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John King, USA

Presidential Race Enters New Phase; President Obama on Tour

Aired August 15, 2011 - 19:00   ET


JOHN KING, HOST: Good evening everyone.

If the pictures don't lie then take a look at tonight's unmistakable truth. It is August 2011, but the race for the White House 2012 entered a new phase today.


BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm here to enlist you in a fight. We are fighting for the future of our country. And that is a fight that we are going to win.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think the folks of Iowa are going to be real excited about unemployment rate where it is and the number of Americans that are out of work. You know, this president's been an abject failure when it comes to the economy.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So when people wonder why it is that this economy hasn't rebooted yet? The answer is because the president got it wrong.


KING: Jobs is the election battle cry and the president's bus tour itinerary this week speaks volumes about the changing battlegrounds -- Minnesota and Iowa, two blue states in 2008, clearly competitive on any early 2012 map. Of course the Republicans need to pick a candidate first and again, today opened a new chapter. Perry versus Romney, the economy and jobs again the flash point. Romney served one term as governor, Perry is in his third. That's what this is about.


ROMNEY: I'm running for office because I believe that having spent my life in the private sector, meaning in business, that I understand what it takes to get business going again.


KING: And Perry's rebuttal? Well, part Texas macho.



KING: And part acclaim to have the job creation bragging rights.


PERRY: Forty percent of all the jobs created in America from June of 2009 until the present were created in Texas. I know how to create jobs.


KING: A packed hour ahead including putting that claim from Governor Perry to the truth test and showing you how the early 2012 map is so very different from 2008. Here to get us started our chief White House correspondent Jessica Yellin and in Austin, Texas tonight Ken Herman of the "Austin American-Statesman".

Mr. Herman, to you first my friend, Governor Perry is in the race. President Obama is in the Midwest. They're in the same state of Iowa. Perry was here this morning, Obama's there now. Suddenly today we have a campaign of contrasts.

KEN HERMAN, COLUMNIST, AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN: Yes, it's amazing it seems to have come upon us so quickly. Many of us in Texas expected he would run -- Governor Perry, I'm speaking of. But it took a while for him to get to stay it officially. We saw it Saturday in South Carolina and now it's, you know it has that full-time campaign feel to it.

KING: And Jess, when you see the president, he is in Minnesota, then the bus rolls into Iowa, then it's going to go into rural Illinois. These are places that he carried easily last time. And I'm actually going to walk over here and show people so they can take a look at it. These are states that if you look, go back to the 2008 map, these were not the problems.

Illinois, the president's home state, well one of the problems there unemployment rate then and now. That's just above the national average. Then you move over to Iowa where the president is this evening, then and now. Below the national average, but still up. He was in Minnesota earlier in the day. It's a little easier if you shrink it down. He was in Minnesota early in the day, then and now. So it is economy that is turning blue states from the last time suddenly competitive this time.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And those are right near some other states, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, crucial states that he won last time that he really is in danger of losing this time. That he absolutely must win, for example, Ohio, must win if he's going to be president again. And they know that. So they're selling this message, which is, as you say, about contrast because he can't really say much for his record in creating jobs. It's really about trying to hammer an opponent. There is no opponent yet. So he's laying the groundwork now in advance of what he sees coming. KING: And as we get, you have Perry and Romney and Congresswoman Bachmann will be out there doing it. We haven't see her as much today, but Perry and Romney out there making the contrast, President Obama out there making the contrast. One of the things, Ken Herman, they're going to argue about from now until next November and by then we'll of course know who the Republican nominee is, is whether in the next election cycle the American people should vote in favor of a candidate who wants to raise taxes on the wealthy. The president today on the stump quoting from an op-ed in "The New York Times" by Warren Buffett. Warren Buffet writing, hey, it's about time, overdue, raise my taxes. Listen to the president.


OBAMA: Warren Buffett had an op-ed that he wrote today where he said, we've got to stop coddling billionaires like me. You don't get those tax breaks. You're paying more than that. And now, I may be wrong, but I think you're a little less wealthy than Warren Buffett. That's just a guess.


KING: And Governor Perry and Governor Romney both on the campaign trail said no way. Not happening. You can raise taxes on the rich. You are not going to solve the big deficit problems. That's not the solution. So we know at least one of the big contrasts we will have as we wait to see who wins the Republican wrestling match.

HERMAN: Yes, there's no doubt Governor Perry and I guess all the major Republicans aside they say the problem is squarely on the spending side, not the revenue side. The same mantra Governor Perry rode to re-election here in 2010, the same mantra the Republicans who dominate our legislature here came to town on and we faced -- the state faced a projected up to $27 billion deficit for our next two- year budget cycle here when the legislature came to town.

They came to town and said we're not raising taxes. We're going to make the cuts. We're going to balance the budget. Lots of folks didn't believe them. Whatever you think of this bunch, they are politicians who did in office exactly what they said they would do on the campaign trail. Now it will take a couple of years to figure out what the impact of that is and it's possible some people who thought they liked that idea might find out that some of these cuts do impact them, but we don't know that yet.

KING: We don't know that yet. What do we know, Jessica Yellin, about team Obama when they look at the Republican field? Obviously Governor Pawlenty, somebody they took seriously, somebody they viewed as potentially a credible challenger he's now gone. So you have Governor Romney. They assumed he was the front-runner. Now they have been focusing most of their attention on him along. Now they have Governor Perry who instantly in the race has added a jolt of energy in the past 72 hours. Are they worried in team Obama about one of them more than the other? YELLIN: Well first of all, they'd love to run against Michele Bachmann, we all know that. Are they worried about Perry? Yes. But they actually I think have focused so much on Romney, they don't actually know what the reality is of a Perry candidacy. There's a sense that there's a lot unknown there so that there's a little bit more to research and learn, that there's opportunity there that they can find and that they are such a formidable operation, they have such enormous confidence in their own ability, I don't detect a lot of nerves when it comes to running a campaign against the opponent. The challenge is, is to defend the jobs record. And as long as they can be offensive, they feel confident. If they have to be on the defensive, that's when they get nervous.

KING: And Ken Herman help us out as we get to know Governor Perry. A lot of our viewers out there might be saying this guy looks familiar, I can't quite place him. And they might be thinking you know back in the Bush administration you're asking questions in the briefing room. As a guy who covered Bush in Texas and then came to Washington to cover him. As we watch Rick Perry step out on the campaign trail, is what you're seeing and hearing in South Carolina, New Hampshire, and Iowa, is that the same Rick Perry who has been the governor in Austin, Texas?

HERMAN: Yes, I think so far it is. Like a lot of Texans, his accent seems to get thicker the farther he gets from the state. But he is a great campaigner. He is -- I think most people will find him, as I found with George W. Bush, anyone who spends any time with him in a small group probably can't help but think he's a nice guy. You may not like his politics. They are both Texans, but they are different kind of Texans. As Governor Perry pointed out today he went to Texas A&M, and around the country if you don't know what that means, you need to study that.

It's just short of cult status and he pointed out that of course George W. Bush went to Yale. And those are both Texans, but there are some people who may find out that Perry is what a lot of them stereotype Bush as. Perry is a west Texan. He wears his cowboy boots proudly. He is some people think the real deal when it comes to being a Texan and we'll see how that translates on a campaign trail.

KING: Are you trying to say New Haven is not in Texas?


KING: You know it's funny because he was asked about this. He knows -- Governor Perry knows, obviously, eventually he'll get to run on his record. But when you're the new candidate in the race and the last Republican nominee for president, the last Republican president -- excuse me -- was a Republican from Texas. You're going to be asked about the comparisons and this is what Governor Perry had to say today.


PERRY: You know I'm not going to sit here. I'm not -- George Bush is not my opponent. George Bush is not -- I mean he's a former president. We give him all the respect for that. We're talking about (INAUDIBLE).


KING: It is interesting -- Jess to you first -- it's interesting when these guys first get in. It's often a different set of questions than they're asked in week two or week three and if they make it month two and month three.

YELLIN: Well and he's going to have to defend his jobs record. I mean this is the case he'll have to run on. Texas has this great jobs record, but what is the reality of life in Texas, low wages, et cetera. May I make one other point? Two things that happened today with President Obama on the campaign trail? You noticed he got a lot of questions about health care reform at these town halls, which was very surprising for a lot of people and he did say he'll come out with a specific jobs plan in September, which was a little bit different from what we've been hearing from the White House.

KING: The health question is interesting (INAUDIBLE) lot of unhappy liberals out there --

YELLIN: Right.

KING: -- saying why didn't you fight for single payer. Ken Herman, let me come back to you on the point that Jess made -- we had a little technical issue, I couldn't do this earlier in the program, but when the governor talks about his job creation record, Texas you know has created a lot of jobs. Texas also leads the nation or is competitive with one other state I think in the number of minimum wage jobs in the country. Is that a brag, a claim that will stand up to the sunshine test?

HERMAN: Well we'll find out. I think candidates don't like when the word "miracle" is applied to anything they've done because I know in my lifetime there's only been one miracle certified by the Vatican -- that's when my Mets won the series in '69 and this scrutiny will be tough. And there are -- there's a lot to scrutinize here. The Texas economy is better off than a lot of states. When he came into office, I believe oil was about $25 a barrel. It hit about $150 a barrel in '08. It's still 80 to 90 I guess. I'd have to buy one on the way home, so I'll check. But it's -- there are things that have happened that it's very simple. When economy goes bad, the governor or the president gets the blame whether it's really his blame -- his fault or not. So I guess they get to try to take the credit when things look better compared to other states.

KING: The Massachusetts miracle was my first presidential campaign.

HERMAN: We remember it.


KING: The great Dukakis case, Ken Herman in Austin, Texas and Jessica Yellin here, lots to talk about in the months ahead. Thanks for coming in tonight. And still to come here, Indiana's governor updates us in the investigation into the horrible weekend concert stage collapse, the deadly concert state collapse at the state fair.

Next the highest ranking African-American Congress on whether the president -- and you see him live right there live in Iowa speaking -- whether the president has the right road map for his job tour.

We'll also ask Jim Clyburn about his role in that new deficit reduction super committee.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- students here that I taught.

OBAMA: How was she --



KING: Live pictures there of the president of the United States, Barack Obama. He's in Iowa tonight taking questions after giving a speech on a farm there, taking questions from voters. Now he's on a bus tour. Let me show you the map as we bring it out here, the president of the United States on a bus tour that started in Minnesota. It's going down through Minnesota. He's now in Iowa, he's in Decorah (ph), Iowa now. He'll go to Iowa again tomorrow, then he's in some rural counties in Illinois there.

That's the president of the United States out here in the Midwest, three states that were critical to him back in the 2008 campaign, Illinois obviously his home state. The Congressional Black Caucus proposes a jobs tour. It's on the schedule right now through Detroit, Cleveland, Atlanta, Miami and Los Angeles. You see the president out here largely in white rural America. The CBC saying let's have a jobs focus in African-American and minority communities across America.

So does the president's focus on states critical to his re- election mean overlooking communities with a need for help is beyond critical? In Columbia, South Carolina tonight the highest ranking African-American in the Congress (INAUDIBLE) Democratic leader James Clyburn. Congressman Clyburn, let's get straight to that. Would you prefer -- I know you support the president and you know he needs to go to these electorally (ph) important states for him. But would you prefer if he's going to do a jobs tour that he start in Columbia, South Carolina where unemployment among African-Americans is near 19 percent, maybe Selma, Alabama where it's above 20 percent?

REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D-SC), ASSISTANT MINORITY LEADER: Well I don't think that we have to worry about where he starts. The problem is where will the impact be of job creation? Will we get a jobs Bill out of the Congress? I understand that the president's going to be coming forward in September with a comprehensive job bill. I hope that's the case. I'm also hopeful that as we talk about deficit reduction, and those kinds of things that we can include job creation in those discussions as well.

Because the quickest way to reduce the deficit, I believe, is to get people back to work. They'll be paying taxes. They won't be drawing unemployment. And they will, in fact, be contributing to deficit reduction. So I would love to see a comprehensive jobs program in the very near future because I think that's what will get people's confidence restored and get our communities back on the right track.

KING: As you know, though, and you tend to be more diplomatic, especially on television, than some of your colleagues and I respect that, as you know there's been some grumbling in the Black Caucus and in what I'll call the progressive community at large about the president's focus, whether the subject be deficit reduction or where he's traveling right now focusing on jobs. The chairman of the CBC, Emanuel Cleaver from Missouri said this to "The Washington Post" just last week.

"What the president is doing is not the same as what we're doing. We have real jobs to give real people who are unemployed. This is not one of those deals where we go around and talk about jobs and hope somebody gives us some press attention." That's a pretty harsh criticism of the president of the United States, the first African- American president to the United States from a leading African- American in the Congress, is it not?

CLYBURN: Well, I didn't get that he was directly talking about the president there. I'm not too sure that there aren't other tours taking place that might have been the point of reference. I was with Emanuel Cleaver over the weekend, and we had long talks about what's going on with the Congressional Black Caucus tomorrow in Detroit, later on in Miami, Atlanta, and then out in Los Angeles. Just because we're ending the tour in Los Angeles doesn't mean the emphasis is not on Los Angeles as well.

We started in Cleveland, Ohio, around 7,000 people showed up. I think around 2,200 people got connected with jobs. But I think that that's what Cleaver was talking about, trying to do a jobs tour where we bring employers and potential employees in to the same room and see if we can get the confidence restored again because too many people have stopped looking. They've just dropped out of the process altogether. We want to get them back in. And the way you do that, I think, is the way the CBC is conducting this tour. I think that's what he had reference to.

KING: I want you to listen to some of the president on the trail today. He's being a bit more populous (ph) and he's the president of the United States. He holds the most powerful job in Washington. And yet he's making the case -- and I think you would understand his frustration -- that he can't get a lot of things done because he can't get them through the Congress. I want you to listen to this and I want to you if you would choose the same words.


OBAMA: People are doing the right thing. Well, if you can do the right thing, then folks in Washington have to do the right thing. And if we do that, there is not a problem that we face that we cannot solve.


KING: Do you prefer -- you're the assistant Democratic leader, you're in the minority now. The Republicans control the House. Would you prefer the president not blame the people in Washington or the Congress and specifically say the Republicans?

CLYBURN: Yes, I would prefer that and I've had those discussions with the president on other occasions --

KING: And why won't he get tougher with them? Why won't he get tougher with them?

CLYBURN: Well, I hope he will. I don't know. I think the president by nature wants to be diplomatic. I'm the same way. I call myself a southern gentleman, but there are times when I put that aside and go right to the core of the problem. The problem is that the Republican leadership refuses to allow a jobs bill to come to the floor. I have one that's got bipartisan support. It has a companion bill over in the Senate that has bipartisan support. The co- sponsorship is bipartisan.

But we cannot get them to bring this to the floor. And I think the president sooner or later is going to have to lay this right at the doorsteps of the Republican leadership. We did not vote for all of these things that's got us in this problem today. Democrats have supported his agenda and we still look forward to supporting him in the future. He needs to call the Republicans out. That's who is stopping this legislation, not the Democrats.

KING: Congressman Jim Clyburn, the assistant Democrat leader, appreciate your thoughts tonight. Jobs the big issue on the presidential campaign today; jobs will be the big issue when the Congress returns. Sir, appreciate your time tonight. We'll stay in touch.

And still ahead here, this weekend's dramatic changes in the Republican presidential race, plus the Weather Service issued high wind warnings two hours before this Saturday tragedy at the Indiana State Fair. Was it a mistake not to warn the crowd sooner? Indiana's governor briefs us on the investigation.


KING: Welcome back. Here's the latest news you need to know right now. Libya's rebels report their fighters have entered several towns along a major supply route to the country's capital Tripoli. Also a U.S. defense official confirmed Libya fired a short range SCUD missile Sunday, but that official said it missed its target instead landing in the desert east of Brega.

Jordan and Turkey today joined a list of nations calling on Syria to end military operations against pro-democracy demonstrators, but it had no effect on the ongoing violence.

The U.S. Army sadly reports 32 suicides and potential suicides in July. That's the highest total since the service began releasing the numbers 2.5 years ago. A document obtained by CNN shows the Army has counted 163 suicides this year.

In California bay area Rapid Transit officials are warning passengers a demonstration this evening could create problems at San Francisco's Civic Center Station. People are upset because all cell phone service at the station was shut down Thursday to head off a protest against police violence. Officials indicate they could do it again.

Still ahead here, dramatic changes in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, but next Indiana's governor, his wife and daughter were right there at the Indiana State Fair Saturday night when a concert stage collapsed.


KING: The Indiana State Fair reopened today with a memorial service for victims of Saturday's freak accident. Five people died when a wind gust of perhaps 70 miles an hour caused a concert stage to collapse. At the memorial Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels praised the onlookers who rushed in to help declaring there was a hero every 10 feet. He said as much Sunday.


GOV. MITCH DANIELS (R), INDIANA: The character that we associate with our state, people don't have to be paid to do it. So I want to say thanks to each of them. And I know that those who were rescued and those who would have been more seriously hurt without their help are profoundly grateful today, and I am on their behalf. So we will now share with you what we know that beyond what's been reported so far (INAUDIBLE) and then to follow him Cindy with our current thoughts about what happens next at America's greatest state fair.


KING: The twisted steel of what used to be the stage is still piled at the fairgrounds. Investigators are looking into whether the stage was set up correctly and families of the victims want to know if the concert should have been called off because officials knew bad weather was coming.


RANDY BYRD, BROTHER DIED IN STAGE COLLAPSE: There was a great deal of lack of communication going on. At the spur of the moment it came in so quickly that nobody really was able to act and get the orders put out that needed to be put out.


KING: CNN meteorologist Chad Myers is with us at the CNN Weather Center. And Chad how rare to see a storm that could come along, they build these things, these stages -- these fairs happen every year. How rare to see a storm that could come along and take one out like that devastation?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I cannot remember a time ever, not one year ever, John, where three stages have collapsed and literally within a month. Now, I don't know if you remember this or not, but Cheap Trick had a stage collapse on them up in Ottawa -- that was Ottawa, Canada -- with winds came through and knocked the entire stage down.

And, then, back even in Oklahoma, in Tulsa, there was a stage that fell down. And this was the big one. Obviously, this was the one where people were seriously injured. It happens because you put state fairs right in the middle of towns and in states that now are in severe weather season, in basically tornado alley or at least northern tornado alley.

So, what do we have coming up? We have Illinois. We have Minnesota. We have Iowa. And we just rid of and got done with Ohio, that's a very popular fair there.

And so, these Midwest fairs, they put things up quickly, including the rides, they bring things down quickly and they put them away for a year.

Here's what happened with this storm. Let me go right to 'em and I'm going to go to the tick tock, the timetable.

The storm came through. The buildings, the collapse happened at 10 minutes to 9:00. But there wasn't a storm on radar within five miles. The storm was well to the west back out here. This purple dot right there -- the fairgrounds.

So, you say how could that possibly happen? How could the storm still be 10 miles away and the wind be so strong? It's something called a gust front.

And if you're ever outside and a thunderstorm's coming, you hear it, you see it, but the wind blows first, all the air rushes down the thunderstorm with the rain. It hits the ground. Just like a bucket of water, if you pour a bucket of water on the ground, the water has to go out. It can't go down any more because the ground is in the way. The air goes out, too, and when the air goes out, it's called a gust front.

In this case, that 70-mile-per-hour wind was five to 10 miles ahead of where the radar showed the storm to be. That was the significance and that could have been the problem. The warning went out at 39 minutes after. They were cleared. The people were told to get out of the way at 45. But the stage collapsed only four minutes later -- John.

KING: Chad Myers laying out how the tragedy happened for us. Chad, appreciate it.


KING: For the latest on the investigation, I'm joined now by the governor of Indiana, Mitch Daniels.

Governor, I appreciate your time.

On a day like this -- I'm just wondering as you learned more about this, have you come to the conclusion that people should have earlier warned people, get out of here, we've had a severe weather warning, you have to go?

GOV. MITCH DANIELS (R), INDIANA: John, I haven't come to any conclusion at all. It will probably be a while before we do.

You're correct that a proper and appropriate inquiry has already begun both into the structure that was used and into the decision- making. But honestly, that's not our first concern right now. Out here our first instinct is to look after those who have been lost or wounded and to make necessary repairs and get on with life. That's what we spent most of today doing.

KING: I understand that. And, obviously, people want to move forward and the fair has reopened. But this is fair season. And we see fairs all around the country, especially in your part of the country.

And in this case, you know, the weather service had forecast two hours beforehand, winds of up to 60 to 70 miles per hour. Don't you think if you were there and you found out two hours beforehand winds up to 70-mile-an-hour might be coming, you would have said, we can't have an outdoor concert like this?

DANIELS: Not certain about that. You know, the track of a storm is always subject to change. You know, the storm itself, John, didn't arrive at the fairgrounds for 15 or 20 minutes after the tragedy happened. These winds were somehow very far out ahead of it.

Apparently, according to weather service people that I asked these questions to, it must have interacted in some way with the nearby architecture. Just -- there was no other damage on the fairgrounds anywhere. We had a midway with ferris wheels operating just a couple hundred yards away. And they weren't touched.

So, you know, these are the right questions. They're going to be asked and followed up on. But again, you know, our first instinct here in times of trouble is not to point fingers but rather to try to make things right and get back -- get back to normal if we can.

KING: Have the engineers or anybody said anything to you about why they think that happened? Is it just a freakish, horrible coincidence that that's where the worst winds were, or it is something in the design of the stage or the set?

DANIELS: Very clear that the wind that did this damage, as I just illustrated, was very highly localized, possibly being channeled in some fashion by the buildings as they -- in the position they sat relative to the wind direction. And as to the structure itself, we'll see. But that very structure has been used for decades at our fair and many others without this problem.

So, we'll see what we can learn, and always, always seek from any such problem, flood, tornado or something like this, to make improvements going forward.

KING: Your wife and one of your daughters were there right at that site. They left a little bit before this happened. What have they told you about their memories of the weather when they were there and did they just leave for schedule or coincidence, were they just lucky, sir?

DANIELS: In the case of my wife, like many others, when the suggestion was made to move to one of the three buildings which the fair opened up to accommodate the crowd, she was in the process of leaving and didn't see the actual event, could just hear it from the street where she had gone.

My daughter was actually quite close to it. She was taking a lot of photographs and was near the stage, a little to close for comfort, but she's fine. And -- she's a little shook up, has memories of it.

But, you know, the Daniels women are like most Hoosiers, pretty resilient and they're doing all right.

KING: What goes through your mind, sir, when you watch the video? I've seen it several times. It is on television almost nonstop. It shows you the -- awesome is the wrong word because of the horror -- but the awesome power of the winds and the weather. It also shows you in the aftermath, a lot of heroes trying to save people.

DANIELS: Those are exactly the two impressions I'll always have, John. I'll tell you, in this job, I've come to respect Mother Nature in all her -- I'll say awesome power, whether it's water, or wind, or lightning. I've seen really far too much of the damage that can occur.

But yes, the powerful memory of this will be both the visual impression of seeing hundreds of people rushing to the trouble as opposed to away from it. And the eyewitness accounts I heard from so many of our state troopers and other security personnel at the fairgrounds, the professionals by every report we have, responded as they prepared to instantly in a highly effective way.

But every one of them, it seemed, had stories about citizens whose names we'll never know who simply showed up and helped them extricate people more quickly -- probably saved many from more severe injury.


KING: Governor Mitch Daniels, in a conversation a bit earlier today. Our thoughts and prayers with the people of Indiana tonight.

In a minute, we'll switch our focus back to the 2012 presidential campaign. Watch here. Can you guess just who is Bill Clinton talking about?


WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FORMER UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: He's a good looking rascal. He said, "You know, I'm going to Washington to make sure that the federal government stays as far away from you as possible."



KING: "ANDERSON COOPER 360" coming up at the top of the hour. Anderson is here with a preview.

Hey there.


Keeping them honest tonight on "360."

Fresh off her victory in the Iowa straw poll, Michele Bachmann appears to be running from her past statements on gays and lesbians. Tonight, we'll show you how she's dodging the questions, all the while insisting she's not judging anyone. But is that what her past statements actually show? Keeping them honest.

Also ahead tonight, President Obama on a three-day swing through three Midwest states. But are these campaign stops or presidential bus tour? The White House saying it's a listening tour to hear Americans about the economy. Republicans say it is pure politics, not policy. And guess who's paying for it.

So, the commander in chief or campaigner in chief on the road? Raw politics tonight.

And up close tonight, a sheer terror. The Indiana state fair -- you've probably seen the video. Concertgoers running for their lives. Officials knew bad weather was on the way.

So, how did this happen? Investigation is under way. We'll bring you the late details.

Those stories and the "Ridiculist" at the top of the hour -- John.

KING: See you in just a few minutes, Anderson. Thanks.

The Republican field has as many candidates now as it did when the sun rose Saturday morning. But it's a different field. The former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty is now also a former candidate. This cycle, he's Ames straw poll under achiever.

And Texas Governor Rick Perry is now officially in and aggressively so.


GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That big black cloud that hangs over America, that debt that is so monstrous.


KING: So, let's stack the GOP field with CNN contributors Erick Erickson and Alex Castellanos.

Alex, let me start with you here.

It's interesting today. You have Perry and Romney out on the trail, Congresswoman Bachmann took the day off today. A lot of people are saying this is now a three-way race.

Is that fair? Is it way too soon and now we're down that much?

ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I don't think it's a three- way race yet. It's a two way race, Romney and Governor Perry.

We're not sure that Michele Bachmann is yet a top tier candidate. She's got something to prove. She can win it inside a coliseum in Iowa. But can she appeal to a sufficient number of independents and suburban voters? You know, how to demonstrate that she can be a general election candidate. That's what it takes to move her into the first tier.

KING: Erick, you made that point. You wrote this in your bullet points. You contribute to our blog every day at "Michele Bachmann won the straw poll, but she may wish she had not. It is the single-greatest predictor of who will not win the Iowa caucus, let alone the nomination."

Strong support among Christian conservatives, strong support among the Tea Party, but you seem to think like Alex that maybe there's a ceiling there.

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: There may be. It's going to be interesting how she can perform in other states. And we know that she can perform well in Iowa.

The problem is that in the last 30 years, only three people have won the Ames straw poll and then gone on to win the Iowa caucus. And of those only two became the Republican nominee.

So, it seems to me that candidates need to start questioning Ames. They're spending $2 million, $3 million to be successful in the straw poll that almost ensures they're not going to be the caucus winner or the nominee.

KING: And success brings you critics. A lot of Democrats are criticizing Congresswoman Bachmann's record. But so is "The Wall Street Journal." And if you're a Republican, this is a big ouch.

"Americans are already living with the consequences of electing a president who sounded good but had achieved little as a legislator and had no executive experience. Mrs. Bachmann will have persuade voters she isn't the conservative version of Mr. Obama."

CASTELLANOS: I think her problems are more serious than that. Republicans think that losing this election would be like losing the country. So, we're not going to nominate someone who can't actually assemble a winning coalition and get those independents.

She can go to the right like she did, that's how she beat Pawlenty, out-conservative him. But if she does that to Rick Perry, she'll narrow herself even more. So, she can be Pat Buchanan or Ronald Reagan, but right now, her instincts seem to be Pat Buchanan.

KING: And so, the question then is if you view in the current field, or the current state of the field, Romney and Perry, current governor of Texas, former governor of Massachusetts as the two strongest candidates -- Eric Erickson, you introduced Governor Perry on Saturday at your Red State gathering. He announced he was running for president. He's caught the attention of a guy who knows something about running and winning the presidency.

Listen here.


PERRY: What I would say is go take a look at his record when he was governor and look at my record when I'm governor. And then you got some apples to apples.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I wish Rick the very best. And as the process goes on, we'll see whose background and skill most fits the need and the needs of the country at a critical time like this.


KING: All right. Hold on. Remember that for a second. That was not what I wanted to hear. That was Perry and Romney essentially saying I'm a better job creator. We'll come back to that.

But Governor Perry also caught the attention of a guy who has a history of winning the presidency, listen here.


CLINTON: Governor Perry announced he's running for president. He's a good looking rascal. And he said, "You know, I'm going to Washington to make sure that the federal government stays as far away from you as possible -- while I ride on Air Force One and that Marine One helicopter and go to Camp David and travel around the world and have a good time."


KING: Former governor, former President Clinton trying to make the point there, Erick, that essentially saying, you know, he's a handsome rascal. Whether he's qualified to say that or not we'll leave it here. But the conservatives around saying I'm going to get Washington out of your life, and then love the trappings of the presidency, Air Force One, Camp David, Marine One. Fair game?

ERICKSON: Well, you know, there's kind of a straw man argument there. You can still fly on Air Force One because you're the president of the United States, while also scaling back the size and scope of the federal government, which is what Rick Perry wants to do. And, you know, whether it's Bachmann, or Perry, or Romney -- all three of whom I find to be very good candidates, I think they'll do that.

But, you know, Perry does have the record in Texas that a lot of conservatives are excited about. He actually has scaled back the size and scope of the Texas government. And I think a lot of people know he means business.

KING: And to the point -- we hear the two governors, essentially, Governor Romney saying I was a one-term governor, he said he didn't raise taxes in Massachusetts, he says, really, look at my private sector experience. So, Governor Perry says I was in the private sector after the Air Force, but I've been governor for 10 years now, in the number one job creating state in America.

How do you see this particular clash playing out between two formidable guys who can raise a lot of money and who have a -- in Governor Romney's case -- a base that he's built, and in Perry's case, a case that he seems to be building?

CASTELLANOS: Slight advantage on that one to Governor Romney. Republicans tend to think that government and governors don't create jobs. They think businessmen do.

Perry can handle that by saying, no, of course, we don't create jobs, but we do create the environment in which people are allowed to do that. But I'd give Romney an edge on that one.

But there are other differences. Who is close to the Republican base?

In his announcement the other day, Perry was very Reaganesque, you know? He really went to core Republican principles. He's closer there than Romney is. He demonstrated a lot of strength.

There's questions about Romney's strength and flip-flopping on issues. So, I think Romney's got a tough challenge on his hands with Rick Perry.

KING: And, Erick, you've been very complimentary of Governor Perry by saying you're not picking a candidate yet. When you are right there and watch this play out. Alex gave a pretty good synopsis of the speech. It was very good, very energetic. The passion he brings to the race has been noticed by a lot of people.

Let me ask you the contrarian question -- for all the good thing you've said about him and all the professionalism you saw in his people and how they put on an event, did you come away with a question and say, OK, I'm very impressed, but I need to see this next?

ERICKSON: The one thing that a lot of people said, is if you close your eyes, he sounds like George W. Bush. And if that's still an issue for voters in 2012, is it going to be a draw on him?

It may be. I do think he can overcome it.

I will tell you this -- for rallying the conservative base, he did something that if you go believe in dog whistles and politics, there was one that really stood out in my mind. He paraphrased Lincoln and Reagan and lot of candidates will cite those and quote them directly. The two that he actually quote were Margaret Thatcher and Calvin Coolidge. And for a lot of base conservatives out there, who hear Reagan quoted all the time, there were actually a lot of people who paid attention to that.

And the probably number one word no one paid attention to in his speech, farmer -- people really liked that he was playing up being a farmer.

KING: Playing up being a farmer. Calvin Coolidge is back.

CASTELLANOS: He is back.

KING: Only in America.

CASTELLANOS: You know, that is the big challenge for Perry. Is he electable or is he an echo or the election we lost last time? George Bush is really the guy Barack Obama beat, why would we make a sequel to the movie no one went to see last time?

But if Barack Obama continues to fall like this in the polls, if Perry does start to move up and demonstrates electability, this is a tough two-man race.

KING: We will see how this plays out.

CASTELLANOS: Jobs, jobs, jobs.

KING: Jobs, jobs, jobs, and we'll see how it plays. Fascinating day today, and only more to come.

And we'll flip the pace. When we come back, a huge drop in his support among white voters. It's one reason rural America is now a giant political challenge for President Obama.

Next, two key voices from Obama 2008 tell us what the president's bus tour and other recent steps teach us about 2012.


KING: Listening to the president campaign these days is a familiar ring. He blames a lot of the country's problems on Washington's partisan gridlock.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You've got to send a message to Washington that it's time for the games to stop. It's time to put country first.


KING: But can a guy with the most powerful job in Washington turn anti-Washington sentiment into political advantage?

Two Obama 2008 veterans are with us: Steve Hildebrand and Cornell Belcher.

Steve, I want to go out to you first.

The president is in the Midwest. Ands I want to walk over to the map because this one strikes me. Watching where he is campaigning today, we talked about this on the program a couple of weeks ago. Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois. He is in these rural areas of the country. It's largely white America, small town America.

And the president campaigns all blue states last time, Illinois is his home state. Probably keep this one blue. These ones you would probably have to be a little questionable, especially Iowa has been a swing state.

2008, he splits the white vote. 2011, a new Pew Center study shows 52 percent to 39 percent for the Republicans.

Is that what this bus tour is about? Trying to reconnect with white voters in small-town rural America?

STEVE HILDEBRAND, PRESIDENT, HILDEBRAND STRATEGIES: Well, first off, John, he is not out there campaigning. He's out there as president. This is an official trip.

I think it's important that he is out of Washington. He'll be a better president the more time he spends outside of that city. I think it's great that he is out talking to people out here in the heartland, out here in the rural Midwest.

KING: No disrespect. I understand he is the president of the United States and this is a listening tour. I'll let the Republicans argue about who should pay for it or where the money should come from.

But he is in Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois, in areas -- maybe he is not officially campaigning. But if he is not campaign, I'm not standing.

CORNELL BELCHER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: But he isn't campaigning. He's out there talking to the American public and listening and connecting, which is something that voters want.

But it's interesting when you look at this. And I think I have talked about this before. When you look at from 2008 to 2011, there has been a big swing in independent voters. Last time around, in a state like Iowa, we won 56 percent of the independent vote there. And that is where you're going to see that swing.

So, I don't have -- you know, I don't run away from race. But I'm not even couching this in a racial terms about white vote. This is about where the independent voters have been shifting dramatically over the last couple of elections.

KING: And so, independent voters want Washington to work. They want government to work. They want this place to not be a day care center. And it's not a partisan feeling. They think that everyone is to blame.

Listen to the president in Iowa talking about how he says he'll have a specific jobs program soon. He'll submit it to the Congress, and we look forward to the details. And then he says if the Congress says no, he'll do this.


OBAMA: I'll be putting forward when they come back in September, a very specific plan to boost the economy, to create jobs, and to control our deficit. And my attitude is: get it done. And if they don't get it done, then we'll be running against a Congress that is not doing anything for the American people. And the choice will be very stark and will be very clear.


KING: Steve Hildebrand, I talked to Jim Clyburn, the congressman from South Carolina earlier in the program. And he would love that message, except he would like the president to say the Republican Congress.

Can the president of the United States, a guy who promised to change Washington, we end up in a situation where can he run an anti- Washington, anti -- I assume by the campaign, it would be an anti- Republican Congress?

HILDEBRAND: Well, John, I think it's really important that the president states reality, which is Washington is broken. He shares in the blame. He takes some of that blame.

But he is the one who is willing to work with Congress to get things done. Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, share in a lot of the blame. But the Tea Party is more to blame than anybody else in terms of this stalemate that we have seen in Washington over the last several months.

KING: And so, that's a message aimed at independents there. I'm going to propose legislation. We'll try to work it out.

Another thing you see in the polling, and you saw the president in this -- especially this Iowa stop, a nurse gets up and says, why didn't you fight for single payer health care? Why do you always seem to negotiate things away? Why don't you plant the flag and fight?

And our new poll -- should Obama be the Democratic nominee in 2012? This is Democrats only. We only ask Democrats this question. Seventy percent say yes now. In July, it was 77 percent. In June, it was 81 percent. Now, it's 70 percent.

I'm not saying Democrats are going to rush out and challenge President Obama. I'm not saying he won't be the nominee easily.

But if you have 30 percent of Democrats, that's a frustration. That's voicing their frustration with him.

In a competitive presidential election, in a state like Iowa, if half of a percent of liberals stay home -- I mean, does he have to be worried about at the same time he is trying to appeal to independents, fixing a problem with the base?

BELCHER: A couple of things, one is I don't think he has a problem with the base. And if you look at his fundraising numbers from the grassroots of the base of the party, how they energized and given him to him, I don't think he has a problem with that.

KING: So where does that number come from?

BELCHER: And when you look at, and in the end, when you look at what the Tea Party is doing, whether it be Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann -- by the way, I'm going on the record. I'd say that Mitt Romney wasn't going to be it. I don't think he's going to be it.

I think the base has plenty to be energized about it.

But it's also sort of part of who he is, this ideal that you know what? Washington has been broken for a long time people have just been fighting how. So, how to fix Washington? I'm going to try to reach across the aisle and work with these people. And try to bring them along instead of just standing and fighting.

It will be easy for the president to say, you know what? I'm going to dig in and just fight, fight, fight. But that's not how you move this country forward.

KING: Cornell Belcher, Steve Hildebrand from South Dakota tonight -- Steve, good to see. We'll have you back as thing campaign plays. Interesting day today. We have a lot of contrast on the trail every night. We'll bring it to you right here.

But that's all for us tonight. Hope to see you back here tonight.

"ANDERSON COOPER 360" starts right now.