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The Situation Room

Interview With Republican Presidential Candidate Herman Cain; GOP Presidential Candidates Prepare for Debate in Las Vegas; The Secret of Cain's Appeal; What's at Stake for Perry in Debate?; Apple Earnings Fall Short; Stamp Prices Going Up; Herman Cain's Campaigns in Tennessee; Equipment From Presidential Van Possibly Stolen

Aired October 18, 2011 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now, the countdown to a debate that could change everything we know about the Republican race for the White House, a race that's already undergone very dramatic changes in just a matter of a few days.

Herman Cain is now at the front of the pack, essentially in a dead heat with Mitt Romney. He's right here next to me. We will be talking about what is going on live on what could be the most pivotal night of his presidential campaign so far.

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

We're live outside the Venetian Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip, where in just four hours, the Republican hopefuls will face off in the CNN Western Republican presidential debate.

Tonight, Herman Cain is the candidate to beat. Since the last debate one week ago in New Hampshire, Herman Cain has continued to rise in the polls and he is now a front-runner, if not the front-runner, for the Republican presidential nomination.

Herman Cain is joining me now. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're in Las Vegas.

Mr. Cain, thanks very much for coming in.


My pleasure.

BLITZER: How does that feel, to be called the front-runner running for the nomination?

CAIN: Well, the way it feels to be the front-runner or tied for the front is that you got this big bullseye on your back. So that bullseye keeps gets bigger.

It feels great, but, as you know, the challenge is, how do we continue that momentum? And we believe that we know how to do that.

BLITZER: You know they're all going to come after you tonight. Be ready for that. CAIN: Oh, yes. I'm ready for that.

BLITZER: Have you been practicing? Have you been studying? What are you doing?

CAIN: I'm doing what I always do. In other words, I make sure that I know where I stand on all of the solutions I'm putting on the table. I stay on message more than I worry about how they're going to attack me.

And because I have been talking about my solutions over the past couple of weeks, and they have been resonating, I know what some of those attacks are going to be.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the other front-runner, Mitt Romney, right now.

CAIN: Yes.

BLITZER: Do you believe he's a true conservative?

CAIN: If you define a true conservative the way I define a true conservative, because mine is not blurred, then he's not a true conservative in the terminology of most conservatives.

I am pro-life from conception, no exception.

BLITZER: He says he's pro-life, too.

CAIN: I am pro-Second Amendment, which I'm sure he's that too.

BLITZER: He says he's pro-Second Amendment.

CAIN: And so, you know, it just depends upon which of those items you want to include in that definition.

BLITZER: But your biggest problem defining him as a true conservative is what?

CAIN: I don't have a big problem defining him as a true conservative.

The biggest problem I have with Governor Romney, who I respect, is him trying to say that he is the non-politician business candidate. I am the true non-politician business candidate in this race.

BLITZER: He would argue his business was more successful than your business.

CAIN: He was a Wall Street executive. I was a Main Street executive because I dealt with individual businesses, collection of businesses and franchises, et cetera. So there's a big distinction in terms of being hands-on Main Street and then being money management Wall Street.

BLITZER: Is Mitt Romney -- and this is a sensitive subject -- is Mitt Romney a Christian? CAIN: Article 6 says that religion should not be a test. I'm not going to even go down that road.

BLITZER: So you don't even want to say he is or isn't?

CAIN: I don't even want to say he is or he's not.

I want to basically defeat Mitt Romney based upon the strength of my ideas vs. his ideas about how we get this economy going. I think I got a strong plan relative to his, as well as strong ideas about the other issues we face.

BLITZER: Let's talk about 999. You familiar with that plan?

CAIN: Let's see, 999.


CAIN: Some of my supporters came up with sign language. Yes, I'm familiar with that plan.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about it. Somebody's paying 35 percent federal income tax rate right now. You know what? Under your plan, they would pay 9 percent federal income tax, going from 35 to 9. That would be a bonanza for a lot of taxpayers, right?

CAIN: Now, remember, the current system has marginal rates. So that means that only up above a certain amount would they be paying 35 percent. Some of them, they would be paying 25, et cetera.

You might call it a bonanza, but here's why it's good for the workers. You remove that barrier called capital gains. And when people who have money get more money, you know what they do with it? They invest. They expand businesses. This is how we unleash the potential of this economy.

So, I'm not worried about the bonanza. I'm more worried about putting 14 billion people back to work and getting businesses growing again.

BLITZER: Would it be an effective tax cut for rich people?

CAIN: It would be an effective tax cut for rich people and for people who don't make a lot of money, because if people take a close look at our analysis and we make our analysis available, you will find that it's not a tax increase for the middle class nor those making the least amount of money.

BLITZER: There would be a 9 percent sales tax, national sales tax on top of the sales tax in a lot of states, 5, 6, 7 percent sales tax.

CAIN: Yes.

BLITZER: That adds up to some serious money when you buy new products or get new services.

CAIN: OK. There's a fallacy in that comparison. you're comparing apples and oranges. State taxes are the apples. The new plan are oranges.

So that's totally separate. It's going to be there whether you have the current system or whether you have our plan. And then the other thing about the sales tax is that we are replacing the hidden taxes. Take a loaf of bread. The farmer, the miller, the baker, the truck driver, the grocery store, you have five hidden taxes in that loaf of bread. We are replacing those five hidden taxes, which can run anywhere from 25 to 35 percent, and replacing it with one 9 percent tax.

BLITZER: The biggest criticism you're getting on this 9 percent national sales tax coming from a lot of conservatives, Grover Norquist among them, is you're creating a new revenue stream for the U.S. government, for the U.S. Treasury, to take money out of people. It's going to start at 9 percent, but it potentially could go way up.

CAIN: If you look at the current tax code, it's a 10 million word mess. There are at least 100,000 ways in the tax code that the American public and the workers get shafted now, in all honesty. I'm not worried about having one to replace all of those others.

And here's the other thing. A lot of people inside Washington, D.C., accountants, special interests, lobbyists, they don't want our plan, 999, to pass, because guess what? It puts many of them out of work. We are doing this for the American people, the American economy, for U.S. businesses.

BLITZER: Because in Europe, they started off with a value added tax there, their national sales tax, in England, for example, at 10 percent, went to 8 percent. Now it's at 20 percent right now. And there's a lot of concern that could happen if you were to get your 999 plan approved.

CAIN: Here's why it won't happen here in the United States, for two reasons.

Number one, I will be president, because nobody else is going to try to pass this plan. And I'm going to get it passed with the insistence of the American people. Number two, because it's so simple, transparent, efficient, visible, and revenue-neutral, the American public are going to -- they are going to be the ones to hold Congress' feet to the fire. So I don't worry about it creeping up like it did in Europe.

BLITZER: I'm a little still confused about where you stand on an electrified fence between the United States and Mexico, because I have been hearing all sorts of things.

Do you support building an electrified fence along the border?

CAIN: Here's my serious answer to that question.

I believe we need to secure the border for real. Part of that solution would be an actual fence. It may not be electrified. That was an exaggeration, hyperbole -- a combination of real fence, technology and in some dangerous sections, boots on the ground. We have got to secure the border first.

Secondly, promote the existing path to citizenship. We just need to clean up the bureaucracy. Number three, enforce the current immigration laws. And the way we do that is, number four, empower the states to do what the federal government is not doing and can't do. If we attack all four of those, we will basically open up the doors of this country so people can come through the front door.

BLITZER: On this day after the weekend, when we dedicated the new Dr. Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington, D.C., what would you do to eliminate this poverty, this enormous wealth gap between rich and poor in the United States?

CAIN: What I would do is first boost this economy. The biggest contributor to poverty in this country right now is an economy that's on life support.

When this economy is growing, 14 million people can find jobs. Our unemployment rate is at a virtual full employment rate of about 4, 4.5 percent. Secondly, the underemployed would be able to find better jobs. Thirdly, America becomes a lot more competitive. And when businesses start to think about growth, instead of survival, trust me, the poverty level will close for those people that would go out there and work.

That's our biggest challenge, and that is boosting this economy, which is why I have proposed our plan.

BLITZER: You caused a big stir the last time you and I sat down and spoke when you said African-Americans have been brainwashed into only supporting the Democratic Party.

You want to revise and amend that comment, because you have had a chance to think about it?

CAIN: No, because I said some African-Americans have been brainwashed, and I stand by that.

But I also said -- and a lot of people didn't play the whole clip -- the good news is, a lot of black Americans are thinking for themselves and they are open to other ideas, such as ideas coming from a conservative as myself.

BLITZER: One foreign policy question. I know you're going to be asked many more in the days to come.

CAIN: Yes. Sure.

BLITZER: I know you're a major supporter of Israel.

CAIN: Yes.

BLITZER: Did the Israeli government of Prime Minister Netanyahu do the right thing in exchanging 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for one captured Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, who had been held by Hamas for five years? CAIN: I would have to know all of the considerations he made to say yes or no, because I'm sure that there were a lot of considerations that he had to make in order to make that decision.

On the surface, you would say one for hundreds doesn't make any sensuous. But here's how I make decisions. And this is why I respect Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu so much. He looks at all of the facts before he makes a judgment call. We don't know all of the facts.

BLITZER: Could you imagine if you were president -- we're almost out of time -- and there was one American soldier who had been held for years, and the demand was al Qaeda or some other terrorist group, you have got to free everyone at Guantanamo Bay, several hundred prisoners at Guantanamo.?

Could you see yourself, as president, authorizing that kind of transfer?

CAIN: I could see myself authorizing that kind of transfer, but what I would do is, I would make sure that I got all of the information, I got all of the input, considered all of the options. And then the president has to be the president and make a judgment call. I could make that call if I had to.

BLITZER: Herman Cain, good luck tonight. Good luck in this campaign.

CAIN: It's a pleasure. Thank you.

BLITZER: Always a pleasure. We will talk.

CAIN: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: And I like the singing, too.

CAIN: All right.

BLITZER: But we didn't have time for that today.


BLITZER: Herman Cain, running for president of the United States, appreciate it.

CAIN: Thank you, sir.

We're also excited about tonight's CNN Western Republican presidential debate. And a tremendous amount of work has gone into it. Take a look at this time-lapse video of the set that is being constructed inside the Venetian Hotel here on the Las Vegas Strip, a process that's been going on nearly around the clock for days.

Look at this video right now. It's pretty impressive. The stage, I must say, is now set. A few final preparations are happening now as we count down to the start of the debate less than, what, four hours, a little bit more than three-and-a-half-hours or so from now. It's a major debate. You will see it live here on CNN, only on CNN. Our own Anderson Cooper will be moderating tonight's debate. There will be seven Republican candidates up on the stage.

Let's talk a little bit about what we just heard from Herman Cain, who's now one of the two front-runners in this race for the Republican presidential nomination.

Gloria Borger, our chief political analyst, and Jim Acosta, they are here.

Some of the fans of Herman Cain, they are applauding him as he's walking away, going into the Venetian Hotel for some moments right now.

He's got his lines down pretty well by now, don't you think, Gloria?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. And what was interesting was the way he clearly intends to go after Mitt Romney, which is that he said Romney is a non -- he portrays himself as a non- politician business candidate. And he says no, no, no. I'm the non- politician business candidate.

So, he's clearly trying to differentiate himself. And also it was interesting in the answer to you about whether Romney is a conservative because he was saying he's not a real conservative, but he didn't give you any examples about why that might be.

BLITZER: He was suggesting, although he didn't say it in so many words, he's a flip-flopper on abortion and on guns. That was the implication of what he was saying.


And perhaps a more damaging attack at Mitt Romney that we just heard was that he said that Mitt Romney was a Wall Street conservative or Wall Street Republican, whereas Herman Cain is a Main Street Republican, trying to draw that distinction between Wall Street and Main Street.

And it's funny. When I was listening to your interview, Wolf, the thing that I was thinking about was, it seems before these debates, we're always talking about somebody besides Mitt Romney. We're talking about Herman Cain or Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann. That could not be better news for Mitt Romney.

He could not write this script better himself. And I was talking to a Romney aide earlier about this and they said, wait a minute, we're not talking about any of this inevitable candidate stuff yet. We still believe that there are two things going on here. Rick Perry has the money and Herman Cain has the momentum, but they feel like they wouldn't switch places with anybody else right now.

BLITZER: Gloria, we have a new CNN/ORC poll with some new numbers today on which Republican is best suited to beat President Obama in November 2012. BORGER: Well, and it's really interesting because what you see in our poll is that Mitt Romney looks the most electable. And he's gone up so considerably.

BLITZER: Well, 26-41.

BORGER: It's the only number we really see Mitt Romney going up on substantially.

Herman Cain, also tremendously and also Rick Perry of course you see in the other direction, and that is really the setup for our debate tonight, Wolf, because Mitt Romney has to keep that electability number high. And what Cain has to do is really show that he is a plausible president on the stage tonight.

When I heard him answer your foreign policy question, it's interesting. He's been doing that a lot lately, sort of ducking the question, if you will, but saying, I don't have all the facts. I don't have all the facts at my fingertips.

Well, that's difficult when you become a first-tier candidate. People want to say, what are your foreign policy advisers telling you? You need to have an opinion on whether Netanyahu did the right thing.

BLITZER: Gloria and Jim are going to be staying with us. We have got a lot more to discuss later here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Guys, thanks very much.

Herman Cain may be the focus tonight in Las Vegas at the debate tonight, but what about Rick Perry? He entered the race with a bang that quickly fizzled. What is at stake for him? Jack Cafferty up next with "The Cafferty File."

Also, Hillary Clinton shows up where few expected her -- details of her surprise visit to a still very dangerous city.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: They're still putting the finishing touches on the stage tonight for tonight's CNN Western Republican debate. We're here at the Venetian hotel in Las Vegas, getting ready to watch this debate, getting ready to start in a few hours.

As we watch the preparations unfold, let's check in with Jack Cafferty, he's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: One of the best lines of the campaign so far, at least in my opinion, is this one. Rick Perry went from front-runner to road kill in a matter of weeks. Credit "The Daily Beast" with a fine article, that's titled "What's Wrong With Rick." The article examines, the Texas governor's spectacular rise and fall in the Republican presidential race, and how he still might pull off a comeback. Headed into tonight's debate, Perry's now a distant third. Our new poll shows Perry at 13 percent. That's down a whopping 30 percent from the front-runner position just last month. Both Mitt Romney and Herman Cain now have double digit leads over Rick Perry.

So what happened? Well for starters, the debates happened. All though Perry's a gifted politician who can work a room and get a crowd excited, he just hasn't been able to hack it during the debates against his more able competitors. Perry's also come under fire for his positions on social security and illegal immigration. Plus as Perry has stumbled, has stumbled through debate performances, his message about job creation in Texas has been lost. In fact, Rick Perry is practically ignored in last week's debate, as most of the attention and focus went to Herman Cain's 999 tax plan.

But even if Rick Perry seems like a real long shot right now, this is still presidential politics. It's still early, and of course a lot can happen. For one thing, Perry's raised a boat load of money. $17 million in just the first seven weeks of his campaign and in the game that is presidential politics, money talks. Then there's this. Two- thirds of Republicans say they still might change their minds when it comes to which candidate they're going to back. "The Daily Beast" article suggests what Perry most needs to do is return to the street campaigning that he does best. But he also can't keep showing up at these debates and getting his head handed to him. He gets another shot tonight.

Here's the question: What's at stake for Rick Perry, in tonight's debate?

Go to, post a comment on my blog or go to our post on THE SITUATION ROOM'S Facebook page. If he doesn't kick it up a notch or two tonight, he's toast, I think, Wolf.

BLITZER: He's got a lot of work ahead of him. He's got to really be ready for tonight's debate. Good point, Jack. Thanks very much.

Other news we're following, we'll get back to the debate in a moment, but Secretary of State Hillary Clinton surprised the world today with a brief, but important visit to Libya.

Our foreign affairs correspondent Jill Dougherty is traveling with the secretary.


JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wheels down in Tripoli, Libya. The first cabinet level U.S. official to visit the capital since 2008 and since opposition forces liberated it from Gadhafi loyalists two months ago. Gadhafi remains at large.

Battles rage in two major cities, an elected government is months away. But a senior state department official traveling with the secretary told reporters, I think it's exactly the right time for us to be coming. Clinton's mission, congratulate the Libyan people on what they've achieved so far, offer a partnership with the U.S. and meet with leaders of the ruling National Transitional Counsel to discuss its challenging political road map.

One of the biggest issues, treatment of wounded fighters. 15,000 of them including 1,500 amputees according to U.S. officials. Secretary Clinton plan to unveil a five-part program to help them, including spare parts for medical equipment and possibly bringing some of the wounded to the United States for specialized care. Clinton also is bringing more money for hunting down and destroying shoulder fired, heat seeking missiles called, MANPAGs (ph).

Clinton's short visit to Tripoli was conducted under tight security. Gadhafi, the state department official said, still has henchmen loyalists, and thugs, although the official denied Gadhafi is coordinating their resistance. I wouldn't estimate his ability to be a lethal nuisance, the official said, but I'm also convinced the Libyan people are going to prevail.

Jill Dougherty, CNN Tripoli.


BLITZER: All right a little bit more than three and a half hours from now, the Republican presidential contenders will take to the stage. The debate stage. Right here in Las Vegas. Who will rise to the top for voters looking to back anyone but Mitt Romney? Stand by.

Herman Cain certainly has been surging in all the recent polls. We'll go in depth on the role race is playing in this campaign.


CAIN: I'm sure some of your neighbors and friends, and colleagues and family members, you're going to one of those Tea Party Rallies? Yes. They're trying to intimidate you to stay home. Well, aren't they a bunch of racists? Well when I looked in the mirror this morning, I was Black.



BLITZER: We're here in beautiful Las Vegas on the strip. Just at the Venetian hotel. You're looking at live pictures of tonight's CNN Western Republican Presidential debate. Anderson Cooper will be moderating the debate, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

No one is inside the auditorium at least not yet. Very few people. They're putting the finishing touches up on the stage, but we'll have obviously extensive coverage leading up to the debate. And then to the full debate starting once again at 8:00 p.m. Eastern looking at live pictures, from inside the debate hall. Let's discuss what's going on in our strategy session.

Joining us, our CNN political contributor, the Democratic Strategist, Donna Brazile and our CNN contributor, the Republican strategist, Alex Castellanos.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

Is it fair to say, Alex and I'll start with you. You're the Republican, both of you have worked on presidential campaigns. Like it or not, tonight is Rick Perry's last chance to get his momentum back on track.

ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: If it's not his last chance, he's on life support. It's very close to that, Wolf. I would say the good thing for these guys is they run against each other, so one of them has to win. So you're never quite entirely out of it. But Yes, he has demonstrated remarkable weakness. Republicans know one thing about Barack Obama. He may not be very good at being President, but he's very good at wanting to be president and campaigning. And Perry has demonstrated, he just may not be able-- up to that task. Not only of being the president, but of campaigning and holding his own in a debate against Obama.

BLITZER: He's never lost a race in Texas. Why is it so hard to go from unbeatable in Texas and all of a sudden, he's very beatable in this race for the Republican nomination.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well it looks as though he wasn't prepared for the first couple of debates Wolf. He came across as someone who didn't know the issues. He was unsteady on his feet. He has an opportunity tonight to prove himself. Look he has raised what, more than $15 million. He's put together an incredible organization in some of the key early states. So if he can prove tonight, that he's on top of the issues, he can really take the case to Herman Cain and Mitt Romney. I think Rick Perry can get back in this race.

CASTELLANOS: Even if he does, the doubt still lingers. When he gets up on a stage with Obama, will we see that other Rick Perry we saw a few weeks ago in debates? The weak one? So there's a concern among Republicans, that Rick Perry is coffee table book, all pretty pictures, but not a lot of text there. When you can't sell the man, you sell the plan. So I expect tonight to see Rick Perry get out there talking about his own economic plan.

BLITZER: He released a video today showing all the positive things about Rick Perry. Mitt Romney in contrast released a video showing all the negative things about some of the others.

BRAZILE: You know as someone who knows Rick--Rick Perry is a very strong Republican conservative. He has conservative issues, conservative credentials. I think Mitt Romney is still trying to prove himself as the viable conservative in this race. So at this point, I still believe Rick Perry has some time to prove himself and to regain his momentum.

BLITZER: So Herman Cain, you just had a chance to meet him informally here. Is he the real deal as far as potentially becoming the Republican presidential nominee?

BRAZILE: He's a wonderful people's person. I think he has a great deal of momentum behind him right now because people know he's approachable. I was down in Georgia over the weekend and people kept telling me about Herman Cain. I think he's a viable candidate, but can he turn all this wonderful good feeling into a campaign organization that can attract delegates?

BLITZER: Can he?

CASTELLANOS: He can. He's growing. The hardest thing for a candidate to do, and Donna and I have seen this for years, is to grow through a campaign and become better than they started. Herman is not a serious candidate yet, but he's on his way. You're seeing him, even Wolf, the way when you tested him here on the electrified fence, he backed off, took a more responsible position. Israel, I'd weigh my options. You're seeing the education of Herman Cain.

BLITZER: I always that that the first, this was years ago, the first African-American that would get that would have been Colin Powell, not necessarily Herman Cain. What does it say about the Republican Party from your perspective, Donna, that he is now the front-runner together with Mitt Romney.

BRAZILE: I think it's incredible. In large part because you have a tea party that's organized, can bring resources to the table. I thought the first nominee would be Condoleezza Rice, not Colin Powell, because Colin Powell was reluctant to run. But it's still too early to decide right now who will end up with the Republican nomination because I think the situation is still volatile.

BLITZER: Let me play a little clip of the president of the United States. He seems to be getting lost in our decision of these nominees. Here's the president speaking earlier in the day.


BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We don't need a Republican jobs act or Democratic jobs act. We need the jobs act. We need to put people back to work right now. As I said, the ideas we put forward are ideas that in the past have been supported by Democrats and Republicans. So the question is what makes it different this time other than that I proposed it?


BLITZER: He's got a point there, you got to admit.

CASTELLANOS: Let me just say what makes it different this time is that we have a president whose nearly bankrupted the country.

BLITZER: George W. Bush had no role in that?

BRAZILE: -- never tell the truth about --

CASTELLANOS: There's one president who's -- I think we all know the numbers increased the debt more than all the other presidents.

BLITZER: The national debt doubled during the Bush administration.

BRAZILE: It's another lie smear against this president. BLITZER: I'll just point out the national debt when President Bush took office was $5 trillion. When he left office, it was $10 trillion. So that's a fact.


CASTELLANOS: It was actually less than that.

It was 10 trillion when he left office and was 5 trillion when he left office. It's now $14 trillion.


CASTELLANOS: The point is Obama has been sinking in the polls while Republicans have been getting these debates.

BRAZILE: But 19 months of job growth, it's not enough to get us out the big hole that we found ourselves when George Bush left office, but it's 19 months of consecutive --


BRAZILE: Well, 19 months of job growth. That's much better than a jobs plans the Republicans have.

BLITZER: All right, guys. To be continued. Thanks very much.

President Obama, a victim of thieves, yes, the victim of thieves on his bus tour in Virginia, North Carolina. What police say they stole.

And senators make a plea to Major League Baseball Players. Stand by.


BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Lisa, what else is going on?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there Wolf. Well, two new reports say sanctions in a previous cyber-attack have taken a toll on Iran's nuclear program. Sanctions have forced Iran to use inferior parts and weaker metals according to the Institute for Science and International Security. The group also says one enrichment site was briefly impacted when it was attacked by a computer virus. Despite the challenges, the assessment says Iran does appear to be on a path to producing weapon's grade uranium for nuclear weapons.

On the eve of the World Series, four U.S. senators are calling on baseball player to ban the use of tobacco products at Major League venues. They're urging players to stop using smokeless tobacco products in particular and agree to a ban of them on the field and in the dugout and in locker rooms when they sign their next agreement with their owners.

And you have to wonder if thieves knew what they were stealing. CNN affiliate WWBT reports a truck with $200,000 worth of presidential equipment, yes, it was stolen from the parking lot of a Virginia hotel. It was later recovered and it isn't clear if anything is missing. The truck was carrying President Obama's teleprompter, his podium, sound system, and presidential seals. A defense agency says no classified or sensitive information was in the truck and that a formal investigation is now underway. You better believe someone though, Wolf, is in serious trouble for that.

BLITZER: Yes. How embarrassing is that? My god. All right, thanks very much for that, Lisa.

Herman Cain, he seems to be the man to beat in tonight's Republican presidential here in Las Vegas. We're going to take an in-depth look at why many voters say they're ready to back this rather unconventional candidate.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think he's more like me than anybody else running. And I'd vote for myself and I'd for him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tell me why you think he's more like yourself than anyone running?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's a country boy.



BLITZER: They're getting ready for the debate tonight here at the Venetian hotel in Las Vegas. Seven Republican candidates will be there, but all eyes will be on Herman Cain in tonight's CNN Western Republican debate. Our latest poll shows Herman Cain now a serious frontrunner. And while his performance tonight will be closely scrutinized, to understand the real secret of his appeal, you have to see him in his element on the campaign trail. CNN National Correspondent Gary Tuchman takes us in depth.




GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Say this about Herman Cain, he's running a different sort of campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.

CAIN: I'm going to leave y'all something special that I haven't done all day. Amazing Grace will always be --

TUCHMAN: Singing spirituals isn't new for Cain. The Georgia native is a recorded gospel singer and an associate Baptist minister. What is new is his frontrunner status, and how Cain, who has not that much traditional campaigning, is beginning to do just that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's not a politician. He's a businessman. He can get it done.

TUCHMAN: For many, the idea that Cain is an outsider is part of his appeal. At Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville, Tennessee, Cain declared he'd like this banner, "Honkies for Herman."

CAIN: I'm sure some your neighbors and friends say you're going to one of those Tea Party rallies. They're trying to intimidate you to say home. Well, aren't they a bunch of racists? Well --


CAIN: When I looked in the mirror this morning, I was black.


TUCHMAN: Over the weekend, Cain barnstormed through Tennessee, attending six rallies.

(On camera): There are fewer than 20,000 who live here. Yet, this turnout is huge, particularly for an area where so few people live.

CAIN: All of a sudden, the long shot isn't such a long shot anymore. How about them apples?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I like Romney. And if he gets the nomination, I'll support him. But I think that Herman Cain is more in touch with what the people want.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He seems to be a straight shooter and just like some of the conservative views that he's putting out there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think he's more like me than anyone else running and I'd vote for myself and I'll vote for him.

TUCHMAN: Tell me why you think he's more like yourself?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's a country boy.

TUCHMAN: A lot of people have been telling us they like you because you're plain spoken. Man of the people. In '76, they said that about Jimmy Carter, any comparisons that you see there?


TUCHMAN (voice-over): Cain, instead likes to compare himself to Ronald Reagan, talks about the shining city on the hill and sees himself as an economic savior.

CAIN: It's called the 9-9-9 plan!

TUCHMAN: Cain's tax plan is also now a Madison Avenue style catch phrase.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I like the 9-9-9 plan, especially with the sales tax part of it.

TUCHMAN: Herman Cain says he's in it to win it. As he tries to get those doubt the availability of his candidacy to change their tune. Gary Tuchman, CNN, Wavering, Tennessee.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Herman Cain's ground swell of support isn't just in Tennessee. A lot of conservative Republicans all across the country are now rallying behind him.

Let's discuss what's going on, the surge of interest, our CNN political contributor, Roland Martin, is joining us here for this special SITUATION ROOM.

You think he's got the staying power to not only win in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida, but capture the Republican presidential nomination?



MARTIN: Because voters always say we like somebody who is plain spoken, who gives it to us straight and who is simple. But then they turn around and say we want somebody who can get something done.

When you look at that CNN poll, the numbers are clear that 18 percent you know, they believe that he has a shot at it. The problem there is, are you electable? And as we get closer to Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina, Nevada, folks will begin to ask about that question, electability.

Can this person win in November? Republicans simply want to beat President Obama and I don't believe that he is going to be there. He is going to have to have a much stronger operation on the ground versus running a national campaign. He doesn't have much time to make it happen now that those states have all moved up.

BLITZER: January 3rd, is Iowa caucus now it's official. Listen to this exchange I had with Herman Cain right here in THE SITUATION ROOM a little while ago. Listen to this.


BLITZER: Let's talk about the other frontrunner, Mitt Romney. Do you believe he's a true conservative?

CAIN: If you define a true conservative the way I define a true conservative because mine is not blurred, then he's not a true conservative in the terminology of most conservatives. I mean, I am pro-life from conception --

BLITZER: He says he's pro-life, too.

CAIN: I am, you know, pro second amendment, which I'm sure -- BLITZER: He says he's pro second amendment.

CAIN: And so, you know, it just depends upon which of those items you want to include in that definition.


BLITZER: What do you think of that answer?

MARTIN: This is the fallacy, this whole notion of who is a true conservative and we're seeing this in this campaign. There are fiscal conservatives. There are national security conservatives. There are social conservatives. And so, there's no such thing as someone who is a so-called true conservative because you can be a social conservative.

But have a whole different view when it comes to issues dealing with the poor or economy. There's no one definition and that's why I think you see this fracture, if you will. It's a strong libertarian.

BLITZER: He didn't want to say whether or not Mitt Romney was a Christian.

MARTIN: To me, that's one of those ridiculous things that you want to get into, especially with somebody who's an associate minister. Look at the end of the day, we can sit here and play these games, who's a true liberal, true conservative.

Bottom line is, there's nobody who is a perfect conservative or perfect liberal. I don't think voters out there are trying to say this is a perfect person. I think Herman Cain is appealing to a sliver of the party, very strongly comes to fiscal policy.

They don't like what's happening with politicians. Here's what we also know, Wolf. You can talk about item an outsider, but if you don't know how to get policy through a political process, you will have a problem.

BLITZER: You know the uproar he caused a few weeks ago when I interviewed him and he suggested that African-Americans have been brainwashed, his words, to support the Democrats. Today, he sort of modified that.

MARTIN: Of course, he did.

BLITZER: He said some African-Americans have been brainwashed.

MARTIN: Of course, he did because he knows that comment is ridiculous and even saying some have been brainwashed is ridiculous. People, look, African-Americans are some of the most astute voters out there. They are making decisions based upon what their needs are.

And they know nonsense through ridiculous, folks, and people are saying, no, Herman Cain, talk to me like a voter. He says I'll get one-third of the black vote. Fine, why don't you come talk to African-Americans if you actually believe that. So don't run from them. Don't be scared. If you can be plain spoken in front of white folks in Tennessee, why not in front of black folks in other areas? He doesn't want to do that. So he want a real conversation, let's have it. But no black folks have been brainwashed. They are voting for their interests.

BLITZER: Roland, don't go too far away. Thank you.

MARTIN: We're going to have fun. We should have the debate inside. Forget indoors.

BLITZER: Great time here in Vegas. All right, Rick Perry certainly has gone from Tea Party darling to third place in almost all of the polls. Jack Cafferty wants to know what you think is at stake for the governor in tonight's debate here in Las Vegas.

And we're only a little bit more than three hours from the candidates taking a stage in Vegas at the Venetian Hotel. Before Rick Santorum feels some questions though tonight, he'll answer some questions from me. That's coming up, live, right at the top of the hour.


BLITZER: Get right back for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: What's at stake for Texas Governor Rick Perry in tonight's debate out there in Las Vegas?

Carlos writes from Pasadena, California, "Does anyone really care and that goes for the rest of the Republican candidates as well. These so-called presidential wanna-bes are so far out of touch with reality that if anyone of them becomes president, the Rapture will not only come. The American people will pray for its immediate occurrence."

Maggie writes, "Perry should not be worried about his debate performance. He knows that he has the experience to do the actual job and that's what's more important. Action speaks louder than words. Obama was a good debater in 2008 and look at what a disaster he has been as president. We can't afford to be pulled in that direction again."

Rex writes from Oregon, "There's absolutely nothing at stake tonight for Perry. He is spending none of his own money. He has no dignity to lose. His followers are as loyal as any follower could be. He cannot disprove his lack intelligence anymore than he already has. And more importantly, no one in the universe aside from a few billionaires and misled chief give a red hot damn about his performance, his future or his hair."

Clinton on Facebook, "I don't think there's much at stake for Perry tonight because he's as good as out of the race already. The more he talks, the more he reminds Americans of George W. Bush."

Tom writes from New York, "What's at stake? Lot of free time to pander the science behind the drought, the fires and the rise of the oceans." Noel writes, "Not much. He's had his 15 minutes of fame. The best he can hope for is another 5 minutes. He's not going to get much more than that. The Major League scouts do not recruit from the Little Leagues."

And Jim in New Jersey, "What's at stake? Hershey bars. The ones he uses to dye his hair. After tonight, he just can eat them instead."

If you want to read more of this highbrow political dialogue, go to my blog or through our post on THE SITUATION ROOM'S Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Keyword, highbrow. All right, Jack, thank you. When we come back, a check of the day's other top stories.

Also coming up right at the top of the hour, I'll interview another of the Republican presidential candidates who's getting ready for tonight's huge debate here in Las Vegas, Rick Santorum. He's standing by live on the stage here. He's walking in.

He's going to sit down. We're going to talk in a minute. Sit down, Senator. Thanks very much. Also, a very emotional homecoming for an Israeli soldier held up for more than five years as a prisoner of Hamas. We'll share details with you with that and more. Stay with us.


BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Lisa, what else is going on?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Apple is reporting its fiscal fourth quarter earnings. The company reports sales of more than $28 billion and earnings of more than $7 a share, but those numbers fall far short of Wall Street's expectations. Apple announced yesterday that sales of the iPhone 4S shattered records in the first few days after its release.

And starting next year, it's going to cost you a little more to send a letter. The cost of a first class stamp is going up one cent so for every stamp will cost 45 cents each starting in late January -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Got to do something. All right, Lisa, thank you.