Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

Fireworks Over Fiery Obama Speech; Turkey Fires on Targets Inside Syria; Clinton Sets the Stage for the Debate; It's Still the Economy; Addressing Voters Directly; Strengths and Weaknesses; Presidential Debates

Aired October 3, 2012 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHLOR: Happening now, a very dramatic and ominous development in the Middle East. A key U.S. ally is drawn into a cross border clash with Syria.

We're also counting down to the first debate between President Obama and Governor Mitt Romney -- why tonight's showdown in Denver may be so critical to their hopes for November.

And we'll also hear from both sides.

And why a fiery speech by President Obama is setting off media fireworks five years later.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're counting down to the crucial first debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Our live coverage begins in two hours. Much more on that just ahead.

But right now, there's breaking news we're following. The United States is closely watching the latest developments in the Middle East, where the NATO ally, Turkey -- Turkey has fired on targets inside Syria after the deadly shelling of a Turkish border town.

CNN senior international correspondent, Ivan Watson, is joining us on the phone now from Istanbul -- it's not every day, Ivan, that a NATO ally, in this particular case, Turkey, is drawn into, potentially, a war with a neighbor, Syria. What happened?

IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, in the afternoon on Wednesday, mortars crashed into a Turkish border town called Akcakale. We've talked to eyewitnesses there, local officials. They say that a mother, her three children and a female neighbor were killed by mortars fired from the Syrian side of the border. And that town has repeatedly been hit by Syrian artillery over the last couple of weeks. The Turks have even launched formal complaints about that.

But this is the first time -- the first time there have been fatalities, Wolf. And now, within the last hour or so, the Turkish government announced that it retaliated, firing artillery at targets inside Syria, using radar to pinpoint those targets.

Key questions here, Wolf, are how many rounds of artillery were fired?

What were the targets?

How extensive was this?

Was it just mainly a show of force or were the Turks really trying to do some harm against Syrian military forces in response to the loss of five Turkish citizens?

BLITZER: As you know, Ivan, an attack on one NATO ally, in this case, Turkey, is an attack on all NATO allies, including the United States. And NATO has just issued a formal statement saying it stands by Turkey.

Tell us more at what -- about what's at stake in this incident right now.

WATSON: Well, the Turks immediately started rallying their allies, reaching out to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to the French government, to NATO, to the U.N. special envoy to Syria. And NATO held emergency talks specifically on this issue at their headquarters in Brussels. They were invoked under Article Four, which does not call for a use of force. It says that any one ally in the military alliance can for -- hold consultations if there's a threat to one of their security.

A big question will be what will happen after this. This is the first exchange of fire, really, that we've heard about. But it's important to note, Syrian anti-aircraft defenses shot down a Turkish military reconnaissance jet last June, killing two pilots. The Turks were, of course, furious. All their allies condemned this.

But we didn't really see any steps taken in the immediate aftermath of that. The Turks are now saying that they will respond to any type of provocation. It will be important to see whether or not more military steps will be taken by the Turks. And we're getting reports that they're going to be addressing this very security issue with the Syrians at a meeting of the Turkish parliament on Thursday morning.

BLITZER: And I'm sure there's intense conversations going on between Turkish authority -- authorities -- and NATO allies, including the United States.

Ivan, stand by.

We'll stay on top of this breaking news story for our viewers.

Meanwhile, here in the United States, there's a lot riding on tonight's first presidential debate, including just, maybe -- maybe the presidency.

Our coverage starts in a little bit less than two hours from now. President Obama and Governor Romney have been preparing intensively for this showdown. And just a short while ago, they made their walk- throughs over at the University of Denver's Hamilton Gymnasium. Neither took time for the usual campaign activities.

But former president, Bill Clinton, he was out on the campaign trail today.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I couldn't believe the other day when -- when the president's opponent said that 47 percent of the American people who don't pay income tax just wanted to hang around and be dependent on the government and, you know, we just had to wean them off of that.

Let me tell you who those 47 percent are. A lot of them are college students who are adults, but don't have income. A lot of them are seniors who have depleted their assets and, especially if they're living in nursing homes and getting Medicaid to help pay for it. Most of them are families who work. And...

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Tough words from the former president.

Let's begin this hour with our chief political correspondent, Candy Crowley, the anchor of CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION" -- Candy, what do you make of this, Bill Clinton out there aggressively on this particular day campaigning for the reelection of President Obama?

CANDY CROWLEY, HOST, STATE OF THE UNION: Well, I make of it that any time the Obama campaign is told by Bill Clinton that he's available, they put him out there. I think one of the things that came crystal clear when we were covering the Democratic Convention is that Bill Clinton is still the best politician of his generation, and maybe even this generation. A lot of talk, then, about how he explained President Obama's case a lot better than President Obama.

President Obama, very eloquent. He can give a great speech. But when you want to explain stuff, if you want to talk to folks and have them get it and bring you on their side, there's no one like Bill Clinton. And when it's like, you know, all hands on deck, that's the biggest hand of all, is to put Bill Clinton out there. And they will use him whenever he's available.

BLITZER: Whenever they -- whenever they can.

Good point, Candy.

By -- by campaign accounts, Romney and President Obama, they don't know each other very well, obviously. We're told they've only actually met face-to-face three times over all of these years.

So here's the question -- what role will that play in tonight's 90 minute debate?

CROWLEY: You know, I -- I was saying about this, in some ways, I think it makes it easier to go after one another.

If you know a person and you've gotten to, you know, see them and maybe chitchat and -- and have some casual talk with them and kind of know them as a person, it becomes pretty difficult to be really aggressive going after them. I -- I think, certainly, that's something that Mitt Romney has to do, with some nuance, to be sure, because we are talking about the president of the United States and people are naturally protective of the president.

So I -- I think that there -- there -- there is no love lost, either. And I think that's the more important thing, that what we know is privately neither guy seems to have a whole lot of respect for the other one.

So I think that comes into play. And what they have to guard against -- I mean, certainly what the president has to guard against is -- is looking too dismissive, looking like, look, I'm the president, why are you bothering me, that sort of thing.

What Mitt Romney has to guard against is sort of looking as though he doesn't respect the presidency.

So I think it makes it difficult because they don't know each other and they don't have that natural instinct to kind of, you know, step back and do the nuance thing. But I imagine they're pretty well prepared and probably both will be able to handle it.

BLITZER: We're going to be checking in with Candy, obviously, throughout the night.

Candy, thanks very much.

It's still the economy. With so many Americans struggling, that issue remains the top issue for voters out there. And it should be the dominant theme in tonight's debate, as well.

Our chief national correspondent, John King, is here watching what's going on -- John, you've been taking a very close look at how the economy will play out in tonight's debate.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And, Wolf, we know in the format, as you just mentioned, it will dominate the debate. Three segments dedicated solely to the economy. One on health care. Both candidates say that about -- is about the economy. Their style of governing and how they view the role of government. Look for both candidates to also talk a lot about the economy there.

So let's take a look at the state of play during the Obama presidency. Let me explain the map for you. If you see a dark green, that means the unemployment rate in that state went down a lot in the Obama presidency. If you see the brighter colors, that mean unen -- that means unemployment went up a lot in the Obama presidency. So it went up a lot in New York. That's not a battleground state. But it went up a lot in Nevada. That is a big battleground state.

It went down a decent amount in Ohio, another battleground state. So that's one thing to look at tonight.

The candidates, Wolf, will be, of course, speaking to the nation, but they know this race is playing out, really, in six or eight, maybe nine battleground states.

So let's take a closer look. As the candidates talk about the economy tonight, in Florida, Iowa, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin, the unemployment rate has dropped during the Oda -- Obama presidency. No surprise, if you look at the recent polls, the president is ahead. Some states -- some bit -- by a bit some states narrowly, some states bigger. But the president ahead in all of these battleground states where the unemployment rate has dropped during his presidency. Those are some of the battlegrounds.

The debate tonight is in one of the fiercest fought battlegrounds right now, the state of Colorado. It happens to be one of the battleground states where unemployment has gone up in the Obama presidency.

In Colorado and Nevada, it has gone up. No coincidence, they are among the tightest, the most competitive battleground states. Essentially flat in New Hampshire and North Carolina. New Hampshire, where you just saw Bill Clinton campaigning today, a lot of reservoir of goodwill from back in 1992 and '96 there.

Again, North Carolina flat -- so, Wolf, what is the Hamilton Gym challenge tonight?

The Hamilton Gym challenge, especially for the challenger -- if Mitt Romney is to convince the American people to change drivers, if you will, to change the man head -- at the head of the economy, he has to convince people he would have a better plan. And he enters the debate in a tie with the president. When the voters are asked, who would better handle the economy -- this is our most recent poll -- it's a tie, essentially. President Obama, 49; 48. Wolf, you talk to anyone in the Romney campaign, any smart Republican strategist and any Democrat, they will tell you, Governor Romney needs to change this dynamic, come out ahead on this question, who would better handle the economy. And they think he needs to do it tonight to shift this race in his favor.

BLITZER: We'll see how he does, John.

How does the president, though, stack up to past incumbents seeking reelection?

KING: Well, when you look at these numbers, this is why you have to say, forget anybody. Pay no attention to anybody who tells you this race is over, because sometimes historical trends take hold. And let's look at these back through the years. This is 1992. George H.W. Bush was running for reelection. Look at this. He actually had pretty decent -- this is GDP, first quarter, second quarter, third quarter of the election year, the strength of the U.S. economy in the first three quarters, the first nine months of the election year.

George H.W. Bush actually had pretty good growth. He lost the election because Bill Clinton and Ross Perot convinced people the economy was struggling. In 1996, a very robust second quarter essentially ended any talk that Bob Dole could upset Bill Clinton. This race this year looks a little bit like 2004. George W. Bush had very struggling numbers. Not so strong. A decent third quarter. A decent third quarter helped President Bush heading into his reelection campaign. Look at this. Look how weak growth has been in this election year in the Obama presidency -- well below even what it was in 2004 for George W. Bush. Then the second quarter, Wolf, it dropped even more. Very anemic growth there. We don't know the third quarter numbers yet. We'll get those right before the election.

But if you look at this chart, President Obama is -- we know he's trying to do something no one's done since FDR -- win with the unemployment rate above 7.2 percent. If you look at the GDP numbers, to win -- to win, that would be a bit of history.

BLITZER: It certainly would be.

John, thanks very, very much.

We're going to have much more coverage, full coverage of tonight's debate, President Obama and Governor Romney face-to-face, as American voters weigh their choice. The first presidential debate takes place tonight, You can watch it live. Our coverage begins 7:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN and on CNN.com.

A fiery speech by then Senator Barack Obama sets off some media fireworks five years later.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you.

Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: So, what might the Obama-Romney presidential contest still have in store for us? Jack Cafferty's following that in the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Wolf, if it's October and it's a presidential election year, then it's just about time for a so-called October surprise, which means any late-breaking event that can suddenly change the outcome of the race. For example, 12 days before the 1972 presidential election, Henry Kissinger made a major announcement about the Vietnam War saying, quote, "We believe peace is at hand," unquote.

This likely helped the incumbent, Richard Nixon, go on to win every state except Massachusetts. The most famous October surprise was one that never happened. In 1980, Republicans were worried then-president Jimmy Carter would be boosted in his re-election bid by either a rescue or release of the American hostages in Iran. That didn't happen. And Ronald Reagan won that election in a landslide.

More recently, Osama Bin Laden released a video four days before the 2004 election, remember? That reminder of the 9/11 attacks probably helped George W. Bush win a second term. 2008, the financial meltdown technically that started in September with the collapse of Lehman Brothers, but it was a moment that boosted Barack Obama and highlighted John McCain's weakness when it came to the economy.

So, what about this year, 2012? That old video of an angry speech with racial overtones by then candidate Obama which resurfaced last night could sway some voters or maybe the surprise is still lurking out there somewhere. Tonight's debate has the potential to provide one. There's always a chance for significant economic news, jobs report, the potential for the U.S. to go off that well-talked about fiscal cliff.

And it's not hard to imagine some unexpected event in the Middle East, take your pick there, Iran, Israel, Syria, Libya.

So, here's the question, what will be the October surprise in this year's presidential election? Go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile and post a comment on my blog or go to our post on the siTUATION ROOM's Facebook page. Trick or treat, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. October surprise, I suspect there will be at least one or two big ones coming up.

CAFFERTY: Yes, probably.

BLITZER: Yes. Thank you.

Let's get some more now on that video that Jack just mentioned five years ago, five years ago during his first presidential campaign, then-senator Barack Obama made a fiery speech. Now, suddenly, it's setting off some media fireworks amongst conservatives out there. Brian Todd is taking a closer look at what's going on. What is going on, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as you said, conservative media outlets jumping all over this right now. It seems they may be trying to point to this as President Obama's version of the Romney 47 percent remarks. So, we dug into it to see if that's true.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): On the eve of the first presidential debate, conservative media billed it as a bombshell, on the web and on TV. Here's Sean Hannity on Fox News Channel.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS CHANNEL: Tonight, you will hear from Barack Obama like you have never heard from him before.

TODD: Hannity played several clips from a speech then-candidate Barack Obama gave at predominantly Black Hampton University five years ago in June 2007. Here's one where Obama says he's going off his prepared remarks talking about how he says victims of hurricane Katrina got shortchanged by the Bush administration.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What's happening down in New Orleans? Where's your dollar? Where's your Stafford Act money? Makes no sense. Tells me the bullet hasn't been taken out.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: Tells me that, somehow, the people down in New Orleans, they don't care about as much.

TODD: Hannity then played this clip.

OBAMA: We don't need to build more highways out in the suburbs if we have people in the cities right now who want to work but have no way to get into those jobs.

TODD: Hannity then came out and said this.

HANNITY: That is what so-called unbiased journalists have been trying to hide for years. It is a glimpse into the mind of the real Barack Obama, and it's one that all Americans need to pay close attention to.

TODD: Did journalists hide that? Our research shows they did not. We dug into CNN's archives and found references in our coverage to the portion of the speech where Obama talks about New Orleans. This was on Paula Zahn's program the night after the speech.

VOICE OF PAULA ZAHN, NEWS ANCHOR: Now, nearly two years after hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, Obama insists our country still ignores communities that are impoverished and without hope.

TODD: And Lou Dobbs now with Fox Business Channel said this on his CNN program the night of the speech.

LOU DOBBS, NEWS ANCHOR: Senator Obama says tensions are mounting because there are still Black people in this country displaced almost two years after hurricane Katrina.

TODD: There's also a CNN.com story saying Obama criticized the Bush administration for neglecting New Orleans. It was the conservative website, "The Daily Caller" that did the story Tuesday on the Obama speech. The right-leaning internet gossip, Matt Drudge, touted the report, and Hannity brought on "The Daily Caller's" Tucker Carlson to talk about how the media had ignored parts of the speech.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It hasn't been reported.

TODD: We were told Carlson couldn't speak to us on camera because of his deal with Fox and couldn't speak on background because of scheduling. We showed the clips of CNN's coverage of Obama's New Orleans remarks to Vince Coglianese who wrote "The Daily Caller" story with Carlson.

It seems to have been mentioned by people at CNN and elsewhere those ad libbed remarks.

VINCE COGLIANESE, THE DAILY CALLER: The sound of him saying that is all the more newsworthy. That's not something that deserves to be paraphrased. It deserved to be played so the American public can hear it.

TODD: In its article, "The Daily Caller" says it obtained video of the Obama speech exclusively.

(on-camera) But that Obama speech was widely covered and circulated. We got the entire speech from our affiliate, WAVY, in Southern Virginia at the time, used portions of it then and then stored it in our library right here. When I challenged Vince Coglianese about that, he said it was more like "The Daily Caller" exclusively shared it with the broader audience.

(voice-over) It is true media that many media outlets, including Fox in 2007, only reported on Obama's prepared remarks and that some of his strongest rhetoric ad libbed was not widely reported. Conservative media is also saying this clip wasn't adequately covered.

OBAMA: Please, everybody, give an extraordinary welcome to my pastor, Dr. Jeremiah Wright --

HOWARD KURTZ, CNN'S "RELIABLE SOURCES": In 2007, nobody knew who Jeremiah Wright was. For Barack Obama to be thanking and praising his long-time pastor, it didn't set off any alarm bells. Now, in 2008, when some of his anti-American sermons became public, that was a big media story.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (on-camera): Howard Kurtz says, overall, it is interesting to hear what Obama said in that 2007 speech, but that his language was not inflammatory enough to make it into a big story. He says this was not a mainstream media cover-up. We tried repeatedly to get Fox News Channel and Sean Hannity to respond to our findings on the media coverage of the Obama speech. We've not heard back yet, Wolf.

BLITZER: I remember when we covered that speech five years ago. Now, you know, there are some out there who are immediately accusing the Romney campaign of effectively being behind this decision to go ahead and publicize once again what happened five years ago.

TODD: It's been on Twitter and on a lot of social media, but the Romney campaign has sent us a statement saying it had nothing to do with the new reporting on the Obama speech. And so far, we found no evidence that it had anything to do with it.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very, very much for that.

For months, both presidential candidates have been sparring over the facts. So, who's actually telling the truth? We have new details coming in.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here at CNN, we'll be fact checking what both candidates say later tonight in the debate, even though for months now, they've been accusing each other of not telling the truth. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think that the president's campaign has focused its advertising in many cases on very inaccurate portrayals of my positions.

OBAMA: They can run the campaign that they want. But the truth of the matter is, you can't just make stuff up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The cover of the new "Time" magazine is called "The Fact Wars: Who Is Telling The Truth?" Joining us now to talk about it is "Time" magazine's White House correspondent, Michael Scherer. "Time" is our sister publication as all of our viewers must know by now.

Michael, thanks very much for coming in. Both of these campaigns, I take it, have put out some less than truthful ads, for example. How bad of a problem is this in your reporting?

MICHAEL SCHERER, TIME WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It's bad. I mean, some of the major claims made in the most run advertising in these swing states fact checkers have pretty unanimously said just aren't accurate. You know, the issue here is that campaigns can get away with this stuff.

Both candidates have made their own ability to tell the truth, sort of a central part of their own character story, and yet, their campaigns can go out and say things that aren't exactly true. And while we in the media call them on it, there's not much consequence that's been shown from voters.

Partisans on both sides tend to forgive their own candidate for deceptions they tell and just get more upset about the other candidate, the other team misleading the public about their record.

BLITZER: Is it worse than usual? Because I've covered a lot of campaigns over the years. There've been lot of junk that's thrown there over the years.

SCHERER: It's a really hard question to answer. I mean, certainly not worse than 1988 campaign, which was in a lot of ways a low water mark for truth telling. I mean, what has changed is that the media now makes fact checking a central part of its coverage. So, there is a little bit of attention that comes whenever a politician steers off track.

The best example of that is Paul Ryan's acceptance speech at the Republican convention. That said, you know, these candidates are both doing it and these campaigns are both doing it with abandon and they're not backing down. Once they're called on -- for example, Obama has an ad saying Mitt Romney is for rape and incest -- for outlying abortion, even in cases of rape and incest which isn't true.

Romney has ads that say that Obama has done away with the welfare to work requirement which just isn't true. But those ads kept running long after the press called them out on it.

BLITZER: You have a quote in the article from Glenn Kessler who does a fact check for "The Washington Post." He said he was confronted by someone from a Super PAC after he declared something to be untrue. And the quote from him says, he laugh and said, "I actually don't give a hoot what you say because these ads work."

Is that the theory behind running some of these ads that include these factual distortions?

SCHERER: Yes, absolutely. I mean, these are very carefully chosen factual distortions that are shown in focus groups in polling before it goes out and then tracked once the ad goes out then work. And they work even with the pushback that comes. There's a reputation risk that comes to these candidates.

The Super PAC issue is a different one. Super PAC ads tend to be even less honest than candidate ads and that's because there's less of a reputational risk. If a group called Americans for a Better Tomorrow or whatever are running an ad that says something that's not true, the public's not really going to hold that group to account because the group, for all intents and purposes, doesn't really exist. The candidates still have a sort of greater cost if they do come out and mislead the public.

BLITZER: It's the cover story in the new issue of "Time" magazine entitled "The Fact Wars: Who Is Telling The Truth." There you see the cover right there. Michael, thanks for coming in.

SCHERER: Thank you.

BLITZER: Top supporters of both Mitt Romney and the president, they are standing by live for our "Strategy Session." Bill Burton and Jason Chaffetz, they're coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Both candidates tonight will be reaching out to voters at home trying to sell their message. It's a strategy President Obama and Mitt Romney are already using in campaign ads speaking directly to the camera. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today I believe that as a nation we are moving forward again. But we have much more to do to get folks back to work and make the middle class secure again. MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We should measure our compassion by how many of our fellow Americans are able to get good paying jobs. Not by how many are on welfare. My economic plan will get America back to work.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Looking directly into that camera. Let's discuss in our "Strategy Session" what's going on. Joining us the Democratic strategist, the former White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton; he's the co-founder of the pro-Obama Super PAC Priorities USA Action; also joining us a top advocate for Governor Mitt Romney, Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz of Utah. Guys thanks very much for coming in. Let me go through some quick questions, quick answers and get your thoughts off the top. Bill, let me start with you. What is Mitt Romney's biggest strength going into the debate tonight?

BILL BURTON, CO-FOUNDER, PRIORITIES USA ACTION: Well, I think the biggest strength is that he's up against a president who is in a tough economic climate. And I would say second is that he's the most rehearsed debate -- the most rehearsed candidate ever before a presidential debate.

BLITZER: What is President Obama's biggest strength, Congressman?

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), UTAH: He's got that big smile. But other than that, look, he's a very charming person. There's a reason why he became the president of the United States. But it's going to be a good debate.

BLITZER: What are you worried about, Bill, the most as far as President Obama is concerned?

BURTON: Well, as you know, I worked for President Obama for a long time and I love the guy. But he does have this reputation for sometimes speaking in paragraphs and not in sound bites. And in this kind of venue, sound bites are the thing that's important. So you know I think that any Obama supporter who really loves the president is a little worried that maybe sometimes he may speak longer than the evening news and the morning news the next day is able to cover in full.

BLITZER: As someone who's moderated four debates with him I can testify to that. All right Congressman, what about you? What's the biggest weakness that Governor Romney has? I moderated four debates with him as well.

CHAFFETZ: There's so much material to attack the president on --

BLITZER: No, no, not the president --

CHAFFETZ: There are so many failings over the last four years --

BLITZER: Romney's -- Romney's biggest weakness.

CHAFFETZ: Well, I think part of the challenge is how do you succinctly get to that and at the same time when you only have 90 seconds or 120 seconds to answer a question then also be able to share your vision and your compassion to the voters that are watching at home. To be able to contrast the president's record and his vision, share with that in a compassionate way, that's challenging to do in 120 seconds.

BLITZER: Here's a big challenge that the president has, Bill. Look at this. Likely voters we asked who will win the presidential debate? Fifty-six percent said the president. Thirty-two percent said Romney. There are huge expectations for the president to crush Mitt Romney in this debate tonight and sometimes those expectations are lacking.

BURTON: There are very big expectations. And even though the president always shows up when he needs to show up and gets ready for game day, you know, you hope that expectations aren't so far out of whack with what the reality is, which is that this is going to be 90 minutes of two guys on stage explaining their vision for the country. And you know there may not be a knock-down punch and it doesn't sound like the president is focused just on zingers like Mitt Romney is. And so you know I don't know that the president is quite as well positioned as the polls would suggest. But I think it will make for some pretty good TV.

BLITZER: How do you deal with that expectations game, Congressman?

CHAFFETZ: Hey, look, the president of the United States, you can't lower expectations on that. I hope Mitt Romney will do well. If Mitt Romney is just Mitt Romney, I think he's going to do exceptionally well. He's compassionate. He's focused. He's in command of the facts. And I think just the very fact of seeing them mono-e-mono (ph) right next to each other, you're going to see Mitt Romney elevated and people will catch a vision that this man, Mitt Romney, could and should be the next president of the United States.

BLITZER: Here's what the former president, Bill Clinton said out on the campaign trail today. Bill, listen closely because I want you to respond. Here's Bill Clinton in New Hampshire. Actually --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The only reason this is a race is that we're Americans. We're impatient. We want things fixed the day before yesterday. And the economy is not fixed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. What do you think about that message that he was delivering to the voters in New Hampshire?

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Hold on. Let's let Bill go first and then Congressman Chaffetz.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sorry. BURTON: I think that's a cornerstone of the American DNA that we are impatient as a people and that's why we've been able to make such progress and we've been able to make such leaps as a country. So I think that as President Clinton said during the convention there's not one president who could have gotten us out of the mess that President Obama inherited four years ago. And the question is do we want to stay on this path where we've created over five million jobs during this recovery and turned the economy around from one that was declining to one that's growing? Or do we want to go back to the same ideas that Mitt Romney has that got us into this mess in the first place.

BLITZER: All right, Congressman?

CHAFFETZ: That was spin at its best. The reality is President Obama has failed to get this economy moving in the right direction. There are 23 million Americans who are either underemployed or unemployed. The unemployment has been north of eight percent. I don't think you have to convince the people of the America -- of the United States of America that we're on the wrong track. What Mitt Romney has to do is convince them that he has the solutions to get us back on track. That's the Mitt Romney I see and know and that's what I think will shine through tonight.

BLITZER: I don't know if both of you were watching Brian Todd's report. All of a sudden a speech that then-Senator Barack Obama delivered five years ago in Hampton, Virginia, it's become a big issue among some conservative bloggers out there, conservative television, if you will, certainly on "The Drudge Report". Earlier today Stephanie Cutter (ph), the deputy campaign manager for the Obama campaign was on CNN and she said she thinks quote "allies to Mitt Romney are responsible for reviving this videotape right now." Let me let Jason Chaffetz, you're very close to the Romney campaign, what do you think about that?

CHAFFETZ: I don't think that has any truth at all. I don't think Mitt Romney is going to win this election because of what Barack Obama said as candidate Obama. I think he can look just at his record over the last four years and then paint a vision of where Mitt Romney wants to take the country and that will be -- make Mitt Romney victorious, not some video that is seven years old or something like that --

BLITZER: It's actually five years old that it was reported --

CHAFFETZ: Five years old --

BLITZER: When you saw that videotape, Bill, I'm sure you took a look at it once again over the past 24 hours and you heard the president speaking about his former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Did it make you feel a little squeamish? What did you think when you all of a sudden we're hearing about Reverend Wright? We heard a lot about him four years ago.

BURTON: No. Look. I think that this is -- that's an issue that was litigated and talked about very specifically for a good period of time during the '08 cycle. And so I think the American people have made up their minds of who President Obama is, what kind of ideas he has about what our country is and where he wants to take it. And so I -- you know I don't think that people will want to relitigate that. The notion that Mitt Romney's campaign had nothing to do with this I find lacking credibility. When you consider the closeness that Matt Drudge (ph) has to the Romney campaign, it's hard to imagine a scenario where there was not some sort of conversation or collusion or even the handoff of the video which is five years old to Matt Drudge (ph) knowing that many people in the media would be able to -- would be led around by Matt Drudge (ph) and cover something that they'd already covered five years ago.

(CROSSTALK)

BURTON: -- kind of desperate.

BLITZER: Just to be precise, the "Daily Caller" (ph) Web site was the one that posted the video, that's Tucker Carlson's Web site. It was then linked by Drudge, but that -- but the original story, the revival of it came from the "Daily Caller" (ph), not from "The Drudge Report", Bill.

BURTON: But Drudge knew about it even before it was published --

BLITZER: How do you know that?

BURTON: I think the odds that Drudge wasn't involved -- well, he posted on his -- he posted it on "The Drudge Report" --

BLITZER: But he posts a lot of stuff from other Web sites on his "Drudge Report".

BURTON: He sure does. That's the whole point of "The Drudge Report".

BLITZER: All right, let me just let Congressman Chaffetz respond quickly if you want to say anything about this.

CHAFFETZ: No. Look, Mitt Romney's going to become the next president of the United States because he's going to help turn around this country and get our economy back on track. And he's going to spend 90 minutes talking about that with the president of the United States tonight. So it's going to be a good debate. If everybody sees what I see in Mitt Romney, there's no doubt in my mind he'll be the next president.

BLITZER: All right, guys, appreciate it very much. Jason Chaffetz, Bill Burton, we'll watch the debate together with you. We'll have much more coverage obviously ahead leading up to tonight's debate. President Obama, Governor Romney face-to-face as American voters weigh their choice. The first presidential debate takes place later tonight. You can watch it live. Our coverage will begin right after THE SITUATION ROOM 7:00 p.m. Eastern on CNN and on CNN.com.

Using stand-ins for the other guy, we're going to talk with a man who is playing President Obama for Mitt Romney about how the candidates have rehearsed every possible scenario, at least they think so, for tonight's debate. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The impressions the candidates make in tonight's presidential debate could prove crucial in a very close race. They've rehearsed a lot of various scenarios using stand-ins for the so-called other guy. Let's bring in our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash. Dana you've spent some time with Senator Rob Portman who's been playing President Obama for Mitt Romney in these practice debate sessions. Portman takes the job very seriously, doesn't he?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He takes it very seriously. And by all accounts he's really good at it. That's why Republican candidates for the past decade plus have been asking him to play the role of the Democratic candidate in these mock debates. And, you know, he does -- what he does to prepare he told me isn't just read the books and read the policy papers and watch the video of the Democratic candidate so he can embody them and understand their policy prescriptions, he also looks at what their body language is like. Because a big part of what these mock debates are all about is not only preparing in this case Mitt Romney to make sure he has his lines right, but also to make sure that he knows what's coming at him from in this case President Obama. So when it comes to what Mitt Romney says but also what he does and how he acts and reacts. And that is a very interesting -- brings up a very interesting story that Rob Portman told me about his experience in the past with this. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have to figure out how they're likely to express themselves, you know what the body language is going to be like.

BASH (voice-over): Portman learned that in 2000 getting ready to play Al Gore by watching his debate tapes.

He got kind of physical. You know he sort of stood up like this. And Bill Bradley (ph) is a pretty big guy, but Al Gore kind of got right in his face. And so in the debate perhaps with Governor George W. Bush -- this is in 2000 -- I did that. And Governor Bush's reaction was of course he's not going to do that. That's ridiculous.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But can you get things done?

BASH: But that's exactly what Gore did.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I believe I can.

BASH (on camera): Did he actually practice the nod or did you just --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well no, he didn't take it seriously --

BASH: -- (INAUDIBLE) he was going to --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

BASH: -- physically approach him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the point is that Governor Bush was ready for it. And that was not a high point for Vice President Gore.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Now, that's an example, Wolf, of being prepared mentally or psychologically and for these candidates that's almost as important as being ready substantively going into the debate tonight.

BLITZER: It certainly is. I know you're going to have a lot more on this story coming up later. Dana, thank you. Dana's exclusive interview with Senator Rob Portman will air during our special debate coverage. It all starts right after THE SITUATION ROOM 7:00 p.m. Eastern. By the way, you can also hear Jessica Yellin's interview with Senator John Kerry about President Obama's debate preparations. Senator Kerry playing Mitt Romney in all those debate preparations, 7:00 p.m. Eastern our special coverage begins right here on CNN and CNN.com.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Angry protests erupt on the streets of Iran. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Lisa, what's going on?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf. Well Iranian riot police surrounded crowds of demonstrators today, they're blaming President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for economic problems they say are leaving families across the country struggling. Ahmadinejad insists Iran has taken a hit because of what he calls the enemy sanctions. The U.S. and EU have imposed a number of sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program. Iran says it will never surrender to international pressures.

And a slow down for private sector hiring which added just 162,000 jobs in September, according to a report released today by payroll processor ABP (ph). The number was higher than economists had forecast, but far lower than August numbers. The government's official monthly job report is due out on Friday.

And take a look at this video. A junior hockey player scores a goal and amid all of the excitement plunges through the glass. The 18- year-old wasn't injured in the incident and after a quick replacement his team, the New Jersey Junior Titans (ph) they went on to win the game -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good thing he had all of that padding on when he jumped through that glass.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: All right, thanks Lisa. So what is President Obama's biggest challenge tonight? I'm going to ask his deputy campaign manager, Stephanie Cutter (ph). She is coming up in our next hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Jack is back with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour, Wolf, is what's going to be the "October Surprise" in this year's presidential election?

Tony writes "the October surprise could be the president releasing the dead photos of Osama bin Laden to remind people of Obama's effective war against terror."

Mark writes "we could start with Obama's 2007 Hampton University speech using race to divide the country. And I thought Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson were the only black race baiters out there. If the mainstream media had vetted this individual, we would have been spared his incompetence."

Dee writes "Romney tweets 'I knew I should not have released my tax returns' when his wife Ann switches her allegiance to Barack Obama after finding out how much her husband really earned."

David in Tampa writes "That more people watch or care about the debates than watch or care about 'Honey Boo Boo'. Can you wake me when it's over?"

Timothy says "Obama takes out the al Qaeda elements responsible for the recent deaths in Libya."

Michael in Largo, Florida writes "the only October surprise for me will be if Romney can keep his foot out of his mouth for the whole month."

Pete in Georgia says "maybe we'll learn Obama wasn't born in America after all, but rather on Mars. That'll explain everything."

And Ralph in Texas, "Jack, if I told you it wouldn't be a surprise now would it?"

If you want to read more about this, go to the blog, CNN.com/CaffertyFile or through our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RONALD REAGAN, GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent's youth and inexperience.

MICHAEL DUKAKIS, DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Is this the time to unleash our one-liners?

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That answer was about as clear as Boston Harbor. Now --

(LAUGHTER) BILL CLINTON, DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're in the grip of a failed economic theory, and this decision better be about what kind of economic theory you want.

GEORGE W. BUSH, GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I've got to answer this. Tell Tony Blair we're going alone. It denigrates an alliance to say we're going alone to discount their sacrifices. You cannot lead.

BARACK OBAMA, DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't understand how we ended up invading a country that had nothing to do with 9/11.

(END VIDEOTAPE)