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The Situation Room

Interview With Sen. Rand Paul; The Art of Political Comeback; An Unfortunate Interruption

Aired March 19, 2013 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Could the next one wipe out all of life on Earth? And what can we do if anything to stop it?

Plus, was it something he said? A big city mayor in the middle of a big speech when he was violently interrupted. He'll join us to talk about what happened.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: We begin with brightest rising stars in the Republican Party. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky is fresh off a first place finish at a presidential straw poll among influential conservatives and a show stopping filibuster in the United States Senate. Today, he weighed into one of the most controversial issues in the country, comprehensive immigration reform. And on top of all of that, we've just learned his travel plans will include a major fundraiser, get this, in Iowa.

Senator Paul will join us live in just a moment, but first, let's get some background from our White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar, who's walking into the SITUATION ROOM. He certainly is a star on the rise.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He is, and we've paid a lot of attention to him, Wolf, but a lot of people don't even know who Rand Paul is. They will soon though, because even if he won't fully admit it yet, he's running for president.


KEILAR (voice-over): He's that Republican senator with the distinctive curly blonde hair.

SEN. RAND PAUL, (R) KENTUCKY: I will speak until I can no longer speak.

KEILAR: The one who recently filibustered the president's CIA chief pick for 13 hours. The son of former congressman, Ron Paul, whose libertarian views made him the outlier in the 2012 GOP field. He's Rand Paul and he's got his eye on the White House as he tries to take his hands off government proposals mainstream in a way his father never did.

PAUL: Our party is encumbered by an inconsistent approach to freedom. The new GOP will need to embrace liberty in both the economic and the personal sphere.

KEILAR: Paul is feuding with GOP old bold, John McCain, who recently called Paul a wacko bird.

PAUL: The GOP of old has grown stale and moss covered.


PAUL: Now, I don't think we need to name any names, do we?


KEILAR: Not a bad way to get in with conservative Republicans who don't much care for McCain, and so is this, proposing a law to effectively overturn Roe v. Wade by giving equal protection to unborn fetuses. But Paul is also trying to broaden his appeal. Today, he announced he supports a pathway to legal status for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S.

PAUL: Republicans need to become parents of a new future with Latino voters or we will need to resign ourselves to being a permanent minority status.


KEILAR (on-camera): This is a surprising move for a Republican backed by Tea Party voters many of whom oppose such a proposal, but then, Sen. Paul is looking to 2016 and he's going to need more than a loyal but small fan base to get there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brianna, thanks very much. I'll see you in a little while. Senator Paul is joining us now live from Capitol Hill. Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

PAUL: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: We just need some clarification. Your immigration proposal that you outlined today, does that actually call for a pathway to eventual citizenship for those 11 or 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States?

PAUL: The main reason I felt compelled to have my own proposal to the bipartisan proposal is that my proposal adds border security and ensures that border security occurs by letting Congress vote on it. As far as pathways, what we say is to those who are here, those who have been working, those who may not be documented, that if you want to work and you want to stay in America, we'll find a place for you.

Now as far as citizenship, that's sort of a different story. We're talking about is work visas. But if you want to get in line to become a citizen, we think that you don't have to leave the country and go back to Mexico or Central America. We would let you simply get in line, but you don't get to get in front of anyone in the line.

So, it doesn't get you in the green card line. It gets you in the line to enter the country legally to become a citizen like everybody else who wants to come from around the world to be a citizen. So, it may take a little while, but I'm also in favor of maybe speeding up the line, allowing more work visas. And if you have a job in America, I see no reason why we wouldn't want to almost immediately get you a work visa.

BLITZER: So, in other words, you're not ruling out, you're supporting eventually after several steps are taken that these 11 or 12 million illegal immigrants will eventually if they do all the right things be allowed to become United States citizens.

PAUL: Interestingly yes, but at the same time, I'm not proposing something new. And that's why this whole immigration debate gets into these check the box and new pathway to citizen, check the box amnesty or no amnesty. I think that's trapping us into something that makes the debate too simple. I'm not offering a new pathway to citizenship. I'm simply saying you can get a work visa and you can get in the normal line.

I'm not creating a new line for citizenship. I'm just saying you can get in the current line that exists. The only thing I'm saying is you don't have to go home. But I am saying that I'm open to immigration reform and that Republicans should be open to immigration reform and I spent time this morning with a Hispanic chamber of commerce letting them know not only am I open to that, but I'm open to the whole Latin-American romance language tradition and that I think it infuses the American spirit with a lot of things that are good for America.

BLITZER: Let's move on to Senator John McCain. I want you to clarify because there's ban little bit of a rift between you and him. You suggested the other day that some of the senators, and everyone assumed you were referring to Senator McCain, when you said the GOP of old has grown stale and moss covered. You didn't want to say who you were referring to, but you said everybody knows who you were referring to. Were you referring to Senator McCain?

PAUL: I would say it's a figurative sort of sentence in the sense that it isn't really to be taken literally. And it was also meant for humor, and I think it garnered a little bit of humor. But it really is to say that we, as a GOP, need to embrace new ideas and grow our party in a way that some haven't. But I didn't really intend it to be directed at one person.

BLITZER: But he was one of those persons that you were referring to?

PAUL: I wouldn't -- it's a figurative -- it's an allusion, it's an allegory. It's not really something that is meant to be taken literally for one person. He and I have some differences, but I prefer to keep that on, you know, differences on whether or not the whole world is a battlefield, whether or not you get due process in America. And I think those are legitimate debates to have. But I don't want to characterize it in any other way. I have a lot of respect for Senator McCain. He's a war hero. He spent many years of his life in a prison in Vietnam, and I think he deserves respect for that. And I think we can have a healthy debate and disagreement in the Republican Party and grow our party bigger because if you all agree on everything completely, that's going to be a pretty small party.

BLITZER: He seemed to take it personally. I'll play this little sound bite from what he said yesterday.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: References were made to people who are too old and moss covered and that we need new and fresh individuals and ideas and thoughts and I agree with all of those, every bit of those recommendations and comments that were made. But there is a little bit of benefit of being around for a while.


BLITZER: I assume you agree with him on that last point.

PAUL: Yes. I have no dispute with it. I mean, my dad has been around for a while and I think you do gain knowledge through experience and time and I think, you know, our elders are to be respected. So, I don't take any dispute with that. And I really don't have a personal dispute. I mean, I think people make more about this than actually is probably accurate.

I like John McCain as a person and I really try never to disrespect him and I try to avoid, you know, saying that really people on either side of the aisle. But I think there are legitimate, you know, debates and discussions about how the Republican Party grows and moves forward and I think there does need to be a new GOP.

Not that we give up on what we believe in, but that what we believe in more explicit and more clear and we try to reach audiences we haven't been reaching, Latinos, African-Americans, young people. So, I think there is a reason to think that we can evolve in a better direction than we've been.

BLITZER: Let's talk about abortion rights for women right now. The other day, you introduced legislation entitled the Life at Conception Act. I believe you were designing this to overturn in effect, effectively Roe vs Wade. Is that right?

PAUL: I think it's probably designed even more philosophically than that. It's designed to begin the discussion over when life begins. And it's not an easy discussion. And we're divided as a country on it. So, I don't think we're in any real rush towards any new legislation to tell you the truth.

But I would say is that, it's an important philosophical discussion because all of our rights, all of our rights to do anything we choose to do as individuals sort of stem from an individual right to life. And all of us agree to that at some point in time. So, for the 6-month-old baby that's been born and that is home in a crib, the state will step in if a mother abuses it or a father does.

We all agree we're going to protect the six-month-old. We pretty much all agree on the one-day-old. Before that, we have some disagreements. But my intention is to bring it forward, have a healthy, philosophic, and moral discussion over what we should do, what the state should be involved with. When should life be protected?

And I don't think we're ready yet for our society maybe to change any laws, but I think it's worthwhile having the discussion if we can keep it from being too much of a flippant discussion over this, that country, this and that, and that it's an important philosophical foundation to the law of a civilization.

BLITZER: So, just to be precise, if you believe life begins at conception, which I suspect you do believe that, you would have no exceptions for rape, incest, the life of the mother, is that right?

PAUL: Well, I think that once again puts things in too small of a box. What I would say is that there are thousands of exceptions. You know, I'm a physician and every individual case is going to be different, and everything is going to be particular to that individual case and what's going on with that mother and the medical circumstances of that mother.

I would say that after birth, you know, we've decided that when life begins, we have decided that we don't have exceptions for one- day-old or six-month-olds. We don't ask where they came from or how they came into being, but it is more complicated because the rest of it depends on the definition of when life comes in. So, I don't think it's a simple as checking box and saying exceptions or no exceptions.

I've been there at the beginning of life. I've held one-pound babies in my hand that I examined their eyes. I've been there at the end of life.

And there are a lot of decisions that are made privately by families and their doctors that really won't -- the law won't apply to, but I think it's important that we not be flippant one way or the other and pigeon hole and say, oh, this person doesn't believe in any sort of discussion between family. And so, I don't know if there's a simple way to put me in a category on any of that.

BLITZER: Well, it sounds like you believe in some exceptions.

PAUL: Well, there's going to be, like I say, thousands of extraneous situations where the life of the mother is involved and other things that are involved.

So, I would say that each individual case would have to be addressed and even if there were eventually a change in the law, let's say, the people came more to my way of thinking, it's still be a lot of complicated things that the law may not ultimately be able to address in the early stages of pregnancy that would have to be part of what occurs between the physician and the woman and the family.

This goes for the same with the end of life. I do think life ought to be protected to the end. I don't believe in, you know, officially euthanizing people, but I also think there is some privacy at the end of life also, and we make difficult decisions all the time on resuscitation, how long to extend medical treatment, and a lot of these are medical decisions.

But, I think that what I don't believe that I can compromise on is that I think there is something special about life and that all of the rights that we spend time up here discussing, the right to trial by jury, all of these things stem from a sort of a primordial right to your life and how you use it.

BLITZER: One final question because we're almost out of time. You're going to Iowa in May for a major Republican fundraising event out there. Are you running for president?

PAUL: You know, I haven't made a decision. We are concentrating on a lot of the problems we have here, but I do want to be part of the national debate and people do get more attention when they go to Iowa. You know, people pay attention to what you're doing, and it helps the party there to grow the party to raise money.

But it also helps draw attention to if I have ideas about how we grow the party, how we reach out to Latino voters and African-American voters. It draws attention to those things by going to Iowa. Plus, we have a lot of friends we've developed in Iowa over the years. So, I'm excited to go there and hope that I can raise some money for the party.

BLITZER: Senator Paul, thanks so much for coming in.

PAUL: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead, after a meteor exploded like an atomic bomb over Russia, NASA scientists now worry that a bigger one could actually destroy civilization. Can they do anything about what they're calling a doomsday scenario? There was testimony here in Washington on this subject today.


BLITZER: On Capitol Hill, today the man who runs NASA was asked, what could be done if a large meteor were headed for New York City? His answer? Pray. CNN's Chris Lawrence has more on today's hearings. Pretty scary stuff that's going on, Chris.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: You said it, Wolf. I mean, the only reason people aren't scared out of their minds is the fact that it's so rare for one of these big rocks to hit the Earth, but look. There are 10,000 to 20,000 asteroids out there big enough to devastate a continent and only 10 percent have been detected.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) LAWRENCE (voice-over): Russians saw a flash of light and heard the sonic boom. The meteor exploded with the force of a nuclear bomb. It did $30 million in damage and injured thousands. And no one saw it coming.

REP. LAMAR SMITH, (R) TEXAS: We were fortunate that the events of last month were simply an interesting coincidence rather than a catastrophe.

LAWRENCE: The nation's top science officials were called before Congress Tuesday to explain what they're doing to detect similar threats from space.

CHARLES BOLDEN, NASA ADMINISTRATOR: An object as large as a car arrive about once per week.

LAWRENCE: The bigger concern is, well, the bigger ones. Using a football field for perspective, the size of that meteor over Russia would only take you to the seven yard line. Congress has ordered NASA to track objects that are significantly bigger than the entire field, big enough to wipe out a city.

In the film "Deep Impact," astronauts set off a nuke to deflect an asteroid. The U.S. navy successfully shot down an old spy satellite in 2008 before it could crash to Earth and release toxic gas. But blasting a large asteroid is not in the cards.

JOHN HOLDREN, DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY POLICY: It would not be practical to have a laser powerful enough to split it in half.

LAWRENCE: Conjuring up images of the film "Armageddon," NASA is pushing ahead with plans to land astronauts on an asteroid by 2025 and improve early detection.

BOLDEN: I think all three of us agree ground based systems are great.


LAWRENCE (on-camera): Now you see, usually, those asteroids like the one over Russia can't be seen from the ground because they get lost in the sun's glare. Science officials say they need to put a special telescope into orbit. It's being developed right now by a private company. The cost is up to 3/4 of a billion dollars, Wolf.

BLITZER: Chris Lawrence with that report, as I said, pretty scary stuff. So, what can we do about this so-called doomsday asteroid? Tom Foreman is in our virtual studio right now with a closer look at the possibilities. And what do you see, Tom?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, there really are possibilities out there. The meteor that Chris just mentioned a minute ago, the one that blew up over Russia was really about this big. What we're worried about are things like the asteroid that passed the same day which was really about this big, much, much, much bigger.

If one of these things were tumbling toward Earth right now or one bigger, yes, this could wipe out a city, it could wipe out a state. It might wipe out a small nation if it hits. So, let's reset here and talk about the plans for what one might do about such a thing. The simple truth is, rule number one is, you don't blow it up.

If one of these things were coming in toward earth right now, the simple truth is, if you blew it up, if you tried to hit this with some kind of big explosion, all that would happen is it would spread out into a whole bunch of much smaller asteroids, basically, on the same orbit and they might hit a whole lot more area. So, that's off the table.

So, let's reset and go back to rule number two. Rule number two is remember physics. The collision of something like this and Earth is really two very tiny items in the vastness of space, so all you have to do is slightly change one of them in its flight and that would be the asteroid. You can do that by either pushing it with some kind of spaceship or pulling it with some sort of spaceship.

If you move it just a little bit, it could go right by earth, Wolf. The key is you have to know about that early enough -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, early enough. What does that mean? How much time would we need?

FOREMAN: Well, really, you're talking about years to make something like that work under the current scenario. And that's not unheard of, because we do track some of the bigger asteroids from quite a distance out.

If you get much, much closer to Earth, though, then you do start talking about the idea of maybe using a nuclear weapon to blow up near it in space and make it move, but a lot of scientists don't like that idea for a lot of reasons, including it could be fraught with a lot of uncertainty.

You might see one headed toward the United States, blow it up in space or blow up something near it to nudge it and just nudge it over into France or into Iran or into China and those countries to have a big complaint about that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Huge complaint. Tom Foreman, thanks very much.

Up next, ten years after the U.S. invasion, Iraq still very much being ripped apart by bombings. Two dozen bloody attacks today alone.


BLITZER: Smoke rose over Baghdad today on this, the tenth anniversary of the U.S. invasion. There were 17 car bombings and seven roadside bombings in Iraq. At least 53 people died. CNN's Arwa Damon is standing by live in Baghdad. We'll get to her in a moment.

But first, a quick look back. Ten years ago today, I was in Kuwait reporting on the start of the Iraq war. The Bush administration insisted Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. And we were told to be prepared for the worst. And we were.


BLITZER: We've been given these backpacks with a lot of protective gear inside. Among other things, I'll put up this one and I'll show you. Among other things, what we have, just in case of that worst case scenario, obviously, we have a gas mask just like this one. We've all been trained how to use it in case, just in case. Small chance there is that kind of chemical or biological warfare.

(voice-over) We reached for those backpacks after the war started. We had a big scare when an Iraqi scud like missile landed in a Kuwait City mall, about a mile or so from the hotel balcony where I was anchoring CNN's coverage.

Our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta immediately and very courageously left the hotel for the mall, wearing his protective gear including a gas mask. Within minutes, he was reporting from the scene.

Dr. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: And despite the fact that a missile actually did land very close, there doesn't seem to be the sense of panic around here.


BLITZER (on-camera): During that attack, we were all urged to go down into a sealed bunker. I decided to stay on the air and report on the dramatic developments. Luckily, it wasn't a chemical or biological weapons attack, but I did have my gas mask right next to me just in case.

Ten years later, the killing continues in Iraq without end. Our senior international correspondent, Arwa Damon, who spent a lot of time over these past ten years in Baghdad is joining us from there right now. Arwa, how bad is the situation right now?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, just also to update our viewers on the death toll, it's actually gone up to 55 people killed, 187 wounded. We woke up this morning to those attacks that had already been well under way, most of them taking place between 8:00 and 9:00 a.m. And it really felt like it was one of those days back when the violence was at its worst.

There was smoke rising over the capitol. And if you could have just seen the expression on our Iraqi staff's faces as in some instances we were hearing the explosions and other cases learning about them. They went completely white. Their voices began trembling. This is exactly the kind of devastating complex, coordinated attack that Iraqis had so hoped was behind them.

These types of attacks continued to tear the society apart, a society that's already suffered for so long. And for so many Iraqis, it's so difficult to look back on everything that happened because of this astronomical price that they paid and that they continue to pay for this war, Wolf.

BLITZER: What a horrible, horrible situation ten years later. It wasn't supposed to be like this, but it is. Arwa, we'll check back with you tomorrow. Thank you.

The president of the United States is about to head to Israel. Here's a question. Is Iran really one year away or so from a nuclear bomb? We have new information from Israel's president, Shimon Peres. Stand by.

Then, Kansas City's mayor was in the middle of a speech when he was violently interrupted. He's going to be joining us to talk about this scary incident.


BLITZER: President Obama leaves tonight for Israel with visits to the West Bank and Jordan. He has had a relatively poor relationship with Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. But his stock may be rising in Israel right now even as it falls with some of the Palestinians. CNN's John King is in Jerusalem.


JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Call to prayer in the Palestinian village of Masra. Muslim worshipers under the watchful gaze of Israeli security forces because Masra is side by side with Afrat (ph), with a Jewish settlement in the West Bank.

Skirmishes like this are routine, but on this day a new twist. Anti-Obama chants in both Arabic and English prove the thrill is gone in Arab communities that four years ago saw hope in the new American president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Obama not welcome in Palestinian.

KING: Asam (ph) is a bustling coffee shop in downtown Ramallah, full of young Palestinian professionals like Maysa Baslami (ph) and Maysa Abu-Ghannam.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are settlements, poor people, (INAUDIBLE) there is nothing. And all of us are sure that Obama disappointed us.

KING: Do you hear the United States as an honest broker?

MAYSA ABU-GHANNAM, JOURNALIST: Definitely not. But I think they want to be. I think it's as if they're easily -- I think, Israel can easily brainwash people into believing they're on the right.

KING: The turnaround on the Arab street is striking and polling by veteran Middle East scholar Shibley Telhami shows a big shift from two or three years ago. SHIBLEY TELHAMI, SADAT CENTER, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND: The Palestine issue got worse. He backed down on the settlement issue. And the Israelis started warming up to him, particularly after he gave the United Nations speech that in the general assembly, which was extremely pro-Israel.

KING: The Israeli government is determined to make this a feel- good trip for the president. The U.S. embassy is using Facebook to make the case the president is popular here. Yet conversations with young professionals in Tel Aviv bring mixed reviews.

OHAD NETZEREL, SOFTWARE ENGINEER: I don't think that nothing important will go out - will come out from this visit. It's like -- it is going to be like a tourist visit.

KING: Does it bother you that President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu don't get along?

ITZIK KAHIRI, TEXTILE IMPORTER: I think they have a common target, and they must solve this target together if they want to or not.

KING: Does it bother you at all?

KAHIRI: It's too shame.

king: Perhaps things will shift again, but it's clear any Arab optimism about the president is dimming, while at the moment, anyway, most Israelis see him in a somewhat better light.


KING: It's also clear, Wolf, that Iran, how the president handles Iran, how the meetings with Prime Minister Netanyahu go on Iran will be biggest test of this trip from the Israeli public opinion perspective.

Now, the president raised some eyebrows the other day when he said he believes there's a lot more time for diplomacy, saying he thinks Iran is a year or more away from the point of no return in developing a nuclear weapon. Some Israelis were concerned. The prime minister in the past has said he believes the window is a little shorter.

But I spoke to the Israeli president this morning, Shimon Peres this morning, and he said there may be some disagreements on how far Iran is along, but on the fundamental question do the Israelis trust that President Obama would, if necessary, use the military option, he says they're shoulder to shoulder. Listen.


SHIMON PERES, ISRAELI PRESIDENT: I do believe that the United States is following carefully the time and the progress. A year is an estimation. If something would happen earlier, I'm sure he would pay attention to that change. The main question you asked me, and the real answer I am giving you, I trust what the president says. I am free of doubt. I think he is a man of virtues (ph). He's a man that respects (ph) his words, and he is a man that thinks before he speaks.


KING: Will be interesting to watch, Wolf, as the trip unfolds. Whereas Prime Minister Metanyahu, who as you know, is a bit more conservative than the Israeli president, Mr. Peres, whether Prime Minister Netanyahu also will say on the record he is free of doubts about the president's resolve when it comes to Iran.

BLITZER: We'll look forward to that joint news conference that's scheduled for the two leaders. John, we'll check back with you tomorrow.

Let's bring in our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger. Gloria, this Iran issue is a very difficult one for the president to navigate on this trip.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. He has clearly got one mission here, which is to convince skeptics in Israel that he is serious about Iran. I think the president's done a pretty good job of managing that lately. Over and over again, he has clarified our policy toward Iran and nuclear weapons as one of prevention. And that's the key word there. Prevention, not containment.

And so, you're going to hear this over and over again from the president. He had a meeting recently with American Jewish leaders, Wolf, as you know, and told them that he is going -- when he is over there he is going to make a very clear challenge to Iranians about stopping the pursuit of nuclear weapons.

He is going to speak directly to Israelis about this, and we'll have to see if the skeptics give him a little bit of the benefit of the doubt.

BLITZER: He is under a lot of pressure on this trip to Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan.

BORGER: He is under a lot of pressure. And what I think in talking to people at the White House is that they've done a very good job of lowering expectations, so he might actually meet those low expectations. This job, this trip, is much more about politics in many ways, Wolf, than it is about policy. We don't expect him to go over there and sign any great declaration or make any great headway.

But it is kind of a trip where he has to re-establish good relationship, of course, with Bibi Netanyahu, which we all know has been very frayed, particularly during the last presidential election.

BLITZER: Strong words of support, though, from the Israeli president Shimon Peres that we just heard. BORGER: And we'll have to see what Bibi Netanyahu does and what his body language is and how he acts toward this president. You were over there in Israel, remember, when Bibi Netanyahu met with Mitt Romney during the campaign -

BLITZER: Yes, there were some tense times.

BORGER: There were.

BLITZER: With the president, not with Mitt Romney. All right, thanks very much, Gloria, for that.

Just ahead, the art of the comeback. Right now, South Carolina voters are passing judgment on a former governor whose affair and divorce may not be the final chapter of his political career.

And we'll show you an incident that Kansas City's mayor is calling unfortunate.





BLITZER: Americans love comeback stories. Today we'll see if that applies to a former South Carolina congressman and governor. Mark Sanford, he faces more than a dozen opponents in today's Republican primary for an open seat in Congress, including Teddy Turner, the son of CNN founder Ted Turner.

There is a big name on Democratic ballots, as well. Elizabeth Colbert Busch, the sister of comedian Stephen Colbert. Our national political correspondent Jim Acosta, is in Charleston for us with more. Jim?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLTICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, with 16 candidates vying to become the GOP nominee in this race to fill an open congressional seat, it is no wonder that the dirt is flying down here in South Carolina. And not all of the mud is aimed at the man expected to win this race, former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford.



ACOSTA (voice-over): In this congressional race along the South Carolina coast known as Lowcountry, the candidates haven't exactly taken the high road. This flyer, mailed out to voters takes aim at former governor Mark Sanford over the extramarital affair he tried to hide by saying he was hiking the Appalachian Trail. It reads, "We know where this trail leads." After voting, Sanford once again acknowledged his mistakes.

SANFORD: Life is a series of course corrections. Some days, you get right, and you surprise yourself on how right you get it. Other days you disappoint yourself and a lot of others.

ACOSTA: With Sanford the favorite on a ballot of 16 GOP candidates this primary day, it's getting down and dirty. Rivals like Teddy Turner, the son of CNN founder Ted Turner say the ex-governor's transgressions are fair game.

TEDDY TURNER, GOP CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: I think his past should be held against him.

ACOSTA: But Turner has taken his own share of hits. Look closely at this flyer, which asks, "Do you know the real Teddy Turner?" There is a picture of one of his father's ex-wives, movie star Jane Fonda. In these conservative parts, ouch.

TURNER: Name recognition, if you're Mark Sanford he's got a lot of that.

ACOSTA: So do you.

TURNER: Well, I have some, but it doesn't always work in my favor.

ACOSTA: Another Republican candidate, Larry Grooms, is trying to dial up support with this automated phone message to voters, featuring an impersonator of President Obama.

ANNOUNCER: You know what makes me mad? The thought of Larry Grooms in Congress.

ACOSTA: The rough-and-tumble race may remind voters of Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis duking it out in the movie "The Campaign."


ZACH GALIFIANAKIS (acting): Now that I'm running for Congress, we'll be under a lot of scrutiny. Anybody have anything they want to share with us?


ACOSTA: But the voters who've grown accustomed at nasty South Carolina politics seem to have no problem taking their pick, whether it's Turner --

(On camera): You think he's got a shot?

BUNKY WICHMANN, TURNER VOTER: Absolutely. Why not? Yes, there's only 16 running.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Or Sanford.

ELIZABETH STAHL, SANFORD VOTER: I'm sorry he screwed up but he -- I believe in him and I think he is our answer.


ACOSTA: The woman expected to win the Democratic nod, Elizabeth Colbert Busch, sister of comedian Stephen Colbert, has another way of describing Lowcountry campaigning.

BUSCH: I think this race is so important and it's so pivotal. I think there's just a lot of passion.


ACOSTA: Passions may be running high but the turnout is expected to be low so the results could come in fairly early later on this evening. But there won't be any rush for the candidates. The top two Republicans will have to square off in a run-off in just two weeks -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Two weeks. Not a long time. Jim, thanks very much.

Joining us now to discuss what's going on in South Carolina, our CNN political analyst, the Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher, along with Republican strategist, the CNN contributor, Alex Castellanos.

Who's going to win in South Carolina?

ALEX CASTELLANOS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, there's been some polling there and I'm not referring necessarily to what Sanford has done in the past but there's been a modest amount of polling that seems to indicate that Sanford is in the lead, that he's going to get a plurality somewhere around 30 percent. That's not enough to avoid a run-off and usually unless someone like Sanford gets -- who's well known, gets over 40 percent in the mid-40s that means 60 percent of the voters know him and aren't voting for him which means he'll lose the run off.

So Sanford may edge things out today. But it doesn't mean he is going to be the next nominee.

BLITZER: If, you know, Cornell, Americans are pretty forgiving to someone who comes forward and says I screwed up. I made a mistake. I'm sorry.

CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: I've worked for a lot of those candidates.


The truth of the matter is --

CASTELLANOS: I got the rest.


BELCHER: The truth of the matter is, I think this is a fascinating race for anyone who's a political science -- sort of student of politics. And look at the race that Sanford is running. Look at the first ad he rolled out that talks about forgiveness, this whole idea of repentance and then he sort of went to his conservative credentials.

The idea of -- of repenting is a very big ideal in Christian conservatives especially in the South. I would not be surprised at all if he gets above 30 percent in that runoff.

CASTELLANOS: He may. He may. You know we've all made mistakes and Americans are very forgiving. But also the first time you come back voters sometimes want to take you to the woodshed to let you know who's boss and to make you serve your penance. That's also part of evangelical Christianity.

BLITZER: Speaking of politicians who've made mistakes, Anthony Weiner, he's apparently thinking of running for mayor of New York.

What do you think?

BELCHER: Well, talk about repentance. You know, Anthony Weiner, before the incident, you know, New Yorkers -- he was a shoe in for running for mayor one day. A lot of people sort of thought this guy was going to be a rising star. We'll se if New Yorkers are more liberal groups, less sort of more secular are as forgiving, bur you know, he's put -- is doing some polling. We'll see what -- we'll see what happens with it.

BLITZER: If you were going to give him advice and you are an excellent political strategist and he came you to, I know you're Republican.


BLITZER: But you know what, Alex, I need your help. What should I do? What would you tell him?

CASTELLANOS: I think I would change my name.


I think maybe Frank Weiner? No. It's -- the problem for Anthony Weiner is that those pictures are still out there and as soon as he comes back he has -- there's visual evidence that takes you right back to the moment that disgraced him and forced him out of politics. So this is not one that's reparable that easy. What he's going to have to do is he's going to have to pay extra penance. First time out of the box he's probably going to run for something and lose, and then he can begin his journey back.

BELCHER: And he has to ask for forgiveness.



BLITZER: Do you think he can do it?

BELCHER: I think -- he's skilled. He's such a skilled politician I would not be surprised.

BLITZER: Go out and do some interviews, talk about it and know it.


BELCHER: And what Alex says is true is that the picture, that social media stuff is out there and it just doesn't go away as easily so he has --

CASTELLANOS: He's been away for a while. Maybe not long enough.

BLITZER: All right. Guys, thanks very much.

Stay right here. We're going to show you a very, very bizarre interruption of a mayor's speech and then ask the mayor if he knows why it happened. He's standing by to join us live.


BLITZER: This one is bizarre. A man rushed to the stage during Kansas City Mayor Sly James' State of the City speech today. Take a look. We bleeped the profanities.


MAYOR SLY JAMES, KANSAS CITY: Billion-dollars in investment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This man had just got through talking about exactly what (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are you doing?



BLITZER: The mayor continued his speech telling his audience, and I'm quoting him now, "That was unfortunate."

We have Mayor James on the phone with us right now.

Mayor, I must say you were pretty calm in the face of what looked like a potentially pretty violent experience. What happened?

JAMES: Well, as we were in the midst of the speech, Wolf, this gentleman just simply rushed the stage. I saw him out of the corner of my eye, had no idea what his intent was. Didn't know that he had taken the flag out of the Stanchion behind and thrown it to the ground, but he rushed up to the podium and then just basically started screaming into the mike.

I looked at his hands, I didn't see anything in it, but by that time the security detail was there and on him.

BLITZER: Do you know who this man is?

JAMES: I do not know him personally. I know that he has been a candidate for state office. I believe in the past -- I've never had any contact with him. Whether they'd be pleasant or unpleasant. I think he was simply a man completely disgruntled with something. But I'm not exactly sure what it was.

BLITZER: Do you have any idea what his motivation was? Does he have a political agenda?

JAMES: I don't know if he does or not, Wolf. That certainly isn't clear. I think that his basic line of reasoning was that he did not like the way things were going on the east side of town, which is certainly understandable. I don't either in a lot of regards. But you know, the bottom line is, there's a good way to say things and a bad way. And unfortunately he may have had a good message lost in a bad delivery.

BLITZER: This was the second time your security detail helped you in a very dramatic way. Increase intensify your security?

JAMES: Well, no, I don't really think so, to be honest with you. But you're right, it has been the second time. The first time was on the plaza when we were checking out large groups of teenagers there a couple of summers ago. And about 50 yards in front of us as we were walking toward it, three young adults were shot. Not killed, but hurt.

And my same security guard, Marlon, threw me into the rose bushes as he yelled, get down, sir. I guess he wasn't happy with the speed that I was getting down. But that's twice. And just shows how invaluable these guys are.


JAMES: On the other hand, you know, they do a pretty good job, these things are fairly rare, and I don't think that if I had five or six people, that this incident today would have been avoided. There could have been magnetometers at the door, but he didn't seem to have a weapon, so he was just a person inside the crowd.

BLITZER: Are you going to press charges?

JAMES: I'm going to let the police handle that. I really want to find out a little bit more about this. You know, I have no animosity towards this gentleman. I don't want to see him harmed, if there's no reason to. If he needs some sort of help, we'll try to find him help.

BLITZER: Mayor --

JAMES: But I just don't -- I don't know at this point what to do about it. And I just don't have enough information at my fingertips.

BLITZER: You're a good man indeed. And thank God you're OK.

JAMES: Thank you.

BLITZER: Everybody is all right. Appreciate your joining us.

JAMES: Thank you, sir. I appreciate it.

BLITZER: So have chemical weapons now been actually used in Syria? That's a red line for the Obama administration. I'll talk about that with the House and Senate Intelligence Committee chairs. That's coming up.


BLITZER: We now know what caused a deadly explosion at a Nevada military base.

Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Lisa, what do we have?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Well, a military official tells CNN the blast that killed seven U.S. Marines was caused by a mortar round that detonated in its launching tube. Eight others are wounded. This explosion happened during a training exercise at Nevada's Hawthorne Army Depot.

And at least 150,000 people attended today's formal installation of Pope Francis. In a distinctive change of style, as you see there, he didn't use the Popemobile which has bulletproof glass, but was instead driven through the crowd in an open-air vehicle.

And check out Ukraine's parliament. This floor fight started after one member gave a speech in Russian causing others to boo which sparked name-calling. And then as you can see there, things really got out of hand -- Wolf.

BLITZER: That's politics, unusually tough politics. Lisa, thanks.