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Interview with Chris Van Hollen; Ohio and the Presidency; "We Also Have Fewer Horses and Bayonets"; Virtual Tie; North Carolina; Romney's Rust Belt Chances; Campaign Ads; Tropical Storm Sandy; Jumping from the Edge of Space

Aired October 23, 2012 - 17:00   ET

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


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

Happening now, President Obama slams his rival's debate performance, saying he's suffering from Romnesia. But as the candidates hit the road, is Mitt Romney making serious inroads right now in key battleground states?

Our reporters are in the swing states. They're toss-ups right now. But we're talking to voters who will give us an idea which way they will go on Election Day.

And get this, Tropical Storm Sandy heading straight for islands in the Caribbean, but could it also hammer the United States as a Halloween hurricane?

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

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The dust has settled in the fi -- from the final debate. And now, with just two weeks left in this extraordinarily close presidential campaign, the candidates are back on the campaign trail, urgently crisscrossing the country, focusing in on the battleground states that hold the key to this election. Only CNN has the reach to stay with them every step of the way. This hour, we'll go live to CNN's Dan Lothian in Dayton, Ohio; Shannon Travis, he is in Toledo, Ohio; John King, he's in Akekwan (ph), Virginia.

The most crucial of all the battleground states right now is certainly Ohio. It has not voted for a loser in the presidential election since 1960. Ohio now has 18 electoral votes. President Obama captured the state in 2008.

Our latest CNN poll of polls shows President Obama leading Romney among likely voters there 48 percent to 45 percent. That keeps Ohio a toss-up yellow on the CNN electoral map. And that keeps the candidates coming back and back and back to Ohio.

President Obama and Vice President Biden are both in Ohio right now.

So is our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian.

He's joining us from Dayton -- Dan, so what's the president's mood on this day after this final debate?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the president certainly seemed fired up and campaigning here in the important battleground state of Ohio. He's been here every week so far this month, more than 30 times since he took office. And today, he continued to swing at his GOP opponent, Mitt Romney, essentially picking up where he left off yesterday, trying to push that narrative that when it comes to domestic issues or foreign policy, Governor Romney is all over the map.

The president has made that argument before. But today, he took it up a notch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you talk about how much you love teachers during a debate, but just a few weeks ago you said we shouldn't hire anymore because it won't grow our economy, you might have Romnesia.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: If you say you won't give a big tax cut to the wealthy, but you're on a video promising your tax cut would include the top 1 percent, that sounds like a classic case of Romnesia.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: If you say that you love American cars during a debate, you're a car guy, but you wrote an article titled "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt," you definitely have a case of Romnesia.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LOTHIAN: As if responding to criticism that the president has not made a convincing case for what his agenda is for the next four years, the Obama campaign putting out this 19-page pamphlet, also releasing a new ad. A lot of it we've heard before, talking about energy, manufacturing, about building the economy from the middle class out.

Republicans pounced on this, saying that it's just more repackaging. It shows that there's desperation, that the Obama campaign is on the defense because they realize that this race is very tight -- Wolf.

BLITZER: How are these final two weeks of the campaign shaping up for the president -- Dan.

LOTHIAN: Well, Wolf, we're seeing a crisscrossing of the country over the next 48 hours. The president will be hitting eight different states. Two of those, though, he will not be having rallies. He'll be heading out to Los Angeles to be on "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno; also heading to Chicago, where he'll be doing early voting. But the big focusing on these key battleground states, as the Obama campaign tries to make sure that people register, go out and vote, that they vote early, but they're also targeting those undecided voters who could decide this race.

BLITZER: Dan Lothian, thank you.

Many Ohio voters have already cast their ballots. Early and absentee voting began October 2nd. The vice president, Joe Biden, today is there, as well. He's urging Ohioans to take full advantage.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And the polls are open now and it's for extended hours, 8:00 in the morning to 7:00 p.m.. Folks, go win in force now.

(APPLAUSE)

BIDEN: Go vote now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: For more right now on the impact that could have, let's turn to our political reporter, Shannon Travis -- Shannon, you're at the only early voting precinct in Toledo right now.

What are you seeing?

SHANNON TRAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's actually the only early voting place in the entire county of Lucas. Toledo is in this county.

What we're seeing is Ohioans deciding right now, Wolf, who should actually be president.

I'm going to keep my voice down just a little bit, because we -- it is an active polling center.

But basically behind me, you see voters basically casting their ballots. I'll just give you a brief look at one of the machines that they're casting their ballots on. You basically come here with an electronic card, Wolf. You stick it in and you begin the voting process.

Earlier today, I spoke with some people who actually cast their ballots already; actually, a few people earlier today, as well as last night, post-debate.

We want to play you some sound from those voters.

Take a listen at what they had to say, Wolf.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I think the push, for me, on the early voting part, is the fact that I believe in Ohio and just like any other place, but in Ohio specifically, every vote counts. And so if you -- the day comes up and you can't vote, you've lost the chance to give your opinion.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I voted for Mitt Romney.

TRAVIS: And why is that, ma'am?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because I feel like he can take this country in a different direction and we need to go in a different direction. So I'm hoping he's successful.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TRAVIS: Now, obviously some opinion, there, some Romney supporters. I spoke with one guy last night, Wolf, who, startling -- startling to me was a Republican. He did not vote for Obama in 2008, but is voting for President Obama this time around, saying that Mitt Romney didn't earn his vote -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Are you getting any number, how many people have actually voted so far?

TRAVIS: Yes, that's a great question. We've actually got some really fresh numbers just out today from the Ohio secretary of State. We're going to rattle some of these numbers off here, Wolf.

Eight hundred -- just over 813,000 Ohioans have already cast early votes. If you keep -- put that in perspective, in 2008, there were about 1.7 million total for 2008 early votes. So we're already over half that amount on -- nearly halfway to that amount, I should say, two -- and still two weeks out from the election.

Also, for this county alone, for Lucas County, as I mentioned before, we have party affiliation. In terms of Democrat affiliated, we have 23,155. And in terms of Republicans affiliated, we have 9,442.

Again, not -- we're not saying that those Democrats cast votes for Obama and the Republicans cast votes for Romney, but it's telling how many people have already cast absentee ballots in this county alone so far -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Shannon Travis on the scene for us in Ohio.

Thank you.

Jack Cafferty is joining us now -- right now.

He's got more on last night's debate, what it all means come Election Day in two weeks.

Jack's got The Cafferty File -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Three presidential debates in the history books, so now what?

Well, after all the hype, the expectations games played by both campaigns, lowering the bar for their guy, raising the bar for the other guy, the three 90 minute sessions themselves, the post-game spin by both sides, and all the talking heads on television, after all of that, here's what we know.

Mitt Romney did himself some good, maybe even a lot of good. Headed into the first debate, some had already written Romney's political obituary. They thought the race was President Obama's to lose. And that's just what he did in that first debate. He tried to throw it all away.

Regardless of who wins in two weeks, one of the most memorable moments of the campaign will likely be President Obama's failure to show up for the first debate. The president's dismal, un-presidential and uninterested performance, combined with Mitt Romney's strong showing, shook the race to its very core. As New Jersey Governor Chris Christie predicted wisely beforehand, that first debate did, in fact, turn the race upside down. And ever since that moment, as the polls turned against the president, he's been playing catch-up.

The president came prepared for the remaining debates. He went on the offense against Romney and held his own, maybe even more than held his own.

But these last two face-offs didn't provide a clear winner, not like the debacle in Denver did. And what remains to be seen is whether the president can stop the bleeding and undo the image that he left on 70 million Americans who watched that first debate. We'll find out two weeks from today.

Here's the question -- now that the debates are history, how much did they matter?

Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog or go to our post on THE SITUATION ROOM'S Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I think the historians will write, Jack, that if the president does lose his bid for reelection, that first debate will turn out to have been the game-changer in this entire contest be -- because before, as you pointed out, he looked like he was getting ready to coast to a win. But now, it's -- it's nail-biting time for both of these campaigns.

CAFFERTY: Well, in the long history of presidential debates -- and I can remember back to Kennedy/Nixon -- I think that -- that first debate in Denver might go down as the single most significant presidential debate ever. A lot of times these things come and go and they don't really, you know, register on the Richter scale. But that thing caused an earthquake.

BLITZER: Yes.

All right, Jack, thank you.

Certainly it was one of President Obama's best lines of the -- the debate last night.

He may have stung Mitt Romney, but did he hurt himself with an important group of voters, especially in Virginia?

I'll ask Democratic congressman, Chris Van Hollen, of Maryland. He supports the president. He's my guest, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: One of the many points -- pointed remarks in last night's presidential debate came after Mitt Romney said he wants to boost the size of the United States Navy.

President Obama answered with one of his sharpest barbs.

But could that end up sting himself?

Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military has changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines. And so the question is not a game of Battleship where we're counting ships.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, joining us now, Democratic Congressman Chris Van Hollen of Maryland.

Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D), MARYLAND: It's great to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Shipbuilding very, very important, especially in Virginia, your neighboring state, Norfolk.

Is this kind of comment going to hurt the president in Virginia?

VAN HOLLEN: No, it's not going to hurt the president, Wolf, because whether you live in Virginia or anywhere else in the United States, you want a military strategy that's based on the current needs and requirements that we face overseas. And the president's budget for the military is actually grown substantially every year. It does continue to grow.

It is the budget that was put together in consultation with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It has a very strong navy, a very strong army and are very strong air force. In fact, as the president's pointed out, our military budget is larger than the next ten countries around the world combined. So, there's no question that the president's budget for defense is fit and measure to fit our strategic needs around the world.

BLITZER: But as Romney repeatedly points out, he's already cut half a trillion dollars in projected growth in defense spending over the next ten years. And if the sequestration, the forced cuts go into effect, that would be another half a trillion dollars.

VAN HOLLEN: Yes. And Republicans continue to protect special interest tax breaks rather than to protect defense spending. They've been given lots of opportunities to say let's avoid that sequester, let's eliminate some special interest tax breaks, let's do some other cuts and prevent that. And the president's been very clear. The president has on the table a proposal to prevent those sequesters from taking place.

Mitt Romney and his allies have opposed the idea of one additional penny going to help reduce our deficit or help pay for our national defense if it means asking people like Mitt Romney to contribute a little bit more.

BLITZER: To pay higher taxes?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, that's right. I mean, he has taken this pledge that says he won't raise one more penny either to reduce the deficit or to increase the funding for the defense department.

BLITZER: Here's something that the president said last night that's created a lot of buzz especially up on Capitol Hill where you work. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: First of all, the sequester is not something that I proposed, it's something that Congress has proposed. It will not happen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: You know what happened. Did the president propose the sequester?

VAN HOLLEN: No, what the president proposed was a balanced approach to reducing the deficit. He said let's not have these across the board cuts. We need a combination of targeted spending cuts.

BLITZER: But when that didn't happen, who came up with the idea of the sequester?

VAN HOLLEN: I do not know. The sequester idea is one that began in the 1990s. Paul Ryan, in his budget, has had across the board sequesters if different targets did not meet. So, for Republicans who all voted for this to suggest that this was somehow all the president's idea, it's non-sense.

I just remember Speaker Boehner was quoted after we passed the deficit control act, the Budget Control Act, saying he got 97 percent of what he wanted. This is the republican speaker of the House.

BLITZER: So, when the president says it will not happen, how does he know it will not happen?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, because there's a bipartisan agreement and determination to avoid the sequester by coming up with alternative cuts.

BLITZER: You just pointed out that the Republicans don't want to increase taxes. That's part of the deal, right?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, I think what the president has said was he's confident that we will find a way to replace the sequester because everybody agrees that these acts across the board indiscriminate cuts to defense and non-defense would be bad for the country.

BLITZER: Because he said flatly it will not happen. And I wonder how he can be so sure. It's one thing he's confident, might not happen. But when he says it will not happen, how does he know it will not happen? A lot of people are worried about that fiscal cliff as you well know.

VAN HOLLEN: Well, there are two parts of the fiscal cliff, right? One is the sequester we're talking about and the other part is the tax piece. And what the president has said on that is very clear. That we should immediately extend tax relief to 98 percent of the American people, in fact, 100 percent based on their first $250,000 income.

Republicans have said we're going to hold middle class taxpayers hostage. We're not going to give tax relief to 98 percent of the American people, unless, very high incomers, people like Mitt Romney, get a bonus tax break. I don't think that that's a sustainable position come January 1st.

BLITZER: How worried are you right now about your constituents, for example, in Montgomery County, Maryland, some other counties in Maryland? There's a lot of defense contractors, a lot of people have their jobs in defense-related industries in your district.

VAN HOLLEN: Well, I'm worried, Wolf, both on defense and on defense. I know people focus on defense, and that's an important part, but there are also other very important investments we make, an NIH, in trying to find cures and treatments to cancer and other diseases, the FDA that helps provides safety for our food supply. I mean, these are other cuts we would also face.

BLITZER: -- the slashing of government spending, a lot of government workers in Montgomery County, Maryland.

VAN HOLLEN: Well, it would be bad for them and it would also be bad for the country and the national economy. And that's a number of economists have made that point.

BLITZER: You agree you've got to cut pending in order to deal with the deficit.

VAN HOLLEN: But that's right. You can cut the spending over a more gradual period of time where it's certain that you're going to cut it but over a longer period of time. For example, I put forward a very specific plan to avoid the sequester for an entire year includes cuts to direct payments and farm subsidies, but it also says we should end subsidies for big oil companies and some other revenues. The House of Representatives didn't even allow us a vote, Wolf, on that very sensible proposal, had a mix of cuts and revenue. So, what the president is saying is he's confident that at the end of the day, we will find a bipartisan way forward, and we should.

BLITZER: Congressman, thanks for coming in.

VAN HOLLEN: Thank you.

BLITZER: We talked about Virginia just now. Our own John King is on the ground in Virginia. He's talking with voters. You're going to hear his report in just a few minutes.

Also, that record breaking dive from the edge of space was years in the making, but it almost didn't happen. The critical moment that almost ended it all.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The only thing that I wanted to do was I want to escape.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Just hours after the presidential debate on foreign policy ended, bombs exploded in Iraq's capital. Kate is back. She's monitoring that and some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now. What happened, Kate?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Wolf. Well, a series of attacks in Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad have killed at least nine people and wounded dozens more. A policeman patrolling one area said three car bombs exploded, one right after another. The violence comes just days before the start of a religious festival. Militant attacks doubled last month to the highest level in more than two years.

Also, a former CIA officer accused of leaking classified information has reached a deal with prosecutors. John Kiriakou pleaded guilty to intentionally identifying a covert agent. He also admitted to telling reporters the name of a different CIA employee involved in an operation to catch an alleged al Qaeda operative. He's expected to serve two and a half years in prison.

And CNN has also learned in just the last few hours, that Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. is back in the hospital. The Mayo Clinic says he returned for a follow-up evaluation to make sure he's, quote, "on the path to properly managing his health." In August, it emerged that the nine-term Illinois democrat is battling depression. He's running for re-election this November.

And a growing number of Americans are delaying retirement. Listen to this, and planning to work into their 1980s. For many of them, it's because they can't afford to retire full-time. A new survey by Wells Fargo shows that saving for retirement is on the back burner with more than half of middle class Americans focused more on paying monthly bills.

Thirty percent now plan to work until they are 80 or older up from 25 percent a year ago. It reminded me of that line you always tell me, you work when you're young and you work harder when you're older. Isn't that what you said?

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Yes, rich or poor, it's good to have money.

BOLDUAN: Exactly. Very smart man your father.

BLITZER: Thank you.

President Obama turned a red state blue back in 2008. Does he still have a chance in Virginia this time around?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Virginia certainly hotly contested battleground state. Its 13 electoral votes went to President Obama back in 2008, but recent polls show the race in Virginia is a virtual tie. Virginia remains a toss-up yellow on CNN's electoral map.

Our chief national correspondent, John King, is in Virginia right now. He's joining us from Occoquan. What's going on in Virginia right now? Because with Ohio and Florida, that could determine who the next president of the United States will be.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It absolutely could, Wolf. Thirteen electoral votes, I'm in a county that's only about a half an hour drive from Washington assuming you don't hit the heavy traffic. This is Prince William County. If you go back to 2008, you mentioned, President Obama turned this traditionally red state blue.

He did it by winning in the suburbs here in Northern Virginia. He won by about 235,000 votes statewide, 234,000 plus of them came from the Northern Virginia counties. So turnout, turnout, turnout is the big focus here as the president tries to match that 2008 level here.

He needs African-American votes in Richmond. He needs African- American votes down in the Chesapeake Tidewater area, but he also needs a big turnout here among suburbanites and Northern Virginia is changing.

It is the big shift in the demographics of this state, a lot of transplants from other states, a lot of college-educated people. The president tends to do well. A lot of people who work for the government or contractors related to the government work, so the president is hoping he can gin up the turnout here and Democrats frankly are a bit skeptical that you can get all the excitement like they had back in 2008. This is one of those states if we back before the first presidential debate the poll showed the president with a lead of four, five, some of the polls six, seven or eight points. Now everyone concedes it's a dead heat and the Romney campaign, Wolf, believes that mean that the momentum has swung their way and that this state will return to its Republican DNA.

Governor Romney very much needs it. He needs Florida, North Carolina, Virginia. Then he moves into Ohio and then he would need one more. If he could do all that, the president they insist they haven't given up on the state of Virginia. If they can't get Wisconsin or they could use Virginia in the president's column, so this one so close to the nation's capital will be a battleground until the very end.

BLITZER: Defense spending, especially naval defense spending is critical in various parts of Virginia. Northern Virginia, Southern Virginia, Norfolk, the world's largest naval port. How big of an issue is the difference on this specific issue between Romney and the president?

KING: You remember the line that trended most on social media last night was when the president scornfully, some say sarcastically, some say even in a condescending way turned to Governor Romney in the fight over defense spending when Governor Romney was saying we need more naval ships and the president said you know we don't have as many bayonets or as many horses as we used to have either, Governor. A lot of people think that will play big here. When Governor Romney returns to Virginia in a few days, it's going to be near on their Southern coast, near those naval installations. I asked the Democratic congressman, Jerry Conley (ph) who represents this area, Wolf, if thought that would hurt the president here because the Romney campaign says watch for that to pop up either on radio, TV ad or both pretty soon. Jerry Conley (ph) insists no. He says Virginia is a very high tech state now. They understand the technological advances are just as important as the number of ships you might have in the Navy, the number of weapons you might have. But other Democrats privately are saying you know what, the president might have thought that was a clever line, but they're not so sure that it might not in the end help Governor Romney in a state where everybody thinks it will be razor close at the end.

BLITZER: Lots of jobs involved in the state of Virginia. Thanks very much for that, John. We'll stay in touch with you.

Let's get to our "Strategy Session" right now. Joining us our CNN contributors, the Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and Erick Erickson. He is editor-in-chief of RedState.com. Donna, I had this exchange with our friend and colleague Paul Begala yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The president's campaign announced he's going to begin a six-state campaign tour over the next couple days after the debate -- Iowa, Colorado, Nevada, Florida, Virginia, Ohio. Has he given up on North Carolina?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. I know I'm not supposed to say that, Wolf, but I don't -- I work for -- as you mention, the pro-Obama Super PAC, so I'm being paid to help reelect the president but if you look at where he's going and where he's spending money, yes, it looks like Governor Romney is likely to carry North Carolina.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Donna, I don't think the president has been back to North Carolina since the Democratic Convention in Charlotte. Do you agree with Paul?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: First of all, I have to go with what Jim Macina (ph), the campaign manager and David Axelrod say, which is they have not pulled any staff. They have not pulled any of the television advertisements. So North Carolina is still in play. As you know, voters are now able to cast their ballots early. That's the way the Democrats won four years ago. So I assume until I hear differently that North Carolina is still one of those swing states that they intend to compete in.

BLITZER: But don't actions speak louder than words, Donna? The president's missing in action from North Carolina right now. So no matter what the campaign says, if he's not going there, if they're not showing up to campaign, what does that say to you?

BRAZILE: There are many ways to have feet on the ground other than have the president's. It might be other footprints there. I don't know if the first lady -- I haven't looked at their schedule lately, Wolf, because I've been traveling myself, but again, I go by what the campaign is saying. Every week we're going to hear these stories about is Romney pulling out of Pennsylvania. Is Obama pulling out of North Carolina? I assume that they're going to do a lot of head faking, but at the end of the day until they pull out staff -- look, Wolf, I know what it's like to pull out staff. I know what it's like to turn off the lights in a state and tell the politicians that we're leaving the state. I haven't seen any evidence that the politicians -- because the first thing they will do is complain that you have pulled out without leaving them with resources like staff and money and television ads. So, again, I just think this is just part of what we do in the polling game until Election Day. We just figure out what these candidates are doing.

BLITZER: Erick, what about Pennsylvania or Michigan for that matter? For all practical purposes, has Romney given up on those two states?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you know, this is the thing with what Donna was saying about North Carolina. The president to some degree has a bit of hubris (ph) here. They don't want to say they've pulled out of these states. They are in fact winding down operations in North Carolina. It's abundantly clear on the ground Democratic and Republican partisans are rumbling about it, but they don't want to do that because it would become a huge news story in the last two weeks that the president is having to -- start conceding states that he doesn't want to concede. I would suspect we're going to hear that about Florida very soon.

Even Nate Silver (ph) of "The New York Times" is starting to say they need to reinvest those resources in Ohio. I think the Romney campaign we're seeing them in Michigan pretty much say we're not going to win Michigan. Maybe in the last week I think Peter Hamby (ph) reported if they have money left they'll do it. I don't think they're actually targeting Pennsylvania so much as they're trying to help the Senate seat there. Suddenly Barack Obama doesn't have the coattails to do with his Senate candidates. Romney is doing on the western side of the state, those media markets go into Ohio. It is interesting to see them start going into Wisconsin still which I think probably goes to the president, leans to the president, but they're trying to make those inroads. What I find fascinating is it looks like the battleground for the president is beginning to shrink as it's beginning to grow for Mitt Romney, which isn't a good sign for an incumbent president.

BLITZER: Two weeks to go. All right don't go away --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Hold on -- hold on --

BRAZILE: It's not shrinking.

BLITZER: Hold on, Donna. I want to continue this conversation with both of you. We have to take a quick break. When we come back we'll also talk about campaign ads. The campaign -- both of these campaigns are out with new ads asking voters to choose what they call the right path. But which path is the right path? We're going to explore that with Donna and Erick when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're back with our CNN contributors, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and Erick Erickson, editor-in-chief of RedState.com. Guys, both of the campaigns came out with sort of closing arguments, new ads. I'm going to play you some little clips. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Boosting American-made energy, reducing the deficits responsibly by cutting where we can and asking the wealthy to pay a little more and ending the war in Afghanistan so we can do some nation building here at home. That's the right path.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There are two very different paths the country can take. One is a path represented by the president which at the end of four years would mean we'd have $20 trillion in debt heading towards Greece. I'll get us on track to a balanced budget.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's start with you, Donna. What do you think of those two closing arguments?

BRAZILE: Well, I think they really capture what is the choice this fall. And that is, do we continue on a track that has led to 32 consecutive months of job growth. It is not as much as anyone would like, but it's job growth, job creation. If the Republicans would simply get out of the way with all the whining and complaining we could do more versus going back making that u-turn back to the policies that got us in this fiscal mess. And once again as we saw last night in the debate, Governor Romney's plan simply doesn't add up. He keeps putting together more ideas, more plans thinking if he'd take a little bit of this out and put a little bit more of that, it will somehow or another add up. And it just simply doesn't add up to a balanced approach nor a balanced budget in the future.

BLITZER: What do you think of those closing arguments, Erick?

ERICKSON: You know they sound somewhat similar. I would admit that although I think that the Obama campaign is going to have a very hard time doing now what Donna suggested over these last three debates as so many Americans have seen them trying to paint Mitt Romney as the second coming of George W. Bush. All the polling out there -- even the polls that show Obama is slightly ahead really show that Americans have had a fresh look at Barack -- at Mitt Romney for all the conservative critics of Romney and myself included over the past couple of months, you thought he probably should have spent money a little early, I think we've been proven wrong. They've held their money well and I think they have had a chance to redefine Romney and now the president's team is going to have a very hard time putting him back in the box they tried to paint him in with these ads.

BLITZER: How worried, Donna, are you right now? Because I've spoken to a lot of Democrats over the past few days including today, they're pretty worried.

BRAZILE: Worried about what? Look, Wolf, I've managed a campaign, seven presidential campaigns. And I know conventional wisdom and the polls and the media will try to replay it and try to analyze it. You know, if you're a campaign manager, you tell your staff to focus, focus, focus on the goal. Ten years -- 12 years ago when I was running Al Gore's campaign everybody kept telling us throw in the towel. This is George W. Bush. This race is very, very close. It's going to be tight. The Obama campaign knew this from day one. That's why they have a good ground game as well as a good air game, whatever you want to call it, TV wars, but at the end of the day it's going to be close. I do believe President Obama will eke out another strong victory.

BLITZER: What do you think, Erick? Who's going to win this race?

ERICKSON: You know, four years ago as Republicans were melting down in the last couple weeks, they were claiming great (ph) conspiracy theories. Hugo Chavez controlling electronic voting and things like that and two months ago Republicans saying the polls were rigged. Suddenly these last two weeks you've got the Democrats claiming Tag Romney's invested in electronic voting and the Democrats are claiming the polls are skewed. This looks like where the Republicans were two months ago when Mitt Romney really was losing. That's not a good sign for the Obama campaign.

BLITZER: Erick Erickson, Donna Brazile --

BRAZILE: We're in good shape --

BLITZER: We've got two weeks to go. What were going to say, Donna? BRAZILE: I said we're in good shape, Erick. I just want to let conservatives who are bed-wetting about Democrats, we're in very good shape. We're going to get our vote out. We're going to win.

(CROSSTALK)

ERICKSON: We're not the bed-wetters (ph) right now --

(CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: Yes, well, we're doing pretty good. Let me just tell you one thing about Democrats.

ERICKSON: I hope so for us.

BRAZILE: We tend to come to the party late. And when we come, we come strong and we stay all night long.

BLITZER: All right guys. Thanks very much.

ERICKSON: And vote for Mitt Romney.

BLITZER: Two weeks to go. We'll see what happens.

Tropical Storm Sandy, by the way, is gathering strength right now in the Caribbean as Jamaica braces for a direct hit. Should you be worried about a hurricane on Halloween?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Tropical Storm Sandy is churning through the Caribbean heading straight for Jamaica and Haiti. It's expected to grow stronger, but could it become a Halloween hurricane for parts of the United States? Let's go right to our CNN meteorologist and severe weather expert Chad Myers. A lot of people forget we're still in hurricane season, Chad, right now. What's the latest?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I know. You don't even get out of hurricane season until the end of November. It's when the water gets so cold that it can't support a hurricane. Well, Sandy is getting bigger. Sandy is south of Jamaica. I know this is zoomed in, but there's Jamaica. Here's Haiti and the Dominican Republic and there is Sandy, a 50-mile-per-hour storm in the warmest water of the entire Atlantic or the Caribbean. So it's gaining strength. It's getting bigger because the water is certainly warm enough. Where does it go from here? Straight over Jamaica as a hurricane; hurricane warnings are in effect for Jamaica and then into the Bahamas. So really if you're on vacation to Jamaica or maybe on a short cruise to the Bahamas, this will affect your vacation, no question about it.

Now, the U.S. at least for now, Wolf, is not in the cone. It's here to here, the U.S. right through here. So I just want you to know though, the U.S. is not that far out of the cone as a 60 or 70-mile- per-hour storm. Here's the rub. We talk about these computer models. I'm drawing two separate models in here. It's going to be hard for you to tell the difference right now, but there's a yellow one and a white one. The white and the yellow hang together. They are right over the Bahamas in about 72 hours.

They are very much in agreement. So we know the Bahamas will get it. We know Cuba will get it. We know Jamaica will get it eventually. Then all of a sudden these two low pressure systems, one goes to the left, one goes to New York City. But all the other ones go out to the Atlantic. That's the one we're concerned about. If it does turn left and go to New England or New York, it will be seven days away. New York, you are not in the cone, but you're not quite out of everything yet. When the computers all decide that it's going that way we'll be in good shape. If they all decide something else, we'll keep you advised.

BLITZER: I know you'll be watching Sandy every step of the way, Chad. Thank you.

Let's check in with Jack once again for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, it was a year ago we got that freak snowstorm in October --

BLITZER: Right.

CAFFERTY: -- up here in the northeast. It knocked a bunch of trees down. It knocked out power. It was awful. We had a lot of snow and people didn't have power for several days in some of these areas.

BLITZER: Yes.

CAFFERTY: So let's hope that doesn't happen. The question this hour is now that the debates are history, how much did they matter?

Dave in Florida says "They mattered little. The only thing different is that Obama didn't bother to show up for the first dog and pony show and that permanently set him behind. I took it as an insult to those of us who support him."

Helen writes "The first debate's impact was huge. We'll all be talking for years about how to win or lose an election based on one debate performance."

Ann in South Carolina says "Debates matter in varying degrees for different people. For folks who have been paying attention through the primaries the debates mattered little. But for those who have just recently tuned into the -- pardon me -- tuned into the election the debates may help them to make their decision."

D. in New York City writes "I think they did matter and the first debate turned the tide. Romney got to prove he's not some sort of cold, out of touch monster. Obama getting more desperate with each passing week showed what an angry, petty street fighter he is. Romney came across as reasonable, smart, able to cross the aisle, capable and presidential."

Annie in Atlanta says "Honestly, Jack, the debates don't mean a thing to me personally, but then I pay attention to what these guys say from the first day they throw their hat in the ring. It's a shame we have so much information available, and yet so few of us even bother to read through it."

And Ken in Seattle writes "Some of my favorite TV programs were not on and that was a bummer. In terms of the election, they provided nothing of value."

If 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: I hope THE SITUATION ROOM is one of Ken's favorite TV shows. We were on yesterday, as you know, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Well I hope it is --

BLITZER: Yes.

CAFFERTY: -- that he watches us, but my guess is Ken is probably more of a cartoon channel kind of guy.

BLITZER: OK. Thank you.

CAFFERTY: Just a guess.

BLITZER: So millions of people watched the world record sky dive. Now the daredevil jumper tells CNN about a crucial moment that almost ended the entire mission.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: He floated up 24 miles to the edge of space, and then jumped. But Felix Baumgartner's daredevil mission almost didn't happen because of a phobia. He sat down with CNN's Brian Todd to describe his record-setting fall to earth.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(MUSIC)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A stunning stratosphere jump --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE)

TODD: -- setting records for height, halving (ph) the speed of sound, a jump that almost didn't happen.

(on camera): I want you to tell me about the low point, in the last five years. I read that in 2010, you were supposed to do a test in the high pressure suit, and something happened and you left the mission.

FELIX BAUMGARTNER, SET RECORD WITH 128,100 FT. FALL: That one was the low point because I always could feel that I'm having a problem in that pressure suit. But I could not address the problem, because it really was -- they thought Felix can do it. And I always thought, OK, maybe one day I just put this pressure suit on and it's not a problem anymore. But I was wrong. So I knew I would have to maintain five hours in that suit, and I couldn't sleep that night before, because I knew I'm not going to perform well tomorrow.

TODD: Was that when you first realized you were claustrophobic?

BAUMGARTNER: I already knew that I'm kind of claustrophobic, but I was always playing it down. I never addressed that problem, because if I tell the guys I cannot maintain that suit for five hours, it's over. If you do not find resolution, it's over. And I thought, hey, maybe it's getting better, every time when I get into the suit, it's getting better, but it became worse. I always had to fight my way through that suit. The only thing that I wanted to do was I wanted to escape. I did not want to stand up in front of my whole team and tell them hey I can't do it because they already had moved the capsule (INAUDIBLE). Everybody was there. And so I went to the airport, LAX, and I called Larry Thompson (ph), our project leader and told him, hey, I'm out of here. I have to go back to Austria. I cannot do it.

TODD: Did you think at that point the mission was over?

BAUMGARTNER: Yes. At that moment I really thought -- I fell apart. I mean I was crying like a baby at the airport and I thought it's over.

TODD (voice-over): But in Europe, Baumgartner worked with a psychologist and a performance coach, overcame his claustrophobia and built back toward the big moment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going home now.

TODD (on camera): What is your feeling at that point? You're on the ledge; you can't get back in the capsule. What do you -- what's going through your mind?

BAUMGARTNER: Well I kind of like that part of the jump, because it means you're already outside. Everything worked well, and if you have a problem, you know, probably jumping off is the fastest and safest way, because now you're falling towards a much healthier environment. You know you're falling towards more pressure, towards more oxygen, and if you need medical treatment, you know this is the fastest way down. So to me, this is an easy step.

TODD: At this point, you had us all very scared. Did you feel like you were going to die at that point?

BAUMGARTNER: No, no, no. I never had that impression that I'm going to die. I always had the impression hey, if this goes on forever, I'm not going to break the speed of sound.

TODD: How did you bring yourself out of that spin?

BAUMGARTNER: I was slowly trying to figure out how to stop this, so you use your legs and arms, but you have to be really gentle because if you travel 830 miles an hour, you cannot stick your arm out like this because this would create a rapid onset (ph) and then you cannot stop it anymore. So you slowly put out your arm or your legs trying to figure out what helps and I did it a couple of times and I could see sometimes it was getting worse, sometimes it was getting better, and then I figured out a way how to do it and then I had it.

TODD (voice-over): Baumgartner says he cried twice on the helicopter ride back to mission control, then celebrated all night with his team.

(on camera): What has your life been like since the 14th? How has your life changed since the moment you landed?

BAUMGARTNER: As a person, it did not change. I'm still the same guy. But as soon as you start traveling, as soon as you get on a plane, as soon as you're at the airport, out on the street, people do recognize my face.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE)

BAUMGARTNER: Hey, thank you guys.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was scared.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You were scared?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was a little bit scared.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You did it for all of us.

BAUMGARTNER: Yes, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

(CROSSTALK)

TODD: You gave us all a huge charge that day and we thank you for it.

BAUMGARTNER: Hey, appreciate it.

TODD: Thank you.

BAUMGARTNER: Thank you very much.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: By the way, Baumgartner says he is done jumping, but he's working on his commercial helicopter pilot's license.