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President Obama Speaks Out on Alleged Terror Plot; Rising Cain

Aired October 13, 2011 - 18:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: And good evening, everyone.

Tonight, President Obama answers critics who see the lead suspect in that alleged Iranian terror plot as more of a bumbling drifter than a cunning mastermind.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He has direct links, was paid by and directed by individuals in the Iranian government. Now those facts are there for all to see.


KING: Plus, leaving women to die? Just what is the House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, referring to here?


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: Under this bill, when the Republicans vote for this bill today, they will be voting to say that women can die on the floor and health care providers do not have to intervene if this bill is passed. It's just appalling.


KING: And check out this tonight from Anita Perry, the wife of Texas Governor Rick Perry. Some Perry aides blame shaky debate performances for the need for more sleep. But in South Carolina today, Mrs. Perry suggested his slip in the polls is because of brutal attacks from other Republicans that she suggests somehow resent his faith.

Of those Republican critics, Mrs. Perry said -- quote -- "They may feel like God called them, too, but I truly feel like we are here for that purpose."

But up first tonight, Rising Cain -- the shocking leap of businessman Herman Cain to the top of the pack in the Republican presidential race. Look at these, new NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll numbers out tonight -- 27 percent of Republican voters now back Cain. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is the choice of 23 percent. Governor Perry follows at 16 percent. Congressman Ron Paul also cracks double-digit support. Now, some are quick to suggest Cain is just the latest beneficiary of an anyone-but-Romney dynamic among the most conservative Republicans. The never shy Mr. Cain says he will prove them wrong.


HERMAN CAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Will I be the flavor of the week. Well, the answer is an emphatic no, because Haagen Dazs black walnut tastes good all the time.



KING: Why the soaring poll numbers? Listen to this from an interview today with my colleague Erin Burnett.


CAIN: It demonstrates that the voice of the people is more important than the voice of the media, with all due respect, because for a while, as you know, some people in the media tried to paint this as a two-man governor-on-governor race. The second key message is, message is more powerful than money.


KING: Just who is this guy? Herman Cain is 65 years old. He grew up in a poor family in Atlanta, Georgia, graduated from Morehouse College, later receiving a master's degree from Purdue University. He's the father of two, married since 1968, and a survivor of stage four liver and colon cancer. And few dispute his prowess in the business world.

One thing he is not, a newcomer to national politics.


CAIN: My question is quite simply, if I'm forced to do this, what will I tell those people whose jobs I will have to eliminate?

BILL CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Why wouldn't you all be able to raise the price of pizza 2 percent?


KING: Then, as now, Cain said the Democratic president simply didn't get it.


CAIN: Your other point about having to pass it on to my customers in the competitive marketplace, it simply doesn't work that way.


KING: Now, in this campaign, his appeal is part confidence, part rhetorical flare, and part clarity. He promotes his prescription for tax reform without reservation, ignoring even conservative analysts who say it doesn't quite add up.

He calls it 999, a 9 percent income tax, a 9 percent corporate tax, and a 9 percent national sales tax.


CAIN: The 999 plan that I have proposed is simple, transparent, efficient, fair, and neutral.


KING: Again, not everyone agrees, and the plan is now getting more scrutiny, as Mr. Cain surges in the polls.

Tolerance is another question certain to resurface now.


QUESTION: Would you be comfortable appointing a Muslim either in your Cabinet or as a federal judge?

CAIN: No, I will not. And here's why. There is this creeping attempt, there is this attempt to gradually ease Sharia law and the Muslim faith into our government. It does not belong in our government.


KING: Whatever you think of Mr. Cain, one thing you cannot question, his communication skills.


CAIN: You know you must be doing something right when you get a lot of arrows in your back.




KING: Let's dig deeper on Herman Cain the man and the candidate with Jeff Campbell. He's the former chairman of the Pillsbury restaurant group, and he hired Cain to run Godfather's Pizza back in 1986. Also joining buts, Michael Crowley, "TIME" magazine's deputy Washington bureau chief, who just wrote a piece called "The Cain Mutiny."

Jeff, I want to start with you. Tell us the man Herman Cain, what you saw in the CEO that carries over favorably and if you saw something that carries over unfavorably to Herman Cain, the presidential candidate.


There's a difference between managing and leading, and you can get by with management under some circumstances, particularly if things are sailing along smoothly. But when you have got something like a business that's got to be turned around and needs energetic leadership to make that happen, then you better find yourself a leader.

So, my recollection, even though it's gone back quite a ways, I don't think I spent a lot of time deciding who was the right person for that job.

KING: Michael, we see that on the campaign trail. He is a leader. He is energetic, he's a great marketer. He brings a lot to the table. But when we're looking at a potential future commander in chief, he's missing some pieces, too, right?

MICHAEL CROWLEY, DEPUTY BUREAU CHIEF, "TIME": Absolutely, John. I think this will be the key question in coming weeks, as he gets more scrutiny. Is he a flash in the pan, is he going to fade as Michele Bachmann did or are voters really going sign up and say I want to support this guy?

It's going to be filling out that picture. For instance, he was asked in one of the debates what's your plan for Afghanistan? His answer was basically I don't really know enough about Afghanistan. And when I become president, I will have the experts brief me and I will come up with a plan.

I think a lot of people found that to be kind of wanting. A few days ago he said that he wouldn't need to know the names of a lot of foreign leaders. I believe specifically he said he didn't know the leader of Uzbekistan. Now, very few people do, of course, but he was sort of saying in general it doesn't matter. The day before I go meet a foreign leader I will learn that leader's name.

That's not what you usually hear from a presidential candidate, and the rules seem like they might be a little different this time around. But they would have be awfully different from past elections for voters to just kind of shrug that off. That's really a key area I think you have to watch to see whether he can close the deal and be a serious, credible candidate for the nomination.

KING: That is a key question. Can he fill out the policy portfolio? Another question, Jeff Campbell, is who is this man? One thing that has come up is a question of tolerance because he talks about Sharia law, and he sees Muslims in the United States somehow wanting to impose Sharia law in the United States.

I want you to listen to part of an interview I had with Herman Cain back in June.


KING: You may not be casting aspersions on all Muslims, sir, but wouldn't that test essentially subject all Muslims to a test that you would subject no other ethnic or religious group to in the United States? Isn't that discrimination?

CAIN: No, that's not discrimination, John. It's called trying to protect the American people.

Look, in my 40 years of business, I hired people from all races, creed, religion, sexual orientation. I look for the best people. But, look, this nation is under attack constantly by people who want to kill all of us. So, I'm going to take extra precaution.


KING: Ever any question in your mind, Jeff, about his tolerance, his open-mindedness, his fairness?

CAMPBELL: Absolutely no question.

I know that stuff gets sensitive and people get interviewed and things can become uncomfortable, but I'm going on 20-some odd years of history with Herman and the one thing I would tell you is this is an honorable man.

KING: And, Michael Crowley, it's an interesting question, because we have our first African-American president, and now we see an African-American atop the Republican field. And Herman Cain and Barack Obama they talk very differently when it comes to the issue of race.

Listen to Herman Cain here. He's talking to our Candy Crowley this past weekend. Number one he says he escaped the Democratic plantation, where he says they try to trap African-American voters. Listen here when he talks about how he thinks racism is sometimes exaggerated.


CAIN: I have seen blacks in middle management move up to top management in some of the biggest corporations in America. They weren't held back because of racism. No. People sometimes hold themselves back, because they want to use racism as an excuse for them not being able to achieve what they want to achieve.


KING: He knows he's provocative on this question. How important is it or unimportant it is to his candidacy now?

CROWLEY: Well, I don't think it's central, but I do think it's something that conservatives really like about him. I think a lot of conservatives in America feel like they are kind of quickly -- that the left is quick to accuse them of racism, the Tea Party was accused of racism in its -- kind of when it was peaking with those big rallies a few months ago. To have someone like Cain come out there and sort of fight back and to have a black man who is saying this is exaggerated, it's overstated, the Republican Party is not racist, and really have a whole sort of different set of possibilities for what you could have from a black candidate, I think really does energize a lot of white conservatives. I think it definitely helps them.

I think that is probably not central to his candidacy, but I think it probably is something that's appealing.

KING: Jeff, in those conversations a quarter century ago, did you ever see a guy who wanted to be a politician? He did pop up during the Godfather's role in a Bill Clinton town hall during the health care debate.

But were you ever sitting across the table from him where you got the sense this guy wants to run for something or this guy has very strongly-held political views?

CAMPBELL: No. We didn't we didn't talk politics at all.

What I saw was a leader, and the Bill Clinton thing happened after we were working together. It didn't surprise me. I told somebody the other day that I can't point to any specific event during my time with Herman, but to see him emerge as a political leader and political aspirant for high office, while I didn't see -- we didn't talk about that stuff, it's not a surprise to me, and it's probably part of that big dose of leadership gene he's got.

KING: What is your biggest question mark about watching your friend now running for president? What question do you have?

CAMPBELL: Well, here's my question as a citizen, and it's a question that I'm trying to lure him back to San Diego so we can go have some beers and talk about this.

I want to talk about where we're go going with this country because I'm, frankly, disgusted with both political parties and tired of watching the same movie. You know, we have got a lot of big issues. I don't hear enough of them being talked about. Where are we going to find 20 million jobs, and how are we going to reconstitute the middle class, simple stuff like that.

KING: Are you definitely a Cain voter?

CAMPBELL: I'm not anybody's voter as yet. I will wait and hear what I hear.

I'm a Herman Cain defender because I know who the man is and what he's made of. And I will say this, that we desperately need some leadership in this country. We don't have any that I can see. And Herman Cain is -- if he's one thing at all, he is a leader. I'm going to be paying a lot of attention to him.


KING: Sorry to interrupt you there, Jeff.

Michael, he is a leader and he's passionate on the campaign trail. He also portrays himself as the ultimate outsider which has great appeal to the Tea Party base, which just sent a whole lot of people here to Washington who don't have political experience and they did that on purpose. Yet, he's not a total outsider, is he?

CROWLEY: He's not.

Very quickly on the first point, if you haven't seen Herman Cain speak, it really says a lot about his appeal. He blew away the room at the Value Voters Summit last weekend. I was there. It's really essential to understanding him.

To your question, yes, I think people are going to learn more about him and some people who love him right now might be saying, hmm, I didn't know some of those things. He was a member of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. When he out in Kansas city in Omaha, he was the Kansas City board member out there for the Federal Reserve, which of course is kind of a bogeyman for the right, right now.

He ran the National Restaurant Association, which spends quite a lot of money lobbying the federal government for legislation in Congress. He was in effect the restaurant industry's top lobbyist. And he has been advising and mixed up with political campaigns since the mid-'90s, talked about running for president the mid-'90s, advised the Dole-Kemp campaign, briefly ran for president himself in 2000, ran for Senate in 2004.

So this is not a guy who walked right out of a boardroom and leapt into the presidential campaign. He's got more history than that.

KING: He does have more history than that. At the moment, he is probably the most fascinating figure in American politics.

Jeff Campbell, Michael Crowley, appreciate your insights today, gentlemen.

And now that he's rising in the polls, can Herman Cain translate that into the organizational and fund-raising success necessary for the long march to the Republican nomination? That's tonight's "Truth" -- next.


KING: Herman Cain's rise to the top of Republican presidential field is nothing short of remarkable. Yes, part of it is due to dissatisfaction with other better known and better financed candidates, Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, to name just two. But don't discount Mr. Cain's appeal or his political skills. He's a natural at marketing, a skill from the business world he has carried over seamlessly into his political campaign.


CAIN: Let's fix the biggest problem that we have in this country, which is the economy, and that starts with eliminating the tax code and passing my 999 plan.


KING: But here's tonight's "Truth."

While he is without a doubt an impact player in the GOP field, he is at the moment not prepared to leverage his current popularity into a serious challenge for the Republican nomination. For starters, it costs money to run for president, lots of it, and Mr. Cain is way, way behind in the fund-raising race.

In the second quarter this year, the latest reports available, for example, Mitt Romney raised $18.3 million. Herman Cain raised only $2.6 million. Part of that came from 500,000 of his own money. He ended the quarter with just $480,000 in the bank and was already $500,000 in debt.

Now, this shortcoming is about to get a short-term remedy. With his poll numbers up, so is Cain's fund-raising. He told CNN's Erin Burnett tonight his fund-raising's really picked up in the past week or so. Cain also said his campaign will report having several hundred thousand dollars in cash on hand and no debt at the end of this current third quarter.

We will watch for those numbers. What he does with that new money is a critical test because it takes organization to win over the long run and again for all his appeal, Mr. Cain is lacking here and significantly so.

Top aides in Iowa and New Hampshire quit earlier this year, and there's been significant turnover in Cain's small headquarters operation as well. Check out this daunting David vs. Goliath challenge. According to FEC reports filed in July, Cain had about 26 paid staffers on hand total, just one or two out in the key primary states. Romney, on the other hand, had at that point more than twice as many, 57 staffers.

And I know from firsthand reporting the Romney staff has expanded even more over the past couple of months. And here's another red flag. Even some aides who work for Mr. Cain question whether his goal is popularity or the presidency. He gets big fees on the speaking circuit, and of late has raised eyebrows by putting book signings ahead of campaigning in some key early states.

You see some of the book signings, the lighter stops, not key primary states. Now, speaking to Erin Burnett though today, he denies he's not a serious candidate.


CAIN: They will know that I am in this to win it. I am not in this to try to raise my profile or get a TV show.


KING: He is also quite confident, quick to dismiss those who make the case he doesn't have what it takes for the long haul.


CAIN: If I had listened to the experts, I wouldn't have even tried to go to Florida to win the straw poll. I won. Look at the Midwestern Republican Leadership straw poll last weekend. I won by big numbers. So why -- there's a theme here. I win.



KING: That's true, but go back through the history of last 20 years. A lot of candidates win straw polls, and then disappear when the real voting takes place.

Unless he fixes his fund-raising, organizational and strategic deficiencies, and fixes them fast, the hard truth is Mr. Cain will also learn that very difficult lesson, but worth watching, a very important period for Mr. Herman Cain.

Next, some very unusual fallout from that alleged Iranian plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States. Both countries are doing something they almost never do.


KING: Today, we learned there's been direct contact between the United States and Iran over that alleged plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia's ambassador.

Now details about the conversation still aren't clear, but we do know it occurred Wednesday, and was initiated by the United States. U.S. officials of course say elements of Iran's government paid a middleman to recruit hit men from a Mexican drug cartel with the goal of killing the Saudi ambassador to the United States possibly by bombing a restaurant here in Washington.

At the White House today, President Obama told reporters the United States is now briefing its allies about this bizarre plot.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We've laid the facts before them and we believe that after people have analyzed them, there will not be a dispute that this is in fact what happened. This is not just a dangerous escalation. This is part of a pattern of dangerous and reckless behavior by the Iranian government.


KING: Let's get some perspective now from CNN's Fareed Zakaria.

Fareed, this alleged plot is brazen, but it's also pretty bizarre. And if you go through the sourcing of it, our sources, or just pick up "The Washington Post" today, everybody was surprised by the amateurishness of the plotters.

"What we're seeing would be inconsistent with the high standards we have seen in the past," meaning about Iranian attacks around the world there. "We had to be convinced of the plot," a senior U.S. official says, to even come to the belief that, yes, you can trace this high up in the Iranian government.

Are you convinced the administration, the Justice Department have made the case that they can trace this up to the high level of the Iranian regime?

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN WORLD AFFAIRS ANALYST: My presumption would be that if the senior officials of the U.S. government who have spoken so far and they have been very senior officials, were convinced by the evidence, it must be pretty credible.

I do think, however, that there is a great deal of ambiguity about what we mean by an Iranian plot. One of the things I think that has happened in Iran over the last two or three years, maybe a little bit longer, is that you see essentially a kind of military takeover of the regime.

Remember, this used to be a clerical regime, mullahs in charge. What has happened over the last few years is that the Republican Guard have taken more and more control in the economy, in the political system and of course in the military. What appears to have happened here is that the Quds Force, which is an element of the Republican -- the Revolutionary Guard -- my apologies -- seems to be directing it.

So I think we're dealing with a new element in the Iranian regime, these military elements, young military officers trained in the Iran/Iraq War, hardened, taken power, displacing the old clerical elites, who were much more sophisticated, much wiser. I guess what I'm saying is there are a lot of military hotheads in very powerful positions in Iran with lots of money.

I think more likely than not this was a kind of quasi-rogue operation sanctioned by one of those military hotheads. It probably does not have the imprimatur of the entire regime.

KING: And that's an important point, because from a policy perspective the United States has slapped some new sanctions on Iran. But when you're talking about how to deal with this a week from now and a month from now and a year from now, you have to answer the question or you would like to answer the question, how high up does it go?

Listen to the secretary of state here. It is pretty clear she's not sure.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: It's a little hard to tell what was really going on, why this was given a seal of approval, why there was a go-ahead from Tehran, whether within their military and their government the kinds of debates and divisions that we are now watching unfold, because it's difficult to know who's actually making the decisions -- was this for political purposes? Was this just a crazy idea that got out of hand?


KING: Those are excellent questions. I guess my question to you is, if somebody in the government, in the military was trying to embarrass Ahmadinejad or embarrass the mullahs, would they do this?

ZAKARIA: What Hillary Clinton talked about is really true. Remember, the last few months in Iran, Ahmadinejad has fired ministers who have then been reinstated by the supreme leader. They have had scuffles over policy issues. There have been offers made on the nuclear issue which have then been in a sense withdrawn.

So there's this real lack of clarity about who's actually in charge. And in that context, it's quite conceivable that one of these guys in the Revolutionary Guard, one official, was presented with this. It seems like a very low-cost operation, so it wouldn't require a lot of people to sign off on it, and he said, yes, go ahead and do it, and that's where we are.

KING: And if that's where we are, and we're waiting to see how the United States responds, the president of the United States put on the table today the other question, which is how do the Saudis and their friends and foes in the region respond? Let's listen.


OBAMA: This plot was not simply directed at the United States of America. This is a plot that was directed against the Saudi ambassador and I think that what you're going to see is folks throughout the Middle East region question their ability to work effectively with Iran.


KING: Is that still a question or have people already decided? Some say, yes, we can work with Iran, and others have said, absolutely, no we can't?

ZAKARIA: No, it is a question.

Look, there's a great deal of suspicion about Iran in Middle Eastern capitals. In some places it's outright hostility, as in Saudi Arabia. But the Iranians are tough customers. They have very, very shrewd negotiators.

And so they're always -- and, of course, they're not Arabs. They're Persians. And so there's always been some suspicions and reluctance. And I think this will add to them. I think this was a very smart idea for President Obama to highlight the idea that this is not a U.S./Iranian issue but this is Iran trying to take out a key Arab ambassador, one of the most important figures in the Arab world. And in that sense, it should be something Arabs look upon with a great deal of suspicion.

KING: The president also said no options are off the table. Now, that is code for that means we would of course if necessary consider military options.

But we all know that's not a viable option here. What options does the administration have beyond just ratcheting up some sanctions that in the past have not had much sway with Tehran?

ZAKARIA: Well, in the past, if you think back to the Cold War, this kind of thing would almost always trigger a response in kind, which would mean that that would -- it would trigger a U.S. covert operation that would in some way be appropriate and proportional.

I don't think we're in that Cold War tit-for-tat game, but it's conceivable that the U.S. has covert operations on hold in Iran that it would look at more carefully, that the Saudis might do something like that.

My suspicion is, at this point it really doesn't mean anything, because they're just evaluating the situation and trying to figure out, like the rest of us, who actually might have done this, and the question you asked which was the crucial one, which is why? What was the point here? Was it to discredit Ahmadinejad? Was it to create some kind of division within the Iranian government or was it actually simply directed against the U.S. and Saudi Arabia?

Until they figured that out I doubt that you'll see something. But the U.S. has run covert operations in Iran. We have encouraged Iranian freedom fighters, we call them -- they would regard them as ethnic secessionists -- to rise up against the Tehran government. There are ways to turn that tap on again.

KING: You mentioned the Cold War. A lot of spy novels were written based on Cold War stories and Cold War beliefs. When you first heard about this, what went through your mind?

ZAKARIA: When I first heard about this, I thought about a spy novel, actually. David Ignatius of "The Washington Post," who's written a terrific book, a spy novel that's set with the U.S./Iranian context, except that I don't think he would have written something like this because it seems to amateurish to be believable. You know, in a novel, in fiction, you can make it as haphazard and crazy as it is.

But as you know, John, the reality about -- about reporting is sometimes there is so much incompetence and amateurishness, and everyone looks for dark designs and evil plans. And the truth is, you know, sometimes it's more Keystone Kops than James Bond.

KING: Sometimes fact is stranger than fiction. Fareed Zakaria, thanks very much. ZAKARIA: A pleasure, John.


KING: And next, why Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi is warning that, if Republicans get their way, women might, quote, "die on the floor."


KING: Welcome back. Here's the latest news you need to know right now.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, the only Republican in President Obama's cabinet, tells the "Chicago Tribune" he will not stay on if the president wins another term. Ray LaHood also says he won't run for public office again.

This hour, the House votes of a Republican-sponsored change to the new health-care law. It keeps federal money from going to any insurance plan that provides abortion services, and it gives hospitals that receive federal money permission to refuse to do an abortion, even if a woman's life is in danger. Democrats like Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi are outraged.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: Under this bill, when the Republicans vote for this bill today, they will be voting to say that women can die on the floor, and health-care providers do not have to intervene if this bill is passed. It's just appalling.


KING: Another big debate on Capitol Hill today brings us to tonight's "Number." Ninety-four thousand five hundred, that is the number of millionaires who do not meet the Buffett rule test. What are we talking about there? What's the Buffett rule test? Remember that number, 94,500.

Well, that means those 94,500 actually pay a smaller percentage of their income in taxes than middle-class Americans. The middle class pays that big percentage. These millionaires pay a smaller percentage.

Why has that happened? Well, if you're in the middle class you know this. Most middle-class Americans pay somewhere around here, usually in the 28 percent tax bracket, maybe 25, maybe closer to 33. Most middle-class Americans are right here. These, more than 90,000 millionaires pay 15 percent, because they're just paying capital gains. They're paying taxes on their investments, not what the middle class is paying.

How many millionaires are we talking about here? Let's get that to kick in. The 94,500 make up 25 percent -- 25 percent -- of the millionaires in this country. This obviously a driving, driving political debate here.

When we come back, we'll take a closer look at tonight's top story. That is Herman Cain, now at the top of the national public opinion polls. What's driving it? Can he sustain it? What do Democrats think? Be right back.


KING: "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" coming up at the top of the hour.

Erin, good day to get the Herman-ator.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: I know. It's lucky timing. So we got the interview, first interview since he became No. 1. We'll tell you how he feels about that; whether he thinks he can sustain it.

John, we also talked about the 9-9-9 plan, his views on affirmative action and, actually, really interesting conversation on Herman Cain and his foreign policy, how would he run the policy. All of that coming up. And I can promise you, he's -- there's some funny moments in this interview, too, and I think it will be worth watching.

Back to you.

KING: Can't wait. Everybody watching should wait, as well. We'll see you at the top of the hour. And thank you.

And just how giddy is Herman Cain about this big rise in the polls? Well, listen to what he tells radio show host Steve Gill about what he's looking for in cabinet members and his running mate.


HERMAN CAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There are some people in Congress that are very, very good that I respect and admire, that I would love to have on my team, whether that would be in the VP slot or whether that's in a key cabinet slot. I'll give you a name, Representative Paul Ryan. I'm not saying he would be a VP pick. He might be. But that's the type of person that I would want in my cabinet. Here's the type of person: Senator Jim DeMint, people who are not afraid to challenge the system.


KING: Joining us now, two guys who apparently didn't make Herman Cain's list: Republican consultant, CNN political contributor, Alex Castellanos, and Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher, who's working for the Obama reelection campaign. That's why you didn't make it to the list.

Let's talk about this. We're laughing about it, but this is a fascinating dynamic in our politics right now. This guy goes from nowhere to the top of the Republican pack. Now some are calling it a Republican first. Why? Why? Is this just -- some people say it's conservatives don't like Romney and Perry has slipped so Cain comes up. There has to be more to it than that. ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: A lot going on. I know Herman Cain. I worked for him years ago when he ran for Senate for a while. And one is he does have presence. He's charismatic and leadership qualities.

He's also optimistic right now. Who makes you feel good in the Republican field? Very few candidates can say that. The country's so down.

But you know, also, we've have had Donald Trump, Sarah Palin, people who want to disrupt Washington, a hand grenade under Washington's door. Herman Cain is that outsider, very disruptive. When you look at someone like Mitt Romney, you don't get a sense of real bold change; you get incremental change. So I think he's got a lot going on. Don't discount him. He's going to be very strong in Iowa.

KING: Don't discount him. But you say very strong in Iowa. Let me ask this about this new poll here (ph). NBC News poll out just recently. Among Tea Party supporters in Iowa, Herman Cain, 31 percent, Mitt Romney, 15 percent. Two-one among, now the Tea Party's not everything in Iowa, but evangelicals out there. There are mainstream Republicans out there. But in terms of where the juice is in the Republican Party right now, that helps.

CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: I've got to tell you, that's the most damning number in the Mitt Romney campaign. Because he's -- they're looking for a kind of counter to Mitt Romney for quite some time: Bachmann, Perry. And I think they're landing on him.

If he can coalesce them, he can become the alternative to Mitt Romney, he may be in this race for a good long time. And all the laughter early on that people made about him, if he becomes the other choice to Mitt Romney, the choice of Mitt Romney, and he gets the backing of the Tea Party, this guy might be in for the long haul.

KING: You say you worked for him for a little while when he was running for Georgia Senate. That did not go that well. So the question is, now he's told Erin Burnett -- you'll see that interview at the top of the hour -- that he's starting to raise a lot of money in recent days. And that's what happens. You go up in the polls, people start -- so especially grassroot conservatives, small donations.

But he does not have an infrastructure in place. How long does he have before the lack of an infrastructure, whether it's organizational in the key states or a fund-raising organization, until it trips him up?

CASTELLANOS: Longer than you think. That's the same thing they said about the Arab Spring and that's the same thing they said about protesters. You do have an infrastructure now. It's called the Internet, and you can raise money very quickly. It can organize itself bottom-up. Barack Obama used it. He'd go into North Carolina and find campaigns already self-organized for him. So he has more time and more structure, more fund-raising potential than you think. Scott Brown in Massachusetts, when he caught on, didn't have a lot of organization. Next thing you know he was raising $1 million and $2 million a day.

BELCHER: Spoken like a real media consultant, right? I'm old school. You need a ground -- you need ground forces. You need organizations, especially where you caucuses. You've got to have troops on the ground there. That's going to be a real challenge for him.

KING: I say the proof of it is, Barack Obama won in Iowa in 2008, thought he was going to win New Hampshire. Hillary Clinton took the night back at the last minute, because she had a great grassroots organization that identified voters, found out if they'd been to the polls, got the vans, grabbed them by the ear, and got them to vote. It can happen.

Right now -- he was compared (ph). Right now ideology is drawing a lot of the support for Herman Cain. Talking about 9-9-9 plan. We'll see if he can sell it over time. He says "I want to go to Washington and be different," and he's very authentic. Does this factor in electability?

If you look at the NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll, Herman Cain versus President Obama, President Obama has an 11-point edge right now. Match up Governor Romney, essentially a dead heat. Obama has a 2-point lead. Statistically, means that's a tie.

Will Republicans, in a second look, now that Cain is a credible contender, at least at the moment, will they say, "All right. I need to ask more questions. One of them, can he win?"

CASTELLANOS: They will. Republicans think that losing to Obama is losing the country this time. It's not just electability. It's the reason you go out to vote. But Herman Cain is much better known among Republicans than he is among the electorate in a general election. So right now give him room to grow, and those numbers may tighten up.

BELCHER: And the truth of the matter is, I think that we put too much weight in that, quite frankly. If you're a voter, and you really like Herman Cain, you think Herman Cain share yours values and is speaking your language to you, you think he's electable. I know that what you're really saying is, my values and my perspective is wrong, because it's not electable. So if they like Herman Cain, they're going to think he's electable.

KING: There's a debate among African-Americans, among liberal African-Americans, who say, "How dare you, Herman Cain?"

He says, "I left the plantation. They wanted to keep me on the plantation where you're only allowed to vote Democratic or somehow you're a bad African-American." How is this playing out that the rise of Herman Cain, which many African-Americans, whether you're a Democrat or a Republican, agnostic, one should say great. In both parties now, you have leading politicians, leading figures who are African-American?

BELCHER: Well, it's -- fundamentally, it's a good thing that you have Herman Cain running well in the Republican side. It's well past due.

The problem with Herman Cain is he said some rather outrageous things. He's talked about, you know, African-Americans being brainwashed. You can't say that all African-Americans are brainwashed, because you can't think the way they thought.

There's a lot of people in the south where they grew up who take note that here's someone who talks a lot about personal responsibility and doing it on your own. And when the time came for the civil rights movement, when they were marching and what have you in Atlanta and the south, the heart of this, Herman Cain didn't take part in that. He didn't take part in that.

So you can't criticize people for, you know, saying poor people, you're poor because you're poor, and take personal responsibility for yourself, and when the biggest movement of his lifetime that made it possible for him to run for president took place, he sat in the back of the bus.

CASTELLANOS: I'm not sure that I'd hold that against anybody. A lot of people in a lot of different situations who, depending on structures of their life, they stood up in a lot of different ways in this country. And you know, the argument that Herman Cain is somehow not black enough, that's always seemed to be made against a Republican.

BELCHER: No one -- I would never say he's not black enough but what I would say is he's been hypocritical talking about personal responsibility. When his time to stand up came, he didn't.

KING: I want to call this -- I want to call this so far a little sobering message, not to pour rain on Mr. Cain's parade -- and he's having one at the moment -- or Governor Romney's, for that matter, but let's go back in time. Remember, national polls right now are important, but not that important.

Let's go back in time. 2008, Republican choice for their nominee at this very point, Rudy Giuliani, 27 percent; Fred Thompson, 19 percent; John McCain, 17 percent. I missed the Giuliani and the Thompson administrations. So we need to be careful here.

This is important. It will help Herman Cain raise money. It will also get him tougher questions at the next debate, because he's a more credible candidate now. But we shouldn't be buying our...

CASTELLANOS: He's got -- he's got some hurdles to jump. One is you've mentioned the foreign policy hurdle. Of course, you can fix that with the people you put around you, with the right vice- presidential pick, like Condi Rice, General Petraeus. Fareed Zakaria would be an excellent choice.

But he does have some hurdles like that. He does have to build a ground game and an organization. And Romney's stronger than people think. In that same NBC survey, in a one to one against Rick Perry, 54 percent Romney, 39 percent Perry. That means over half of Republicans would be happy to vote that way.

KING: I'm not going to read it here, but I do have something maybe the Romney campaign will slip in the mail to people not in New Hampshire. That would be Herman Cain's endorsement of Mitt Romney from the 2008 campaign. But I won't read it here.

We're going to take a quick break. As we go to break, as we go to break, if you don't think Herman Cain's 9-9-9 plan is catching on, Spirit Airlines has an advertising plan right now that is working on that. Look at that right there: 9-9-9, look at that. We're not giving a plug here for Spirit Airlines. We're just saying sometimes politics pops into our culture.

When we come back, Governor Rick Perry's wife complains she and her husband have been brutalized -- brutalized -- by fellow Republicans because of his faith.


KING: In South Carolina today, an emotional and provocative speech from Anita Perry, the wife of the Texas governor, Rick Perry. Listen to what she said at North Greenville University, a Southern Baptist liberal arts school.


ANITA PERRY, WIFE OF RICK PERRY: It's been a rough month. We have been brutalized and beaten up and chewed up in the press to where I need this today. We are being brutalized by our opponents, and our own party. So much of that is, I think they look at him, because of his faith. He is the only true conservative -- well, there are some true conservatives. And they're there for good reasons. And they may feel like God called them, too. But I truly feel like we are here for that purpose.


KING: Still with us, Alex Castellanos. Alex, I want to start with you. "Brutalized by our Republican opponents, and because of his faith -- they may think they have a calling, but we truly feel that's why we're here." How is that going to play?

CASTELLANOS: I don't think that plays very well. Being the victim, that means you're losing. And it's kind of playing the loser card. It's really the mark of, I think, a fairly dispirited campaign.

They have good reason to be. He's had a couple of terrible debates. But he's got a lot of money in the bank. He's a very aggressive campaigner. I think he'd be -- he'd be more successful being more aggressive and tougher instead of playing a victim card like this.

BELCHER: Saying that you're being victimized for your faith in the Republican primary is not a winning strategy. They should change it.

KING: Well, there are a lot of people sometimes who criticize candidates who talk about their faith, and I like to get back in their face, because it's important to a lot of people. You should let a candidate explain it, and then voters should make their own judgment. Evangelicals, of course, are important in a Republican primary. I think that's who she's trying to appeal to.

But to say that "we think we have that calling," as opposed to somebody else, I'm not -- how do -- an evangelical voter process that?

CASTELLANOS: I didn't take that as Mrs. Perry was being presumptuous or something. That's an obligation that they feel they have, and that's fine.

My problem is with the other part of that, and that is that somehow being victimized because of your faith. No, you're victimized because you're running a terrible campaign.

BELCHER: Well, I think she was being presumptive. He's a Republican; he's got to be nicer.

CASTELLANOS: Not really. Not really. I'm retired.

BELCHER: She knew exactly what she was doing when she did that. And she's trying to rally the evangelical California vote. I just don't think it's a good strategy.

CASTELLANOS: Rick Perry needs to come out with a $5 foot-long plan to compete with Herman Cain.

KING: He has come out with his jobs plan tomorrow, and it's an important moment for the Texas governor. In the debate the other night he said, "Mitt Romney has been at this a long time. I just got in the race." A very important day for the Texas governor tomorrow.

Let's move on, though, because Democrats say controversial things, too. Here's the vice president out in Michigan yesterday, trying to criticize the Republicans, saying if they don't pass the president's jobs plan, which includes some money that goes out to states so they can keep teachers on the payroll, keep police and firefighters on the payroll, the vice president making the case in Flint, Michigan, that if the Republicans let this bill die, they will be responsible for an increase in crime.


JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In 2008, when Flint had 265 sworn officers on their police force, there were 35 murders and 91 rapes in this city.

In 2010, when Flint had only 144 police officers, the murder rate climbed to 65, and rapes, just to pick two categories, climbed to 229.

In 2011, you now only have 125 shields. God only knows what the numbers will be this year for Flint if we don't rectify it. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Fair use of statistics, or fear mongering?

BELCHER: Well, I think it's a fair use of statistics. And it's getting to the point. Look, more cops on the street, more cops on the beat, equals crime goes down. Less cops means more crime. I don't think that's a controversial statement.

The truth of the matter is, if we do keep laying off and furloughing our police officers, our teachers and our firefighters, there will be dire consequences. I think that's fair game.

CASTELLANOS: Can we take up a collection to send Joe Biden on the campaign trail some more? Republicans think he's great.

He's making the argument there that we just don't have enough money, right? That there's nothing else in government we can cut. We have to cut teachers. We have to cut policemen. We have to cut firemen. His argument is there is no waste in the way government is run. Americans are just not going to buy that.

KING: Here we go. Before we go, the Obama campaign announced some record fund-raising for the campaign and the Democratic National Committee today. Very good fund-raising. I'm not sure if it's a record, $70 million.

In an e-mail from Jim Messina, the campaign manager, he wrote this: "Together Obama for America and the DNC raised more than $70 million. And it all happened during a summer when the president was focused on doing the job he was elected to do. The summer when we had to cancel a series of fund-raising events and ask everyone to dig a little deeper."

Now, it's true. It was tough to raise money in this environment. And it's true, the president raised a lot of money. But I want to say that, from time to time, the president mixes official travel and fund- raising, and you and I and every taxpayer in America helps to foot some of the bill.

Let's show you a map. Here's just some recent trips we picked up. The president on August 11, he went to Michigan. That's an official event. Taxpayers paid for that. Then he went on to New York City for fund-raisers. They'll make a split there so the party pays.

Here's the ones that get interesting. September 26, official travel for an event in California, and then three fund-raisers. October 4, official travel to Dallas and then two fund-raisers. So Cornell to say that, oh my God, you know, it's so hard to raise money and focus on his job, sometimes being president you actually have a benefit.

BELCHER: Well, yes -- he has a benefit being president. And every president, whether you're Republican or Democrat...

KING: That is true. BELCHER: ... this is the -- this is the way it works. You know, he is not only commander in chief but also he's the head...

KING: This e-mail sounds like I'm supposed to cry for him.

BELCHER: Well, it's -- I've got no...

CASTELLANOS: "The Washington Monitor"...

KING: I'm going to end it there. It's hard to cry for $70 million.

That's all for us tonight. We'll see you right back here tomorrow night at this time. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.

Hey, Erin.