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Republican Presidential Candidates Prepare for Debate; Billions Missing in Iraq

Aired June 13, 2011 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: Republican hopefuls are getting ready for CNN's first 2012 presidential debate. In just two hours, the sparks will fly. We're live from here in New Hampshire with the best political team on television.

Billions of dollars in cash loaded into airplanes and flown to Iraq, it was meant to help that country rebuild after Saddam Hussein, but much of that money simply disappeared. And now we're learning for the first time more about what actually happened to it.

And as the White House weighs in on the Anthony Weiner sex scandal, the congressman is said to be in a state of despair. Is he getting any closer to resigning?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world, breaking news, political headlines and Jeanne Moos all straight ahead.

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

All right. We're just two hours away from the Republican presidential debate here at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire. Seven Republican hopefuls, six of them declared candidates, are going through their final preparations there. There may be fireworks as they go after one another, but they are certain to team up in their harsh criticism of President Obama.

CNN, of course, will be the only network with live national coverage.

Joining us now, our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, and our debate moderator on this evening, CNN's John King.

John, let me go to you first.

Who has the most, among these seven Republicans, the most at stake tonight?

JOHN KING, HOST, "JOHN KING, USA": Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, who by far and away is the front-runner here in the first-in-the-nation primary state of New Hampshire, and you would have to consider him the front-runner nationally as well, not as strong as a national front-runner, but he's been around the track before, ran in 2008, has a very good, probably the best fund- raising organization so far, and has good organizations put in place here in the state of New Hampshire, the best so far we have seen, decent organization in the state of South Carolina, and further on through the states, has made a decision not to compete as hard in Iowa, even though he has a team, a pretty good team on the ground in Iowa, as well.

But this is it. This is the make-or-break state. Governor Romney has to win the New Hampshire primary, the first-in-the-nation primary. He knows That's right. . And because he's so far ahead right here tonight, look for much of the attention, when it's not on President Obama, to be on Governor Romney.

BLITZER: If six Republicans go after Mitt Romney, that's a formidable opposition.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. He's got a big target on his back, obviously, because he's the front-runner.

The person we have been hearing from is Tim Pawlenty, who is kind of everyone's second choice, and he's trying to make it a race between two people. I think it's a little early for him, but he's trying to do that, and he's been attacking Romney on -- on his health care plan, on the issue of mandates, which is something he shares with Barack Obama. Both of them had mandates in their in their health care plans.

So it will be interesting to see Pawlenty, who is kind of a mild- mannered fellow, see how frontally he takes on Mitt Romney or whether he thinks he's in fact already criticized him and he can go on to other things.

BLITZER: Yes. In our most recent CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, among Republicans' choice for their nominee in 2012, look at this, Romney 24 percent, Sarah Palin, who is not yet running, maybe she will, 20 percent, Giuliani, not running, 12 percent.

Herman Cain, the former CEO of Godfather's Pizza, a radio talk show host, he and Gingrich are tied at 10 percent.

KING: Herman Cain is the early surprise of this campaign. Remember, Governor Huckabee last time around came out of blue in Iowa, came from nowhere. He was behind, then, boom, came to the Iowa caucus, victory.

Herman Cain is a surprise this time. And it's interesting. Governor Romney is the major story tonight, probably the major focus because he's the front-runner here. But there are many important subplots, including who gets the early support of a decent chunk of the Tea Party movement. And if you're Michele Bachmann, if you're Rick Santorum, you're looking for Tea Party and social conservatives.

If you're Tim Pawlenty and you need some Tea Party and some social conservative support, you're looking at this guy Herman Cain who suddenly has gone from zero to 10 percent of the electorate and is heading up, and, yes, he's not a direct full threat yet, but you're starting to think, OK, do I have to worry about this? Because the pie is only so big, Wolf. .

If Governor Romney is getting 30-something percent of the vote here in New Hampshire and Herman Cain suddenly gets 10 percent and he's growing, you have to start worrying. It's simple. Politics in the end is math.


BORGER: Yes. Exactly.

But -- and our poll also showed that what Republicans care more about anything else is electability. Seven out of 10 Republicans say, we want somebody who can beat Barack Obama. And the question is whether Mitt Romney can convince them that he in fact is the person who can appeal to independent voters, who has the business experience, because, after all, this -- this election is going to be about jobs, going to be about the economy.

And that's going to be Cain's argument, obviously, that he's run a business. But...

BLITZER: John, Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor, U.S. ambassador to China, he's going to desperately need New Hampshire. He's going to announce his candidacy in about a week, a week-and-a- half, he says, so why isn't he here tonight?

KING: His aides say that he didn't want to participate just yet. If you explore the conversation more privately, you hear from some of his aides and his close allies that he wants a little bit more time to figure out, where is the electorate?

It's a big question in the Republican Party. Will the Tea Party be as important in 2012 as it was in 2010? Can you de-emphasize the social issues? Governor Huntsman has a very conservative record on abortion rights. He's a bit more moderate on gay rights, supports civil unions, doesn't want to talk about those issues, wants to focus on economic stewardship.

There are some who think it's a mistake to not participate here. He will be in future debates, without a doubt. It's a tough calculation. It's a game of chess as to when do you get in.

BORGER: Yes. Well, he has spent a lot of time in the state actually. I was told today by one of his aides he's trying to get to know the state.

But don't forget also there are going to be independent voters out there who can vote in this primary, and I think Huntsman believes that he has the greatest chance of appealing to those voters in this primary, and then perhaps winning the state that way, but not in this debate.

BLITZER: Enjoy the moderation tonight.


BLITZER: It will be fun. It will be exciting. We will, of course, be watching.

And just to remind our viewers, the seven Republican hopefuls, they will gather to size one another and debate all the serious issues. CNN hosts the New Hampshire presidential debate, starts less than two hours from now, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN. They are putting the finishing touches on the stage right now.

It may yet turn out to be one of history's biggest heists. After the invasion of Iraq, the U.S. followed up on its deployment of troops with planeload after planeload after planeload of cold hard cash, but guess what? The money that was meant to help develop a new Iraq missing -- billions and billions of dollars simply disappeared. Now we're learning more about what actually happened to all that cash.

CNN's Brian Todd has been digging into this story for us.

Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the inspector general in charge of investigating fraud in Iraq say billions of dollars that was flown into Iraq after the 2003 invasion have gone missing. He says it was like a Wild West atmosphere in those days. And eight years later, U.S. officials believe at least some of that money might have been stolen.


TODD (voice-over): In the months after Shock and Awe, the mantra was spend and rebuild. At least, that's what U.S. officials hoped. They airlifted billions of dollars in bricks of $100 bills in Iraq to pay for reconstruction.

Now the U.S. inspector general for Iraq reconstruction has some unsettling news about more than $6 billion of that money.

STUART BOWEN, U.S. INSPECTOR GENERAL FOR IRAQ RECONSTRUCTION: It has not been properly accounted for, and that is the purpose of our continuing audit.

TODD (on camera): If some of it was stolen, who do you believe stole it?

BOWEN: I don't want to speculate on who the potential criminals might be, but this money was delivered to Iraqi control, and we have in the past had a number of cases reported to us about interim ministers who did steal.

TODD: Who was responsible for safeguarding that money?

BOWEN: During 2003 and 2004, that money was under the aegis of the Coalition Provisional Authority, the entity that was created to govern Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime. TODD (voice-over): Stuart Bowen says, after that, the Pentagon and the Iraqi government shared responsibility for safeguarding some of the money, and that it was the Pentagon who asked him to investigate.

Contacted by CNN, a Pentagon spokesman cited that probe, but also said the investigation found that "All of these funds remained under the control of the government of Iraq at all times."

This is not U.S. taxpayer money. The cash belonged to Iraq in the first place. The inspector general says the money was from the Development Fund for Iraq, which had taken Iraqi oil money diverted by international sanctions and stored it at a Federal Reserve facility in the U.S.

(on camera): But Americans may still be on the hook for some of this. Bowen says Iraqi officials have indicated to him they may go to court to reclaim the lost money. What if they win?

(voice-over): Congressman Henry Waxman chaired several hearings on fraud in Iraq when he was head of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

(on camera): Is Congress on the hook for some of this if the Iraqis successfully reclaim that money?

REP. HENRY WAXMAN (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, I hope not, but the truth of the matter is the U.N. said to the United States, you are now entrusted with this money. You have a fiduciary responsibility for the Iraqi people to use it for their benefit. And now we can't account for $6.7 billion.


TODD: Now, we contacted the Iraqi Embassy. They didn't respond to comments that Iraqi officials may have stolen some of the money, but a high-ranking Iraqi official said the inspector general's report has shown -- quote -- "The United States failed to put in place accountable and transparent financial controls to safeguard Iraqi funds."

Wolf, it seems like there's blame being tossed around by both sides toward each other at this point.

BLITZER: And, Brian, you have also gotten some insight from Congressman Waxman on the breakdowns that occurred in the disappearance of at least some of this money.

TODD: That's right. He found out during the chairing of some of those hearings, Wolf.

He said after the early days of the invasion, officials in that coalition provisional authority would ask Iraqis who they just set up in these temporary government positions to pay their employees. He said the U.S. officials would ask the Iraqis how many employees they had, and he said they would come up with these wild numbers that far exceeded what U.S. officials later found out were their actual employees.

Now, that gives you some indication of how hard it's going to be to track that money and where some of it went.

BLITZER: Yes. I suspect that money is gone, gone, gone.

TODD: Right.

BLITZER: All right, Brian, thanks very much.

The embattled Congressman Anthony Weiner is said to be in a state of despair over his unfolding scandal, and now the White House is weighing in for the first time.

Also, President Obama facing a daunting economic challenge as the race for the White House heats up. What does the president plan to do? I will ask his former White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs. He's here in New Hampshire with me.

Plus, the government reveals how many U.S. airlines made last year with all those fees they charge, and it's a surprising number.

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


BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is here. He has "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: You already know this, Wolf, but we're about 17 months away from the 2012 presidential election. A handful of Republican hopefuls have already declared they are in. They are going to challenge President Obama.

A few others have indicated they may get in, in the coming weeks. If unemployment doesn't come down and people don't start feeling a little more optimistic about their future, the GOP's biggest challenge is going to be to avoid snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Tonight, seven Republican presidential hopefuls will get it on in the Granite State of New Hampshire live on CNN beginning at 8:00. We're likely to hear a lot about the sad state of the economy, how President Obama's failed to create jobs, why the country is so deep in debt, and how each of these men and women thinks they can change things for the better.

There will be promises of no new taxes and steep cuts in government spending. Mitt Romney, who has emerged as the early front- runner in the field, will no doubt have to defend attacks over the universal health care law passed in Massachusetts when he was governor of that state. And Newt Gingrich is going to have to try to convince his supporters that he's serious about running a campaign. See, most of his staff abruptly up and quit late last week.

It's just the second in a series of debates scheduled for Republican candidates, the characters likely to change over the coming months -- Jon Huntsman, Sarah Palin, Rudy Giuliani, Rick Perry, some of the possible additions in the coming weeks -- but the issues, those will likely remain pretty much the same.

So here's the question. What do you want to hear from Republicans at tonight's presidential debate?

Go to and post a comment on my blog.

Wolf, I know you're excited for this.

BLITZER: I certainly am. I love politics. And I'm always excited to watch these debates.

CAFFERTY: I know you are.

BLITZER: Aren't you, Jack?

CAFFERTY: Oh, yes. I'm on the edge of my canvas chair here.

BLITZER: I know you are. I know. All right. Let's -- we will get crazy. Getting excited. All right, Jack, thank you.

We will get more on the debate coming up.

But, meanwhile, there are calls now for Congressman Anthony Weiner to resign, and they are coming in from the highest levels of his -- after his so-called sexting scandal continues to grow.

A Democratic source who spoke to Weiner tells CNN the New York lawmaker is -- quote -- "on the fence" about stepping down, also saying that the congressman is in a state of despair.

CNN's Mary Snow is working the story for us in New York.

What's the latest there, especially in his district, which is -- includes Brooklyn and Queens?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know, while Weiner can't be forced to leave unless he's broken the law, the people who put him in office are split over his fate. There are many New Yorkers who think he can survive this, but, even if he does, there's no guarantee his congressional seat will even exist in the next election.


SNOW (voice-over): Two days after Democratic Congressman Anthony Weiner said he was going to an undisclosed location to seek treatment, the White House weighed in for the first time on the scandal, White House spokesman Jay Carney calling it a distraction.

As for the voters of his district:

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Weiner's got to go. Hey, ho, Weiner's got to go.

SNOW: ... they are divided. UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: We support Weiner. We support Weiner.

SNOW: Should Weiner resign, there would be a special election, much like the one recently held in New York's 26th District. That election was called after Republican Congressman Chris Lee resigned in February after e-mailing shirtless photos of himself to a woman on Craigslist.

A Democrat won his seat, with the issue of Medicare dominating the race. But it was quickly forgotten after the Weiner scandal surfaced. With Weiner's political career in limbo, there's already talk that his district could be eliminated in 2012.

(on camera): Can that district realistically be eliminated?

ERROL LOUIS, NEW YORK 1: Yes, it can.

SNOW: Veteran New York political reporter Errol Louis says Weiner's district has come up because New York is slated to lose two seats, and there would most likely be an agreement to lose one Republican and one Democratic seat.

LOUIS: The Democrats tend to be down here in and around the city. And if you were going to look at any on, he has got a big target on his back, and I think he knows that.

SNOW: Whether Weiner's district is erased is something left to the state legislature, likely next spring. But Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf says the process relies on relationships with state lawmakers, and it's not out of the realm of possibility Weiner's district could be cut.

HANK SHEINKOPF, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: It's possible the district may be eliminated and carved up into pieces that belong to other incumbents. And it would make things a lot easier in reapportionment. Or that may not be. We don't know. But the problem that Anthony Weiner faces about reapportionment is the same problem he faces in his present crisis. He just doesn't have a lot of friends.


SNOW: Now, any kind of decision on redistricting is by no means a done deal. It faces many steps and many hurdles. And the process is a while away. But the fact that are political calculations already being made about his congressional seat gives you a sense of the gravity of the situation -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary, have any of his colleagues in New York actually weighed in?

SNOW: You know, besides Congressman Steve Israel, who weighed in on Saturday, asking that Weiner resign, there really hasn't been a lot of talk among New York lawmakers. And that includes New York Senator Chuck Schumer, a Democrat of New York. And Anthony Weiner had one time worked for him. Schumer is seen as his mentor.

Schumer said that he was heartbroken over this, but he has stopped short of calling for his resignation.

BLITZER: Yes, New York Congressman Steve Israel from Long Island has called for his resignation, joining Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders.

All right, the pressure mounting on Congressman Weiner.

Thanks, Mary. Thanks very much.

Meanwhile, important new developments in that massive Arizona wildfire, the second largest on record in state history. We will have the latest.

Plus, a home improvement project gone very wrong, and all of it caught on tape.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Look at this. Just moments ago, Mitt Romney and his wife, they arrived here on the beautiful campus of Saint Anselm University in Manchester, New Hampshire. They're getting ready for tonight's debate. What, we're about an hour-and-a-half away from the debate.

You see, he's not dressed for the debate. I assume somebody brought a suit and tie for him. They will go out to that podium over there with six other Republican candidates. And the debate will last for two hours. Stand by for extensive coverage -- much more on this story coming up.

We will get a little preview also, by the way, from Robert Gibbs, the former White House press secretary. He's a Democrat. He's here as well. He won't be debating, but he's got some thoughts about what's going on -- our live interview with Robert Gibbs coming up as well.


BLITZER: Deployed to defend the president -- the former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, he's here. I will speak with him live. That's coming up.

Plus, nearly $3.5 billion in baggage fees alone -- you won't believe what the airlines collected from you and all your fellow passengers last year alone.


BLITZER: Seven Republican candidates, they are now arriving here at Saint Anselm University.

Only moments ago, Herman Cain, the former CEO of Godfather's Pizza, the popular radio talk show host, he's here now on the campus. Unlike Mitt Romney, he's already dressed. He's ready to go. Mitt Romney showed up in his jeans, but he's changing, presumably, in one of the buildings here. He'll be all dressed up, together with the other candidates, ready for the debate that begins an hour and a half from now.

Tonight's Republican presidential debate, as we say, only 90 minutes away, and you're going to see it all live only here on CNN.

The Republican hopefuls have been doing some final run-throughs. They're practicing and checking things out on the stage. Tonight they certainly will have plenty of time for swipes at one another, but they'll also, no doubt, aim their sharpest barbs at President Obama.

To counter all of that criticism the Obama campaign has deployed a very familiar face to all of us. We're talking about the former White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs. He's here in New Hampshire.

Welcome to New Hampshire.

ROBERT GIBBS, SPOKESPERSON FOR OBAMA CAMPAIGN: Wolf, it's good to be back in New Hampshire.

BLITZER: What was -- what was the thinking to come up here and make sure, what, that the president had a spokesman on the scene?

GIBBS: Look, this is obviously a very important state, and we want to make sure that what your viewers hear tonight, they get the -- the other side of the story.

BLITZER: So you're here to respond, because they'll -- they'll be, you know, really going after the president. Seems to me the biggest problem he has right now, not necessarily these candidates, but 9.1 percent unemployment.

GIBBS: Sure.

BLITZER: And the country is nervous, that right track/wrong track number not good for an incumbent president. How do you -- how do you deal with that?

GIBBS: Well, Wolf, I think it's important to understand, as millions of Americans do, that two things happened, right? We had an awful recession that started in September of 2008, right before the last election, and we're still in the midst of that horrible economic time.

But for millions of middle-class families, they were watching their paychecks shrink. They were watching their food bills go up. They were watching college educations get more expensive. That's been going on for many, many years.

BLITZER: But they are still watching all that.

GIBBS: Absolutely, because we didn't get into this mess overnight, and the truth is, we're not going to get out of this mess overnight. I think what -- what the president and his team have done is work every single day to try to turn this economy around, to try to get it pointed in the right direction. Is it happening fast enough? Absolutely not. Do we need to create a lot more jobs? Yes, we do.

And I think will be interesting to hear a couple of folks tonight. I mean, Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty bring awfully unimpressive resumes in job creation.

BLITZER: They're really going after the president on the economy, especially Mitt Romney.

GIBBS: Well, Mitt Romney, who -- its less than an hour's drive, in Massachusetts when he was governor, they ranked 47th out of 50 in job creation. Forty-seventh out of 50. Tim Pawlenty in eight years as being governor, eight years created net 6,000 jobs, and left his state with billions of dollars in deficits.

BLITZER: So if...

GIBBS: I think that what's going to be great about this election is they're going to watch -- get to watch candidates -- they're going to get to watch the president, watch other candidates make their case, but these guys aren't going to be able to run away from their records, and quite frankly, they're not that impressive.

BLITZER: In this most recent CNN/Research Corporation poll, you're a political guy. How are things going in the country today? Thirty-nine percent say well; 60 percent say badly. That right track/wrong track number, when it's 60 percent say things are going badly, that's not encouraging.

GIBBS: But again, Wolf, I think -- I think what people understand is, again, we didn't get into this overnight. This -- all this stuff didn't happen last week. A bank collapsed. A huge financial calamity happened in September of 2008.

But, again, you've got to remember for millions and millions of middle-class families, their loss of security, their paychecks shrinking, that didn't start in 2008. It started a few years before that. And they understand that we have gone into as deep an economic recession as we've seen in our lifetimes, and it's going to take some time to get out

BLITZER: You know, I understand what you're saying about Tim Pawlenty's record as governor of Minnesota and Mitt Romney's record as governor of Massachusetts. But Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, I was told by one well-placed Republican source there's a 95 percent chance he will run, he will enter his race.

And his record in job creation, according to the -- a recent Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas report, 37 percent of all the net new American jobs since the recovery began were created in Texas. That's impressive.

GIBBS: Well, clearly there's a vacuum in the Republican Party, because Mitt Romney's record on job creation and Tim Pawlenty's record on job creation, as I just said, ranks among the least impressive.

BLITZER: Does Rick Perry worry you?

GIBBS: Well, look, I will say this about this process. You and I have watched this, not just in this election, the last election, many before that. This is a long process. There are going to be many more debates like this, many more things. I think this is going to take some time to work itself out. I remember four years ago when we were going through this process, everybody thought a certain nominee was going to happen until maybe November or December or January.

BLITZER: You mean Hillary Clinton.

GIBBS: And so -- who's doing a great job as secretary of state, but, you know, there are, in the words of Robert Frost, a great New England poet, miles to go before we sleep.

BLITZER: There's no doubt about that. Why do you need to raise -- the president, he has no opposition for the nomination? Why does he need to raise $1 billion?

GIBBS: Well, I'm not so sure, Wolf, that the goal is $1 billion, we were fortunate in the last election to have the support of millions of people, most of whom gave just a little bit of money.

BLITZER: He competed in 50 contests against Hillary Clinton, and there are no -- no primaries or caucuses for him this time.

GIBBS: Look, what is -- what's bad about this process is it's horribly expensive.

BLITZER: A billion dollars is a lot of money.

GIBBS: Well, it is a lot of money. We -- again, the president's campaign has been fortunate to have the support of millions of average, hard-working Americans who wanted to get involved in the political process, some of whom got involved for the very first time. We're certainly happy to have their support. And -- and I will say this. There's -- you're going to have a lot of candidates up on that stage tonight. They're raising money. They're criticizing the president, and we'll respond.

BLITZER: Before I let you go, Anthony Weiner, the president of the United States telling Ann Curry of NBC News, "I can tell you that, if it was me, I would resign." How much of a problem is Anthony Weiner for the president and the Democrats right now?

GIBBS: Look, I think the president said -- obviously just said that. I think Democratic leaders have said something. I will say this. Most people that are at home watching this debate are not worried about a congressman from New York that some have occasionally seen on cable but most don't know much about.

I think what they're worried about tonight is -- is an economy that is creating jobs but not creating them quickly enough. They're worried about a place in the world. They want us to get -- continue getting our troops out of Iraq and start getting our troops out of Afghanistan, restore our standing in the world. And that's what the president has been working on, and I think that's what we're all focused on.

BLITZER: You get out those troops out of Afghanistan, that's $100 billion a year.

GIBBS: Well, it's -- it is expensive to be there. There's going to be a lot of talk about deficits and debt tonight, Wolf. We -- we invaded a country in Iraq. Remember we -- they basically fired an economist that worked in the Bush administration who said the whole thing was going to cost $150 billion.

If we could have figured out how to have our excursion into Iraq only cost us $150 billion, we'd give that guy the Nobel Prize in economics. It's cost us trillions. We have had to refocus our efforts in Afghanistan, and we are paying those bills from many, many years ago.

BLITZER: You want Weiner to resign?

GIBBS: Look, I think that the president -- I'd stand by what the president said and stand by what the leaders said. I think that that's probably the best route for him to go.

BLITZER: Thanks for coming to New Hampshire.

GIBBS: Happy to do it. Beautiful weather. Good to see you.

BLITZER: Bye-bye. The candidates, they are arriving here on the site right now. You saw some of the pictures. Newt Gingrich arriving at St. Anselm only moments ago. There he is. He's getting ready for the debate. You're going to find out what the voters want to hear from the candidates. That's coming up next.


BLITZER: Let's bring in CNN's Don Lemon. He's been speaking to voters here in New Hampshire.

You've been here for a few days now. What's the sense?

DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I feel like I live here. As soon as we got off the plane people started talking to us about issues, about issues. And you know, the viewers and the voters, Wolf, they're pretty savvy. I think what they think is that the politicians and the people who are going to be on the stage tonight. They think that most of the time they spend time fighting amongst each other instead of listening to them, the issues that are important to them.

The last thing I spoke to them about, just a couple minutes ago, about what qualities that they would want in a presidential candidate. Here's what they said.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maybe somebody to go out and have a beer with. I don't know.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want our troops out of Afghanistan. Fix the deficit and, you know, increase in living. I mean, we've got people in America that are homeless. We've got people in America that can't have anything to eat because, you know -- because of the way the economy is. Get us out of the recession. It's not rocket science. It's simple math.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Somebody who's not a politician. They seem to get to Washington, and they all turn into the same politicians once they get to Washington. It doesn't matter what they are: independents, Republicans, Democrats. They're all the same once they get there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Someone who really is in touch with people, you know, maybe a grass roots foundation but also can just touch everyone.

If you could put all the good qualities of all the candidates together and, you know, wrap them up into that one person, that would be perfect.


LEMON: And time and time and time again, Wolf, what people said to us, what came up was the economy, spending and jobs. The voters really don't care about much else, because if they don't have a job, if they can't afford the gas to go to the polls, then what good is any of this?

BLITZER: Yes, everything else is sort of irrelevant. Jobs, jobs, jobs.

LEMON: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Don, thanks very much.

Look at this, Ron Paul just -- actually Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania governor, there he is right there. Rick Santorum arriving -- is that Rick Santorum? I believe once he turns around we'll get a closer look. Let's see. Yes, that's Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator. He's here. He's one of the seven Republicans who will be on the stage tonight.

You're seeing them arrive one by one. He'll presumably put on a tie for later tonight.

One Republican hopeful, though, has logged many, many hours here in New Hampshire, but he will not be here tonight. Our chief political correspondent, Candy Crowley, takes a closer look at Jon Huntsman.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He looks like a candidate, walks like a candidate, talks like a candidate. JON HUNTSMAN (R), FORMER GOVERNOR OF UTAH: We're in a deep funk in this country.

CROWLEY: Jon Huntsman has held more New Hampshire events in the past 30 days than anyone else, but he is not a declared candidate, though that is pretty much nuance.

HUNTSMAN: We're right at the end point, and is your family supportive? Yes, you check that box. Do you think you can rally enough financial support to make it happen? Yes, you check that box. Do you think on the ground in the key early states, New Hampshire and South Carolina and Florida, you can -- you can create the presence and the excitement and enthusiasm that will work? Yes, you check that box.

Hey, how are you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How are you, sir? Hell's Angels.

CROWLEY: He is a motorcycle-riding Mormon who speaks fluent Mandarin, the soft-spoken father of seven with eclectic political connections: former Republican governor from Utah and former ambassador to China for President Obama, a man Huntsman once described as a remarkable leader. Therein lies a primary problem.

JOHN H. SUNUNU (R), FORMER NEW HAMPSHIRE GOVERNOR: I think the problem isn't so much that he served as ambassador but that he just gushed over policies that made no sense.

CROWLEY: Huntsman hopes to stand out as the strong, silent type, strong on issues, soft on rhetoric. He goes through hours of campaign trail time without mentioning Barack Obama. He steps away from softballs in the strike zone.

(on camera) Do you think that Barack Obama has had a failed presidency?

HUNTSMAN: On the economic side there are no signs of success, very little.

CROWLEY (voice-over): He shows no instinct for the kind of go- get-'em jugular rhetoric that the party faithful expect.

(on camera) And so you think it has failed on the economic side?

HUNTSMAN: Failed on the economic front.

CROWLEY: How about on the foreign policy front? How do you think he's done?

HUNTSMAN: We have different world views.

CROWLEY: More than 70 percent of the country doesn't know enough about Huntsman to know whether they like him, and the field is crowded. A basic tenet is to define yourself before your critics do.

Still, Huntsman declined a CNN debate invitation. For now he is biding his time and holding his tongue.

(on camera) Huntsman will not bide for much longer, another ten days or so, and he'll be in all in, but in a political world that thrives on campaign slugfests, we'll see how long he holds his tongue.

Candy Crowley, CNN, Manchester, New Hampshire.


BLITZER: And as all of you know, issue No. 1 in the presidential race is certainly the economy and jobs. For many Americans, the social issues, including abortion, are not necessarily at the top of the agenda, but former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum is one candidate who certainly doesn't run away from these social issues. He opposes abortion rights for women, though I was surprised to learn the degree of his fierce opposition.

On "Meet the Press" on Sunday, he insisted there had should be absolutely no legal exceptions under any circumstances, including for rape and incest, but then he went one step further.


RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I would advocate that any doctor that performs an abortion should be criminally charged for doing so. I don't -- I've never supported criminalization of abortion for mothers, but I do for people who perform them.


BLITZER: In Santorum's mind life begins at conception, and that life should be protected by the U.S. Constitution. Let's see how this issue plays out in tonight's debate a little bit more than an hour from now.

Jack Cafferty is coming up next.

Then, it can cost you hundreds of dollars to check luggage on a flight, but that adds up to billions of dollars for airlines.


BLITZER: Ron Paul, the Texas congressman, he just arrived here moments ago for tonight's debate. He's running for president of the United States. This, the third time. We're only a little bit more than an hour away from the start of the debate.

Meanwhile, all those fees we keep on paying when we fly, they're paying off for the airlines. Transportation Department says air carriers collected almost $5.7 billion last year. Let's get some more on this story from CNN's Jeanne Meserve -- Jeanne.


JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, if you feel like you're getting nickeled and dimed by those airline baggage and reservation change fees, those nickels and dimes are adding up to serious money.

According to the Department of Transportation, in 2010, U.S. Airlines collected $3.4 billion in baggage fees, and $2.3 billion from reservation change fees for a grand total of almost $5.7 billion.

If you are wondering how big an increase that is, it is huge. DOT says between 2007 and 2010, baggage fees rose 631 percent. And in that same three-year period, reservation fees went up 151 percent, though they were down a little bit last year -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What -- which airlines collected the most in these fees?

MESERVE: Well, Delta in both categories, by a very large margin, followed by American Airlines. The Air Transport Association, which represents U.S. Airlines, maintains airfare is still a bargain. It says that in 2010, even with $5.7 billion in fees, the industry had only a 2 percent profit margin -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, Jeanne, for that.

Let's go to Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour is what do you want to hear from these Republicans at tonight's presidential debate, which gets under way up in New Hampshire in a little over an hour now.

Abby in Texas: "Clear, rational, thoughtful, intelligent, common sense and compassionate solutions to America's problems without the Bible-thumping, self-serving, righteous right-wing rhetoric," which is not easy to say. "Something more than big government, bad. Small government, good. I doubt, though, that we'll hear anything close to that."

David in Virginia writes, "In a word, Jack, moderation. A couple of more words: positive vision for the future and a plausible path on how to get there. I'm so tired of the left 15 percent of the country and the right 15 percent of the country firing ideological artillery shells at each other over the heads of the rest of us."

Kevin in California: "Their plan to return the wealth of the middle class back to the middle class from the upper 1 percent. Their plan to increase exports and how their Christian family values square with eliminating Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security."

Claudia in Texas: "I'd like to hear what jobs were created by extending the Bush-era tax cuts for another two years before they start debating about what jobs Obama has not created."

Chris in New Jersey: "I want to hear the plan to really change the structure of our government. Particularly Ron Paul needs to get vocal about a fair tax and abolition of the IRS. The biggest thing the Republicans need is someone who can explain the original intent of the Founding Fathers and how this country was run for 200 years when the federal government was extremely limited in size and most of the governing was done at state level." Mark says, "I'd like for each candidate to be asked what sources of their contributions are. Are they financed by corporate and special interests or from private donations?"

Greg in Arkansas: "Less criticism, fewer slogans, a couple of new practical ideas, preferably -- preferably with some details to fix the problems in our country that will benefit all of the American people, not just the voters they agree with."

And Stacy in Florida says, "This cast of clowns is the best we can do. We apologize, America. Check back with us in 2016."

If you want to read more on this, go to my blog: -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jack.

Jeanne Moos is coming up next.


BLITZER: Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos on Anthony Weiner's problems.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If there's one word you'd never expect to hear in a protest chant, it's "Weiner."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We support Weiner! We support Weiner!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We support Weiner! We support Weiner!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We support Weiner! We support Weiner!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, ho, Weiner's got to go!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, ho, Weiner's got to go!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, ho, Weiner's got to go!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Weiner's got to stay!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Weiner's got to stay!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Weiner's got to stay!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Weiner's got to resign, now! Weiner's got to resign, now!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Weiner's got to resign, now! Weiner's got to resign, now!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Weiner's got to resign, now! Weiner's got to resign, now!

MOOS: Weiner resigned to seeing signs creep into view behind a reporter: "Circumcise Congress, cut the Weiner." Or drive-by signs hanging off vintage wheels.


MOOS: Only a handful of protesters, pro- and anti-Weiner, showed up outside his Queens office, but they were feisty.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How do I know how many other things he's lied about?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody's lied at some point!

MOOS: At which point a guy arrives to rub a naked cell-phone picture of Weiner in his opponent's face. No shortage of embarrassing photos to wave.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need more people like him. Not...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is what he thinks of you.

MOOS: That seems to be one of the suggestive photos TMZ says were taken in the congressional gym. Next thing you know, protesters will be waving the Anthony Weiner action figure. The face sure doesn't look like much like the congressman's. The cheap version is $39.95. The anatomically correct one is 10 bucks more.

(on camera) The Weiner scandal has even penetrated the presidential race.

(voice-over) At least twice a fringe conservative candidate has literally set up a podium outside Weiner's apartment so he can take advantage of the captive audience of press.

ANDY MARTIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm Republican presidential candidate Andy Martin.

MOOS: And here's how he describes Congressman Weiner.

MARTIN: It's so weird, and so creepy.

MOOS: When finished addressing the media, he disassembles his podium and leaves.

As for the actual president, his spokesman now says the president feels this is a distraction, echoing lots of other politicians.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it is a national distraction.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Unacceptable distraction.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is just a ridiculous distraction.

MOOS (on camera): But there's something distracting about everyone using this distraction rationale. I feel like we've heard it somewhere before.

REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D), NEW YORK: It was a prank. It was intended to distract.

This is a distraction, and I'm not going to let it distract me.

MOOS: This woman didn't let it distract her when an opponent waved one of those embarrassing photos at her.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We support Weiner! We support Weiner!

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. For our international viewers, "WORLD REPORT" is next. For everyone else in North America, "JOHN KING USA" starts right now.