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The Situation Room

Perry May Skip Some GOP Debates; Cain Ad The Butt of Jokes; The Age of Volatility; Torture Alleged at Syrian Hospitals; Boats, Furniture, TVs Heading for U.S.; Jon Huntsman Interview: Country Needs Leadership, Romney Flip-Flops, If Voters Favor Cain, Huntsman Would Back Him

Aired October 29, 2011 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The Republican presidential candidates have only themselves to blame for a series of recent stumbles in the 2012 campaign. We're looking at some of the errors. And I'll talk to candidate Jon Huntsman.

Herman Cain is standing behind his chief of staff and a strange campaign ad. This hour, the smoking controversy that keeps burning.

And millions of tons of debris floating in the Pacific and heading towards the United States. Could TVs and boats wash up on ashore any time soon? We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

He skipped the last Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas saying he wanted to focus in on the first in the nation primary state of New Hampshire. But former Utah Governor John Huntsman is trailing in that critical state while rival Mitt Romney is enjoying a solid lead. John Huntsman is joining us from Salt Lake City.

Governor, thanks very much for coming in.

JON HUNTSMAN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you, Wolf. It's an honor to be with you.

BLITZER: Let's talk about Mitt Romney a little bit. George Will, the conservative columnist writing in an upcoming edition of "The Washington Post" says this about Mitt Romney. He says, "Romney, supposedly the Republican most electable next November, is a recidivist reviser of his principles, who is not only becoming less electable, he might endanger GOP chances of capturing the Senate. Republicans may have found their Michael Dukakis, a technocratic Massachusetts governor, who takes his bearings from data."

Do you agree with George Will on that?

HUNTSMAN: Well, those are pretty tough words, Wolf. All I can say is this is a time when this nation wants leadership. We've been looking for leadership for some time in the White House. We haven't found it. This is when the candidates need to stand up and show a little bit of leadership.

You can't be a perfectly lubricated weathervane on the important issues of the day whether it's Libya, whether it's the debt ceiling, whether it's the discussion around the Kasich bill in Ohio, where Governor Romney has been missing in action in terms of showing any kind of leadership.

I do believe that the electorate this go around will be looking for clearly defined presidential leadership. I'm not sure that we're seeing it. We're putting out our own economic proposals, our foreign policy proposals. Next week I'll have an energy speech that I'll be giving in New Hampshire. We're calling for clear cut leadership positions for the United States to be taking that will get us back on our feet and secure the American century for the people of the United States.

BLITZER: So when you say he's a perfectly lubricated weather vane or when George Will says he is a recidivist reviser, we're talking about Mitt Romney. Basically you're both saying he's a flip-flopper on some of these most important issues?

HUNTSMAN: You don't get any more important than the issue of life. That is central to a lot of people's core beliefs and political philosophy. When you have an epiphany on something that central to one's world view, that is going to strike a lot of people as being highly political.

BLITZER: You're talking about abortion rights for women.

HUNTSMAN: That's right.

BLITZER: What is your exact position on abortion rights for women? Are there any exceptions from your standpoint for a woman getting an abortion?

HUNTSMAN: Incest, rape, and the life of the mother, are the exceptions that I can live with.

BLITZER: Let's move and talk about New Hampshire, because you are basically ignoring Iowa. You are throwing all your eggs into that New Hampshire basket. Our CNN/Time/ORC poll has Romney way ahead. He's almost living there. He has a second home there. He's at 40 percent, Cain, 13 percent, Paul, 12 percent. You're at 6 percent.

But Herman Cain, he's intriguing. He basically spent very little time in New Hampshire or Iowa for that matter. But he's doing pretty well in both of those states, even better in Iowa. And he comes up with these crazy ads, including this one. Watch.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can take this country back.

(SINGING) I am America, I one voice, united we stand.


BLITZER: That's his chief of staff who had a little puff of a cigarette there. But he's a 13 percent. You're at 6 percent in New Hampshire. You spent a lot of time there. He hasn't. Why is he doing so well?

HUNTSMAN: Well, oftentimes can you spike for the moment. You're the flavor of the week or the flavor of the month. I remember when Governor Perry was at 20 percent in New Hampshire. He came in with great fanfare. Now he's in the low single digits.

We're just trying a steady, gradual substantive rise in New Hampshire, based upon real support, based upon 80 events that we have done so far. Wolf, we did a telephone town hall meeting yesterday. We had 3,000 people on the line. Our town hall meetings are packed these days. So I say we've got a couple of very, very important months ahead in New Hampshire. And the vibe that I'm getting, the way in which we're connecting, with our message about rebuilding, or manufacturing muscle in this country, and getting people back to work, is resonating with the all-important people in the first primary state.

BLITZER: Would you feel comfortable if Herman Cain were the Republican presidential nominee?

HUNTSMAN: I think Herman Cain is an outstanding person. I've gotten to know him. He's a friend. He has a lot of the right prerequisites for understanding how the free market works. Beyond that, that's why the early primaries are so very, very important. Ultimately, the people get to decide. Whoever they decide is the nominee for my party, I will stand behind that.

BLITZER: So you would feel comfortable if Herman Cain on national security issues because he stumbled on many of the questions so far. You feel comfortable?

HUNTSMAN: Well, as I say, anyone who gets through this very rigorous primary process, I think our chances are excellent for getting through this primary process. I'm going to stand behind. They deserve it because it's not an easy process to endure. You've got to win over the will of the people. By the end of that process, you're pretty much up to speed on a lot of the issues that matter.

BLITZER: You have, among other things, a business background. The economy is still struggling, but 2.5 percent growth in the last quarter. The stock markets are doing well, above 12,000. It was 6,500, 7,000 when President Obama took office. Do you see a trend that a double dip recession now is unlikely and things are at least beginning to move in the right direction?

HUNTSMAN: Wolf, I think we're going to muddle along until such a time as we are smart enough to actually put forward some bold visionary proposals that attack the structural elements that are standing in the way of knocking the cover off the ball of our economic growth.

When I say that, I look at the jobs proposal package put forward by the president. And it amounts to half steps and half measures. It's going to be incomplete. It's going to be a temporary fix. We need a long-term fix. And that means tax reform. That means regulatory reform and really hitting on the issues that investor community is looking at being cleaned up, like health care reform, Obamacare and Dodd Frank.

And insuring that as we go forward, Wolf, we can begin to build manufacturing plants and power plants in this nation that will be able to fuel our manufacturing revival. It can be done. Until you get to the structural fixes, you're not going to have the confidence in the innovator class, in the entrepreneurial class, in the investor class. Indeed in the global -- in the global economy to be able to get this -- to be able to get this country moving in a direction that is long term sustainable.

BLITZER: We're almost out of time. But very quickly here. You're the former U.S. Ambassador to China. China played a very important role in the U.S. economy. They have a lot of U.S. debt. Most recently this week they played a significant role helping the Europeans bail out Greece and some of that enormous debt crisis there.

Our viewers in China are watching. We have a lot of viewers in China as you probably know having lived in Beijing. Say something to the people in China, in Mandarin right now. Then translate it for us. What you would say to them given this opportunity?

HUNTSMAN: (Speaking in Mandarin )

I basically said, that despite our challenges, the China/U.S. relationship is the most important relationship in the world today. It is incumbent upon the leadership in both countries in order to ensure the economic and security of not only our two countries, but the region and the world, as well. Having a president who can actually understand those issues and who knows intimately well our most significant economic challenge, and opportunity, as well as our most significant security challenge would be a great thing to have in the White House, Wolf.

BLITZER: Governor, thanks very much for coming in. You're Mandarin is pretty good. I must say. Not that I understood what you said. It sounded pretty good.

HUNTSMAN: Thank you, Wolf. It's a pleasure to be with you.

BLITZER: Jon Huntsman, the former governor of Utah, former ambassador to China and now wants to be the Republican presidential nominee. Thank you.

Mitt Romney is the latest Republican presidential conditioned date to make an apparent mistake in the glare of the national spotlight. Or was it something more calculated? CNN's Joe Johns is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. He's got some details.

What's going on with Mitt Romney?

JOE JOHNS, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, months and months to go. It's already been a long race, even for some candidates who have been running just a short time. And Mitt Romney's recent slipup, if it was a slipup, just goes to show that into every campaign a little rain must fall.


JOHNS (voice over): If Republicans didn't like Mitt Romney's position on the so-called union busting proposal in Ohio, all they had to do is wait one day before he changed it. On Tuesday, outside Cincinnati when asked if he supports the ballot issue to restrict collective bargaining being pushed by the state's Republican governor, Romney gave the generic, almost noncommittal answer. Even though he just visited a phone bank where conservative callers were selling the measure to the public.

MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not speaking about the particular ballot issues. Those are under the people of Ohio. I certainly support the effort of the governor to rein in the scale of government. So I'm not terribly familiar with it, too. That is a ballot initiative.

JOHNS: But by the next day, Romney had a different answer.

ROMNEY: Oh, I'm sorry if I created any confusion in that regard. I fully support Governor Kasich's, I think it is called Question 2 in Ohio. What I was referring to is I know there are other ballot questions there in Ohio. I wasn't taking a position on those.

JOHNS: Confusion, perhaps. Among those other ballot questions, one would ban government from forcing people to buy health insurance, which might give pause to a health care reformer like Romney. Raising the question whether what happened was a mistake or a political tactic.

PETER HAMBY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: He walked into a call center for these two ballot initiatives and appeared to either not know what these ballot initiatives were about, or intentionally tried to dodge them to kind of protect his brand for general election. So it's one or the other.

JOHNS: If it was a mistake, Romney is not alone among the contenders these days. Rick Perry's latest goof is stepping all over the big flat tax proposal rollout with off the cuff remarks dredging up long buried questions about President Obama's birthplace.

GOV. RICK PERRY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's fun to poke at him a little bit, and say hey, how about -- let's see your grades and your birth certificate.

JOHNS: Then there was the shear strangeness of Herman Cain's latest ad showing his chief of staff, someone most of us have never met before, singing the candidates praises and puffing a cigarette. Author John Avlon sees the ad as harmless, but not some of the other mistakes.

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It's worse reflection on whether that not only makes the candidates look bad, not only maybe makes the process look bad but makes our country look bad.

(END VIDEOTAPE) JOHNS: Interesting thing about the Cain ad. It has logged tens of thousands of views on his Web site. A lot of people don't understand it. But he certainly cultivated an image of an unorthodox candidate and that ad only plays into it, Wolf.

BLITZER: It certainly does. It continues to play on and on -- more than a million hits on YouTube already just for that ad.

JOHNS: I know.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Joe, for that.

Moammar Gadhafi buried in secret, and a new vow by Libya's government to prosecute the man who allegedly killed him. And fears that Iran's leaders have planted spies right here in Washington, D.C. We're digging deeper on a congressman's call to expel Iranian officials from this country.


BLITZER: The Obama administration is pushing back against a Republican congressman's call to expel Iranian officials from the United States. The Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King outlined his dramatic proposal right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. And we're taking a closer look at his concerns about alleged Iranian spies. CNN's Brian Todd is working the story.

What you are finding out?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Congressman King says he expects to be joined in the call by most Republicans on the House Homeland Security Committee. The congressman is now applying intense pressure to a group of Iranians working on behalf of their government on U.S. soil.


TODD (voice over): Strong fallout from the alleged plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the U.S. The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee says Iran has spies in America. Specifically, he says, people who work at Iran's mission to the U.N. and Iran's intra-section in Washington.

REP. PETER KING, CHAIRMAN, HOMELAND SECURITY CMTE: To me, we should get rid of either all of them, or most of them, and send a clear signal.

TODD: King says they all could be expelled on suspicion of spying. He says he knows the Iranians in those offices he suspects of spying, but their identities are classified. King didn't give specific information tying them to the alleged Saudi assassination plot. But he says some of those people are tied to Iranian intelligence. And that people in those offices have in the past been IDed as members of the Kudz Force, a shadowy Iranian military unit suspected in the involvement of the Saudi plot.

Eric O'Neill is the former FBI investigator who took down Russian spy Robert Hanson, a case dramatized in the Hollywood film "Breach."

I asked O'Neill about the allegation that the plotters wanted to bomb the ambassador at a restaurant.

(On camera): Could someone at their intra-section in D.C. maybe give the information to the Iranians that's the ambassador wanted to go to a certain restaurant, or was frequenting that restaurant?

ERIC O'NEILL, PARTNER, THE GEORGETOWN GROUP: It is certainly possible. That is the sort of actionable intelligence that a spy-that is gold to a spy.

TODD (voice over): O'Neill says by day the intra-section employees may be processing visas, but in their spare time, he says, they could be recruiting sources. We called and e-mailed the intra-section then went over there.

(On camera): This is the Iranian intra-section here in Washington. It works through the Pakistani embassy. But the Pakistanis say they don't control what happens here. They just pass messages to and from both governments to each other. We're going to go in here and see if anybody wants to talk to us to respond to Congressman King's comments.

(Voice over): I'm met at the door.

(On camera): Hi. I'm Brian Todd from CNN. I'm recording this because we're rolling on this. I wanted to see if Mr. Shirazi (ph) or Mr. Ramani (ph) can come-

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are not available.

TODD: They are not available?


TODD: Can they come and speak to me?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're not available.

TODD (voice over): When I call back, I'm told that all that is done there is counselor work. Officials at Iran's mission at the U.N. did not respond to our calls and e-mail asking for response to Congressman King.


TODD: But Iranian officials have vehemently denied any role in trying to assassinate the Saudi ambassador. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told CNN recently, his country never had any intent to hurt Saudi Arabia. Even if they did, they would never do that inside the United States, Wolf.

BLITZER: How many Iranian officials work in New York and Washington?

TODD: Well, Congressman King says there are 39 diplomats at Iran's mission at the U.N. And 28 people who he says are not accredited diplomats at the intra-section here in Washington.

King believes that the United States can expel even the diplomats at the U.N. if they are suspected of spying. Because he says they've done this before. He says the Bush administration did that a few years back when they caught some people at the U.N. surveilling the New York subways and tunnels. He believes they can do that.

BLITZER: And the U.S. government position is that the U.S. has responsibilities as the host country for the U.N.

TODD: Right. There's a bit of back and forth there. We're not sure who is correct on that. But there is some disagreement there.

BLITZER: Brian, thanks very much.

The new Libyan government is under intense pressure to investigate the death of Moammar Gadhafi and to prosecute his killer. CNN's Dan Rivers is in Tripoli. A warning, you may find video in this report to be disturbing.


DAN RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Ever since these disturbing images emerged on the day Gadhafi was killed, questions have loomed about exactly what happened.

Circumstantial evidence has grown that Moammar Gadhafi was not in fact killed in the crossfire of a gun battle as the NTC claimed. Especially since this video surfaced the young man claiming to have shot Gadhafi in the head, with another insisting he witnessed the murder. Now amid growing international pressure, the transitional government has said it will prosecute the man responsible, if it can prove his guilt.

(On camera): What's going to happen to that young man?

AHMED BANI, NTC MILITARY COUNCIL: We will ask him, there is an investigation. He said there's an investigation if we found this story, especially this story is true. So the emphasis is going to take action against him.

There is an investigation. We would like to know who, and why, and how.

RIVERS: But in the cafes of Misrata, there seems little sympathy with putting Gadhafi's killer on trial.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no, no. I don't think he should be on trial. We asked, in this revolution, we asked Gadhafi to be-we hoped that we catch him alive. But if he's dead, that's OK. That man killed, you know, hundreds of people in this area. We're relieved that he's dead. And the man who killed him, should let him free or something. I don't care about him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean Gadhafi is a criminal. Big criminal, a terrorist, so why would you do this? If he did this to me, if I have a shot to do this, I would kill him.

RIVERS (On camera): You would do it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would do it. Absolutely, I would do it.

RIVERS: So for the young man that killed him, what do you think should happen to him?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nothing. Nothing.

RIVERS: Nothing?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nothing. I'm glad Gadhafi's dead. Everybody glad.

RIVERS: And that's the problem. The transitional government is under a lot of international pressure to properly investigate Gadhafi's death. But domestically, there is very little appetite to put a Libyan on trial for killing the man who so terrorized this country. Dan Rivers, CNN, Tripoli.


BLITZER: A shocking revelation from the wife of Bernie Madoff. Details of the couples' suicide pact.

Plus, millions of tons of debris from Japan's tsunami heading toward the U.S. West Coast.


BLITZER: Some shocking revelations about Bernie Madoff, now in prison for running the largest Ponzi scheme in U.S. history. His wife tells CBS' "60 Minutes" the couple attempted suicide as the scandal was unfolding. CNN National Correspondent Susan Candiotti has details.


CYNTHIA FRIEDMAN, PONZI SCHEME VICTIM: I think anything that comes out of their mouth is self-serving and are lies.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Richard and Cynthia Friedman lost their life savings to Bernie Madoff, so did Eileen Kent's parents. So when they heard Ruth Madoff talk about a failed suicide attempt in a new "60 Minutes" interview --

RUTH MADOFF, WIFE OF BERNIE MADOFF: I don't know who's idea it was. But we decided to kill ourselves because it was -- it was so horrendous, what was happening. We had terrible phone calls, hate mail.

CANDIOTTI (On camera): Do you believe it?

RICHARD FRIEDMAN, PONZI SCHEME VICTIM: I don't believe it. If it's a Madoff, can you not trust anything they say.

CANDIOTTI: Assuming that she's telling the truth about taking pills, do you feel badly about that?

ILENE KENT, PARENTS VICTIMIZED: I just can't assume it. I think anything that they say is extremely self-serving. Ruth has been quoted in the past saying she's very concerned about the victims and she feels awful and she feels terribly -- well why do we open the wound three years later?

CANDIOTTI (voice over): Victims scoff at Barbara Walters description of her ABC Bernie Madoff interview. He says he's happy in prison because he feels safe there.

BARBARA WALTERS, HOST, "THE VIEW": For 16 years he has lived in fear that he was going to be found out, and now he's not in control of his life. And so he is happier there than he was on the outside.

KENT: I was very much against sending him to a maximum security prison because I felt that would be revenge and not justice. But he's really just snubbing his nose. He's thumbing his nose at the system. He's snubbing his nose at us.

CANDIOTTI: And there is Stephanie Madoff, whose husband Mark committed suicide last year, depressed over his father's crime.

STEPHANIE MADOFF, WIDOW OF MARK MADOFF: If I saw Bernie Madoff right now, I would tell him that I hold him fully responsible for killing my husband and I'd spit in his face.

CANDIOTTI: So every time you hear an interview, every time you read an article involving an interview, what goes through your mind?

FRIEDMAN: I have a visceral reaction. I really feel sick to my stomach.

KENT: I wish we could get that kind of publicity, so people understand who the victims are. They're every day people.

CANDIOTTI: You're hearing people ask them a lot of questions. Do you have any questions that remain in your mind that you'd like to ask them?

KENT: If I knew that Bernie Madoff would actually tell the truth for a change, I would say, why? How? And who helped you?

CANDIOTTI: For victims there are many questions they feel will never be fully answered. Prosecutors have not charged Madoff's children, nor his wife. She is living in a barrowed home in South Florida. Susan Candiotti, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: Nice story.

Other news we're following, some are calling them radical ideas by the Catholic Church to fix the economic crisis. Our own Lisa Sylvester reports.


LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Occupy Wall Street protesters carried a golden calf named Greed, to make their point, the growing gap between the rich and the poor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My biggest beef is the growing economic disparity. I have a problem that I feel we have a capitalist system that is based around hoarding wealth instead of dispersing it to grow capital and help the free market grow.

SYLVESTER: The division between the haves and have knots is a message long central to the Catholic Church. Now the Vatican is picking up on the momentum and speaking out against what it calls the idolatry the market. For the first time the Vatican has outlined what it sees as a moral fix for the problem of poverty. A proposal to create a new financial authority, including a global central bank, and a new tax on global financial transactions.

REV. THOMAS REESE, WOODSTOCK THEOLOGICAL CENTER: Globalization has made us all in the same boat. And we're going to either sink together, or we're going to prosper together. We're only going to do that if we work together as a world community to deal with these issues.

SYLVESTER: The Vatican says the International Monetary Fund has lost the ability to stabilize the world financial system, and points to the current debt crisis in Europe and the lingering effects of a global recession. But added regulation and centralizing global authority, Mark Calbria, with the CATO Institute, counters it will exacerbate the problems and put more power in the hands of a wealthy few.

MARK CALBRIA, CATO INSTITUTE: The attitude that you were sort of insulating this further from public accountability, at the individual countries, actually increases the leverage that the largest financial institutions have in this game. Because they'll be the ones at the table.

SYLVESTER: Father Thomas Reese says this is meant to be a moral blueprint, a first draft to be tweaked by economists and politicians. Like the Occupy Wall Street protesters, the Vatican hopes to draw attention to the issue of poverty, and offer a vision where principles trump profits.

(On camera): Father Reese with Georgetown's Woodstock Theological Center acknowledges these proposals are to the very far left and the pope advocates, in fact, redistribution of wealth. Well, that is all a really tough sell.

But the Vatican believes it is important still, to have a conversation about what it calls a crisis of morality. Lisa Sylvester, CNN, Washington.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Some are calling this the age of volatility in American politics. Will the 2012 election be different? We'll talk about the ups and downs in the Republican field.

And the strange Herman Cain campaign video. That's the butt of jokes.


BLITZER: In a presidential race, Rick Perry's campaign is suggesting he may skip some of the upcoming Republican debates after a number of widely bad performances.

Let's talk about the race with our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger and our senior political analyst, Ron Brownstein of the "National Journal."

Guys, thanks very much for coming in. Before I get to some of that, did you hear Jon Huntsman call Mitt Romney, quote, "a well lubricated weather vane?"

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I did. I think that's a line he's clearly been thinking about for quite some time. And obviously in New Hampshire, Romney is the person he's got to beat or at least come in a very close second to. So I think we're going to hear more of those attacks.

BLITZER: I guess that is the flip-flopper, right?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Almost euphonic, well lubricated weather vane.

BORGER: I just love it. That's a bumper sticker.

BROWNSTEIN: This is the classic case where if Romney is the nominee, you're going to see many of the arguments made against him by the other Republicans reappearing in Democratic ads next fall.

BLITZER: Rick Perry, he's a lot of issues out there, a lot of trouble in this race. He's got to do a lot better in these debates and now he's suggesting, you know what, at least according to the communications director, he may skip some of these debates.

BORGER: Yes, and that puzzles me, actually because the way he's introduced himself to Republican voters is by doing poorly in debates. So if you withdraw from them, that's essentially saying I'm not a very good debater. I can't compete against Mitt Romney or potentially Barack Obama.

BROWNSTEIN: And in a broader sense it is understandable the candidates want to take control of the race back from the debates. The debates are overwhelmingly driving the race. They really are overwhelming everything else.

I think at this point, they amount to a forum of public financing for some of the candidates. It's hard to imagine Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich even Herman Cain earlier and not to mention, Rick Santorum would be able to be as big a factor in the race as they are without the debates.

And they have -- you know, Perry has money. Romney has money. I think they want this race to be fought on other terrain than simply showing up for a debate.

BORGER: But it's a bad decision for Perry.

BLITZER: Everybody knows Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, but Florida, Florida could be a critical state when all dusts settles.

Our CNN/"Time" magazine/ORC poll registered Republicans Romney right now at 30 percent, Herman Cain, 18 percent, Gingrich and Perry with 9 percent, Ron Paul 6 percent, everybody else in low, low single digits. Romney is doing very well.

BORGER: He is. He is. What was interesting though in this, is the Cain number because two weeks ago in Florida, there were some NBC poll and Romney and Cain were tied. If you look now, he is 12 points up.

And what you see for Perry there is terrible, 9 percent. Perry has lost with Jewish voters. Romney does three times as well with seniors as Perry.

BROWNSTEIN: I think what's really important about the polls you put out this week from Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida, those four key states on the ballot is that the patterns are very consistent from state to state in how the different voters are aligning.

And it's consistent in fact in what we're seeing in the national polls. If you look among the portion of the party who do not identify with the Tea Party, Mitt Romney is solidifying that vote. He leads among double digits in all four states among voters who don't identify with the Tea Party.

Similarly among voters who are not Evangelical Christians and also about half of the party. He has a substantial lead in all four states, consistent again with the results in national polls.

On the Tea Party side and on the Evangelical side, very different, he's not ahead anywhere except New Hampshire. But you're seeing at least the other side the party move toward him consistently.

BLITZER: I was the first contest. Look at these numbers because Romney is ahead. But a statistical tie if you look at the plus or minus sampling error, 5 points, Romney 24 percent, Cain 21 percent, Paul 12, Gingrich and Perry at 10 percent so Herman Cain is doing remarkably well in Iowa.

BORGER: He is.

BLITZER: But it's interesting. Mitt Romney is winning according to this poll even though he's not even sure he's going to compete there.

BORGER: Well, that's the big question. But first of all, in terms of the Evangelicals in Iowa, he's actually doing better than he was doing with the Evangelicals in Iowa, which tells you something.

The question of whether he is going to run or compete is interesting because you talk to people in the Romney campaign and they kind of smile broadly at you.

And I think right now they believe that he could actually win Iowa although they don't want to say it.

BROWNSTEIN: Iowa is the microcosm of the Republican race in general. You have a big chunk of the party, especially the conservative side that is still resistant to Romney.

But if they can't unify around a single candidate, he may be able to win this without getting a majority of the party. He only got 25 percent in Iowa last time. That's about where he is now.

BORGER: He spends a lot of money.

BROWNSTEIN: You might not need that much more to win if the more conservative 60 percent of the vote is Evangelical. If that doesn't unify behind one candidate, Romney might be able to win Iowa with a very low number. If does he that, it's very difficult --

BORGER: And if he comes in as a close second, he can spin it as a win. So I think we're going to see him competing in Iowa.

BLITZER: You know, the Herman Cain add, the smoking ad, let me remind some of the viewers who may not be familiar with it. Here's a little clip.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can take this country back.


BLITZER: Herman Cain defended his chief of staff for that ad saying look, nothing wrong with it.

BROWNSTEIN: Outsider status that Cain has, which is reinforced by an ad like this is really like one of the five-hour energy drinks. It gives you a big boost, but there is often a crash at the end.

This ad reinforces the general narrative of his campaign, which is that he is not a typical politician. He is not from Washington. He is from outside of the system.

And that is appealing especially to a lot of Republicans, but it also I think creates a ceiling as well. The more these things happen, the smaller ultimately the universe will be.

BLITZER: A lot of people watched that ad.

BORGER: It got a lot of free publicity, but it's unserious and it's silly and the guy is standing there smoking a cigarette, whatever that means. And there's this grin that comes across Cain's face.

It leaves people scratching their heads and asking the question, OK, is this a serious campaign for the presidency or not? What's the message here? If you don't know what the message is, maybe the candidate is not serious.

BLITZER: You have a cover story in the new issue of the "National Journal" entitled "The Age of Volatility." It is a volatile political environment right now, but give us the headline.

BROWNSTEIN: Look, from 1994 to 2004, we were in trench warfare with very little movement for either side. Either party gained more than nine or 10 seats in House, five seats in the Senate in any one election.

The national popular vote split almost evenly in both House elections and the presidential elections. But since 2004, we have seen the public careening wildly towards the Democrats in '06 and then more in '08 and then 2010, the biggest midterm gain for Republicans for either party since 1938.

Essentially what we have is neither party now has a stable majority of public support, and for those last roughly 25 percent or 30 percent of independent voters, the parties are not producing the kinds of results that will allow them to kind of solidify. So the conclusion of the story is the main advice for whatever comes out on top in 2012 will be three words, don't unpack everything.

BORGER: Right. Well, and Ron wrote about this in his piece and I agree, which is that the independent voters have become so much more important because you have a majority at the public now saying that they don't identify with each party.

And so those voters hold the key and that's what makes it so volatile because some of them are Republican, some of them are Democratic, but they don't like the parties.

BROWNSTEIN: And almost all of them feel like they're not getting results from the political system. That is a powerful force of volatility.

BLITZER: The swing voters out there. All right, guys, thanks very, very much.

Many wounded protesters in Syria are too squared to get treatment. We're learning about allegations of torture and abuse in Syrian state hospitals.

Boats, furniture even TVs have floating in the Pacific Ocean towards the United States. We're tracking the tons of debris from the Japanese tsunami.


BLITZER: Syria's crackdown on anti-government demonstrations has been brutal and deadly. Now we're getting another disturbing window into the tactics of the embattled Bashar Al-Assad regime.

CNN's Arwa Damon has a report on the new findings by Amnesty International. Viewers should be warned that it does have graphic video. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): These are videos that CNN obtained showing how clandestine networks of doctors in Syria try to save lives, operating secret underground clinics.

Wounded demonstrators are often too afraid to go to government hospitals, which Amnesty International says the Syrian government has turned into tools of repression.

By Skype, we reached a doctor who says he used to work in a government hospital. He tells us some of his own colleagues collaborated with security forces, abusing the wounded.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Beat them, don't give them water, don't give them antibiotics, sometimes no operation even if he will die. They just want him to be alive to survive for one or two days to know something, some information from them.

DAMON: In recent weeks, violence has intensified. The doctor set up his own secret clinic, treating he said on average, four to ten patients a day, but many die.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I save some patients here from gun bullet and some from RPG, rocket propelled grenade, but I can't do anything here. Just small emergency hearing because I haven't operating room. I haven't anesthesia. So just what can I do, nothing.

DAMON (on camera): You set up a field hospital.

(voice-over): Over the summer on a brief trip to Syria, we broke away from our government minders and saw one of these clinics in Damascus, nothing more than a tiny room with barely the basics.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I saw a lot of blood, a lot of shouting, a lot of pain.

DAMON: The doctor we met later took me to see this 17-year-old boy, partially paralyzed the doctor said because of a lack of proper equipment to detect a blood clot next to his spinal cord.

(on camera): This is the doctor's Facebook page. His network is called the Damascus doctors. They have listed on it the names of medical professionals who they say have gone missing. Activists claim that dozens of them have been detained.

PHILIP LUTHER, AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL: We believe still that the international community, the Security Council as the most senior body must refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court. The abuses there have been so serious that we believe them to be crimes against humanity.

DAMON (voice-over): The Syrian government continues to deny all allegations of abuse at government hospitals and says it treats everyone equally. Arwa Damon, CNN, Beirut


BLITZER: Wreckage of countless lives floating at sea. Huge piles of debris from Japan's tsunami. Could they wind up on American shores?

Plus, Jeannie Moos looks at Herman Cain's bizarre campaign ad that is now a viral video.


BLITZER: When a giant wall of water slammed into Japan in March, it killed thousands of people, flattened homes across the country's northeast coast. The water receded carrying countless pieces of lives out to sea including boats registered to a Japanese owner and found floating all of a sudden in the middle of the Pacific.

CNN's Chad Myers is tracking millions of tons of all this debris that is out there somewhere. Chad, what do we know about the debris and is it heading toward the United States?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It sure is, Wolf and Hawaii will take a double hit, in fact. But it's stuff like this, a floating building, refrigerators, parts of cars floating, propane tanks, all floating across the Pacific.

All thought to probably be arriving in about three to five years. That appears to be a little bit quicker now and why? Why would it be quicker because the model that's the researchers at the University of Hawaii got into, we're looking at debris that was not floating above the water.

Like styrofoam or propane tanks or refrigerators that would float. They're thinking about stuff that sits in the water and only goes with the current. Well, this stuff is getting blown along faster and eventually will become a hazard to navigation around Hawaii and the entire western part of the United States.

We're talking five to 20 million tons of stuff. This is all the lives that were taken from these people, the lives, their livelihood, their buildings, their homes, their boats, this is what they found off midway island.

Now they didn't expect this to arrive around midway for another three months. Why? Because it was above the water line and the wind was blowing it faster. So people are out there trying to get this debris out.

But let me tell you there is so much stuff in the water. We'll have this on our shores many, many years. It will 15 or 20 years before this stuff actually goes away and boating may actually -- recreational boating in the Pacific may become a little bit of a hazard and also even into the hazards of trying to surf in Hawaii when you have a refrigerator floating in front of you.

BLITZER: Do we know for sure, Chad, that the debris that's throughout in the Pacific right now. This junk that's out here is actually from Japan or just junk collected in the ocean, if you will? MYERS: Well, you know, if you go walk along the beaches of Oregon, Washington to California, you see stuff washed up from Japan, China, Thailand all the time.

But we know that this blob of stuff is from Japan because the boats that are floating literally have Fukushima on the sides of them. So the boats that are in the water floating on top being identified as from those areas around where the tsunami hit. Yes, we know this stuff is from Japan for sure.

BLITZER: And you say originally they thought three to four years it could take for debris to reach the United States, but now it's speeding up. What's the cause of that?

MYERS: You got to look at this. Just take a look at this and think of a boat. If a boat was flat in the water, it would be a very slow boat. This is not a boat. This is not flat in the water. This is like a sail so now when the wind hits this sail, and not only this building probably sunk already by now.

But other things are floating above the water and all of that wind is pushing it much faster than the current. So the speed, the researchers in Hawaii think it could be twice as fast now by 2013 on the west coast of the U.S. and into Hawaii sometime early next year.

BLITZER: Chad, thanks very much. We'll stay on top of this story together with you.

Up next, we can't get enough of it. Jeanne Moos has more on the Herman Cain ad that's going viral.


BLITZER: Herman Cain's smoking campaign commercial is a comedian's dream. CNN's Jeanne Moos hands out the award for best parody.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Suddenly everybody is pretending to smoke. It's all because this man, Herman Cain's chief of staff --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can take this country back.

MOOS: One little drag in a campaign ad.

MARK BLOCK, HERMAN CAIN'S CHIEF OF STAFF: That's weird, right? I'm not the only one that smokes in America, for God's sake.

MOOS: Now everyone is inhaling his smoke will one parody even paraphrases Charlie Sheen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm on a drug and it's called Herman Cain. Herman Cain has tiger blood.

MOOS: That's from a left leaning political group in South Carolina asking Herman Cain, what are you smoking? Not since the famous witch ad --


MOOS: Have you seen a political spot so parodied. So we thought we would hand out the silvery smoke ring awards to some of our favorites. We award one measly smoke ring to the "Letterman" show for its video parody.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rich Lowry here, chief economic adviser for Herman Cain.

MOOS: And for all those who replaced the cigarette with booze, we award two smoke rings. Our three smoke ring award goes to Conan's show for most imaginative prop. We award Jimmy Kimmel and his crew four smoke rings for inventive voiceover.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm Herman Cain and I approve cigarettes. If that doesn't make me sound crazy, check out this smile.

MOOS: Herman Cain's smile that takes eight seconds to develop prompted Steven Colbert to challenge Cain to a slow smile contest.


MOOS: Colbert managed to stretch his smile 25 seconds.

(on camera): The coveted five smoke rings award goes to the Colbert report for replacing smoking with sniffing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm Herman Cain's personal assistant. We hope you share our vision.

MOOS (on camera): By the way, we would like to bestow a shortened lifetime achievement award to the human smoke machine who provided us with our smoke screen. Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: Leave it to Jeanne. Thanks very much. That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer. Join us weekdays in the situation room from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern, every Saturday at 6:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN, and at this time every weekend on CNN International. The news continues next on CNN.