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War of Words in Iowa; Ron Paul's Shot at Iowa; Bachmann's Surge Strategy; On The Bus With The Romneys; One on One With Rick Santorum; Battle For New Hampshire

Aired December 31, 2011 - 18:00   ET




The Republican presidential candidates are just a few days away from the first test that counts. This hour, the battle for Iowa and the dramatic shifts in the race as it goes down to the wire.

Newt Gingrich is telling Mitt Romney he needs to man up about his negative attacks. Romney is asking why Gingrich is so angry. Stand by for my revealing interviews with Gingrich and Romney along with Romney's wife Ann.

Plus, my interviews with the rest of the GOP pack, including Iowa's new rising star, Rick Santorum and the surprising Ron Paul.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're just a few days from the first voting of the 2012 Republican campaign, and as the Iowa caucuses loom, our latest poll shows a stunning change in the - in what's going on. Mitt Romney still leads in Iowa with 25 percent and our CNN-"TIME"-ORC Poll. Ron Paul is right behind at 22 percent.

But look at this. Rick Santorum has jumped into third place with 16 percent. Meantime, Newt Gingrich plummeted to 14 percent down from 33 percent only a few weeks ago. Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and Jon Huntsman are all at the bottom.

I sat down with Newt Gingrich in Iowa this week as he was being hammered by a barrage of attack ads.


BLITZER: I was watching TV, you can't - I don't know how much TV you've watched in Iowa, but if you watch commercials, they are hitting you hard.

NEWT GINGRICH, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Oh, yes. Look, I think they would have spent $5 million, $6 million, $7 million, most of it false, and the amazing thing to me is we've held up as well as we have. And I think now we're going to come back, this entire Jobs and Economic Growth Tour is designed to counter the negativity. And we always start out to be the top three or four. Well, I think we're going to be in the top three or four. We could end up as number one. It's a very confusing field right now.

BLITZER: Because you're - it looks like you're lowering expectations a little bit, which is understandable.

GINGRICH: A little bit, yes.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about this. Romney - well, it's not a Romney directly, it's a Super PAC, backed by his supporters. He - as you know, points out he can't have any involvement. I'll play a little clip. Watch it and then we'll discuss - for viewers who may not have seen it.

GINGRICH: All right.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Barack Obama's plan is working. Destroy Mitt Romney, run against Newt Gingrich. Newt has a ton of baggage. He was fined $300,000 for ethics violations, and took $1.6 million from Freddie Mac before it helped cause the economic meltdown. Newt supported amnesty for illegal immigrants, and teamed with Nancy Pelosi and Al Gore on global warming.

BLITZER: All right, you get the point. That's a pretty tough ad. It's not directly from Mitt Romney. It's from a Super PAC.

GINGRICH: But this is what is just false about American politics. That PAC is run by his staff, paid for by his friends.

BLITZER: But there can't be any coordination. That would be illegal.

GINGRICH: All he's got to do is say publicly only run positive ads. That would be called leadership.

BLITZER: All right. Here's an ad that Ron Paul is playing. This is not a Super PAC. This is Ron Paul's -


BLITZER: -- campaign and it's very tough on you. I'll play it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Support for an individual mandate, a key tenet of President Obama's health care law.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Support for an individual mandate? Folks, don't ask me to explain this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everything that Gingrich railed against when he was in the House, he went the other way when he got paid to go the other way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's demonstrating himself to be the very essence of the Washington insiders. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's about serial hypocrisy.

BLITZER: Serial hypocrisy? That's what Ron Paul is accusing you of. And you're telling me - and I've covered you and have known you for a long time. Somebody says you're involved in serial hypocrisy and you're not going to fight back?

GINGRICH: Well, first of all, as people get to know more about Ron Paul, who disowns 10 years of his own newsletter, says he didn't really realize what was in it, had no idea what he was making money on, had no idea that it was racist, anti-Semitic, called for the destruction of Israel, talked about a race war, all this is a sudden shock to Ron Paul?

There will come a morning people wouldn't take him as a serious person. This is - this is a man who happened to have had a good cause, auditing the Federal Reserve, cleaning up the Federal Reserve. And I think as a - as a protest, he's a very reasonable candidate.

As a potential president, a person who thinks the United States was responsible for 9/11, a person who believes - who wrote in his newsletter that the World Trade Center bombing in '93 might have been a CIA plot, a person who believes it doesn't matter if the Iranians own a nuclear weapon, I'd rather just say you look at Ron Paul's total record of systemic avoidance of reality, and you look at his newsletters, and then you look at his ads, his ads are about as accurate as his newsletter.

BLITZER: Now, if he were to get the Republican nomination -

GINGRICH: He wouldn't.

BLITZER: -- let's say he were. Could you vote for him?


BLITZER: What would you do?

GINGRICH: I don't see how -

BLITZER: Could you vote for President Obama?

GINGRICH: Somebody just up and says I don't care if Israel's destroyed? I don't care if there's - I don't care if the Iranians get a nuclear weapon?

BLITZER: I'm not so sure he says Israel destroyed. But what he does say, he doesn't think Iran represents a threat to Israel even if it had a nuclear bomb.

GINGRICH: What he says is that's a risk he's willing to take. And he just had one of his former staff say flatly that he doesn't - that he said over and over again Israel was a mistake. I mean, I think it's very difficult to see how you would engage in dealing with Ron Paul as a nominee.

BLITZER: All right. So let's just be precise -

GINGRICH: Given - given the newsletters, which he has not yet disowned -

BLITZER: You could not vote for Ron Paul -

GINGRICH: He would have to go a long way to explain himself, and I think it would be very difficult to see today Ron Paul as the Republican nominee.

BLITZER: What would you do if the choice were Ron Paul or Barack Obama?

GINGRICH: I think you'd have a very hard choice at that point.

BLITZER: But would you -

GINGRICH: I think Barack -

BLITZER: What would you do?

GINGRICH: I don't know, but I think Barack Obama is very destructive to the future of the United States. I think Ron Paul's views are totally outside the mainstream of virtually every decent American.

Now, that's going to be very controversial, but I just suggest to people, before you decide that I'm wrong, read the newsletters. Look at what he said and ask yourself, this is a very serious question for the United States. It's a very serious question -

BLITZER: So, you don't accept this explanation that he never read that, he never wrote -

GINGRICH: He spent 10 years -

BLITZER: -- only years later did he look at it.

GINGRICH: OK. So he spent 10 years earning a - he's attacking me for serial hypocrisy and he spent 10 years earning money out of a newsletter that had his name that he didn't notice. Now all I'm saying is I think he's got to come up with some very straight, very straight answers to get somebody to take him seriously.

Would I be willing to listen to him? Sure. Are there circumstances you'd have to weigh heavily? Yes. I think the choice of Ron Paul or Barack Obama would be a very bad choice for America.

BLITZER: Well, Mitt Romney made fun of you. I don't know if you heard, did you hear about this?


BLITZER: About the Virginia snafu and all of that. I'll play the clip. Watch this.

GINGRICH: OK. MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, I think he compared that to - was it Pearl Harbor? I think it's more like Lucille Ball at the chocolate factory. So, I mean, you've got to get it organized.

BLITZER: Now, he was referring to a statement that your campaign manager said, this was like Pearl Harbor, you've learned from it, and it's not going to happen again.


BLITZER: But he's comparing you to Lucille Ball, "I Love Lucy" -


BLITZER: -- when she was at that chocolate - you remember that scene.

GINGRICH: I have a very simple message for Mitt Romney. I'll meet him anywhere in Iowa for 90 minutes, just the two of us, in a debate, with a timekeeper and no moderator. I'd love to have him say that to my face.

I'd like him to have the courage to back up his negative ads. I'd like him to have - back up the things his staff have been putting out. He wants to prove he can debate Barack Obama? He ought to have the courage to stand on the same stage with me.

He's buying millions of dollars in attack ads through a phony Super PAC run by his former staff, paid for by his millionaire friends.

Now, I'd like to have him have the courage to be on the same stage and defend his ads and explain his record as a moderate in Massachusetts, explain his record of raising taxes, explain his record of paying for abortions through state money, explain his record of putting Planned Parenthood on.

And frankly, explain why he was a - he wasn't a job-creating governor. And his current plan is much weaker than mine. So, I'd like to debate the Gingrich supply-side conservative economic plan versus the Romney moderate plan, which is much weaker in job creation. And I'm happy for him to have fun at a distance, but I'd like to invite him to spend 90 minutes debating face-to-face.

BLITZER: There have been about a dozen debates.


BLITZER: He's been on the stage with you -


BLITZER: -- so far. He was standing on some of those debates very close to you.

GINGRICH: Herman Cain was willing to debate one-on-one. Jon Huntsman has debated one-on-one. Rick Santorum has debated one-on-one. Mitt Romney's the guy running the most ads attacking me, and he's doing it through this disingenuous, "Oh, gee, I don't control all of my former staff and all of my millionaire friends." It's baloney.

If he wants to defend his negativity, show up in Iowa, 90 minutes, face-to-face. Let the - let the people decide whether or not, in fact, he'll back up what he's been saying, and let him back up his moderate record, not conservative record, as governor, and I don't think he'll do it.

BLITZER: All right. One final question, just because it's so important to the country and to me, because I've been covering this war in Iraq going back to the first Gulf War.

Knowing what you know right now, knowing what all of us know, including this tension that's developing in the aftermath of the US withdrawal, was it - was it smart for the US to go in there in March of 2003 and - and launch this invasion and get rid of Saddam Hussein based on faulty intelligence? Was it a blunder? If you knew then, in other words, what you know now, would you have done it?

GINGRICH: First of all, you can look back and say based on faulty intelligence. Based on the intelligence that was agreed to by the Russians, the British, the Italians -

BLITZER: Which was faulty.

GINGRICH: But nonetheless, every major power agreed --

BLITZER: But it was faulty. We all know - we're all smarter now than we were then.

GINGRICH: Yes, but, you know, you have the great advantage of looking back in hindsight and say, gee -

BLITZER: Well, that's the question.

GINGRICH: -- you wish the world were different.

BLITZER: With hindsight, with 20/20 hindsight, was this war smart or stupid?

GINGRICH: I think replacing Saddam Hussein was good for the world. This was a murderous, evil person who had done a lot of terrible things and had - had been involved in killing well over a million people.

BLITZER: A million people?

GINGRICH: And - well, look at the cost of the Iran-Iraq War. And so, I would say to you, if you look at his use of chemical weapons he used on his own people, you look at the degree to which he was trying to get nuclear weapons - and remember, when you talk to people form the debriefing teams, most of his generals thought Saddam had a nuclear weapons program. They just didn't think they knew what it was. So, I think it's very hard to go back.


BLITZER: Newt Gingrich speaking with me this week.

Meanwhile, Mitt Romney responded to what Newt Gingrich told me. Coming up, I'll sit down one on one with the former Massachusetts governor and his wife, Ann.

Plus, Congressman Ron Paul predicts whether he'll win the Iowa caucuses.

And Michele Bachmann won the Iowa straw poll only four months ago. Now she's in single digits in the latest polls. So what happened?

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Ron Paul is a target of new attacks and red hot scrutiny as he fights to remain one of the front-runners in Iowa. I spoke with Ron Paul about his opponents and his chances of winning the Iowa caucuses Tuesday night.


BLITZER: We've got a lot of questions for you because I I asked our viewers on Twitter, Facebook if you have a question for Ron Paul. Here's one. "Would you consider Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich as your vice president?"

RON PAUL, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Probably not, not unless they change their ways, and change their beliefs and convince me of it.

BLITZER: You're doing amazingly well in Iowa right now. You're not surprised. A lot of the so-called pundits are pretty surprised. Can you tell us right now, do you think you will win the Iowa caucuses?

PAUL: I think I have a good chance, but I'm not saying that - I'm not working on a day-to-day basis and said, you know, I'm assuming , you know, I'm going to win this thing, no. I'm not at that point. But I'm assuming we're going to do very, very well and have a much better showing than anybody has given us credit for, for the past year.

BLITZER: Because if you do win Iowa, it shakes up the situation going into New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida pretty dramatically. You want to give us a name or two of someone you would consider as a possible vice president?

PAUL: Probably not - not today. I haven't thought it through and there are so many people that I know that would qualify. I would hate to pick one or two names out right now. But time will tell later on maybe.

BLITZER: One final question, Congressman, before I let you go. In the past I've called you an isolationist, but I get hammered by your supporters out there.

PAUL: Good. Good.

BLITZER: Where they write to me and they say, "Ron Paul is not an isolationist." He's a noninterventionist. All right. Tell our viewers right now, once and for all, the difference between an isolationist and a noninterventionist.

PAUL: An isolationist is a protectionist that builds walls around the country. They don't like to trade. They don't like to travel about the world. And they like to put sanctions on different countries. So some of the people who call me that are actually much more in favor of sanctions and limited trade. They're the ones who don't want to trade with Cuba and they want to put sanctions on anybody who blinks their eye at them.

And, yet, the opposite is what we believe in. We believe Nixon did the right thing by opening up trade doors with China because that is when we quit killing each other. And that we are more at peace with them because we better be because they become our banker.

So nonintervention is quite a bit different. It's what the founders advised to get along with people, trade with people, and to have - practice diplomacy, rather than getting - having this militancy of telling people what to do and how to run the world, and building walls around our own country. That is - that is isolationism. It's a far cry from what we believe in.

BLITZER: Just to be precise, you want to bring all U.S. troops home, not just from Iraq and Afghanistan, but from Germany, Japan, South Korea, every place else around the world. Is that right?

PAUL: Yes. Because I believe in national defense and our first responsibility - probably one of the major responsibilities of the federal government is on national defense. And fighting these wars has not helped us. I mean, getting bogged down in Afghanistan brought the Soviet Union to its knees and it's bringing us to our knees, too. We've been there 10 years and it's contributing to this huge deficit that we have.

Those wars over there have contributed $4 trillion worth of debt in the last 10 years. So, yes, I want to bring them home and I think we'll be stronger for it. I think we'll have a stronger national defense and we will have a lot stronger economy. If we're serious about straightening up this mess, we have to deal with foreign policy, as well as monetary policy and fiscal policy and tax policy.

BLITZER: Ron Paul is running for the Republican presidential nomination. Congressman, good luck.

PAUL: Thanks a lot.


BLITZER: The next candidate on our agenda, Michele Bachmann. You're going to find out her plans for a last-minute surge in Iowa.

Plus, Texas Gover Rick Perry on the move. He would make that no president Republican or Democrat has done since 1948.


BLITZER: It was only four months ago when Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann was at the front of the presidential pack in Iowa. She won the straw poll back in August. Since then her numbers have been plunging and now it's a race against time for her to turn things around.


BLITZER: If you were to get the nomination, Ron Paul, could you vote for him?

MICHELE BACHMANN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's never going to happen, Wolf. Ron Paul is not getting the nomination. We see this unbelievable momentum for me and Iowa. Americans want an American iron lady, and they're flipping to Michele Bachmann. I intend to be the nominee that defeats Barack Obama because we've got to get the country back on the right track and repeal Obamacare. That's what I'm going to do as the next president of the United States.

BLITZER: I know - I know it's a big if, but if he were to get the nomination, I've asked the other candidates. New Gingrich said he couldn't -

BACHMANN: He's not going to, Wolf. It's never going to happen.

BLITZER: But if he did, could you vote for him?

BACHMANN: Never going to happen, Wolf. It is never going to happen.

BLITZER: But can't you say yes or no?

BACHMANN: Put that baby to bed. Ron Paul would never be the nominee.

BLITZER: But you can't say whether or not you'd vote for him?

BACHMANN: Yes, I'm giving you the answer, Wolf.

BLITZER: You can't vote for him.

BACHMANN: He's never going to be the nominee, right, you guys? It's going to be Michele Bachmann and there you go, straight from the - from here in Iowa.

BLITZER: You know, in our new CNN-"TIME"-ORC Poll, he's doing a lot better than you are in Iowa. How do you explain that?

BACHMANN: Well, because the polls don't determine what is going to happen on January 3rd. Everyone said that I didn't have a chance to win the Iowa straw poll. I'm the only candidate in the presidential race that's won a statewide election. I won the Iowa straw poll. We're going to see a miracle happen on Tuesday, I have absolutely no doubt. The people here in Nevada, Iowa know that, too, and we're going to see that miracle next Tuesday, so we're excited. BLITZER: Let's talk about Afghanistan for a moment. The U.S. is continuing to spend about $2 billion a week maintaining 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The other day, Hamid Karzai's government announced that they were granting an oil drilling project potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars if not down the road billions of dollars not to a U.S. company that wanted it, not to a European company that wanted it, but to China. Is that OK with you?

BACHMANN: No, of course not, because this is what we're seeing. China is becoming the hegemony on in the Middle East region, and it's because they're continuing to become an economic powerhouse. We also can't forget that China has enabled a lot of the military - or a lot of the missile delivery systems to Iran that will enable them in their quest to obtain a nuclear weapon.


BLITZER: Four more presidential candidate interviews to go, including the front-runner Mitt Romney. Up next, he and his wife Ann get personal.

Plus, why Rick Santorum is nervous about a Ron Paul presidency.


BLITZER: I went to Iowa this week and the run-up to caucuses and I sat down with Mitt Romney and his wife Ann onboard their campaign bus.

Of course, we spoke about the presidential race in-depth. But the conversation also got personal. I got to see a side of them and their marriage that many people haven't seen.


ANN ROMNEY, MITT ROMNEY'S WIFE: You know, I think a lot of people are aware that I have multiple sclerosis and I think, you know, bringing awareness to people that are suffering, that have difficulties in their lives, not only I think what I bring more awareness to people that have to dealt with a lot in their lives. But put out some love to try to move the ball forward a little bit in trying to find a cure.

BLITZER: Well, Tell us about that, if you don't mind sharing. What does that mean, MS, for you?

A. ROMNEY: Multiple sclerosis for almost everyone that has it has an enormous amount of fatigue in their life, and it's like starting over. When you're diagnosed, it's like, OK, the rules of life have changed now and you aren't operating the same way. Your memory isn't as good. You get fatigued. You lose, often times, you might lose function in a leg, an arm, an eye.

I mean, it is all these bad things happen with MS and it's a progressive disease. It also is a relapsing remitting disease, where you can go in remission, which I fortunately in right now. But it's a difficult thing to deal with. And everyone that does have MS, it's pretty universal, that they deal with a lot of fatigue. BLITZER: Because I know people who have it, they - but medication can really - can really help.

A. ROMNEY: Yes. It's been enormous progress in the last - since I've been diagnosed, really, enormous progress in keeping people, their exasperations, not as severe and not as frequent. So, that's where the medicines have been very, very helpful, but we're right on the cusp of finding all sorts of new - new ways to deal with multiple sclerosis.

BLITZER: The story you've told - and I don't know if our viewers have heard you tell them, when you suspected that Mrs. Romney was getting sick and you weren't sure what it was and you had no idea what was going to happen, but I wonder if you want to share that - that story with us, when you first suspected that something was wrong.

M. ROMNEY: Well, we knew that something was awry and our doctor said you need to see a neurologist. We went to Massachusetts General Hospital, where the folks assigned us a superb neurologist. We went to his lobby and on the table there were brochures that described ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease, and multiple sclerosis. Those looked to be the things this neurologist was treating.

A. ROMNEY: And the symptoms, they were my symptoms. Yes.

BLITZER: The same symptoms?

ROMNEY: The symptoms, in Ann's case, were similar for either one of those diseases. We went into his office, he did a series of neurological tests and Ann had to stand on one foot and so forth.

And it was clear that she he didn't have feeling where she should have, she didn't have balance where she should have, and something was seriously wrong.

He left the room and we embraced each other. We were very emotional, and I said, Ann, we can deal with anything as long as it's not terminal. You know, Ann's my life.

We live for each other and it was a difficult time for us. It's been a challenge since then, but we're very fortunate that her condition is not terminal. That she's been able to be strong, and that this trial came and that we were able to confront it.

BLITZER: You know, you've had an amazing marriage together and that one commercial that you've done, it's a powerful commercial. You know all the pundits, what they said?

ANN ROMNEY: I actually don't know what they said because I'm on the road.

BLITZER: They said, you know what, you've had a wonderful marriage, great kids and you can see the two of you together right now, that is in marked contrast of Newt Gingrich and his three marriages. Was there a political background to what you were trying to do there? ANN ROMNEY: You know, not at all. I think whenever I speak about our life experience, it is ours. This is our story. It's not anyone else's story.

Everyone has their own story and for me to be able to talk about my life and how I feel about my husband, that's my story. And it's never intended to be seen in the lens of anything other than our story.

BLITZER: So tell us how you feel about him?

ANN ROMNEY: Well, I will say that for me it's so comforting to know that Mitt is always on my side and with me in the hardest of times and when you just described what it was like, to have that diagnosis, it was Mitt that got me through my darkest hours.

It was also Mitt that got me through those really tough years raising five really quite rambunctious and at times quite naughty boys, where he would call home and remind me when I would be quite exacerbated because he was traveling, that what I was doing was more important than his.

My job in his eyes was more valuable than his. It's like my job is temporary and yours is going to bring lifelong happiness and even eternal happiness for the family. So we had that kind of partnership.

And that kind of support system that's always been there for a long time and, you know, when it gets really tough, it's nice to know that Mitt's there for me.

BLITZER: Tell us something that you may not know about the governor.

ANN ROMNEY: Well, I think people don't appreciate actually his sense of humor. That he actually plays a lot of tricks all the time and that he actually laughs most of the time and as soon as you turn these cameras off, he will be telling a joke and we'll be laughing and sitting back and telling jokes.

BLITZER: You're saying he's a funny guy?

ANN ROMNEY: He actually is a very funny guy.

BLITZER: The image of the governor, very stiff, very proper.

ANN ROMNEY: It's funny how that is and that may be his public perception, but that is not who is he privately at all.

BLITZER: Is she right?

MITT ROMNEY: Yes. Yes. I mean, you know, I live for laughter. But, you know, in debates you get asked questions. You answer the questions. You don't tell jokes and as a matter of fact my sons are a little tired of my jokes.

I actually like jokes as well as things that are sort of fun. My sons like -- you know, like spontaneous humor not jokes, but I like it all. Anytime you can laugh. May I go back, I used to watch Laurel and Hardy, the Three Stooges. You know, even the Keystone Cops.

BLITZER: "I Love Lucy" because it's come up in the campaign.

MITT ROMNEY: I watched "I Love Lucy." I watched the "Honeymooners." I love humor and --

BLITZER: Tell us what you're thinking that Newt Gingrich didn't get on the Virginia ballot and you made the comparison to "I Love Lucy" and the "Chocolate Factory."

MITT ROMNEY: I think his campaign manager said him not getting on the ballot in Virginia was like Pearl Harbor and my reaction was, no, no. This is not at all like Pearl Harbor. This is more like Lucy at the "Chocolate Factory."

Things are coming at you very fast. You're not always as organized as you'd like to be and sometimes things don't work out the way you want them to work out.

And that happens to me in our campaign, that's happened to my life various times. It's a humorous image, but in many respects it reflects what happens in a campaign.

BLITZER: It's very funny, but the serious part is if he couldn't even get on the Virginia ballot, couldn't get the 10,000 signatures that he needs. What does that say about his campaign?

MITT ROMNEY: Well, you know, I can't speak to his campaign, but obviously that's his home state and we knew what the rules were when we got into this.

We had to organize our effort at each state to get on the ballot. You've got to be able to play by the rules if you're ultimately going to want to become the nominee that beats Barack Obama.

BLITZER: I interviewed him yesterday, Newt Gingrich. Let's go through a couple of few points he made and give you a chance to respond.

Because he wanted to really challenge you to a one-on-one, no holds bar, no moderator like me, just a full debate, just the two of you. And I said to him, you know, I am going to speak with Governor Romney tomorrow, look into the camera. Tell us what you want to say to him. And he looked into the camera and he said this --


NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: All I'd say, Mitt, is if you want to run a negative campaign and you want to attack people, at least be man enough to own it. That's your staff and that's your organization. Those are your millionaire friends paying for it.

And let's be clear, I am willing to fight for real job creation with a real Reagan camp style job creation program. You're a moderate Massachusetts Republican who in fact is very timid about job creation. Let's get it on together and let's compare our two plans. (END VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY: I don't know why he's so angry. Look, this is a campaign about the things we believe in. I believe that the country has been lead in a very unfortunate and destructive way by a president who doesn't really understand our economy or understand America.

I can get America working again. That's why I'm running. As for one on one with Newt Gingrich, if he and I end up being the two finalists, we'll have that opportunity. But right now we've, I don't know debated maybe 10 times. We'll do more debates in January.

But until he and I and the other two finalists, other people who still deserve to be on the stage. Ron Paul, I think, is leading here in Iowa as of today. So the idea that this all about Newts or all about Mitt is just not right.

We have a field of candidates. I'll debate all of them and when it comes down to the finalist, I hope I'm one of them. If I am, I'll debate whoever the other finalist is.

BLITZER: If Ron Paul were to be the Republican nominee -- let's say he wins the Republican nomination. Could you vote for him?

ROMNEY: You know, I've already crossed that river, if you will, by saying on the stage a number of times, as I believe Speaker Gingrich has, that all of the people on the stage would be superior to the president that we have. So, yes, I would vote for him.

BLITZER: Would you vote for someone who says if Iran had a nuclear bomb, it wouldn't represent a threat to Israel?

MITT ROMNEY: I don't agree with a lot of things that Ron Paul says and I would vehemently oppose many of his initiatives and I believe we'd be able to move him in a direction that is more productive.

But I can tell you that this president, in my view, is taking America in the wrong direction and in Iran and Israel and with regards to our policy internationally and here at home.

BLITZER: So you think Ron Paul would be a better president than Barack Obama?

MITT ROMNEY: I have said that and I think Newt Gingrich has said the same thing on the stage when we've spoken about our Republican contenders.

But, look, this is not a race, of course, about the people on the stage I don't think should become the nominee. It's about getting me to become the nominee and taking the Republican banner and making sure that we get America back on track.


BLITZER: Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann, speaking with me earlier in the week in Iowa aboard his campaign bus. Meanwhile, Rick Santorum is a close third in Iowa right now only days before the caucus. Up next, he tells me his secret to success in the hawkeye state.

Plus, my interview with Governor Rick Perry. If he loses in Iowa and loses badly, is his campaign over?


BLITZER: One very big political story this week, a stunning turnaround in Iowa. Our latest CNN/"Time"/ORC poll shows Rick Santorum surging into third place with 16 percent.

Santorum has covered just about every inch Iowa hoping for a strong showing among social conservatives. I sat down with the former senator this week in Iowa.


BLITZER: Now, you've done it the old fashioned way. You've been on the road. You're the first candidate to visit all 99 counties here in Iowa. You don't have a lot of money. You don't have a huge staff, so now that you've moved up a little bit, what are you going to do to take it to the next level?

SANTORUM: Well, I mean, we've been fortunate. Our fundraising has picked up here in the last couple of weeks and we're up on television right now. We're doing some radio ads. We're doing some mailing and you know, it's like any small business person, Wolf.

If the money's not coming in, you've just got to work harder and that's what we're doing. We're continuing to work hard. We're going up in the morning doing radio shows at 6:00 in the morning here and going until 9:00, 10:00 at night.

And town meeting after town meeting, 357 town hall meetings I've done in the state of Iowa. You know, hard work pays off as it does in most areas --

BLITZER: As you know, the organization is critical. This isn't just going into a voting booth and spending a minute or two here and there.

You've got to make a commitment to spend a few hours in a church or a school, civic center and go out there. That's why Ron Paul's got that organization. Do you have that organization?

SANTORUM: Yes, we're up over 1,000 caucus captains. People who have agreed --

BLITZER: There are 1,700 locations.

SANTORUM: Well, there's actually -- there are 1,700 precincts. There are not 1,700 caucus locations.

BLITZER: How many caucus locations? SANTORUM: Got a little less than a thousand that's what we're told, but we have a thousand caucus captains. Not every caucus. We have some cases. We have four, five, six people at a caucus who are going to be caucus captain for us.

And you can go into a caucus and you give a three to five minute speech for your candidate. You can wear the badge. You can go and talk to people, and you know, gently twist a little arm.

We've seen from a lot of the polls that a large number of people are still, you know, moving around. As you've seen from all these polls, there are a lot of movement.

BLITZER: Newt Gingrich was at 33 percent in early December. He's now at 14 percent. You're at 16 percent. You were at 5 percent in early December. What happened to Newt Gingrich here in Iowa?

SANTORUM: You know, look, I've been pretty focused on just trying to deliver our message and we've got a strong message on "Made in the USA" plan, which is really resonating with folks here in Iowa trying to revitalize the manufacturing sector of the economy. Our plan about how we're going to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.

BLITZER: This is a huge issue for you, Iran and nuclear weapon. Apparently, it's not a big issue for Ron Paul.

SANTORUM: You know, that's one of the dangerous things that I'm concerned about is that Ron Paul is in a position -- I've talked to folks here who like Ron Paul and you know, see him as someone that you know, as bold and trying to take on Washington and clean things up and shrink the size of the federal government.

He has a lot of appeal to folks not just here in Iowa, but across the country. Here's the problem. You've got to get Congress to work with you to do those things and Ron doesn't have a long record of actually passing anything in Washington, D.C.

But when it comes to national security, a lot of folks in Iowa even though they like him are concerned about you know, we're not really crazy about his national security. We like him on this other stuff. The problem is as you know in the constitution and the president's powers are really national security.

BLITZER: Are you worried he could be dangerous?

SANTORUM: My concern is that Ron Paul would walk in there, day one, pull our troops back and bring them back to this country and leave an enormous void around the world. He can do that day one without congressional approval, without any oversight.

He can as commander in chief, move our troops anywhere in the world, disengage from every place from Europe to the Middle East, to China, abandon the Strait of Hormuz, pull the Fifth Fleet back that's something he can do.

That's one of the reasons I think you see folks who are having second thoughts about putting him in a position where he could be --

BLITZER: But he says he wouldn't only bring troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan, from Korea, from Germany and Japan, which raises the question, I've been asking it to your colleagues, if he were the Republican nominee for president, would you be able to vote for him?

SANTORUM: Absolutely.

BLITZER: You would?

SANTORUM: Yes, look --

BLITZER: Even though --

SANTORUM: I have serious concerns about that, but I also hope that enough pressure can be propped to bear on if he becomes president, he won't make these horrific decisions.

BLITZER: Is he the kind of you guy that could be pressured? You know Ron Paul. I know him, too. I don't think he's easily pressured.

SANTORUM: I'm nervous about it, but Barack Obama is this far away from Ron Paul on national security. No, he doesn't want to bring everybody back, but he's bringing a lot of folks back and he has promised to slash our military.

Not as much as Ron Paul, but a lot and I think a second term with Barack Obama, I'm not sure will look that different than a Ron Paul administration when it comes to national security.


BLITZER: Rick Santorum speaking with me in Iowa earlier in the week. Two more candidate interviews to go, the Texas Governor Rick Perry on the one thing he would do that neither Ronald Reagan nor the Bushes nor Bill Clinton did as president of the United States.

Plus, Jon Huntsman is not ever really campaigning in Iowa. So what's his plan for New Hampshire? Stand by.


BLITZER: Rick Perry remains back in the pack in the Republican race. In our latest New Hampshire poll, he's way back and only 2 percent in Iowa. He's barely into double digits.

I sat down with Rick Perry when he was in Washington for the Republican Jewish Coalition meeting.


BLITZER: Is it do or die for you in Iowa?


BLITZER: If you come in third or fourth in Iowa -- PERRY: We are campaigning away, so they will be seeing us in Florida. We'll be working there. So I feel pretty good about it. This is a very fluid race.

You think about it, we have had four different frontrunners at least and you know, it's Newt's time to barrel now, so we'll see how that works out.

BLITZER: Let's talk about Israel for a moment. A subject obviously on the minds of a lot of people you're going to be talking to.

Since '67, every U.S. president, Democratic and Republican have called Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank of the occupied territories illegal under international law. If you were president, would you continue that policy?

PERRY: You're talking about the Israeli settlement?


PERRY: No, I wouldn't. I consider the Israeli settlements to be legal from my perspective and I support them.

BLITZER: Even if they are on the West Bank?

PERRY: Where there are arrangements that have been made, where the Israelis are clearly on Israelis land that they have hard fought to win and to keep, absolutely.

BLITZER: But this is seen by the State Department as occupied Palestinian territory.

PERRY: I don't always agree with the State Department. I think out State Department from time to time get its wrong. I happen to believe that Israel spends way too much time defending themselves against people who want to have terrorist acts against them.

Whether it's Palestinians, whether it's Hezbollah, whether it's Hamas, the United States needs to be standing with Israel strongly standing with them and supporting them.

BLITZER: Would you move the U.S. embassy from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem?

PERRY: Absolutely.


PERRY: As soon as I could. I would clearly say if you want to work with the State Department of the United States, you need to be packing your bags and move in Jerusalem.

BLITZER: Would you fear negative reaction?

PERRY: No, listen, how many other countries do we have our embassies in that is not in the capital of the country?

BLITZER: We're going back to 1948. No American president has recognized Jerusalem as being the capital of Israel.

PERRY: There may not have been a president of the United States that feels as strongly about Israel as I do.

BLITZER: Ronald Reagan didn't feel strongly or George W. Bush or George H.W. Bush?

PERRY: As strongly as I do.

BLITZER: So you would move it right away?

PERRY: I would move it, yes, sir.

BLITZER: Took a question from Facebook. Who would you consider for vice president, any thoughts yet?

PERRY: None. No thoughts at all. I'm running for the presidency. There is plenty of time in the late summer and fall to think about that.

BLITZER: If there were somebody else that got the Republican nomination -- I know you think that is unlikely, but let's say Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney got it. Would you consider being a running mate?

PERRY: Why would leave being governor of the state of Texas to be vice president?

BLITZER: You're just in next line to be president of the United States?

PERRY: -- very powerful statement about that. Being vice president is not worth a bucket of warm spit.


BLITZER: Our final candidate coming up, Jon Huntsman. Does he fear what could happen in Iowa? Find out that's coming up.


BLITZER: Here's a look at some "Hot Shots" from the campaign trail in Iowa.

In North Liberty, Mitt Romney stands on a piece of industrial equipment while addressing a crowd. In Des Moines, Ron Paul supporters pray during an event at the state fairgrounds.

In Adel, Rick Santorum sports a National Rifle Association cap after hunting peasant. In Mason City, Newt Gingrich and his wife, Calista, greet workers at a nail salon.

And Rick Perry greets a smiling baby at a restaurant. In Tama, a dog peeks out Michele Bachmann's campaign bus window. "Hot Shots" pictures coming in from Iowa. The former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman who's been suffering in the polls since entering the race is bypassing Iowa altogether hoping for a major upset in New Hampshire.

You're spending all his time in New Hampshire. In order for you to survive New Hampshire, how well do you have to do?


JON HUNTSMAN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have to beat market expectations. You have to have a message that connects with the people here on the ground and that we have.

I'm the only candidate in the race who by virtue of background and by virtue of real ideas I put forward to the American people will be able to tackle the two deficits we face in this country.

One is an economic deficit, $15 trillion in debt, the need to fire our engines in growth as I did as the governor of the state of Utah taking it to number one as a job creator, but just as importantly, Wolf, we need someone who can tackle the trust deficit.

Because I believe the trust deficit in America is as corrosive as the economic deficit. And that means we need to have a candidate and ultimately a president who can work for term limits in Congress.

Who can work toward closing a revolving door and who deals with the banks on Wall Street, we have banks too big to fail, Wolf, and we're setting ourselves up for another bailout.

BLITZER: Your policy is different than Ron Paul's. Here's the question I have been asking the other candidates as well, if he were to get the Republican nomination, would you be able to vote for him?

HUNTSMAN: That's a hypothetical, Wolf and I ain't going there.

BLITZER: It is a simple question, a yes or no.

HUNTSMAN: It is not a simple question. If you feel you are going to be the nominee --

BLITZER: Newt Gingrich said he couldn't vote for him. Mitt Romney said he could. Rick Santorum said he could. So you think it will be a yes or no?

HUNTSMAN: If Ron Paul can get to the finish line, I would be happy to support him, but he won't get there because he is unelectable because of his world view.

Some of it based on pure isolationism and the American people are simply not going to support that at a time when the most transcendent challenge of this decade is Iran and whether or not they acquire weapons of mass destruction.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: Sunday night, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, I'm anchoring a special from the CNN Election Center. A preview of the Iowa caucuses and please be sure to join us at the CNN Election Center when the first votes start coming in, in this Republican presidential contest.

Our coverage of the Iowa caucuses begins Tuesday, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN. That does it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Join us every day from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. on CNN. At this time, every weekend on CNN International. The news continues next on CNN.