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Presidential Candidates to Debate Foreign Policy; Gingrich Surges to Top; Fresh Clashes in Cairo; Search for Life Beyond Earth; Agencies Reaffirm U.S. Credit Rating; New Chaos in Cairo; Newt Gingrich's Presidential Bid; Crosby Returns with 4-Point Night; Verlander is American League MVP; Soldier's Surprise at Vikings Game; Kids Destroy House with Flour

Aired November 22, 2011 - 09:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


HALA GORANI, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, a very even tempered mom there. Thanks to both of you.

The Arab Spring has become an autumn of discontent and violence and bloodshed in Egypt. At least two dozen people have been killed in anti-government protests. Three Americans have been arrested, as well. We'll take you to Cairo live in a few minutes.

How would a President Romney or Gingrich or Cain handle a situation like this? That is the kind of topic the Republican candidates will debate tonight. Its focus will be foreign policy and national security. CNN, the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute will bring it to you from Washington tonight at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

We're talking to our deputy political director Paul Steinhauser, Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence and Joe Johns who's at Constitution Hall where the debate will take place.

Joe, let's start with you. Is the 11th big GOP presidential debate this year, what are the expectations? Who might benefit from a foreign policy question tonight and who might, you know, possibly be in trouble?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Well, when you look at the range of all these Republican candidates who are going to be here at DAR Constitutional Hall, the first thing you can say is that there are at least three candidates who are expected to know this stuff cold. That would be the former speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, the former ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, and the former member of the Senate Republican leadership Santorum -- Rick Santorum.

You'll also have to look, of course, at Michele Bachmann who happens to be a current member of the House Intelligence Committee. She touts her foreign policy experience because she's on that committee, but you have to point out, as well, she's been a member of the House Intelligence Committee for just about 10 months. Appointed of January of this year. There will be some people will watch to see how they do because they don't have a lot of policy experience in this arena. That would include Herman Cain who is a businessman, former CEO of Godfather's Pizza with relatively limited experience on these matters. So watching these candidates very closely, Republicans have said again and again that they're opposed to many of President Obama's foreign policy measures and ideas.

This debate will help us determine what these Republican candidates actually stand for affirmatively so a lot to watch here in Washington, D.C. -- Hala.

GORANI: All right. And we'll be watching. Let's go to CNN Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence.

Of course, the relationship with Egypt in the news today, Chris, the relationship between the United States and Egypt is an important strategic one. American taxpayers send more than $1 billion a year to support the military in Egypt. And in a debate like tonight, that's going to come up as the situation a President Romney or Perry or Cain could face.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: That's right. It's a great example, Hala, of an issue that wasn't debated during the last presidential election cycle that always seems to surprise presidents. You know, there are things that won't be debated tonight. National security issues that will come up during the next president's tenure.

So tonight really is a chance to see how some of these men and Michele Bachmann would handle the role of commander in chief. What are their strategic interests, where they place the emphasis on. But it will also carry different weight for different candidates. Some of the candidates, such as a Herman Cain who's had a lot of trouble with some of the foreign policy answers, he needs to sort of show the voters that he can meet sort of a minimum standard for what America expects in a commander in chief.

The frontrunners, people like governor -- former Governor Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich who sort of already passed that threshold. They will have to explain some of the nuance on their position on things like Egypt, on Libya, on bringing troops home from Afghanistan. That is what some of the questions will be directed at tonight.

GORANI: All right. And then the question will be, how important is it in the primary process for the Republicans. We're going to analyze that, as well, this hour.

Chris Lawrence, thanks.

We have new CNN GOP poll numbers out this morning out of our debate tonight showing Newt Gingrich surging.

Deputy political director Paul Steinhauesr has the numbers, and what they mean.

Paul, tell us about the latest figures, the polling numbers out today. PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN DEPUTY POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Hala, our debate comes just six weeks until those first vote in the Iowa caucus. So the clock is definitely ticking.

Take a look at these numbers. It's a whole new battle in this battle for the GOP nomination. There it is, our CNN/ORC poll. This is a national poll of Republicans and independents who lean towards the GOP. Twenty-four percent say they are choosing Newt Gingrich right now, the former House speaker, for the nomination with Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, at 20 percent.

That four-point margin for Gingrich basically within a -- basically a tie within the sampling error. So you can say it's all not enough at the top. There's Herman Cain, a businessman, former Godfather's Pizza CEO, at 17 percent. His numbers have been slipping because of those allegations of sexual harassment.

Rick Perry at 11 percent, the Texas governor, he has stumbled in some of the debates. Everybody else lower. So what explains Gingrich's rise? Take a look at the next poll number. And it really tells the story. He has shined in these debates. And you can see right here according to these numbers.

Is he the most qualified? Thirty-six percent say yes, Gingrich, 20 percent Romney, everybody else last. Who has the best grasp of complex issues, 43 percent of Republicans say Newt Gingrich, 18 percent Romney, everybody else lower down.

Same thing as when it comes to who's qualified to be the commander in chief, Newt Gingrich on top. His performance in the debates has really shine.

One last thing, take a look at this number, Hala, six weeks to go. But you know what, a lot of Republicans are still up in the air. Sixty-seven percent say, you know, I may change my mind on which candidate I'm going to back when those primaries and caucuses start. So six weeks to go. These debates have been very influential. I think our debate tonight will be just as influential -- Hala.

GORANI: And you add the unsures, that's 73 percent all up in the air.

Thanks very much, Paul Steinhauser, and to our team on the ground in Washington.

And don't forget, of course, to watch our live coverage of tonight's Republican presidential debate. Wolf Blitzer questions the candidates on those national security topics. Tonight 8:00 p.m. Eastern on CNN.

Well, we alluded to it at the top of the hour. Clashes in Cairo are getting uglier. Pro democracy activists are mounting a mass rally in Tahrir Square. It's the fourth day. Take a look at the images.

Egyptian forces are using teargas. You see plumes of it there. Rubber bullets against protesters in the streets around the square. Meantime, thousands of people are joining what's being dubbed the million man sit-in.

CNN's Ivan Watson is right in the middle of it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: These are the frontlines of the running battles over here. The police have set up a barricade in this direction. The kids have been throwing rocks at them. The teargas is coming constantly. You can see the corrosive effects of it.

Everybody showing these shells that they pick up and many of them claiming that they're made in the USA. In fact, this is made in Jamestown, Pennsylvania. Riot smoke. That has created a lot of anger against the U.S. right now.

The crowd here angry, young, furious at the loss of life here over the course of the past three days, demanding that the Supreme Council, the Armed Forces Marshal Tantawi step down.

The soldiers are around the corner here. Around the corner right here, the army has set up barricades along one road, but it's riot police that they're facing off against. If we turn in this direction, it's riot police down here. This is one pocket of turmoil in the center of the Egyptian capital, but it is throwing the entire country into a political crisis just days before elections are scheduled to be held and that's called into question whether those elections can be held at all.

Ivan Watson, CNN, in Cairo.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GORANI: And Ivan joins us now live from Cairo with more on what's happening.

It's the fourth day of protests. It was dubbed the million-man sit-in. How big is the crowd in Tahrir at this stage, Ivan?

WATSON: Well, judge it for yourself, Hala. We're going to pan out and show you the crowd as it has swelled throughout the day. Looking similar to what it looked like yesterday, though, far more tense in place now. We saw a sit-in overnight. People sleeping in the square and the clashes with the riot police are taking place just a few hundred yards up the roads from the square itself where the people are.

There is the deafening sound of ambulances. We see a constant stream of wounded people being rushed out to hospitals. The latest figures, 29 people killed since the clashes first began on Saturday.

Not only in Cairo, but also in the cities of Alexandria and Ismalia (ph), and of concern, as well, there is smoke rising from the area of the vegetable market just a few blocks away from Tahrir Square. Really, a snowballing political crisis here with the civilian government submitting its resignation and apparently the ruling military council still hasn't decided whether or not to accept that resignation up until now.

And I need to remind you, elections, parliamentary elections, the first phase of them, are supposed to begin in just six days. And you're zooming in on what is one of the first aids centers, makeshift, first-aid clinics, where all the wounded people (INAUDIBLE) clashes are being rushed to when they're overwhelmed by tear gas and, in also many cases, we've seen these small shotgun pellets that the police are using to disrupt and fight back against the demonstrators -- Hala.

GORANI: Well, it's still a very tense situation. Violence still unfolding as you've been describing there, Ivan. And these elections coming up. But the protesters in the square, are they concerned about elections or are they demanding nothing less than the removal, the departure of the military leadership there?

WATSON: Well, you know, I just heard thousands of voices chanting in unison a very similar chant to what we heard in January and February here. Instead of saying the people want the fall of the president, the former President Hosni Mubarak, now they're chanting, we want the fall of the marshal. That is Marshal Mohamed Tantawi, the head of this military council that has effectively run Egypt ever since protests forced Mubarak out of power.

Now if you go beyond these angry protests where there's so many young demonstrators, it's a much younger crowd than I saw, an angrier crowd than we saw in January and February. If you talked to political parties, many of them have mixed responses about whether or not the elections should take place. Whether or not the military council should immediately resign -- Hala.

GORANI: Right. Let me quickly now briefly ask you about these Americans? We saw images on television of three young Americans? There are some I.D. cards there, as well. What do we know about these young men and why they were arrested?

WATSON: Well, they were shown on state TV last night and judging by the I.D. cards that are shown, it looks like they're students at the American University of Cairo. One of them appears to have a driver's license from the state of Indiana.

We've spoken with the prosecutor's office here and they say that these three Americans have been detained when they were caught throwing Molotov cocktails, petro bombs. We contacted the U.S. embassy here. They say they cannot comment on these reports until they first get a freedom of Information Act agreement signed by the people in question. And the U.S. embassy here says that they've seen -- received many more reports, aside from this one, of Americans currently in detention and they're trying to make sure whether or not these reports are credible or not.

So we'll bring you an update as soon as we find out more about these three individuals -- Hala. GORANI: All right. As we continue to watch these live images, remarkable images there from Tahrir Square. It really looks like February, January, February all over again. Thanks very much, Ivan Watson, we'll catch up with you a bit later.

Coming up, the mob of teenagers caught on tape as they invade a Maryland convenience store. We'll tell you what they got away with, next.

And the search for life beyond our own planet. There's growing evidence that says, yes, there is life out there. We'll explain just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GORANI: Checking news across the country:

Heavy rain swept across parts of Arkansas on Monday flooding streets and stranding drivers. It got so bad that even a major interstate closed for about three hours.

Now to Texas where a small plane carrying several large bundles of marijuana made a crash landing at a Houston airport last night. It skidded into the grass after the plane's nose slammed into the runway. Investigators are looking for the pilot.

And police say an alleged flash mob robbed a Maryland 7-Eleven Saturday night. Store surveillance captured of about 50 young people rushing the store. Police say they stole snacks and drinks before quickly leaving.

So, are we alone in the universe? That's the big question at the heart of space exploration.

Our John Zarrella reports on a growing body of evidence that there is, indeed, life beyond earth.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Probes to mars. Telescopes searching for other earths. Listening for life out there.

There's no proof yet, but the body of evidence is growing. We are not alone.

SETH SHOSTAK, SETI INSTITUTE SENIOR ASTRONOMER: But one thing that strikes you is every time we learn something new about the universe, what we learn is that our situation doesn't seem to be all that special. And that suggests that life is not all that special either.

ZARRELLA: But it is still just that, a guess, based in part on astronomy in overload. Findings from telescopes like Hubble, Spitzer, Chandra, new discoveries at a breathtaking rate revealing the sheer mind-blowing grandeur of the universe. Consider these heavenly numbers just for a minute: perhaps 1 trillion, with a T -- that's right -- trillion galaxies in the universe.

Stars, you ask? OK. How about 300 sextillion? That's three followed by 23 zeros.

So, where does that leave us with planets? More specifically, planets like our own?

WILLIAM BORUCKI, KEPLER PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR: We're learning that the fundamental importance to mankind. How frequent are earth around other stars?

ZARRELLA: Bill Borucki is the principal investigator for NASA's Kepler telescope. Its mission: find planets similar in size to the earth orbiting their suns. So far, it has been successful beyond expectations.

Of the 1,200 planet candidates, Kepler has found nearly 70 are earth-sized.

NATALIE BATALHA, KEPLER CO-INVESTIGATOR: The indication from data we have in hand is that small planets are common, that the galaxy makes them efficiently. So, they're going to be abundant.

BORUCKI: The number is large enough. So, there must be many billions of such planets in our galaxy. So, that's been a very happy surprise.

ZARRELLA: How many are orbiting at just the right distance from the sun to support life? More than 50 candidates found so far where life might be possible.

What Kepler can't do is detect life. So, for now, that will remain just a guess.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GORANI: Just a guess. The eternal question. Are we alone? Not alone?

John Zarrella live from Miami with us.

And you'll be reporting, John, on another important story in terms of space exploration this week. Tell us more about that.

ZARRELLA: Yes. We got three pieces coming up. One is on the web telescope which is NASA's great observatory that's going to be launched. And then on Saturday, NASA is launching another rover to mars. The most sophisticated rover they have ever sent, and it will actually have the ability for the first time ever, Hala, to detect signs of life.

So, could be stunning findings coming out of that.

GORANI: All right. We look forward to it. John Zarrella in Miami -- thanks very much, John.

Talk of another downgrade of the U.S. credit rating swirled yesterday and slammed stocks along the way. Today, the major rating agencies are speaking up. We'll go to the New York Stock Exchange and hear if a downgrade is still on the table and how stocks are doing or expected to open, I should say, in 10 minutes, coming up.

Stay with CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GORANI: It was a brutal day on Wall Street yesterday.

Alison Kosik at the New York Stock Exchange. The Dow is down more than 300 at one point. It closed off its lows, 350-point drop after the supercommittee failed to reach a debt deal.

And now, we're hearing talk with the major ratings agencies are weighing in on whether or not to downgrade U.S. debt.

What's going on there?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: So, Hala, if you asked Standard & Poor's and Moody's, they're going to tell you that there's no change in the rating of U.S. debt. Now, Fitch is going to tell you that its review isn't going to be finished until the end of the month and says it could lower its outlook to negative from stable.

All three of the ratings really hinge on those automatic spending cuts that should be going into effect in a year. And Standard & Poor's told Congress: if you don't go ahead, we could go ahead and cut your rating. Yes, that rating is a huge deal. Who can forget that huge trading day after the August downgrade when we saw the Dow fall 600 points?

So, Hala, is really all about confidence in the U.S. economy and the cost of financing our massive, massive debt -- Hala.

GORANI: And let's talk about futures. What do they indicate in terms of how the Dow will open in about five minutes?

KOSIK: You know, after that huge selloff, you usually expect to see a bounce back. Don't expect that happening today. We got word from the government that it revised down GDP growth for the months from July through September.

And you know what? Reaffirming the U.S. credit rating, it may reassure investors right now. But, you know, there are a lot of these longer term ramifications of the supercommittee's epic fail.

These are certain temporary tax breaks are going to be expiring unless Congress does something to change it. Namely, that payroll taxes are going to be rising as of January 1st and millions of people are going to stop getting unemployment benefits and analysts say that could shaving off up to 1 point off of GDP because people would have less money to spend -- Hala.

GORANI: Right. Not the kind of concern and worry the economy needs at all in the United States. In less than five, the opening bell. We'll catch up with you in a little bit later, Alison Kosik.

We'll update you on the latest chaos in Cairo and how the White House is responding. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GORANI: Checking our top stories now this morning. President Obama is calling on Congress to come up with a balanced budget plan after the super committee failed to reach a deficit reduction deal. The president said he will veto any attempt to undo or alter automatic spending cuts and now said to have start in January 2013.

Storms could slow holiday travel in the Pacific Northwest and the Northeast. So, be aware. One system pounding the Northwest with rain and snow today, another storm with heavy rain moves into the Northeast tomorrow.

And police and protesters are fighting for a fourth straight day in Cairo. The protesters who called for a million man sit-in today wants Egypt's military to hand over power to civilian leaders as promised.

The State Department calls this renewed violence in Egypt, quote, "deplorable," but says next week's elections should go on as scheduled. Meantime, the Obama administration's handling of the situation is being criticized by some of the experts who have actually advised on Egypt.

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian, for more on that.

Hi, there, Dan.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Hala.

Well, I can tell you that the White House is closely watching the developments ongoing now in Egypt. White House spokesman Jay Carney saying that they are concerned about the violence, also concerned about the tragic loss of life. But, specifically calling on everyone there for restraint and the hope is from the White House here that none of what we're witnessing on the streets now in Egypt will stand in the way of the elections there.

I think the overall sense from the White House here is take a look at how far Egypt has come. What the senior administration officials are saying, look back a few months ago and there was the uprising in the streets. There was a push to have Mubarak who had had a tight grip on that country for so many decades to be removed from power -- that has happened.

So, while they're seeing the disturbances that are taking place now, the hope is that, indeed, that Egypt can move forward with these elections and move forward to state there of democracy.

GORANI: All right. Well, that is the most important Arab ally for the United States. Right now, the White House is relatively quiet. We'll see if there is some pressure put on them to come out a little more publicly if the situation continues to deteriorate.

Thanks very much, Dan Lothian in Washington.

You can bet Egypt will be one of topics -- one of the topics, I should say, at tonight's Republican presidential debate. Here's a time lapse look at preparations inside Constitution Hall in Washington. CNN, the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute will bring you the debate at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. This is the 11th major GOP showdown this year, but the first to focus on foreign policy and national security.

CNN chief political correspondent Candy Crowley explains why those topics are so important, even when the economy remains issue number one.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Whenever anybody asks me like why it's important, why is a foreign policy debate important, I would direct them to George Bush, the son -- elected in 2000. His entire agenda was about fixing education, helping the economy -- had a very domestic agenda. And then came 9/11 and became a foreign policy president. It really mattered what he knew, who he knew, who he had around him. What sort of people did he pick?

It was -- it was important to George Bush at that time, so much so that Condoleezza Rice, who had worked in his dad's administration, was brought on board during the campaign to take George Bush in his down times and talk to him about various countries and various leaders.

You can say all you want that this is an election that is going to be decided on the U.S. economy, maybe you're right. But the fact of the matter is, even the U.S. economy is somehow impacted by what's going on in Greece, by what may go on in Italy, by what's going on in Spain, all across Europe.

So, the fact of the matter is, it's really the global village that we talked about for so long. So, it's important that these presidents, these potential presidents show their stuff.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GORANI: Well, that was Candy Crowley. Of course, don't forget to watch our live coverage of tonight's presidential debate. Wolf Blitzer questions the candidates on national security topics, 8:00 p.m. Eastern on CNN.

It is a holiday week. And just as holiday travelers hit the road, weather from coast to coast is starting to look really bad. And heavy rain in Arkansas sent water flooding onto roadways and closed major interstate for about three hours. Jacqui Jeras is in the weather center with a look at what's going on.

What is the situation? You know, it's kind of -- let's be honest. You know, there are bigger problems in the world, but when it rains and storms and floods and you're delayed hours and hours at the airport -- giant headache.

JACQUI JERAS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It really is. So many people are trying to travel today and tomorrow and, unfortunately, the weather not cooperating. The good news is that Interstate, I-30 that you were talking about in Arkansas, is open now, but the storms are moving on off to the east. So, we got a large area we're concerned about today from Texas stretching into the Ohio River Valley, not just flooding but severe thunderstorms that can produce wind damage. Be aware that.

Now, ahead of this system, even though it's not raining here, it's kind of foggy and, also, you know, really low clouds all over the place. So, we got a ton of airport delays already at this hour. Chicago 45 minutes, as well as Houston Intercontinental, 40-minute ground delays at Philadelphia, Washington National, 30 minutes, and Omaha, looking at arrival delays over an hour already.

Now, things will start to clear out in the nation's midsection for tomorrow. So, travel here should be good. But, unfortunately, the East Coast gets socked in and our storm stays in the Pacific Northwest and two areas where so many people live, Hala, are going to continue to see those troubles.

GORANI: All right. When it clears up, hopefully, in the next few days or --

JERAS: Little better for Thanksgiving.

GORANI: For the week.

All right. Jacqui Jeras, we'll see you a lit later.

JERAS: Sure.

GORANI: Becoming Marilyn Monroe. Actress Michelle Williams brings to life the legendary sex symbol to the big screen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHELLE WILLIAMS, ACTRESS: Marilyn Monroe was a character and that how we, how we commonly think of her, that was a part that she played and she played it so well, you couldn't tell that she was acting.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GORANI: After the break, more from Williams on her transformation into that role.

Stay with us.

Oh, also ahead -- it was a country music concert at the White House last night. And there was no shortage of stars who came out to perform. Details coming up next in Showbiz.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GORANI: Becoming Marilyn Monroe. What goes into that?

Actress Michelle Williams is opening up about her transformation into one of America's biggest sex symbols -- arguably, America's biggest sex symbol.

A.J. Hammer is here with those details.

When you see Michelle Williams, physically, you don't imagine automatically that it would be an easy physical transformation. What does she have to say about what went into it?

A.J. HAMMER, HOST, "SHOWBIZ TONIGHT": I mean, it really is a remarkable transformation that she made, Hala. Michelle Williams, as we know, is a terrific actress, but as you said, when she was originally cast as Marilyn Monroe in "My Week with Marilyn," a lot of people didn't quite see Williams pulling it off.

But even in just a few clips, you can actually see her just become this larger-than-life sex symbol and she says Marilyn Monroe felt that she was playing a character, as well. Watch what she told our Piers Morgan last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: I suppose that was one of my other big discoveries along the way, that more than anything, she wants to be a serious actress. It was her greatest ambition. And, you know, when we talk about the character that she developed of Marilyn Monroe, that didn't come quickly or naturally to her. She spent years working on that part, creating that part and that was such a huge part of her identity, but it was a secret identity because people couldn't really conflate, you know, Marilyn Monroe, this incredible sex symbol with Marilyn Monroe, the intellectual, the student, the artist.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAMMER: Williams has been nominated for an Oscar twice in the past. And, Hala, this role could have her back at the Academy Awards. There's already buzz out there.

GORANI: Right. I'm looking forward to Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher, among other transformations. I've seen photos of it. It's interesting.

All right, let's talk about -- I confess I don't watch the show, but it's a big hit, "Dancing with the Stars." The final three danced last night.

Who is looking like the favorite?

HAMMER: Well, Hala, I'm here to educate you on "Dancing with the Stars."

GORANI: OK. Please do.

HAMMER: That is my job. So, don't worry if you're not watching it. Actually, there's a little bit of a shocker last night. Rob Kardashian and his partner Cheryl Burke earned the highest score from the judges, partly because they got a perfect score from their freestyle dance. Maybe I'm think he was inspired by his sister, Kim. She was in the crowd supporting him last night.

But while Rob was at the top of the leader board on last night, which was the final night of competition, do not count out J.R. Martinez and Karina Smirnoff whatsoever. They also earned a perfect score on their freestyle dance and were just a few points behind Kardashian on the judges' scorecard.

J.R., of course, has been the breakout star from this year's competition. His story is just so incredibly inspiring. I think he's still the one to beat. But I also love Ricki Lake. She was really the favorite early on in the season, Hala. So, you just never know.

Tonight, somebody walks away with that mirror ball trophy.

GORANI: So, your money's on Ricki Lake?

HAMMER: No. My money is actually on J.R. Martinez, but I don't want to count out Ricki Lake. I don't think Kardashian is getting it.

GORANI: All right. We'll talk about that tomorrow.

It looks like the Obamas are getting a little country at the Washington, what -- they had a country evening in Washington. Tell us about that.

HAMMER: Yes. It's pretty cool. It's part of a music series at the White House that was started by the first lady. The president said country music is the music of everyday life and it can remind us of what we have to fight for and who we have to be.

Really great collection of stars there, listen to who performed -- Dierks Bentley, Alison Krauss, Lyle Lovett, Kris Kristofferson, Darius Rucker, James Taylor and the Band Perry. And all the performances were taped as you're seeing here. It's going to be broadcast Wednesday night on PBS. They're also going to show it on the Armed Forces Network.

Hala, sounds like a pretty amazing night.

GORANI: All right. Thanks very much, A.J.

A.J. will be back with us next hour with more showbiz headlines.

Coming up, as a bridesmaid in her sister's wedding to a prince, Pippa Middleton almost stole the show. Now, the gown similar to one she wore is up for sale. Find out more at 10:00.

And a CNN opinion piece L.Z. Granderson says Newt Gingrich is just too mean to win. Too mean. We'll talk to L.Z. after the break.

Stay with us.

And an early Thanksgiving for America's wounded warriors. The vice president and his wife open up their home for a holiday dinner. Details, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GORANI: All this week we're going in depth on GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich. He's currently at the top of the most recent polls, but Newt Gingrich's past is worrying ESPN writer L.Z. Granderson. In an opinion piece for CNN.com, L.Z. asks the question, is Gingrich too mean to win?

L.Z. is joining us from Grand Rapids, Michigan. Now you say he's very smart man. He's across foreign policy and other things unlike some of the other GOP presidential hopefuls. But that he comes across as Ebenezer Scrooge. Ok, what does that mean? What do you mean by that?

L.Z. GRANDERSON, CNN.COM CONTRIBUTOR: It means that the core of where some of his thoughts are coming from, his feelings about the country and his thoughts about other people of this country seem to come from a place of selfishness. Seem to come from a place of mean spiritedness.

You know, he got a lot of controversy comments directed at him in regards to what he was talking about with the child labor situation and how it was unfair to poor people and poor kids and how they should have a chance to work in order to feel good about the schools that they're in and have an opportunity to pull themselves up.

And if the whole thing just came across as just mean-spirited because, you know, we think about children in this country in a certain light and what he was talking about just was not what most Americans agree with. So that's --

GORANI: Well, what specifically what's -- I'm sorry, L.Z., what specifically about what he said regarding child labor irked you?

GRANDERSON: Well, first of all, he seemed to focus in on the poor kids, which irked me, number one, because of his goal was to instill a strong work ethic in our young people. I applaud that, but I would think that would be something that all kids can benefit from, not just the poor kids.

Secondly, this ideal of busting up unions that he talked about and then having some sort of head master help oversee the kids as they worked as janitors in the schools that they attended. The whole thing just sounds like some sort of like child slavery and child labor camps that we despise when we're watching in movies. And so it just doesn't seem as if he's in tune to and that's just one example. You know I'm not just -- the piece isn't just based on that.

GORANI: Right.

GRANDERSON: I looked over his entire career, you know, back when he was talking about contract with America and how he wanted unwed mothers under the age of 18 not to be eligible for welfare. I mean, those are not very kind-hearted things to be said.

GORANI: And suggesting some people in the U.S. should take a bath, perhaps.

GRANDERSON: Well, taking a bath is never a bad thing.

GORANI: Never a bad thing.

GRANDERSON: But, again, where -- where is that coming from, though? Does he represent the good that is in this country? Does he represent the spirit that we want the rest of the world to see in this country? That's what I'm asking.

His remarks. Some of them are very, very sharp. He's a smart, smart guy. But is he a kind guy or is he a mean guy and does that ambassador represent who the country should be?

GORANI: Right and do you care as a voter? Do you want your president and leader to be mean or nice? Do you want them to be effective? I mean, all those are questions out there. But L.Z., we have to go.

L.Z., your piece is on CNN.com/opinion. If you like, you can join the conversation and leave a comment for L.Z. online and we are back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GORANI: We are following many developments in the next hour on CNN NEWSROOM. Let's check in first with Alison Kosik.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: OK, Hala, the countdown is on for the start of the holiday shopping season. On Cyber Monday sales are expected to hit a record high but if you're one of the millions of people who click and shop while you're working before your employer could be watching you.

Hala, I'll have more on that in the next hour.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: I'm Chris Lawrence at the Pentagon. Tonight at the debate, the GOP candidates will describe how they would perform as commander-in- chief.

But in just ten minutes, we'll give you a preview of how they might respond to a crisis like Egypt and also dig into some of their flip-flops that they'll have to explain.

GORANI: All right thank you guys. We'll also be talking Egypt and the latest from there.

And also coming up next hour the attorney for former Penn State Coach Jerry Sandusky says prosecutors could soon come forward with more alleged sexual abuse. We'll talk about the latest developments in the case with a correspondent from TruTV's "In Session". Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GORANI: Thanks for being with us.

A superstar returned to the NHL last night. Jeff Fischel is here with us.

JEFF FISCHEL, HLN SPORTS: Fans on ice are fired up because Sydney Crosby is finally back. It's his first game with the Pittsburgh Penguins since suffering a horrible concussion in January. Play-off atmosphere in Pittsburgh, back in the saddle again, playing during the warm-ups. The Pens taking on the New York Islanders.

Syd the kid, wasted no time. His first shift, first through center ice. With the puck in the backhand, Crosby had two assists in the game, but he wasn't done. He scored a second goal. Check out this backhander. Really not even sure how it gets in but it does. Everything going right for Crosby and the Pens. They win 5-0, a good team now. Even scarier because 87 is back on the ice.

Monday night football, Tom Brady leading his New England Patriots against the Kansas City Chiefs. Brady tied in, Rob Gronkowski and he's gone. 52 years for the touchdown; Brady destroying defense this year by relying on the tight-ends, Gronkowski and Hernandez. Second half, it's Brady to Gronkowski again. Watch him get into the end zone -- ouch. He's all right. Gronkowski 20 touchdowns in 26 crew games. No tight-end has ever done that so fast. Patriots win, 34-3, they lead the AFCEs by two games.

A starting pitcher has been voted the American League MVP. It almost never happens, but the Detroit Tigers Justin Verlander was that good this year. Verlander won the Cy Young last week as the League's top pitcher. An amazing season, winning the pitching version of the triple crown. Leading the league in wins, strike outs and ERA. The last time a starting pitcher won an MVP award was Roger Clemens in 1986.

And we never get tired of this. Sunday at the Minnesota Vikings game, Jamie (INAUDIBLE) was watching a video tribute to her soldier husband, then she and her daughter got a huge surprise -- he shows up. Staff Sergeant Matthew Helget (ph) home early on leave from Kuwait.

I'm going to say for sure that is going to be a great Thanksgiving for that family.

GORANI: I know, it gets you every time, the old trick. You're watching this tribute video and then he pops.

FISCHEL: It's fantastic every time.

GORANI: You have kids, Jeff?

FISCHEL: I have a five-year-old.

GORANI: Perfect for this next story.

FISCHEL: OK. I'm watching.

GORANI: Jeanne Moos -- they say boys will be boys. Is it a boy or a girl?

FISCHEL: Five-year-old boy.

GORANI: Boy, right? This is ridiculous though. Jeanne Moos has one Michigan woman's story. Take a look.

FISCHEL: OK.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Mommy's not feeling so well, so she stays a little longer than usual in the bathroom and when she comes out --

MARY NAPOLI, STAY-AT-HOME MOM: What are you doing?

MOOS: Stay-at-home mom Mary Napoli stayed eerily calm.

NAPOLI: Oh, boy.

MOOS: The boys, by the way, are one-and-a-half and three- and-a- half.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Uh-oh. What's the matter, mommy?

MOOS: What could possibly be the matter with having flour all over your house?

NAPOLI: As soon as I stopped recording I sat on the middle of the floor in the living room and started crying.

MOOS (on camera): Talk about flour power the entire mess was caused by one five-pound bag.

NAPOLI: Oh, my gosh. I don't know what to do. I think I'm going to throw up.

MOOS (voice-over): But instead of throwing up, Mary kept regurgitating one phrase.

NAPOLI: Oh, my gosh.

MOOS: From the chair seat to the window wedge on the door. NAPOLI: Oh, my gosh. Oh my gosh.

MOOS: We counted at least 27 "oh, my goshes".

NAPOLI: Oh my gosh. It's not fair.

MOOS: Mary had just gotten home from the grocery store and says she forgot to lock the cupboard.

NAPOLI: My God. It's like a snowman puked all over my living room.

MOOS: Reminds us of those dog gets in the trash videos, the one where the culprit is identified by an incriminating clue.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wonder if Tank had anything to do with it? Can you tell me, what happened?

MOOS: The flour kids weren't talking either.

NAPOLI: What happened, Zach?

MOOS: Mary called her mother-in-law for help. By the way, those of you who say this video is fake or Fakey McFakeovitch, you don't know how flour flies.

(on camera): Mary and her mother, Mary and her mother-in-law used a shop vac to remove most of the flour but there were two items that were beyond salvaging.

(voice-over): She had to throw away this rug and a light bulb emitting a burning flour smell.

Hardest to clean, the couches.

NAPOLI: I mean we haven't even paid off those couches yet.

MOOS: During clean up Zach slipped on the flour and cut his lip so Mary left the kitchen sink and came running.

(on camera): Unfortunately, the faucet was also running, the sink overflowed and flooded the kitchen.

(voice-over): So next time you think you have had a bad day, remember Mary.

NAPOLI: Well, I told my mother-in-law that I feel like I've inhaled so much flour I'm going to start to rise.

MOOS: At least Andrew was dressed for bad behavior like a prison inmate.

Jeanne Moos, CNN --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: See, see, see.

NAPOLI: Yes, I see.

MOOS: New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)