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Gingrich: Romney To Blame For Attacks; Interview With Jon Huntsman; First Exit Polls Coming in for New Hampshire; Candidates Ready South Carolina Campaigns

Aired January 10, 2012 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S THE SITUATION ROOM: And to our viewers, you're in the SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, Jon Huntsman's New Hampshire gamble may be paying off with voters. I'll ask him about his late gains heading into this important primary day, and whether he can go to distance against Mitt Romney.

Also, the first snapshot of who's voting today and the issues shaping the race. We're going to unveil early exit poll information. That's coming up this hour.

And Mitt Romney has the advantage in his political backyard, but South Carolina will be a whole different ball game. We're taking a closer look at the keys to victory in the next contest when one or two candidates or more could fall.

Breaking news, political headlines, and Jeanne Moos all straight ahead. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: We're down to the final hours of voting in the New Hampshire primary. Look at this. We're going to show you a live picture of a polling place in Manchester, New Hampshire, while Mitt Romney clearly is favored to win. The contest is a very important test of the Republican presidential field.

We're driving home these key points about the votes and what to watch tonight. Assuming Romney wins, and we all assume he will, how big will his margin of victory be? The battle for second place, even third, could be critical.

Who will have some momentum against Romney going forward? And how are independents voting? That could give us a clue about the Republicans' chances against President Obama in the fall.

Let's talk a little bit more about these key points. What we'll be looking for. Our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, is here. She's going to be with us, obviously, throughout the night. Let's talk about second place, maybe third place right now, as well. We all assume Romney was going to win, but who comes in second could be important. GLORIA BORGER, CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Who comes in second is very important and what the margin is between first and second. I mean, right now, you've got Ron Paul and Huntsman in a fight, and they seem to be neck and neck in all the polls we're looking at.

What's interesting about those two is that those are the two that Mitt Romney would like to have coming in behind him, because those are the two who have less legs, if you will, going into South Carolina, because Ron Paul may not have the resources, and Huntsman may not be able to compete there. He may be more interested, for example, in Florida.

And then, Wolf, there is also fourth place we should be thinking about, believe it or not, because that could be a fight between Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. You know, Gingrich has been campaigning. Santorum has been campaigning after his win in Iowa.

Will he -- or his second-place showing in Iowa -- will he be able to take that and capitalize on it in New Hampshire and use that going into South Carolina by even placing fourth would be considered pretty good for Rick Santorum in New Hampshire.

BLITZER: But going into South Carolina, Romney wants all of them to stay in. He wants Santorum, Gingrich, and Rick Perry, for that matter, to divide up that conservative vote.

BORGER: And they will, because they believe that South Carolina is much more fertile territory for them. And so, they're going to go there. They've got their Super PAC money.

Newt Gingrich is poised to attack Mitt Romney there, but when you speak to the Romney people, one thing they're hoping is not only will all these people continue on to South Carolina which they will, but they're hoping that all the negativity will effectively cancel each other out, and in the end, voters could throw up their hands and say, you know what, let's go for the status quo, that being Mitt Romney.

BLITZER: So, Romney is going to win. Does it really make much difference if he gets 25 percent 30 percent, or 35 percent?



BORGER: Well, because he's got to have a large enough margin to show that this is his backyard. This is his, you know, hometown for summerhouse. He's got to show that he hasn't lost any altitude, which is what the other people have been trying to get him to do, which is to come down out of the stratosphere, so they can say, you know what, we had a moral victory here, because we got Mitt Romney below 45 or 35 points.

You know, he's got to do better than they did in 2008 where it was in the mid 30s. So, I think it's important his margin is really, really important. That's why -- I was in Derry, New Hampshire on Saturday, went to a Romney event, and Romney was saying to everybody there, you know what?

Don't think just because you read the polls and you think we're going to win that you can stay home and not worry about it. Every single one of you needs to get out and vote, because he wants to make sure his margin is up there, which is why they have such a large "get out to vote" operation going on today.

BLITZER: Yes, they have. If I were Romney and his folks, I'd be fighting as if I were behind.

BORGER: Exactly.

BLITZER: They can rest after they get that nomination.

BORGER: And Wolf, that's exactly what he said in New Hampshire. We got to fight for every last vote --

BLITZER: Gloria is going to be with us through the night. You know, and one thing before we go, before I let you go, Gloria, if we take a look at New Hampshire right now, South Carolina, I assume, there are -- except for Ron Paul who told us he's not really gearing up all that much for Florida. The other candidates think Florida could be the decisive state after South Carolina, assuming one or two of those non-Mitt Romney's emerge.

BORGER: You know, Florida takes a lot of money. It's a very large state. It's a very diverse state. It's a very important state, particularly, if you're the Republican nominee and want to win in the general, you want to win it convincingly. And, there aren't that many candidates with enough money left to compete that way in Florida.

Nothing succeeds like success. So, if you win, you can raise in South Carolina, for example, and you upset Mitt Romney. Clearly, you'll be able to raise a lot more money, but Florida could really, really be sort of the most important determining factor here for who actually is going to glide through to the nomination.

BLITZER: And this new poll that came out in Florida, it shows that Mitt Romney ahead in Florida. The other poll we did the other day in South Carolina shows him ahead in South Carolina. He's going to win in New Hampshire, but it's not over until it's over. I wouldn't be crowning him yet. I don't know if you had a chance. Did you have a chance to read my blog today? I know you've been very busy.

BORGER: You know, Wolf, I've been very busy, but I will.

BLITZER: You know what I write about, because some people will think this is strange. You know what I write about? My salute to politicians.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: I praise politicians for being willing to put them through -- themselves through what they are being -- but they don't have to do it. All of them basically have money. They could be coasting at this point in their lives. They could be enjoying their children and grandchildren. They have to answer our tough questions and be annoyed by us. Go to diners. They have to go to town. So, I salute them. I want you to read it, and then let me know.

BORGER: I will.

BLITZER:, my Little SITUATION ROOM blog post, as we say.

BORGER: Great.

BLITZER: The last polls close in New Hampshire in less than three hours, and the Republican hopefuls are already starting to shift their focus to their next challenges. Up next, as we know, South Carolina's primary, then on to Florida and Nevada. Our own Brian Todd is looking at these next battle grounds for us. Brian, it's more of a marathon than a sprint at least over the next 25 days.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. This is where it becomes an endurance test after New Hampshire, and how the candidates do after New Hampshire will depend a great deal on the resources they have going forward. Key to that, of course, fundraising where we believe Mitt Romney has a comfortable lead.

For the last three months of 2011, campaign sources say Romney has raised about $20 million. Ron Paul raised $13 million. Newt Gingrich raised $10 million. The others three campaigns did not reveal their exact numbers yesterday, although we have to say the Santorum campaign got a bounce after the Iowa caucuses.

They tell us they brought in $3 million just in that week since the Iowa caucuses, Wolf.

BLITZER: Are the ad buys, as far as we're talking about, they are crucial in the upcoming states, but what do we already know about those ad buys in those key markets?

TODD: Well, they're really ramping up, Wolf. Let's look at South Carolina, site of the January 21st primary. That's where the ad war has already started. So far, the campaigns and the political action committees supporting them have already made small ad buys in south Carolina, indicated here by the gold and silver, and that's as reported by the campaign media analysis group.

But here's where you really have to look close here. Look at where the dark lines take us. This is what we know, so far, of the plans spending on ads, by the campaigns, and the Super PACs supporting them. The pro-Gingrich Super PAC is key here. They have reserved $3.5 million worth of TV ads that carries them to the lead there in those South Carolina media markets.

Those ads are going to attack Mitt Romney's record at Bain Capital, his record on jobs. Now, as for ads for Romney, add in $2.3 million from the Super PAC supporting him, and he's coming up toward Gingrich here. The total we believe between his campaign and that Super PAC about $2.7 million. Rick Perry has got some money invested in South Carolina, and the Super PAC supporting him, so far, between him and his campaign have, so far, have spent or planned to spend between $1.5 and $2 million on ads just in South Carolina. Rick Santorum's surge has given him a boost in ad spending, between his campaign and Super PAC ad money planning, well over a million dollars in campaign spending.

Ron Paul's campaign here has already spent $95,000 on ads in South Carolina. No reported ad buys for Jon Huntsman there. Let's project to head to Florida for the January 31st primary. The only candidate, so far, with any ad spending there, Mitt Romney, between his campaign and the PAC supporting him, $1.2 million in ad buys in Florida.

Wolf, Florida, a big state for ad buys, so the other campaigns are going to have to ramp up that spending as well. We know that.

BLITZER: The great economic stimulus package for a lot of these states that have these caucuses and primaries. What about the ground game in these upcoming states, Brian? Any word on what kind of manpower the candidates are throwing into those states?

TODD: Yes. That's what we call retail politics, Wolf. You know it well. It's important in New Hampshire. It's also crucial in South Carolina. From what we have found so far, the Romney, Gingrich, Paul, Santorum, and Perry campaigns have multiple offices in the state of South Carolina. Jon huntsman has one office there.

The campaigns each average about a half dozen staffers in the state, but they are working around the clock right now for that January 21st primary. In Florida, we're told Romney has multiple offices. He's got the resources to set up there early. Perry and Huntsman each have one office in Florida.

Some of the others are just getting set up with offices there, including maybe Rick Santorum and the days ahead depending on how he does in New Hampshire and possibly South Carolina, but they have all mobilized volunteers all over Florida. You know, that's obviously a state where you've got to get your volunteers going and going early.

BLITZER: And we'll be there every step of the way watching what's going on. Brian, good report.

Let's check in with Jack. He's got the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: As these Republican candidates for president scramble to try to win the party's nomination, they're appealing to voters on a wide range of issues, everything from the economy to foreign policy, but the candidate that the Republicans wind up choosing may ultimately say a lot about what issue matters most to the voters.

Recent polls show Americans on the whole overwhelmingly concerned about the economy, issue like high unemployment, the deficit, you'd expect that, other top concerns, health care, entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicare, and the threat from terrorism. Farther down the list, the size of government, illegal immigration, foreign policy and moral issues, things like abortion, gay marriage, the so-called wedge issues that always play a large role in the primaries. If Mitt Romney turns out to be the Republican nominee as a lot of people are now expecting him to be, to some extent, his support could come from voters who see his business background as a strength in turning around the economy.

Of course, all the Republicans have been vocal in slamming President Obama's economic policies. When it comes to foreign policy, Ron Paul has strong views against the wars and a more isolationist perspective than the other candidates. Jon Huntsman comes to the table with his experience as ambassador to China.

On healthcare, Romney could have a tough time opposing President Obama's healthcare law because of a similar law he supported when he was governor of Massachusetts. And as for the social issues, Rick Santorum's appealing to social conservatives in large part based on issues like gay marriage and abortion.

So, here's the question. What issues do you think will ultimately decide the Republican nomination? Go to file and post a comment on my blog or go to our post on the SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page.

BLITZER: Good question, Jack. Thank you.

So, while we're under just three hours from the last polls closing in New Hampshire, we're mere minutes away from our first look at what matters most to voters in polling stations like this one in Manchester. The first exit poll results from the first in the nation's primary, that's coming out.


BLITZER: Our chief political correspondent, Candy Crowley, is joining us now from Romney's New Hampshire headquarters. Candy, Romney got some support today from an unexpected place. What happened?

CANDY CROWLEY, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he did, except for if you step back, it makes ultimate sense, when you look at what Romney's been under fire for. First of all, his business dealings at Bain, and second of all, a statement he made, which has been taken, as we know, a bit out of context saying that he really likes to fire people.

So, then, who has been the biggest offender of free enterprise of keeping government out of business? And who has often complained that the media loves gotcha tactics. And if you put all that together, it's not all that surprising that Mitt Romney has found at least a frenemy in Ron Paul.


REP. RON PAUL, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hey, I think it's just typical politics, and I think they're unfairly attacking him on that issue.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Unfairly attacking Romney?

PAUL: Because he never really literally said what they're saying he said. They're taking him way out of context.


CROWLEY: So, Ron Paul coming to the defense of Mitt Romney. He was even fiercer in an e-mail that he put out later, a press release saying that, all these attacks on Mitt Romney by Santorum, by Gingrich, by Huntsman just proves that they're not electable and why it should come down to -- wait for it, Wolf -- a race between Mitt Romney and Ron Paul.

So, when you look at it, this is, you know, the campaign trail, always a little strange, and for this moment, anyway. Mitt Romney's found a friend in Ron Paul.

BLITZER: Yes. I don't know, Candy, if you saw the interview I did with Ron Paul here in the SITUATION ROOM in the last hour, but he went even further than those clips you just played. He was adamant in saying that what Newt Gingrich and some of the other Republican candidates are doing is simply unacceptable.

He has his own criticisms of Mitt Romney, and he went through some of them, but he's very much saying that all of these attacks on Mitt Romney and his record at Bain Capital, if you're a capitalist, totally unacceptable. Strong words from Ron Paul here in the SITUATION ROOM, as well.

But overall, Candy, looking down toward a general election, if Romney were to get the Republican nomination, how much would this hurt him?

CROWLEY: Well, listen, it's not as though the Democrats didn't know that Mitt Romney had been at Bain, and that part of what they did was to take over businesses, some of which were shut down, some people were fired, some people's businesses and jobs were saved. So, the Democrats already knew about it.

In a certain way, this a little bit draws a sting. If it's going to happen, better it happen now in January of 2012 than September and October of 2012, because as we move along, people will hear the explanations. Mitt Romney will come out. He has some time to be able to talk to people to try to get his message out about you how he approached his job at Bain and how his business acumen will help him being president.

So, it's probably a good thing overall that it comes out, because it's not going to hurt him here in New Hampshire tonight. We've seen no signs of that. We don't know what they're going to go after him for and how they're going to go after him in South Carolina, but for the moment, it's not going to hurt him in the poll right here in New Hampshire, and probably, over the long run, you want to talk about this in January, not in September and October. BLITZER: Candy is over at Mitt Romney's headquarters where they're presumably going to be celebrating later tonight. Candy, thanks very much. Candy will be with us throughout the night.

And Newt Gingrich isn't backing off from his sharp attacks on Mitt Romney even as voters cast their ballots in New Hampshire today. In fact, he says Romney is to blame for the race getting uglier. Let's go to CNNs Joe Johns. He's joining us from Newt Gingrich's headquarters in New Hampshire. What's going on there, Joe?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Wolf. Newt Gingrich spent the day moving around the state, wading through all the people popping into polling places, also giving a number of interviews, and he has very much been raising questions about Mitt Romney and his role at Bain Capital, whether he was a corporate raider who was getting rid of people's jobs, a layoff specialist, if you will.

Newt Gingrich sees this, and he says, as distinguishing himself, contrasting himself with Mitt Romney, but it's also very much push- back from all those ads, those negative ads that came out of Iowa and the run-up to the Iowa caucuses. Listen to Newt Gingrich now.


NEWT GINGRICH, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm now being forced by Romney's tactics into a much clearer contrast campaign. I think most people realize I'm doing this reluctantly, and because you can't unilaterally disarmed. You can't walk off the field, unless, you're going to quit. And so, Romney set the terms for this.


JOHNS: Now, the Gingrich attack on Romney, obviously, is causing heartburn among Republicans because they're talking about things like corporate responsibility, raising questions about capitalism, things that Democrats love to talk about, but Republicans think more in terms of the free market, but it's important to say this.

One thing Newt Gingrich did not do was go after Mitt Romney on that slip of the tongue, if you will, when he suggested that he likes to fire people. Newt Gingrich said he's just not going to go there. Listen to this.


GINGRICH: We're doing everything we can to draw a sharp and clear contrast with Governor Romney on the record. We're not getting into personal stuff. And in fact, on his comment yesterday about I like firing people, as soon as I saw the whole quote, I said that's not fair to take it out of context. He clearly was talking about the right to choose between service providers. He wasn't talking about actually firing people per se.


JOHNS: But before you think Gingrich is completely letting Romney off the hook on that issue, he's not. He does say that in his view, the slip of the tongue, if you want to call it that, is basically an example of why Mitt Romney, Gingrich says, would not be good in a debate against Barack Obama, which is very important to some Republican voters -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Joe is over at Newt Gingrich's headquarters in New Hampshire. We're going to be hearing from all of the candidates tonight. They'll be making statements, speeches, after we get all the results. Of course, we'll have live coverage of all of that.

The first New Hampshire exit polls are just coming into the SITUATION ROOM right now. Our own analysts and experts, they're going through the numbers. Get ready. We're going to share some of the details with you. That's coming up.


BLITZER: The Republican candidates are making their final push for votes in New Hampshire today. Polls start to close in less than two hours as they make their closing arguments to voters. Sometimes, they end up chatting with each other. Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, they crossed paths today at WRKO radio.



VOICE OF MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hello, Rick. How are you doing today?

SANTORUM: Well, I'm doing great. Hope you're having fun. Quite an experience.

ROMNEY: This is a great state politics in New England is an exciting sport. And I hope you're enjoying it.

SANTORUM: So far, so good. We'll find out tonight.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He won't make any predictions, Rick.

SANTORUM: No. Well, you know, that's a smart candidate.


BLITZER: Let's discuss now with three CNN contributors here in the CNN Election Center. With me, the Democratic strategist, James Carville, and the conservative radio talk show host, Dana Loesch. In Manchester, New Hampshire, David Frum, the former speechwriter for President George. W. Bush.

He's also a contributing editor at "Newsweek" and the "Daily Beast" where his new blog launched today. David, congratulations on that. What does it say, and I'll start, David, with you the fact that you don't have to be registered Republican to vote in New Hampshire. A lot of independents maybe 40 percent of the voting block out there today. A quarter of a million voters in New Hampshire will be independents. What is that going to mean?

DAVID FRUM, FORMER SPEECHWRITER FOR PRESIDENT GEORGE. W. BUSH: Well, in the past, it swung the party a little bit to the left. John McCain owed his success in New Hampshire in 2000 and 2008 to support more centrists independents, but the big growth in independents since 2005, really, has been defections from the ring wing of the Republican Party.

These are people who used to be very conservative Republicans often who now call themselves independents, and that could have an effect of moving the party, actually, a little bit for once having the independent vote moving party to the right, and those are people among whom Ron Paul may be able to trawl. You might call them ex- Republicans for greater clarity.

BLITZER: You know, James, a lot about New Hampshire. You remember the comeback kid in 1992. That was Bill Clinton when, all of a sudden, he came in second in New Hampshire, but that was a huge, huge second place for him, and he went on to not only win the Democratic nomination, but become president for two terms.

What if anything will we learn potentially tonight in New Hampshire that could help us better appreciate what's going to happen in the general election?

JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Unfortunately, I think the main thing we're going to learn on that is something we knew before tonight, and that is nobody in this field other than Mitt Romney has any chance whatsoever to beat a Republican nominee. I've stated that from the beginning, and (INAUDIBLE) we'll find it out tonight.

But, he still has to go through the paces here. And he would like a larger win, because I think somebody is ready -- a lot of people are ready to end this thing, and I'm sure Mitt Romney is one. He's not having a very -- he's going to win the election, but he's had a bad time in New Hampshire on a lot of other fronts.

BLITZER: Dana, you're not a huge fan of Mitt Romney. Is it a done deal, as James says, for all practical purposes?

DANA LOESCH, CONSERVATIVE RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: For New Hampshire at least, it's done for New Hampshire. South Carolina, I know he's leading in South Carolina. I know he's opened up a double- digit lead in Florida. So, we still have time. And I think, probably after South Carolina, if there is to be a non-Romney candidate, that candidate will emerge, but it still remains to be seen, but he's inevitable in New Hampshire. He will take New Hampshire.

BLITZER: Do you see somebody else, potentially, a path for a Santorum, a Gingrich, A Ron Paul, or Rick Perry, anybody else coming up in South Carolina, Florida, Nevada, taking this away from Mitt Romney?

LOESCH: At this point, it probably would be Newt Gingrich. Perry is not -- he's not polling very well, and I think after the Iowa loss and him saying that he's going to go reassess his campaign and go back to Texas, that did a lot to shake voter confidence in him, and I think he lost some voters because of that. So, Gingrich probably, maybe Santorum, but Gingrich is ahead right now.

BLITZER: Well, Gingrich has an ad that he's just putting out in South Carolina. And I'm going to play it for our viewers. This is not a pro-Gingrich PAC, Super PAC. This is an ad from the Gingrich campaign going after Mitt Romney. Watch it.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What happened after Massachusetts moderate, Mitt Romney, changed his position from pro-abortion to pro-life? He governs pro-abortion. Romney appointed a pro-abortion judge, expanded access to abortion pills, put Planned Parenthood on a state medical board, but failed to put a pro-life group on the same board. And Romney signed government mandated health care with taxpayer funded abortion. Massachusetts moderate, Mitt Romney, he can't be trusted.

GINGRICH: I'm Newt Gingrich, and I approved this message.


BLITZER: That's a pretty powerful ad, and especially in South Carolina, where it's airing, and will be airing, David. Some saying this is payback for what the Romney folks did to Newt Gingrich in Iowa.

FRUM: Yes. I think it's going to be very difficult for Newt Gingrich, though.

How does he raise money for those ads? I'm going to be very curious to see the actual size of the ad that Newt Gingrich makes.

There was a lot of loose talk about how he had received this big $5 million check that a super PAC had done, but he made those same claims about Iowa. Back then, it was $20 million.

I don't think a lot of Republican donors are going to be comfortable with the tenor of the kind of attacks Gingrich wants to make on the likely Republican nominee. And he may find money very scarce.

I'm like Dana. I don't think we are going to see much hope of a Newt Gingrich comeback.

One more thing about South Carolina that I think really is a local issue that needs to be paid a lot of attention to. South Carolina badly needs to deepen the port of Charleston if that port is to be a competitive port for deepwater shipping. One senator, Jim DeMint, the Tea Party senator, has opposed federal funding for that port, putting at risk jobs from BMW and Michelin and other big employers. The non-Tea Party Republicans in South Carolina have supported the port. And I think because of that dispute, you are seeing a little abating of the energy of the Tea Party movement in South Carolina as people realize, hey, a lot of this talk can have real negative hometown consequences.

BLITZER: And very quickly, James, what did you think of that ad, that Newt Gingrich ad?

CARVILLE: If I were a pro-life voter, I'm troubled. It was a pretty effective ad. I don't know how many he's going to run, but it --


BLITZER: Is that going to work for Newt Gingrich in South Carolina?

LOESCH: I believe so, yes. Definitely. That's going to work for him very well and it's going to have an impact on Mitt Romney. He'll lose some voters because of that.

BLITZER: OK, guys. Stand by. I know both of you -- all of you are going to be with us throughout the night.

Jon Huntsman has already been making some dramatic gains, a surge from behind in New Hampshire. Will it be enough to make him a serious contender in the race for the White House? Jon Huntsman is standing by live, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Possibly no one stands to gain more or lose more tonight in New Hampshire than the former U.S. ambassador to China, the former Utah governor, Jon Huntsman, who is banking everything on coming from behind and potentially shaking up the entire presidential race.

Our own Jim Acosta spoke with him a little while ago.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Is this do or die for you?

JON HUNTSMAN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: 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've done everything humanly possible.


BLITZER: Let's bring in our own Lisa Sylvester. She's digging deeper on Jon Huntsman. She's joining us now with more.

A lot of our viewers don't really know a whole lot about Jon Huntsman, but you're going to change that right now, Lisa.

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf. Well, Jon Huntsman, he favors cutting taxes, he is against abortion, and he wants to undo the health care reform law. Now, all things very appealing to grassroots conservatives.

But Huntsman was also an ambassador under President Obama, and he has essentially been living in the state of New Hampshire these last few months with more than 170 campaign stops, hoping voters will see what he's really about.



SYLVESTER (voice-over): That's Jon Huntsman playing a mean Chuck Berry on "The David Letterman Show." And if he gets his way, he will go from fledgling to campaign rock star.

Huntsman has staked everything on New Hampshire. Mitt Romney has a big lead, but the latest American Research Group poll has Huntsman just edging our Ron Paul for the number to spot.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: His engines are starting to catch fire a little bit. He's starting to gain traction. And maybe he can have that breakthrough in New Hampshire.

SYLVESTER: Huntsman is not your stodgy, ordinary politician. He rides a motorcycle, speaks fluent mandarin Chinese, and in high school played in a band called The Wizards. He also has a lot of experience -- former ambassador to China and Singapore, and as governor of Utah, he was reelected with more than 70 percent of his vote.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If he focuses his energy like he did in our state for our country, well, he's going to do a really good job.

SYLVESTER: Huntsman's campaign has been a family affair. He and his wife have seven children, including two adopted from China and India.

Huntsman has a lot in common with Mitt Romney -- both Mormons, both former governors, and both with prominent wealthy fares. Jon Huntsman, Sr. started a successful chemical company, making billions, and has spent his latter years giving much of it away. But ironically, one thing many analysts say is holding Huntsman back in the presidential race, a lack of money. Huntsman hasn't asked his father to put up the big bucks that would move the politically meter. His campaign says it's a matter of principle.

Huntsman's daughters, fixtures on the campaign trail, were asked about it by Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ABBY HUNTSMAN LIVINGSTON, JON HUNTSMAN'S DAUGHTER: My dad, like he did in Utah, he's not going to pay his way to the White House. You know, you want support of the people.

He's the people's candidate, and so I think you're going to see the resources come with momentum. And that's exactly what we're seeing on the ground. SYLVESTER: Huntsman's poll numbers may be going up, and the tide may be turning, but is it turning fast enough?


SYLVESTER: One boost came from "The Boston Globe," which endorsed him. And his super PAC has been raising more money. So we'll see how he does tonight. Does he beat expectations? And can that give him momentum going into South Carolina and Florida?


BLITZER: He's certainly blessed with a great family.

All right, Lisa. Thanks very much.

Governor Huntsman is joining us now from New Hampshire.

Governor, thanks very much for coming in.

JON HUNTSMAN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's a pleasure, Wolf. Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: First of all, give us your assessment. What do you think you're going tonight, second, third? How well do you think you're going to do?

HUNTSMAN: You know, I was just over at radio row, where you've got a lot of the members -- the radio press gathered. And there was a lot of chatter about how things are lining up.

I think we're doing well. You've got to remember, Wolf, as we talked last time, I was in single digits about a week and a half ago. And so the thought that there would be a surge next to the name "Huntsman" is something altogether new that I'm trying to get my mind around. And it really is a result of a lot of diligent work on the ground.

We have done this the old-fashioned New Hampshire way. And we'll see tonight if that translates into something that really does prove the point that people in New Hampshire care about the candidates getting out and earning the vote and not taking it for granted.

What that means and how it is translated into a finish, I can't tell you exactly what that will mean. We'll know soon enough. But I think, Wolf, and I increasingly feel that we're going to beat market expectations.

BLITZER: Like everybody else, though, you assume Mitt Romney will win tonight. Is that right?

HUNTSMAN: Well, he is certainly strong, and he's the home state favorite, next-door governor. He has a home here. He's campaigned here for the presidency for a whole lot of years. So he has a built- in advantage. There's no doubt about that.

Certainly from a name recognition standpoint, it will be interesting to see if that name recognition really does translate into political support. I'm not sure that you can always assume that.

BLITZER: Forty percent of the people voting in New Hampshire are believed to be Independents. And I know a lot of them are going to support you. A lot of them will support Ron Paul as well.

Tell us why they should support you instead of, for example, Ron Paul. Some people have still not voted.

HUNTSMAN: Well, I'm actually electable based on all the analytical work that has been done. I can actually go on to beat Barack Obama. Ron Paul has capped out at about 15 percent of the vote for the last couple of election cycles, and there's no reason to believe that he would be winning over more than that.

So you have to start with the premise that electability is going to be a very important consideration for Independent voters out there. If they're going to put their trust and their investment in someone, it ought to be a candidate who can actually go the distance.

BLITZER: It's certainly getting ugly out there between Gingrich and Romney, the name-calling, if you will. You certainly haven't crossed the line.

How do you feel about the discourse of this campaign right now amongst Republicans?

HUNTSMAN: You know, Wolf, I think we see this in every election cycle. We don't reflect on history very often, but I think every election cycle would suggest, whether the Republican or the Democrat side, you see this internecine warfare that plays out, and I'm not sure that's altogether bad, because it really puts the candidate, the nominee to be, to the test.

All the information is brought out, the arguments are made, the accusations are thrown out there. And then there has to be a discussion that follows.

And I think there's a process that actually makes the ultimate nominee a whole lot stronger. A lot of the information is vetted openly, and responses are developed for those accusations. And I believe that that makes for a better general election candidate. And I do believe what you're seeing right now, poisonous as it might sound from time to time, is likely to make a stronger nominee ultimately.

BLITZER: In the last hour, Ron Paul, who is also fighting for second place in New Hampshire tonight, told me he really doesn't have the resources to spend a whole lot of time or money or effort in Florida. He's probably going to move beyond that after South Carolina.

Have you looked ahead at all beyond tonight into what happens in South Carolina, Florida, Nevada, and so forth?

HUNTSMAN: We sure have, Wolf. We've spent a lot of time in South Carolina.

We have people like Henry McMaster, who was the former attorney general, just lost the governorship there; the Carroll Campbell family -- remember, Carroll Campbell was the most respected and beloved governor of the last 50 years -- people like Alan Wilson, who's the attorney general, just to name a few. We have got an excellent, excellent team on the ground in South Carolina. And indeed, we've made multiple visits there.

Our name recognition is low, predictably, because you need a market- moving event for people to begin paying attention to you. And if all goes well tonight, as I think it will, New Hampshire will be a market- moving event for us.

And as it moves downstream then into South Carolina, where we hope to find ourselves tomorrow, people will begin paying attention to the new order of the universe, which will be much different than we're thinking about it today. Why? Because the people of New Hampshire always tend to upend conventional wisdom.

BLITZER: You might want to stick around and listen to our next report, Governor. The first exit polls from New Hampshire are coming out. We're going to share some numbers with our viewers.

Stand by for that.

Governor Huntsman, appreciate you joining us. Good luck.

HUNTSMAN: Thank you. Good to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And we're going to learn more about these exit polls. We're dissecting what's going on. Our expert analysts are going through the numbers right now.

Stay with us. More of our coverage right after this.


BLITZER: The first exit polls are just starting to come into the CNN Election Center.

Let's go straight to CNN's Erin Burnett, and our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.

A closer look at the numbers. Interesting stuff coming in, and we're only just starting.

ERIN BURNETT, HOST, "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT": That's right. And we are only just starting. That's what we want to emphasize.

We've got these neat walls. We're only going to use our first wall, everyone, because we aren't going to touch any of these to give you any more detailed information.

BORGER: Don't give it away.

BURNETT: It's still flooding in. So we're just going to give you the headlines here of a few things we've had. Vote by income, Gloria, interesting when you look at this, under 30,000, 30,000 to 50,000 -- not as many voters there. In Iowa, obviously, that had skewed for Ron Paul with the young voters --

BORGER: College students.

BURNETT: College students, 50,000 to 100,000, 100,000 to 200,000. That's where you see 55 percent of the voters today.

BORGER: Right. And that would be, of course, good for Mitt Romney, although Rick Santorum, in Iowa, got a bunch of these voters in the 50,000 to 100,000. But again, you have to look at these numbers and say he skews well (ph) here.

BURNETT: Right. And it's interesting. We were looking at home prices, everyone, Gloria and I. And it's interesting. They're down 20 percent from the high, but still $189,300 to buy a home in New Hampshire.

It's a wealthy state. Unemployment low, 5.2 percent. Not enough to stop the most important issue by a huge landslide, more so even than in Iowa, the economy.

BORGER: Sixty percent thinks that's important. Of course, that's what the country believes. This is really no surprise.

That's good for Mitt Romney. Again, the deficit question in Iowa, people who cared about the deficit, went for Ron Paul.

BURNETT: That's right. Ron Paul, with Romney a close second, worried about the economy, 69 percent. And I say this, everyone, even knowing that New Hampshire has the lowest unemployment rate in New England.

But the economy, Wolf, still number one, front and center. Only time will tell if beneath these headlines are good numbers for Mitt Romney or not.

BLITZER: We assume they will be, but we'll soon find out.

Guys, thank you.

Jack Cafferty is asking, "What issues will ultimately decide the Republican nomination?" Your e-mail, coming up.

And the GOP presidential candidates and their laughs. Jeanne Moos, that's coming up as well.


BLITZER: Let's get to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: What issues will ultimately decide the Republican nomination?

Kenneth in California writes, "I think it will always be the economy, especially jobs. The candidate who puts his focus on that will get the attention of the electorate."

"Paychecks are more important than abortion, gay marriage, family values, foreign policy, terror, or whatever. No job or the fear of losing one transcends all other issues."

Karl writes, "No issues will really decide the nomination. The issues will be the same old tired wedge issues they dredge up every election to get the homophobic evangelical wing nuts to vote for them. The nominee will be decided when the old money Republican billionaires with a 'B' whom we haven't heard from so far tell the wannabe GOP millionaires with an 'M' who they're backing. End of discussion."

Jeanne in South Carolina writes, "Issues? What do issues have to do with this? It's all about money, Jack, plain and simple."

Richard in Kansas says, "The Republican nomination won't be decided by issues. It will go to the candidate who promises to be the farthest to the right and panders to the extremes of their party just like always. They've created a party where purity of thought and loyalty to party trumps everything else, as if the more conservative you are, the more right and just you are. And any hint of moderation is pounced on as weakness."

Evinia writes, "Who cares what the people think or want? The entire process is to give the public the illusion that democracy is alive and well in America. Give me a break. The powers that be, big business, the banks, et cetera, have already anointed Romney. The issues are irrelevant."

Peg says, "The issue that will decide it all is electability."

And Burt in Arizona says, "The best swift boater will get the nomination."

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

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

You certainly can tell a lot by listening to the candidates laugh. Or can you?

Jeanne Moos will break that down when we come back.


BLITZER: We've all done it, laugh at something that maybe wasn't really that funny. Candidates, certainly no exception.

Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The candidates have been exhibiting two types of laughter. One is genuine.


MOOS: The other is forced.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Bret, I don't know now many hundred times I've said this, too. This is an unusual interview.


ROMNEY: All right. Let's do it again.

MOOS: They do it when they're under attack --

GINGRICH: Just level with the American people. You've been running since at least the 1990s.

MOOS: -- pasting on a smile --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you look at Newt Romney --

MOOS: Laughter can be a wonderful weapon. Take this 1968 ad mocking Richard Nixon's running mate, Spiro Agnew --


MOOS: -- but it's defensive laughter that tends not to ring true when candidates try to laugh things off.

GINGRICH: I was in the private sector and I was doing things in the private sector.



MOOS: Someone looped Newt's laugh on YouTube --



MOOS: -- leading to comparisons with Elmo.

(on camera): Forget false steps. One false laugh, and you become the laughing stock.

GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: -- the height of hypocrisy.


MOOS: For Mitt Romney, defensive laughter is almost like a nervous tick.

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Why did you bail out? I mean, the bottom line is --

GINGRICH: The only reason you didn't become a career politician is you lost to Teddy Kennedy in 1994.

ROMNEY: Now wait a second.

MOOS: But it's hard to laugh off the comedians laughing at your laugh.

STEPHEN COLBERT, "THE COLBERT REPORT": The rule is you stop grilling Romney after he gives you the laugh.


COLBERT: That's his safe word.


MOOS: But even the president resorts to preemptive laughter.

BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: -- of the entitlement state. This is "The Wall Street Journal."


O'REILLY: They also say that you've been moving -- no, come on. You know that. Does it disturb you that so many people hate you?


MOOS: And remember when Hillary Clinton's laugh was labeled a cackle?


BLITZER: Senator Clinton, what would your husband --

MOOS: Take heart, Mitt --


MOOS: -- because Hillary got the last cackle.

Jeanne Moos, CNN --

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: Do I really laugh like that?

MOOS: -- New York.


BLITZER: She's got a good laugh.

That's it for me. I'll return in one hour for CNN's coverage of the New Hampshire primary.

Until then, thanks very much for watching.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The news continues next on CNN.