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Obama and Romney in Ohio; Former Syrian Insider Speaks Out; Sandusky Sentenced to 30-60 Years in Prison

Aired October 9, 2012 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: We're standing by for my live one-on-one interview with the Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney. He's heading for Ohio, where we have brand-new poll numbers just coming in. We're going to see what a difference one debate has made.

Also, rare access into the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's inner circle. A one-time insider sits down with CNN, admits covering up crimes and so much more.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

This just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. As we await our interview with Mitt Romney, we have some brand-new poll numbers from one of the most crucial battleground states in the country, certainly on the CNN Electoral College map, Ohio.

Both presidential candidates will be there today. And look at this. Romney's catching up dramatically. President Obama's still ahead 51 percent to 47 percent. But his four-point lead falls now within the poll's sampling error. The president had a nine-point lead in our most recent poll of polls in Ohio, which was completed just before last week's presidential debate in Denver.

Our chief national correspondent, John King, is joining us from the state capital of Columbus right now.

John, you're taking a closer look at the new numbers in this Ohio poll. What are you seeing?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, if you had any doubt the first debate gave Governor Romney a significant meaningful bounce, this erases them.

We have seen it in the national polls. Now we see it in our brand-new poll here in Ohio. You just mentioned the numbers. That's a statistical tie and a big comeback for Governor Romney from where he was pre-debate. Let's take a closer look at why this now with four weeks is certain to be a hard-fought battleground, as it often is.

Among independents, look at this, a statistical tie, the president up four points. Again, that's within the margin of error, a statistical tie among those who describe themselves as independents. The suburbs, this state often decided in the Columbus, Cincinnati and Cleveland suburbs when it's close, a statistical tie. Governor Romney up two points there. Again, a dead heat if you look at the poll numbers in the battleground of the suburbs. And among key older voters, 50 and older, those most reliable to vote, the president up one point. Again, Wolf, a statistical tie.

You look at this, it's a dramatic turnaround from Governor Romney. Just two weeks ago, a lot of Republicans saying is there any way we can win without Ohio? You know the history as well as anyone. No Republican has ever won without this state. That Republican soul searching is now over. As you mentioned, the governor will be here today. You're going to talk to him in a bit. They now say Ohio is back in play.

They need it back in play. There's no way to win without it.

BLITZER: It's going to be a critical, critical state.

There are some areas in this new poll where significant gaps do remain, John. How does that bode for the final month of campaigning? We're now in the final month.

KING: It's fascinating.

We are in the final month. Four weeks from today, America votes. And when you look deep into the numbers, here's something that is encouraging for Governor Romney. Because this is a state with a significant African-American population, President Obama has a strong base here. Governor Romney has to do well among white voters.

Look at this among white men, a huge lead, 30 points among white men 64 to 34. He has to keep President Obama probably around 37 percent overall among the white vote. So encouraging for the governor among man.

But look at this among white women in the state of Ohio, Wolf, 52 percent to 46 percent. A narrow lead for the president. Some people might say that's not such a big deal. When the president beat John McCain in 2008, President Obama received 47 percent of the white female vote.

So he is now winning that vote. That is the key area that Governor Romney must improve in his advertising, in his campaigning, in those final two debates plus the vice presidential debate. Wolf, that's one of the reasons we're here.

When you talk to white women, especially in the suburbs, one thing that resonates with them that they don't like, that 47 percent remark. A lot of them have struggled the last few years, they found what Governor Romney said offensive. Clearly heading into the next debate, that is one of his challenges, to try to get people -- he apologized the other night on FOX News to get people to see that that was something that he should not have said, didn't mean to say and that is not the totality of his character.

That 47 percent remark hurting him among women, white women especially, a key constituency here.

BLITZER: Yes. He said he was completely wrong in uttering those words at that closed door fund-raiser back in May in Boca Raton, Florida.

I take it you can't watch television in Ohio right now, John, for all practical purposes without being saturated by these TV commercials.

KING: Wolf, remember yesterday we talked about Colorado. We were stunned at the $33 million in TV ad spending in Colorado.

Forget about it. Colorado seems pretty puny when you match this up. No offense to the state of Colorado -- $91 million spent in Ohio the last six months on presidential campaign TV ads, $91 million over the past six months.

Roughly evenly split, a little bit more for the president, pro- Obama spending, his campaign and pro-Democratic PACs than Governor Romney. In just the last two weeks, Wolf, $20.5 million, again a slight advantage for President Obama, but roughly an even split, $20.5 million spent in the last two weeks.

Guess what? Expect nothing but more of the same the next four weeks.

BLITZER: Yes. I'm sure of that. Thanks very much. John will be back with us. He's joining us from Ohio.

And as we mentioned, both Mitt Romney and President Obama, they are campaigning in Ohio today. And believe it or not, today's big issue in the presidential race is Big Bird.

CNN's national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, reports from Iowa right now, where Romney held a rally earlier in the day -- Jim.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Romney campaign is clearly feeling good, but at the same time top advisers are trying to downplay the importance of a slew of new polls showing the GOP nominee now in a real horse race with President Obama. And in a sign that all of this has gotten the president's attention, this campaign has suddenly turned into a race over small things or, rather, one Big Bird.

(voice-over): Plowing into his proposals to help American farmers, Mitt Romney had poultry on his mind in Iowa of the 8-foot and yellow variety as he accused the president of fouling up the nation's weak recovery.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You have to scratch your head when the president spends the last week talking about saving Big Bird. I actually think we need to have a president who talks about saving the American people and saving good jobs and saving our future. NARRATOR: One man has the guts to speak his name.

ROMNEY: Big Bird. Big Bird.

ACOSTA: It was a direct response to the latest ad from the Obama campaign.

NARRATOR: Mitt Romney knows it's not Wall Street you have to worry about. It's Sesame Street.

ACOSTA: The spot's goal, to turn Romney's widely perceived win at the last debate into something of a national punchline by taking aim at one of the night's more memorable moments.

ROMNEY: I'm sorry, Jim, I'm going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I'm going to stop other things. I like PBS. I love Big Bird. I actually like you, too.

ACOSTA: Ever since the GOP nominee put Big Bird in his sights, Democrats activists dressed up as the Sesame Street character have appeared at Romney's campaign events. The Obama campaign says it is trying to make the point that slashing funding for PBS, which makes up one-hundredth of 1 percent of the federal budget, will do little to cut the deficit.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Somebody is finally getting tough on Big Bird, rounding him up. Elmo's got to watch out too.

ACOSTA: But Elmo is not tickled. Sesame Street's producers released a statement saying it's not taking sides, adding, "We have approved no campaign ads and as is our general practice have requested that the ad be taken down." Republicans are now calling it the Big Bird backfire.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just find it troubling that the president's message, the president's focus 28 days from Election Day is Big Bird.

ACOSTA: Romney's advisers say it's a surprising tactic given what then-Senator Obama said in his convention speech in 2008.

OBAMA: If you don't have a record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone people should run from. You make a big election about small things.

ACOSTA: The Romney campaign also believes the candidate is connecting better with voters, here getting choked up talking about Navy SEAL Glen Doherty, who died in a consulate attack in Libya, a man Romney said he once met.

ROMNEY: You can imagine how I felt when I found out that he was one of the two former Navy SEALs killed in Benghazi on September 11.

And it touched me, obviously, as I recognized this young man that I thought was so impressive had lost his life in the service of his fellow men and women. ACOSTA (on camera): Now that the race is essentially tied, Romney's advisers expect the Obama campaign to shift away from Sesame Street tactics to what they call character attacks. But those officials are confident that those attacks will not work, saying voters are now tuned into the debates and eager to hear solutions -- Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Jim Acosta, thank you.

And this reminder. Mitt Romney will join me live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM at 6:00 p.m. Eastern. That's only here on CNN -- much more on this story coming up.

Meanwhile, in Ohio and elsewhere, both campaigns are ramping up their get-out-the-vote efforts. And that's uncovering a problem that didn't exist before the housing crisis hit.

CNN's national correspondent, Deborah Feyerick, explains -- Deb.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And, Wolf, this is a group of voters that both candidates are trying to win over.

LEONETTE ROBINSON, ACTIVIST: Hi. You guys registered to vote? Have you moved in the last four years?

FEYERICK: Few shoppers at this Save A Lot supermarket in Columbus, Ohio, get past Leonette Robinson without first answering her questions.

ROBINSON: OK. I need your last four of your Social. Have a wonderful day. And thank you.

FEYERICK: Robinson, a mother of six, lost her job and is on the verge of losing her home. But losing the ability to vote is not an option, she says, not for her and not for others in the same situation.

(on camera): Do you think it can make a difference in this election?

ROBINSON: I think everybody needs to vote. And, yes, I do.

FEYERICK (voice-over): Since the last presidential election in 2008, Ohio has seen more than 330,000 homes foreclosed. Finding those displaced voters who may have moved and need to re-register is now critical for both Democrats and Republicans.

(on camera): This home's foreclosed. This home's foreclosed. This one's foreclosed.

ALIYA RAHMAN, OHIO ORGANIZING COLLABORATIVE: Yes. Yes. Whole block. FEYERICK: Community organizer Aliya Rahman works in a part of Columbus known as the Main Street neighborhood. As in other parts of the country, the foreclosure crisis hit this once up-and-coming African-American community disproportionately hard.

(on camera): Have you been able to make up the missing numbers in terms of the number of people you're registering?

RAHMAN: Not that I can directly trace from this neighborhood, outside of that. And we have a sense of large number of unregistered folks.

FEYERICK (voice-over): Ohio, Florida, Nevada, are key battleground states. They also have some of the highest foreclosure rates in the nation. In Ohio, voters who moved to a new county must re-register., a challenge for those working to get out the vote.

ROBERT BRANDON, FAIR ELECTIONS LEGAL NETWORK: So in some cases people are fully protected and they can vote as if they're temporarily away from their home in their old place until they reestablish a permanent residence. But for many others, that's not the case.

FEYERICK: President Obama won Ohio in 2008. But as Robinson points out, that landscape has changed.

ROBINSON: This one is in foreclosure, the one right there.

FEYERICK (on camera): On the corner?

ROBINSON: Right. Another yellow one, and this was foreclosed on for sure, and mine.

FEYERICK (voice-over): With nationwide foreclosures now at two million a year, those who have already lost so much may now find themselves at another loss, where to vote.

(on camera): And looking at the numbers, Wolf, Ohio has about 7.92 million voters. That's about 370,000 less than they had four years ago. Coincidentally, that number's not too far off the number of foreclosed voters.

However, I did just speak with the secretary of state's office in Ohio. They have been updating their voter rolls, keeping a more accurate statewide data base, so that 370,000 so-called lost voters, they're Ohioans who either died or were registered in more than one county because they did move.

But that is a big challenge for each campaign. And that is to find those folks who may simply not know where to go, Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Turnout is going to be very, very significant in this election, given how close it is. Deb, thanks for that report.

In our next hour, by the way, we're going to see President Obama live in Columbus, Ohio. We got a picture right now. There's a still photo of the first lady, Michelle Obama. This is a live picture from Columbus, Ohio, the tarmac, Air Force One getting ready to land in Columbus. The president will be giving a speech there. You can see they're zooming in on Air Force One. I can't see it yet, but presumably we will be seeing it very soon. The president getting ready to arrive in Columbus.

We will have live coverage of that event by the president. Stand by for that.

Also coming up, Jerry Sandusky finds out his fate and his victims get a chance to speak directly to him.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: To some, Jerry Sandusky was once a beloved coach, and now, he's a convicted felon who today learned his fate. A Pennsylvania judge sentenced him to 30 to 60 years in prison. That's essentially life behind bars.

CNN's national correspondent Jason Carroll is joining us from outside the courthouse.

Jason, we heard today from Sandusky himself, some of the victims. What happened?

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Lots of emotion inside the courtroom today, Wolf, as some of Sandusky's victims stood and got very emotional, teared up and talked about the abuse that they suffered at the hands of the former football coach. All the while Sandusky continues to say he is the only victim here.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CARROLL (voice-over): Jerry Sandusky arrived to his sentencing in a prison uniform, a uniform he'll likely wear for the rest of his life. Inside, he listened intently as three of his victims read emotional statements.

Victim five who was assaulted once in a locker room shower in 2001 cried as he told the court, "The sentence will never erase what he did to me. It will never make me whole. He must pay for his crimes. Take into account the tears, pain and private anguish."

Victim four who endured years of sexual abuse, looked directly at Sandusky and told the former football coach, "I want you to know I do not forgive you. And I don't think I will ever forgive you."

For about 13 minutes Sandusky read from a statement he finished writing late last night saying, "I'm filled with emotion and determination. I did not do these disgusting acts. Others can make me out to be a monster, but they cannot take away my heart."

Sandusky made comments to a Pennsylvania radio station on the eve of his sentencing calling his case. JERRY SANDUSKY, CONVICTED CHILD PREDATOR: A well-orchestrated effort of the media, investigators, the system, Penn State, psychologists, civil attorneys and other accusers. They won.

Judge John Cleland admonished Sandusky, calling his radio interview unbelievable. He sentenced him to 30 to 60 years in prison telling Sandusky, "This crime is not only what you did to their bodies but to their psyche and souls."

Outside court prosecutor Joe McGettigan said Sandusky's statement was a joke.

JOE MCGETTIGAN, PROSECUTOR: It was banal in the extreme. It was self-centered. It was devoid of any connection to the reality of the harm he caused.

CARROLL: Sandusky's defense attorney, Joe Amendola, set the grounds for appeal, saying an acquittal was possible had he had more time to prepare his case.

JOE AMENDOLA, SANDUSKY DEFENSE ATTORNEY: What was the harm in giving him another six months to prove that? To do more research? To do more investigative work? Which is what we were in the process of doing.

CARROLL: The victim attorney Justine Andronici doesn't believe there are any grounds for an appeal. Though she was satisfied with today's sentence, she feels it still may not be enough.

JUSTINE ANDRONICI, VICTIM ATTORNEY: I honestly don't believe that there is enough time in the universe to create justice in this case.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CARROLL: So again, Wolf, Sandusky sentenced to a minimum of 30 years in prison. Sandusky telling the court, quote, "Please don't close the door on this with this sentencing." So make rounds for Sandusky definitely plans from this point on, Wolf, to set the grounds for some sort of an appeal -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's see how far he gets on that front. Thanks very much, Jason Carroll, outside the courthouse.

A one-time Bashar al Assad confidant gives us some rare access into the Syrian president's inner circle.

Plus, new details on the man arrested in that huge weekend wedding brawl. Standby.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A coordinated attack near a Syrian government compound could be a major blow to the regime in Damascus. Lisa Sylvester's monitoring that, some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Lisa, what's the latest?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.

It was a three-stage attack and it started overnight with a suicide car bomb, then a suicide bomb in an ambulance. Then this --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, YOUTUBE/AMATEUR VIDEO)

(GUNFIRE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SYLVESTER: That barrage of gunfire was the last part of the assault near an air force intelligence compound outside the capital. The AFI is the primary agency of Syria's intelligence operation. Experts say a lot of spying equipment would have been in that kind of compound. A shadowy jihadist group has now claimed responsibility.

And police arrested this man and could arrest more after a brawl broke out between two wedding parties at a hotel in Philadelphia. Twenty-six-year-old Matthew Sofka faces a few different assault charges. He's a relative of one of the grooms. Now, the fighting erupted early Sunday morning. The uncle of one of the brides later died after suffering a heart attack outside that hotel.

And a Florida man, this is pretty bizarre, has died after eating dozens of bugs all to win a python. The 32-year-old ate roaches and worms as part of a midnight madness contest at a reptile store. Minutes after he won, he collapsed and died. None of the other contestants got sick. A store representative said the insects were, quote, "raised in a controlled environment for reptile food."

And a woman received quite a surprise when the junk company she hired to clean out her house brought back these savings bonds. Her mother died and she wanted to get rid of some things including an old hope chest. She didn't know inside was more than $100,000 worth of bonds. The company's owner says it is their craziest find ever.

And what a nice thing they did. They actually came back. They returned that to her, $114,000 in bonds.

BLITZER: How long it had been here? Do we know how long?

SYLVESTER: I don't know. But it was her mother and a hope chest. So, you had to figure that it probably had been there for some time. We'll look into that and we'll get an answer for you and all our viewers.

BLITZER: Good work all around.

SYLVESTER: New polls show the presidential race is getting tighter and tighter by the day. Our special panel getting ready to break it all down. What it could mean.

Also, we're standing by for the Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. He's going to join me live for a one-on-one interview right here in THE SITUATION ROOM right during our 6:00 p.m. Eastern Hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: OK. Go ahead and turn on a television, pick a poll, any poll. Everyone's talking about how much tighter the presidential race has become. Here's a quick snapshot.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Two new national polls show the race basically tied at this point. A poll by the Pew Research Center taken after the debate gives Mitt Romney a four-point lead over Mitt Romney.

STEPHEN COLBERT, COMEDIAN: The mo-Mitt-nom, the Romney-tum. There's still no word for it. It's never existed before.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: They're going to ride this thing out. They're of course happy and they're energized by what they're seeing out here. But they know that they also have to be cautious.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Gallup is published its daily tracking poll. Boom, here you go. This is a nationwide poll, this is registered voters. You see it here, Obama at 49 percent, Romney at 46 percent.

PETER HAMBY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Both campaigns believe the race is tightened since the debate. Their internal polls show that. And we're anxiously looking ahead to swing state polls.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

BLITZER: All right. Let's go straight to our CNN contributor Margaret Hoover who is joining us with an excellent panel -- Margaret.

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Thanks a lot, Wolf.

Here we are polls, polls, polls. We're going to Cornell first because you are the pollster, the Democratic pollster on the panel. Can you put it in context, is this just a snapshot, or is this trouble for Democrats?

CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER, OBAMA 2012 CAMPAIGN: It is a snapshot. Look. Mitt Romney had a good debate as you often see challengers have to have a good debate in order to change momentum. He had a good debate. He brought home a lot of undecided leaning Republicans at the time. So clearly, he's going to get a bounce just like, you know, Kerry got a bounce, et cetera got a bounce. However some of these polls in the merit the news is driving sort of this game change we're seeing right now --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn't see it.

BELCHER: Pull back the reigns a little bit. There's still polling out there, the gap's rolling poll is interesting had him at 50 yesterday. To me is focusing on one poll because what they really want is narrative change but there's a lot of different polls --

HOOVER: There's a new Ohio battleground poll --

BELCHER: I was going to say, look at the battleground states.

HOOVER: New CNN poll at the top of the hour Wolf announced Ohio is tightening for the president. There's a four-point, basically a statistical tie.

BELCHER: What's the number? 51?

HOOVER: It's 51 and 47.

BELCHER: Last time I checked 51 was majority.

(CROSSTALK)

ROSS DOUTHAT, COLUMNIST, NEW YORK TIMES: Cornell, there's actually been a spate of polls battle ground state showing Romney closing actually pretty remarkably in Pennsylvania and Michigan, states that were supposed to be out of reach for him. And as you know, I'm not a believer in individual polls. I'm a believer in polling averages.

And the thing that happened today that struck me is that for the first time in this entire campaign season if you go onto realclearpolitics.com where they average all the recent polls, Romney just pulled into the lead. So to my mind I agree you can discount the pew poll and so on, but if you feed it into the average, Romney's ahead.

CARLY FIORINA, FORMER HEWLETT-PACKAGE CEO: Campaigns are about momentum and Romney has the momentum now. Steve Colbert had it right, what you call a mo-mitt moment. Anyway, the point it Obama's lost momentum, Romney's gained momentum. And you know, I think sadly for the nation, but also mistakenly for the Obama campaign, having lost momentum they're talking about big bird. I just don't get it.

ADRIAN FENTY, FORMER WASHINGTON D.C. MAYOR: I think Obama has to go into the next debate, certainly Joe Biden on Thursday. They have to regain momentum. Obviously, the debate led to a change in the polls. I think the change in symptoms melt felt about people maybe Romney can explain himself and argue and argue toe-to-toe with the president, I want to see the president come back strong next time because otherwise momentum could keep going the other way.

HOOVER: Do you think this momentum puts more pressure on Joe Biden to turn the table and to ante up and defend the president in a way that could compromise him in the debate?

FENTY: I do. But Obama, but the pressure is going to on Obama in his next debate and presenting himself for the next couple weeks, but he's always stepped up to the pressure. DOUTHAT: I think the pressure on Biden is mostly to prevent these sorts, you know, these media narratives as we all know too well tend to take on a life of their own and often in negative ways. And last, you know, three weeks ago it was for Romney. Now it's Obama. I think Biden's job is to sort of stop the bleeding. He doesn't have to score a knockout but he needs to be a narrative.

FENTY: He has to defend -- he can't attack. He has to defend. If it had gone well for Obama, he could have attacked Ryan and Romney. Now he has to defend the president.

BELCHER: Well, I disagree completely because here's the problem with that. This Mitt Romney's the same Mitt Romney that we've known for the last six or seven months, the same Mitt Romney that voters have been cautious with the last six or seven months. It's not about defending the president, it's about taking the fight to Mitt Romney making them defend, that show, that fantasy show that he put on during the other debate where he made stuff up and didn't know his own tax plan, what it completely this about his own tax plan, is making them stick to what they've been the last six or seven months.

FIORINA: This is where I think Paul Ryan will have pressure on him and where I expect Paul Ryan to perform very well. I mean, I found Obama's debate performance totally lacking in specifics. We still don't know what his tax plan is or his deficit plan or his budget plan.

But Paul Ryan has become the personification for the Democrats of all that is callous and cold and evil about the Romney campaign. And so, Ryan now I think has an opportunity to not only explain his plan more importantly Romney's plan, but to explain it in a way that is compassionate and human. And I expect he'll do a very good job of that.

DOUTHAT: There's a tricky thing that Ryan has to do. And I think you suggested it there, Carly, which is that there is clearly a distinction between the Ryan plan. Actually, there have been multiple Ryan plans on multiple fronts.

FIORINA: That's right.

DOUTHAT: And the Romney plan. And so, Ryan can't get lured into a debate over the specifics.

FIORINA: I agree with you.

BELCHER: But here's the problem, Mitt Romney embraced that budget plan. And this is going --

DOUTHAT: Well, the genius of Romney is vague --

BELCHER: Yes, because he flip-flops. This is what happened at the debate. You know, is he going to run away from vouchers? I mean, look, 60 percent of Americans don't approve of that voucher plan. Now --

DOUTHAT: He doesn't have to run away from it because the Romney --

HOOVER: Bring in somebody uniquely qualified to speak to vouchers on my right.

FENTY: That's true. I hope Obama and certainly Joe Biden doesn't get caught up into this my plan versus his plan. They are the incumbents. They can be able to explain not only what they're going to do in the future about they have done or the past four years. You know the stimulus, the auto industry, the banking industry, the success bringing us out of the worst reception that we've ever been, not completely but a long way in four years. They can't get caught up in looking like they're a challenger versus another challenger. Which I think is what happened in the last debate.

HOOVER: Shouldn't vouchers be such a third railroad in politics, mayor Fenty?

FENTY: I think in terms of education vouchers should be considered 100 percent by both parties.

BELCHER: That's not a Medicare voucher.

DOUTHAT: But to be clear, Cornell, the actually Romney plan and, again this is where the distinction between the Ryan plan and Romney plan is crucial, right? The Romney plan is the Biden plan which moves away from a straightforward voucher and keeps some form of traditional Medicare. And so, I think your attack is an example of what Ryan has to do.

BELCHER: Clarify for me now, so Republicans aren't for Medicare vouchers? That I put that plan up? Because I tell you, we are making news now. Is that true now?

DOUTHAT: The Romney plan is not accurately described I think as a voucher plan whereas the original Ryan plan was.

BELCHER: So we're completely disavowing the Ryan plan that Republicans --

DOUTHAT: I'm not doing anything. I'm not here speaking for the Republican Party. I'm describing the difference between vouchers.

BELCHER: Which is exactly what they did the last debate.

HOOVER: I think we all know that nobody's -- look. Paul Ryan says he never uses the word voucher, but he says you're going to get a reimbursement. You are going to tell the federal government that you are going to be able to take to the marketplace and buy your own health care.

(CROSSTALK)

FIORINA: Guys, before we get down into the minutia, let me just say why isn't President Obama making your case if you think that's the right case? President Obama ever since that debate is still talking about big bird and Elmo. It's disgraceful, honestly. I'm not a Democrat obviously. But there are big issues to talk about in this.

BELCHER: I think that's a bit of a leap.

HOOVER: OK. And so, we are going to hold it right there and we'll be back in just a minute with unsolicited advice from each of our panel members. Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HOOVER: Welcome back to unsolicited advice. Here we have unsolicited advice from each panel member. Cornell, you take it away first.

BELCHER: You know, I'm challenging Sarah Palin now. My advice is to length stream media. You know, stop it. You're trying to drive a narrative. You're getting in front of a narrative and driving it in a way you shouldn't be. Look. There has been one poll out with a seven-point party idea that's sort of we are sum, but what poll has shown that Mitt Romney is taking the lead. There have been three others that showing as not. What poll has been front and center on all of these channels, the one poll that shows that he's out in front? The media is driving a narrative. They want a game change narrative. They're driving a game change narrative. Stop it.

DOUTHAT: There is a game change. Look, there have been four polls showing Romney in the lead. There's been an investor business daily poll. There has been a PPP poll. I don't know why you don't know about those polls.

(CROSSTALK)

FIORINA: You know what I find amusing is Republicans didn't like the polls. Remember when there was all that discussion and now a democrat says that the media is driving a narrative. I'm shocked.

BELCHER: My point is don't take this one poll and run with it all day.

FIORINA: What the media does, Cornell.

DOUTHAT: All right. After arguing with Cornell, strive for some consensus. So, my advice is to the Obama campaign, right. There were rumors this morning -- no, we're going to agree on this. There were rumors this morning that there might be a campaign shakeup, that there might be some staff changes and so on, here I think this is a terrible idea.

The only thing the Obama campaign needs right now is a good debate performance from Joe Biden followed by a good debate performance from President Obama. And the more that you talk about shaking up your staff and so on, the more you do play into the narrative that you're describing which then takes on a life of its own. Again, just as it did for Romney a few weeks ago when I'm pretty were much happier about that.

BELCHER: Let me say that as someone a consultant to the campaign, the only person they'd probably fire is me.

FIORINA: You've been stellar.

BELCHER: But besides that, I don't know where some of these rumors come from. Because that is such an absolutely ridiculous rumor that we would shake up the.

DOUTHAT: Well, it was reported on MSNBC and not CNN.

BELCHER: Well, they are no reliable.

HOOVER: -- reported that President Obama is the responsible for his bad debate performance and didn't give anybody else any credit. So Mayor Fenty, what's your advice?

FENTY: I think Cornell is right. I think that the more the polls are talked about as the election is changing; I think that people's minds will change. But there's nothing you can do about it. That's just politics. It happens in all kinds of races.

BELCHER: Anything personal there?

FENTY: Exactly. I would say to the president he's got to run as an incumbent. As a said a couple minutes ago, he's got all these ads attacking Romney I think they have a place. But I would like to see some ads; this is where we were in 2008. This is where we are now on finances, on the auto industry, banking industry, on health care. How many lives have been changed by the health care bill?

And my last piece of advice, I do wish you would stop calling it Obama care. To me it's derogatory. And I think he shouldn't accept it as a name. I think he should say a health care bill for the American citizens under American president.

HOOVER: Isn't it already done though? In the debate he said I like Obama care.

FENTY: I know, but this is my unsolicited advice.

HOOVER: Carly, who do you have?

FIORINA: Mine is actually for Tim Geithner, secretary of the treasury. He was quoted as saying that he thought the economy was performing at near full potential. Now, first of all, when we decide that 1.5 percent growth is near full potential, we are in terrible trouble. And I would say Geithner suffers from an amazing lack of ambition for this economy. I actually think that's what's wrong with the entire Obama administration. They have a lack of ambition for this country and what it can and should do.

But I would also say if he believes that, that Tim Geithner believes that a public sector job is equivalent to a private sector job. It's not that public sector jobs aren't important. Teachers are important, firemen are important, nurses are important. But a public sector job doesn't pay for itself. Taxpayers pay for it. A public sector job doesn't create other jobs. A private sector job pays for itself and creates other jobs. I frankly found his statement shocking, both because of its lack of ambition and because of its misunderstanding of what actually drives growth. It's not public sector jobs.

BELCHER: Let me ask you this, under Reagan's recovery, where we laying off teachers and firefighters? Were state governments laying off teachers and firefighters at this rate?

DOUTHAT: No.

FIORINA: No. Absolutely not.

BELCHER: Well, that's part of the recovery. You know what; our unemployment is where we are right now if Republican governors weren't slashing teachers, slashing first responders.

DOUTHAT: That's a circular process, Cornell. If it grows faster, government would have more money to spend.

FIORINA: I'll even agree with you.

BELCHER: Those are middle class jobs. Don't slash those now. We didn't do it under Reagan's recovery. Why are we doing it now?

FIORINA: Excuse me, we, the Republicans are not in charge of the White House last time I looked. So it's not we. I think the policy --

BELCHER: But you're talking about the governors houses where the jobs are being lost.

FIORINA: The policies that President Obama is defending as bringing the economy back that Tim Geithner is now saying have the economy performing at near full potential, those are the president's policies and the Democrats policies, not the Republican policies. In fact, if you look at the states that have Republican governors, you'd find their level of growth and their level of job creation outperforms the rest of the nation. But you're making my point. We should be driving for more than 1.5 percent growth.

BELCHER: Look, were 800,000 jobs a month when the president took office. We are not losing jobs anymore. The president's policies did turn this country around. Republicans simply accept that and say we did turn it around and we should be better. I'll be fine with that.

(CROSSTALK)

HOOVER: All right. We're going to have to leave it there, guys. That's unsolicited advice for today. And we're back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Margaret, thanks very much. Excellent panel.

In our next hour, by the way, president and Mrs. Obama, they are holding separate campaign events. We're going to have live coverage of both. Stand by for that. Also, we almost never hear from inside Syria's brutal regime until now, a one-time confidante revealing secrets to CNN about life inside Bashar Al-Assad's circle.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We told you earlier about a potentially serious blow to Syria's regime. Two car bombs exploding overnight at a Syrian air force intelligence compound near Damascus. Now we're getting a rare insider's view of the Syrian leadership's life under siege, that's a life of anxiety and lies.

Here's CNN's Ivan Watson.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Abdullah al Omar used to rub shoulders with some of the most powerful people in Syria, government ministers, foreign dignitaries and even the Syrian president. For five years Omar claims he worked in the presidential palace. His main job was propaganda.

ABDULLAH AL OMAR, SYRIAN DEFECTOR (through translator): I was a member of the press office in the presidential palace. We met to manufacture news and to see how we could distribute and publish these lies. We invented stories to help justify crimes committed by the Syrian regime.

WATSON: Omar says he was a member of a 15-person team working under long time government spokeswoman, Bouthaina Shaaban. When high ranking officials like the former prime minister defected, Omar's job was to trash the defector's reputation reputations.

OMAR (through translator): We contacted regime loyalists from Lebanon and Syria to hear guts on all to Syria and all Arabia, to say these defectors were bad and corrupt.

WATSON: But now Omar is one of those defected. And he's offering details impossible for CNN to independently verify about how the Syrian president has coped with the uprising. How did Bashar Al Assad's behavior change over the past year and a half?

OMAR (through translator): He seemed worried all day long. We rarely saw him smiling. He paced up and down the quarters and stared out the windows at Damascus. He was always anxious and tense. One day I saw him kick a table. He was cursing and swearing against the Syrian people.

WATSON: Omar shows photos of himself with top Iranian officials like the Iranian ambassadors to Damascus and Beirut.

Were the Iranians meeting with Bashar Al Assad frequently?

Almost daily, he tells me. Four and five times a week. Omar says the biggest crisis came in July after a bombing killed this man, presidential security adviser Hassan Turkmani as well as three other top security officials. He says the bombing also seriously wounded Assad's brother Maher, a military commander who hasn't been seen in public in months.

OMAR (through translator): Two days after he returned from Medical treatment in Russia, Maher Al Assad came to the presidential palace. He lost his left leg in the bombing and also the use of his left arm.

WATSON: Last month Omar defected and fled to his hometown of Atareb in northern Syria, now a ghost town devastated by the civil war.

How did you feel when you saw the destruction?

OMAR (through translator): I swear I cried when I entered up and then I saw all the house and shops abandoned and everything destroyed and burned. When I saw it with my own eyes I cried and asked how could Bashar Al Assad do this? I want to apologize to the Syrian people because I worked for this butcher, a killer regime.

WATSON: A tearful but his sincerity is questionable especially coming from a man who admits to spending years lying for the Syrian regime.

Ivan Watson, CNN, Istanbul.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Omar, by the way, also told Ivan that president Assad has 16 TV screens in his office and is obsessed with media coverage of the revolution in Syria. He says Assad gets angry when reporters sneak into Syria. And he demands they get caught and brought to him so he can kill them.

Up next, an historic free fall from the edge of space, it has now been aborted. So what happens next? Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: High wind scuttled today's attempt to break a sky diving record. CNN's Brian Todd is in New Mexico for us.

Brian, when are they hoping to try again?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, they are hoping to do this again on Thursday morning. They say tomorrow is out because of uncertain weather conditions. They are really focusing now on looking forward and not back as disappointed as they are with what happened today.

Felix Baumgartner tweeted a short time ago we have come too far now to turn back. And that's pretty much the mindset now. They're going through checks and weather calculations and other preparations for a targeted launch Thursday. They need to skip tomorrow because the weather conditions may not be optimum after what they went through today where a freakish gust of wind really buffeted this high altitude balloon severely. And now they have to scrap that balloon and bring in a backup.

So that's what they're working on right now. The technical project director Art Thompson said a short time ago just why they have to be so cautious.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ART THOMPSON, TECHNICAL PROJECT DIRECTOR, STRATOS/RED BULL: The reality is, is we've got a person's life at stake. And so our primary concern is making sure that we're launching in the best conditions possible to be able to get him into the air.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: And, again, uncertain weather conditions on Wednesday make that impossible. They say they are targeting Thursday morning. One other technical problem that they might have to work through, they said a radio went down, Wolf. So that wasn't enough to prevent the launch probably, but they are going to work through that as well.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much.

And you're in the SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, as Mitt Romney surges, the Obama campaign explains the shift in momentum and we will hear live from the first lady, Michelle Obama. That is coming up this hour.