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Rick Santorum Facing Increased Scrutiny; Bombing in Syria; Economy Adds 200,000 Jobs; Interview with Jon Huntsman; Chilling New Twist To Syria Violence; U.S. Rescues Captive Iranian Fishing Crew; IRS Audited One Out of Eight Millionaires In 2011; Crash Ending Of Police Chase On Tape; "F-Bomb" Case Reaches Supreme Court

Aired January 6, 2012 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S THE SITUATION ROOM: Happening now: some very surprising developments in South Carolina, where our brand new poll shows Mitt Romney racing to a big lead. Taking a closer look at what's behind the unexpected surge.

The first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary only four days away. We have interviews this hour with Rick Santorum and Jon Huntsman, two candidates with a lot on the line.

And a chilling new development in Syria's bloody conflict. A bombing right in the heart of Damascus leaves dozens dead and wounded. But who's responsible?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We begin with a stunning turnaround in South Carolina where Mitt Romney has nearly downed his support in the past month to take a solid lead over his Republican rivals. In our latest CNN/"TIME"/ORC international poll, 37 percent of likely primary voters are now backing Romney in South Carolina. Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich are battling for second at 19 percent and 18 percent respectively. But Santorum is soaring. He's up 15 points since early December, while Gingrich has dropped 25 points.

Ron Paul has jumped up to 12 percent. Rick Perry has slipped to only 5 percent in South Carolina. Jon Huntsman stands at 1 percent.

With a look at what's behind Romney's South Carolina surge, let's go to Joe Johns.


JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, taking a detour from New Hampshire, Mitt Romney decided to go somewhere he thought he could use some help, hoping a little extra attention to the Palmetto State would pay off down the homestretch.

(voice-over): Looking stronger than expected in South Carolina, Mitt Romney wrapped up his brief swing through the Palmetto State with a well-attended rally in Conway. It's a state where the candidate came in a lowly fourth in the last presidential primary, but, this time around, Romney is hoping his anti-Obama message and a few tweaks to the strategy add up to traction.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let me tell you by the way how the free market works and compare that with this crony capitalism. This kind of crony capitalism kills jobs and it kills innovation.

JOHNS: Romney has got a lot more help than last time around, including South Carolina Governor and Tea Party favorite Nikki Haley. She's already endorsed him, even though some Tea Partiers in the state aren't exactly on board.

JOE DUGAN, TEA PARTY PATRIOTS: He has flip-flopped on so many issues. He is not at all a conservative, never has been a conservative. If he were a conservative, he never would have gotten elected as governor of Massachusetts, the most liberal state in the country.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you for such an awesome turn out.

JOHNS: Also supporting Romney is the last guy to win the South Carolina primary, Senator John McCain, whose popularity here endures as a Vietnam War hero and former prisoner of war.

McCain has been reaching out on behalf of Romney to his old circle of friends in South Carolina.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: People always judge the candidate, but any way that I can help. And I can probably help, I think, with the large veterans population here, as well as the people -- it's a very patriotic state.

If Mitt Romney wins here, he will be the next president of the United States.


JOHNS: While campaign supporters say they are under no illusions that it will be easy to win this state, they are also optimistic about Romney's chances to make inroads.

Here's what Governor Haley said when asked if she thought the state would have problems electing a candidate who is a Mormon.

GOV. NIKKI HALEY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: This is a state that elected a 38-year-old Indian female. No, I'm not worried about that at all.

JOHNS (on camera): Governor Haley also says she hopes more voters will see Mitt Romney as the most electable choice, echoing what many see as Romney's biggest selling point -- Wolf.


BLITZER: Joe Johns reporting for us from South Carolina.

Rick Santorum's rivals have hammered away at his record of spending on pet projects while he was in the U.S. House and Senate. Now questions are being asked whether that help paved the way for a substantial income since losing his Senate reelection bid in 2006.

Our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

What are you finding out about Rick Santorum's income since leaving Congress?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: On election night, you famously said three letters, O-M-G. Two words, ka-ching. And that's what we can tell you.

Look at the wall here, Wolf, $1.3 million, that is just what he made in 2010 and the beginning of 2011 alone. And that is according to his financial disclosure form, a far cry from what he made in the Senate, just $162,000.

Now, where is he making this money? I will just give you some examples. First of all, he was a FOX News contributor. He made almost $240,000 there. He worked at a conservative think tank, almost $220,000 there. But let me just show you a couple of others that are critical in terms of what his rivals are saying.

Universal Health Services, that's a health management company, he sat on the board, almost $400,000. Consol Energy, that is obviously an energy company, $142,500. Those are both companies that were and are based in Pennsylvania, Rick Santorum's home state. He didn't officially lobby for them. He did some consulting, helped them out.

And this is I think what -- when you see what some people complain about in Washington, particularly these high-profile members who leave, they don't become lobbyists, but they do political intelligence for these companies, make a lot of money, get information, don't necessarily give information to people on the Hill.

BLITZER: Speaking of lobbyists, there have been a lot of reports over the past 24 hours that while he was in the Senate, he had close ties with lobbyists as well.

BASH: He did. Check this out. This comes from

This is just the top five members of the Senate who received contributions from lobbyists in 2006, which is the year that Rick Santorum that ran for reelection and was defeated, almost $500,000 just from lobbyists. He was the top recipient in the United States Senate. All 100 senators, he got the most from lobbyists that year.

BLITZER: That was when he was defeated in 2006.

BASH: Exactly.

BLITZER: All right, I want to play this little clip for you. Listen to this and we will discuss.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MCCAIN: When Rick Santorum, sponsored earmark after earmark, I went down to the floor and fought against those. My friends, earmarks are gateway to corruption.

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If earmarks were the problem, spending should be going way down right now, shouldn't it? So, this was -- candidly, this is John McCain trying to put his imprimatur on the Republican conservative movement.


BLITZER: John McCain, who has endorsed Mitt Romney.

I don't think he and Rick Santorum like each other a lot.

BASH: I think that's an understatement, Wolf.

I covered both of them in the Senate when they were there together. And some of the things that I heard privately from at least one of them about the other, I can't repeat on family television.


BASH: They just didn't get along. The genesis of it, interestingly enough, was earmarks. John McCain was an attacker of earmarks and the people who got earmarks. He did it sometimes in a pretty tough way. Rick Santorum didn't like that, and so they really clashed over that. That rivalry continued back in 2008 when, remember, ironically, Rick Santorum endorsed Mitt Romney over John McCain.

And he actually recorded some robo-calls that were pretty tough against McCain, saying that he doesn't have the personality or the disposition to be president. So they have never really liked each other very much at all.

BLITZER: Yes, that's a good point. That's obvious.


BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, Dana, for that.

Santorum, meanwhile, is keeping that feud going with McCain.

Our own Gloria Borger is joining us from New Hampshire, where she just had a chance to speak with Rick Santorum.

Gloria, seems like these two guys, as I said, they don't really like each other.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, they don't. It is kind of family feud.

Here I am in beautiful Dublin, New Hampshire. We caught up with Rick Santorum after he had kind of a feisty town hall meeting here today where people were challenging him on the social issues like gay marriage and don't ask, don't tell and -- but I caught up with him in a hallway, crowded hallway afterwards and I asked him a little bit more about the so-called revolving door that Dana was just talking about and also about that feud with John McCain.

Take a listen.


BORGER: Senator McCain, and you mentioned inside, has been on the attack on you.

SANTORUM: Not surprised.

BORGER: Not surprised, but he's called you sort of the ultimate insider, criticized your support for earmarks.

SANTORUM: I think it's sort of funny that John McCain, who served in the Senate longer than I did when he ran for presidency, is calling me an insider.

John McCain was in the Senate a lot longer than I was. And you look at my record, you know, I was a big reformer in the House and the Senate, Gang of Seven and what we did in the Senate with just reforming the Senate itself and putting term limits in place. I mean, term limits is a big reform. That was my reform.

BORGER: But, today, "The Washington Post" had a piece which also echoed the kind of insider theme and said that you parlayed your connections as a senator for lucrative consulting contracts after you left the Senate. What's your response to that?

SANTORUM: I went to work after I left the Senate to provide for my family. I went to work with companies like Universal Health Services as a board member, not as a consulting contract.

BORGER: Question here. Do you agree with Newt Gingrich when he says that Mitt Romney could be the weakest front-runner in history?

SANTORUM: I don't -- I'm not a political analyst. I'm a candidate for president.

BORGER: Well, you were one on TV.

SANTORUM: I was. I used to play one on TV, but I don't anymore.

And I am a candidate for president. And I'm going to talk about the things that I want to do for this country and why people should vote.

BORGER: You're not taking on Mitt Romney?

SANTORUM: Oh, I will take on Mitt Romney, rest assured. I will take him on, on the issues.

I'm not going to make judgments about his character. I'm not going to make judgments about whether he's going to be weak or strong. I will make the arguments and let people then make the decisions. I always found that was the best way.

BORGER: How are you going to finish here?

SANTORUM: Well, just stronger. That's always what we want to believe. When you start at 4, there's room to expand. And that's the same thing. In this case, we had about 10 days to two weeks in Iowa to ramp up.

Here we have about five. And it's just harder. And you have Democrats and independents who are coming in. And so, we don't have any grand expectations here, other than to show that I think what you're seeing, I mean, there's some energy and excitement here.


BLITZER: You know, and Gloria, good questions to him, but why isn't he going after Romney in a more aggressive way?

BORGER: Well, I think there are a couple of reasons, Wolf. First of all, here in New Hampshire, Romney's pretty popular, and he's got a summer home here.

And Rick Santorum is really introducing himself to the voters in the state right now. But I think there's another reason, little subterranean, which is I think in the back of Rick Santorum's mind, there's probably the possibility that perhaps Mitt Romney might need him on the ticket.

He's from, after all, the state of Pennsylvania, which is a big swing state. And maybe he figures he would be the person to bring along conservatives, evangelicals. Who knows. That could be somewhere in Rick Santorum's mind -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, also in his mind, at least this supporters' mind, maybe they're thinking he might need Mitt Romney to be on his ticket somewhere down the line as well.

BORGER: Yes. Right. Maybe.


BLITZER: We have seen some strange vice presidential picks over the years after a lot of bad blood during a campaign. All of a sudden, they sort of make up and they move on jointly.

BORGER: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama?


BLITZER: Well, that didn't necessarily happen, but Biden said some nasty things about Barack Obama when he was challenging him for the Democratic presidential nomination. And, of course, a lot of people remember Reagan-Bush back then. You and I can certainly remember them, voodoo economics and all of that.

(CROSSTALK) BLITZER: You want to say something else?

BORGER: I think I can guarantee, Wolf, it probably won't be Romney and Newt Gingrich. That's gotten really, really personal.

BLITZER: No. I think you're right. I think you're right on that one. Thanks very much, Gloria, for that.

Hiring is up. Unemployment is down. We're going to go inside the new December jobs numbers. Do they signal a turning point in the jobs crisis that has been plaguing the United States?

And we will talk about jobs much more with Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman this hour. What's his plan to grow the economy? I will ask him.


BLITZER: American businesses have been hanging out the "help wanted" sign. And the latest government employment numbers show continuing improvement. So, are things really turning around?

Our Lisa Sylvester is here with a closer look.


LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you can see that the unemployment rate actually ticked down from 8.7 percent to 8.5 percent. Taking a look at the job growth numbers, 200,000 jobs were added in the month of December.

And we can break this out now. You can see a snap of the last four months: September, 158,000 jobs, October, 100,000, November, 120,000 jobs. And here were are now, December, 200,000 jobs.

And this is what you want to see. You're actually seeing this upward trend, which is pretty good news.

We can take a look at here -- here's another perspective -- 200,000 jobs. That's about the status quo in terms of the unemployment rate. If you want to lower unemployment, though, to really make a dent in the unemployment rate, you really need to be a lot higher, around 300,000 or 400,000 jobs every single month.

Here's another perspective. We can take a look at the unemployment numbers by race. Here you see: 7.5 percent for whites. This was the month of December. That is actually down from 7.6 percent.

But for African-Americans, look at this, the unemployment rate actually went up. For Hispanics, it went down. For Asians, it also went up.

This is all very well critical because we are in an election season and we all know that if the unemployment number is going down, it's certainly going to help President Obama.

On the other hand, if you see the unemployment rate really stuck or even going up for that matter, that's going to be a challenge for the president -- Wolf.


BLITZER: Lisa, thank you.

The latest employment numbers are clearly a boost for the Obama administration. Listen to the president.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now, all together, more private sector jobs were created in 2011 than any year since 2005. There are a lot of people that are still --


OBAMA: There are a lot of people that are still hurting out there. After losing more than 8 million jobs in the recession, obviously, you know, we have a lot more work to do.


BLITZER: Let's bring in our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin.

Jessica, I assume they're very happy over there, politically speaking. Obviously, 200,000 jobs is good.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I describe them as cautiously optimistic, Wolf. In terms of politics, the president's aides believe that with a few months of positive jobs growth, he's in solid shape as he makes his case for reelection. The idea is then he could argue that his economic plan is making slow but steady improvement. The big picture cases don't change horses midstream.

These numbers also have Republicans on their heels, though they don't want to give President Obama credit for them. Listen to Rick Santorum today.


RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm very gratified to see that in spite of President Obama's policies, that the job market is beginning to pick up a little bit. I think there might just be some optimism that Republicans are going to take the White House and maybe that's spurring people to start taking some risks.


YELLIN: Now, you have to keep in mind that there's a danger here for the president and that is these positive numbers could be coming too early in the election cycle, and it creates an expectations game. So, if voters expect continued improvement and then this jobs growth collapses close to November, then that's even worse for the president than if this never happened to begin with.

BLITZER: He's been very aggressive lately, very aggressive -- especially since he's come back from his vacation in Hawaii.

YELLIN: Right. He made this recess appointment this week. And in a way -- multiple recess appointments -- in a way that would get the most notice and cause maximum aggravation for Republicans. And then today, he did a victory lap with his new hire, Richard Cordray, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

First, let's listen to the president there.


OBAMA: We can safeguard families and seniors and veterans from toxic financial products. We can help give everybody the clear and transparent information that they need to make informed financial decisions and have companies compete for their business in an open and honest way.


YELLIN: So, what is this move by the president this week say? He's sending a few messages about what's to come. First, to Republicans, in saying he won't take flak when it comes to pushing his agenda on jobs and the economy. To the Democratic base, he's saying he won't be pushed around by Republicans. Remember, they thought he was being pushed around by Republicans for a long time.

And then to middle class Americans, the key target of his campaign, Wolf, he's just signaling he wants to champion middle class Americans.

BLITZER: So he's been getting much more assertive lately and I think that's only just beginning, right?

YELLIN: Just beginning. We're going to see a lot more of this kind of activity down the line.

BLITZER: That sort of in-your-face politics?

YELLIN: Definitely.

BLITZER: OK. Jessica, thank you.

We're going to have much more in our next hour.

The chairman of the president's Council of Economic Advisers will join us live. I'll speak with Alan Krueger and ask why the positive new jobs numbers don't seem to apply to African-Americans. What's going on here?

And coming up: my interview with Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman. What would he do to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon? I'll ask him.


BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Lisa, what's going on, especially when it comes to Iran and the Strait of Hormuz?

SYLVESTER: Yes, that's right, Wolf.

State media made an announcement amid rising tension over the strategic waterway. The strait is the only outlet from the Persian Gulf. Seventeen million barrels of oil a day pass through it last year. Iran just ended 10 days of drills with this test-firing of two long range missiles Monday. Iran is threatening to block the strait if sanctions are imposed on its oil exports.

And dramatic images from Minnesota. Take a look at this, where a semi-truck left the highway near Monticello and plunge through the ice on a nearby creek. The state patrol says the driver managed to escape and crawl to safety. He was treated and released from the hospital. Investigators are trying to figure out why the truck left the road.

And British police are asking for the public help in identifying the woman whose body was found Sunday on Queen Elizabeth's country estate. Police say the woman was white and between the ages of 15 and 23. And it's highly unlikely she died of natural causes. They're looking at people who worked or held events there in August or September of last year.

And the Dallas teenager who was mistakenly deported to Colombia is on her way home. Officials say 15-year-old Jakadrien Turner claimed she was an adult from Colombia when she was arrested for theft in Houston. Her family has been looking for her since she ran away from home in 2010. Now, they plan to sue the agencies involved in her deportation.

Very strange story.

BLITZER: Very strange, indeed. Yes, Ed Lavandera did a good report on that yesterday. Thanks very much for that.

Four days until the New Hampshire primary. Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman is rolling the dice on a good showing. My one-on-one interview with Huntsman, that's just ahead.

And can Mitt Romney actually wrap it up soon? We're taking a closer look at the latest polls. That's coming up in our strategy session.


BLITZER: The Obama administration is trumpeting positive new employment numbers, but not the Republican presidential candidates who believe they have a better formula for creating more jobs.


BLITZER: And joining us now from Manchester, New Hampshire, the former Utah governor, the Republican candidate, Jon Huntsman. Governor, thanks very much for coming in.

JON HUNTSMAN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you, Wolf. It's an honor.

BLITZER: Let's get through a couple of substantive issues right now. First of all, jobs, the economy, issue number one.

Two hundred thousand new jobs created in December, six months in a row of positive job growth, at least 100,000 a month. Unemployment going down. Things are definitely moving in the right direction under President Obama's strategy, right?

HUNTSMAN: Wolf, it's good news but the point is, we could be doing so much better. We are 25 percent of the world's GDP. We have the most productive worker on earth.

We have broken taxes. We have a regulatory environment that is broken. We have banks that are too big to fail. We have a Congress that needs term limits.

We could be breaking out of the box is my point and we are limited by some of these structural problems and these are the arguments I'm taking to the people of New Hampshire. It needs to be cleaned up so we can basically fulfill the measure of what this nation is capable of from an economic performance standpoint.

BLITZER: But are you at least ready to say that at least things are improving economically?

HUNTSMAN: Things are going to improve inevitably. But my point is, imagine how much better and stronger we would be today if there was confidence infused into the economy by way of a tax code that had the loopholes and the deductions phased out in total. If we had taken steps toward doing away with Dodd-Frank and dealing with our health care problems, the confidence would be reemerging in this country in ways that would speak to much stronger job growth.

So I compliment all those who are doing what they're doing today. Of course, it's good news, but my concern is what has been lost in our inability to really translate the last couple of years into forward momentum from a strong economic growth program.

BLITZER: I just want to nail down your position on Iran right now and a potential in Iran for a nuclear bomb. Do you agree with Rick Santorum that if necessary to prevent Iran from having a nuclear bomb, you would go to war against Iran?

HUNTSMAN: All options for me are on the table. It can't be any other way if you conclude you can't live with a nuclear Iran, Wolf. I look at implications in the region with a nuclear Iran. You have nuclear Saudi Arabia most likely.

A nuclear Turkey and then a nuclear Egypt, you combine the proliferation concerns in that region that I think would be unsustainable longer term.

With the kind of language Iran has used towards Israel, and then say, we have a significant problem. I can't live with a nuclear Iran.

Therefore, all elements of power for me would be on the table and I would make sure those messages were sent to Iran clearly and with little ambiguity.

BLITZER: Now in this issue, you strongly like the other Republican candidates disagree with Ron Paul. He takes a very different position on Iran as you well know. This is what he said today in general though about where he stands vis-a-vis the other Republican candidates.


RON PAUL (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Some of our opponents have labeled us and I just want to talk about that for a minute. They call us dangerous. You know, in a way, we are, to their empire, that's what we're dangerous to!


BLITZER: Those are pretty strong words from Ron Paul. I wonder if you want to respond to the Texas congressman.

HUNTSMAN: Listen, he's isolationist. He has a fringe view of the world and America's role in the world. And I say this world is a better place with a strong, engaged America and we are not strong and engaged the way we ought to be today.

We can't be engaged effectively with a weak core. That's the one thing I want to fix. I want to make sure we have a strong home right here in our country so that we can project outward our values of liberty, democracy, human rights and free markets.

But I've got to say that as 25 percent of the world's GDP and the only nation on earth that can effectively project values that move people, change history and make the world a better, safer more prosperous place.

I believe America has a role to play in the world and the world benefits from a strong America. Not a disengaged America.

BLITZER: Let's talk politics for a moment. The new Suffolk University poll has you at 8 percent. Mitt Romney at 40 percent. You only have a few days to go. Realistically, can you win in New Hampshire? Look at those numbers.

HUNTSMAN: We don't have to win, Wolf. We have to beat market expectations. There will be several tickets out of New Hampshire. There typically are and I want to make sure that when we wake up on Wednesday morning, first of all, my wife has a smile on her face because that will indicate that we've likely exceed market expectations.

But you all in the pundit class very realistically are going to set the expectations for my campaign and the other campaigns. We've got to wake up when all is said and done on Wednesday morning, or Tuesday night, and find that we have exceeded market expectations.

That's the only way you can continue to raise money and maintain forward momentum and given what I'm feeling on the ground, Wolf, last night, we had a massively large town hall meeting in New Port.

The people are turning out. They're excited. They're walking out of those meetings signing on to our campaigns. Anecdotally, that's the best I can do to tell you that I think there's something happening here that is consistent with a state that always tends to up end conventional wisdom.

We think we know what's going to happen and a different scenario plays out. So I'm excited because we've done everything humanly possible to make a mark in this state.

BLITZER: Even if you exceed expectations in New Hampshire and do well, get a ticket out of there, next stop is South Carolina. Our new CNN/"Time"/ORC poll, you're only at 1 percent in South Carolina. Will you go to South Carolina or just move to the next location, which would be Florida?

HUNTSMAN: South Carolina is a state in which we have some good ground troops. We have Alan Wilson, who is the attorney general. We have Henry McMaster, the former attorney general who barely lost the governorship.

We have the Carol Campbell family, the most beloved governor of the last 50 years. So what we much do you've got to move a market, Wolf, in order for it to translate into downstream performance.

We must do well. We must exceed market expectations here in New Hampshire. That allows us to come out ahead of steam and translate that to South Carolina. I have no doubt about what we can do in South Carolina. We first must perform here.

BLITZER: One final question, you've got three daughters very, very actively campaigning on your behalf. They're lovely young women. They've been doing a remarkable job.

Speak to us from the heart a little bit. What does it feel like as a father to see your daughters out there working for you as hard as they are?

HUNTSMAN: Well, it's -- it touches an emotional core in dad. And I can tell you when I sat just about an hour ago watching one of my daughters on a national news program live selling her dad and doing her best to put forward the arguments that would lead a potential voter to conclude that her dad had what it takes to create a better tomorrow.

I looked at that and I thought, I can't even believe it. My own daughter, my own family deeply engaged in a process that makes America a better place. It's tough. It's grinding. It's gruelling, but Wolf, when you do it as a family, it takes on extra, extra important meaning.

BLITZER: Well, you're blessed to have a beautiful family like that. Wonderful kids, a great wife. Good luck on Tuesday, Governor.

HUNTSMAN: Thank you, Wolf. Great being with you.

BLITZER: So, can Jon Huntsman exceed expectations in New Hampshire? We'll talk about that and more in our "Strategy Session." Donna Brazile and Leslie Sanchez, they're standing by live.

And coming up in our next hour, Herman Cain, he's here in THE SITUATION ROOM live as well. The former candidate gives us his take on the race. Who will he endorse? Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's get right to our "Strategy Session." Joining us now, our CNN political contributor, the Democratic strategist, Donna Brazile and the Republican strategist, Leslie Sanchez.

Ladies, thanks very much for coming in. We just heard from Jon Huntsman. Does he have a realistic chance of winning the Republican presidential nomination? Does he have a path to that, you believe?

LESLIE SANCHEZ, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I've talked to some of his people and they feel cautiously optimistic, putting it nicely. I think that they want to look at the opportunities in New Hampshire.

He has to perform well. That's the bottom line. He has a little bit of infrastructure in South Carolina, but by performing well, it's not so much the margin of second or third place, but it's really like did Ron Paul really surpass him? Does he really surpass Ron Paul?

BLITZER: He almost has to do as well in New Hampshire as Rick Santorum did in Iowa.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: First of all, I don't believe he can exceed expectations. The best thing that's happened to him over the last 48 hours is "The Boston Globe" endorsement.

That might help him with independents. It may help him with some of the southern tier counties, but Mitt Romney has a home court advantage. He will score well.

He will do it better than expectations, I believe, and really Jon Huntsman, it's a shame. He's a good, moderate, centrist candidate. I don't believe this is the year to elect a centrist in the Republican Party. BLITZER: Some have suggested that maybe 40 percent of the vote Tuesday in New Hampshire will be from independents who can vote in this Republican primary. Presumably, Ron Paul will get a nice chunk of that and Jon Huntsman will get a nice chunk of that.

SANCHEZ: He possibly could. I think they're putting a lot of weight into that. But some people would argue, look, he's gotten in late into the race. He's got into the summer.

Rick Perry got in late as well, but had mass war chest, lot of big political operation, better name I.D. Consistently, I would say he's much more conservative than a centrist and has a lot of like ability, but I don't believe a lot of voters know who he is. And there's not ample time to --

BLITZER: Four days to go. I'll put the poll up, the Suffolk University poll for New Hampshire up there. Right now, Romney at 40 percent. He got a nice bounce out of Iowa, I think. Ron Paul 17. Santorum 11. Gingrich 9. Huntsman 8. Rick Perry 1 percent in New Hampshire. Not a whole lot of time to change although there will be two debates this weekend.

BRAZILE: Look, if Mitt Romney finally decides to go big, bold and not be so cautious, slip up a little bit, he might lose spot, but there's no way over the next 72 hours that one of those other candidates can catch up with Mitt Romney. He has the home court advantage and you cannot dismiss that.

BLITZER: Let me put up the South Carolina numbers that we released today, the CNN/"Time"/ORC international poll. Look at this. Mitt Romney 37 percent, Leslie, in South Carolina. Santorum 19. Gingrich 18. Paul 12. Your fellow Texan, Rick Perry 5 percent.

He wanted to reassess his campaign. Now he's back in although still in Texas right now. He's going to New Hampshire this weekend for the debates. Do you think Rick Perry is going to stay in this through the South Carolina primary, which is two weeks from tomorrow?

SANCHEZ: Through the primary, I believe so. I think that what's an interesting point as former Governor Mike Huckabee in 2008, also the 2012 winner of the straw poll last year, basically said he made Rick Perry made a poor move. You don't basically say you're going to think about it, then come back strong.

BLITZER: I wonder if he's setting himself up for real humiliation. He's not going to do well in New Hampshire, but in South Carolina, if he comes in with 3, 4, 5 percent, he's never lost a race until Iowa in all of his years campaigning.

SANCHEZ: There's a lot more to that as well. You have a lot of big money donors who put in a tremendous amount of influence and early support behind the governor. A lot of people knew his disadvantage was going to be those debates. Not knowing or foreseen we were going to have a dozen plus debates. That really had a massive impact.

BRAZILE: He's being very honest and cautious. He was not ready for prime time. South Carolina is telling me for a candidate like Rick Perry, who is the governor of another southern state.

A lot of veterans, a lot of conservatives, but I don't think he has the time, the energy or no how to pull it off in time to win in South Carolina.

You know, Michele Bachmann had to exit poll in Iowa. Look for Rick -- look for Rick Perry to have an exit row in South Carolina.

SANCHEZ: I would very much agree that's a strong possibility.

BLITZER: If you look at these South Carolina numbers right now, 37 percent for Romney, but if you add up Santorum and Gingrich, that's 19 and 18. That's 37 percent right there. So if one of those guys were not there presumably, presumably, Mitt Romney would have a much tougher choice, much tough challenge right now.

SANCHEZ: Well, that's very true and if you look back in early December, Newt Gingrich was leading by double digit margins. There's been a big transformation, there's still fluidity.

I think overall Republican voters are saying to themselves, we're going to have a 75 percent candidate because the idea that it's exactly perfect is becoming increasingly difficult to proceed moving forward.

BLITZER: Good to have Leslie and Donna, they were early on in our studio here. This is our last show from this studio. We're moving to other studios, but we'll be back.

BRAZILE: It's a great studio. I should --

BLITZER: A lot of memories.

BRAZILE: I have to tell you, in this studio, you helped me find my sister during Hurricane Katrina.

BLITZER: Brings back a lot of memories for all of us. Thank you.

An ominous turn in Syria's bloody conflict. A bombing right in the heart of the capital leaves dozens of people dead and wounded, but who's responsible?

And those expletives that sometimes slip out on live television. Should broadcasters be held responsible? The United States Supreme Court is getting ready to decide.


BLITZER: Chilling new developments in Syria's bloody domestic conflict, a suicide bombing right in the very heart of Damascus leaves dozens dead and wounded.

The Syrian government calls it a terror attack and vows to strike back, quote, "with an iron fist," but activists call the bombing a plot by the regime. CNN's Arwa Damon has the very latest.


ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The second bomb explosion in Damascus in just two weeks. Syrians are not used to seeing images like this.

State TV said a suicide bomber struck at a busy intersection. It aired a pro-government demonstration. People chanting their love for Bashar Al-Assad and expressing their rage about the attack.

We are with the president forever, this woman cries. Opposition activists say the bombings were part of a government plot to discredit them.

One who goes by the pseudonym of Yasid lives two streets from the explosion. We reached him by Skype. He explains one of the few neighborhoods that has had daily demonstrations.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Big ones that makes the regime weak, so who could name anything from this explosion but the region?

DAMON: Even after the explosion, people took to the streets in that same neighborhood despite the heavy security. Chanting one hand, one hand. Activists say that soon after this moment, security forces moved in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Young child, about 10 years old. He was beaten very, very hardly I believe he was unconscious when they arrested him.

DAMON (on camera): And you saw them arresting and beating the child?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For sure, he was screaming and yelling. Ten people beating him and you just, you are just throwing a stone on them. After throwing a stone, you might get a bullet in your head. What can you do?

DAMON (voice-over): Refused permission to report from Syria, CNN is been unable to verify the opposition accusations, but videos uploaded to YouTube indicate that big protests continue and heavy casualties among the regime's opponents.

This video from Hamas set to show security forces opening fire on antigovernment demonstrators. And another from Homs, calling on people not to give up and denouncing the Arab League observer mission.

Many in the opposition had hoped the mission would save them and are bitterly disappointed. Human Rights Watch says the Assad regime has deceived the monitors while continuing its crack down on decent.

This mother's message for the Arab League, may God have revenge on you as she wails over her son's lifeless body. Arwa Damon, CNN, Beirut.


BLITZER: What a horrible, horrible situation unfolding in Syria right now and the pressure is mounting on the Europeans, the rest of the Arab world, the United States, to do something about it.

The United Nations Security Council presumably will take action at some point assuming China and Russia come around, but that's a big if right now.

Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Lisa, United States Navy has come to the aid of some Iranians, what's going on?

SYLVESTER: That's right. Well, 13 Iranian sailors who were held captive on this fishing boat are free after being rescued the USS Kid. The Navy says a team from the Kid boarded the Iranian vessel after receiving a distress call.

They took 15 suspected pirates into custody. This happened near the Strait of Hormuz two days after Iran warned the U.S. not to send anymore warships to the Persian Gulf.

And a manhunt is underway in Southern California for a serial killer who is targeting homeless men. Police have released surveillance video of the suspect standing a few feet away from the first victim at a strip mall.

Three men were killed in a 10-day period last month in Orange County. Police are urging the homeless to stay in groups and avoid sleeping in dark, secluded areas.

And there is at least one downside to being a millionaire. You've got a better chance of getting audited. The IRS audited one out of every 8 millionaires last year. A spokeswoman says a crackdown on offshore tax evaders is the reason. Taxpayers making more than $200,000 a year are also at higher risk. One in 25 were audited in 2011.

And a frightening up close look at a police chase that ended in a crash. Take a look here. The dashboard camera of an Oklahoma City bus captured the scene. The suspect's car hit a truck and stopped just inches from the bus.

The four suspects jumped out and ran away. Police captured three, but one is still at large. The bus driver, she said that she could do without days like this one.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Lisa.

Celebrities profanity, sexual content, they all come together in a case about to come before the United States Supreme Court. How it could impact what you see on television. Stand by.

And next hour, my interview with the former presidential candidate, Herman Cain. He's here live. I'll ask him to list the strengths and weaknesses of his former rivals.


BLITZER: A U.S. Supreme Court showdown over what's known as fleeting expletives, those unplanned profanities that sometimes slip out on live television. Our Kate Bolduan has the details. Kate, what's going on?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there, Wolf. Well, it's not often you can combine celebrities, profanity, sexual content and the Supreme Court into one story, but it's the makings of a big Supreme Court case raising very important, first amendment questions, free speech versus censorship.


BOLDUAN (voice-over): Live television moments like these. Airing without the bleeps and also graphic scenes like this 2003 episode of "NYPD Blue," airing without the blur, are all at the center of a high stakes Supreme Court battle.

The issue, does the Federal Communications Commission get tough policy against broadcasters for fleeting expletives and scripted sexual content violate free speech?

Two years ago, justices ruled in favor of the government in a similar case, but handed down a similar decision. The current case was brought by ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The FCC standards are incomprehensible.

BOLDUAN: Andrew Schwartzman is an attorney representing artists like writers and musicians. He supports the networks, arguing the FCC's policy imposing hefty fines of up to hundreds of thousands of dollars per violation will have a chilling effect on creative expression.

ANDREW JAY SCHWARTZMAN, MEDIA ACCESS PROJECT: The FCC's attempt to broaden its scope has created uncertainty, has created circumstances that force broadcasters to sensor themselves needlessly at expense of the first amendment.

BOLDUAN: But the government and family rights groups supporting tougher regulations argue families need to be protected from indecent programming on public air waves.

TIM WINTER, PRESIDENT, PARENT TELEVISION COUNCIL: How does more shock, more "F bombs," more indecency serve the public especially when they know children are watching?

BOLDUAN: And caught in the middle, parents like Nell Dillard facing the tough balance of monitoring what their boys watch in the ever expanding media universe.

NELL DILLARD, PARENT: It's mind boggling. In half the time they are taping the show, I don't even have a clue initially, you know, what the show's about. So I have to ask them and sort of watch a little bit of it with them. So it's very difficult.


BOLDUAN: Now, this case deals specifically with traditional broadcast media, but how the justices' rule could very well impact many more forms of media from cable TV to music to even the internet. Wolf, the justices will hear all oral arguments Tuesday with the decision expected by June.

BLITZER: Kate, thank you.