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Coverage of GOP Candidates; Gingrich Remarks in Iowa; Romney Rallies in Atlantic, Iowa

Aired January 1, 2012 - 16:00   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello again, thanks for joining us. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. We'll have more on the 2012 presidential contenders this hour but first an update on some of today's top stories.

Iran may be one step closer to being a nuclear nation. The country semiofficial 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 has risen to 39. Investigators say seven of them were set last night. A $60,000 reward is being offered for information leading to an arrest. Most of the fires targeted cars that spread to nearby homes and buildings.

The New Year is off to a sad start for the Atlanta Braves baseball team. The wife of a team trainer was killed yesterday after a Georgia state patrol cruiser struck the family's SUV. Our affiliate WSB television reports the trooper was responding to a police chase at the time.

And civil 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 revelers 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.

And, of course, we're following the Republican contenders live in Iowa today as they crisscross the state. "The Contenders 2012" continues right now with Candy Crowley.


And welcome back to "The Contenders 2012," this is our final hour here, at least for today. We are bringing you these candidates as they campaign across the state of Iowa, those caucuses on this Tuesday. So there is not much time left. We're trying to give you a sense of what Iowans hear and have heard for about the last year.

We have CNN's Jim Acosta in Marshall Town, Iowa, with Newt Gingrich. We have Joe Johns available as well in Atlantic, Iowa, with Romney. Now what we expect in this coming hour is two live events. One a press availability with Newt Gingrich, those are always interesting. And a press availability with Mitt Romney. Another interesting event. So we're going to bring you both of those live, provided they don't all begin at the same time.

But right now what we want to do is while you're watching Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich was talking and we want to bring you some of what he had to say to his audience.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ... and try to get them to turn out. I thought it was very revealing in the Des Moines poll this morning that 41 percent of the voters are still undecided and I think the final argument is going to make a big difference. The only two points I would make when you get to that discussion point is that Iowa has an opportunity to really change American politics by proving that negative ads don't work. And I think to the degree -

- to the degree you can convince your friends and neighbors not to vote for the people who have been running the negative ads, you really help America move to a better political process. We cannot change the negativity and the divisiveness of Washington by having people who run negative and divisive campaigns. And I've done everything I could to run a positive campaign. You've seen me do it in the debates. You've seen me do it in my TV commercials and I'm going to continue to do it. But we need help from the American people to say to the folks who are prepared to be negative and dishonest that it will not work and that frankly if you are willing to be dishonest to get to try to be president, why would we think you would be honest once you were president?

The only other case I would make is that we have very large problems and I am the only candidate in the race who has had actual experience in Washington, once with Ronald Reagan, and once as speaker of the House, and actually solving very large problems. And from the tax cuts of 1981, which led to a seven-year boom, to defeating the Soviet empire, to welfare reform, to four consecutive balanced budgets, again and again I think I've proven that I can actually make Washington work to the advantage the American people.

We got unemployment down to 4.2 percent. If we could do that again, that would truly be remarkable, which is why I made jobs and economic growth the centerpiece of our closing, commercials and my closing talks. So Calista and I are thrilled to be here. I have to confess, everywhere we go right now we're getting crowds like this. It is very encouraging and very exciting. I think this is a very winnable caucus. And I hope all of you will take the time to talk to your friends and neighbors, either e-mail them, tweet them, Facebook them, call them, actually see them, whichever technique works better, and let them know that they should go out Tuesday night and they should participate.

And we thought we would set up right here, many of you who would like to get a picture, can come on by and we'll work out getting a picture of meeting every single person who is here. I must say this is a very, very impressive turnout for what on our schedule said casual drop by for about 50 people. So we are both thrilled and we're very grateful you would take part of Sunday to come out and do this. Thank you, all, very, very much.


CROWLEY: Newt Gingrich and his wife, Calista, in Marshall Town, Iowa, where I am assuming Jim Acosta, who is also in Marshall Town, with Gingrich, they are still signing those autographs. But I know you are expecting at some point press availability with him. So let us know when we have to stop talking.

But in the totality of the pitch that Newt Gingrich gave to those folks, is it still the upbeat positive Newt Gingrich or is it the one who said, you know, we're taking a second look at our strategy?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, I think there was a slightly sharper tone that we heard from the former speaker just a few moments ago during his remarks. I don't know if you picked up on it, Candy, but he said during his comments here in this little room outside the sports bar, it was basically a jab at Mitt Romney. He said if you cannot trust - I'm paraphrasing here, if you cannot trust what is in some candidates' ads, he didn't mention Romney by name, how can you trust what they're going to do when they're president of the United States.

That was a clear shot at Mitt Romney. Now, he didn't mention the former Massachusetts governor by name. So I suppose on some level that is still keeping it positive somewhat, but this just kind of goes to the box that Newt Gingrich is in right now, the box that he created for himself, by declaring weeks ago that he would have a positive campaign, that he would not get in the mud with the other candidates. He sort of set a bar for himself, but, you know, he had to clear this final weeks before the caucuses.

And so we're finally starting to hear Newt Gingrich try to, you know, not necessarily draw contrast, but take some shots at Mitt Romney. There were some reporters who were chasing the former speaker outside of (INAUDIBLE) earlier this morning, here in Iowa, where he made the comment to the effect that Mitt Romney is trying to buy an election.

Now, I tried just a few moments ago to ask the former speaker about that, what did you mean when you said that, and he sort of walked right past me. So to go to your comment yesterday, Candy, when sometimes the candidates will walk right up to you and give you an interview, that wasn't the case. He kept on walking and went into the other room and started signing autographs. So sometimes the trail giveth and sometimes the trail taketh away, Candy.

CROWLEY: It does, but you always keep trying. Jim, you know, one of the things I think that did strike me, the first part that we heard here, was Newt Gingrich mentioning that 41 percent that haven't made up their minds yet.

ACOSTA: That's right. That's the poll number he likes, Candy, the 41 percent who haven't made up their minds. Because that means he still has a shot at this. And let's remind our viewers, who may just be tuning in now, that this Des Moines Register poll that everybody is making a big deal out of it, and you know, let's make a big deal out of it, that's just fine, but folks are talking about the Santorum surge. And yes that surge is real, but if you look at margin of error in that poll, Newt Gingrich is still statistically within sort of a three-way tie with Rick Santorum and Rick Perry. So he still has a shot at this.

I have to tell you I was at a Rick Santorum event yesterday, and (INAUDIBLE) it was a very sparse crowd. You are hearing that from some of the other reporters out there covering his campaign. And sometimes it will be a big room, sometimes it is a sparse crowd. I can tell you standing aside the sports bar right now that this was an overflow crowd, granted they tried to squish everybody into this small room outside the sports bar, but it was a zoo, it was a chaotic mess for the former speaker trying to get to the sports bar behind me and into that small room because there are so many people here.

So he clearly still has some support. Why that is being measured as a significant drop-off from where he was, you know, we can obviously attribute that to the negative advertising campaign that he has been essentially the victim of over the last several weeks, that he hasn't really responded to. And as we were talking earlier, throughout the show, Candy, a lot of this is contrary in the minds of Republicans to his own branding. This is a politician who has excelled at the art of political combat and yet during the last few weeks of this campaign heading into the Iowa caucuses, he has decided to stay positive.

In the end, when the caucus happens on Tuesday night, when everything is tallied up and we get these results, then we'll be able to look back and decide whether or not Newt Gingrich did the right thing.

CROWLEY: It is interesting, Jim. I know sports bars are probably a good place to go if you're looking for a crowd on New Year's day. Nonetheless, when you look at that room and see the number of people who were there to listen to Newt Gingrich, I think it is impressive. I mean even if 10 people showed up, I think it is New Year's day.


CROWLEY: This is the group that takes it the most seriously.

ACOSTA: That's right.

CROWLEY: These are the groups that these candidates are looking at saying, you know, these people probably will turn out, if they'll come listen to me on New Year's day.

ACOSTA: That's right. And Candy, this was a big crowd in here. I mean, he had to - I don't know how he got - you know, parting the red seas trying to get through, you know, trying to get through the sports bar. Earlier there were a lot of people watching, you know, Sunday NFL football, and you know, I can tell you that that is a risky thing to do out here on the campaign trail, on Friday night, Rick Santorum got himself into a little bit of hot water at an event where there was a bowl game being watched in which Iowa state was playing, he went into a sports bar and blocked it with the media entourage behind him, blocked the view of about 50 people trying to watch the Iowa state football game and it got a lot of people upset.

I was watching some of the coverage on one of the local newscast and you know someone even said, you know, to a local reporter that, "Hey, that might have cost my vote on caucus night" as absurd as that sounds. So they are - I think at this stage, they are just trying to do the best that they can with what they have. And, Candy, I have to tell you, it is just extraordinary the weather that these campaigns are dealing with today.

We haven't really talked about that very much. But I'm coming to you from a satellite phone connection now because our satellite truck, which is parked outside of this hotel, cannot get its dish up because it is so windy outside right now, sort of like tropical storm force winds right now. But you know, that's sort of the climate that Newt Gingrich often finds himself in when he's out on the campaign trail. There is always stuff swirling around Newt Gingrich. So maybe this is the kind of climate that is going to jump start his campaign, Candy.

CROWLEY: All right. Well, Iowans will brave wind and snow but do not get between Iowans and their football games. Having lived here and as the mother of a Hawkeye, I can tell you they're very serious about their sports teams. Thanks so much. Jim Acosta

ACOSTA: That's right.

CROWLEY: We're going to take a quick break here and when we get back, we're awaiting news conferences from both Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney. We'll be right back.


CROWLEY: As promised, the front runner in Iowa and in New Hampshire, Mitt Romney in Atlantic, Iowa.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ... it is being driven by a message, connection with the voters, debates, experience, and I think those are the features that are driving the campaign so far. I think they probably will be through the entire process.

We'll do better this quarter than any other quarter so far. But I don't have a final figure for you. And when we do, we'll let you know.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) what is your argument?

ROMNEY: I don't think I've spent a lot of time trying to describe differences on policy and detail myself with other candidates but instead I focused on the things I believe and the choices that Americans have to make. Senator Santorum was kind enough to endorse me last time around. I appreciate that. And we have been friends. I can tell you that our backgrounds are quite different. Like Speaker Gingrich, Senator Santorum has spent his career in government, in Washington, nothing wrong with that, but it is a very different background than I have and I think the people of this country recognize that with our economy as the major issue we face right now that it would be helpful to have someone who understands the economy firsthand. Who spent the bulk of his career working in the private sector.

So, you know, Senator Santorum is a good guy, he has worked hard, I wouldn't be surprised if we see him do well on Tuesday night. And I think a good deal of him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Governor, how would you characterize how you're feeling now about today's performance? How do you feel? Do you feel confident?

ROMNEY: Well, I don't know that you can look at a poll and project from that what is going to happen on caucus night. I think it is so hard for the pollsters and the caucus state where people can show up in different numbers than what the pollsters might have imagined. But I'm encouraged that I'm thought of positively by the people they called on the phone to take the polls. I'm even more encouraged by the people I see at these rallies and at these events and the kind of enthusiasm they have and their willingness to show up on New Year's day and their commitment to go to the caucuses.

So I'm - I'm pleased we're doing well. I can't tell you who is going to win this thing. But I do believe that I'm going to have a great deal of support and that that will give me the kind of boost I need as I go into a season of a number of other states.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) conservatives here say you didn't spend enough time reaching out to them. Do you have any regrets, especially given the Santorum surge?

ROMNEY: You know, I've had the privilege of going across the state and meeting people across Iowa the last time around and built a lot of friendships and associations then and a lot of those people continue to support me. I've been able to reach into those friendships over the past several days and over the past several months as I've been back to Iowa. I've also gone to some of the other states and raised the organization that I need to do make sure that the vote of Iowa ends up being a vote for a person that could become the nominee.

This is a process that begins here. It is a big boost here. But it goes on across the nation. And it has been a important to me to make sure that I have a team and a capability to go the full distance to get the nomination and to have the people in Iowa who caucus for me proud that they were on that team from the very beginning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor, Senator Santorum has described himself as a more true conservative, someone who speaks more authentic (INAUDIBLE) conservative than you. Do you concede that (INAUDIBLE)?

ROMNEY: I'm pleased to point people to my record as the governor of Massachusetts and the record that I have there. Balanced the budget with the help of the legislature, all four years I was in office, put in place a - restored in place a $2 billion ready day fund by the time I left, empowered our state police to help enforce federal immigration laws, fought for and was successful in having English immersion in our schools and a whole host of other principals that I think people would determine are good, solid conservative principles. I'm proud of this record.

I'll let people make their own assessment of our respective records, but I'm a conservative, I'm proud to be a conservative businessman. And what distinguishes me I think from the others in the field is that I understand the economy firsthand, having lived in it. And look forward to a spirited campaign, a lot of debates to go. And hopefully have a good night on Tuesday night. I'm confident we'll have a good night. I don't know who is going to win. But I think we'll have good support and then on to New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida, Nevada, it is going to be a terrific race and I'm looking forward to a great sendoff to the candidates, not just me, but to the others as well, that to go on from here after Tuesday night. Thanks, you guys.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thanks, everyone.

ROMNEY: Thank you.

CROWLEY: That was Mitt Romney. He's in Atlantic, Iowa. It wasn't too long ago that Mitt Romney actually didn't do a lot of news conferences. It was one of the more cautious campaign certainly that I've ever seen. But it seems to be paying off for him. Right now, he's sort of back doing some interviews, doing these kind of press availabilities that most candidates do after they have events.

He is sitting pretty in Iowa, although he's not sitting certain in Iowa because there are a lot of folks very close to him, in particular Ron Paul and perhaps even Rick Santorum in New Hampshire, looking a little bit more like a blow away. But whatever happens in Iowa tends to affect what happens in New Hampshire. So we can never sew this up until the caucuses have happened, until the votes have arrived from the straw polls in those caucuses. So we're going to take a quick break from here in "The Contenders 2012." We'll be right back.


CROWLEY: Welcome back to "The Contenders 2012." There is one of them right now, that is Newt Gingrich. He is in Marshall Town, giving a press availability.

GINGRICH: ... spending millions of dollars.

And as we go on to New Hampshire and Florida and beyond, those numbers will ultimately prove decisive in the race.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What did you mean when you said this morning it appear Governor Romney is trying to buy an election?

GINGRICH: Well, I was just struck by the political analysis that the sheer volume of anti-Gingrich ads run by Romney's pack, I'll let you decide how you would describe it. It is pretty - if they decide to spend that number of dollars in negative ads for one candidate, it is pretty amazing. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you feel swept over?

GINGRICH: Well, I feel Romney (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Speaker, there are two days until the Iowa caucuses. You worked hard all week -

GINGRICH: Two and a half.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ...over the course of the last month (INAUDIBLE)

GINGRICH: Who knows. Yes, if I could have done anything different, I would have pulled the plug on Romney's pac. I mean I probably should have responded faster and more aggressively than that.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Speaker, Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry are going to South Carolina. Are you committed to campaigning in New Hampshire?

GINGRICH: Yes, absolutely. But probably - we haven't decided, but probably.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But you're committed, you're not bypassing New Hampshire?

GINGRICH: No, no. I think - I think New Hampshire is the first perfect state to have a debate over Romney care. And to have a debate about tax paid abortions, which he signed and to have a debate about putting planned parenthood in the government board which he signed and then to have a debate about appointing liberal judges, which he did. I think New Hampshire is a good place to start the debate for South Carolina.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you see a doctor for your flu? Did you receive any medications? Is that what made you late?

GINGRICH: I've been very big on Gatorade.


GINGRICH: Right. Same thing we have been doing. I'll talk positively. We'll do two more telephone conference calls and as I've said before, we had 22,000 on the Saturday telephone conversation and you know that's reasonably good reach to spend 45 minutes to an hour with people. We'll do two more tomorrow and Tuesday. We'll keep campaigning both days so we have ads up.

But, look, I think this is a volatile environment where people are going to walk in, undecided or semi-decided and maybe as many as 50 percent could switch during the course of the caucus. So I think it is going to be wide open. I've - it is frankly more wide open than I would have guessed than it would be at this stage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I talked to a lot of people saying exactly that, they're not going to decide -

GINGRICH: Right. I think it becomes a gut call at the very end. I think they will (INAUDIBLE) who do they want to have to be president of the United States? And if they say, who can debate Barack Obama, it will probably pick me. If they can say, you know, who most perfectly fits my views on a certain issue, maybe somebody else.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) but if they're consumed by negative ads in the last couple of days, couldn't that have affected their final -

GINGRICH: It could.


GINGRICH: I sort of think we might have done an ad that more explicitly repudiated the Freddie Mac distortions. But other than that, I don't think the rest - I'm not going to - you can't run around and chase everything that creative consultants can invent. You just burn yourself out. And I frankly like the gamble we have taken. If you look at our ads, they're very positive. If you look at what news max is doing, it is very positive. If you look at the new video we have released about music education, it is totally positive. I just got a picture at the last stop of (INAUDIBLE) it will become part of our (INAUDIBLE) project which is very positive. And part of this is a deliberate contrast. People say they're sick of negative politics. They are sick of Washington being bitterly divided, fine. Here is a chance to repudiate it. If that becomes one of the themes Tuesday night and people take it seriously, you might get a very surprising result.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How is your fund-raising situation?

GINGRICH: Good. We're about the same as McCain was in the fourth quarter.


GINGRICH: I have no idea. I'm not running the campaign.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) - points of contrast that you'll start to draw or continue to draw in New Hampshire with Governor Romney, are we going to see those contrasts drawn in advertisements as well?

GINGRICH: Probably. But they'll be contrast and it will based on facts. They'll be quotes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why the change?

GINGRICH: Because I think if you got somebody spend $3.5 million lying about you, you have some obligation to come back and set the record straight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you (INAUDIBLE) do you think you're better (INAUDIBLE) are you not (INAUDIBLE) do you not feel threatened by him? GINGRICH: I don't feel threatened by anyone. Rick Santorum is a good friend of mine. I can't imagine being threatened by Rick Santorum.


GINGRICH: I think one of the great ironies of this year is that they have much longer period of proportional representation. And so you get conservative delegates picked in overwhelming numbers, where as if it was a first pass the post, Romney might be able to seek out a victory because the conservatives are split. When the conservatives aren't split, we will have already gotten beyond that point.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will you be running a more aggressive ad?

GINGRICH: I would not want them to run an ad that is factually false and I wouldn't want them to run an ad that was a gut ad. You can draw legitimate contrast. Romney called himself a moderate as governor. This is not like going back 25 years. Romney did register as a Democrat to vote for Paul Tsongas. These things are not, you know, you don't have to go out and select things out to distort them and you don't have to get into his career and do any of the things that would get into negative advertising. Say, look, here is his public record, here is my public record, you choose.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His ads aren't really -- it is not about distorting the facts.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- fact driven websites, it is really about the tone, the aggressiveness that the --

GINGRICH: Yes, yes, I think frankly I think you can do very calm, very pleasant ads that the nation of the Republican Party is such that a calm and pleasant ad that says he was for tax paid abortions, I'm against it, you can say it happily, pleasantly, it works just by the nature of the data.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He quotes America the beautiful while his ads show --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is that the future?

GINGRICH: No more than it has been in the past. This is always --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: --he says how great he is and --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His ads are trashing you constantly.

GINGRICH: Right. So part of the question you have to ask yourself is he's assuming the American people are stupid. I don't think the American people are stupid. I am sure -- I am sure -- I am sure within a few weeks every American will know this is his pac with his staff. Sure. Of course they did.


GINGRICH: -- by the way, all I did was guarantee some other conservative merged and didn't help Romney at all.


GINGRICH: Well, then -- and he didn't get rid of me, he just slowed me down. We will make it increasingly clear that these are his ads that this --


GINGRICH: No, all you have to do is list his former staff and his donors and then he can go around the country and say he's not responsible for this. It makes him look like -- here is my simple tag line. Somebody who will lie to you to get to be president will lie to you when they are president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You didn't have any problem with -- you have no problem with the big donors.

GINGRICH: Look, I have every problem -- no. I have every problem. First of all, no ads are being run by any of my friends that are attacking anybody. Second, my solution will be to eliminate all the election laws and allow people to give unlimited personal money after tax and file every night and let the candidates run the campaigns and have the candidate be responsible. I think the current mess is a disgrace. I think it debilitates politics. I think it strengthens millionaires. And it weakens middle class candidates.

UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: Are you talking about putting it on the air, something that -


GINGRICH: Probably. Eventually. You have to be on the air to -- I shouldn't say this to a print reporter. You have to be on the air to penetrate everywhere.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any local reporters that feel intimidated by the large national presence that would like to --


GINGRICH: Wait, you had a press gaggle with no local reporters? This is -- I have to talk to him later. When Robert was here, as your assistant, it worked better. That's all I got to say.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: By ceding now you're willing to get more aggressive, aren't you also acknowledging you should have done it sooner? GINGRICH: No. I think we're running a very interesting experiment. This is the first of many contests. I don't know what the result will be Tuesday night. You have people here. I think people genuinely are disgusted with the negative ads. I think it will be interesting to see what happens Tuesday night.

UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: You've been getting hit a lot here in Iowa is mailboxes.

GINGRICH: We might. I'm not -- I think that's less effective than television and radio.

UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: Even though people were getting five mailers a day.

GINGRICH: I think they throw them out. I think if you think about your own life, how many unsolicited mailer can you throw out without noticing them?


GINGRICH: If you tell the truth, it sounds negative.

UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: People say it is all part of the process; this is a historical part of the process, negative ads.

GINGRICH: If Romney would simply take responsibility --


UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: So are you prepared to go negative against Barack Obama?

GINGRICH: No, I'm just prepared to tell the truth. Telling the truth will sound negative.

UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: What are you going to do to fight --

GINGRICH: That's why this is frankly a good experiment. Learning through the cycle will help us to figure out how to defeat Obama's ads.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you saying that --

GINGRICH: No. Yes, I'm saying this was a very legitimate effort to see could you run a positive campaign and stay positive despite the negative ads and could you -- first of all, could you sustain your vote and I agree with Chris' analysis. He drove us down from the 30 -- he didn't drive us down to two. If I had spent $3.5 million defining Romney, he would have been at three. There is a big difference. No, no.


GINGRICH: No, he's in a position to come in very, very weak first in a field where he ought to be -- go ahead. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was it driven in part by a fear that if you were aggressive, that would imbibe images that people have of you from your speaker ship days?

GINGRICH: No, it was actually driven by our supporters. The number of supporters who said to us, you know, from the middle of the tsunami of negativity, I'm so proud, and you hear this if you walk near me, when people walk up to me, I'm so proud that you're positive. I'm so proud that you're sticking to us. I mean, we -- what happened was we were temporarily driven down to our base and our base really liked being positive.

Now, maybe that's because it is a good government base, maybe because it is a base of people who read books. I don't know what the reasons were, but the people who didn't leave even after $3 million or $4 million of negative ads were people who said I'm really proud that you're staying positive. And so we decided, you know, that we would in fact try to figure out could you do well enough remaining positive to survive? I think the answer is we're going to do well enough to survive and then we'll decide what to do from that point on.

UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: Can you explain or can you answer and explain to people who are considering or abdicating that Mr. Santorum is the person that deserves support; can you tell us what you would say to those people?

GINGRICH: Sure. I would say Rick is a terrific person but I'm in fact the only conservative with a nationwide campaign, I'm the only conservative who has actually led a national achievement on the scale of the 1994 campaign. And I'm the only person that worked with Reagan in '80-'81 to pull off the scale of change. So I'm not going to say anything negative about Rick Santorum. He's a great guy. I think I'm a more experienced national leader with a greater ability to actually change Washington. And that's what I would make the final argument.

Thank you, all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks, guys. Thanks, guys. Hey, guys, it is snowing. For those of you not on the bus, please drive safely.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: So there you have it, Newt Gingrich and so much to digest and what he said, clearly he has set his sights on Mitt Romney, the front-runner, the problem is if you look at the polling, he's going to have to get by Ron Paul and Rick Santorum and at least try to get ahead of Rick Perry at this point. So, so much in that. We'll chew it over when we get back right after this break.


CROWLEY: Welcome back to THE CONTENDERS 2012 where for last couple of hours we have been able to bring you some unedited raw versions of what people are hearing on the campaign trail here in Iowa, making a very important decision on Tuesday in those Iowa caucuses. We're going to get to Jim Acosta and Joe Johns a little later to talk over some of what we heard.

But I want to now bring in our Dana Bash. Dana, through this whole Newt Gingrich news conference, which I'm sure you heard, I kept thinking, actually the man who did a lot of damage to Newt Gingrich was Ron Paul, who has deep pockets, who has an ardent following and who immediately put up ads when Gingrich started to go up in the polls calling him a serial hypocrite.

It reminded me how much Ron Paul has been a huge power in this Iowa caucus. I spoke with him this morning. He said, well, I expect I'll come in first or second. I'm not going to come in third. It will be first or second. So he has -- if he doesn't win the nomination, he certainly is in a place to become a power broker.

DANA BASH, SR. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh, there is no question about it that he absolutely, I mean, we'll see how he does on Tuesday. But just the fact that he has been consistently doing so well in very reliable polls here, like the Des Moines Register Poll that just came out last night, the fact he's in a statistical dead heat with Mitt Romney certainly says it all.

The whole idea of whether or not he would be a power broker, Candy, you know, because you covered him in congress as well as I have, question is whether he wants to be a power broker. You talked a little bit about this with him this morning, the fact that he's a Republican, but so many of his views and so many of his positions really draw support from Democrats because they tend to be maybe on the foreign policy side, less interventionist, of course, and on the domestic side, he draws libertarians. So that gets him independent votes. So he could be a power broker but he doesn't seem to be the kind of guy that wants to be.

CROWLEY: Exactly. And I think -- I just mean if he can collect some delegates along the way, because he talks like a man who is in this for the long haul. You collect those delegates; you can start to bargain a little. I think what is funny is whenever I talk to Ron Paul, I think a little bit about that musical sound, "The Sound of Music," where the nuns all get together and sing this song about a novice saying how do you solve a problem like Maria and I feel like that's where the Republicans are, because here is a man, who, you know, how do you solve a problem like Ron Paul?

Here is a man that does draw from a party that wants a smaller government, when we did our poll, 22 percent, the highest number of those responding, 22 percent agreed with Ron Paul on the issues. When asked how you most agree with, he was at the top. So they have a bit of a problem here.

BASH: Oh, definitely. And even the Des Moines Register Poll that came out last night, I think the top five issues people said, like, reducing spending, reducing the size of government, the debt, things like that, he, by far, was the most likable candidate. The problem for him is that his negatives are getting higher and higher because that's what happens. Candy, you know this better than anybody, that when somebody who is previously not, you know, let's face it kind of ignored by the mainstream media suddenly gets scrutiny, especially somebody like Ron Paul who has some very interesting writings in former books and other places, the negatives start to soar and that has been happening and that's why he definitely is doing well, he has an unbelievable base of support here in Iowa.

And if you believe them going on to New Hampshire and they're even running ads in South Carolina, he definitely is -- says he's in it for the long haul but the question is how he really will fare here given the fact that the negatives seem to be actually hurting him and the attacks and the scrutiny seem to be hurting him here in Iowa in these final days.

CROWLEY: Yes, they have. There is some sort of personality things inside the poll; he was very high on the list of least likable. He was pretty high on the list of not likely to be able to beat President Obama or not elect able question. But nonetheless, he is drawing votes, some votes at least, the Democrats and the independents have -- but he's drawing some Republican votes away from these guys and Newt Gingrich in some way has to get around this, as does Rick Perry, as does Michele Bachmann, as does Rick Santorum.

BASH: Absolutely. And, look, he was talking about Tea Party-like ideals way before they were cool, way before anybody paid attention to the idea that you want to shrink government, the government is too big, and that the debt is too big. He's very black and white about that, obviously. That's the kind of people that he attracts. When people listen to what he says about the fact that government simply doesn't work, the fact that he thinks that federal income tax should be abolished, the fact that for some people he says that drugs should be legalized, those kinds of things really do play for some true libertarians and, again, for the economic conservatives, people who really, again, followed the Tea Party credo, he is their guy.

He's kind of one of the originals. And so if that is the reason why you're voting and especially if you're a voter here in Iowa and there are certainly a lot of them who want to vote to send a message to Iowa, to Washington rather, rather than vote for somebody who could potentially beat Barack Obama, there is no reason why you wouldn't want to vote for Ron Paul.

CROWLEY: And it is a good place for Ron Paul in Iowa where they list the debt, the federal debt as the biggest problem in the economy. So it will be an interesting night for him on Tuesday night and an interesting night for all of us. Dana, so good to be talking to you again. Welcome to Iowa. We'll talk to you later.

BASH: Thank you.

CROWLEY: We're going to take a quick break and we'll be right back.


CROWLEY: Welcome back to THE CONTENDERS 2012. We're in our final lap here for our New Year's Day edition of THE CONTENDERS. I want to bring in my colleagues, Joe Johns, who has been with Romney, Jim Acosta who has been with Newt Gingrich and John King joining us live from Atlanta this afternoon. Joe, I want to sort of wrap things up with you, talking about Mitt Romney. I'm not sure that six months ago any of us would have thought that Romney would be in as good a position as he appears to be in Iowa and yet I think we saw in that news conference of his that he's tempering or trying to temper the expectations here.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And playing it very safe once again. You know, you can look at Romney early on two ways. The conventional way has always been that he really didn't plan to do a lot in Iowa, and so he got forced into it and now he's here, all in. But there is another way to look at it too. If you talk to people connected to the campaign, they'll suggest to you now that Mitt Romney was running a stealth campaign, if you will, a sort of quietly under the radar making contact with people to try to come in at the last moment and make a good showing.

So there is that. He was here just a few moments ago and we watched that right here on CNN. One of the interesting things he did today was point out that four years ago in his run for president, Rick Santorum who is surging and doing so well in the polls here in Iowa right now, actually endorsed him. Can we listen to that sound bite?


MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Senator Santorum was kind enough to endorse me last time around. I appreciate that. And we have been friends. I can tell you our backgrounds are quite different.


JOHNS: So Santorum's got some questions about that today, given the fact that he is posing himself as the true conservative choice in the race right now. So why did you endorse this candidate four years ago? Santorum's point is, look, he didn't want John McCain to win and it was very late in the game, just about a week before Mitt Romney actually got out of the race. So that will be something to talk about going forward.

But, Candy, you're absolutely right; he's playing it very safe right now, trying very hard not to make any news. He's riding slightly at the top of the polls. Everybody else wants to try to walk right into Tuesday like that.

Back to you.

CROWLEY: I think the name of the game, Joe, for the Romney campaign has always been try not to make news no matter what, for about the past year and a half and they kind of have done that by not actually doing a lot of interviews. They stepped it up recently when there were -- began to build this sort of why isn't Romney out there, is he passionate about this debate? But you're perfectly right that that 2008 structure that he put in place with his $10 million that he sunk into the Iowa caucuses and then placed a disappointing second was still there.

And so he kind of superimposed on to that and now it looks like a strategy, a careful strategy that is working well for him. Do you get any sense from the Romney people what they would consider victory? I know Romney said, well, first place. But it seems to me that if a Ron Paul or Rick Santorum is in the -- round out the top three as they do in the polling and we don't know what will happen in the caucuses that that would be OK with Mitt Romney.

JOHNS: Yes. He's been very careful. He's been very careful right now. He's not predicting victory. He said as much here, but he would like to see a strong showing. So if that means number one, I'm sure they'll take it. But it is pretty clear that they're looking at this like they're going to get one of the three tickets out of Iowa and expect to do very well in New Hampshire and from there it is game on.

CROWLEY: Absolutely. Jim Acosta. Speaking of game on, I thought that Newt Gingrich press conference was pretty revealing. First of all, he overlooks everybody else in the race and is going straight at Mitt Romney, even though as Dana and I just talked about, Ron Paul is the one that did a lot of negative advertising against Gingrich.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. That's absolutely right. You know, though Newt Gingrich, you talk to him on the campaign trail about Ron Paul, up until this point, before he started going after Mitt Romney today, Newt Gingrich was all too eager to talk about Ron Paul. So he has -- he has talked about the Texas congressman here or there. I think the dramatic thing that happened at this media availability that just wrapped up a few moments ago is that Newt Gingrich signaled he's not going after Mitt Romney. He made no mistake about it during his media availability. Yes, he was complaining about all of the negative ads that have come his way.

I asked him at one point, were you swift boated and he said I've been Romney boated. So clearly Newt Gingrich feels like he's ready to go on the attack here and he listed a number of things that are in Mitt Romney's record, that he plans to highlight and he said he's going to do that in New Hampshire. He said, yes, we didn't do it here in Iowa, but we're going to do it in New Hampshire. I asked him, you know does that signal that perhaps you had a tactical error here and the fact that you allowed the Romney forces to define you here in the days before the Iowa caucuses but yet you didn't fire back?

He said, well, this was an experiment. I said, well, should you be experimenting your OK through the Iowa caucuses? He wouldn't budge. He said, look, the Romney tactics worked, they knocked our poll numbers down from the mid 30s to the teens but he said they didn't take us down to two. But he said if I had done the same to Mitt Romney, I would have knocked him down to 2 or 3 percent. The questions that the supporters are going to ask Candy is why didn't you do that then.

CROWLEY: Absolutely. Jim Acosta, I want to move us now to Atlanta where our coverage is headquartered and talk to John King, host of "John King USA." You know John; I want to remind our viewers in our final moments here about the Des Moines Register Poll at the bottom. Santorum, 15. Gingrich, 12. Perry, 11. Bachmann, 7. They're all bunched up. Anybody could get that third ticket out including Rick Perry. JOHN KING, ANCHOR, "JOHN KING USA:" Anybody could, Candy. You may have candidates who are fourth saying because if it is bunched up at the top that there should be four tickets out. The question will be the calculation will be if you come in fourth in Iowa, you go to New Hampshire. If you're Governor Rick Perry, you go to South Carolina and say I'm not going to win any more moderate libertarian; independents can vote in New Hampshire so I'm going to go and try to be southern governor who establishes the beat set in South Carolina.

If you're Mitt Romney, as you know, Mitt Romney would like the more candidates to stay in the race. He believes he can win New Hampshire. He would like a couple of candidates at his right in South Carolina but this is a fascinating period, Candy. You've been through this in many cycles as have I. The candidates essentially have 24 hours left in Iowa. The vote is 48 hours from now. They have one more news cycle to change their case.

I thought that was fascinating listening to Newt Gingrich there. He knows the risks if he goes negative. Because his negatives are personal negatives are higher than the other candidates. But this is a very interesting moment. Iowa votes first. The candidates will recalculate overnight, have their closing pitch tomorrow and then after Iowa votes we'll see who survives. It is a fascinating. This is why we do this. People get to vote now.

CROWLEY: Absolutely. And, John King, will have a big interview on Tuesday with Rick Perry. A lot at stake for the Texas governor here. We will all there be listening to that, John. Thanks so much. And that is it for THE CONTENDERS 2012. We want you to join us next weekend for another installation.

Meanwhile, please stay tuned for "CNN Newsroom" with Fredricka Whitfield.