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Campaign Without Herman Cain; Newt Gingrich Rising

Aired December 5, 2011 - 18:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening.

Tonight: the Republican race without Herman Cain. We will go live to the key early voting states to see who benefits most.

Plus, back to school with Newt Gingrich. Do his lessons to a college class back in 2009 match his rhetoric on the campaign trail now?


NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What are you guys willing to talk about? Direction of the Republican Party. That's the key theme? Beats me.


KING: Up first, though, sparks fly between Gingrich and another former House speaker, Nancy Pelosi. President Obama adds a Briefing Room appearance to his schedule to suggest Republicans will end up raising taxes on the middle class because they are stubbornly defending millionaires and billionaires from paying more.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Keep your word to the American people and don't raise taxes on them right now. Now is not the time to slam on the brakes. Now is the time to step on the gas. Now is the time to keep growing the economy, to keep creating jobs, to keep giving working Americans the boost that they need.


KING: Our chief White House correspondent Jessica Yellin live with more on the president's Bush.

Jess, you don't add an event unless you think you see a political opening.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. The president and the White House want to keep up the pressure on this issue and beat that drum every day because they see this as a win for the president, the payroll tax cut issue, on the merits and the politics. On the specifics, the president's argument is that if Republicans extend the payroll tax cut, that it is effectively in their view a tax increase on regular Americans, $1,000 more they will see taken out of their paychecks. And then therefore, it is inconsistent with the Republicans' pledge not to raise taxes.

The White House believes it would be hurtful politically for Republicans and Democrats if people's taxes go up next year. And so on the politics of it, it is a win-win for the president. If taxes go up, then the president can point his finger at the Republicans who presumably would be the ones blocking it saying, they did that. I didn't.

And if they vote to extend it, then the president can claim that as a political win for himself and say look what I did. Now, the bottom line is, they believe fundamentally that Congress will vote to extend this in the end and the real drama here is by what means. How will it be paid for? Will it be paid for? This is a bit of a game of chicken at the very end. but still the drama here is the president pressing, making sure he gets the credit for this extension in the end and making sure it gets done before Congress goes on break -- John.

KING: Break, the holidays fast approaching. Nothing gets Congress out of town faster than a holiday. Jessica Yellin live at the White House, Jess, thanks.

Let's go to Capitol Hill now, congressional correspondent Kate Bolduan, for a reality check on whether compromise is within reach.

Kate, the Democrats had a new proposal today. They say it is a pared-back compromise. Will it sell?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's a great question. On its face, it doesn't seem that Republicans are going to be getting on board with this.

Here's what Democrats say they're offering. They call it their compromise offer. This latest offer still extends and expands the payroll tax credit for employees, going from 4.2 percent down to 3.1 percent. But as they say, kind of in a nod to Republicans try to win over more Republican support, Democrats in this latest offer, they're dropping a provision that would extend a payroll tax cut to employers in order to bring down the overall cost.

And they're also making the surtax on millionaires smaller, going from just over 3 percent tax to just under a 2 percent tax, as they say, to try to make it more palatable for Republicans to be able to sign on. Obviously they're pushing to try to win over more Republicans. But right away, even before the full details were coming out, John, Republicans were already coming out to slam it, saying that it is still a political maneuver, a political showboat that's not going anywhere.

KING: Let's assume Republicans under no circumstances will accept raising taxes on millionaires or billionaires. Are there three or four people, mix of D's and R's off in a side room somewhere working on the final plan or is that yet to happen?

BOLDUAN: I know there are conversations happening. It didn't seem, at least especially with this latest offer from Democrats, that that was a product of D's and R's behind closed doors talking to each other.

As many Republicans took pains to point out to me, they were not consulted or were told about the details or that this offer was coming before honestly we started reporting it. But in the end, as Jessica said, there is a general understanding or a thought that they will reach some great. But as you know, we have plenty of time to fight about this and take a political position before they really reach that final compromise.

KING: Posturing first, perhaps a deal later.

Kate Bolduan on Capitol Hill for us tonight, Kate, thank you.

Newt Gingrich and Nancy Pelosi, trust me, have a personal and policy feud that dates back more than two decades. And today it flared anew. With the former Republican speaker now surging in the GOP presidential race, longtime nemesis Pelosi issued what sure sounded like a threat in an interview with Talking Points Memo.

Listen to this -- quote -- "One of these days we will have a conversation about Newt Gingrich. I know a lot about him," Pelosi said. "I served on the investigative committee that investigated him. Four of us locked in a room in an undisclosed location for a year, 1,000 pages of his stuff."

While speaking to reporters in New York City, Gingrich took issue.


GINGRICH: I want to thank Speaker Pelosi for what I regard as an early Christmas gift.

QUESTION: What's that?

GINGRICH: Well, she is suggesting she is going to use material that she developed while she was on the Ethics Committee. That is a fundamental violation of the rules of the House and I would hope that members would immediately file charges against her the second she does it.


KING: CNN's Jim Acosta was in the room as it played out.

And, Jim, when you watch politicians taking questions, the body languages tells a lot, the glint in his eye, the locked jaw. This is a longtime rivalry, a longtime feud. And that got under the speaker's skin, Speaker Gingrich's skin.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. It felt like old times. It was like a "Seinfeld" flashback going back to the mid- 1990s.

And let's just be honest about this. The House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, started this fight telling Talking Points Memo that she basically relishes the idea of Newt Gingrich running for president and talking the possibility that someday we may release some of the research that we have on Speaker Gingrich from his days in leadership from the House investigation into potential ethics violations, an investigation that resulted in the speaker being reprimanded back in 1997.

And when -- Newt Gingrich, I have to say, when the former speaker was asked that question, I asked the question about that press conference. He wasn't shrinking from it. He fired back immediately, giving you that line about it being an early Christmas gift. And it might have something to do with the fact it is not a bad thing in the Republican Party right now to fight with Nancy Pelosi. This might have been a fight Newt Gingrich was looking for, quite honestly.

KING: I love that. With conservatives. A fight with Pelosi helps with the conservative base. We will see how it works in the long term. Jim Acosta live for us from New York, Jim, thank you.

Let's get some perspective from a former Gingrich colleague, the former Republican Congressman J.C. Watts, and our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.

I want to get to the substance in a minute, but, Congressman, let's deal with the politics.

If you're a conservative, seeing Newt fighting Nancy Pelosi, you think, yea, good for you, Newt. However, at a time when he is rising in the polls, trying to say that he is a new, fresh voice, this does also remind you that, A., he was a longtime politician, and, B., he was a pretty controversial one.

J.C. WATTS, FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: Well, I don't say that he is a fresh voice. Newt has been around a long time and I don't think he would even say that he is a fresh voice.

But fighting with Nancy Pelosi is not a bad thing in a Republican primary. You recall about three or four months ago, Tom Coburn, the junior senator from Oklahoma, in a town meeting in Oklahoma said that Nancy Pelosi was a nice lady. He got booed. So, I mean, that's -- she incites the same type of anger and consternation with Republicans that George Bush did for Democrats.


GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Coburn also just said, by the way, that he wouldn't support Newt.


WATTS: Newt cuts both ways.

BORGER: Right. KING: But she is clearly -- I mean, they go back a ways, let's just say. That's being gentle about it. They go back a ways. She was on the Ethics Committee, and she was in a leadership committee on the Democratic side when Newt came to power. There's a lot of bad blood there and you sensed it. We played a little bit of sound, but let's listen to more of Gingrich talking about what he thinks Nancy Pelosi's motives are.


GINGRICH: I think it tells you how capriciously political that committee was, that she was on it. It tells you how tainted the outcome was that she was on it. And I think what she said to you today should explain a great deal about what happened in the ethics process when Nancy Pelosi was at the heart of it, and is now prepared to totally abuse the House process.


KING: A., the bad blood is pretty obvious, but, B., it is also -- when you look back at the history, this is grass half empty or glass half full.

Let's look at the record. The House voted 395-28 to reprimand Speaker Gingrich. That means a lot of Republicans voted to reprimand their speaker. So it wasn't just Democrats. They ordered him to pay an unprecedented $300,000 penalty. That is a big fine. And, yet, Speaker Gingrich can say in the end by the time this all wrapped up that 83 of the 84 counts were eventually dropped.

This was complicated stuff about foundations and GOPAC and political committees. Again, more to my point is bad blood with Pelosi helps him with conservatives, but does it remind voters this guy has some baggage and do you really want to send him against President Obama?

BORGER: Absolutely. What I saw with Newt Gingrich was a little of the old Newt Gingrich re-litigating those charges before the Ethics Committee, going back over it and saying 83 out of 84 were not real and all the rest. It was bad advice.


BORGER: That's not what Newt Gingrich really ought to be doing. He released an ad in Iowa today that was all positive and rosy. He is trying to reintroduce himself and also by the way reinvent himself to a certain degree. Re-litigating his old fights with Nancy Pelosi is really not the way to do it.

WATTS: But Newt did not bring it up. He was asked a question at a press conference and he responded. But also on those charges, no IRS charges. They cleared him. The guy never went to jail. What -- I mean, to say that they would release that...

BORGER: But going to jail is not the standard. WATTS: Let me tell you, that Ethics Committee, Republicans used it for sport, Democrats used it for sport. So nothing -- what came out of it?


BORGER: There is more history...


KING: Later in the day, Leader Pelosi's office -- this gets confusing because both Gingrich and Pelosi were speakers. Nancy Pelosi is now the Democratic leader in the House.

Her office issued a statement later in the day saying Leader Pelosi was clearly referring to the extensive amount of information that is in the public record, including the comprehensive committee report with which the public may not be fully aware.

Trust me, all of the other Republican campaigns already had that report. They're preparing. Whether or not they will use it down the road, but now they have it.

But do you think, Gloria, the Democrats know he is combustible. The Democrats know he is temperamental. The Democrats know he gets mad when you question his past like that. Does Nancy Pelosi say, oh, just wait for the day. Is she planting a seed? Is it on purpose?

BORGER: I think she is planting a seed. But it is clear that everybody knows that the history is there. I think the question with the Romney campaign right now -- this is not really about Nancy Pelosi right now. It is about Mitt Romney. What does Mitt Romney do? He's been calling him a career politician.

Actually, I would think that the way to confront Newt Gingrich would not be on the career politician, but would be on this question of power and how he used power and can you trust him with power in the future? That might be a little bit more lucrative.


KING: Do you trust him with power in the future?

WATTS: Well, we will see. I'm only one voter, and I think he has to take that argument to the voters and throughout the South and throughout the primary campaign.

But I think if you look at Newt, you compare apples to apples, Romney has got problems, Newt has got problems, Bachmann would have problems, Perry has had problems. The Republicans, we have about six or seven to choose from. and Newt is one of them.

KING: And there are no perfect candidates.

WATTS: That's right.

KING: J.C. Watts, Gloria Borger, thanks for coming in tonight.

Still ahead here, no Herman Cain. That means no 999 plan on the Republican campaign trail. So who benefits?

And next we will go back to school with Newt Gingrich. Does anything Professor Gingrich in early 2009 complicate his campaign message now?


KING: How about we spend a little time tonight going back to school with Newt Gingrich and mindful of the fact we now know Gingrich was paid more than $1.5 million for his consulting work to the mortgage giant Freddie Mac, that after he left Congress?

You decide whether what you're about to hear here is telling it like it is or bald hypocrisy.


GINGRICH: I'm a Theodore Roosevelt Republican in the sense that one of my conclusions over the last 10 years is, if you are to big to fail, you're too big to manage.

And I would break up Fannie Mae. I would break up Freddie Mac. I would break up AIG. I frankly wouldn't defend any of the biggest banks. And I say if you're too big to be managed, you need to become smaller.


KING: That was March 2009 at a Tulane University class -- you might have seen him there -- taught by our CNN contributor and Democratic strategist, we will call him Professor James Carville. Carville is with us tonight. Also with us, our senior analyst David Gergen.

James, you invited me down to your class that day. We wanted to go back and look at those tapes, because we wanted to match up what he was saying then with now. He said if you're too big to manage, then you should be broken up. This is a guy who took all that money from Freddie Mac saying break it up right there. Will opponents grab that and say, which is it, Mr. Speaker, what do you really believe?

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, they have already plowed that ground pretty -- been plowed and re-plowed, I guess.

The truth of the matter is, I would give hill a little bit of a pass because he was in a classroom and we like for people to be provocative, so I very much appreciate him coming down to my class. I obviously have serious differences and issues with the former speaker. But I never criticize a guest of mine. I'm going to shy away from what he said at the class.

KING: I'm going to see if I can see over the next few minutes if you stick to that.


CARVILLE: No, no, anything not related to the class, I'm ready to jump in.


KING: One of the reasons we wanted to go back and look at this tape is because when they're not running, and he is and not running for anything, that's when they tend to be more relaxed, more revealing.

I want you to listen to a little more of the snippet of the class here because Carville was trying to get the Speaker Gingrich to make a Bush-Obama comparison in terms of how they do the economy. And the speaker from time to time presents himself. He likes to talk in grand historical waves...


KING: ... and talks about the threats to Western civilization.

Listen to how he turns a Bush-Obama conversation into the Roman Empire.


CARVILLE: It seems to me that you're suggesting, you're suggesting that, economically, the Bush and Obama administrations were a continuum of the same sort of Wall Street parties.


CARVILLE: OK. And you're suggesting to -- for Republicans is to become more -- is populist a better word or to sort of be less Wall Street, less corporate party, more -- is that what...

GINGRICH: No, no, I wouldn't use populist, which has a particular pejorative.

But I would go back to the Roman role an model of (INAUDIBLE) that is, there was a party which ultimately Caesar had at the end which basically said any fight between the elites and the great mass of people be on the side of the great mass of people.


KING: He's not an elitist, right? Newt Gingrich is not in -- he is not in the elite. He is with the people.

GERGEN: He is with the people.

Look, he does have a grandiosity about him. There's no question about it. He has compared himself to Churchill and others. But I also think, as James says, within the context of a classroom, to go back and cite Roman history is -- that's looked up to, not looked down on.

KING: Mr. Carville, go ahead.


It just kind of reminds my students -- kind of had a pretty good class there, but I want them to be provocative, because I would like for Mr. Gergen to come down and talk to them. And I want him to feel like that he can be as provocative as he wants to be when he talks to...


GERGEN: Just keep the cameras off.


KING: Trump says he still might run. I don't think Gergen will run, so I think he can come down to your class.

I want you to listen to one more, because here's one example where Gingrich the political analyst is actually dead right in terms he's analyzing how President Obama lost his popularity. And he is dead on. Listen.


GINGRICH: I think the challenge for Obama is actually the challenge that George W. Bush faced. George W. Bush failed to perform.

Failure to perform is the greatest problem an American president can have, because we are a ruthlessly consumer-centric country. And when something doesn't work, we change.

How many of you have ever changed a brand? All of you, right? So just think about it. And what happened was the Republicans, starting in '05 -- I actually think this city was the first enormous break point, although I think the first big mistake was the Social Security plan.

But this city then became the break point, because when Bush came down -- this is my personal analysis. And I don't know if any of you agree or if James agrees. But when Bush came down and said, "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job," I think the whole country just looked at and thought this guy is out of touch with reality, which is the Jimmy Carter problem.


KING: It's the Jimmy Carter problem.

A couple points there. Number one, that's a pretty fair assessment. The competency question undid George W. Bush. People then started asking, well, what are you doing in Iraq? And it went on and on and on from there. But two points there. Number one, the first big mistake was the Social Security plan. The speaker now says he wants to have an opt- out for younger Americans. President Bush was proposing private accounts, an opt-out for parts of it. So a bit of a conflict there.

The part that struck me most, have you ever changed a brand? Remember how important -- James, to you first -- Newt Gingrich was in changing the Republican brand when they took power back in the 1990s.


And there are a lot of problems when you run for president from Fannie and Freddie to the health care people and things like that. And my guess is we're only in the second inning here about things that we will find out. And that's just a sort of sense of where it is.

And the thing today with Speaker Pelosi sort of brings up something that we all knew about, and Gloria, and you and I, and David all knew about the House Ethics Committee. The general public had forgotten about that to the extent they ever knew about it. Well, I think they're getting ready to get reminded of that in spades here.

KING: That's an important point.

You mentioned his grandiosity. He gets puffed up a bit sometimes, self-importance, you might say. A lot of politicians do. I'm not picking on Speaker Gingrich by any means. What is your big question as to his next chapter in the survivability now that he's made it to the top of the field?

GERGEN: Well, I do think that he's known all along that he will be heavily vetted and scrutinized.

What has been interesting to me spending the past day in Washington talking to some top Republicans is how much animosity there is toward him among a lot of the topsiders on the inside. And I do think that will come out.

We heard a little bit of it over the weekend from Senator Coburn, said, I worked with him. I'm not going to support him. And you will see others. I didn't talk to Vin Weber, but Vin Weber was a friend of his in the House and, as you know, is supporting Romney.

KING: A lot of the people who served in the House days left with a very bitter, bad feeling about it.


GERGEN: Don't you think those stories are coming?

KING: Without a doubt. A lot of people looked at him as their leader and then they think he let them down in a dramatic way. And I think that's another chapter to come. And that matters, especially in a long protracted primary. You need support in places.

David, James, thanks for coming in. And to that point, next week JOHN KING, USA is getting out of this town. We're going to head to Iowa. We want to hear from you. Go to And tell us what's on your mind, especially if you're in Iowa and the caucuses now fast approaching.

Up next, we will take a look at what Herman Cain-less caucuses mean for the other candidates.


KING: It's a new day in the Republican race for president, no more Herman Cain. That means no more 999 tax plan. So who benefits? Who will benefit in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida?

Well, listen to two of Cain's rivals, former rivals, say, how about me?


REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Herman Cain supporters have been calling our office and they have been coming over to our side. I think part of that is because people see that I'm the Tea Party candidate in the race. They saw Herman Cain as an outsider. And I think they see that my voice will be the one that would be most reflective of his.

REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There are a lot of people who call themselves Tea Party people that did like the independent-mindedness of Herman Cain. So I think that we will probably do better even though some people are saying, oh, no, they will all go to so and so. But, no, I think that -- and we're paying a lot of attention to that.


KING: Let's ask some people in the key early states.

We're joined by Billie Tucker. She is the co-founder of the First Coast Tea Party in Florida. Curtis Loftis is South Carolina state treasurer. He supports Mitt Romney. And Steve Grubbs was Herman Cain's Iowa campaign chairman.

Steve, let me start with you in Iowa. You sent along some research that when the sexual harassment charges first came from those being made public, and then the woman who alleged an extramarital affair, you say you lost 25 percent of your supporters and eight in 10, 83 percent went to Gingrich, about 13 percent went to Bachmann and 4 percent went somewhere else.

From that, is it fair to say you believe Gingrich in Iowa is the overwhelming beneficiary?

STEVE GRUBBS, FORMER HERMAN CAIN IOWA CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN: He was certainly the beneficiary between that two-week period of the Bialek news conference and the Ginger White news conference. The question is, where will the -- those that are the hard-core supporters that were still left, where will they go? I think some will go to Gingrich. I think Congresswoman Bachmann will be a beneficiary and possibly Ron Paul.

Mr. Loftis, he did not mention Mitt Romney. What is it that Governor Romney has to do to get these voters? Herman Cain after all backed Governor Romney back in the 2008 race. What does he need to do to say don't forget me?


Governor Romney has not run a campaign that is looking after the daily news cycle. He is marching toward that primary election day. And I think he continues to do what he's been doing. Let everyone else come and have their day.

You mentioned a lot of those Cain supporters. They were Perry supporters before they were Cain people. And a lot of them before that were Bachmann supporters and they were Palin supporters and they were Trump supporters. So, not to denigrate anybody's choice, it is just that it's a large field, it's a volatile field, and there is a lot of movement.

I feel really good about Mitt's choice because he is the turnaround specialist. He is this business guy. And if America ever needed a turnaround specialist in Washington, D.C., now is that time.

KING: Billie Tucker, Mr. Cain did pick up a lot of Tea Party supporters. He gained steam and went from nowhere to the top of the pack. When you talk to your folks at the grassroots level, where do they go down?

BILLIE TUCKER, FIRST COAST TEA PARTY: They're mixed. They're very surprised and they're pretty shocked.

They're still, I think, in a depressed mode right now. Their guy is out. And they are trying to figure out where they go now. They're not fickle. They are not going to say, well, let's run over here and let's support this guy. They really believed in Herman. They believed in what his message was, and they were hoping for an outsider to come in. And they're really depressed. So when you're depressed, you don't make some really rash decisions.

KING: I want to show, Steve Grubbs, as we come back to you, the "Des Moines" poll, the Iowa poll, that came out over the weekend, your choice.

Mr. Cain had dropped to 8 percent in the last poll. He dropped quite a bit. In November, he was 25; Gingrich, 18; Paul, 16; Romney, 8; Bachmann, 4 percent for Herman Cain in the last poll the last way they released it, but when it came out.

In terms of your people on the ground, Steve, you have a suspended campaign which means he can get matching funds. But you are done, closed up shop, right?

GRUBBS: Right. We're figuring out what to do with our 3,000 yard signs. We'll be recycling them, getting rid of them. And the rest, we'll be shutting it down. We do have a lot of people who want to be involved one way or another, and I know they're talking with various campaigns.

KING: And is there a surprise in Iowa? You mentioned, you know, maybe Congressman Paul and maybe Congresswoman Bachmann. A lot of people wonder, will Romney make a late push and surprise us in Iowa. Can Rick Santorum build support among evangelicals? It's four weeks from tomorrow night. If there's somebody starting to ride a wave, or start a wave, you start -- usually start to see it by now.

GRUBBS: Yes, you know, the big freeze comes in about two weeks. And in my past experiences, I know -- I know that when we got to about October 20, volunteers wouldn't talk to us. No one would make phone calls. And so the campaign really freezes at that point.

So I think candidates have two, maybe three weeks before this thing is pretty much settled.

KING: Mr. Loftis, I was down in South Carolina recently. There was a complaint from some conservatives, even Romney supporters. Why won't he come here more often? Why won't he interact more often? You said, you know, he has this strategy in place. And most people think it's the "play it safe" strategy. Make a late push in Iowa, try to come in first or second. Then win New Hampshire and only then, come to, you know, South Carolina and beyond. Why?

LOFTIS: Well, I mean, of course they have a discipline strategy, and they are just that. They are disciplined. But there's more to it. He just can't be everywhere. And he's been a consistent front runner all along. He's been right there at the top so everybody wants him. We get appointments every day from groups, requests for appointments. You just can't do them all.

And so he has a busy schedule. He spends a lot of time studying and working for the debates. He's disciplined. He's doing a great job, and I think the polls reflect that.

You know, we have this volatility for a while now, and it's going to continue. The events of this weekend are just a few hours old. And so in a week or two we'll start to see it settle down.

And I have believed since the very beginning the closer we get to election day, the more people will say Mitt Romney is the man that can send Barack Obama back to Chicago. And that is our one unifying goal for all conservatives.

KING: So Billie Tucker, settle the fight in Republican politics. There are some say this as now because Iowa is 29 days away and then the voting starts pretty quickly, that this is going to be a Romney- Gingrich race. And the other candidates will have an impact by what they get, but you have two people at the top, and the nominee is going to be one of them. Other people say look at all the volatility we've had from Trump leaving and Bachmann leaving and Cain leaving and Perry leaving. Then we'll probably have another bounce or two before we figure this out. Where are you?

TUCKER: Mitt Romney has not met with the Tea Party groups all over this country, and we keep asking why. And yes, we hear that, you know, he's busy, but he's been busy for over a year. We've been reaching out to him. And I keep asking, why won't he come meet with us? And nobody can give us a correct answer.

So I think Mitt Romney has a lot of work to do in getting the Tea Party vote. So Newt Gingrich is going to be up there. I think there's nobody out there right now that's got this. But Newt and Mitt are definitely going to have to have a conversation.

KING: Steve Grubbs, if you had to bet a dollar today, who wins Iowa?

GRUBBS: I would say Newt Gingrich is certainly the front runner. And if I was betting, probably Newt. But I wouldn't count Ron Paul or Michele Bachmann out. And Mitt Romney has got a five-year organization. So I'd go with Newt.

KING: That was very cautious there, very cautious there. Steve Grubbs, Curtis Loftis, Billie Tucker, thanks for coming in tonight in the race that's heating up. Four weeks from tomorrow Iowa votes.

Up next, the traditional mail system is often called snail mail in this age of e-mail. Now that nickname, well, is about to take on a whole new meaning.


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

The leaders of France and Germany have agreed on a new plan designed to prevent a repeat of Europe's debt crisis. Later this week, they will urge all European Union members to adopt it.

Even so, late today, Standard & Poor's placed 15 members of the Euro currency zone on a review for a possible downgrade, indicating the debt crisis is far, far from resolved. Germany and France are on that list.

The mail system is about to get slower. Today, the U.S. Postal Service announced $2 billion in cuts that will close mail-processing facilities and cost thousands of jobs.

The U.S. military will pull out of an air base in Pakistan. That at the request of Pakistan's government. It used that air base for drone attacks against militants. This move follows a NATO strike this past weekend that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

And Iraq plans to execute its former foreign minister, Tariq Aziz, next year, after American troops have left the country. That word today from an advisor to Iraq's prime minister. Aziz served for years -- years -- under Saddam Hussein.

When we come back, we return to politics. And let's use tonight's "Number" to set the table. It is $250,000. That's the amount the former speaker, Newt Gingrich, is spending on his first statewide TV ad in Iowa. It went up today.

Let's take a look at what else is happening in the state. We know here are the major markets, Omaha, Nebraska, Sioux City, Cedar Rapids and Des Moines. Well, who's up right now? Gingrich, $250,000. Ron Paul spending about $255,000; Rick Perry has an $80,000 ad campaign. And we know the Romney campaign also started one last week. We don't know how much Governor Romney is spending.

But four weeks from tomorrow, Iowa votes. The TV stations are out to make some money. And if you live there, you're about to see some ads.

When we come back, how does this impact the race in the state that votes first?


KING: "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" is coming up at the top of the hour. Tonight Erin is live from Abu Dhabi with a big interview. Erin, what's the headline?

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Well, John, you know, Iran is really the headline getting all the talk here with one of the most sophisticated American drones that there is reportedly, so Iran says, being shot down by Iran. That's the big talk here about 30 miles away from Iran at the home of America's biggest ally in the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates.

They've got 10 percent of the world's oil, John, and they also have Dubai. And we're going to talk to the prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. He is our exclusive guest. A very rare interview.

And I have to say, John, it's fascinating. It was to me. Everything was on the table. We talked about democracy. We talked about the Arab Spring. We talked about protests here. We talked about the freedom of the press or the lack thereof. All of that was on the table coming up in our interview tonight. And so we're very excited about it. Even though, you know, got to get over the hump of not sleeping but that will happen.

KING: Sleep is overrated. Simple lesson. Simple lesson.

BURNETT: Yes. It's true. And when you're out and about, you've got to live and enjoy it, right? I don't want to sleep. I want to enjoy every second. So we'll look forward to seeing you in a few minutes.

KING: We'll see you then, Erin. Thanks. The TV ad wars are finally heating up now that the first votes of the 2012 presidential nominating process are just four weeks away. Iowa votes first. And Newt Gingrich today launched his first statewide TV ad.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Some people say the America we know and love is a thing of the past. I don't believe that. Because working together, I know we can rebuild America. We can revive our economy and create jobs. Shrink government and the regulations that strangle our businesses.


KING: The imagery, the optimism, vaguely familiar, right?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Today, more men and women will go to work than ever before in our country's history with interest rates at about half the record highs of 1980. Nearly 2,000 families today will buy new homes. More than at any time in the past four years.


KING: Morning in America if you don't know your political history. A Ronald Reagan ad right there.

Twenty-nine days and counting. Conservative CNN contributors Erick Erickson and Dana Loesch join us, along with veteran Republican strategist John Feehery.

Erick Erickson, to you first. Newt goes statewide in Iowa. A very optimistic ad. This renews the whole debate we have every four years, especially now that technology has changed so much. Is Iowa an air war, a ground war or both?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I think it's both. But you've got to remember now, the way we play these commercials nationwide. And even the way Herman Cain campaigned in Iowa without going to Iowa, you can reach about a quarter of the Iowa voters by being on TV nationwide. And you can reach other voters outside of Iowa, as well.

So he's building in New Hampshire in addition to Iowa, making things difficult for Mitt Romney. And you know, I've got to say, with Herman Cain out, I've been saying the optimistic candidate, James Carville, probably wins. And that's probably the most optimistic ad we've seen from the Republicans so far.

KING: It's a very optimistic ad, Dana, but does it address -- I guess it's your first time out. So is that what you want to do? Lay the optimistic predicate down? "I can help rebuild the economy." A lot of people use their advertising to try to shore up their weaknesses. And for all his rise in the polls, Speaker Gingrich does have some.

DANA LOESCH, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Exactly. And I think at this point most Americans have seen him in these debates where he's been very unruffled, but he's also come across as kind of stern and maybe a little bit doom and gloom.

So these ads which reinforce the optimism and kind of paint him as this good will type of candidate, I think, are really attractive. People want to see something like that, because they're bombarded by all these bad headlines. And they've seen this infighting and the -- Herman Cain drops out and the attacks by media on different candidates.

So I think, you know, an optimistic ad, you can't go wrong, but he's got to follow it up with something a little more hard core, with meat and potatoes.

KING: And meat and potatoes to come. You know, a lot of us remarked, John, about the discipline that Speaker Gingrich has shown. Because some of us have been around and seen the other sides, if you will. You worked on Capitol Hill for a long time. You know the speaker. You know the good sides and the bad sides. When you watch him perform, very upbeat ad there. A little angry glint in his side talking about Nancy Pelosi earlier tonight. What do you see?

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: The ad is fascinating. The "Rudy" theme in the background. And "Rudy" is a great movie about the underdog who makes it big. And Newt has got to be the underdog in this race. If he's not the underdog -- if he's the favorite, all the favors go down. So I think that for Newt it's always better to be the underdog.

You know, Newt has got to temper that -- that partisanship that comes from him. If he can somehow, you know, be an optimist, as Erick says, be the guy who has real ideas and can move the nation forward, you know, he can do well.

But, you know, that lack of discipline, that's the thing that, when he was speaker, it got him. And I think it's going to -- my guess is it's going to get him again.

KING: Your guess is it's going to get him again. You know, you're not only seeing Gingrich ads. There's another candidate who his supporters often complain doesn't get enough attention. Ron Paul will be a factor in this race. The question is how much? There are some who think he can win Iowa. Iowa voters are seeing this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's up with these sorry politicians? Lots of bark. When it's show time, whimpering like little shih tzus. You want big guns. Ron Paul's swinging it for years. Budget crisis? No problem.


KING: It's a little different than the Gingrich ad, huh?

ERICKSON: Yes. Very different from the Gingrich ad. You know, I've got to say that I think bar none, Ron Paul has some of the best videos and ads that have come out. Now, I wasn't expecting that. I hadn't seen that one before, but that's going to get people's attention. And the polls showing whatever he's doing in Iowa is working for him.

KING: Let's move on. David Axelrod was on "Meet the Press" yesterday. And I want you to listen. Because a lot of people are wondering, why does the Obama campaign keep going after Mitt Romney, even as Newt Gingrich goes up in the poll? Asked about Romney, David Axelrod says...


DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR STRATEGIST, 2012 OBAMA REELECTION CAMPAIGN: He seems to think that every day is a new day that he can simply change all of his positions, depending on who his audience is or what the political circumstances. And that is not what you want in a president of the United States. So was that an issue? Yes. That's an issue.


KING: So you asked him about Newt Gingrich, who's risen in the polls. You would think he's going to go after him with equal vigor, right?


DAVID GREGORY, NBC'S "MEET THE PRESS": Newt Gingrich. Does he have a core? Is he a formidable candidate that the president faces?

AXELROD: Well, I mean, I think that's -- that's what voters are going to have to decide. He's obviously a man with expansive thoughts and ideas that he expresses widely, and we'll see how -- how that plays. I don't know the answer to that yet.


KING: Dana Loesch, why is Romney and Obama, when it comes to Newt, it's up to Republican voters?

LOESCH: I think it's a little bit of reverse psychology. And David Axelrod is pretty clever in laying out his argument like that. There was a story today in "the Washington Post" I believe it was today that showed Democratic strategists do not want someone like Newt Gingrich to be the nominee, because that debate would be a train wreck, I think, for the administration. For the president, not really for Gingrich, who has really good rhetorical skills.

If they really wanted to go after Mitt Romney, they'd go after his record. That was a soft hit just talking about flip flopping. That's something conservatives have even been joking about for the past several years even since before 2008. So it's just some reverse psychology, I think.

KING: Again, this is a debate and divide within your party, the conservative movement and the Republican Party, on this very question. Because if you look at the polls, which a lot of people, especially in this town, are obsessed by polling, is the most recent Quinnipiac poll, Obama/Romney is a dead heat. You do Obama/Gingrich, and Obama wins by 9 points. In some other polls, you see it's 10 points. So if you look at the data, Romney is the stronger candidate. If you talk to a lot of conservatives, they say, "Oh, my God, no."

FEEHERY: Of course Romney is the more credible candidate. He's the one that the Obama campaign is running against. Newt Gingrich is their dream. They want Newt Gingrich to get the nomination. They wanted Herman Cain to get the nomination. They wanted Michele Bachmann to get the nomination. They don't want Mitt Romney. They're already running against Mitt Romney.

KING: George Will has a column this week. He said Newt Gingrich was the most liberal candidate in the race. Is that right, Erick?

ERICKSON: You know, I tend to agree with George Will about a lot of things. And when you look at Newt Gingrich's record, you know, people forget Gingrich's record and Gingrich's rhetoric aren't necessarily the same things.

And you know, I do have to say, I think the White House is somewhat smart here. Everybody thinks Mitt Romney is still going to be the nominee. They might as well go ahead and start defining him now before he is the nominee.

KING: And so Dana Loesch, when you're at this point -- we're four weeks away, and people are saying, "OK, are we going to have a Romney/Gingrich race, or are we going to shake this thing up one more time," what do your friends at the grassroots say?

LOESCH: Well, they're really hoping that it's going to -- scope is going to expand beyond a two-man race, but we see who's leading in Iowa. And I think they're still looking for anyone who's not Romney. And if it has to be Gingrich, I don't know. We'll see. We'll see. He's better than Romney, in my opinion.

KING: That face said it all. Dana Loesch, Erick Erickson, John Feehery, thanks for coming in tonight.

Up next, tonight's "Truth," and if this were reality TV, it just might get me fired.


KING: Iowa votes in 29 days. New Hampshire in 36.


DONALD TRUMP, REAL ESTATE MOGUL: It was a great honor to have Newt up here. It's amazing how well he's doing and how it's really resonated with so many people. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: But the Trump primary could be settled before then. After the Donald takes his turn as a debate moderator.


TRUMP: The debate is December 27. I'm looking to endorse somebody after that debate. I'm not looking at anything.


KING: Now, if only he had stopped right there, but being Donald Trump means never having to say never when the issue is running for president.


TRUMP: If the wrong person gets in, that's different. But I'm not looking for the wrong person to get in. I don't think the wrong person will be chosen.


KING: Just a little wiggle room there, which I guess we should consider progress from leaving a lot of wiggle room earlier in the day.


KING: The fact is that, if the wrong candidate is nominated to run, if I think it's a candidate that's not going to win and not very good, and that could happen, I guess. I mean, I'm seeing some very good people and some very talented people. And if the economy continues to be bad, and I think it will because I think we have incompetent leadership, I would certainly think about running as an independent.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You flirted with this a lot of times.


KING: As an independent. And if nothing else, that's amusing. But here's tonight's "Truth": enough already. The country faces serious problems, and the voters need to be worrying about and listening to the serious candidates for president. Like them or not, you have to consider the former speaker, Newt Gingrich, among the leading contenders. Serious? Yes. But not opposed to adding a little Trump debate showmanship to the GOP competition.


GINGRICH: This is a country which elected a peanut farmer to the presidency, that elected an actor who'd made two movies with a chimpanzee to the presidency. This is a country of enormously wide- open talent. You know, Donald Trump is a great showman. He's also a great businessman.


KING: Now, the Trump debate is being organized by the conservative organization Newsmax. Jon Huntsman and Ron Paul have made clear they will not attend and made clear they don't think much of the event or its moderator.


REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't understand the marching to his office. I mean, I didn't know that he had an ability to lay on hands, you know, and anoint people.


KING: Now while it pains me some to say this, Newsmax has every right to pick its moderator, and Trump, listen, Mr. Trump, well, he has a point here.


TRUMP: I built a tremendous company. I built a tremendous net worth. I've made -- I've employed thousands and thousands of people, jobs, education, real health care. I mean, real health care. And we've done a great job, and everybody else seems to like it.


KING: Truth is, I'm a firm believer: the more you see the candidates in any setting, the more you learn. And a debate about jobs, health care and schools, well, that's a debate the country sorely needs.

But let's not forget Trump also enjoys leading debates the country doesn't need, like stoking the ridiculous discussion over whether president Obama was born in the United States.


KING: But you raised this, saying the president should release this.

TRUMP: You raised it.

KING: No, I did not raise it.

TRUMP: You raised it.

KING: That's the question. I didn't call a press conference in Palm Beach earlier this week. I haven't been on all the talk shows.

TRUMP: You raised this. And every time I sit down with the press, all they want to talk about is the birth certificate. And I got him to do something that nobody else could get him to do. And I don't get any credit. KING: And you -- you raised this issue of his credibility. If he has it, he should release it.

TRUMP: Absolutely.


KING: In the end, the president found and released that long form birth certificate. Case closed. He was born in Hawaii. Except, except the Donald believed he was due a little credit.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: Let me tell you something. I have done a great service to the American people.


KING: Now, on that point, the silly birther debate, I beg to differ. It's a ridiculous distraction, but truth is, Mr. Trump is a showman and has a knack for getting attention.

So here's hoping that, if his big debate actually happens, it will keep the focus on the real issues and the actual candidates.

This reminder: all next week, we're going to be reporting from Iowa, where the actual candidates will be out campaigning. We want to hear from you. Help us out. Go to Tell us what's on your mind as the caucuses approach. We'll take your questions, your suggestions. We're going to go east to west, criss- cross Iowa, have a great time and learn. You'll see some candidates along the way.

That's all for us tonight. Hope to see you back here right here tomorrow. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.