, Mitt Romney has been a man on a mission to connect with voters.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My heart aches for the people I have seen.

ACOSTA: The message of the day was not only that he can fix the economy. It's that he can feel it.

ROMNEY: There are so many in our country that are hurting right now. I want to help them. I know what it takes to get an economy going again and creating jobs.

ACOSTA: The straight-from-the-heart appeal is echoed in a new ad that shows Romney looking directly into the camera.

ROMNEY: President Obama and I both care about poor and middle-class families. The difference is my policies will make things better for them.

ACOSTA: Translation, pay no attention to the man in that hidden camera video.

ROMNEY: There are 47 percent who are with him who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims.

ACOSTA: But for Romney, when it rains it pours. His two-day Ohio bus tour under steady showers at times has had the feel of a race against time.

A stunning new poll from "The New York Times," CBS News and Quinnipiac finds Romney trailing the president by 10 points in Ohio, nine points in Florida and 12 in Pennsylvania. An ABC News/"Washington Post" poll may explain why; 54 percent said they had an unfavorable view of Romney's comments on voters who don't pay taxes.

Romney told CNN he's not worried about the numbers.

ROMNEY: We're taking our message to the people of Ohio and across the country. And polls go up and down. But, frankly, you're going to see the support that I need to become president on Election Day.

ACOSTA: But he's facing some strong economic headwinds in Ohio, where the governor, John Kasich, touted his state's recovery at a Romney event.

GOV. JOHN KASICH (R), OHIO: I hope you all know Ohio's coming back from 48th in job creation to number four, number one in the Midwest.

ACOSTA: Joined by golf legend and Ohio native Jack Nicklaus, Romney said the president shouldn't get a mulligan or do-over when it comes to cutting the deficit.

ROMNEY: Now there's over $16 trillion in debt. If he were reelected, I can assure you it will be almost $20 trillion in debt.

ACOSTA: Asked about debate preparations for that first face-to-face encounter with President Obama, a top Romney campaign adviser said, when you go up against Cy Young, you need batting practice. It's hard to set debate expectations for your opponent any higher than that -- Joe.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: That's CNN's Jim Acosta with Mitt Romney in Toledo, Ohio.

For a closer look now at why Romney's poll numbers seem to be slipping, let's bring in CNN's political reporter Peter Hamby.

Peter, I have to say I really enjoyed reading your comprehensive article about the Ohio race at CNN.com. Give us some idea why it is, if you will, that the president seems to be running so strong?

PETER HAMBY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

If you look at all these polls, the real problem for Mitt Romney is in the meat of the polls. Obama has advantages on the economy, on taxes, which Democrats rarely have advantage on, among women. But if you dig in and look, a couple things jumped out at me. This is from the "Washington Post" poll yesterday.

The unfavorable numbers for Mitt Romney are underwater. Mitt Romney is at 50 percent unfave, 40 percent fave. And President Barack Obama, who is at 59 percent favorable, 39 percent unfavorable -- Mitt Romney's having trouble getting people to like him. That's a very big problem there.

The other thing that jumped out at me is this question of the bailout. By a 2-1 margin...

JOHNS: The auto bailout.

HAMBY: The auto bailout -- voters there in Ohio like the bailout and said it's been good for the economy. You see this in poll after Ohio poll.

JOHNS: Wow, those are some pretty strong numbers. You have been talking to Ohio Republicans. What are they saying? What are their concerns? Are they afraid of losing the state?

HAMBY: Yes, absolutely. Do they think Mitt Romney's losing by 10 points in Ohio? No. They think the race is a little bit closer, but they do acknowledge he is losing.

The problem sort of mirrors what you hear nationally from Republicans, that Mitt Romney hasn't developed a succinct message, a succinct response to this question about the auto bailout. Remember he said let Detroit go bankrupt and then he kind of took credit for proposing a managed bankruptcy and then he picked Paul Ryan as his running mate who actually was for the bailout.

That's a consistent theme, that Romney doesn't have the right message here. But they do think they're losing. They do think however that because they have a strong ground game, there is still time to turn it around.

JOHNS: You make your point in the article that a lot of people think this thing will tighten as we get closer to Election Day.

HAMBY: Right.

JOHNS: The other thing though is Governor John Kasich, who had been sort of promoting the Ohio economic recovery even though he's a Republican and trying to get Mitt Romney elected.

Romney, of course, has been sort of talking down the economy because that's good for him. Let's talk about that.

(CROSSTALK)

HAMBY: Yes. That's a major complication here and Jim just mentioned in his piece.

The unemployment rate in Ohio is 7.1 percent. In Columbus, for example, it's about 6 percent. That's sort of a bellwether area. And at stop after stop, John Kasich goes around the state and says Ohio is booming, Ohio is rocking. That gives headaches to people in Washington and in Boston, who say, hey, buddy, tone it down a little bit. This conflicts with our message.

There's some ongoing friction and there has been for months between the Romney campaign and their staff on the ground and the Kasich people. It hasn't really spilled into public view, but in that article that I put up on the Web, you have one Kasich saying on the record, hey, Mitt Romney fix your message here in Ohio. Things are good here. You should actually take a lesson from John Kasich.

That's a pretty aggressive sort of statement from an aide to a governor to a presidential candidate.

JOHNS: The ground game is sort of fascinating because everybody says he has a good ground game there, but he's still sort of being outpaced by the Obama campaign in a lot of ways, correct?

HAMBY: Yes.

The Obama campaign in Ohio is sort of almost their model for their grassroots effort around the state. They have over 100 offices there. It looks a lot like the Bush 2004 effort. Remember, Bush kind of staked his claim in Ohio and won reelection with a really strong ground game in Ohio. They have over 100 offices in the state.

They have been embedded in that state living there for four years going into deep red territory, trying to hold down GOP margins and here there. The Romney campaign however if you look at the "Washington Post" poll that came out yesterday, they have been keeping pace in contacting roughly the same amount of voters as the Obama campaign has, although they have about half as many campaign offices in the state.

JOHNS: This likability question is really interesting also. You quote in here the former governor of Mississippi, Haley Barbour, as referring to Romney as being caricatured as a plutocrat married to a known equestrian, which I thought was just a fascinating and even funny quote. But it's a real problem for the Republican challenger.

HAMBY: Right.

And Governor Barbour made that comment during the convention in an interview. He wasn't calling Mitt Romney that. He was saying that he's been unfairly caricatured that way. But I talked to one elected official in Ohio who said that's actually not that far off. It's been a problem for him. Remember, the Obama campaign has been launching ads about Romney's record at Bain Capital, how he shut down factories and jobs. And again this rich guy problem for Mitt Romney keeps coming up. And Ohio Republicans know it. And that's why -- one reason that Barack Obama's winning that state.

JOHNS: So the consensus really hasn't been formed, but we're headed in that direction?

HAMBY: I still think it's a battleground. This is Ohio. I talked to one person yesterday who said, look, at the end of the day, no matter what the polls show, the state has a traditional GOP lean, the GOP has a good ground game and it's still a huge battleground.

And, you know, this might not be a 10-point race like a poll showed today, but it's going to be a two-, three-, four-point race in the end, I think.

JOHNS: That's a great assessment. Thanks so much for that, Peter Hamby.

HAMBY: Thanks, Joe.

JOHNS: Good to see you.

A day many air travelers dread is getting closer. Find out how long it might be until the person in the seat next to you can pull out their cell phone and talk through the whole flight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNS: Turning off cell phones and other electronic gadgets during takeoff and landing is a major frustration for many airline passengers, but the FAA is reviewing its ban on in-flight electronics.

And as CNN's Sandra Endo reports, things may change as international airlines take the lead in keeping passengers connected.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And now we'd like for you to pay attention to the following safety video.

SANDRA ENDO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The announcement air travelers know all too well.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Your mobile phones and other electronic devices should be turned off.

ENDO: But in this age of gadgets, some airlines have found ways to keep passengers connected.

(on camera): This Emirates Airlines plane makes the 13-hour trip from Dubai to New York twice a day and passengers on board can stay connected on their cell phones almost the entire time. But when they get close to the U.S., these have to shut off. (voiceover): The FCC has banned the use of in-flight phones since 1991 over concerns they'd interfere with mobile phone systems on the ground. The FAA has said it's concerned about electronic signals disrupting flight instruments. Twenty carriers worldwide do provide in-flight service with each plane equipped with its own mobile network.

(on camera): This Airbus A-380 has been specially retrofitted with this system where the cabin crew can monitor connectivity. You see the satellite connection, seat connection, seat display, connectivity network and wireless connection. Five green lights and then passengers are free to use their cell phones and other electronic devices.

(voice-over): And it's safe. According to what other countries that use it told the FAA in a recent study.

PATRICK BRANNELLY, VICE PRESIDENT, EMIRATES: We would not jeopardize anything to do with safety and risk. If I look to the future 20, 30 years, for sure, you'll be able to use your phone on American aircraft over the United States. I don't think that's going -- nothing's going to stop that happening.

ENDO (on camera): The U.S. government is not even considering allowing passengers to use cell phones on planes. But officials are looking into whether passengers can use devices like these to read or listen to music during takeoff and landing.

(voice-over): American Airlines pilots just started using iPads in the cockpit throughout the flight to access maps and other information. Flight attendants will also get tablets to use inside the cabin. And consumer advocates say allowing passengers to do the same during takeoff and landing would only be fair.

CHARLES LEOCHA, CONSUMER TRAVEL ALLIANCE: It kind of bothers consumers and passengers not so much the fact that they can't make cell phone calls, just the fact they can't use any electronic devices.

ENDO: And he worries one day on domestic U.S. flights, dealing with a loud neighbor talking on a mobile phone may be the next in-flight inconvenience.

Sandra Endo, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOE JOHNS, CNN ANCHOR: Polls show Mitt Romney's support is lagging in key states. We'll talk with Newt Gingrich about the reasons why and what the Romney campaign should do.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNS: In Syria, rebels have launched another bold attack in Damascus. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Lisa, what do you have?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Joe. Nice to have you by the way in THE SITUATION ROOM.

JOHNS: Glad to be here.

SYLVESTER: We're moving on, Syrian rebels are attacking the headquarters of the military's top commanders. It's the second assault on a military facility in two days. The rebels hit the building with explosives and gunfire and it would be like attacking the Pentagon here in the United States.

State media is reporting that four guards are dead and 14 other people are wounded. Opposition activists say there are dozens of casualties.

And check out this video of a tornado tearing across southern Illinois. CNN affiliate KMOB is reporting that the storm keeled back roofs, damaged buildings and overturned a truck slightly injuring that driver. The weather system also brought heavy rain and hail. Cleanup efforts are now underway across that region.

Sad news to report, legendary singer Andy Williams has died after a yearlong battle with bladder cancer. Williams was featured in his own weekly television program and a dozen TV specials making him a household name in the 1960s, '70s and 1980s. He was best known for his signature hit "Moon River."

(MUSIC)

SYLVESTER: Andy Williams was 84 years old. And I'm sure that song is bringing back a lot of memories for people.

JOHNS: Absolutely.

SYLVESTER: What a gorgeous voice he had.

JOHNS: Really. Just a golden voice in the truest sense. He was amazing.

SYLVESTER: Yes. Sad to see and hear of his passing.

JOHNS: Thanks, Lisa.

With the presidential debate just days away, we'll talk with Newt Gingrich about advice he'd give to Mitt Romney.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNS: The first presidential debate is one week from tonight. And joining us here in THE STIUATION ROOM is someone who's had plenty of experience debating Mitt Romney, former presidential candidate Newt Gingrich.

Mr. Speaker, thanks so much for coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: I'm glad to be with you. JOHNS: First, I want to show you poll of polls as we call it in Ohio and Florida. From September 13th to the 24th, Ohio likely voters -- 51 percent said they'd vote for Obama, 44 percent for Romney. And the poll of polls September 16th through the 24th in Florida, 50 percent said they'd vote for the president, 45 percent for Mitt Romney.

Why do you think it is that Mitt Romney doesn't seem to be resonating in these critical states at least so far?

GINGRICH: Well, I think he has three or four big challenges. One is that for a long period, the Obama campaign dramatically outspent Romney in precisely those states, driving home their image of who Romney is.

The second is that the Romney campaign is yet to find a thematic way of explaining itself and laying out in a clear crisp way the difference between Romney and Obama. And I think that frankly is a problem.

And there's an ironic third problem. Both these states have Republican governors. Both these governors have been doing the right things, the things Mitt Romney believes in. And the campaign doesn't seem to be able to pivot and say, you know, John Kasich's doing the right stuff here in Ohio and I want to take John Kasich's model to Washington because Kasich is from a smaller government, less regulation, more American energy, pro-jobs. And, boy, if we had a guy like John Kasich in the White House, look how well off we'd be?

They seem to have this overly methodical model where they go out and keep saying the same thing and it doesn't -- the world's too fluid. The world's too sophisticated for that. You've got a great governor in Florida, Governor Scott, who's done a good job. Florida's coming back. You have a great governor in John Kasich doing a great job. Ohio's coming back.

The irony is the states with the worst unemployment resemble Obama. They're blue states. They're New York, they're Illinois, they're California. They are places with big bureaucracy, high taxes, government employee unions and governors who believe in redistribution of wealth.

So, ironically, he's not making the case he could make using the very examples of the states he's in.

JOHNS: I want to ask you about that. Realistically, though, do you think it's the campaign, the candidate? Or is it just that people in these states like Ohio for example are more optimistic about the economy and it's harder to sell the message they've been working with?

GINGRICH: No. Look, I think it's clearly something that you can go out and communicate and do dramatically better than Romney's currently doing. I think that Obama in the end is the president who had gasoline price jump from $1.89 to $3.89. Obama in the end a president piled up huge deficits that will cripple our children and grandchildren. You just look at the mess in the Middle East where the president for 10 days didn't tell the American people the truth about what happened in the death of an American ambassador.

There's plenty of ammunition. But it has to be delivered in a firm systemically order way where people look up and go, yes, that's right. There's a simple test here. Do you want four more years of Obama? Do you think this is the right direction? Or do you think we need something new?

I think a campaign which made that case clearly enough would carry Ohio and Florida by big margins.

JOHNS: Mitt Romney was in Westerville, Ohio, today. I want to play a little clip of part of something he said and get your reaction to it. Listen.

GINGRICH: OK.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I want to bring the rates down. By the way, don't be expecting a huge cut in taxes because I'm also going to lower deductions and exemptions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: So he's trying to combine if I take it right the tax and the deficit argument. Do you think that's a little too complicated for voters? Do you think that resonates?

GINGRICH: No, I don't think it resonates. If you go back and watch the great winning campaigns, they have clear, vivid, explicit sense of direction for the future. The governor's campaigning in Ohio.

Ohio's a state that has enormous opportunity in energy. We now estimate for example that there may be 5 billion barrels of oil in the state of Ohio. Virtually the eastern two-thirds of the state has natural gas.

The Obama administration is trying to use the EPA to cripple the development of this energy. Governor Romney favors Senator Hoeven's plan, which would allow the states to be in charge.

There's an easy place to get John Kasich in as his ally explaining why Ohio should control its own destiny and why Ohians, by the way, for a manufacturing state should both have a big energy industry and through that have a lower cost of energy and retake the lead in manufacturing worldwide.

JOHNS: Now Mr. Speaker, I've known you a long time and I can sense just a little bit of frustration perhaps in your voice. If you had the opportunity to give some advice to Mitt Romney about this upcoming debate just a week from now, what would that advice be given the fact that you've debated him yourself?

GINGRICH: Look, I actually just wrote a newsletter for Gingrich Productions and Human Events outlining my thoughts about presidential debates because I've watched them since the first ones with Nixon and Kennedy.

The first ground is be who you are. I mean, you're not going to change somebody at his age who's done things very successfully. So don't take advice from consultants who want you to somehow magically be non-Mitt. He's got to be who he is.

My second advice to him is walk in determined to draw very sharp, clear lines with President Obama. I mean, frankly was startled by the ad you just showed a minute ago in which Romney is in a sense embracing Obama. We both care about the middle class.

I don't know why he's saying that. If President Obama cared about the middle class, why did the price of gasoline go to an all-time high? If President Obama cared about the middle class, why do we have the largest debt in American history, which the middle class will pay on for the entire rest of their lifetime?

I mean, if President Obama cared about the middle class, why have we had the longest period of unemployment since the great depression? I think it's a mistake for him to try to somehow be clever.

I think he ought to draw very clear lines, very sharp lines and say, look, here's where we've been under Obama, here's where we go under Romney. Do you want Obama stagnation or a Romney recovery?

And then he's got to be prepared to defend himself because both the moderator and Obama are going to come after him and he's got to be in a two-on-one game and he's got to win that game.

JOHNS: How hard do you think it is going to be for him to sort of turn this thing around and get himself going more in the right direction?

GINGRICH: I think it depends almost entirely on Mitt personally. I debated him a number of times as you pointed out. Most of the debates I did pretty well. The last two debates were down to life and death and we were in Florida and he was in danger of losing the nomination.

He came in fired up, decisive, prepared, aggressive, and energetic and to be honest I think he beat me both times. If he would be as direct, as assertive, as firm with Barack Obama as he was with me in Florida, he'll win the debate going away.

And within three days of winning that debate, the polls will change dramatically because he'll have begun to make the case that we cannot afford four more years of Barack Obama.

JOHNS: Now I want to make the turn to congressional politics specifically the Missouri Senate race between Congressman Todd Akin and Senator Claire McCaskill.

I just want to play a little clip for you of McCaskill's newest campaign ad. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On March 16th, Akin said he wants to abolish minimum wage. On April 21st, said he would eliminate student loans. And on August 19th, Todd Akin said only some rapes are legitimate. What will he say next?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: Now, Mr. Speaker, you are out there supporting Todd Akin. And the simple question is, how does he turn this thing around after his comment about legitimate rape? He's gotten a lot of Republicans who have decided not to give him money.

GINGRICH: Well.

JOHNS: What's he got to do?

GINGRICH: First of all, Senator Bond is for him, Senator Roy Blunt, the senior senator, is for him. I think you're going to see Senator DeMint has just said he's going to be for him. Rick Santorum is going to be in for him. Governor Huckabee's going to be in for him.

Look, there's no question that Todd Akin said a very dumb thing and he admitted it. He apologized. He indicated he was wrong. But I pit 6 seconds of Todd Akin's dumbness against six years of McCaskill voting on the left, 71 percent of Missouri voted against the Obamacare and referendum.

She voted for it after the referendum. She has an "F" rating from the National Rifle Association. Todd Akin has an "A." She has an "F" rating on right to life. Todd Akin has an "A." I think she's voted for every Obama big spending idea.

She's in fact dramatically increased the debt on the people of Missouri. My guess is that Akin is going to win that seat and McCaskill is going to be defeated.

Her ads are all going to be negative. They are all going to attack Akin and none of them are going to defend her record because in Missouri she can't defend her record.

JOHNS: If Akin loses the Senate race, how would you rate the chances of Republicans to retake the Senate this November?

GINGRICH: I think we have a good chance. We have great candidates like Tommy Thompson in Wisconsin who has won I think five consecutive statewide races. We're clearly going to win the Senate race in Nebraska. I think Governor Linda Ingle is a remarkable figure in Hawaii. We have likely pickups in North Dakota, Montana, and New Mexico.

I think the Democrats have a harder time keeping their current majority than we do picking up seats. And I think the odds are even money that we could in fact end up with majority of the Senate.

And frankly one of the reasons I'm so strongly for Todd Akin is I want to retire Harry Reid. I think Harry Reid is an endlessly destructive partisan figure who really needs not to be the majority leader. And I think he will cripple a Romney presidency if he's the Senate majority leader.

JOHNS: Now, a bunch of Republicans as I said earlier have actually pooled their money or have not tried to lend support to fundraising by Todd Akin. What do you think they should do now? Do you think they should start bringing their money back into the game in Missouri particularly because -- go ahead.

GINGRICH: I was going to say, I think Akin has a two-picture race. In Missouri, the picture is McCaskill and Akin. He'll beat her if that's the choice. Nationally, the choice is Akin or Harry Reid.

The Senate committee ought to look at that and say do you really want to lose a majority in the Senate because you're not willing to support Todd Akin?

Every conservative "Super PAC" ought to say to themselves you really want to have Harry Reid in charge of the Senate because you're not going to help Todd Akin? That's foolish. The ox got in the ditch. It's a mess.

We're now getting the ox out of the ditch. It's a Republican ox. It's a conservative ox. It's going to move in the right direction. On the other side you have a left wing Democrat who always votes for Obama who is going to make Harry Reid the majority leader.

The choice to me I would say to any Republican in the country the choice is very simple and very direct, the country is more important than one six-second comment. Akin has apologized for it. Let's get over it. Let's move on to the big issues.

JOHNS: Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, thanks so much, always good to see you in THE SITUATION ROOM.

GINGRICH: Thank you.

JOHNS: Coming up, we'll take a look at Mitt Romney's new ad. He's speaking directly to voters. What's behind his message? We'll ask our strategists coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNS: Joining me for today's "Strategy Session" are two CNN contributors, Democratic strategist Maria Cardona and Republican strategist, Mary Matalin.

I want to ask you both, but start with Mary. I think you heard former Speaker Newt Gingrich and his critique thus far of Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. What do you think of that, Mary?

MARY MATALIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I think Newt is a brilliant guy, makes a good point. If I was a person on welfare, I wouldn't think -- or poor person, I wouldn't think that Obama cared about me because President Obama measures his compassion by how many people are on welfare. So Mitt Romney is right in his new spot to say conservatives and Mitt Romney will measure compassion and welfare reform by how many people get off welfare and get a good paying job. It's not just as to the dignity of the welfare person. Having the dignity of honest labor, but it helps the economy.

It helps the other citizens. But I think Newt made a really good point about he just used Ohio as an example, but in the 17 states that elected Republican governors in 2010 mid-term, every one of those 17 states, unemployment is going down. And the growth is going up at twice the rate of the national economy.

JOHNS: What about the need to sharpen his message? The need for Mitt Romney to sharpen his message --

MATALIN: I think his good advice about Governor Romney was Romney should be Romney. He's a smart guy. He thinks voters are smart. He thinks they can understand that when you reduce loopholes and deductions and you flatten the code out, you make it flatter, fairer, reduce compliance cost and voters will get that.

I never underestimate the voters. When you explain Medicare reform, Ryan's Medicare reform to them, they understand that. When it's really been explained for instance in Rubio's three-way race with the preponderance of seniors in Florida, he won.

I trust voters. I think they're smart. And I think they're really fed up and sick of sound bite politics and particularly sick of destruction politics.

JOHNS: Maria, sound bite politics, do you think that's the problem here?

MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: No. That's not the problem. I do agree with Newt Gingrich in that Mitt Romney has a communications problem. He certainly hasn't been able to seal the deal or communicate what it is his plan would be.

Or maybe the problem is that he actually has been communicating that too well to middle class families and they absolutely object to what he's trying to do. So maybe that's the problem. Maybe his problem is not communication, but his actual policies.

Look, Mitt Romney's supposed strength has been the economy. He's been running for president for five years. So it's not that voters don't know him. It's that they know him too well. He has lost his edge on the economy in all of the recent polls.

So voters are now looking at him to say, OK, so if we don't trust him on the economy, which has been the foundation for his platform for running for president, we certainly don't trust him on any of the other issues that are important to us.

Like education, like housing, like jobs, and so we don't like what he is telling us. And especially when you have the video that came out, it's absolutely devastating. So it's going to be very tough to turn this around.

JOHNS: All right, let me set that up just for a minute. Mary, you got a lot of attention for something you said to me right here in THE SITUATION ROOM last week. Let's listen and talk about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATALIN: Many of us have been waiting for Mitt Romney to say this clearly and loudly, there are makers and takers, there are producers and there are parasites. I hope he doesn't just double down, quadruples down to the tenth power exponentially makes this case loudly and clearly because it's the essence of the American dream.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: Talking about the 47 percent comment that Maria just referred to. Mitt Romney's campaign released --

MATALIN: Excuse me, Joe. She's distorted what he said there.

JOHNS: OK.

MATALIN: They distorted it. That clip was distorted and that's distorted by what I meant. I didn't mean the 47 percent. Of course, if you pay into Social Security and you pay into Medicare, that's your money, you should get it back.

What Obama has done, the Obama policies have done, is ensure the insolvency and bankruptcy of Medicare and Social Security. He's hurting seniors. What Romney and Ryan are proposing will fulfill our promise to seniors for their retirement security.

So that's -- you exempt those people out. I'm talking about the number of people who have gone on disability or have gone on welfare and I'm talking about Obama gutting the work requirement on those programs. That's what I'm talking about. And I think voters are not only smart enough to understand that, they are living this life. I standby that.

Not the distortion of it and I know what Mitt Romney means. He knows what he means and so do Americans.

JOHNS: OK, well, let's just listen to a new ad that is out now from the Mitt Romney campaign and see how he's delivering a new message to the American voters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: More Americans are living in poverty than when President Obama took office and 15 million more are on food stamps. President Obama and I both care about poor and middle class families.

The difference is my policies will make things better for them. We shouldn't measure compassion by how many people are on welfare. We should measure compassion by how many people are able to get off welfare and get a good paying job. (END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: So same message or different message from last week?

CARDONA: I think it's --

MATALIN: Go ahead.

JOHNS: Go ahead, Maria.

CARDONA: I think it's absolutely -- what it looks like is what it is. Which is a little bit of desperation cleanup because he knows that in the comment that he made and again whether he meant it or not, it looks like that's exactly what it is at his core.

He's denigrating the work ethic of 47 percent of the American electorate. In making that ad, which I actually think is a good ad, the type of ad where you are looking directly to camera, is a good and effective ad, but only if two things are at play.

Number one, you're relatively unknown, which Mitt Romney is not. He's been running for president for five years and Americans are not buying what he's selling.

And number two, if you already have a little bit of trust among the American electorate, and that's the one thing we know Mitt Romney has a tremendous deficit on, so I don't think it's going to be effective.

JOHNS: Mary, can you respond to that? But also talk about the style of the ad. Is he doing something different here by trying to connect to people with that style of looking straight at the camera and trying to talk to the American public in that way?

MATALIN: That is a very powerful ad, very powerful. It strips away all the distractions and all the bells and whistles that some media guys think aren't point in campaigns. It gets to the heart of the manner.

She says every time around, which is the middle class doesn't like Romney. Battleground "Politico" just released a poll showing Mitt Romney enjoys a 14-point lead among middle class. And among every single issue the middle class say they agree with Mitt Romney.

And by two to one he has room to grow. People don't know enough about what his policies are and that ad is very powerful. Sets a stark difference between them as I measure, I Mitt Romney and conservatives measure compassion by growing the economy, creating jobs. Not increasing poverty and debt and putting more people on welfare. I love that ad. And --

CARDONA: Except every single poll that comes out there says the opposite of what Mary is saying. That's why this ad is not going to be effective.

JOHNS: All right, Mary, Maria, thanks so much for coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. Agree to disagree on that one. We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNS: It may not be as high on tourists-must-see list as the capital or the White House or the Lincoln Memorial, but anyone who's visited Washington probably has seen the reflecting pool in the National Mall.

It's just been repaired and it's already got a problem. Lisa Sylvester has taken a look. What you got?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there, Joe. That renovation is completed. They fixed some cracks and leaks in the foundation, but now there is a new problem. Let's say this is a problem that you just can't miss.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER (voice-over): There's plenty to take pictures of in downtown Washington, D.C., the Lincoln Memorial, the World War II Memorial and there's this. Folks snapping photos of the reflecting pool.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's really sludge at this end.

SYLVESTER: And what's in it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's disgusting. It's not right.

SYLVESTER: Algae.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It smells like wet dog down here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My dog came home from the stream he always smelled like this. It's gross.

SYLVESTER: The Lincoln Memorial reflecting pool reopened at the end of August to great fanfare after $34 million renovation that lasted nearly two years.

But less than a month later the famous pool of water is full of algae. Algae are simple organisms that thrive in areas where there is heat and sunlight. You have plenty of that here.

(on camera): The water may not look great, but it doesn't pose a health or safety hazard. It's really just the "yuck" factor.

CAROL JOHNSON, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE SPOKESWOMAN: If it's sunny, it's really warm, it will rise to the top. On some days depending on the weather, you will see algae at the top. Looks like small islands of algae.

SYLVESTER (voice-over): But why has algae suddenly become a problem? The reflecting pool was renovated to fix cracks and leaks, but it also included installing a system to draw water from the nearby tidal basin into the pool instead of using city drinking water.

Algae naturally grow in the tidal basin. Plus the renovated pool holds less water. That shallow depth is a perfect condition for algae to grow, a bit of an embarrassment for the park service.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's really a shame that they hadn't planned out a little better so you wouldn't have algae growing after all this time and money.

SYLVESTER: So for the national park service, it's cleanup time.

JOHNSON: The filtering system is taking out a lot of it. But there is, as I say, we were surprised by the magnitude of the algae. So we're going to have to actually manually remove some of the algae.

SYLVESTER: The park service won't use chemicals because the reflecting pool water can flow back into the tidal basin. A parks spokeswoman says they're adjusting the ozone levels to correct the problem. But in the meantime, the reflecting pool is not reflecting.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's nasty.

SYLVESTER: Much of anything.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER: OK, so did the park service anticipate this problem? Well, there is a filtering system, but they didn't expect the algae to grow like crazy.

The filtering system just hasn't been able to keep up, but the weather is starting to cool off and that should buy park officials a little bit of time to try and troubleshoot and figure things out.

JOHNS: That's really nasty.

SYLVESTER: I know. Tourists come and want to take this great picture. A number of people on their lunch break coming down and wanted to see how bad it was. They said it's worse than they thought.

JOHNS: Yes, too bad. All right, thanks, Lisa.

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addresses the United Nations in New York, but didn't stick to the usual script.

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