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Romney Regrets Not Getting in Presidential Race; Subdued Trump Opens Washington Hotel; Clinton Tries to Pick Up Red States, Including Colorado; Growing Concern over ISIS Presence in Afghanistan. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired October 26, 2016 - 13:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[13:30:20] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Just moments ago, here in Washington, D.C., the former presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, hinting that he may have some regrets for not jumping in the race this time around. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY, (R), FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR & FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I get asked on a regular basis, boy, why aren't you running this year? I asked myself that now and then, too.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: I want to bring in our panel. With us, CNN chief political analyst; Gloria Borger; Nia-Malika Henderson, CNN senior political reporter; Mark Preston, executive editor of CNN Politics; and Ryan Lizza, CNN political commentator and the Washington correspondent for the "New Yorker."

Gloria, you were just there, at this event, this luncheon event, where he spoke, what emerged, bottom line, from what he had to say?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Not much. Honestly, Wolf.

(LAUGHTER)

He was trying not to make news. They did an elaborate decoy, couldn't even grab him afterwards. What was interesting to me was you've got these two ultimate universes here about a mile apart in Washington. You have Mitt Romney talking to the Chamber of Commerce, which is not pro-Trump, Mitt Romney being the original Never Trumper -- extolling the virtue of American business. And down the road at his own business, at his new hotel at the post office, you have Donald Trump talking about his business and himself. And couldn't be two more different guys.

Before Romney went onstage, about 15 or 20 minutes before he went onstage, he tweeted, "Be sure to head to the polls for Republican Senate and House and state houses, they are essential to defend and advance constitutional conservatism." He didn't say that on the stage to the Chamber of Commerce. What he is talking about today to Republicans is, OK, you don't have to vote for Donald Trump but make sure you keep the Republican House and Senate and state houses.

BLITZER: Nia, about a mile from where we are, if that, Donald Trump formally opened up his new hotel. And he spoke a little bit more somber dialogue today, and he did make the point, America is great.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes. Interesting, because he gave that address at Gettysburg and, in many ways, that speech, I mean, like a "Pettysburg" speech, sounded like settles scores. Today sounded optimistic, talking about America being great right now. And in some ways, almost stealing some of Hillary Clinton's lines, because she said is that, too, America is great because it's good. And he seemed more subdued than he has in previous speeches. We'll see if that holds. Doubtful, based on what we know about Donald Trump. He has a few different approaches, an mainly erratic and angry approach. We'll see what he comes out with.

Interesting that he said he's given his campaign $100 million. None of the reports suggest he's given that. I think Republicans certainly want limb to write checks to his campaign. Apparently, he's got $10 billion but doesn't want to get off of that much in the campaign. Looks like he's only given $50 million.

BLITZER: Mark, it's interesting, When Dana asked why he's here opening up this hotel instead of being in Florida or North Carolina or one of these other important state, he got defensive and, at one point, said the question is insulting. He said, look, he's been all over the place. I do three, four, five events a day. Hillary Clinton does one of these and goes and takes a nap. Fair point, he has been very active on the campaign trail.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: He's been very active on the campaign trail, specifically over the past couple of days. In Florida, he's held a lot of events, which he needs. He needs to win Florida.

The problem for Trump is he often muddies his message by, for instance, coming here, opening up a hotel two weeks out before the presidential election to be the leader of the free world, to be the leader of democracy, globally. So he actually steps on his message oftentimes. We've seen this time and time again.

You talk about the "Pettysburg Address," which was very clever, because in many ways, his closing argument, Wolf, right? That was his closing argument. Yet, he stepped on it by talking how he will settle scores after the election. Not very smart.

BLITZER: All of a sudden, though, this Bloomberg poll has him ahead in Florida, 29 electoral votes. Potentially significant.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Absolutely. If that holds. He obviously has to win Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and probably has to win North Carolina to be able to pull this off. Most of the other polling out of Florida shows a two to three-point advantage for Hillary Clinton. The Bloomberg poll, a little outlier. We'll see if that trend keeps up when other polls come out.

But I take his point that he's doing other events today, and not just this hotel event, but where are the two candidates today? Pence is in Utah, right, a state that hasn't voted for a Democrat, I think, since the Goldwater in '64. And --

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: For the gold rush.

(LAUGHTER)

[13:35:17] LIZZA: Noticeably, Mitt Romney, from Utah, is not in Utah supporting the Republican ticket. He's in Washington talking to the Chamber. The vice presidential candidate in Utah trying to hold that state. And Trump talking about his hotel. I mean, talking -- the presentation they were talking about, the railings and wallpaper, unusual. Imagine if Hillary Clinton was up at the Clinton Foundation. People would be scratching their head. I do take his point that he has other issues, other events today, but he has to know it's going to drive the news, is this kind of event.

BLITZER: But, Gloria, he makes the point, what's wrong with me spending a couple of hours supporting my kids? Ivanka and her brothers, very, very involved in this hotel. I want to show my love to my children. That's one of the reasons I'm here.

BORGER: Good. And of course, he gets maximum publicity because it's two weeks before the election, and he gets to showcase his hotel, and he gets to tell the story about how I took something that was old and broken down, and I fixed it.

And to the point you were discussing before, which is why he's so subdued today, it's because this was a business event, and he didn't want -- I'm sure he was told, do not make this overly partisan, because that could hurt us.

LIZZA: Yeah.

BORGER: -- in our business. It has hurt them in their business. You see this subdued Trump. We'll see what we see later in the day.

I think it's odd, but for Donald Trump, who was advertising his steaks and his water after primaries, I don't think it's -- I don't think it's out of character in the least. I don't think so.

BLITZER: A little out of character for him to, though, say after all the times he said we're going to make America great again, for him to say America is great.

BORGER: America is great, because his building and his hotel is great.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Stay with us. Don't go too far. Coming up, the Colorado governor and Hillary Clinton supporter, John

Hickenlooper, will join us live to talk about the campaign, talk about Hillary Clinton's efforts to pick up red states. There you see him. The governor of Colorado and me, when we come back.

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[13:41:48] BLITZER: With only 13 days to go until the election here in the United States, every state counts in this race, including, of course, Colorado. For the first time in 32 years, there are more registered Democrats than Republicans there.

Let's talk about the shift. Let's bring in Colorado's Governor John Hickenlooper.

Governor, thanks very much for joining us.

JOHN HICKENLOOPER, (D), COLORADO GOVERNOR: You bet, Wolf.

BLITZER: So is Colorado now a blue state as opposed to a red state? Are you convinced of that?

HICKENLOOPER: No. I think -- I mean, it's nice to see it there's a change, more Democrats registering than Republicans, but it's still a very small majority. By any traditional measure, just like we didn't used to be a red state when we had a few more Republicans, now we have a few more Democrats. We're not a blue state. We're still solidly purple.

BLITZER: Let's look at the election across other states. You're a Democrat, of course, supporting Hillary Clinton. Why do think it's a tight race in so many other states, for example, like Florida right now?

HICKENLOOPER: And so, A, the polling is hard to predict. In other words, I'm not sure how accurate any of the polling is. And certainly Florida seems to have tightened up. But you know, I'm not convinced that Hillary's not going to come around and do quite well there. A lot of this will depend on turnout and who really feels motivated to get out and vote. My guess is, in many parts of the country, Democrats are going to feel a greater necessity that they have to vote this time. And I think a lot of Republicans are frustrated by their, you know, just the divisions within the party at the presidential candidate level.

BLITZER: In the last Quinnipiac University poll in Colorado, your state, the Libertarian party candidate, Gary Johnson, got 10 percent of the vote. Do you think his stance on marijuana, legalizing marijuana, which is legal in Colorado, is helping him, and that his support could actually increase and take away votes from Hillary Clinton?

HICKENLOOPER: Well, it's hard to say. We have a lot of Millennials here. Right? We've been one of the top destinations for Millennials in the last decade. Certainly, he's probably taking some votes from Hillary Clinton but I think he's also a lot of Republican votes as well. My guess, the polls I've looked at, put him in or take him out, it only affects the difference by one or two points, and Hillary still has a comfortable lead here in Colorado.

BLITZER: So you think it's a done deal for her in your state?

HICKENLOOPER: No. No, no. Not a done deal. I think that Secretary Clinton has a good lead, but I think, you know, getting the vote out, making sure that everybody who is registered does vote, and still trying to register people. Colorado, we'll an all-male ballot, but people can register up to the last day. There's a big effort by both sides to register voters.

BLITZER: How big of an issue is marijuana in Colorado right now? Neither of the -- neither Trump nor Hillary Clinton wants to legalize it, right?

HICKENLOOPER: Right. Neither of them came out in favor of recreational legalization. My guess is it's not that big an issue in the presidential election. It's still -- you know, anytime you go anywhere around Colorado, it's hotly debated.

[13:45:16] BLITZER: Are you looking ahead? There's been -- you were one of the names mentioned often as a possible vice presidential running mate. Are you looking forward, if she's elected president, to maybe moving here to Washington, D.C.?

HICKENLOOPER: Well, first, let's get her elected. And I think there are a lot of list with a lot of people's names. I have about the best job in the world, right? I have to go around one of the most beautiful states in America and help, you know, people solve their challenges. It would be -- it would be a hard sacrifice to go to Washington. I'm not saying if she came and said here's why you need to be here, I would certainly listen, but I'm not going out and lobby for it, or making phone calls saying, hey, put in a good word for me. I have the greatest job in the world, or one of the greatest jobs in the world.

BLITZER: Well, I can second that, because I've spent a lot of quality time in Colorado. It's a beautiful state, indeed, and you're lucky and blessed to be the governor of that wonderful state.

Governor, thanks very much for joining us.

HICKENLOOPER: You bet, Wolf. Anytime.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Coming up, the last stand for Mosul. ISIS fighters streaming in, armed with suicide belts and booby traps. And the battle for the city reaches a critical point. So what's the future of Iraq? The State Department spokesman, John Kirby, is standing by live. We'll discuss when we come back.

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[13:50:34] BLITZER: As Iraqi, Kurdish and other coalition forces close in, ISIS's reign of terror in Mosul could soon be coming to an end. The terror group captured the city more than two years ago and will not leave without putting up a bloody fight. Witnesses tell CNN suicide squads are pouring into Mosul from Raqqa and neighboring Syria.

Let's get a better understanding of what's at stake in Mosul, the war going on right now. I'm joined by State Department spokesman, John Kirby.

John, thanks for joining us.

JOHN KIRBY, SPOKESMAN, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT: Great to be with you Wolf. Thank you.

BLITZER: Mosul is the second-largest city in Iraq. A million people are still there. It's been an ISIS stronghold for more than two years. It's a hard battle under way right now. Everything you're hearing at the State Department -- you're getting diplomatic reports -- how is the military offensive going?

KIRBY: They are making good progress on the ground in and around Mosul, no question about that, and we're seeing terrific coordination between the Peshmerga forces and Iraqi security forces. So that is moving in the right direction and trend lines are going well.

That said, and I think you just alluded to it a few seconds ago, this is going to be a tough fight. Nobody is saying it's over by any stretch of the imagination. This has been a stronghold for ISIL now for two years. This is the whole battle began. And I don't think anybody expects them to give it up without a struggle.

So what's going on right now is they're working on the outskirts of the city, they're applying pressure to ISIL inside the city, and I think you're going to continue to see that squeeze-play continue, and then eventually, obviously, they'll mount more aggressive operations inside the city itself.

BLITZER: I think Mosul will be a hard battle as well, and presumably a dangerous one for the civilians caught in the middle.

What about Raqqa in Syria? That's the ISIS so-called stronghold caliphate capitol. The Defense Secretary Ash Carter said some kind of a military offensive for Raqqa might begin in a matter of weeks. Is it realistic for the U.S. to do both of these military -- to be involved in both of these military operations at the same time?

KIRBY: Well, we have the capacity to do that from a military perspective, no question about it. I would point out that we have ready been active in terms of assisting and helping from the air in numerous operations inside Iraq at the same time. I mean, Mosul has everybody's attention but don't forget all the great work the ISF has done. So we can support more than one operation at a time.

But you're right when you say this is -- these are fights for local indigenous forces to take on. The Iraqi security forces are mounting the campaign against Mosul. This is their strategy, their plan. We're assisting it but it's their thing to execute. The same will happen in Raqqa. And I don't want to get into operations that haven't happened yet. As you said, the secretary of defense spoke to the urgency in Raqqa but we will do our part to support those efforts on the ground as they eventually go after Raqqa.

BLITZER: As you say, it's encouraging, the Iraqi forces, the Kurdish forces, the Peshmerga, they're working so far together. That's very encouraging.

KIRBY: It is.

BLITZER: We always associate ISIS with what's going on in Iraq and Syria, but now there's some growing concern about the ISIS presence in Afghanistan as well, following the kidnapping and killing of about 30 people. How concerned is the U.S. -- how concerned is the State Department that ISIS is now trying to establish some sort of caliphate in Afghanistan?

KIRBY: This is a long-standing concern, Wolf. We've been talking to leaders about this for more than a year. If you listen to President Ghani, he has talked about his growing concerns over the last year to 18 months about ISIL advancing inside his country. So we've seen these reports. They're difficult to determine the veracity of them all. But the idea that ISIL is trying to grow a presence in Afghanistan is not a new idea. And the idea that Afghan national security forces would be mounting increasing operations against them is not new. Our commanders in Afghanistan have also spoken to this. This is a group that has tried to and will continue to try to metastasize outside Iraq and Syria as they get pressured inside Iraq and Syria, and Afghanistan is one of those locations that we've been watching closely.

BLITZER: Does ISIS have a significant presence in Libya as well?

[13:55:07] KIRBY: Well, they have a present in Libya. I'm loathe to give out intelligence estimates of the number but they have had a presence there in Libya. It has grown in some scope over last year or so.

That said, I will also tell you that they're feeling the pinch in Libya, too. And you've been covering the operations and some of the strikes that have happened there. What I can tell you, again, without getting into too much detail, there are certainly feeling pressure inside Libya.

BLITZER: John Kirby is the State Department spokesman.

John, thanks very much for joining us. We'll stay in close touch with you.

KIRBY: Thanks, Wolf. Good to be with you.

BLITZER: Thank you.

That's it for me. I'll be back 5:00 p.m. eastern in "The Situation Room." For international viewers, "Amanpour" is coming up next.

For our viewers in North America, NEWSROOM with Brooke Baldwin will start after a quick break.

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[15:00:11] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Here we go. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you so much for being here.