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President Obama Promotes Jobs Plan; Interview With Herman Cain; Race Car Driver Dan Wheldon Dies in Crash; Panel Discussion With Diana DeGette, John Ralston, Amy Tarkanian

Aired October 17, 2011 - 18:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. Tonight, we're live in Las Vegas.

President Obama hits the road to tout his jobs plan, trading Air Force One for a bus trip through two states critical to his reelection hopes.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It turns out the Republican plan boil down to a few basic ideas. They want to gut regulations. They want to let Wall Street do whatever it wants. They want to drill more. And they want to repeal health care reform. That's their jobs plan.


KING: It's a taxpayer-funded trip. The jobs debate with Congress after all is official business. But the president's rival from 2008 sees this as much more about 2012.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: The president has made these remarks on a taxpayer-paid-for, "riding in a Canadian bus" visit for the next three days.


KING: Plus, Rush Limbaugh often has unkind things to say about me and this network. So what are we to make of this over-the-top praise of our coverage of the Fast and Furious scandal?


RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: John King is calling attention to a huge contradiction. How did the president know about this in March and how did the president know the attorney general knew nothing about this in March when the attorney general says in May he just learned about it a couple weeks ago?


KING: While we always appreciate kind words, tonight's "Truth" is that the issue is not as black and white as Mr. Limbaugh sees it.

We will also talk in a few moments to the ESPN reporter who was right there in the pit at the track just a few miles north of here when this happened.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody else is opening up in front of him. Oh, here we go.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, multiple cars involved.


KING: But up first tonight, rising Cain. Our brand-new poll shows surprise Republican presidential contender Herman Cain solidifying his place in the GOP race. In a dead heat now nationally with former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. With that surge in support comes a surge in attention.

And Mr. Cain and his ideas will without a doubt be a major focus of our big CNN Republican debate right here in Las Vegas tomorrow night. In a moment, one-on-one with Mr. Cain in his only national interview today.

But, first over the weekend, Cain conceded some would pay more taxes under his signature 999 plan.


HERMAN CAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Some people will pay more, but most people will pay less is my argument.


KING: Now rising in the polls means more attention from his rivals who are attacking Cain on his views on gay marriage and immigration. Generating headlines, this Cain remark over the week in Tennessee.


HERMAN CAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I will tell you what. When I'm in charge of the fence, we are 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 electrified. And there is going to be a sign on the other side that says, it will kill you.


(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: The Congressional Hispanic Caucus says that remark is grossly insensitive. And in Arizona today, Cain rival Michele Bachmann says it proves he just doesn't get it.


REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I also want to say that this is no laughing matter, the border fence. We have seen jokes made by presidential candidates about the fence. It is not a joke. This is a real issue. It is a serious issue.


KING: That's Bachmann in Arizona. Mr. Cain is also in Arizona. We spoke just moments ago.


KING: Mr. Cain, you say your remark over the weekend about building a fence that would be electrified, so that anyone trying to sneak across the border could be electrocuted, you say it was a joke. But you're running for president of the United States, not for court jester. Do you agree at least that that's a pretty insensitive thing to say?

CAIN: Yes, it was a joke, John. And yes, I haven't learned to be politically correct yet. So, yes, it was probably was not the right thing to say. And I meant -- I did not mean to offend anybody.

KING: You're coming here to the state of Nevada for our big debate tomorrow night -- 26 percent of the electorate here are Latino.

What would you say to a Latino in Nevada who might have seen that remark and thought, wow, who is this guy; do I want him as my president?

CAIN: Well, John, what I would say to them is, I'm all about making it easier for people to come to this country. We have wide- open doors.

I have talked repeatedly about wanting to make it easier for people to come to this country the legal way, cleaning up the bureaucracy in Washington, D.C. Those kinds of things never get reported on. But I am all for opening up the doors of this nation. But we must do it the legal way. That's been the point that I have been trying to make.

KING: And you're going to spend some time with Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona today. He is someone, as you know, on the left, there are a lot of critics who say he racial profiles, he discriminates against Latinos, he raids workplaces to generate headlines.

What's that conversation going to be about?

CAIN: Well, we're just going to talk about general principles. I have a lot of respect for the sheriff because of the job that he's done. Look, in a lot of ways, he and I are the same. We focus on what it is that we need to do to get the job done, not what we need to do to be politically correct. So I'm looking forward to meeting with him again, because this will not be the first time that we will have met.

KING: And what would a President Cain do in his first 100 days when it comes to border security? Is it finishing the fence? Is it more boots on the ground? Is it all of the above?

CAIN: I think it is all of the above.

I think that we need a combination of a physical fence in some instances. We can use technology for some parts. And then some of the more dangerous parts, I think what we need to do is to put boots on the ground in order to secure the border.

John, I am tired, and like the American people are, of hearing about citizens being killed, citizens being threatened, and some border agents' lives being threatened. This is what I want to stop as president of the United States of America. What do we have to do in order to stop it?

KING: And what happens to those who are already in this country illegally, many of them working in the economy? Mayor Bloomberg in New York says it's foolish to think you are going to round them up and throw them out; you have to have a path to legal status, if not a path to citizenship. That was President George W. Bush's position.

It was the last Republican nominee's position, John McCain, until the issue became so toxic. What would a President Cain do about the estimated -- maybe it's eight million, maybe it's 10 million, maybe it's 12 million illegal immigrants already in the country? Do you work them into the system or do you find them and kick them out?

CAIN: John, let me give you my total description of how I would approach the problem. It starts with securing the border for real, not just talking about it, like we talked about it earlier.

Secondly, it would involve promoting the path to citizenship that we already have. Thirdly, enforce the laws that we already have, the immigration laws. And here's how I would enforce those laws and here's how I would deal with the illegals that are already here. Empower the states to do what the federal government is not doing.

If you have got 50 states working on what to do with the illegals in their particular states, that's the way I believe that we ought to approach solving that problem. No, we are not going to round everybody up and try to deport them. No. Allow each state to determine how they want to address the problem in their states.

KING: But if you allow every state to do it on a state-by-state basis, aren't you inviting chaos that if state A -- I'm going to make one up -- Alabama is being very tough. Maybe people go across the border. And maybe they go to the next state. And then that state decides what to do. But won't you have this hodgepodge, almost a Whac-A-Mole system in the United States?

CAIN: No, John, that's not the case.

You see, I trust the governors. I trust the states to be responsible in doing things like that. Remember, the governors get together, and they talk and they share ideas. So, I would trust them not to create some sort of chaotic hodgepodge. No, they would solve the problem, and I happen to believe that they would be sensible in terms of the things that they would come up with.

KING: You conceded over the weekend that some people, some people at least initially, would pay more taxes under the Herman Cain 999 plan. That plan has now -- I was going to say had national attention. It's had international attention, sir.

But PolitiFact did a fact check on this. And they say an average family of four could end up paying anywhere from about $2,000 to $4,000 more in federal taxes under the 999 plan. Is that fair to people who have had the value of their homes go down, the people who have been hit hardest in this recession? Should they pay higher tax in the early days of a Cain administration?

CAIN: John, first of all, I'm not going to comment on those calculations, because I don't know what assumptions they used.

Here is a fact. It would depend upon what that family spent their money on. When you get to that third nine, which is that national sales tax, it depends upon whether or not they buy used goods or whether or not they buy new goods. So I can't comment on -- so, when you make the statement is it fair, well, how do you define fairness?

So, I'm not going to comment on that, because I don't know what assumptions they made. I'm making the assumption that a family making a small amount of money, that they are going to stretch their dollar -- 999 will give them the flexibility to stretch their dollars even more based upon their decisions and not based upon the decision of government.

KING: Well, you did concede some people would pay more by your calculations. Who would pay more, Mr. Cain?

CAIN: The people that would pay more are the people who would buy mostly new goods.

That's how it will be determined. So, since I don't know what people's buying habits are going to be, I can't say who is going to pay more. Secondly, most people, John, will pay less because embedded taxes will come out of all of the goods and services that are produced in this country.

And the reason that they will come out is because of competition. When the embedded taxes come out, the cost of goods will actually go down, which means that most people won't be paying any more in taxes than they are paying today, probably a lot less. KING: As you know, your rise in the polls comes with a price. You get a lot more scrutiny, not just from the news media, but from your rivals for the Republican nomination, and even the White House communications director, Dan Pfeiffer, just told our Wolf Blitzer a few minutes ago he thinks that your rise in the polls is because people are unhappy with Mitt Romney or can't find somebody else.

He doesn't equate it to you, to your rise in popularity. He thinks essentially you're a vehicle. How would you answer that?

CAIN: The way I would answer that comment is, quite simply, they don't know what's going on out here.

My message is resonating with people. I know that because I didn't just start campaigning two weeks ago. I have been basically testing the pulse of the public for over a year now, even before I actually formally declared. And so I know that it is my message which is driving my popularity and my rise in the polls, and we know that for a fact. And we know it firsthand. And we are going to continue that momentum.

KING: Is it the specifics of your message or is it the fact that what many people say is a weakness? Herman Cain has never held political office. Herman Cain has never worked in Washington. Herman Cain might not understand how to work the Congress or how to be the commander in chief.

Is what many say is a weakness, is that actually your strength? Some people want to send someone to Washington who would essentially be a bull in the china shop?

CAIN: This is what the American people are telling me. Whenever I'm out speaking, and I mention the fact that one of the big criticisms against me by the establishment is that I have never held high political office, John, I get a spontaneous applause every time.

But here's the other thing. It is the -- relative to my message. It is the specifics of my message. It is the substance of my message and it is the simplicity of my message that has a lot of people excited. And so this is what I believe is causing a lot of the people to connect with me, because of those three aspects of my message, not just relative to what I would do to fix the economy, but also relative to the other issues that we face.

KING: Part of the simplicity of your message is that: I'm an outsider. I'm not a politician.

Some people might not be aware, though, you have been quite active in public life, not elective office, but you were on the Federal Reserve Board in Kansas City there. You were an economic adviser to Bob Dole and Jack Kemp back in 1996. You ran for president very briefly in 2000, ended up co-chairing the Steve Forbes campaign for president. You ran for Senate in the state of Georgia.

So is it fair to say that you're not a Washington insider, but you're not exactly a political outsider? CAIN: I am not a Washington insider, and I'm not a politician, even though I have helped other politicians relative to their campaigns.

I have been a businessman for over 40 years. So my part-time activities helping other candidates does not make me a politician. I ran for the United States Senate in 2004, and I came in an impressive second. And so I did not know what that was going to lead to.

So I consider myself not only a Washington outsider, but also a non-politician, because even though I have helped people, I have not held high elected office.

KING: What is your relationship with the Koch brothers?

There have been some reports in recent weeks that you have a close relationship with these brothers who many Americans might not recognize the name, but they have funneled millions of dollars into conservative causes. They are part of bankrolling, now that the Citizens United case has passed, and there are less restrictions, fewer restrictions on campaign finance and disclosures.

Do you have a relationship with the Koch brothers?

CAIN: I know the Koch brothers.

The Koch brothers helped to start an organization called Americans For Prosperity. And I did some speaking when they were starting that organization. And I'm very proud of the relationship that I have with the Koch brothers, as well as Americans For Prosperity.

I have also attended some of their seminars and have found them very informative. So I don't have a close relationship, but I know them and I respect them. And they know me and they respect me.

KING: One of your comments over the weekend that drew attention from one of your rivals, former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, you said when it comes to same-sex marriage, you think -- as you just addressed on the immigration issue, you think this should be dealt with on a state basis.

Senator Santorum says this: "The idea that this is an issue that should be left to the states is the position Barack Obama takes. And it is not the right position. There needs to be a uniform definition of marriage in this country."

You disagree with Senator Santorum on that?

CAIN: Well, that's a point of difference.

Look, I believe in traditional marriage and I believe in the Defense of Marriage Act. The Defense of Marriage Act, I might point out to Senator Santorum, basically already gives that responsibility to the states in one way, from the perspective that if one state recognizes same-sex marriage, the Defense of Marriage Act that was passed in 1996 and signed by Bill Clinton says that another state does not have to recognize it.

So I don't see how that's such a big leap from saying that the decision ought to be at the state level, when in fact we already have laws to protect states from having to recognize a decision that another state may have made relative to that particular issue.

KING: Let me ask you a couple of questions about how Herman Cain would approach the job of commander in chief. There was a front-page story in "The Washington Post" today about U.S. troops in Afghanistan increasingly facing shelling coming from the Pakistan side of the border, mortars being fired across the border, other weapons being fired across the border.

What would a President Cain do if U.S. troops in Afghanistan were being shelled from a country that is nominally an ally, Pakistan?

CAIN: Well, John, let's back up first, because, first of all, I wouldn't have allowed the situation to get to where it is.

This president first approved the surge a little over a year ago. And then he then de-surges the whole move, and then he tells the enemy. That's the problem. I wouldn't have hesitated to basically say yes to the surge if my commanders on the ground thought it was the right thing to do.

The surge was working. But then this president decided, almost against the will of his commanders, to basically announce how many troops he's going to bring home for political reasons. And so I believe that that decision has made our men and women in uniform more vulnerable.

Regardless of where the attacks or the shelling may be coming from, let's go back to he's made the wrong decision of pulling the troops out and then letting the enemy know exactly what we're going to do and when.

I also don't agree with him doing the same thing in Iraq. You don't telegraph what your moves are going to be when you're involved in a war. No. That, I don't believe, is good common sense when it comes to making decisions that will impact the lives of our men and women in uniform.

KING: But if this were happening in a Cain administration, would President Cain give the colonel or the general on the ground the authority to retaliate, to fire back across the Pakistani border? Would you order a drone strike across the Pakistani border, if you could prove you had no doubt that attacks on your men, your men were coming from across that border?

CAIN: I would give the order to fight back and to fire back, yes, without hesitating. If in fact the commanders felt like they had the information to basically substantiate it, I wouldn't hesitate to give them the authority to defend themselves and to fight back.

KING: Mr. Cain, thank you for your time tonight. We will see you when you get here to Vegas. CAIN: Look forward to it, John. Thank you.


KING: Rare praise from Rush Limbaugh who says we have caught the president and the attorney general in a contradiction, maybe more when it document what they knew and when they knew about it the so-called Fast and Furious gun trafficking scandal. Is it that black and white?

Well, that's tonight's "Truth" next when we return to our live coverage here in Las Vegas, site of tomorrow night's big Republican presidential debate right here on CNN.


KING: To hear Rush Limbaugh, we here at JOHN KING, USA have caught the attorney general in a lie or at least a non-truth when it comes to his knowledge of the controversial gun trafficking program Fast and Furious.


LIMBAUGH: John King is calling attention to a huge contradiction. How did the president know about this in March and how did the president know the attorney general knew nothing about this in March when the attorney general says in May he just learned about it a couple weeks ago?


KING: Now, that praise was based on our raising this important question last week. How did the president know this with such clarity in March?


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I heard on the news about this story that -- Fast and Furious, where allegedly guns were being run into Mexico, and ATF knew about it, but didn't apprehend those who had sent it.

Eric Holder has -- the attorney general has been very clear that he knew nothing about this. We had assigned an I.G., inspector general, to investigate it.


KING: If the president is right there and the attorney general was so very clear, then why six weeks later was he so less clear in this testimony to Congress?


REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: When did you first know about the program officially I believe called Fast and Furious? To the best of your knowledge, what date? ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I'm not sure of the exact date, but I probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks.


KING: To Republicans, that is proof the attorney general has something to hide, or at least isn't being completely forthcoming.

Well, here tonight's "Truth." While we're always appreciative of kind words, the facts do not support the black-and-white, right-and- wrong view of Mr. Limbaugh and other conservatives who see a flat-out contradiction.

The public record shows it was Holder himself who ordered his department's inspector general to investigate Fast and Furious. Again, that was in March. So he clearly knew about the controversy then. What is curious is why he was then so vague when he told Congress he learned, as you just heard -- quote -- "a few weeks ago."

Holder knows better. He is an experienced attorney and an experienced political appointee, a veteran of the Clinton administration who knows all too well the perils of giving vague answers to a new Republican majority determined to challenge the Democratic administration with aggressive oversight.

He has 117,000 employees working for him and he knew what Chairman Issa and the other Republicans wanted to know. So he should have had a detailed chronology of how the Fast and Furious controversy came to his attention. Now he has since tried to satisfy the committee with a very detailed letter.

But the Republicans want to see him in person. They want him to testify again. Well, here's betting he has a much more detailed recollection when he does.

Until then, Republicans can rightly say they have questions and can rightly say the attorney general in that testimony you just heard could have been and should have been more precise. But the truth is, it's a stretch and a huge stretch to say anything beyond that.

Up next, the deadly crash in Las Vegas that took the life of young Indy racing star Dan Wheldon. We now know that some drivers were anxious, anxious before the crash. We will find out why. Jamie Little, the ABC and ESPN reporter, she was right there in the pit as this played out. She joins us live after the break.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, here we go.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Huge crash. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, multiple cars involved.


KING: Tonight, that horrible fiery crash that killed two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon continues to send shockwaves through the racing community and its fans.

Yet, before the race even started, drivers were questioning the track's safety. Driver Dario Franchitti, for example, told ABC News the track offered -- quote -- "nowhere to get away from anybody."

So will this tragic death of a champion like Dan Wheldon now bring safety changes to the high-risk, high-reward sport of Indy racing? And what impact will his death have on the racing community as a whole?

Joining us now at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the site of yesterday's tragic crash, is ESPN and ABC IndyCar Series reporter Jamie Little.

Jamie, thank you for your time on this horrible day.

You were right there in the pit as all this played out. Just take us back and tell us what you saw.


And I have to say, I cover about 43 races a year between IndyCar and NASCAR, and it was the worst day I have ever had on the job. I went to the in-field medical center. And as you saw, 15 cars, so there were 15 drivers that they were trying to get to. And 14 of them were coming in and out of the medical center.

And, of course, we got news late on Dan Wheldon's condition. We had to go to the hospital, UMC here in Las Vegas, and report on that and see his family, see them being notified. It was just -- it was an awful scene here, which was supposed to be a great day, a great celebration of a champion in Dario Franchitti.

And, of course, Dan Wheldon had $5 million on the line. He was starting from the back, and he wanted to prove he could make it all the way to the front and take home the win.

KING: And he was starting in the back and wanted to make it all the way to the front. That was a special incentive added to this race. Do you think that after this tragedy, after a few days and a few weeks pass, and people assess, all these drivers know it's high risk. They also know it's high reward. Will there be an assessment or do we really want to do something like that again?

LITTLE: I don't know if they'll look at that so much. Because in all reality every driver just wants to win, no matter what. It's not about the money. You put 5 million bucks there. That was really just to put people in the stands, to you know, promote the sport, and Dan Wheldon was the perfect pitchman for that. And we got a lot of attention for the Indy car series for that reason.

I don't know if that's so much. They'll just be looking at the track conditions and look at maybe limiting the number of cars in a field. We had 34 cars in the field. That's larger than the biggest race of the year at the Indianapolis 500. So that was a concern.

And also, you have to keep in mind, the last time these guys raced here was back in 2000. This track has since been repaved with banking added. And that allowed them to go three wide flat at 220 miles an hour.

KING: Three wide flat, 220 miles an hour. You've covered this race for a long time. I want you to listen here, because you know Dan Wheldon. This is an interview he had here on CNN the morning after won the Indy 500 back in May. Let's listen.


DAN WHELDON, RACECAR DRIVER: It's incredibly intense around this race track. We're doing speeds in excess of 225 miles an hour. And with this race, you just never know what can happen. So it's about staying focused. And you really don't ever let off the power unless you have to. And, you know, that's what I wanted to do yesterday. And that's what I did. And fortunately, I was able to drink milk in Victory Lane.


KING: That's the day after the Indy 500 victory.

Jamie, you knew Dan Wheldon. You hear him talking there about you don't let off the power unless you have to. And the thrill of the victory there. Tell us about this man.

LITTLE: It's hard to hear him talk there, to be honest. He's a great human being. And that's what I'm trying to convey to people. He wasn't just a great race car driver. One of the best that we've seen. Two-time Indy 500 champion. He was a great person; he was a lot of fun. Everybody loved his infectious smile. He just loved his job, and he loved this series. And he was looking to come back perhaps full time next year.

But you hear those words there. He went flat out, didn't want to lift. That was his style. He was a true champion. But he was very smart about the way he raced, and there was nothing he could have done yesterday.

KING: And Jamie let me ask you lastly. Obviously, as we mourn the passing of Dan Wheldon, you spent some time at the hospital. In terms of the additional injuries and the like, what can you tell us?

LITTLE: As far as other drivers are concerned?

KING: Yes.

LITTLE: Yes. J.R. Hildebrand, he was involved in that. He had the pink car that was completely destroyed. They believe that he had -- maybe perhaps had a concussion. They took him to UMC. He was treated overnight and he was released today. He's OK.

Pippa Mann, the fourth woman running in the field had a severe burn on her right pinky finger. She had surgery. Held overnight. She, too, has been released.

And Will Power, who was going for the championship alongside Dario Franchitti, complained of back pain. He's a guy who broke his back two years ago. The good news is he was checked and released yesterday.

Jamie Little of ESPN and ABC, we appreciate your help and your reporting on this tragic day in the Indy sports. Dan Wheldon died in that horrific crash. Jamie, so much -- thank you so much for your help.

Ahead here when we return, a major agreement between the Federal Communications Commission and the wireless carriers may mean big savings for you if you have a cell phone.

And commander-in-chief or campaigner in chief? We take a closer look at the travels of President Obama on your dime. That's next.


KING: Welcome back. If you're just joining us, here's the latest news you need to know right now.

Stocks tumbled as a new trading week opened on Wall Street. The Dow Jones dropped 247 points on renewed fears that European leaders won't solve that confidence debt crisis any time soon.

A major agreement between the Federal Communications Commission and wireless carriers may mean big savings for consumers. Carriers will alert customers when they're nearing their monthly limits for voice, data and text messages. That way consumers can try to avoid the extra charges on their monthly bills.

And the Pentagon insists that talks with Iraq overcoming troop productions have not hit a snag. Officials say those talks are ongoing. The U.S. plans to draw down all troops by the end of this year. But if some troops are needed past that deadline, well, an agreement will have to be negotiated.

That brings us to tonight's number, which is 6, the number of electoral votes here in the state of Nevada. That's up from five electoral votes in 2004 and 2008, up from four back in 1992. Why that increase? Well, Nevada had the largest percentage growth in population over the past decade, shooting up about 35 percent.

This state is a swing state. In 2008, well, it was Obama blue. But go back in time, 2004, Bush, red; 2000, Bush, red. The reason it's a swing state again into 2012? Well, the economy. This state has the highest unemployment rate among the states. It was 13.4 percent back in August. It also has a huge housing problem. The highest foreclosure rates in the country. One in every 118 housing units here in Nevada received a foreclosure filing.

So President Obama carried it in 2008. Now looks very tough to win in 2012. And if it tips back to red, one additional electoral vote. That's why -- that's why it is such a big battleground. That's why the Republican candidates will be here for our big debate here tomorrow night.

Just a few minutes away from the top of the hour. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" coming up then, and Erin is here with a preview.

Erin, you interviewed the NBA commissioner, David Stern. I'm a Celtics and a Wizards fan. When I am a going to a game?

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: How about this? I think you might be able to go to a game around Thanksgiving. At least that's what the commissioner hopes. We talked to the players' union, as well, today. But you'll get to hear what David Stern has to say about reaching a deal with the likes of Lebron James and Carmelo Anthony. That's coming up on "OUTFRONT," John.

Also, you talk about the state of Nevada, the problems there. Unemployment, housing prices plunging. We're going to talk about the big idea, and I know you've been focusing on Ron Paul's plan out there, Herman Cain's. What are some big world-changing or America- changing ideas right now? We're going to be talking about that coming up on "OUTFRONT."

And by the way, it looks warm and lovely out there, and I will look forward to sitting next to you tomorrow when we come out, John. Back to you.

KING: I'll have something cold and wet waiting for you, Erin. We'll see you tomorrow.

BURNETT: All right.

KING: And coming up here, Herman Cain like you've never seen him before.

But first, the president's official travel happens to include a lot of swing states. Is that a problem? That story next.


KING: Live pictures here. The gondolas at the Venetian Hotel in beautiful sunny Las Vegas. The site tomorrow night for our CNN Republican presidential debate. A great state and a great day to talk politics.

I'm lucky to be joined by Congresswoman Diana DeGette. She's a Democrat from Colorado. John Ralston of "The Las Vegas Sun," a columnist and the host of "Face to Face with John Ralston," a great political program here in the state. And the Nevada Republican Party chairwoman Amy Tarkanian. Welcome. Thanks for the nice weather, Madame Chairwoman. Appreciate it. Let's talk -- let's talk Democrats first. This is a big swing state. The president carried it. We'll see what happens in 2012. But the president is out on the road today from the other end of the country. He's in North Carolina. I want you to listen to this. This is official travel now. This is being paid for by the taxpayers. But there is no question the president is testing some themes.

And he's speaking today in North Carolina. He's trying to get your Republican House to listen to him. I know you're a Democrat. He's trying to get the Republican House to listen to him. Somebody in the crowd chants "four more years," and the president says this.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I appreciate the four more years. But right now I'm thinking about the next 13 months. Because -- yes, we've got an election coming up. But that election is a long ways away and a lot of folks can't wait. A lot of folks are living paycheck to paycheck. A lot of folks are living week to week.


KING: In North Carolina and Virginia, but if the president were out here in the west, I think he'd be looking at the same kind of challenge. That states that were very friendly to him last time are much more difficult this time. How's he going to fix this?

REP. DIANA DEGETTE (D), COLORADO: Well, he was just in my district a couple weeks ago. He said almost the exact same thing. What we need to do is have cooperation in Congress about passing a jobs bill. And -- and we're frustrated, because everybody wants to talk about the elections, which are a long ways away. But...

KING: Is it just the economic numbers, Congresswoman? Or is he somehow failing to break through? We have a new poll out tonight. Will the president's policies fail? A tough question to ask. But when down -- when you're in a slump like this, you're asked this question. Fifty-nine percent of Americans now think they will fail. 2010, 47 percent. Back in 2009, only one in three Americans thought that. Why don't people looking at the president, and they're in a funk?

DEGETTE: Well, I think the reason people think his policies are going to fail is they realize that the Tea Party has taken over the U.S. House of Representatives. They won't work with us to try to pass a jobs plan. They won't work with us to try to pass policies. They're spending all of their time trying to get environmental laws. Last week we had another vote on abortion. So they're distracted. They're not talking about jobs.

And I think the American public as this -- as this fall goes on, they're going to realize that the president is trying to do something to create jobs. But you need -- you need two to tango. You need the Republicans to work with you.

KING: Madame Chairwoman, you're the Republican chair here. This state has the highest unemployment in the country. It has a devastating, horrible housing crisis. Would you tell John Boehner, figure something out with the president in the short term? Or do you prefer that this just spill over into the next election?

AMY TARKANIAN, NEVADA REPUBLICAN PARTY CHAIRWOMAN: Well, you know, I have to sit in the room and actually hear what he would have to say before I would say that. It would be nice to come out with some type of compromise. Like you said, we are one of the highest here in the nation. We also have the highest foreclosure rate in the nation. We're hurting. And we do need results. We don't need rhetoric.

KING: In your sense of the economic argument here, John, in this state now, why has the president -- I want to ask this question. Has the president lost leverage with those who supported him?

JOHN RALSTON, COLUMNIST/HOST: I think the poll numbers that you just read, John, they're illustrative of what's going on. I think too many people who supported him aren't listening anymore. They've given up here in this state. We've got close to 15 percent unemployment. Take down just a couple points now, as Chairwoman Tarkanian said. Sixty percent of the people here are underwater on their homes. They're looking for answers. I don't even think it's that partisan any more. But they're so angry.

And the president, as you mentioned, won here by 12 points. It was stunning in 2008. His numbers are now upside down. The Democrats here drag Harry Reid to victory in 2010. The question is, can they do the same thing here in 2012?

KING: And everything is political now. The president is out today. And again, he said this is official travel. He's in Virginia and North Carolina. These are states he's targeting. But that's the way it goes. Every president does this. You've known of places like this.

But John McCain, his opponent in 2008, sees the president on the road and says the taxpayers are paying for this and John McCain says maybe they shouldn't.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: The president made these remarks on a taxpayer-paid-for, riding in a Canadian bus visit for the next three days.


KING: Now, if you look at a map, Congresswoman, Michigan, New York, California, Texas, Florida, Colorado, Washington, Ohio, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Minnesota, Virginia. That's where the president has taken official travel in the last three months. That's, I think, right from the top. Take Texas off that list, those are his targets for 2012, aren't they?

DEGETTE: Well, some of them might be targets. Some of them might not be targets. It's kind of hard to argue that, when the president is going around the country arguing for his jobs plan, taking it to states where there are a lot of Republicans who -- who might actually be persuaded to vote for this bill. It's kind of hard to argue that that's not part of his job.

His job is to work with Congress to try to pass a jobs plan. And that's what he's trying to do.

KING: And Republicans are criticizing him now, but I could go back and find the calendar from 2003. You would agree, George W. Bush would do the same exact thing, right? That's the power of incumbency?

TARKANIAN: Well, you know, I have an argument on that, actually. I think if you're going to run for the office, you should probably run on your own merit and your own funds. That's just my personal belief. Of course, it's OK for the taxpayers to pay for when he's on the job, so to speak, but I don't believe that it's any more correct or more fair than, say, Mitt Romney or Ron Paul who are not able to use those same funds.

KING: Is that an issue that breaks through with voters at all?

RALSTON: Well, I mean, John McCain tried to get it all in there. Didn't he take a Canadian bus, too? I mean, that's just John McCain. When he was a senator running for the presidency, he wasn't doing political things on the taxpayer dime.

I mean, listen, I just think that people are angry, John, and the problem is, is that the president is a Democrat. And he made all these promises, unfortunately, for him. After he got elected, the stimulus was going to do this, bring out unemployment under a certain rate, and it hasn't done that. Now, there may be other reasons for that, and the Republicans certainly have tried to thwart him, but they're angry, and his numbers are showing that.

KING: His numbers are showing that, which is the reason the states are so important for a big Republican presidential debate here in Las Vegas tomorrow night.

When we come back, we'll talk about the stakes for the Republican candidates, and you'll hear Herman Cain singing his heart out about pizza.


HERMAN CAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (singing): I couldn't if I tried, eating only tacos or Kentucky Fried.



KING: We're back live in Las Vegas. The big Republican debate here tomorrow night. Let's talk Republican politics.

The Democratic congresswoman, Diana DeGette of Colorado, is with us. Also, the Nevada Republican Party chairwoman, Amy Tarkanian. John Ralston of "The Las Vegas Sun" also is the host of "Face to Face with John Ralston" here.

We have a new poll out today that confirms the Herman Cain boom, if you will. Nationally, Mitt Romney, 26 percent; Herman Cain, 25 percent; Rick Perry, 13 percent, nationally.

Herman Cain is getting a lot of attention, but when you rise in the polls, you get scrutiny. Over the weekend, he said in Tennessee, if he's president, "I'll build a fence across the border. We'll electrocute it, and if you try to sneak into the country, you'll be killed." Then he said he was joking.

I talked to him a bit earlier, and I asked him if that was insensitive, especially for somebody who wants to be the next president. He said this.


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


KING: Madame Chairwoman, as you try to bring the Latino votes -- one in four voters her in your state -- into your column, do you need Republican candidates for president going around, whether they're joking or not, saying we're going to build a fence and electrocute people.

TARKANIAN: I'm definitely not going to defend that statement. But I do know that a number of the Hispanics in this community that did it the right way, the legal way, I know they disagree with the Hispanics that are coming across the borders illegally.

KING: But as a presidential candidate, John, as he tries to impress the voters here, when you grow as a candidate -- you went through this in the Harry Reid-Sharron Angle race. She takes off. She's a nonpolitician. Sometimes what goes up does come down. Can Herman Cain last?

RALSTON: Well, didn't he also propose moats with alligators in them, too? I mean, he's creative at least.

The thing is, the people -- he's the flavor of the month in this race, as you know. What happened to Perry, Perry's been endorsed by a Republican governor here, and he's gone nowhere in this state and elsewhere.

Listen, the Hispanic vote here, as you mentioned, is critical. Obama, when he won by 12 points, won the Hispanic vote, 70-20. But now that's changed. Right? So the Democrats even as we sit here are having this project in the west. That's why the congresswoman's here. They're trying to reenergize the Hispanic vote here. They need that. Amy Tarkanian and her folks are trying to cut into that. KING: And it's not just the Latino vote, the Hispanic vote. In that same poll I just mentioned, we see Herman Cain's rise. How about this, extremely or very enthusiastic. Are you extremely or very enthusiastic about voting in the next election? Sixty-four percent of Republicans say they're very enthusiastic or extremely enthusiastic. Only 43 percent of Democrats say that.

That enthusiasm gap, Obama benefited in 2008. The Republicans benefited in 2010. It seems the Republicans at the moment still have it as we head into 2012.

DEGETTE: Let me tell you this, John, I think once we get a Republican candidate and the voters see what they stand for, you know, flip little jokes about electric fences instead of a comprehensive immigration policy, attacking -- attacking the president for what kind of bus he takes instead of making a jobs proposal. Once the voters see one Republican candidate, they're going to get a lot more enthusiastic about re-electing the president.

KING: As a western Democrat, Colorado is your state. Obama won it, and it's been a red state in the past. New Mexico is in play, Nevada is in play, maybe Arizona is in play. Who do you worry about the most on the Republican side? Who do you think would be the strongest Republican candidate in the west?

DEGETTE: I think all of these Republican candidates are flawed. I've been thinking about it. They all -- they're not talking about the key issues that voters in Colorado and the rest of the west want to talk about.

Clean, new energy. Energy issues are going to be very big. And the Republican leadership has no energy policy, other than drill, baby, drill, which is not a policy that westerners care about.

Jobs. There's no -- there's no real proposal on the part of the Republicans for what we're going to do to create jobs. So I think the west is very much still in play.

KING: I don't know if you're going to tell me the strongest Republican candidate, but are they addressing these issues that the congresswoman talks about in a satisfactory way to you, the particular issue of the west?

TARKANIAN: Sure. Well, getting back to the Hispanic issue first, I do believe that Democrats did a very good job last go-around about reaching out to that specific community, and that's something that we have taken note of that we're working hard on this go-around. I think once they realize that they've been duped and that they have the same morals and values as Republicans, they're going to come around.

KING: John, does any one of these Republicans seem strongest out here right now or is it too soon to say?

RALSTON: Well, in Nevada, Romney seems strongest, because he's the only one with an organization. But I can see him being challenged. Ron Paul has a fervent following out here. And Perry, as I mentioned, was endorsed by our governor. The governor were to bring his political machine to bear, I think he would have a chance. This state is really in play. Democrats can't take it for granted.

KING: We'll watch it play. Madame Chairwoman, John, Congresswoman, thank you so much for your help. We'll see you right back here live tomorrow night. Don't forget our debate.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now. Hi, Erin.