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Rick Santorum Rising; Egyptian Police Raid U.S. Organizations; "Dear Successor" is now "Supreme Leader"; Why Iowa Matters in Elections; Who Drops Out After Iowa?; On The Bus With The Romneys; "Birther" Confronts Gingrich; President's Evolving View of Marriage; Could Biden and Clinton Switch

Aired December 29, 2011 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: a new sense of urgency for Republican presidential hopefuls campaigning in Iowa after our new poll shows Rick Santorum's stunning climb. His rivals are already trying to knock him back down.

A key campaign aide jumps off the Michele Bachmann bandwagon. What does that say about her chances in Iowa?

And Jon Huntsman rolls the dice on New Hampshire. What are his odds? I will interview both candidates. That's coming up live in our next hour.

And Egyptian police raid the offices of U.S. civil rights groups, pro-democracy organizations. They may have made some powerful enemies in the process. One group is chaired by the former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. The other group is chaired by Senator John McCain.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The clock is ticking. We're only five days away from the Iowa caucuses. The focus has now turned to a certain degree to Rick Santorum. All of a sudden, he's in third place in our latest poll.

But after his extraordinary surge in this poll, can Rick Santorum keep on climbing?

CNN's Joe Johns has been following Santorum in Iowa on the campaign trial. He's joining us now live from Muscatine.

Joe, how did it go for him today?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, good news and bad news for Rick Santorum, quite frankly.

The good news is he's doing better in the polls. The bad news is he's the latest target on the campaign trial.


JOHNS (voice-over): What on earth took this guy so long to get traction in Iowa anyway? RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What's going on right now in Iowa -- and I see it -- the crowds are bigger. But I think they'd be bigger in any circumstance. People are focused.

JOHNS: Here's a guy who spent more time in the state than any other candidate, totally speaks the language of evangelicals and social conservatives, always has, and they all but ignored him for months. Now, suddenly, the lights and cameras are all over the place, almost as if he's not what conservatives really wanted at first, but the only one left, the last one standing.

SANTORUM: It's a matter of compare and contrast.

JOHNS: Surging late is better than not surging at all, but it comes with its challenges, including attack ads.

Texas Governor Rick Perry just drilled Santorum for requesting a billion dollars in earmarks while he was in Congress.

NARRATOR: First question: Which Republican running for president voted for the bridge to nowhere earmark?

Yes, Suzie from Des Moines.


NARRATOR: Correct.

JOHNS: Santorum doesn't deny it.

SANTORUM: Yes, well, I did. And earmarks, if you look in the Constitution, earmarks are things that are clearly within the purview of the Constitution for the Congress to do. Congress spends money. I earmarked. Jim DeMint earmarked. Congressmen here in Iowa earmarked. But what happened was abuse.

JOHNS: The biggest question for Santorum is how he intends to compete with Mitt Romney, the guy who behaves like he's got everything he needs to go all the way to November, except for the nomination, of course.

SANTORUM: Well, I think we're doing pretty well right now. And we're going to go to New Hampshire after this.

JOHNS: And he's bought ads in New Hampshire, where he's been polling in the nether regions. He always loved to talk tough, which matters on the right. He's been slamming President Obama, as well as presidential candidate Ron Paul, claiming he's a liberal stalking conservative votes.


JOHNS: Some of the other candidates have gotten hurt when things from their past popped up to cause them trouble. I asked Santorum about that in today's interview. He says he's already been vetted; with him, what you see is what you get -- Wolf. BLITZER: And so he's ready though for a bunch of negative attack ads. They certainly did powerful damage to Newt Gingrich. Is he ready for that onslaught, assuming he does relatively well?

JOHNS: That's what he says. He pointed out to me that he is very much a known quantity, having been on Capitol Hill for so long in Washington, D.C., his point being that basically all the questions about Rick Santorum and his private life have already been asked and answered -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Joe Johns in Muscatine, Iowa, for us, thank you.

So, what's behind Rick Santorum's remarkable surge in Iowa? What lies ahead for some of the other candidates who have failed so far to make an impact with that state's social conservatives?

Does our new CNN/"TIME"/ORC poll offer some answers?

Joining us now from Iowa, CNN's political director, Mark Preston, and CNN political editor Paul Steinhauser.

Paul, first to you.

What are we learning in these polls that might help us better appreciate what's going on?

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN DEPUTY POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Social conservatives, Wolf. Mark, you know that social conservatives, as you said, are so influential out here on the Republican side.

Listen, Santorum, because of his stances on abortion, gay marriage, pretty popular with them and he's really made a pitch for them. Take a look at our new poll, Wolf. Let's break it down. This is among self-described born-again Christians here in Iowa who are likely to go to the caucus. Look who's on top, Rick Santorum 22 percent, ahead of the field.

That is one reason why he has been zooming up, tripling his numbers since the beginning of the month. Wolf, another thing of course he told you was hard work pays off. I know he said that right here in THE SIT ROOM yesterday.

One other number I want to share with you and Mark, look at this, five days until the caucuses, but look at that, 43 percent say they might change their mind. They're backing one candidate or another, but they still may change their mind. Anything could happen, I guess, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. When I was in Iowa the last few days, I spoke with a lot of likely Iowa caucus-goers and they said they have got some preferences, but they're more than ready to change their minds once they go into those schools, those churches, those civic centers, hear from their neighbors.

This is not a secret ballot. They have to express to everyone who they're supporting. So that's a little bit tougher than just pulling a button, a lever in a booth.

But, Mark, what about some of these other candidates, like Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Jon Huntsman? They got serious problems going forward. Is that what you're seeing?


The headlines out of the CNN/ORC/"TIME" poll was the rise of Rick Santorum and the fall of Newt Gingrich. But if you look into the poll a little bit deeper, it spells deep trouble for Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann.

Let's take a quick look at this poll from yesterday, our CNN/"TIME"/ORC poll of likely GOP caucus participants, their choice for nominee. We have matched that up against our poll from earlier this month out here in Iowa, and it shows that Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry have only been able to move the needle by 2 percentage points over the past few weeks.

The big question now for Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, can they have enough movement in the next five days to at least place in third or fourth place, get another ticket out of Iowa and have their campaign move on?

Moving on to New Hampshire, look at this poll for Jon Huntsman, who is staking his whole presidential run on a big win in the Granite State or a strong showing. Again, we did a poll earlier this month up there, matched up against our numbers that were just released yesterday. And it shows he's not moving the needle at all.

So while, again, the headlines out of our polls yesterday was strong showing from Mitt Romney in New Hampshire, a really strong showing for him in Iowa here as well, there are three candidates right now that have to be asking themselves what can they do to try to get voters to support them.

And Wolf, as you know, our viewers know, the bottom line is that these early nominating contests are very much a winnowing process as the march for the Republican presidential nomination moves on.

BLITZER: And we will be looking forward. We will look forward to seeing who, if anyone, drops out on Wednesday, the day after the Iowa caucuses, if the seven candidates go down to six or five, maybe four. We will see what happens. Usually, there's a winnowing out.

Remember, four years ago, guys, on the Democratic side, Chris Dodd was running for the Democratic nomination, basically moved his whole family to Iowa, spent all of the time there. Didn't exactly work out all that great for him in his bid for the Democratic nomination, so we will see what happens this time around.

Guys, thanks very much.

While most of the Republican candidates have been running themselves ragged in Iowa and digging deep into their campaign war chest, it's only a very small percentage of Iowa voters who actually take part in the caucuses. So here's a question. What's all this fuss all about?

Mary Snow has been taking a closer look into this part of the story -- Mary.


Well, there has long been a debate, as you know, about Iowa, why Iowa and whether it should hold the nation's first presidential contest, but with no agreement on a viable alternative, as long as Iowa's first, it gets plenty of attention.


SNOW (voice-over): Republican presidential hopefuls make the final sprint in Iowa. As they crisscross the state, campaigns and supporters flood the airwaves with ads, $8 million worth and counting just this month.

So how much can a win in Iowa matter? That depends.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This was the place where America remembered what it means to hope.

SNOW: For Barack Obama, a victory in Iowa proved to be a game- changer. On the Republican side, a different story.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), FORMER ARKANSAS GOVERNOR: Tonight, I love Iowa a whole lot.

SNOW: Mike Huckabee's upset victory in 2008 with the help of Iowa evangelicals failed to gain momentum outside the state. John McCain was the eventual nominee.

(on camera): When you take a look at who won in Iowa compared to the parties' eventual nominee, caucus-goers have more traction on the Democratic side. A win in 2008 was not only crucial for Barack Obama, but in 2004 for John Kerry and particularly in 1976 for Jimmy Carter.

On the Republican side in recent years, Iowa victors George W. Bush in 2000 and Bob Dole in 1996 went on to win their party's nomination. But their wins in Iowa were not as crucial to their campaigns.

(voice-over): Started in 1972, the caucuses are more about winnowing down the field of candidates. Winners gain no delegates, and some political watchers say the Iowa contest has become more about the media attention.

DENNIS GOLDFORD, PROFESSOR OF POLITICS AND INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, DRAKE UNIVERSITY: It's essentially in and of itself a meaningless event, but it has tremendous political impact, because if a candidate does worse than expected, support and especially funding tends to dry up. And if a candidate does better than expected, that support tends to expand and in particular funding, campaign contributions tend to increase.

SNOW: Last presidential election, about 118,000 Republicans took part in the caucuses.

And in Iowa, there's a stronger focus on social issues than other parts of the country -- 60 percent of GOP caucus-goers in 2008 described themselves as evangelical or born-again Christians.


SNOW: And, Wolf, that turnout of Republican caucus-goers back in 2008 amounts to roughly one-fifth of the number of registered Republicans in the state.

Estimates for what turnout may be this time around are just about all over the map -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Partially, the weather will be a factor. Older people might not necessarily want to leave their homes if it's really, really cold next Tuesday night.

But based on my anecdotal impressions, just spending a couple of days there this week, I think they're going to have some pretty good turnout, relatively speaking. I suspect it will be more than the 118,000 who showed up four years ago.

SNOW: Right. And this time around, as you said, there's so many caucus-goers out there who are uncertain, and there's the enthusiasm factor as well. So that could drive out a lot more people than last time.

BLITZER: We will see what happens. Mary, thanks very much.

And please be sure to join us in the CNN Election Center for the first votes in the Republican presidential contest. Our coverage of the Iowa caucuses begins Tuesday night, 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

It's the one rumor that just won't die, the Obama citizenship question, at least for some people out there. Today, someone in the audience asked Newt Gingrich about it. You're going to hear his answer. That's coming up.

And nonprofit groups are raided in Egypt, some of them with major ties to some of the most important people here in Washington, like John McCain and Madeleine Albright, an outrageous step against the U.S. in Cairo by Egyptian and police authorities. We're going to tell you what's going on. The ramifications are enormous, especially when it comes to the billions of dollars in U.S. assistance that goes to Egypt.

We will have details. That's coming up.


BLITZER: Here's a shocking story unfolding right now. Egyptian police raiding the offices of three U.S.-based pro-democracy human rights organizations, seizing computers and documents. It's part of a massive sweep against these nongovernmental organizations. One of the American groups is chaired by a former secretary of state, another by a powerful U.S. senator.

And Mohammed Jamjoom is joining us now from Cairo. It's outrageous what's going on in Cairo right now. Tell our viewers what happened on this day.

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we spoke to the spokesperson for the general prosecutor's office here. He confirmed to us that security forces conducted 17 raids of nongovernmental organizations in Cairo today, targeting at least 10 groups across the country. The targeted group included U.S.-based Freedom House, National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute.

And I spoke a short while ago to Julie Hughes. She's the country director for NDI. She said this was very surprising that at about 12:50 p.m. local time here today, there was a simultaneous raids of three of their offices in the country here that laptops were taken, lots of papers, electronic devices, some financial records.

And she says that they had heard before that they were under investigation, but that they didn't get any more really information beyond that.

This is something causing a lot of outrage here. A lot of rights activists in Egypt saying this is something that wouldn't have even happened during the repressive Mubarak days, during that regime. And a lot of people calling in to question just what the ruling military council here is intending to send, what kind of message they're intending to send with these actions. A lot of people here believe that this is a clear indication that the supreme council of the armed forces are not going to allow a true democratic civil society to flourish in Egypt -- Wolf.

BLITZER: These are organizations that promote democracy, that monitor elections. I don't know if the military leaders of Egypt know that Madeleine Albright, the former secretary of state, is the head of the National Democratic Institute, Republican Senator John McCain is the head of the International Republican Institute.

Do they have a clue what's going on here? How outrageous this is?

JAMJOOM: Wolf, if they didn't know before, they certainly are getting an indication now. This is a very, very big deal. It's bewildering why the supreme council of the armed forces or the general prosecutors office, why they would do this kind of an action, especially targeting these American U.S. organizations. It just doesn't make any sense.

It's sure to strain U.S.-Egypt relations at a time when there's already a lot of tension and volatility here. You know, even in these post-revolutionary times when things should be calming, when elections are happening, in the past couple of weeks, we've seen an increase in crackdowns that have are going on against protesters. We've seen a lot of outrage being stressed because military tribunals are still going on.

And this really only something that's going to add more tension not just within Egypt, but especially within the U.S.-Egypt relationship, which is such a crucial alliance in this region -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, they're going to have to reverse this and reverse it pretty quickly, start returning those laptops and all those documents they ransacked those offices in Cairo.

Mohammed, we'll stay in close touch with you. Thanks very much for that update.

And we're going to have more on this story coming up, including a very, very angry reaction coming in from the Obama administration, from members of Congress. Remember, the U.S. provides Egypt with billions of dollars in assistance every single year and I suspect that money is right now up in the air, very much on the line, unless the situation there reverses and gets back to the way it was. More on the story coming up.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the world, just a day after the extraordinary funeral for North Korea's so-called dear leader, Kim Jong-il, there's been another similar ceremony as his son, the so- called dear successor, Kim Jong-un, is declared the new supreme leader of North Korea.

CNN's Paula Hancocks has the story from Seoul.


PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the moment mourning for Kim Jong-il officially ended, three minutes of silence observed by hundreds of thousands across Pyongyang. State media claims that sight replicated across the whole country.

An hour earlier, speeches eulogized the man most revered and feared within his country. The ceremonial head of state Kim Yong Nam spoke of Kim Jong-il laying the foundations for better relations between the two Koreas, a claim that would surprise many outside North Korea.

It was beautifully choreographed as anything North Korean is, a grand show to the world of solidarity, not only for the late dear leader, but for the new supreme leader, a show of national cohesion.

Under the age of 30, with no military or political experience, Kim Jong-un front and center of proceedings for a second day running now commands a 1.1 million strong army, at least that is what these pictures are intended to show.

PROF. KIM YONG HO, AUTHOR: He needs to take some more important positions and he needs to consolidate more military power and requires more regions and loyalty from the military. So, that might require some more time for him.

HANCOCKS: Kim Jong-un's priority now, according to experts, is to fill the positions of power left vacant by his father.

(on camera): There's been a flurry of diplomatic activity around the region recently, showing that there is a continued fear of the unknown with this hereditary succession. U.S. officials are effectively saying that the ball is in North Korea's court and they'll wait until this new leadership is ready to start negotiating, again.

Paula Hancocks, CNN, Seoul.


BLITZER: Saudi Arabia getting ready to splurge big time on a fighter jet. It's a major purchase to the tune of billions and billions of dollars. The White House is thrilled for more reasons than just one.

And the Iowa caucuses are all over the news. But there's another Iowa contest with a $16.5 million prize winning moment that is still waiting.


BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now, including a multibillion dollar weapons sale to Saudi Arabia.

What's going on?


Saudi Arabia's making a big holiday purchase, $30 billion worth of F-15 fighter jets. The deal includes the production of 84 new aircraft and the modernization of another 70 current planes. The White House claims the deal will provide a $3.5 billion boost to the U.S. economy and support 50,000 American jobs.

Amazing video from an iReporter in the close off country of Myanmar. An explosion rocked a residential neighborhood near the city of Yangon, killing 20 and injured more than 95. Police official says the blast which happened at a compound of warehouses was most likely caused by a combination of chemicals and not a manmade bomb.

Verizon Wireless will soon make some customers pay more for just paying their billion online or telephone. The $2 convenience fee goes into effect on January 15th. Customers can avoid it by paying with an electronic check or by using a home bank account or a Verizon gift card.

And the lottery winner in Iowa has until the end of the hour. Better hurry up there, to claim a $60.5 million prize. The winning ticket was bought a year ago at a quick trip in Des Moines. If it's not claimed, it would be the second time in a week that a lottery winner failed to come forward. On Monday, a $77 million ticket went unclaimed in Georgia.

So, $16.5 million just waiting for someone. So, check your lottery ticket if you happen to buy a ticket a year ago.

BLITZER: Please. Can you imagine a depressed someone would be to find that six months from now?

SYLVESTER: Ooh. That's a big ooh.

BLITZER: Terrible. All right. Thanks, Lisa.

Will President Obama's re-election campaign try to rewrite the playbook for victory? A new video suggests his campaign could look to the west as it charges a new chorus to try to win in 2012.

And proving you can hunt is a rite of passage for most Republican presidential candidates. There are signs that voters' interest in the gun issue right now could be growing. Stand by.


BLITZER: Rick Santorum surged, Newt Gingrich slide, and the failure of a couple of other candidates to make a dent. Our latest CNN/"TIME"/ORC poll raising new questions about what the Republican field might look like beyond Tuesday's caucuses in Iowa.

Joining me now is the "TIME" magazine columnist, Joe Klein.

Joe, you spent a lot of time in Iowa. You've covered these events for a long time. I assume there would be one, two, maybe even three people who drop out after Iowa. What do you think?

JOE KLEIN, TIME MAGAZINE: I don't think that there will be. I think that you know, if Bachmann -- if Michele Bachmann continues to do poorly and her support may be bottoming out at this point, she has a real day job. She's going to have to run for Congress again, so she may drop out.

Rick Perry has a day job as well. He's the governor of Texas. And if he doesn't do very well in Iowa and New Hampshire, he may drop out.

I think Newt Gingrich is going to stay in and see how he does in places like South Carolina and Florida where he's still pretty strong, at least according to the polls.

And you know, -- and Ron Paul isn't going anywhere and I don't know if Rick Santorum is at this point either and then there's Jon Huntsman, who --

BLITZER: He's not going to -- Jon Huntsman is not going to drop out after Iowa because he's not even competing in Iowa. H e saved all of his ammunition for New Hampshire.

KLEIN: But he may -- he might drop out after New Hampshire especially since it appears in the polls, he's not catching on there. He's hovering around 10, 12 percent. I think by this point, he would have wanted to be throwing some fear into the Romney campaign. He's not doing that.

BLITZER: I've been reading your stuff come out of Iowa for as long as you've been writing all that stuff, Joe.

KLEIN: You're not that old.

BLITZER: Well, you know what, but you write good stuff.

KLEIN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Here's the question. Is this any way for Americans to elect a president of the United States with so much of the emphasis of 120,000 or 150,000 people showing up Tuesday night in Iowa?

KLEIN: Well, of course, not, but it's not going to change and you know I'll say this for both Iowa and New Hampshire. You want to start this process on a retail basis where politicians have to meet up with regulations, human beings and sell themselves to people, make their arguments in detail.

That happens in both Iowa and New Hampshire. I could see rotating it to other small states at first, but you want to start with small states, so that the candidates who have to prove themselves in the most intense and personal way.

I can't imagine, I'm not smart enough to come up with a better system. Even though everybody who suffers through this and kind of enjoys it in our masochistic way, understands that it could be better.

BLITZER: Well, because you know, I love Iowa. I love New Hampshire. I just came back from Iowa. The folks there are delightful, but not necessarily as the United States as a whole neither is New Hampshire for that matter.

KLEIN: No, it's -- these are overwhelmingly white states. You could move it to -- you know, there are other small states -- I would love to have it start with the Hawaiian primary.

We could spend the whole winter there, but a state like Delaware or Rhode Island is more representative of the population as a whole, but still, when you're trying to mess around with the basic format of this, all kind of arguments come into play and it's really very hard to dislodge Iowa and New Hampshire from the top spot.

States try to do it every four years and in the end, the question is, what do we get out of it? Do we get the best possible president? And I think given you know, the state of money and politics and the incredible marketing and negative advertising as we've just seen these last couple of weeks in Iowa.

I think that you know, to change the process, you're going to have to change all that stuff, too, and I don't see that happens given the way the Supreme Court is --

BLITZER: Yes, President Obama, he's doing a little campaigning in his home state of Hawaii right now. He's starting the Hawaii primary, if you will. He's enjoying himself. Let him enjoy and relax, he's going to be busy in the coming weeks and months. Thanks very much. Joe Klein from our sister publication, "Time" magazine. In Iowa, I sat down with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann. We spoke about a lot of stuff, including the nature of this campaign that's already marked by a constant stream of attack ads. Listen to this.


BLITZER: Is it nastier this time around?

ROMNEY: I don't know that I can compare that. Campaigns are by definition entities that point out distinctions between candidates. I mean, you go back to the days of Jefferson and Adams, my goodness, they were going back and forth with various attacks and people took a look at some things they discounted.

Other things they believed, but it was informative and ultimately people make a decision. I'm not going to complain about a political process that's been this way for a couple of hundred years.

BLITZER: It's politics. So, when Newt Gingrich says it's baloney when you say you can't control the super PACS that are attacking him on a daily basis, what do you say?

ROMNEY: Well, we understand, of course, that super PACS have to be independent of campaigns and campaigns can't tell them which advertisements to run. I, of course, can get up and say I decry all the negative ads, but I don't.

This is part of the process. We could all wish that we had a utopian type political process, but the campaign process that exists is the way it's been for a long time. People, I hoped, that the ads that go up despite showing contrast and distinction and attack or whatever you want to say, I hope they'll always tell the truth.

I would vehemently say to all these attacks running independent ads as well as campaigns. Stick to the truth. And if they stick to the truth, why, then that's the nature of the process we're going to have.

But I recognize if you're going to get in a campaign like this, you've got to have broad shoulders and if you can't take on the negative that's part of a primary, you're sure as heck not going to be ready for what's going to come from Barack Obama. If you can't handle the heat in this kitchen, wait until Barack Obama's hell kitchen.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about, I guess, it's a sensitive issue, an important issue. Transparency and you, you say you're not going to release your income tax returns. You're not going to release the name of your bundlers, people raising money for your campaign. Why would you want to do that? If you want to be president, the American people are expected to know everything.

ROMNEY: Well, I've said that I don't have any plans to release my income tax returns at this point. No other candidates have released their income tax returns at to point. I'll keep open. What will happen down the road never say never. But with regards to other disclosures, we'll follow and the people who have contributed and participated in our campaign expect us to follow the law.

BLITZER: Because the question comes up, what do you have to hide? Why wouldn't the American public need to know who's raising money for you?

ROMNEY: There's nothing particularly to hide. It's just when people say what disclosures you've made, you say you follow the law and you provide that information. I don't put out which tooth paste I use either.

BLITZER: Well, people would want to know that.

ROMNEY: Yes, it's not that I have something to hide, those things we disclose, those things required by law and by the way, it's a pretty complete review.

I mean, ultimately, your medical records, you get all of your assets, all of your investments are all made public. It's a process, a revealing process most people don't want to go through and as to doing more than what the process requires, never say never, we'll see what the future holds.

BLITZER: Because if you want to be president, you've got to expect everything to be open. Can't take the heat, got to get out of the kitchen, if you will, so you want to be president of the United States, I've covered presidents now for a long time. Very little that remains secret as you well know.

ROMNEY: I'm sure you're right.

BLITZER: But at this point, you're not ready to say --

ROMNEY: I'm not ready to release anything at this stage. We'll see what the future holds.


BLITZER: You can see a lot more of my interview with Mitt and Ann Romney, also my conversations with all the other Republican presidential candidates in our Saturday SITUATION ROOM program. The SITUATION ROOM on Saturday will air 6:00 p.m. Eastern only here on CNN. Getting ready for Iowa.

If President Barack Obama is in trouble next fall, could he flip the script with a change at the top of the ticket? We're taking a closer look whether a new name, specifically Hillary Clinton, could emerge in the number two slot. Could that change?

The president's fortunes in 2012, all of a sudden, some buzz on that. And Newt Gingrich, he doesn't go out of his way to support President Obama, but he did defend him in Iowa against one of the oldest charges against the president.


BLITZER: The rumor that the president of the United States wasn't born in the United States certainly hasn't died in some places. One of them is apparently some corners of Iowa.

But when a so-called birther confronted Newt Gingrich today on the campaign trail, the Republican presidential candidate didn't take the bait.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't want to put you on the spot, so you may say yes, no, or will discuss at another time. According to the constitution, those who are running for offices in the United States, now, you know where I'm going with this. Don't you?

So, before you have your debate, why is Mr. Obama not happy exactly prove his citizenship as he's going to all these other countries besides leading our country.

In Arizona, if I have my facts correct, they are refusing to put his name on the ballot because he has not proven that he is a citizen, is that true? Is that true?

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Now look, let me answer this. I thought you were going to ask whether or not Donald Trump had citizenship.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. No. No chance. No chance.

GINGRICH: All I can report is the state of Hawaii has certified that he was born there. We both with a taxi driver one day who showed us the hospital, there is every reason to believe he is a citizen in the states.

The fact that he's already a terrible president, we don't have to go beyond that and try to find something beyond that. I just, you know -- I think in all fairness, this is one of those issues where it's a fact.

He is the president of the United States. Therefore at a factual level, citizenship is a moot issue. He is the president. He's not going to lose the presidency over that. He'll lose the presidency because all of us are going to vote him out, which is the American way of doing it.


BLITZER: The president is currently vacationing in Hawaii where a new law is drawing attention to his views on same-sex marriage. Let's bring in our White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar. She's joining us from Honolulu. Brianna, what's going on?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, here in Hawaii on New Year's Day, civil unions for same-sex couples and also for heterosexual couples become legal.

Now, same-sex marriages still not sanctioned under this law and it's a reminder of President Obama's position on the matter. He supports civil unions for same-sex couples. He does not support same- sex marriage, although he has said his opinion is evolving.


KEILAR (voice-over): When President Obama and his family ring in the New Year here in Owaho, many same-sex couples in Hawaii will celebrate for a different reason. Civil unions become legal here on January 1st.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now, our state has finally said we support you and that gives us a really good feeling.

KEILAR: Monica Montgomery is from the town where the Obamas are vacationing. Her partner of 33 years, Donna Gedge (ph) went to the same high school as President Obama. Shortly after midnight on New Year's Day, Gedge and Montgomery plan to seal their civil union with a ceremony.

(on camera): Why is it so important to do it at that very moment?

MONICA MONTGOMERY, PLANNING CIVIL UNION CEREMONY: Because we've waited so long. Normally, I wouldn't be functioning at 12:30 in the morning, that's not a time I would choose, but we want to do it and do it right away.

KEILAR (voice-over): They call it a step in the right direction because there's a big difference between states allowing civil unions or marriages and the federal government condoning marriage.

Same-sex couples do not qualify for federal rights afforded to hetero sexual married couples like Social Security benefits, immigration rights or the ability to file federal taxes jointly.

Even in Hawaii, marriage is defined by law is between a man and a woman. A position shared by Hawaii's most famous native son.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Define marriage.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman. Now, for me as a Christian --

KEILAR: As a candidate, Obama supported civil unions, though he said the issue of marriage is best left up to the states, but this year, he's signalled he may change his mind.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: As I've said, you know, my feelings about this are constantly evolving. I struggle with this.

KEILAR: The majority of Democrats and even independent voters, support same-sex marriage. Observers like political analyst, Ron Brownstein say the president appears to be playing to socially conservative Democrats who tend to be rural, older, white voters without a college education.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: But the paradox is that he's already losing those voters in big numbers. He lost about three fifths for example of both non-college whites and white seniors in 2008.

They voted even more heavily for Republicans in 2010 and by avoiding these issues, he may be disappointing the actual coalition that he could mobilize in 2012.

KEILAR: Monica and Donna are part of that coalition. They voted for President Obama in 2008 and while they think he now privately supports their desire for a federally recognized marriage, they say that's not enough.

DONNA GEDGE, PLANNING CIVIL UNION CEREMONY: What good does it do if you support it personally, but you don't put it out there for everybody to know that this is your stand? We don't want to keep waiting and waiting and waiting.


KEILAR: Now, the White House is very sensitive to the suggestion that President Obama has not fully delivered for gay and lesbian Americans, pardon me, Wolf. You'll frequently hear White House officials touting what he has delivered on.

The repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," and of course, the Justice Department has stopped defending that federal ban on same-sex marriage questioning the constitutionality of it, but ultimately, Wolf, it seems like this will be a decision for the courts.

There are a number of legal challenges winding their way through the system right now, but it's a very possible. Advocates think they won't see a resolution to this until after the election.

BLITZER: Brianna Keilar on assignment for us in Hawaii. Thanks, Brianna. Thanks very much. Good report.

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, could that be a winning ticket for the Democrats in 2012? We're going to discuss that and more. Our "Strategy Session" is next.


BLITZER: Get right to our "Strategy Session." Joining us now are CNN contributor, the Democratic strategist, Hillary Rosen and Republican strategist, Terry Holt.

It comes up every few weeks almost. Early October, I wrote this on our SITUATION ROOM blog. I said if the economy is still awful next summer and Obama's poll numbers are really low, he could throw a Hail Mary pass, find a way to lose Joe Biden, and asks Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to be his running mate.

Now, Robert Reich, the former Clinton labor secretary, very smart guy, he writes this. My political prediction for 2012 based on absolutely no inside information, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden swap places.

If the European debt crisis grows worse and if China's economy continues to slow, there's a better than even chance we'll be back in a recession. Clinton will help deflect attention from the bad economy and put it on foreign policy where she and Obama have shined.

Is that at all possible in your opinion as a Democrat, knows what's going on, Hillary Rosen, that the ticket will be Obama-Clinton?

HILLARY ROSEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Based on no inside information as the key phrase in Robert Reich's column --

BLITZER: Based on your no information.

ROSEN: Based on my no information, but maybe more inside, there's just no chance. First of all, Joe Biden's a great vice president and Hillary Clinton's the first person to say so and he's an asset to the president on the campaign trail.

They're close. There's just no need. You know, the last time we were talking about it, just talking about this, this happened. Richard Nixon did this. It's just one more reason why I can say definitively Barack Obama's nothing like Richard Nixon.

BLITZER: How many votes does Joe Biden bring to the Democratic ticket?


BLITZER: No, no, no. That was part one of the question. So, the answer is not many, right? How many votes would Hillary Clinton bring to the table?

HOLT: I think she's just a rock star. She's been an excellent secretary of state. She's been the one bright, shining spot of this Obama administration. But I don't think she's going to get any closer to the White House while Barack Obama's in it. I think she outshines him on virtually every occasion.

BLITZER: Would she energize the base if she were on the ticket? Would women, for example, be more inclined to vote for President Obama's re-election if she opposed to Biden were on the ticket? That's a yes or no.


BLITZER: Really? You don't think she would energize the base and energize women who maybe disillusioned?

ROSEN: More than President Obama --

BLITZER: More than Biden? ROSEN: The thing that will energize the base the most is when Republicans have a nominee because no matter who the Republican nominee is, none of them are saying that right things for women. President Obama will. That's what going to energize --

HOLT: I don't see any energy in the Democratic base. Maybe that will change between now and next November there's certainly plenty of time, but the fact of the matter is that the youth vote's not going to be there.

On foreign policy, been a virtual abdication of the Obama agenda when he was a candidate from Guantanamo Bay to Afghanistan. We haven't seen evidence yet there's much energy in the Democratic base although I don't think Hillary Clinton would do that for them, it's certainly job number one.

BLITZER: Here's another reason why I don't think it's going to happen, but why if it does happen, she can't campaign for him as secretary of state. She's a diplomat.

ROSEN: Right.

BLITZER: She's a great campaigner. As a vice presidential candidate, she could campaign.

ROSEN: She could. She'll be a great campaigner.

BLITZER: What about Bill Clinton? Was he a good campaigner?

ROSEN: No, Bill Clinton has a reputation of being a terrible campaigner.

BLITZER: Well, if his wife is on the ticket, would he be out there every single day?

ROSEN: He would, but you know, actually, I think Bill Clinton is going to be out there every other day.

BLITZER: No, I don't think he's going to be out there as much. If Hillary Clinton were on ticket, he'd be out three, four times in Florida, in Ohio and Pennsylvania. He'd been campaigning full speed ahead. If Biden is on the ticket --

HOLT: It's insane because it would never be able to be on message.

BLITZER: Do you want to be a one term or a two term president?

ROSEN: I'd rather be a two term president, but Barack Obama is going to be a two term president.

BLITZER: He's loyal and Joe Biden's a great guy and he loves Joe Biden, but Joe Biden would be an excellent secretary of state, too, right?

ROSEN: A lot of their base is very similar, the Biden-Clinton base. They do appeal to sort of working, middle class whites. They both have long history of work on behalf of women.

Joe Biden's done a lot of things for women. I think we're going to get plenty of energy when the Republicans nominate who they're going to nominate.

BLITZER: You're probably right and you're probably right too, but I'm not ruling it out. If the economy deteriorates, if he sees his numbers going down, if he sees, let's say Mitt Romney's the Republican nominee. He's got a strong vice presidential candidate with him, he sees himself as a one term Jimmy Carter, that Hail Mary pass --

ROSEN: It's 2016 for Hillary Clinton.

BLITZER: All right, we'll see. She'll be 68 years old.

HOLT: Plenty of time.

BLITZER: Michele Bachmann hasn't had the best week in Iowa. A major supporter dumped her. Can her campaign survive? My live interview with her from Iowa that's coming up.

And Rick Santorum is surging in the polls right now like other candidates who have risen. That means more scrutiny. We're taking a closer look at his past, where he stands, stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Here's a look at some other political headlines making news on the CNN Political Ticker right now including an analysis of ads in Iowa with more bad news for Newt Gingrich.

An analysis of the tone and focus of advertising in Iowa this month by the campaign media analysis group shows that Gingrich is a popular punching bag. Nearly half of all political ads were negative and aimed at the former House speaker, 45 percent.

That dwarfed the 6 percent of ads that showed him in positive light, pro and anti-Perry ads that were equal -- roughly equal with 8 percent of all advertisements each way.

A fifth of all the ads were targeting Mitt Romney. He also enjoyed the most positive advertising, 10 percent. And the analysis by the group shows 3 percent of ads were in favor of Ron Paul. Paul's campaign also got a visit today from occupy the caucus protesters. Five of them were arrested outside his headquarters in Des Moines. They spoke out against his pledge to close the Environmental Protection Agency if elected.

And some fans of the former "American Idol" winner Kelly Clarkson aren't happy after she announced her support for Republican candidate Ron Paul. The pop star tweeted. I'm quoting now. "I love Ron Paul. I liked him a lot during the last Republican nomination and no one gave him a chance."

The comment sparked a barrage of angry tweets, but Clarkson isn't backing down saying, I like Ron Paul because he believes in less government and letting the people, all of us, make the decisions and mold our country. That is all.

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