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Santorum's Shot at Iowa Surprise; Gingrich Calls Romney A "Liar"; Mom's Arrest May Have Triggered Arson Spree; Gas Pipeline Bombed In Syria; Critics: Iowa Doesn't Represent America; Can Anyone Beat Mitt Romney in New Hampshire?

Aired January 3, 2012 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S THE SITUATION ROOM: And to our viewers here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, Rick Santorum is taking a shot at an Iowa surprise.

Will a sudden surge in the polls translate into votes tonight?

We're counting down to the first contest of this the 2012 presidential campaign, just a few hours from now.

Frontrunner Mitt Romney can't afford to take Iowa for granted. He's using one of his best assets to try to close the deal with voters tonight.

And is Herman Cain -- yes, Herman Cain -- ready to endorse one of his former rivals?

The Republican campaign dropout is talking about the Republican field and what he owes his supporters.

Breaking news, political headlines and Jeanne Moos all strait ahead.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


Just hour three hours from now, the doors will close at the caucus sites across Iowa and for the first time in this, the presidential race, the voters will have a say.

The six Republicans competing actively in Iowa have spent the day making their final pitches. Now they're getting ready to watch the results come in.

One candidate could wind up closer to the Republican nomination tonight. Others may not make it to the next contest.

You're in the CNN Election Center. We're covering every minute of this important day and night in the battle for the White House.

If anyone pulls off an upset victory tonight, it could be Rick Santorum. His late surge in the polls is generating lots of buzz just in time for Iowa's decision day. CNN's Jim Acosta is joining us now from Santorum headquarters in Johnson, Iowa -- you got a chance, Jim, to speak with Senator Santorum just a little while ago.

What did he say?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, he is downplaying expectations just a touch. He did not predict a victory to us when we caught up to him a few moments ago. But he does hope to come out of Iowa with at least a bronze under his belt.

We caught up with him just a little while ago.

Here's a bit of what he had to say.


ACOSTA: How are you feeling, Senator?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Good morning, everybody. SANTORUM: Thanks.

ACOSTA: Do you think you can pull it off tonight?

SANTORUM: We'll just keep working hard.

We're going to another stop and hope to get some more voters.


ACOSTA: You're -- you're feeling good, though?

SANTORUM: Well, we feel like if we can crack the top three, that will be great.

ACOSTA: And I -- I notice you're off to New Hampshire after this. It looks...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- do well up there.

ACOSTA: It looks like a pretty full schedule up there in New Hampshire.

SANTORUM: Yes. We're going to spend one day in South Carolina. But every -- other than that, we'll be -- we'll be in New Hampshire. But we're -- we're going to run hard in both.

ACOSTA: What's been the most surprising thing about all of this?

You spent so much time here. Here you are at the finish line.

SANTORUM: You know, I -- I'm -- I'm really not surprised by it. I mean I've always had confidence in the people of -- the people of Iowa.

ACOSTA: Thanks, Senator.


ACOSTA: So he sounded like he was downplaying expectations just a touch there. But make no mistake, Wolf, Santorum's aides are feeling pretty confident about tonight. But cautiously optimistic might be the best way of putting it. They say consider, for example, over at their campaign headquarters, they have added roughly a dozen of extra phone lines.

They looked at those crowds that they had all day yesterday. Hundreds of people turned out to see Rick Santorum. Those are some of the biggest crowds that Senator Santorum has had throughout this campaign, heading into the Iowa caucuses. And then they -- they say look at our ambitious campaign schedule, heading up to New Hampshire.

They've got a few stops in New Hampshire tomorrow. They plan to -- to step out of that state only briefly, to touch ground in South Carolina for one day. They say they are going to fight hard for New Hampshire and they feel if they can get a good turnout, a good -- good victory out of Iowa, that will slingshot them into New Hampshire with some serious momentum -- Wolf.

BLITZER: For folks who haven't really paid a lot of attention to Santorum's campaign, Jim, what are some of his main points, his key points that he's trying to emphasize?

ACOSTA: Yes. And -- and it's easy to get caught up in the horse race of all of this. So it is -- it is important to break down where Senator Santorum stands on the issues.

These are some of the issues that have really brought a lot of social conservatives to his campaign. He's also appealing to fiscal conservatives. He wants to have a balanced budget amendment. That's one of his top priorities, he says, if he's elected president. He also has talked extensively about providing tax breaks to get manufacturing going in this country again.

He created a bit of controversy, as Jack Cafferty was just talking about a few moments ago, in that Senator Santorum favors air strikes to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

He is, of course, a strict social conservative, was an advocate for a ban on partial birth abortions. And then something that we've heard in the last 24 hours -- of course, it's not new. People have covered Santorum extensively. But he has a personal biography that includes a difficult family tragedy that he, at times, talks about. He talked about his last night. He and his wife lost a son that only lived a couple of days -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

Jim Acosta is going to be with us throughout the night, as well. Just hours before the caucuses, Newt Gingrich isn't downplaying his chances in Iowa anymore. He now says he's hoping for a great upset.

His strategy is to try to make that happen. And it includes -- get this -- calling Mitt Romney, the frontrunner -- and I'm quoting the former speaker -- "a liar."

CNN's Joe Johns is joining us at a caucus site in Ankeny, Iowa right now. He's going to be at Gingrich headquarters later tonight.

He certainly, Newt Gingrich, came out swinging today -- Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, he did, Wolf. By the way, this is Des Moines Area Community College, where you said one of the caucuses is going to occur later this evening.

We'll be here for a while, then we're going to go over to Newt Gingrich headquarters.

Yes, he's sort of been all over the place, quite frankly, starting out lowering expectations, going as far as telling his supporters he was not going to win the Iowa caucuses. Then he backed way from that, because one of his supporters told him that kind of language simply is not helpful in an environment where you have people out in the streets fighting for you and trying to get people to caucus for Newt Gingrich.

So language, on the one hand, is something he's trying to soften. On the other hand, the language got about it controversial earlier today, when he was asked if he thought Mitt Romney is a liar.

Now, the former speaker has been very upset, of course, with Mitt Romney because of negative advertising run by a pro-Romney super PAC.

And the former speaker actually went pretty far when he was asked a question.

Listen to this.


NORAH O'DONNELL, ANCHOR, "THE EARLY SHOW": You've said of Mitt Romney, "Somebody who will lie to you to get to be president will lie to you when they are president."

I have to ask you, are you calling Mitt Romney a liar?


O'DONNELL: You're calling Mitt Romney a liar?

GINGRICH: Well, you seem shocked by it. Yes.

I mean what -- what else could you say?

O'DONNELL: Why are you saying he's a liar?

GINGRICH: Because this is a man whose staff created the PAC. His millionaire friends fund the PAC. He pretends he has nothing to do with the PAC. It's bologna. He's not telling the American people the truth. It's like his pretense that he's a conservative.


JOHNS: But it wasn't all tough stuff today, by any stretch of the imagination. One of the former speaker's daughters appearing on CNN talking about that moment last week here in Iowa when Newt Gingrich broke down crying talking about his late mother.

Listen to this.


JACKIE GINGRICH CUSHMAN, NEWT GINGRICH'S DAUGHTER: I think It was hard. And I think you have to remember, part of why he's not seen as a man who shows a lot of emotion is because he comes from a family where his father was a career Army officer. His father served in the infantry for 27 years. He comes from a family that has a lot of service to this country. And so he's not used to showing a lot of emotion.


JOHNS: Newt Gingrich is expected to meet with caucus goers in Cedar Falls later this evening before heading back here to the Des Moines area for his headquarters -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Joe.

Joe will be with us, of course, as well.

Thank you.

Romney, meanwhile, is relying on his family to try to close the deal with Iowa voters tonight, especially his wife, Ann. She helped him draw a sharp contrast with Newt Gingrich and his three marriages.

Now she seems to be helping her husband try to show his down-home side.

Listen to this.


ANN ROMNEY, MITT ROMNEY'S WIFE: I also think of -- of my ancestors and the sacrifices they made to be in this country, and my Welsh grandfather, who worked in the coal mines. And you -- you think of family on days like today. And you think of America and all the sacrifices that our ancestors made so that we could live in this extraordinary nation.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The kids call her the Mitt Stabilizer. If I get a little off track, she brings me back and reminds me of what's most important.


BLITZER: Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Ron Brownstein.

He's joining us from Des Moines in Iowa.

Here's the question is, is she, Ann Romney, a bigger force in this campaign than we think?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I was struck, as you are, by the reference to the coal miner's granddaughter, to borrow from Loretta Lynn, because of -- because, of course, Rick Santorum tells audiences that he is the grandson of a coal miner. And it's a reflection of the fact that, to some extent, this is a different Republican Party than it used to be. It has a lot more blue collar voters than it did a generation ago. In 2008, half the Republican electorate did not have a college education.

Rick Santorum makes a very unvarnished appeal to those voters. He says, I am one of you. I grew up in a town, a steel town in Western Pennsylvania.

Mitt Romney, you know, is not necessarily as easy a natural fit for those, having grown up the son of an auto executive and becoming a multi-millionaire himself. So I think that it was a very striking reference by Ann Romney, who has been a big asset for him, I think, throughout. We saw her last night at an event. She's a strong -- she's a strong surrogate, and, as you say, kind of softens and humanizes her candidate.

BLITZER: A very nice lady, indeed. I had a chance to speak to her last week.

A lot of the experts -- and I wonder if you're one of them, Ron -- believe the only way Romney won't get the nomination is if a whole bunch of the other candidates drop out and one anti-Romney candidate, non-Mitt Romney candidate, emerges as the main challenger to Mitt Romney and the Republicans rally around that -- that individual.

Is that conceivable?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, well, any time a herd of independent minds agrees on something, you know, you always have to wonder whether you're going to get tripped up by reality.

But in this case, I think that conventional wisdom is correct.

The big question here in Iowa tonight, Wolf, I don't think is necessarily who wins, it's whether the process produces a viable, national alternative to Romney. That has been the big story line all year.

He's been a solid but not spectacular frontrunner. His numbers are not overwhelming. He does pretty well with the more moderate, secular, pragmatic parts of the party. The more conservative elements have been dubious of him throughout, but have never been able to settle on one alternative.

And the risk that conservatives dubious of Romney face is that the Iowa results will elevate Rick Santorum and Ron Paul, who will probably have the most difficulty building a true national challenge, while depressing Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry, who both have been wounded, sometimes self-inflicted, but probably have more inherent capacity to challenge Romney.

So from the Romney point of view, if it's Romney, Santorum, Paul tonight, it almost doesn't matter the order. It's good news for them.

BLITZER: But you know what, we saw what the pro-Romney PACs, those super PACs, did to Newt Gingrich...


BLITZER: -- when they saw him as a challenger to Mitt Romney.


BLITZER: I assume they will do the same thing to Santorum, or Ron Paul, for that matter.

BROWNSTEIN: Not yet. In fact, they're advertising still on Gingrich and Perry in South Carolina. I think they're more comfortable allowing those two to emerge.

In some ways, Wolf, they did what Harry Reid did in 2010 in his Senate race. He -- they've helped to pick their opponent by going after Perry and Gingrich hard, giving Santorum and -- and Paul more of a free ride. And if that's the way it comes out of Iowa, most people think Romney will be in a very strong position, given, especially, how strong he is in New Hampshire.

BLITZER: Yes. And there's new poll numbers in New Hampshire showing he's very, very strong. We'll share those numbers with our viewers. That's coming up.

Ron, thank you.

And stay with us for up to the minute coverage of the Iowa caucuses.

We're going to be here in the CNN Election Center tonight for the results and the reaction. Our special coverage begins 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

Herman Cain dropped out of the race last month, but he's still making headlines. Up next, John King sits down with the former presidential candidate. John is standing by to give us some highlights.

And Ron Paul's surprising admission about being president. We're going to show you what he said today. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty's here, he's got "The Cafferty File." -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Less than three hours, eight o'clock tonight, the process of electing our next president will officially be underway in Iowa. This year, it's the Republicans who have staged a political demolition derby across this parsley populated state in the heart of the Corn Belt. And every four years, a lot of people wonder, why Iowa?

How much does it even matter what happens in Iowa? N 2008, Mike Huckabee won Iowa. John McCain, the eventual nominee, placed fourth. The same thing could happen this year. Even if Ron Paul, for example, were to win in Iowa tonight, there's virtually no chance he's going to be the Republican nominee.

Howard Kurtz writes in "The Daily Beast" that, quote, "Iowa is in some ways a fun house mirror, distorting the process as everyone else suspends disbelief and plays along," unquote. Iowa officials insist their state deserves its first to the nation billing because its citizens are well-informed and throw tough questions at the candidates.

But Iowa is much wider and more whirl (ph) than the other 49 states. And in almost no way resembles the rest of the country, said maybe North Dakota or South Dakota, if you get the point. As for today, it's yet to be seen how much Iowa will matter if at all. If Mitt Romney wins tonight in Iowa and goes on to win in a landslide in New Hampshire next week, he could wrap the deal up pretty quickly.

Nevertheless, it does give an early indication of who has a good organization, who can raise money, and who can get an audience to listen to what they have to say, and it gives the news media something to do and tell the New Hampshire primary. Whatever the outcome of the caucus is, it's probably safe to say that folks like Michele Bachmann, Jon Huntsman, and Rick Perry may soon want to rethink their whole effort here.

It's not a question of if those folks drop out, just a question of when. In the end, Iowa conserve to narrow the field and tell the rest of the country what a relatively few people in the heartland don't want.

Here's the question. What do the Iowa caucuses really mean? Go to and post a comment on my blog or go to our post on the SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page. Wolf, what does it all mean (ph)?

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty -- New Hampshire isn't exactly reflective of the country as a whole either, Jack.

CAFFERTY: No, it's not. Somebody suggested we should do a series of four or five national primaries, and the top five candidates in the first round would go through to the next round. And then, the top three go through the next round. And finally have, you know, a defining one between the top two candidates, maybe six weeks before the election in November. Just a thought.

BLITZER: Yes. I've been hearing that for a long, long time and hasn't happened yet, but you never know. Things some day might change. All right, Jack. Thank you.

Not that long ago, he looked to be a contender in Iowa, but Herman Cain never made it. His campaign imploded amid multiple allegations of sexual harassment, but he says he still sees a role for himself in the Republican race. He spoke to our own chief national correspondent, John King, the anchor of "John King USA." How did that go? What did he say?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Interesting conversation. Very difficult. We'll watch this in the weeks and months ahead, but exactly one month ago today, Herman Cain suspended his campaign. Technical term, he got out of the race, because of those allegations. Today, he said he feels burned by the process, that that was baseless, but the media wouldn't let go.

He had to put family first. Still, he insists, Wolf, that he will have a role. He's going to have a foundation or political movement. He says he's going to help because the Republican Party, he believes, and these candidates still in the race, he says, are not doing a good enough job focusing on the issues and the substance.

So, Herman Cain says he won't endorse, he insists, but he says he can play a role.


KING: A Herman Cain endorsement sure would help in this out. If he came out of Iowa and New Hampshire as a winner, would you stand by his side in South Carolina?

HERMAN CAIN, (R) FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Not exactly, John, and here's why. You see, my mission is to help get the Republican nominee elected president. And in order to do that, I don't want to fragment my supporters. They've already made up their mind, many of them, who they want to support.

But you see, if I were to endorse, it could fragment my base as well as people that consider themselves politically homeless, and my role in the coming months will be to try and help keep voters informed, involved, and inspired.


KING: We'll see if Herman Cain, Wolf, we'll see if he can deliver on that, to have an active role to keep people involved, to keep it under substance. One interesting thing at the end, I said, well, is this part of an avenue to get Herman Cain on the ballot for Senate, or governor, or even president again in the future?

And he said probably not. He said he would definitely not run for Senate or governor. He says he'll be active in public life for nine more years, probably won't run for president. He does say if a Republican wins the presidency next year, his dream job would be the defense secretary.

BLITZER: He wants to be the defense secretary.

KING: Yes. I asked him if he thought running a pizza chain gave him the experience to be defense secretary. He says you need a management guide, not necessarily defense expert. I wouldn't count on a Republican president giving him that job, but that's what he wants.

BLITZER: Yes. But he's definitely not going to endorse something right now.

KING: He says absolutely not. He says he wants to be involved in the issues and the substance. And he says he would disappoint his own supporters if he did that. That's today. Let's see what happens. He was a Romney backer back in 2008, you might remember.

If Romney can win Iowa, win New Hampshire, needed Cain's help, if Cain thought that would help him, maybe, in the future politically, these things can change, but the moment he insists he can carve out some role for himself as an issues advocate, little skeptical --

BLITZER: TV commentator, do you think that's in the work?

KING: I think there's no question that Herman Cain wants to have a public role. Remember, he had the radio show in Atlanta before this campaign. Somehow, whether it's an official job at one place or just as being somebody who has a lot of comment (ph), there's no question he wants to stay involved --

BLITZER: He left with a lot of money that he raised that he still could use down the road.

KING: He still could use that money down the road. It takes a lot of money to close down a campaign. He's still paying his staff. He lent his campaign a lot of money early on, a lot of personal funds. He'll pay that money back to himself first, but that is something to watch two or three months from now when the final reports come in what happen to the Cain financial accounts.

BLITZER: The interview airs at the top of the hour for our North American viewers. So, John, we'll be watching. Thanks very much.

KING: Thank you.

BLITZER: We've all hard of exit polls. What about entrance polls? We're taking a closer look at what they could tell us about tonight's outcome in Iowa.

Plus, a murder investigation at one of Queen Elizabeth's estates. The day's other top stories, that's coming up next.


BLITZER: Insights today about the man suspected in the L.A. arson nightmare. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now. What do you have, Lisa?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Well, the man suspected of one of Los Angeles's worst ever arson sprees reportedly may have been driven to it by his mother's arrest late last month. Twenty-four-year-old Harry Burkhart, a German national, was nabbed yesterday morning and is expected in court tomorrow.

He is suspected of setting 52 fires since Friday. His mother was arrested on a warrant from Germany, but it's unclear what for.

And in Syria, state run media is blaming what it calls terrorists for blowing up a gas pipeline, but opposition activists say the government blew it up. The attack occurred near the city of Homs, the center of most of the violent. In a conversation with CNN, one activist claims it was designed to distract Arab league monitors who were in the country.

And in Britain, police today launched the murder investigation after a body was discovered on the grounds of one of Queen Elizabeth's estate. An autopsy revealed the remains to be a (ph) young woman which police say had been at the sight as much as for months. The royal estate is on a 20,000 acres in the English countryside.

And actress, Salma Hayek, has been knighted in France. According to "People" magazine, the 45-year-old Mexican-born star of "Puss in Boots" and "Frida" was named Sunday by President Nicolas Sarkozy for the Legion of Honor. Prior was (ph) Clint Eastwood, Robert Redford, and Jerry Lewis. So, a pretty cool honor for her, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. They always loved Jerry Lewis in France. No doubt about that. Thanks, Lisa. Thanks very much.

Ron Paul was asked about being president and his answer may surprise you. We're discussing that, what happens after Iowa. James Carville and Ari Fleischer, they're here in the SITUATION ROOM.

And you'll find out who is casting votes in the nation's first 2012 presidnetial showdown. Stay with us.


BLITZER: Exit poll is certainly a staple of presidential contest, but with Iowa caucuses, we get entrance polls instead. Let's bring in CNN's Erin Burnett of "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT." Erin, what can you tell our viewers about these entrance polls because they're going to be hearing throughout the course of tonight, a lot about them?

ERIN BURNETT, CNN'S ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT: Yes, they are. We've got all kinds of questions that really tell you what the voters think, what's causing them to vote for which, and all sorts of demographic breakdowns as well. What I have loaded here in what we call our two walls. We're looking for a name, by the way.

Everyone, let us know what you think about that. It is 2008 data. This is what people cared about. Take a lot at top candidate quality. Back in 2008, electability, only seven percent of people who turned out in Iowa in 2008 cared about electability. Obviously, as you know, this time, if that number's low, that might not bode so well for Mitt Romney.

If you look at experience, shares my values, 45 percent back in 2008. Let me show you another thing we can do with this wall, so you could see what that means by turn that in that. What did that mean on shares my values back in 2008? Mike Huckabee. And you see a lot of Mike Huckabee faces. Mike Huckabee, obvsiouly, was the winner then.

One other thing we can show you, this can be really important to see how it swings tonight is this born again versus evangelical Christian vote. Back in 2008, 60 percent of voters in the Iowa caucuses in the entrance polls said we are born again Christians. The Des Moines Register poll, Wolf, was really fascinating. It said only about 30, 35 percent of likely voters were identifying that way.

Again, when you look at what that meant in 2008, that was obviously very powerful for Mike Huckabee. And this time around, obviously, that could bode well for someone like a Rick Santorum.

One other thing I want to show you here -- it's like an iPad in a sense. You can zoom around.

The top issue back in 2008, these were the choices people had. Illegal immigration, one-third of people. The most important issue in 2008, the war in Iraq. The economy, at 26 percent. And then terrorism.

And let me show you another thing we can do. So, if I hit this, you ready, Wolf?


BURNETT: You ready for the debut?

BLITZER: I'm going to back up.

BURNETT: The flick.

BLITZER: Wow. You flicked it nicely. It was a nice toss.

BURNETT: I flicked the toss.

OK. So this is our other one. So now you can blow this up.

So, back in 2008, the top issue for the economy still went for Mike Huckabee and not for Mitt Romney. But obviously this time around, we are expecting that the economy will come out well ahead of anything else like abortion or the war that we have on the agenda. So we shall see.

Incidentally, Wolf, I've also spent all day talking to business leaders, investors on our strike team about what they think about each of the candidates tonight.

BLITZER: Is that technically called "the flick," the way you do that?

BURNETT: I am now officially calling it "the flick."

BLITZER: "The flick." Now, can you flick it back to the other way?

BURNETT: You ready?

BLITZER: Let's try it.

BURNETT: This is my squash hand. You ready?

BLITZER: Wow. Nice flick.

We're going to have a lot of those flicks later tonight. Right?

BURNETT: We get too many flicks --


BLITZER: They get nervous, I know. Not too many flicks, but that was a nice. I like the back end, too. Very smooth, very nice.

BURNETT: I might pull a muscle with all the exercise I've been getting lately.

BLITZER: You'll be practicing later tonight.

BURNETT: All right. We'll see you tonight and we'll see how this swings with the votes tonight, because it's going to be really interesting.

BLITZER: We'll be a team all night.

BURNETT: All right.

BLITZER: I'll be passing, you'll be throwing.

BURNETT: Flicking and passing.

BLITZER: All right.

Let's walk over. We've got Ari Fleischer, James Carville.

How did you like that flick, James?

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Oh, man. I'll tell you, it sounds like what my wife does to me.

BLITZER: Flicks you away. These extra polls are pretty good.

ARI FLEISCHER, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: That's the CNN version going to the flicks.

BLITZER: Ron Paul, he's going to be a huge factor tonight. All the polls suggest he will be. He was asked about what he would do, does he think about being in the Oval Office. Let me play this little clip.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you lay your head down on the pillow at night, do you see yourself in the Oval Office?

REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Not really, but I think it's a possibility. Sometimes I kid about it and I say that's the risk I take.


BLITZER: He was trying to be cute, but you know what? He's going to do really well. I think everyone agrees.

FLEISCHER: He'll do well in Iowa. I don't think he'll do very well anywhere else, especially four years ago as the guy.

But he leads a movement. I don't think he really leads a campaign. Not a campaign in the traditional sense of a person who can get elected to the White House.

He leads a movement. It's basically a libertarian, isolationist movement.

BLITZER: He says he's a non-interventionist as opposed to being --

FLEISCHER: He's a dangerous isolationist. If his foreign policy ever came true, America would be a lonely place.

BLITZER: You think he's going to be a factor after Iowa? What happens after Iowa?

CARVILLE: First of all, he's going to stay in because he can raise money. And it's unclear, because he brings a lot of people in who are not necessarily Republicans. Some people are former Republicans, but a lot are not.

BLITZER: Because in Iowa, you can register as a Republican just before you walk in. You can be a Democrat or an Independent, but if you go in there a little earlier and register as a Republican tonight, you can vote.

CARVILLE: In New Hampshire, you can be Independent vote. It's not a closed primary. I think South Carolina and Florida, you have to be a registered Republican to vote. Not a lot of people who register as Republicans --


BLITZER: So you think a lot of Democrats or Independents will show up tonight to vote for Ron Paul?

CARVILLE: I don't know how many Democrats, but that's part of their operation. They're getting a lot of these young online voters. They may get first-time voters, people who never voted before. BLITZER: Because a lot of these Democrats, they like his anti-war stance on foreign policy.

FLEISCHER: No question about it, but I think it's more of an Independent base that he has. I don't think it's much of a Democratic base. He truly has Independents who turn out for him. he has much more support of the Independents than he does the Republicans.

CARVILLE: You know, one time, William Buckley ran -- I think it was mayor of New York or the governor of Connecticut, and they asked him what was the first thing he'd do if he won. And he said, "I'd demand a recount." The point is he was running to make a political statement, not to actually get elected to office.

BLITZER: We haven't spoken a lot about the governor of Texas, Rick Perry. He came in months ago with such high expectations. Today, people are barely talking about him.

Here's the question: If he comes in, in the bottom one or two, does he drop out or does he stay in?

CARVILLE: I think he can't wait to get back to Texas. I think this guy got into something and he's -- to draw a sports analogy, I think he's seeing Major League pitching, and he is like, I want to go back to Texas.

I think he's been -- he was inadequate for this. He wasn't up to it. It shows how hard it is.

One thing that people have to remember, this is not easy stuff that these guys do either mentally or physically. And Rick Perry is just not up to hitting this kind of pitching at all. At all.

FLEISCHER: You know, I think Rick Perry's got to beat Newt Gingrich tonight. If he beats Newt, he has good reason to go on, and especially with a great magnet of South Carolina, where it's going to be very hard for Mitt Romney to win. That's the real test, and I think Rick Perry is saying to himself, I've got to last just as long as South Carolina, because if I'm one-on-one or even two-on-one with Mitt Romney, I can beat him in South Carolina. The question is, who else drops out, elevating Rick's Perry's chances?

BLITZER: What do you think about Michele Bachmann? What happens to her?

FLEISCHER: Hard to see her going on after Iowa. If she can't win her home of Iowa, where she poured everything into it --

BLITZER: She was born there.

FLEISCHER: That's what I mean. What chance does she have to go further in either New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida? Iowa is everything for Bachmann, and I think her campaign ends tonight.

CARVILLE: I think that guy can't wait to get back to Texas and have some chicken fried steak. BLITZER: Rick Perry.

What about Michele Bachmann?

CARVILLE: You know, she can't live off the land. She can't keep the contributors going like a Paul can or some say like a Gingrich candidate. He can get a debate and stay going.

I think tonight is the effective end of her campaign. She may be like a chicken with her head chopped off and still going around, but everybody else will know that she's done.

FLEISCHER: If Perry beats Newt, he'll stay in through South Carolina.

BLITZER: Were you surprised that Newt Gingrich today called Mitt Romney a liar?

FLEISCHER: I sure was. It looked to me like he was re-channelling the old Bob Dole -- stop lying about my record. This is the mean Newt. This is the Newt that kills him every time. And it's not a good tactic for him to take forward.

BLITZER: Were you surprised?

CARVILLE: No, nor was I surprised that Santorum called Ron Paul disgusting. Look, these guys never heard of Ronald Reagan's 11th commandment. And this has been kind of delicious to watch as a Democrat. I mean, that's why I kind of want this show to keep going. It's actually been kind of wonderful.


CARVILLE: Well, you know what? We're doing pretty good. And I'll tell you one thing, all the Democrats -- there's one word to describe us, and we're united right now. So in that sense, that's good.

BLITZER: Not much of a challenge on the Democratic side in the caucuses in Iowa. There will be Democratic caucuses tonight, but I think Barack Obama's going to win those caucuses.


BLITZER: Guys, thanks very much.

Iowans will start caucusing in less than two-and-a-half hours. So who's going to be taking part? We're taking a closer look at that.

And Rick Santorum's sweater vests. Get this -- they now have their own Facebook page. But he's not the only candidate whose attire is getting Jeanne Moos' attention.


BLITZER: Because of their first-in-the-nation status, the Iowa caucuses are seen as one of the major tests in the presidential nomination process. But should they be? Critics say the Iowa results are not a very good national barometer.

Our Brian Todd is taking a closer look into this aspect of tonight's contest.

Brian, what are you finding?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the wrap on Iowa, of course, is that it's not representative of the rest of the country. Too white, too Evangelical, among other criticisms. Is that fair? Well, we wanted to look at who's voting in Iowa, and one figure that jumped out at us is who's not voting.

In 2008, less than 119,000 people voted in the Republican Iowa caucuses. That is about the population of this place, Allentown, Pennsylvania. And it represents less than four percent of Iowa's population.

Now, Iowa is predominantly white. About 89 percent, according to the 2010 Census. That's compared to the entire U.S. population, which is about 64 percent white. Also, you look at the Hispanic, black and Asian populations of Iowa, significantly lower than the broader U.S. percentages of those segments.

And look who voted in the 2008 Republican Iowa caucuses. Ninety-nine percent of those voters were white.

Now, as far as those who consider themselves Evangelical or born-again Christians, Iowa is a little bit more representative of the entire country, but still a little bit higher. In CNN's latest poll in Iowa, 51 percent of likely Republican caucus-goers said they were Evangelical or born again. You compare that to 49 percent of Republicans nationwide in our last polls who said they were Evangelical or born again, and with voters overall nationally, the percentage of those identifying themselves as Evangelical or born- again Christians, 38 percent.

So, Wolf, a little bit tight with the rest of the country is Iowa in that category.

BLITZER: And as you know, Brian, Iowans also get characterized as being better off than most Americans economically. Is that fair?

TODD: It seems to be fair. Iowans do not seem to be as hard hit by the recession as people in most other states. There's been a big increase in worldwide demand for agricultural products in recent years. Livestock prices, far incomes have been on the rise. And Iowa has emerged relatively unscathed from the housing crisis.

Look at this graph that we're going to show you here. The unemployment rate in Iowa, 5.7 percent, compared to 8.6 percent nationwide. And if you look at Iowa's rate compared to some of the crucial early primary or caucus states for Republicans, it is significantly lower.

Look at South Carolina's unemployment rate, now at 9.9 percent, Florida's 10 percent, Nevada's 13 percent. So Iowa clearly not representative with the rest of the country in that regard -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It might explain in the entrance poll results when we get them later why the economy won't necessarily be the number one issue in Iowa.

TODD: That's right.

BLITZER: Brian, thanks very much.

So, what do the Iowa caucuses really mean? Jack has your answers. That's coming up next.

Plus, we're live in New Hampshire. The Granite State is preparing for the national spotlight, but not all the candidates are preparing to go there. What's going on?


BLITZER: All eyes are focused on tonight's caucuses in Iowa, but the New Hampshire primary is just a week away, and we just got our hands on a brand new poll in New Hampshire released just within the last hour. It shows former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney with a commanding lead in New Hampshire, followed by Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman. Everyone else is in single digits.

CNN's Dan Lothian is joining us now from New Hampshire.

Dan, I guess it's a fair question. Can anyone really stop Romney in New Hampshire, which is almost like his home state?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. That's a question that a lot of people are asking.

Mitt Romney has consistently been leading here in all of the polls. Why? Because he is well known. Not only from campaigning here, not only because of all the resources, not only because he was the former governor of the neighboring state of Massachusetts, but because he also ran in 2008, spent a lot of time then campaigning here.

But political observers warn that we shouldn't jump to any conclusions before all the votes are cast.


ELIZABETH OSSOFF, NEW HAMPSHIRE INST. OF POLITICS: The last thing you want to do is sort of that long-term predictions, and I think it's pretty dangerous to do that here. You want to wait, because New Hampshirites will make up their minds when they're ready to make up their minds and not when they believe other people are telling them they should make up their minds.


LOTHIAN: Now, Wolf, I am here at a Jon Huntsman event. In about 15 minutes or so, he'll be holding a town hall meeting. I talked to one of his top aides who says that they hope to do better than expectations. That was his response when I asked him what they needed to do coming out of the New Hampshire primary in order to have a viable campaign.

They believe that they have spent a considerable amount of time getting to know the voters of New Hampshire face to face. They've had more than 150 events here. But the big issue, do they have the money to keep going?

Just last week, there was an appeal to supporters to raise $100,000. Then yesterday he put out an appeal saying that he would match the money that would be donated to his campaign. His top aide telling me a short time ago, so far they brought in more than $60,000.

That will be key if he's able to really continue waging that war here in New Hampshire. More specifically, on air in TV ads -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Tell our viewers, Dan, the difference between the Iowa voters who will show up at the caucuses tonight and the New Hampshire primary voters a week from today.

LOTHIAN: Well, first of all, one big difference is that here in the primary, the Independent voters can also weigh in. They don't have to be registered Republicans in order to take part.

But I think one of the big differences here is that they're very independent-minded voters. You look back to 2008, President Obama winning in Iowa, but they didn't necessarily believe here that that that's something they should rubberstamp. And so the president did not win when he came here to New Hampshire.

They don't like -- people here don't like being told who to vote for. They want to be able to see the candidates and events like this one, or even when a candidate may show up to their home or show up to a neighboring restaurant. They want to meet them one-on-one before they make their decision -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Dan, thanks very much.

Let's go back to Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The probing question of the hour is: What do the Iowa caucuses really mean?

S. in Pensacola, Florida, "To me, Jack, the Iowa caucuses mean six to eight months of news-breaking, edge-of-your-seat, fingernail-biting electoral insignificance. Although for the GOP boys and girls, it's apparently a combination: caucus, book tour, and Fox News anchor audition."

Conner in Chicago writes, "It means Iowans, news pundits and Republicans who don't like Mitt Romney can pretend for a day that Romney's not going to be the nominee."

Linda in Iowa, "This Iowan thinks the Iowa caucuses are an exercise in democracy. That said, take it somewhere else. I don't own a restaurant, a motel or a media outlet, and so I have nothing to lose. Nothing other than endless political phone calls, six to 10 a day, and endless bashing of the state of Iowa."

Jim in New Jersey writes, "It means the winner has the best carpool organization in Iowa, and the poor people of New Hampshire will have to hear from a few more candidates who have no chance of becoming president. There's got to be a better way."

P. in Iowa writes, "You may complain about our caucus and our demographics compared to the rest of the country, but we are politically aware and care what happens to our country."

Shawn, "The Iowa caucus means little to nothing. Iowa is much like a foreign country for people whoa re not in or from Iowa."

And Dave in Phoenix, Arizona, writes, "That a bunch of people still living in the 1950s like Beaver Cleaver get to give their opinion on electing their party's nominee first, nothing more. Iowa couldn't be less representative of the general American population."

If you want to read more on this, go to my blog,, or through our post on THE SITUATION ROOM'S Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you. Good to have you back.

And it's not just about the candidates' message in Iowa. It's also about their look. CNN's Jeanne Moos, she's standing by to show us when we come back.


BLITZER: As our coverage of the 2012 presidential race kicks into a whole new year, and a whole new gear with the Iowa caucuses, CNN's Jeanne Moos reminds us that it's not always about what the candidates say. Sometimes it's about what they wear.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's not exactly primary concern, but when a normally buttoned up candidate starts wearing jeans --

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have -- hold on. Hold on. No applause allowed.

MOOS: -- he risks evoking the dreaded m-word.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Introducing mom jeans.

MOOS: And lately there's been some tittering on Twitter that, while trying to appear as a man of the people, Mitt Romney stumbled into wearing mom jeans. The co-creator of "The Daily Show" went to so far as to tweet, "I think Mitt Romney wears Lady Wrangler jeans."

ROMNEY: There's a family affair. MOOS: But Romney's mom jeans look like tights compared to the ones President Obama once wore.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And these look frumpy.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm a little frumpy. For those of you who want your president to, you know, look great in his tight jeans, I'm sorry, I'm not the guy.

MOOS: And apparently neither is Mitt Romney, though he was no slouch when it came to sprucing up CNN's very own Wolf Blitzer.

ROMNEY: You've got something on your coat, maybe -- right on the front there. You see that?

MOOS: Primary season has brought out another dubious fashion trend.

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: All of a sudden the sweater vest was, like, fear of the vest.

MOOS: That's presidential candidate Rick Santorum answering questions from Laura Ingraham --


MOOS: -- about his penchant for sweater vests.

This is the one that set things off.

SANTORUM: The Internet lights up with, "What's this with the sweater vest?"

MOOS: Now Rick's sweater vest has a Facebook page and a Twitter account with the sweater vest tweeting gems like, "Rick Santorum is such a fiscal conservative, he doesn't buy sleeves."

Santorum told "The New York Times" he buys most of his sweater vests at discounter Joseph A. Bank. There's even a "sleeve slow me down" montage online.


MOOS (on camera): Mom jeans, sweater vests. What's next, a gay rancher jacket?

After Texas Governor Rick Perry released this ad --

GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: -- know that there's something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can't openly celebrate Christmas.

MOOS (voice-over): -- he was parodied, and his jacket ended up in a "Brokeback Mountain" juxtaposition with Perry's outerwear compared to a gay cowboy's.

Whether it's jackets or sweater vests or mom jeans, at least even the most titillating fashion faux pas are bipartisan.

Jeanne Moos, CNN --

NARRATOR: And lose the Barack O'Mama jeans.

MOOS: -- New York.


BLITZER: That does it for me for now, but please be sure to join me in just one hour for our nonstop coverage of the Iowa caucuses.

Until then, thanks very much for watching.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The news continues next on CNN.