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Mitt Romney Leads in Early Primary State Polls; Rick Perry Criticizes GOP Debate Formats

Aired October 26, 2011 - 18:00   ET



MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not speaking about the particular ballot issues. Those are up to the people of Ohio.


JOHN KING, CNN HOST, "JOHN KING USA": Here's the problem -- on his Facebook page just back in June Romney in this posting called the referendum critical both to limit the power of union bosses and to keep taxes low. Governor Rick Perry among those of the Romney rivals to quickly seize on this retreat. And then today from Governor Romney, to be polite, a clarification.


ROMNEY: I'm sorry if I created any confusion in that regard. I fully support Governor Kasich's, I think it's called question two in Ohio.


KING: Now, Governor Romney said it was all a misunderstanding, that he didn't want to take sides on other Ohio ballot questions, including one on health care. Perhaps. But the truth is the candidate who's rap is that he's a flip-flopper should have been more careful. His critics suggest Romney was noncommittal on the anti- union measure not because he was confused, but because polls now show a majority of Ohioans oppose the measure, and Ohio will be a critical fall 2012 battleground. To those critics, it was a change born of political expediency on par with Romney's explanation of why he fired for lawn care company.


ROMNEY: I'm running for office, for Pete's sake. I can't have illegals.


KING: Now, Romney's advantage in this race is real, very real. But so are the risks. Ohio Democrats taunted Governor Romney today, suggesting he lacked the courage to tell them to their face, to express his support for anti-union measure while he was right there on Monday. Is that fair? Maybe not. but we have already seen what has happens to candidates who are perceived to lack courage.


TIM PAWLENTY, (R) FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: President Obama said that he designed Obamacare after Romneycare and basically made it Obam-ney-care.


KING: At a debate the very next night, though, Governor Pawlenty repeatedly passed up opportunities to repeat and explain the phrase.


PAWLENTY: Let me first say to Silvia, she has put her finger on one of the most important issues facing the country.

KING: The question, governor, was why Obam-ney-care.

PAWLENTY: That's right. I'm going to get to that, John.

KING: You have 30 seconds, governor.

PAWLENTY: So this is another example of him breaking his practice, and he has to be held accountable.

KING: Why would you choose those words in the comfort of the Sunday show studio. Your rival is standing right there. If it was Obam-ney-care on FOX News Sunday, why is it not Obam-ney-care standing here with the governor right there.


KING: We also know what happens if the flip-flop label becomes chronic.


SEN. JOHN KERRY, (D) MASSACHUSETTS: I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it.


KING: Let's dig deeper on the new numbers and the challenge facing Governor Romney with CNN contributors Mary Matalin and Ron Brownstein, also "TIME" magazine's deputy Washington bureau chief Michael Crowley with us tonight.

Mary, we want to dig deep on the numbers in a minute because they tell us about your party and the race. But first on this narrative, there's no question that governor Romney leading in the first four states and he has the finances and he has the organizations. He could, emphasis on could lock it up in 100 days. But the TV ad spending is just beginning. We know this will be the point of it. How vulnerable he is on this idea that he lacks a core and he's a man of political expediency and not core convictions? MARY MATALIN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, if you look even to these polls, the dynamic hasn't changed in that. There's still some 75 percent that are for the non-Romney candidate. He has not consolidated any of the anti-Romney vote. And the core of your concern is what you just raised. What is his core? And he tried various things. I was a red governor in a blue state or I wouldn't do it in your state, or whatever his arguments are, he is somehow not convincing that 75 percent which is against him.

And also in all of these polls that CNN has out today, they're still three to one people are undecided. Although this looks good for Governor Romney, I would be asking myself if Perry is in such bad shape, why is he still lining up people in states, not only these states but subsequent states? Why am I not getting beyond my 25 percent ceiling? This is still a hugely volatile electorate.

KING: Excellent questions Mary raises, gentlemen. Let's focus on the particular issues. We know Iowa, for example, state number one. We don't know how hard Romney plays there. He will eventually have to come out of New Hampshire and go to South Carolina. Evangelical voters important in both states. One of the key issues for them is why did he change his position on abortion. Here's Governor Romney debating the late Senator Edward Kennedy. This is back in 1994 when Romney was the Republican nominee against Democrat Kennedy. The question is abortion.


ROMNEY: I believe that since Roe v. Wade has been the law for 20 years, we should sustain and support it. And I sustain and support that law and the right of a woman to make that choice.


KING: Now, that was then. This is now.


ROMNEY: I believe people understand that I'm firmly prolife. I will support justices who believe in following the constitution and not legislating from the bench.


MATALIN: There's no question his rivals think this is the vulnerability. Listen here. this is Governor Rick Perry on "THE O'REILLY FACTOR" last night going right after whether Romney has a core.


RICK PERRY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: How do you change at the age of 50 or 60, positions on life, positions on guns, positions on traditional marriage? I mean, those aren't minor issues, Bill. So, to change those at age of 50 or 60 tells you all you need to know about that. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: By "all you need to know," Michael, he says political expediency. And Governor Perry is trailing in the polls and we'll show you that in the numbers in a second. He's got a lot of money. I suspect his first ad was positive. That's what we're about to see on television.

MICHAEL CROWLEY, DEPUTY WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "TIME" MAGAZINE: I think you're right. And everyone remembers when he tried to make the case he just made and he couldn't get a sentence out straight, it was kind of embarrassing. The case there is pretty easy to make. In that case he was articulating it pretty well and his ads will articulate it very well. He escaped this line of attack in his campaign so far, but it's coming. And I really think that's a vulnerability for him.

KING: It's coming, Ron. And in some ways when you talk to them, they seem to have this perception, well, it has been litigated. He went through this in the 2008 campaign and therefore it won't have as much of an impact this time.

RON BROWNSTEIN, POLITICAL DIRECTOR, NATIONAL JOURNAL: No, it could have an impact. But I think one thing that is clear in these polls -- I disagree with what Mary was saying is that the party is segmented and the more religious part of the party that continue to show a lot of resistance to Romney but fragmenting on who they are coming behind. Cain is doing best among them but not consolidating them.

Among voters who do not consider themselves born again Christians or do not consider themselves voters of the Tea Party, Romney is actually making steady progress. He leads in both of those categories in all four states. And I think those voters are probably less likely to be moved by the kind of ideological argument that Rick Perry and others may like.

KING: Let's dig deeper on the point that Ron is making. Let's go state by state and show you the advantage that Romney has at the moment. Iowa votes first, and 69 nights from tonight we'll be waiting for the caucus reports. There you have it, Romney 24, Cain 21, so a statistical tie. It's difficult to poll in a caucus state. Romney is on top, but it's close. Interesting, though, Ron Paul third and Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry just cracking double digits.

Let's move New Hampshire, that's a big Romney state. The former Massachusetts governor, he owns a vacation home in New Hampshire, look at that, he's the runaway leader. It's hard to take that one away, but Iowa could impact the Florida polls.

Now we go to South Carolina. This is a fascinating test here. Romney went off the rails in this state last time. He leads right now, 25 percent. But Herman Cain the surprising conservative challenger, neck and neck. That's a statistical tie right there. Florida looks like something like New Hampshire, more of a traditional Republican Party there. Romney with a big lead. But I want to walk over there to reinforce the point that Ron Brownstein just made about the split in the party. This is the first election for Republicans since we've seen since the election of the Tea Party. Just look at this, traditional evangelical voters. Many of them can be Tea Party voters, but among evangelicals, born again Christians, Herman Cain has the lead. Romney, though, holding his own, ahead of Rick Perry, at the moment. If you're Rick Perry, that's a warning sign to you.

But Ron's point was among those who do not consider themselves born again Christians, that's his advantage in that state. I just want to bring up South Carolina to reinforce the point. Among born again Christians, Herman Cain, the surprising leader. And, again, for Rick Perry, that's a bad number. Those who are not consider themselves born again Christians. Look at that. Mitt Romney leads.

You have, some of it is a religious divide within the party and some is a class divide within the party, but at the moment, at the moment, Mary, let me go to you. If you're looking at a primary race, why can't Romney go up? What does he need to do or can he do anything? Does he have to hope three or four people from his right stay in at least through three states?

MATALIN: To the extent that he is making end roads in those groups and I do not want to put all the Tea Party people into Christian or evangelical or Christian or any kind of faith-based voting bloc. They're much bigger than that and even bigger than the Tea Party. They're about a set of principles. And that's why he hasn't consolidated them yet because he hasn't demonstrated fidelity to those issues.

But he, why he is gaining any strength is because he is carrying the banner of inevitability. And that is a two-edge sword. If you're the inevitable candidate as Mrs. Clinton saw in the last race, then you have to win everywhere. You just can't make a show in Iowa. You have to do better, you have to wipe out in New Hampshire because he's been living there for six years and literally lives there. And he's got to do. If he wins in South Carolina, then this firewall starts in Florida.

But one thing, what do we know, John and boys? Iowa matters more than we ever think it is going to matter. It really impacts the subsequent races in ways that none of have predicted very well in the last couple of cycles.

KING: That's an excellent point, boys, as Mary calls you. I call you gentlemen, but Mary calls you boys, but that's OK. We're all friends here. These polls are an important snapshot tonight. Iowa votes in 69 nights. This is coming quicker than we think. However, whatever happens in Iowa, forget the other state polls after that.

CROWLEY: The presidential primaries are like billiards. Each shot changes every subsequent shot in the games. Once voters are voting, all of this can change very rapidly.

But having said that, there are patterns developing. You saw Mitt Romney at 19 percent among evangelicals in all three states, actually, that we had enough to poll Florida, Iowa, South Carolina. That's almost exactly what he got last time in 2008.

What is happening, where I disagree with Mary, I think for that more moderate, more secular, more economically focused part of the party, Romney is more than inevitable, he's a reasonable choice. He's beginning to consolidate that side of the party and the others can't let him continue to kind of grow on that side while they're dividing the more conservative side.

BROWNSTEIN: There is an exception to the rule that Iowa influences subsequent primaries, which is, for instance, Mike Huckabee on the Republican side last time won Iowa, a lot of attention and sensation around here. He didn't really go anywhere. Barack Obama seemed to have changed that dynamic. However, Hillary Clinton was able to hold him off in New Hampshire after we all pronounced her dead in that state.

One other thing I would add is the Clinton parallel is very interesting. Mitt Romney is running a very disciplined campaign and he's been excellent in debates. This moment he had today is a little bit of Hillary and the driver's licenses. If you show that one moment of weakness, you can have these crystalizing moments and then it becomes a character issue for Mitt Romney. So he's got to be careful of a character-based attack. People just don't think these real.

KING: Isn't the key question, Mary, whether the part of the party that is resistant to him behind one candidate, and to the extent part of the party that is open to him is coalescing behind him.

MATALIN: Let me answer that in a different way, but it comes with the same point. The enthusiasm gap for -- how can I say this? The anti-Obama enthusiasm is greater than the lack of enthusiasm for Romney. So yes, everyone will coalesce around him.

And going to your earlier point, John, what can he do? Instead of being so in the box, fidelity to the first principles, and not a 59-point plan, we want something bold, serious and we can understand the flat tax. And the evidence of wanting something like that, it has been out for two days and these polls or other polls, it has three times as great of support as the nine-nine-nine plan. So what Romney can do to consolidate the cohort you're talking about, to do something, run on that so he has a mandate to make bold tax reform and regulatory reform when he gets elected.

KING: And Mary, isn't that part of his problem? He eviscerated the flat tax back in 1996 when he was in Massachusetts. He called it the fat cat tax. So, if he embraces it now, doesn't that feed into the narrative of everybody else, what do you stand for?

MATALIN: Well, he's clearly demonstrated his flexibility. So, he's been, you know, the times have changed and we need tax reform more than we ever had before. This is a message race, not a candidate contest, and the guy who does the message the right way is going to beat Obama. CROWLEY: Real quick, it remains to be seen whether the flat tax can sell in 2012. Certainly the party has changed, the environment has changed. But by the end of 1996, if you were looking at polling, it was a negative for Steve Forbes. Perry tried to put out flat tax 2.0 to respond to the questions raised about Forbes plan in '96. But it still means a very big tax cut for people that top and a huge loss of revenue, $900 billion a year when fully phased in, and that may be a lot to swallow even for Republican primary voters concerned about the deficit.

BROWNSTEIN: And even if it is exciting for Republican primary voters, it's not going to play well in the center. One thing we haven't mentioned Mitt Romney's weapon is electability. He's consistently polling higher in head to head contests against Obama, certainly against someone like Herman Cain. I think you'll see him making that argument more explicitly. And just as Democrats were not that excited about John Kerry versus a more satisfying and exciting Howard Dean in 2004, you could see them winding up with a guy that they think can win.

KING: Democrats sometimes accept the electability. I'm waiting to see if they can sort ideology, electability. That's why we're here. It's a fascinating race. Mary, Ron, Michael, thanks for coming in.

Rick Perry now says it may have been a mistake to take part in the Republican debates. So here's the question we will answer next -- will he start dodging them now?


KING: Rick Perry's campaign today began its effort to turn those disappointing Iowa poll numbers around, becoming the first to launch paid television advertising.


RICK PERRY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As president, I will create at least 2.5 million new jobs. And I know something about that. In Texas we created over 1 million new jobs while the rest of the nation lost over 2 million.


KING: You listen to the candidate himself, he thinks the reason he fell from at or near the top of the polls now down to the middle of the pack was by agreeing to participate in the debates.


PERRY: These debates are set up for nothing more than to tear down the candidates. It's pretty hard to be able to sit and lay out your ideas and your concepts with a one-minute response. So, if there was a mistake made, it was probably ever doing one of the campaigns when all their in trusted in is stirring it up between the candidates.


KING: Does that mean more ad spending and fewer debate appearances for the Texas governor? Let's ask his top spokesman. Ray Sullivan joins us from Austin tonight, and our conservative contributor Dana Loesch also with us from St. Louis. Ray Sullivan on that question, the governor clearly not happy with the structure and formats of the debates. I think there are 10 or 12 more on the books. Does that mean he will not play in some of them?

RAY SULLIVAN, PERRY CAMPAIGN SPOKESMAN: Well, John, there have been eight Republican debates so far, five since Governor Perry got in. We certainly respect the process, but when you've got eight or nine candidates and 30 seconds to a minute, it takes valuable time away from campaigning in Iowa, as those elections approach --

KING: Do I take that as -- are you saying he is going to look over the calendar and scratch some of them out?

SULLIVAN: John, there are I think 18 more in the planning phases. There's no way that the candidates can do all those debates.

KING: Dana, can Governor Perry afford now whether you accept or disagree with his format -- and it's hard. I moderated one of the debates. I feel for the candidates and I learned a lot of lessons myself. It is hard with seven or eight candidates up there. But can he afford now that he is at third and fourth in some of these states to start saying I am not going to come to your debate?

DANA LOESCH, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I don't think he can at this point. I do kind of agree it's difficult to get in a really good sound bite because so much of politics is based on good sound bites. And we have a couple candidates, Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich who really understand this. They're always prepared with a quick 60- second remark. But it could be very, very difficult and the scrutiny is hard.

But I don't think Perry can avoid it because the debates are the things to where he has received a lot of his criticism. He's got a great war chest. He unrolled his job's plan and he unrolled his tax plan, and that's what a lot of people wanted to see. We now want to see how aggressive he can be in these debates and whether or not because of his performance and rhetorical skills he can turn this into a two-man race.

KING: And Ray, the governor's complaint was that the questions seem to be just to get the candidates just to stir it up. That's his perspective. This is Brian Williams asking the questions during an NBC debate. This is not a question to ask Governor Perry to stir it up. This is a question about his record.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: Texas ranks last among those who have completed high school. There are only eight other states with more living in poverty, no other state has more working at or below the minimum wage. So is that the kind of answer all Americans are looking for?

PERRY: Actually, what Americans are looking for is someone who can get this country working again. And we put the model in place in the state of Texas.


KING: And one more example. Right here is Anderson Cooper at our most recent debate asking a question, again not trying to get the governor to stir things up, but trying to ask him about his record.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST, "AC 360": Governor Perry, in the last debate Governor Romney pointed out that Texas has one of the highest rate of uninsured children in the country, over 100 million kids. You did not get an opportunity to respond to that. How do you explain that?

PERRY: The fact is we have a huge number of illegals that are coming in to this country. And they're coming into this country because the federal government has failed to secure that border. But they're coming here because there is a magnet. And the magnet is called jobs. Those people who hire illegals ought to be penalized.

And, Mitt, you lose all of your standing from my perspective, because you hired illegals in your home and you knew about it for a year.


KING: Forgive me, Ray Sullivan, but the governor's complaint is that the moderators are trying to stir things up. He was asked about his record and has every right to do this, but it was the governor stirring things up there, wasn't it?

SULLIVAN: Well, look, every candidate has to fight for their time. We certainly understand that. There is a time and place for these things, John, but when you're talking about 18 more debates, particularly now as people are starting to think about heading to the polls -- we're about 60 days away from votes being cast -- the candidates need to spend time in Iowa doing those town halls and spending a lot more time with the voters who oftentimes have the best questions and press the candidates the hardest.

KING: Do you have a number? You keep saying 18 on the books. I think you're right, might be 100 on the books or 18. I think 12 that have been officially agreed to and a crazy number, some people think. but do you have a number now? Do you know who is going to be in these two or three or are you still debating that?

SULLIVAN: I know for sure November 9th on another network we're going to participate in that. But, look, we're taking each of these as they come, examining the schedule and examining the opportunities and the opportunity costs. And, again, we recognize we need to be in Iowa and New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida, and Nevada and talking to those voters and giving them a chance to exercise their responsibility to vet the candidates, to have town hall meetings and to talk about the issues that are important to them.

KING: Dana, Governor Huntsman tried that in the Nevada debate. We polled in New Hampshire since that debate, and let me just say kindly, it didn't work. So my question is, in this environment, I understand Ray's point and Governor Perry was the last candidate into the race, so he is newer to the voters in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and the like. But right now Rick Perry is in fourth place in Florida, he's tied for fourth in Iowa. He's in sixth place in New Hampshire with four percent.

The question is, is just going and camping out in these states going to make the difference or do you think it's a huge risk if he says, maybe I won't do the CNN Arizona debate? How big is that risk with Herman Cain doing so well?

LOESCH: Yes, I don't think that Perry right now should be saying no to any debate. Jon Huntsman can because Jon Huntsman is not going to win the nomination. He is like the Bill Paxton of politics. He and Tim Pawlenty and some of these other ones all look like the same person to me.

But I don't think that Perry can say no, because he's still, again, you're right. He was late into this and he missed a couple of debates already. And so he's playing catch up a little bit because not a lot of people -- and this is the same with Michele Bachmann. A lot of people didn't know who Michele Bachmann was until she announced she was running for president. It's the same thing with Governor Perry. Texans know him, but a lot of the rest of Americans are still learning about his record and are still being introduced to him. So, I don't think that he can say no.

But really quickly to his point about the media or, whomever encouraging candidates to kind of cut each other down, it wasn't this network but the debate before the last that looked like a UHF set where they all sat around the table like "That '70s Show," they were doing the moderator's job then. So I think he had a point with that particular exchange. But he can't say no to debates. He needs to keep at it.

KING: We appreciate his time tonight, Ray, thank you. Dana, thank you as well. It's a fascinating race. Strap in, everybody. Debates or no debates, we have some fun ahead.

And still to come here, the vice president's office is complaining about a conservative reporter at the center of a testy Capitol Hill Confrontation. We'll break down the tape and ask that reporter if he thinks he crossed the line.

Next, tonight's truth about this.




KING: Sometimes politics is complicated, but, often, well, it's a no-brainer. Sure, President Obama's poll numbers are down and he's in serious trouble when it comes to winning reelection. But he's got an easy foil in Congress. The new CBS/"New York Times" poll finds that just nine percent of Americans approve of the way Congress is doing its job, just 9 percent. It's the political equivalent of t- ball.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The people of Nevada, the people of Las Vegas, we can't wait for an increasingly dysfunctional Congress to do its job. Where they won't act, I will. We're not going to wait. We're not waiting for Congress. We can't wait for Congress to do its job. So, where they won't act, I will.


KING: Now, not waiting on Monday when the president was in Nevada meant promising new executive help to help homeowners who are under water refinance their mortgages at lower interest rates.


OBAMA: I told my administration to keep looking every single day for actions we can take without Congress. Steps to save consumers money and make government more efficient and responsive and help heal the economy. We're going to be announcing these executive actions on a regular basis.


KING: In Colorado today it was a promise to use executive power to help lower the costs of college loans.


OBAMA: These executive actions we're taking can make a difference.


KING: Well, here's tonight's "Truth." If we truly can't wait, then what have you been waiting for, Mr. President?

The biggest knock on the president from CEOs who have met with him, even CEOs who are huge supporters, is that he's been slow to move from the role of senator to grasp the role of chief executive. His current tour and slogan remind me of many such conversations with CEOs over the past three years. Now, don't get me wrong: the president has every right and every reason to complain about Congress. It is dysfunctional. The Republican House focused mostly on things it knows the president would never sign. To say the Democratic Senate is focused on anything, well, that would be a stretch.

If, for example, change the president's job bill for the sole purpose of making Republicans vote against a millionaire surtax, knowing all the while it couldn't pass but hoping for a campaign issue. So "we can't wait" does have a solid ring to it.

But truth is, President Obama has been in office 1,010 days now. His executive powers today, the very same as they were on day one, meaning if the president can use his power today to help ease the housing crisis, then he could have used that power weeks and month ago. Ditto for lowering the costs of student loans.

So, if we can't wait, sir, why do you, too, keep us waiting?

Still ahead, the reporter under investigation for the tactics he used to land this interview with the vice president. Did he cross the line? He'll be with us to explain.

Plus in a rare interview, the convicted swindler Bernie Madoff's wife says she and her husband plotted a suicide attempt. Stunning new details, next.


KING: Some breaking news just into CNN. The State Department just confirmed a U.S. citizen has been kidnapped in northern Somalia. The Danish Refugee Council tells the "New York times" the missing American is a woman, and she was abducted Tuesday, along with men from Denmark and Somalia. The State Department says it's working with contacts in Kenya and Somalia, trying to get more information.

Stocks closed sharply higher today after European Union officials indicated their near agreement on a bank rescue plan.

Reuters reports that in an upcoming "60 Minutes" interview, Bernard Madoff's wife reveals they both attempted suicide on the Christmas Eve after his Ponzi scheme came to light.

Tonight's World Series game in St. Louis has been rained out. The (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to play game six tomorrow night.

About an hour ago, the House approved a bill trading federal land in Arizona to a multi-national company that wants to open a copper mine. Republicans say it will create about 4,000 jobs. Democrats, though, say this company has a history of replacing traditional mining jobs with robots.


REP. ED MARKEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: It will be full employment for R2D2 and the Transformers. But the total number of jobs here, very speculative.


KING: Powerful debate there.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" coming up at the top of the hour. Erin is here with a preview. And I understand, Erin, you're going to crack the code of the super committee tonight.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. We're going to try to, you know, let's say fix the entire deficit problem tonight. And obviously, I say that jestingly, but it's a big issue. And it's a big issue for our entire economy and for the rating of America. Interest rates we all pay. So Dave Camp on the super committee going to join us.

And as you know, John, big fight today Democrats tried to come out. Republicans shot them down. We're going to find out if we really can get a deal that will prevent another downgrade.

Plus, you were just talking about the report that Ruth Madoff and her husband, Bernie, may have tried to commit suicide before his arrest. Well, Brian Ross, who wrote "The Madoff Chronicles: Inside the Secret World of Bernie and Ruth," knows them both very well and is going to be our guest tonight.

Plus tonight's "We Can't Resist." It is truly deviant. So, stick around. Back to you.

KING: That's what in TV we call an effective tease. Truly deviant.

BURNETT: Deviant sells.

KING: Erin, we'll see you in just a few minutes.

BURNETT: All right. See you, John.

KING: And when we come back, the president is making his case on the road. Yes, he wants everyone to vote for him. But tonight's "Number" is about one group that's especially important.


KING: Tonight's "Number" is a big one: 15.2 million. Fifteen point two million. That's how many votes President Obama received from voters aged 18 to 29 in the 2008 presidential election, 15.2 million. That's a big number. Let's take a closer look.

In the entire 18 to 29 population, there are 23 million voters. That means the president got two-thirds, 66 percent of that vote, back in 2008. It is critical for the president to reach out to that group again this time around. But will young voters turn out as heavily next year, and will they support the president in such big numbers?

CNN contributor Erick Erickson is the editor in chief of the conservative blog Matthew Segal is president of, a get-out-the-vote organization targeting youths that's been approached by the Obama team. And Cornell Belcher, the Democratic pollster who's working for the president's reelection campaign.

Let's all listen. The president is out on the road. He's trying to appeal to every different constituency he wants, but he's making a special appeal to young voters, trying to take all the technological advances he made in the last campaign to make them even better next time.


OBAMA: We're going to make these changes work for students who are in college right now. We're going to put them into effect, not four years from now, not two years from now, we're going to put them into effect next year. Because our economy needs it right now, and your future can use a boost right now.


KING: That's the president's college loan appeal. Today not his technological appeal. We'll get to the technology in a minute. But Matthew, from a policy standpoint, this is the president using his -- this is an official event here, not a campaign event, trying to say, "Listen, I'm going to help you pay off your college loans."

When you talk to people that you associate with now, 66 percent of the vote last time. Can the president expect anywhere near that number this time?

MATTHEW SEGAL, PRESIDENT, OURTIME.ORG: If the president continues to invest his time, energy and resources in young voters, they will be there for him. Simply because this is a transformative politician who talked about taking on a system that's been bought off and proving the skeptics and the cynics who doubted young people for many, many years wrong.

And I think if he can continue that messaging, we'll be there for him. And yet, Cornell, 18.1 percent unemployment rate among people aged 16 to 29. Now, the youngest in that group can't vote, but 18.1 percent unemployment rate. No offense to the president. I don't care how good you are. I don't care how much you target people. If you've got that tough of an economic situation, some of those people either aren't going to vote or they're going to blame the guy in charge, whether it's fair or not.

CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: Well, look, they are a tough group, but they're a critical group. And 11 percent of the electorate last time around was a new electorate. We changed the face of the electorate. We did it largely with younger voters and minority voters, and we ran -- we ran a 30-point margin with that electorate. We changed the face of the electorate in some of these battleground states. You wonder why they won Virginia and North Carolina; it's because we changed the face of the electorate. He has to have that vote. But at the same time, when you look at those unemployment numbers it's interesting because the voters who are most optimistic about the direction of the country are actually the younger voters. And they're frustrated about Washington in general, but they're not blaming the president. They're frustrated by the way Washington acts. I think the challenge for the president will be sort of to channel that frustration into participation again.

KING: Erick Erickson, let me break this down in two parts. There's a who and there's a what. Let's start with the who. Again, no offense to John McCain, but there was a generational contrast last time that played out in favor of President Obama. He was the younger candidate. He was more in tune with technology, not only spoke the language of these voters.

Who would you look at the Republican field as the best chance of chipping into that 66 percent?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Can I go with none of the above? I think that the person most likely to chip into that is the president himself.

You know, a lot of the rhetoric we're hearing from the Democrats right now and turning out the youth vote they also said in 2010. The difference is he was on the ballot in 2010, but they tried very, very hard. The president towards the end of the 2010 campaign went to a lot of college campuses. I remember Cornell being very upset with a lot of union leaders saying he was wasting his time doing it. But the youth vote didn't turn out in 2010.

And a lot of the political -- there's a great deal of apathy right now and the president can excite them probably better than any of the Republicans can. But youth typically lean more towards the Democrats to begin with until they get out of the workforce. But at the same time, they want to have something, and they've become much more cynical since 2008.

KING: Erick makes an important point. I'll bring you into the conversation. But you look at Stan Greenburg, Greenburg, Quinlan and Rosner for Democracy, of course, a Democratic polling group. Approval ratings among youth voters: 40 percent approve of the president's job's performance, 53 percent disapprove. So as to this approval number, that suggests that some of them aren't going to vote for him.

BELCHER: I'm going to throw out the approval number, because approval doesn't necessarily mean support. Look, I don't approve of most of the politicians in Washington right now, but guess what? I'm going to support the president. And here's the thing. Erick is absolutely right.

KING: You're invested -- you're invested in the Democratic Party. A lot of these voters, it was a date last time. Who are they going to marry?

BELCHER: I'm going to get into that. They were invested in Barack Obama, and there's a difference. Erick is absolutely right. That 11 percent of the new electorate, they were Obama voters. They weren't Democratic voters. They had chosen not to vote before, and they'd made a rational decision that politics was not the vehicle for them to bring about change. They -- they were Obama voters, not Democrat voters, and the Democratic Party has to work harder to bring them into the fold as Democratic voters. They're Obama voters.

SEGAL: Cornell makes an interesting point. Four out of ten young people today don't even identify with political parties. So, hyper partisanship, that's turning my generation off. So, we're listening to the candidates who are talking to us on the issues of the day, which are jobs, jobs, jobs.

Now, you look at the Occupy colleges and Occupy Wall Street protests that are happening across the country, they're happening for a reason. We've defaulted on a promise that, if you go to education, if you go -- you go to higher education and you take out all this debt, these student loans, that you're going to graduate with a job that will be there for you.

Well, that's no longer the case, and that's why the president today is speaking out on things that he can do for his narrow ability with executive privilege and make it a little bit easier and put more money in the pockets of young people.

KING: And so Erick, come in on that point. If you wanted to counter the president, then again, you could have a counter argument back, but you could run an argument to young people, saying he promised you hope. Where is the hope? He promised you change. Washington is just as bad, if not worse. But you have to have an aspirational, inspirational person to do it, to compete with him.

ERICKSON: Right. You know, we look at, we could look at -- we can look at youth voters or Hispanic voters or Jewish voters and separate demographic blocks. They've all got to flow together. The approval ratings and what have you. And that's one reason, frankly, Herman Cain is shining so well within the Republican primary right now.

He probably won't be the nominee, given that his fund-raising, although it's going up, and given his organization. But he's the only Republican right now, he's resonating across demographic lines with an optimistic message, that -- the proverbial happy warrior.

You listen to Mitt Romney, you're a technocrat. You listen to Rick Perry or Newt Gingrich and you hear someone who's rather angry. You listen to Herman Cain, you hear a guy who's happy. He may step in it on occasion, but he's happy.

The Republicans are going to have to, whoever their nominee is, make their message a happy warrior message, not a doom and gloom message.

KING: You're nodding in agreement.

BELCHER: That's spot on. They want to be inspired. They want to be hopeful. I mean, they're fundamentally Americans. They want to be optimistic about the future. What we see is the anger that they feel from the Tea Party really turns them off. No one has a lower approval rating than Tea Party among younger voters right now.

KING: But yet those people at those protests are angry, too.

SEGAL: People at the Tea Party or the Occupy?

KING: Occupy.

SEGAL: The Occupy protests are angry that the system is more accountable to bankers and big businesses who bought off our democracy than it is to the middle-class people. This is a simple message.

KING: Matthew, thanks for joining us. Appreciate it. Stay in touch during the campaign. Cornell and Erick are going to stay with us.

Next, the reporter whose tactics provoked a complaint from the vice president's office. Did he really do anything wrong?


KING: U.S. Senate officials are looking into questions by the vice president's office over a conservative journalist's tactics during a recent interview about some crime numbers. Vice President Biden has brought up while campaigning while campaign across the country for the president's jobs bill.

At issue is whether Jason Mattera was able to get close to the vice president by misrepresenting himself as someone who wanted his picture taken with the vice president. Take a look. Here's the full, unedited exchange.


JASON MATTERA, EDITOR, "HUMAN EVENTS" MAGAZINE: Mr. Vice President, a picture please. Do you regret using a rape reference to describe...

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I didn't use -- no, no, no. What I said, let's get it straight, guys. Don't screw around with me. Let's get it straight.

MATTERA: Did you use a rape reference?

BIDEN: No, let me -- listen to me.

MATTERA: I'm listening.

BIDEN: I said rape was up, three times. There are the numbers. Go look at the numbers. Murder's up. Rape is up. And burglary's up. That's exactly what I said.

MATTERA: And if the Republicans don't pass this bill, then rape will continue to rise? BIDEN: Murder will continue to rise, rape will continue to rise, all crimes will continue to rise.

MATTERA: Do you think it's appropriate for the vice president to use language that's such...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We've got to go. I'm sorry. We've got to go. Excuse me.


KING: Jason Mattera is the editor of "Human Events" magazine. He is with us. Cornell Belcher, Erick Erickson are still with us, as well. Jason, I want to get to the confrontation. It is a perfectly fair, legitimate question of the vice president. "Do you regret your tactics? Do you question the statistics?" That's all a fair question.

But as a journalist -- as a journalist, do you think it's fair to say, hey, do you want to take the vice president, essentially posing as a tourist or a staffer, someone trying to take a picture of the vice president?

MATTERA: Well, John, we have to clear up some stuff. I was wearing my media badge.

KING: Where were you wearing your badge?

MATTERA: Where was I wearing my badge? It was on my belt loop.

KING: Visible to the vice president?

MATTERA: Of course. The vice president and his office is trying to divert attention from his flat-out lie about rape surging across the country, and in Flint, Michigan particularly, and trying to have that attention placed on these tactics. In fact, there's now more media attention on the tactic than there was originally on Biden's claim...

KING: We've covered the claim, and we're going to cover it again in a minute, but...

MATTERA: After that exchange.

KING: We covered it after that exchange, you're right. Our Ted Barrett was there. He witnessed it. He immediately recognized it as news, and he called it in.

MATTERA: There's more coverage of this exchange from the media than there was of our original coverage.

KING: Our -- our original coverage of the statement was on the issue and the statistics and your questioning him of it. But -- but here's the question, and I've been doing this for almost 30 years now. Do you think it's right -- you misrepresented yourself.

MATTERA: No, I didn't.

KING: You said, "A picture with you."

MATTERA: A journalist can't take pictures with the vice president?

KING: I think it's unethical for a journalist, for a journalist to take in a public setting like that at a party, at a reception, something like that at a Christmas party. It happens all the time. But at a public place to ask for a question is to essentially say, "Come pose with me. I'm your buddy," and then you ask a question. Do you think that's fair?

MATTERA: As a journalist, I'm looking to get politicians who are used to spin and their messaging teams. I'm trying to get an honest reaction, a frank answer, a gut reaction, especially because so much of -- so much of the media is made up of drones who gave Biden a pass over his original comment.

KING: Amen. I'm not a drone. I'm not perfect, but I'm not a drone, and I actually give your magazine a lot of credit for what it does, "Human Events," the newspaper. And I have for years.

However, however, you don't think as a journalist -- we disagree on this. I think your question is a fair one. I'm not complaining about that. You think as a journalist you can misrepresent yourself to get access to somebody?

MATTERA: I identified myself as "Human Events." It would be interesting...

KING: You did not.

MATTERA: Yes, I did. At the end they asked who I was with.

KING: At the end?

MATTERA: I said "Human Events." I'm wearing a badge.

KING: I would start saying, "Mr. Vice President, John King from CNN. A question."

MATTERA: And listen, then the vice president can easily shrug it off. I got him in a gut reaction, asked the question that no other people in the media asked.

Let's not -- let's not kid ourselves. This selective outrage is kind of funny, because CBS, ABC have been doing undercover sting operations. Mike Wallace won Emmys and Peabodys for ambush journalism, and it was heralded. This is a great feat.

In a public place with hordes of media around, I ask a question...

KING: The vice president -- the vice president...

MATTERA: A rape reference and, oh my gosh, this is a confrontation.

KING: The vice president worked in that building as a senator for 36 years, so he knows the risks he's facing. And so any complaint I view as whining, frankly.

However, it's my personal opinion. I would never do that. But let's get to the point.

The heart of the matter was this is the vice president in Flint, Michigan. This is what's at issue.


BIDEN: In 2008, when Flint had 265 sworn officers on their police force, there were 35 murders and 91 rapes in this city. In 2010, when Flint had only 144 police officers, the murder, rape climbed to 65 and rapes, just to pick two categories, climbed to 229. In 2011, you now only have 125 shields. God only knows what the numbers will be this year for Flint if we don't rectify it.


KING: Now, has looked at those numbers. We had -- CNN had followed up and looked at those numbers. Rape, robbery are declining, in spite of police layoffs in Flint, Michigan, and the city police department says it gave the vice president those numbers. That's not excusing him from using bad numbers, but just to trace it. The city says it gave him those numbers. They're trying to trace it.

Erick Erickson, I want to bring you into the conversation. It is a legitimate question, to question the vice president's numbers. Do you think it's legitimate for somebody to essentially -- I'm sorry, my view, pose as a tourist or staffer and say, "Hey, let's take a picture," and then ask a question.

ERICKSON: Well, you know, full disclosure. Jason is a colleague of mine. We both work for Eagle Publishing. This is a new breed of journalism that we're seeing, John. The Democrats are doing it, younger Democratic bloggers and activists and Republican bloggers and activists, as well. This is happening across the board. We saw this in 2010 with a congressman in North Carolina who got abusive with the individuals who were asking questions. So you know, kudos to Jason for getting the vice president in an unguarded moment.

I think Republicans and Democrats alike on Capitol Hill and elsewhere have to be a little more careful about this. There are Democrats who pay to get this into the tunnel between the Senate and the Capitol and try to get Republicans on board. This is happening more and more.

KING: Erick makes an important point. I want to reinforce it. It's liberal -- there are liberal groups that do this, as well, liberal publications, liberal blogs that do this just as well. Not the way I was taught to do business. I'd say you introduce yourself up front. You have the credibility. Mr. Belcher? BELCHER: I think it's got your politics. Whether it's being done by a Republican or a Democrat, look, say who you are and then let them know where you're coming from so you don't get -- so you don't catch them off guard. I understand you get them in an unguarded moment, and it actually does make press, and you're now on CNN.

KING: It's gotcha politics, gotcha politics. And Jason, I appreciate your coming in. It is, but I question how you do it.

That's all for us tonight. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now. Take it away, Erin.