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JOHN KING, USA

Sarah Palin Mystery; President Obama's Approval Ratings; Palin Keeps Everyone Guessing; Obama's National Security Shake-Up

Aired May 30, 2011 - 19:00   ET

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


JOHN KING, HOST: Thanks Candy and good evening tonight from one of America's historic treasurers, the Gettysburg National Military Park. It's a fitting place to spend any Memorial Day and on this national holiday, well a heavy rush of presidential politics.

The Sarah Palin mystery tour rolled into town just a short time ago, but no public events yet and we don't know when she will appear because her aides simply won't tell us. But as she made her way here, her stops included Ft. McHenry (ph), Star Spangled Banner (INAUDIBLE) and as she traveled she is being more than a little cagey on the subject of whether this is just a rolling civics lesson or a 2012 campaign preview.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER GOVERNOR OF ALASKA: You know I believe that there are many more out there who have much more to add and competition breeds success. I would hope that there is going to be vigorous debates and a lot of (INAUDIBLE) competition (INAUDIBLE).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Also this day, President Obama leads the traditional wreath laying at Arlington National Cemetery then announces another major change in his national security team. With America fighting three wars, we'll explore whether the new War Council signals a new approach.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm announcing my choice for the successors today because it's essential that this transition be seamless and that we stay focused on the urgent national security challenges before us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: But, first up, like it or not, she's back. Sarah Palin is on a bus tour that mixes landmarks of America's past and battlegrounds of her political presence. New Hampshire and Iowa in the days ahead, for example, but on this day George Washington's Mt. Vern, the National Archives in Washington, D.C. and here at the turning point of the Civil War. Some of you I know are already rolling your eyes.

I've been getting e-mails and tweets all day. There is no question Governor Palin is a master of media manipulation. But spend a little time in this little town and you'll also get a taste of the Palin factor. Look at these pictures we can show you right now. Families waiting for hours some of them eight or nine hours, 100-degree heat almost here to get a glimpse at the biggest remaining wild card in the 2012 presidential race.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JASON CORRADO, LONG ISLAND, NEW YORK: I think she brings a perspective that is a little bit closer to home for most average Americans. I don't think that she seems to have lost touch with what most people are concerned about right now. I think some of the candidates are not able to connect as well as she can.

JEANNE TULL, SELMA, TENNESSEE: I like her. I would just like to see her. I think a lot of her. I have a lot of respect for her. I have a lot of respect for her Christian values and her convictions. She seems like a family person and I like that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, Governor Palin likes to call us the lame stream media and her organization refuses to give us a schedule of her planned route or stops. So it makes it a little fun, or frustrating to cover her depending on your perspective. I call it fun. She did of course allow a FOX News crew and host to travel in her entourage and that begs one of the big questions about all this.

Has she privately assured FOX she is not running and that this is just about self-promotion or does the network have a different standard for Governor Palin than it put in place for its other candidate contributors like Newt Gingrich or Mike Huckabee. Let's dissect her message and her motives with three veterans of Republican politics.

CNN contributor Erick Erickson is the editor of the influential conservative site RedState.com. Susan Molinari is a former Republican congresswoman from New York and John Brabender is a top Republican campaign strategist who knows this state of Pennsylvania in particular quite well.

Congresswoman Molinari, to you first, is she running or is she just trying to help her image?

SUSAN MOLINARI, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, you know it's hard to -- who really knows what goes on in the mind of Governor Palin? And if she is not running, she's really putting together I think a brilliant strategy for reminding everyone of a very critical time of a presidential campaign that she is extremely relevant. You showed those pictures of people standing out in the heat and the people who were talking about that she's the one person that connects.

If I would have to say today I would say I don't think she's running but tomorrow you know she may prove me wrong. But what she is doing is running to be one of the most influential Republicans in these United States and what that means is whoever is the Republican nominee or all of those people running for the nomination will be courting Sarah Palin and want her attention and her endorsement.

KING: So John Brabender, I'm surrounded by families here. It's a slightly smaller crowd (INAUDIBLE) it was hours ago. Some of them have been here for eight or nine hours. You know this state well. In fact you advised Rick Santorum, the former senator from this state who is exploring a Republican presidential candidacy as well and is most likely to run.

What is the Palin factor? How much does somebody like Senator Santorum, Governor Pawlenty maybe, Congresswoman Bachmann for example, how much would they be overshadowed and are they being overshadowed even by Palin the non-candidate?

JOHN BRABENDER, PARTNER, BRABENDERCOX: Well look just the fact that you're starting your show and this is what we're talking about shows how much oxygen that can she pull out of the room and that's oxygen taken from everybody else. But I think you do have to remember is that the presidential race starts in places like Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina where people don't want to feel like it's Barnum and Bailey (ph) promotions coming to town.

They want someone who is there frequently. They can kick the tires. They feel is genuine. And I agree with Susan. I think if Sarah Palin is doing this to promote Republican and a change in Washington this is a great idea. I think if this leads to a presidential announcement there will be some who will look back with some pause and feel that this was just a little too planned and a little bit too sterile in some sense.

KING: It's a great point John makes, Erick, because while we were here today, the county Republican official came by and said I have no idea. They haven't called me. They haven't told me if she's coming. I think she might go there. Maybe she'll go there. You might hear families around me chanting "run Sarah run". She clearly has support.

So Erick, do the rules apply to her? Can these people power her candidacy? And she doesn't have to call the Adams County (ph) Republican Party, doesn't have to tell the New Hampshire chairman when she's coming, doesn't have to tell the Iowa chairman when she's coming?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know I think the rules do apply and I believe that if she doesn't adhere or she decides to run and doesn't adhere to some modicum of the, I guess you could say the campaign rules then I think the rumor mill, backbiting between Republicans that undoes -- can undo any candidate. It would undo Sarah Palin over time when you have bitter, angry parties who feel like you know they make money off the campaign season.

Is she there to help herself or is she there to help the Republicans? I would say though I do think it's interesting on the issue of FOX News that considering the pressure and the leaks about the pressure on all the other Republicans, including Mike Huckabee, that we haven't seen this about Sarah Palin suggests to me she may not be running.

KING: I have to take that -- and Greta is a friend of mine, so I'm not beating up on Greta at all. But Greta gets into the motorcade today. Greta gets a shoot for her program tonight, gets an interview with Governor Palin. We can't even get the schedule. That's Governor Palin's choice. She can make that choice from now until the end of time. And I mean that.

She is entitled to do whatever she wants, campaign however she wants and we have to deal with it. I remember covering Ross Perot back in 1992. It was the same way. That's our job is to cover them. It's not their job to help us. But to the question of FOX News, Congresswoman Molinari, I assume that she has told them she's not running because I don't assume they would publicly allow a double standard like this. Do you agree?

MOLINARI: You know it's hard to say because she obviously is a big draw. She is extremely popular. It is the story that everyone wants to cover. I mean this is quite an exclusive to be able to you know follow her on this mystery tour, know where she's going, and be able to get the interviews and the sound bites that she is providing them in terms of change and all of those things that really are news leading up to her announcement.

KING: All right. As we continue our conversation here we're told by our political producer Peter Hammy (ph) that Governor Palin -- and I don't want to over-excite the people standing around here -- that she has left her hotel and she's on the move. We think she's going to buy running socks for Piper in her SUV. That's what Peter Hammy (ph) is telling us, but we will continue to watch this. This is the level of detail (INAUDIBLE) used to, but tonight as we watch this play out.

John Brabender, I want to ask you about just the timing and a political sensitivity issue. She was clearly well received on the National Mall. She's been well received everywhere she has gone and I want to make that crystal clear. But there have been some people, some people who have complained about using Memorial Day, for example, a day where we honor the fallen, the legislative director for Rolling Thunder (ph), said I'm very not appreciative -- he said very not appreciative of the way she came in here. She wanted to come on the ride she should have come on the back. Governor Palin rode out in the front. How careful does she need to be during especially around these very, very important days?

BRABENDER: Well I do think she has to be careful but I want to be also careful not to hit her for this. I mean indeed if her motives are truly just to promoting America and to promote what America can be then I think she does have to pick national holidays like that and that's an important factor. Again, I think if all of a sudden people see her as candidate Palin and they see her missing the Fox Greenville (ph) debate. They see her not showing up for the upcoming CNN political debate in New Hampshire, those types of things and instead just showing up for events that look like they are PR events, then I think she has a problem.

KING: I want ya'll to listen to her here. During the trip to Ft. McHenry (ph), Star Spangled Banner fame, she had her family there. She was getting a tour and getting (INAUDIBLE) history. In some ways it looks like a great family vacation. Of course she is also inviting the media attention. She is taking questions as she moves along. Listen to her take here. She said she is certain, certain the Republican field will get bigger.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PALIN: You know, it's a continued process of contemplating what it is that we have in front of us as a family and what the build looks like and it's going to be a changed up build between now and when deadlines finally arrives for declaring. You know we hear rumors that Governor Perry (ph) perhaps is thinking about running.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Erick Erickson, she went on to say that she thinks the better the competition, the better the debates, the more people, strong candidates that get in, the more healthy the competition. She said she's contemplating it and she on her own brought up Governor Perry there of Texas. What did you make of that?

ERICKSON: Well you know Governor Perry has changed his tune in the last few weeks. He's gone from definitely not to I'm thinking about it. I'll see. I'm not sure. By and large, I'm kind of the opinion most of the feel is that we may have a few wild cards get in. Perry and Palin are probably the only two I think that could be consequential should they get in.

But you know I'm still not convinced that Sarah Palin is someone who is going to get in. I definitely think she's angling to be a king maker here. If she does get in, she probably will be the king maker in that process as well. But I'm just -- the fascination of Sarah Palin is what fascinates me that had anybody else done something like this, there wouldn't be the media coverage of it, but Sarah Palin is unique in American political landscape right now.

KING: I agree 100 percent and, again, we're getting criticized for being here because she's not a declared candidate. But as you criticize those of us who are trying to cover her, I would ask you to look around at these families here and I mean this with no disrespect to Governor Pawlenty or Senator Santorum or anyone else, but I do not believe if people thought she was -- they were passing through town, didn't know exactly when or where they were going to come, that they would be out here in these conditions like this.

ERICKSON: Right.

(CROSSTALK)

ERICKSON: There's no way they would.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: -- chanting "run, Sarah run". And so John Brabender (INAUDIBLE) ask the question as someone who has run a number of campaigns and is likely to be involved in this next one, what does she bring or would she bring to the field that it lacks? Would she just be somebody you know she ran as a vice presidential nominee. She clearly has 100 percent name I.D. among Republican voters or is there something from an issues perspective or message perspective that she has that no one else in the field does?

BRABENDER: I think there's certainly an excitement just in the way that she carries herself and the fact that she's a woman and other factors that are great for the Republican Party which she brings them along. However, if you go back to the presidential debate or the presidential race, if you remember, she did one debate. This time she'll have to do 15 debates.

People will have a much better understanding who she is, what she believes, not just what necessarily she did in Alaska but what does she plan for this country and what specific issues is she going to concentrate on and what ideas does she have? And so I think at this point she has the best of all worlds and that's the excitement of people. She doesn't have to answer tough questions yet and that can change things drastically.

KING: And Congresswoman, as someone who has been through a few elections, if you look at the last campaign and we know that she is very popular in places like where I am, small, rural towns where people tend to be more conservative, if you go into say in this state, if you just go to the east of the Philadelphia suburbs, where you have more moderate voters, independents and moderate Republicans like where you were elected from, that's where you do see some negatives in her standing. What would she have to do? What should she be doing if she's thinking about running and wants to see if she can repair her image with those people, where she has a bit of (INAUDIBLE) what should she be doing?

MOLINARI: Well first of all she is actually pretty popular in Statin Island and certain segments of Brooklyn, (INAUDIBLE) New York City as a whole, but some of those outer Burroughs (ph) and part of that appeal when you talked about what does she bring to this race? It's what that woman commented.

People feel that she understands their concerns. So I think shat she needs to do is to continue to get deeper into the articulation of those concerns but the one thing that she really needs to do is to then propose workable solutions, were she to be president of the United States. She's connected on feeling the pain. What can she do to alleviate those -- alleviate that pain as president of the United States from a statutory legislative or regulatory standpoint?

KING: We're going to ask Susan, Erick, and John to stand by and stay with us because ahead we'll compare Governor Palin's message with two other GOP contenders on the trail today. Tim Pawlenty is in Iowa, Michele Bachmann in New Hampshire.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), MINNESOTA: It was about defending and protecting, liberty then. It's about defending and protecting liberty today. Let us never forget that. Live free or die.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: And next, a Democratic incumbent by the numbers. The president is suddenly stronger on questions of war and peace, but he has clear weaknesses when it comes to jobs and what you pay at the pump.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're live tonight in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, powerful new evidence of how the death of Osama bin Laden is boosting President Obama's standing as commander-in-chief. The president's overall job approval rating now stands at 54 percent, but 62 percent of Americans in our latest poll say they trust Mr. Obama as commander-in-chief. That's up five points from just a couple of months ago and 65 percent of Americans now approve of how the president is handling terrorism, strong stuff but also just the kind of numbers that could give an incumbent president an eerie sense of deja vu.

For more on that, let's dig deeper with our senior analyst David Gergen, a veteran of both Democratic and Republican presidencies. David, I want to get to the president's poll numbers for a minute, but you were listening in the last segment and I'm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania tonight. Governor Palin is here. We're told she's out somewhere in town.

There are dozens of people waiting to see her here. I just want to get your sense. Is this as many Palin critics have been saying all day, the media being foolish or is there something about her that will have an impact on this race until we know for certain whether or not she is in.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Oh, I think it's something about her. She still has a sizzle, John, when a lot of these other candidates don't and that makes a great deal of difference. You know she's got a rabid following. She's a celebrity. But there's a difference between a celebrity and being a political leader.

And whether she can make that transformation back or not, we'll have to wait and see. But I think in the meantime, this woman, for all of her sort of you know questions about her policies, she has a knack, almost a genius for attracting attention, publicity, stirring people up. And there are a lot of people out here just like her. I mean she is friendly.

KING: Let's look now at the Democratic incumbent. And the president's numbers, I want to show our viewers how the president rates on a long list of issues. We can put all the issue list up on the screen.

Terrorism, 65 percent, Afghanistan, 55 percent approved, Iraq, 54 percent, taxes, 46. Then you start going down. So David, on the foreign policy commander-in-chief questions, the president's numbers are quite good. But I want to show you a comparison just on the economy, just on the economy.

This president right now, President Obama, 41 percent of Americans approve of his handling of the economy. At this point in his presidency, the last president to serve one term and be defeated was George H.W. Bush. He was at 39 percent when it comes to the economy, so for all of the good numbers about overall job approval, David, for all the good numbers about terrorism and strength as commander-in- chief, if you're President Obama, you have to look at that economy number and think I am nowhere near out of the woods.

GERGEN: Well, he's not out of the woods, but I do think you've got to say capturing and killing bin Laden made a huge difference to people's perspective on who he is. And I don't think it will hold his poll numbers up forever, but I think it will for a long time change the perception of who he is and make him seem strong, decisive, and that's going to be -- help him in all sorts of ways. Now what we saw with George H.W. Bush, as you so well remember John is that he want way up with a foreign policy victory.

You know kicking Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait went up to 89 percent, but over 18 months he fell 60 percent in 18 months. Now why was that? Because of the economy, so ultimately, this is going to come down to the economy and whether in fact the Republicans kind of come up with a candidate who has some of the kind of excitement that Sarah Palin has, but also brings a lot of the substantive gravitas that voters want ultimately.

KING: Well let's talk about that. Both the president's challenge and the Republican challenge when it comes to that, because we can judge it on how people view the president's handling of the economy or we can look at what is a very good historical marker to look at especially when you have an incumbent seeking reelection. Whether that incumbent is a mayor or whether the incumbent is the president of the United States.

How do people feel about what's going on in their community, in the case of the president it's the country. How are things going in the country today? Thirty-nine percent of Americans say they are going well, but six in 10 Americans, 60 percent say they are going badly. Again if you go back to this time in 1991, the last incumbent president to lose his reelection bid, George H.W. Bush, 53 percent then said the country was going well, things were going well David. So George H.W. Bush had a much better right track, wrong track we call it than President Obama does, but can he change the narrative about that and do you see anyone in the Republican side making a powerful economic case?

GERGEN: I don't know whether President Obama can change that narrative or not, John. He's -- the economy, there are all sorts of signs of the economy slowing again, fragile recovery, no serious expectation among economists that unemployment will get below eight percent by the time of the election of November next year.

We're likely to be in a heavy slog, continuing heavy slog. Whether the voters will forgive President Obama and say well it's not really his fault, I think only time will tell, but I see no indications that he's going to get a real lift on the economic front. But that does -- that still doesn't mean he's going to lose the election because you've got to come up -- the Democrats came up with a candidate and Bill Clinton turned out to be a very, very effective political candidate. So far none of the Republicans who is in the field has struck most voters at being another Bill Clinton. Someone, you know, who wins a couple of primaries, you know (INAUDIBLE) on the Republican side and they may be able to change that perception. But right now this Sarah Palin bus tour and the fact that we are all talking about it, and not talking about what Tim Pawlenty had to say this weekend, not talking about what Mitt Romney had to say this weekend, I think sort of underscores in our minds the fact that, you know, they're just not as interesting copy as we say in the news business.

They just don't have that kind of pull, that magnetic pull that brings cameras in (ph) and people want to hear what they have to say. They have got to sort of step up their game on that front.

KING: David Gergen live for us tonight -- David, I appreciate you insights as always.

Still ahead here another big shakeup in the president's national security team, does it mean a faster exit or stay the course in Afghanistan?

And next Sarah Palin says she is certain there will be new entries into the Republican presidential race. How does her road pitch compare to other Republican hopefuls out on the trail today?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're live tonight from the Gettysburg National Military Park. There's always a crowd here for the Memorial Day parade and reflection. And today the town also buzzing with word Sarah Palin is here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you trying to find her?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm trying to find her, definitely.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our daughters (INAUDIBLE) we're looking over here. We need to find her.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How long have you been here?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The whole weekend (ph).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: She did arrive here this evening, staying at a local hotel. She went out to do a bit of little shopping. And we know that she's planning to visit some of the Civil War historic sites here during her visit, whether it's tonight or in the morning, we aren't quite so sure. Is this a campaign trip? She says no.

Will this bus tour stop in the first caucus state of Iowa? Yes she says. Might she decide to run for president later, she says maybe. If she does, it's clear she will try to write her own rules and make a folksy (ph) patriotism part of her campaign pitch (ph).

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE)

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE)

PALIN: (INAUDIBLE) any Republican candidate is very, very electable. I think Americans are ready for true change (INAUDIBLE) our country back on the right track. This isn't a campaign bus. This is a bus to be able to express to America how much we appreciate our foundation and to invite more people to be interested in all that is good about America. And to remind ourselves we don't need to fundamentally transform America. We need to restore what's good about America. You can start by doing that right in here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now two other Republican contenders likely to feel the squeeze if Governor Palin does run were out campaigning today, the former Minnesota governor, Tim Pawlenty was in Iowa.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TIM PAWLENTY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're in a competition for the future direction of this country. What it values, why it values it, and how the role of government plays out in people's lives and each time the government pushes into an area and takes over one more piece of turf or responsibility that was previously reserved for families or that was previously reserved for neighborhoods or that was previously the responsibility of community or places of worship or charity or philanthropy or they push into areas that were previously the province of entrepreneurs or business or private markets and they say, you know what?

We're taking over that space now or they say we're going to make it more difficult for to you do it or more expensive or they say it's going to take longer or it's going to cost you more or the future is going to be uncertain because of regulation. Every time they push in and take over one more chunk of what was the non-governmental space in our country they not only grow budgets, they not only grow their footprint, but they do something else that I think is equally corrosive to our country. They lay down and they discourage the American spirit.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KING, HOST: That's Governor Pawlenty earlier today in Iowa.

Republican Congresswoman and Tea Party favorite Michele Bachmann, she was in New Hampshire.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), MINNESOTA: We renew our commitment also this day and republish in our hearts those words of the Declaration of Independence, those words of the Constitution of the United States, those words of the Bill of Rights, of the Northwest Ordinance, of those organic documents that fulfill the dreams of the Founders, to give us liberty, something that no other people on the face of the Earth in modern times or in 5,000 years of recorded human history have ever lived to feel the privilege of what we have been given.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Let's talk more about the Republican field. Back with us Susan Molinari, John Brabender, and Erick Erickson.

Congresswoman Molinari, to you first. People always complained about the field. I remember back in 1991, people thought the Democratic field -- oh, the Democratic field was horrible. They'd never beat George H.W. Bush. There was this guy Bill Clinton from Arkansas, why won't Mario Cuomo run?

SUSAN MOLINARI (R), FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: Right.

KING: Why won't Roy Bentsen run? That's one of the reasons you hear some people here saying they look at the field and they go, we want Governor Palin to run.

You're plugged in with the Republican, not just the establishment, with people who do campaigns. Are Republicans down on this field? Do they think there's anybody out there who can beat President Obama?

MOLINARI: You know, first of all, I do have to say, I think it's so, you know, gratifying for me to see two Republican females shaking up the race for the presidency. So, I just have to say that.

I think that there is, you know, there is this concepts with the Republicans that see that the president could be very vulnerable, particularly relative to your discussion with David Gergen, if the economy continues to not move, if unemployment stays down, if inflation continues to grow, if gas prices don't get under control, you know, that this is an opportunity that we didn't see several years ago in terms of stopping President Obama from being there for eight years.

So, I think there is that frustration that he is so beatable. It is very typical for the Republican Party to be unhappy with their slate of candidates. But then to fall behind, you know, usually, the front- runner.

This is a different year. But this is -- you know, look, all of these races mean you have to get in this race and it's not the excitement that you generate today, but the staying power, the ability to raise money, the ability to have the organization, the ability to have John King continue to want to follow you, you know, a year from now. And that's going to be the big difference and that's when you're going to see the people coalescing around a candidate and they will be, you know, somebody that will unite the Republican Party. This is not unusual.

KING: John Brabender, look at the field and think about the possibility of a Palin candidacy. Back in 2007, I remember taking a trip up to New Hampshire with now senator, then former governor of Virginia, Mark Warner. I'm not endorsing Governor Warner, but he was a credible guy. He was a pro-business Democrat. He was a businessman before that. He was a credible candidate for president.

But he went up to New Hampshire. And with John Edwards, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, he found simply there was no oxygen, that maybe he could raise enough money to be a credible candidate but he wasn't able to keep up with them. Maybe he co-sign up some people, but he wasn't going to be able to keep up with them.

Who gets hurt if Governor Palin gets in? Is your friend Rick Santorum, does that take away oxygen for him? Is it Governor Pawlenty? Is it Congresswoman Bachmann?

JOHN BRABENDER, PARTNER, BRABENDERCOX: I think you do look at in places like Iowa and South Carolina places like that, you have to have ownership of something. Rick Santorum, well known among the pro-life community, social conservatives, as well as the Tea Party community. Same thing with Sarah Palin. Michele Bachmann, I think, plays in that same space.

So, I think when you look at that space, you can only have so many people in there and own it or they divide the vote. If they start dividing that conservative vote, that helps a Mitt Romney who would be seen more moderate on some of these issues.

KING: Erick Erickson, when you look around the field, I was up in New Hampshire recently with Governor Huntsman, the former governor of Utah. There are some conservatives who say, no way, he's for civil union. No way, he was President Obama's ambassador to China. There are others who say in this field, if he can somehow come close up to upset him, or maybe upset Governor Romney in New Hampshire, who knows what happens?

Do you think that's possible?

ERICK ERICKSON, REDSTATE.COM: I'm not a Jon Huntsman fan. He's probably the one guy in the race that I really don't care for. But, yes, he definitely can scoot up the middle the way this field is divided. I think if Sarah Palin or Rick Perry were to get into the race, you would have a Mitt Romney and a Jon Huntsman on one side and possibly Newt Gingrich and everyone else on the other side, it really becoming a Palin versus Romney battle.

But, you know, John, interestingly enough, I guess it was the psychological build up to the Mitch Daniels campaign that ultimately didn't happen where all of a sudden, the last week or two, I'm, all of a sudden, hearing a lot of Republicans say, you know what, X isn't that bad. People coming to either Tim Pawlenty or to Mitt Romney kind of -- they are tired of speculating. They are ready to get on with it. KING: I knew there was an anticipation for what Governor Daniels was going to do, I didn't know there was a psychological buildup to it. But I get your point, someone who would have been a very credible candidate there.

What about -- who else? Who else?

Congresswoman Molinari, to you first. We're all going to watch Governor Palin because of her potential to shake up this race. She would be at the top of the polls. We mentioned, she mentioned and Erick has talked about Governor Perry.

Who else? Is there somebody else out there you're going to say, I'm going to watch this person, maybe in another month or two, they'll make a decision and surprise us?

MOLINARI: Yes, I'm going to keep saying Governor Christie, no matter what he said.

(LAUGHTER)

MOLINARI: How many times he denies that the Republicans are going to still watching him do that. I mean, I think, obviously, Governor Perry, we're going to watch, although I don't think he's going to. I think he's lining himself up either to be vice president or a credible candidate for 2016, which I think a lot of this is what that is. Let's speculate so that I can be in the line-up for the next time around.

Governor Huntsman clearly, I met with him. I do think he's extremely credible.

And Mayor Giuliani is somebody out there who has said that he has not said no at this point, and he's another person who may be able to run up the middle.

KING: He has not said no, Mayor Giuliani, John Brabender. When I was up in New Hampshire a couple weeks ago, there are a lot of people up there who are convinced he's going to run. There are others, fundraisers, people who raise money for the mayor last time, who say they have been called by Giuliani associates and they had made crystal clear they are not going to do that, again, that they raise a lot of money from last time, they think it was all wasted.

Is he flirting or is he a serious prospect?

BRABENDER: Well, for public disclosure, I was part of the team Giuliani last time. And the problem we always had was he was doing well in some of the national polls, but could not figure out an early state in which he could do well. He did poorly in Iowa, poorly in New Hampshire, poorly in South Carolina. It's the same line up this time.

So, I think he has the same hurdles, as a very moderate for a Republican this time around.

But to be honest with you, I think the story that's getting lost on naming all these candidates is going back to the polling numbers that you showed on the president. You know, he's doing well among personality and doing poor among performance. And so, what that means is trouble.

He could do well -- he could go on and be on "Dancing with the Stars" and probably come in second like Kirstie Alley if there's a vote, but as you get closer to the election, people are going to look actually at performance and I've been reading polls for 25 years. I think all of these candidates are credible because I think this president has some serious problems.

KING: Everybody, stand by. We just mentioned that Governor Palin went out to do some shopping. We caught her as she was leaving her hotel. And among the questions she was asked was if a Republican voter or reporter asked her to explain why did she resign in the middle of her term as Alaska governor.

Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: Read my book, "Going Rogue." It explains exactly why I left. After all of those frivolous ethics charges and lawsuits that were really going to bankrupt our state and my family personally, it was time to let the lieutenant governor take over the reins and take on with a fiscally conservative agenda that we had started together.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Erick Erickson, are the Republican voters out there who cared that Sarah Palin decided to step down in the middle of her term?

ERICKSON: I think there are Republicans who care. But I think when they understand the facts, they largely Alaska is one of the very few states where the government doesn't actually pay for the governor's -- complaints against the governor and she was inundated and on the verge of personal bankruptcy because of it. I think Republican voters tend to understand that.

But the fact that she's going to answer questions like this all along now, even when she's had a book come out and others, this is going to weigh on her in general election in a way that they wouldn't on other candidates.

John, if I could go back to Susan's point, though, you know, Chris Christie is still the guy I'm keeping my eye on, because I don't see a rationale for his presidential race in 2016 where you look at the line up of Republican governors then, that's opposed to this year.

KING: If Governor Christie is watching, he now knows Congresswoman Molinari wants him to get in, or thinks he might. And Erick wants -- it's interesting mix, Governor. That's a broad stroke of your party right there. You might want to think about that.

Congresswoman Molinari, John Brabender, Eric Erickson, thanks for coming in tonight. We'll keep in touch, a very interesting campaign getting more busy by the day.

When we come back, the military soon will have a new top officer. Will that make a difference in Afghanistan, say, or Libya?

And a New York congressman says that his Twitter account was hacked by someone who sent a lewd photo. So, why then isn't the congresswoman asking for an investigation? That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back. We're live tonight in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the latest stop on Sarah Palin's One Nation Tour.

Our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash back in Washington with the latest news you need to know right now -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, John.

The House of Representatives comes back tomorrow to vote on raising the U.S. debt ceiling. And it's a safe bet that it won't pass.

And that's actually the reason Republicans are holding the vote in the first place, to prove raising the debt ceiling without conditions, like spending cuts, can't get through Congress. Tomorrow's vote will need the support of two-thirds of the members present. And in a Republican-controlled House, it's pretty clear that even a simple majority couldn't pass.

And in an exclusive on-camera interview with CNN today, New York Democratic Congressman Anthony Weiner denied sending a lewd picture of himself to a 21-year-old Seattle college student, blaming this weekend's Twitter posting on a hacker.

The college student sent a statement to "The New York Daily News" admitting that the congressman did follow her on Twitter but said there were never any improper exchanges between the two of them and said she never saw the picture which, John, she said she quickly -- was quickly deleted from Weiner's account. And this is actually causing a raging war, as you can imagine on the Internet. Conservative blogs doubting his account that this was a hacker and liberal blogs are saying that this was right wing conspiracy, John.

KING: So, Dana, there's one way the congressman could try to put this to rest and that would be to call the Capitol police or call the FBI and say, come on in, please launch an investigation because I was hacked. Why hasn't he done that?

BASH: We don't know the answer to that. I actually asked Congressman Weiner's press secretary about that. I didn't get a response. We do know from the Capitol police and the FBI that they are not investigating. The way that Congressman Weiner's office answered the question to me and other reporters is by saying that he actually has hired a lawyer and that lawyer is -- they're going to use it to take proper steps to try to figure out what criminal or civil action should be taken. But no request that we can detect for an investigation or formal information to prove this. KING: Curious there. We'll keep tracking that. Curious case.

Dana, stay with me. You cover the McCain-Palin campaign back in 2008. Governor Palin obviously out on a bus tour now here in Gettysburg. Just moments ago, she was asked what she would do -- if she were a candidate, what would she do to make the economy better? Listen to this, some harsh criticism of President Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PALIN: Big ideas are for big tax cuts, for job creator to be able to keep more of what they are earning and producing and reinvesting in their businesses, instead of government taking it and then doling out dollars according to the politician's priority. That doesn't work. That leads us toward socialism and look at other countries that have based their economy on that socialism. It doesn't work.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Looks like somebody who wants to run.

PALIN: I want a strong economy. That's for doggone sure.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Little hard to here with the cluster, but socialism does not work, she says, Dana, in her criticism of President Obama.

They spent a lot of time around here in the last campaign. You watch her move around now and you talk to the Republicans. Do they think she's in and this is a slow build up, or is she just here doing a little image rehabilitation?

BASH: Brand management I think is the term that I've heard from some Republicans. But most of them think that she's doing there, John, that she's having a little fun and that she is getting out there in advance of a documentary coming out next month, and that it's not likely that she's going to run. But they also know that, Republicans I talk to, that they are just not always sure what exactly she's up to. So, they wouldn't be surprised at the end of the day if she did.

KING: She is unpredictable, to say the least. Dana Bash from Washington -- Dana, thanks.

President Obama revealed some more important changes in his national security team. Next, what it could mean for U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and helping NATO in Libya.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: President Obama picked this Memorial Day to announce some important changes to his national security team. He's nominating General Martin Dempsey, currently the Army chief of staff, to replace the retiring Admiral Mike Mullen as chairman of the Joint Chiefs, with Navy Admiral James Winnefeld as the vice chairman.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Between them, they bring deep experience in virtually every domain -- land, air, space, sea, cyber. They both have something else -- for the first time, the chairman and vice chairman will have the experience of leading combat operations in the years since 9/11.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: President Obama also nominating General Ray Odierno. You might remember Ray Odierno. He's the former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq. He will be the new Army chief of staff.

This major overhaul of the administration's top national security post didn't start today. Remember, the president's also moving the CIA chief, Leon Panetta, to defense secretary, and bringing the soon to retire General David Petraeus home to run the CIA. All this shuffling can lead to some big unanswered questions.

With us now from Washington: CNN national security contributor, Fran Townsend. She advised President Bush and is now on the CIA's external advisory board.

Fran, several of the Bush holdovers, Defense Secretary Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen, the military's top officer, they will be leaving. Now, General Petraeus, of course, goes back to the Bush administration. General Odierno, these other generals, have served through Democrats and Republicans.

Do you see any particular change in strategy that might come from the change in the team?

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: You know, it's interesting, John, because I had the privilege of working both with Marty Dempsey, the nominee for chairman, and Ray Odierno, who will be the new Army chief. And I will tell you, these are men who have served throughout the war, who understand how we are, where we are, and they also have a familiarity with the leaders and the battle conditions.

And so, I actually think in many respects that what President Obama is doing here is seeking the advice of men who have been out in the field, who can help him execute the strategy he has already articulated. I don't expect big changes here.

KING: And I want you to listen to the president here, because he talks about his new team, he talks about the battlefield challenges they face, and then listen at the very end. I want to talk about the significance at the very end.

TOWNSEND: Sure.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: General Dempsey, Admiral Winnefeld, we have much to do -- from bringing our troops home from Iraq to beginning to reduce our forces in Afghanistan this summer, and transitioning to Afghan; from defeating al Qaeda to protecting the Libyan. All this even as we make difficult budget decisions while keeping our military the finest fighting force in the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The last point is quite interesting, because we are fighting three wars right now. The president says Iraq will be almost over soon. Some small level of troops stay behind. Afghanistan phase out will begin soon -- we don't know how long that will take. Libya's still a big question mark as to how much and how significant the U.S. involvement will be.

But as we make budget decisions, while keeping our military the finest fighting force in the world, in this cut spending environment, what do you make -- Secretary Gates tried to start plowing this ground, and now in Leon Panetta, not just the current CIA director, but also a former top budget official in the Clinton administration. Will that matter?

TOWNSEND: Well, I think it absolutely. Not only that it's matter, I think it was part of the driving force behind the president's decision to pick Leon Panetta. I mean, let's be honest, while Secretary Gates began the budget cut considerations, he was also deeply reluctant to have it go as fast as the president wanted.

Leon Panetta, having been the director of the Office of Management and Budget, and having the experience with Capitol Hill, that he's going to have to contend with to make these budget cuts in defense, was really quite a smart pick on his part. But this is not going to be easy.

And you know, the other interesting thing we haven't talked about, John, is who President Obama did not pick for some of these top posts.

He did not pick David Petraeus to be chairman. David Petraeus was recommending to the president slower draw-downs in Afghanistan than the president wanted. He finds himself at CIA.

He also didn't pick Admiral Jim Stavridis, the commander of NATO, and who's really been in charge of the NATO effort against Libya. Stavridis is the guy who pulled together this European coalition, including the French and the British. But he also got passed over.

So, I think the president is looking to, in Marty Dempsey, and Ray Odierno, people with tried and true combat experience, but sort of the quiet generals who have got experience, who will advise him, but in executing the strategy that he wants and he sees going forward.

KING: Fran Townsend with excellent insights for us tonight, it's going to be interesting going forward. In the big political decisions about Afghanistan and Iraq, the president could always say, this is Bush's holdover defense secretary in Bob Gates. Now he will be gone. This is the president's team completely now.

Fran, thanks for coming in tonight.

When we come back, we'll reflect on this somber day, Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: In a moment, an Anderson Cooper special report, "Deadly Impact." I hope to see you at this time tomorrow, as we leave you, a reminder -- a reminder -- of why we mark Memorial Day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

OBAMA: Our nation owes a debt to its fallen heroes that we can never fully repay. But we can honor their sacrifice and we must.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want everyone to realize that these aren't just graves. They aren't just numbers. They're real people. And they have real families. They have wives and husbands and children and parents and siblings.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We will give their deaths meaning by how we uphold and honor the legacy they have left us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Their legacy is not in their death, it is ultimately not in their sacrifice. It is in the sunrises and sunsets, the birthdays and the holidays, the first dates and the firstborns, all the cherished moments they have made possible for the families they left behind.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)