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JOHN KING, USA

South Carolina Forum; Senator Jim DeMint Interview; James P. Hoffa Interview; Wildfires in Texas

Aired September 5, 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: Thank you, and good evening. Tonight from Columbia, South Carolina, it is Labor Day 2011, but the 2012 campaign for the White House was front and center today. Here in South Carolina, a handful of Republican presidential candidates took part in a forum organized by the conservative and Tea Party power broker Senator Jim DeMint.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JIM DEMINT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: What are the programs at the federal level that we need to get out of the federal government?

REP. RON PAUL, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, that's a difficult question because that's a long list. I'd rather you give me the list of one of the things we should keep.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: President Obama was also on the road this Labor Day in Detroit for what the White House billed as an official policy event.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you, everybody. Thank you. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (INAUDIBLE)

OBAMA: Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: But those chants of four more years and the appearance with major players from organized labor left little doubt the focus was on the troubled economic climate that puts the president's re- election hopes in serious jeopardy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Now is not the time for the people you sent to Washington to worry about their jobs. Now is the time for them to worry about your jobs.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Action in New Hampshire too, where the former Alaska governor, Sarah Palin did nothing, nothing to quiet speculation she is pondering a late September entry into the GOP race.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER GOVERNOR OF ALASKA: We need a pro growth agenda.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (INAUDIBLE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Run Sarah, run, those chants if you can't hear them clearly at home. Let's kick off our coverage right here in South Carolina, often the decisive state in contested Republican nominating contests. Today's presidential forum at the last minute lost the Texas Governor Rick Perry who decided he needed to return home to Texas to oversee the response to destructive wildfires.

But five other candidates fielded questions on jobs, taxes, health care and whether the federal government should try to outlaw abortion and same-sex marriage. The man behind the event is often labeled Senator Tea Party. He is the conservative Jim DeMint who is with us tonight from the Convention Center where that event took place.

Senator DeMint, let me just start with this the question. You have yet to pick a candidate this campaign. Did any of the five today convince you that's the guy or the woman -- in the case of Congresswoman Bachmann -- I want up against President Obama a year from now?

DEMINT: Well, first, John I want to thank you and CNN for carrying this to the nation. We've gotten a lot of response that people really enjoyed getting a little deeper with the candidates. I did learn a lot about some of the candidates I thought I knew well. But the whole point of this is to show that the principles that unite the Republican Party are very different than the Democrats. And the more we give these candidates a chance to talk about those principles, the better I think we have a chance to convince Americans that it's time for a change.

KING: Well, let's talk about one of them. And let's have a contrast between the candidates. All of the candidates are critical of the Obama health care plan. For one of them there today, the former Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney, this is, as you know, a significant challenge with conservative voters because of his state plan in Massachusetts. I want you to listen first to Congresswoman Bachmann who describes repealing the president's health care plan as in her view the defining issue of 2012.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is an issue that must be solved in 2012 because I believe that Obamacare will so metastasize itself into every part of American life that we will never get rid of it again and this is the foundation for socialized medicine. Make no mistake about it. It will change the face of this nation forever.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, Congresswoman Bachmann said that she believes the Constitution prohibits -- the Constitution prohibits even the states from adopting an individual mandate like Senator DeMint, Governor Romney has in his plan in Massachusetts. Yet Governor Romney in response to a question you asked him near the end of the forum said he relishes a chance to contrast his approach with that of the president. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The critical thing is this. He dealt with -- with -- we dealt with eight percent. He dealt with 100 percent of American people. He said I'm going to change health care for all of you. It's simply unconstitutional.

(CROSSTALK)

ROMNEY: It's bad law. It's bad medicine and on day one of my administration, I'll direct the secretary of Health and Human Services to grant a waiver from Obamacare to all 50 states. It has got to be stopped and I know it better than most.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Senator DeMint, you backed Governor Romney in the 2008 campaign. He obviously did not win the nomination. You have not endorsed yet in this campaign. There have been reports saying you want him to repudiate his Massachusetts health care law or he has no chance of getting your endorsement. In fact is that the case and did he say anything today that convinced you, yes, I can support him?

DEMINT: Well, he makes a good distinction between what the federal government and state government should do. But I frankly think a mandate, a requirement that someone has to buy a particular government approved health insurance policy is wrong whether it's at the state or federal level, but that's something that should be part of the debate. There are some big differences with what was done in Massachusetts and Obamacare.

Certainly the Constitution relates to what we can do at the federal level. And our hope is as a judge, the Supreme Court will strike this down, but I think Michele Bachmann is right is we need to repeal this or we're going to end up with socialized medicine. And we don't have much longer to go. So by 2012, we need a president who will repeal it. And I think every one of the candidates who were here today made it clear that they thought that was important.

KING: But do you view it as disqualifying for your endorsement for Governor Romney in this campaign? And if the answer is yes, sir, then how could you have supported him in 2008? The Massachusetts health care had already passed by then.

DEMINT: Well, the election in 2008 had a totally different feel. I'm waiting to look at the entire field here, the Republican Party. Things are very different. We're trillions more in debt and the economy is in the tank. I'm looking at the candidates with a fresh look so I have not decided who I'm going to endorse and I haven't ruled anyone out.

KING: And Governor Perry decided at the last minute, Senator that he could not participate in your forum today. I know you were disappointed. I know you suggested if maybe he could have gone first instead and then gone home to Texas. Are you disappointed in that decision? Do you think he made the right call and do you think he hurt himself in any way here in South Carolina? About five months to go, obviously a lot of time, but at the moment, he leads the polls here.

DEMINT: Well sure, I'm disappointed. I haven't met the governor in person. We've talked on the phone and I think a lot of people here in the state wanted to hear what he really believed and how he would translate his principles into policies. But a governor's responsibility is first to their state and their people and there's a real tragedy unfolding in Texas. So I don't blame him at all. I think he needed to be at home in Texas. So he promised to make up for it by doubling his commitment in South Carolina. So we'll work through that.

KING: Senator, you asked each of the candidates about their jobs plan. And you rolled your eyes a bit. You had some sarcasm about the speech the president is going to give to the nation Thursday night. You didn't sound very confident he was going to say anything that would convince you to support him. You just mentioned the economy is in the tank. That is something Democrats, Republicans and Independents of all stripes can agree on.

One of the things the president talked today about in his Labor Day speech was some sort of infrastructure bank, to put construction workers back to work. He says labor is for this and business is for this. The federal government would have a minimal investment to leverage private investment. On that one specific issue, is that something you could say yes, Mr. President, I may disagree with you here and there but I can support you on that one?

DEMINT: I want to see the president write down his plan and we want to see what it costs. The way he sold his stimulus was not the way it unfolded. It did not work. The president has given a lot of speeches. We have yet to see any legislation from him. I'm, frankly, just frustrated with him giving a spin to the nation and then never delivering on the details.

So if he wants to deliver a plan to Congress, I'm anxious to read it and give him some objective feedback, but frankly, what they've been leaking out of the White House is just more of the same temporary ideas. I was in business my whole life. I would never hire people if you gave me a $5,000 tax credit that I wasn't going to hire anyway. And that kind of thinking just suggests the president really doesn't understand how jobs are created.

KING: Let me ask you lastly about the Democratic criticism of your event here today. Your "Freedom Forum" you called it. You brought in five of the Republican candidates for president. What the Democrats said was that most of America celebrated Labor Day and that South Carolina because of your event celebrated Tea Party Day, a distraction into issues like abortion, into issues like same-sex marriage and the like. How would you respond to that criticism, sir?

DEMINT: Well, what we were talking about today is how to put America back to work. The Democrats continue to talk about things that have put people out of work and has actually put our economy on the edge of a cliff, so what we were doing here today is the work that I think Americans want us to do is to develop a political consensus about how we can turn this country around and move us back towards prosperity. The Democrats clearly don't have a clue about how to do that.

KING: Senator Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina, sir, appreciate your time today. We'll keep in touch as the campaign unfolds here and across the country.

Still ahead for us tonight, a wildfire season that already is the worst in Texas history now threatens the area, now the -- near the capital of Austin. And next, President Obama asks union members if they have learned the lessons of sometimes supporting Republicans -- the Teamsters president, James Hoffa here with us to talk jobs and labor's role in campaign 2012.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: The president's Labor Day rally in Detroit today was billed as an official event, which means taxpayers, not the Obama re- election campaign will foot the bill. But it had all the trappings of a 2012 pep rally with an appeal to the turnout power of organized labor and something many union leaders and many liberal Democrats have been urging for a long time, stronger direct attacks from the president on Republican policies.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: You say you're the party of tax cuts? Well then prove you'll fight just as hard for tax cuts for middle class families as you do for oil companies and the most affluent Americans. Show us what you've got. So when I hear some of these folks trying to take collective bargaining rights away, trying to pass so-called right to work laws for private sector workers, they really mean the right to work for less and less and less.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: But winning blue collar union support was an issue for candidate Obama back in 2008 and with high unemployment now looms as a major challenge for President Obama heading into the 2012 campaign. Among those trying to give the president a boost today was the Teamsters Union President James Hoffa. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES P. HOFFA, TEAMSTERS PRESIDENT: Everybody here has got to vote. If we go back and we keep the eye on the prize, let's take these (EXPLETIVE DELETED) out and give America back to America where we belong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: President Hoffa with us from Detroit tonight. Mr. Hoffa, I want to begin with your assessment of the president's speech. You had a big crowd there. You had a pumped up president being more direct in his attack on the Republicans. You have criticized him in the past saying he needs to get out there and be more specific, get into the fight, not give airy speeches. Are you convinced now that the president gets the message and is prepared on the substance to give you more of what you want and on the politics to be tougher?

HOFFA: I think he's getting engaged now because he realizes what's at stake. You know, I think he learned a lesson with this debt ceiling battle that he went through that there really is no dealing with the Tea Party people. You can't be reasonable with people that are unreasonable. And I think he learned a lesson that now he's going to have to take them on because there is no middle ground.

There isn't any way that he can work this out or sit down and reason with them. And I think that he's learned a lesson. I think that's why he's sharpening what he's talking about and he (INAUDIBLE) start really getting ready for that speech that's going to happen on September 7th, which is going to be an important speech to outline how he's going to put America back to work.

KING: And so what should he do in that speech? There are some who say be bold even if you know the House Republicans will not pass what you're saying. There are others who say Mr. President, with so many Americans unemployed, maybe split the difference and get some of them help by proposing things the Republicans will support. Do you want him to give a speech that has in it proposals that maybe are more leaning towards Republicans to get them passed or would you prefer he be bold even if it means nothing gets done and we fight this out in the election.

HOFFA: He's got to be bold right now. I think the lines are getting drawn right now. We have these attacks from the Tea Party on him, on everybody else. You've got Mitch McConnell saying it's their job to beat him in '12. So I think he's pretty clear where we're going with this. I think he's got to be bold.

I think he's got to basically stake out a plan, a program that makes sense to the American people. He's the reasonable one to say here is a plan that will work and I'm willing to take this to Congress. If they turn it down, then he's going to say OK, this made sense. They don't want to do it. Now I'm taking it to the voters. I think that's where this is going to end up, because I don't see any middle ground working out between here and '12. KING: And if he takes it to the voters, one of the big questions is, do your rank and file members and those of other unions, do they support the president in high numbers or do they either stay home or do we have a Reagan Democrat moment? Do we have a lot of them supporting Republicans? The president seemed to have that in mind today when he recalled an appearance Labor Day many years ago by President Truman. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Americans that voted in some folks in the Congress who weren't very friendly to labor. And he pointed out that some working folks and even some union members voted these folks in. And now they were learning their lesson.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: In the 2010 midterms, Mr. Hoffa, Republicans had 37 percent of union households voted Republicans for Congress. That's about the same as the 2008 presidential election, 59 percent of union households voted for President Obama, 39 percent for Senator McCain. But you remember the final days of the 2008 campaign. I remember them well. Unions were spending a lot of time and a lot of money in the local union halls in the big states telling rank and file members vote for the president -- vote for then Senator Obama when they were reluctant to do so.

Some of them had supported Senator Clinton. Some of them, let's be honest, were hesitant because of the race issue. Are you confident heading into 2012 that your rank and file will support this Democratic president or will we see in places like Michigan what we saw in the Reagan days, blue collar Reagan Democrats helping the Republicans?

HOFFA: I think it's going to be different this time because of the attack on the -- you know on labor by the Tea Party. We had 100,000 people at a rally in Madison, Wisconsin. We had 50,000 people in Ohio. We collected a million signatures in Ohio. People realize what's going on, that they might have voted Republican a small group of organized labor. But I think people are aware now that this group is coming after them. You know when they start talking about, you know, getting rid of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, rolling back collective bargaining in major states, I think this has -- you know this has been the wake-up call that maybe labor needs.

And some of those people that voted Republican are now going to say, what a mistake I made because I didn't know they were going to take my job away. I didn't know they were going to take collective bargaining away. So I think it's a little bit different. That's the message that we're delivering to say hey, you saw what they did and you saw what they believe in. And you heard this debate in Washington with regard to the debt ceiling that they want to keep cutting and cutting and they start talking about entitlements and they start talking about Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

And I asked them do you want to give those things up, and they say no. I said well make it clear. That's what this is about. It's not about these other airy issues. It's about what you -- how you live and what you expect of America. And I said that's the issue we've got to address and stay on that issue.

KING: You're in Detroit tonight. Among the Republican candidates for president is a son of Michigan whose father worked in the auto industry. He went on to become the governor of Massachusetts. I'm talking about Mitt Romney. He will outline his economic plan tomorrow in an essay that will appear in "USA Today" in the morning.

He takes after the president and he takes after organized labor. Listen, Mitt Romney says this. "Seeking to pay back political favors, President Obama has catered to the institutional interests of union bosses at the expense of both workers and businesses. I will fight against measures that deprive workers of basic rights such as the secret ballot." Do you view that, labor right there front and center in the Romney economic plan?

HOFFA: I think he's making a big mistake. You know his father was George Romney. You know, it's hard to imagine (INAUDIBLE) in coming from Detroit where we had successful loans to both Chrysler and General Motors that both companies have come back. They're paying the loans off. It's a success story. It's a success story here in Michigan. We have hiring going on.

We have new industries going on. And I got news for you. I can't believe that he's talking this way and I don't know who he's addressing, but it's not going to work in Michigan.

KING: James Hoffa is the president of the Teamsters Union -- Mr. Hoffa, thank you for your time on this Labor Day. We'll keep in touch as the campaign unfolds.

And still to come here tonight, U.S. embassies worldwide go on higher alert as the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approaches and a mix of wildfires, winds and heavy rains puts much of the country in emergency response mode and take a look at this iReport video, a tornado crossing the highway near Albany, New York, on Sunday.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back. Here's the latest news you need to know right now. Today the United Nations warned three-quarters of a million people in Somalia face imminent starvation and a record four million people need humanitarian aide.

A spokesman for Moammar Gadhafi says the deposed Libyan leader is in good health and good spirits and remains somewhere in Libya along with his son Saif. In Egypt today, supporters and opponents of former President Hosni Mubarak scuffled inside and outside the courtroom during today's session of his trial.

And here in the United States, a Postal Service official contacted by CNN confirms a "New York Times" report saying there is not enough money to make a $5.5 billion payment to an employees' retirement fund at the end of this month. But that official tells us a default won't stop mail delivery or other payments at least for now.

Up next Governor Rick Perry not here in South Carolina today because he had to head back to Texas -- he talks about what he calls one of the meanest looking wildfires he's ever seen.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Tonight, crews on fire lines southeast of Austin, Texas, are battling a wildfire that's destroyed at least 475 homes. About an hour ago, Governor Rick Perry who rushed home from South Carolina today called flying past the smoke and flames surreal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. RICK PERRY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have seen a number of big fires in my life. This one is as -- this one's as mean- looking as I've ever seen. I'll be real honest with you; I'm not paying any attention to politics right now. There's plenty of time to take care of that. Peoples' lives and their possessions are in danger. That's substantially more important.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: CNN's Jim Spellman is reporting right near those fire lines. Jim, give us the latest, especially on this property destruction the governor talks about.

JIM SPELLMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Sure, take a look, first, John at this. We're a couple of miles from the front of the fire, just this massive wall of fire. Governor Perry saw it from the air. We saw it from the road driving in here today and it was just staggering. There -- right now up in the air there's helicopters, planes dropping water, retardant, trying to get a handle on this. As you said, 475 people -- homes rather -- are already destroyed and many subdivisions in the way.

This is really the worst possible combination of this almost year-long severe drought conditions here with the high winds that kick up in the afternoon and a fire near these populated areas. And I think that's really a difference that the governor stressed. I think that that's really what is going to make this stand out.

Already since last November, John, an area the size of Connecticut has burned here in Texas. It's just unbelievable what they've been dealing with. Most of them though have been away from populated areas.

Here they don't have that luxury. It's added a real sense of urgency to the firefighting here. The governor committed all the resources possible. Tomorrow, a federal team is added to the mix.

So, they're going to do what they can. But, right now, they still don't have this fire at all contained, John.

KING: And so, Jim, you mentioned, they don't have it at all contained. What's the prognosis? When they look at the weather forecasts, they look at the winds. They look at the resources available, what's the prognosis for getting it under control?

SPELLMAN: Well, I spoke with a couple firefighters here on the ground, John, and the prognosis is just not good at this point. They really need help from the weather. You can see just from this wall of smoke here, when the winds in the afternoon kick up and they hit these fires, they just go so far forward.

They need to establish a fire line where they create a break between the active fire and the fuel of the woods surrounding it. To do that, they really need to have the winds die down. So, that usually happens in the morning. Tomorrow, they're going to be out here full force with even more resources from around the state to try to get ahead of it and until the winds probably kick up again tomorrow.

But it's been so long since they've had meaningful rain here, John. And until they really get that, even if they get this under control, another one can pop up literally at any minute -- John.

KING: Jim Spellman for us on the fire line in Texas -- Jim, stay safe.

We'll check in with Jim throughout the evening, as Texas continues to battle this.

And while winds on the backside of what used to be tropical storm Lee were pushing the fires in Texas, the leading edge causing big troubles in Georgia. At least 100 homes in the Atlanta area were damaged this afternoon by thunderstorms and tornadoes.

CNN meteorologist Jacqui Jeras is keeping track of that storm in the weather center.

Jacqui, what's on the front end, the wet end?

JACQUI JERAS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes. Well, they're still looking at that threat of tornadoes, John. And that's going to be ongoing through the rest of the evening, even into tonight here. And there you can see the watches which extend all the way up into the parts of Virginia at this hour.

I want to take a look and I think my magic wall just literally died on the air for you. But I will tell you that we've got some pictures of those tornadoes in Atlanta. This was just a couple of hours ago.

You mentioned 100 homes or so which have been damaged. This is mostly rooftop damage and a lot of tree damage. Hundreds of trees are down. There are a lot of people without power there for tonight. In addition to that, we also have a lot of floodwaters that are starting to creep up on the roadways. We've seen flooding across Louisiana through Mississippi, all the way over into Alabama, as well as in Georgia.

And now, we're concerned as this heads into the higher terrains that we could be seeing some mudslides. So, that's a good possibility.

The other thing is that we're looking at the storm. You know, what's left of Lee. That's going to ride up the coast with this cold front. And it's going to bring more flood conditions to already flood ravaged Northeast from the remnants of Irene.

So, we've got a long ways to go with this very slow-moving storm. We'll continue to have problems at least through the end of the week. The best thing we can tell you is that things are looking a lot better along the Gulf Coast.

But still, there are thousands of people without power. In fact, in Alabama alone, 93,000 people are in the dark right now -- John.

KING: And you talk there about the latest on Lee, the remnants of Irene.

Jacqui, take us out to sea and Katia. How worried, a category 3 now, I believe. How worried should people along the East Coast be?

JERAS: Well, you know, there are going to be some impacts likely from Katia, but we don't think it's going to be making landfall at the U.S. This is a very powerful storm. It's a category 3 hurricane right now with maximum winds around 115 miles per hour.

However, we think it's going to get real close to the U.S. coastline and then make a curve on up to the north. So maybe 300 to 500 miles away from the coastline. It will be enough to bring rip currents and bring in some nasty waves. Keep people away from the beaches, but it won't be enough to make a U.S. landfall. We don't think.

And we can actually thank part of Lee and these cold fronts that are moving through the Northeast. That's going to help kick this out and keep this out to sea.

KING: Busy time in the weather center. Jacqui Jeras, appreciate your help tonight.

JERAS: Thanks.

KING: When we come back here next, back to politics, abortion, marriage and other social issues drives the debate, part of it anyway, at the Republican candidates forum here in South Carolina.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rick Perry was scheduled to be with us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: "ANDERSON COOPER 360" coming up at the top of the hour. Anderson is with us now with a preview.

Hey there.

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "ANDERSON COOPER 360": Hey, John. Thanks very much.

Yes, keep them honest tonight on "360." I know you're there in South Carolina, where job creation was a major topic today.

Tonight, we're focusing on presidential hopeful Mitt Romney who never misses an opportunity to tout his record on job creation when he was in the private sector. But a closer look at this track record may show otherwise. Tonight, we're keeping them honest.

Also tonight, with the latest out of Aruba and missing American woman Robyn Gardner. That is her. Authorities are now appealing for the public's health on a mystery car that was spotted on the surveillance camera. They believe the driver of that car may have seen Robyn Gardner the night before -- right before she disappeared. We have a live report from Martin Savidge in Aruba.

We'll also have the latest on the wildfires, devastating parts of Texas, John, what you just reported on.

Also tonight's "Ridiculist" and a lot more at the top of the hour.

KING: Looking forward to all of that, especially, I've been off for two weeks. So, it's been awhile for "Ridiculist." See you in just a few minutes.

We have no doubt on Labor Day 201 that jobs and the economy will dominate the general election contest for president in the fall of 2012. But we're also reminded tonight that contested nominating fights often lead to interesting detours.

For Republicans, that can mean social issues, like abortion and gay rights, especially in a state like South Carolina where in the 2008 Republican presidential primary, 54 percent of the voters described themselves as evangelical Christians. So, no surprise then that social issues were a significant part of today's South Carolina GOP presidential forum.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I would like to see that the Supreme Court return to the states the responsibility for determining laws relating to abortion.

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I would do everything within my power to restrict the number of abortions that occurs in the United States.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I do believe that we have every right to defend a 3,000-year clear record that that's what marriage is.

(END VIDEO CLIPS) KING: The event here is one of several defining moments this month for the Republicans who would be president, including three debates over the next three weeks.

Let's get to the state of play tonight from CNN contributor Erick Erickson. He's the editor of the conservative blog redstate.com. And with me here in Columbia, South Carolina, is the state treasurer, Curtis Loftis, the Tea Party who just endorsed the former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.

Eric, I want to begin with you. Obviously, jobs and the economy are issue number one. But during this event today, you put out a tweet. Robert George was one of the conservative activists. He was part of the questioning there.

And you said this in your threat. "I respect Robert George greatly but I think his questions were way too in the weeds on topics that do not relate to the issues of the day."

Obviously, some of these issues are critically important to Republican primary voters, the evangelical voters. Do you think that perhaps distraction today the focus should have been more on jobs and the economy?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: My personal preference was yes, it should have been. And to his credit, I think Senator DeMint asked a lot of those questions. He focused on labor unions. He focused on jobs and the economy.

And, yes, I have a great deal of respect for Robert George. I really do -- I kind of wish that we didn't spend so much time on social issues.

By and large, these candidates all agree, there are nuances here and there. Some may not be as pro-life as the others.

But most Americans, even most evangelical voters and I'm one of them, really are focused right now on restarting the economy, creating jobs, and what we can do to tamp down on regulations coming out of Washington.

KING: Mr. Loftis, help me on that point. In this state, where we know more than half of the voters in the last Republican presidential primary said they're evangelicals. How much does it matter, especially given the times we live in, whether a candidate says he wants a constitutional amendment to keep marriage between a man and a woman or say each state should decide that, whether they think the Congress try to repeal Roe v. Wade, or that's up to the Supreme Court? How much does that matter in this nominating contest?

CURTIS LOFTIS, SOUTH CAROLINA STATE TREASURER: I think it matters a lot right now early in the process. I'm a Southerner (ph) that was raised in a Republican household, conservative household, all my life. It's important now.

But as we get closer to the election, it's going to become more about jobs and more about money. South Carolinians are pretty pragmatic voters. And as we get closer to that election, they're going to say, how do we beat Barack Obama? And those social issues are not the issues that will help us.

KING: You say pretty pragmatic voters. This is viewed as an establishment Republican state, Iowa, New Hampshire, in Republican politics. South Carolina likes to think it picks the winner in contested Republican presidential primaries.

Senator Jim DeMint who hosted the forum today, he was for Romney last time. Romney came in fourth in South Carolina. You're for Romney this time. A lot of people say, well, wait a minute, you're a Tea Party guy. You have grassroots conservative support. You're supposed to be the people who say, "Go away, Mitt Romney."

LOFTIS: Well, the Tea Party's a diverse group. So, I can only speak for myself. I did get virtually every Tea Party endorsement when I ran for treasurer.

Tea Party folks are very pragmatic. They're very smart and, you know, they get a bad rap in the national media. But what happens is they're going to start thinking about money.

You know, now, these social issues are great. Everybody likes to debate. You know, it's high school in a way and we like it.

But when it gets closer to the time, I think that's when it will be clear Mitt Romney is the man who can create jobs and create wealth in this country again.

KING: Erick Erickson, you watched the forum today and Senator DeMint, near the end, gave Governor Romney a chance to explain, to try to convince a voter out there who says, well, if President Obama modeled his Obamacare in part on Romneycare in Massachusetts, no way, no how, how did Governor Romney do in his explanation?

ERICKSON: You know, I wish he'd been giving this answer all along. I think he probably gave a better answer today than he has in the past. I'm not sure when you talk to a lot of Tea Party activists that that answer is going to settle it for them. But it definitely was a better answer today than he's given all along.

And all the opportunities he's had, including the one speech he gave defending his record I thought today he did the very best job. And, you know, he had to have known this question was coming. So, he did a very good job.

KING: So, we're in South Carolina today. Five of the Republican candidates were here. I think it's fair to say that in what we would view as the top tier, Governor Romney would be the top tier candidate here.

Congresswoman Bachmann had a lot of steam coming out of the early debates. The question is now with Governor Perry in the race, can she sustain that. Up in the state of New Hampshire, though, Sarah Palin, fresh from an appearance in Iowa is, at a Tea Party rally in New Hampshire. And listen here, first, she hears "Run, Sarah run! Run, Sarah, run," she smiles and says, "Thank you."

But what intrigued me was this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: It's media incited internal squabbles, unfortunately and we can nip some of that in the bud right here right now because we've got a lot of work to do constitutionalists. Our challenges today are too great. We simply don't have time to be bogged down in internal conflicts and friendly fire conflicts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Eric, do you have any idea what she's talking about? Now, she has taken a few polite gentle, but a few shots at Governor Perry, a few shots at Governor Romney. Here she seems to be saying, whoa, that sounded almost like Ronald Reagan saying the 11th commandment, thou shalt not attack a fellow Republican.

ERICKSON: Part of me thinks the best answer I can give is to say no comment on Sarah Palin until she decides what she's doing. But this particular point. I've got to tell you, I've heard a lot of her aides and Peter Hamby has reported on some of her aides saying her crony remarks were about Rick Perry or something else was about Mitt Romney. Unless you hear that come from Sarah Palin, I've gone to the point where I don't believe it because I know too many people who read way too much into what Sarah Palin is saying, who are very close to her. But Sarah Palin herself doesn't say that.

She and Rick Perry, for example, are very good friends. She endorsed him last year. She has, interestingly enough, I thought shown up plenty of occasions in New Hampshire and Iowa right where Mitt Romney is. And I'm wondering if she's trying to take some attention away from him. But I'm done trying to figure it out.

KING: Erick is done trying to figure it out. How about you, Mr. Loftis. Is Sarah Palin running?

LOFTIS: Well, they tell me she is. And my friends that are pretty smart tell me she is. I think that make it interesting. I think what she's referring to about the Tea Party is she's got to get all of the Tea Party vote. And I don't think that's in the cards.

You know, there are eight or nine people in this race and Tea Party votes will land on all of them. And so, I think everybody is jockeying to get those votes. But --

KING: If she got into the race, what would she had do here in South Carolina? How big would she be on --

LOFTIS: I think she'd do well. I think she'd take a lot of votes from Ms. Bachmann and Mr. Perry, especially those two.

But again, not beat to a dead horse, at the end of the day, the Tea Party folks are very interested in financial issues. They're core issues that America spends too much money. We bankrupted ourselves and we've got to get out of that hole. And a lot of these issues that are highlighted today aren't going to be that important in three or four months.

KING: If Sarah Palin gets into the race, Mr. Loftis makes the case that would affect Governor Perry and others.

But, Erick, Governor Perry seems to think at the moment and I think most Republican strategists would agree, that at the moment, rival number one is the former governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney. So before he left South Carolina today, he was here in the morning for an event, couldn't participate in the forum because he needed to go back home and check in on the wildfires, but before he left, he had governor Romney in mind when he said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. RICK PERRY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There's going to be some that get up and say, well, I created jobs. And that's true. There's, you know, one in particular that's created jobs all over the world. While he was the governor of Massachusetts, he didn't create very many jobs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: I think out of the 50 states, what Governor Perry is referring to there, Erick, is Massachusetts was 47th in the terms of per capita job growth back when Governor Romney was the governor.

Is that how most Republicans see this right now is a Perry-Romney race, or is there more to it?

ERICKSON: I think it very much is shaping up to be a Perry- Romney race. We're seeing in the polling that Michele Bachmann is fading. We're seeing more and more Republicans, I think we're up to 60 percent now saying that they hope that Sarah Palin doesn't get into the race. People are ready to settle and I think it's going to become a Perry-Romney race.

And, ironically, I do think it's a bit of a tactical mistake for Mitt Romney to go after Rick Perry and say he was governor for 11 years, don't attribute any job growth in Texas to him. I think the better angle for Romney is to go after Perry for being a career politics since 1992, primarily because then, he can't -- in the second two years as governor of Massachusetts, actually he had good job growth though not in his first two years. And he's going to have to completely dismiss the turn around story in Massachusetts if he tries to make the argument that we have to ignore everything Perry did as governor.

KING: Here, let me ask the Romney supporter here though. Is it genuine for Governor Romney to attack the career politicians? I grew up in Massachusetts. One of the races I covered a long time ago was when Mitt Romney, fresh from the Olympics, challenged Senator Kennedy. Now, he lost that election. But had he won that election, he would have been in the United States Senate. Maybe he then would have run for governor or maybe just run for president.

But didn't he once at least try to be more of a politician?

LOFTIS: Well, he tried at one time I know. But the important part is, for 30 years, Mitt Romney's been creating jobs, creating wealth and he's been signing the paychecks that go to the IRS every year. Rick Perry has been cashing those paychecks. He's a government employee for 30 years and that makes the big difference.

I think we have a lot of government employees in Washington, D.C. We need more businesspeople. The United States government is the most complex business entity that has ever existed in the history and we need somebody who can understand that. Right now, you have to go a long way down into leadership structure in Washington to find people who understand business.

KING: You're a Romney supporter.

LOFTIS: Yes, sir.

KING: You're a Republican. I want to ask you as honest as you can be, because they're fighting amongst themselves a little bit right now. You're in the Republican primary campaign. We have this little internal tug of war.

Have you heard a compelling case, detailed case from any of these Republicans where you say that's the person? I can see them debating President Obama a year from now when this is about the general election?

LOFTIS: Yes, I have. I heard that very well.

And I was with the governor about 15 minutes today. And you should have heard him. He was on fire. We were with him in the car from the airport. He was on fire.

He needs to have -- I sit with every one of the candidates for at least an hour, an hour and a half each. When I sat with him today I said, "This is the guy." Not only for a while, I have been following him and deciding. But if you had been with him today, and just like Erick said, he knocked that Romneycare insurance question out of the park.

KING: Erick, are you convinced that any of these Republican candidates have given as detailed, as passionate, as (INAUDIBLE) case on the economy as will be necessary to win come next October, November?

ERICKSON: I don't think there's been the opportunity yet. Mitt Romney is going to come with his detailed jobs plan the same day the president comes out with his.

John Huntsman, actually, I'm not a fan of his, but he's come out with an extremely good pro-growth jobs plan. I think Perry will come out with one version as well. I think it's very interesting to see.

There just now I think wisely the president, as well, all of them waited until after Labor Day to really come out full force with their plans. And we'll see what this shape.

The debates of this forum today, this forum probably was a better format for long form answers. The debates haven't been so much. But there are five of them coming up.

And, John, I just got to say, I'm not endorsing the idea for him being a vice presidential pick, but of all the debates, I would like to say it's not anybody versus Barack Obama. It's Ron Paul versus Joe Biden. I would pay money for that.

KING: We'll put it on paper for you.

Erick Erickson, Curtis Loftis, appreciate your insight tonight. We'll stay in touch as things go on.

Next, with the 10th anniversary of 9/11 looming, U.S. embassies around the world are on alert. And Pakistan makes an arrest it says makes all Americans a bit safer tonight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Today, Pakistan announced the arrest of what it called a senior al Qaeda leader. The announcement says that leader was seeking ways to attack the United States, Europe and Australia.

Meanwhile, a senior Sate Department official tells CNN all U.S. diplomatic facilities abroad are reviewing their security posture and that most are now on high alert as we approach the 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

I'm joined now by CNN national security contributor Fran Townsend, who advised President Bush and now is on the external advisory boards for the CIA and the Department of Homeland Security.

Fran, let's start with this arrest. Pakistan says all Americans and all Westerners should feel safer because of the arrest of Younis al-Mauretani and two other al Qaeda associates. Who is he? What do we know about his planning?

FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Mauretani is a senior operational leader. He had a direct personal relationship with bin Laden, we know, before he was killed. And Mauretani was responsible for bringing in foreign jihadists, especially Germans out of a German plot.

He was a compatriot of a guy by the name of Saddiqi who was in the custody of U.S. forces last year. And so, this is a guy who has real operational gravitas within the organization. And when you look at -- they have captured him along with two compatriots and al-Rahman was killed in a drone strike in the last several weeks. This puts a real blow to the operational -- the continuing operational capability of al Qaeda.

KING: And, Fran, you remain very well-plugged in with intelligence sources. When you get an arrest like this, obviously, there is questioning and there's debriefing. We are in the early hours. But any sense from people you talk to that this was someone who was active, meaning, planning something around the anniversary?

TOWNSEND: Oh, absolutely. He's been active. Now, whether or not it was tied to the anniversary is less clear to me, John. But just last week, the State Department issued this warning to Americans traveling overseas to be careful. It was an unusual in the since that it was worldwide. We often see travel advisories limited to a particular country. This was worldwide.

The last time we saw that was when al-Mauretani was involved in the planning in the fall of last year. And so, last week, we see this worldwide travel advisory go out. I suspect that that was triggered to al-Mauretani's conduct. And then, of course, that would have put pressure on the Pakistanis to step up their cooperation with the Americans to disrupt any plot or potential operation he was planning.

KING: And when you hear things like the State Department saying embassies around the world are double and triple checking their security postures, some of them on a heightened sense of alert. Is that based on your sources based on actionable intelligence or just common sense prudence with the anniversary approaching?

TOWNSEND: Well, I think there's a little bit of both going on. I mean, they were -- the security officials feel pretty good about the security activities they have undertaken here in the United States, their work with state and locals. There is no direct specific credible threat to the anniversary.

And so, I think when you look at that, when you look at the tightness of the security here inside the United States, it's natural to say Americans will be more vulnerable outside the United States. And so, that's one piece of it. But when you take that and you add that to somebody like al-Mauretani's history of planning over the last 12 months, targeting Americans or allies around the world, you can see where they would want their embassies particularly alert, locked up very -- linked up very closely with our foreign allies in intelligence services around the world.

KING: And we know from the materials seized at the bin Laden compound that there were some references to the anniversary, but at least based on CNN's reporting, I don't believe any specific plans, any specific connect the dots, this is something bin Laden or his top deputies wanted to happen. What is your sense based on the actions based on that intelligence, the U.S. officials, other western governments believe that they have a better sense of what could come?

TOWNSEND: I think so, John. I mean, I think every intelligence official, either U.S. or foreign, that you talk to says that this was -- the notion of an anniversary attack out of the Bin Laden compound was sort of a rumination, an idea, and there was no indication in his communications that they could see that anybody had picked up the plan or that idea and actually put a plan to it to make it operational.

And so, while it was concerning, and I think many sort of security steps have been taken, I'm here in New York and I can tell you there's been an extraordinary level of effort by Police Commissioner Kelly and the NYPD to ensure the safety and security on the anniversary, I think they feel pretty good. There's not a specific plot that they are aware of. And they have taken these sort of measures that would discourage anyone from trying to attempt such an attack.

KING: Fran Townsend, appreciate your insights from New York tonight.

We'll continue to cover this story throughout the week -- preparations by the United States government and others with the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approaching.

It's also a busy week in politics. We'll stay on top of that. Governor Romney outlines his jobs program tomorrow. The president, of course, on Thursday night.

But that's all the time we have tonight. We'll see you tomorrow night right here.

"ANDERSON COOPER 360" starts right now.