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Romney Gaining Momentum for 2016 Election; Obama to Visit Saudi Arabia, Will Discuss Iran, Syria; Olympics Security at All-Time High.

Aired February 3, 2014 - 13:30   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: With Chris Christie on the down side right now due to his George Washington Bridge problems, new names have surfaced at the top of the GOP polls. Last week, it was Congressman Paul Ryan, barely beating Jeb Bush. But there is another name that seems to be gaining a little bit of momentum right now and that name being Mitt Romney. Remember there was this poll last November showing that if the election were held one year later, Romney would have won.

Let's discuss with Republican strategist, Ford O'Connell; and CNN political commentator, Maria Cardona.

A lot of people have -- I just randomly, anecdotally asked people, do you think the country would have been better off today, a year after the election, if Romney had been elected? And a lot of folks, including people who voted for Barack Obama for re-election, have been so disappointed by Obamacare and other issues, they say, yes, they think Romney would have turned out to be a better president.

MARIA CARDONA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I think those kinds of questions, Wolf --

BLITZER: Totally. It's not scientific.

CARDONA: Anecdotally. But this has been a tough year for the president. We have talked about this several times on your show. But he is actually now doing much better. His polls have rebounded. Obamacare is doing much better. We're looking at all of the benefits that millions of Americans are getting from Obamacare. His state of the union well received in terms of the themes moving forward and focusing on economic, income inequality, economic issues, number-one issues. So, again, I think this is fun to talk about right now. But it in no way focuses on what the reality of the situation would be from a political perspective.

BLITZER: The filmmaker who did the Netflix documentary, "Mitt," told our Christie poll that they only release -- agreed to release this, assuming that Romney was done with politics. Romney himself told "The New York Times," "Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. No. People are always gracious and say, "Oh, you should run again. I am not running again."

This talk of Romney, maybe a third time. You remember, Ronald Reagan, he ran three times, the third time was a charm for him. Are you convinced that Romney will not run?

FORD O'CONNELL, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: No, I do not think Mitt Romney is going to run. Look, I think that 2008 left a bad taste in his mouth. He would have -- I mean, 2012 left a bad taste in his mouth and would have liked to have done better. But at the end of the day, a lesson for Republicans with respect to the poll. And that is, put forth a positive message, project yourself as a problem-solver, project that. Because you're going to need it in 2016, because Hillary Clinton is going to be really, really tough.

BLITZER: If he it -- hypothetically, I don't think he's going to run either. I'm going to interview him Wednesday. I don't think he's going to run. Let's say he were to run against Hillary Clinton. How would he do?

O'CONNELL: I think he would do terribly. I think all the Republicans are going to do terribly. Because what they have to understand, a positive message. Make yourself a problem-solver, project that and expand. The Democrats have 247 electoral votes coming out of the chute, regardless of who the Republican nominee is. Until we can actually figure out how to branch the blue collar and white collar voters of this country, we're in trouble.

BLITZER: Hillary Clinton tweeted during the super bowl yesterday; you see a little fun with this tweet. It's so much more money to watch FOX when it's someone else being blitzed and sacked. Spokesman later said that was a joke. But I'm sure there was an element of truth as far as she was concerned.

CARDONA: Sure, of course, there was a lot of truth to that. And as someone who has been on FOX, I can completely understand where she is coming from. I loved that tweet. I was one of the millions of people who re-tweeted it. I think it also shows, Wolf, though, her fun side, right? Her more lighter side, more personal side. And I think she is having fun with that right now, you know, as she is a private citizen. Because I think things are going to change if and when she does run, when everybody in the media will be so focused on everything she says, does, when she sneezes, when she sighs, what way she looks. Oh, wait, never mind, that's already happening.


BLITZER: What do you think? You assume she is going to run.

O'CONNELL: I absolutely do assume she is going to run and her biggest challenge right now, her expectations in Barack Obama's record. You can see his approvals are improving but they're pretty much in the toilet. And at the end of the day, this was a smart P.R. move.


What did she do? She threw red meat at the Democratic base. What does the Democratic base love to hate? FOX News. Enough said. This was smart. This is the largest sporting event in America. This is great P.R. It's free and everyone is talking about it. We're talking about it right now. (CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: A new poll, by the way, coming out on all of these things, including the president's job approval numbers at 5:00 p.m. eastern in "The Situation Room."


BLITZER: You guys like polls?


O'CONNELL: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Be watching our show.

CARDONA: Can I just say one quick thing?


CARDONA: The Republican Party needs to listen to this man. Because he was absolutely right in terms of the problem that the Republican Party still holds today, even with Barack Obama's poll numbers the way that they are. The focus on the middle class. They did not have a message.

BLITZER: Reince Priebus, he did an autopsy after the defeat of Mitt Romney, and he's trying to make some changes. He's trying to bring in Hispanics, minorities, young people, women. You don't think that's working?

O'CONNELL: No, I think that it can work. Right now I think we've got a long way to go. But one of the things out there is, Wolf, most people don't pay a heck of a lot of attention to politics. They don't follow it the way we do. And one of the things that the Republicans and the big problem with is putting forth a positive message. Don't talk about cutting things. Talk about reform. Don't -- you know, talk about modernization. Make people take America to a brighter place. If you can do that, you can win the White House in 2016. Yes, we do have to expand the tent of voters.

CARDONA: If they had followed that tent of autopsy, they would be in a better place. Everything they have done thus far has been the opposite and they have continued the realm or the focus they were on in 2012, which has been disastrous.

O'CONNELL: True. But, look, it took us a long time to hit this rock- bottom place and it's going to take us a while to get forward. Right now the key is making the game in 2014, because the political lens is in our favor. I agree, when it comes to a different electorate in 2016, we can't count on what we're going to do in 2014, because it's a very different group of people. So when we get to 2016, there's going to be some changes made.

BLITZER: Mid terms are different.

O'CONNELL: Absolutely.


CARDONA: Immigration reform would help.

BLITZER: Ford O'Connell, Maria Cardona, thanks very much.


BLITZER: On Wednesday, I will interview Mitt Romney live. That will take place in "The Situation Room," 5:00 p.m. eastern. Talking about 2016, other important topics, including security at the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. Remember, he was in charge of security and everything else at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games. Wednesday, 5:00 p.m. eastern.

President Obama makes plans to visit a U.S. ally in the Middle East. Why Iran will be high on the agenda during the president's trip to Saudi Arabia next month.



BLITZER: We learned today that President Obama will travel to Saudi Arabia next month. They'll meet with Saudi King Abdullah to talk about Middle East interests. One issue certain for discussion will be the interim deal, the nuclear deal with Iran.

Let's bring in Elise Labott over at the State Department.

As you know, Elise, the Saudis like the Israelis. The United Arab Emirates. They're very nervous about this interim deal with Iran. The president is going to have to do some hand-holding to reassure King Abdullah.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hand holding on a whole host of issues. As you know, the relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia has really hit new lows that you haven't seen really since years since the Bush administration and over the U.S. invasion in Iraq. I really think the Iran deal is something that the Saudis are extremely nervous about, not just that possibly that could give Iran some lee way to develop its nuclear program if the curbs airport tight enough but also Iran's growing influence in the region. When you look across the region, it particularly what's going on with Syria right now, a lot of people see this as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. And that's why Saudi Arabia has been supporting a lot of opposition, sending arms to the rebels, and this is one of the things that the U.S. will be discussing. I think there's a lot of fence- mending on this trip to be done, Wolf.

BLITZER: The president in his second visit to Saudi Arabia. You're correct. The Saudis are very upset, not only about the interim nuclear deal with Iran. They're upset about the U.S. posture in Syria. They hated the fact that the administration seemed to abandon President Mubarak in Egypt during the Arab Spring, thought that was a major disaster. There is so much going on negatively in this U.S./Saudi relationship right now.

LABOTT: That's right. And I understand that the Saudis in recent months over the -- this deal that the U.S. and Russia brokered over the chemical weapons in Iran, when they saw that the Syrians were not giving up their chemical weapons, that they're going to be stepping up their support to the opposition and basically the message to the administration has been, look, we're not working with you on this. We're going alone. We're going to work on behalf of our best interests. If you look at what's going on in Egypt, as you said, the Saudis are the ones, along with the United Arab Emirates, that are making up the difference in terms of the aid to the Egyptians that were cut over this -- over the attempted coup of President Morsi. And so the Saudis more than ever are going it alone. Don't see the U.S. as a very reliable ally. And I think President Obama wants to go back and try and reconnect. One of the things that a lot of Arab experts have said is, Saudis are really used to a very close relationship with U.S. presidents and you really haven't seen that between Saudi King Abdullah and President Obama. And I think President Obama wants to go there, connect with the king and say, listen, we are still your most reliable ally in this region, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yeah. The king likes to deal personally with world leaders, as well. That's why the president is going there. Do we know if the president is going to make any stops in the United Arab Emirates? Any other gulf states while he's there?

LABOTT: As of now, no planned stops, but the United Arab Emirates is another country and actually very close ally that is very disturbed with what they say is a U.S. retreating in the region. Very upset about Egypt. Very upset about Syria and Iran. And I think it would do him well to stop there. But there are no plans right now.

BLITZER: Elise, thanks very much. Elise Labott over at the State Department.

There's a new person in charge of the U.S. economy. We're talking about Janet Yellen, sworn in today as the head of the Federal Reserve, following Ben Bernanke's retirement. Janet Yellen is the first woman to take the job in the 100-year history of the Fed. This makes her one of the most powerful people in Washington, certainly one of the most powerful women in the world. Her first big challenge will be to see how to unwind the Fed's stimulus package without overly upsetting economic growth. So Janet Yellen, the chair of the Federal Reserve.

Still ahead, the Olympics have become a terrorist target. This grainy image of a hooded gunman became the face of the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, the first time terrorists struck. We're taking a closer look at how security planning has evolved since then, and the very elaborate plans to security Sochi.



BLITZER: The Olympic Games changed forever after the terrorist attack in Munich, Germany, back in 1972. Those who saw it will never forget it. 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team died at the hands of Palestinian terrorists, an attack that began in the Olympic Village, ended in a shootout with German police at the airport. Since then, the games have taken on an inescapable political component. This year after threats by terrorists created chaos in Sochi, security is at an all-time high.

Brian Todd is taking a closer look at the games now, how they have changed over these years. The security component has been significant.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: When you look at the difference between Sochi and Munich, Wolf, it is staggering. I mean, now you've got the ring of steel. We just talked about that, check points, magnetometers, search points going on. And you compare that to Munich in 1972, and the contrast is amazing. In 1972, those games were dubbed in German "The Happy Games." The Germans were sense active, the only Olympics they hosted since 1936, when there was the Nazi Olympics. They wanted to promote an atmosphere of peace and harmony and they -- and security there was intentionally pretty lax, because of it. They wanted everything to be very open. Well, of course, we know the result of that. In 1972, the Israeli team quarters from wide open, Palestinian terrorists snuck in wearing track suits. They carried assault weapons in duffle bags, easily got over a chain link fence with the help of other athletes who thought they were sneaking in after a night out. Of course, that can't happen now. And so we're just looking at kind of just the change. Munich, according to experts, what they're telling us now, Munich changed everything. That attack that left 11 Israeli athletes dead changed the culture of the Olympics.


Before then, you didn't have to submit a security plan to the IOC if you didn't want to host an Olympics. Now every city has to submit a detailed security plan to the IOC. Munich changed that. Munich did that.

BLITZER: Security escalated dramatically over the decades.

TODD: You look at what happened over 1980 in Lake Placid. They build that in such a way it's a minimum security prison in New York. Salt Lake City, the first Olympics after 9-11, $500 million was spent just on security for that Olympics, and it's only gone up since then. Munich changed it. 9/11 accelerated it. The security atmosphere at an Olympics will never be the same.

BLITZER: We will speak about this and a lot more. Mitt Romney ran those Olympic Games. That will be an interesting conversation.

All right, thanks very much. See you back later today, 5:00 p.m. in "The Situation Room."

Another Super Bowl is in the history books. The Seattle Seahawks demolishing the Denver Broncos last night. You can hear from two of the biggest stars after this.


BLITZER: There is one part of the Super Bowl that a lot of people are talking about is perhaps the highlight of the night that had nothing to do with the game.


It was the halftime performance. Bruno Mars putting on a truly electrifying performance indeed. Watch.





BLITZER: Amazing. A lot of people didn't know Bruno Mars, but they do now. A break out moment for Bruno Mars. Fabulous, fabulous performance. Only a 12-minute show and at one point she was joined by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Seems like a little odd pairing, but I guess they pulled it off. I thought Bruno Mars was great. Nice performance indeed.

Seattle certainly riding high, a day after their Seahawks not only brought home the Super Bowl championship, but did it in a spectacular fashion, shutting down the Denver Broncos 43-8.

Rachel Nichols was on the scene.

And you got reaction from the key players after the game. Including Richard Sherman who went on the infamous rant after the NFC championship game. Tell us what he was like after this game. He had to leave a little injured. We saw that.

RACHEL NICHOLS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He was on crutches because of what turned out to be a high ankle sprain, not a serious injury. He was certainly excited. His Legion of Boom, which is the nickname for the Seattle Seahawks, was a decisive factor in the dominant performance for Seattle.

Even given all of that and the amount of hype that the emotion was going on, they found a calm, grateful and a really introspective Richard Sherman when he stepped off the field last night. Listen.


NICHOLS: Since you and I talked two weeks ago, you had a crazy couple of weeks. What has the Super Bowl experience been like?

RICHARD SHERMAN, SEATTLE SEAHAWKS CORNERBACK: A lot of fun. Humbling. You learn a lot about yourself and the media and the way people perceive things and it's really a chance to grow. I had a chance to grow and I thank you for giving me that opportunity to do the opportunity. It was an opportunity for people to get to know me and get to know me and not judge a book by its cover.

NICHOLS: Where are you going now?

SHERMAN: Disneyworld, if I can.


NICHOLS: He mentioned the interview he and I did a few weeks ago. It has been amazing since then to see the metamorphosis. So many people upset with him after the championship game. Little by little starting to understand who he was. Through the Super Bowl, he blossomed into a full-fledged media star. He is of the most sought after players and his agent thinks he will have about $5 million in endorsements this off season.

BLITZER: He was a fifth-round draft-pick out of Stanford.

NICHOLS: Yes. Absolutely.

BLITZER: Not bad for him.

What about Russell Wilson, the winning quarterback. He inspired a lot of us guys who are only 5'10". Amazing what he did. He shared some advice from his late dad.

NICHOLS: Yes. He is 5'10" and three-eighths inches. We know exactly how tall or short they are. They think you have to be about 6'2" to be an effective quarterback. Russell Wilson shows you don't have to be 6'2" to be effective or win the Super Bowl. You can be whatever you want as long as you work hard and are good at the game.

And his father told him that growing up. His father died when he was in college. He talked to me about that after his win.


NICHOLS: You told me, when you were a kid, your late father would quiz you in the car.


NICHOLS: Say Russell Wilson, Super Bowl champion and give you interview tips. What did it feel like knowing your dad was a part of it?

WILSON: Just standing up there and holding the Lombardi trophy up in front of all Seattle and the people who came to the game, our first Super Bowl in franchise history, think about the special times I had with my dad and my mom too. I miss my dad so much. All the things he taught me.


NICHOLS: Wolf, the best part is the major league baseball teams drafted this guy two times, including as recently as December. The Texas Rangers said if it doesn't work out in football, come tryout for our team. I think it's working out.

BLITZER: I don't think he has to worry about baseball. I'm sure he's a great baseball player as well. A fabulous quarterback for Seattle.

Rachel, thanks very much for everything you are doing as well.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I will be back at 5:00 p.m. eastern in "The Situation Room."

NEWSROOM continues with Brooke Baldwin.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf Blitzer, thank you.

Hi, everyone. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Great to be with you on Monday.