CNN CNN


 

Return to Transcripts main page

STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Interview with Newt Gingrich; The Latino Vote In Iowa; Political Analysts Examine the Upcoming Iowa Caucuses; Iowans Give Their Take; Explaining the Santorum Surge

Aired January 3, 2012 - 08:00   ET

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


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Everybody, welcome back to our new show STARTING POINT. We are coming to you live from the Waveland Cafe in Des Moines, Iowa.

It's fun to do a show in a cafe, and it's a little crazy, too, especially when candidates keep coming in and out. Our STARTING POINT this morning though is decision day in Iowa. We're just 12 hours away from the first real votes of the presidential race. And right now, only one thing is for sure, pretty much anything can happen.

Take a look at the latest "Des Moines Register" poll. It says that close to half of all caucusgoers could change their minds. In just a few minutes, we're going to speak to Newt Gingrich and his daughters who are joining us here, about where he thinks he'll place in Iowa, how he thinks that's going to affect his strategy for New Hampshire and South Carolina.

And I'll bet you didn't know that this was in the middle of the middle of Midwestern America, Iowa's first majority Hispanic town. How are they feeling this election season? Ignored?

And then the big reveal on Rick Santorum. He's put all his chips in Iowa and maybe for good reason. We'll show you where Santorum's support is coming from this morning.

Got a packed hour ahead for you from Iowa as the 2012 presidential race officially gets under way. Iowa's governor is also going to join to us remind us why we're all here.

STARTING POINT begins right now.

(MUSIC)

O'BRIEN: From the Waveland Cafe, we begin with a candidate who you might say has been a little bit all over the map here in Iowa.

Newt Gingrich has certainly had his ups and downs in the Republican race. Just weeks ago, he was the GOP front-runner with a 13-point lead on Mitt Romney. Then came the attack ads hitting Gingrich on everything, from his personal life to his work at Freddie Mac, to his TV ads with Nancy Pelosi. His numbers plummeted. And now, he's sitting in the back of the pack.

Although he's lowered expectations in Iowa, a come-from-behind victory isn't out of the question. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't think I'm going to win. I think if you look at the numbers, I think that volume of negativity has done enough damage. But on the other hand, if the "Des Moines Register" was right and it's 41 percent potentially undecided, who knows what's going to happen?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Newt Gingrich joins us from Davenport, Iowa, this morning. His daughters are right here with me. Jackie Gingrich Cushman and Kathy Gingrich Lubbers are on the set. Those are not easy names. I'm not the first person probably mangled those a little bit.

It's nice to have you ladies. I want to start with your dad, though.

So, Newt, you said yesterday, "I'm not going to win," and it caused a lot of uproar among your supporters who said, hey, we're supposed to be caucusing for you. Why did you say it and are you back tracking from that now? And why?

GINGRICH: Look, what I said was answering a question about the impact of all the negative ads. If you'll notice, I went on to say there's 41 percent who are undecided. It's very possible to win.

We've talked -- we had 18,000 people in a telephone conference call yesterday afternoon. We reached 89,000 Iowans in conference calls. We have one more yet today.

And we have precinct leaders from all over the state who believe that the caucus -- those who are going to walk in have a discussion and a substantial number are going to switch.

And I've been told again and again in the last 24 hours of people who say, once you point out that I'm the one person who can debate Barack Obama and offset his billion-dollar campaign and one person who has actually created jobs and economic growth in Washington twice, once with Reagan and once as speaker, and that the difference between me and Ron Paul on Iranian nuclear weapons, where he doesn't believe they matter, and I think they matter decisively, those three things seem to be moving substantial votes our way.

And our phone bank yesterday was picking up a very substantial number of new voters.

O'BRIEN: So, do you regret? That's an excellent point and I hear you, this has been a race where it's been up and down, and up and down, and everybody has been a front-runner for a minute and a half.

But you said yesterday, I'm not going to win and now, it sounds like to me you're backtracking from that. Do you regret saying that?

GINGRICH: I'm not backtracking. I'm -- I regret saying it in the way I said it. What I said was very clear. Mitt Romney in particular has spent millions of dollars on negative ads and, as you pointed out, I was 13 points ahead when it was a debate about ideas. And then they came in with this tsunami of negativity and it frankly suppressed me.

We have for a week been coming back up. The polls show we have for a week been coming back up. People are discounting all the distortions and all the lies in those ads.

So, it's now becoming a much closer race and, frankly, with 41 percent undecided, I think it's very possible that nobody knows who is going to win tonight and that we're going to go out and campaign all day, ending the day at Waterloo, at a county gathering in the dome, with probably 6,000 or more people. I think there's going to be a very big turnout tonight and I think a lot of people are going to walk in still trying to decide what's the right thing for America, and what's the right thing they want to do as Iowans to start the process.

So, I think we could win. We were, after all, up by 13 points. And I think there are probably four of us in a position to win this come late tonight.

O'BRIEN: OK. So I'm going to turn to your daughters who are sitting right next to me. I got Kathy and Jackie with me.

One of you is a marketing executive and your job is to really like market your dad. Who is that?

KATHY GINGRICH LUBBERS, NEWT GINGRICH'S DAUGHTER: That would be me.

O'BRIEN: That's you, Kathy.

So, how hard has that been? How challenging is it to market Newt Gingrich?

LUBBERS: Soledad, that's a great question, and actually it's been a pleasure. It's been a lot of fun.

I wouldn't say hard because we have a great product, if you will, if you look at an individual with the ideas and the credibility that he has. And it's also been fun because we have a team of people who continue to believe in him. And believing in anyone who is in the business, you believe in your product.

O'BRIEN: But he's got a lot of -- he's been in the game a long time, which means there's a lot of TV commercials. Something he says he's regretted, you know, doing, sitting down with Nancy Pelosi. That makes your job very challenging because it's not just negative ads that your dad talked about. Some of those negative ads are around things that actually happened.

LUBBERS: I wouldn't say that necessarily makes it any more difficult because the reality is, you know, especially in this particular instance, you know, you say you made a mistake and then you move on to the next project that's on the horizon and the actual discussion point that you want to make at that point.

O'BRIEN: Jackie, how hard has it been, you know, and we just talked to Michele Bachmann's family, and, you know, for the family, I got to tell you, I'd never run for office. Because I think for a family, it would be really, really hard to have your family members attacked and to have your personal dirty laundry -- your dad's marriages, divorces, I mean, all of that --

JACKIE GINGRICH CUSHMAN, NEWT GINGRICH'S DAUGHTER: Right.

O'BRIEN: -- ethics investigations, those are all, you know, matter of public record now, to have them aired by the public. How challenging has that been?

CUSHMAN: Well, Soledad, we sat down. Dad asked us, should I run? What do you think?

And both Kathy and I were very, very supported and said it's your decision. If you want to run, we'll support you. We knew what this is going to be like.

O'BRIEN: You knew the negative ads were going to come like this?

CUSHMAN: Absolutely. He began running for Congress when I was 7 years old. And, obviously, it was a much smaller scale. It's Congress and not the presidency. But we lived in a very small town where everybody knew everybody. So, it was very similar in terms of the impact.

And the thing I'd like to say to people, if you have questions, if you see these ads, please go to Newt.org to get the answers, because, for instance, the Nancy Pelosi couch issue, he did sit on the couch with her but he's against cap and trade. So, you really have to look into the real facts regarding these particular ads and they can all be found at Newt.org.

O'BRIEN: I want to ask you a question, Mr. Gingrich, and the question for me is what people have criticized about your campaign is organization, that you didn't even bring in anybody really, even have a staff office, for example, until just a couple weeks ago.

Is that really to blame to some degree, maybe not 100 percent, but to some degree for the slide in the polls and not just the negative and attack ads?

GINGRICH: No. No. Look, we've built an organization in the modern era --

O'BRIEN: Why not?

GINGRICH: We built an organization in the modern era. We used the Internet. We have offices all over the state. We have well over 1,000 people who are representing us in the precincts tonight, and we keep adding several hundred people a day.

We use telephone town hall teleconferences in a way that has been extraordinarily effective. I mean, 89,000 Iowans have participated in telephone town conferences in the last couple of weeks.

We've had a very effective campaign here. We have a great campaign in New Hampshire, in South Carolina. We just announced every single county chairman in Florida.

So, I think that's all coming together pretty rapidly. If we had not had an avalanche of Romney attack ads, if we had not had a complete distortion of my record, I suspect I'd still be running first. I'm not complaining --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: So, what do you do about that going forward? I mean, you know, I would guess --

GINGRICH: Well, I think you take them head on. I think you take them head on.

O'BRIEN: Well --

GINGRICH: I'm running an experiment here in being positive. We've been positive all the way through. Every ad we've run has been positive.

And we've stayed positive and I think that had thousands of Iowans come up and say thank you for running a positive campaign. People here are frankly are sick of, you know, six, seven, eight attack ads an hour. I mean, when you spend $3.5 million, $4 million in a state this size on attack ads, it is really, I think, an embarrassment to take --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: OK. So, let me ask the question, though. So, you're -- but you said so, it's an experiment and I guess it's a failed experiment, coming back with only positive ads.

GINGRICH: No, we don't know yet.

O'BRIEN: And to not, you know, going negative as well. So, will you change your strategy going forward?

GINGRICH: We don't know if it's failed. Wait, we don't know if it's failed. We'll see tonight.

The number of people in the last three days who have thanked me for being positive has been remarkable. The number of people coming to our meeting --

O'BRIEN: OK.

GINGRICH: -- going to places on Sunday where we expected 50 people and we had 150 to 250 people showing up.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: So let's say it turns out that -- OK, so let's say it turns out that you do not do well tonight. Let's just guess. You've said several times now, it could go either way. So, does that mean that going forward, forget it, you're going for attack ads and it's going to get nasty and you're going to move off this promise of non- attack?

GINGRICH: No.

O'BRIEN: OK. What's the strategy change as you head to South Carolina?

GINGRICH: Well, first of all, let me pose to you, what if it works tonight and then you have a whole generation of consultants who are unemployed because it turns out that nasty --

O'BRIEN: But I don't answer questions. That's a valid question, but I'm asking the questions here, sir.

GINGRICH: OK. All right. Look, the most I would ever do is go to a straight contrast and contrast Romney's moderate Massachusetts record with my conservative record, but I'm not going to go to the kind of attack ads they've been running.

I think it disserves the American people to run ads that are dishonest and inaccurate. And I think it's really sad that he had to stoop to that level.

O'BRIEN: OK. I want to get a final question to your daughters. And I want to start with a clip of your dad talking about your grandmother and he started to tear up, and I want to play that for everybody because people wrote about it and talked about it the next day. Let's play that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRICH: And my whole emphasis on brain science comes indirectly from dealing with -- see, I am getting very emotional -- but dealing with, you know, the real problems of real people in my family. And so, it's not a theory. It's, in fact, you know, my mother.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: When we said we were going to run that, both of you said, oh. Your dad doesn't strike me as a guy who cries. What was it like to see that you? Of course, it was played in perpetuity on TV. What did you think when you saw it?

CUSHMAN: I think it was hard. 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 life of service to this country. And so, he's not used to showing a lot of emotion.

We were both in the front row, I mean, Kathy was handing him a Kleenex to wipe his tears. She's much more thoughtful than I am. But it was very touching.

But I think it explains to people how passionate he is about things and why he's driven for certain policy decisions because of his love for people.

O'BRIEN: Well, I want to thank you to come in to talk about, on behalf of your dad, Kathy and Jackie joining us this morning. And also, Newt Gingrich who is joining us from Davenport this morning.

Thanks very much. Appreciate it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A pleasure.

O'BRIEN: And, you can join me tonight as the country's first real votes start coming in. The candidates have their first true test. A special live, America's Choice 2011, coverage of the Iowa caucus will begin at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN, in the CNN election center. We hope you'll join us for that.

I want to get to a check with Christine Romans and the other stories that are making news this morning.

Hey, Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning there, Soledad. Thanks.

You know, we're learning more this morning about a potential motive for an alleged arson spree in Los Angeles. Police arrested 24- year-old Henry Burkhart in connection with more than 50 fires. They say an immigration dispute involving the suspect's mother may have led to those attacks.

The Taliban in Afghanistan striking a political deal. They have reportedly reached a preliminary agreement to establish an office in the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar.

And the first real blast of winter, folks, is hitting the Great Lakes, heading South, heading East. Freeze warnings are up as far now South as Florida.

U.S. markets back open today after being closed yesterday for the New Year's holiday and it's not cold and frigid in stocks because futures for the Dow, the NASDAQ and S&P 500, folks, are all up sharply today, pointing to a higher open to start off the New Year.

Soledad, back to you.

O'BRIEN: All right. Christine, thank you very much.

Still to come on STARTING POINT this morning, candidates crisscrossing Iowa. It's been going on for months in search of votes. So, why hasn't a single one of them been to West Liberty, Iowa? It's the only city in Iowa that's predominantly Hispanic?

After tonight, everyone is packing their bags for New Hampshire. But does Iowa even really matter? We're going to ask the Republican governor of the state, Terry Branstad.

And later this hour, the reveal. All the news outlets are telling you about Rick Santorum's surprising surge in Iowa, and the reveal will go behind the headlines. Find out how he's doing it.

STARTING POINT is back in a moment. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. We are down to the wire in Iowa today. Over the last year, we've seen candidates crisscrossing the state, you know, doing the candidate thing, shaking hands, making speeches, kissing babies. In fact, the candidates have visited over 150 towns in the state.

You can see, if we show you the map there, all those dots on this map, that's where they have visited, but there's one town that they haven't visited and that is the town of West Liberty. What's particularly special about West Liberty? Well, it is the first majority Hispanic town in Iowa. More than 50 percent of the Latino population there registered voters. Latino culture, West Liberty, very strong.

The town boasted the state's first dual language program in public schools. Kids can learn half the day in English and then the other half the day in Spanish. So, why have the candidates not stopped in to see the folks in West Liberty? Let's get right to our guest this morning. Jose Zacarias is the new U.S. citizen, running for city council now in West Liberty.

Sara Sedlacek is a candidate for the Iowa State House of Representatives. She's also the former editor of the West Liberty Index Newspaper. Steve Hanson is a superintendent of the West Liberty Community School District, and Evelyn Cardenas is the West Liberty resident who enrolled her kids in that same dual language program.

It's nice to have you all with us this morning. Appreciate it. Evelyn, I'm going to start with you. You saw that map.

EVELYN CARDENAS, WEST LIBERTY RESIDENT: Yes.

O'BRIEN: With the orange dots, which meant candidates have pretty much been all over the state, but they have not been to West Liberty. Why not and does it annoy that they've not been there?

CARDENAS: I do feel a little bit frustrated with the fact that candidates haven't been to West Liberty. I think that they don't realize that we actually have a say, that we're actually going to be out in the polls voting. I think they think the population is too small, only five percent Hispanic in the state of Iowa.

O'BRIEN: So why bother? Is that your kind of the take on it? CARDENAS: Yes.

O'BRIEN: When you look at the maps, though, and if you're not looking about population, the chart (ph), you look at increase, right, trends, it tells a very different story. So, if you look at the population in west -- in Iowa back in 2000, it was 2.8 percent of the population. Then, the number you're talking about now in 2010 that had grown to five percent.

That's almost doubling the population in a relatively small time. Jose, is that part of the reason that you're running for office that there was Hispanic boom, as little as it might seem, here in Iowa?

JOSE ZACARIAS, WEST LIBERTY: Well, definitely. And I think what I intend to do is start a trend, to get representation at the local level, the state level, and at the federal level. We have to get organized. Let's get the ball out and start participating.

O'BRIEN: And they polled the folks and talked to the folks in West Liberty, you get, what people call, an accommodating attitude toward immigrants in that particular town. Sarah, you've been a journalist before you started to work as a representative. Was West Liberty always like this?

SARA SEDLACEK, DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATE, IOWA HOUSE DISTRICT 88: as far as?

O'BRIEN: Having accommodating attitudes.

SEDLACEK: I think so.

O'BRIEN: I mean, often you say immigration is everybody goes completely (INAUDIBLE).

SEDLACEK: Since I have been there, I moved to West Liberty in 2006. The newspaper, just for instance, had very little representation of the Hispanic community. I tried to move to change that. I published the first bilingual special section in the state. And I think people have definitely become more accommodating with the growth of the dual language program.

It's definitely become -- people are more accepting, more tolerant, and, I think it's definitely moved towards that and especially now with the majority/minority, it's definitely --

O'BRIEN: We're going to talk about that school's program because it's become a model, not only in West Liberty, but really, across the country as well. We're going to take a short break. We'll come back with our guests representing West Liberty this morning, the majority/minority town in just a moment. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. We're talking about the Latino vote here in the state of Iowa. Now, often people point out that this state is very, very, very white, but the town of West Liberty is majority Hispanic, yet none of the GOP candidates have even campaigned there.

So, let's bring back our guest this morning. Jose Zacarias is new U.S. citizen. He's running for city council in West Liberty. Sara Sedlacek is a candidate for the Iowa state House of Representatives and former editor of the West Liberty Index Newspaper. Steve Hanson is a superintendent to the West Liberty community school district, and Evelyn Cardenas is a West Liberty resident.

Steve, let's get right to you. Let's talk about this program where you do this dual language program. Half the day, the kids learn in Spanish, half the day, the kids learn in English. Was that difficult to get that started? Was there push back?

STEVE HANSON, WEST LIBERTY, IA SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENT: Well, I wasn't around 14 years ago when it started. This is now the 14th year of the program and a very successful program. Just this past spring, we graduated the first class of seniors who went all the way through from kindergarten through 12th grade, 13 individuals.

And from the stories I've heard in the beginning, of course, whenever you start something new, people have their doubts, but there are no more doubts today. Fifty-one of our students in prekindergarten through fifth grade participate in the program.

Then, when it gets to middle school, the percentages drop a little bit as students choose electives to 33 percent in the program and continues through high school.

O'BRIEN: Some people predicted that when you start catering for the language thing, that there would be white flight. And actually, we've seen the opposite of that, that people have come in. Evelyn, for example, you moved from Chicago to be part of this school, right?

CARDENAS: Yes. And initially, I was -- my son started the program in 1998, and he was part of the first graduating class. And I remember, late 1990s, early 2000s, the Iowa Cuty Press Citizen did have an article titled "White Flight." And, for me, that was very frustrating because the resistance that there was to the program.

Now, we're having people, I mean, not only Hispanics. We have Caucasian people moving into town because they want their children to benefit from this program. They don't want to continue to be monolingual society.

You know, they see the benefits of knowing a second language, and with this program, the children learn Spanish, but later on it's easier for them to pick up a third or a fourth language.

O'BRIEN: So, what will you be doing this evening since the candidates have kind of ignored you? Do you go and caucus? What will you do?

ZACARIAS: I'm going to caucus for President Obama, and I intend to be part of his campaign in Iowa. I'm going to go behind (INAUDIBLE) for the local legislature. And I think this is the beginning of an organizing effort in Eastern Iowa to get the Spanish vote out.

O'BRIEN: Do you see a change in, you know, four years from now, in another four years from now, Steve, do you see that the candidates will be not only visiting West Liberty but, you know, paying more attention to Latino vote in the state?

HANSON: Well, I think so, because I think more of the candidates will be Latino in four years, in eight years from now. The kind -- the students that a school district such as the West Liberty District is producing are going on to university and becoming leaders, and they want to come back home, and they want to take responsibility.

O'BRIEN: I appreciate the conversation this morning, Jose and Sara and Steve and Evelyn, thanks for coming in to talk to us. Grab some coffee. Stick around and watch the rest of our show.

HANSON: All right.

Well, ahead this morning, it is the first chance for voters to weigh in and the first chance for candidates, too, to figure out where they are and whether they're going to stick around to see what happens tomorrow. Iowa's governor is going to join us straight ahead to tell us why the Iowa caucuses matter.

Then, the reveal on Rick Santorum. No candidate has more momentum right now, but there's anybody -- does anybody just think besides some very influential evangelicals? We'll break it down for you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back exactly to STARTING POINT. I'm Soledad O'Brien coming to you from the Waveland Cafe in Des Moines, Iowa. Ahead in our next half hour, a boost for the winner, a wake-up call probably for the rest of the field. Iowa's governor is going to talk to us about why Iowa matters and what could happen tonight and then the reveal, something to think about the evangelical forces behind Rick Santorum's surge. He's practically lived in Iowa during this race. We'll show you why.

First, though, let's check in with Christine Romans. She has a look at the other stories making headlines this morning.

ROMANS: Good morning, Soledad. I hope you're alternating between caffeinated and decaf there at the Waveland Cafe.

In the news this morning, fighting words from Iran. The country says it will take action if a U.S. ship comes back to its post in the Persian Gulf right near the coast of Iran. The ship left that post during Iran's Navy exercises. Iran now says it will not repeat this warning to the United States.

An Iraq war vet suspected of killing a Mt. Rainier park ranger has been found dead. And 24-year-old Benjamin Barnes is believed to have died from cold weather exposure. Barnes was on the run from SWAT teams, suspected of gunning down park ranger and mother of two, Margaret Anderson.

Vacation over. President Obama thousand back in Washington after that holiday in Hawaii. The first family arrived to the White House just this morning. President Obama is scheduled to speak to supporters in Iowa tonight through a video teleconference.

All right, U.S. markets back open today after being closed yesterday for the New Year's holiday. Stock futures for the DOW, the NASDAQ, the S&P 500, they're all up sharply this morning point to go a higher open to start off the new year.

(WEATHER BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Of course tonight it will be the first real test for the Republican candidates, the first time voters actually start on the path to choosing who they would like to have the person to face off against President Barack Obama winning Iowa, clearly the first step in a very long process.

The state's governor, though, tells this first in the nation caucus really matters. Iowa's Republican governor is Terry Branstad. It's nice to have you. Appreciate you joining us in the diner this morning. I'm going to be in Clive tonight. Describe what I'm going to see. Chaos? Big numbers? Small numbers? What do you think?

GOV. TERRY BRANSTAD, (R) IOWA: I think you're going to see a record turnout for the Republican caucuses in Iowa.

O'BRIEN: So 150,000 people?

BRANSTAD: Well, over 120,000. I'm estimating 130,000, 140,000. The most we've had before is 118,400. So I think there's a lot of are. Iowa launched Obama. I think Iowans want to sink Obama. They're not happy. They feel the country is going in the wrong direction. The national debt has gone up more than $1 trillion each year he's been president. He's attacking the very people that we need to rely on to invest and take the risk to create jobs and revitalize the private sector economy in this country. And we in Iowa just feel that we're going the wrong direction and we need a new leader.

O'BRIEN: What's your prediction for tonight? Everyone is talking about Santorum's momentum. Is he the person who has launched this evening?

BRANSTAD: He's done the right thing. He went to all 99 counties. He's methodically worked very hard. He spent more time and met more people in Iowa and he's made a good impression. He got the endorsement of our young secretary of state, Matt Schultz, who is the youngest secretary of state in the state's history. And I think he has a good chance. However, I also think Romney has come on strong at the end, and obviously Ron Paul has a strong organization here as well.

O'BRIEN: That's a great political answer. I dare say everybody -- BRANSTAD: Well, if you look at the Iowa poll, and Ann Seltzer does the Iowa poll, she has probably been the most accurate predictor of outcomes in the country. So I really believe the poll says this is going to be a very close race. It comes to turnout and the undecideds, who is the most persuasive with the undecided voters.

O'BRIEN: So when Newt Gingrich tells me, yes, I could win it, anything could happen?

BRANSTAD: It's possible. It's definitely possible.

O'BRIEN: Why don't you endorse somebody? Everybody is deciding, literally, now, tonight.

BRANSTAD: Well, because I'm the governor and I want to be a good host, and I think the Iowa caucuses are important. We want everybody to feel welcome. We want it to be a fair contest, and we want Iowa to really whittle the field down and help begin the process of choosing a new leader for the United States.

O'BRIEN: I had a couple people from Occupy Iowa and Occupy Des Moines on the set a little bit earlier today and they told me that they have no plans to really try to disrupt the caucusing. Are you worried still?

BRANSTAD: That's good.

O'BRIEN: I know you moved the vote count.

BRANSTAD: I think they've done a good job of providing security and making sure that people get an opportunity to participate. I'm glad to hear that. I think they've been trying to disrupt candidates' events. I think that's unfortunate. Everybody ought to be entitled to hearing the candidates and make their own decision and not be disrupted. So I'm glad to hear they don't intend to disrupt the caucuses.

I live -- my wife and I have a log home in Boone county. Boone is rural precinct number four.

O'BRIEN: And everybody leaves your state and heads to New Hampshire.

BRANSTAD: That's right. But they'll be back. This is a battleground state. We intend to do all we can to help elect a Republican president this election.

O'BRIEN: Governor Branstad, thank you for talking to us this morning.

BRANSTAD: OK, thank you.

O'BRIEN: Appreciate it.

Let's get right back to our panel. We've got Candy Crowley, the CNN chief political correspondent, also host of "STATE OF THE UNION." I notice how smoothly I'm talking and sliding into my chair here. Thank you very much. I appreciate that. Paul Begala is joining us as well, the Democratic strategist. Obviously David Frum is back, CNN contributor, also former speechwriter for president George Bush, George W. Bush, and Alex Castellanos is joining us again.

So let's talk about what the governor just said. Basically he said anybody could win it. Newt Gingrich told that same thing to me this morning. Do you think that's realistic, that really the bottom tier of this could have a big showing?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think there will be various definitions of win as there always are coming out of Iowa. I think if you see a lot of bunch up around third place that fifth will become the new third. That we will see 11 percent, 12 percent, 13 percent in there. We're going to more people coming out of Iowa with a ticket. We don't know what the turnout will be, but the weather is OK. Nobody has to jump over a snow bank. It's mild in Iowa terms. I don't think anybody can win it. I think you have to look at the poll and see basically the first three.

O'BRIEN: Politicians have spent the morning talking me out of the polls. Who pays attention to polls?

ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Why bother to ask people what they're going to do and then believe them? Polls don't matter. If you listen to the front-runners, all the front-runners are telling you they will end up third. Then you look at the people --

O'BRIEN: Setting expectations.

CASTELLANOS: That's what happens on Election Day. They are all clustered, things to look forward to today. Romney, the intensity of Romney's voters, it's not passion for the candidates. They're the establishment voters. They vote out of habit, not passion. Are they going to come out today for this? The other candidates, Santorum, they are passionate voters. They're the old Huckabee voters. Are they going to come out? You can bet they probably will. So Santorum I think has more head room.

O'BRIEN: Do you think he's the lead story, the surge of Santorum?

DAVID FRUM, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: The way the governor described it reminded me of the end of my son's little league trophy where they gave a trophy to every single kid. Each is excellent in his own way.

(LAUGHTER)

FRUM: Romney has an enormous event because he's gone to the most inhospitable possible campaign, not campaigned here very heard. If he still wins, he's expected to win in New Hampshire, things are basically over at that point. If Ron Paul wins, then we have a national Republican freak-out because he is so unacceptable to the rest of the party, so embarrassing to this state. If Rick Santorum wins, then Iowa is a just a one-off and the race begins on a blank page for New Hampshire. O'BRIEN: So Newt Gingrich said at one point I'm not going to win it, and then, of course, people who have to caucus for him tonight, talk about freak-out. And then he spent this morning and last night backing away.

FRUM: Think before I speak. Think before I speak.

O'BRIEN: Talk to me about Newt Gingrich. He said it's the negative ads that have really hurt. Look at that eye-roll. That was the most dramatic eye-roll of the morning.

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Newt Gingrich complaining about negative ads is like Shamu complaining about water. It's what he does. That's the milieu in which he exists. There are few people outside of his family, who are very charming, love Newt Gingrich. They are motivated by the anger that he attacks with.

So for him to be complaining -- and, by the way, those ads have been accurate. He did do an ad with Nancy Pelosi, the evil queen of the Democratic Party. He did receive a $300,000 fine from the ethics committee. In other words, the attacks the Republicans are making on Newt are factual.

O'BRIEN: It's only going to get worse. If he does to survive to go and become the national candidate it only gets uglier and more negative.

CROWLEY: It is going to get more negative no matter what happens to News just because it's getting close to the wire. Somebody has to win this thing sooner or later. I'm sure they'd like to do it sooner.

Let me disagree on one thing about the passion coming out. I think, and Paul and I talked about it yesterday, I think there is passion for Mitt Romney, and the passion is who can win this thing? And I think that's what is motivating, that's where the passion is for Mitt Romney.

O'BRIEN: We will know tonight, won't we, as we start doing the crunching, because there is that big number of people who say they're willing to change their minds. I want to thank our panel for sticking around this morning. We'll see you tonight, too, on CNN, because we've heard from the candidates, we've heard from the pundits and we want to hear what you guys think as well. Our American people segment is straight ahead. I'm chatting with folks. We're going to be thinking about the big vote tonight. And of course Rick Santorum gets a hefty endorsement from a big family here in Iowa. Coming up I'll reveal who it is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You've heard from the candidates. Lord, have we heard from the candidates. And we've heard from the pundits a lot. So now we're going to talk to actual Iowans who are thinking about what they're going to do this evening.

Our first guest is Troy Murphy. TROY MURPHY, IOWA VOTER: Hi how are you.

O'BRIEN: Soledad. Nice to meet you. Thanks for talking with us. I appreciate it. So tell me a little bit about -- are you Republican, Democrat, where do you stand politically and what's your plan for tonight?

MURPHY: I'm a Republican and I am going to go to caucus.

O'BRIEN: Yes, where are you going to caucus?

MURPHY: In West Des Moines. And not only is it important to go to the caucus to pick the candidate but there's also a platform agendas that need to be decided on tonight as well.

People who sit around and complain about the government and what our officials are doing and they don't participate, that's part of the problem.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Tonight's their chance in addition to sort of making the first vote for the Republican nominee potentially, you also are creating all these other conversations about the platform, et cetera?

MURPHY: Exactly. And that goes for both Republicans and Democrats.

O'BRIEN: So -- so who are you leaning towards or do you know who you're going to vote for?

MURPHY: Yes I'm -- I'm pretty certain I'm going for Mitt Romney.

O'BRIEN: Why pretty certain? There have been 13 debates. What more does someone need to tell you that make you say, yes, this is my guy.

MURPHY: If I could take some qualities from each one of them and -- and put it together for one candidate, we would have a super candidate. But --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: So you're kind of disappointed a little bit in the candidates?

MURPHY: Oh I wouldn't say disappointed. I'm just saying that some of them has some very good ideas. I think Ron Paul is way out there. I'm a retired military and --

O'BRIEN: That's interesting. Most people who are active military support him fund-raising wise. Those retired not so much.

MURPHY: Yes and I just retired in June of 2011. And so my friends deployed, my brother deployed, I just came back in August, and some of our friends who deployed, they say the same thing that I do, you know. That Ron Paul is out there a little bit.

O'BRIEN: Whom could you be talked into if it ends up since you are sort of kind of for Mitt Romney, who would be your second choice? Who could someone convincingly talk you out of Mitt Romney for?

MURPHY: My second choice, if I had to have a second choice, it would be Rick Santorum. Newt Gingrich, you know, in 1996 with the ethics committee --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: That was a big problem for you?

MURPHY: Oh, yes. And -- and you know I've heard him speak on TV and he thinks that you know this issue coming up and this campaign as -- as Mitt Romney's PAC, the American people isn't very stupid. They remember what happened. I've seen the social networking sites before it came up as far as the commercials go.

O'BRIEN: Well, I thank you. I'll let you get back to your coffee. I truly appreciate it.

MURPHY: Ok, thank you.

O'BRIEN: I'm going to our next guest here at the counter. I've got Stacy and Ryan. Stacy Rogers and Ryan Rhodes and I'll crouch because there's no real place for me to sit. So tell me, have you decided -- politically, where are you?

STACY ROGERS, IOWA VOTER: Politically I'm a Republican. I'm a Tea Party Republican and actually I'm a candidate for the Iowa state house and they just actually decided, I mean, last night at about 8:30.

O'BRIEN: Really? What was the thing that pushed you over last night at 8:30?

ROGERS: Well, there are so much going on in the last couple of days. There's so many mailers and just random political rhetoric.

O'BRIEN: Who are you going to support?

ROGERS: Bachmann actually because I -- after all the politics that I've been hit with, I kind of went back to where I started which was looking at the candidate's bare record. Because how they're going to govern is shown in that record and her record is clean.

O'BRIEN: OK. Well, we're going to take a short break. We are right back with more right after this.

Stay with us everybody.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Time now for the reveal. Take a little inside information that might change the conventional way you're looking at a news story. Today we're talking about the surge by presidential candidate Rick Santorum. Since the summer he's basically lived in Iowa visiting every county, shaking hands, kissing babies. Others didn't really pay much attention until very, very, very recently.

And this weekend's "Des Moines Register" poll shows a surprising surge into third place. The more interesting part of that poll, though, is that the last two days of it, which showed that Santorum was actually surging into second place. so what is the power behind Santorum's rise? It must be a big political and newspaper endorsement or something like that, right?

Here is the reveal. No, not one major national politician or newspaper has gotten behind Rick Santorum. In fact the only politician who endorsed him is Iowa's Secretary of State Matt Schultz. And we spoke to him yesterday on our program, in fact.

Our CNN political insider poll conducted this past weekend had every candidate being selected to win except Rick Santorum. That's the opposite of candidates like Mitt Romney who has received big political endorsements from politicians and newspapers alike, names like Chris Christie and Nikki Haley and President George H.W. Bush as well.

So where is Santorum's power coming from? The power is coming from the people, in fact the Evangelical people, people like the Duggar family, you might know them from that show 19 -- yes that's the family with all those many, many, many children. The Duggars are Evangelical Christians, supporting Santorum because of his Christian values and his business.

And since they endorsed Santorum yesterday, a lot of votes in one family, and at least for Santorum, the Duggars come with instant name recognition and that has helped give his campaign a boost.

After the break, what we learned on STARTING POINT today. Stay with us, back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. "End Point" now, what is the big takeaway? What does it all mean? Paul Begala, we'll wrap up with our panel. So what does -- what does it all mean, everybody is going to head for the polls and tomorrow morning we'll be there tonight and tomorrow we'll be crunching all those numbers?

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, it's a contest between the head and the heart and a lot of primaries are this way. I think the heart of Iowa conservatives seems to be with Rick Santorum on social issues.

It's not where the country is. The country wants to focus on jobs. And that's I think probably where their heads are. And I think that's why we have this muddle. They can't really decide. Do they want somebody who's going to focus on the economy which sounds like Mitt Romney. Or do they want somebody who is going to be really strong on the social issues like Rick Santorum? O'BRIEN: Is that indecision or sort of head and heart division -- is that going to prove to be a problem for the Republican Party down the road? If you lack that passion for the guy, doesn't that correlate, or woman, doesn't that correlate eventually to lower numbers, et cetera, et cetera?

DAVID FRUM, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, the numbers have been low. Gone to events here that the turnouts have been relatively small. Even Mitt Romney's final rally. It looked big but it was carefully hemmed in by boxes.

But this -- Republican races tend to sort out relatively quickly. And I wonder if this will prove to be -- to revert to type. If Romney wins here, if he wins in New Hampshire, the money --

O'BRIEN: It's done?

FRUM: The money disappears for the others except for Ron Paul who has his own kind of special base of support and the party converges on somebody who actually could be president.

O'BRIEN: What's the takeaway for today?

ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I think that's the big story that Mitt Romney may win this thing early. By the time we get to Florida, this race can be -- if he performs well here as expected. And he may be the perfect candidate to run against Barack Obama because he's hard to love here in Iowa. The establishment.

But for the same reason Mitt Romney's hard to hate. And between Romney and Obama would be more about Obama and a referendum on him. That's what the Republicans want.

The other thing I've learned this week watching Iowa, this is the land of the living dead. You can't can kill a candidate anymore in the race. Guys who were dead a week ago come back. Guys who were dead -- seriously, you put a stake through their heart --

O'BRIEN: And why is that?

CASTELLANOS: Newt Gingrich has come back three times. They get media coverage.

(CROSSTALK)

CASTELLANOS: Because they can stay off, live off the land, off the Internet now. because they all want to have a voice in the convention.

O'BRIEN: Or is it because -- I mean when I was interviewing some people, the candidates, they counter like I really just want the composite candidate, a little of this, a little of that. That, of course, it doesn't exist.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And they can't have a composite candidate and that's why, you know, tonight you just either, you look and say either he doesn't match my views but I think he can win or he matches my views and, therefore, the hard thing again.

This is either the beginning of the end of the Republican contest if Mitt Romney wins. If he doesn't, I think you're still -- if it's Ron Paul, I think people immediately negate Iowa and so, well, that doesn't matter. We move to New Hampshire. Game on.

FRUM: Ironically a Ron Paul win here might converge the party on Mitt Romney faster even than a Romney win.

O'BRIEN: How about a Santorum great showing? A lot of people have predicted that the headline tomorrow will be the momentum of Rick Santorum. So what happens then? Mitt Romney starts to try to kill him with ads?

CASTELLANOS: I can tell you if you're in the Romney camp, it wouldn't be bad news because you think that Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich, two guys who could have beaten you are now out of the picture. Again, unless they rise from the coffin again. But you think this is a pretty good hand of cards going forward. You'll be very happy with that.

CROWLEY: And the headlines four years ago was "Mike Huckabee wins the Iowa caucuses".

CASTELLANOS: Republicans want a candidate that's equal to our fears, who fear we're losing the country. This country is in a huge decline and we're going to become something less than we've been. They want Superman. They want somebody. There isn't such a guy out there this time.

O'BRIEN: All these candidates have said -- Anything can happen and I'm in the race for the long haul, is that just not true?

FRUM: It's not true -- it's certainly not true for Perry or Gingrich if they don't do well because they need to finance themselves, and the financing --

O'BRIEN: Michele Bachmann?

FRUM: Perry's financing has stopped and Gingrich's hasn't been that great. There are other candidates, if you are a minor candidate and you play your cards right, this could be a powerful income source. This could be a revenue generator. And that's the way the Paul family approaches presidential politics. It is an income source. They will be in to the end.

Perry could be having back problems sometime early next week and I think retire from this race.

CROWLEY: Candidates are always definitely in the race until the day they get out. You know, you can't be thinking about it.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: That is the best way I've heard it put on: absolutely, positively not going anywhere until I announce tomorrow that I'm out.

CROWLEY: Absolutely.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Who is running against Romney? It always comes down to the ultimate nominee and some alternative and then they battle it out. And we still don't know who the alternative is.

FRUM: And no one is running against Romney. When you went to Rand Paul -- the polls Rand Paul -- sorry, Rand Paul's father is in second place. And yet he's going to sign the pact with Gingrich and Santorum, not Romney.

O'BRIEN: We're going to continue this conversation tonight because, of course, this evening the country's real first votes. We have the CNN Special this evening, "AMERICA'S CHOICE 2012", coverage of the Iowa caucuses begins at 7:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN in the election center.

Thank you to our panelists. We'll see you back here tomorrow morning.

"CNN NEWSROOM" with Kyra Phillips begins right now.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR, "CNN NEWSROOM": Soledad, thanks so much. Good morning.