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Deadly Meningitis Outbreak Intensifies; Preview of the Vice Presidential Debate; Which Joe Biden Tonight?; Amtrak Funds; Religion and Government

Aired October 11, 2012 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, we're counting down to the vice presidential debate. We have it covered like nobody else can. Joe Biden under pressure now to make up for the president's flat performance. We're going to hear from Beau Biden on what to expect from his father tonight.

Also, we know Paul Ryan has been working out. We'll hear the story behind "Time Magazine's" controversial photos of Ryan pumping iron.

Is he ready to defend his controversial budget plan, as well?

Plus, as the death toll rises in the meningitis outbreak in the United States, CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta is digging deeper into the company linked to the tainted medications.

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

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Mitt Romney and President Obama were polite and pretty restrained in their first debate, but the gloves could come of tonight when their running mates square off in Kentucky. In a tight race where both sides are looking for an edge, this debate offers the chance to pick up some momentum.

Our live coverage begins in two hours.

Let's get a preview right now from our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta -- Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a senior adviser to Mitt Romney tells CNN the campaign expects Paul Ryan to focus on what they call substance at tonight's debate with Joe Biden. They say that's what worked at last week's debate between Mitt Romney and President Obama in Denver. And the adviser is still downplaying expectations for Ryan, saying that his face-off with Joe Biden will be, quote, "a new experience."

But nevertheless, the Wisconsin Congressman is no con -- is no amateur and no rookie when it comes to face-offs with the Obama administration.

Just a few moments ago, he Tweeted out a picture of himself on the debate stage here in Danville, Kentucky. I guess he was going through his walk-through, you might say, at that point, Wolf. And we are told by top aides to Paul Ryan that he expects to be called "Mr. Ryan" later on this evening.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hi, Jerry (ph).

I'm Paul.

Nice to meet you.

ACOSTA (voice-over): In one corner, Paul Ryan. In an ice cream shop on the campaign trail, Mitt Romney's running mate didn't exactly predict a rocky road in his first debate with Joe Biden. But he did give the vice president the edge.

RYAN: Look, Bi -- Joe Biden has been on this stage before. He's been on these big stages. It's my first time.

ACOSTA: In the other corner, a man who has been in this ring before.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's your strategy?

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Have you ever seen me rope a dope?

(LAUGHTER)

ACOSTA: But Biden had better have his gloves off. While the Romney campaign insists Ryan will be looking to debate substance, advisers have signaled the Wisconsin Congressman will zero in on this widely perceived vice presidential gaffe on the middle class earlier this month.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: How they can justify raising taxes on the middle class, that's been buried the last four years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: The Obama campaign is looking to Biden to go after Romney's recent comments on how people with preexisting conditions could obtain health care in a Romney administration. Romney told "The Columbus Dispatch," "No, you go to the hospital. You get treated. You get care. And it's paid for, either by charity, the government or by the hospital. We don't have people that become ill who die in their apartment because they don't have insurance."

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Joe just needs to be Joe. ACOSTA: In an interview with ABC News, President Obama sounded confident about Biden's chances. That's because despite the vice president's occasional verbal mishaps, Biden has been a debate standout.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM APRIL, 2007, COURTESY NBC)

BRIAN WILLIAMS, HOST: Can you reassure voters in this country that you would have the discipline you would need on the world stage, Senator?

BIDEN: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

BIDEN: There's only three things he mentioned in his sentence -- a noun and a verb and 9/11. I mean there's nothing else.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Even though Romney set low expectations for Ryan in this CNN interview with Wolf Blitzer...

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is, I think, Paul's first debate. I may be wrong. He may have done something in high school, I don't know.

ACOSTA: Ryan has debated several times during his Congressional career. He's even clashed with the president over reforming Medicare.

OBAMA: If I understand it correctly, it would say we're going -- we're going to provide vouchers of some sort for current Medicare recipients at the current level.

No?

RYAN: People 55 or above.

OBAMA: Fifty-five. But -- well, no, I understand. I mean there's a grandfathering in, but just for future beneficiaries.

RYAN: It has to be reformed for younger generations because it won't exist because it's going bankrupt.

ACOSTA: And if there's one thing history has shown, a young GOP vice presidential candidate debating an elder opponent should always avoid lofty comparisons.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM OCTOBER 1988, COURTESY KTVK)

LLOYD BENTSEN (D), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(END VIDEO TAPE)

ACOSTA: Now, as for those pictures of Paul Ryan working out that were published today by "Time Magazine," a source close to Paul Ryan, I can tell you, a top aide to Paul Ryan, says that people around the Wisconsin Congressman are outraged that those photographs came out on the same day of this debate. They said that this debate should be a day about talking about the important issues facing the country. And they feel "Time Magazine," Wolf, showed poor judgment in putting out those photographs today -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, we're going to speak with Rick Stengel, the managing editor of "Time Magazine," our sister publication, later this hour. And we'll ask him why they decided to release these photos right now. They've been sitting on them for a while.

So stand by for that.

Jim Acosta, we'll stay in close touch with you.

So here's a question, which Joe Biden will we see tonight, the charismatic figure who connects with audiences or the man who occasionally has that uncanny ability to put his foot in his mouth?

Our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, is here -- Gloria, you -- you sat down with Beau Biden...

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.

BLITZER: -- the attorney general of Delaware, the vice president's son, today.

What did you learn?

BORGER: Well, we went to Wilmington. Beau Biden has now actually has spent a lot of time with his father, because he's moved into his father's house while his house is being renovated. And the vice president has been in Wilmington a lot for -- for debate prep.

So I said to him, OK, you tell me, is your father going to go on the attack tonight?

Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BEAU BIDEN, JOE BIDEN'S SON: We'll see tonight, right?

You'll see -- you'll -- but my -- my father is always respectful and he'll be respectful tonight. But he's going to...

BORGER: That sounds like a yes.

B. BIDEN: That's not -- it's not -- well, we'll see, right?

We'll see.

BORGER: Is he going to draw -- would you ex -- let me ask it this way.

Would you expect him to draw sharp contrasts between himself and -- and Congressman Ryan?

B. BIDEN: He's going to try to communicate to the American people the stark choice we have to make on November 6. And it is a very stark choice.

BORGER: That sounds like a yes.

(LAUGHTER)

B. BIDEN: Well, I'm looking forward to the debate.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BORGER: So reading between the lines there, it's very clear to me that this is not going to be a passive debate. And we know Joe Biden likes to go on the attack anyway. That's his job as a vice presidential candidate. And I think particularly after the president's performance last week, there's even more pressure on him to do that, although Beau Biden would not admit that.

BLITZER: You know, with -- the vice president, over these past several months, has not done, I think, many, if any, national television...

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: -- interviews at all. Ryan has done a lot...

BORGER: Yes.

BLITZER: -- including an exclusive interview with our own Dana Bash that we'll air later today.

What's going on here?

Why is -- because he used to love going on television, as all of us know. And he was always very good at it.

BORGER: Well, I think he'd probably still love going on television. But I think this is the campaign season. Nobody believes there's any room for error. Joe Biden likes to freelance, as you point out. And I think that is a problem as far as the Obama campaign is concerned, although you just heard the president say let Joe be Joe.

I mean, the irony, to me, this evening is that we're going to be watching a debate in which Joe Biden may be called upon to sort of deliver the lines that President Obama did not deliver during the last debate. So the Obama campaign is kind of depending on him.

I think they're probably worried, to a certain degree. But I think this night will be very important. And if you remember back to the Sarah Palin debate, I mean Joe Biden freelances a lot when he's on the campaign trail and that gives them heartburn. But when he's in the debate, as he was with Sarah Palin, he stays on message. He's very focused. He's very disciplined. He does his homework.

I think he'll attack tonight, but he'll have discipline.

BLITZER: Yes. I remember that, what, five months ago, he was on "Meet the Press."..

BORGER: Well...

BLITZER: -- that was his last national television interview. And he -- he did speak about legalizing same-sex marriage and sort of preempting what the president...

BORGER: Totally.

BLITZER: -- was planning on doing. Maybe that's why he hasn't been doing...

BORGER: Don't you think that has some...

BLITZER: -- a lot of TV.

BORGER: -- I think that has something to do with it. And you saw him out on the campaign trail saying the middle class had been buried. Well, that's something that the Obama folks probably didn't want to hear.

BLITZER: Yes.

BORGER: But, again, on the campaign trail, this is a very different, very controlled environment. And I think you're going to see him attack with some -- some planned attacks, not unplanned.

BLITZER: I just want our viewers to know, we did invite him, like we did Paul Ryan...

BORGER: Oh.

BLITZER: -- to join us on CNN.

BORGER: Sure.

BLITZER: But so far, unfortunately, they declined.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: Please be sure to stay with CNN for debate night in America. Our special coverage of the vice presidential debate begins right here at 7:00 p.m. Eastern right after THE SITUATION ROOM.

Pictures everyone's talking about of Paul Ryan pumping iron.

But why did "Time Magazine" wait until the day of the debate to make them public?

And our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta is investigating the

Deadly meningitis outbreak and learning some stunning new details about the company linked to the tainted medications.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It's no secret, of course, that Paul Ryan is in excellent physical shape. He's committed to a very serious workout regimen, for good reason. His father and his grandfather, they both died of heart disease in their mid-50s.

"Time Magazine," our sister publication, is now publishing these photos of the Republican vice presidential nominee. The magazine is on the newsstands tomorrow.

They were taken last year, almost a year ago, when he was named runner-up in the magazine's Person of the Year issue.

Joining us now is "Time Magazine" editor, Rick Stengel.

Rick, thanks very much for coming in.

You always have a great issue.

Let's talk about the controversy. Some Romney aides are criticizing "Time Magazine" for publishing these photos now, on the eve of the debate, on the same day, actually, of the debate. And they insist that they had every reason to believe these photos would not be published.

Tell us the decision, why you decided to publish the photos today.

RICHARD STENGEL, "TIME" MANAGING EDITOR: Well, Wolf, I'm sorry that they feel that way. I think they're actually flattering pictures of -- of Mr. Ryan. And I mean the -- the explanation is pretty simple. I mean, he is in the news right now. And we are in the news business. And this seemed like the most appropriate time to do those pictures.

In fact, I -- I kind of wonder if we'd done them another time, you'd be asking me, well, why are you publishing those pictures of -- of Paul Ryan?

It seems sort of arbitrary. And he's not in the news. So you can't win either way.

BLITZER: Well, there -- there was a lot of talk about his being in such great physical shape when he was named to the ticket. That would have been a good time to publish those pictures, as well.

STENGEL: Well, we thought about it. And you know, for various reasons, you know, there's space reasons and things like that, it wasn't -- it didn't seem like the right thing to do at that moment, and then we held them. And then, this seemed like the right moment.

BLITZER: Did they ever have any understanding from "Time" magazine that those pictures would not be used?

STENGEL: Well, we had discussions with them about using them back and forth. And, there was never an understanding that they would not be used. In fact, you know, the photographer owns those pictures, and he can sell them to anybody. He happened to be on assignment for us. So, we had a proprietary use agreement with him over that. So, it's not like those pictures would have gone to waste all together.

BLITZER: Yes, those are great pictures. And, he's obviously in excellent, excellent physical shape. You've got an excellent article as well in the new issue about to hit the newsstands tomorrow, the senior correspondent, Michael Crowley. He's got a piece on Paul Ryan. Let me put up one the screen, a line or two from the article.

"If Romney does win, Ryan could become one of the most influential vice presidents in history. Perhaps, no other number two would take on the veep's job with so clear policy agenda. And if Obama should prevail, Ryan is sure to be at the center of an internal war within the Republican Party over what went wrong." You want to elaborate a little bit, because it's a really strong piece?

STENGEL: Yes. In selecting Mr. Ryan, Romney was choosing somebody who actually had a very, very specific world view about things that should be done with the budget, more specific arguably than Governor Romney, himself. So, in fact, if Governor Romney is elected, you know, he would have some kind of reason to actually say, you know what, this probably had something to do with my vice president and the specificity of his plan.

And let's execute it. I think that as Mike was saying in the piece also, if Governor Romney doesn't win, there will be this kind of, perhaps, civil war within the Republican Party whether we were too extreme or not extreme enough. And I think Romney will have a very, very prominent place in the party going forward.

BLITZER: I'm sure he will. Thanks very much, Rick Stengel, for that excellent cover story on China as well for our viewers who are interested in that, the next leader of the unfree world. Good insight into what's going on in China right now.

We're going to have much more on the debate coming up, including one issue that's really dividing the vice presidential candidates.

Plus, our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta on the deadly meningitis outbreak. He finds very disturbing information about that pharmacy behind the tainted injections.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: That rare meningitis outbreak affecting much of the United States right now is only getting worse. New numbers from the CDC shows the death toll has jumped from 12 to 14 and the case count has surged from 137 to 170.

CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, went to Massachusetts to find out more about the facility behind the contaminated injections causing all these problems and ended up discovering a second facility that may also be linked to the scare.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: You work here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm security for the facility.

GUPTA: OK.

(voice-over) All week, we've been trying to dig up anything to try and understand how a common steroid injection could have become so deadly.

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

GUPTA: No one here really wants to talk.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Your call has been forwarded to an automatic --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The number you've dialed is not in service.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The call has been forwarded to an automatic voice message system.

GUPTA (on-camera): All right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello?

GUPTA: Hello, I'm trying to get a hold of Barry Cadden (ph).

GUPTA (voice-over): That one, wrong number.

(on-camera) Is there someone that we can actually talk to? We've been leaving voice messages and --

(voice-over) I even went straight to the home of Barry Cadden (ph). He's the owner of the facility. There was a car parked at the end of the driveway. No visitors allowed. But I was told they would call me back. They didn't.

We're trying to get some information.

We were tipped off about a recycling facility that shares a space with the compounding facility. It's literally in the backyard. It amounted to a garbage dump. We even saw this health vehicle bringing waste from a nursing home to be disposed of here. While there are no laws specifically prohibiting a compounding pharmacy being next to, well, this, the FDA tells us it's all part of the investigation.

But there was something else we noticed. Look closely at the name of this garbage facility connected to the NECC. Conigliaro. Well, turns out, this is the maiden name of Barry Cadden's (ph) wife, Lisa. She's also listed as a pharmacist at NECC.

(on-camera) A little bit more digging and we found out that Barry Cadden, Gregory Conigliaro (ph) who is Liza's brother, are the owners of NECC, that recycling facility and also this medical facility called the Ameridose. They wouldn't even let us on the parking lot here. Now, if NECC is big, then Ameridose is the 800-pound gorilla. NECC has 21 employees and generated $8 million in revenue. Ameridose, 400 employees, generated a $100 million in a year. Ameridose drug manufacturing, which is regulated by the FDA.

But they also do add mixing, that's a form of compounding and that's regulated by the state pharmacy board. And here's something else, there's a woman name Sophia Casedes (ph), she the vice president of compliance here at Ameridose. She was also appointed to the state pharmacy board back in 2008.

We asked them about that, and they say she's recused herself of all matters related to Ameridose and NECC.

(voice-over) Both companies have done business with the United States government. In fact, more than $800,000 worth of work drug orders were placed with them by government agencies since 2007. Together, both these companies produce hundreds of thousands of medication doses. And now, both have shut down their operations.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA (on-camera): Now, Wolf, I should point out that the Department of Health for the state of Massachusetts doesn't say that there's any evidence of contamination from Ameridose, this was a voluntary shutdown, they say. But they also point out that this is starting to expose the lack of oversight of these compounding facilities and how the public gets put at risk as a result, Wolf.

BLITZER: It's a real depressing story when you think about it. The CDC, Sanjay, as you know, they now say 14,000 people received these injections and they may be at risk. They've been investigating this around the clock.

What more do we know, especially about the incubation process? How long do these 14,000 people have to be worried about what's happening inside their bodies?

GUPTA: Yes. This is new information, Wolf. They've been able to identify more closely what the fungus is that's causing these infections and these deaths, as you point out. The fungus is something known as (INAUDIBLE), not a name you need to remember. It is a very, very infection, Wolf.

In fact, the CDC says this is sort of new territory even for them in terms of how to treat it. But to your question, we were saying before I think you and I talked that it could be up to 28 days or so before someone would develop symptoms. They say with this fungus, it could, in fact, be much longer, even up to a few months.

So, people -- you know, the 14,000 people you're talking about, this isn't great news for them because they have to be even more vigilant for longer. And you know, they're not going to feel out of the woods for a few months. It's a tough one to treat, Wolf and to diagnose as well. BLITZER: I'm really glad you're on the case and investigating, Sanjay. Thanks very much. We'll stay in close touch.

So, could Paul Ryan face a problem when foreign policy national security come up in tonight's debate? Half of the debate is supposed to be on those issues. Paul Begala and Erick Erickson, they're both standing by for our "Strategy Session."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get right to our "Strategy Session." Joining us now our CNN contributors, the Democratic strategist, Paul Begala, senior advisor to the Priorities USA Action Super PAC, and Erick Erickson, editor in chief of RedState.com. Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

I want to play part of my interview with Mitt Romney this week talking about how his running mate might do in tonight's debate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Are you confident, governor, that Paul Ryan will take on Joe Biden Thursday night the way you took on the president?

MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, I don't know how Paul will deal with this debate. Obviously, the vice president has done, I don't know, 15 or 20 debates during his lifetime. Experienced debater. This is, I think, Paul's first debate. I may be wrong. He may have done something in high school. I don't know. But it will -- you know, it will be a new experience for Paul.

But, I'm sure he'll do fine. And frankly, Paul has the facts on his side. He has policy on his side. And we also have results on our side.

So I think you'll -- I think you'll find in the final analysis that people make their assessment on these debates not so much by the theatrics and the smoothness of the presenter but instead on whether they believe the policies being described, the pathway being described will make their life better or not. And I just think the American people recognize that the president's policies are not something we can afford for four more years. We just can't afford more of what we've gone through. And they want something new.

(AUDIO GAP)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Erick, I don't know if you could hear me. How do you think Paul Ryan will do tonight against Joe Biden?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Oh, I think he'll do OK. Look you know, Romney was right. I don't know how many debates Paul Ryan has had. Joe Biden in addition to being in the Senate has had a number of debates through his career running for president. But you know frankly I think vice presidential debates Gallup has shown time and again, vice presidential debates don't really matter. And I do think it's somewhat funny that Democrats after the president's debate performance are suddenly hoping Joe Biden pulls up their poll numbers through a good debate performance.

BLITZER: You agree, this vice presidential debate, Paul, does it really matter?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: No. I don't. Erick's right. People don't vote based on who the vice president is or even how the vice president debates. But both of these guys are (INAUDIBLE) prepared. I thought it was so disingenuous. I mean Mitt Romney is just -- he is phoniness with a pulse, OK. Everything he says is phony and this was like classic Romney. Gee, he's never really debated. He's a congressman. What do congressmen do all day? They debate. And he debates on the House floor and he's a perfectly able debater. Joe Biden is I think an outstanding debater. This will be --

ERICKSON: Oh they don't debate. They speechify.

BEGALA: Well, but they -- no and Romney -- I mean Romney knows that. He knows Ryan debates all the time. And so does Biden and so let's not try -- I don't -- I really hate that sort of phony disingenuous handicapping. These are able guys. These are bright guys. I think that sometimes Biden can come off a little long winded, it's true. Sometimes Ryan can come off a little mean spirited and dishonest, which is a huge risk for him. Pop your popcorn. This could be the best debate of all four of them.

BLITZER: There's no doubt that Paul Ryan, Erick, is very knowledgeable on a lot of the economic issues. He's chairman of the Budget Committee. He's on the Ways and Means Committee, but half the debate is supposed to be on foreign policy. This is an area where he's got much less experience. How much of a problem potentially could this be especially since Joe Biden, that's his specialty was chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee the last four years. Most of his time has been spent on international affairs.

ERICKSON: You know, I don't mean to laugh. I actually really do like the vice president and have a tremendous amount of respect for him. But I don't know of an issue in foreign policy Joe Biden has really ever been right on. He wanted to subdivide Iraq into three portions after 9/11. In 2001 he said we needed to give $200 billion no questions asked to Iran to show the Middle East that we were AOK with them and didn't want to invade them. And gosh, you know Paul Ryan doesn't have a lot of expertise in foreign policy, but then Joe Biden has a lot of experience in foreign policy and he's been wrong pretty much all the time.

BLITZER: Go ahead, Paul.

BEGALA: Well these guys are going to put the other's principle on trial. Not -- if Ryan is smart, and he is very, he won't attack Joe Biden the way Erick did and Erick has points to make, he will attack President Obama. And the same with Joe Biden, he will attack Mitt Romney and what he will say I predict on foreign policy is this, if Mitt Romney had been our president, he would have never moved heaven and earth to go after Osama bin Laden. That's a quote from Mitt Romney. If Mitt Romney had been our president, we would still have troops in Iraq. He called ending the war in Iraq a tragedy so we would -- bin laden would be alive. General Motors would be dead but bin Laden would be alive. And we'd still be at war in Iraq. This is remarkable looking at the successful wind-down of our combat operations in Iraq and bringing those young men and women home thank God finally that Mitt Romney wants to go back to war (INAUDIBLE) re- invade? That's the kind of debate you need to have. Both of these guys if they're doing the right thing won't attack actually each other and their records. They'll attack up at the principles.

BLITZER: You've got to admit, Erick, the American public is happy U.S. troops are out of Iraq and they're certainly thrilled that bin Laden is dead.

ERICKSON: Absolutely. The problem is that the president spent an entire year campaigning that Osama bin Laden was dead and al Qaeda's on the run and now we know al Qaeda's alive and our assassinated ambassador has been dragged through the streets of Benghazi.

BLITZER: Hold your thought on that point because I want to continue this conversation. We'll take a quick break. We'll also ask this question: Is Mitt Romney moving toward the center? What impact will that have on the conservative base? Our "Strategy Session" continues in a moment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Each candidate will have two minutes for an opening statement.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In 1992 when Perot had chosen Stockdale (ph) as his vice president, Stockdale (ph) appeared in that debate to be stunned. He almost didn't seem to belong there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who am I? Why am I here?

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It made no sense to the audience and it hurt Perot's credibility as a presidential candidate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not a politician. Everybody knows that. So don't expect me to use the language of the Washington insider.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What it underscored was a problem of judgment on Perot's part.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: We're back with our CNN contributors, Democratic strategist Paul Begala, he's a senior adviser, Priorities USA Action Super PAC, and Erick Erickson, the editor-in-chief of RedState.com. Paul, is it a big deal or a little deal that the vice president is 69 years old and the want-to-be vice president is 42 years old? That's a 27-year gap. BEGALA: Yes, I don't think it is. Joe Biden you see is a remarkably fit guy. Maybe he should like rip off his shirt and pose with his you know rock solid abs the way Congressman Ryan apparently likes to do when the cameras are around. But no, I don't think that's a problem. I think the bigger risk could be if Congressman Ryan -- and he is a congressman -- there's reporting now that he's been asked to be addressed as Mr. Ryan, as if he's like you know what been in the Witness Protection Program -- Congressman Ryan has a risk here of maybe looking a little snotty. He can sometimes come across as you know a little disrespectful and that's a bigger risk I think than Biden looking too old because he's a vigorous guy.

BLITZER: What do you think, Erick?

ERICKSON: I love Paul's pre-game spin here, dishonest, disrespectful. You know, I just -- I think all the setup for the debate sometimes gets a little bit overblown and my problem is I've heard a number of conservative and Republican advisers tell Paul Ryan he doesn't need to get in the weeds. He doesn't need to be too wonky. Actually, I think that's what Paul Ryan does, is natural element believe it or not is to not actually pose for "TIME" magazine doing P90X (ph), but to draw pie graphs in the air with his hand and I don't think he should try to be somebody he's not. He's a wonky in the weeds guy and should highlight the seriousness of the problem.

BLITZER: Yes, let Joe be Joe and let Paul be Paul.

BEGALA: (INAUDIBLE)

BLITZER: Listen to the former president, Erick, of the United States, Bill Clinton describe what he says is a changed Mitt Romney.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I had a different reaction to that first debate than a lot of people did. I mean I thought, wow. Here's old moderate Mitt. Where you been, boy? I missed you all these last two years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Erick, has Mitt Romney done the etch-a-sketch move to the center these last few weeks?

ERICKSON: Oh, I think everybody moves -- gosh, I wish Bill Clinton was on the campaign trail. He's so much fun to listen to. Yes, you know this is the moderate Mitt. Although I don't know that it matters. A lot of the polling that's come out shows that a lot of voters still consider Mitt Romney, even those who saw the debate and the polling after the debate consider Mitt Romney more conservative than they are, but still they consider him closer to them than Barack Obama, so I'm not really sure that the moderate Mitt caricature or the conservative Mitt at this point really matters.

BLITZER: You know and this poll that came out -- I want to put it up on the screen -- a bunch of states asked the question among likely voters, who has strong leadership qualities between these two candidates? Look at the Quinnipiac University/CBS News/"New York Times" poll in Colorado, Mitt Romney, 67 percent strong leadership qualities. Barack Obama 54 percent. Let's go to Virginia, 64 percent for Mitt Romney, 62 percent for Barack Obama. And Paul in Wisconsin, 65 percent for Mitt Romney, 59 percent for Barack Obama. So clearly in those three battleground states they think Romney has stronger leadership qualities than the president does.

BEGALA: Well, that's what comes from having a strong debate. But you notice this was a gain for Romney much more than a loss for President Obama. And I think that's really unusual about this last debate. Romney helped himself, there's no doubt. And he eroded the president's lead, but he didn't really erode the president's position. In other words, people still like the president. They support the president. If the election were held today, he'd still win. It would be a lot closer than it would have been a week or two ago.

But these internals do matter. And it's wise I think that we're highlighting them, strong leader, look at things like cares about me, for the middle class. Let's start to look -- let's see if what President Clinton was saying a minute ago starts to catch on. If people start to believe that this guy is a phony then I think -- and I think he is -- that's going to really hurt Romney on that leadership dimension. He had a good debate, but you know while Bill Clinton is out there campaigning for President Obama, you know who's not campaigning for Mitt Romney? All the guys and gals he ran against.

No John McCain, no Mike Huckabee, no Rick Santorum, no Newt Gingrich, we don't see any of them out there. I suspect because they hate him because they think he's a phony. Because in the primaries he said all this really radical right wing stuff and attacked even Rick Perry from the right, who by the way is also not campaigning for Governor Romney and now he's pretending to be a moderate. And I think politicians, all of them are a little bit phony, this guy is like the Muhammad Ali of phoniness.

BLITZER: All right, we're going to leave it on that note. You guys will be back, plenty of other opportunities down the road. And by the way, these Republican wannabe (ph) nominees they may not love necessarily Mitt Romney but they certainly don't like the president of the United States at all.

Up next, in the next hour I should say, I'll speak live with Democratic Congressman Chris Van Hollen (ph). He's been helping Joe Biden prepare for tonight. He's been pretending to be Paul Ryan. So where does he think Romney's running mate is vulnerable -- that and more coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Amtrak is setting records carrying more passengers than ever, but Republicans have the federally subsidized rail system in their sites and believe it or not the train could be a hot topic in tonight's vice presidential debate. CNN's Sandra Endo explains.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) (MUSIC)

"BIG BIRD": I love to move to the music, love to tap out a beat --

SANDRA ENDO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): "Big Bird" is getting all the attention. But team Romney has bigger targets that get more federal money.

ROMNEY: We subsidize things like Amtrak. We're going to have to stop doing that.

(SOUNDS)

ENDO: Amtrak gets roughly $1.4 billion a year in federal subsidies, three times more than PBS. This issue is putting vice presidential candidates Paul Ryan and Joe Biden on different tracks when it comes to funding for the rails.

JOSEPH BIDEN, (D-DE) VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm the biggest railroad guy you've ever known.

ENDO: Biden has made more than 7,900 round trips from Wilmington, Delaware, to Washington, D.C., during his time on Capitol Hill. The station in his home state was even renamed after him last year.

(CHEERING)

ENDO: And in 2009 the newly elected Democrats rode the rails into Washington, D.C., for their inauguration. Ryan's budget plan cuts federal subsidies for Amtrak and high speed rail projects. Republicans favor privatizing the industry instead.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The path to prosperity is not through solar shingles and high speed trains.

(APPLAUSE)

ENDO: But funding Amtrak and investing in high speed rail projects are key priorities for President Obama.

(on camera): Ridership is at an all-time high for Amtrak. More than 30 million passengers rode the rails last year. And the busiest line is the one between Washington, D.C. and New York City. More than three times as many passengers rode that line than those who decided to fly.

BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We need the fastest, most reliable ways to move people, goods and information from high speed rail to high speed Internet.

ENDO (voice-over): Federal money for passenger trains has been up for debate before and critics say in this economy it's a ripe target.

(on camera): How forceful will Paul Ryan be against this issue?

LESLIE PAGE, CITIZENS AGAINST GOVERNMENT WASTE: Oh very -- I think Paul Ryan will be extremely forceful. You're going to have to deal with all of the expenditures that we make, which are the most efficient, which are the least efficient and Amtrak is among the least efficient and high-speed rail is not even sustainable.

ENDO (voice-over): But advocates say despite the tough talk, Amtrak has always survived.

ROSS CAPON, NATIONAL ASSN. OF RAILROAD PASSENGERS: There are some really basic factors that are driving the love for trains that is going to be difficult for any candidate to ignore.

(TRAIN)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ENDO: Regardless of which side of the aisle voters are on, expect a debate night collision -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Sandy Endo thanks very much and please be sure to stay with CNN for "Debate Night in America". Our special coverage of the Vice Presidential Debate begins right here at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

A conservative member of the House Science Committee calling major scientific theories and I'm quoting now "lies straight from the pit of hell", the latest on the political firestorm he has ignited. That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's take a look at this hour's "Hotshots". And we begin in France. Jets release the colors of the national flag -- look at that. In Vietnam, farmers harvest rice from a field. In Egypt, the sun burns brightly over a pyramid and in Germany -- check it out -- a zebra is pictured in its enclosure at a zoo. "Hotshots", pictures coming in from around the world.

A conservative member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee is drawing fire after his own fire and brimstone denunciation of some major scientific theories. Lisa Sylvester has been looking into this story for us. Lisa, what's going on here?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf. You know people often talk about religion and politics as being two of the most contentious subjects, well this next story has a little bit of both.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER (voice-over): Athens Clark County (ph), Georgia, has a population of about 100,000, home of the University of Georgia. The town is represented in Congress by one of its most conservative members, Paul Broun. Representative Broun has a 99 percent conservative rating from the American Conservative Union. When it comes to faith, Broun disputes everything science says on how the earth and humans came to be. Listen to him from this speech at a sportsman's banquet last month at the Liberty Baptist Church. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All this stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and big bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell.

SYLVESTER: And once more Broun says the earth is only 9,000 years old which lines up with some Christian's literal approach to interpreting the Bible. The video has now gone viral. People shocked that Broun who is a medical doctor and sits on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology is challenging what the scientific world has deemed to be fact.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's very much like saying you think the earth is flat. It's not flat. You can show that, you can prove that to yourself. To claim that it's 9,000 years is not off a million years. It's off by a factor of a million. It is extraordinarily wrong.

SYLVESTER: TV personality and scientist Bill Nye says the earth is 4.5 billion years old. Nye says we know that because of something called radiometric dating that determines the age of meteorites and asteroids. We can also look at fossils and the layering of the earth and dinosaurs are believed to have roamed the earth 225 million years ago. Still many in the country brush aside the empirical evidence. A Gallup poll finding 46 percent of Americans believe in creationism, 32 percent believing in evolution but guided by God and 15 percent in atheistic evolution. Jason Lisle is an astrophysicist who represents a group trying to debunk conventional scientific wisdom and prove creationism.

JASON LISLE, INSTITUTE FOR CREATION RESEARCH: The idea that the universe is sort of is a big cosmic accident, well if that's the case, then why would it obey laws like E equals MC square (ph). That's kind of convenient, isn't it? I mean if it's just a big accident why would it obey nice neat mathematical laws that the human mind can understand. It doesn't make sense for it to just be a big explosion. It makes sense that it was created by the mind of God.

SYLVESTER: Two people we talked to in Representative Broun's home town of Athens capture that split in views.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think anyone who is overtly and strongly Christian in our neo pagan age is going to get backlash.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think that someone who is in a high- ranking of power should say something like that.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER: Now, we've reached out to Representative Broun's office, but they say he is not available. The only thing that they did add though was that Broun was speaking off the record to that large church group about his personal beliefs on religion. But, if that is indeed true, well that wasn't obvious to the church because this Liberty Baptist Church, they have posted Broun's full remarks on their church Web site and on their Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Lisa, tell me a little bit more about this Gallup poll you cited. What -- 46 percent believe in creationism.

SYLVESTER: Yes, you know this poll was just done last June and we've seen this sort of consistently and it's something to keep in mind because people will hear these comments that Representative Broun saying that he believes in the strict interpretation of the Bible, essentially that the world was created in six days, but there are actually a lot of people in this country and that poll captures that 46 percent that believe in creationism. There is also a substantial about a third of the country believing in sort of this middle view, which is, you believe in evolution, you check the box, yes, believe in evolution, but you believe that that evolution was guided essentially from a higher power that you believe in the big bang theory but something had to give that spark. So, it's a very interesting discussion, Wolf.

BLITZER: Certainly is -- Lisa, thanks for that report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let me help you with the difference Ms. Ferraro between Iran and the embassy in Lebanon.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I almost resent Vice President Bush your patronizing attitude that you have to teach me about foreign policy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I served with Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That was really uncalled for, Senator.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You call that trickle down. I call it Niagara Falls.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator Dole and Mr. Kemp (ph) would put the American economy in a barrel and send it over the falls.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can see my wife and I think she's thinking, gee, I wish he would go out into the private sector.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well I'm going to try to help you do that --

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) Barack Obama has offered a clear plan.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Your plan is a white flag of surrender.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "AC 360": Well, tonight Joe Biden and Paul Ryan and the vice presidential debate. I'm Anderson Cooper.

BLITZER: And I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's "Debate Night in America" and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.