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CNN NEWSROOM

Who Won Presidential Debate?; Competing Economic Plans

Aired October 4, 2012 - 15:00   ET

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


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Here we are live on CNN. Good to see you. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Debate one is in the books. What are you hearing? I'm hearing the president could have used a cup of coffee. Maybe two. That's from his own supporters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AUSTAN GOOLSBEE, FORMER CHAIRMAN, COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS: He looked tired to me. I mean, I think a lot of people said that it felt like -- I don't know. Ultimately, it's partly the fault of the prep team, but the president's got -- it's difficult after four years, you know, you haven't debated. It's a different format but he's got to step up and do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Well, already today, here he is. The president hitting the campaign trail. We will hear what he said in just a moment. And it's pretty safe to say he's looking much more chipper than he did last night when our snap poll showed him losing that debate by a margin of more than two to one.

Al Gore just said and he's serious that Obama should have arrived in Denver earlier to acclimate himself to the altitude. As for Romney supporters, they're downright giddy today and they're saying their guy did exactly what he needed to do to claw back in to the race for president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK MCKINNON, FORMER MEDIA ADVISER TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I have never seen a debate as decisive as the one last night. So, we all knew that it had to be -- he had to hit it out of the park and he hit it out of the park.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: We heard about Romney's extensive debate preparations. Today, the president's folks are saying Romney skewed his own positions to make himself appear more centrist and Romney came in with numbers, came in with statistics. I will let you hear some of Mitt Romney and then we will hear from you. This is Mitt Romney explaining that we're on the wrong path.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That is 23 million people out of work. The proof of that is one out of six people in poverty. The proof of that is we've gone from 32 million on food stamps to 47 million on food stamps. The proof of that is that 50 percent of college graduates this year can't find work.

We know that the path we're taking is not working. It's time for a new path.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Romney actually came off as a more moderate candidate tonight and probably looks better than he ever had and being next to the president gave him actually more credibility.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Round one tonight goes to Romney.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Who do I give this to? I give it to Obama only because he was prepared with the facts and that Romney was trying to change them during the debate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mitt Romney seemed calm. You know what he's talking about. He's taking less notes. Obama, the minute Mitt Romney opens his mouth, Obama's taking notes and he just talked and looked down and looked down and looked down. He's never making contact with us.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm sorry. If you're planning on whacking Big Bird off of PBS, I don't think that there's going to be a lot of Americans that are going to be down for that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: So, that is from you. Thank you for your CNN iReports.

Now to Twitter. How about some tweets? Some of these are just downright priceless.

We will run through some of these for you. First, from Dennis Miller, "Obama better hope a kicked rear end is covered under Obamacare." Next from Indecision. "The October surprise in this election is that Mitt Romney is actually good at something." Ouch. Jim Sterling tweets, "Obama is winning the looking amazingly condescending when the other guy talks race." Finally, got this one for you from Doug Benson. "Just 14 minutes until we can all go back to preferring the candidate we liked when the debate started." All from Twitter.

We have a lot more, you know, as far as what happened last night, but I promised we would hear from the president and it sounds as though he is still debating today. He spoke just a couple hours ago in Denver. Here he is, President Barack Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I met this very spirited fellow who claimed to be Mitt Romney.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: But it couldn't have been Mitt Romney because the real Mitt Romney has been running around the country for the last year promising $5 trillion in tax cuts that favor the wealthy. The fellow on stage last night said he didn't know anything about that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: That was the president on last night's debate and Mitt Romney just responded for the very first time since the pundits and polls named him the winner. You will hear exactly what Governor Romney said about the president's performance next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: As we mentioned a moment ago, we are now hearing from Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney today. This is the very first time we have seen, heard from him since last night's debate in Denver.

Romney made a surprise appearance at the Conservative Political Action Committee in Denver. In fact, four of Romney's sons were scheduled to speak at the event and then, boom. Their dad popped in.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Last night, I thought was a great opportunity for the American people to see two very different visions for the country.

And I think it was helpful to be able to describe those visions. I saw the president's vision as trickle down government and I don't think that's what America believes in.

I see instead a prosperity that comes through freedom. And we have two very different courses for America, trickle-down government or prosperity through freedom. And trickle-down government that the president proposes is one where he will raise taxes on small business which will kill jobs.

I instead want to keep taxes down on small business so we can create jobs. This is about good jobs for the American people. If we continue down his path, there's no question but that the middle class, which the vice president noted has been buried, will continue to be buried with higher and higher expenses for gasoline, for food, for utilities, for health insurance.

If I'm elected, instead we are going to see prices moderated because we're going to people have higher incomes again, we're going to have rising incomes in America because we're going to have more jobs. We're going to have a stronger America with more jobs, rising incomes, moderated prices. That's a very different path than one with trickle- down government.

There's another place there's a difference. And that's with regards to energy prices. Under trickle-down government, you have the president saying -- you remember in his last campaign that under his policies, energy, that prices of energy would necessarily skyrocket.

Well, I believe an alternative we should have North American energy independence. Use the energy we have. It will create jobs and keep our costs down and reinvigorate our economy.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

ROMNEY: And you heard the president last night describe how he plans on reducing the deficit.

He said it was $4 trillion, but only in Washington would you count $4 trillion of reduction when, in fact, his plan calls for adding a trillion dollars of debt every one of the next four years. The Congressional Budget Office says that by the end of a four-year period, if he were to be reelected, trickle-down government would lead to a setting where we would have $20 trillion in debt.

I think that's wrong. I think we should instead take a course represented by freedom which says we are going to finally get America to cap our spending, to cut our spending and get us on track to a balanced budget.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

ROMNEY: And it's not often, I'm told, that Republicans are able to go out and talk about Medicare with such passion as we do.

But let me tell you, when someone is taking $716 billion away from our current seniors in their Medicare plan to pay for Obamacare, we say no way. We are going to put it back and we're going to get rid of Obamacare.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

ROMNEY: And then -- and then there's our military.

The president has proposed cutting our military budget and then this sequestration idea that came out of the White House cuts our military budget even more. We're looking at about a trillion dollars in cuts. The secretary of defense has said that those cuts would be devastating to our military.

Can you imagine allowing cuts of that nature to proceed as this president seems to be willing to do? If I'm president, we will restore the strength of the American military. We will not cut our military budget.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

ROMNEY: And you know how important this is. Trickle-down government will not create the jobs Americans need. Trickle-down government will not bring down the cost of energy. Trickle-down government will not allow incomes to rise.

Freedom is what drives America's economy, free people pursuing their dreams, economic freedom. And we're bringing it back. And the consequence for doing it right vs. doing it wrong is really extraordinary.

This is about the 23 million people in this country that are out of work or stopped looking for work or just given up. This is about the one out of six people that have fallen into poverty. It's about the 47 million people that are on food stamps. We don't measure compassion by how many people we can put on food stamps.

We measure compassion by how many people we can get a good job so they can get off of food stamps. And so, this is about those 23 million people. It's about the next generation. For the first time in history, Americans believe the future's not as bright as the past and that their kids won't enjoy the kind of prosperity that they have enjoyed.

That would happen I'm afraid if President Obama is reelected. It will not happen when I become the next president of the United States.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

ROMNEY: And there's -- and there's consequences for the world as well. And I think you understand this.

I have been fond over the last few weeks of describing my trip to Poland a few weeks ago when I got the chance to meet with a world hero, Lech Walesa, and a champion of freedom.

I came in to see him, by the way. And he met me graciously. Shook my hand and said you must be tired. You have come from America. You sit. I will talk. You listen.

(LAUGHTER)

ROMNEY: So I did. And I sat down. He said that with a smile. I sat down and he began to speak.

And over a period of about 15 minutes, he repeated these words time and time again. Where's American leadership? We need American leadership. We need America to lead. And he'd describe an area in the world, the Middle East or other parts of the world. And after each area and the tumult in that area, he'd say where's American leadership? You are the only superpower on the planet. We need America to lead.

And American leadership begins with strong values and principles in our homes and communities. It extends to a strong economy. That's why we're spending so much time talking about our economy, because everything we do, diplomatically, culturally, militarily, flows from having a strong economy.

And so, we must rekindle the American economy. These last three years, this has not been a real recovery. Oh, it bumps up, it bumps down. You are going to see ups and downs over the coming months, I'm sure, but this is not the trend you want to see.

So far this year, America's economy is growing more slowly than last year, and last year grew more slowly than the year before. This is not the recovery we need, the Federal Reserve printing more money, doing everything they can trying to prop this thing up.

We need to rekindle a strong economy, if America's going to have that last pillar of our strength, which is a strong military. I will not cut our military. It will be second to none. It will be so strong no one will ever think of testing it.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

ROMNEY: And so, the American people, the American people last night were given a choice. They were given a choice between two different visions for America, one where we continue down the road to become more and more like Europe, where a government gets larger and larger, more and more intrusive in our lives, spending more and more, borrowing more and more, putting us on a road to Greece.

And the other is a path that returns America to America, where we restore the principles of freedom and hope and opportunity that this nation has always been built upon.

I will take us there with your help. We're going to take back this country and keep it the hope of the Earth.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

ROMNEY: Thank you so much. Great to be with you, and let's get out there and win. Thank you!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Mitt Romney's surprise appearance there at CPAC in Denver. Other speakers at that event included Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

Romney's next campaign stop tonight in the battleground state that is Virginia.

And with a new jobs report coming out tomorrow, I'm about to give both candidates here really a reality check on their claims about your money. Who is it joining me emerging from the dark? This man.

Hello, Ali Velshi.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good to see you, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Good to see you. He's up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: Big fight last night over taxes and it pretty much went like this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Governor Romney's central economic plan calls for a $5 trillion tax cut -- on top of the extension of the Bush tax cuts -- that's another trillion dollars -- and $2 trillion in additional military spending that the military hasn't asked for.

ROMNEY: I'm not in favor of a $5 trillion tax cut. That's not my plan. My plan is not to put in place any tax cut that will add to the deficit.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Now, today, the president is saying, hang on. That's not Mitt Romney. He says Romney's changing his tune on the crucial issue of taxes to make himself sound a bit more centrist.

Ali Velshi is here to help us make sense of some what we heard last night.

Right?

VELSHI: Right.

BALDWIN: The first question on the tax cut proposal. The president is saying he's flip-flopping. Is he proposing $5 trillion in tax cuts?

VELSHI: So this is a tricky one.

What Mitt Romney is saying is that he wants to reduce taxes across the board in every category. Wherever you are, he wants them coming down by 20 percent. If you don't figure out where you're going to make up the taxes from, if you take 20 percent less from everybody, it would create over 10 years a $4.9 trillion loss and so he was overstating it a little bit but that's a study that's been done.

Mitt Romney's argument -- if you extend President Obama's argument in order to not create a $5 trillion hole in the budget, you would have to increase taxes and there's been one study done by a liberal group that says middle-class families would pay $2,000 more per year in order to accommodate that.

BALDWIN: Yes. I wanted to get to that.

VELSHI: That's what President Obama says.

BALDWIN: That's what President Obama is saying. He's saying if Romney gives the wealthy a tax cut and if he keeps the military spending from, you know, rising, that that would then translate into hitting the middle class. But is that a presumption on the president's part that that would specifically be sticking it to the middle class if Romney were elected?

VELSHI: It's an assumption.

I will tell you what Romney's response was. And that was that if you lower everybody's tax rates, and this is what he believes, if you lower everybody's tax rates, they will take the money they have saved by not giving it to the government and they will invest it or spend in it a fashion that will goose the economy and create jobs. What Mitt Romney says is that everybody will pay a lower percentage of their income as taxes, but more people will be working, they will be earning more and as a result the government won't be giving up $4.9 trillion over five years. They will actually be getting that money back.

BALDWIN: Money back.

VELSHI: That's neither right or wrong. It's not a true or a false. It's an assumption vs. a different assumption. Mitt Romney and conservatives believe if you cut taxes you goose the economy and it becomes more prosperous.

We don't know that it's true or not true. It's happened that way in the past, but it's a different economy now.

BALDWIN: What about -- tomorrow's the big day, we get the jobs number and Romney specifically made this promise last night when it comes to job creation. Let me roll this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: If I'm president, I will create, help create 12 million new jobs in this country with rising incomes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Well, 12 million new...

VELSHI: yes.

BALDWIN: I see your finger tapping.

VELSHI: Yes. I have a lot of trouble claiming with that claim.

BALDWIN: You do. You say baloney.

(CROSSTALK)

VELSHI: But President Obama came out -- his staff came up with the same number a few days after Mitt Romney first said it, because I think they did the calculus and they said Mitt Romney is promising 12 million jobs. It's not going to be useful for us to say that's not likely.

I have done a lot of research. This has only happened three times in American history. Once was during World War II, which was such an anomaly let's just that out. The last two times, once was under Ronald Reagan during that four years. Average economic growth as measured by GDP was in the high 4 percent range.

The second time was under Bill Clinton, where it was 4.3 percent. Our economic growth is 1.3 percent. So they're talking about a 50 percent increase in job creation in a very slow economy.

BALDWIN: So you're doing the math and it doesn't translate. VELSHI: I think it's a disingenuous promise by both candidates. And by the way, no one will explain where will these jobs come from? Is it the rebuilding of houses, is it infrastructure, which no one is suggesting...

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: No one has an answer.

VELSHI: Nobody has got an answer.

I have been pressing both sides for a very long time. It is unsatisfactory as a claim, but they're both doing it.

BALDWIN: And by the way, you're in Atlanta because you are?

VELSHI: I'm actually having a forum tonight. I'm hosting a panel on millennials.

BALDWIN: Millennials. Between now and this evening, we need to get hip with some millennials.

(CROSSTALK)

VELSHI: If you have any millennials or know them, ask them to tweet me and tell me what life is like.

BALDWIN: @AliVelshi.

Good luck with that. Good to see you, friend.

VELSHI: And you.

BALDWIN: Now to this.

Don't forget to watch Ali, of course. TiVo him, watch him, what have you, read his book. It's called "Your Money" -- Saturday 1:00 p.m. and Sunday 3:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

Coming up next, we have a debate coach here in studio and she is going to tell me and tell you what each candidate needs to do during the next face-off, including specifics about body language and talking to you, the Americans.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: Is your head reeling from the debate spin? Let's break this down for you because what we've done is we asked a debate expert to choose a single defining moment for each candidate that really characterized his overall performance.

She is Melissa Maxcy Wade from Emory University, the debate coach. Melissa, welcome. Nice to meet you.

MELISSA MAXCY WADE, DEBATE COACH, EMORY UNIVERSITY: nice to meet you. BALDWIN: So, let's just begin with President Obama because he began, you know, with the first response last night. His defining moment, it could be a good; it could be a bad thing. Set it up for me.

WADE: I think his was probably a bad thing and it was the last speech and presentation which didn't really capitalize on the strengths earlier in the debate.

BALDWIN: OK. Let's see what she means. Roll it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Four years ago, I said that I'm not a perfect man and I wouldn't be a perfect president and that's probably a promise Governor Romney thinks I've kept.

But I also promised that I'd fight every single day on behalf of the American people and the middle class and all those who are striving to get in the middle class.

I've kept that promise and, if you'll vote for me, then I promise I'll fight just as hard in a second term.

JIM LEHRER, DEBATE MODERATOR: Governor Romney?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: OK. What are you seeing there?

WADE: I'm seeing that the strengths earlier in the debate when he talked about the repetitive narrative, which was awesome, by the way, that Romney wasn't giving specifics for what he'd do about Dodd-Frank, what he'd do with ObamaCare, how he'd close tax loopholes.

At one point, he says, does Romney have -- is it a secret that he can't share with us? Would have been beautiful to bring that into the closing, instead of a sort of a weak toss-out to the middle class.

And what was probably supposed to be humble -- I'm not a perfect president -- came across as flat at this point in the debate. I think he knows he's not done well and it's reflected in that sentence.

BALDWIN: OK, so, you say flat in the end.

WADE: Yes.

BALDWIN: Mitt Romney, defining moment, set it up for me?

WADE: I'm going to give you the same thing, the end speech, and I think it's clear when you look at it.

BALDWIN: OK, let's take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: If I'm elected we won't have ObamaCare. We'll put in place the kind of principles that I've put in place in my own state and allow each state to craft their own programs to get people insured and we'll focus on getting the cost of health care down.

If the president were to be re-elected, you're going to see a $716 billion cut to Medicare. You'll have 4 million people who will lose Medicare Advantage. You'll have hospitals and providers that will no longer accept Medicare patients.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: You say this was a defining moment in a good way.

WADE: In a good way. It's crisp. It's polished. He's confident. He knows he's done well and it shows in his ...

BALDWIN: How can you tell?

WADE: It shows in his demeanor. It shows in his face. It shows in his gesture. He's got confidence in his voice. He's giving good eye contact and, at the end of the day, he knows he's getting ready to give his best strategic pitch, which is Medicare, and the end is $706 billion -- this isn't answered -- 43 percent, or 18 straight months of high unemployment, all of that. It was out of the park.

BALDWIN: What makes last night different from the next big presidential debate Candy Crowley's hosting October 16th is the fact that that's the town hall debate, right? So members of the audience get to ask the questions.

Last night, it was silent. The audience had to be quiet. How will that hurt or help either of those men?

WADE: Well, Obama feeds off the energy of the crowd, what you're seeing today, coming out today, feisty.

BALDWIN: In Denver.

WADE: He feeds off the energy of a crowd.

Part of the challenge that Governor Romney's going to have is he's gotten a lot of affirmation for being aggressive and it's easy when you've had that kind of affirmation to take that into the next setting.

Most debate strategies don't work as well the second time and, in a town hall setting, I think it's a particular problem because it's the people that are asking the questions, so aggression in the same way that was demonstrated towards the moderator in this debate is probably not going to fly in a town hall.

That said, he's getting a lot of affirmation for being presidential as opposed to likable and I think that that's something he's going to take in, at least psychologically, into the contest. Obama, I suspect, we'll see a feistier performance.

BALDWIN: OK, let's follow up after that debate in Hempstead, New York, October 16th, Candy Crowley.

Thank you very much, Melissa Maxcy Wade from Emory University. Appreciate it.

And don't forget, before we talk presidential debate, we need to talk vice presidential debate here. You have Vice President Joe Biden, Congressman Paul Ryan, facing off. Special coverage begins 7:00 Eastern. That is next Thursday night.

Just ahead, a developing situation along the Turkey-Syria border. Hours after an exchange of artillery fire, Turkey's government holds an emergency session giving the green light for their troops to enter Syria.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: Emergency meetings are taking place in the international community to try to calm some the tensions now between Syria and Turkey. This after five Turks were killed in a home along the border there, victims of Syrian artillery fire.

The Turks retaliated and this is a first time for them by firing on Syria and killing several Syrian soldiers in the process. Syria apologized today for hitting this Turkish town and promised it would not happen again.

And then there was this. This is a Tweet from a senior adviser to Turkey's prime minister, tweeting, quote, "Turkey has no interest in a war with Syria, but Turkey is capable of protecting its borders and will retaliate when necessary."

Senior international correspondent Nic Robertson, back with me now, back on this day number two, here.

So, with this -- the parliament now, basically approving use of force, yet, you know, part of the Tweet saying we don't want to go to war. What do we read there?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Syria's been put on notice. Two Syrian officials have apologized for this. They're bending over backwards to say this won't happen again.

But internally, politically, in Turkey, the prime minister cannot afford not to appear strong. It's national security and this is what the parliamentary decision is all about.

They will not have to wait. If they need to put troops across the border in a -- and the decision taking a few minutes, they'll be ready to do it, so this is also an accident waiting to happen. This is the kind of steady escalation you see in these types of scenarios or war.

Nothing is predictable. We don't know what will happen on the next incident, another stray shell.

Turkey is now poised to respond more strongly than it has been up until now. What could that lead to? So, this is an escalation and it could become much more serious.

BALDWIN: I have to ask, though, because as we talk about Syria apologizing and we've been watching this slaughter for 18 months and counting, they're saying they're sorry?

ROBERTSON: They're saying they're sorry because they don't want the international community to get involved.

If you look at it, they've ratcheted up their attacks on the civilians and on the Free Syrian Army, shooting at them first, then rockets, mortars, tank fire. Now, helicopters dropping bombs, fighter aircraft strafing, dropping bombs.

But always they're trying to keep that death toll, you know, just down low enough that the international community doesn't get involved, but getting shells over the border, killing Turkish civilians, that's the kind of thing that drags the international community in.

So, of course, they want to tamp this down. They'll lose that diplomatic support from China and Russia that's so important to them if they play it wrong and they're making mistakes.

BALDWIN: They're on alert. Nic Robertson, thank you. Thank you, thank you.

Back to politics now and the missed opportunities by these candidates just last night. How can both men right their wrongs before that next debate?

Margaret Hoover, John Avlon, they weight in. They're going to join me live, next. John actually says one moment made his jaw drop. They're live, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: You know, several polls gave Mitt Romney the win in last night's presidential debate. Take a look at the numbers with me.

In this CNN poll, 61 percent say the president did worse than expected. Folks, that is 6-out-of-every-10 people.

And another, take a look at the headline on Politico this morning, reading, "Obama snoozes and loses."

So what went wrong? What went right? To help us analyze last night's debate, I want to bring in the favorite married political couple, our CNN contributors, Margaret Hoover and John Avlon.

He is a self-professed independent. She is the conservative of the duo. Guys, welcome back. Margaret, let's begin with you.

We asked both of you here what would be a big miss and you say the big miss for the president was the 47 percent. What do you mean?

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you know, it really was political malpractice of him not to bring it up because his entire campaign has really been premised on the fact that Mitt Romney isn't going to hit the threshold for being president because he doesn't understand the pain and the pain of people in the middle class because he's wealthy and can't relate to their economic reality.

And, by missing that opportunity, by not mentioning this -- I mean, this has been pounding and pounding Mitt Romney on the campaign trail for the last couple of weeks -- he actually gave Mitt Romney an opening to make the case and show the people who are watching that he is compassionate, that he does understand.

Mitt Romney gave at least three different examples of individuals that he'd met on the campaign trail who were suffering because of the Obama economy, as he said, that would do better under his tax plans.

And, so, I think by not litigating it, he actually now will have a less of a chance of making that point because Mitt Romney actually seemed pretty compassionate last night.

BALDWIN: OK. So, malpractice you see.

John Avlon had a jaw-dropping moment. Let's watch that moment and then we'll talk.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: Well, I don't have a $5 trillion tax cut. I don't have a tax cut of the scale that you're talking about.

My view is that we ought to provide tax relief to people in the middle class, but I'm not going to reduce the share of taxes paid by high- income people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Jaw dropping because ...

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I mean, just surreal, the size of the Etch-A-Sketch, the audacity of the Etch-A-Sketch on taxes was unbelievable. I mean, it's almost as if Mitt Romney hasn't been listening to his own campaign rhetoric for the last five years.

The core difference between the candidates is about the tax cuts for the upper-income bracket and a 20-percent tax cut across the board. Mitt Romney has never specified the deductions that he discusses, but doesn't give any specifications on.

So, to hear him sort of say, I don't have a tax cut just was surreal and the president also had malpractice not pushing back on that and demanding some specifics.

BALDWIN: Yeah, I know some of the president's supporters even said he needed a cup of coffee or two last night after they watched that.

Let's listen, though, to this from the president, guys, and then, John Avlon, I want your thoughts on this one. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Does anybody out there think that the big problem we had is that there was too much oversight and regulation of Wall Street? Because if you do, then Governor Romney is your candidate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Did he, John, miss an opportunity to go further with the banks there?

AVLON: I mean, that was one of, I think, President Obama's better lines in the debate because he was calling out in a limited way, in a halting way, all of the sudden Mitt Romney saying that the problem with Dodd-Frank was that it was a big kiss to the New York banks, which is itself a surreal Etch-A-Sketch moment.

You know, the president needed more moments like that, connecting in common sense ways, concisely bringing out ...

BALDWIN: Your wife is shaking her head. I see ...

AVLON: Oh, I'm sure she is.

BALDWIN: Margaret Hoover, jump in.

HOOVER: Look, I mean I think Mitt Romney actually did a great job last night, especially on that point, saying, look, we need regulation. This is not a matter of "no-regulation" versus "regulation." We need some regulations.

It's just that when you have 2,700 pages of a law that's basically going to codify "too-big-to-fail" then you've got regulations that are going to really hurt the economy. They're already hurting small banks and community banks.

He actually, I thought, was pretty nuanced in that answer and came off as pragmatic and problem-solving, so, again, (INAUDIBLE), but I do disagree with John on that point.

BALDWIN: Head shaking and smiling, the sign of a wonderful relationship, you two. We've got to leave it there. We'll continue the conversation another day.

HOOVER: Thanks, Brooke. Thank you.

BALDWIN: Margaret Hoover, John Avlon, always, always a pleasure. Thanks to both of you.

And, now, let's talk about undecided voters, courting those undecided voters, President Obama, Mitt Romney going all out to get their votes.

Stick around because my next guest says she knows where those undecided voters are and she knows how the candidates can win them over.

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BALDWIN: Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, both have now pulled out of Denver. The president turned up at a rally late this morning before jetting off to Wisconsin.

He is accusing Romney of changing his tune at last night's debate in order to sound more centrist, but it's the president's own supporters saying Obama needs to step it up.

Take a look at this. Results of our snap poll show that Romney bettered Obama by a margin of more than two-to-one. We'll show you some numbers here in a second because he has to try to build momentum as he heads to Virginia to campaign tonight with his number two, Congressman Paul Ryan.

Now, there is the teeniest, tiniest slice of the American electorate. They are also the ones both presidential candidates are going really all-out now to try to get. What am I talking about? Undecided voters.

Here, you go. Take a look at this latest CNN/ORC poll and you'll see only one percent of likely voters do not have an opinion when you ask them who they would vote for if the election were held today.

One percent, the undecideds, but everybody wants them. Nobody has them.

So, who are these coveted few? Lynn Vavrek knows. She's a political science professor at UCLA and she is analyzing all these voters for this upcoming book. It's called "The Gamble" about the 2012 election.

So, Lynn, welcome and I'm fascinated by who these people are because you look at the calendar, 33 days to go here until the election.

Are they undecided because they really are just absolutely torn over who to vote for? Or do they just not follow politics, period?

LYNN VAVRECK, UCLA POLITICAL SCIENCE PROFESSOR: It's a great question and I think people mistakenly believe that they're just torn, they're right at the middle and one more piece of information is all they need to make up their mind when, in fact, the latter that you said is true.

They're just not interested in politics. They don't pay attention and they may not even have real positions on issues that they care about.

BALDWIN: You call them the low-information voters. Here's another 40 percent. This is according to this U-gov poll found that 40 percent could identify John Boehner as speaker of the house.

I do want to move on because, in terms of the specificity that groups can really get down to in terms of who these voters, these undecideds are, this is from Bloomberg Business Week by National Media Research, they say these high-turnout swing voters tend to be and I'm quoting this article, drive Saabs, drink caffeine-free diet Pepsi, drink, Corona Light, listen to adult-contemporary music, watch Turner Classic Movies -- that's a good thing -- and watch "The Office." How do you get down to those kind of specifics? Do you do that?

VAVRECK: Well, that's not typically something that we would do in writing a book, an academic book that is sort of engaging politics at a popular level.

What those guys are doing is segmenting the electorate looking for niches and, you know, they're really putting a spin on this set of undecided voters that probably is painting with a pretty wide brush.

BALDWIN: OK. OK.

VAVRECK: Yeah.

BALDWIN: Let me just get your take then because I know you've written about this. You know, last night, a number of the topical sections in the debate, the economy, of the undecideds who were watching, how do they feel about President Obama's handling of the economy?

VAVRECK: Well, this is a great example of, you know, the heart of this set of people.

So, do you approve or disapprove of Barack Obama's handling of the economy over the last year? A quarter, nearly a quarter of undecided voters will say that they don't know, right? They cannot even say they approve or disapprove of the way the president's handled the economy.

And the most important thing is that the number of people who will say that among decided voters is much lower. It's about 4 percent.

So, they're not engaged.

BALDWIN: So then, I guess of the people who -- some of whom are not engaged, will they ultimately make up their minds?

Is this, as I like to call it, a game-time decision once they get to that voting booth? How does this work on November 6th for them?

VAVRECK: Yeah, well, another common myth is they're all independents and, so, we use those two words synonymously, independent and undecided. Not true. A lot of them have party identifications.

So the first thing is, just like everyone else, at the end of the day, they're going to vote their party and then, beyond that, many of them will stay home, but the rest of them will pay a lot of attention to how this race is trending in the last couple of days.

BALDWIN: So they will pay attention even if it's the very, very end.

Lynn Vavreck from UCLA, Lynn, thank you.

VAVRECK: You're welcome.

BALDWIN: An outbreak of fungal meningitis spreading around the country. What are the symptoms? How can you protect yourself? How people are getting sick? That's next.

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BALDWIN: Four people are dead, 31 sick from fungal meningitis. What is that? It's this inflammation of the lining of the brain and the spinal cord and this illness has now hit six states, most of the cases in Tennessee.

Senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen pointed out to me one positive aspect of this deadly outbreak.

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BALDWIN: What is it that's making people sick?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the first thing I want to say is people are not spreading this to each other. This is not contagious.

BALDWIN: That's a good thing.

COHEN: That's a good thing. So, that's a good thing.

The bad thing that's happened here is that apparently there was some medicine where fungus got into it. It got contaminated and this was the kind of medicine, a steroid, that was injected right into people's spines.

So, they were injecting fungus right into people's central nervous system. That is really terrible. I mean, fungal meningitis is a really tough disease to treat already, but when you're injecting it right into the central nervous system, it makes it even tougher.

BALDWIN: So, what are they doing about it? What are the officials doing?

COHEN: Well, first of all, they have to identify it. I mean, if a perfectly healthy person says, oh, I have a headache, I feel a little nauseous, you don't think fungal meningitis.

You only think that when you find out they had these injections that were contaminated. So what they can do is they can give them I.V. medications, anti-fungal medications.

They have to be in the hospital for that. These people often get very, very sick. Some of these people are critically ill. Some have already died.

It takes a long time to get over this and the mortality rate, I mean, we don't know an exact number, but it unfortunately has a relatively high mortality rate, a very dangerous disease.

BALDWIN: Several people have died.

COHEN: Yeah, about four people have died.

BALDWIN: Four people. Elizabeth Cohen, thank you.

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BALDWIN: Also, developing this hour, an FBI team finally examined what is left of the U.S. consulate in Libya today. You know, this comes more than three weeks after that attack that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.

A quote/unquote "relatively small" U.S. military team escorted FBI investigators to the site. The Pentagon says both teams left Benghazi a short time ago. The FBI team had been stalled for three weeks because of security concerns there at the particular site in Benghazi.

Thank you so much for being with me today. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Let's send you up to Washington. "THE SITUATION ROOM" with Wolf Blitzer begins now.