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Eleven Dead, 119 Sick In Meningitis Outbreak; Poll Numbers; Michelle Obama at Rally; Losing Faith in Organized Religion?

Aired October 9, 2012 - 17:00   ET



Happening now, as Mitt Romney surges, the Obama campaign explains the shift in momentum. And we'll hear live from the first lady, Michelle Obama. That's coming up this hour.

The same pastor who gave a passionate invocation at a Paul Ryan rally has said that Mitt Romney is not a Christian.

And did you ever walk into the wrong holiday party?

Mitt Romney did. But his social blunder turns into a very warm and engaging moment out there on the campaign trail.

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

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


We're standing by for my live interview with the Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney. That's coming up in our next hour.

Right now, Romney is riding high in new national polls. They suggest a solid bounce from last week's presidential debate, leaving him in a virtual tie right now with President Obama. That makes the key battleground state of Ohio even more important. Both candidates are spending time there today.

For the Obama campaign, there may be a real sudden sense of urgency.

CNN's White House correspondent, Dan Lothian, is joining us now from Columbus, Ohio, the state capital. He's there with the president -- Dan.


And here in Ohio, the voter registration deadline today. President Obama, I'm told by a senior campaign aide, will be pushing the audience here and those who, perhaps, are also watching on television here in Ohio, to not only sign up to vote, but also to vote early.

Meantime, his campaign continues to hit hard at Mitt Romney. And for now, Big Bird is not going away.


LOTHIAN (voice-over): Trying to regain his footing and momentum after a race impacted by one debate and new poll numbers, President Obama returns to Ohio with a sharper, more forceful message. But his campaign's continued focus on Big Bird is what's getting much of the attention.

In almost every stump speech since his debate, the president has used Governor Mitt Romney's own words to level this criticism.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This was almost as believable as when he said he'd bring down our deficit by going after what has been the biggest driver a -- of our debt and deficits over the last decade, public television.


OBAMA: PBS. You didn't know this. But for all you moms and kids out there, you should have confidence that finally somebody is cracking down on Big Bird.

LOTHIAN: It's a line guaranteed to get a laugh. And it's now gone from the president's stump speech to a new political ad dripping with sarcasm. Big Bird in the same neighborhood with disgraced financial titans Bernie Madoff and Kenneth Lay.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mitt Romney knows it's not Wall Street you have to worry about, it's "Sesame Street."


LOTHIAN: Republicans are not amused at the president's campaign tactic. In a statement, the RNC said, quote, "He's focused on small things instead of offering solutions."

And this from GOP nominee, Mitt Romney.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: These are tough times with real serious issues. So you have to scratch your head when the president spends the last week talking about saving Big Bird.

LOTHIAN: As the feathers fly, enter the producers of the PBS program, "Sesame Workshop," now asking the Obama campaign to pull the ad because they are a nonpartisan, non-profit organization.

Team Obama has received the request and says those concerns will be reviewed.


LOTHIAN: As for criticism that the president is spending so much time talking about Big Bird, the campaign pushing back, one aide saying that that's only a small part of the president's stump speech, that 99 percent of what he's talking about out there is foreign policy, health care and making life better for the middle class -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. So we're getting ready to hear from the president and the first lady. She'll be speaking, as well.

So gi -- give us a little breakdown, what we can expect.

LOTHIAN: Well, again, Wolf, we will see more of what we saw shortly after the debate, when the president hit the campaign trail -- a very forceful speech, what many Democrats have said what the president should have been doing at the debate, which is countering some of the attacks from Mitt Romney. So we'll continue to hear that.

And I suspect, based on everything we're hearing, that the president, again, will also mention, invoke Big Bird. That's something that is not going away. And as I mentioned earlier, he will urge those here and everyone watching to get out and register to vote and vote early.

BLITZER: And we're standing by for my live interview with Mitt Romney.

That's coming up in THE SITUATION ROOM in our next hour.

Thanks very much for that.

Jack Cafferty has more on the presidential race.

He's joining us right now with what might be the next key moment in this election.

Jack's got The Cafferty File -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So four weeks before we elect the president, the candidates are mired in a discussion about Big Bird.

BLITZER: Can you imagine?

CAFFERTY: It's depressing.

The stakes couldn't be higher for Thursday's vice presidential debate. After the debacle that was President Obama's performance at the first debate last week, expect interest to be particularly high when Joe Biden and Paul Ryan face-off in Kentucky for their one and only meeting.

At this point, in the face of plummeting poll numbers for the president, the Obama campaign has got to rely on Joe Biden to try to turn this thing around.

Good luck with that.

Look for Biden to come out swinging. He'll hit hard on issues like Romney's 47 percent comment, Ryan's controversial budget plan and his proposal to change Social Security. As one Republican adviser told Politico, Biden will bring his proverbial nunchucks and brass knuckles to this debate.

Of course, this has got to leave a lot of Repub -- nervous Democrats, rather, because with Joe Biden, you never know what you're going to get. While Biden is a seasoned debater who connects well with ordinary folks, he also tends to say dumb things from time to time.

Remember a couple of months ago, the White House had to go out and sweep up after the vice president, after he told a largely black audience in Virginia that Republicans, quote, "would put y'all back in chains," unquote.

Not cool.

Ryan will, no doubt, ask Biden about foreign policy, including the murder of an American ambassador in Benghazi; more than 40 months of over 8 percent plus unemployment; a $16 trillion deficit; no federal budget for the last three years; and so on.

There's also the risk that in trying to make up for Obama's weak debate performance, Biden comes across as too aggressive.

As for Ryan, he says the pressure is on him after Romney's strong showing last week. Ryan says he expects Biden to launch at him like a cannon ball, describing Biden as "a gifted, extremely experienced and proven debater." Really?

This is going to be must-see TV Thursday night.

Here's the question -- in light of the results of the first presidential debate, how important is the vice presidential debate?

Go to and post a comment on my blog or go to our post in THE SITUATION ROOM'S Facebook page.

It's going to be big -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I think we've all learned, Jack, that all these debates matter. They are really, really important.


BLITZER: All right. This just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. Another new poll, this time in the battleground state of New Hampshire, which shows another tight race. Mitt Romney clearly gaining some momentum.

Our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, is here.

She's looking at these numbers.

What are you seeing? GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, a race that's tightening up. A WMUR/University of New Hampshire poll now shows, Wolf, a 6 point race, with President Obama leading 47 to 41. You see it there.

If you compare this with the same poll that was taken sort of at the end of September, the president had a 15-point advantage at the end of September, Wolf. So you see the polls really tightening.

Also, in the state of Ohio, you see it's 51-47 percent. The president up by 4 points there. And take a look in Colorado. You see it's O -- President Obama 46, Romney, 50. So Romney is now up by 4. And Obama has been up in that state.

So you really see that the states are now reflecting what we're seeing in the national polls. They're continuing to tighten. And if this continues -- that's a big if -- we'll have to see what happens in those debates. It's going to really depend on the ground games of these organizations, the money they spend on their political advertising. It's going to be really, really important, particularly as they target states like -- like Ohio.

BLITZER: And these are the critical battleground states.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: It's not only nationally, but it's obviously neck and neck in a lot of these key battleground states.

If there's one group, though, that's key to Mitt Romney's potentially winning the White House, that group is?

BORGER: Suburban women, if you ask me.

And let's take a look at our CNN poll in Ohio, because it's very instructive here.

If you look at likely voters among suburban women, you'll see that President Obama does very, very well -- 60-31 percent. But if you look there at suburban men, Wolf, it's almost a mirror image.

So Mitt Romney needs to get his numbers up with those -- with those women in the suburbs. And that is why, in the state of Ohio, I bet you're going to be seeing a lot more of Ann Romney, maybe in political advertising. But she's kind of their secret weapon when it -- when it comes to bringing out those suburban women voters, particularly married suburban women.

BLITZER: There's another group that is key to President Obama's potential reelection.

BORGER: Yes. And -- and President Obama really has a very strong advantage that is not going anywhere, Wolf. And that is the question of how he connects with ordinary Americans.

When you ask, does President Obama really understand my problems, understand what I'm going through, he wins, generally, by a two or a three to one margin on that.

But if you look at our Ohio poll -- I mean yesterday's Pew Poll, sorry, which was the overall electorate, they -- the que -- that same question was asked, does the president connect with ordinary Americans or does Mitt Romney connect with ordinary Americans?

When you ask that question of swing voters, Wolf, by a nine to one margin, they said the president connected with their problems -- nine to one with swing voters.

Do not underestimate that. It is a real red flag to the Romney campaign that, at this date, he has still not really punched through on that key question of the middle class.

BLITZER: Four weeks to go from today.

We'll be watching.

Don't go too far away, Gloria.

The president of the United States, he's just beginning a speech now in Columbus, Ohio. He's thanking a lot of folks out there. We're going to monitor what he's saying.

We'll take a quick break.

We'll have some live coverage of the president of the United States. Stand by for that.

Also, this reminder, Mitt Romney will join me live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. That's in our -- during our 6:00 p.m. Eastern hour. This is an interview you will see only here on CNN.


BLITZER: President Obama is speaking at a rally at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio.

We want to listen in.

OBAMA: Four years after the worst economic crisis of our lifetimes, our businesses have created more than five million new jobs. This past Friday, we found out that the unemployment rate had fallen from a high of 10 percent down to 7.8 percent, the lowest level since I took office.


OBAMA: Manufacturing is coming back to America. Home values are back on the rise. Now we're not there yet. We've still got too many Americans looking for work and too many families who can't pay the bills. There are too many homes that are still under water and there are too many young people who are burdened by too much debt after they graduate. But if there's one thing I know, Ohio, it's this. We have come too far to turn back now.


OBAMA: The American people have worked too hard. And the last thing we can afford to do right now is to go back to the very same policies that got us into this mess in the first place. I cannot allow that to happen. I will not allow it to happen. That's why I'm running for a second term as president of the united states.



OBAMA: You know, over the last four years, I've seen a lot of folks hurting. I've seen a lot of struggle. And I am not going to make -- I'm not going to have us go back to another round of top down economics. But that's what my opponent is offering. The centerpiece of Governor Romney's economic plan is a new $5 trillion tax cut that favors the wealthiest Americans.

He has been pitching that plan for an entire year, stood up on stage in one of his primary debates, proudly promised that his tax cuts would include the top one percent, but most of the economists who've actually crunched the numbers say that paying for Governor Romney's tax plan either means blowing up the deficit or raising taxes on middle class families. One or the other.

Pick your poison (ph). Then, last week, Mitt Romney actually said there's no economist who can say Mitt Romney's tax plan adds $5 trillion if I say it will not add to the deficit with my tax plan. So, he said if he says it's not true, then it's not true. OK.

So, if it's true that it's not going to add to the deficit, that leaves only one option and that's asking middle class families to foot the bill by getting rid of the deductions they rely on for owning a home or raising their kids or sending them to college. And as it turns out, you know, most folks don't like that idea either.

So, just last week when we were on stage together, Governor Romney decided that instead of changing his plan, he just pretended it didn't exist. What $5 trillion tax cut? I don't know anything about a $5 trillion tax cut. Pay no attention to that tax cut under the carpet behind the curtain. When he's asked how he'll cut the deficit, he says he can make the math work by eliminating local public funding for PBS.

Now, by the way, this is not new. This is what he's been saying every time he's asked the question. Well, we can cut out PBS. So, for all you moms and kids out there, don't worry. Somebody's finally getting tough on Big Bird.


OBAMA: You know, who knew that he was driving our deficit? So, we're going after -- he's decided we're going after Big Bird and Elmo's making a run for the border and Oscar's hiding out in the trashcan and Governor Romney wants to let Wall Street run wild again, but he's going to bring down the hammer on "Sesame Street." Look, that is not leadership. That's salesmanship. We can't afford it. We can't afford to double down on top down economics. We can't afford another round of tax cuts for the wealthy. We can't afford to roll back regulations on Wall Street banks or on insurance companies. We can't afford to gut our investments in education or clean energy or research or technology.

That is not a jobs plan. That is not a plan to grow the economy. That is not change. That is a relapse. We have been there. We have tried that. We are not going back. We are moving forward. And that's why I'm running for a second term as president of the United States.



BLITZER: All right. So, there's the president of the United States. You get the point. He's really going after the Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney. By the way, Mitt Romney's going to have his chance. I'm going to be speaking with him live here in the SITUATION ROOM in our next hour.

We're going to go through some of these issues you just heard the president discuss. Mitt Romney live in the SITUATION ROOM during our 6:00 p.m. eastern hour.

Also, by the way, the first lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, she's about to speak at a campaign rally in Virginia. You're looking at live pictures from there. We'll dip in. We'll see what she has to say. Lots of political news happening right now, right here in the SITUATION ROOM."


BLITZER: Eleven people are dead and another 119 sick in a growing meningitis outbreak affecting much of the country. At the center of it all, contaminated steroid injections that 13,000 people may have received, and the FDA doesn't have the authority to regulate pharmacies like the one linked to them.

CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, went to Massachusetts for answers, and what he found is peculiar.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it all boils down to is this, how could it have all happened in the first place? I'm finding it remarkably difficult to get any information whatsoever. In fact, we drove about 40 miles outside of Boston to Renton, Massachusetts, to the home of the owner and operator of the compounding facility.

Both he and his wife work there in the department pharmacy. We wanted to ask them some simple questions, but neither one of them would come to the door. (voice-over) So, we drove 25 miles to Framingham, Massachusetts. This is the NECC, the compounding facility at the heart of this outbreak. We just wanted some answers.

(on-camera) We're with CNN. We're trying to get hold of somebody to talk here about what's going on here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Unfortunately, I have to ask you guys to leave the property.

GUPTA: They literally are telling us to leave the parking lot, not even be here. We know people from the FDA are inside. Obviously, a lot of cars in the parking lot. People are working here in some capacity. But this is another example of just how ridiculous it has been to try and get any information whatsoever.

They wouldn't let us in the building, but behind the building, this is what it looks like. Over there, that's the NECC, the compounding facility. Back here, it's a recycling facility essentially looks like a dump.

Walking around here, people have told us that there has been this relationship between the recycling facility and NECC for some time. Doing a little bit of digging, we realize they're in fact owned by the same people.


BLITZER: Sanjay's joining us now. Wow. Sanjay, so this facility that produces mass quantities of human drugs is also a garbage dump? Who regulates these pharmacies like the NECC? What are they saying about this garbage that's right there?

GUPTA: It's quite extraordinary, Wolf. And we didn't quite know what to expect either. But, you know, the regulation or the oversight is quite lax. In fact, from an accreditation standpoint, the state of Massachusetts does not require that a facility like the one you just saw be accredited.

It can distribute, you know, thousands of doses of drugs as we now know and it doesn't necessarily have to be accredited. If it had been accredited, one of the things that it would have undergone was an examination of the facilities, of the equipment, and looking at things like this close approximation of a garbage dump next to a human pharmacy -- drugs for human use. So, it's woefully lacks, Wolf, as far as we can tell.

BLITZER: And these centers certainly aren't what they used to be. There's now, supposedly, I think reportedly 3,000 in the United States that produce large quantities of these custom drugs. But you're telling us that the FDA doesn't have any authority over them?

GUPTA: The FDA does not have any authority over this. We've investigated this. We've talked to folks at the FDA. They say if this is a federal issue, obviously, there would be more FDA involvement. But this is now regulated at the state level. Two problems, Wolf, as I think you're alluding to. One is that, they ship a lot of these medications outside the state.

So, it's not just the state of Massachusetts, but several other states that receive these drugs. So, it does become a national issue that way. And also, Wolf, you know, this compounding facilities just historically, they were supposed to be for, you know, small amounts of medication. So, for instance, making a medication taste better for a child to take, for example, or turning it into a liquid form instead of a pill.

Now, we're talking about tens of thousands of doses of a single medication going out all over the country. So, it is even more surprising in terms of lack of regulation considering how big these compounding facilities have become. But Again, Wolf, I've got to point out that they -- you know, from a legal standpoint, they were not required to be accredited.

The state of Massachusetts does not require that accreditation. And therefore, the images that I just showed you with this dump next to the building, you know, that wasn't actually examined or in some way, you know, prohibited.

BLITZER: To me, it's pretty shocking what's going on. I'm sure we're going to be all over this story. 13,000 people potentially may have received some of these injections. Appreciate it, Sanjay, very much.

Other news we're following, the same pastor who blessed a Paul Ryan rally had earlier told CNN Mitt Romney is not a Christian. We're going to check back with James Carville and Ari Fleischer. They're both standing by.


BLITZER: Let's get to our CNN contributors right now. Joining us the Democratic strategist James Carville and the former Bush White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer. Guys thanks for coming in -- lots to discuss. James, I'll start with you. You've seen these new poll numbers coming in, poll numbers taken since largely since that debate which wasn't exactly President Obama's best moment. You saw the Ohio poll, the CNN poll that came out today. Obama 51, Romney 47, that's within the margin of error. The New Hampshire poll, WMUR Granite State (ph) poll now has Obama 47 to 41. Back in September it was 54, Obama, 39 for Romney. The Michigan likely voters choice (INAUDIBLE) poll -- look at this one -- it is now 48, 45 Obama over Romney. It was 10 points in September 47, 37. What's going on here, James?

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I think the race has tightened since the debate. I'm a Democrat, so I don't attack pollsters, fact checkers, evolutionary scientists, climate scientists or anything like that. The truth of the matter is it's tightened. The Poll of Polls and the national numbers seems to be around one. And we'll move on with the rest of the campaign. But no sense in attacking pollsters here, no doubt that Governor Romney has done himself some good since that debate. And we'll see where we go from here. We can say I'm not going to attack scientists or pollsters or fact checkers --

BLITZER: Ari, you're not attacking scientists or fact checkers or pollsters either, are you?

ARI FLEISCHER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Last I looked. No, Wolf, that's exactly right. The debate had a big impact. Sometimes debates on the presidential level have small to no impact. This one had a big impact. It has given Mitt Romney a second look by a lot of voters and it's changed the nature of the race. When a clock gets cleaned, its numbers can get moved and that's basically what happened as a result of that debate.

BLITZER: James, if you were giving the vice president, your fellow Democrat Joe Biden some advice looking ahead 48 hours or so from now in his debate with Paul Ryan, what would you tell the vice president?

CARVILLE: Well, I think he's -- I think he's going to do fine. He's a bright guy. And when you know your facts are different than your opponents, you should point it out. You know, what makes these things come to life is, is that when somebody challenges someone on a factual assertion or even a policy assertion, there's a distinction there's a difference in it we can digest this kind of thing. And I suspect that the president -- you know we've got to remember here Governor Romney wanted a debate. That's 90 minutes.

I said it on CNN, one of the first people to acknowledge that. There's another 180 minutes to go here. And we'll see. And I think the polls have tightened some. It's obvious. It's true. It's also true that Republicans attack pollsters left and right when Obama was doing well. It's also true that they said they weren't going to pay attention to fact checkers. It's also true a large number of Republicans don't believe in evolution of global warming. That's a fact. It's not like you can argue it.

BLITZER: Ari, do you want to respond to that?



FLEISCHER: Look, Wolf, I acknowledged last night about the Pew poll. The Pew poll was plus five Republican turnout over Democrat turnout. I think that's a little too much. But if these polls continue to over-sample Democrats, which they probably still are doing and Romney is starting to close the gap if not break even, then these polls are actually understating Mitt Romney's strength. And that still is a valid criticism and I'll continue to make it.

BLITZER: Is it true as I've heard from some pollsters, James, that people who say they're undecided when all the dust settles they usually lean more heavily towards the challenger rather than the incumbent?

CARVILLE: That's kind of been disputed in presidential elections. That is kind of a thing that came to statewide elections where people don't know. And probably good pollsters don't over- sample anything. They just sample people and let party ID, which is a self-described party ID, is an opinion. And I don't know what pollsters -- you know if anybody's out there sampling people because they're Democrats or Republicans not running a very good poll, I don't think. I don't know of a good pollster that adjusts for party ID. I really don't. I've never quite understood that argument.

BLITZER: Let me move onto this other issue that has come up and I want you to weigh in, Ari. Yesterday at a Paul Ryan rally the pastor who gave the invocation, Pastor Kent Clark (ph) from Gray Centers of Hope (ph), he gave the invocation at the Paul Ryan rally. But it wasn't that long ago back in February of this year he told our own Peter Hamby, one of our political reporters quote "those of us who are Christians believe very strongly that God came to earth in the person of Jesus Christ and we base all our values around that", suggesting that Mormons really aren't Christians. What do you make of this if anything?

FLEISCHER: Well look, Wolf, I'm Jewish, James is Catholic, and you're asking me about what a protestant said about a Mormon. All I know is that people should be 100 percent free in this country to practice their faith however they see fit or to not practice any faith if that's what they see fit. And people should be 100 percent free to practice their politics as they see fit. I never like to mix the two. I think once you mix the two you're crossing things that fundamentally do not belong together. People can be informed by their religious views and that always affects people's individual voting, but I don't think we should make characteristics or judgments about anybody running for any public office on the basis of their religion or lack of religion. We don't have religious tests in America for public life and that's the way it should be.

BLITZER: Yes, I agree. Well said. James, do you want to weigh in?

CARVILLE: No. I just think when you fool around with these kind of kooky people they turn -- they sometimes they come up and bite you. A Mormon, as I understand it's the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, so the Mormon certainly view themselves as Christian and that's good enough for me. They've got an expanding great organization. That's their view and I accept that. I'm not voting for Romney because -- not voting for him because of his religion. I would vote for Harry Reid. I'd vote for (INAUDIBLE). I'd vote for any number of great Democrats that are Mormon, so that's not a factor to me. And that guy ought to -- he ought to keep his opinions to himself if you ask me.

BLITZER: All right, we all -- I think we all agree on that point. James thanks very much. Ari, thanks to you as well. The first lady of the United States is now speaking at a rally in Virginia -- there she is. When we come back we're going to hear what she is saying.


BLITZER: My live interview with Mitt Romney coming up at the top of the hour, but right now I want to go to Leesburg, Virginia, the first lady, Michelle Obama, is speaking at a campaign rally.

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: Every child should have good schools. We know those schools, the kind of schools that push them and inspire them and prepare them for college and jobs for the future. We believe in an America where no one goes broke because someone gets sick.


M. OBAMA: Where no one loses their home because someone loses their job. We believe in an America where we all understand that none of us gets where we are on our own. That there is always a community of people lifting us up where we treat everyone with dignity and respect from the teachers who inspire us to the janitors who keep our schools clean.


M. OBAMA: And when one of us stumbles, you know when one us of falls on hard times, we don't tell them tough luck, you're on your own. No, instead we extend that helping hand while they get back on their feet again. We believe that the truth matters. That you don't take shortcuts. You don't game the system.


M. OBAMA: You don't play by your own set of rules. Instead we reward hard working success that's earned fair and square. And finally, we believe in keeping our priorities straight. We all know good and well that cutting "Sesame Street" is no way to balance a budget.


M. OBAMA: That shortchanging our kids is not how we tackle our deficit. Because if we truly want to build opportunities for all Americans, we know that we have to have a balanced fiscal strategy, one that cuts wasteful spending but makes sure that we're investing in our future like in education and infrastructure for an economy that's built to last. See that's what my husband stands for. That's the country he wants to build.


M. OBAMA: Those are his values. And let me tell you something. For the last three and a half years as first lady I have seen up close and personal what being president really looks like. And I have seen how critical those values are for leading this country. I've seen how the issues that come across a president's desk are always the hard ones. The decisions that aren't just about the bottom line but they are about laying a foundation for the next generation. And I've seen how important it is to have a president who doesn't just tell us what we want to hear but who tells us the truth even when it's hard, especially when it's hard.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) BLITZER: (INAUDIBLE) little flavor of what the first lady of the United States is saying at this campaign rally in Virginia. We're monitoring what's going on. Remember, at the top of the hour my live interview with the Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. By the way, Romney earlier in the day told a story of a social blunder that turned into a very warm engaging moment out there on the campaign trail.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They were kind of looking over at our house and I thought oh my goodness I wasn't planning on going to this, but we'll look like we're not social if we don't show up, so I said to Ann we've got to go to this party --



BLITZER: What could have been an embarrassing social blunder for Mitt Romney turned into a rewarding encounter and a chance for the candidate to show his human side out there on the campaign trail. Listen to Mitt Romney earlier today in Iowa.


ROMNEY: I got one of these mailers that was put in my mailbox at a Christmastime a couple of years ago saying there was going to be a Christmas party for the neighborhood and everyone was invited. And I didn't look very carefully at the address, but later that night when the Christmas party was supposed to happen I noticed that the house just kitty-corner (ph) from us had all the lights on and people were on the porch, they were kind of looking over at our house. And I thought, oh, my goodness, I wasn't planning on going to this but we'll look like we're not social if we don't show up. So I said to Ann, we've got to go to this party. I got this flier about the neighborhood party. We've got to go over there. So she said, OK, we went over and knocked on the door. They let us in. Good to see you. We came in. They had dinner -- we had dinner together and got our pictures with everybody. Turns out this wasn't the neighborhood party.


ROMNEY: This was a -- this was a family having a party with their friends, all right, and so we were a little embarrassed. But they treated us well nonetheless and I got to meet some really interesting people. One of them was a guy actually from my home state of Massachusetts and a relatively young guy compared to me. And he was a former Navy SEAL. He was living in San Diego and learned about him. He talked about his life. He also -- he skied a lot. He skied in some of the places I had and we had a lot of things in common. He told me that he keeps going back to the Middle East. He cares very deeply about the people there. He served in the military there, went back from time to time to offer security services and so forth to people there. 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 11th 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.


BLITZER: Emotional story. A campaign spokesman, by the way, says Romney only recently learned for certain that Glen Doherty (ph) was killed in Benghazi was the same man he had met at that party in California. Let's go back to Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour, in light of the results of the first presidential debate, how important is the vice presidential debate, which comes up on Thursday?

Pete writes, "Biden's between a rock and a hard place. No matter how well he does, it won't make up for Obama's stunningly poor performance, and if he also does poorly, then that's it, folks, the fat lady has sung and this ball game is over."

Independent woman writes, "honestly, I don't think the debates actually change a voter's mind. I can't imagine that many people haven't already made up their minds at this point. It's the media's job to create this hysteria. Good job, by the way."

George in Pennsylvania says, "ask yourself, how important has Joe Biden been for the last four years? Next question."

James in North Carolina, "Jack, not too important. No one expects much from Joe Biden. He's like that crazy uncle that you see at the family reunion. He's a nice guy, but everyone takes what he says with a grain of salt."

Pat in Michigan, "critical for Obama. Biden might make a few stupid statements now and again, but he is a savvy politician and he will eat up Ryan like a cheese sandwich."

Overby writes "it's crucial. If Ryan wipes the floor with Biden the way Romney did with Obama, it's all over."

Rich in Texas writes, "unfortunately, it means very little. I have never seen the choice of vice president decide an election. The VP is like a spare tire. It rides around in the trunk of your car for years as extra weight, wasting gasoline on the off chance that one day you might need it."

And Ed in Maryland writes, "in a race to determine if the country is going to be led by Coke or Pepsi, the vice presidential debate will help determine bottles or cans."

If you want to read more on the subject, go at the blog, or through our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, the pressure is really on, I think, especially the vice president right now, Jack. Given what happened at the first presidential debate, Biden really has to come out swinging. He has got to do well and I know Paul Ryan. He's a very smart guy.

CAFFERTY: It's going to be interesting. And one of the challenges Biden's got is not to come on so strong that it immediately becomes obvious to the audience that he's trying to compensate for a weak performance by President Obama. I mean he's got to walk a kind of a thin line there. He's got to be aggressive. He's got to be smart, but he can't be over the top, because people will pick that up right away.

BLITZER: You know and when you've studied Biden over the years and I remember four years ago when I was moderating Democratic presidential debates, he was in one of those first debates I moderated, I think there were eight or nine Democrats up on the stage in New Hampshire, of course, President Obama and Hillary Clinton and John Edwards they were all up there as well, but Biden he did really well. I thought Chris Dodd, by the way, did well. He knows his stuff. The big problem he has occasionally is he says something he probably shouldn't say and I'm sure he's being told, be careful at this debate.

CAFFERTY: Well and he's particularly strong on foreign policy, and the Obama administration, based on recent events in the Middle East, is vulnerable, particularly in light of what happened at the Consulate in Benghazi. So it's a chance for Obama to use his strengths in foreign policy to perhaps reinforce Americans' fears that the Obama administration does have a grip on our policies in that part of the world and they do know what they're doing and that you know we don't need to worry about the course of events over there. So it's going to be interesting. I think it will be more fun to watch than the Obama/Romney one.

BLITZER: That was a pretty good one to watch as well. I love all these debates, but that's me.


BLITZER: I'm a political news junkie, as you know.

CAFFERTY: Yes, you are.

BLITZER: OK, Jack, stand by. I want all of our viewers to stand by. Right at the top of the hour, we're going to have my interview live here in THE SITUATION ROOM with Mitt Romney. He's standing by. I have good questions for him. Let's see how his answers are. That interview coming up at the top of the hour.


BLITZER: Are Americans losing faith in organized religion? And what would a move away from traditional religious observance mean for future election campaigns? Lisa Sylvester has been looking at the latest research. Lisa, what are you seeing?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf. Well there is a new Pew study that shows more Americans are moving away from organized religion. And this unaffiliated group includes atheists, agnostics, as well as people who just don't identify with any particular faith. This group is growing and it tends to be more liberal, which favors Democrats, and over time this could have a greater impact on elections.



SYLVESTER (voice-over): The faithful come to midday mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine (ph) in Washington, even as a new trend shows fewer Americans are embracing organized religion.


SYLVESTER: The Pew forum on religion in public life finds about 20 percent of American adults say they have no particular ties to a given faith. That's up from about 15 percent just five years ago. And the data shows a generational change. Younger people moving away from established religion. That can have an impact beyond the pews and into politics, as this activist who questions religious dogma suggests.

RONALD LINDSAY, CENTER FOR INQUIRY: They don't see it, religion, especially (INAUDIBLE) dogma, as something that's important for determining their values. With respect to this group of individuals, Republicans are seen as having some of their policies shaped by religious doctrine, especially in the area of same-sex marriage and reproductive rights.

SYLVESTER: When you look at voting trend lines, you can see what Lindsay is talking about. In 1990, five percent of voters didn't identify with any particular religion. In the 2010 election, that number had increased to 12 percent. But don't think that means religion is unimportant. Just about everyone we spoke to say some form of faith is part of their lives.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have to find something that grounds you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good morals, which comes from religion, is the basis of good valiant (ph) people.

SYLVESTER: Back at the Basilica, Monsignor Vito Buonanno says what he believes is going on is that people are questioning and searching.

REV. VITO A. BUONANNO, BASILICA OF THE NATIONAL SHRINE OF THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION: Many people do look and they may shop around, as they say. It could be that and may be that. But it's a great opportunity, because we know that they're questioning and that's what faith is. Faith is to question.


SYLVESTER: The United States as a whole is still a religious country, so 79 percent of the Pew study found that even those who don't identify with an organized religion, well two-thirds of them say they still believe in God -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Lisa thanks very much. And by the way, for the first time CNN has dominated the Religion Newswriters Association Awards. The four first place RNA Awards represent the work of dozens of fellow staffers. Our congratulations to all involved.