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Romney Lead Latest Iowa Poll; Interview with Rep. Ron Paul; Huntsman Skips Iowa for New Hampshire; Gingrich: From Front to Fourth; Gingrich Withstands Blistering Attacks; Perry Says He Still Has Iowa Edge; Bachmann Looks Beyond Iowa; Lifelong Republican Leaves The Party

Aired January 1, 2012 - 13:57   ET

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


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. Thanks for joinging us. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. We're going to look at the 2012 presidential contenders in this political hour, but first an update on some of today's top stories.

Iran seems to be one step closer to being a nuclear nation. The country's semi-official news agency reports that scientists successfully built and tested Iran's first nuclear fuel rod. The rod contains natural uranium, which is normally used to fuel nuclear reactors.

And the number of suspected arson fires in the Los Angeles area is now up to 39. Investigators say seven of them were set last night. They're offering a $60,000 reward for information leading to an arrest. Most of the fires have started in cars, and then spread to nearby homes and businesses.

And the new year is off to a sad start for the Atlanta Braves. The wife of a team trainer was killed yesterday after a Georgia state patrol cruiser struck the family's SUV. Our affiliate, WSB, reports the trooper was responding to a plice chase at the time.

And civilian unions for same-sex couples are now legal in Hawaii. This is just one of thousands of new laws that take effect today. The bill grants same-sex couples many of the same rights that married couples receive.

Hawaii's governor signed the bill back in February.

And tens of thousands of folks rang in the New Year in New York City's Times Square early this morning. More than a million others watched the festivities on television as the famous crystal ball dropped to signal the start of 2012, along with the mayor there of New York City.

All right, we're going to follow the Republican contenders, live in Iowa today, as they crisscross the state. "THE CONTENDERS 2012" starts right now.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR: Good afternoon. This is THE CONTENDERS 2012. It's our a chance to kind of open the curtain for you on what it is like to be an Iowan at this particular point and to be able to avail yourself of all of the Republicans who are running to be the Republican nominee for president.

They, of course, are in the closing days of this. The caucuses are Tuesday, so not much time to change minds. But plenty of time still to do these town hall meetings, to stop by grocery stores and cafes, coffee shops, anywhere they can find potential caucus voters. There's also huge get out the vote movement at this point because it's really all about whose voters show up at those caucuses.

I am - I'm Candy Crowley, and I am joined today by my colleague, Jim Acosta. He's in Marshalltown with candidate Newt Gingrich. And also with Joe Johns, who is in Atlantic Iowa with Mitt Romney today.

But I first want to bring in my colleague, Paul Steinhauser. Paul you're here in Des Moines with me, and there's probably no more prestigious poll at this point in the election than that from the (AUDIO GAP) what we saw today and mirroring overall what we saw in our earlier poll, a couple earlier polls, Mitt Romney on top here in Iowa, followed by Ron Paul, and followed by Rick Santorum. But there is more to this poll than that.

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: There sure is, Candy. When you break it down, it's fascinating. This poll was conducted Tuesday through Friday. You showed the overall numbers from all four days, but let's just look at the last two days, Thursday and Friday, and take a look. There's a change there.

Mitt Romney hasn't changed. Former Massachusetts governor still right at the top at 24 percent, but look at that. There's Rick Santorum at 21 percent now in second place, if you just look at the last two days. And Ron Paul at 18 percent.

So this poll indicating that Santorum really appears to be surging, especially in these final days. We're just two days from the caucuses.

Let's go to the next number as well, and it's also fascinating. It explains maybe the overall numbers you just shared with us, which candidate's most electable? This was asked, of course, of people like (INAUDIBLE) and the caucuses on Tuesday night.

Romney, no surprise. Listen, he's been the most electable and he can remain that way. That's one of the reasons why his numbers are so high. But you can see everybody else pretty low down on the totem poll when it comes to electability, and I think that's one reason - one reason why Romney still remains in the top spot.

And finally, Candy, with two days to go, look at this, would you maybe change your mind? And you can see right there, 41 percent say they could be persuaded, still can be persuaded at this late date to vote for somebody else, to support another candidate, even though they're supporting another one right now. At the very bottom, seven percent, they still haven't made up their minds.

Candy, as you said, this is the gold standard in polling. Four years ago it pretty much got it spot on, indicating that Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, was going to come out on top over Mitt Romney, Candy.

CROWLEY: Paul, stand by with me. And I want to bring in Jim Acosta and Joe Johns, simply because there are fascinating numbers in here, I think, for all of these candidates. And probably, Jim, as you look at Newt Gingrich, what he's eyeballing, is that 41 percent of folks who could be persuaded, because caucuses are different than a primary because these folks go in for an evening, really, of politics and there is a chance to persuade.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. That's right, but, you know, if there's - if there's one fact that comes out of this "Des Moines Register" poll, it confirms that the damage has been done to Newt Gingrich. So if he's going to be persuading some people, he's running out of time to do so.

He's going to be at this hotel that we're standing in, in Marshalltown, Iowa within the hour and he signaled that he's going to be taking a sharper tone towards the man at the top of that poll, Mitt Romney.

You know, one of the things that this poll shows is that that barrage, that onslaught of negative attack ads aimed at Newt Gingrich, chiefly from the pro-Romney super PAC, Restore Our Future, has really hurt Newt Gingrich. And coming out of church this morning, he attended mass in - here in Iowa, Newt Gingrich told reporters, Mitt Romney could, quote, "Buy the White House if he could."

So that was sort of a - a new, tougher tone from Newt Gingrich, who has said in the last few weeks, and we've talked about this, that you know, the former speaker has said he's going to wage a positive campaign, he's not going to get in the mud. He's not going to go after his rivals with negative attacks. But that comment, coming out of mass this morning, Candy, from Newt Gingrich, is a signal he's going after Mitt Romney in these last couple of days before the caucuses.

CROWLEY: You have to wonder, though, Jim, whether he waited too long, and I know that there's been some back and forth with Gingrich supporters about whether he should have much earlier, when they came at him - remember, this is a guy that was riding fairly high in the polls in early December, and dropped 19 points by the end of December. And there are a lot of folks that think this may be too little, too late.

ACOSTA: That's right. I mean if you look, there's a great graphic inside, I'm trying not to move too much, because quite frankly the wind is so violent outside of this hotel that we're coming to you through a - a different method. We're not using our satellite truck. We could not get the dish up this afternoon, Candy, so I have to be real careful not to move too dramatically here in this live shot.

But there's a graph in "The Des Moines Register" that shows Newt Gingrich's poll numbers going up like a rocket and coming down like a shooting star, and that has been essentially the course of this campaign. And I think you're absolutely right. I think even the speaker himself will finally admit, once, you know, all of this is said and done, that perhaps he waited too long to go after Mitt Romney.

I mean, for weeks, he was letting the pro-Romney super PAC, Restore Our Future, just - just unleash an onslaught of attack ads on him and, you know, he would be asked by reporters - I asked him earlier this week - why don't you go after Mitt Romney? Why don't you fight for this nomination, fight for these caucuses? And he just said, look, I can fight in a positive way is what he told us earlier this week, and it seems that he realizes now that that's not going to work if he has any chance of slowing down Mitt Romney.

CROWLEY: Jim, let me bring in Joe - our colleague, Joe Johns. He's in Atlantic with Mitt Romney, or where Mitt Romney's about to go or has been. I'm not sure exactly which, because they really are moving across the state somewhat quickly.

But Joe, it - it strikes me, when I listen to this, you know, Gingrich went up and then he went straight down. We can say much the same about Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, as well as Herman Cain. And what has struck me through this entire election season is that, for more than a year, Mitt Romney has stayed pretty much where he is right now and that may be a winning place for him this Tuesday.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Well, interesting about Mitt Romney, I think, Candy, he has been very steady. But the big criticism of him, which I'm sure our viewers are tired of hearing by now, is that he's simply been unable to seal the deal, hovering right there in the 20s, pretty much always in the 20s.

And why is that? Well, they're not - it's not just one and not just two, there are several reasons. A lot of people say that, you know, here in Iowa there are a lot of evangelical voters, social conservatives, who may not express it as much as they do, but the fact of the matter is they may be a little bit uneasy with the fact that Mitt Romney is a Mormon.

The second thing, of course, is this issue of changing positions, as we call it in our business, flip-flopping. To some degree, you can make the case that he's been all over the place on two or three different issues that are very important, particularly to conservatives.

So there are - there's more than one reason for - for people to look at him and - and have doubts, because they're not sure what he's going to do. And so as we've gone through all of these debates, and I think Iowa's governor talking on some of the morning shows today, got it right when he said part of the volatility in the race has to do with the fact that there have been so many debates and people are looking for the perfect candidate. They have not been able to find that perfect candidate.

And you've seen one pop up and then people started hearing about his problems in the ads, and then another popped up and you started hearing about his problems in television ads or in interviews, or a mistake, in the case of Perry, in a debate and that person starts going back down. So Romney's been pretty steady in the debates. If you look at a guy like Rick Santorum, who is now surging, everybody says it's such a surprise, but when you really think about it, the question here in Iowa, at least, is what took him so long? Because he really does speak to what evangelical voters and social conservatives have been saying for so long, and - and they make up something like 60 percent of the people who are expected to caucus.

So it's not surprising, really, where we're seeing Rick Santorum today. The - the bottom line, though, is if all of the conservative support starts coalescing, if you will, around Rick Santorum, then what happens to those Mitt Romney numbers? And you know, we're going to have to look at that, regardless, really, of who's first or second on Tuesday, Candy.

CROWLEY: We're going to talk lots more about this race. You're going to hear from all of these candidates live or on tape. They will be unedited in their own words, giving you a chance to kind of peek into life in Iowa two days before the caucuses.

With Jim Acosta, with Joe Johns, I'm Candy Crowley. We will be right back after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Welcome back, and a happy New Year to all of you from all of us at CNN.

It is 2012. You know that means? It's an election year. And in two days you will have a chance to see really the very first phase of that, the Iowa caucuses, the first contest. Of course, President Obama, at this point, faces no challenges inside his party. He is the incumbent.

Republicans, a group of seven of them, vying to win the Iowa caucuses to give them what George Bush, the father, used to call the big mo, momentum, coming out of Iowa, quickly a week later to New Hampshire, on to South Carolina and then Florida. Very busy January for these Republican candidates, not all of whom who will last through the end of this month.

What we're trying to do here today is to give you a chance to really listen to these candidates along the campaign trail, as well as in interviews. They're unedited words, to give you a sense of what people in Iowa have been hearing.

You know, one of the fascinating folks on this campaign trail has been Ron Paul. He has run, this is his third run at the presidency. One time he ran as a libertarian. He has been pounded by his colleagues in recent weeks as unelectable.

Why they are they paying so much attention? Because he is doing very well in the polls. And I interviewed Ron Paul earlier today, and it is very clear that he has quite high hopes for Tuesday.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) CROWLEY: The idea that your views are outside the mainstream about 9/11 and so many other things, your reaction?

REP. RON PAUL (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, that's gross distortion, and you could spend a long time trying to, you know, dispute what he's saying, but it's gross distortion. But the bigger question is why are the rallies going so well for him? Why are the crowds getting bigger and bigger?

Why is it that 70 percent of the American people want us to get out of Afghanistan? Why do about 85 percent of the people want us to rein in the Federal Reserve? Why do so many, especially conservative Republicans, want us to cut back, and nobody is offering any cuts?

So I would say that I'm pretty mainstream. I think that people who are attacking me now are the ones who can't defend their records, and they've been all over the place. They've been flip-flopping and they can't defend themselves. And they're having a little trouble finding any flip-flops on me, so they have to go and dig up and distort and demagogue issues.

But if you look at the real issues that count, and I wish we would concentrate on that, and that is the foreign policy, the spending, the monetary policy, the personal liberties that I talk about all the time. And under those - with those conditions, this is where I get the support.

And not only is it with Republicans, but these views are really, really, you know, attractive to the independents and the Democrats. So the rallies, it is true, people say, oh, well, he's going to have some independents come in.

Well, that's the name of the game. You get people. You bring coalitions together. You get the frustrated progressives, you get the independents, you get the Republicans who truly want spending cuts. And, all of a sudden, I'm mainstream.

So they're looking for things. They're - they're struggling, and they're demagoguing the issue.

CROWLEY: A lot of your colleagues on the campaign trail have said this idea that it's OK for Iran to require - to acquire nuclear power, which you have - they say you have suggested is no big deal, is one of the huge things that they hit you on.

We're now learning that scientists in Iran have produced the country's first nuclear fuel rod, this according to Iran itself. Does nothing give you pause about a country like Iran, which is an enemy of the United States, basically, acquiring nuclear weaponry?

PAUL: Sure, it does, and those words you were trying to put in my mouth just aren't true. I'm very concerned about it. As a matter of fact, I'd like to see - I'd like to see a lot less nuclear weapons.

At least Iran is in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, so I would say that's a step, and they do have inspections. The AEIE did not find any evidence that they are on the verge of a weapon.

You know, and - and even the head of the Mossad in Israel are saying, well, you know, they - even if they had a weapon, they are not an existential threat. So I think we need to get this in the balance.

I - I don't want them to have a weapon. We have to be careful. We have to contain them if they do get one. But if even Israel's top Mossad leaders are saying they would not be an existential threat and we if we said go easy - as a matter of fact, Meir Dagan said bombing those sites right now would be stupid.

So I would say that we just need to be more cautious. I think if we overreact and - and participate in bombing Iran, we're looking for a lot more trouble. We went into Iraq carelessly. We don't need a war in Iran carelessly.

So this - this is my argument. But to say that I don't care, that's just not fair.

CROWLEY: OK, let me move you on to politics, since that's - we're kind of in the political world right now here in Iowa. You have not precisely ruled out a third party bid. I'm wondering if some of these attacks on you that have been out there for the past 10 days have given you any pause about staying inside the Republican Party.

PAUL: I haven't even thought about it except when people like you keep asking me about it, because I have a race going. I'm essentially tied for first place, and why would I even consider doing anything like that?

So - but I don't like absolutes. I don't want to say I will never do so-and-so. But - and I have no plans in doing it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: Ron Paul, once again saying he has no plans to run as a third party candidate.

He also said in that interview that he expects he will come in first and second. He - first or second. He does not believe he will come in any lower than that. Right now in this "Des Moines Register" poll that we told you about, he is coming in second to Mitt Romney, not far behind within the margin of error, as a matter of fact.

When we come back, we're going to talk a little bit about negative advertising, not against Ron Paul, and he has suffered his fair share, but against Newt Gingrich, with our Joe Johns. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Welcome back. This is THE CONTENDERS 2012. My colleagues, Jim Acosta, Joe Johns and I, over the next couple of hours want to give you a sense of what these candidates are saying as they basically give their closing arguments here in Iowa, pointing towards those Tuesday Iowa caucuses, which will be followed in a week by the New Hampshire primary. Now, one of the folks that you haven't heard us talk a lot about is Jon Huntsman. He's the former governor of Utah. He was President Obama's pick to be ambassador to China. A lot of people speculated at the time that President Obama picked Huntsman because he would have been such an attractive candidate that he wanted to get him out of the way and give him a job.

Nonetheless, Huntsman quit his job as ambassador in China, came back to a big flurry. He was quite all of the rage at that time. Everyone thought he'd be a great presidential candidate. He has not been able to get a lot of traction.

Eventually, what he did is sort of pick up his campaign headquarters from Florida, move them to New Hampshire. He has staked all of it in New Hampshire. That is where he is now. He recently appeared in Derry, New Hampshire, telling the crowd that these are really critical times for the country.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JON HUNTSMAN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If we don't get our act together here at home, if we don't rebuild and strengthen our core, where we're able to project the values of liberty, freedom, human rights, democracy and open markets, we will see the end of the American century by 2050. That's not the legacy I want to leave behind to this next generation, absolutely not. I say I want to restore trust back into our nation's foreign policy and position in the world.

Ladies and gentlemen, I want your vote. I need your vote. I need your help and assistance. I am who I am. I'm not going to contort myself into a pretzel to please whatever crowd I'm standing in front of.

I'm not going to pander. I'm not going to sign those silly pledges like everyone has signed on that darned debate stage. I'm not going to attend one of those Donald Trump debates, either.

But here's a wrap on Huntsman. Here's a wrap on Huntsman. You know, the pundits, they say, he can win the general election. He can go all the way. He can win the general election. But can he get through the primary phase?

I say, well, we're going to prove that point right here in New Hampshire that we can get through the primary phase. I have no question about that.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: Right now, Huntsman is doing OK in New Hampshire. That is, he has gone up from barely registering to about 9, 10 percent in the polls.

Mitt Romney right now, by far and away, is the favorite in New Hampshire. He, of course, was governor of neighboring Massachusetts, and he also ran in the New Hampshire primary last time around. Nonetheless, Huntsman making a huge push to try to grab New Hampshire away from Mitt Romney. You heard him there trying to stake out his own territory, which he's been doing for the past several months. I'm a proud moderate on the following issues, I'm not pandering to the right wing. This is my campaign, and this is who I am.

So you will be hearing a lot more from Jon Huntsman as we move into the New Hampshire phase of this, but right now all of these candidates, except for Jon Huntsman, have their eyes on the big prize on Tuesday, which is winner of the Iowa caucuses.

I want to bring back in our Joe Johns. He's in Atlantic, Iowa.

Joe, I know you're waiting for Romney there now today, I believe, but you have been with Gingrich, who we have talked a lot about how he has just been pounded by those negative ads. Jim and I were talking a little earlier, but he - he has not responded. He may respond. But the question is whether he is too late and Gingrich missed an opportunity to push back against his critics.

JOHNS: Yes, a lot of people are saying he did miss an opportunity. I mean, he himself admit he was sort of taken aback by this. It took him about two weeks to sort of get reoriented, after seeing all of those negative ads, particularly from the pro-Romney super PAC.

You know, just millions of dollars actually spent on ads, 45 percent of which, we've been told, were attack ads directed at Newt Gingrich. So, what are you going to do?

I talked to him yesterday, right here in Atlantic, Iowa, not far from here, in fact. I'm at the Family Table Restaurant, waiting for Romney. But I asked him a series of questions about the ads, whether he was going to respond to them, because he'd always said he was not going to run a negative campaign. And when do you get to the point where you've got to do something or risk your campaign?

So let's listen to a little bit of that exchange I had with him yesterday here in Atlantic, Iowa.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: Isn't it a big risk, though, I mean, throwing your whole campaign on a notion that you're going to be the guy who doesn't run nasty ads and everybody else is firing at you?

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is the opening three minutes of the Super Bowl, you know? We're learning a lot about what our opponents will do. They are - they are nastier and more dishonest than I expected, so we'll have to make some adjustments.

But it's just exactly like the Super Bowl. You - you see the opening series, you think about it, you figure out what you need to do next. It's going to be a very long game.

JOHNS: Last question (ph), adjustments you mean before the caucuses, or -? GINGRICH: No, no. This - look, I think this is -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The questions require a donation to the campaign (ph).

GINGRICH: This - no. Look, I think this is a wonderful experiment, and if you talk to people here you get exactly the feeling I'm getting, which is we have - we have resolutely said we're going to stay positive. Somebody said 45 percent of the ads in this state have been negative about me. I mean, so - so the average Iowan is watching this - this tsunami of negative attack ads, and they've watched one guy be consistently relentlessly positive.

And we'll find out Tuesday night. I'm very - whatever the outcome is Tuesday night, we'll learn a lot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE).

GINGRICH: Well -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE).

GINGRICH: I think the challenge in Virginia isn't about the candidates as it is about the voters. For the voters of Virginia to be told that they are - their options are limited to two people, who between them are clearly a minority of the Republican votes, it is probably unacceptable.

And I - but I am glad that it's - that it's all the candidates who get away from this, you know, Gingrich and Virginia routine. You know, Perry, Bachmann, Santorum, Huntsman, all five of us are saying there ought to be some - you know, this should not be a gauntlet to figure out how you can make it virtually impossible to run for president. This ought to be a system that enables the voters to decide who they would like to have run for president. I hope - I hope that the legislature will find a solution that puts all of us on the ballot.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: So that last question about Virginia, of course, and Newt Gingrich has been hit because he's been accused of having an organization that was not able to get him on the ballot in his own home state, which certainly would seem to be a problem for him.

But that larger question about the ads, look, bottom line with Newt Gingrich is, the reason why these ads are seen to have been so effective is because Newt Gingrich had a lot of baggage, and there were a lot of questions that could be raised in attack ads, questions about the fact that he's been married three times, questions about the money he got from Freddie Mac when he was working as a consultant for them, questions about his long history on Capitol Hill and his alliances with Democrats that make some conservatives uncomfortable.

So the underlying issue of these ads is about Newt Gingrich's background, and this is a question that has yet to be asked and answered really with the voters in any official way, though the polls certainly indicate that there are some concerns about his history, Candy.

CROWLEY: You know, Joe, I -- every time I hear him talk about being relentlessly positive it makes me smile because in some ways, Gingrich painted himself into this corner and said, I'm going to be the positive campaign.

I'm not going to tear down other candidates and in fact he went so far as to not respond to these, at least in the form of TV ads, which, let's face it, he couldn't afford to have put that many up anyway.

Because the fact of the matter is, Newt Gingrich is running a little against time. This is not someone whose first words to describe him you would say relentlessly positive. He's a tough politician and that's why it's hard to understand why he didn't push back.

JOHNS: Well, you're absolutely right. Candy, you and I both have been around Washington, D.C. for a long time. We remember when Newt Gingrich made his assent to the speakership on Capitol Hill. He used very tough language, very tough words, and he was very willing to get into a fight, and always has been since, to my knowledge.

So, right, there are people -- and I can't say how many times people have said to me that Newt Gingrich was one of the factors in creating this kind of polarized atmosphere of politics in the United States, the very same polarized atmosphere that he now denounces.

So you know we don't like to use the word irony too much because it's perhaps overused in television news, but there's a sense of irony in that Newt Gingrich is now the guy trying to stay positive and trying to convince voters here in the caucuses to stay with him because of the politics of negativity, which he helped create. It's a fascinating dynamic, Candy.

CROWLEY: It is and it's interesting, too, there was a half hour paid for special on Newt Gingrich, hosted by Michael Reagan, as Gingrich continues to try to kind of wrap the Reagan mantel about him, airing here.

One of the things he said when responding to some of this criticism was, I want people to judge me, I've changed, I want people to judge me by who I am now, not then. It doesn't quite work that way in politics, as you know.

But it's an interesting dynamic, to me, to see a new newt out there and the question always is from people go, how much has he really changed? But it has been, I think fascinating to watch him hole his fire. He is not a man known to hold his fire that much.

Joe, I want you to stick with me because on the other side of this break, there was some fascinating figures inside the "Des Moines Register" poll that I want to share with our audiences, with you, and we will get your take on them. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Welcome back to "The Contenders 2012" our chance to give you a full-on look at what's going out here in Iowa, which has so much say-so as we move into the election year. It may not pick who will be the Republican nominee, but it may pick who will not be the Republican nominee.

One of those that has had trouble and has been struggling is Rick Perry, he's the governor of Texas. He came in, had immediately made a big splash. Everybody thought that they was the conservative that was going to challenge Mitt Romney.

But Perry had some bad debates. People began to really wonder whether he was prepared enough for the presidency. And his poll numbers fell in that "Des Moines Register" poll this morning.

He is running fifth, just one point behind Newt Gingrich, nonetheless, not a very good place to be at this point. But when Perry was on Fox News this morning he was still upbeat.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOVERNOR RICK PERRY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: -- momentum's headed in the right direct as we travelled across Iowa in the course last 30 days or so and I think 44 cities we're hitting in a 10-day bus tour. We're seeing great crowds.

Again, people who are excited about an outsider coming into Washington, D.C., as we look at all of the candidates, you're either Washington insiders or Wall Street insiders, that's their choices, and we tell them, you've got a choice.

You've got a choice of a governing executive who for 11 years has operated the 13th largest economy in the world and created more jobs than any other state in the nation while America lost 2 million, we were creating a million.

So they're very interested in having an experienced executive in the White House that's not only got the foreign policy background, but also has the social and fiscal conservative message.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Texas Governor Rick Perry struggling here somewhat in Iowa but like others, he has signalled that he's moving on come what may. Tuesday in those Iowa caucus results, he'll move on and go to South Carolina, which has a heavy contingent of Christian conservative voters.

That's where Rick Perry's appeal has been where he believes he can really make a stand in South Carolina. However, all of the candidates will be in New Hampshire at least for the weekend where they have a couple of debates.

I want to bring Joe Johns back in. You know, Joe, listening to Rick Perry say, listen, I have a chance, we're on the move that's what all of the candidates are saying right now.

But the truth is one of the figures in the poll that Paul mentioned earlier this hour, 41 percent that's how many caucus goers say they can still change their minds or they haven't made up their minds.

So there's a big uncertainty out there that people like Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry sort of look at and say, how do I convince those folks, either once they get into the caucuses or before they go, and that's what these final days are about.

JOHNS: Yes, that's right. I mean, the one thing I don't think we've seen a lot of yet is the second hard look at the same candidate. And that's a problem.

I mean you, look at Rick Perry, I think Rick Perry is going to be one of those guys whose early days in the campaign will be the subject of things in campaign management textbooks, political science textbooks.

Because there is a real issue there about preparedness before you decide to get into a campaign, especially in an age where you have Twitter, Facebook, social media. You know, your performances and in debates can be replayed.

So before you jump into a game where you have to appear in a debate, you know, two three weeks after announcing, you need to have those issues down. You need to know what your stamina, what your endurance is.

You need to know where your weak points and are and things to brush up on so that when you walk into the campaign, at the early stage you can try to make a splash has opposed to fall on your face, which is sort of what happened with Rick Perry.

People looked at him in the early debates and said, you know, this guy really he doesn't look like a prime time player, if you will. And I think that's his problem. That said, Candy, very good point, that 41 percent undecided, we know from four years ago, there was something like 17 percent of the people who went to the caucuses said, I made my decision on the day of the caucuses.

So, with that dynamic, it's still very fluid and we also know people are bunched up and we also know how the caucuses work. The right person at the right time with the right audience can connect with them.

And perhaps where you thought you were going to get a loss, maybe you get a win, maybe pick up a bunch more votes because the person speaking for the candidate is very compelling.

So, you know, there are people who say, this thing isn't over yet because that "Des Moines Register" poll is very authoritative, it doesn't necessarily mean that you know, anything is written in stone at this stage -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Right. It's not the final word. Everybody thinks Iowa was the site for a field of dreams for baseball, but I can assure you, politicians have a much larger field of dreams here in Iowa and part of it is that so much can happen in caucuses that you don't expect to happen. I want to bring back into this conversation our Jim Acosta. Jim is in Marshalltown, awaiting Newt Gingrich or perhaps you've already seen him. I'm not exactly sure. I know you're battling winds, as we are here, too.

It's suddenly gotten cold in Iowa. Jim one of the things we were talking about earlier about Gingrich was this heavy negative advertising against him and how it drove down his poll numbers and we certainly have seen that.

But I think inside this "Des Moines Register" poll, there's something that fascinated me, 41 percent described Gingrich as the most ego- driven candidate. So I think this more proof that these ads didn't just -- weren't the only -- aren't the only proof that the polls went down.

That somehow they were able to back up the idea that Newt Gingrich's personality, that his is not matched for the White House, there's something about his personality that isn't a good match.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Candy. You know, I think on Wednesday morning, the headline can very well be on the front page of the "Des Moines Register," restore our future PAC wins the Iowa caucuses" because what those ads did is that reinforce the negatives on Newt Gingrich.

You know, obviously, there are a lot of folks out there, a lto of caucus goers who may not remember what was going on in the mid 1990s when he was the speaker of the House and was basically in political combat with the White House for several years and in combat with his own party right before he was removed from his post as speaker of the House and so all of that has really done its damage on Newt Gingrich.

And he, according to these polls, has not really been able to recover. I mean, if you look at the poll numbers and how they were broken down in the "Des Moines Register" poll shows day by day from Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, into Friday, you know, where Newt Gingrich stood.

And his numbers basically stayed consistent in those low, you know, 10 to 15 point ranges and that really shows that you know, even going into when this poll is being conducted, his negatives had been driven down by these PAC ads, by the mailers that have been flooding into people's mailboxes.

We went to a post office, Candy, just an aside, in Mason City several day ago and the trash cans, even the floor of the post office, you go outside, you know, it was almost like the town was littered with anti- Gingrich mailers, and all of this has really added up and hurt him seriously in this state.

And you know, you said he's the most ego driven candidate, according to that "Des Moines Register" poll. Part of that is Newt Gingrich's fall. We heard him say on occasions comparing himself to Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.

You know, I just don't know if that goes over that well with people in Iowa who were just, you know, the definition of Iowa, nice, down to earth, midst western folks.

If you look at the poll numbers as to who is identified as being kind of like regular Iowans here, it's Rick Santorum and I think that he's been able to benefit from that. You know, by going to all of these towns, going to all 99 counties, doing 360 town halls.

He's been able to connect with people on the ground here in Iowa, throughout the course of this campaign. And I think that's paying off for him. Newt Gingrich, who also spent a lot of time here, packed a lot of people into town halls in recent weeks.

We were in Iowa a few weeks ago following from town hall to town hall, and he was packing, and this is when he was at the height, when his poll numbers were really strong, he was leading in the state. He was really packing people into town halls.

Something happened to Newt Gingrich between three weeks ago and when this poll was starting to be conducted here by the "Des Moines Register" that just showed this dramatic downfall of when it comes to his poll numbers and his negatives shot through the roof it seems.

It's just devastated this campaign. And the fact that he's not responded forcefully, you know, I mean, nobody's really taken a swipe at Mitt Romney.

I mean, that's the other thing that I think is extraordinary about the days and weeks leading up to caucuses is that nobody's really taken a serious swipe at Mitt Romney.

Newt Gingrich had that opportunity being the subject of all these attacks. He just didn't take it -- Candy.

CROWLEY: So, Jim Acosta at Marshalltown. Joe Johns standing by in Atlantic, Iowa. I'm Candy Crowley in Des Moines. Much more this afternoon. All of these candidates unedited, sort of raw, the way people see them, along the campaign trail.

Up next, the three of us are going to talk about Michele Bachmann and her plans after Iowa.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Welcome back. This is "The Contenders 2012." I'm Candy Crowley in Des Moines. Michele Bachmann, another one of those, you know, people that came out, made a huge showing in polls. In fact, she won the August Iowa straw poll, her future looked bright.

And along came Rick Perry and stole all of the spotlight. She is now, according to the "Des Moines Register" poll, very last among the candidates here, but she has remained very optimistic, saying that she just senses momentum.

She was up and out early this morning in Oskaloosa, went to a church there, giving testimony. Our Shannon Travis has been following Michele Bachmann for the past couple of days, as she makes those final pitches across these Iowa small towns and churches, and any place that these candidates can find to talk to folks.

Shannon, when you were with her for the past couple of days, and again, to me, this is the toughest thing a politician has to do, sort of fly in the face of the reality of the polls, you know?

Not a vote has been taken, everyone's going you're last, you're last, what are you going to do, what stood out to you yesterday when you were with her?

SHANNON TRAVIS, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, what stood out to me, Candy, was that exact thing, that Michele Bachmann is insisting that she will win. That she will win this come from behind. She's even used the word "miracle" when I was with her yesterday and the last few days.

In the face of these polls that suggest that maybe that won't happen. Now she's counting on the large percentage of undecided voters here in Iowa. She's also counting on the fact that she won the Ames straw poll over the summer and feels like her supporters will come back home, her words, not mine, to the Bachmann campaign.

But again, that flies in the face of not only polls, but at some of her latest campaign stops, I have seen dwindling number of supports as well as obviously the distraction that she's had from this Kent Sorenson that defected to the Ron Paul campaign.

That whole fiasco for the last few days. There's also the question about beyond Iowa. What is her strategy beyond Iowa? That's a question that I put to the candidate yesterday, Candy. Take a listen to what she told me.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TRAVIS: What is the strategy after Tuesday going into New Hampshire?

REPRESENTATIVE MICHELE BACHMANN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, we worked hard. We laid a lot of foundation in New Hampshire and so we'll go there and we'll make our case to the voters. We have a lot of Tea Party support up in New Hampshire, but we see this as a full race of all 50 states.

So we yesterday sent in politics to Ohio ballot and Kansas ballot. We're looking at all 50 states and we think, at the end of the day, we will be the nominee to defeat Barack Obama.

We need a strong woman in the pattern of a Ronald Reagan and a Margaret Thatcher to take him on and defeat him. That's what happened in 1980, everyone said a conservative could never win against Jimmy Carter and it was just the opposite.

We needed the strongest conservative we could have. It's the same thing now. I've proven that I'm the strong, consistent core conservative in this race. That's what we need. I'm fearless.

I have already taken Barack Obama on, on Obama care, Dodd/Frank and all of these issues. I will stand on the stage, fearlessly look him in the eye, take him on the issues hole him accountable for $15 trillion in debt and take him on to defeat him and turn the country around.

TRAVIS: So in terms of your rivals, some of them have been obviously campaigning heavily in New Hampshire for the past few months. Is it your acknowledgement or do you think you have a lot of ground to make up in New Hampshire since they've been doing more campaigning there?

BACHMANN: Well, our goal is to do very well here in Iowa. That is a game changer because people will make up their minds based upon what is happening at the time of their primary. This is a caucus state. New Hampshire is a primary state. It's very different.

And so we absolutely will be there, but we'll also go on to South Carolina as well. Again, this is a 50-state race and so this is where we want to show very well.

Remember, there's only been one state-wide race so far in the presidential election and I'm the one person of all of the candidates that won the only state-wide race.

That was the August straw poll. So I intend to win the second state- wide race, which is the Iowa caucuses and the go on from there to New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida, and ultimately to defeat Barack Obama.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TRAVIS: And you'll notice there, Candy, that the congresswoman didn't reveal her plans specifically for New Hampshire, but we found out today that she's going to go to South Carolina right after the caucuses and then head to New Hampshire, afterwards -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Shannon Travis, thanks so much. Much more after the break, but first a question for you, Gary Johnson, does the name ring a bell?

Well, up until last week he was running for the Republican nomination, now he's running for the libertarian nomination. I'll tell you why after the jump.

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CROWLEY: Welcome back to "The Contenders 2012." We should call this segment the former contenders. Gary Johnson is the former governor from New Mexico, a two-term. He was elected twice. They loved him there, and he recently decided to run for the Republican nomination.

He felt the Republican Party let him down, that networks and others who sponsored debates unfairly left him out of those debates. So last week he announced that he was now going to try for the nomination of the libertarian party, because first of all, it guarantees him a spot on the ballot in all 50 states.

I talked to him last week a little bit about why he jumped ship.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) CROWLEY: You took a big step from a lifelong Republican to the libertarian party. If you are looking at this and you're seeing here's a Republican, you've been in the Republican Party, ran for governor twice, a Republican, et cetera.

You couldn't get any traction in the presidential race so you switched to the libertarian party, this looks like a move that is more about opportunity than about principle. Can you give me some look into your thought process?

GARY JOHNSON (L), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, Candy, I would argue just the opposite, that it is about the message, that it's about the agenda, that it isn't just Ron Paul that's delivering this agenda, this message, that it's me, too.

I was excluded from 16 out of the 18 debates. I felt that that was really unfair and the exciting notion for me here is, is that if I'm the libertarian nominee, which is no done deal, but if I am, I'm on the ballot in all 50 states.

And it's an opportunity to continue to be able to talk about the agenda to talk about the message, as opposed to being sent home. I happen to think the biggest growing segments of the Republican Party are those that are libertarian-leaning.

CROWLEY: But you almost said it yourself, which is you're looking at a growing segment of the Republican Party. Don't you, by the very notion of running as a libertarian, deny Republicans votes and, therefore, conceivably handing the victory to President Obama?

JOHNSON: No, I actually see it the other way around. New Mexico's a state that's 2-1 Democrat, I think -- I think more votes are going to come from Democrats who will be disenfranchised over gay marriage equality, over the fact that we have so much warfare go on in this country, that we have waged a war against ourselves when it comes to drugs, legalized marijuana.

No, I see this as drawing perhaps more votes from Democrats than Republicans. But worse case, best case, you know what? It's going to draw from both parties. The biggest growing segment of American politics declined a state and independence.

I think this is going to draw a big segment of that. By draw a big segment of it, it is about the message. It's about the agenda. And I don't see it being represented beyond the primary and Ron Paul's eventually being knocked out of this.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: Gary Johnson, former governor of New Mexico, former Republican, now libertarian, running for president. Now we are approaching the 3:00 hour on the east coast.

I want to tell you within that hour, we will have multiple, live events, Newt Gingrich will be in Ames, Iowa. Mitt Romney will be live in Atlantic and Rick Santorum in Sioux City right after the break. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)