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JOHN KING, USA

Interview With Newt Gingrich; New Hampshire Votes

Aired January 10, 2012 - 18:00   ET

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


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening from the CNN Election Center.

Tonight: New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation presidential primary and a potentially defining night in the fight for the Republican nomination.

The polls begin closing in less than an hour. And in just a few moments, the first exit poll data gives us a sense of what issues mattered most to voters in a state with a history of election night surprises.

It is a must-win state for Mitt Romney and a chance to make history as the first candidate who is not an incumbent president to win Iowa and New Hampshire back to back.

And Newt Gingrich joins us at what could be a turning point. He is aggressively leading new attacks on Governor Romney, but can ill afford to again finish in the back of the GOP pack.

For Mitt Romney, the expectations couldn't be higher tonight. He's the clear New Hampshire front-runner and nationally as well. Yet he's endured scathing criticism in the past few days, his business record has turned into a target. Tonight, there's intense pressure on the former Massachusetts governor to post a big win.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If we're able to win tonight, it will be historic. It'll be the first time I think anyone who is not an incumbent in our party would have won Iowa and New Hampshire. So I have got my fingers crossed. This could be a big night for us.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

KING: Our chief political correspondent, Candy Crowley, is at the Romney headquarters tonight.

Candy, how are they handling the expectations game and how big of a win does Governor Romney need?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Listen, you heard him. Just a win would be great, and it would be historic, and we will be the first people to do this. But you have seen these polls. They had one at one point, it was a couple weeks back, showing him in the 40 percent range. They don't expect that. They do expect something in the 30s. But as we like to say all the time, a win is a win is a win.

And he looks and feels as though he's going to have a pretty good night tonight. And how do we know that? I can tell you right now -- just some sort of secret sleuthing we have been doing -- they have confetti cannons here tonight. They're expecting to have something big to celebrate.

KING: Confetti cannons. Is there a sense of surprise, Candy? We will watch. And, as you know, Newt Gingrich told me today Romney should be at 50 percent. Everyone will have fun with the expectations for Governor Romney.

Is there a sense of surprise even as they prepare to celebrate tonight that their rivals waited so long to get so sharp in the criticism?

CROWLEY: You know, it's interesting because in some ways it seems they were taken by surprise because he hasn't been that great at the pushback.

But in other ways, they had to know it was going to come. And if you look at it and the way they look at it is, if you want to have something -- if something's going to come out -- and we knew where the Democrats were going with this because they had already started -- you want to deal with it in January and draw the sting so that in September if he becomes the nominee, people have heard this over and over again and it doesn't have the kind of impact that it's having now.

But they don't believe it's going to hurt him here in New Hampshire. We will have to see what goes into those mailers in South Carolina, what goes up on the air in South Carolina. But they don't expect it's going to have a huge impact here in New Hampshire. And they think all in all better to do this in January than to do this in the fall.

KING: Candy Crowley at the headquarters where they expect the biggest celebration tonight, the Mitt Romney campaign.

Candy, thanks. We will see you all throughout the night.

Jon Huntsman has staked his entire campaign on a strong finish in New Hampshire tonight. And in recent days, there is some evidence of a Huntsman surge. And the former Utah governor hopes a flood of independents into the GOP primary might just help him deliver a surprise finish.

CNN's Jim Acosta is with the Huntsman campaign.

Jim, the initial Huntsman strategy was, let's be honest, to play the John McCain role of 2008 and to beat Governor Romney on his home turf. Now they don't expect that to happen. Can they stay in the race if there's anything short of a strong second?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I don't think so, John.

It is New Hampshire or bust for Jon Huntsman. He has bet big on this state. While other candidates were in Iowa, he was campaigning from Manchester to the White Mountains.

And I had a chance to talk to him earlier today about this state's history of big political surprises of defying conventional wisdom. He told me that's exactly what he's hoping for tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JON HUNTSMAN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have always thought that New Hampshire was the place to come, where you can upend conventional wisdom. And I think tonight conventional wisdom is going to be upended yet again.

ACOSTA: Is this do or die for you?

HUNTSMAN: We have to do well, make no mistake about it. And we have worked this market harder than anybody else, 170 events. We have given it our heart and soul. We have done everything humanly possible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Now, the New Hampshire secretary of state has said that they expect a big record turnout for tonight's primary results, and a lot of that could be independents and moderates. If that's the case, if you have a strong surge of independents and non-affiliated voters, that could play right into Jon Huntsman's hands, John.

KING: Jim, if they get that boost, the surprisingly strong, above expectations, as the governor likes to say, finish, are they ready? Do they have an infrastructure in place, a financial plan in place to go on to South Carolina and beyond?

ACOSTA: John, I asked a Huntsman aide about that just in the last hour. They said their plan, if they do well tonight, if they have a great night, the plan is to go on to South Carolina and that, yes, they believe they have the resources to compete as this campaign goes on, John.

KING: Critical night. Jim Acosta standing at the Jon Huntsman headquarters. They have bet it all on tonight.

We will check in with Jim throughout the evening as well.

This primary day finds Ron Paul as always marching to the beat of his own drum. Even though he would stand to gain if Mitt Romney stumbles, Congressman Paul came to the front-runner's defense today, criticizing the other Republican candidates who are now attacking Romney's record and comments about business.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If the other candidates that are criticizing Mitt are serious, then they don't have the vaguest idea about the market, because all he's talking is about the market. If they do have an understanding of the market and know they're wrong, then they're just politically demagoguing this to try to get a political point.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: CNN's Dana Bash is covering the Paul campaign tonight.

And, Dana, help me out with the logic on this one. Why come to the defense of the guy in front of you?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: For several reasons. Number one, let's just face it. Ron Paul is anything but a typical candidate.

So let's just take that aside. He is obviously going for number two here. That is what he thinks is critical. But also, when it comes to his ideas and the kind of thing that he wants to put out there, it is that he's an authentic candidate and it is that he is a consistent candidate. So authenticity and consistency for someone like Ron Paul is saying, I'm somebody for the free markets.

And also for him, it gives him the ability to say, I'm not a typical politician. And what's going on with all these other Republican candidates attacking Mitt Romney is classic politics and I'm above it all.

That's what this allows him to do.

KING: As you're there at the headquarters tonight, they had a strong showing in Iowa. They say that helped them stay in the race. What is their expectation? How does the Paul campaign define a win tonight? They don't expect to win the state, but how do they define a win in terms of their showing?

BASH: The way they define a win is by a strong second or maybe a third. You heard Ron Paul try to lower those expectations as the day went on today. Maybe third is OK.

But they really do hope to get in the double digits, maybe even 20 percent in order to keep going, because what does keeping going mean? It means being able to raise more money and to be able to get the ability to compete in the states that we're seeing next, South Carolina and for the Paul campaign perhaps skipping Florida and going on to some of the caucus states to rack up as many of the delegates as he possibly can to keep what he calls this movement going.

Obviously, he says he wants to be the nominee, but that for Ron Paul is not really the ultimate. The ultimate is also keeping this idea going that he wants to change the Republican Party to get the idea of anti-government libertarian views back in, maybe even a platform in Tampa at the Republican Convention. We will see.

KING: Without a doubt an impact player in this race. We will see what New Hampshire does for Ron Paul tonight.

Dana Bash at the Paul headquarters, thank you.

Rick Santorum is counting on New Hampshire to prove his near-win in Iowa last week isn't a fluke. A short time ago, Senator Santorum was on the radio trying to broaden his support beyond social conservatives.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We bring a lot of folks who would like to support conservatives, but have that little bit of doubt whether, you know, we really are for everybody. And so I think we can open up that door, which will be a big transformation in this country.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

KING: And we aren't expecting much support for the Texas Governor Rick Perry tonight. He ignored New Hampshire this week to focus instead on South Carolina, where today he served notice that Mitt Romney and his tenure as CEO of Bain Capital will be a flash point as the GOP race moves on.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will suggest they're just vultures. They're vultures that are sitting out there on the tree limb waiting for the company to get sick, and then they swoop in. They eat the carcass. They leave with that, and they leave the skeleton.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Vultures -- tough talk there from Governor Perry.

And like Governor Perry, Newt Gingrich is suggesting Mitt Romney's business record exposes a character weakness: greed. The former speaker has modest expectations tonight, but joins us next to look beyond New Hampshire.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're going to go all out to win in South Carolina. We think that's a key state for us, and we think that the contrast between a Georgia Reagan conservative and a Massachusetts moderate is pretty dramatic.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Also ahead: New Hampshire's voters sound off. Soledad O'Brien joins us from a key Manchester polling station.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Less than an hour now until most polling stations begin to close across New Hampshire, Newt Gingrich needs a strong finish before moving onto the campaign in South Carolina where help will be waiting.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: An independent group backing Gingrich will be spending millions of dollars on attack ads criticizing Governor Mitt Romney's business record.

The former Speaker Newt Gingrich joins us now from Concord, New Hampshire.

Mr. Speaker, South Carolina in a moment.

Let's talk about expectations for tonight. Can you make the case, as you do now, that Governor Romney would be -- is a weak front- runner and would be a weak nominee? Does that -- is your credibility to make that case weak? And if you come in at the back of the pack tonight, behind Ron Paul, again, for example, potentially behind Rick Santorum, again, even Jon Huntsman tonight?

GINGRICH: I think probably you're going to end up with Ron Paul in second, you're going to end up with Huntsman and Santorum and I kind of bunched in a group, is my guess, although Huntsman has spent all of his time here. And this is the only place he's campaigned intentionally.

But the key question for Romney, who has bought a house here, lived here for years, campaigned here, was governor next door, ran for the U.S. Senate next door, you know, if he can't break 50 percent in a state that is I think his third best state after Utah and Massachusetts, it's going to be interesting to see how he makes the case that he is the presumptive front-runner.

Yes, he has more votes but at no point so far has he come anywhere close to having convinced a majority of Republicans, despite having spent five years, in the case of Iowa $20 million, and he got 25 percent of the votes. He got 66 more votes this year than he got in 2008 after spending another $10 million. So we'll see tonight.

My hunch is he'll come in about where Paul Tsongas did when everybody thought he lost the 1992 election at about 37 percent. If that's the case, I think Governor Romney has a hard case to make that we should all see him as electable. He's the best financed candidate. He's certainly the candidate who's campaigned the longest.

But I think as we go south in South Carolina, we're going to have a very different set of arguments, and I think he will have a fairly hard time defending his record when we get to South Carolina.

KING: Well, we'll let the expectations -- I love the way you try to raise the bar to 50 percent in the state of New Hampshire. That's what makes it fun, Mr. Speaker. So we'll see how tonight plays out. But, ultimately to be the nominee, you have to start winning. Is South Carolina a must-win state for Newt Gingrich?

GINGRICH: Yes, I think it is. We're going to go all out to win in South Carolina. We think that's a key state for us. And we think that the contrast between a Georgia Reagan conservative and a Massachusetts moderate is pretty dramatic.

I fought for tax cuts. He raised taxes dramatically. In fact, at romneytaxes.com, we've outlined all of his tax increases. I'm for the Second Amendment rights. He was for Massachusetts gun control laws and he raised the tax on owning a gun by 400 percent.

I am right to life. He put Planned Parenthood in Romneycare. He has state-funded abortions in Romneycare. He did a number of steps that were remarkable in favor of abortion for a guy who claimed he had converted. So I think when you get to a record versus record in South Carolina, he's going to have a very hard time defending his record as governor.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Stay with us, much more of our conversation with Newt Gingrich ahead. He insists he's not attacking capitalism when he raises questions about Mitt Romney's business record.

Also, with the polls about to close in New Hampshire, new data from our exit polls. Erin Burnett looks at when today's voters made up their mind and the most important factor in their big decision.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: As you can see right here, just about 40 minutes away from the closing of most polls across the state of New Hampshire.

The results are coming pretty quickly. We will get a very good sense of just who the voters of New Hampshire decided to back in the first-in-the-nation presidential primary.

But what is driving their vote tonight?

Let's check in with Erin Burnett. She's got some of the first data in from our exit polls.

Why? Why?

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: And this is the data.

As you know John, we can touch each of these things and see the detail, how it breaks down by candidate. We can't do that yet for viewers because we're still having all of the data come in.

But importance of the debates to your vote, this is a big question given that we had two in 12 hours or something like that, but 81 percent of people said that that was very or somewhat important to how they cast their vote.

Now, does that help someone like a Mitt Romney who obviously sailed through Saturday night? Does that help someone like a Jon Huntsman, who had that great moment on Sunday? That's what we don't know in how this breaks down.

But when you look at when did you decide whom to support, this is interesting, 19 percent, 27 percent in the past few days. Does that help someone like Jon Huntsman who got -- suddenly has had the momentum? I actually compared those two numbers to what we saw in 2008 in New Hampshire, and very close -- 19 percent of voters in 2008 in New Hampshire decided on the day of the primary.

It's unclear what that means, but it's not different from last time. You had people this time -- about 36 percent of people decided December or earlier compared to half the voters last time around.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Great tradition in New Hampshire. They like to say we have to wait until we meet the candidate the sixth or seventh or eighth time to make up our mind.

But it's an interesting contrast, because all of the debates, including the last two you mentioned, have had such as oversized impact on this race. And yet if you are deciding in the last few days, maybe you are waiting for the retail politics. So?

BURNETT: It's pretty neat to live in that state, though, or any of these early states, where the rest of us from my state, Maryland, we used to be a Super Tuesday state, and you don't really get to meet anybody. Nobody cares about your little state. These guys are lucky to meet everyone in person.

KING: Now, question. As we prepare to go through the drama of tonight, when you flick, when you flick off here, does it just go into a dustbin somewhere or can you pick the location where you flick? Could you like, say, flick me to a beach?

BURNETT: I could flick you to a beach.

(LAUGHTER)

BURNETT: I would do that for you, John.

KING: All right, a little humor.

BURNETT: But, yes, we will be flicking tonight and the later, the better.

KING: The later, the better. We will see how this one goes right here.

A lot of more important data to come here, here from our exit polls, also the vote counts now just a little more than a half-hour away.

When we come back, one of the candidates fighting for survival. Newt Gingrich says he's not attacking capitalism. Coming up, the former speaker tells us why he's raising questions about Mitt Romney's business record and why he doesn't intend to stop.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Good evening and welcome back to CNN Election Center.

We're about 30 minutes away now from the closing of most polls in the state of New Hampshire. In the half-hour ahead, we will go live there. Wolf Blitzer will join me. We will go live to some key polling precincts, not just who are the voters of New Hampshire picking tonight, but why.

Also, much more of the fascinating exit poll data now coming into to CNN in the half-hour ahead.

And among the candidates fighting for survival, Newt Gingrich is catching lots of flak for criticizing Mitt Romney's business record. Today, just today, Ron Paul called it a big mistake.

But in our interview just a short time ago, the former speaker explained why he's refusing to back off.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: This is contrast politics, what you're doing right now. I don't call it negative politics. I call it contrast politics. Do you regret not doing it sooner?

GINGRICH: Well, I might have done it, in retrospect in Iowa, and I suspect had I done that in Iowa, that Romney would have come in even weaker than he was. I was, as I said to all of you at the time, I was running a real experiment. I had gotten to be the front-runner nationally by being totally positive.

I really liked the campaign when it was totally positive. I loved talking about ideas and vision and solutions. I was startled by the size and the ferocity and, in some cases, the dishonesty of the attack ads. You know, when you have 45 percent of all the ads run in Iowa were attacks on me, at one level it kind of makes you feel like you must have done something to get their attention.

But at another level you'd just as soon not have quite that much attention. It took us a couple weeks to adjust.

It's clear that the only way to compete with Romney, since he is clearly going to run such an intensely negative and very expensive campaign, the only way to compete with him is to be very direct about contrast, to draw up both of our records and to consistently come back to how different we are and how much more moderate he is than virtually any part of the Republican Party in this country.

KING: You have taken very aggressive aim, very aggressive sharp contrast at his records as the CEO of Bain Capital in recent days. My words, not yours; I want you to listen to your words in a minute. But it sounds like you're trying to say here was a guy, who, he says, he had virtue from the business community. Listen to this, you seem to be saying he's greedy and heartless.

GINGRICH: Those of us who believe in free markets and those of us who believe that, in fact, the whole goal of investment is entrepreneurship and job creation, would find it pretty hard to justify rich people figuring out clever legal ways to loot a company, leaving behind 1,700 families without a job.

KING: This is a character question you're raising, is it not?

GINGRICH: Right. John, you put your finger on it exactly. This is not about capitalism. There's been this totally phony defense that says to raise any question about Romney's business career is an attack on capitalism. That is just plain baloney. It's more of the Romney baloney approach.

The fact is, he's been going around saying his 25 years in business are a major part of why he should be president. Fine. Let's look at his 25 years in business.

What was his approach? It is a question of judgment, of values and of character. And we know of one case for sure where they put in $30 million, they took out $180 million, six times as much, and the company went broke.

Now what was the judgment and the character? What were the values applied that took that much money out of a company, as it went broke and all of its employees lost their jobs? I think that is a legitimate question to ask somebody who wants to be President of the United States. It's not about capitalism in general. It's not even about venture capitalism or entrepreneurial capitalism.

It's about Mitt Romney and his record. He's the one who said this was the key part of understanding him. And fine. So we began looking at it. And it turns out immediately -- they didn't defend it. They immediately threw up this smokescreen and saying you're not allowed to ask any questions or you're against capitalism. That's nonsense.

(CROSSTALK)

GINGRICH: Let me say, by the way, in terms of -- in terms of job creation, I helped Ronald Reagan with job creation in the '80s. And we -- and when I was Speaker there were 11 million new jobs created. Mitt Romney raised taxes. Massachusetts ranked 47th in job creation because his tax increases killed jobs, it didn't create them.

KING: Does it say anything, though, about the consistency of your campaign, in the sense that I know you've decided to shift a little bit -- or you told Sean Hannity this in mid-December. You had raised questions about Bain.

You told Sean -- quote -- "There was a brief moment where, frankly, he got under my skin. And I responded in a way that made no sense, doesn't fit my values, and made some references to Bain, where I have said publicly he's a good manager. He's a good businessman."

Which Newt Gingrich should we believe?

GINGRICH: Well, you should believe the Newt Gingrich who, since then, has read the much more detailed reports in places like "The Wall Street Journal," which laid out chapter and verse of what I'm describing to you. It's when you look -- and again, it's not every case. There were companies that Bain did fine with. There were companies that they apparently behaved fine with. But there are very specific cases, and I believe within a week, Governor Romney is going to have to have a press conference, and he's going to have to walk through and explain these cases.

How do you take out $180 million and then have the company go bankrupt? I mean, there's something that's just not right for that.

I'm all for people becoming successful. Steve Jobs invented real products, and he got to be a billionaire. Bill Gates invented real products; he got to be a billionaire. Sam Walton developed a better way to do retail; he got to be a billionaire. I think that's terrific, because they're providing a real service. They're not just manipulating finances. They're out there creating jobs engaged in exactly the kind of competitive behavior we want.

This is a question of Governor Romney's character. It's not -- it's not capitalism that's on trial. It's the question about Governor Romney and trying to hide behind yelling, "You're not allowed to ask any questions" or "You're anti-capitalist." I think it's a pretty thin screen.

KING: When -- when the pro-Romney PAC was dumping on you in Iowa, spending more than $3 million in ads attacking you, you said Governor Romney should have the courage to stand up and own those ads.

Now a political action committee run by a former top aide to you, sir, Speaker Gingrich, and getting money from top friends of yours, including a $5 million check from one of your long-time associates, is running those same kind of ads against Governor Romney. Is it fair to say that, Mr. Speaker, using your own language, that you own them?

GINGRICH: Well, I think I've got to have some responsibility. I haven't seen them yet. I hope that they're going to be very accurate. I hope they're going to deal with the facts. And I hope that they're clear about what the facts are. I think that's -- that's a key part of this.

But you know, we went through three weeks, and you were there, John. And you saw it. We went through three weeks where every single week I said this would be a better campaign without these kind of ads. And ironically, in the Sunday morning debate, Governor Romney first said that he had never seen any of the ads, and he then quoted one of them listing all five parts of the ad.

And I just thought it was kind of strange. Either one -- either the first half of his paragraph was right or the second half. But he probably shouldn't have had both of them in the same paragraph.

KING: If you're calling on Governor Romney, you say he might have to have a press conference, in your view, eventually, you say in the next week, to just lay out the record at Bain Capital. We're all for transparency in my business. Your Freddie Mac contract has been an issue from time to time in the campaign. GINGRICH: Right.

KING: And at one point, there was a question of whether you could release it publicly. Freddie Mac says it's up to you, release it, but your attorney says no. Why? Why not just lay it all out?

GINGRICH: No, my attorneys might -- my attorneys actually said we're talking with the Center for Health Transformation, which I no longer own, to get their permission to do it. I mean, they -- I don't own it any more. They have it. And I'm perfectly happy to find a way to do it.

I think they want to make sure that it doesn't risk confidentiality for any of their other clients or get them engaged in any other kind of problems. But my advice would be that it's OK.

KING: Let me circle back and close where we began. The expectations tonight. Newt Gingrich will finish where?

GINGRICH: I think I'll finish somewhere in the middle of the pack. And late this evening we will go to Rock Hill, South Carolina, and tomorrow morning, we are going to kick off the campaign on jobs and economic growth in South Carolina.

KING: We'll watch the votes come in tonight. And Mr. Speaker, we'll see you soon in South Carolina. Thanks for your time.

GINGRICH: Good. Thank you. Take care.

KING: Speaker Gingrich ending there, already looking ahead to South Carolina. Why he's not expected to do so well in New Hampshire tonight.

About 25 minutes until we start counting the votes. It is a fascinating state. And as we watch, as we gear up here in the CNN Election Center, I'm joined by my colleague, Wolf Blitzer.

And Wolf, 26 minutes we start counting the votes, how many independents showed up, how big is the Romney win. A lot of ground to cover tonight.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And we're hearing already, potentially, John, a record Republican turnout in a primary; perhaps a quarter of a million voters in this Republican contest. In fact, I'm going to go over to CNN's Soledad O'Brien. She's at one polling place in Nashua.

Soledad, what are the staffers over there saying about turnout?

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know it's hard to tell at this point, because they've been open since 6 a.m. in the morning, and they won't close until 8 p.m., Wolf. We stay open here later than anybody else. They tell me that's because of the city's charter.

So here at the Amherst Free (ph) Elementary School -- and I'll walk you this way -- you can see, obviously, they're doing things in the gym, basically. And the system will work like this. The 4,800 registered voters that they have, they'll come, line up. And they'll get one of these ballots.

So far, they're telling me under 1,700 people have taken the opportunity to vote. So we're not seeing a big rush, as you are reporting in other places, to get those ballots, ballot for the candidate for the Republican Party. Thirty people on this ballot.

What they have to do is go over here into one of these booths behind the curtain, fill it out. It takes about 30 seconds.

And then what they'll do is go over to this thing, black machine over there. Kind of looks like a photocopier. You see, there's a guy in the black jacket there right now. It's a tabulator. They will feed this form into the tabulator, and all those forms will be calculated, obviously, along with the absentee ballots, as well.

And at the end of the night, at 8 p.m. when they close the doors here, they'll be able to tell us exactly what the results here are. They're thinking about 8:15 we'll have the results from this area.

But again, with fewer than 1,700 people -- there are 4,800 registered voters -- it is hard to get a sense that there's a major turnout, at least at this point. It could change, obviously -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Quickly, Soledad. I know you're speaking with a lot of those voters. What are they saying?

O'BRIEN: Yes, a lot of what we've been hearing for the entire week, which is, "Wow, I've got three minutes until -- minutes until I have to vote, and I still don't know exactly who I want to vote for."

We talked to a guy named Kevin Gage who told me that he knew who he wanted to vote for, but that's because he was voting strategically. He was thinking toward the November contest. Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEVIN GAGE, VOTER: I think we have to have somebody on the Republican side who's going to be able to raise as much money as possible. I don't think anybody is going to raise as much as they project the president is going to raise. But I think the person with the biggest ability to do that and stay in the limelight with the president is going to be Mr. Romney.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: People have been coming in, Wolf, at roughly 115 people per hour, which they say is kind of normal. And they are -- they're unclear if that's going to grow, obviously, over the next hour. So -- because we have a fair amount of time here.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to stay in close touch with you, Soledad.

I want to go over to Manchester, Manchester City Hall. Shannon Travis is standing by over there.

Shannon, we're going to be getting some exclusive, behind-the- scenes look at this whole process. Walk us through what's going on.

SHANNON TRAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. You're only going to see it on CNN.

And think of it like this, Wolf. Think of it with this question. What happens to your ballot after you cast it? You walk in. You fill out the form, whatever, or write in, what have you. And then you walk away and you wait for the results.

Well, there's a very long and very specific process that happens after that to count them, collect them, and protect them. And ultimately, because these are paper ballots, to destroy them, you're going to see on CNN tonight an unprecedented display of what happens to the ballots as they go from here -- we're here in Ward 1 in Manchester, as you mentioned -- to city hall and what happens to them then. It's going to be fascinating, Wolf.

BLITZER: Shannon, we'll stay in close touch with you, as well. Let's hope there are no snafus with this count.

John, you know what happens when there are snafus.

KING: Yes, I do. That means we're up all night again.

BLITZER: Yes.

KING: We'll see what happens. Nashua and Manchester, two of the most important communities, the most populous communities in New Hampshire, Wolf. Important to touch base there. We'll be doing that throughout the night. And Wolf is going to stay right here with us as we continue our special coverage.

The top of the hour fast approaching. That's when we start counting the votes. The first in the nation presidential primary. Will Mitt Romney win? And if he does as expected, how big of a margin does he need? Will the Republican race be a sprint or a marathon? What else will we learn tonight? Might we lose a candidate?

Our experts and analysts are here, and we'll map out -- we'll map out the key voting places in New Hampshire. Don't go anywhere.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're here in the CNN Election Center. We're counting down to the final minutes until most of New Hampshire's polls close. Already, though, we're analyzing data from today's exit polls. The stakes tonight are huge. Mitt Romney says he's hoping for an historic night.

Over the next few hours we're going to see which of his opponents will hang on to fight another day.

Let's go back to John King -- John. KING: And Wolf, a lot of important questions to answer. New Hampshire just the second state to vote, but it could offer some big clues about whether the Republican race will be a sprint or a marathon. A quick Romney win or a prolonged nasty tug of war.

Our team is right here. They'll be here all night -- how long, we don't know quite yet -- in the CNN Election Center. Erick Erickson is the editor in state (ph) of the conservative blog RedState.com; Dana Loesch, she's the host of the talk radio, "The Dana Show, The Conservative Alternative." Democratic strategist James Carville is with us. Roland Martin, as well.

How long is it? An interesting question, and never mind about tonight. But tonight will tell us a lot, give us a good clue about how long the Republican race will go on.

We assume Romney is going to win tonight. Is the conservative part of the party, of which you are a loud member, that doesn't like him, if he's two -- opens 2-0, are they ready to rally around him, or are they ready to tell one -- one or two of the other conservatives to get out so somebody gets a clean shot at South Carolina?

ERICK ERICKSON, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, REDSTATE.COM: I think we're seeing even from the Gallup poll that conservatives are really ready to rally around Mitt Romney. They're exhausted with campaign season now. And it's close.

KING: Exhausted with campaign season? It just started. Just started!

ERICKSON: We've been going through this for a year now. The fundraising has been going on for a year. The talking has been going on for a year. They were exhausted before Iowa. They're ready to move on.

KING: If the Patriots lose, I'll be exhausted with the NFL playoffs. But until then, let's play the game.

You know, your show is "The Conservative Alternative." I was just joking during the break. We've found the conservative alternative to Romney. Where have you been all this time?

It's a serious question, though. I mean, normally, South Carolina, yes, it's a conservative state. But it has proven in its history it's a quote, unquote, "pragmatic state," in the sense that it says, "All right, we have a clear front-runner. Let's anoint him so the bleeding stops." Will that happen?

DANA LOESCH, TALK RADIO HOST: Well, there's the old line that Democrats fall in love and Republicans fall in line. And to what intensity is what we're still kind of debating on. That's something that we'll see, not just in New Hampshire but South Carolina and definitely in Florida.

I keep saying, and I really do believe this, that we will see if there's going to be one, a non-Romney candidate emerge from South Carolina. So we're getting real close.

KING: But let's worry about tonight. I got a lot of these gray hairs. You have already lost yours. I'd like to blame -- I'd like to blame New Hampshire on you losing your hair. But, you know, this is where Bill Clinton was the Comeback Kid. And a lot of people out there think probably Bill Clinton won New Hampshire. No. But Bill Clinton came back from the dead to surprise in New Hampshire.

The state does have a history of surprising us. Ask Hillary -- ask Barack Obama four years ago when Hillary Clinton roared back. Could we see a surprise tonight, or is Romney, is that one in cement?

JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: We could, but I doubt that we will. But to the larger point, I was talking to somebody who's been around for a long time, and I was saying, you know, it's Romney's to fight this thing; it's sewed up. I don't think it was ever in doubt.

And she said, "You know, James, be careful. Always somebody gets put through the paces. At some point, the voters say, 'Excuse me, we want to weigh in on this thing little bit'."

Probably, if the polls that we saw coming into today were accurate, he probably won't get tested in New Hampshire. But you know, New Hampshire could surprise. But maybe in South Carolina they will. I don't know, but I've got a lot of respect for her judgment, and what she said tended to ring true. We will see.

I think the numbers that Erick and I were talking about before, they're over-under here. The closer he gets to 40, the better off he is. The closer to 30, the worse off.

KING: This is the most generous electorate for a Jon Huntsman candidacy, Roland, especially the way he has run. It's sort of -- even though his record, he could have run as a pretty conservative Republican. He's run as sort of the tolerant, more moderate Republican.

Where's the line for him tonight? He had hoped all along that Romney would stumble in Iowa like he did four years ago.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.

KING: Then he would beat him on his home turf again like McCain did four years ago. That strategy is not available, because Iowa -- Romney won Iowa, eight votes. But winning ugly is winning. Where does Huntsman have to place tonight?

MARTIN: Stroll up the 50 yard line last night like LSU.

KING: You're Wisconsin (ph).

MARTIN: Go across. He's not going to cross it. He's not going to cross it. Look, here's what you have. The conventional wisdom said Mitt Romney was not going to do well in Iowa, because the social conservatives in Iowa simply could not accept Mitt Romney. He's a Mormon. That's what the conventional wisdom was.

So what did Jon Huntsman do? "You know what? I'm going to avoid the state. Forget about it."

What happens? Romney wins the state by eight votes. All of a sudden Huntsman is sitting there, thinking, "I'm going to make New Hampshire my main stand." Sort of like Rudy Giuliani in 2008: Florida's going to be it.

And so you're seeing that he hasn't caught fire. Every debate he's tried to be cute and funny, it's absolutely fallen flat. I just think from day one he simply never connected with an electorate. And you're seeing right now the result of that. I think after tonight, if he doesn't come in second with a great showing, dude, it's over.

KING: Voters don't like it if you try to pick your state.

Now, for those of you at home who don't follow the subplots of the CNN election team, Mr. Carville is a huge LSU fan. And he is fresh -- he is fresh from a drubbing shut-out last night. And Mr. Martin wasted no time.

CARVILLE: Can I respond? Can I respond?

MARTIN: I had to bring it up.

CARVILLE: Can I respond? You know what? If Texas A&M football players could run the football with half the velocity as Texas A&M alumna can run their mouth, they would score 40 against Alabama.

MARTIN: All I'm saying -- I'm just saying, the score is zero. You couldn't even cross mid-field. It's OK.

CARVILLE: Run your mouth. Don't worry about it.

KING: Quick question for the conservatives at the table. Assume Romney wins tonight and you're going into South Carolina. Will there be pressure from the grassroots organization, if you've got a Perry, Santorum, Gingrich, probably Huntsman running down there -- will there be pressure on one or two to get out, give somebody a clean shot?

ERICKSON: I think absolutely. You're going to see conservatives meeting all weekend after New Hampshire trying to figure out what to do, trying to see if they can get someone out of the race. Because we're used to the conventional wisdom, that you go Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, boom. But this year most of the -- most of them won't be in until -- most of the delegates until after Super Tuesday.

KING: Delegates. Do we have a delegate race or a momentum race? That -- that could depend on somebody getting -- you can call Romney weak all you want.

LOESCH: Yes.

KING: You've got to beat him to prove it. LOESCH: That's it. Exactly. He'll get the delegates from those states. But one of the things you mentioned, grassroots conservative. Well, Erick mentioned grassroots; they're going to be meeting in South Carolina. Tea Party Express. Amy Kremer said that she's -- on CNN, said that they're going to make an endorsement in South Carolina. So we'll see where the grassroots go. I'm going to need a therapist, I think.

KING: Jim, ego. Ego is involved here. Rick Perry is the ego. Ego is involved.

These folks, they're just getting warmed up. They're going to be here all night.

We're just minutes away, minutes away from the first wave of poll closings in New Hampshire.

When I'm back we'll map out the places where Mitt Romney needs to do especially well and the other little quirks, shall we say, about the great state of New Hampshire.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Most of New Hampshire's polling places just minutes away from closing. Wolf Blitzer joins me at the magic wall. We try to set the stakes.

And Wolf, the question is -- one of the questions, will New Hampshire do what Iowa did? Knock at least one candidate from the race. Michele Bachmann not on this board.

Let's take a little look at this state. Let's go back to the 2008 Republican race as we do it. The dark red is Mitt Romney back then. Look down here. This is a key thing to look for tonight. This is the southern part of the state down here. Lot of people who moved up from Massachusetts to escape the tax climate, perhaps. This is an important part down here. A lot of independents down here. Up in the top part of the state, you see some orange. That was Mike Huckabee four years ago. Smaller, rural communities.

Can Rick Santorum do well up here, as he did in Iowa? That's the key to his success tonight. Out here, I'm going to switch colors for you, just so you see it.

Out here, this is a very heavily Democratic areas of the state, but Dartmouth -- Dartmouth is out there, the college campus. Ron Paul, if he is to copy what he did in Iowa, bring college students to the process, look for his support out here, but one thing was we just look at the entire state, Wolf, and we'll come forward to the map here, about 40 percent of the voters in New Hampshire are undeclared. They're independent. They can play tonight.

Will they go for Jon Huntsman? Will they go for Mitt Romney? Will they, as they did in Iowa, go for Ron Paul? So we are seeing in the first primary tonight they expect record turnout. If you add up 2008, there were about 240,000 Republican votes. In 2012, they expect that number to cross 250,000. The question: how many of them are undeclared independents? Can Mitt Romney keep his loyal support in a state that he had wired?

And when it comes to the expectation games, everyone says Romney must do better than the 32 percent he had four years ago, and just about all Republicans say he better match the 37 percent, come close to 40 percent that John McCain had in winning the state.

So as we set expectations, well, why don't we walk over and talk to two of our political analysts. David Gergen and Gloria Borger are with us. And let's just start with a simple question, and Gloria, I'll start with you. The threshold tonight for Romney is what?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, let's just say that he has to win in the 30s, I think, and he's got to win in the good double digits. By that, I don't mean some in his campaign say 10 percent. They wouldn't love it, but they would take it. I don't think they'd be happy with that. I think they'd like 15 percent or above.

And then you'd have to see, of course, who comes in second, who comes in third. And this being New Hampshire, you even have to worry about who comes in fourth, because there could be a fight for fourth between Santorum and Gingrich.

KING: Let's stick with Romney for one second. If you've been at 40 in some of the polls and 36, 37 in the final days, if the argument of all your other rivals are you're weak, this is his best state. This is the state that he has where, if he's not pretty up close to that 40...

DAVID GERGEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He's got the home-field advantage in this one, and he has had it for a number of years. He's been around this state forever.

Listen, I think he -- if he gets under 30 or 32, I think he's hurt. If he gets in the mid-30s, has a double-digit victory, I think he's fine. He gets a major victory and he's, in fact, in a commanding position going ahead. If he's in the 40s, I think he crushes, and that would be -- then you might see people drop out.

KING: The entire basis of the Huntsman strategy was that Iowa would weaken Romney, and he would exploit an opening in New Hampshire. Iowa did not weaken Romney. Can Jon Huntsman continue in this race unless he wows us tonight?

BLITZER: He has to really wow everyone tonight, come in a very strong second. If he comes in a distant third, he's in deep, deep trouble, especially going into a state like South Carolina, where he doesn't necessarily have any organization, much support.

He does have money, potentially, out there. He comes from a very, very wealthy family and his dad who's a billionaire has got a lot of friends. They potentially could put up a lot of money for these so-called super PACs. But he's got to really do great to justify that kind of expense. You know what's interesting, also, John, and you lived in Boston. "The Boston Globe," which is almost like a local newspaper in the southern part of New Hampshire, they went ahead and endorsed Huntsman, and the "New Hampshire Union-Leader" endorsed Gingrich. No one endorsed, at least none of the big newspapers, Mitt Romney, who's going to win tonight.

KING: My first job was delivering the "Boston Herald," so they're a big newspaper. They endorsed Mitt Romney. But it's an interesting point. So, perhaps Huntsman, if he doesn't do well tonight, perhaps it will be his farewell. But in recent days, there has been a surge there. We'll watch how that one turns out.

What about Gingrich? What about anyone else? Iowa knocked Bachmann from the race. Will New Hampshire knock somebody else in the race, or will they continue to think, "Romney's weak. My opening will come eventually"?

GERGEN: I think that part of the big news out of New Hampshire is how Santorum has not caught on. It's the story that didn't happen.

BLITZER: He's not going to drop out.

GERGEN: Not going to drop out now, but he does not pose that kind of threat to Romney that we thought he might. And that means he goes on and he gives Gingrich a lot of incentive to go on. This money that Gingrich has just gotten for his super PAC. I think they all go on to Florida.

BORGER: Here's the interesting thing about Santorum, and you know New Hampshire really well. He's a social values candidate, and that's not big. In New Hampshire. That's what -- not what the votes are going to be about this evening, but he is the most populist, if that's a word I can use, of all of the Republican candidates. There is no true populist in this field, but Santorum can take that with him to South Carolina and do very well with it there, or at least split the vote up enough so Romney can win.

KING: I think just this conversation, though, this is the dream inside the Romney campaign.

BORGER: Right.

KING: While Santorum sees a reason to go on a little bit longer. Gingrich sees a reason to go on a little bit longer. You get to South Carolina where Governor Perry is waiting. He skipped New Hampshire all together.

The split, Wolf, gives you a dynamic much like John McCain had. He won New Hampshire, won New Hampshire with 30 something. It wasn't convincing, but he won. Then he went to South Carolina, and he had Mike Huckabee and Fred Thompson, they split that evangelical voter, the hard conservative vote, and he's the nominee.

BLITZER: And if he has a trifecta, Mitt Romney, if he wins -- he won Iowa. If he wins, as almost certainly will be the case tonight, New Hampshire, goes on and wins South Carolina, it's going to be hard to stop Mitt Romney down the road. I don't know if you agree, David.

GERGEN: I agree, but I do think something has happened in the last 48 hours, which has changed the race a little bit. And that is his opponents think they've drawn blood. They think there's a little blood in the water.

BORGER: Well, they have.

KING: They -- they say...

(CROSSTALK)

GERGEN: So they think after going after him and putting him under pressure like this is drawing blood, so that gives him...

BLITZER: An awkward moment, an awkward moment for those Republican candidates. Is that something you expect to hear from the Democrats, not necessarily...

BORGER: We'll hear it from the Democrats.

KING: Four years ago -- four years ago, nearly half, 49 percent of the voters, told us in the exit polls they made their decision in the last week. Do you think that -- A, do you think that number will be that high tonight? Will he look at the exit polls? And B, B, if they did, will that be the first test of whether any of this Bain Capital stuff has hit?

GERGEN: That's a really, really interesting question. My sense is that most of those voters had to basically make up their minds. We saw that in Iowa, and Mitt Romney got most of them.

BLITZER: I think the Ron Paul voters made up their mind.

BORGER: I think it's too soon for all the Bain Capital stuff to have a real impact in New Hampshire, but I believe, as it continues into South Carolina, which it will, you'll see a huge split in the Republican coalition between small business and blue-collar Republicans and the corporate elite Republicans. And that's going to break (ph) the field wide open.

GERGEN: A lot of conservatives want to say, hey, don't go after him on this capitalism thing.

KING: We're going to watch the -- we'll watch and see if the establishment kicks into gear. But you know what? That's a question for tomorrow. The question for tonight is, it's time to count the votes.

Gloria, Wolf, David.

CNN special coverage of the New Hampshire primary continues right now.