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Interview With Rick Santorum; Countdown to New Hampshire Primary; White House Chief of Staff Resigns; Interview with Ron Paul

Aired January 9, 2012 - 18:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: We're counting down the hours now to New Hampshire's leadoff presidential primary.

Tonight: Mitt Romney's rivals suggest the Republican front- runner is out of touch with working Americans and heartless about their economic struggles. Governor Romney borrows a George H.W. Bush script, message , I care. But tonight's "Truth" suggests this issue isn't about to fade.

Plus: the latest on a surprise storm that turned Houston's roads and interstates -- look at that -- into rivers.

And 25 hours from now, most of the polls close in New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation presidential primary. Tonight, the pace is frenetic with events all across the state. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is the big New Hampshire favorite and because of that, today the big target as many of his rivals fight for survival. At a stop this morning, Governor Romney gave his opponents a pre- Election Day gift, a comment that's easy to remember, easy to take out of context and easy to attack.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want individuals to have their own insurance. That means the insurance company will have an incentive to keep you healthy. It also means that if you don't like what they do, you can fire them.

I like being able to fire people who provide services to me. If someone doesn't give me the good service I need, I want to say that if -- I'm going to get somebody else to provide that service to me.


KING: Seven of those words, "I like being able to fire people," knocked front-runner Romney back on his heels.

Jim Acosta has been with him all day long and joins us a Romney rally tonight in Bedford, New Hampshire.

Jim, I get the bigger context. Not so controversial if you listen to it all there and hear it out. But isn't Governor Romney supposed to know better?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You would think so, John. Honestly, I was in that room with Governor Romney when he made those comments. The people who were listening to him, it was granted a Chamber of Commerce audience. They didn't really notice this as any sort of gaffe or stumble. But in the context of the narrative that Mitt Romney has been in, in the last 24 hours, these were not good comments.

If you take a look at what he said, he said I like to be able to fire people who provide services to me. Yes, he said that in the context of health insurance but the words themselves, it's really up to interpretation.

You know, a viewer or listener could hear those comments and say, well, he's talking about providing services. What service is he talking about? Is he talking about just health insurance or could there be other services?

So it is no surprise -- it should come as no surprise that the Perry people have latched onto this. They have come out with a ringtone now that you can find on their Web site where you can hear those words repeated over and over again.

The Obama campaign, the DNC, they have all seized on these comments, John. And it was becoming such a barrage by the end of the day, that the Romney campaign came out with an e-mail to reporters reminding us in the press, John, as to what Mitt Romney was talking about when he made those comments -- John.

KING: And, Jim, what's their sense? Obviously they're heavy favorites in New Hampshire. But this does play into the narrative, whether you're taking it out of context or not that Mitt Romney is affluent, Mitt Romney is not like a middle class guy, Mitt Romney doesn't get it , doesn't understand our struggles.

What do they see is the impact beyond tomorrow and the New Hampshire vote?

ACOSTA: Well, I mean, I think that's why he came out today and answered those questions, even though there were only five or six questions that he answered at that media avail.

But all of this is terribly difficult for the Romney campaign given the fact in the last 24 hours, he's made other ill-advised comments. Take what he said on Sunday in Rochester when he was talking to a crowd unprovoked, unprompted by the audience when he talked about how he felt in times in his life he has worried about getting fired or getting a pink slip. Let's play a little bit of that comment and I can give you just a little bit more context on the other side.


ROMNEY: I know what it's like to worry whether you're going to get fired. There were a couple of times I wondered whether I was going to get a pink slip. And I care very deeply about the American people. And it frightens me to see a president who has made so many mistakes when people are hurting so badly.


ACOSTA: So there you hear Mitt Romney talking about worrying about pink slips. Obviously the other campaigns have seized on this. He was asked about this at that media avail. He said I did start at the bottom at Bain. When I was at the bottom at Bain, I was worried about my job from time to time. But he had a meteoric rise at that company. He didn't have to worry about being fired for very long.

KING: Jim Acosta, a bit of a discipline breakdown there for a candidate who has had the most. We will assess the impact in the next 24 hours. Jim, thank you.

You need proof Governor Romney's rivals saw an opening there? Jon Huntsman up to third place now in a daily tracking poll was quick to pounce.


JON HUNTSMAN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will always put my country first. It seems that Governor Romney believes in putting politics first. Governor Romney enjoys firing people. I enjoy creating jobs.


KING: Also in New Hampshire today, this bold prediction from former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum. Polls now show him trailing by double digits. But he predicts the race for the nomination will boil down to one between himself and Mitt Romney.


RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Over time -- it's not going to be this primary or the next, but we will have several races down the road. This field will narrow. It will be a one-on-one race and it will be Mitt Romney against Rick Santorum. And we will win this race.


KING: We will talk to Senator Santorum in just a moment. We will put that to the test.

Call this the golden rule, politics edition. Do unto others as they have done unto you. Remember the pro-Mitt Romney group whose ads tore into Newt Gingrich back in Iowa? Now a pro-Gingrich group is making a huge ad buy in the state that follows New Hampshire, South Carolina. The target of the nearly $3.5 million pro-Gingrich add buy, you guessed it, Mitt Romney.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) NARRATOR: Wall Street's corporate raiders made billions of dollars.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Private equity leaders getting rich at the expense of American workers.

NARRATOR: Their greed was only matched by their willingness to do anything to make millions in profits. Nothing was spared. Nothing mattered but greed. Mitt Romney became CEO of Bain Capital the day the company was formed. His mission, to reap massive rewards for himself and his investors.


KING: Speaker Gingrich launching tougher attacks of his own these days, but says he welcome the help.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Given the weight of negativity that Romney threw at us in Iowa, you would be a little bit less than human if you weren't pretty happy that you're now going to see more of an even playing field. We will see.


KING: CNN's Peter Hamby joins from now us South Carolina.

Peter, the speaker getting some help from some friends, getting more negative. Being negative sometimes takes down the other guy. It doesn't always help you though. What's the Gingrich calculation in South Carolina?

PETER HAMBY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think the speaker learned his lesson in Iowa. Like you said, John, look, 49 percent of voters in South Carolina, according to our most recent poll are undecided. Romney's at 37 percent.

A lot of Republicans here think that's pretty high. Perhaps his support is a little soft. So why not bring Mitt Romney down at this point? Nothing to lose for Newt Gingrich. But I just want to the put that total ad buy in perspective -- $3.4 million will buy a ton TV buy here. About half a million dollars is a good heavy statewide television buy. You will see stuff during morning shows and when you're watching shorts.

Rick Santorum has $200,000, his super PAC does up here. I have been casually watching TV down here. I have seen that ad five or six times. With the Newt Gingrich super PAC up with $3 million, South Carolina voters are going to get swamped with that anti-Romney message here in South Carolina, John.

KING: And, Peter, the message also being echoed by a guy who you might describe as desperate in South Carolina, the Texas Governor Rick Perry, no? HAMBY: He's seizing on the same theme that Huntsman and Gingrich are hitting Gingrich with -- excuse me -- are hitting Romney with. Listen to what he said today earlier in Anderson, South Carolina, talking about Bain capital.


GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I had to shake my head yesterday when one of the wealthiest men I suppose that's ever run for the presidency of the United States, the son of a multimillionaire, Mitt Romney, he said, I know what it's like to worry about whether you're going to get fired, that there were a couple times when I wondered whether I was going to get a pink slip.

I mean, he actually said this.


HAMBY: John, Rick Perry just speaking right behind me in Greenville at an event and really tore into Romney in even harsher terms just now pointing to a factory in Gaffney, South Carolina, which is not far from here, basically saying that Mitt Romney fired your friends and your neighbors, really personalizing this, localizing it here in South Carolina in almost tougher terms than anything Newt Gingrich or Jon Huntsman has said about Bain Capital. He's really drilling this message home in South Carolina where people have actually been affected by Bain Capital, John.

KING: We will see how this one plays out beyond New Hampshire into South Carolina.

Peter Hamby live for us there tonight, Peter, thank you.

Ron Paul's campaign is war gaming now on how to keep the Texas congressman in the race for the long haul. Today he told our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, that may mean putting money and resources into caucus states like Nevada, Maine, and Louisiana, instead of focusing on big primaries like Florida which comes first.


REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: we don't have plans for, you know, like a $10 million, $20 million program, because we don't have the that money in the book and we can't go to Wall Street to get this money.

So we'll have to wait and see. But it is -- it is planned that we, at this moment, we don't have a big campaign plan there, but they'll know we're there. And we have the caucus states that we'll be paying more attention to.


KING: Not all the action on the Republican side today. President Obama's losing his right-hand man at the White House. Chief of Staff Bill Daley, who took over from Rahm Emanuel about a year ago, will leave around the end of this month.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Obviously, this was not easy news to hear and I didn't accept Bill's decision right away. In fact, I asked him to take a couple of days to make sure that he was sure about this.

But in the end, the pull of the hometown we both love, a city that's been synonymous with the Daley family for generations, was too great.


KING: Replacing Daley will be the man you saw briefly there on the left of the screen, the president's budget director, Jack Lew.

Here with the inside story about this shakeup, CNN chief White House correspondent Jessica Yellin.

Jess, the president says he wanted to spend time with your family. What are your sources telling you about what really happened here?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I will give you two main reasons, John.

First of all, there are a lot of top insiders who have been with Barack Obama and now President Obama since he was in the Senate, a lot of chiefs, if you will, and it was hard for Bill Daley to break in because the president has so much advice from so many top people. So that was a challenge.

The other thing is, he was brought here to improve relations with the business community and with the Hill. Relations with the business community no longer a top priority given what the president's campaign message is, reaching out to working Americans. You know how relations went with the Hill. There you go, John.

KING: Well put, family friendly. He will advise the campaign. It strikes me as a little fearful omen. Remember Bill Daley was Al Gore's chairman in recount year.

YELLIN: Right, he is going to be one of the co-chairs in the campaign. And that's a bit of a ceremonial role. It's a lot of I think helping with fund-raising and counseling and advice. One point to point out is that this -- it makes three, depending how you count, possibly four chiefs of staff in one term for the president.

Some would say that seems like an awful lot of turnover. The White House bats an eyelash at that and says not at all, this is a very busy time to be chief of staff and that explains all the many who have come and gone, John.

KING: Our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin.

Whatever happened to no-drama Obama? Jess, thanks.

Rick Santorum says, voters, it isn't Mitt Romney's turn to be the Republican nominee. The former senator joins us live next.

And later, what today's half-foot -- that's right -- half-foot of rain did to parts of Houston.


KING: Today in New Hampshire, Rick Santorum predicted the race for the Republican nomination will boil down to a one-on-one contest between himself and Mitt Romney. Perhaps wishful thinking, given his New Hampshire struggles, but Senator Santorum used his final-day pitch to deliver an anti-Romney history lesson of sorts.


RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let's put up, you know, Bob Dole because it's his turn. Let's put up John McCain because it's his turn. Let's put up those moderates that can win, right, those moderates that can win. According to who?


KING: The former senator taking a break from the campaign trail to join us live from Manchester.

Senator, thanks for your time on such an important evening.

Governor Huntsman, Speaker Gingrich, Governor Perry right now as we speak down in South Carolina seizing on this comment, Governor Romney, clearly the front-runner in New Hampshire, saying today, you know, I like being able to fire people who provide services to me.

You have said earlier today, I'm not making it a liability. I believe in the private sector. Not an opening?

SANTORUM: Well, look, you know, let people judge what his comments are.

I'm going to talk about his record. His record as governor is plenty of fodder for me to show someone who is not a limited government conservative, is not a constitutional conservative, someone who believes in government solutions to the problems and not believing in free markets, free people and free enterprise.

And that's what the president and the presidency is about in this election, getting this economy going. And that's where I'm going to focus on. And certainly every comment everybody makes is certainly fuel for fodder for the voters to talk about. But I'm going to keep focused on our economic message of making sure that everybody in America prospers, particularly as you have heard me talk about the manufacturing sector in small towns and blue-collar workers having the chance to rise in society.

KING: But you come from that blue-collar background and you talk about your grandfather in the coal mines. You talk about your work to try to help bring back the steel plants that closed down.

When you look at the field -- I know you think -- and we're going to get to it in a minute -- I know you think you have potential long- term in this race. But you know what the other guys are doing? They're trying to say Mitt is rich, Mitt doesn't get you, he doesn't understand downscale working-class voters.

When you look at the rest of the field, is that fair for them to make that argument, or if not you, who would you pick?

SANTORUM: Well, you know, I don't know.

They all come from different backgrounds. I know Rick Perry has come from a humble background. Newt came from a relatively humble background. Look, this is a different Republican Party. I certainly can attest to that. My grandfather was a Democrat. He was a union guy, was a union coal miner.

And so the idea that the Republican Party is the party of what used to be called the Rockefeller Republicans, that party's long gone. This is a much more diverse party focused on small business, talking about the values that made this country great of limited government and believing in small community solutions and family solutions to the problems. And that's what we know works.

That's what we know, commonsense values of America. And that's what the Republican Party represents today.

KING: You're telling the voters of New Hampshire, make me the commander in chief. I have the most experience if you go back and look at my time in the Senate.

You use sometimes provocative language when it comes to what a President Santorum would do if we're in the dicey situation we're in right now, Iran developing perhaps a nuclear weapon if it can deliver a missile and talking in a very threatening way about the Straits of Hormuz.

Listen to Senator Santorum campaigning earlier today.


SANTORUM: Ultimately saying that, you know, if none of this is working and we are concerned about this happening, then we set a deadline. And we say, if you don't meet that deadline and open up this facility and begin to dismantle it, we're going to take it out for you. Declare war? No, but take out with tactical strikes to take out this facility.


KING: Would a President Santorum do deadline strikes or deadline last-ditch dialogue strikes?

SANTORUM: Well, of course, I think you heard the beginning of that quote. I said ultimately. I had gone through a whole series of things that we would do before we would hit that point.

But I have made it very, very clear and I have made it repeatedly clear. When a theocracy that has the same kind of virulent jihadist ideology that the Iranian government has that is similar, almost identical -- except it's Shiite vs. Sunni -- to al Qaeda, is in control of a nuclear weapon, the world is a fundamentally different place. It is a world that the United States cannot let happen if we have the opportunity to stop it from happening.

Some have suggested by taking strikes, again, if that is absolutely necessary, to stop them from getting a nuclear weapon will start a war. I disagree. It will stop a horrible war that will happen when Iran will be funding terrorist organizations and other groups that will be waging jihad around the world, and particularly here in the homeland of this country.

So this is not a -- this is not something that I take lightly. I take it very seriously. We're going to give Iran every opportunity to step away from the brink of being a nuclear power, but if they do not, then we cannot let that happen.

KING: Help game this out for me, Senator, what we're going to be learning, what the conversation will be inside your inner circle tomorrow night.

You were the candidate who ran very close to Governor Romney, eight votes the difference in Iowa. You come into New Hampshire with some momentum. If you can again outperform Speaker Gingrich in New Hampshire -- we all assume Governor Romney is way ahead in the state, that he will win -- if you outperform Speaker Gingrich, you know the calculation if we go to South Carolina. You were just talking about it there.

It was Bob Dole's turn, it was John McCain's turn. If Mitt Romney has Santorum, Gingrich, Perry, to his right, he may well win South Carolina. If you can outperform the speaker again, would you turn to him and say we need a conservative to get a clear shot at Governor Romney, I have beat you twice, you should step aside?

SANTORUM: Well, I'm not going to turn to anybody and ask anybody to get out of this race.

I'm going to talk about trying to get the people of South Carolina if we do well here in New Hampshire to do just that, to line up behind the strongest candidate here. Obviously, we finished in a tie for first. And Speaker Gingrich finished fourth in Iowa. We're hopeful to do well here.

Obviously, you know, Speaker Gingrich got the "Union Leader" endorsement, which some have said is worth 10 points here in New Hampshire. And they have been working hard for him in the newspaper here. He's been spending money here.

We haven't spent a penny on broadcast television here in New Hampshire. We have only spent five days campaigning here in the last month. And we just came here starting at two or three points, pretty much tied with Rick Perry in New Hampshire. And we have been working hard and we're now up into the double digits. And hopefully we can finish well.

If we again do better than these other two conservative alternatives, if you will, I'm hopeful that they will take a look at making sure that we don't keep dividing the vote and we can line up behind another candidate. But that's their decision to make.

KING: Senator Santorum, we will let you get back out there -- 24 hours from now, we will see just how all that shoe leather pays off for you.

Appreciate your time on this important night, sir. We will see you tomorrow.

SANTORUM: Thank you very much, John.

KING: Thank you.

Next, on the trail today, our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, caught up with Congressman Ron Paul. He's not ready to predict tomorrow's outcome, but, oh, he knows how important it is.


PAUL: Right now, we're waiting to see how we do tomorrow night and see how the money comes in.



KING: Welcome back.


KING: And still ahead here: the "Truth" about Mitt Romney's business record. He's telling voters he created 100,000 jobs when he was the CEO of Bain Capital. But there's a bit of a problem with that claim.

And, later, Ron Paul's long-haul strategy, it could mean less emphasis on Florida and more attention to some other states.


KING: In this half hour, he may not be in first place but still running strong. But now Ron Paul's campaign is making plans for the long haul.

Also the "Truth" about Mitt Romney's business records. Some of the numbers are squishy, but it's not as heartless as his opponents would like you to believe.

Plus, tonight's "Moment You Missed" is a debate that's all wet. Well, at least it's not the U.S. Congress. We're tracking a Republican presidential primary process, right? But the key to winning in New Hampshire tomorrow is capturing the support of independent voters. Our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, is here for a closer look. And let me move the map. This is the map from four years ago.

Let's go up to New Hampshire. This is how it broke down in the general election. But let's come 2012, when you look at the Republican primary here. Here's our candidates. Michele Bachmann, obviously, has dropped out of the race. But independents, why?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Independents really important because they're about 40 percent of the electorate in a Republican primary. So you can walk in and say, "I'm an independent voter." You can vote in a Republican primary.

Last time around, 2008, there were two primaries. So independents could go either way. Now they expect a larger number of independents to vote in this Republican primary, and I would say that's good news for Mitt Romney.

KING: You say good news for Mitt Romney, because John McCain benefited four years ago. So a lot of the independents play on the Democratic side, but independents, especially conservative independents. So let's be honest. More people are registered as non- declared or independent in New Hampshire. Most of them either traditionally vote Democrat or vote Republican. It's a smaller group that are truly independent.

But McCain benefited...


KING: ... four years ago from this. When you come here, you say, "Romney." If I'm Jon Huntsman I'm thinking, "Those are the voters I want." If I'm Ron Paul, I'm looking at what happened in Iowa, saying, "Those are some of my people, especially some of the students."

BORGER: Right. But I think what Mitt Romney has going for him as he makes the argument to independent voters, and this really counts if you look at some of the internal polls in New Hampshire is the electability argument. And that appeals to independents, because if they want to beat Barack Obama, they look the at Mitt Romney, who says, "I'm more electable than Ron Paul. I am certainly more electable than Jon Huntsman, who's been nowhere in the polls. And Ron Paul," he says, "cannot go the distance. So therefore, don't waste your vote, you independent voter. Vote for Romney."

KING: His attacks on Mitt Romney about Bain Capital: he doesn't care; he doesn't care if you get laid off; he doesn't mind if you lose your job. Do we believe that is going to have an impact in New Hampshire or is the test there South Carolina and beyond?

BORGER: You know, I think it might have more of a test in New Hampshire to a certain degree with -- with some voters there. But also South Carolina could be a big problem for him.

You know, the issue is -- and Rick Santorum keeps making the argument -- that Mitt Romney is not the guy to make the middle-class argument for the Republican party. Rick Santorum says he's the person to make the middle-class argument because of his roots. What this does is, is it divides the Republican candidates along class lines, and I don't think that's something they really want to do...

KING: Right. Class warfare in a Republican primary.

BORGER: ... within the Republican Party.

KING: I brought this map up.

BORGER: Right.

KING: This is Clinton, Obama. Hillary Clinton, you'll remember, came back late in New Hampshire four years ago. I brought it up because we're going to be looking down here tomorrow night. Manchester area, Nashua. Up here, you have a lot of those gritty, small-town voters, down-scale voters, that the Republican attacks are aimed at saying Mitt doesn't understand you. So we'll have some fun with this one. See if that happens tomorrow night.

BORGER: I think it has resonance all the way. You know, I think it's an argument they've glommed on to. And obviously, Mitt Romney, given his gaffes, has had a lot of trouble dealing with it on the stump.

KING: We'll watch it play out in New Hampshire tomorrow night and beyond. Gloria, thank you.


KING: Ron Paul campaign is gaming out how to keep the Texas congressman in the Republican race for the long haul, but in New Hampshire today, it was pure chaos in the early going. More on that in a moment.

First, though, our CNN senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, covering the Paul campaign, and joins us from Manchester. Dana, what is Congressman Paul's take on the New Hampshire primary tomorrow night? How important is that to him and then his chances beyond?

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's critically important to him. But as you well know, Ron Paul is anything but traditional when it comes to the substance and it comes to the issues. Same goes for his strategy going forward. So he's really banking on New Hampshire to do better and to raise money in the future, but in terms of another big state coming down the pike, don't look for him to compete there just yet. That's Florida.


BASH: You're going to compete in South Carolina but skip Florida and then go onto the next caucus states. Why is that? REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That's not exactly true.

BASH: What are your plans?

PAUL: We'll be doing something in Florida. But right now, we're waiting to see how we do tomorrow night and see how the money comes in and see how we do in South Carolina. But we're not forgetting about Florida. But we don't have plans for, you know, like a $10 million, $20 million program, because we don't have that money in the bank and we can't go to Wall Street to get this money. So we'll have to wait and see.

But it is -- it is planned that we, at this moment we don't have a big campaign planned there. But they'll know we're there, and we have the caucus states that we'll be paying more attention to.

BASH: Does that say anything about your efforts to actually secure the nomination? I mean, it's sort of hard to do it without really competing in a state like Florida.

PAUL: Well, I think it tells you that we are realistic. And that's the way we approached Iowa. We thought we did pretty well there. And right now, polls are looking pretty good up here. So I think we're being realistic. We shouldn't be acting like the government and planning to spend money we don't have. We have to wait and see how things go.


KING: Realistic, Ron Paul says there, Dana. New Hampshire is a state where, at least in the closing moments, you do a lot of retail politics. Tell us about an incident earlier today that caused a little bit of tempers flaring in the Paul campaign.

BASH: Well, you have been to many an event here, I'm sure, as have I, where it is just chaos because candidates come, they try to greet voters, and especially in these closing hours, it is madness. There are a lot of reporters wanting to cover these candidates who are up in front.

Well, that definitely happened this morning when Ron Paul went to Mojo's, a restaurant in Manchester. He was trying to meet and greet. And it really got pretty -- pretty insane when it came to the media. And so he was going to sit down and have breakfast, and he ended up leaving, which really made some voters there who wanted to meet -- meet him who say that this is really their right and their -- they demand this here in New Hampshire, they were very upset about that. So I asked -- later on, I asked Ron Paul about that, and he didn't love the question. Listen.


BASH: At the last stop where you just were, it was madness. But there was a woman there who was a New Hampshire voter. She voted for Barack Obama in the last primary. She said -- she told me that, if she would have been able to just shake your hand and look you in the eye, you would have gotten her vote. But now she's turned off because you left. Does that -- does that say anything about your ability to connect with people?

PAUL: It says something about the media.


KING: And so he blamed the media. It's our fault.

BASH: And so, anyway -- he blamed the media, and it's our fault. And basically, what he said was that the problem was that it was unsafe. And that was what his campaign said afterwards. It's unsafe for him and his wife to be there.

But John, look, I have -- I think the first one that I covered, first primary that I covered here was 1996. You have a few more gray hairs than I do. So I know that you were doing it a lot earlier. You have witnessed scenes like that. I've witnessed scenes like that.

And part of the thing that the voters were saying to me that I talked to at that event was, "Look, we've seen this before." And candidates kind of work through it, and they do what they can to press the flesh. And they were disappointed he didn't do that.

KING: Dana Bash, live on the trail. Retail politics, always an impact in New Hampshire. Dana, we'll see you tomorrow on the big day.

And after tomorrow, the fight for the Republican nomination heads south. Texas Governor Rick Perry among others counting on Tea Party conservatives to unite behind an anti-Romney candidate.

With us now, right here in Atlanta, Tea Party Express chair Amy Kremer. This is one of the factors, as you know. It's nice to see you, by the way.


KING: Is Mitt Romney acceptable to the Tea Party?

KREMER: Well, I think the Tea Party movement is trying to find the best constitutional conservative that has the ideas and solutions to turn the economy around and get us back on track.

And I mean, this has been very volatile, very fluid up and down, ebbs and flows. But now that Congresswoman Bachmann is out and Herman Cain is out, we're starting to see a little bit of a shift.

KING: Where?

KREMER: Well, I mean, I am seeing a shift towards Perry and Gingrich. I mean, it's almost like the Perry campaign and the Gingrich campaign have put out an e-mail that said, "You need to lobby Tea Party Express," because I've been inundated since last week with messages from supporters, not the campaign but from supporters. But ultimately, the people are going to have to decide, John. And it's going to be part of what Gloria was talking about, you know: electability. But you know, an individual has to make the decision what's more important to them: electability or standing on principles and values.

KING: And if Romney, eight-win vote in Iowa, winning ugly counts, if he's losing. If he wins in New Hampshire, he's 2-0 coming into South Carolina. If he wins South Carolina, I don't know a seasoned Republican strategist who doesn't think that he is well on his way to the nomination. If Romney wins tomorrow night, will there be a conversation in the Tea Party saying, "We need to pick one. We can't have some for Santorum, some for Perry, some for Gingrich. We need to pick one"?

KREMER: Well, I will tell you that Tea Party Express, we will be endorsing by South Carolina. And I believe that South Carolina is going to be a game-changer. And going into Florida. Those two states have two of the strongest Tea Party networks in the country. And that's evident in the election of Governor Nikki Haley, even though I know she's endorsed Governor Romney, you know, with Goudy (ph), Rick Scott and down in Florida with Marco Rubio, who was up against an establishment candidate that had unlimited money. You know, and Rick Scott.

So those are two of the Tea Party -- two of the strongest networks. And I think that this is the time when the Tea Party is going to flex their muscle, and we're going to see just how strong the Tea Party movement is.

KING: You say that will be South Carolina. So a defining test. If Mitt Romney wins South Carolina, is on the glad path to will Amy Kremer work the country, work the Tea Party and say, "We need him. He's better than Obama"? Or will Amy Kremer sit on her hands, maybe, and a lot of Tea Party voters, say, maybe sit it out?

KREMER: You know, it just -- it depends on what happens. I mean, I think this is going to be a very long, drawn-out process. I don't think we're going to know who the nominee is by South Carolina, which is next week.

But look, at the end of the day, I want to defeat Barack Obama. We can't afford another Elena Kagan or Sonia Sotomayor on the Supreme Court. We just can't. And the power grab last week with these recess appointments, we can't go there. So that's what I'm focused on.

KING: Amy Kremer, appreciate your insights.

KREMER: Thanks for having me.

KING: Tracking to South Carolina and beyond.

KREMER: Yes, I'll see you there.

KING: You will. That you will.

Up next, the "Truth" behind Mitt Romney's claim he helped create 100,000 jobs when he was in the private sector.

And later, a high bridge, an crocodile-infested river and a very, very lucky bungee jumper.


KING: Back a few campaigns, President George H.W. Bush walked into an event with a short note scribbled on an index card. "Message: I care," it read. Well, history does repeat itself.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I care very deeply about the country. And I care very deeply about the people who work in America. I'm very concerned that over the last three years, you've seen America experience a very difficult time.


KING: Let's be honest. He will never be known as Middle-class Mitt. Willard Mitt Romney is a son of privilege and now a very wealthy man, and he's prone to comments that make for rather priceless sound bites.


ROMNEY: I like being able to fire people that provide services to me.


KING: Now, to be fair to Governor Romney, if you listen to the context, it's pretty hard to argue with his point. He's talking here about the virtue of competition for your health insurance business.


ROMNEY: That means the insurance company will have an incentive to keep you healthy. It also means that, if you don't like what they do, you can fire them. I like being able to fire people that provide services to me.


KING: Sounds a little different there, right, in full context? But life, love and politics aren't always fair. Romney's rivals for the Republican nomination know they're running short of days to stop him. Editing his sound bites: a misdemeanor they're more than happy to commit.


JON HUNTSMAN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It seems that Governor Romney believes in putting politics first. Governor Romney enjoys firing people. I enjoy creating jobs.


KING: This conversation flows from a bigger issue, that: Romney's days as the CEO of Bain Capital. He acknowledges some of the businesses Bain invested in failed. Some workers lost their jobs. And although Governor Romney insists the projects he worked mostly closely on have over the years resulted in a net gain of some 100,000 jobs.

Well, here's tonight's "Truth." That number 100,000 is squishy. No independent fact check organization has been able to verify it.

Still, I never thought I would live to see the day that free- market capitalism is on trial in a Republican primary. Romney rival Newt Gingrich suggests the former Massachusetts governor put his profits over your job.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So I do draw a distinction between looting a company, leaving behind broken families and broken neighborhoods, and leaving behind a factory that should be there.


KING: A pro-Gingrich political group is also pushing the "Romney is heartless" message with a massive ad buy down in South Carolina.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A group of corporate raiders led by Mitt Romney, more ruthless than Wall Street. For tens of thousands of Americans, the suffering began when Mitt Romney came to town.


KING: Governor Romney, well, today, shrugs it all off.


ROMNEY: I thought it was going to come from the president and the Democrats from the left. But instead it's coming from Speaker Gingrich and apparently others. And, you know, that's just part of the process.


KING: He's right. It is part of the process. Peel away downscale working-class whites, the argument goes, and maybe you can keep Governor Romney from a big win in New Hampshire tomorrow night and maybe keep him outright from a win down the road in South Carolina.

You can be certain that the "Romney is greedy and heartless" argument will be central to the Obama strategy if Romney wins the Republican nomination. Will it work? Truth be told, that's a tough one.

There are giant success stories in Romney's Bain record, as well as some crushing failures. Both sides would have good examples.

And remember this: politically, those downscale working-class voters were a giant Obama weakness back in 2008 and remain a big soft spot now.

But what about the Republican attacks? Truth is, nothing else has worked, and the clock is ticking. So class warfare and bashing the free market has at least a temporary home in the GOP.

For more on this, let's turn to two guests that have been following the story closely. In Manchester, New Hampshire, "The New York Times" political reporter, Nicolas Confessore, and in New York, CNN's chief business correspondent, Ali Velshi.

But Nicolas, to you first. I called it squishy. Romney says over time 100,000 net jobs created. It's pretty hard to prove or disprove that number, isn't it?

NICOLAS CONFESSORE, POLITICAL REPORTER, "NEW YORK TIMES": That's right. I mean, first remember that a lot of the companies that Bain acquired at this time in this period when he was there are privately held, and you can't just walk in the front door and say how many workers do you have? How many did you fire? How many did you hire?

The 100,000 stat, the study there comes from jobs created over a pretty long period of time by three companies that Bain had a role in turning around. But you have to decide if you want to credit Bain for all the jobs they've created since Bain owned that company. It's really very hard to get a firm number on the exact job creation record of Mitt Romney or the job-killing record of Mitt Romney in his time at Bain.

KING: And Ali, this one I'm scratching my head. We cover politics I've never heard the free market system, capitalism put on trial in a Republican primary.

Now, Romney's opponents don't want him to open 3-0. But they are going after what he believes would be his greatest strength...


KING: ... saying, "I'm a CEO from the business community. Barack Obama, nice guy but doesn't understand it."

VELSHI: Right, and so -- and remember that what his firm did is what these firms do. They buy companies. Many of them are very troubled. They're inexpensive, and there's some sense that some of them will succeed and some of them will fail. In fact, the failure rate of companies that Bain bought that ended up closing or being bankrupted was actually fairly high, but not fairly high, necessarily, compared to that class of business.

So what it is, is he's a gambler. He knows how to find a business where there's value. Sometimes they fail. The wins on those that succeeded, John, were so great that investors ultimately made a lot of money investing with Bain.

And Nicholas makes two great points. No. 1, how much do you credit him with and how much do you credit Bain with> It's the same mugs game as the president claiming that "X" number of jobs were created or lost under his tenure. It's unclear how much the president has to do with it. It's unclear how much Bain had to do with it.

So the fact is, Bain was doing what Bain does. Whether or not Mitt Romney's argument that "That's what I was doing for" -- "that's what I was supposed to be doing, and that's why I understand business" versus "You're out of touch, you fire people and you bet on winners," unclear as to where that's going to go.

But you're absolutely right. It is funny to have the targets within the Republican campaign coming at him.

KING: And Nicolas, Governor Romney has said from the beginning, "You know what? You can't stand the heat, you don't deserve to be the nominee." That's what he's saying about this: "Bring it on. I thought I would be having this debate with the Democrats."

Listen to Speaker Gingrich here. He frames this issue essentially, "Is Mitt Romney on your side, will he stand up and fight for the middle class," as a defining moment in the Republican race.


GINGRICH: Oh, I think anybody who believes that a Republican candidate is going to get through September and October without Axelrod and Obama spending a billion dollars on them -- if somebody's going to crumble, they better crumble before the nomination. You don't want to end up in September with a nominee who's been untested and can't stand it.


KING: That's essentially saying, you know, Ronald Reagan had the 11th commandment, "Thou shalt not attack a fellow Republican." Newt Gingrich said, "Man, let's test it out."

You're right there on the ground in a state where there's no Democratic contest tomorrow. There are a lot of these blue-collar, gritty towns, Manchester, Nashua and the like voters.

CONFESSORE: That's right.

KING: Any sense that these attacks, is it too late for it to make an impact in New Hampshire or any sense that people are listening?

CONFESSORE: It's hard, you know, because he's so far ahead in New Hampshire. He has some -- he has some running room.

I'm actually looking ahead to South Carolina because you have a couple of forces at play there. One, it's a more conservative state. It's southern. Gingrich is southern. But more importantly, there is a lot of, you know, old mill towns in South Carolina. There's a lot of laid-off workers and there is kind of a long tradition of distrust of northeastern Yankee financial elites.

So, you know, I can imagine this kind of attack having some support or finding some credence among voters in South Carolina. And that's really where the super PAC that is going to back Newt Gingrich is going to put a lot of money in the next couple of days, running ads that take direct aim at Bain and Mitt Romney's record at Bain.

KING: The guy benefited from the attacks directly, Ali, does it always benefit in the polls? When you look, you're a financial guy, but when you look, you see Governor Perry, you see Senator Santorum, you see Speaker Gingrich, does one of them stand out as more of the populist, if you will? More politically attuned to stepping in if there is an opening created here?

VELSHI: Well, you know, I think it's coming down to a line drawn between Rick Santorum, who's appealing to those disaffected workers -- and this almost feels like a Gingrich attack that Rick Santorum is going to benefit from because nobody's accusing Santorum about things like that. Although Santorum was on a board of a public company and paid very heavily for that. Some people allege there was lobbying involved with that.

So you know, these are weird allegations, because even if they're true, this is what these guys did. They haven't hid from them. So it's very -- it's strange, but if anybody gains from this, it's probably Santorum more than Gingrich.

KING: We're going to spend some time on this in the days and weeks ahead as this race plays out. Nicolas Confessore, Ali Velshi, appreciate your time today. We'll keep digging.

As Nicolas noted, it's pretty hard to get some of this information, but we'll keep at it. Other fine news organizations doing it, as well.

When we come back, if you've ever thought of bungee jumping -- let me say that one more time -- there you go. Look at that. If you've ever thought of bungee jumping, stick around for a story that might make you think, oh, more than twice.

And tonight's "Moment You Missed" isn't the high point for parliamentary debates.


KING: Welcome back. Kate Bolduan's back with the latest news you need to know right now.

Hi, there.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, there, John. Sarah Palin and her husband, you probably noticed, have kept a pretty low profile since she announced she wasn't running for president. Well today, Todd Palin came out to endorse Newt Gingrich. According to ABC News, Palin didn't tell Gingrich about the endorsement, but says he can relate to the criticisms Gingrich had faced because it's similar to what his wife, Sarah, went through.

And take a look at these unfortunate injuries as well as this unfortunate video. This is what happened to a young Australian woman who was bungee jumping in Africa when -- you probably guessed it -- the bungee cord broke. Everyone's worst nightmare, if you've ever even considered it. Erin Langworthy plummeted more than 300 feet into a crocodile-infested river, nonetheless, breaking a collarbone and blacking out on impact, but she survived and she is expected to fully recover, thankfully.

And President Obama, he celebrated his favorite sport today by hosting the Dallas Mavericks at the White House. The Mavericks defeated the Miami Heat last year to win the NBA championship, but one teammate wasn't at the White House. Guard Delonte West told reporters he was, quote, "banned" from the White House. West had a high-profile arrest with a weapons charge in 2009, but a spokesman for the Secret Service says West would have been allowed into the White House, had he shown up.

I have no idea how those signals could have been crossed. Kind of an appearance you want to show up for.

KING: Yes, if you're trying to turn the page and say, "That was then; this is now."


KING: You ready? You talk about appearances. Now appearances matter, right?


KING: You don't bungee jump -- you don't bungee jump, do you?

BOLDUAN: I do not and I won't now after seeing that video.

KING: Get that out of the way. So you cover the Congress. Everybody watching thinks what a, you know, bunch of misfits and malcontents. It's like a daycare center. You don't think it can get any worse? Look at this.

Here's today's "Moment You Missed." This is the Israeli parliament, or the Knesset. One lawmaker got so mad during today's debate, she dumped a glass of water. Another member stormed out. They were fighting over a controversy that started when an Arab high- school principal took the students to a human rights march.

Regardless of the issue, I don't know about the -- does that happen on the Hill much? BOLDUAN: It does not happen on the Hill, though I think we could definitely say that many members of Congress could use a little cooling off, shall we say?

KING: Are you armed?

BOLDUAN: Am I armed? With water, are you ready?

KING: With water?

BOLDUAN: I got it.

KING: All right, I'll take this one.

We'll see you right here tomorrow night. The countdown to New Hampshire's big vote. That's all for us for now, though. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.