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Herman Cain Under Fire; Mideast Prisoner Exchange

Aired October 17, 2011 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. It's 10:00 p.m. on the East Coast, 7:00 p.m. here in Los Angeles, site of tomorrow night's CNN Western Republican presidential debate.

We begin tonight "Keeping Them Honest," with Herman Cain, the latest GOP front-runner. He has been telling people to lighten up and not take everything he says so seriously, especially some controversial remarks he's been making repeatedly about stopping illegal immigration.

He says he's only joking and said it again just this evening. But new polling shows him to be a serious candidate. He's now in a virtual tie with Mitt Romney in a new CNN/ORC survey. So people are now taking everything he says seriously, whether he likes it or not.

As to whether you like what he's saying or not, that's entirely up to you.

Well, "Keeping Them Honest" tonight, whatever political position you happen to have, the question for Herman Cain or anyone wanting to be president is this. Can you be a serious candidate without serious scrutiny of what you say and how you say it?

Here's what Mr. Cain said on Saturday about illegal immigration.


HERMAN CAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I tell you what, when I'm in charge of the fence, we're going to have a fence. It's going to be 20 feet high. It's going to have barbed wire on the top. It's going to be electrocuted -- electrified. And there's going to be a sign on the other side that said, it will kill you.


COOPER: Herman Cain at a campaign stop in Tennessee on Saturday. Sunday on "Meet the Press," he said, just joking.


DAVID GREGORY, HOST, "MEET THE PRESS": On immigration, you said it at an event in Tennessee that you would build an electrified fence on the border that could kill people if they try to cross illegally.

CAIN: That's a joke, David. GREGORY: It's a joke. So that was a joke.

CAIN: That's a joke.

GREGORY: That's not a serious plan.

CAIN: That's not a serious plan, no, it's not.

GREGORY: OK. You got a big laugh at that. But that's not what you'd do.

CAIN: That's a joke. I have also said America needs to get a sense of humor. That was a joke, OK?


COOPER: The head of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus today not laughing. Texas Democrat Charlie Gonzalez saying -- quote -- "Whether or not he made his comments in jest, Mr. Cain's words show a lack of understanding of the immigration issues our country is facing and a staggering lack of sensitivity."

Mr. Cain's Republican opponent Michele Bachmann also weighing in today, calling the issue, quote, "no laughing matter."

Whatever you think of it this isn't the first time Mr. Cain's tried to get a laugh out of the issue. Here's an appearance back in June.


CAIN: We put a man on the moon. It might be part great wall and part electrical technology. You know? I was describing my fence to somebody tonight. Got a call and said that's insistent. I said, what's insistent? I said, well, let's draw up a fence, and it will be a 20-foot wall, barbed wire, electrified on the top.

And on this side of the fence I would have that moat that President Obama talked about and I will put those alligators in that moat.


COOPER: That was Herman Cain in June. Two months later Herman Cain saying, hey, lighten up.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You upped the ante with, quote, "a 20-foot barbed wire electrified fence." Were you serious?

CAIN: America has got to learn how to take a joke.


COOPER: Now it's pretty clear Herman Cain is neither a professional politician or a polished candidate. He makes no claim that he is. In fact, takes pride in the fact that he's not. Last month in South Carolina he told supporters that political correctness is not one of his strong points, then went on to prove it with more remarks about illegal immigrants -- quote -- "If we can keep a dog in a yard with an invisible fence," he said, "don't you think we can keep people from sneaking into this country?" Seconds later he said -- quote -- "Now I know I'm going to get written up for talking about putting, you know, invisible fences and treating illegal immigrants like dogs."

But it's not just dogs, fences and immigrants, a few years back his subject was Tiger Woods. This is pre-9 iron, pre-divorce. Herman Cain was touting Tiger Woods as a 2016 presidential material. He wrote, "The Republican Party should begin grooming him now for a run at the White House. His personal attributes and accomplishments on the golf course point to a candidate who'll be about a problem solver, not a politician."

Sunday he said -- wait for it.


CAIN: That was a joke.

QUESTION: That was a joke?

CAIN: That was a joke, OK? That was a joke. America's got to learn how to have a sense of humor, OK?


QUESTION: ... pretty serious.

CAIN: Yes, I can be pretty serious, but also there's some things that, you know, you just kind of take tongue in cheek and you don't make a big deal out of it. All right?


COOPER: Well, earlier this evening Herman Cain spoke with John King about his immigration remarks.


CAIN: John, and, yes, I haven't learned how to be politically correct yet, so yes, it probably wasn't the right thing to say. And I meant -- I did not mean to offend anybody.


COOPER: So Cain certainly not backing down as he also did in South Carolina. He mentions his lack of what he says political correctness as a virtue if not a badge of honor.

So will it hurt or help him in the primaries and potentially further down the road? Let's talk about it with chief political analyst Gloria Borger, who joins me, contributor and a former White House press secretary, Ari Fleischer -- you can follow him on Twitter @AriFleischer. Also with us, Republican strategist Mary Matalin, and Democratic strategist Bill Burton, who is President Obama's former deputy press secretary. Bill, thanks for being with us as well.

Thank you.

COOPER: So, Mary, is this much ado about nothing, or is the problem that America doesn't have a sense of human or the media doesn't or that Herman Cain --

MARY MATALIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: He needs to -- the surge for him is serious. It is an attraction to a message that is the 75 percent of the people that still don't support Mitt Romney. He needs to stay a happy warrior. But he needs to get serious. It's not politically correct to have to answer questions about particularly the 9 percent sales tax, or its one thing -- you don't have to know that the name of the president of Uzbekistan, but you need to have clear foreign policy principles.

So you can get away with that when you're the third man or you're -- you know, just one of eight, but when he's the front-runner, he's got to put some flesh on the funny.

COOPER: What about that, Ari? He says look, people need to lighten up and not take everything he says as seriously as -- you know, can't he make a joke?

ARI FLEISCHER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, he's right, but he's right up to a limit, up to a ceiling. Because if you're going to become, as Mary says, a serious presidential contender, you have to go beyond the lines of make a crowd whoop and cheer and you have to be presidential.

And I think what Herman Cain is going to have to find is that happy medium between not being politically correct is one of his strengths which really is exciting on the campaign trail, his blunt straight speech.

But you don't offend people. And certainly don't try to kill people which is what electric fences do. So he's got to find that right ground. He went too far. He needs to pull it back but still not be politically correct.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't think you tell the American people they need to have a sense of humor. You don't tell --

COOPER: Though it got a big applause, though, at that last debate.

BORGER: It did. But we're in the state of Nevada. You want to tell Hispanics here in this state that they ought to have a sense of humor about immigration policy?

This is a candidate who's being vet on the campaign trail. We don't know a lot about him. We'll learn a lot more about him. He's gone from the lowest tier to the top tier. And he's somebody who's attractive as Mary said to people who are looking for a straight shooter, somebody who talks plainly, but he's got to learn that what he says now has a lot of implications.

Can you imagine if a president of the United States had said what Herman Cain said about that fence? What would that be?

COOPER: Bill Burton, do you agree with this? That he needs to dial it back?

BILL BURTON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, you know, I have been surprised at Herman Cain's rise. It's sort of astounding to see someone who's got a tax plan that's so regressive as his. Plays such a role in the Republican primary. But I agree with Mary, I think that what -- his rise says a lot more about the 75 percent of Republican primary goers who don't like Mitt Romney than it really does about Herman Cain.

You look at the string of fairly unserious statements that he's had -- that he's made. You look at his policies, and you think, is this really the answer for the Republican Party? And astoundingly actually more people in the Republican Party think that he is compared to Mitt Romney who is the perceived front-runner in Washington right now.

COOPER: But, Ari, I think you raised an important point. And I was just talking -- hearing some people on Twitter saying the same thing. That they like the bluntness of Herman Cain. That in a field of polished candidates and some might even say overpolished candidates, some critics, he stands out as kind of being this blunt guy.

FLEISCHER: This is a year where people are fed up with Washington and fed up with the way Washington does business in the blow-dried hair ways of Washington. And Cain has tapped into that. He also has tapped into something that exists for a long time. Pushing back against political correctness.

But you have to push back cleverly, you have to push back in a way that's presidential. That's the line he has to walk. It's also a lesson, Anderson, in when you run for president, how hard it is, how many rookies make mistakes. The trick is do you learn from them and go on to a higher, more presidential level?

COOPER: Well, Mary --

FLEISCHER: That's the task.

COOPER: Is he really running for president? Because there have been some who said, well, look, he's basically on a large book tour and he's now suddenly surged in the polls, so he's clearly in this thing. Does he have staff? Does he have enough people around him?

MATALIN: Well, I -- no. He has the big mo, as one of our old bosses used to say, but he's a no show in the states. I don't care what your message is -- and he has a superior message, although it's not fleshed out. You have to have -- to get people in the dead of winter for four hours to a caucus in Iowa, that's not an organic event.

You have to have an organization. Well, everybody is dismissing Perry. He's got a very solid operation on the ground in Iowa and South Carolina, and Cain does not have those things in place any more. That's not to say he is very useful in the field and his message is appropriate for conservatives in this race.

And it's not just getting serious or getting political, people don't like politicians, they don't like the establishment, they don't like Washington, but they want some subject area expertise. They want some knowledge in this.

BORGER: Well, that's why Mitt Romney, of course, keeps saying that he's a businessman and he's an outsider, because that's the appeal of the Cain.

I love hearing Bill Burton say, oh, the Cain rise tells you something about Mitt Romney because, of course, the White House thinks Mitt Romney would be the toughest to beat. So whatever -- the rise of Herman Cain is really about Mitt Romney. It's not about Herman Cain. The White House --

BURTON: Well, it is amazing, Gloria.

BORGER: I know, Bill. But the White House --

BURTON: It is amazing, Gloria.


BURTON: Well, it's just amazing that Mitt Romney has been running for president for five years. He spent tens of millions of dollars and his support just has hit the ceiling. People in the Republican primary just have a fundamental concern with Mitt Romney, for whatever reason it is. And I think that a guy like Herman Cain being able to step into the polls and get as much support as Mitt Romney is fairly amazing.

COOPER: Ari, do you agree that this is some sort of commentary on the front-runners?

FLEISCHER: No question about it. There's still the anti-Romney element out there in the Republican Party, but, Anderson, it almost doesn't matter. That's always the case in a multi-candidate field. And so, so long as you have seven or eight candidates, somebody is going to -- this front-runner will only have about 25 or 30 percent. That's math. It will eventually go down where Romney has 30, 35 of plurality and whoever will and that's how you get a winner.

BORGER: Cain has twice as much support among in our recent poll among Tea Party voters than Mitt Romney. So you see where his support is coming from.

COOPER: Yes. BORGER: And he's taking it away from Perry and Bachmann, and even Paul.

COOPER: And we're going to talk more about Mitt Romney and Rick Perry coming up tonight.

Ari Fleischer, Mary Matalin, Bill Burton, Gloria Borger, stick around. We'll have a lot more ahead with you over this hour.

Next, we want to talk more about the people who are pushing Herman Cain to the top of the polls. Who are the fans of Herman Cain?

Let us know what you think. We're on Facebook. Follow me on Twitter @AndersonCooper. I will try to be tweeting tonight in this hour.

Later the people who made Mitt Romney's Mormonism, his religion, an issue in the campaign. Will it lose him the evangelical vote in these primaries and what does it mean to be a Mormon? We'll take you inside the fast growing and sometimes misunderstood faith.

Also tonight, some breaking news. Any moment now an Israeli prisoner held for years by Hamas could go free. A young Israeli soldier. As you'll see the price being paid for the freedom is steep. And some families of Israeli terror victims are furious tonight.


COOPER: Now more on Herman Cain, the former pizza executive surging in the polls thanks in large part to his 999 tax plan. Tomorrow night's debate here in Las Vegas could be a big opportunity for him to solidify a place in the top tier candidates by appealing to voters on issues beyond the economy. But those already on the Cain train say they have found plenty that they like.

With "Raw Politics" here's Gary Tuchman.


CAIN: No more entitlement. No more entitlement.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Say this about Herman Cain. He's running a different sort of campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.

CAIN: Instead of a signature or photograph, I will leave you all something special that I haven't done all day.

TUCHMAN: Singing spirituals isn't new for Cain. The Georgia native is a recorded gospel singer and an associate Baptist minister. What is new is his front-runner status. And now Cain, who has not done much traditional campaigning, is beginning to do just that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's not a politician. He's a businessman. He can get it done. TUCHMAN: For many the idea that Cain is an outsider is part of his appeal. At Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville, Tennessee, Cain declared he'd liked this banner, "Honkies for Herman."

CAIN: I'm sure some of your neighbors and friends and colleagues or family member, you're going to one of those Tea Party rallies? Yes. They're trying to intimidate you to stay home. But aren't they a bunch of racists? Well --


CAIN: When I looked in the mirror this morning I was black.


TUCHMAN: Over the weekend Cain barnstormed through Tennessee attending six rallies.

(on camera): There are fewer than 20,000 people who live here in Humphreys County, Tennessee. Yet this turnout is huge, particularly for an area where so few people live.

CAIN: All of a sudden the long shot isn't such a long shot anymore. How about them apples?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I like Romney, and if he gets the nomination, I will support him. But I think that Herman Cain is more in touch with what the people want.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He seems to be a straight shooter, and just like some of the conservative views that he's putting out there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think he's more like me than anyone else running, and I vote for myself so I vote for him.

TUCHMAN: Tell me why you think he's more like yourself than anyone running.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's a country folk.

TUCHMAN: A lot of people have been telling us they like you because you're plain spoken. A man of the people. In '76 they said that about another Georgia man, a man named Jimmy Carter.

CAIN: Yes.

TUCHMAN: Any comparisons that you see there?

CAIN: No comparison at all.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Cain instead like to compare himself to Ronald Reagan and talks about the shining city on the hill and sees himself as an economic savior. CAIN: It's called the 999 plan.

TUCHMAN: Cain's 999 tax plan is also now a Madison Avenue-style catch phrase. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I like the 9999 plan, especially the sales tax part of it.

TUCHMAN: Herman Cain says he's in it to win it.

As he tries to get those who doubt the viability of his candidacy to change their tune.

CAIN: I love you.


COOPER: Gary Tuchman joins us now.

Gary, what -- I mean we see the reaction there from the crowd. Were people surprised to hear him singing, or is that just part of what makes him different?

TUCHMAN: Yes, I think people were surprised, but I think it was a very shrewd move. I don't expect to see other candidates singing, dancing or doing card tricks on the campaign trail. But it worked for him particularly in the Bible Belt. People got very inspired.

I saw one guy as Herman Cain finish, walked up the stage, went up the stage, Herman, Herman, Herman, come back. Herman, Herman, Herman, come back. And some guy said to him, what are you running for? And the guy held up a handful of money, goes, I want to give Herman Cain $200 right now. So it seemed to work for him in Tennessee.

COOPER: Gary, appreciate it.

Tomorrow's debate could be pivotal to the Cain campaign. What does he need to do to maybe solidify his base and win over undecided voters?

Back us with again is Gloria Borger. And let's bring in John King.

John, have you been surprised by the rise of Herman Cain? I mean as everyone has been surprised.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. You have to tip your hat to him because of his discipline, the 999 plan. However we're about to learn a lot more about him.

At the debate tomorrow you will treat him as a credible candidate. I had the second Republican debate, our first one on CNN, he was still at single digits. And I'm not saying that didn't make him a credible candidate, but the stakes are different now.

The 999 plan is being scrutinized. A lot of those people in Gary's piece who were saying I really like it. Guess what, if he stays at this point in the polls his opponents will start running ads against him, saying, you like it? Well, I guess you're going to pay more taxes under him. I had a conversation with him earlier today, and he concedes some people will pay more, and the people most likely to pay more, if this passes, mind you...

COOPER: Right.

KING: ... but under the plan are the people who have been hurt the most by the recession already. Are those people --

COOPER: Who are not earning enough right now to pay taxes.

KING: Right. Perot-type supporters. He's very much like Ross Perot in his appeal. People like him because they know if he's elected he'll raise you know what in Washington. They like that. The question is, is there a ceiling? And I suspect yes.

COOPER: And in terms of his organization there really is not much of an organization.

BORGER: What organization? There isn't any organization. Sort of a back of the envelope campaign. You mentioned before it's a book tour? It's kind of a book tour. I think the more credible he gets, the more Republican strategists you're going to see want to come on board. But I don't think he has a credible campaign at this point.

What he -- what he has is good debate performances. People like him because he comes across as the anti-politician. He's almost the anti-Romney if you will.

COOPER: What's interesting because I was obviously reading and doing research reading the transcripts of all the debates.

BORGER: Right.

COOPER: Two candidates will be arguing about something, and then he will come in and say, well, I don't care about the arguments. Here's how you fix it. And it always gets a big applause.

KING: And he is a turnaround guy. If you talk to the head of Pillsbury who hired him to take over Godfather's Pizza, he says he's a turnaround guy. He just gets things done. He's a doer. The question is, though, says that, you know, he doesn't have many foreign policy answers.

As people start to view him more as a president, will that be the problem he faces? And again, if you look at the appeal of a Ross Perot, he did very well. He got 20 million votes in a general election where he could pay to put himself on the ballot. Herman Cain can't do that. He's not on the ballot in some of these many states.

Gary just pointed out, all those events in Tennessee.


KING: Tennessee, Anderson, has zero impact on the Republican nominating process so far down the road. So a lot of people question --

COOPER: But why -- right. Why is he --

KING: Why are you there?

COOPER: Right.

KING: Well, part of it is book signings. Part of it is book signings, and he's making money selling his book. And that is why he's lost some staffers. People resigned in Iowa, resigned in New Hampshire because they say he's supposed to here, not there.

COOPER: Because I did read -- I did read a quote from somebody on his campaign saying, well, look, we're doing the strategy that President Obama did back in the general election which is running a national campaign and kind of shoring up long term.

BORGER: I don't think he can do that.

COOPER: You're saying it's clearly --


KING: Obama went to South Dakota which actually voted early and a lot of people said, why do you want those handful of delegates and against Hillary Clinton. It turned out to be the right approach. Herman Cain does not have the money, does not have the fund-raising to be in a marathon.

COOPER: So him going to Tennessee --

KING: He needs to be --


COOPER: You're saying it's purely about selling books.

BORGER: Yes. And he doesn't --

KING: It's not about being a president. Maybe it's just bad strategy. I don't want to read his mind.

COOPER: Right.

BORGER: He doesn't have the discipline right now that a presidential candidate needs. You know he -- he's fond of saying things like, I don't have the facts to back this up but.

COOPER: Right.

BORGER: OK. Well, you can't say that when you're a presidential candidate. I mean look --

COOPER: Well, look, some people will find it refreshing, that you know, at least he admits I don't have the facts on this, and -- but he says his opinion -- BORGER: Right, but can you imagine as president --

COOPER: Whereas a lot of candidates will say something as if it's fact when they don't have the facts.

BORGER: In my experience, it's always been a good idea when you're a presidential candidate and you want to say something because you want people to believe you and follow you that you say, this is what I have learned from traveling the country and here's why, and here are the facts and here's why 999 will work for you, and here's why it will reduce your taxes.

Now he's being vetted. And people are saying, it's going to raise the taxes --

COOPER: How hard do you think the candidate -- the other candidates are going to go after him at tomorrow's debate?

KING: I think they will not go after him personally because they all admire his political skills. But on the 999 plan they will say it simply doesn't add up. They look through the camera and say if you are an average family making $40,000 with four children, you might like this guy, you're going to pay more. The question is how many of those people vote in Republican primaries.

And then they will look to challenge him on the bigger issues. This immigration answer, this -- one in four voters in this state of Nevada are Latinos. The Republicans really believe they can cut into the numbers President Obama had last time. Now Herman Cain said it's a joke. Well, it's an incredibly insensitive joke to say we will have a fence that will electrocute people.

And so they will say that you're not a serious candidate, you can't expand the map, and look at all -- not that many Tea Party candidates won statewide. They won in little House races.

COOPER: Right.

KING: They didn't win state wide because you've got a ceiling when you have controversial answers like that.

BORGER: I think Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann are going to really go after him. I mean he's taking their votes.

COOPER: I found it interesting that Michele Bachmann was critical of his comments today...

BORGER: Today.

COOPER: ... about that electrified fence.

John King, Gloria Borger, thanks.

Up next, a second evangelical with close ties to Rick Perry taking shots at Mitt Romney's faith. Are these attacks on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Mormonism -- is this becoming a problem for the Texas governor or is it really part of a campaign strategy?

We'll talk about that.

And the mother of a missing Missouri baby breaking her silence with a string of new admissions. What she's saying about the night her daughter disappeared and why she now fears people will stop looking for her -- ahead.


COOPER: Hey. Welcome back.

We're coming to you live from Las Vegas tonight.

Isha Sesay joins us with a "360 News and Business Bulletin" -- Isha.

ISHA SESAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, forces tied to Libya's new government say they have taken control of Bani Walid, one of the last cities loyal to Moammar Gadhafi. Government fighters took the hospital there and captured dozens of soldiers. This leaves Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte as the only major city up for grabs.

The Missouri mother of a missing baby now admits she was drunk when her daughter disappeared. In an interview with NBC Deborah Bradley now claims she lost her daughter several hours before she initially believed. Bradley went on to say she fears police will arrest her causing people to stop searching for little Lisa.

In Aruba, authorities have refused to release American Gary Giordano. He's being held in connection with the disappearance of his traveling companion fellow American Robyn Gardner, who was last seen on an Aruban beach on August 2.

Well, Apple is breaking sales record with the iPhone 4S. The company sold more than four million of them since it launched last Friday. That's more than twice as many as the iPhone 4 during its opening weekend last year.

And Vincent van Gogh is now at the center of a murder mystery. A new book claims he may not have really committed suicide 121 years ago. Instead, the authors tell "60 Minutes" he may have been shot by some local children and he then chose to cover up their crime.

Anderson, just when you thought you knew what had happened.


COOPER: I know. Intriguing.


COOPER: Isha, time now for "The Shot."

You're going to have to watch tomorrow's debate to see where each candidate will be standing on the stage, but I can at least guarantee they will be on the stage, unlike in the sketch from this weekend's "Saturday Night Live."

Take a look at this.


VANESSA BAYER, CAST MEMBER, NBC'S "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE": Let's go back to the janitor's closet. Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich. Neither of you are going to win, and you're starting to waste our time.



BAYER: At the end of tonight's debate, we will unlock the door to your room. Whoever is still standing can come to the next debate. Whoever isn't is out of the race.

MOYNIHAN: I don't understand. Ow!


COOPER: Wow. That's not going to happen tomorrow night.


COOPER: Yes, not at all.

Up next another evangelical backing Rick Perry bashing Mitt Romney's faith. We'll have the Raw Politics on that tonight.

Plus, we're digging deeper on Romney's faith and looking at whether it would -- could have an impact at the polls.

Also the breaking news tonight. Any moment now an Israeli soldier held by Hamas for five years could be freed in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners. A live report on the controversial swap ahead.


COOPER: And welcome back. We are live from Las Vegas. We've just received breaking news. The Iowa caucus date has now been set for January 3.

Gloria, the significance of that is it's earlier than...

GLORIA BORGER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Won't have a Christmas vacation. That's the significance of it. They've been talking about January 3. It's early. It's important. New Hampshire, we're not sure about the date of the New Hampshire primary yet. That's a big controversy. Nevada's early. So all of this is going to be really front loaded, Anderson.

COOPER: And certainly, for some of these candidates, Herman Cain, the fact that it is -- I mean, how much earlier is it, January 3?

BORGER: Last time around it was in February.

COOPER: OK. How does that affect some of these candidates running who don't have the organization?

ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Anderson, this whole campaign could be over at the end of January. In 2000 when I worked for George W. Bush, it ended in March. And it means the early guy with the most money gets the best advantage. If you beat them early, if you don't have the infrastructure to keep going, that's the problem now when you move everything up.

MARY MATALIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Here's the complication, it's only over early if Romney wins it. Romney's trying to decide even as we speak, if he's going to play there, and play a lot the last time he lost.

So if he invests -- if you're inevitable, you're wearing the banner of inevitability, you're going a win. So if he plays and loses, then it goes longer. But if he plays and wins, then Ari's right.

BORGER: But you know, it's interesting, with the rise of Herman Cain, I think that Romney has more of a shot at Iowa, ironically, because...

COOPER: Because it divides with Michele Bachmann and divides up with Cain.

BORGER: Exactly. Exactly. So he can be low key about it. But lo and behold, if he does well, then he really starts looking inevitable.

MATALIN: Hard to be low key when you're dragging people out for four hours in the dead of winter. If you're there, you're there. You can't fake it. There's 99 times in a corner. People know what's going on. And it's the only way to do it is to do it.

COOPER: More "Raw Politics" right now. Another evangelical Rick Perry supporter striking out at Romney's faith, raising the question, is this some sort of concerted political strategy? The latest player is named David Lane. He was a central figure in that Christian prayer rally that Governor Perry addressed back in August.

Last month, at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, Governor Perry had high prize for Mr. Lane.


GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: David Lane, thank you for coming out here today. We've been involved in some great battles together, and standing up for the values that are important for this country. America is going to be guided by some set of values. The question is going to be whose values? And David Lane and I, and I would suggest most of the people in this audience, believe it's those Christian values that this country was based upon.


COOPER: Christian values. Now, members of the Church of Latter- Day Saints, the Mormons, consider themselves to be a branch of Christianity, but many evangelicals do not agree with that, including David Lane, as you'll see in a moment. Also including another influential Perry supporter, Robert Jeffress, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, who really touched off a storm at the Values Voters conference. Here's what he said.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why do you believe the Mormon church is a cult?

ROBERT JEFFRESS, SENIOR PASTOR, FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH OF DALLAS: Well, again, when I talk about a cult, Anderson, I'm talking about a theological cult as opposed to a sociological cult. You know, theologically, a cult is a religion that has a human founder versus a divine founder. Joseph Smith is the founder of Mormonism, versus Jesus Christ, to whom we look at as the head of our church.

And secondly, cults tend to look the other religious texts outside the Bible for their guidance. One that isn't, for example -- Mormonism certainly accepts the Bible, but it accepts the newer, fresher revelation, the Book of Mormon that came from the angel Moroni, supposedly to Joseph Smith.

So for that reason, I'm saying it's a theological cult. I know that's a loaded term. And it's not -- it has never been considered, Anderson, as a part of historic Christianity.


COOPER: That was Robert Jeffress, two Fridays ago. The Web site the Daily Beast is out with a series e-mails from the past two weeks between David Lane and a man named Dick Bott who runs a Christian talk radio network.

On October 12, according to Daily Beast, Bott told Lane he'd be taping an interview with Pastor Jeffress and defended the pastor for raising the Mormon issue. Quote, "What would anyone think if a candidate were a scientologist?" Bott wrote, "Shouldn't they want to know what the implications were that may flow therefrom?"

Lane responded the next day, "Getting out of Dr. Jeffress message, juxtaposing traditional Christianity to the false God of Mormonism, is very important in the larger scheme of things." Now, David Lane is not on the Perry payroll. Let's make that very clear. Not formally affiliated with Perry campaign. A Perry spokesman telling the Daily Beast that the e-mails have nothing to do with the campaign. Neither Lane nor Dick Bott responded to queries from the Web site.

The Romney campaign also refused to comment on the Daily Beast story. So in a moment, the political panel on whether Mitt Romney and the LDS Church are maybe being targeted by evangelicals.

First, though, some background on the faith itself. Digging deeper now, here's Tom Foreman.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In New York state in 1820, a teenage boy went to pray in the woods about conflicts between Christian churches. That's when Mormon history says Joseph Smith had a heavenly vision, to build a new church altogether.

Today there are 14 million Mormons, the core in Utah where Smith's followers fled after years of persecution. Aggressive recruitment has always been key to the more properly named Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and yet the faith remains mysterious to many Americans. So much so that Mitt Romney, perhaps the country's most famous Mormon at the moment, was attacked even in his first run for president.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm one person who will not vote for a Mormon.

ROMNEY: Oh, is that right? Can I shake your hand anyway?



FOREMAN: The resistance is toughest from evangelical Christians, many of whom remain deeply suspicious of Mormons.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Those of us who are born again followers of Christ should always prefer a competent Christian to a competent non- Christian like Mitt Romney.

FOREMAN: Mormons say they are absolutely Christian. At Vanderbilt University Kathleen Flake teaches religious history.

KATHLEEN FLAKE, PROFESSOR, VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY: The voters who are -- who are vetting him want religion in politics, and they want a particular religion in politics. They want Jesus, and they want a particular kind of Jesus. And they're not sure that Romney is going to deliver that Jesus to them. So it's a very different situation for them politically. FOREMAN: So what do Mormons believe? They believe in Jesus and the Bible as a holy book, but they also hold the Book of Mormon in equal esteem and say God still speaks to living church leaders.

They meet weekly in chapels, but their temples are reserved for the most important ceremonies, which only the faithful may attend. Baptisms, which can be performed on behalf of people who have been dead for years, weddings, which are believed to bind families together for eternity.

Good Mormons drink no alcohol, tea or coffee and eat meat in moderation. Many wear special undergarments as reminders of their faith and go on missions for up to two years with little family contact. They believe ancient humans came to North America, the Garden of Eden was in Missouri, and in a rare interview a few years back, church apostle Russell Ballard told our Gary Tuchman, Jesus came here, too.

M. RUSSELL BALLARD, CHURCH APOSTLE: We know that he came and touched the people and restored the gospel to them.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Has Jesus returned here to the United States, in your beliefs?

BALLARD: Oh, yes.

FOREMAN (on camera): Still, probably the most well known Mormon practice is one the church distinctly outlawed more than a century ago: polygamy.


FOREMAN (voice-over): The forbidden practice has been thrust into the spotlight by HBO's "Big Love" and scandals involving offshoots of Mormonism like the one led by Warren Jeffs, who's now in jail.

It all adds up to extra bumps on the campaign trail for Mitt Romney in what, in the end, could be a major test of faith and tolerance for the nation.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.


COOPER: Back now with our political panel. Gloria Borger, Ari Fleischer, Mary Matalin, Bill Burton.

All right, Ari, when you hear people associated with Rick Perry or who have been on the stage with Rick Perry attacking Mitt Romney on his faith, what do you make of it?

FLEISCHER: Well, two points. One, I find this whole thing extremely distasteful. Our Constitution says there is no religious test for the presidency or for any other high office or low office of this country. That's the spirit on which our country was founded. You can be religious. You can be religious. You can be Buddhist. There is no religious test, which you just people not -- different issues.

But Rick Perry is getting a bum rap if people think he's the one pushing this. Just because David Lane is doing it, that's not Rick Perry. He doesn't work for Rick Perry. He's doing this -- everything I can see, on his own. The Perry people have not weighed in on this. And I don't think they deserve any blame for this.

COOPER: Is it important to have a guy, Robert Jeffress, who introduced Rick Perry on the stage, the values voter statement, and then went off stage and in called Mitt Romney a member of a cult.

MATALIN: Well, Rick Perry did wade in to the extent that he said it is not a cult.

But this election is not going to be about Christian theology any more than the last one was about black theology. At the end of the day, evangelicals Mormons, atheists have the same set of issues and priorities. The economy and all the reforms that need to happen to get this country moving again.

And the numbers show that, even outside of these sets of issues, that the bigger concern for voters is if a candidate had no beliefs. As long as they had a belief, then I don't think it's going to be...

BORGER: And a large majority of the American public -- and we're not talking about the evangelical slice of the Republican Party, believe that religion should not count. It's like 70 or 80 percent.

So it's interesting, because Mitt Romney went through this the last time around. He had to give a speech on his religion. I don't think you're going to see him do that again.

By the way, Anderson, let me correct myself, because the Iowa caucuses were also in early January.

COOPER: The last time around.

BORGER: Yes. But I forgot.

COOPER: There was a recent "TIME" magazine poll that's showing Romney outperforming Rick Perry even among the evangelical voters in a match-up against President Obama. So I mean, how important do you think the evangelical vote at this point in the primaries?

BILL BURTON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: : I think it's very important. And I think a lot of folks assume that Rick Perry would come into this race and be able to scoop up a lot of the real conservative, the real evangelical voters.

But as a result largely of his really poor performance, especially in the debates, but also out on the campaign trail, I think that his support has really lagged behind where people thought he would be for a whole host of reasons. But the good news for Rick Perry is he has more money in the bank than anybody in the race. This is not completely over just yet. But I don't think anybody can deny that his performance has been pretty poor so far, and it's reflected in a lot of different voting groups.

COOPER: WELL, We'll see what happens tomorrow night at the debate. I'll be moderating here from Las Vegas. I'll be joined by Gloria Borger, Ari Fleischer. Thanks very much. Bill Burton, as well.

Up next, breaking news. Any moment now, a controversial prisoner swap -- swap could take place in the Middle East. We'll have a live report. We'll be right back.


SESAY: Breaking news tonight out of the Middle East. One man's freedom, a young Israeli soldier, possibly minutes away in a controversial prisoner swap. Reuters is reporting Israel has started to release more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners. Eyewitnesses tell Reuters the prisoners, some believed to be in these vehicles that you're looking at, have started leaving an Israeli jail, and most will be freed in the West Bank.

Now, many of the prisoners were serving life sentences for terror attacks in Israel. And they're being freed in exchange for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, this young man, who's been held by Hamas for five years.

Now, Shalit was just 19 years old, guarding an Israeli army post when Palestinian militants attacked his tank back in 2006, killing two men and taking him prisoner.

Fred Pleitgen joins us now from Shalit's home town with the latest on all of this.

Fred, this prisoner exchange is expected to happen in stages. What can you tell us about how it's meant to occur?

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via phone): This is a process that's been worked out between the Israeli authorities, Hamas, and the Egyptian authorities that are going to play a very big part in all of this.

As you've noticed, it seems as though the Palestinian prisoners are being transferred -- the two main places at this point in time -- you have the female prisoners in one batch and the male prisoners in the other batch.

Now, only 27 female prisoners, and those are the ones that are going to be released by Israel first. When that occurs, Shalit is going to be released to Egyptian authorities. What he's going to do is he's going to be transferred from Gaza into Egypt.

Now, once he's in the hands there of the Israeli officials that went back to Israel, one of the border crossings between Egypt and Israel, that's when the male Palestinian prisoners, this first batch, about 450 of them, are going to be released.

Then what's going to happen is, Gilad Shalit is going to be brought to an Israeli military base in central Israel. He's going to get medical checks. He's going to be meeting the prime minister. Netanyahu is going to meet him with his family.

And then finally, he's going to be taken by helicopter here to his hometown of Mitsanilla (ph), where, of course, he's going to receive a hero's welcome. I can tell you that people have already draped the down. They've decorated trees. They've put up signs saying, "Welcome home, Gilad." So they are very, very happy.

But it is a very sensitive process that's been worked on meticulously by both sides for the past days.

SESAY: What of the Palestinian prisoners about to be released as part of this deal, what is their destination once they are released?

PLEITGEN: Well, that's a very interesting question. Most of the Palestinian prisoners are going to be released to Gaza. The vast majority, well over 200 of these prisoners, are going to go to Gaza. Some are going to go to the West Bank. Some, however, are also going to be deported to other places.

And this was really a very important part of the deal, because Israel fears that some of these prisoners could still be an issue and a problem to its security, could resort to violence in the future. And so they said some of them will have to be transferred to other countries. Turkey is believed to be one of these other countries. Syria, probably also Qatar.

Now, there are restrictions on the movement of some of the prisoners that are going to be released to the West Bank. Some of them are not allowed to go everywhere they want to go. They have to report to police stations.

Some of the ones from the West Bank are also going to be brought to Gaza, where, of course, it will be impossible for them to enter Israel again, and make it back to the West Bank, Isha.

SESAY: Frederik Pleitgen, thank you.

COOPER: "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" is ahead at 11 p.m. Eastern. Erin, what's ahead?

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Well, Anderson, we're going to find out whether there's going to be a basketball season or not. Four billion dollars in revenue on a lot of hoopla, for a lot of fans on the line.

We talked to NBA Commissioner David Stern.

Plus, you're in Vegas. We're going to talk about these big and bold ideas being thrown out there. Do the Democrats have one?

Plus, Anderson, a little singing on "OUT FRONT," but not by me, because that would be terrible. Back to you.

COOPER: All right. We look forward to it, Erin, thanks.

Coming up, "The RidicuList," Herman Cain jokes, but Herman Cain takes the hat on 'The RidicuList" tonight. We'll be right back.


COOPER: And welcome back. We're coming to you live from Las Vegas outside the lovely Venetian hotel.

And tonight "The RidicuList." We're adding all the jokes about Herman Cain's pizza past. Now that Cain's topping the polls, it seems no one can refrain about making jokes about how he's the former CEO of a pizza place. Jokes like topping the polls, for instance.

People are making way too much about this pizza connection. The jokes are extra cheesy. And after all, Cain himself rarely talks about pizza.


HERMAN CAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The original Godfather's crust was a big crust that was pounded down from a New York-style crust -- I mean a Chicago-style crust.

It's not the price of the pizza.

It's not a pizza deal.

It is a collection of small businesses. Godfather's Pizza is the same way.

Maybe you believe you're supposed to eat pizza with a knife and a fork.



COOPER: All right. So maybe he talks about pizza little bit. But so what? He's the CEO of Godfather's Pizza. It makes sense he would talk about it. It's not like he's obsessed. It's not like he sang songs to the tune to John Lennon's "Imagine" except that he changed all the lyrics so that it's all about pizza.

CAIN (singing): Imagine there's no pizza. I couldn't if I tried. Eating only tacos or Kentucky Fried. Imagine all the burgers

COOPER: That's all we want to play because, frankly, we don't want to get sued by Yoko Ono. But trust me, it goes on like that for quite a while. That was from an Omaha press club event back in 1991.

Back then, who knew that one day pizza and presidential politics would go together like, well, like pizza and beer? Only thing about a pizza is a lot like politics. Check this out from "Saturday Night Live" a couple weeks ago.


KENAN THOMPSON, CAST MEMBER, NBC'S "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE": There's no better model for the federal government than that of a pizza place. Pizza doesn't come to your door unless you ask for it, but when you ask for it, pizza will be there in ten minutes. If you order it, pizza will come. It's 4 a.m. in the morning, and you're high as a kite and the stuff in your fridge is weirding you out. If you order it, pizza will come.


COOPER: That was even before Cain started rising in the polls like so much Chicago-style crust in a brick oven. Here's "SNL" from this past weekend.


THOMPSON: ... Herman Cain right now. But unfortunately, there's no such thing as a two-slice pizza. So you will keep stuffing yourselves full of Herman Cain. Soon your tummy will be a gassy mess, and you will go to bed and have bad dreams. In the morning, you'll wake up and say, "Today I'm eating a nice salad."


COOPER: All right. So you've got to give them, the "SNL" jokes are pretty good. But everyone else, imagine there's no pizza. It's easy if you try, on "The RidicuList."

That's it for us. Thanks for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.