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Iowa Caucuses: Paul, Romney, Santorum in Top 3

Aired January 3, 2012 - 20:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: But we'll have a better sense of what's going on presumably.

All right. We got some information now from the entrance polls. This is from the first wave of the entrance polls, the top tier candidates. The top tier candidates in Iowa right now based on this initial survey that we did of people going in, as you can see Ron Paul, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. They are the top three. But we want to caution everyone, this could change once we get more results. We're just getting an indication that these are the three that so far, at least in the entrance polls, are doing the best.

The second tier, let's take a look at what we call the bottom four right now. We see Newt Gingrich, the Governor Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Jon Huntsman. He's technically there even though he didn't campaign really in Iowa. He's spending all of his time in New Hampshire. Presumably he will come in last. He's not going to drop out because he's getting all of his -- doing all of his campaigning in New Hampshire.

But remember, this is very early right now. It's sort of coincides, this top tier, with the most recent polls we saw, not only our CNN/"TIME"/ORC poll, but the "Des Moines Register" poll, there was an NBC/Marist poll. It showed these three individual, the top tier. And you know the way you look at these entrance polls, you can think of it as the "let the most recent poll" in Iowa.

Because this is a poll really. And it's a little bit more accurate presumably than the other polls because this is a poll that isn't of likely caucus-goers. We know these are real caucus-goers who participated in this poll, this entrance poll as we call it. And you can see the top tier.

Presumably we'll be getting some more information in the next wave of these respondents, John. But significant, very consistent with our most recent poll, "The Des Moines Register" poll as well.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And it will be interesting, fascinating to see if it holds up. You just mentioned the 2008 experience, the most committed campaigners tend to show up first. Ron Paul has a committed, energized base. Can he stay in that top spot? He's in the top spot in the early wave. Does he sustain that through the night?

Governor Romney and Santorum, again, if Santorum stays in that third spot, and we'll see, this could change, when he did hit the top, the "Des Moines Register" poll suggested he was the candidate who were surging at the end, what happens? It's inevitable. He came under attack in the last 48 hours. So we'll see if this plays out.

But here's a question to watch as we go. We just showed Ron Paul. We know now he will be in the top tier. Look at this. This is 2008. He won one county, a tiny county, down in southwest. So he is spreading the map tonight. So let's come, let's turn this up and come forward to 2012.

You're going to watch. In just minutes, just minutes when they start reporting from those caucus sites this map is going to start filling in. Ron Paul won just one county last time. What are we going to look for this time? Number one, Tea Party strength. If you look at the Tea Party strength, the darker the county, the higher percentage of Republicans in this part of the state identify with the Tea Party.

Let's use some blue for the contrast here. A lot of Tea Party voters, a lot of Tea Party voters. A lot of Tea Party voters. If Ron Paul is to be a serious contender to win Iowa tonight, he will fill in the map in places like this because the Tea Party is the second part of his base. His son, Rand Paul, the Tea Party senator from Kentucky, was there to help him during this campaign.

Libertarians, young people, Tea Party voters. That is the test for Ron Paul tonight. Can he expand from the one lonely county he won back in 2008?

One other quick point, Wolf, when I turn this off and clear it, and go back again to our 2008 experience, take this off the play -- excuse me -- and come back to 2008, this is the test for Governor Romney. This was his strongest area right here. The Romney campaign is hoping overall turnout higher than the 118,000 that came out last time.

The Romney campaign is desperate tonight that this not happen, that the middle not fill in for Rick Santorum like it did for Mike Huckabee. They're hoping that Bachmann wins a few counties, Perry wins a few counties. The Romney campaign calculation is this. If they can hold this, do well out here again, and in the middle of the state where the evangelical voters are they think if Bachmann and Perry combine to 17 or 18 percent of the vote total in the state tonight, that Governor Romney wins.

Fascinating to watch. Again this is four years ago. This is now. This is about, Wolf, to start filling in.

BLITZER: Yes. And once again, at least according to this entrance poll, the initial numbers suggesting that at the top tier, as we expected, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. But I want to caution everyone, this is just the initial respondents. It could change as we get more information.

Four years ago it certainly did. It could change again right now. Erin Burnett and Gloria Borger are watching all of this unfold.

What else are we seeing? Dig deeper, Erin, for us.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Well, Wolf, we've got about 19 categories here of what we asked people when they came in to those entrance polls. And as Wolf was explaining to all of you, because there are multiple waves, some of the first data that we have now is the highly motivated people who were the first to arrive, not the people who squeeze in at the end. And as we said that can mean, you know, very different results as the waves come in.


BURNETT: But let's look at it. When did you decide whom to support? This is a really important category when it comes to who may be the winner tonight or in that top tier. Twelve percent of people decided today according to this first wave of the entrance polls, 25 percent in the past few days. So that's 37 percent of people just deciding in the past few days.

In December, 18 percent of people decided. And 44 percent had their minds made up.

Now Gloria Borger, last time around in 2008 you had pointed out that 60 percent of people have made up their minds a long time ago.

BORGER: Right.

BURNETT: But in the past few days right before the caucuses in 2008, it was actually slightly lower.

BORGER: Right.

BURNETT: And still Huckabee got a surge. So what do you interpret from this?

BORGER: Well, first of all, I think this reflects the kind of volatility of the race. If I were in the Mitt Romney campaign and I would look at the numbers before December and in December, I would say, OK, that's good. Because if these people are turning out early, they probably are part of that solid group that was for Mitt Romney. So maybe the Mitt Romney people are looking at that and saying great.

On the other hand, if you're with Rick Santorum and you see that 12 percent of the people decided today, OK, I'm the last one to surge, this has got to be good for me.


BORGER: And in the last few days that could be good for me, too. So the Santorum campaign can look at this and say, you know what? Maybe we've got some momentum here.

BURNETT: Right. And Anderson, as I pass it back to you, it's worth highlighting that back in 2008 when you combine those two categories, that last few days and today, that number was 30 percent. And of course people deciding at the last moment went to the momentum candidate, that was Mike Huckabee. So this time it went 37 percent even higher. Is that potentially even better for the momentum candidate Rick Santorum?

The big question mark out there right now, Anderson.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And let's just remind you the top three candidates among the early birds, among the people early coming to the caucuses we've been able to poll in our entrance polling, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum.

Really no big surprises there. What will be interesting to see especially in those early birds are what are the main issues which are driving them to the polls? Economic issues or is it social issues? And by that we should be able to tell maybe which way they're breaking.

ARI FLEISCHER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I would say there is one surprise. And that's Rick Santorum. I mean nobody has a three or four, five days ago thought this is possible. So you do have to put him up there on this category. But Iowa is a melting pot of all kinds of issues just like every state is. It's not one issue that make people become an early bird or not. It could be social issues, could be the Tea Party.

Iowa tends more towards social issues than economic issues, but it's all of the above makes up the stew, that's the voter in Iowa.

COOPER: And the economy in Iowa and unemployment is actually relatively -- is lower compared to the national average. Social issues have played more of a role, certainly for Rick Santorum. He's actually very publicly said, you know, I'm about more than just the narrow issue of jobs.

DANA LOESCH, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Right. And he's focused really on those social issues, which I think kind of serves twofold, as Ari was saying, that with Iowa's very low unemployment. They can worry about some other things including those social issues. But I think it also masks some of Santorum's economic record during his time when he was a senator as well. So there's the --

COOPER: That's the charge that Ron Paul has made against him. Ron Paul actually said that he's -- called him a liberal the other day, which I think surprised Santorum. But based on --

LOESCH: It is a little strong.


COOPER: But his voting record on spending while in Washington.

LOESCH: Right, right.

COOPER: James, he's certainly not your kind of liberal.


JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I think that -- but you can't read too much into it. But I think the deserving thing in early like with Santorum, is it looks like Gingrich, and Perry and Bachmann are getting a share of the vote. In order for him to do well, they would have to collapse. Now to be fair, this is just the first time around. And maybe they're more committed to Florida show up early. But he needs them to do poorly if he's going to do well tonight.

COOPER: If you were Gingrich, though, and you're doing well right now in polls in South Carolina, even if you place fourth or maybe even fifth, are you encouraged because you think, well, Ron Paul doesn't have legs outside of Iowa? Or Santorum --

CARVILLE: He's going to find a way to be encouraged no matter what. I mean in the doldrums, he was like, really, his staff was quitting and everything, he kept going. And just watching him tonight, this is a man that's not about to quit anything. And he's not about to be told this. He's sort of on a mission. And I think he can't wait to get to the debate. But he's not -- I don't think he's even thinking -- I think he'd run poorly and needs stay in, it'd be --

ROLAND S. MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And I also think that Newt Gingrich is attempting something that's important. This is one state out of 50. I mean, we spend tons of time talking about Iowa, Iowa, Iowa, Iowa, when you have 49 other states. You're going to have a significant anti-Romney group out there who does not like him. You already have heard some Tea Party folks who say, look, we don't like him at all.

And so if you're Newt Gingrich, you understand that if all of a sudden Romney has momentum coming out of Iowa and New Hampshire, you're going to have people on the right who say, we don't like that guy. And they're going to want to be able to back somebody. And so you look at South Carolina, that could be a place. The problem, though --

COOPER: So tonight, what you're saying is there's really kind of -- there's two caucuses, there's the caucus -- there's also kind of a mini caucus for the lower tier candidates among conservatives to who's going to lead that conservative pack?

MARTIN: Absolutely. Because again Romney is constantly having to deal with the question, are you a real conservative? Are you a true conservative? The smart thing for him, frankly, is to keep running against President Obama and saying, I'm the best candidate, versus trying to prove I'm the best conservative.

COOPER: But if you're Mitt Romney, James, you want as many other folks in the race as possible?

CARVILLE: You know, in one sense we say that, but maybe you don't. And this campaign to me struck me as having two phases. The debate phase and Mitt Romney was sort of OK. He was kind of nice to people. Then after the debates is when you saw the 45 percent of all ads running in Iowa, according to Politico, were negative ads against Newt Gingrich.

And we now know it's pretty evident that these worked pretty well. But if Gingrich comes out of this thing with respectable vote, he will view himself as having survived something big and carried it forward.

FLEISCHER: But that's the key issue for Mitt Romney. He needs all those guys to stay in the race.

LOESCH: Right.

FLEISCHER: He wants them all to have enough of a chunk of respectable vote --

COOPER: Right.

FLEISCHER: -- that each say to themselves, I can beat him if I can only get to South Carolina. If they all stay that way, Romney has a chance.

COOPER: I got to go to Soledad O'Brien who is standing by.

Soledad, explain where you are and what's happening there right now.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, we are here in a place where there's two precincts that are caucusing. There's West Des Moines One and West Des Moines Two. And doubling up is not that unusual. They move into a big space. Three hundred people can sit and now many hundred more have come in. They've finally closed the doors, Anderson. So the line to register is getting much shorter. And they're hoping to get started officially in about five or 10 minutes.

Here is what's going to happen. It all starts right up there on that podium. Let me walk you through. First, I'll show you where the ballot box is. It's right over here. And what people have these red ballots. And once they fill them out, they're going to be putting them inside this ballot box. Then I'm going to walk you up the stairs. They'll bring those ballot boxes eventually after the representatives of the candidates speak. They're going to bring those ballot boxes up here.

They'll lay them out, they'll divide them up and they'll start counting them. They will count them a second time to confirm the numbers and they'll start writing down the results right up here on the easel. And this will be the first indication for people about which candidates are doing the best and which are at the bottom of the list.

After they do that, they'll do simultaneously a phone call to the Republican Party of Iowa and make their official announcements of what each precinct, West Des Moines One and West Des Moines Two, is supporting for their presidential pick.

All of that will then be announced to the crowd. And even though there are lots of people here, it's essentially a very important event that is happening in a very low-tech way. After that happens, they're expecting -- I'm going to guess, Anderson, we got about a thousand people roughly, maybe a couple hundred more here. After that, all these folks are expected or many of the folks expected to go and they'll carry on with the party business that they have to do, getting people to volunteer and continuing sort of the delegate count, et cetera, et cetera, for the next county convention, things like that.

But what people are really here for is to see what precincts pick number one, number two and number three for president here in the Iowa caucuses -- Anderson.

COOPER: Soledad, in some of the other locations, we've already seen candidates -- Michele Bachmann, Speaker Gingrich -- speak to crowds. There have been no speeches thus far where you're at, correct?

O'BRIEN: No. They have not had any speeches. In fact, they're not expecting to start those speeches probably for another 10 or 15 minutes. And they're expecting the speeches -- we've only been told that surrogates or representatives from the campaigns will be talking. There was a word that maybe Rick Perry would be coming as well. But we haven't had that -- haven't actually sighted that yet.

They're going to give them 30 minutes total, five minutes for each representative to come up and talk. But no, they haven't started their speeches yet. That will happen after they get the official program under way.

COOPER: All right. Soledad O'Brien, thank you very much.

Again, it's really a unique situation for people who haven't been to a caucus before. It's kind of -- it can be complicated thing to explain, but there really is -- I mean it's incredibly unique that people spend this amount of time. It's not like the commitment that it takes is not just going to vote and, you know, checking off something and leaving. It's several hours' commitment.

LOESCH: Right. And the rules -- I was joking about this earlier, they're similar to Whack-Bat from "The Fantastic Mr. Fox." They're just so unbelievably convoluted at times because they change -- the number of delegates change and you know restrictions and punishments and so on and so forth. So it's -- it can be very confusing if someone hasn't been paying attention and following along in the weed.

COOPER: What are you expecting for turnout tonight? 2008 saw record turnout vote on the Democratic sides and 220,000 people, I believe it was, at the caucuses, I think, on the Republican side, 120,000.

FLEISCHER: About 118,000 four years ago.

COOPER: Hundred, 18, yes.

FLEISCHER: So that -- here's the thing to keep your eye on tonight, and especially if you're a supporter of Ron Paul. The independent vote. If a lot of independents who can just show up, and do, and they're young, and they haven't been involved in politics before, show up tonight and vote on the caucus, it's going to really help Ron Paul.

COOPER: They register once they arrive.

FLEISCHER: Well, you can just show up as an independent and register as a Republican.

COOPER: Right.

FLEISCHER: And cast your ballot. That can lead to a big increase in turnout. So if there's a big increase in turnout, and if it comes from independent voters who are for Ron Paul, this is a mixed blessing for Republicans because Ron Paul is a different kind of Republican. But that could be the secret to Ron Paul's success tonight.

COOPER: And a lot have been -- Wolf, there have been a lot of discussion about the weather, if there was snow, that might benefit Ron Paul because his followers might be more dedicated or maybe Rick Santorum's. It has been a clear day, a cold day, but no snow in Iowa -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Did you notice, Anderson, Black-Eyed Peas, they were playing implying that the Iowa caucus over there, "Tonight is going to be a good night." What should we make of that?

COOPER: I -- I think you're showing your musical knowledge as once the leader of a band called the Monkeys before the actually Monkees.

BLITZER: Correct. Good memory. Anderson Cooper remembering, from Buffalo, New York. The Monkees.

All right, we got some serious stuff coming up. Entrance poll results. We're digging a little deeper. Let's take a look. These are the early respondents. Stand by.

And look at this. Based on the early people who arrived, the early voters, a tie between Ron Paul and Mitt Romney. At least according to this early entrance poll result. Rick Santorum is third with 18 percent, Newt Gingrich fourth with 13 percent.

Let's take a look at the bottom three as well. Remember, these are the early voters, people who showed up early, 11 percent for Rick Perry, 7 percent for Michele Bachmann, 1 percent for Jon Huntsman. But the big news, at least right now, And I want to tell you, this is not -- these are not official numbers. This is not the final number. These are the early arrivals right now. But it's obviously a tie, at least among those who responded early in our entrance poll between Ron Paul and Mitt Romney.

Let's go to Dana Bash over at Ron Paul headquarters. And Candy Crowley is over at Mitt Romney headquarters. Dana, first to you, I don't know if the folks over there see these -- see these reports, but if they do, they must be encouraged, the Ron Paul supporters.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh, there's no question they're very encouraged. Interestingly, I know you pointed this out that these are early entrance polls. And the Ron Paul supporters are known to be very aggressive and very dedicated. So they most likely would have gotten there very early.

The Ron Paul campaign, they are -- this is their headquarters. And you can see behind me there aren't very many people here. And the reason is because, of course, they're all out at caucus sites.

Ron Paul himself in fact is at Ankeny Elementary School right near where I am and we're expecting to hear him speak. He's got his children, he's got his grandchildren fanned out across the state being his representatives, speaking to these caucuses, trying to get people at the last minute to vote.

But there's no question that they are very excited -- very excited inside the Ron Paul campaign to see these initial entrance polls.

BLITZER: And as excited, Dana, as the Ron Paul folks, I'm sure the Mitt Romney folks are pretty happy, Candy, as well. And remember these are not the final numbers. These are the entrance poll, the early arrivals, the early voters, but shows a tie right now with Ron Paul.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. And that's, you know, ditto what Dana just said. Supporters for Mitt Romney are presumably in their caucuses right now. So you're basically looking at a roomful of journalists and folks who are setting up the room for Mitt and Ann Romney to come when they in fact find out what the results are here.

Also like Ron Paul, Mitt Romney has folks fanned out across these caucuses. Some of his sons are out there. He has some surrogates out there.

Look, they feel pretty good about tonight, if they see early entrance polls showing that they're tied with Ron Paul, if he cannot win, the next scenario they would take is losing to Ron Paul because they just don't think he is viable either with the system and the infrastructure that Ron Paul has in place, or with the Republican Party in general.

So a second to Ron Paul, they would take, but a first, again, would really grease those skids as he moves into New Hampshire where Mitt Romney is showing a huge lead -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, these are the early voters. This is the entrance poll. These are not official results. I want everyone to be cautious.

Let's go over to John King right now.

John, and remember, you made an excellent point before. The early arrivals four years ago in the Republican and Democratic caucuses in Iowa, they didn't necessarily -- we didn't necessarily get it right in terms of when all of the respondents came in.

KING: The most eager people show up early and sometimes the most organized campaigns show up late. So we'll watch and see how this plays out.

But if you look at this right now a dead heat in the early wave between Ron Paul and Mitt Romney. What does that tell you? Well, here's the empty map. And again, any minute now you're going to start seeing counties starting to report their caucus results. And this will start to fill in.

Number one, remember, we've got seven candidates. Huntsman is not really playing in Iowa. So six candidates in contention in Iowa. Want to go back in time to 2008 and show you the Republican race. Number one, we pretty much know this already. Ron Paul is going to build. He won one lonely county, a tiny county four years ago. He is building.

Where do you watch for Ron Paul? Watch for him up here. Ames. You have a college campus there. Here's some college campuses over here in the state. Also Tea Party and evangelical voters. Let's see if he can stretch that coalition.

But, Wolf, I want to focus on something else. You just said the early wave shows Governor Romney tied with Ron Paul at 24 percent. This could become part of the conversation tonight. Again these are early preliminary numbers. We don't know if Governor Romney will go higher or he'll go lower, but look at what Governor Romney got in Iowa four years ago, 25 percent.

If he matches that number, if he just matches that number, even if he wins, look, winning is great, winning beats losing, but if he just matches this number, there will be the conversation we've had throughout the Republican primaries, can he grow? Can he expand his coalition? Can he do more?

Now winning will be a win, and if Governor Romney wins, here's how it's going to happen. They think out here. They think tonight the electorate is slightly older, slightly more independent, slightly fewer evangelicals by percentage. Maybe more in volume but fewer. If that's the case, if the Romney campaign is right about that, they believe they can put the race together here in the West Des Moines suburbs, do well out here, and get to 25, 26, 27 percent and win the race.

So a win would be a win. We have to watch Ron Paul very early in the results. The big question is what's the expectations games? And will some in the party -- and I'm interested on what our strategists think about this. Will some in the party say well, if that's the number and he wins, does he say, great, I won the Iowa caucuses, or do some people in the party say, why can't the guy who is favored in New Hampshire who would look with an Iowa win to be the prohibitive Republican nominee, why can't he grow? Why can't he get more Republicans to say he's our guy?

BLITZER: Good question and we'll continue to search for that answer. We're going to go inside the caucuses. We have cameras in a lot of these caucuses. We're going to see what's going on. They're going to vote, they're going to count ballots. We're going to give you a flavor of what's going on.

But right now in the first wave of these Iowa entrance poll results looks like it's very, very close. In fact, a tie between Mitt Romney and Ron Paul. Rick Santorum coming in third. At least in these entrance poll results.

Our coverage continues right after this.


BLITZER: I guess a recap. The early voters who arrived early in our entrance poll results showing a tie between Ron Paul and Mitt Romney. Rick Santorum third. But remember, this is early. Things could change. These are not the official results.

I want to go to Shannon Travis. He's in Cedar Falls right now. He's sitting right now.

You got a crowd of about 6,000 at the University of Northern Iowa, Shannon, where you are. Set the scene for us. Tell us what's going on right now.

SHANNON TRAVIS, CNN POLITICAL PRODUCER: Absolutely, Wolf. It's an arena full of people here at the University of Northern Iowa. And we're inside one of the caucus gatherings as they're moments away from the moment that we all want to know about actually voting.

I'm sitting here with one of the voters who is here. She lives in Union Township. This area and these bleachers over here specifically for that township. And you were telling me just a moment ago that only days ago you decided who you would support.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Correct. I decided three days ago.

TRAVIS: And who is that?


TRAVIS: Why is that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Primarily the economy. I'm worried about the economy. And I needed to head in a new direction.

TRAVIS: And do you think you might have to convince some of your other fellow neighbors and friends gather here also?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This group seems a little stubborn. And I think we probably have all come knowing who we're going to support. TRAVIS: Got it. A tighty right there, Wolf. One vote for Rick Santorum. We'll see what the rest of these caucus-goers gathered in these bleachers right here, who they will vote for -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Shannon, stand by. Ron Paul speaking over in Ankeny right now. Let's listen in.

REP. RON PAUL (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And I recognize the challenge. But I tell you where I get my reassurance on my foreign policy. Not only do I know it's constitutional, how -- why should we fight wars that are undeclared for us? How can we fight for our constitution if we avoid using the constitution?

But where I get my reassurance are from the active military people. If you look at the donations that come from active military people, I get twice as much as all the other candidates put together. That sends a powerful message. They know, being over there, fighting these wars, not winning the wars and dragging them out 10 years in Afghanistan, $4 trillion of debt, have accumulated over these past years.

And think of the tragic circumstances of the families disrupted, the lives that we have lost and the people coming back injured and post-traumatic stress syndrome, and we're having an epidemic of suicide. If we care about our military, we would be much more cautious about how we go to war.

We want a conservative constitutional government which means the government is small, the people are large, the people assume responsibility for themselves and, believe me, the world and us, we would be better off. That is the road to peace and prosperity.

I thank you very much for inviting me.


BLITZER: Ron Paul speaking to caucus-goers in Iowa. He's trying to convince them to maybe change their minds and support him. They're going to start actually voting there very soon.

Soledad O'Brien is joining us from Clive, Iowa.

It looks like a pretty big event over there, Soledad. They're just sitting down. What did they just do, the "Pledge of Allegiance"?

O'BRIEN: They just did the "Pledge of Allegiance." A very big event. They were estimating something like 1200 people would be probably here. And I think that estimate is pretty accurate. They've just literally, Wolf, officially gotten under way. And Dr. Christy Taylor is the woman who's at the mic right now. She is the person who runs the caucuses.

Two things happening. One, not only are they officially under way, number two, there's a rumor going to the crowd that Governor Rick Perry is going to be here very soon to address the crowd. We haven't seen his people officially here to bring him in, but we are told that he will be coming not only from some of the people who are helping run this caucus, but also some of the folks in the crowd have told us as well. And they're very excited, those who support him. And even those who are on the fence say they are excited to hear from him.

Couple of things going to happen. We're expecting in about 10 minutes that the candidates' surrogates, the representatives, will start giving speeches, and then after that, the voting begins here in Clive for two precincts, West Des Moines One and West Des Moines Two -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Soledad, we'll get back to you. And let us know if Governor Perry shows up. We're anxious to hear what he has to say.

Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: Let's go over to Ali Velshi. He is monitoring social media sites, Twitter, to kind of get a reading of where people are at online.

What are you seeing there?

ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: All right, so these dots correspond to the colors that we've assigned to each of the candidates. Look at this peach color for Ron Paul. All over the country, for the last three days while I've been having this board going, Ron Paul has largely been in the number one spot in terms of volumes of tweets.

This tells you that in the last hour Ron Paul, 4,700 people across the country or anywhere have tweeted with Ron Paul's name or handle in it. He's been in the top spot for a while. Take a look at number two. Number two is Mitt Romney at 1770 tweets, and number three is Rick Santorum at 1743.

So these three have been in the top three spot. But we're also ranking sentiment here, Anderson. A combination of the volume of tweets that are mentioning these candidates and what people are saying about them, good, bad or indifferent.

Ron Paul has been in the number one spot all day. Sentiment is moving toward him on Twitter. Mitt Romney has been moving all over the board. He has not been in second place. He's been in sixth place at once with only Huntsman behind him.

And look what's happening here, number three is Rick Perry, number four is Michele Bachmann, and number five is Rick Santorum so a lot of activity. This is not Iowa.

This is everybody in the Twitterverse. This is the kind of stuff that's going on in the social media world. But Ron Paul winning not only at least in the top tier of our entrance polls, but also in the social media world.

COOPER: Right. And Ron Paul has had a very strong online presence for this entire campaign.

VELSHI: That's right.

COOPER: A lot of young followers are very active on Twitter.

VELSHI: That's right.

COOPER: And Facebook and the like. Our coverage continues. We'll take a short break of the caucuses getting under way now across Iowa. More than 1,700 precincts, 1,774 voting under way in a number of places. We're going to bring you all the results as we get them. Our coverage continues in a moment.


BLITZER: The first votes of the 2012 presidential season have now occurred. In fact, they're occurring over at Indianola High School. Take a look over here.

They just put them in this box. You can see this plastic box over there. That's where the votes are. People circle the names of the candidate they want to see as the Republican presidential nominee.

They brought at this lunch room from the Indianaola High School, they brought the box to a table. They're going to actually count these ballots. Right now, our Peter Hamby is there for us. Peter, they're doing it the old fashioned way, aren't they?

PETER HAMBY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They really are. They passed around sort of a big plastic bin. Everyone kind of dumped their secret ballot in. This is an interesting place actually. Indianola is a pretty conservative precinct.

They were expecting a bigger turnout than they actually got. They had 200 ballots prepared. It only got about 150 or so people here. Wolf, it was really interesting that we saw no one stood up and spoke for either Newt Gingrich or Rick Perry.

Organization is key in the caucuses. You want to have as many of your supporters across the state speaking up trying to change some minds at the last minute. Rick Perry was supposed to have this vaunted ground game.

Obviously, you can't cover every single precinct. But it was shocking when the precinct chairman asked was there anyone there to speak for Rick Perry. Nobody did.

Even Jon Huntsman, who is not competing in Iowa, had a volunteer here and sold huntsman on his foreign policy credentials.

BLITZER: Standby for a moment, Peter. I want to go to the Cedar Rapids caucus because they're actually counting the votes there. Maybe we can hear what they're saying.

Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Caucus. They're expecting about 200 or 300 people there at the Bethany Lutheran Church. John, you know, this is democracy in action. I love the fact that they're doing it the old fashioned way. KING: The old-fashioned way. Wolf, CNN has more cameras in these caucuses than any other news organization. One of the things you've been checking in with our reporters. One of the things we're going to get to do is they count the votes, you see the action going on here in Indianola. They're counting right now.

Once they start officially tabulating that count, we'll watch it fill in right here. We'll get the counts as they come in. That's Indianola, you see them handing the secret ballots around. You got the local Republicans there doing their work right now.

Democracy in action is right. Let's beam out. We have four right here as well in Cedar Falls and in Clive, you see the officials are just starting to speak. So they're just starting to get under way, some larger crowds there.

The candidates will make their pitches. Soledad was just talking about that. In Ankeny, you see here as they're speaking, you see the paperwork being done in the corner here. This is a unique process. We can take you right inside.

And again, once they start to tabulate them, we've got reporters on the scene. We've also right here. We can watch them tab up the votes in the magic wall. We can watch from the caucus sites. Then be we pull out, come back to the map and we'll watch the state of Iowa.

Remember, that was completely blank a little while ago. Slowly, slowly starting to tune in. You see some of these early one or two precincts, may have reported that 1 percent of the vote being reported in so far.

We're just about to kick in and history tells us the Republicans count pretty quickly. Once this process gets under way, we should know pretty quickly.

BLITZER: They make a phone call to Des Moines to Republican Party Headquarter, they say what the results are in these caucuses and they add it up and we'll get a better sense of what's going on, John. Stand by.

I want to go back to Erin and Gloria over there. Are you getting some more sense of what's going on from the entrance poll questionnaires we gave people as they were walking in -- Erin.

BURNETT: Yes, we are, Wolf. As you've been talking about, the second wave, you've been talking about the leaders there with Rick Santorum, Ron Paul and Mitt Romney, this is based on 700 to 900 people what they had to say when they came in.

I wanted to emphasize this question, born-again Evangelical or Christian? This really important, as you can see 58 percent of the people in wave two that we surveyed in our entrance poll identified themselves, yes, as born-again or Evangelical, 42 percent as no.

Last time around in 2008, this final number was 60 percent identified themselves as Evangelicals and the reason this is so important is because in 2008 that of the Evangelical vote 46 percent went for Mike Huckabee.

So let's look at the people who identify themselves as Evangelicals and everyone this is the big moment. Wolf, the flick and there it goes. This is our flick.

We can blow this up as big as we want. Sort of like iPad technology. OK, so here's where we are right now, born-again Evangelical Christian, yes. Gloria, what does this say to you about them going for Ron Paul?

BORGER: Well, there are a lot of interesting things here. First of all, what this says is Ron Paul is, of course, ardently pro-life candidate. But it also says to me that Evangelical voters are not single issue voters.

Ron Paul has a very strong conservative economic message and that may very well appeal to Evangelical Christians, of course, as well. The one I'm interested in here is, of course, Rick Santorum.


BORGER: He gets 21 percent and that Evangelical vote you pointed out Mike Huckabee last time got 46 percent of it. It is now split.


BORGER: Among the whole bunch of candidates here. Michele Bachmann, Gingrich, Perry, Romney, Santorum polled. They're all splitting it. This is good for Mitt Romney.

BURNETT: I want to emphasize as we all talk about because John had mentioned can Mitt Romney get above that crucial 25 percent threshold overall.

Right now, 16 percent of the evangelical vote, in 2008, he got 19 percent of that vote. So he's right near that threshold again. We'll see what will happen.

But now with the magic of technology, let's look at the people who identifies themselves as not born-again or Evangelical and this, I guess no surprise, but -- and this is what's important here. Not just going for Mitt Romney, but he's got a big 34 percent.

BORGER: He does have a big 34 percent. I guess that is no surprise because those who are not identified as Evangelicals --

BURNETT: Matches his total last time around.

BORGER: Exactly. He is a Mormon, after all. But again look at Ron Paul here. This is the economic message, I think, of Ron Paul getting through. It spreads across whether you're Evangelical or you're not Evangelical. He does very well.

BURNETT: All right, I'm going to talk about that later tonight. Because a lot of people think Ron Paul does he have staying power? Is he too radical economically? I spent the day talking to major investors and CEOs and some really big surprises on what they had to say about Ron Paul. Talk about that later -- Anderson.

COOPER: Let's check in with Erick Erickson, the editor-in-chief of and CNN contributor, and also Republican strategist, Alex Castellanos.

Ales, have you borrowed one of Rick Santorum's sweater vests? Is that what you're wearing here?

ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I've sewn some sleeves on it. It's cold here.

COOPER: All right, you're at Santorum headquarters. What is the mood there tonight?

CASTELLANOS: You remember those movies where the American space capsule goes around the moon for the first time and we lose contact with it? That's the mood here, anxiety. Everybody is waiting for the polls to close, for people to come back and give a little bit of information.

Media consultant John Brabender is tweaking the lights there. They just did a dry run with the campaign's theme song, heroic theme song to elevate the candidates. Everybody is needles and pins waiting for the shoes to drop here.

COOPER: Erick, a lot of people over the last couple of days have watched the so-called Rick Santorum surge in this "Des Moines Register" poll, which took place over four days. In the last two days of that poll.

In the first two days, he was around 15 percent or so or even below that. In the last couple of days, he was in the 21 percent or 22 percent, finished 15 percent overall.

How confident are they and to what do they attribute that surge? A lot of folks have been saying he was just the last guy standing when everybody else has been the frontrunner then fallen.

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, you know, everyone's trying to damp down expectations a little bit just reminding everyone this is new. You get the sense from the facility where we're in.

It's much smaller than you would think if we were going to have a massive ground here. I expect by 9 or 10 the fire marshal maybe having some issues with the size of the crowd. There's going to be some excited people here that I suspect looking at some of the early returns that you've been talking about.

CASTELLANOS: Anderson, one way to look at the numbers here, last election if you add up the Evangelical vote to that Huckabee and Fred Thompson got, it's about 56,000 votes.

Assume that a little less than half of that will be split up this time by, say, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and even Newt Gingrich, a little bit. That leaves 30,000 votes out there for somebody like Rick Santorum, who seems to have gotten some momentum. That might be a ceiling for him. He'd be thrilled to come close.

COOPER: All right, we're going to check in with you guys throughout the evening. Thanks very much. John King is over here at the magic wall. John, what you have been looking at?

KING: Anderson, we're looking at our live caucus cams. I want to take you to Indianola. We'll show you. This is the first caucus where we've seen the vote tally start to come in.

You see, Romney 25, Ron Paul is winning over here with 40 right now. I'm pretty sure we can listen in. Let's try to listen in for a minute.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The central committee meets once a month. It's the third Monday of the month.

COOPER: It's not that exciting.

KING: Well, they've done the counting. Now they're doing the organizing.

COOPER: You can get the doughnuts and the --

KING: Be careful now. This is actually important work. We might look and say what do we care about the central committee, the Republican committee in Indianola, Iowa?

Iowa is a classic swing state, the last 13 presidential elections, seven times for the Republicans, six times for the Democrat. What these Republicans are hoping tonight is that it doesn't end tonight.

That they have a good competitive campaign in November as well, but tonight as we're trying to figure out who will be our first winner.

COOPER: So they've already voted in Indianola. Now they're doing party business.

KING: Now they're doing some party business. You see people on the table. You know, maybe they're tweeting. Maybe Ali will find these tweets right here.

COOPER: So are these the final numbers from Indianola or are they kind of rolling in?

KING: Now that she's doing the official business, I assume they're the final numbers. I know Peter Hamby is on the ground. He will confirm that for us.

But, Wolf, as we watch all this play out, it is fascinating to get right inside the room. This looks like a school cafeteria here. At this one site, you see it highlighted here. We make it easy for you.

Ron Paul is winning, but then you have a split throughout the rest. Wolf, we're going to keep watching these all night long.

BLITZER: All right, we've got I think all of the respondents now to the entrance poll results have reported. We've tabulated the results. Let's see what happened.

Now, there are two waves. The early waves we told you about the tie, the tie between Ron Paul and Mitt Romney, both with 24 percent, 18 percent for Rick Santorum, 13 percent for Newt Gingrich.

Now we've got all the early arrivals and the late arrivals. They have now been tabulated, counted, these are the poll results. Not the official results. But this is what people said they were going to do as they were walking in to these caucuses.

Let's take a look at both waves and what the results are. All voters, look at this, Ron Paul 24 percent, Mitt Romney 23 percent. Very close behind Rick Santorum 19 percent, Newt Gingrich 13 percent. This is the entrance poll.

Let's see the bottom three right now as well. In addition to this other top four. Rick Perry with 11 percent, Michele Bachmann 7 percent, Jon Huntsman only 1 percent, he really didn't campaign in Iowa.

But Ron Paul, at least according to the entrance poll results, this is not official numbers, this is only what people were saying as they were going in. Remember, one of the important features of these caucuses, one of the real important features is people can change their minds even as they're listening to representatives of the various candidates, they can change their minds.

And they don't necessarily have to vote the way they said to our people making these surveys what they were going to do. But right now, it looks like Ron Paul 24 percent to Mitt Romney's 23 percent. Now these are the entrance poll results.

All of the respondents now have been counted, but let's take a look at the real votes. These are official votes that we're starting to get in. It's only 1 percent of the precincts that are in.

But let's take a look at the percentage, right now with only 1 percent of the precincts reporting Rick Santorum 26 percent, Ron Paul 23, Mitt Romney 18, New Gingrich 16, Rick Perry 10. Remember, this is very, very early. These are official numbers, only 1 percent reporting.

You can see how small these numbers are. Rick Santorum 463 votes, he's 57 ahead of Ron Paul. Mitt Romney 318. Newt Gingrich 286 or 16 percent. The bottom three, let's take a look at how many of these official votes.

These are the first official votes in the 2012 election season, first official votes that have been counted, Rick Perry 10 percent 169, Michele Bachmann 112, and 5 people have voted for Jon Huntsman. You know what I want to go. I want to go inside of our cube where all of our experts are sitting.

They're monitoring what's going on. Anderson Cooper is inside there as well. He's going to give us a better sense of how we determine these results, the official results as well as the entrance poll results -- Anderson.

COOPER: Yes, Wolf, and we've been getting a lot of the numbers in here in the cube where we have a lot of folks who are basically crunching the numbers. What are you looking at here?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Well, Anderson, what we have right here is this is what the entrance poll data is. At 40 precincts, we had interviewers out there that were asking the questions who are you, who are you going to vote for, what have you.

Now this gives us an indication of where things are going, but this isn't all of the data. We slide over here. This is where we see the raw data come in, the raw vote. These interviewers are asking questions initially and then when the room happens, we actually see the vote even before it is officially coming in.

It is then being telephoned back to our folks who are crunching the data. We have a team of half a dozen people led by our director, statisticians, political professionals, journalists putting this stuff together creating an overlay.

That's where we'll get a statistical model to then decide who will be the next winner of the Iowa caucus.

COOPER: -- to give a projection for who's going to be --

PRESTON: We will. But right now, think about a baseball game, we're probably in about the fourth inning right now. That's why it's so important that we're watching this data right here, but this is real data. Wasn't to push that data out and get into the real votes. It is just starting to come in.

COOPER: So when projections come in, it is based solely on real voting or only on entrance?

PRESTON: It is based on the entrance data. It is based on the real votes. It's also based upon an editorial decision that you make at the time. And these folks that are doing it for us, they've been doing this for a long time. They know the state. They know where the votes are.

COOPER: It will also be interesting to see in the post game of all this to see how the entrance data, what people said as they entered, how it jived and compared it with how they actually ended up voting to see if a lot of minds were changed and how many people were undecided when they were going in.

PRESTON: Absolutely, true. And it also shows you whether that data was actually good data or that was bad data as well. So you are able to look at it in the end.

Let's not forget when we look at this entrance poll data, we'll find out who these people are, are they born-again Evangelicals? Who did they support and then, of course, when he can show you specifically on the map.

COOPER: I assume it's OK to show the thing that says confidential information?

PRESTON: Isn't that your telephone number?

COOPER: We decided that's no longer confidential for some reason.

All right, thanks very much. We'll be checking in now with the evening in the cube where all the numbers are being crunched -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Anderson. Mark Preston, thanks as well. Shannon Travis is over in Cedar Falls at the University of Northern Iowa where there's a pretty large caucus going on. Shannon, what's happening right now?

SHANNON TRAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there, Wolf. We're continuing to peel back the curtain on this whole caucus process, literally and figuratively.

You'll look over there at one caucus gathering that has not yet finished its voting, but you'll look over here and you'll see empty chairs.

This group has finished its voting. This is the precinct captain right here. Her name is Agnes. Agnes, you've finished with your caucus gathering. What are the numbers looking like?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ron Paul was clearly the leader for us and then Newt Gingrich close behind him with four.

TRAVIS: How many people did you have in your group?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We had 22 in our precinct.

TRAVIS: And what happens now with those numbers?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm going to turn them into the central committee and they send that on to the state level.

TRAVIS: And then they send that on to the state level and that gets tabulated?


TRAVIS: This is where she's going right here, Wolf. Agnes is taking the numbers to get tabulated. It's basically like a nerve center for this arena of about 6,000 people. Some of the groups are still here, but some of the groups have left and the voting is over -- Wolf. BLITZER: Shannon Travis has basically been living in Iowa over the past several months watching what's going on. Let's go over to Ankeny, Iowa. There's a caucus going on. Joe Johns is there. Joe, what's happening?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Well, probably about 300 people, perhaps more here just finished voting. What you're looking at right now is the votes being tabulated.

On each piece of paper is the name of one of the candidates now running for president here. With me right now, as a matter of fact, is Matt Strawn who is the Iowa State Republican chairman. He happens to be, you know, this is where you would caucus. You did not vote, right?

MATT STRAWN, IOWA GOP PARTY CHAIR: This is my home turf. This is my home precinct. But because we oversee the election my office tabulates and counts the results, I didn't cast a vote tonight. I get to see the very best of the grassroots process in action. The campaign representatives are actually watching the votes being counted.

JOHNS: That's important to say. The different people we have in here are different representatives of candidates who actually spoke. So you, sir, you spoke for Newt Gingrich.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I did, yes, sir.

JOHNS: What is your name?


JOHNS: What is your name?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm Rob Johnson. I spoke for Rick Perry.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Gloria Sissen, Mitt Romney.

JOHNS: And you spoke for Ron Paul.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I did. Nathan O'Connor.

JOHNS: Well, thank you very much to you all. So that's what it looks like. If we can go back over here, as you can see, the counting is progressing fairly quickly, Wolf.

We're going through just a small group of names. We're also trying to, you know, keep tab on who is who and we can come back to you probably momentarily with the results. It looks like they're almost through with those pieces of paper.

So it's been very, very fast moving process, if you will here tonight. I'm also afraid to interrupt here because I don't want to get their counts. How quickly does this happen? I mean, it looks like they're going to be done in 5 minutes. STRAWN: Well, you know, we don't mess around here in the hawk eye state. So we've got the whole world waiting to see the results from Ankeny 10. But this process is happening in 770 other precincts simultaneously so it's the very best of the grassroots process.

JOHNS: What's really funny to me was last time around we had, what, a social conservative at the very top and the guy who won the nomination ended up actually getting second here.

STRAWN: Correct. In this precinct four years ago, Mike Huckabee won the precinct followed by John McCain and then Mitt Romney was third in this precinct.

JOHNS: Thanks so much, Matt Strawn. It looks like they just opened another envelope. We'll be another minute or two, Wolf, before we get the tabulations. But we'll get to you when they're finish counting.

WOLF: We're watching history unfold. These are the first official votes of the 2012 presidential season here in the United States. We'll get back to you, Joe. Joe is in Ankeny.

We're also going to other caucuses. We have live cameras standing by. We're going to watch what's going on. We have the results of the entrance polls as you saw that Ron Paul slightly, slightly ahead of Mitt Romney, 24 percent, 23 percent.

That's not the official results. They're counting votes right now. We'll get the official results. Stay with us.


BLITZER: We're getting more official results now, 4 percent of the precincts in. This is still very early in the official count. You saw what's going on with the entrance poll results. Slight lead in the entrance poll results for Ron Paul over Mitt Romney.

But 4 percent of the vote now in. These are official numbers, 24 percent for Rick Santorum. Also 24 percent for Ron Paul. Rick Santorum is 25 votes ahead of Ron Paul, 1229 to 1204.

Mitt Romney has got 22 percent with about 1100. Newt Gingrich 14 percent 690, Rick Perry only 9 percent 460, Michele Bachmann 6 percent 323 votes, Jon Huntsman has 26 votes, 1 percent.

You see what's going on. Remember this is 4 percent. I want to go back to Joe Johns right now. He is in Ankeny watching what's going on. Joe, take it the counting has actually started. What's going on there?

JOHNS: They have. So far we've counted out 57 votes for Rick Santorum. Now they're doing the Mitt Romney votes. We're at 55 and still counting. There's still a lot more in her hand. So I don't know how many she's going to end up with. The counting continues, Wolf.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72.

JOHNS: It's 72 votes for Mitt Romney there. So that gives you some idea what's going on here. We really got a lot of applause in the room for Ron Paul. So it will be interesting to see whether the amount of applause translates into a lot of votes, but clear there was a lot of support in the room for Ron Paul.

BLITZER: All right, Joe, stand by. We'll get back to you. We'll get a better sense. Joe is in Ankeny, Iowa, the Des Moines area community college. Rick Perry is speaking in Clive outside of Des Moines as well, the Texas governor. Let's hear what he's saying.