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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

CNN's Instant Poll of Debate Watchers Say President Obama Won

Aired October 16, 2012 - 23:59   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer. We're here in the CNN Election Center for comprehensive analysis of tonight's second debate between President Obama and former Governor Mitt Romney, the debate moderated by CNN's Candy Crowley.

The biggest verbal clash of the night came when Romney accused the president of waiting too long to call the September 11th attack on the United States consulate in Benghazi, Libya, an act of terror. The president said Romney simply had his facts wrong. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The day after the attack, governor, I stood in the Rose Garden. And I told the American people and the world that we are going to find out exactly what happened, that this was an act of terror. And I also said that we're going to hunt down those who committed this crime.

And then a few days later, I was there greeting the caskets coming into Andrews Air Force Base and grieving with the families. And the suggestion that anybody in my team, whether the secretary of state, our U.N. ambassador, anybody on my team would play politics or mislead when we lost four of our own, governor, is offensive.

That's not what we do. That's not what I do as president. That's not what I do as commander in chief.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR: Governor, if you want to reply, quickly.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I certainly do. I think it is interesting the president just said something which is that on the day after the attack, he went in the Rose Garden, and said that this was an act of terror. You said in the Rose Garden the day after the attack it was an act of terror? It was not a spontaneous demonstration, is that what you're saying?

OBAMA: Please proceed, governor.

ROMNEY: I want to make sure we get that for the record, because it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror.

OBAMA: Get the transcript.

CROWLEY: He did in fact, sir. Let me call it an act of terror. OBAMA: Can you say that a little louder, Candy?

(APPLAUSE)

CROWLEY: He did call it an act of terror. It did, as well, take -- it did as well take two weeks or so for the whole idea of there being a riot through the about this tape to come out. You're correct about that.

(APPLAUSE)

ROMNEY: The administration indicated that this was a reaction to a video and was a spontaneous reaction. It took them a long time to say this was a terrorist act by a terrorist group. And to suggest -- am I incorrect in that regard? On Sunday the -- your secretary --

OBAMA: Candy --

ROMNEY: Excuse me. The ambassador to the United Nations went on the Sunday television shows and spoke about how this was a spontaneous --

(CROSS TALK)

OBAMA: I'm happy to have a longer conversation about foreign policy --

CROWLEY: But I want to move you on.

OBAMA: I'm happy do that too.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Lively exchange there. The results are in from our poll of registered voters who watched this second debate. Here is the headline: 46 percent say President Obama won tonight compared to 39 percent who say Governor Romney won. We also have some brand-new numbers just coming in.

We asked who would better handle the issue of foreign policy? Forty nine percent said President Obama, compared to 47 percent for Governor Romney. We asked if President Obama offered a clear plan for solving the country's problems, 38 percent of debate watchers said yes; 61 percent said no. We asked the same question about Governor Romney. Did he offer a clear plan for solving the country's problems? Forty nine percent said yes; 50 percent said no.

Remember, this is a scientific poll that reflects the views of people who watched the debate. And our sample indicates that 33 percent of those who were surveyed were Democratic, 33 percent were Republican. That sample is about eight points more Republican than an average of CNN polls taken in 2012 of all Americans, so the respondents were more Republican than the general public.

Let's continue our analysis. Anderson? ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Let's talk about it with our contributors and our analysts, because when you look at the overall number, people saying Obama won the debate, but when you actually look at the breakdown in terms of on the economy, on taxes, on the deficit, some very promising numbers for Mitt Romney.

ARI FLEISCHER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Really comes down to what do you vote on? Do you vote on the basis of how articulate somebody is, how well somebody counterpunches? Or do you vote on the basis of what you think about the economy, when you think somebody has a plan to change or improve the economy, whether you think somebody has a plan to fix the deficit?

That's the key thing that drives elections, because it gets to voter behavior, not just debate watching likes and dislikes. On that score, it looks like Mitt Romney has done much better than any of us are giving him credit for.

ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: There is also a different dynamic too. Barack Obama spent most of this evening on he attack. He wanted to energize his base, get his momentum back. He picked up something for that. But there is a cost. The cost was he was attacking Mitt Romney's plan. He was legitimizing Mitt Romney's plans. That's what the debate was about most of the evening.

So we're going to see numbers that say Romney has got a better plan. Also, only 33 percent of this survey were Republicans. But 58 percent thought Romney had a better economic plan. That's a pretty impressive number tonight for Mitt Romney.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Here's what the president did very well: he won on the attack. People thought in this poll that the president attacked more than Mitt Romney, but they also found him to be more likable at the same time. So he managed to attack while not alienating people.

ANDERSON: Yet you look at who is a better leader in those polls, they go more for Mitt Romney.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: They go a little more for him. And we started out the evening talking a lot about the search for the women voter. And I think one of the things this debate underscored is, yes, the economy, jobs, deficits are very important. But other issues are also important.

And I think Mitt Romney scored some points -- Ben has been making this point -- on some of the social issues that also draw women voters, that do have an influence on this race. My reading on this is, if you look at this poll, given the -- how the composition of the poll, that President Obama scored a solid victory tonight in terms of the public's perception.

And yet at the same time, Mitt Romney has a lot of things he can find consolation in, which promises to me this is going to be a rip roaring end of the race.

(CROSS TALK)

COOPER: We're going to come right back to it. We're having some mic problems, actually. So let's go to Wolf to look at the uncommitted voters.

BLITZER: Let's take a closer look, Anderson, at the focus group of uncommitted voters. Our focus group in Ohio -- in Columbus, Ohio, they responded to the candidates tonight. We measured their reaction as they listened to President Obama and Governor Mitt Romney.

The green line represents the men. The yellow line is for women. Check it out. Here is President Obama's best moment of the night. It happened at around 9:07 p.m. Eastern. The question was on the future of the jobs market. Listen to the president talk about jobs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: We got to make sure that we have the best education system in the world. The fact that you're going to college is great, but I want everybody to get a great education. And we have worked hard to make sure that student loans are available for folks like you, but I also want to make sure that community colleges are offering slots for workers to get retrained for the jobs that are out there right now and the jobs of the future.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's take a look at Mitt Romney's best moment. He peaked at around 9:24 p.m. Eastern. The question was on eliminating tax deductions. Listen to Mitt Romney's high point on taxes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I want to bring the rates down. I want to simplify the tax code. And I want to get middle income taxpayers to have lower taxes. And the reason I want middle income taxpayers to have lower taxes is because middle income taxpayers have been buried over the past four years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's go to CNN's Erin Burnett. She's in Columbus, Ohio, with the focus group. That's a key battleground state. Erin, take us a little bit in depth.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, it is interesting here when you think about some of the moments. And when I asked the focus group members here, do you remember those highs and do you remember what they had to say about taxes and jobs and everyone here, yes, you do remember. So they sit here for 90 minutes and they do remember every one of those moments, Wolf, which I think is very impressive.

The thing that I want to highlight, though, is that our focus group felt that when they started talking positively, like you heard there, talking about jobs and what you're going to do, they like that. They didn't like then, and automatically scored negative, when the candidates would start to then say, well, here is what Obama has done poorly over the past four years or here is what Governor Romney did poorly when he was governor.

So that's what they did not like. But the moments that really stood out here, Wolf, had to do with the gender conversation. They had to do with the Libya conversation. And actually China had some people who were also interested in it too.

BLITZER: All right, Erin, stand by, because I want to take a closer look now at the low points of the debate for both President Obama and Governor Romney. Let's begin with the president's low points. It came at around 10:25 p.m. Eastern, right near the end of the debate. The question was on assault weapons, but the president ended up talking about teachers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: This is part of the choice in this election. When Governor Romney was asked whether teachers -- hiring more teachers was important to growing our economy, Governor Romney said that doesn't grow our economy.

CROWLEY: The question asked, Mr. President, was with guns here. I need to move us along. The question was guns.

OBAMA: I understand. But this will make a difference in terms of whether or not we can move this economy forward for these young people and reduce our violence.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That was President Obama's lowest moment according to our focus group in Columbus, Ohio. Mitt Romney's lowest point happened at around 10:06 p.m. Eastern. He was asked about his stance on immigration and pivoted to talk about his investments.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: Any investments I have over the last eight years have been managed by a blind trust. And I understand they do include investments outside the United States, including in Chinese companies. Mr. President, have you looked at your pension? Have you looked at your pension?

OBAMA: I've got to say it --

ROMNEY: Mr. President, have you looked at your pension?

OBAMA: You know, I don't look at my pension. It is not as big as yours, so it doesn't take as long.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's go back to Erin Burnett. She's in Columbus with the focus group. What do you make of that, Erin? BURNETT: Well, everybody remembered the pension moment, the size of the pension, right? Uniformly, OK, everybody remembered that and obviously scored it as a low. But I want to actually go to Mike over here because you thought this was a little bit more complicated, perhaps not as much of a low as overall our focus group rated this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was an interesting exchange. I think what the governor was trying to get out with the president was, like, hey, his investment -- the president earlier was insinuating he was investing in Chinese companies. And I think what he was -- the governor came back to the president with later was, hey, you know, it's a blind trust, it is mutual funds, it's this. You know, very well the president could have outside investments that -- unknowingly to him, that are invested in Chinese companies.

So I thought it was just a little bit of a low blow and kind of -- just some kind of sniping that really didn't mean anything or was unnecessary.

BURNETT: Sort of everyone here to realize maybe everyone is invested in China and may not realize it, in some way, shape or form, even though people did not like how Mitt Romney handled himself at that moment. Now the gender comments didn't show up on those highs and lows, Wolf. But everybody -- we had a very spirited conversation about gender.

So let me start with you. What was your takeaway on the conversation about equal pay for women?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I thought it was a great question that was asked. And I was very concerned with Romney's response. I appreciate what he said that when he was staffing his cabinet, that he made sure that he had women and wanted to get the skilled women in there. But he never addressed the question. He never addressed the fact that that disparity exists, and that even though a law has been passed, he wouldn't work to make sure that that was enforced or that he would take any efforts.

Whereas it seemed that the president not only got the law passed, but is making sure that we're trying to enforce it.

BURNETT: That's interesting, because even -- I don't want to be the sexist here, but I'm going to go to another woman. You had a different point of view on that exchange.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. My thought on it was that the president was more interested in the fact that women get equal pay because we're the bread winners, whereas my thought is that -- and as the governor's thought was, was that we get equal pay because we have the education, the same talents, and that we worked as hard as the man has for the same position. That's what the qualification should be for that position and not be determined by the gender.

BURNETT: There were different takeaways on the gender. There was one moment, and we started having a very spirited conversation on Libya. And there are many people here with different points of view, as there are around the country. But everybody here -- I don't want to say, everybody, but it was overwhelming -- did not like how Mitt Romney handled the Libyan bombing. Am I characterizing this fairly?

(CROSS TALK)

BURNETT: Yes. OK, I just want to make sure. All right. What did you think Mitt Romney did wrong?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I felt Mitt Romney should have given the president the respect of being the commander in chief and having the burden of responsibility. He owned up to having the burden of responsibility. And he took onus in it. And I thought Governor Romney should have let that just -- let it go.

BURNETT: And let me just -- one final comment on that. Let me just come over here to you. You also had some frustration, specific part of that moment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it is an error to politicize a tragedy like that. No presidency is going to be immune from terror. And no presidency is going to ignore terror or look for something like that, no more than President Bush was responsible for 9/11. I don't hold President Obama responsible for what happened in Libya.

BURNETT: All right. That's -- those are sort of the takeaways on the highs and lows, but those are some of the topics that really got everybody talking here, Wolf.

BLITZER: You got an intelligent group of undecided voters in that focus group, Erin. Thanks very much. I should point out --

BURNETT: Very informed, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, they are very informed. Thank them for me, please, and for our viewers. By the way, we did check for President Obama, he had three low points throughout the debate, Mitt Romney, according to these people in this focus group, had seven lows.

Up next, Tom Foreman's keeping them honest with another reality check, this time about illegal immigration. And in just a few minutes, you'll be able to see an encore presentation of this historic debate in its entirety.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's go to CNN's Tom Foreman. He has a reality check about what the candidates said on the sensitive issue of fixing illegal immigration.

Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, Wolf, Republicans have been after the president for months saying he's ignored this issue of illegal immigration. Listen to how Mitt Romney went after him tonight and how the president answered.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: Why did he fail to even promote legislation that would have provided an answer for those that want to come here legally, and for those that are here illegally today?

OBAMA: We put more border patrol on than any time in history. And the flow of undocumented workers across the border is actually lower than it's been in 40 years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The fundamental claim here is that the president promised comprehensive immigration reform and he produced no immigration reform. I want to look at the president's claim first, though, because it gets at something that Republicans have pushed beyond that. They have largely suggested that the president has not been interested in engaging this issue of illegal immigrants, and point to things like this, as evidence.

These are numbers from the Department of Homeland Security, from 2000 to 2011. And look what happened with immigration arrests. They were quite high, 1.8 percent in 2000. Through the Bush years, they went a little bit up, a little bit down, generally down. Then look, you hit 2009, Barack Obama is in office and they just go steadily, steadily down.

Many Republicans want to point to that and say, look, this is evidence that he's pandering to the Latino vote. He doesn't want to be tough on illegal immigrants.

But there is more to the picture. Look at this over here. This is what is happening to the people who are being arrested. This is the record of deportations from 2000 up until 2011. Look, they were quite low. But under Barack Obama, they have steadily risen. When you get to his time here, look, that was rising under George Bush. Here it is 2009, this is the highest level that we have ever seen under any president in terms of deportations.

Barack Obama embraced the policy of George Bush when it came to the border. He's increased funding for the border, more guards, more motion detectors and cameras, more drones and airplanes and helicopters, so much so that when you combine it with the economic changes that have made a lot of jobs here dry up, the Pew Hispanic Center says now we have a net illegal immigration in this country of about zero.

So Barack Obama can properly say he has engaged the issue of illegal immigration.

On the more narrow count, what Mitt Romney said about producing immigration reform, he's absolutely right on this. Barack Obama did promise he would have comprehensive immigration reform. He did not produce it. They did try to do something on the DREAM Act. He took some administrative action to try to help the children of people who are here illegally.

But he did not produce legislation, though he says if he can be re-elected, he will try it in a second term. Wolf?

BLITZER: Good point, thanks very much for Tom. Let's go back to Anderson.

COOPER: We're about nine minutes away from replaying the debate for you. So let's just talk over what we learned tonight, what tomorrow what the headlines are going to be.

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think we're trying to make sense of this polling data that shows he won the debate, but then on key points, the economy, Romney scored better. I think you can make sense of it. People vote for people, not plans.

The last time we saw Romney, he was able to be the best storyteller on the stage. He talked about his values first. Then he laid out the plan. This time, Romney was more the list guy. He was thrown off by Obama. Obama was therefore able to go on the attack and yet stay likable. And I think that people will vote for the person, not the plan.

COOPER: You even think, even though Romney is scoring higher on the economy --

JONES: Yeah, all the plan stuff, but look at Obama. Obama looks like a winner. He's happy. You look at Romney, he looks shaken. I think people will vote for the person Obama, not the plan.

COOPER: Ari, do you buy that?

FLEISCHER: No, not on people or the plan. It is always a mix. People vote on the basis of two things. They vote on the basis of someone's ideology and their persona. Do I trust him? Do I like him? Put them together, that drives voter behavior.

I still think when you look at the whole trend of what has happened since the first debate, the trend is still going in Mitt Romney's direction. The president, if he had a good night tonight, it is because he got no hit the last time, so he gets a couple of hits tonight and everybody says look at him hit. Well, he still doesn't do very well when you add up both games.

COOPER: You think the people who are saying he won are saying he won in relation to how badly he did the first time.

FLEISCHER: I think when you look at the president in the first debate, this debate he clearly had a much better debate. So people have a nice aura about that for those who watched two debates. When you go into the voting booth on the economy, on taxes, on deficit, on jobs, the issues that drive, it is hard to look at CNN's data and show this is anything but a bad night for the president.

(CROSS TALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think clearly the consensus is this was a very good night for the president. It may not have been as good a night for him as it was for Mitt Romney. We have now had two debates. The weakest moments in Romney's performance tonight were around foreign policy. You got to debate next week and it's all about foreign policy. I think you've got to look at it's a split decision at this point. I think this week belongs to the president and we'll see what happens in a forum that favors the president.

COOPER: But if the next debate is on foreign policy, does that allow President Obama to make any more inroads on the economy?

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: It's certain Governor Romney had a misstep on this Libya question because of specifically what he said. I think on the bigger picture, there are a lot of questions for the administration on the Libya question. I think Governor Romney -- the benefit for Governor Romney is that that's going to come back up and he's going to have a chance to get a redo and to try to relitigate the issue.

But also look -- it's a debate about foreign policy. Look for both of them to talk about how important a strong economy is to a strong America and the world, how the confrontation with China on foreign policy is about the economy.

I just want to get to the point that look, I think this was a better night for the president. I think the net after two debates is you have to say Romney still has the plus of the two debates. Here's -- we have been talking about our poll, the focus group being conducted by Democratic and Republicans about Wal-Mart moms, moms who -- suburban moms, people who decide the election.

It showed an advantage for the president. Romney struck some as off putting. But Romney nonetheless scored points for having a five- point plan. Moms still want to see the president make a case for the second term.

So to Van's point, and at the end, Obama wins more on the dial. In the end, most moms say the debate was a draw. If people think you have a plan, likability comes into play. The president has still left a whole lot of people -- as I've been traveling the last few weeks, this is what people say: I want to vote for him, but he hasn't told me with what he's going to do.

(CROSS TALK)

CASTELLANOS: Obama proved tonight -- Obama conceded that Mitt Romney had a plan for change because he kept attacking it all night long. Now the debate is not whether Romney's plan is a good plan for change or a bad plan for change. But nevertheless that's -- 60 percent of Americans think this country is on the wrong track. Guess what they want?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The argument the president made, though, was that Romney wants to go backward. Do you want to go backward or do you want to go forward.

CASTELLANOS: Romney made the case that we're not going to settle for where we are.

(CROSS TALK)

COOPER: Thirty seconds left. David?

GERGEN: Two weeks ago, the president was solidly ahead. He was moving toward a big victory. The first debate changed the arc of this, put Romney back in contention, started momentum. I think tonight slowed his momentum way down. I think we're in a real horse race down the line.

COOPER: Let's look at those poll numbers again, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Anderson. Recapping the headline from our poll of registered voters who watched this second presidential debate: 46 percent say President Obama won tonight compared to 39 percent who say Governor Romney won tonight. A reminder to you about the breakdown of our sample, one-third of those we surveyed were Democratic, one-third were Republican, but that sample somewhat more Republican than you would find in the general public.

We also would like to know what struck you the most about tonight's debate. Go to CNN.com/Facebook to post your comment. We're interested. We're going to show you some of the comments, look at the top debate issues trending on Facebook.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: We took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet. I went to a number of women's groups and said can you help us find folks. They brought us whole binders full of women.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The candidates are generating plenty of buzz tonight online. You just heard Mitt Romney talking about his efforts to recruit women when he was governor of Massachusetts. His term, "binders full of women," became a social media sensation.

On Facebook, use of the phrase "binders of women" skyrocketed. As for other words used in the debate, gang bangers went up, sketchy went up, self-deportation went up. Mitt Romney was mentioned almost 13 percent more than Barack Obama. The terms mentioned the most on Facebook are Romney, Obama, women, and, get this, Candy Crowley.

COOPER: Did you say gang bangers?

BLITZER: I did.

COOPER: A first for everything.

BLITZER: That was mentioned. I just report the news. Next presidential debate next Monday in Florida.

COOPER: Here's the debate right now, encore presentation.