Return to Transcripts main page

CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Bachmann Wins Iowa Straw Poll

Aired August 13, 2011 - 19:00   ET

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


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: I'd like to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world to Ames, Iowa, where we just learned the results from the closely watched GOP straw poll.

I'm Don Lemon.

And joining me to co-anchor this entire hour is our chief political correspondent, Candy Crowley, the host of CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION."

Here's the announcement moments ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATT STRAWN, CHAIRMAN, IOWA REPUBLICAN PARTY: With 16,892 Iowans voting, the winner of the 2011 straw poll is Congresswoman Michele Bachmann.

(CHEERS)

STRAWN: Thank you, everyone. And have a good night.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: A man of few words.

Congresswoman Michele Bachmann came out on top in the poll which is one of the earliest tests for the Republicans seeking the Oval Office in 2012. But some of the thunder may have been stolen by Texas Governor Rick Perry who just announced his candidacy today. Several states away, not even here.

We have a poll team of folks standing by, "The Best Political Team on Television," anywhere, ready to break down the straw poll results for you, CNN political producer Shannon Travis is with us here in Ames, Iowa. Our political correspondent, Jim Acosta, is standing by in South Carolina, the site of Rick Perry's announcement. And senior political editor Mark Preston is in New Hampshire where Perry traveled afterwards.

And then, of course, Candy Crowley, who knows everything about politics sitting right here with me.

So, Candy, what do you think? Should we talk to the guy who made -- a man of few words as we say?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I don't know (INAUDIBLE) mad at you because you walk away without telling us two or three or four.

(LAUGHTER)

LEMON: Matt Strawn is the head of the Iowa Republican Party.

So, were you surprised by the result?

STRAWN: It was surprising today because of the turnout we had. It absolutely blew away expectations. It was the second largest turnout we've ever had in the Republican Party of Iowa straw poll history. And I think it's evidenced of, really, that Republican resurgence we've seen in a state that just four years ago, watched Barack Obama.

So, as Republican chair, who of course if neutral in the caucus process, I'm very enthusiastic about what I saw today. Especially -- well, historically, a lot of campaigns are known for busing their supporters in and that's how most of the people show up for the straw poll, but we're getting reports that we've had a huge organic turnout of first time straw poll voters. So, that tells me there's an energy out there that's going -- of all Republicans going into the caucus season and into the general election.

CROWLEY: But, certainly, part of it has to be, you do have, if you look at these results, Bachmann, Paul, Pawlenty. Those are people who had -- well, certainly, with Ron Paul, he has very passionate supporters who are going to show up in a driving snowstorm.

Pawlenty, we all know what sort of connection she makes with the voters -- I'm sorry -- with Bachmann. What sort of connection she makes with her voters.

And then Pawlenty who has one of the best teams on the ground, we have to say, in Iowa.

So, it could be that they're just very good now at getting folks to come.

STRAWN: Well, that's part of the organization process that the Iowa caucus is known for, you know, for your viewers who may not understand how things works in February. This isn't like a primary where you go in for five or 10 minutes, vote, come out. You know, it takes a commitment and you need people to organize in up to 1,800 precincts around the state, which is why the straw poll is so vital for these campaigns, to test that organization, because now, they can find out in August who the people they are, that they can rely upon in those 1,800 precincts.

So, I think for Congresswoman Bachmann who's been in the race for about a month and a half, great energy, great enthusiasm on the ground. And I think today proves that she's built an organization to catch up with some of that enthusiasm.

LEMON: Matt, can you stand with us? Because I want to you listen to this next report. We're going to go to Jim Acosta. He was there for Rick Perry's announcement. I want to talk about the write-in votes that he got. Rick Perry's name wasn't even on the straw poll ballot. But you can better believe it was on the minds of voters. The Texas governor launched his run for the presidency in South Carolina today.

Jim Acosta in Charleston, covering the announcement there.

Jim, OK so I'd imagine these folks are gone, you may not have any reaction to, you know, how he placed in this. But give us the mood there, when he announced and if you're hearing anything now.

JIM ACOSTAS, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Don -- I mean, you can argue that there are two winners coming out of the straw poll today -- Michele Bachmann for getting the most votes, and Rick Perry for beating Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich as a write-in candidate.

Now, we should point out that Rick Perry did have some of his super PAC supporters. He has a super political action committee that's not really affiliated with his campaign called Americans for Rick Perry. Some of those forces were on the ground in Iowa trying to rally people to support Rick Perry, so that may have had something to do with why he did so well.

But the headline coming out of, and you can see it kind of exploding on Twitter right now, is that this was sort of unexpected result out there in Iowa to see Rick Perry do so well. And I think it was a little bit unexpected here in South Carolina as to the reaction in the room among some of these conservative activists who saw this speech from Rick Perry. This was the Red State Conference going on here in Charleston.

But, Don, they could have called it the "red meat" conference, because Rick Perry was throwing out the red meat and the conservatives in the room were eating it up. He was going after the president on the economy, on jobs, on the recent downgrade -- blaming the president for all three and then pointing to his record in Texas and saying this is the way. Let me show you the way.

And as a matter of fact, the campaign put out a web video today. You know, they just launched a Web site today, launch ad web video called "It's Time to Get America Working Again."

So, when you looked at Rick Perry today, the way he came across in the room, the way his organization came together to put this event together. This had the feel of not just a Republican presidential campaign, but of a nominee running for president in a general election campaign.

There was a very strong showing from Rick Perry today, Don.

LEMON: And I've got to tell you this, Jim, as we were watching you, we're looking at a picture next to you -- live pictures of Rick Perry. He's in Greenland, New Hampshire today. He moves fast. He works fast here. I have to say --

ACOSTA: He does. LEMON: You can weigh in, you guys can weigh in as well. Hang on, Jim -- Matt or Candy. But I think that when I was watching this today, it kind of reminded me of George W. Bush, Texas, governor, that sort of thing.

Jim, I'm wondering if anybody in the crowd mentioned that, if that it was that sort of feeling.

And then, I want you guys to weigh in on it here as well.

ACOSTA: Yes. I mean, you did you hear that from some of the folks here in the room today. And remember, there are a lot of conservatives in this party who still like George W. Bush. Remember those billboards "Miss Me Yet?" that you see out on the highway. There are still a lot of Republicans who still like George W. Bush.

But yes, Rick Perry is going to remind people of George W. Bush. It's funny that you mentioned that, Don, because if you looked at Perry's speech today, there was one word that did not come up throughout that speech and that word is Bush. You know, if Perry makes it to the White House, he is going to be the second Texas governor in a row to do so. But the one before him, being his predecessor: George Bush.

LEMON: Yes, thank you very much for that.

Listen, we want to get back to why we're here. And that's for the straw poll. And that's what many people we have heard.

I'll let you weigh in on the George W. Bush saying that. But some people are saying, they were upset because Perry did this today and didn't wait until tomorrow or Monday or some time next week. What do you think of that?

STRAWN: Well, I look at it differently. There's no question that Iowa was the center of the political universe this week and I don't think whether Governor Palin's visit to the fair yesterday or Governor Perry's travels to South Carolina, New Hampshire, whatever.

LEMON: We're going to talk about Sarah Palin.

STRAWN: I don't know if that would have necessarily happened without this little gathering in Ames this weekend. So, I think that shows that Iowa was driving the national political discourse.

And I know that we're going to see Governor Perry in short order. We'll see him in Waterloo tomorrow night after he wraps up in New Hampshire. So, I think, you know, the Iowa Republicans will ask him about that decision and they'll assess that, you know, his answer when he's here.

But in my conversations with his advisers, they understand the caucus process. They understand that it's is a retail heavy process if you want to be successful. And I suspect we will see Governor Perry in Iowa early and often throughout the caucus season.

LEMON: And Matt or Candy, either one of you, who -- this obviously gives a big boost to the Bachmann campaign. They go out confident now. Who else, though, do you think that this gives sort of more confidence to and more of a boost?

CROWLEY: Well, certainly, Ron Paul. I mean, this is a good showing. I mean, Pawlenty, if we look at the numbers got less than half of the Paul numbers, less than half. I think the percentages go from like, I can find this. Bachmann's percentage of the vote about 29 percent, Paul about 28 percent, and then it drops fairly heavily to Pawlenty at about 13 percent.

But I have to tell you, we got, and I'm going to try and read this off with the sun and everything -- Pawlenty's statement on this, which says to me, moving on. And in it, Tim Pawlenty, first of all, congratulates Congresswoman Michele Bachmann who is a fellow Minnesotan for her victory in today's straw poll.

"We made progress in moving from the back of the pack into a competitive position for the caucuses. But we have a lot more work to do. This is a long process to restore America. We are just beginning, and I'm looking forward to a great campaign."

So, I think that, right now, that sounds to me like a guy who is moving on. He's going to play heavily into the Iowa caucuses. I mean, what do you think a third place at this point does for Tim Pawlenty? Or does not do to Tim Pawlenty?

LEMON: Can you hold -- hold that answer? Hold that thought. We're going to get a break in here. We're going to come right back.

Matt Strawn, the head of the Iowa Republican Party, made the announcement of the straw poll. And, of course, Candy Crowley here, as well, is joining me as my co-anchor for the hour.

You know, Rick Perry has an impressive track record on jobs back in Texas. But is that enough to defeat President Obama in 2012 if he becomes the GOP nominee? We'll examine the governor's record.

CROWLEY: Also, Sarah Palin makes an appearance at the Iowa state fair, as you just but she insists she wasn't there to steal the spotlight. What's her goal?

LEMON: And while I have Candy next to me, let me remind our viewers -- tomorrow, make sure you watch Candy Crowley, make sure you join her for "THE STATE OF THE UNION" from Ames Iowa. She'll have the interviews with Republican and presidential candidate Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain as well. That's Sunday, 9:00 a.m. and noon Eastern, right here on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. RICK PERRY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We cannot and must not endure four more years of rising unemployment, rising taxes, rising debt, rising energy dependence on nations that intend us harm. It's time to get -- (END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: That, of course, is Texas Governor Rick Perry. He is the latest entry into the Republican sweepstakes for the Republican presidential nomination. He is the hot name in the Republican race right now.

But can Rick Perry keep the golden glow as voters get to know him? And what do we hope to know about the man who hopes to win the GOP nomination?

LEMON: A lot. There's a lot to learn, I'm sure. But, you know, Mark Preston is following him and has been for a while -- of course, Mark Preston, our senior political editor.

So, Mark, as you're watching this speech, you're there today in South Carolina and then in New Hampshire. And we've been talking about, you know, George W. Bush, the comparisons there.

What do you make of all this?

MAK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL EDITOR: Well, you know, Don, I was just in the backyard. I saw him deliver this speech to about 150 people here in New Hampshire. You know, oftentimes, when people in New Hampshire go out to these house parties to meet these presidential candidates, these wannabe presidential hopefuls, they're out there to kick the tires. They just want to find out if they can connect with this person.

I got to tell you what? They bought the car in the backyard tonight.

So, there's been a lot of talk that Rick Perry might not play well here in New Hampshire. His people look at Rick Perry as somebody who is a social conservative. But the fact of the matter is, all he has been talking about today is jobs, jobs, jobs. And in my discussions with the people up here who are really involved in the whole political scene, that's the message they want to hear.

And, in fact, Rick Perry could play well here in New Hampshire. So, he did tell these folks here, bottom line, he plans to be back. He will be back here next week -- Don.

LEMON: All right. Mark Preston, don't go anywhere. Stand by. We got a lot coming up. We may get back to Mark. There you see Rick Perry giving a speech there, backyard party in New Hampshire. He went from South Carolina to New Hampshire really quickly here.

We're joined here by Matt Strawn, who is head of the Iowa Republican Party, as well as Candy Crowley, who's joining me here.

Also, why don't we bring in now Donna Brazile? She's a CNN contributor and Democratic strategist. And also I want to bring RedState.com editor-in-chief and CNN contributor as well, Mr. Erick Erickson.

OK. You guys have been standing by listening. You saw us. We were caught off guard.

Hey, Erick, I'm going to go to you first. When you look at the results, are you surprised by the Bachmann results or anything on the list there?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know, not really. I would say the Tim Pawlenty organization in Iowa is a really good organization. I expected him to be a little closer. The Bachmann team had a lot of energy, a lot of passion. The Ron Paul folks had a lot of energy and passion. I was surprised it was that close.

I think the biggest surprise is that Rick Perry is a write-in candidate. He was able to top Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich.

LEMON: And, listen, Donna, I'm going to bring you in.

This is -- it's interesting because we're going to be talking to Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who is the head of the Democrat Party, a Democrat in Iowa for a Republican straw poll. What is, what might be the strategy behind that? And what's the president looking at toward these results, at these results? What he might have to do in the upcoming days in the campaign?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, first let me congratulate the state party chairman on a fine turnout. I'm sure that he has worked very hard to get such a large and enthusiastic crowd of people to show up on a Saturday in August.

Now, as you know, this is just the first test. And it often tests a candidate's appeal to grassroots supporters, organizational strengths, and as well as -- and I think in Michele Bachmann's position, her ability to get into the arena and to beat out some real big time players in the Republican Party. Like Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty. So, this is a great victory for her, although she barely beat Ron Paul.

Going forward, you know she has a couple other test that's she must also pass in order to make it to the final exam. That's the Iowa caucuses next February. But it's a good day for her and she can use this to raise money and to try to broaden her appeal.

Now, as to the Democrats, there's no question --

LEMON: Hey, Donna

(CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: -- developments.

LEMON: Yes. Hey, Donna, stand by, because we're going to lose our friend from Iowa Republican Party and I want to get the last thought in. Candy was asking you about Pawlenty, you heard Donna talking about Bachmann and talking about other candidates. Give us a summation.

What do you make of all of this talk and what's happened here? STRAWN: Well, one way I've described the race still at this point is it's still incredibly fluid. We don't know what the final field will look like. And I think with a lot of activist s around the state, it's still much more of the dating phase and the marrying phase. So, I think we're still going to see some of this shakeout over the coming weeks and months.

But, today, for those campaign that aggressively organized to compete in Ames, they now know where the organization stands. Tomorrow, they'll know what their deficiencies are, what they need to shore up, what worked. So, from that standpoint, I think it's a big advantage and they actually have a leg up organizationally while the rest of the race solidifies.

LEMON: All right. And, Matt, you are the most wanted man, I should say here. People are trying --

STRAWN: In a good way, I hope.

(LAUGHTER)

LEMON: We're going to get you go.

CROWLEY: As far as we know.

LEMON: Get out of here. That's your last word here on CNN. We appreciate you dropping by.

Candy Crowley, Eric Erickson is standing by as well and I'm sure you have some questions for him.

CROWLEY: Eric, we've seen -- we got a press release from the Pawlenty campaign. It seems to me that he and Michele Bachmann had the largest stakes here. What does -- what does Pawlenty read into these results?

ERICKSON: You know, it he's going to be really disappointed. I mean, by all accounts, he had one of the best organizations in Iowa. But the criticism of Pawlenty all along is that he just doesn't have a lot of energy and, consequently, there's not a lot of energy for him.

And I think we're seeing this -- he is a tremendously nice guy. I genuinely like him. But the energy is not panning out for him there in the field. You hear it across the board.

Down here in our Red State gathering, a lot of the folks said they weren't necessarily in it for Rick Perry, but they just weren't excited by anyone else, including Tim Pawlenty as the kind of anti- Romney candidate.

LEMON: All right. Erick Erickson and also, Donna Brazile -- Donna, don't go anywhere. Erick, don't go anywhere. We're going to have much, much more.

And, of course, Candy is not going anywhere either, except the guy sitting next to her just bolted and left. I'm sure he has to go do something for someone else. But that's OK. We'll survive without him.

When we come right back here on CNN, we're going to take a look at the rest of the GOP field. Michele Bachmann comes out on top.

So, who else stands to gain and who else, well, had the most to lose?

CROWLEY: And later, which hopefuls might pose the biggest political threat to President Obama? We will bring it down when our CNN special report returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is where Barack Obama got his start. This is where he is going to come to his end -- in Iowa!

(CHEERS)

LEMON: All right. You've been hearing everybody say that, you know, the straw poll, a little more than a snapshot of the candidates, a handful of people in Iowa, happen to like -- not really a handful. It was almost 17,000 people. I wouldn't consider that a handful.

Why don't we bring in now Donna Brazile, who is a Democratic consultant, and also a strategist, I should say, and then a Republican consultant here, Mr. Alex Castellanos?

Thank you both for joining us.

We have been watching this go down. It kind of caught us by surprise. Didn't it, Candy?

CROWLEY: It's kind of fun. I like it when we don't exactly know what's going on.

ALEX CASTELLANOS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Democracy thing is unpredictable, isn't it? We don't know what those people are going to do.

CROWLEY: Although we certainly could have predicted, Alex, we would see Bachmann win this. It seems to be that was the trajectory going into it. Not to dismiss that she won it. She won it, you know, fair and square.

Is it also fair and square to say, boy, 700-plus votes for a write-in for Rick Perry? That's a really big deal or are we getting spun already?

CASTELLANOS: You know, to your first point, we were sitting here a day ago thinking that Tim Pawlenty was going to be a strong competitor against Michele Bachmann. And that has just turned out not to be the case. He wasn't defeated. He was just extinguished. And that's going to be very tough for him to survive and to move forward with after this. So -- and, by the way, he is closer to Perry than he was to Bachmann in these voting results. If he had a lot of time, money, organization and a chance on get in front of the voters and did not really establish a presence here, how can he do it anywhere else?

LEMON: To you first, Alex, and then I'm going to go Donna Brazile. Who poses the biggest threat to Barack Obama here at this juncture?

CASTELLANOS: At this juncture, I still think, looking at this field, that it's Mitt Romney, Rick Perry and possibly Michele Bachmann in that order.

Bachmann has to prove she can grow beyond this coliseum. Right now, she can capture the hearts of the right wing. But she has to prove that she can be a general election candidate before Republicans will really take her seriously and move her into that top tier. So, it's Romney-Perry right now.

LEMON: That question to you, Donna Brazile. Is there anyone you see that pose as threat to the president in 2012?

BRAZILE: Well, I won't disagree with Alex's analysis. But I'll tell you what the biggest threat, of course, is lack of enthusiasm and lack of jobs. If the president is able to turn the economy around, at least people believe that it is turned around and the base and swing voters are enthusiastic about voting, then I don't think the president needs to spend any sleepless nights worrying about Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry or Mitt Romney.

LEMON: You -- go ahead, Candy. I'm sorry.

CROWLEY: I was going to ask, Donna. I was just wanted to know -- what would be the definition, do you think, of turning the economy around that the American people would accept come next November?

BRAZILE: Well, I think, Candy, as you well know, consumer confidence is down. If people feel that the jobs are coming back and the president is making every effort to get the economy back on track, they feel that banks are lending to small businesses, they feel better about the leadership, not just in Washington but state capitals -- but there is no miracle that he can produce short of getting Republicans and Democrats to come back to Washington after Labor Day and put their own, put the proposals out there already.

The Republicans believe that we need more drilling in the Gulf and other places. Democrats believe that we need an extension of the payroll tax. I don't know if any of these small ideas will make a big enough dent in the number of unemployed Americans right now before November. But if the American people see him leading, using the bully pulpit, using the cabinet, using all of tool at his disposal, then I think they will give them benefit of the doubt, because the other side, quite honestly, all they want is complaining and whining.

CROWLEY: Hey, Donna -- OK. Thanks, Donna. We need to get to a break real quick here. LEMON: Yes. We need to get to a break, but I want to say Debbie Wasserman Schultz is in the house. We're going to pose the same question to her as the head of the DNC. Who poses the biggest threat to President Obama come 2012? We're going to ask her moments away.

Don't go anywhere.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: The results are in and Congresswoman Michele Bachmann is celebrating tonight. She's celebrating a little bit earlier, even before she won the Iowa straw poll, a key test for the Republicans hoping to unseat President Barack Obama.

Here are the results for you. Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, as we said, came in first. She was followed by Texas Congressman Ron Paul with a very strong showing. You see the results up on your screen. Then, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty came in third. And former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum took fourth place. Businessman Herman Cain took the number five spot, Candy.

CROWLEY: And here where it gets a bit interesting. Because coming in sixth is Texas Governor Rick Perry. He wasn't on the ballot. All his support came from write-in votes. He beat the man who many have called the overall front-runner in the case. That's Mitt Romney. Romney came in seventh. His name was on the ballot. He came in ahead of speaker Newt Gingrich. And eighth place former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman who placed ninth in the poll. And coming in last, Michigan Congressman McCotter who I suspect most people didn't know was running at this point.

LEMON: I want to read this. Ron Paul just tweeted this and said, Candy, "We won a historic number of votes in Iowa today. Exclamation point. 27.6 percent versus 28.5 percent." And then he has got a link to I guess the results. And then everyone, the straw poll and all. That he said just now. So he is excited. He is excited thinking he did OK.

I want to bring in somebody who knows, you know, who is a rarity I should say in Ames, Iowa. That would be a Democrat. Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, is also head of the DNC. OK, what do you make of this?

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ, CHAIR, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Well, not so much. I mean, I think it is notable that whereas before in previous presidential campaigns, we might have chalked extreme fringe type candidates like Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul as an anomaly. That the Ames straw poll didn't mean as much. But we're looking at the core of the Republican Party now. The heart of the Republican Party is the extreme right wing.

LEMON: Why do you say not so much? Michele Bachmann is a Tea Party favorite. Maybe you should be, this is a, this concerns us.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Because Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul and the entire collection of Republican candidates are totally out of step with what the average American is looking for in terms of solutions. Job creation, getting our economy turned around. The average American voter is not supportive of ending Medicare as he we know it. All the Republican candidates are. The average American voter isn't interested in privatizing social security, all the Republican candidates for president do. The average American voter wants us to work together.

LEMON: You mean the average American voter or the majority of American voters?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: The majority of American voters.

LEMON: I'm sorry.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Clearly.

CROWLEY: And privatizing, you know, partially privatizing, we've heard some of the Republicans talk about perhaps means testing social security. You all, of course, are saying you don't want social security tests in any way or Medicare. So I mean that's an argument that goes on all the time on Capitol Hill and on the campaign trail but I wonder if anybody, if Mitt Romney had won, would you not have also said "Look, here's a radical. He is out of step." I mean because the Democratic Party's way of going at this, the president's way of going at this, hey, the crazy people are out there. Don't elect them. Elect the same people.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Well, Mitt Romney has demonstrated that these last two days that he is right up there with the extreme right wing fringe.

CROWLEY: He polls right up there against President Obama even.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: I don't think he will be very soon. The other day, he declared corporations and people being equivalent. And he said that corporations are people. I don't think that most people think Exxon Mobil and General Electric are the same as people. He raised his right hand along with all the other eight presidential candidates on Thursday night at the debate and said that even with the most reasonable of requests in trying to solve our deficit problem, that he would oppose 10-1 spending cuts to revenue. The majority of Americans don't agree with all of these candidates for president on the right wing of the Republican Party.

CROWLEY: So nobody that you saw either in the debate or on this slate today worries the Democrats.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: We're focused on making sure the people understand the dramatic and stark contrast between the direction that President Obama has taken this country and getting our economy to begin to turn around, creating a 2.4 million private sector jobs, 17 straight months of private sector job growth when we were bleeding 750,000 jobs a month in the months before he took office.

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: You would admit that's not much of a base.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: We have to pick up the base of recovery but it's certainly, we're in a much better shape than we were before President Obama took office.

LEMON: We've got to get to a break. I've got just five seconds if you can answer. I asked Sarah Palin yesterday, she hasn't declared (INAUDIBLE) running for president. I said "Why are you here? You're still in the spotlight." As a Democrat, why are you here? This is a Republican event.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: I'm here because it is important that we make sure that Americans understand the dramatic difference between extremely right wing fringe Republican presidential candidates and the direction that Barack Obama has been taking the country.

LEMON: Thank you very much.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Thank you.

LEMON: (INAUDIBLE) time to join us. We appreciate it. You're a rarity in Ames, Iowa, and the straw poll. A democrat. Thank you very much.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Thank you.

LEMON: All right. More with Donna Brazile and Alex Castellanos coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. RICK PERRY (R), TEXAS: The fact is for nearly three years, President Obama has been downgrading American jobs, he's been downgrading our standing in the world. He's been downgrading our financial stability. He's been downgrading our confidence and downgrading the hope for a better future for our children.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: That of course is Texas governor and now presidential candidate Rick Perry during his campaign announcement today, criticizing the man he hopes to replace in the White House, President Barack Obama. Here he had, showing today in Iowa's straw poll even though he was not on the ballot, despite the fact that he wasn't there, all his votes were write in. But he had over 700 votes.

I want to bring in both our democratic strategist Donna Brazile and Alex Castellanos, a Republican strategist who is here with us. Let me first ask you this. Michele Bachmann has an opportunity now. She came first. The headlines tomorrow, Bachmann wins straw poll. What does she do with that?

ALEX CASTELLANOS, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: Well, she has got to decide if this is the beginning of her campaign or the end. If she is now the leader of the small conservative core or if she is a general election candidate who can go to New Hampshire tomorrow, and say here's what I'm going to do about the economy and compete with Mitt Romney.

LEMON: A small conservative core is the end of her campaign, you're saying.

CASTELLANOS: I think so. She has to demonstrate she can win in the general. Because Republicans are not going to nominate anyone who can't beat Barack Obama. You have to demonstrate that you can be a good general election candidate. She can do that. As a matter of fact, we saw it in that hall. The Michele Bachmann on that stage, very polarizing. The Michele Bachmann in that video, warm and engaging. If she moves to a more optimistic message, she could score but she has about a week to do it. I think it's going to be tough for her.

CROWLEY: Donna Brazile, let me - when you look at Michele Bachmann as a general election candidate, let's say that she does somehow go on and become the nominee. How does, I think we got a pretty good preview from Debbie Wasserman Schultz about how the president would go at it, at her. How would that kind of campaign play, do you think?

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I think it would provide a very strong contrast between a president who is fighting each and every day for the middle class. Fighting to keep the government from defaulting on its obligations. And against a candidate who not only voted against raising the debt ceiling, but went out and advocated against America paying for its obligations to its troops, its seniors and others.

You know, the big issue is electability. And you know, Ms. Bachmann is a crowd pleaser, especially among the Tea Party set. The question is can she broaden her base? As you well know in some of these upcoming primaries next year, independents will also be able to vote. Not just the church going, what I call the choir members. So can she broaden her appeal? Is she a narrow candidate -- go ahead. I'm sorry, Don.

LEMON: That's Alex.

CASTELLANOS: Just don't forget also, that independents can actually vote here. So yes, this was a very conservative crowd. But independents can actually vote. Bachmann has to decide if she will tray to outconservative Rick Perry or if she is going to outconservative Mitt Romney. She can do -

CROWLEY: The one task is harder than the other.

CASTELLANOS: One task I harder than the other.

LEMON: I do have to say this too. I'm not a politico. I don't do it as much as you guys do. But what I've noticed in a lot of candidates and I have a newfound respect for Sarah Palin, the first time I interviewed her. Answered every single question and her husband was very gracious and very nice. You may not like some of her answers some of the time. But when I asked her a direct question she gave me a direct answer.

On the other hand, Michele Bachmann doesn't do that. Sometimes she doesn't talk to people. She is cocooned by security people and by people who are pushing people away. That's going to be an issue for her. Maybe she can learn something from Sarah Palin who has become a pro at being real.

CASTELLANOS: You know, it helps so much when this is not your first time around the track. When you're a candidate your first time out, you think the whole world is against you. Especially if you start at the bottom, an insurgent candidate. You have to get comfortable with it.

LEMON: Donna, I'll give you the last word before we go to break here.

BRAZILE: Well, you know, I don't often agree with Alex but I have to agree. When it is your first time around the so-called proverbial track, you rely on your handlers and others to sort of guide you. But look, it is early. Michele Bachmann, you know, she got a huge victory behind her but this is America.

Let me tell you, the next few weeks, she will begin to see attacks from those who are still vying for number one in the Iowa caucuses and she will come under even more scrutiny from the media. This is a key test for Michele Bachmann, whether or not she will be viable, say, five, six months from now.

LEMON: All right. Thanks, Donna. Thanks, Alex. We'll go back to New Hampshire, of course. Rick Perry. Rick Perry who really stole the spotlight here. Speaking of politics. We're back in moments here on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PALIN: I don't think I'm stealing any spotlight. In fact, (INAUDIBLE) go find the other folks and say hello. I'm very thankful to have been invited to the state fair.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: That was Sarah Palin. I was talking to her yesterday. She has not declared. Yet, she is here in Iowa. But you know what? Rick Perry wasn't here either and he still made a showing in the straw poll. We were just in New Hampshire two months ago.

CROWLEY: It wasn't that long ago.

LEMON: It wasn't that long ago for the debate.

CROWLEY: June, right?

LEMON: Yes. Mark Preston is there now. Why is there?

CROWLEY: He is always late to the game. LEMON: He is always late to the game but he's following a big candidate there, someone who had a big announcement today, Mark, and just left the backyard barbecue, a party where you are.

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL EDITOR: Yes, welcome back to New Hampshire. I tell you, you know, as Matt (INAUDIBLE) said earlier on the show, he said all the political eyes were on Iowa. Well, guess what? They're all coming here to New Hampshire right now. Rick Perry was no mistake that Rick Perry made his second stop in his announcement tour here in this yard that I'm standing in. It's no mistake that Jon Huntsman who did not, you know, go into the straw poll did four campaign stops in this state. There's no mistake that Mitt Romney who also skipped the straw poll held a big event last night. So the political universe, all the eyes are now shifting to the East Coast, shifting to New Hampshire, Don and Candy.

CROWLEY: I'm sorry, Mark. Is it my turn?

PRESTON: You don't agree with me.

LEMON: Mark, if you only knew. You have no idea what's happening out here. We're having a lot of fun.

CROWLEY: Mark, it seems to me that Perry has two missions now. He has to slow Michele Bachmann down in Iowa. And he has to slow Mitt Romney down in New Hampshire. And kind of go in for the kill in South Carolina. If I were trying to figure out what his strategy is at this point.

PRESTON: All right. So this is what I suspect will happen, Candy, is that Rick Perry will stay positive. He will follow the model that we've seen Mitt Romney do over the past couple of months. Mitt Romney has only been negative about President Obama and has been very negative about the economy. We heard from Rick Perry here today, he is the person who can turn things around. He can change the economy.

What we will see and what I expect we'll see is we'll see these super packed groups will come up here to New Hampshire. We'll head down to South Carolina. We'll head out to Iowa. Specifically here in New Hampshire, the ones that are aligned with Rick Perry will try to take out Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney's groups will have to come in and defend him. Down in South Carolina, I expect we'll see the same thing will happen there. And out in Iowa, expect the same thing to happen out there with Michele Bachmann. Candy?

CROWLEY: Mark Preston in one of our two favorite early states. Thanks a lot.

It is the same set-up drawing the same questions.

LEMON: Oh yes.

CROWLEY: Republican candidates gather and Sarah Palin shows up. What was she doing in Iowa? And more of a curiosity, what is she doing in the days to come? Will she run for the Oval Office or not? I'm back here in Ames, Iowa, and I'm with - I'm not with Candy Crowley. I'm with Don Lemon.

LEMON: We're having fun.

We're going to find out what she's up to right after the break.

(LAUGHTER)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: You know the results of the Iowa straw poll show, you know, Michele Bachmann winning. That says a lot about the Tea Party. It also says - it says a lot about the Tea Party but - and there you see her on top and Ron Paul second, Tim Pawlenty is third. But also the popularity of Sarah Palin that we have been seeing drawing crowds as well and she is a Tea Party favorite.

CROWLEY: By the way, so is Rick Perry.

LEMON: So is Rick Perry. So these guys - so it says a lot about the Tea Party and their influence. I want to talk first though with Alex and Donna about Sarah Palin. So, Alex, Sarah Palin hasn't even declared. She's here. She draws a crowd wherever she goes. And even bigger crowds than the people who have declared. What's going on?

CASTELLANOS: Sarah Palin is almost like a chairman emeritus of the Tea Party. She is tremendously powerful. There are other ways to be influential in American politics than to be a candidate. I think Sarah Palin loves her country. I respect her a great deal. But I think she knows she can't beat Barack Obama. She has got too much baggage, too many scars, so she is doing her job. She inspires, she mobilizes, she gets the base out. (INAUDIBLE)

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Is she looking for attention or does she really as you say care that much about the Tea Party and that message?

CASTELLANOS: I think she cares that much about her country. I think she's genuinely concerned that we're going over the edge off a cliff and that's why I think she resonates with so many voters. I think that's why she still draws such large crowds. I think it's authentic.

CROWLEY: Donna, let me ask you about - obviously, you know, you are going to the Democrats are going to go after Republicans as being out of the main stream, too far right, Tea Party crazy people. Isn't there some danger in that? Because what we do see is that there are enormous numbers of Republicans as well as independents, some independents, who identify with Tea Party goals. Do you risk overplaying that when you talk about Tea Party favorites like Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry?

BRAZILE: You know, we're not going to attack them personally. At least I won't attack them personally. We're going to attack their ideas or their lack of ideas. We're going to challenge them to come up with a plan to help create jobs, to come and meet President Obama half way and the Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill and find solutions so that we can get the economy in full recovery for all the American people. I think the American people are tired of politics, they're tired of politicians, they're tired of honestly members of Congress. Congress is as popular as a root canal. They want our leaders to lead. They want them to stop talking and start leading. So I think Democrats are going to listen to the American people, start leading with job creation. That's number one for Democrats.

LEMON: But does it behoove the Democrats that you heard the head of the DNC speaking earlier, I said "what do you make of the results?" And she said not much. And really sort of downplaying the influence of the Tea Party. As I said, I'm sort of a political outsider but I wonder is that a smart strategy right now to keep downplaying really a group of people who have made their influence on this country in ways that have not been made before? Especially you saw it with the debt ceiling and all of this. They're saying they're going to take back the president's health care plan. Is it time for the Democrats to stop downplaying the Tea Party?

CASTELLANOS: You know, they did it once and after the health care debate and that gave rise to the Tea Party. There is a wave of people in America who thought Washington is out of control and they're not listening to me. Same thing happened on the debt ceiling. Same thing happened on the debt ceiling. They shouldn't ignore this anger again.

LEMON: Donna, I'm going to let you respond but after the break. Don't go anywhere.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Welcome back. Look there. No self-respecting candidate in Iowa or New Hampshire does not have a button.

LEMON: There she is in the white suit there. Yes, there is Michele Bachmann in the white suit being led by the security and police officers.

CROWLEY: She is right behind us.

LEMON: Walking into camera position for someone. But she is the winner of the Iowa straw poll.

CROWLEY: She won.

LEMON: Donna, before the break I was asking you, as we look at, as Michele Bachmann, her bus still here, do you think it's time for the Democrats to stop either downplaying or under estimating the Tea Party? Just a question.

BRAZILE: Well, look. I think we should listen to all Americans especially 80 percent of the American people who would like to see our political leaders put aside all of these extreme positions, come together, come up with a balanced solution to fix what ails our economy so we that get the American people back to work. We should, at the end of the day we're all Americans and we should do what's best for our country. And we will from time to time have people from the left and from the right who just simply disagree with each other. Thank you, Don. See you tomorrow, Candy.

LEMON: Well, she said it. There you go. Thank you, Donna Brazile.

CROWLEY: That's right. I am Candy Crowley.

LEMON: We'll get Donna Brazile to help co-anchor with us tomorrow. I like that idea.

CROWLEY: It was fun. Tomorrow morning 9:00 Eastern, noon, "State of the Union." Thanks for letting me crash your show.

LEMON: Loved this. See you back here at 10:00. Good night.