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THE SITUATION ROOM

Interview With Michigan Congressman Mike Rogers; Battle For Women Voters

Aired October 19, 2012 - 18:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: The presidential fight for Florida heats up. Our new polls shows why it could be the year 2000 all over again.

House Republicans release dramatic new photos and documents to show that U.S. Consulate in Libya was vulnerable to attack.

And a deadly car bombing adds fears that Syria's civil war is spreading beyond its borders.

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

Two-and-a-half weeks before Election Day, top Republicans are pouring fuel on a growing controversy for President Obama. House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa just released dozens of documents related to the September 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, the attack that killed the American ambassador and three other Americans.

Republicans say it supports claims there was a shortage of security in the diplomatic mission, and that Washington was sent repeated warnings about the problems. To drive home the lack of security, Republican lawmakers released photos of the consulate after a previous attack back in June showing extensive damage to the building.

Congressman Darrell Issa and his colleague Jason Chaffetz say the information shows that the Obama administration not only rejected requests for increased security at the consulate in Benghazi, but that they actually decreased security there to dangerous levels.

The ranking Democrat on the Oversight Committee, Elijah Cummings, says the information released completely ignores sworn testimony, includes inaccurate information, and makes numerous unsubstantiated allegations.

These documents come on the heels of a new report that Washington was warned within 24 hours that there was evidence the consulate was attacked by militants.

Let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence.

What are you learning, Chris?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're learning from a U.S. intelligence official that, yes, there may have been memos or other documents that indicated that it was possible that this was conducted by militants, but that some of the argument over this reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of how the intelligence process works.

What I mean by that is this intelligence official is saying it's rare that one stream of intelligence will influence and direct an entire report. They're pooling multiple streams of intelligence together, and while this memo may have existed, and this theme may have existed, there were other things they were looking at as well.

In the initial days, they put out a talking points memo to Congress and to administration officials to give them some basis from which to talk about this incident. Now the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Dianne Feinstein, has recently said putting out those talking points may have been a mistake at that time because this was an early assessment.

We're told that at the time when Ambassador Susan Rice came out and said this was a spontaneous attack that the intelligence was shifting underneath her at that time, but not to the point where they would revise a report to give to her to change that overall assessment.

I know it sounds confusing, but basically, there was some initial intelligence that was shifting as she made that remark that perhaps if it was made just a few days later, the intelligence would have caught up and changed the narrative a bit.

BLITZER: Chris, you saw that article in "The New York Times" today, an eye-opening article saying one of the key people behind the attack is in plain sight in Benghazi. What do you know about this guy?

LAWRENCE: Well, his name is Ahmed Abu Khattala.

Reuters and "New York Times" reporters on the scene there in Libya both spoke with him in plain sight at a coffee shop. They had coffee. He seemed very relaxed, from all accounts, showed no fear about, you know, possibly being apprehended or targeted by Libyan much less U.S. authorities.

He has reportedly in some reports been linked to the group that is suspected of having something to do with the attack on Ambassador Stevens, but he denied that. In reports to Reuters and "New York Times" he said he had nothing to do with it, that he was there, but did not command that attack.

From our sources, we know that intelligence officials have been aware of him for some time, and that from other officials we heard they do have eyes on this group. In other words, they have got surveillance on this group which is believed to be still based near Benghazi, and they're also speaking with Libyans on the ground in order to gather more intelligence, but at this time are not planning or not in a position to say he is the one who commanded the group that led this attack. BLITZER: Chris Lawrence at the Pentagon, thanks very much.

Let's dig a little bit deeper. Kate Bolduan is here with us as well.

The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers, is joining us.

First of all, is this guy supposedly out there in plain sight the individual or one of the individuals that killed these Americans in Benghazi?

REP. MIKE ROGERS (R-MI), CHAIR, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: It's very likely that he had something to do with the operation.

There are individual report that actually had him on the ground on the day of the attack. Some of that is still being vetted to make sure that's accurate. But as the picture starts to unfold, it just doesn't look good that he was not involved in some way in this attack.

BLITZER: The documents that were released today by your counterpart, Darrell Issa, the chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee, they are being condemned by the ranking Democrat, Elijah Cummings, pretty bitter between these two members of Congress, a Republican and a Democrat, Elijah Cummings saying these documents were released irresponsibly, promoting inaccurate information.

What do you think about all of this? Because you have been very responsible, and I know there is a much more collegial atmosphere on the Intelligence Committee, as opposed to the Governmental Affairs Committee.

ROGERS: Two big issues here.

One is the security itself around the facility, was it accurate? Were they making requests? That is really coming out of the Governmental Oversight Committee. They're asking those hard difficult questions. I think the evidence as they lay it out just is not very flattering at the end of the day.

BLITZER: Flattering to?

ROGERS: The administration.

Requests were made. The ambassador had clearly said I don't feel safe here, it looks more dangerous. At the same time, we have another set of issues. On the intelligence side, lots of streaming information that showed al Qaeda cells in Tunisia somewhat had moved in and out of Libya. You saw the al-Sharia developing itself and recruiting in and around Benghazi.

We saw al Qaeda elements and AQIM elements flowing in and out of Libya, Mali, Algeria, all of this happening all at the same time. And this threat information was well presented up to the 9/11 day of the attack. And I will tell you that we were in possession, we being the Intelligence Committee, within 12 hours of this attack that had said nothing about a demonstration, said nothing about a spontaneous event, and if you look at all of the information leading up to 9/11 that we had from an intelligence perspective and that report that came out, it's really confounding how you could come to a conclusion and then promote it for days in the face of all of that information that this was about a video.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And I agree with you that there are two distinct lines of questioning going on, and two storylines really going on, the security situation and the requests for security, as well as the intelligence leading up to the night of the attack.

From everything you're seeing, all the cables coming out, and I know that you have seen far more than had been publicly released, do you think there is negligence here, or do you think as I think Secretary Clinton said recently that it was a fog of war kind of scenario, that there was misinformation coming out at the beginning?

ROGERS: I have to tell you -- I hate to come to the conclusion -- I just don't think they understood the gravity of what was happening.

Think about this. Nine days after 9/11, think about all of the threat information that we just we talked existed in a very growing, dangerous area. Mali had already gone bad probably with weapons from Libya, all of this is happening, all of that information is presented. And then in a separate strain, the information on the physical security of the embassy, and the ambassador was also happening.

Nine days into that, they used taxpayer dollars to advertise this video in Pakistan that has probably the lowest percentage of social media connection than all of the other countries that fueled the fire. It caused huge problems.

So we saw embassies all across the region under protest and under siege. Some accusations now that maybe al Qaeda was a part of some of those. It just didn't seem that they understood the gravity of what their actions were doing based on the information that they had.

BLITZER: I went back. The incident occurred in which the ambassador and three other Americans, two Navy SEALs were killed.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Former Navy SEALs, retired Navy SEALs. It happened on the 11th anniversary of 9/11, on September 11.

You and I were together right here in THE SITUATION ROOM on September 12, the day after. I had been working my sources, U.S. sources, Libyan sources, other sources. You were working your sources. We had this exchange. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Because it does look at least based on everything I have heard as a pretty sophisticated assassination effort to kill the United States ambassador. So, here's the question, was it time to coincide with the 11th anniversary of 9/11?

ROGERS: I'm an old FBI guy, Wolf. And I got to tell you, I don't believe a lot of coincidences all in the same day. So, it certainly looks that way to me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: It certainly looked like that to me, based on everything I had been hearing in the 24 hours after we got wind of what was going on.

So the question is, first of all, do you still believe that, what you told me on the day after this incident?

ROGERS: I do.

This was clearly an attack. I think it was geared toward a 9/11 event. It was clearly a military style attack that was fairly well coordinated, well organized. They had blocking forces, they had artillery that many believed...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: It was so obvious.

The question that perplexes me, why did it take so long for the U.S. intelligence community, forget about the Obama administration -- we're talking the intelligence community of the United States government, supposedly the best in the world. Why did it take them so long to come to the same conclusion that you and I came to within 24 hours of what happened?

ROGERS: Again, I want to say that we the committee were in possession of information that, provided by the intelligence community, that pretty much said this was a military style attack within less than 24 hours.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: When were you sure that these protests didn't exist, that this was premeditated?

ROGERS: It was probably early into the next week for sure and for certain.

Clearly, the information that was being laid out to us, and people that I talked to, including people there and other places in the government, that it was rolling out that clearly that narrative didn't fit what was happening.

And here is the important part of this. Bad decisions were made because of it. This is not just about the physical security in the State Department. That's a serious issue and needs to be -- I think Americans deserve the truth on that.

But bad decisions were made because of the narrative they were talking about by continuing to promote the video, by escalating the value and credibility of that video to a presidential level, by buying ads in Pakistan that actually fueled protests all across Pakistan, because they had not seen the video.

This is what is so disturbing to me about it. Were those decisions based on the intelligence? It's hard to say yes, so why did they do it?

That's the question I think we have to get answered.

BOLDUAN: Not answered.

BLITZER: And what is so perplexing to me, and we have to leave it here because we're out of time -- what is so perplexing is that five days later, just before Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, went on five Sunday morning television shows, the intelligence community told her what they told her, and she repeated it on television five days later, after it was apparent to a lot of experts this was a carefully coordinated assassination attempt against the United States ambassador.

(CROSSTALK)

ROGERS: Well, something changed between that first 12-hour report and them going on and saying it. And that's what we're trying to get to the bottom of.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Susan Rice was saying what they told her to say, but that was obviously wrong.

Mr. Chairman, thanks coming in.

(CROSSTALK)

ROGERS: Thanks for having me. We appreciate it.

BOLDUAN: We appreciate it.

Still ahead, a deadly car bombing creates panic that Syria's civil war is spreading to a neighboring country.

Also, the Romney campaign is focused on Florida today. Our new poll explains why.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We have new video coming in from a deadly attack in the Middle East today, an attack that may be a message from Syria.

A huge car bomb ripped through of Lebanon's capital, Beirut. At least three people were killed, including the apparent target of the blast. He was a top Lebanese official aligned with opponents of the Syrian regime.

After today's bombing, security officials say unrest spreads to some other parts of Lebanon. The violence certainly raising fears that the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, is trying to promote instability in Lebanon to turn attention away from the bloodshed in his country.

Lebanon of course is still recovering from its own 15-year-long civil war.

Let's bring in CNN's Fareed Zakaria, the host of CNN's "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS" and "TIME" magazine's editor at large.

Fareed, thanks very much for coming in.

Is this slaughter and war in Syria now spreading not only potentially to Lebanon, but to Turkey and maybe even other countries in the neighborhood?

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN WORLD AFFAIRS ANALYST: Absolutely, Wolf.

It's been said that Syria doesn't implode, it explodes. I think that is exactly right, because you see the Lebanon piece of it and that is one part of the puzzle. The other piece is the number of Kurds, perhaps 100,000, maybe more, who have fled from Syria and have massed on the Turkish border.

The reason this is important is there is within Turkey right at that border a whole autonomous or semiautonomous area that is populated by the Kurds of Turkey. There are close maybe the Kurds from Iraq and there are also the Kurds from Iran.

In other words, you're getting the creation of a kind of Kurdistan, which is almost erasing some of the boundaries that have been drawn. These boundaries as you well know, Wolf, were drawn by the British and French after World War I. The whole state system of the Middle East is coming unglued.

BLITZER: A really worrisome situation, and as you know the intelligence chief who was killed in that car bombing today close to Saad Hariri. His father, Rafik Hariri, was assassinated back in 2005 as you know in another car bombing.

They're blaming Bashar al-Assad for this specifically because Saad Hariri has been a bitter critic of the Syrian president. Do you buy that, that Syria, itself, was responsible for killing this intelligence chief to send a signal to Saad Hariri?

ZAKARIA: It's almost certain there is some Syrian involvement here.

Syria has very, very deep connections in Lebanon. As you say, the enemies are exactly -- this would have been the right guy to get. Assad has down this in the past. And it is clearly a way of trying to put the whole region on edge and say if you continue -- what I think he is doing is sending a signal to the Saudis and the Qataris and say if you really want to play this game and continue to fund the insurgency in Syria, we will make sure this spreads and it will spread in Lebanon. It may spread into Bahrain. It may spread through the Gulf because the Gulf states are very, very cautious.

They're generally speaking very -- they like the status quo. What Assad is I think saying is we can upset this whole apple cart if you continue to support the insurgency in Syria.

BLITZER: A U.N. envoy arrived in Damascus once again, and I don't know if it will lead to anything. Do you believe the United Nations special envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, who is a respected international diplomat will be able to achieve anything?

ZAKARIA: I doubt he will do much where Kofi Annan failed.

At the end of the day, here's the problem. It strikes me that the military options here are very, very difficult. But this Alawite regime is fighting to the bitter end because it feels, probably correctly, that when it leaves, the Sunnis in Syria, particularly the radical Sunnis, will turn on them, and they will be massacred.

So the 12 percent that rule Syria right now knows that in a post- Assad Syria, they will be massacred. They are fighting to the bitter end. How you break that dynamic is a very, very tough question.

BLITZER: Very quickly, because we're out of time, anything the U.S. should be doing about this? What could the U.S. be doing?

ZAKARIA: I think we have to start thinking about are there options short of military intervention. Should we be trying to create a government in exile? Should we be trying -- organizing the opposition?

I think military intervention is very, very complex, but maybe there are other ways we can be very active.

BLITZER: Fareed, thanks very much for coming in, as always.

ZAKARIA: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And please be sure to Fareed Sunday night for his special, "Global Lessons: The Road Map for Powering America." You are going to find out what the U.S. could be doing to reduce its dependency on foreign oil. Sunday night, 8:00 p.m. Eastern only here on CNN.

President Obama has coined a new phrase to accuse Mitt Romney of flip-flopping. We're going to have an update from the campaign trail, also our brand-new poll from the swing state of Florida.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We have a brand-new poll coming out from Florida showing the presidential race is neck and neck right now in one of the most important swing states in this election. The CNN/ORC polls shows Mitt Romney with 49 percent, President Obama with 48 percent. The two candidates are also in a dead heat in Florida among those critical independent voters.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely, Wolf.

The Republicans are making a full-court press in Florida today. Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan and Ann Romney all campaigning around the state. Vice President Biden is there as well. Don't forget Florida is the site of the final presidential debate on Monday. How could you forget?

Let's go to our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta. He's in Daytona Beach, where Romney and Ryan have a rally this evening.

Hey there, Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Kate. That's right. They will be out here in a couple of hours here in Daytona Beach, which is that one end of the I-4 Corridor, the ultimate swing area for what is perhaps the ultimate swing state, and even though it's a little bit early, we're starting to hear the makings of the closing arguments from both campaigns.

President Obama saying Mitt Romney doesn't have a core, and Romney saying the president doesn't have a plan.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): While Mitt Romney prepared for his final debate with President Obama, his running mate, Paul Ryan, traveled across Florida testing out the campaign's message for the next battle to come, for swing state voters.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: President Obama is not telling you what his second term plan would be. He's not saying that he's offering anything new. All he's offering is four more years of the same.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have to work on a collaborative basis.

ACOSTA: Another part of that swing state pitch can be found in this new Romney campaign ad that casts the GOP nominee as a bipartisan problem solver.

ROMNEY: But we need to have leadership, leadership in Washington that will actually bring people together and get the job done and could not care less if it's a Republican or a Democrat.

ACOSTA: It's a change in tone for a candidate who once called himself a severely conservative governor during the primaries, prompting the president to accuse Romney of Etch-a-Sketching his past.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have got to name this condition he's going through. I think it's called Romnesia.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

ACOSTA: The president is getting a boost from new state unemployment numbers showing the jobless rate dropping in Florida, Ohio, Nevada, Colorado and Wisconsin. Romney had a joke for the improving economy at a benefit dinner in New York where he and the president exchanged punchlines.

ROMNEY: You're better off now than you were four weeks ago.

(LAUGHTER)

ACOSTA: Friday's map reads like a calendar, the more candidates and surrogates flooding into battlegrounds, the closer the election.

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The American people are so much better, so much stronger, takes so much more responsibility neither Congressman Ryan nor Governor Romney give them credit for.

ACOSTA: Newspaper endorsements are also starting to come in. After picking President Obama four years ago, "The Orlando Sentinel" chose Romney saying "We have little confidence that Obama would be more successful managing the economy and the budget in the next four years."

But "The Denver Post" stayed with the president saying, "The economy has made demonstrable though hardly remarkable progress."

In Daytona Beach, where a biker convention is in town for the weekend, Florida voters are getting revved up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm undecided, leaning towards Romney though.

ACOSTA (on camera): Why is that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, because I'm not crazy about what Obama has done in a nutshell.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I really don't like Romney that much. I would have voted for him if he actually had respect for women.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: As for that one-liner from the president that Mitt Romney is suffering from Romnesia, we have a response from the Romney campaign from senior Romney adviser Kevin Madden.

He says that the president is conducting a small campaign that fails to rise up to the big challenges that the country is facing. Some tough talk from the Romney campaign in response to that zinger from the president. And as to where these two campaigns are headed after the debate, no surprise here they're heading to swing states. Romney and Ryan will be in Colorado. The president will be in, where else, Florida -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: I think that's exactly what we will be seeing right up to the end.

Jim Acosta in Daytona, Florida, thanks so much, Jim.

BLITZER: Meanwhile, Kate, early voting under way right now, and it will be a huge factor in the 2012 battleground states.

Let's look at Ohio and whether early balloting is giving us any hint about who is winning in that state.

For the information, our chief national correspondent, John King, is here.

You're just back, literally from Ohio.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's a growing trend in many states, but including Ohio.

More and more people are voting early and the campaigns are putting more and more effort into turning them out. I was in the Cincinnati area, Hamilton County, because in Ohio, the Democrats because of African-Americans get a big boost out of Cuyahoga County up in Cleveland, government workers and African-Americans. They tend to get a big lead in Columbus

So, Cincinnati and southwest corner absolutely critical to deciding who wins a close election in battleground Ohio.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's getting critical here in Hamilton County, and we need your support.

KING (voice-over): For the Obama campaign, priority one is reaching less reliable voters like college students and African- Americans.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm calling because it's time for early voting.

KING: Requests for early or absentee ballots in Hamilton County are running well ahead of the 2008 pace, as both campaigns push to maximize turnout.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're just calling to see if you will be giving Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan your important vote this coming November's elections. Wonderful. Wonderful. Are you going to be voting early, or are you going to the polls?

KING: More than half of the ballots requested today are by voters not registered with either party. Of the rest, Republican requests are running well ahead of Democrats.

(on camera) This is your guy. You don't get a sense of who is winning early voting?

AMY SEARCY, DIRECTOR, HAMILTON COUNTY BOARD OF ELECTIONS: I don't. I have to find out. Let's wait til election night. Seven thirty-one p.m. we'll find out those first results coming in.

KING (voice-over): The early ballot count is the first clue of whether Republican get the win they need here to offset the big Democratic edge in Cleveland and Columbus.

(on camera) When did you know four years ago?

MAGGIE MUELLNER, DIRECTOR, HAMILTON COUNTY GOP: We knew right away when the absentee numbers came in four years ago that it was not going to be a good night for us.

KING (voice-over): 2008 was the first time since 1964 Hamilton County went blue for president. Hamilton County GOP's Maggie Muellner says it's very different this year.

MUELLNER: Absentee is great. Actually, it's better than four years ago. I've just seen the energy. We've had volunteers come in from 15 different states to work the grounds here, and we didn't have that four years ago.

KING: Back then, Cincinnati's African-American neighborhoods buzzed with the chance to make history.

(on camera) Is it harder this time?

ALICIA REECE (D), OHIO STATE REPRESENTATIVE: I think it is.

KING (voice-over): Harder anyway, says State Representative Alicia Reece.

And then this, a blunt message or warning suddenly appeared on 30 billboards in and around Cincinnati, paid for by a private family foundation.

(on camera) Voter fraud is against the law. Answer someone who would say, "What's wrong with that?"

REECE: Well, what's wrong with it is, No. 1, it's strategically placed to target a certain segment of people. Two, is that there's been voter confusion in Ohio. When they're going to be able to vote, who gets to vote...

KING (voice-over): Initially furious, Reece now sees a silver lining.

REECE: The voter intimidation has now turned into motivation, and people see it not just about just the president. They see it now as an attack on them.

KING: Less worry now, she says, turnout will be too low to carry Hamilton County again.

REECE: It will be blue.

KING (on camera): You're sure of that?

REECE: It will be blue.

KING: And if it's blue?

REECE: We win Ohio, we win the presidency.

KING (voice-over): If so, she says this anonymous warning may prove to be an anonymous gift.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: There's no question when you're out in the state of Ohio the president has a lead. He has consistently had a small but stubborn lead. But I was in Cincinnati for most of the day yesterday. That area. Then last night talking to some more people up in Columbus. Wolf, Kate, it is very, very close. As you know, Romney can't win without it. There's a map. I can give you mathematical scenarios, but it's just almost impossible.

And the thing that frustrates Republicans is, for all they have done, for all the intensity at the debates, the president has consistently held on to a two- or three-point lead, and they know they can't give up on it. But boy, it's been frustrating.

BOLDUAN: The Romney campaign does, too. They're moving from North Carolina to Ohio.

KING: It is, you know, we can come up with all of the names that we want. But it is the battleground of the battlegrounds. And Romney just, yes, they're looking at other ways to get there. But they realize they're going to try to change it in 18 days.

BOLDUAN: Eighteen days.

BLITZER: Can you imagine? Not much time.

BOLDUAN: Not much time at all. Thank you so much, John King.

From Ohio to Wisconsin, Paul Ryan's home state. We're heading there to find out what those crucial women voters are looking for.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Obama may have the advantage in the important swing state of Wisconsin.

BOLDUAN: Yes. A new poll shows the president with a six-point lead over his challenger, GOP candidate Mitt Romney, of course. Some Republicans hoped the addition of native son Paul Ryan to the Republican ticket would help them win Wisconsin. As in the Miguel Marquez report, the state is likely to remain in play all the way up to election day.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Here we are milking cows in Racine, Wisconsin. What else are we doing in a place, an office of such delicious dairy delicacies? This is a county and state in play in a place that hasn't voted for a Republican since Reagan in 1984.

(voice-over) The Rank (ph) family has farmed here since Grover Cleveland was president. Marcia (ph) Rank and Linda Nelson have run the family dairy for 16 years.

LINDA NELSON, OWNS DAIRY: Look underneath. Look there.

MARQUEZ: Twice a day, 3 a.m. and 3 p.m., they milk their 80 cows.

(on camera) This is a first.

(voice-over) They want to expand, but it's pricey and credit tight. Their biggest concern: government debt acting like an anchor on the economy.

(on camera) Either of you made up your mind about who you're going to vote for?

MARCIA (ph) RANK, OWNS DAIRY: I have a pretty good idea. Yes.

MARQUEZ: But still could change it?

RANK: Could change it. Anything could change.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): So what is it they want out of the White House?

NELSON: It's going to take someone that wants to strap on their big boy boots and really take charge and say, look, we are in a world of hurt, we need change.

MARQUEZ: Voters here take elections seriously. Turnout is high, and most voters independent.

(on camera) To give you an idea of just how swinging Wisconsin is, these counties voted for George Bush in 2000 and 2004. Those same counties voted Obama in '08. There are more Bush to Obama swing counties in Wisconsin than any other state.

(voice-over) Even in the same family, votes often split.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am voting for Romney.

MARQUEZ (on camera): You are voting for Romney? You think because his business credentials?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, he is a businessman first.

MARQUEZ: Did you make up your mind on who you're voting for?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, I have no clue who I'm going to vote for. It kind of teeters, depending.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Four years ago, Gloria Park (ph) and her daughter, Margie, started their own bakery.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're making upside-down stars.

MARQUEZ: They struggled, but the business grew, now in a bigger space and three new employees.

(on camera) Are social issues or economic issues bigger for you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have to go with our economics just because of our country and everything like that, but social issues are important. It isn't anybody's right to tell a woman what they can or can't do with their body.

MARQUEZ: Carol Hobby (ph) rents out most of her farmland and says she works harder than ever, just to keep her head above water.

(on camera) Do you have any sense of the campaign at this point?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. Hot and heavy. In the mail, on the phone.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Five women, one battleground state, both campaigns in overdrive, working for their votes in the final stretch.

(on camera) Just a few hours after we shot that story, one of the heifers gave birth to twin bulls, and even though Marcia (ph) and Linda, who were in this story, wouldn't tell us who they are voting for, they did name these little guys, this one Mitt and this one Barack. And I can tell you, they care nothing about how close the polls are here.

Miguel Marquez, CNN, Quadifer (ph), Wisconsin.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Very, very cute indeed.

And stay with CNN to watch the third and final presidential debate in Florida on Monday. Join us right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, and then at 7 p.m. Eastern for live coverage. Stay with us. We're getting ready to hear from the first lady of the United States, Michelle Obama.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The death toll from the meningitis outbreak here in the United States is widening. Kate has got and some of the other day's top stories.

BOLDUAN: Another update on the story, Wolf. U.S. health officials say 21 people have now died from an unprecedented outbreak of fungal meningitis linked with the contaminated drug.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say at least 14,000 people in 23 states could be at risk from the injected steroid traced to the New England Compounding Center. It may be months, though, before there's a full tally, due to the long incubation period.

Authorities in Michigan are asking the public for help in finding whoever is shooting at vehicles near Detroit. At least 15 apparently random shootings took place between Tuesday and last night. According to "The Detroit News," the incidents took place in three counties between Detroit and East Lansing, including Oakland County. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHERIFF MICHAEL ROUCHARD, OAKLAND COUNTY, MICHIGAN: No one has been hurt yet, and we want to take every action that's available, both resource and partnership wise, that we can to make sure no one gets hurt. Absolutely it's very concerning and we don't want anything to develop that certainly developed in the Washington area and paralyzed that area, rightfully so and understandably so for a long time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: "The Detroit News" says many of the motorists report the shots came from a vehicle coming at it from the opposite direction. Probably have the wrong picture up there on that one.

A former team doctor for the Pittsburgh Steelers has been charged with conspiracy to illegally distribute drugs. Authorities won't say whether he prescribed them to football players. The doctor faces a 185-count indictment for allegedly dispensing steroids and other drugs. He says he used growth hormones to heal people with tendon injuries, but that it didn't involve the Steelers.

And on a much happier note for all of you football fans and college recruiters out there, a high-schooler in Washington state has quite a leg. You're watching Austin Rehkow's 67-yard field goal last night. That even beats the NFL's record, which is only 63 yards, I am told, Wolf. And I know you do care about this very much.

BLITZER: I do.

BOLDUAN: This took them to overtime for a win.

BLITZER: I think he's got a future ahead of him.

BOLDUAN: Just like you say. Huge.

BLITZER: He's got a huge future ahead of him on the football field. That's quite the kick.

BOLDUAN: I know.

BLITZER: Congratulations. We told you earlier about CNN's new poll that shows a dead heat in Florida right now. The Democratic Party's chairwoman just happens to be there. She's joining Erin Burnett right at the top of the hour. Erin is joining us right now to give us a little preview -- Erin.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: That's right. Well, Wolf, obviously, this is going to be news. It is not something that Debbie Wasserman- Schultz wants to hear, so we're going to talk to her about that.

Also, the president's drop among women voters in Florida. So an issue near and dear to her heart.

So Wolf, we're going to talk about early voting. Could this election already be decided? You know, an amazing statistic today. In North Carolina in 2008, did you know John McCain -- of course, you know this -- but John McCain actually won the state of North Carolina on election day. Fifty-eight percent of the people who voted that day voted for him, but as you know, Barack Obama won the state. He won it because of early voting, and his margin was 14,000 votes. We're going to talk about whether early voting could have already turned this election.

Plus, an "OUTFRONT" investigation into a rising star in the Democratic Party: Julian Castro. All that coming up at the top of the hour. Back to you.

BLITZER: Look forward to a turnout, turnout, turnout in the early voting and on that day. It's going to be critical. Erin, we'll see you at the top of the hour.

BURNETT: All right, Wolf.

BLITZER: With their husbands concentrating on pre-debate homework, the candidates' wives are out on the campaign trail. They are very busy. We're going to check in.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: First lady Michelle Obama is blazing the campaign trail in the key battleground state of Wisconsin today, furiously making the case for her husband with just a little more than two weeks to go before the election.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: We got 18 days left. And I know you all are glad about that. And I know you're going to be out there. I know there may be people here who are still making up their minds.

But when people ask you what this president has done for our country, you know, when you're talking to people who are trying to decide which of these candidates will be best to keep this country moving forward, here are a few things that you could tell them. And we don't have a lot of time, so I'm going to give you a few.

You can start with telling them about the millions of jobs that this president has created. Tell them about all of the kids in this country who can finally afford college. Tell them about the millions of lives that will be changed because of health reform. Tell them how this president ended the war in Iraq. Took out Osama bin laden!

Tell them how Barack has been fighting for veterans and military families to make sure they get the benefits they have earned! Tell them about all of the young immigrants who will no longer live in fear of being deported from the only country they have ever called home.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Meanwhile, Ann Romney didn't speak at any big rallies today, but she was in the critically important battleground state of Florida. She visited a youth learning center, which you're seeing right here.

Later, she stopped by a local campaign office to make phone calls. All this ahead of Monday's third and final presidential debate, which takes place in Boca Raton, Florida. Did we mention that our special coverage will begin at 7 p.m. Eastern Monday right after THE SITUATION ROOM?

BOLDUAN: At 7 p.m. Eastern. What is that?

BLITZER: That would be Pacific some other time. But it's 7 p.m. Eastern it begins, 4 p.m. Pacific.

BOLDUAN: Thank you for the reminder. I actually needed that. I'm glad we -- you know what? It's great to have both of those women out on the campaign trail. The president and Mitt Romney's best advocate when they're trying to go after the female vote for sure.

BLITZER: Excellent, excellent campaigners. They're wonderful women.

BOLDUAN: Yes, they are. That's absolutely right.

A young man in need of work plays his heart out on Broadway. We'll hear from the traveling piano man, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: Take a look at this. It may look like a plane, but these are actually people flying through the air in what is called wing suits. The first wing suit flying world championship was held in China's Hunan Province and required, among other things, jumping from about 4,600 feet above sea level.

The winner completed the competition in a record 23.41 seconds. Wing suit -- wing suit flying is considered the most challenging event in the world of extreme sports. I don't think you need to learn to fly.

BLITZER: Be there for that this weekend?

BOLDUAN: How did you know? BLITZER: I knew you were going to go to this one.

BOLDUAN: I will be wearing a wing suit.

BLITZER: You often see street musicians trying to make a few extra dollars around New York City. They're usually lugging around a guitar, a horn. Not a 450-pound piano. CNN's Alina Cho introduces us to a young man who's doing some heavy lifting to get work.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALINA CHO: When Dotan Megrim (ph) says he plays on Broadway, he means it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, it's one thing to sit here and play music and collect money from people. But it's another to come on the streets and have a meaning. Have a purpose, a purpose.

CHO (on camera): Which is what?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Which is to think about, to be a little bit creative with life and to maybe think a little bit outside the box.

CHO (voice-over): This 26-year-old tried just about everything to make it in this economy: acting, driving, day trading, nothing worked. So, he turned his hobby of hitting the keys into a full time job.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I really love this, it's brought me so much happiness. It really has changed my life.

CHO: His journey starts here. You went the distance.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I went all the way to Seattle.

CHO: Three road trips in a little more than a year. Nineteen thousand miles, fifty-three cities, three in Canada. Making up to $350 a day. On a cliff overlooking Yellowstone National Park. Inside a redwood tree in California.

And he doesn't go at it alone. Brando, his dog, is always nearby.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The last trip I did, I did a one-month tour of the northeast and Canada starting with only $2 and one gallon of gas and ended up doing a full circle. I got gigs. I played on the streets of I think 11 cities and ended up coming back with 2400 bucks. That's the first time I actually realized I can actually make a living playing piano and doing what I love.

Today, he's traveling about three blocks to Union Square, in New York. But try doing it while pushing a 450-pound piano.

(on camera) You must get some crazy looks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my God. When I first started doing this, I used to be so embarrassed. This has actually helped me build up my confidence.

CHO (voice-over): And it shows. He not only plays to the crowd, they join in, too. He tells his story.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And that road can just go on forever.

CHO (ON CAMERA): What do you think about this?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I love it. And the dog's been somewhere I never been.

CHO (VOICE-OVER): That, he says, is what makes this worthwhile.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Someone said you know what's so great about you, it's that you're happy. And we can see that.

CHO: A poster boy for the 99 percent, who spent 100 percent of his time doing what he loves.

Alina Cho, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Looks like more fun than being a day trader.

BOLDUAN: I was thinking the same thing. Also probably better than being a driver in New York City. He's very, very good.

BLITZER: He should be part of it.

BOLDUAN: Roll it right in THE SITUATION ROOM.

BLITZER: Part of New York. In a hotel or something.

BOLDUAN: I think he's having a good time.

BLITZER: That's all the time we have right now. Thanks very much for joining us. Remember, we're on Twitter. You can tweet me, @WolfBlitzer. Tweet her, @KateBolduan.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.