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THE SITUATION ROOM

1,000 U.S. Troops Begin Arriving in Israel; Obama Looks to Stop Swing State Slide; Business Owners Urge Voting Against Obama; Ex- Presidents Campaigning?; Catholic Voters; Obama and Romney to Share Some Laughs; "Newsweek" Goes Digital

Aired October 18, 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: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, Americans working for a U.S. security contractor in Afghanistan allegedly partying it up big time, seemingly so drunk and drugged they could hardly speak. The shocking video just ahead.

Plus, some corporate CEOs are warning their employees that a vote for President Obama could mean losing their job. Why what Mitt Romney's telling them might surprise you.

And a tale of two ex-presidents -- while Bill Clinton may be helping President Obama out there on the campaign trail, others suggest George W. Bush may be haunting Mitt Romney.

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

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Only 19 days to go until the 2012 presidential election and the pressure is certainly on both candidates in this increasingly tight race. Today, President Obama campaigned in New Hampshire. With its four electoral votes, it's one of a handful of swing states that will be absolutely critical come Election Day, November 6.

Joining us now for -- for an update from the Obama campaign, the campaign's traveling press secretary, Jennifer Psaki.

Jen, thanks...

JENNIFER PSAKI, OBAMA CAMPAIGN TRAVELING PRESS SECRETARY: Hi, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for coming in.

PSAKI: My pleasure.

BLITZER: I just want to clean up one thing. The vice president, Joe Biden, he was out on the campaign trail today. He seemed to confuse on a couple -- a couple of lines -- Iran with Afghanistan.

I'll play the little clip.

I want you to clean it up for us.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Having been in and out of Afghanistan or Iraq over 20 times, my son having served a year in Iraq, I want to tell you something, man. The sacrifices -- how many of you know someone who served in Iraq or Iran?

(APPLAUSE)

BIDEN: How many of you -- how many of you know -- know someone who has been injured or lost in Iraq and Iran?

(CROSSTALK)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And he clearly meant Afghanistan, but he said Iran. He didn't -- he didn't fix it at the time. But I assume you want to fix it.

PSAKI: Well, clearly, the vice president meant Afghanistan. As you know, his son is a veteran and he proudly served. The vice president is incredibly proud of that. And, you know, we're -- the -- the president and the vice president were the -- they're the only ticket that has an actual plan to wind down our troop presence in Afghanistan. I don't think he got into that today. But he certainly knows the difference between Iran and Afghanistan.

BLITZER: Yes, he certainly did. And when I heard that, I said to myself, whoa, what's he talking about Iran?

I don't think we have any U.S. troops serving in Iran right now. And his son, Beau Biden, the attorney general of Delaware, did spend a year serving the country in Iraq.

PSAKI: He did.

BLITZER: And he did an ex...

PSAKI: Proudly.

BLITZER: -- excellent job for the country, as all U.S. troops are doing.

Let's get to some politics, heavy duty politics. Wisconsin right now. All of us assumed, at least a few weeks ago, this was a done deal, the president would easily carry Wisconsin. But now there's this new Marquette Law School poll. It shows likely voters in Wisconsin, Paul Ryan's home state, Obama 49 percent, Romney 48 percent, a 3.4 percent margin of error. It's really, really tight.

Is that what your numbers are showing, as well?

PSAKI: Well, Wolf, we always knew that Wisconsin would be harder this year than than it was four years ago. We won by 14 points four years ago. And the Republicans have try -- been trying to make a lot about the fact that Paul Ryan is a native son. He's been practically camped out there for weeks, since he was named as the running mate.

But we're going to compete there for every vote. We feel that the president's message of fighting for manufacturing jobs, fighting for the middle class, is really going to resonate in Wisconsin. We have a great ground game there in Wisconsin. We feel it's going to be in the win column on Election Day.

BLITZER: It seems to be tightening right now in Michigan and in Pennsylvania, as well.

Are you guys advertising, is the campaign advertising in those two states?

PSAKI: We are not. And I will tell you about Pennsylvania. We have a 1.1 million person voter registration advantage in that state. The Romney campaign has pulled staff out of that state to send them to Ohio and they're not spending a dime there. So it seems surprising that that would be in a -- in a, you know, vulnerable category for us. And we -- we certainly don't see it -- see it as one that is.

BLITZER: The Romney campaign seems to be pretty confident about North Carolina right now. In fact, we're getting word from North Carolina, they're starting to pull out some of their personnel, some of their campaign staff, from North Carolina, thinking they're going to carry it, and moving them to Ohio, for example, a battleground state.

What are you seeing in North Carolina?

PSAKI: Well, North Carolina, we have one of our best ground operations in the country. I -- they don't ask me for advise, surprisingly, the Romney campaign. But today is the first day of early vote. There have been lines of people around the block ready to vote for Obama the first day of early vote.

And they have a narrow path to victory. So it would be surprising if they were actually pulling out of the state. It's a state we think -- I mean pulling out the -- with -- because they're overconfident. It's a state we think we can win. We feel confident in our operation there. And we're continuing to compete for every single vote.

BLITZER: Here is probably what -- the most effective line that Mitt Romney used in the debate the other night against President Obama.

I'll play the clip, because I want you to respond.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We just can't afford four more years like the last four years. He said that by now, we'd have unemployment at 5.4 percent. The difference between where it is and 5.4 percent is nine million Americans without work. I wasn't the one that said 5.4 percent. This was the president's plan.

He didn't get there. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, go ahead and respond to that.

PSAKI: Well, look. I don't know which quote he's referring to, but the facts are, we've come a long way, but we have a long way to go. The president says that every single day on the campaign trail.

But he -- what he knows is we can't afford to go back to the same policies that led us into the me -- this mess to begin with. President Clinton made that argument out there on the trail today. We've had 5.2 million jobs created over the last 31 months. We're going in the right direction.

But the question is, which path do you want to go from here?

And we think the president has a much better path for the middle class.

BLITZER: And one -- one final question. He also says, Romney, the president promised he would cut the deficit in half, but it's doubled every single year.

How do you respond to that?

PSAKI: Well, the president is the only one who has a balanced $4 trillion plan to bring down the deficit that includes revenue, as well. We know revenue has to be a part of this package. Mitt Romney's first offering is a $5 trillion plan that he has no plan -- no ability to pay for.

So how can we take that seriously?

We know we need to do more to bring down the deficit. We've made some progress. We need to make more.

But the question is, how are you going to do that?

And we haven't seen a serious proposal from the Romney team.

BLITZER: But what -- but if the Romney folks and Romney himself say that the -- the national debt was, what, $10 trillion when the president took office. It's $16 trillion right now. It's gone up dramatically every single year.

How do you respond to that, that the president has allowed this to go on?

PSAKI: Well, look, you know, as you know, because you've covered this closely, the president inherited a very difficult economic situation. We had to make some choices. We had to put in place The Recovery Act, that helped reboot the economy. We had to save the auto industry, which has created a million jobs. We had to take tough steps.

We're moving in the right direction. Deficit reduction, and doing it in a balanced way, is absolutely a priority for the president. But if you're not willing to put tax cuts for the millionaires and billionaires on the table, it's hard to take you seriously.

And, you know, that's what we're going to keep conveying to the American people.

BLITZER: You've got less than three weeks to do it.

Jen Psaki is the traveling press secretary for the Obama campaign.

Jen, thanks very much for coming in.

PSAKI: Thanks, Wolf.

Great to be here.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Some corporate CEOs are now wading into the battle for the White House big time, warning their employees that a vote for President Obama could actually cost them their job.

Lisa Sylvester is joining us.

She's got more on this story.

What's going on here -- Lisa?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.

Well, this raises the question, can an employer tell his or her workers how they should vote?

And can that employer say not voting for a particular candidate could mean the loss of their jobs?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER (voice-over): Employees of Koch Industries received a voter information packet this month. Included was a letter from the company's president, David Robertson, warning that if there's a second Obama term, quote, "many of our more than 50,000 U.S. employees and contractors may suffer the consequences, including higher gasoline prices, runaway inflation and other ills."

Similar e-mails have been distributed at other companies. The CEO of Westgate Resorts, David Siegal, putting it bluntly, "If any new taxes are levied on me or my company, as our current president plans, I will have no choice but to reduce the size of this company."

And the head of the Murray Energy Corporation blamed the Obama administration for recent lay-offs at his company.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT MURRAY, MURRAY ENERGY CORPORATION: Yes, ma'am. President Obama is responsible entirely for the closure of that mine and the loss of those -- of those jobs. SYLVESTER: The liberal Center for American Progress calls these charges and e-mails by CEOs outrageous.

IGOR VOLSKY, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: You have the employer holding all the cards, responsible for that person's job, pressuring, really, threatening their employee to vote a certain way. It's very undemocratic.

SYLVESTER: But Governor Mitt Romney, speaking to independent business owners, has urged them to carry on to win over votes.

ROMNEY: There's nothing illegal about you talking to your employees about what you believe is best for the business, because I think that will figure into their -- their election decision, their voting decision. And -- and, of course, doing that with your family and your -- your kids, as well.

SYLVESTER: It is legal for a boss to tell an employee how he or she thinks their employees ought to vote.

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR: The courts would view this as just political speech and expression of political opinion. And frankly, going back to, you know, the days when the founding fathers were writing "The Constitution," the one thing they really enshrined in that constitution was political free speech.

SYLVESTER: But the e-mails, particularly the one from Westgate, have been criticized. David Siegal is a billionaire who gained notoriety for building the country's biggest house in Florida -- 90,000 square feet. That was the subject of the documentary, "Queen of Versailles."

To say that he'll be forced to lay off employees if he has to pay more in taxes, that's a hard sell for some.

VOLSKY: And you see someone who lives in a very large house, a very opulent house, obviously very rich, telling his employees, middle class Americans, maybe lower class Americans, how to vote. It kind of harkens back, I think, a bit to -- to feudal times, maybe to the Dark Ages, when you had one feudal lord telling everybody else how to behave.

SYLVESTER: We reached out to the companies, but none of them returned our calls.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

SYLVESTER: Now, both Siegal and Koch Industries say, look, they are merely laying out their case, that from their business perspective, another Obama term will mean higher taxes and more regulation. And in re--- in response to these new stories, Koch Industries recently I said a statement that said, quote, "We make it clear about any decision about which candidates to support belongs solely to our employees based on the factors that are most important to them and this is in no way an attempt to intimidate employees."

The statement also said many companies, as well as labor unions, provide similar information to their employees and their members.

But, you know, Wolf, this discussion is going to continue on. Some people are saying it's not quite the same thing because, in this case, it's your boss saying, hey, look, this is how you should vote and maybe your job is on the line based on the outcome.

So it's going to be an interesting discussion.

And I'm sure it will continue too, Wolf, as we get closer to the election.

BLITZER: Lisa, thanks very much for that report.

Lisa Sylvester working the story.

Other stories. It's part of the election that might be debatable after all.

Jack Cafferty is following that in The Cafferty File -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Debatable, indeed. Two down, one to go -- that's the count when it comes to the number of presidential debates before Election Day. And while these debates offer the voters a rare chance to see the candidates face-to-face and tens of millions of Americans are tuning in to watch, these events are almost always a triumph of style over substance. It's all about show business, you know.

But that's not surprising, is it, because that's what we're all about these days?

"Real Housewives," "The Kardashians," "Honey Boo Boo," you name it, the stuff that contaminates our TV screens night after night, for the most part, it's garbage -- reality shows, game shows.

Hey, the politicians fit right in.

And the debates can sort of be like watching a puppet show. You've got the handlers who pull the candidates' strings, you've got coaches and contributors and advisers all putting words in the candidates' mouths. And then after the fact, we have these same people in the spin room telling us what we just saw during the debate.

Hey, if I watched the debate, I really don't need some political hack telling me what I just saw.

The candidates never give direct answers to the questions. Instead, they maneuver behind a safe barricade of campaign talking points and then they just wind up talking about whatever they want, anyway, not the question that was asked.

In President Obama's case, it's probably a very good thing there was more than one debate, right?

Now voters might be scratching their heads, wondering which one was the real president -- the docile, seemingly disinterested fellow who showed up at the first one, or the scrappy, energized man desperate for another four years who showed up at the second one?

Maybe the third will give us that answer.

As for Romney, well, there's always a chance he'll show up at the last debate with binders full of flip-flops.

Here's the question, how many presidential debates are enough?

Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile.

You can post a comment on the blog or you can go to our post on "THE SITUATION ROOM'S" Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The more the merrier, as far as I'm concerned, Jack. But I'm not...

CAFFERTY: Well, you know...

BLITZER: -- you know...

CAFFERTY: I know. You love it.

BLITZER: I love it.

That's right.

All right, thanks, Jack.

CAFFERTY: I know you do.

BLITZER: A shocking new video has just been released. U.S. security workers apparently drunk and high, all seen on camera. But now they're accused of committing fraud on the United States government.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi, boys. I'm right here. (INAUDIBLE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The video is shocking Americans working for a top U.S. security contractor in Afghanistan inside the war zone allegedly so drugged and intoxicated they could hardly function. Brian Todd is working this story for us. He's coming into "the SITUATION ROOM. he's got details. Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is a security firm that's received $900 million worth of security contracts from the U.S. government. One watchdog group says the behavior of its employees in this video undermines America's diplomatic mission in Afghanistan.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Staggering around, half naked, seemingly drunk, wrestling, shouting at the man videotaping them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (EXPLETIVE DELETED) (INAUDIBLE).

TODD: This is amateur video from earlier this year of people working for an American security contractor in Kabul, Afghanistan. This man identified as the country security manager for the contracting firm, Jorge Scientific.

JOHN MELSON, SUING SECURITY CONTRACTOR: They reminded me many times I visit any of my friends going to college that were in fraternities, the parties at the frat houses, they were out of control.

TODD: John Melson is one of two former employees of Jorge Scientific filing a seven-figure lawsuit against the firm for allegedly committing fraud on the U.S. government. They say they were harassed for trying to blow the whistle. They allege rampant drinking, drug use, the misuse of firearms at that facility in Kabul, which they say prevented the company from carrying out its assigned duties.

The video was shot on a cell phone by another former employee, Kenny Smith. He tapes himself complaining that he's being awakened by the behavior.

How often did you observe this behavior?

KENNY SMITH, SUING SECURITY CONTRACTOR: The misbehavior actually was almost every other night, several times a week. It was just -- at any given time it could just say, hey, we're going to get together tonight and walk outside. Typically, at the end of the evening, some time late in the afternoon.

TODD: Smith says he and Melson tried to stop the behavior taking it to the top levels of the company. He says they were told it would be addressed. In this section of the video, a man identified as the security firm's medic appears incoherent. There's a syringe on the floor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (EXPLETIVE DELETED)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, you are.

TODD: The plaintiffs claim he'd injected a horse tranquilizer called ketamine. We were unable to reach the medic for comment. Danielle Brian from the group project on government oversight which monitors contractors is concerned.

DANIELLE BRIAN, PROJECT ON GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT: How can the medic be doing his job or the security contractors be able to actually protect those that are training the Afghan police? Then you have the fact that they're having this behavior in the middle of Kabul. So, they're blowing up ammunition in bonfires.

TODD: That's a reference to this video of a bonfire at the Kabul facility which the suit claims led to injuries. Contacted by CNN, Jorge Scientific issued a statement saying "it took decisive action to correct the unacceptable behavior of a limited number of employees." The company says it implemented a no drinking policy and dismantled the bonfire pit.

But Jorge Scientific denies committing fraud. Representatives for the company say the man identified as the security manager and the other man in these scenes did not have top security roles, that they had administrative and support jobs, sometimes, driving. I asked the plaintiffs' lawyer about that.

(on-camera) The people representing the company say these guys had no security detail, that they were just administrative support.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's a gross understatement of what these individuals did. These individuals are the security manager for the facility and the operations manager of security for the entire country of Afghanistan for the company. They were supposed to protect their own people as well as the local Afghans from attack.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Jorge Scientific disputes that, reiterating that those men did not have a protective role for local Afghans and that they would not have been tasked with protecting that facility from attack. The company also denies the plaintiffs were harassed for blowing the whistle. The U.S. military is supposed to oversee those contractors. Contacted by CNN, officials from the NATO command, the international security assistance force, say they take these allegations very seriously and the U.S. army's criminal investigation division is looking into the allegations.

We also made attempts to reach the two men in the video aside from that medic, and we were unable to reach them, Wolf.

BLITZER: Has the firm cleaned house at this facility?

TODD: They say that they have. They claim that they brought out everyone involved, including the alleged ring leader of all the partying. That's a person different from the main character you see in that video. They brought out that ring leader about the same time that these plaintiffs left Afghanistan.

They say that everyone else involved has either been fired or placed on leave and they say that the company is conducting its own investigation.

BLITZER: The video is shocking in a war zone.

TODD: It is.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for that, Brian.

A massive show of military power between the United States and Israel underway right now. The first of a thousand American troops arriving in Israel for the largest joint missile defense exercise in the history of the U.S./Israeli alliance. It all comes amid escalating intentions with Iran and international concerns it may soon flex its nuclear muscle down the road.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, is over at the Pentagon. He's got the very latest. What's going on here, Chris?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, just recently, an Iranian military commander warned that no matter which country attacks Iran, it would retaliate against both the U.S. and Israel. These exercises are designed to prove that the U.S. and Israel working together could repel an attack like that.

But coming just a couple of weeks before the United States presidential election, they really carry a political message as well.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE (voice-over): Military commanders won't even say the word Iran when it comes to these exercises. They don't have to. The Israeli general in charge of planning said the fact we're practicing together is a strong message by itself. Iran will see how well U.S. ships and troops can work with Israeli rocket shields as they defend Israel from simulated attacks from rockets, missiles, and drones.

The pentagon can also test some new technology it helped pay for, like Israel's iron dome short range missile defense system. In all, the exercise will involve 3,500 U.S. troops at a cost of $30 million. They'll be training over three weeks in parts of Israel, Europe, and the Mediterranean.

The chairman of the joint chiefs wrangled Israeli leaders in August when he said the U.S. did not want to be complicit in an Israeli attack on Iran, but just six weeks later, Gen. Martin Dempsey will go to Israel to personally observe the exercise.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's a big deal. And it's meant to be a big deal.

LAWRENCE: Republicans have accused President Obama of emboldening Iran and damaging America's alliance with Israel.

MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The president said that he was going to put daylight between us and Israel.

LAWRENCE: So, for a president preparing for his final national security debate, the timing of a thousand American troops arriving in Israel couldn't be better.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It also, by the way, helps President Obama in his re-election to reassure people that U.S./Israeli ties are strong.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE (on-camera): But the fortuitous timing seems to be just coincidental in that these exercises are held every two years. They were originally scheduled for earlier back in the spring in April, but they were postponed at Israel's request, Wolf.

BLITZER: Chris Lawrence with that story. Thanks very much. We'll stay on top of it. Appreciate it.

In a few minutes, we're going to discuss President Obama and Governor Romney's attempt at comedy later tonight. Stand by for that.

And a shuttle's final journey in a way you've never seen before.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hands were made to make things, that's why we have thumbs. We've gotten away from making so much. That instinctive drive to create. I like to think the tech shop helps and rekindle that and get them back to being makers. There's so many things that -- it could be little tiny things, it could be big world changing things. All the things people do here just really light me up. Really excite me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: A huge countrywide protest in Greece turns violent. Lisa Sylvester's monitoring that and some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now. What's going on?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf. Well, Greek police say 30,000 people showed up to protest huge wage and pension cuts but became agitated at the police presence so they began throwing stones and bottles. the protest comes as Euro Zone leaders convene in Belgium and as Greece's government struggles to make 11 billion Euros worth of cuts to satisfy conditions of a bailout.

And intense scrutiny of the Boy Scouts right now. Attorneys representing victims of alleged child molestation want Congress to investigate if the Boy Scouts of America is doing enough to prevent abuse. The attorneys released previously secret Boy Scout documents identifying more than a thousand leaders banned for alleged inappropriate conduct with boys.

But the Boy Scouts of America standby its policies just releasing a statement that says, quote, "nothing is more important than the safety of our scouts."

And check out this super cool time lapse of the retired shuttle "Endeavour" making its way through the streets of Los Angeles. This is pretty amazing stuff. Look how close it got. Pretty amazing. They were able to make all those turns around street corners. You can see it came within inches of hitting some houses and trees. Look at that. Just barely making it.

Fortunately, "Endeavour" was actually moving at a much, much slower pace. A safer speed of about two miles an hour taking two days to travel the 12 miles from L.A.X. to its final resting spot at the museum. They had to cut a few trees down to make that, but they are planning on planting some more trees to replace the ones they had to cut down.

But you see that video. Some of those shots and those pictures where it literally seems to come within inches of some of those houses, but it got there all in one piece safe and sound, so all is well. We'll have to make a trip and take a look at it once it's open for the public. BLITZER: There it is. That's in the hangar. All right, good work all around. Thank you -- up next the tale of two ex-presidents and their respective roles or non-roles in the race for the White House.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It's a tale of two ex-presidents. Bill Clinton is stumping for President Obama while George W. Bush staying out of the public eye right now. Some say he's still haunting though Mitt Romney. Let's discuss what's going on in our "Strategy Session". Joining us the Democratic strategist and the principal of the Raven Group (ph) here in Washington Jamal Simmons, also the editor-in-chief of RedState.com, CNN contributor Erick Erickson. I was intrigued -- an article on Bloomberg View (ph) by Ezra Klein. He said this and I'll put it up on the screen.

"Mitt Romney has a George W. Bush problem. In fact, that's Romney's biggest problem. It's George W. Bush, not Barack Obama who has made voters skeptical of many of Romney's core policies. It's George W. Bush not Obama campaign strategist David Plouffe who persuaded voters that our economic troubles aren't mainly Obama's fault. And so it is in a sense, the electorate's lingering fear of George W. Bush as much as it is residual affection for Barack Obama that Romney needs to beat if he's to become president." Erick, what do you think of that analysis?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well you know I think Ezra is a liberal columnist making a larger liberal point trying to drag George Bush back into this thing. I think it's a given that in 2010 you saw Tea Party activists not just opposing Barack Obama's agenda but a lot of the tail end of George Bush's agenda, TARP and the General Motors bailout were deeply unpopular. They were George Bush initiatives, not Barack Obama initiatives. At the same time though I think it's hard to say that George Bush is still dragging Mitt Romney down. It could have been a problem, but the polls don't suggest it really is a problem for Mitt Romney right now. I think Democrats are desperate to try to drag George Bush into this at the end and try to remind them as President Obama failed to do in the debate last week that hey he's going to be the next coming of George W. Bush, well Republicans have been saying he's the next coming of Jimmy Carter, so I guess they're even.

BLITZER: On that particular you may be -- you may have a point there. What do you think, Jamal?

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, we're not so sure yet what the impression is of voters from the debate this week. We haven't yet seen much of the -- got some instant polls but we haven't seen what's coming out later. Most people have had a chance to digest it. What we do know is there's a September CNN poll that said 53 percent of Americans blamed President Bush and the Republicans for the state of the economy, for getting us in the economic hole we got in a few years ago. And only 38 percent of people blamed Barack Obama and the Democrats. So you don't really have to drag George Bush back in it. People already think this is kind of George Bush's fault. And when you start to look around, they don't blame President Obama for getting us there, but they do think the president -- they trust him for looking out for the middle class even though they do still also have some positive feelings about Mitt Romney when it comes to the economy.

BLITZER: We see a lot, Erick, of Bill Clinton out there on the campaign trail very visible trying to help President Obama get re- elected. George W. Bush invisible for all practical purposes. Jimmy Carter obviously invisible as well, but he's much -- I guess he's been out of it, the political scene, here for a while. Is that a problem though that you have George W. Bush who is much younger, he's not out there campaigning for this Republican?

ERICKSON: No, I don't think it is. You know really it goes to the prior point. I don't think Mitt Romney is being weighed down by George W. Bush right now and I think that's why Ezra Klein (ph) and other people on the left want to bring George W. Bush back up now as to really connect Mitt Romney to him. I think if George W. Bush did get back on the campaign trail, people would connect him more to Mitt Romney and he is still a Tehama (ph) to a number of people out there on the economic front. He's a Tehama (ph) to some Tea Party activists as well, although there was -- I think it was a Gallup poll or a Pew poll that came out of the last month that actually had his favorabilities (ph) higher than Mitt Romney at the time. That's changed since, but it was still was an impressive poll to look at.

BLITZER: Here's a clip, Jamal that the Republicans are highlighting from Bill Clinton's speech out on the campaign trail in Ohio today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Governor Romney's argument is we're not fixed so fire him and put me in. It is true we're not fixed. When President Obama looked into the eyes of that man who said in the debate I had so much hope four years ago and I don't now, I thought he was going to cry because he knows that it's not fixed. The question is which path will fix it?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Now, he went on to obviously strongly endorse President Obama said President Obama's moving in the right direction. He can do a much better job fixing it. But that line specifically it's true. We're not fixed, Republicans are pounding the Obama campaign, Jamal, on that right now.

SIMMONS: Well you know, Wolf, sometimes the big dog gets a little loose from the yard. And you know he said something that maybe the Democrats have to walk back a little bit. But I think his fundamental point is the right one and the fundamental point is that ultimately this election is about the voter's future and which one of these two candidates do voters trust that make us better going into the next four years? The last four years are interesting, but the next four years are what voters typically want to vote on. It right now looks like although they like Mitt Romney's ideas on the economy, they trust Barack Obama more to look out for the middle class.

BLITZER: On that note we're going to leave it, guys. Thanks very much for coming in.

President Obama and Governor Romney, by the way, will be turning themselves into sort of comedians later tonight. But not everyone thinks the president's appearance is very funny. Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Mitt Romney and President Obama may put the political attacks aside briefly tonight when they attend the 67th annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner (ph) in New York City. It's traditionally a rare moment for the presidential candidates to show their lighter sides and poke some fun at each other. Just take a look back at 2008. Senator John McCain and then-Senator Barack Obama shared some laughs over one of McCain's most controversial debate moments.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE 2008: This campaign needed the common touch of a working man. After all, it began so long ago with the heralded arrival of a man known to Oprah Winfrey as the one. Being a friend and colleague of Barack, I just called him that one.

(LAUGHTER)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE 2008: Many of you know I got my name, Barack, from my father. What you may not know is Barack is actually Swahili (ph) for that one.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: And I got my middle name from somebody who obviously didn't think I'd ever run for president.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Very funny. I love these dinners. The Alfred E. Smith Dinner (ph), by the way, is put on by New York's Catholic Archdiocese, a key voter bloc in the race for the White House to be sure, the so- called Catholic vote. Our chief political analyst Gloria Borger is joining us now. The Catholic vote, how important, how key is it?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Very -- really very important, Wolf. It's about one-quarter of the electorate and while it does split between Republicans and Democrats, about one-third of the Catholics are considered moderates, which means swing voters up for grabs. Let's take a look at how they voted in 2008. You see that President Obama beat John McCain pretty handily, nine points with Catholic voters. But the Romney campaign does believe it has a real chance with these Catholic moderates particularly in swing states, most of all of course the state of Ohio. But also other swing states like Wisconsin, Florida and Virginia, Iowa, the state of Michigan you see there on the map. All really up for grabs with Catholics and it's all about mobilizing your supporters, those Catholic supporters in those states to get out and vote.

BLITZER: Both of the vice presidential candidates are Catholic in this particular contest.

BORGER: Yes.

BLITZER: They disagree on a lot of issues --

BORGER: Everything.

BLITZER: And I think that's reflective of Catholics across the country.

BORGER: It is. I mean they -- Joe Biden and Paul Ryan disagree on everything. The Ryan budget itself became an issue with some members of the Catholic clergy who opposed it because they said it hurts the social safety net. But there are a couple other huge issues for Catholic voters. One is obviously the issue of abortion. But there again Catholic voters are not so predictable. The conservative Catholics oppose abortion by about two to one and the more liberal Catholics support abortion by about two to one.

Now, on the issue of contraception, which you know has been a big issue in this campaign, the question of whether insurers should be forced to cover contraception, many Catholic institutions objected to that. And the Romney campaign believes that this issue they now call religious liberty could be a real motivating force to get those voters out, those Catholic voters out in swing states who are with them on the issue.

BLITZER: It's become a real tradition every four years for both presidential candidates --

BORGER: Yes.

BLITZER: -- to show up at the Al Smith Dinner (ph) in New York, the dinner that's going to be taking place tonight. I love these dinners.

BORGER: So do I.

BLITZER: They have white ties, very funny, all around everybody who goes has a great time, but why is it so important for the presidential candidates themselves to make an appearance?

BORGER: Well, look at the time that's coming in this campaign, Wolf. We just had fight night between the two candidates the other night.

BLITZER: The second debate.

BORGER: The second debate was fight night. This is a time when candidates can show up and be self-deprecating. And that's so important when you're a voter, when you're a viewer, you want to see a different side of the candidate. You want to see that they can make a little fun of themselves. And I think that's what you're going to see tonight. It's always great viewing to see them in another kind of environment where they're not constantly criticizing each other. We've all been inundated with these negative ads. It's time to take a deep breath, pause and have some fun.

BLITZER: I think it's a great, great idea, very, very different. The non-debate and we'll have some laughs tonight as well.

BORGER: Yes.

BLITZER: Gloria, thank you.

By the way, I'll be filling in for Piers Morgan later tonight. We'll be airing both Governor Romney and President Obama, their comedy speeches later tonight. It all starts at 9:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN. You're going to want to see it. You'll enjoy it.

From jokes to songs, Bruce Springsteen out there on the campaign trail with a former president as his warm-up act.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(MUSIC)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Two of President Obama's most famous supporters campaign for him in Ohio today, the former President Bill Clinton and the singer Bruce Springsteen. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

B. CLINTON: And I'd had, I don't know, 20 something jobs before I got elected president, but this is the first time in my life I ever got to be the warm-up act for Bruce Springsteen.

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, MUSICIAN: I get to speak after President Clinton. It's like I'm going on after Elvis here --

(MUSIC/SINGING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Bruce Springsteen out on the campaign trail for the president. Let's go to Jack right now. He has got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour is how many presidential debates are enough, he said. How many presidential debates are enough?

Gail in Texas "one, better yet, none. The hypocrisy surrounding these debates absolutely obnoxious. They shake hands at the beginning, smile, repeat this behavior at the end. It is ludicrous. The main purpose is for the audience to see the candidates eat each other alive. The bloodier the better. It's kind of like the gladiators in ancient Rome, but it does give you guys something to talk about." Rafael writes "a better question would be how many debates are necessary until third party candidates with ballot access in almost all 50 states are allowed to participate. At least that way Americans would realize they have more than two options."

Loren in Chicago writes "before the debates started, I would have said none. But that was because I didn't think Romney had it in him to beat Mr. Charisma in a debate. Knowing now that he can hold his own the more the merrier."

James in North Carolina writes "one debate is plenty in this day of 24-hour news. We know what the candidates will say before they say it. One and done."

Ed in Maryland writes "one debate and then a guest appearance on Pawn Stars since that's obviously their solution for the economy."

Karl in Michigan says "I'd say when you get to the point the challenger's son wants to take a swing at the sitting president, it ought to be pretty much over. Not just the debate, the whole race."

And Paul writes "a binder full." You want to read more about this, go at the blog, CNN.com/CaffertyFile or through our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack thanks very much. Up next "Newsweek" magazine makes a historic change. What's going on? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It's the end of an era at "Newsweek" magazine. After 80 years the magazine announced it will become a digital only magazine next year. Let's turn to Rick Stengel, the managing editor of our sister publication, "TIME" magazine. "TIME" magazine is, of course, still a print publication, as all of us know. Quick reaction when you heard -- I mean as a kid growing up "U.S. News & World Report" (ph) now digital, "Newsweek" about to go digital. What is going on in the weekly news magazine business, Rick?

RICK STENGEL, MANAGING EDITOR, TIME MAGAZINE: Well Wolf, the waning of great American news brand isn't a happy day for anyone and there are enormous changes going on in the industry. This is almost the second time it's happened. "Newsweek" was sold for a dollar by "The Washington Post" Company a few years ago. But it is an issue for everybody and I think news brands have to figure out the best way to strengthen themselves and remain robust.

BLITZER: What is happening with "TIME" magazine?

STENGEL: Well we're robust on all platforms. Our print circulation of about three and a third million is very strong. We have four million Twitter followers and I think we've moved ahead on all of these different platforms, including print, in a way that keeps us viable and strong.

BLITZER: Yes, so sad for all of us who grew up reading these magazines to see the disappearance of the actual print edition. Keep it strong. We're counting on you, Rick, and all your colleagues at "TIME" magazine. The new issue of "TIME" magazine, let's talk about the cover story, it's about education, an excellent cover story. You have two articles in there by two pretty good writers, President Obama and Governor Romney. Among other things, here's Governor Romney. He writes this. "While the president has decided to nationalize the student-lending process, I believe that private-sector competition is more important than ever." That's one difference between these two -- these two candidates right now. Explain.

STENGEL: Well, actually, Wolf, we had a summit today on higher education right here in your building with the Carnegie Corporation (ph) and the Gates Foundation and the way Romney is looking at it he's putting it in the same context as he's looking at everything. He is talking about spending and debt. He's talked about how there's almost $1 trillion of student debt now. And he's putting it in the context that government can't support all of these things anymore.

BLITZER: Because the president wrote and I'll put this up on the screen, as well, in the new issue -- he said "We did more than just invest resources in our schools. We demanded reform and return. In a 21st century economy, higher education cannot be a luxury. It is an economic necessity every family should be able to afford." This in the new issue "Don't Stop Now On Higher Ed Reform". Is there really when all is said and done a huge difference on education between these two candidates?

STENGEL: No, Wolf, I don't think there's a huge difference, although you did hear the president at the debate talk about the government has tried to take out the middle man and the banks from student loans so that students don't have so much debt and don't pay so much interest on that debt. I mean it is a national problem, the challenges of higher education. It's an aspirational issue for everyone. And if you look at the two of them, they are among the most highly educated men who have ever run for president.

BLITZER: It's an excellent cover story in the new issue of "TIME" magazine. Rick Stengel, thanks very much for joining us.

STENGEL: Thank you, Wolf.